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Having recently finished reading “Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead, I was absolutely pleased to learn that this book, in addition to having won the National Book Award, had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Indeed “Railroad” is that rare combination of artistry, passion and genius that makes it a book that can be simultaneously savored and devoured.

“Railroad” is a work of historical fiction that begins by chronicling the horrific banality of slavery in America. An America where torture, damnation and misery were the ordinary characteristics of the ordinary life of a black slave. From “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” to “Twelve Years A Slave” to “Roots”, the slime of America’s Original Sin and its Lingering Stain has been told and retold, but America has neither fully accepted the reality of its origins or the absolute fact that the Shadow of Slavery dims the lights of freedom and decency which are supposed to illuminate this land. And that is why America needs to buy “Underground Railroad”.

That is because at some unknowable point this work fiction literally jumps the rails and becomes a work of fantasy woven into an unforgettable fable. But with every word and every page, Colson Whitehead never lets the reader forget that for black Americans in that era, slavery was a constant nightmare – a nightmare from which there was no awakening.

And it is the constancy of horror and fear and humiliation and abject surrender that accompanies the reader on every single page that forces the reader to understand that slavery was not simply a bad but best forgotten chapter in American’s history. “Railroad” has the potential to help every American understand that the institutionalized, regularized and humanized degradation of black Americans for centuries has deformed the character of this country to this very day. And the truth is that this deformity cannot be cured until it is recognized in the first place.

For those who would contend that the combination of the Emancipation Proclamation at the 13th Amendment to the Constitution freed and empowered the men and women who were formerly chattel, “Railroad” clarifies matters. For it is not possible for an entire nation to either enslave or countenance the enslavement of human beings for centuries and then proclaim and amend a new vision and a new day.

Because it is clear that the racial disparities that prevail in these United States 152 years after the end of the Civil War do not exist because of inferiority of black Americans or a lack of remediating strategies ranging from legislation to Supreme Court decisions to black capitalism to affirmative action. The disparities exist because the equality of black Americans is not a fully accepted fact – indeed it is still subject to dispute, particularly when that dispute is thinly veiled in sociological jargon.

Disparities in incarceration rates, mortality rates and unemployment are the strange fruit of the slavery vineyards that were planted centuries ago. The insults and venom that were leveled at the first African American president had little to do with politics and everything to do with his genetic condition to former chattel.

The mandatory reading of “Railroad” will allow all Americans, black and white, see in the book the very clear connection between the language, behavior and spirit of the overseer and the owner in the current political discourse. Because as has been seen in Germany and Bosnia and Armenia and now in Syria, if it is possible to deny the humanity of another human being, it is then possible to do anything and everything to that human being.

And that is why, in addition to the well-deserved accolades, every American should read “Underground Railroad” as a very important first step in finally finding a way to bury the past and to create a future that every American deserves.

Trump as Avatar

Trump as Avatar

What follows are excerpts from a paper on the Socioeconomic Impact of the 2016 Presidential Election presented on 4.11.17 in New York City at the Academy of Business and Retail Management 6th International Conference on Business and Economic Development

The morning of November 9, 2016 was like no morning in recent American history. There have been upset elections in U.S. presidential elections, but Donald J. Trump’s candidacy was sui generis. His fact-free and gaffe-full campaign shouldn’t have even come close to being successful – but it was. And there was a reason.

The Trump campaign may have been fact-free but it also offered simple solutions to America’s socioeconomic challenges, both real and imagined. For example, Candidate Trump bemoaned the rising crime rate that was sweeping the country when in fact during the past two decades the American violent crime rate fell by almost half, from 758.20 per 100,000 in 1991 to a low of 387.1 per 100,000 in 2011. Nevertheless, Candidate Trump created a new reality that supported the overly simplistic Law and Order solution to a nonexistent American crime wave.

