Trump is a Voice for the Frightened

 

When I was invited to preach at a white Episcopal church in Charles Town, West Virginia, the lead priest of that congregation called me to kind of coach me on how to approach the congregation.

Donald Trump

I was/am an educated African American woman. Her congregation was highly educated as well, but there is an issue of which I needed to be aware.

“They’re very sensitive about being talked down to,” she said, going on to explain that many white Southerners feel marginalized and put down by the “elites.” The elites were those with a lot of education, white people, she said, who they felt were always thinking that Southern white people were inferior, uneducated and, frankly, beneath them.

They were thus sensitive to being talked to in a way by an educated person which spewed that sentiment, and they were equally as sensitive about being called racist. Most of them hotly denied that they were racist, and would react badly if anything in my sermon got to that space of emotional pain that many white people, Southerners and Northerners as well, have carried for decades.

I was grateful for the priest’s “warning,” and worked very hard to make sure what I preached about – even though it was about racism – was not in any way an attack or a put down. Racism, I preached, was an aberration of spirit, something which Americans carry without even thinking about it. I worked very hard to illustrate the connectedness of all human beings, the ways in which we are the same regardless of color, before I got into the meat of the message, describing the damage racism does and has always done. It is America’s disease, I preached – not a new sentiment at all – but one which America has yet to acknowledge. And I tied all of what I was preaching about with the story of little Ruby Bridges, the little black girl who for a year sat in a classroom in New Orleans all by herself because racist people would not let their children be near her. I have a gift as a storyteller and worked the story so that the people could find the commonality of experience, the commonality of pain, the commonality of what it is to be a parent.

I think of that Sunday often. Charles Town is the city where John Brown was hanged for inciting an insurrection. It is rich in Southern history, a history which is rich with the stories and experiences of a culture which is racist but which ignores it in the hope of the reality of racism going away. America wants to keep its dirty little secret – which is not so little at all  and which is definitely not a secret- hidden away in a closet, and believes that if the secret stays in the closet, all will be well.

That belief, however, has always been wrong, and the proof that not talking about racism makes it go away is pushing up in the midst of this presidential election cycle. Donald Trump is feeding those who, like the Episcopal priest told me, are sensitive to being called racist and uneducated. A memo circulated by the Trump campaign vowed to concentrate on that group of people. (http://dailycaller.com/2016/08/06/trump-campaign-memo-primary-strategy-was-to-provide-safe-space-for-voters-called-bigots/) They are the ones who are screaming loudest about the “elite” people, those, they believe, who have been in power for too long. Their voices, beliefs and needs have been marginalized, ignored and cast aside for too long, in the quest of being politically correct, and being politically correct has meant “not talking about” racism and how the government, they believe, has done too much for black, brown and poor people, at the expense of white people.

The belief in white supremacy has driven American culture from its inception. After Reconstruction, whites who believed in their supremacy and resented the perception of blacks that they were equal with whites and therefore were owed the same rights, put Jim Crow into effect, effectively thrashing the gains made by black people, especially their right to vote. They believed then and many still do that America is a “white man’s country.” That doesn’t make them racist, they believe. That just makes them American.

No matter what, they have always been able to rely on their skin color to keep them in the running for the American dream, but globalization, making it possible for more people of color to invade what is supposed to be a white space, has weakened their status. They not only see more people of color coming into their land, they read or have heard the reports that by 2043, white people will be the minority in the United States. (https://mic.com/articles/106252/the-year-white-people-will-become-a-minority-in-america-has-been-declared#.TCKjBGUh9)

Donald Trump is speaking to a group of people who are angry, who have been marginalized by a government they think has been too big and too willing to embrace people of different races and religions, and who are seeing their version of white supremacy get more and more watered down. What they want “back” is the America where their status was secure.

That’s not going to happen.

But their fear is something Donald Trump knows. The group to whom he is speaking is vulnerable to his rhetoric, but the truth of the matter is that whites who are educated and who have gained pieces of the American dream are worried as well. “The marginalized” is not so small a group as many would like to believe. America is changing, and not many white people like it at all. Trump knows that, too – that whites of all classes are worried.

And so he is plowing through this campaign saying whatever he wants, challenging what has “always been,” promising that he alone will change the trajectory of a world which has not stood still, white supremacy notwithstanding.

And in his quest to speak to the hearts and concerns of those who feel abandoned and ignored, he is winning.

