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Archive for the ‘Point of View Columns’ Category

The only thing surprising about the Trump presidency is how consistently awful he is and how there seem to be no redeeming factors with which he can be associated. At times that there only redemptive feature of President Trump is that, no matter what, he cannot be president after January of 2025. And that is a poverty stricken gossamer thread of hope for anyone who care about this country and its people.

One would think that insulting the entire NATO alliance, tossing candy at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, endorsing British Prime Minister Theresa May’s political nemesis and walking in front of Queen Elizabeth would have been enough chaos for Hurricane Donald. But there was more, much more. Virtually fawning over his bromantic partner Vladimir Putin, Trump actually denigrated the American justice and intelligence communities while stating that America was at fault for the differences between Russia and the United States, managing to also turn the evidence-laden proof of Russian meddling in the 2016 election into just more “fake news”.

It will be up to historians in the future to fully comprehend the amount of damage that this man has caused in just 18 months of being president. Trade wars around the world, engaging in a futile pas de deux with North Korea, inhuman treatment of immigrants at the American border with Mexico and the demonization of the American news media (or were the shootings in the Annapolis newsroom too long ago for anyone to remember) – these are actions which have current repercussions. But it is the turmoil that is still incubating which is even more worrisome.

While Americans wake up every morning literally wondering what outrageous statement will spew from the White House, so much more is going on right below the surface. It is hard to pace with the termite-like attacks that the Trump Administration is pursuing, attacks that are just below the surface and will not become apparent until the edifice starts to fray, crack and crash.

As you are reading this, the Trump Department of Education and the Trump Department of Justice are looking to virtually outlaw affirmative action in higher education. If his minions are successful, and with the likely installment of Brett Kavanaugh insuring an iron conservative majority on the Supreme Court for the next 10-15 years they almost certainly will succeed, diversity will no longer be a reality on many college campuses – it will only be a word found in a dictionary in a library, if anyone can find a library.

Meanwhile departure of Scott Pruitt as Executive Director of the EPA was a cause for only momentary celebration for those of us who think that clear air and clean water are important. That is because his replacement, Andrew Wheeler, is a coal industry executive and destroying the environment is a key element of his professional resume.

The Trump/Sessions Department of Justice tries to make people think that reopening the Emmett Till case is an example of the shell game also known as benevolent ivory justice. One can only assume that we should forget Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and all of the other black men and women who have been “lawfully” lynched by the system that has reneged on a promise of “just for all”.

The point, of course, is that while we continue to be focused on the Trump Clown Show, Trump and his minions are engaged in the serious and serial and systematic dismantling of so much of the infrastructure of hope and promise (as imperfect as it has been) that has made this country worth saving. And every day that Donald Trump is president is another day that hope and promise fade just a little bit more.

And that may be The True Tragedy That is Trump.

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It is said that pride goes before the fall. And so, as the 4th of July holiday appears on the calendar this is a good time to remember that the concept of penance is as ancient as civilization itself. Upon the commission of a serious transgression, the sinner is granted forgiveness upon the condition of performing some act of contrition – or penance – and only then is the sin truly forgiven. And now, here in the second decade of the 21st century, those of us who possess progressive beliefs are now forced to realize that we have committed a great transgression – we believed that the rights and privileges that we enjoyed were permanent and therefore we did not take the necessary steps to safeguard them. The penance is that now many of these rights and privileges are in grave danger of being taken away – for now or possibly for a lifetime.

 

The loss and denial of rights does not represent alarmist or fantastic thought. Throughout modern history there are too many instances of entire groups of people who enjoyed rights and privileges associated with citizenship and acceptance losing it all within an historical blink of the eye. Just ask the Armenians at the turn of the last century, or the Jews in post-World War I Germany, or the Japanese Americans in 1942 after Pearl Harbor. Or you can ask the Tutsis in Rwanda when the Hutus came for them.

And now, we can ask each other, what is happening in America?

 

People formerly marginalized to the extreme – black Americans, Latinos, women and girls, members of the LBGTQ community, Asians have seen some of the barriers to full citizenship – visible and invisible – begin the fade away during the past 50 years. And as progress, however incomplete, has shed light into the many dark corners of America it has become easy for everyone, even those with the best of memories and the deepest of knowledge of history, to remember to and understand the sustained struggles and ongoing battles that resulted in so many changes. Changes that so many of us have taken for granted.

