Breathing Easier but Not Easily

            When the announcement was made that Joe Biden had won the presidency in the November General Election, I literally took what felt like a cleansing breath. For four years, I had internalized a type of stress that was ongoing. Every day there was some new attack, some crazy Twitter message. The goal of the former president seemed to be to undo the government as we knew it. Bit by bit, he and his administration chipped away at institutions that had been mainstays of this government.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/07/black-lives-matters-police-departments-have-long-history-racism/3128167001/            

From the first day of his presidency, there was chaos, from making his press secretary lie about the size of his inauguration crowd (https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-38707723) to making his first official visit to the CIA. (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/01/trump-visits-cia-day-after-inauguration/580003/) I remember thinking that the visit was weird, but as his presidency moved forward, and he showed continued obeisance and deference to Vladimir Putin, I wondered if there was a nefarious reason that the CIA had been in his crosshairs from the beginning. Was he there because he knew he was going to be compromising America’s security? I wondered about it more as he demanded loyalty from the people around him. While no fan of form Attorney General Jeff Sessions, I found it oddly uncomfortable that he would dismiss an attorney for recusing himself from a situation in which he knew he was compromised and that could have cost him his license to practice law.

            The daily attacks on people who opposed him, the daily attacks on “the Democrats,” the daily name-calling, the doing business by Tweet, …all of that made my spirit uneasy. His tenure as president was like a soap opera; there seemed to be very little progress on work to make the lives of Americans easier, even and especially the people who comprised part of his base, but there was sure to be high drama every single day, and people tuned in to see, to hear, and to react.

            Then came the coronavirus, and his totally inept handling of the crisis. I still cringe when I remember how this president said the virus would “just disappear,” and how he suggested any number of remedies to get rid of it. I cringe when I realize that his administration gagged public health officials, how he discounted, discouraged, and politicized the use of masks, and how he seemed totally unconcerned with the fact that hundreds of thousands of people were dying from COVID-19 on a daily basis. In the deepest recesses of my soul, I found myself believing that he was using the disease to weed out certain segments of the population. Hearing that Black and brown people were more affected by the disease than whites seemed to be OK with him, a reason, perhaps, to ignore the runaway rate of infection.

            So, when the announcement was made that Biden won the election, I breathed easier. I reacted to and rejoiced with people who took to the streets to celebrate his victory. I believed that the 45th president and his administration would just do what others who have lost the presidency have done: accept the results and allow people like me, who were tired of his ineptness, name-calling, and lying, alone.

            But I was wrong. His attack on the results of the election – which he said during this campaign that the election could only be lost by him if the election was rigged – was breathtaking in its persistence and scope. He had a pattern of attacking elections that did not go his way. In 2016, he made the claim, (https://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-election-rigged-2016-10) and he did it in 2020 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9i80SrDc74) He said during the 2016 election that he had only lost the Iowa primary because Ted Cruz had stolen the election and said in 2009 that Obama had only won the election because the voting had been rigged. (https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-longstanding-history-calling-elections-rigged-doesnt-results/story?id=74126926)

            That he said it was one thing; that he got millions to agree with him and believe him was quite another. The result was his last-ditch effort to steal (ironic as the mantra of his supporters was “stop the steal) the election from Joe Biden, going so far as to encourage his followers to go to the Capitol and stop the counting of the ballots submitted to the Electoral College. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55640437) (https://www.vox.com/21506029/trump-violence-tweets-racist-hate-speech).

            The January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, a continuation of violence carried out by his supporters at some state capitals, and the disparity of treatment of these insurrectionists and protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement is why, though I am breathing easier, I am not breathing easily. Trump supporters – which include the rich as well as the poor, the highly educated as well as the uneducated, women as well as men…are angry and are calling their attempts to overthrow governments acts of patriotism. They are not finished and they are not gone. And the fact that many of these supporters are members of law enforcement, and many are ex-military, who operate in a country where they know for the most part that there are two justice systems – one for white people and one for Black- makes my breathing tentative. Where will they go next? Who will they attack? And when?  