 Similarly, Candidate Trump argued vehemently in his uniquely fact-free fashion that the American economy was “a mess”. ……….. What is so remarkable about this alternative fact is that by any useful indicia, it is simply not true. What is true is that between 2009 and 2016, the timeline and arc of the Obama presidency, unemployment declined from 9.4 % to 4.9 %. What is true is the Dow Jones Industrial average rose to a record high of 10,000 during this same period. What is also true is that in this fact-free and truth-challenged reality authored by President Trump, the truth doesn’t matter. …..in examining the socioeconomic impact of the election of Donald Trump, it would be a mistake to overstate it since November 8, 2016 was really a time of revelation. ………..Donald Trump’s successful campaign for president was the result of over 40 years of conservative progression. These efforts, carried on largely by the Republican Party, have sought to deconstruct the federal government so that the dispersal of power to the individual states would have the desired effect of diminishing the power of the federal government – forever.

 This vision of American governance is literally older than the Constitution itself. ….. a cursory reading of the contemporaneous writings of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay and James Monroe, including the formal presentations in The Federalist Papers reveal an almost genetic conflict built into the Republic, in effect a contest between those who believe in the need for a strong and powerful central government and those who champion the autonomy and sovereignty of the various and several states of the Union…..Donald Trump is a showman, marketer, occasionally successful real estate entrepreneur and most importantly, he is a man who has cracked the code on how to turn himself into a brand and then sell that brand worldwide.

President Trump is not the leader of a movement to change America. He is an avatar who conveniently appeared at a time when he could ride the rising tide of the conservative agenda – a tide that has been rising for half a century.

 There are deeper trends and movements that lie just below the surface and we ignore those trends and movements at our own peril. That is because the 2016 U.S. presidential election is mirrored in France and Germany and Poland and in the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. …..there is more to the ascendancy of Donald Trump than the vengeance of underemployed angry white men who never could accept the reality of an African American President of the United States. Although it would be a mistake to ignore the race rage that Donald Trump has been able to channel.

 There is the reality that the deconstruction of the American economy played a major part in the Trump as President scenario. Theories about the rights of states and the role of the federal government do not resonate as loudly with the base of his electorate as the very real fact that access to a better life is less accessible than ever before.

Terms like “leveraged buyouts” and “green mail” and “corporate raiders” and “vulture capitalists” entered the vocabulary of global finance about 35 years ago. Since then there has been an incredible accumulation of wealth for bankers, financiers and well-placed corporate executives……….This upward distribution of wealth – and power – is unprecedented in world history and has created political debates and contests that are unknowingly based upon new and uncomfortable economic realities.

 In this kind of a scenario, a Donald Trump can be successful because he has continuously provided simple solutions to what should be obviously complex problems. ………one could argue that Donald Trump is the perfect candidate for the conservative movement.

 First, viewing his public persona over the last four decades, it is clear that he is politically agnostic when it comes to most major issues………… Donald Trump weaves between expediency and reflecting the loudest, last voice that he has heard.

 As a result, he has been able to levitate from one political position to another without regard to his precedent position or his latest speech. Being politically agnostic also has allowed Donald Trump to espouse contradictory statements with ease and more importantly, he has advanced the conservative agenda without seeming to be fully conscious that he was doing so……………………Because he has few core beliefs, Candidate Trump had no problem advocating incredibly simple solutions to incredibly complex challenges facing the United States. Consider, for example, his “solution” to the issue of illegal immigration – deport over 12 million men, women and children, many of whom have established credible and worthwhile lives in this country – all while building and unbuildable wall…………………His position with respect to trade deficits and how the three card Monte of international trade had left many Americans with hands thrust into their empty pockets – to “get tough” with China and Russia and Mexico – toughness that to date has produced late night television fodder but no new jobs for Americans. And yet, the Trump base” has not wavered in its support.

The real issue for the United States, however, is how the various socioeconomic challenges of the world’s largest economy can be addressed. It is fair to state that many of these challenges – health care, income inequality, trade deficits, the lingering legacy of racism, structural unemployment, urban displacement and environmental endangerment, lend themselves to simple conservative solutions. In many instances that solution can be summarized as giving the power to the states – a.k.a. the people – denying the reality that these challenges are impervious to local or regional solutions.

Donald Trump is the perfect messenger for these simplistic solutions.

 And, since many Americans do not have the appetite for, or interest in, the more complex and nuanced solutions to these challenges, progressives find themselves marginalized as the United States careens from crisis to crisis, a player in a demonic pinball game where the American people lose every time. And, in the process the socioeconomic changes do not disappear, they do not go away, they do not get better.