 

And while the fruits of the labors of so many forgotten men and women were being enjoyed, the forces of racism and sexism and homophobia never went away. Having been vanquished on the field of public opinion they sought other ways to impose their will on those who were emerging from the shadows of American Marginalism. Those other ways included changing the electoral landscape of this country through gerrymandering and voter suppression so that as you are reading this a knee-jerk conservative Supreme Court justice is about to be nominated to a lifetime term by a President who was not elected by the popular vote will be confirmed by a majority of the United States Senate who do not represent a majority of the American people. And we will have to live with the reality of this new right wing of the right wing Supreme Court for perhaps as long as a generation.

 

And as aspects of American socio-political life like affirmative action and gender equality and proscriptions against discrimination based on race or gender or sexual preference are stripped away, it will be helpful to realize what has happened. Because what has happened is that too many beneficiaries of progressive change have taken that change for granted, not realizing (or forgetting) that the foundations of this country – racism, slavery, sexism, genocide – continue to define too much of what this country is about.

 

The penance for the transgressions of forgetfulness and complacency is having to endure the very real reversal of what so many men and women fought and died for in this country. The penance for these transgressions will entail realizing that battles for equality and equity in this country never end. Those who believe in progress and progressive thought will have to return to strategies of resistance, organization, protest and rebellion against the regressive forces who would keep us from the light once more.

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Many Americans who are opposed to Donald Trump, indeed most Americans who are appalled by Donald Trump, view him as an aberrant turn in the wheel of American history. The view persists that whatever damage he inflicts upon American citizens, no matter the seeds of turmoil that he spews all over the world, America (and the world) will recover and prosper once again. The consequence of this thinking has been too many Americans are engaging in passive aggressive behavior – on the one hand cursing his very name and turning his every misstep, misdemeanor or felony into entrees the progressive dinner table and then moving on with their lives – earning a living, planning their next vacation and planning for the future. And I am reminded of the poem written by the German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Even though every single day, Trump reminds us that he is so intent on wreaking damage and destruction in his pursuit of Making America Great (and White) Again that the damage that he can cause to America and Americans is incalculable. Yet the protest and resistance to the Trump regime has been muted given the grave danger that he represents.

The truth is the majority of Americans cannot envision themselves as actual and direct victims of Donald Trump and his enablers. And this self-insulation did not begin on January 20, 2017 when Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States. For example, this country has the unenviable record of being incarceration nation with 4% of the world’s population and 40% of the world’s prison population. More than two million American citizens languish in American prisons despite a declining national crime rate. Yet most Americans believe that they do not need to speak out against mass incarceration because they are not prisoners.

The truth is that most Americans are covered by some kind of health care, either through their employer or through Medicaid or Medicare. And so even though America is the only developed country without a comprehensive national health care system, too many Americans do not see a linkage between their own lives and the tragedy of millions of Americans who do not have health care coverage. They do not speak out because they are not without health care coverage.

During the sad and sordid history of race-based slavery in this country, most white Americans did not speak out against this outrage until a constitutional crisis resulted in a Civil War. And even after the Civil War and Emancipation, most white Americans did not speak out against lynching, Jim Crow and legalized segregation because they were not black and would never be slaves, would never be lynched and would never be denied their rights at birth. And so too many white Americans (and black Americans) so not speak out because they believe they will not be treated as black Americans and have to drink from the bitter cup of racism, discrimination and the denial of basis human rights.

On this very day that you are reading this column, millions of women are being denied reproductive rights, in the process being cast into an abyss of misery, degradation and hopelessness. Of course no man can understand the full impact of the denial of reproductive rights and too many women who believe that their reproductive rights will be protected. And as a result, too many Americans do not speak out because they are not at risk of losing their reproductive rights.

Most Americans are not from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras or Mexico. So most Americans view the grim and grotesque Hell the Trump regime has created for immigrants at the Mexican border as being irrelevant to their lives because they are not from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras or Mexico. While some Americans recoil from the horror of parents being separated from their children, most Americans will not hold their elected representatives accountable for this monstrous policy. And most Americans will not speak out until this policy is stopped, because they are not from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras or Mexico.