            Too much of law enforcement seems to be on the side of those who want to overthrow the government.(https://www.npr.org/2021/01/15/956896923/police-officers-across-nation-face-federal-charges-for-involvement-in-capitol-ri) That is not new; law enforcement has historically participated in – or has ignored – violence against black people,  and of course, the Civil War was fought because white Southerners desired to shut the Union down over the issue of slavery.

            The fact that it is not new, however, is not comforting. These people have been emboldened by the rhetoric of the former president and know that they can claim they are using their First Amendment rights in what they are doing and that they will possibly get away with it, (https://www.courthousenews.com/citing-first-amendment-rights-judge-lifts-iowa-ban-on-protesters/) even as some state legislatures are working to put in place laws that would stem the protests of groups including Black Lives Matter. (https://www.aclu.org/issues/free-speech/rights-protesters/anti-protest-bills-around-country) (https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/11/20/criminalize-protests-civil-rights)

            It is worth noting that these actions do not take into account that the BLM protests and what happened at the Capitol are not the same, though MAGA supporters are making that claim. The BLM movement is an attempt to get convince governments to create policies that will stop the legal extermination of Black people by police; the MAGA protests are about wanting to overthrow governments – local and federal – because they are upset with and want to eliminate a world where all people are treated with dignity and respect.

            So, I breathe easier, but not easily. The angry white people with guns are prowling the country; we do not know who they are, but they are prowling, waiting to attack, and still wanting to destroy the government. They are working to make laws that will make it even more difficult for Black people to vote. They are openly expressing their desire to kill lawmakers who have not been loyal to the former president. We are not in a good place in this country and will not be until we deal with the moral corruption of this nation, a morality which has brought us to the brink of Fascism.

            Until we do that, I will not breathe easily.

            A candid observation …

The Prayers of the Fervent White Supremacists

            I have always been bothered that people who believe in and live by the principles of white supremacy call themselves “Christian.” It has been anathema to me that one could lift up the name of the Christ, who taught by example that all people matter, even while practicing discrimination against Black people, certainly, but against other groups of people as well.

            The God of white male Protestants has been alarmingly approving of racial, sexual, and Xenophobic, homophobic behavior and beliefs, as well as anti-Semitism. It has been troubling, causing many to fall away from Christianity and from the church, and some completely rejecting the person and ministry of Jesus the Christ.

            That God – the God of white supremacists – was called upon by white supremacist, MAGA Trump supporters during their attack on the Capitol Building on January 6. In a scene which sickened me to my core, one of the insurrectionists called upon the rioters to stop and pray to the Lord Jesus, asking Jesus to bless their efforts to overturn the American government. (https://faithfullymagazine.com/capitol-hill-attack-video-pray/) They bowed their heads. They lifted up their hands, and they prayed.

            “Jesus Christ, we invoke your name!” they cried out loud.

            It should not have surprised me. White Protestant Christianity has represented the very opposite of what I was taught Jesus was about, but throughout American history, white Protestants have invoked the name of Jesus to support their racism. Racism might be wrong, some would say, but it was not a sin; slavery, they would add, was created and sanctioned by God. 

            It is notable that some of this nation’s most rabid racists called themselves Christian and were quite religious. Sam Bowers,  who when alive was the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, believed that God had called him to “embark on a holy war for white supremacy.” Bowers was a devout Christian; he taught Sunday School, and before he sent members of the Klan out to carry out racial violence, would lead them in a prayer, and often had them fast as well. He ordered the murder of Vernon Dahmer, a Black man who dared register to vote and get other Black people to register as well, and to his dying day (he died in prison in 1982 after finally having been convicted of Dahmer’s murder) never uttered a word of regret. 

            In his mind, as well as in the minds of so many white supremacists, what he did had been ordered by God.

            The late Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., was also a devout Christian but was rabidly racist. He, too, felt that his racism was something God was comfortable with, because “the Bible” sanctioned it – racism, as well as slavery. He was once questioned about his Christianity and his lack of willingness to “love his neighbor as himself.” Wasn’t that racism, he was asked, an abrogation of Christian principles? Byrd said no, it wasn’t. He knew the scriptures, he told an interviewer, and he acknowledged the command to love one’s neighbors, but, he said, “I get to pick my neighbor.”