A candid observation …

 

 

On Radicalism

What happened in Paris on November 13, 2015, was nothing short of horrendous. That any group of people can feel like it’s OK to take innocent people out, for whatever reason, brings anger. That kind of action must come from a deep sense of frustration, from feeling like concerns are not being heard or respected. It feels like a knee-jerk reaction to get someone to listen.

But this whole use of the word “radicalism,” and using it to describe what is going on and connecting it to people who are Muslim, is bothersome. It is setting the table for those who are inclined to look at Islam as “the bad religion” to justify their opinion of that religion and, worse, justify any actions of discrimination and hatred those so inclined to do so might take.

Human beings have a limited capacity to see broadly; we hone in on what we think we are supposed to see and we leave out parts of the entire landscape. Just the other day I participated in an exercise where I was supposed to count how many times people dressed in white passed a basketball. I was completely immersed in my “task.” I got the number of passes thrown correct, but what I missed was a huge gorilla that walked into the middle of the people throwing the basketball! When the video was played again, I was appalled to see that I had missed something so obviously present.

As the world hones in on “Islamic” terrorism, and mentions that those who are carrying out acts of terror are “radicalized” Muslims, I am afraid that we are missing important participants in the entire scenario. Worse, we are forgetting that “radicalized” sorts are part of every religion. Sam Bowers, the Imperial Wizard of the KKK, was a radicalized racist who believed that God told him to take out participants in the Civil Rights Movement and to exterminate those who helped work for civil rights. Thus, he felt no compunction in ordering the murders of the three Civil Rights workers, Schwerner, Goodman and Cheney, and felt nothing but a keen sense of having fulfilled his purpose when he murdered Vernon Dahmer, a black man who allowed black people to register to vote in his story. Bowers had people, lots of white people, who  believed that God wanted America to remain white. They were radicalized, yes? Yet, we don’t hear that kind of language describing them, or even describing people who today are proponents of racism in this country.

I am sure that there are “radicalized” Zionists, both Christian and Jewish. Those are the ones who put human rights below what they consider to be the will of God to desecrate a group of people whom they do not like nor understand. We do not label them that way; in fact, when it comes to Zionism and what is going on in Palestine, we have heard language that consistently makes the Palestinians the “bad” people who, by the way, happen to be Muslim, while giving a pass to an Israeli government which allows Palestinian rights to be ignored and withheld, and to Jewish settlers who are on settlements in Palestine which have been deemed to be illegal according to international law. Is the Israeli government “radicalized?” Are Americans who support racism “radicalized?”

I am struggling to understand what is going on, but I am clear on the power of language. To continue to use the word “radicalized” without coming to terms with how “radicalized” religious people, in this country and all over the world, have been a reality of history from time immemorial.

I am sickened by what has gone on in Paris. Some radicalized Muslims, apparently, have carried out a heinous act, but all Muslims have  not been radicalized; all Muslims are not radicalized, bad people, no more than all white Christians are bad and radicalized because of what radical groups like the KKK have done.

A candid observation …

President Obama: Courageous Up to a Point

Whether or not one agrees with the work President Barack Obama has done overall, there is one stand-out quality that he seems to have: the courage it takes to be a leader.

From the beginning of his presidency, Mr. Obama has taken on one Goliath after another. Many thought (and still think) that his push for affordable health care for the vast majority of Americans via the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was a game-changer, an act of political suicide.

Then there were the bail-outs of the big banks and the auto industry. It is hard to understand why big business says the president has worked against them when these bail-outs really helped…big business, so much so that the president earned the ire of Liberals like Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, as well as others, who said he did not do and has not done enough for the poor.

There was the decision to go after and kill Osama Bin Laden in one of the riskiest moves one might imagine. There was no guarantee that that mission was going to be successful. Had it failed, his career as president would have been over, and even in light of its success, he has drawn criticism for “politicizing” it during this campaign. Still, the courage it took to make that decision and to stand by it is notable.

Now, he has come out in support of gay marriage. It is yet another decision that took courage not  because there is anything wrong with gay marriage but because angry Conservatives, including Tea Party members, are going to use it to skewer him in this upcoming presidential campaign.