So while most Americans view the travesty that is the Trump regime as an unfortunate moment in American history. The media, the LGBTQ community, black and Latino Americans, advocates for gun control and supporters of environmental protection and reform are already targets of the Trump regime.

Now might be good time for all of us to remember the last lines of Reverend Niemoller’s poem before it is too late:

“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

 

 

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For those who care to see, it should be clear that with the possible exceptions of Warren G. Harding and George W. Bush, Donald J. Trump is the worst President of the United States in the past 100 years. The lies, the classless attacks on enemies – real and imagined, the ignorance, the racism, the sexism, the mindlessness and then there are the lies, all of which qualify the 45th President of the United States for all the vilification that could possibly rain down on him. And yet, Donald Trump will be president until 2025 unless Democrats and Progressives decide that rope-a-dope tactics will never beat the monstrosity that is the Trump presidency.

The sad truth is that despite the appalling and inhumane Make America Great cruelty that is playing out at the nation’s border with Mexico, literally ripping children out of the arms of their mothers, if the presidential election was held tomorrow, Donald Trump wins. The truth is that despite the concerted and strategic efforts of his administration to despoil and befoul the environment of this country and the planet, Donald Trump is reelected president in the imaginary election of tomorrow.

The truth is that despite draconian cuts to social service programs, the frontal assault on a half-century of civil rights gains, denial of women’s rights, barely tacit support of racists and misogynists, Pyrrhic trade wars against allies and adversaries alike and the degradation of the American presidency tweet by venomous tweet – despite all of this, Donald Trump would be re-elected President of the United States tomorrow.

Donald Trump is not an enigma. He is a racist, sexist, xenophobic self-aggrandizing egotist, and he confirms this to the world every day. The mystery is what has happened to the Democratic Party and unaffiliated progressives. Having seen the damage that Donald Trump has wreaked on this country and its future in less than 18 months – did we mention the Supreme Court? – one would think that the men and women who fear for the future and despise the Trumpian present would have realized that the internecine warfare that took place between the Clinton and Sanders camps in 2016 is unsustainable given who is president.

Yet, as these words are written, there is no presumptive Democratic/progressive opponent to Donald Trump anywhere on the political horizon. Donald Trump may salivate at the notion of a Biden/Warren/Clinton (??)/Harris/Booker candidacy, but are any of the aforementioned doing what is needed to rescue American in 2020? Are Democrats waiting for Robert Mueller to rescue this country? Are they going to find out that Mueller is no more a friend than James Comey was?

And in the meantime, who is going to decide to get off the sidelines and take on this monstrosity of a president who is only getting stronger every day as his Kool-Aid swilling supporters continue to believe in his invincibility despite the evidence that as a country we are careening towards domestic disarray and international maelstroms from which there may be no recovery. But Donald Trump cannot be defeated by Nobody, and right now Nobody is running against him.

There may be some Master Plan that is being crafted by the same Democratic geniuses that were certain that Hillary Clinton could not lose, but those who fear for this country should also fear those so-called geniuses who could not recognize disaster even when it looked them in the eye. And meantime children are held in cages, federal drug law enforcement and incarceration has been revived and this country is on the brink of trade wars and shooting wars around the world.

One need not be a political genius to know that right now Donald Trump has 40% of the general electorate locked up. It is clear that he is capable of cajoling, browbeating and deceiving another 11% of the electorate. Where is the Democrat/progressive who can claim even 25% if the election were held today?

That noted Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan wrote “….the answer is blowin’ in the wind”. It is not clear what that answer is, but right now the hopes and dreams of too many Americans are indeed blowin’ in the wind.

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Forty Eight years ago today I was honored by my Dartmouth brothers and selected to give a commencement speech. It is believed to be the first time that there had ever been a black speaker at a Dartmouth College commencement – here is the full text of that speech:

Mothers and Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, Mr. President, Faculty and Guests:

We are gathered here this morning to celebrate what is supposed to be a great day, a day of significance, and a day of meaning for all those involved. But what does this day mean for us, what does this day mean for us, the Black students who have survived the Dartmouth College experience?