 The delays in addressing these concerns only exacerbate these concerns and, in the final analysis we find that the socioeconomic challenge of the Trump presidency is the deferral of legitimate and thoughtful solutions. And since the time of any nation is never infinite, delays can result in irreparable damage.

 This vision only seems apocalyptic if viewed in a singular prism. But history tells too many stories of great civilizations that became memories because they did not act,

The reality of the Trump presidency has now found a home in the national consciousness. The demonstrations and shouts and screams from the disappointed, the disaffected and the newly awakened will continue, but the reality remains – Donald J. Trump is the President of the United States. And there is another reality – Trump and his Republican enablers have now become the dogs that caught the bus.

For the past few decades, the conservative wing of the Republican Party has invested enormous amounts of time and money articulating a vision of America which might or might not be dystopian, depending on one’s point of view. But there is no doubt that this right wing vision is remarkably different from the America in which we have lived for the past half century.

Reduction in the role of government makes for a great sound bit until that sound bite bites back. Reduction in the role of government means less – a lot less – than what most Americans are used to. Less healthcare, less oversight of food, drugs and industrial chemicals. Less control over environmental factors and fewer stated rights for the underserved and those have been historically marginalized.

At one point in time the concept of privatizing Social Security or Medicare seemed as extreme as……privatizing the prison system. But just ask the executives at CoreCivic – formerly the Corrections Corporation of America – how business is these days, and they will tell you just fine. And similarly, there are healthcare companies and financial services institutions that cannot wait for the bonanza that would appear if Social Security or Medicare are privatized.

These change in the political environment did not begin on November 8, 2016 – indeed Trump’s victory and the Republican hegemony over the Executive and Legislative branches of government are the harvest of years of laboring in the political vineyards of America. While liberals and progressives lapsed into complacency or internecine battles over arranging the deckchairs on their personal Titanic, the conservatives have spent decades registering their voters, gerrymandering their districts, suppressing the opposition votes and seizing or greasing the levers of power to their advantage.

No one factor is responsible for the outrageous incarnation of pride, bigotry and bombast that the Trump presidency. But a bit of close analysis and introspection will reveal that this conservative cloud has been looming over the horizon for decades. And now, millions of Americans are discovering that elections do matter, that politics is not an affair of the heart but a condition of the mind and that winning is important.

The first round of Trump appointees, nominees and Executive Orders predict a type of chaos not seen in the Oval Office since the days of Andrew Jackson. Chaos is rarely good for the economy. Chaos is always bad for the poor and the marginalized segments of our body politic. But chaos is where the financial and political predators live – it is their native environment.

We will now have to see if the self-identified progressive Americans can find a way to be strategic, committed, focused and determined to win back this country. Taking America Back Again may be the new rallying cry that is shouted across this nation.

Why Elections Matter

It has now been 50 days since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. That means that there have been 50 days and 50 nights of men and women trying to figure out how a man, believed to be unfit for office by the majority of his supporters, could actually become President of the United States. It also means that there have been 50 days and 50 nights of an intensive, interactive, real time seminar demonstrating that elections do matter.

During the presidential campaign there was too much baseless rhetoric spewing, disseminated the shameful notion that the presidential election did not matter as there was no real difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Even as Trump and Clinton tried mightily to demonstrate the very real differences between their candidacies, there were so many “pure progressives” who tried to persuade their followers (or listeners) that there was no real choice between them and that no vote, or a third party candidate protest vote, was the best course of action. And now, we are witness to the first 50 days of a 4 year seminar on why elections do matter.

Consider the initial Trump cabinet appointments:

Attorney General – Jefferson Beauregard Sessions – That this U.S. Senator from Alabama is named after not one, but two Confederate heroes, should not be a disqualifying factor in and of itself. But Sessions is on record as being against the Justice Department inquiring too closely into police shootings or other local and state violations of civil rights. He is staunchly opposed to Roe v. Wade and is certainly a supporter of less governmental oversight of major industries.

The next time a white police officer unlawfully shoots and kills a black citizen and the Justice Department does not act, remember that elections do matter.

