Is America’s Democracy in Trouble?

The antics and behavior that are coming out of the White House are disturbing on many levels, but one of the most troubling is that it feels like this country is moving toward becoming an autocratic state.

A survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp during the Holocaust, architect Stephen Jacobs, said in a recent interview that the “rise of Donald Trump is reminiscent of the years that led to the Nazi takeover of Germany.”  (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5596737/Holocaust-survivor-says-Trumps-America-reminds-years-lead-Nazi-takeover.html)

At the time that Hitler rose to power, Germany was experiencing economic, social and political unrest. Hitler seized the moment, telling Germans that he could restore their country to its former greatness. The people bought his argument, and the fall of civilized government resulted in the murders of over 6 million Jewish people.

What is astounding is not so much that the president is doing what he is doing, but that so many people seem not to care. From the Congress – representatives and senators alike – to Evangelical Christians, to masses of people who like it that he “tells it like it is,” there seem to be few people in power – politically or morally – who have the best interests of “the least of these” at heart.

These people turn a blind eye to the role of the Congress to check the raw ascent of power of the Executive branch of our government. Evangelical Christians, who have been known to be deeply judgmental of all kinds of people for behavior much less offensive and troubling than that of the president, are silent and acquiescent.

It has been amazing to listen to people defend this president at every turn; nothing, it seems, not even the cyber-attack of our voting system by a known enemy, has been enough to inspire people to do something to put the brakes on what seems like a train running downhill, spiraling out of control.

We thought that our government was immune to becoming autocratic. We thought that our Constitution and our professed love of “liberty and justice for all” were enough to incubate us from encroaching fascism. It appears that many Conservatives feel like there is no danger of our democracy falling into disrepair or ruination. But democracies, historically, have fallen, following a course much like the one on which America now finds itself.

What is worrying is that the only people who might seem to not have to worry are the very rich. This country has not been a “democracy” for some time; it has been a plutocracy, with a very few really wealthy people making policies for everyone else. But even that number of wealthy people, in control of the lives of the masses, is dwindling; we are more an oligarchy now than ever before.

Oligarchies do not care about the masses.

During the Holocaust, Hitler and his minions made decisions about who was worthy to live and who was not. The Jews were certainly deemed unworthy, but so were people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses, gay people, gypsies, twins, priests, and other groups, were murdered. It is estimated that 5 million non-Jews died under Hitler.

Germany, using the science developed in America that formed the foundation of the eugenics movement, made it its cause to eliminate those who were not the right kind of “white” person – i.e., those with Nordic features.

It feels like everyone, with the exception of that very small group of wealthy white people, are in danger from the way this administration is running the country, and none of the people who we might have thought would defend the masses from this kind of tyranny are stepping forward.

It is difficult to understand how “people of faith” can marginalize the directives given for how to create a “Beloved Community” by Jesus the Christ. Jesus is far removed from what is going on, it seems, and very few people are working to bring Jesus of Nazareth back to the center of who we are.

It feels like we are on a collision course with tragedy, and in this, the so-called “land of the free and home of the brave,” that ought not be the case.

A candid observation …

 

Somebody Ought to Tell the Truth!

In a front page article written by  Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Gebeloff which appeared in The New York Times on February 12, a gentleman was described as being

, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.
Image via Wikipedia

anti big government. He printed tee shirts for his local Tea Party affiliate, and says he doesn’t need or want help from the government.

Yet, the article said, he gets a payment from the government every year, a subsidy for working families called the “earned income tax credit,”  “he has signed his three school age children up to receive free breakfasts,” paid for the by the federal government, and his mother, who had to have hip surgery twice, is on Medicare – again, a federal program.

This kind of situation is not the exception, but, rather, the rule, and I am finding it harder and harder to listen to GOP presidential contenders talk about how they will slash domestic spending because it represents big government. At the end of the day, politicians are not telling people the truth, but, rather, what they want to hear. The people are not clear on what “big government” is, and politicians are allowing their ignorance to remain, because their lack of knowledge is the pot in which raw emotions fester, and politicians know that many an election has been won by stirring the right pot with the right emotions.

Are people really thinking about what would happen if the host of government benefits we all take so for granted suddenly were not there? What WOULD happen to our elderly if Medicare were no more?  The Times article said that “dozens of benefits programs provided an average of $6,583 for each man, woman and child in 2009, a 69 percent increase since 2000.” The article said that older people get most of the benefits, primarily through Social Security and Medicare. So, if we cut domestic spending, how would “the least of these,” in this case, the elderly, get by?

Rick Santorum said that while Jesus wanted people to help poor people, social justice creates lazy Christians. That statement was stunning in and of itself, but it is disturbing and misleading and leads Americans to visualize “the poor” as lazy and probably members of a minority group. Like it or not, there are certain buzz words that get self-righteous Americans stirred up about who “the American taxpayer” is helping…but what is not being discussed or highlighted is that, again according to the Times article  “the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits.” Now it seems that the doling out of government benefits has been more focused on saving the slowly dying middle class.