            I thought about his words, and about Bowers’ devotion to his Christian faith. I have no way of knowing, but it is highly probable that, in spite of the racist violence he fomented and in which he participated, he died believing that God was smiling on him, saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

            Many of the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6 are probably members of a Protestant church somewhere; many are regular church goers. Some may have had a prayer meeting before they traveled to Washington. This is what they knew: that Jesus was their savior and Trump was their president. What they believed is that their savior was going to usher in their president, with the anointing of God.

            The image of them praying in the Senate chambers is sobering, but their belief in God-sanctioned violence to protect and preserve white supremacy is more than sobering. It is offensive.

            Their God is not my God. It never was and it will never be. Their fervent effectual prayers are not the same ones I would pray. The God I learned about in Sunday School is not the same one that they learned about. There is but one Bible, but apparently, there are at least two Gods.

            A candid observation…

Refusing to Be Erased

(Note: Every Tuesday I write a piece for what I call “Tuesday Meditations” and send them out to those who want to receive them. In light of the brilliant performance of poet Amanda Gorman today at the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, I thought I would share this meditation on my blog because it was an interview of Gorman I heard a couple of days ago that inspired this meditation. I hope you enjoy it.)

 Poet Amanda Gorman, national youth poet laureate who will read one of her poems at the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, remembers that Thomas Jefferson wrote in Notes on the State of Virginia that black people could not be poets. Miffed that Phillis Wheatley, a Black woman, was earning high praise for her poems, Jefferson expanded his beliefs about the capabilities of Black people, writing,”Misery is often the parent of the most affecting touches in poetry. Among the blacks is misery enough, God knows, but no poetry. Love is the peculiar oestrum of the poet. Their love is ardent, but it kindles the senses only, not the imagination. Religion, indeed, has produced a Phillis Wheatley [sic]; but it could not produce a poet” (p. 44).

 Gorman’s description of how Jefferson tried to erase Wheatley as both a poet and a woman, hit a nerve. Is that what Black people and other oppressed people have been fighting? Their being erased as human beings, first, and secondly as human beings with worth, talent, and gifts?

 If one feels erased long enough, one begins to buy into the narrative. Little Black children, who are as excited as is any white child to start school, learn quickly, in far too many schools, that their school buildings are in bad shape, with broken windows which go unfixed, no heat in the winter, and no air conditioning in the summer. They see torn and tattered books and too often have teachers who do not believe in them and who are in fact their teachers only because someone assigned them to this building and to these children as a sort of punishment.

 Do the children feel…erased?

 I was working in Texas when I decided to go to divinity school. When I got accepted, I told the publisher, as well as the editor of the paper and the city/metropolitan editor, because my acceptance meant I would be leaving the newspaper in a month.

 A little later that day, the publisher came out of his office and asked me, as I sat at my desk in the newsroom, to what school would I be going. When I told him Yale Divinity School, he laughed out loud and said out loud, “Oh come on! You’re not smart enough to go to Yale! What was your GPA?

 While I was taken with his reaction, I was not surprised. I was troubled. I was angry at his arrogance. And I think I was embarrassed. It seemed like all of the reporters stopped writing for a moment, in spite of us all having to meet the deadline for our articles. They stopped. Some turned around to look at me. Others acted like they didn’t know what was going on or what had been said. But they knew.

 I felt a number of different emotions that I can remember. I realized that my worth as a writer was obviously not much to this man (though my work won high praise from my readers). Likewise, I realized that my worth as a woman, as a Black woman, and as a Black woman with talent and intelligence was very low. I was a body that wrote articles that helped get information to people. Period. I was an object.

 But as I look back, maybe I felt erased as well. I had been a fearless reporter for that paper, walking the streets at night in the city’s red district to talk to prostitutes and find out why they ended up on the streets and walking those same streets during the day with Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, to find out why he did what he did. I interviewed Mikhail Baryshnikov and was allowed to cover sports because I loved sports so much. I managed to get interviews with Doug Williams and did the first interview (I was told) of Patrick Ewing.

 I thought I had worth – until this man erased me like I was a word spelled wrong on a chalkboard. I could not put a name on that emotion until I heard Amanda Gorman’s words and read her poem.