Secretary of the Department of Labor – Andy Puzder – Puzder is the founder and CEO of the company that operates the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast food chains. He is an implacable opponent to raising the minimum wage, family leave, equal pay for women, overtime pay and other seemingly basic recognition of the humanity of workers, particularly low wage workers. There is no doubt that he will do everything in his power to roll back any and all progress and protections for workers that have taken place over the past decade.

The next time workers are needlessly harassed or injured and the Department of Labor stands by and does nothing, or even worse, advocates for more power for employers, remember that elections do matter.

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency – Scott Pruitt – The current Oklahoma Attorney General is a self-described “leading advocate against the activist agenda of the EPA” and will now be in charge of that agency. Since the establishment of the EPA during the Nixon Administration, it has been a matter of rare bipartisan agreement that the EPA is an important component of the effort of the federal government to protect the environment and the health of the American people. Pruitt clearly thinks differently.

The next time that a water contamination tragedy like the one in Flint, Michigan occurs and the EPA does little or nothing, remember that elections do matter.

Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services – Tom Price is a Congressman from Georgia and a dedicated opponent to the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare. He has already developed a plan to repeal the ACA, which would leave over 24 million Americans without healthcare coverage. Price (and Trump) supposedly have a plan to replace the ACA so that no one who is currently covered would lose that coverage – but, of course, Donald Trump has a tradition of making a breaking promises and has been a litigant in over 1000 cases to prove it.

The next time that an emergency room in a city near you becomes the source of primary care for poor people – again – remember that elections do matter.

There can be no doubt that if Hillary Clinton had been elected President of the United States, her cabinet would not be overstocked with overwhelmingly white and mean spirited avatars armed with a dystopian vision that includes the few and excludes the many.

In sum, due to the vengeance of 18th century elitist attitudes, aka the Electoral College, and the boneheaded notion that elections don’t matter, the entire American populace will soon have a lesson on why, and how, elections do matter.

As we continue to process the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States we can consult Greek mythology for some perspective and perhaps some answers. Specifically, we can look at the Myth of Sisyphus and the eternal punishment that was visited upon him for his pride and various transgressions against the gods. When we examine the Myth of Sisyphus we see ourselves – black Americans, we see ourselves – progressive Americans, and we see ourselves – people who are appalled at the reality of a Trump presidency that is no longer an unthinkable possibility.

By way of perspective, in Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a mortal who alternatively aided and enraged various Greek gods. Upon his death he was sentenced to pushing an outrageously heavy rock up a very steep hill, only to see the rock roll back down the hill at the end of every day – for eternity. Consequently, the Myth of Sisyphus as the allegorical expression of humans engaged in struggle and effort and to reach the precipice of success, only to have to repeat that struggle and effort again…..and again.

With the election of Donald Trump as President, black Americans, progressive Americans and many others, are about to watch the outrageously heavy rock of progress against racism, sexism, homophobia, soulless lack of compassion for the poor and defenseless, roll back down the hill – perhaps to where we were in the 1960’s, or the 1950’s or the 1800’s. For we see in Trump’s campaign rhetoric and his initial presidential appointments, more than a whiff of the meanness, and more resonance of the dog whistle that translated “Making America Great Again” to “Making America White Again”.

But when the legions of appalled Americans begin to ask “Why?” and “How?” we can begin by looking at the person that we see in the morning when we brush our teeth. Collectively we have grown complacent about the enormous progress that has been made over the past 150 years. It was only 151 years ago that black Americans were emancipated from race-based slavery. It has not been 100 years that women have had the right to vote. Gender equality is a child in its infancy, and the first strides to eliminating homophobia are also baby steps compared to the vile, virulent and violent assaults on those who are “other” by reason whom they choose to love.

Because of the wonders of very real progress, collectively we have come to believe that these changes have become woven into the American fabric, somehow replacing the savage threads of racism, sexism, homophobia and voluntary ignorance. And with that belief has come complacency, unwarranted comfort and willful ignorance of the forces that have been arrayed against that progress, forces that have been working 24-7 to bring about a special day – a day that turned out to be November 8, 2016.

And if we say that we didn’t see it coming it is because we didn’t bother to look or didn’t believe what we saw. The forces of regression and repression hid in plain view and we truly have no excuse. The Klan never disappeared. The Tea Party was never only about opposition to the first black President of the United States. The agenda of the Freedom Caucus in the Congress was clear and obvious to all who bothered to pay attention. But many of us were distracted or complacent in the false comfort of thinking that there was no way that the Civil Rights Act or Roe v. Wade or the Environmental Protection Agency or Marriage Equality could ever become nullities.

