The Day of America’s Fall

In Psalm 137:7, the psalmist writes, “Remember, O Lord, the Edomites, the day of Jerusalem’s fall.” The words are those of Israelites who have been cast out of their homeland; they sit on the bank of a river in Babylon and mourn their exile from Jerusalem. They remember how things “used to be” in Jerusalem, and how things are now that they have been captured by the Babylonians. They are in shock. They were God’s people, but God, tired of the people’s constant rejection of God’s rules and laws, used the Babylonians, their enemies, to bring them down.

The Israelites are angry. They plea to God to “remember the Edomites,” who joined the Babylonians in the attack on Jerusalem. The Edomites had been vicious, saying to their soldiers to “tear it down,” meaning Jerusalem. In the psalm, the beleaguered Israelites, in essence, curse the Babylonians, and vow vengeance, “Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!”  The psalm concludes with the Israelites saying, “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock.”

They are angry and hurt and lost; they had a good thing in Jerusalem, they now realize, as they sit under the rule of foreigners who laugh at them and beg them to “sing one of the songs of Zion.” They balk, insulted, one might guess, and ask, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

In 2001, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, then the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, preached a sermon entitled, “The Day of Jerusalem’s Fall,” quoting this psalm and prophesying that America was in trouble. It was shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11. The nation was reeling and angry; Wright, the prophetic preacher, recalled in the sermon how those who had gone against the will of God had been forced into exile …by God.

Nebuchadnezzar II was the king of Babylon in 597 BCE and he fought against the Pharaoh Necho in the Battle of Carchemish and then went on to invade Judah. The king of Judah at the time, Jehoiakim, resisted Nebuchadnezzar but lost. Jerusalem fell, and the Israelites mourned the loss of all they had ever known and treasured.

Today the president of this nation sided with a modern-day Babylonian king, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and on international television, put his own country down in obeisance to one of America’s arch enemies. It was stunning to watch. Today we watched the “day of America’s fall.”

It has been coming for some time, though nobody could have predicted that the man elected to be the president of this nation would hand it over to Russia. It has been shocking to watch the president cow-tow to Putin, putting this country’s systems down and insulting its institutions, and it has been noticeable that this president, who has put down almost everyone in this government, has not said one negative word about Putin.

Not even today.

This president has put the country he swore to protect – and its institutions and constitution – in real jeopardy, leaving the way clear for our present-day Babylonians – aka Russia, to have its way.

He has not done this alone. The Republican-led House and Senate have been partners in the undoing of America. The rabid fear of the browning of America, along with other social changes that Conservatives have hated, has been paralyzing even as it has been motivating for these primarily white men to resort to base instincts which have led them to make moves and create policies that will have repercussions for generations. They are afraid to stand up to him and to oppose him, a fear which has encouraged him to do what he did today: give the America we have known since its birth – to an arch-enemy.

The American democracy was far from perfect, but it was better than many governments. This country was known, even in somewhat mythical proportions, as the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” People had confidence in what America claimed to be.

Not anymore.

The world has watched this president destroy the progress that has been made over five decades; it has watched as the president has trashed allies and praised and supported autocrats. Already, so much damage has been done that it will take at least a generation to repair what has been destroyed – if, in fact, it can be repaired.

Americans have not believed that its democracy could be destroyed. We have been like Germans, who when Hitler was grabbing power, never believed it would get as bad as it did. The truth is, in most countries where democracies die, the leaders of the destruction have been voted into office by the people.

When Jeremiah Wright preached that infamous sermon in 2001, he was bombarded by critics who called him everything from racist to anti-American. He preached that America was being paid back and would be paid back for what it had done over the years in its quest for power, and he reminded listeners of some of America’s history.

It was not pretty.

In the name of God, he preached that we should be reminded that God sees what both individuals and countries do and that there is a price to pay when God’s people stray from God’s requirements.

God directed the fall of Jerusalem.

And God is in this, the day of America’s fall. We, too, may find ourselves looking back at what we had, taunted and insulted, asked to “sing a song of Zion,” and we, like the over-confident Israelites, may find our voices quieted, our spirits wounded, because we did not believe that this country would ever see the day when its president threw it under the bus.

(To listen to Wright’s sermon, visit (http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-put-trump-online-letters-20180716-story.html)

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 …

Understanding America

I do not understand this country I thought I knew.

American-flag-America

 

Yes, there is and has always been racism, and sexism and in fact, all kinds of oppression meted out to a lot of people and groups. The history of racial and sexual oppression of people in this country is not pretty. People want to deny it, or ignore it, but it is there.

Even though I read this history and am knowing it better and better, even though I knew the history of domestic terrorism which white mobs have engaged in, most times with the help and support of law enforcement, I always thought that deep down, underneath the racial hatred,  there was the possibility of hatred passing away or at least diminishing so that all God’s children could live together.

I believed that.

I do not believe that all white people are bad, nor do I believe that all white people are racist.

But this election has shown me that too many white people are racist and are unable to rise above their racism for the common good.