 In spite of getting erased through discrimination on the job, at school, or in life in general, Black people seem to have an ever-ready piece of chalk, something, that is taken out to redraw and reclaim ourselves. We refuse to be silenced, and we fight being erased, but as long as white supremacy exists, that fight will continue.

 The psalmist wrote in Psalm 73 “Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.” We fight our feet slipping from under us as we are erased on so many levels, in so many ways. We are, however, aligned with and connected to a God who is able to keep us from falling, or, when we do fall, is able to stand us back up and demand that we redraw the lines of our beings, once again claiming who it is God made us to be.

 When we know who we are and Whose we are, we refuse to be erased,or to remain erased, no matter how many times it is done.

 And we will continue to keep the chalk of mercy, grace, and truth in our pockets. We cannot and will not let anyone have that kind of power over us.

A candid observation …

The Domestic Violence and Assault of America by the GOP

            It is said that rape is not an act of love, but is, rather, an act of power.

            And it is also known that domestic abuse is learned behavior; it occurs for a number of different reasons, including one having a sense of entitlement and a belief that one should have control and power over their partner. (http://greenhillswomensshelter.net/blog/domestic-violence-2/what-causes-domestic-violence/)

             From the outside, it looks like the United States and its form of government are  being abused and assaulted by men in power who feel like they have the right to do it. Their actions and verbiage are emotionally, politically, and psychologically abusive, and they, like so many abusers who scoff at authority and too often are excused for their behavior, are arrogantly flouting behavior in defiance of the constitution and the law. Their entitlement makes them believe that they can and will get away with what they are doing and they feel like they have the right to do whatever they want with “their” country.

            They are advocating violence if the president and his friends are not successful in overturning the election. They are, in fact, practicing voter suppression and voting fraud in plain sight. Members of the Congress and the Senate, cabinet members including the Chief of Staff, and a former military officer are all pushing the president to declare martial law.

            Like toxic abusers – be they male or female – who beat, scream and yell and, and oftentimes rape – these men in power are strutting around like peacocks, daring anyone to stop them.

            And nobody is.

            One of the greatest disappointments is that there are so many people in elected office who apparently do not like democracy. While they say “the Democrats” will make this country a socialist nation, they are, in fact, working to make fascism an American reality. They are not interested in the masses of people having rights – and neither are over 70 million people who support them. They make a mockery of the law while saying they supportive of “law and order.” It is like a law enforcement officer beating his wife, even while in uniform. Law enforcement officers are supposed to uphold the law, not blatantly break it.

            It feels like American democracy is on the ropes, doing very little to fight back. Like an abused spouse, America is taking the abuse, save for the courts that have rejected the over 60 lawsuits that have been filed to try to invalidate the election results.

            The men in power, supported, by the way, by a base which includes many who need democracy in order to have quality lives –are bullies, and are proud of it, doing everything but baring their chests and showing their erect genitals. They are walking fearlessly, indicating that they believe in white power, even if that means committing sedition and perhaps treason. They are not afraid of “the law.” Many who abuse others likewise dismiss the law even as they disrespect it. Law enforcement, especially as concerns violence against black people, act in much the same way and have done so historically because abuse of “the law” is built into their very formation. As early as 1740, civilians were required to serve in Slave Patrols, created to keep black people in line by any means necessary. They were trained to abuse laws that gave freedom and dignity to black people; invalidation of and breatking “the law” was what they were supposed to do. 

            The man in the White House is a pitiful sight; though many say they desire his strength, in reality, he – and his friends – are weak to a fault. It is a weak person who believes that the only way to exist is by controlling others; similarly, it is a weak person who cannot see anyone’s needs but his or her own. The weakest people are the ones who commit domestic abuse, who shoot and kill unarmed black people, and who ignore the laws and the constitution of this country, even as they present themselves as “strong.” They simply are not.

            The president and his friends are beating American democracy up, using the fists provided by their status as elected officials. America is showing the effects of the beating.

            My prayer is that the abusers will be stopped, arrested, censured, whatever can be done. The newly elected senators and representatives were sworn into office yesterday, and it was like an abuser being honored and promoted in spite of having engaged in reprehensible behavior. Those sworn in promised to protect the Constitution and this country but their promises were empty and meaningless.

