On Loving America

In light of the news of Republican Arizona Senator John McCain deciding not to seek further treatment for his brain cancer, I shared that even though I did not agree with his politics, of one thing I was (and am) sure: He loves America.

The statement got some immediate push-back, with people reminding me of his political record: he was a hawk, he opposed the Affordable Care Act, and most recently, he cast a vote for the president’s tax reform bill, a measure which in my opinion helps only the very wealthy.

I know all of that. But what sticks in my mind is that John McCain has stuck to his beliefs and principles, even when they have been unpopular with his base and with this president. And I will forever respect him for shutting down the ugly lies about his opponent, then-Senator  Barack Obama, as whites shared that they were afraid of him and their belief that he was an Arab, or, more specifically, a Muslim.

McCain shut it down – and said that Obama was a good, decent man, which was and is true.

It takes courage to stand up and say what you believe, even when it means you may pay a great cost. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the book, The Cost of Discipleship, which I refer to quite a bit, and Christians should remember that Jesus the Christ says in the Gospels that whoever wants to be his disciple must deny him/herself, pick up their crosses daily, and follow him.

In defending the character of Obama, when it cost him votes and must criticism, McCain was living that scripture.

We are not supposed to hate those with whom we disagree. We can dislike their beliefs, but at the end of the day, that is actually kind of juvenile. There is no one way to look at the world. If there were, this world would be a much better place. I will never forget reading the account of a Southern senator who believed in segregation. He was asked if he didn’t know the scripture about how one should love his neighbor, and this senator said, “Of course I know. But I get to choose my neighbor!”

Not so. Our neighbors are those with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree. In the frenzy to get and keep political power, most politicians cave to cultural demands. They will do what they need to do and say what they need to say in order to get elected and to stay in office.

McCain sought the presidency twice and lost both times. That had to have been horribly difficult to bear. I was not unhappy that he lost because I didn’t believe in his politics and believed that if president, he would pass laws and enact policies that would hurt “the least of these,” especially black, brown and poor people. I was angry with him for picking Sarah Palin as a running mate, in an attempt, I suppose, to appeal to angry white people; I was glad their ticket lost.

But the senator held his ground. He, unlike the majority of this current Congress, had the courage to speak out against the current president, a man who seems hell-bent on leading America away from democracy and toward fascism. While others in Congress have become sycophants, many to a sickening degree, McCain has held fast.

He endured the disgusting insult hurled at him by the current president, who downplayed his being a war hero, criticizing him because he had been caught and was a prisoner of war. This, from a man who never served a day in the military, burned me to my soul. Yet, McCain didn’t meet him on his ground or at his level, but held his own and worked to serve his country in the way he saw fit.

That McCain, a wealthy white man, and myself, a struggling African American woman, do not see and have never seen eye-to-eye is not the issue here. What is the issue is that this wealthy white man stayed true to what he was, regardless of what it cost him. And that is something I will always respect, especially now as the executive and legislative branches of our government seem to be hell-bent on creating an autocracy in which most of us will suffer greatly.

A candid observation …

The Cowardice of Bullies

We have all heard it said or have heard it ourselves: “He (she) can give it out but can’t take it.”

We are seeing the truth of that statement being lived out in the current White House.

The man who became president was a bully from the start, throwing his weight around, calling people names, insulting anyone and everyone, especially women. He was defiant and thin-skinned, and unwilling and/or unable to apologize for anything he said. He was “The Donald.” He was tough and strong. He boasted of his business prowess, his sexual prowess and of his ability to keep his base, no matter what.

But this man is one of the weakest people in public office I have ever seen. As soon as he even thinks someone has criticized him, he goes on the attack. He spouts off lies like he is wiping dripping sweat off his brow. He aims to be as insulting as possible …and then complains, whines, if you will, about how “unfair” everyone is to him.

He has shown not strength, but extreme weakness. Anyone who cannot take the heat of being in public office ought not be there; one has to be able to take the blows and keep on going, but this man, so terribly weak, takes valuable time out from governing the nation so that he can retaliate and throw cheap shots at people who have dared cross him.

Not only is he weak in that regard, but he is an absolute sycophant and “friend” to anyone who throws him a compliment. Russian President Vladimir Putin has complimented him and will compliment him again, I am sure, during his face to face with the American president this week. Putin has seen this president’s weakness and will play to it, exploit it and use it to his own advantage.