There is no doubt that the nation’s economy, in fact, the world’s economy, is in horrible shape.  GOP presidential hopefuls who want to beat President Obama cannot be pleased that the economy seems to be getting better, albeit slowly. That fact takes the wind out of their argument that the Obama administration is a “failed presidency,” but they still beat the drum that the biggest reason, or one of the biggest reasons the economy has pitted is because of big government and reckless government spending.

Somebody needs to be bold and tell the truth about what is going on. Rick Santorum looks like a clean-cut, all-American choir boy, and he stands on his Christianity, but Christianity  i.e., the following of the Christ – demands a social conscience and a heart for “the least of these.” Santorum has not voiced the truth that “the least of these” is a group growing larger and larger as the income disparity between rich and poor gets wider and wider.  William Sloan Coffin once said that what the “Christian community needs to do above all else is to raise up men and women of thought and of conscience…” Merely advocating for slashing of needed government programs, at the expense of people who have been the backbone of this country, providing the labor and services that made wealth possible for so many, would seem to be immoral, unethical …and un-Christian.

Santorum is talking a lot of religion lately, going so far as to say President Obama has a “phony theology.” I do not understand that phrase, but what I do know is that the Jesus in the scriptures I read would not condone the wealthy getting more wealthy while more and more people are falling deeper and deeper into financial ruin, with the threat of what little help they have hanging over their heads.

I cannot believe God is pleased with what is going on.

A candid observation.

 

 

President Needs to Provide Light of Hope for Masses

united states currency seal - IMG_7366_web
Image by kevindean via Flickr

When people say they want their country back, what, exactly, are they saying?

I ask because more than one news person has said that tonight’s State of the Union is an opportunity and a mandate for President Obama to offer a vision of the future; without such a vision, they say, people will lapse into yearning for the past.

What past are they yearning for?

One of the most profound things I’ve ever heard was said by author Karen Armstrong, who said that when too much is changing, too quickly, people yearn for the past; it is in those moments that fundamentalism becomes strongest. The lack of things familiar take people all the way out of their comfort zones and feed their fear and anxiety. The only safe thing to do is to yearn for that which they know, even if what they have known was not all that good.

We sit in transition period. The economy is improving, but is still horrendous; people who used to be middle class are now poor or at best, lower middle class. People who were comfortable, economically, are now immensely uncomfortable and have no sense of security when it comes to visualizing or imagining their future or the future of their children.

This economic debacle has been called a recession, but from all that I have read, it so resembles the Great Depression. The arguments about the distance between the very wealthy and the new poor are the same, and I would suppose that much of what a vast number of Americans are feeling now is not all that different from what the people in the 1930s felt.

It took a long time for the aftershocks of the fall of the stock market to stop coming; people were still in dire straits in the late 1930s. Even as late as 1938, money was scarce for most people, and they looked for pleasure in the tiniest things – but they yearned for the “good old days.”

That, apparently, is where Americans are now. Though it is totally unrealistic to expect that President Obama – or any president, for that matter – would be able to undo what took at least eight years to create, people cannot and will not resonate with that reality.  Mitt Romney said that people who do not have money are envious of those who do…and he is probably right. None of us who are flailing and who are treading water want to be where we are.

And so we are in a bad place, we Americans. We want out. We want relief. Though many hate the idea of entitlements, many have survived because of those entitlements. But that’s not what we want. We want jobs. We want there to be not a diminishing middle class but a renewed and growing middle class. We want to be able to stop having to worry about making decisions on whether we will eat or buy extra gas for a week.

All of the politicians, including President Obama, are wealthy. They cannot feel our pain. They can imagine and they can exploit it, but they cannot feel it. They are so far removed from our places of angst, that their campaigns ring hollow and their blatant exploitation of our fears borders on the immoral and unethical.

The news people are right: if the present dilemma of the American people does not get better soon, Americans who ar prone to look back and yearn for a fantastical past will do just that. Those who have never been economically sound or comfortable will continue to yearn, ironically, for a reality they have never known.

The President has an enormous burden upon him. Unlike the politicians who are recklessly using the angst and anxiety of the American people for their own selfish gain, President Obama has to give a glimmer of hope to people who are on the brink of falling into permanent despair.

I, for one, hope he realizes that, and provides the light in darkness for so many who are truly walking in darkness.

A candid observation

“Meanness” an Attribute for GOP

I heard this morning that what Conservatives most want is someone who is “mean,” someone who can beat the president in this fall’s general elections.

That’s why issues about Newt Gingrich‘s marriages and his alleged desire for an open marriage, just wasn’t an issue in the South Carolina primary. There is a “national conversation” that is in place, one ABC reporter said, and in order for Mitt Romney to regain a bit of the ground he has lost, he has got to tie into that conversation.

Included in the conversation is anger amongst the GOP.  The successful GOP candidate must connect to that anger, and run a campaign that addresses the “politics of resentment.” It seems, according to some, that a large part of the GOP base is angry at the “elite media,” the  economy, of course, and the fact that Barack Obama is in the White House.

When Newt Gingrich did his “Contract with America” some years ago, the issue of anger was addressed; specifically it was the anger of white men. Is that the same crock pot that Newt has identified and is adding ingredients to – this pot of stew, brimming with elements of white anger?