The president has worked to fulfill the promises he made during the 2008 campaign, in spite of bitter opposition from the Republicans and an outburst of opposition from the American public as the Affordable Health Care Act became law. He has tackled the economy and done, it seems, the best he could, given the opposition, and has held the line – his line- even as he has nervously watched the unemployment rate hover between horrible and disastrous. Every day, it seems, there has been yet another decision of monumental proportion, and he has taken those decisions on and acted decisively.

The only area in which the president has not shown much courage is in the area of race, racial politics, and racism as an American reality. It seems like, feels like, the president is afraid to talk about it or even mention it, for fear of certain criticism that he is playing the race card. Anything he says and/or does as an African-American is carefully scrutinized, with people ready to accuse him of showing partiality to one race over another, and Mr. Obama, it seems, has caved into the pressure of not bringing that Trojan Horse into the middle of the nation’s woes.

Consider what felt like a fairly innocent and rancor-free statement that the president issued in the height of the attention that was paid to the killing of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. All the president said was that if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. Duh. That’s an innocuous statement, and yet people waiting to see even the slightest hint of

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

favoritism toward African-Americans jumped all over him.

It is a shame that the courageous president cannot be courageous when it comes to race; the political capital he would spend were he to delve into and address matters of race would far exceed that he spent even on getting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed.  And …it’s a shame, because African-Americans are still the lowest on the American totem pole in areas including education, health care, poverty and unemployment. Surely, there is much to do and much to say.

Ironically, white presidents could address issues of race without spending as much political capital as Mr. Obama would. President Eisenhower showed courage when he ordered that segregation in public places had to end, and President Harry Truman likewise showed courage when he ordered that the United States military had to be integrated.

Mr. Obama could never get away with making a decision that would even appear to help black, brown or poor people too much. He would be seen as biased.

So it’s sad that this president, who has shown such chutzpah in all these other areas, has been loth to step into the swirling waters of institutional and structural racism.

It’s too bad, because he has shown that he is tougher than nails…and it is significant that not even this man of courage, who knows racism first hand, cannot brave this Goliath.

A candid observation …

What Is a Conservative?

Mitt Romney at one of his presidential campaig...
Image via Wikipedia

OK. I am confused.

What is a “real” Conservative? And when did the word “Liberal” become a virtual cuss word for those who are on the Right?

I was perplexed when Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said last week that he was “severely Conservative.”  I didn’t know what it meant; I am glad that David Frum, in an article posted on the CNN blog, said that what Romney meant to say was that he was, or is, “strongly” Conservative. (http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/13/opinion/frum-romney-moves)

Michelle Bachmann said she was the “perfect” Conservative, and this week, Sarah Palin intimated that Romney still has to prove he is Conservative enough to be a viable candidate to run against President Obama.

But I am still confused. What is a Conservative, really? What do Conservatives stand for? There seems to be a standard in order for one to call oneself “Conservative.” It’s like the elusive “standard” that exists for being “black.” President Obama has been chided by some for not being “black enough,” and by others for being “too black,” so much so that there is literally nothing else to call him but a Socialist.

In order to be a Conservative, what does one have to stand for? It’s can’t be small government and less government spending, because George W. Bush said he was a Conservative but made the government super huge and spent money like it was going to evaporate. He was “conservative” when it came to interfering with Terri Schiavo…meaning, he was on the bandwagon to make sure life-saving measures were not discontinued…but wait. That couldn’t have been Conservative, could it, when he invited the United States Supreme Court in to make a ruling on the case?

As I have always understood it, Conservatives stand for less government …but that’s not a constant standard, is it? I mean, some Conservatives are mad about “Obamacare,” because they say it’s government intrusion in health care, but isn’t the government already highly involved, so much so that we don’t have the freedom in some cases to choose our own doctors like we used to be able to, and we might be out of luck if we do not get certain medical procedures approved by our insurance companies first? Didn’t the government have something to do with where we are in health care today?

I am not being facetious. I am confused. What is the difference between a “real” Conservative and a Liberal? And what is it about liberalism that makes Conservatives so mad?  Is it because Conservatives think that a government ought not help the poor? Is it the Conservative viewpoint that people are down and out because they want to be and that they are where they are because they are just lazy? Is that what I am hearing underneath some of what Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have said? And is the Conservative view that we should let the elderly of our population kind of wing it when it comes to health care? I know Medicare is expensive, but what I am not sure about is what Conservatives are saying.