This day means that we recognize ourselves as being the result of years of labor and sacrifice, the labor of fathers, the sacrifice of mothers, the encouragement and help from brothers and sisters, the support of friends. What we owe for this labor, this sacrifice, this encouragement, this help, this support, we can never pay back in material terms no matter how hard we try. For what we have been given can never be measured in terms of money, the god of fools. For what we have been given was given in the spirit of love and we must return in the same that love, otherwise we have not survived the Dartmouth experience, but rather we have been crushed by it.

If we are to make the years of labor and sacrifice meaningful, then we must dedicate ourselves to our people. We must dedicate ourselves to Black freedom and Black peace of mind, no matter what the obstacles, no matter what the barriers, no matter what the side alleys that lead to dead ends of frustration and negation. We must dedicate ourselves to putting an end to the sad humor of the contradiction of a Black man in a white man’s school trying to learn how to free himself.

We were made to be free, Black men and Black women were not meant to be anybody’s hand servants or slaves, we were meant to stand tall and proud under the sky of liberation without any clouds of oppression or injustice on the horizons of our minds. And if we are to be free once more, then we must not be surprised by whatever America tries to do to us. Three hundred years of oppression, three hundred years of blood, three hundred years of brutal and inhuman treatment should have taught us that much.

But, when we were first put in chains, our ancestors were surprised; when Reconstruction was found to be a sick white joke we were surprised; when Marcus Garvey was railroaded to prison, we were surprised; when Emmett Till and Mack Parker were murdered, we were surprised; when Malcolm X, the prince of blackness was murdered in cold blood we were surprised; when Martin Luther King, the prince of peace, was killed were still surprised; when Freed Hampton and Mark Clark were killed by the animals that masquerade as Chicago police, were we were still surprised; and even last month, when more of our brothers and sisters were shot down in August and Jackson, we were surprised.

Well, we can’t be surprised any longer. What goes around comes around, and it’s time for the other folks to be surprised.

We have been told to believe in America, to believe that there was something deep down inside America that was good. And what has happened?

Black brothers die daily in the Indochina madness that is just another example of the sickness of America spilling out all over the world, and still be try to believe; Nixon tells Black people that he doesn’t give a damn about us, that he would rather put a white man on the moon than put food into a Black (or white) child’s stomach, and still we try to believe; the Congressional Records of the United States detail the construction and planned use of concentration camps and still we are supposed to believe.

The time has now come for us to believe in ourselves. The time has come to make ourselves free. Our stars of freedom still shine and our saints of righteousness do live. You only have to look around.

The stars are in the eyes of little Black babies and children who were born destined only for freedom, the saints of righteousness are the mothers and fathers, the brother and sisters who have provided the strength for Blackness to survive in the face of the forces of evil.

The time is coming, the time has got to come, when freedom will be seen in our smiles, and our Blackness will mean freedom. We have to believe this, because this is the only reality left to us.

That is what we are about, that is what today means for us. To best sum up our feelings though, I would like to quote a poem written by Brother Herschel Johnson, of this class, as this poem speaks for the souls and spirits of all of us:

For you mothers with dirt-rough hands

For you with backs aching from bending

And flushing and scrubbing

For all you women on transit

You with brown bags under your arms

Bringing home the leavings of white folks

Bringing it to your children

For all you Black mothers and fathers

Who had to live with humility

And yet have had the pride to survive

For you Black mothers and fathers who raised up

Your men are now with you.

 

Thank you and may a beautiful Black peace always be with you.

 

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When historians look back at the United States of America several centuries from now they will be amazed at how intractable and inscrutable the issue of race was in this country. They will also be amazed at the depth of commitment to self-deception that was adopted by the overwhelming majority of white Americans. And finally, they will be amazed that any white Americans were amazed when the daily grind of racism and racist behavior was brought to light – how they were shocked, absolutely shocked – like Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca was shocked that there was gambling in Rick’s Café, even as he pocketed his weekly payoff.

Let us count the ways in which America’s true color-blindness makes itself known. Consider the eight of the first ten American presidents were slaveholders – to be clear, they owned, sold, beat, raped and killed black Americans. Historical accounts indicate that there were no “nice” slave plantations, only different gradations of Hell.

Yet the profitable human bondage presided over by these presidents are either airbrushed out of history or they are given a pass due to the “way things were in those days”. This historical malpractice might be acceptable to white Americans, but it is a cruel and sinful slap in the face for every black American. Indeed, the acceptance of this sad history is so pervasive and perverse that it is a cause for challenge and argument to even question the moral bankruptcy of this particular status quo.