            People who are abused take it until one day they cannot. When they fight back – if they do – the end result is often tragic. The abuse and assault of this nation by these power-grabbing men will only get worse. The question is, what will it look like when those who believe in democracy say “enough!” 

            That is a word which should have been said long before this.

            A candid observation …

What Now?

            For the longest time I have been unable to write. I have seen so much happening in this country – our country – and it has been mind-boggling, scary, and maddening. We have had a president who has been intent on destroying this democracy – flawed as it is. We have had a president who has stoked racism in the most vile ways, and who has turned his head when white nationalists have perpetrated violence while calling peaceful protesters “thugs.”

            We have had a president who has had his finger in every aspect, every institution, every level of government. Nothing happened without his face and his voice. We watched him dismantle regulatory laws aimed at protecting the environment (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks-list.html). We watched him minimize the coronavirus as it began to rear its ugly head in this country, falsely assuring people that the hoopla swirling around it was overdone and that claims of the virus being of pandemic proportions were no more than a hoax. (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/trump-calls-coronavirus-democrats-new-hoax-n1145721). He dissuaded people to wear masks, politicizing the call for mask-wearing to such an extent that mass gatherings were called, it seemed, primarily to give a finger to those who were saying masks were necessary. (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/trump-says-i-don-t-agree-cdc-director-s-mask-n1234253) He got on national television and frequently upended the advice and direction given to the American public by the Centers for Disease Control and public health officials who were giving instructions to Americans that, if followed, would have curtailed much of the death and suffering this nation has suffered. Who can ever forget his suggestion that putting bleach in one’s body might help kill the virus – nodding toward Dr. Deborah Birx to show people her approval of the suggestion, and also pushing hydroxychloroquine as a sure cure? (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/04/24/disinfectant-injection-coronavirus-trump/)

            There is so much that I watched and listened to, things that he said and did and the reaction and support of the same by his over 70 million followers. In spite of many reports that said his supporters were primarily white and uneducated, the facts belied those hypotheses. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/06/05/its-time-to-bust-the-myth-most-trump-voters-were-not-working-class/).

            When President-elect Joe Biden won the election in November, I thought the craziness would die down, that “we the people” would get a chance to breathe and inhale hope for the first time in four years, but instead, the president threw us into yet more turmoil, claiming that the election had been stolen and working to undo the results of the election – over and over again. I cringed as I realized that his racism was driving his determination to undo what legitimately registered voters had done – voted. I cringed as I saw his appointee to head the United States Post Office work to delegitimize post offices all over the country in an attempt to thwart mail-in voting, resorted to because of COVID-19. (https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/2020/08/31/usps-mailbox-removals-drew-ire-trump-attacked-mail-ballots/3442736001/)

            The nation – some of it – cringed as he called violent white nationals “very fine people;” we cringed as he criticized the Black Lives Matter movement and characterized athletes who chose to protest violence meted out to black people by white police officers as “thugs.” (https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article216495165.html)  (https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/07/17/donald-trump-long-losing-war-with-the-nfl-366000)

            Thinking about this president’s name-calling, his attacks on the American political system, his racism and Xenophobia, his mishandling of the pandemic – and so much more – still brings forth painful emotions. This country has been badly damaged – its principles and its institutions, and this president is still pulling a wrecking ball through all that we have ever known. It is not clear – yet – what he and his friends are planning on January 6. He has had too much time to brood and to plan ways to completely destroy American democracy. When people say that he is president only until January 20, I cringe because he is definitely planning to make that statement a lie. He is not concerned with the state of this country – the growing poverty, the numbers of people dying from COVID-19, the numbers of people whose unemployment benefits have run out and the possibility of the government shutting down this week – all because the wealth and the privileged of this wealthy, white man has caused him to be so spiritually sick that he cannot even talk about the plight of the people who live in the country he claims to love.

            I will be glad when he has left office. Physically, he will be gone – but politically, he has blown a cloud of misanthropy, racism, sexism, and so much more – that will take a long time to dissipate, if ever. We have a lot of work to do. People keep saying that what has pushed through American political soil is “not who we are.” They are wrong. What this president has done is exposed is exactly who we are, and that’s why our work is just beginning. This president has shown us what we must do in order for this country to survive as a democracy.

            A candid observation …