Politics

The Work Goes On

The votes are still being tallied around the country as I write this, but it appears that the Democrats have at the very least retaken the House of Representatives and scored a few gubernatorial wins.

Over on social media, some of my liberal friends are lamenting that this isn’t good enough, that we needed that legendary “blue wave” to decisively show that this country isn’t what Donald Trump represents, and they’re disappointed it didn’t happen at the scale they hoped for.

Well.

Their negativity is irritating the hell out of me, to be honest.

Considering how gerrymandered so many states are, a blue wave was never likely. Perhaps it wasn’t even possible. But we did pretty damn well winning the House in this environment. The House is a start. The House means investigations, and it means applying the brakes to Trump and the Trumpist GOP’s corrosive agenda of undoing everything progressives have fought for over the past century.

Look, the ugly reality is that America is a land of bigots and know-nothings, and it always has been. Also, this nation was founded on blood and cruelty and it has never lived up to the ideals of its founding documents. That’s just the way it is. The mistake that progressives keep making over and over is believing that a single big win is somehow all it takes to overcome that reality. Remember how many people honestly believed that electing Obama meant we were now a “post-racial society?” Such naivete now seems heartbreakingly quaint.

The last two years — not to mention all the nasty bullshit Obama endured during the preceding eight years — have been a slap in the face to remind us that the work must go on. It will go on, and it is going on. Because the ideals we haven’t managed to live up to are as baked into the American makeup as the cruelty. Yin and yang, constantly struggling with one another, rocking back and forth but slowly, bit by bit, rolling forward. This country is about the aspiration, not a finished thing in itself. At least that’s how I’ve come to see things over the past decade.

It’s worth noting that many of those new representatives who will be seated come January 2019 are women, and many of them represent “firsts”: the first Muslim woman, the first Native American woman, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. And all of them were elected tonight, in 2018, with Donald Trump in the White House. That’s America.

That’s the work going on…

 

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“Let Me Tell You What I Believe”

“We now stand at a crossroads — a moment in time at which two very different visions of humanity’s future compete for the hearts and the minds of citizens around the world. Two different stories, two different narratives about who we are and who we should be. How should we respond?

“Should we see that wave of hope that we felt with [Nelson Mandela’s] release from prison, from the Berlin Wall coming down — should we see that hope that we had as naïve and misguided? Should we understand the last 25 years of global integration as nothing more than a detour from the previous inevitable cycle of history — where might makes right, and politics is a hostile competition between tribes and races and religions, and nations compete in a zero-sum game, constantly teetering on the edge of conflict until full-blown war breaks out? Is that what we think?

“Let me tell you what I believe. I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision. I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and King and Abraham Lincoln. I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom and multi-racial democracy, built on the premise that all people are created equal, and they’re endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. And I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible and that it can achieve more peace and more cooperation in pursuit of a common good. That’s what I believe.

And I believe we have no choice but to move forward; that those of us who believe in democracy and civil rights and a common humanity have a better story to tell. And I believe this not just based on sentiment, I believe it based on hard evidence.

“The fact that the world’s most prosperous and successful societies, the ones with the highest living standards and the highest levels of satisfaction among their people, happen to be those which have most closely approximated the liberal, progressive ideal that we talk about and have nurtured the talents and contributions of all their citizens.

“The fact that authoritarian governments have been shown time and time again to breed corruption, because they’re not accountable; to repress their people; to lose touch eventually with reality; to engage in bigger and bigger lies that ultimately result in economic and political and cultural and scientific stagnation. Look at history. Look at the facts.

“The fact that countries which rely on rabid nationalism and xenophobia and doctrines of tribal, racial or religious superiority as their main organizing principle, the thing that holds people together — eventually those countries find themselves consumed by civil war or external war. Check the history books.

“The fact that technology cannot be put back in a bottle, so we’re stuck with the fact that we now live close together and populations are going to be moving, and environmental challenges are not going to go away on their own, so that the only way to effectively address problems like climate change or mass migration or pandemic disease will be to develop systems for more international cooperation, not less.

“We have a better story to tell. But to say that our vision for the future is better is not to say that it will inevitably win. Because history also shows the power of fear. History shows the lasting hold of greed and the desire to dominate others in the minds of men. Especially men. History shows how easily people can be convinced to turn on those who look different, or worship God in a different way. So if we’re truly to continue [Mandela’s] long walk towards freedom, we’re going to have to work harder and we’re going to have to be smarter. We’re going to have to learn from the mistakes of the recent past. … ”

— Barack Obama, speaking in Johannesburg, South Africa, to honor the late Nelson Mandela, July 17, 2018

(italics mine; complete transcript here)

This was President Obama’s first major speech since leaving office. As usual, he articulated the same vision of the world and of the future that I have, the one that I’m trying very hard not to lose faith in.

I really miss this man.

 

 

 

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A Poem for the Fourth of July

The crackle and thunder of the fireworks is finally beginning to wind down, the traffic jam that’s been creeping past my house for an hour is breaking up, and a pall of smoke hangs over everything. Independence Day 2018 is nearly over. Am I the only one who feels sort of… relieved? Let’s be honest: It’s been a weird one this year.