Our days under this administration have been an ongoing soap opera. We wait every day not for news or for policy announcements, but instead for the next vicious, juvenile “tweet” from a man who should know better. We have a president who never grew up.

What is scary is that he is the leader of the free world – or has been, at least. He has ignored the power he has and has squandered his reputation and the reputation of the country just so that he can have schoolyard-type brawls with those who he feels have disrespected him.

His sycophant surrogates, staff and the Congress have let him have his way. They are afraid of him and what he will do. I am almost sure he threatens people who dare cross him. That is the inherent and unmistakable insecurity that characterize bullies. They use “fake strength” to ward off truth and challenges; they are afraid of failing and falling, and do not have the strength to own up to their weaknesses.

And so, to hide their own deficiencies, they threaten and attack others. They must always remind people of what will happen to them if they don’t march to his drumbeat, and meanwhile, they continue to insult anyone they please.

They are weak, plain and simple.

So many Americans have smiled and said that this president is strong. They like his fiery rhetoric about making America first; they like it that he says he will “knock the hell” out of terrorists. They like it that he has blamed all of America’s problems on “weak” leaders, leaders, he has called stupid and incompetent. They say he is strong because he says what is on his mind.

That isn’t weakness. That’s stupidity, and it’s going to cause America a lot of serious problems. This man is a bully, a man who can “give it out” but surely “cannot take it.”

A candid observation …

On Patriotism

American-flag-America

Watching what is going on now in our country is at once fascinating and terrifying.

I thought I knew what “patriotism” meant. I thought that an American patriot put America first, truly, including the tenets of its US Constitution. Being a patriot for me never meant that a person was anti-racist or anti-sexist, or was, in fact, interested in steering away from any kind of discrimination. But for me, one who waved the flag meant that they believed in the basic tenets of the Constitution, including the basic freedoms.

In the past, a patriot was virulently against Communism. The Soviet Union was America’s enemy and everyone knew it. To even give a hint of being all right with communism was a death knell.

But surprisingly, more than a few Americans seem not to care about communism or about its threat to democracy. More than a few Americans are unconcerned about the intrusion into the heart and core of our democracy by a former KGB agent named Vladimir Putin. It is breathtaking to watch the silence of the United States Congress, letting the current president cozy up to Russia with little more than a sniff.

Russia has an agenda. Russia wants to be recognized as a world power and not a pariah, and under the leadership of Putin, it is running its agenda in this country with disturbing ease. That the Congress has said nothing and done even less, that it does not demand that the president stop weakening the very fiber of this country, is astounding. The comfort I had in the three legislative branches of government being in place to check unbridled power is all but gone. It feels like we are headed toward an authoritarian government, and the Congress, which could stop it, is not doing its job.

Where are the patriots?

The small group of very wealthy people who are in power seem blind to history, or if they see and know history, they do not care about it. They are running roughshod even over the “base” that elected the president into office, as they push for policies which will make life most difficult for that very group of Americans. How nobody in Congress is talking about that, showing blatant disregard for the millions, for example, who will lose health care if the president’s health care bill gets through the Senate is beyond comprehension. These people purport to be religious people, specifically Christian, and yet they are pushing policies which leave “the least of these,” whom Jesus the Christ said we should take care of, out of the ring in which the fight for justice is being waged.

The White House is filled with old, angry white men primarily, who resent the browning of America. Their resentment is not new; there was a similar backlash against “globalization” in the 1930s. Anti-immigration sentiment back then led to the passage of anti- immigration laws which would today appall many of us. When the report came out that by 2030, America would no longer be a “white” nation put the fire underneath the bigots, the white nationalists, and many non-politicians for whom the thought of not being in the majority was painful and frightening.

It seems that what is going on, fueled by white working class Americans who are angry that they have been ignored, is a fight which has at its roots the most vile racism and bigotry. The leaders of our nation are virtually silent about white nationalists taking their anger out on people of color – white domestic terrorist activity – even as they decry the terrorism carried out by ISIS.

What also seems to be going on is toxic capitalism. The very rich have abandoned allegiance to America and have decided to become best friends with Russia, our enemy, for the sake of making more money. Patriotism be damned.

Tom Snyder the Yale history professor who wrote On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, said that America has about a year to stop the path toward tyranny on which America is now traveling. The impotent Congress will not stop what is going on; it is not clear that the United States Supreme Court will be much more of a protector of America and her Constitution, all the vitriol about caring about that document notwithstanding, and the Executive Branch is filled with angry, old, racist white men who want America to be as white and male as can be.

