Thursday, February 25, 2016

Political Memory

Sorry for not posting for so long. I’ve been pre-occupied with pressing personal matters.

There are many variations on [Irish author/statesman] Edmund Burke’s famous (and wise) quotation, “Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it.” What I find more discouraging as we slog through our current presidential campaign, is that those who don’t properly understand the present and very recent past are destined to make really bad decisions in the near future. But I concede we’re low on good options.

Thanks to our commercially corrupt, 24/7/365 television (and Internet) news cycle, political campaigns have become endless, boring reality shows and poll-driven horse races – and we wonder why the U.S. has the lowest percentage of voting citizenry among all industrial, “First World” nations! Maybe if our campaigns took six months (preferably three) instead of two years (!) and our media spoke truth to both power and the powerless, people en mass would think smarter, be better (and truthfully) informed, and therefore more motivated to vote. (Getting rid of the Electoral College might help too.)

I’m just a smart person and a political animal, not a professional pundit. But I’m amazed by what I hear the official pundits do say and don’t say.

For example, the media talks about President Obama as if he were just another president – rather than the first black president. I’m an [old school] liberal, but it was always my ardent wish that the first black president would be a very light-skinned Republican so that White America might possibly get used to the idea. Instead, we got a darker-skinned Democrat who campaigned as a progressive, then governed like a centrist in an effort to get White Government to work with him, but he was and still is being blocked, derided and shockingly disrespected at every turn.

Conservative white people have been saying that because a black man was elected twice, it shows that racism is a thing of the past. But the truth is, Obama’s presidency has actually brought this country’s entrenched, systemic racism gushing to the surface. This is not the President’s fault, but it is the truth. If you haven’t noticed that…well, the best I can say is you haven’t been paying attention.

Now, we’re confronted with the very real possibility of a completely unqualified, angry, uncouth white bully on the Republican side (Trump or Cruz, take your pick) and a choice between a male Socialist Jew and a female old-school politician on the Democratic side.

Young people and weary Baby Boomers love Bernie – who is unquestionably saying all the right things about all the wrong things going on in this country. But even if he manages to get the candidacy and then win the election (both of which are highly unlikely because Americans think Democratic Socialism is the same as Communism and anti-Semitism is still as alive and well as racism), he’ll be given the Obama treatment and barely be able to function.

If  Hillary – who a lot of people just plain dislike and distrust – wins the day, she’ll probably stand a better chance of functioning, even though she’s a woman, because she’s tough, knows how to play the game with the boys, and knows where a few crucial political bodies are buried. But she too will be thwarted wherever/whenever possible and the best we’re likely to end up with is essentially the status quo. (Personally I'm for Bernie but I'm voting for Hillary because I think she has the best chance to win and be somewhat effective.)

Believe me when I tell you that I wish with all my heart I could feel more positive about this election. But what I’m seeing is an oligarchy in power, an angry barely-working-class that used to be a reasonably contented middle class, and a déjà vu of my naive 60s youth that only led to Nixon, Reagan, social/political/economic collapse and entirely too much religion and abuse of technology being brought into what, Constitutionally, should be a secular, human system. I’m very mad, very sad, and more than a little afraid.

Aren’t you glad I’m back?!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Who’s Your Daddy?

If you don't get why Donald Trump is increasingly popular with many Americans of diverse stripes, you’re not seeing the big, emotional, nasty picture.

Trump supporters have endured nearly eight years of a black president. And not just black but a liberal pussy who favors diplomatic outreach instead of circling the wagons; doesn’t hate enough; doesn’t express things with enough passion or clarity; doesn’t understand the danger posed by immigrants; has no solution to terrorism; and, all-in-all, is the key reason America isn’t great anymore. Eight years! Black!!

Conversely, Donald Trump is, first and foremost, white. He’s also very rich, which means he must be smart and know how to get things done right. He says whatever he wants, often with anger and meanness and couldn’t care less what “those other people” think; and believes we should be giving everyone here and abroad a good fight.