Now we know that we are entering an era of protracted struggle. In this column the past election was described as the “Gettysburg of the Culture Wars”. Unlike in 1863, the South won, philosophically and literally – when the Attorney General of the United States –under whose jurisdiction lies the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice – is someone named Jefferson Beauregard Sessions from Alabama, named after a slave owner and a defender of slavery respectively, we know that we are in for tough times.

Of course, too many of us have either forgotten or never known protracted struggle for rights and justice in this country. We have entire generations for whom marches, boycotts and demonstrations are just quaint black and white photographs of another time. But it is time for protracted struggle – – again. And just like Sisyphus we find ourselves having to push the boulder of justice and liberty and freedom back up the hill of interposition and nullification. And should we grow weary we should remember the opening lyrics to “God Will Take Care of You” –

Be not dismayed whatever betide
God will take care of you……….

But, of course, we must remember that God takes care of those who endeavor to take care of themselves. And in these days and times, taking care means protracted struggle against the forces that are now arrayed against the rights, freedoms, liberties and expectations of life that we hold dear.

The following was written approximately 12 hours after the election of Donald Trump was confirmed:

“I will need more than a few lines to express my thoughts about the election…..was up until 3.20 and saw the blasphemy through to the bitter end….was up at 5.30…went biking @6.30 and was in a tv studio @8.30 for about an hour and a half talking about the election results…….will decompress tonight and try to sort out my thoughts…the one thing I know for certain…I will not let the likes of Donald Trump bring me down for next to a moment…..my grandmothers were a domestic and a seamstress respectively, my grandfathers were a stevedore and a Pullman car porter respectively….after all that they faced – and my mother and father have faced…they would be embarrassed and ashamed if I would let a spoiled foul mouth billionaire diminish my spirit for even a nanosecond……that will never happen….Nietzche said if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger….We are not dead and we are getting stronger every day!”

As Election Day in America dawns in just a few hours, just about everything that can be said has been said – but not everything. That is because after Donald Trump loses on November 8th, America will be at yet another crossroads in its conflicted history.

Historians will one day ask how was it that the same country that elected as President Barack Obama, an African American progressive Democrat, could four years later come uncomfortably close to electing a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic Know-Nothing. The historians of the future will wrestle with the implications of the phenomenon known as American Schizophrenia but in the meantime we have to address the very real implications of the Trump candidacy and the massive vein of distaste for the present America and hate for the future American that it revealed.

By now, there are very few people who doubt that “Make America Great Again” is a thinly-coded dog whistle for a return to a time when white American males strode this land like entitled lords without having to take the time to consider racial, gender or immigration issues except in passing. And just in case someone did not hear that whistle, the very last Trump campaign commercials refer to a global conspiracy headed by shady bankers, all of whom just happen to be Jewish (one has to assume that reference to the Protocols of Zion was just too complicated for a two minute commercial).

There is no reason to expect that the sheetless Klansmen and the Breibart refugees and the birthers and the nativists and the reconstructed America Firsters are going anywhere anytime soon. The sad and true fact is that in going down to an historic defeat, Donald Trump was able to attract tens of millions of American voters to his doomed candidacy.

What is also sad and true is that there are truly deplorable people who supported candidacy who are not going anywhere. They will continue to hate and continue to vote. They will elect members of Congress and governors and mayors who will cater to their deepest hate and their visceral fears.

What is also sad and true is that not all of Trump’s supporters are deplorable. There are certainly millions of men and women who are afraid for their jobs, for their way of life and for the future of their children. These are men and women who listened to the sounds of the Pestilent Pied Piper Named Trump and who believed that the simplistic, fact-free and mythical solutions that he offered with the cult of His personality would indeed solve all of their problems and make their dreams come true.

Donald Tinyhands will fade into deserved obscurity. But there is an America that not only needs a voice, there are men and women who need to be listened to – and we ignore them and belittle them at the peril of the Republic itself.

Supporters of Hillary Clinton should celebrate and then they should listen – there are voices that need to be heard.