Consider that just a few weeks ago a memorial to the wholesale lynching of black Americans opened in Montgomery, Alabama to muted and limited national news coverage. This, despite the fact that this memorial documents the fact that over 4,000 black men, women and children were lynched in these United States between 1876 and 1960.

And consider that while this domestic reign of terror rained true fire and fury on black Americans, white Americans of every political persuasion typically stood by, if they did not actively participate, as these atrocities were repeated with demonic regularity. Every U.S. President during this era from the feckless Rutherford Hayes to the Roosevelt cousins to the inveterate racist Wilson to Truman to Eisenhower to Kennedy, no American president or his supporters ever took a stand against the lynching of black Americans. Nevertheless, although lynching should be inextricably linked to slavery, America’s other original sin.

So it really should come as no surprise that when two peaceful black men were arrested for taking up space in a Starbuck’s that white Americans professed to be shocked at getting another glimpse at what a daily dose of racism looks like. Meanwhile black Americans are fully aware that the Starbuck’s treatment is just what the American Way looks like through brown eyes. It is a virtual truth that most black Americans have had their presence questioned – in a department store, hotel, first-class seat on an airplane, standing in the backyard of your grandmother or just driving an expensive car – and the Starbuck’s Treatment is just part of what James Brown called “Living in America”.

The saddest part of this most recent evidence of the reality of racism in America is that now Starbucks will close all 8000 stores on May 29th for a day-long session on “bias training”. What is so sad is that in 2018 white Americans need to be “trained” to treat black Americans like human beings.

And what every black American already knows is that one day will not be enough. Not at Starbucks. Not at anywhere in these United States.

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When we take a closer look at American history, we realize that the youth of America may have been, and may be in the future, this country’s remaining saving grace. Despite their multiple, virtually countless faults, the so-called Founding Fathers devised a form of governance that, when practiced according to principle, is a virtual work of art. And those “Founding Fathers” were primarily men in their twenties and thirties. Similarly, the epic civil rights movement and episodically heroic Vietnam War protest were led by young men and women (Martin Luther King was 34 when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech). And now, this past weekend, we witnessed the youth of America seize the mantle of leadership and take up battle against gun insanity in the United States.

There is no need, and this is not an attempt, to romanticize or rationalize American history or the American present. But it is a truth that in the history of this planet younger generations of any era have translated the change into their lives into the changes of society and the world in which we live. In the current era there has been such an emphasis on self-comfort, self-aggrandizement and just plain self, that there should be no surprise in learning that it has taken the current generation of youth more than a minute to climb out of their digitized rabbit holes and confront the world with their vision of today and tomorrow.

The awful and bloody reality of living in the United States of Gun has been with us for the better part of this country’s existence. But it has been during the past half century that the glorification of the God of Gun has been commercialized to the point that the Second Amendment to the Constitution is seen by too many as an advertisement for gun ownership and more importantly, gun sales.

But the generation of young people with the most potent voices last weekend are the first generation to literally grow up from the cradle to skateboard with regular visitations of mass gun violence in schools. These boys and girls and young women and young men have not known a time when a year could go by without death by automatic weapons fire in some school somewhere in these United States. Theirs is a generation that lives in an America where bullets know no boundaries – from the suburbs to the inner cities to the farmland – and where bullets cannot distinguish between black and white, male or female, rich or poor. Bullets in their world kill without discrimination and seemingly without pause.

This past Saturday we may have witnessed a generation of young people realizing that the world is theirs to change and that they have the power to cast off the painful yoke of endurance and pain and quite simply change the world. With their capacity to communicate globally and instantaneously and their discovery that they have (or will have) the right to vote, this young generation of new warriors may be able to do something that past generations have been unable to do – stop the worship of the gun and revisit the notion of reverence for life and peace.

We should be glad that they are not listening when they are told that they are too young to express their opinion, much less seek to change the world. Of course, that is what was said to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and the generation of war protesters whose voices drove a President from office and started this country on the path of peace and away from useless and bloody war.

Last week we may have watched the dawning of a new day in America and in the world.

Time will tell. As it always does – because actions will always speak louder than words, no matter how noble and eloquent those words might be.

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