This election cycle is a bit scary to me; for the party of “faith and values” to be willing to abandon that platform just so they can elect someone they think can get the president out of the White House makes me wonder about the validity of their claim to be so above it all. The recent YouTube video of the young man giving a spoken word about how he hates religion but loves Jesus, then, seems so appropriate. This young man sees the disconnect between what religious people say and do, and it bothers him.

It bothers me, too.

It seems that if the faith and values people are just looking for someone to go on the attack, and be “mean” enough to get President Barack Obama out of office, then something is askew. If the Evangelical, pro-life base is willing to remain silent on what appear to be obvious moral breaches on the part of Newt Gingrich, just because they think he can beat President Obama, then something is wrong.

When it no longer becomes important that a presidential hopeful at least appear to be concerned for all of God’s children, when it becomes OK for a man who’s marital and extramarital indiscretions are not important (when in the past, such indiscretions were enough to knock any candidate out of the ball park), then we Americans need to stop and pause.

We are in a very dangerous place.

I suspect that the next few weeks leading up to the Republican convention are going to be painful, because the campaigns will be so nasty and so “mean,” that the real issues will be lost. Politicians are good at manipulating the emotions of Americans, and Newt Gingrich is one of the best.

If it is true that what GOP voters are looking for most is someone who is “mean,” it’s likely they won’t be disappointed.

But at the end of the day, what in the world will it mean for our country?

A candid observation…

Such Thing as Racially Coded Language?

I got into a rather lively debate with a (former) Twitter follower of mine.

She had seen the title of my post entitled “Newt Gingrich Owes African-Americans an Apology” and had taken issue. Her response to the tweet announcing the blog post was “no he doesn’t.” She said I was playing “the race card” and that “it doesn’t work.”

Later in the evening, she and I started an exchange. I said that Newt had played the race card by referring to President Obama as “the food stamp president.” Though statistics show that more whites than blacks receive food stamps, what many “hear” when they hear “food stamps” is “black people are getting food stamps” because they are lazy and do not want to work. It’s an underlying thought in this country, and, I argued, Newt knows that very well.

I said that Newt was playing to his base. I also, erroneously, said that he had earlier said that “poor black children” don’t have a work ethic,” and my friend quickly corrected me and said he had only said “poor children.” She was right and I admitted it as such.

But she was angry. She said I was racist and that I was calling HER racist for saying that Newt Gingrich was playing to his base. And she said that people like me are the ones who keep the races divided. She “unfollowed” me.

She is not the only one who would agree with me, and clearly, not every African-American would agree with me. Just this morning, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and Roland Martin were talking about this very same thing with former GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain, who vehemently rejects the idea that there is such a thing as racially coded language.

But that’s all right. Back to my little encounter with my Twitter friend, I was sorry that she “unfollowed”  me because I enjoyed tweeting with her. She and I obviously have different ways of seeing things, but that’s good; one learns from talking with people who are different.

But what bothers me is that she really thinks that there is no such thing as racially coded language. She accused me of  “race baiting,” and if bringing up that Newt was playing the race card to appeal to his mostly white, South Carolina audience, then that’s what I was doing.

But it seems a bit naive to really believe that there is no such thing as racially coded language. It has always been done. President Reagan, the GOP iconic hero, did it when he used the phrase “welfare queen.” I am quite sure that the image that most people had, black and white, was that of a black woman with too many kids who refused to work but who kept having children so she could get more money from the government.

It is a despicable image, and an inaccurate one. Yes, there are people of all races who abuse the system, and yes, it is true that if one keeps getting hand-outs, he or she might be less inclined to look for work, but that doesn’t apply to everyone or even to the vast number of people who are on public assistance.

Rick Santorum, at least, was forthright in his comments which were not all that complimentary toward black people.  He said, outright, that he didn’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and make their own money…” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/03/rick-santorum-entitlements-black-people_n_1181212.html)

It was a straight up statement; you didn’t have to guess about what he meant. He later tried to back out of it and said he didn’t say “black” people, but he did. He was standing on the long-held stated and believed myth, again, that “black people” are lazy, that “black people” are the ones who are using and abusing the welfare system. It was insulting, but the language was not racially coded.

Gingrich, on the other hand, did use coded language when he said that President Obama is the “food stamp president.” He was more honest when he said that the “African American community should demand pay checks and not food stamps.” It is still insulting; it is still a statement that upholds and supports a myth that black people are the ones driving the growth of “big government,” and that is just not true. You can read what Gingrich said at (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/05/newt-gingrich-paychecks-food-stamps_n_1188193.html).

I will probably never re-connect with my former Twitter friend – she won’t have it – but I cannot let this discussion slip into nothingness. She called me a racist for saying that Newt was and is playing the race card and for sticking to my guns. That’s rather like one who has been beaten being blamed for the beating. African-Americans, and many whites, have “been in the storm too long” not to recognize when they are being targeted for someone else’s gain.

Newt Gingrich is a master politician and a very smart man. Trust and  believe that he knew what he was doing when he said President Obama is the “food stamp president” to that roomful of white people in South Carolina. If saying that makes me a racist, then so be it. The truth is the truth.

A candid observation…