During the presidential election, I truly thought that the masses of Americans, white and black, would be disappointed, angered and repulsed by the hateful rhetoric spewed by the incoming president. I thought they would reject hatred, reject racism and sexism and all the other “isms” that we heard over the past year and a half.

But the masses didn’t care. The incoming president tapped into something in them – an anger based on economic woes, for sure, but also based on something else more sinister. They did not care what he said, who he said it about, how true or false it was, how crass it was, or whose feelings it would hurt.

He was going to “make America great again,” which seemed, in the end, to mean that he was going to give a lot of Americans permission to openly …hate …again.

I was sure the masses of Americans would be dismayed that he used people from Breitbart News as close advisors. I was wrong. I was sure people who called themselves patriotic would be appalled at this would-be president delegitimizing the heroism of Sen. John McCain. He was speaking to a certain group of people – mostly white – and he was clear about it.

I was sure the masses of Americans would reject that. I thought we had come further than that.

I was sure Americans would be disgusted by this man making fun of journalist who had a disability. He said he didn’t do that; his surrogates say he didn’t, either. No, it was the “dishonest media” that spread that story. He completely ignored the fact that people saw him, saw what he did and said.

His supporters were ready for a change; how it came about didn’t matter. They loved it that he was “not a politician” and that he “said it like it was.”

But “like it was” for whom?

Time will tell what this man’s policies will be. It is not my opinion of his shortcomings which is the big deal here. The big deal is that the masses of Americans supported his hateful rhetoric. They applauded and ignored his name-calling and bullying people They ignored his obviously thin skin and his lack of impulse control. Even now, they do not care that he is buddying up to Vladimir Putin.

It is troubling to me because I thought I knew America, fundamentally. I thought there were more people who despised racial hatred than there were people who still live in it.

I was wrong.

A candid observation…

 

 

The Definition of Patriotism

American-flag-America

I had a Twitter conversation with a Donald Trump supporter that has left me puzzled.

Donald Trump, she said, is a patriot.

I had been complaining that Trump is not civil; civility matters to me. She acknowledged that he was not so civil but that he was a patriot. The country was in tatters and he was going to make things right again.

So, I’m puzzled. Is patriotism the same thing as racism? Is patriotism the same thing as isolationism? Is it synonymous with Islamophobia? I have no doubt that Trump loves America, but it is the flavor of his love that is making me question the definition of patriotism. Is President Obama not a patriot? Are the non-native born American citizens, especially those who have fought for this country, not patriots?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines patriotism as, simply, love for one’s country.

Trump is, by definition, a patriot. I was combining my idea of patriotism with my idea of civility. They are not synonymous. Trump, to me, is an uncivil patriot.

Patriots do not have to care about how they treat fellow Americans. What they do have to do is be against “the enemy,” wherever and whomever that enemy might be.

Donald Trump is not a patriot merely because he wants to bomb ISIS and make NATO members pay what they’re supposed to pay for. I hope he or someone can get rid of ISIS and all terrorist groups, including the domestic ones like the Ku Klux Klan.  And I hope that if he is elected, he will be able to get member nations of NATO to pay what they are supposed to pay.

Where I get confused is how he, as a patriot, can openly ask Russia, a long-time enemy of the United States, to hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails. If they hack into her emails, can’t they and won’t they hack into other documents that are vital to American security?  All this courting of Russia doesn’t feel patriotic to me. It feels troubling.

So, can one be a patriot and invite the enemy into its most private spaces? Isn’t Russia trying to regain its role as a top world power? Isn’t inviting Russia to hack an American politician’s email account kind of treasonous? Trump seems to trust Russia’s Vladimir Putin quite a bit. What is the basis of and for that trust? What has Putin done to show that Russia is America’s ally?

I am trying to understand. Someone help me. Because I am obviously missing something. What is a patriot? Donald Trump is a patriot because he loves his country, yet he questions the patriotism of President Obama and others whose foreign policy is different from his.

Patriotism seems to be a liquid concept if I go with the love for Trump as a patriot. It’s confusing.

A candid observation …

On American Exceptionalism

What if we said that on paper and on principle, America is exceptional, but in practice, we have a little more work to do?

The sparring that has been going on since Russian president Vladimir Putin questioned the concept of “American exceptionalism” has caused this writer some deep thought. Certainly, it is good to be an American, and to live in America, but that doesn’t mean that one cannot and will not look at the areas where our ideals and our praxis contradict each other.

The contradiction between ideal and praxis was created even as our founding documents were created. The phrase “all men are created equal” was certainly an idea which, if meant, would have created an exceptional nation because nations in general were more apt to create and thrive on societies in which all people were not, in fact, equal. The very idea that we would want to be a nation where that reality would not be our model …made us exceptional.

But from the beginning there was a problem. All men were NOT created equal, the Founding Fathers decided. Equality was relegated to white, male landowners. Everyone else was …well, not so equal after all.

