When I try to explain my love affair with my adoptive country I start by explaining that America is a country based on an idea. That idea however is not a guarantee, it’s a promise. It is up to every generation to work and struggle to make the reality of the United States closer to its promise. All the ugliness and darkness that existed within the country’s borders and within its population did not magically vanish on a single day in January 2009. The beauty and the light did not magically vanish on a single day in January 2017. On July 4th each year I celebrate my opportunity as an adoptive American to be part of the journey to create a more perfect union. I wish the route of that journey was more direct but July 4th 2017 gave me just as many reasons to celebrate as every July 4th since I became a citizen of our proud republic.
‘Let us remember what the once exiled, imprisoned and now universally loved Nelson Mandela and what he said after the fall of apartheid.
“If the pain has often been unbearable and the revelations shocking to all of us, it is because they indeed bring us the beginnings of a common understanding of what happened and a steady restoration of the nation’s humanity.”
So before we part let us again state the truth clearly.
The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered.
As a community, we must recognize the significance of removing New Orleans’ Confederate monuments. It is our acknowledgment that now is the time to take stock of, and then move past, a painful part of our history.
Anything less would render generations of courageous struggle and soul-searching a truly lost cause.
Anything less would fall short of the immortal words of our greatest President Abraham Lincoln, who with an open heart and clarity of purpose calls on us today to unite as one people when he said:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right; let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds … to do all which may achieve and cherish—a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”’
“we” … The people of the is country – as a whole. We… the people… are pissed off at the guy at the bus stop at 5am going to his first minimum wage job. Worse yet… we hate him for it – he’s a leach. We…. the people… convince ourselves we are the victim. We… the people… are mad at the guy in front of us while driving simply because he is there, and as we fly around him give him the finger. Not even caring that he is probably just lost and finding his way. We… the people say “don’t tread on me”…. “screw the other guy (even if he is our neighbor)”….and “me first”. We the people… value the kind of man Mr. Trump is. “he says what I want to say…. he acts like I want to act.” Yes… we. IMO…We.. as a whole… are not good people. And we… the people of this country… got exactly the kind of man “we” really are.
I emotionally identify with my friend’s sentiments but I respectfully disagree. To quote Barack Obama: “This is not who we are”. To go one step further I agree with Dr King’s insight that the United States is an inherently just society which is simultaneously the home of intolerable injustice. He then understood that if you can force America, or at least the just middle to bear witness to injustice then you can awaken the conscience of a just society and create the political reality necessary to overcome injustice. The complication is that the republic was born with a huge cancer inside it of injustice, the injustice of the dehumanization of the other and the development of elaborate philosophical and semantic frameworks to justify stripping the dehumanized other of every right that accompanies humanity.
To put it in different terms, we created a republic in the name of “We the people” but never defined who the people are and have continuously used, in law and in relationships between individuals, the mechanism of excluding “others” from the “people”. Although we have progressively decreased the manifestations of that injustice we’ve also learned and taught each successive generation to avert our gaze unless we are absolutely forced to see that injustice straight in the middle of our vision. There is a also an unreachable segment of the population that Trump speaks to directly who will never be able to see some people as anything other than “other”.
The real tipping point though in the story of how we ended up with Trump is that those of us who should know better got lazy. News turned into entertainment. “Quality news” pretended to be journalism while actually degenerating into a “he said / she said” soap opera of false equivalence which placed no value in objective truth. If objective truth was discussed it was placed in the ghetto of “fact checking” rather than being treated as the central purpose of journalism. Smart educated people who should have known better went along with this degeneracy of journalism and refused to say that the emperor had no clothes. To allow ourselves to excuse our complicitness in this decadence we label the ugliness we see now as “Trumpism” so we can say it is something new. The “newness” of Trumpism gives us an excuse for not calling out the decades long slide of mainstreaming of othering and authoritarianism into the mainstream of one of the two great parties. The concept of “Trumpism” allows us to label this as something new which we can denounce as opposed to something that has stared us in the face all along that we refused to call out. The concept of “Trumpism” allows us to make ourselves believe we are genuinely surprised when we, as people who should know better, are forced to stare at the ugliness beyond our fortresses of privilege and ask “How can this be happening today?”
Reagan was right: “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation”. We got lazy as a polity and we got the predictable outcome. On the other hand, I’m getting somewhat optimistic: It is unavoidable that when we look back at this period we will regard the Trump presidency as a period of national shame and humiliation. However I think we will also see that we got lucky: Trump and Bannon do not appear competent enough to establish an authoritarian regime and overturn the republic. We may regard them as a painful warning that caused us to engage in a period of renewal of the intuitions of the republic and and a re-education in the obligations of citizenship. (The word “painful” should not be taken lightly though. This “warning” has and will continue to destroy many, many lives).
We’re only a month and a half in so a lot can go wrong but I’m feeling optimistic that we will get through this. The press seems to be re-learning the role of journalism. We are re-learning the skills of civic engagement, we engage in acts as solidarity with other communities as a matter of course and most importantly we are relearning the core imperative of engaged citizenship in a just republic: bearing witness to injustice.
On the other hand I chose to be American so I would look for a cup half full perspective. Maybe the right perspective was Jon Stewart’s on Colbert’s show a few weeks ago which was that if we survive this with the republic’s institutions intact we will prove that America truly is great.
It’s coming. The incompetence of the roll out of the travel ban is completely beside the point. The travel ban was purely an exercise in messaging to set the scene for Bannon’s game plan for using the next San Bernadino or Orlando as an excuse to seize emergency powers, ditch posse comitatus to deploy the military within the homeland and launch the United States into a civilizational conflict with the muslim world which he would use as cover for reshaping the U.S. along white nationalist lines.
We’re feeling pretty good about ourselves right now in terms of the resistance we have put up to less than a month of insanity and incompetence but everything to date has just been a warm up. We need to get ready to mobilize for anti-war protests that will make the Vietnam protests look like a tea party because if we let Bannon’s war start it could be all over for us very quickly.
Here’s the Wikipedia article for anyone who needs a refresher on how the match was lit last time . . .