I am not trying to be a smart-aleck. I am genuinely confused. The Conservatives, many of them, say they are part of the evangelical population of this country. That is why they are against gay marriage, and want to overturn Roe vs. Wade…but if they are so attached to The Holy Bible, wouldn’t they have seen the literally hundreds of references about the poor and how God’s people are supposed to take care of them?  Liberals have been accused of being without religion, but what kind of religion is it that the Conservatives, a.k.a. the evangelicals, ascribe to?

I am genuinely confused. Is it just me, or is there a problem here? If Romney is “severely” or “strongly” a Conservative, what does that mean? When he ran for governor of Massachusetts, he said he was a Progressive. So…what do we have here? A new strain of politician? Is Romney a Progressive Conservative? Or a Conservative Progressive? It’s all really hard to understand for a non-sophisticated citizen like myself.

A candid observation …

Mitt Romney, You Meant What You Said

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts,...
Image via Wikipedia

I was always taught that what’s in one’s heart is what comes out of one’s mouth.

Actually, there’s a scripture that says the same: “For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” is how the Gospel of Luke puts it (Luke 6:45).  In my house growing up, my mother would remind us of that, and would warn us not to say things for which we would have to apologize. It was her way of saying, I guess, “Love means never having to say ‘I’m sorry.'”

In other words, when we say things, it’s what we feel. It might be in the heat of a moment, but it is what we really feel.

So, I don’t buy this stuff GOP candidate Mitt Romney is saying, as he explains his now famous statement, “I am not concerned about the very poor,” that he “misspoke.” Hardly, Mitt.  You said what was and what is in your heart.

As these GOP candidates have campaigned, all of them have said things which reveal what they feel about America’s underclass.  While I cringe at how they go after each other, it bothers me to my heart that these guys seem so disconnected from people in this country who need a government that cares about them.

It is probably naive for me to want candidates to care, but I do. I am not for “big government” as it is being described, but I do want a government that has the good sense to take care of its own. I am reminded of a speech Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King gave a year before his death as he spoke out against the Viet Nam War: he said that he found it hard to talk to young people about democracy because he couldn’t explain why a country – our country – would spend millions of dollars and sacrifice hundreds of thousands of human lives un a war supposedly to get their people freedom and civil rights  when our own government does not make sure its own citizens have the same.

We are coming out of  The Great Recession, an event which has devastated literally hundreds of thousands of Americans. The once poor are now the “very poor,” and many of the former “middle class” are now poor. These are people who worked hard and who were whammied by the sinking of our economy which presumably happened because of the activities of greedy wealthy people. Though the unemployment rate is slowly dropping, and more and more people are finding work, many, too many, of our nation’s citizens are suffering.

And Mitt Romney, it seems, could care less.

He said that he wasn’t worried about the very poor because they have a safety net, meaning government programs – which help them, but an indicator of how far removed he is from the madding crowd, so to speak, is that much of that safety net is being and has been chipped away, and if he has his way, even more of it will be eliminated. He cannot relate to the fact that way too many Americans need food stamps in order to eat, to feed their children. He has not seen the eyes of the poor and very poor, trying desperately to get out of the wells of despair in which they sit, but he doesn’t want to. He is not concerned about them.

Newt Gingrich has seized upon Romney’s statement and is using it, saying we should be concerned about the poor. Nice try, Newt, but his earlier statements, including the one that’s been a part of his campaign rhetoric, that President Obama is the “food stamp president” shows that he isn’t too concerned about the poor, either, but is more concerned about a government which has issued a record number of food stamps to keep people going during this economic tsunami.

And even President Obama hasn’t shown much verbal concern for the poor; he has been soundly criticized for not mentioning the poor more often and for not coming up with more policies that directly impact and help the poor of this nation, specifically black and brown people.

Needless to say, the U.S. Congress has not shown by its behavior that it is concerned all that much by the poor. The primary objective of House Republicans is to make sure that Barack Obama is a one term president, and the Senate has been rather mealy-mouthed in addressing the ills of this nation as concerns our suffering citizens.

So, what are the poor?  If the poor or the very poor are people with whom the leaders of this country are not concerned, what kind of nation are we, really? Mitt Romney has said that people are “jealous” of people who have money. How callous is that?  He said that  over $300,000 he received for a speaking engagement was not a lot of money. Again, it doesn’t get much more callous or insensitive than that.

Mitt Romney, you didn’t “misspeak.” You spoke what was in your heart.

A candid observation …