As time went on, in spite of our being a democracy, meaning to this writer at least, that the words of the Founding Fathers should at least be our guiding principle, it was clear that we were not a democracy in the way those words suggested. In fact, there began to be a real struggle between “virtual democracy” and “virulent demagoguery,” according to Chip Berlet and the late Margaret Quigley.  The diversity that democracy would presumably have supported began to be feared and despised, even as more and more different ethnic groups populated our country.  Pat Buchanan, not all that long ago, wrote, “The burning issue here has almost nothing to do with economics and almost everything to do with race and ethnicity. If British subjects, fleeing a depression, were pouring into this country through Canada, there would be few alarms. The central objection to the present flood of illegals is they are not English-speaking white people from Western Europe; they are Spanish-speaking brown and black people from Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean. (“The Theocratic Right” in Eyes Right , edited by Chip Berlet, p. 38) Buchanan is also to have said, “The world hails democracy in principle; in practice, most men believe there are things higher in the order of value – among them, tribe and nation, family and faith.” (p. 38) Berlet notes in his essay that “with white racial nationalism, democracy was seriously challenged. With its anti-elitist, egalitarian assumptions, democracy did not appeal to the reactionary rightists of the 1920s, who insisted that the U.S. was not a democracy but a representative republic.”  Many Americans on the Right, asserts Berlet, “exhibit a deep disdain for democracy.”

If Berlet’s assertions are true, how, then, can a nation which espouses to be a democracy but within which there is a sizeable group of people with a disdain for the very things democracy is supposed to be about, be…exceptional?

Perhaps it is this disdain for democracy that is guiding the Congress to do things like cutting $40 billion from the food stamp program, apparently not caring that the numbers of hungry people in this nation are growing daily?  How are we an exceptional when we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world? We, the United States, lock up more people per capita than anybody in the world, including the two most totalitarian states in the world, Russia and China, according to Bill Kleiber, of Restorative Justice Ministries of America.  We have five percent of the population in the world, according to Rebecca Robertson, ACLU, Texas, “but we have 25 percent of the incarcerated population of the world.”

We have heard of the growing chasm between the rich and poor here.  That sort of chasm is not supposed to be extant in a democracy, is it? If “all men are created equal,” then somewhere, something is wrong, right?

Many Americans feel that with growing diversity here, they are being marginalized. Sara Diamond writes in “The Christian Right Seeks Dominion,” that “evangelical Christians …feel they are being persecuted by secular society.” Well, when one feels persecuted, one fights back, and that truth begs one to wonder if what we see going on in Congress is part of that fighting back, a fierce determination to stop all this dribble about this nation being a democracy and to pull it back to its roots of being …just like other nations which make no bones about not being “democratic.”

Frederick Clarkson writes in his essay “Christian Reconstructionalism” that there are a fair number of people who are involved in strategically trying to make America less “democratic” and more “theocratic,” a nation which will live by “Biblical principles” where the inequality of people is a staple. He quotes a Rev.  Joseph Morecraft, who believes in Reconstructionism, as saying democracy “is mob rule,” and that the purpose of civil government is to “terrorize evil-doers…The purpose of government,” according to Morecraft, is to “protect the church of Jesus Christ.” (p. 76, Eyes Right)

It seems that we agree on one thing: that government should protect – but the issue, the divide, seems to be agreement on who or what should be protected. It seems to this writer that government should protect its people, its citizens. Government should  find ways to help empower people, not keep them under the government’s thumb. That feels like government “of the people, by the people and for the people,” as our beloved President Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg address. But the issue is that for some, that is democratic dribble.  For some, the purpose of government is to protect the church of Jesus Christ – which to them is a church which supports and defends inequality – in the name of religion.

Americans, it seems, are a little ambiguous when it comes to their agreeing whether or not America is exceptional. A Pew Research survey taken in 2011 had 48 percent of Americans questioned saying that America was exceptional and 42 percent saying…um, not so much. The poll also indicated a significant difference in the way younger and older Americans responded. According to an article on CNN.com, “The poll indicated a wide generational divide, with 65% of those 65 and older saying the U.S was the world’s greatest country. But that number dropped to 50% for those 35-64 and to 34% for people 18-34. There was also a partisan divide, with 63% of Republicans saying the U.S. was the greatest country in the world. That number dropped to 46% among Democrats and 41% among independent.”  (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/09/12/polls-is-america-exceptional/?iref=allsearch)

At the end of the day, we will all define “exceptionalism” by our own set of standards, values and beliefs. This writer struggles with the notion of America being exceptional when there are so many people living in poverty, hungry, without health care…and us having a Congress which apparently does not realize that or care about it.  The values this writer ascribes to just don’t seem to gel with values where the quest for profit trumps the needs of human beings. This writer is deeply disturbed about the rate of incarceration, the fact that many children are hungry and can only get fair to good nutrition at school. This writer is saddened that public education is in many places under attack, and that prisons for profit are being in record numbers, with empty beds waiting for tenants, while it is getting more and more expensive for students to go to college, or for some students, in college, to stay there, because of cuts made in funding for Parent Student Loans and the reduction of Pell grant awards.

The ideal of democracy is good on paper. If we practiced it, we would indeed be exceptional. Unfortunately, for this writer, the fact that for too many of us, “democracy” means more the ability to partake in capitalism than it does to care for people who are suffering.

Democracy should be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” It doesn’t feel like that’s the kind of nation we live in.

A candid observation …