Our country is a mess. It’s been a mess before, many times, but this mess, this year… this feels different, doesn’t it? The partisan divide is wider than I’ve ever seen it in my lifetime, and that’s saying something given the past 20 years or so. Tensions are high, and I’m willing to bet a dollar that there will be bloodshed before this long hot summer is over. Or at least before election day. Not exactly a celebratory sort of time, is it?

I’d like to share a poem I ran across recently that I think is worth your time and your thought. It’s by a gentleman named Langston Hughes, an African-American writer who was at the forefront of the artistic and social movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. He wrote this poem written in 1935, at the height of the Great Depression, when the forces of fascism were on the rise in Europe. That world would look familiar to us in some respects and yet also be stunningly removed from our daily experience here in the 21st century. It’s a world 83 years in the rear-view, a time that was closer to the muzzle-loading, pre-industrialized Civil War than it is to our current-day social-media struggle to define the soul of America. Nevertheless, what Hughes is saying here remains true and relevant today: that America is what it has always been… not a tangible thing that we once had and somehow lost, but an ideal to strive for… an ideal we’ve never managed to completely obtain, which has never been shared equally among all our peoples, but which we still promise ourselves is within reach. That comforts me on this long, hot summer night when the air is as thick with tension as it is the smell of gunpowder…

LET AMERICA BE AMERICA AGAIN

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

 

 

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Tough Times for Truth, Justice and the American Way

I’ve been thinking for a week or so that I need to write something that will capture my thoughts about where we are as a country right now and where we appear to be headed, but you know what? Screw it. My heart’s just not into rehashing the rage, frustration, fear, contempt, shame, and, most of all, disappointment I’ve been feeling toward the old US of A lately. Not to mention that there are likely people reading this right now, people I know, friends and family members, who have exactly the opposite opinion about what’s going on. Who are maybe even elated by the very same things I find so utterly repugnant. And that’s really… discouraging.

I need some inspiration, some reassurance about the very concept of America. I need to look to one of my heroes, a symbol of everything that’s best about this country, the embodiment of our ideals and aspirations, a comforting mythical figure who…

Ah, shit. Doesn’t that just figure?

Make sense, though. That’s certainly where my America seems to be right now.

 

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Pity The Nation

One of the blog entries that got obliviated last week was simply a poem that I’d run across and appreciated. I’ve decided to put it up again because, if anything, it’s even more relevant now than when I first posted it a couple weeks ago. Alas.

Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except  to praise conquerers
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
By force and by torture
Pity the nation that knows
No other language but its own
And no other culture but its own
Pity the nation whose breath is money
And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
Pity the nation oh pity the people
who allow their rights to  erode
and their freedoms to be washed away
My country, tears of thee
Sweet land of liberty!

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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To Be Hopeful…

Here’s something I’ve been needing to hear recently:

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

 

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

 

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

— Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times

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“We Wouldn’t Deserve To”

I never thought I’d be quoting John McCain, of all people, but when you’re right, you’re right:
“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain the last best hope of earth for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history,
“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did.
“We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”
 
Well said, sir.
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Fire and Fury Like the World Has Never Seen

After the Berlin Wall fell and the old Soviet Union disintegrated, I thought I’d never again feel as nervous about the likelihood of nuclear war as I did during my teenage years in the 1980s.

As with so many other things I believed in my twenties, I was wrong.

Relevant link.

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A Bit of Perspective from an Interesting Read

… our public religion is, in large measure, an invention of the modern era. The ceremonies and symbols that breathe life into the belief that we are “one nation under God” were not, as many Americans believe, created alongside the nation itself. Their parentage stems not from the founding fathers but from an era much closer to our own, the era of our own fathers and mothers, our grandfathers and grandmothers. This fact need not diminish their importance; fresh traditions can be more powerful than older ones adhered to out of habit. Nevertheless, we do violence to our past if we treat certain phrase — “one nation under God,” “In God We Trust” — as sacred texts handed down to us from the nation’s founding. Instead, we are better served if we understand these utterances for what they are: political slogans that not to the origins of our nation but to a specific point in its not-so-distant past.

— Kevin M. Kruse,
One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America

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Thoughts on the Fourth of July, 2017

America is the promise of liberty and justice for all.

 

Sometimes we forget that promise. Sometimes we misunderstand it. Sometimes we even get stupid, because we have forgotten who we are supposed to be. We get scared, angry, desperate.

 

But when we stop, when we remember, when we recommit ourselves to our better selves, we rediscover not only our nation’s potential for greatness, but our own as well.

 

Our greatness comes from our ability to imagine better — to see America as a vision of a better future, for ourselves, for our children. America was built by men and women who took that journey step by step. Yes, mistakes were made, crimes were committed, horrific things were done, slavery, genocide, eco-catastrophe — because there were many different visions of a better future, [and] because greed and corruption tainted our commitments.

 

Some of us have learned better. Some of us have not. And those with the wisdom to see the potential for damage always run the risk of falling into despair.

 

But we’re still a young nation, still suffering from our own growing pains, still learning how to be a nation, with all the responsibilities that attend. As long as we the people can remember what the founding fathers promised — a commitment to justice — we will be okay.

 

And those who forget that commitment… History will have it’s say about them as well. They will be the examples of what not to do and who not to be.

 

Our job, as we approach America’s birthday, is to celebrate the possibilities that are still available — and recommit ourselves to create them as realities: a nation that works for ALL of us, with no one and nothing left out.”

David Gerrold

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