Patriotism as we know it is gone. Or maybe the issue is that I never really understood what patriotism really was in the first place.

A candid observation …

Big Government Be Damned?

OK. So Nancy Pelosi says Republicans are anti-government ideologues. My question: So why do they run for office?

If one does not believe in government, then what do such political candidates believe in? Why spend literally millions of dollars to be elected to office? Why are they there?

What do these anti-government ideologues want? They don’t want the government to do anything for the underdogs of our society.  They prefer for the private sector to do that, some kind of way. But doesn’t the private sector, businesses, want to make money most of all, and are pretty much not concerned with the well-being of those who do the work?

President Calvin Coolidge said that the business of government is business. Some have said that democracy and capitalism, as two belief sets, are not compatible. Democracy as we have come to understand it, or the way many interpret it, is supposed to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” We who believe in democracy have internalized that to mean ALL people.

But capitalism is different. Capitalism seems to adhere more to the line of thought which promotes the “survival of the fittest.” Capitalists scorn those who cannot “make it,” and do not believe that democracy is supposed to mean that everybody can and should get the same benefits. Capitalists promote the thought that the only reason some people don’t make it is because they do not try, especially in America.

True, there are more opportunities for attaining the so-called “American Dream” in these United States, but some people really try to make it and just cannot. Maybe it’s because of extenuating circumstances or personality flaws, but maybe it’s because of something called discrimination. Surely that cannot be ruled out, no?

If it were not for government, people who have dealt with discrimination wouldn’t have had any protection, it seems. Blacks, browns, women …have all had to call on government for help and fairness when business and/or society would not budge. Government acted …albeit slowly …to insure a more level playing field for those who had been essentially pushed off to the sidelines.

So, there IS a need for government.

So, if there was no “big government,” what would happen to those who are making their way to center field now? Would there be a repeat of post-Reconstruction, when blacks, who had made political and economic gains were essentially pushed back into legalized slavery in the system known as “convict leasing?”

The federal government really stayed out of the Southern states after Reconstruction got underway, and slowly, state governments began to return their society to the way it had been before. The powers that be didn’t want blacks, and certainly not women, to have the opportunities that white men had. They didn’t even think blacks should have been freed from slavery.

Big government, then, has its place, it would seem. When people are trying to make money, they want to make money, not babysit or placate people who are having a hard time making it. They want the most work for the least buck, period. Without a big government that cares about people, many ordinary folks would just be out of luck.

That’s not to take away the fact that some people are extremely skillful at pushing against the resistance that comes with pursuing any dream. Some people just will not quit, and they deserve to move ahead. Vince Lombardi once said “winning isn’t everything but it is the only thing.” That is the mantra for many people and it works.

But some people with a little less chutzpah, or a whole lot more discrimination working against them, need help. Heck, even the most tenacious people need help. So if that help comes from big government, that should be OK.

Of course, this conversation is kind of superfluous. Everybody calls on government once in a while, whether or not one is pro or anti-big government. Everyone has a sense of entitlement when something catastrophic happens; then we want our government to kick into gear, and be BIG.  If the government does not, we get indignant.

But we tend to only understand, as human beings, our own needs, and cast the needs of others aside. We don’t even want to think about the “have-nots” too much; we avoid really getting to know why they are where they are, because to see their suffering makes us uncomfortable. That’s human nature. Nobody wants to see suffering.

So we work hard to make sure we are comfortable, and criticize big government it attempts to do things that will make the lives of some legitimately suffering people a little easier. We shut our eyes to the real barriers which spring up in a capitalistic world and society and instead blame those who struggle for the situations in which they find themselves. We regard those who cannot make it as moochers.

Some of them are, and some of them are not. We just don’t want to take the time to make the distinctions and give help where it is needed. We are content to charge the poor and blame the poor for being poor, thus helping to keep them poor, and we defy the government to try to change that reality. We in America have little regard, it seems, for the burgeoning population of older Americans who barely have enough to live on once they can no longer work. And so, many older Americans are living in deplorable conditions, and we will not look that harsh reality in the face.

What does it take to make people in a democracy do what democracy purports to do – to make a society where all people are created equal? Those who do not like such a notion say that to want that is to be socialist. OK, but really, that’s what our United States Constitution says – all men (people) are created equal.

We have a problem in our formative ideology. It seems that there is an untenable tension between capitalism and democracy, and capitalists are criticizing the very political system which has made their wealth acquisition a reality.

A candid observation …