Essentially Trump is a thug who personifies America at its best bad-ass self: completely confident, totally comfortable with bending (and breaking) the rules, and the John Wayne-style protector you want to have your back. And did I mention he’s white?

Donald Trump is the Daddy that tired, broke, frightened people want. And there are a lot of people out there who are scared shitless – without the courage that sometimes comes from being afraid but having the character to think well and take appropriate action anyway.

Even so-called smarter, economically stable Americans are weary and wary and want someone they think will take care of them, love them, and make it okay again to hate bad guys and the “wrong” people. When he’s ranting and not offering any true solutions to a bushel of serious, complicated problems, Trump is making folks feel that he’s personally giving them a big bear hug while whispering “Who’s your Daddy?” in their fearful ears.

Some folks know they’re embracing a wild teddy bear with severe ego and anger issues, but they don’t care. They want to feel good again. Much of America wants a Big Daddy President who will show the world who’s boss. Many of them don’t care what he thinks or believes.

And they sure don’t want a woman at the helm. Especially Hillary Clinton, who is not only a Clinton but a former member of the Obama administration with significant sins to her credit. Are we supposed to just forget about Benghazi and her e-mails? Besides, how much more change can a tired country take? We can’t go from a black man to the first woman in one fell swoop (even if she is white). She’s not even a Comforting Mommy. Come on, now.

I, like many liberated, independent women, have moments when I long for a big strong man who will love and hold and soothe me and say “It’s okay, Daddy’s here. Everything’s gonna be alright.” We resist it. Indeed, we often deny it. But I gotta tell you, the older and more tired and lonely (and broke) I get, the more I secretly wish a big strong man would come along and rescue me. I don’t mean a sugar daddy, although all gifts and contributions willingly/gratefully accepted. Just someone to lean on (and who knows how to fix things!).

Alas, Donald Trump is not the political or personal Daddy I want. But for many folks, he fits the bill perfectly. He’s not to be dismissed or taken lightly. He could genuinely end up being the official Republican candidate. And Hillary will have a harder fight on her hands than she or we may think. Although she should know better. After all, despite all of Bill’s foibles, she still wants her Daddy.

So, who’s your Daddy?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Amazing Grace

If you did not see or read President Obama’s eulogy for Rev./SC State Sen. Clementa Pinckney on Thursday afternoon, you missed something unique and magnificent. The perspective of the President’s language was very Christian because he himself is very Christian and he was offering a eulogy about a minister, so that’s not surprising. But his tribute was particularly eloquent and filled with messages of basic humanism, the possibility for the evolution of human kindness, historic truth, common sense, and social and political necessity, all of which was entirely appropriate in the context of the eulogy and the time in which we live. If you missed it, I encourage you to click on one of the links above.

The President’s core message was that we are blessed by God with grace – the grace to be good people; people capable of love and forgiveness even in response to the most vile wrong-doing and the most heart wrenching grief; and that if we can learn how to live our lives and view others with a more open heart, anything and everything good is possible. Even if you take God out of that scenario and simply view the capacity for grace as something that is a central part of our DNA which we can choose to cultivate or ignore, the message still rings true and is worthy of contemplation and discussion.

As my regular readers know, I embody a great deal of anger, cynicism, and hardcore judgment about things and circumstances I don’t like. I apply this rancor to all the subjects this blog is primarily about: politics, contemporary culture, new technology, and the ruination of the English language. I try to reveal the sense of humor I have that keeps me relatively sane and has so far prevented me from committing acts of violence. But I’ve also discussed my considerable depression and misery.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve twice watched the President deliver the eulogy and read the text once. Besides increasing my respect and affection for him, I’ve thought a lot about the lack of grace I’ve cultivated within myself and wondered (1) if I have the ability to do so and (2) if even the effort would give me a greater sense of inner peace if not outright love, happiness and joy. I don’t know the answer, but I admit that I fear the process, not because of its difficulty, but because I’ve clung to these feelings like a teddy bear for decades.

Indeed, they remind me of a great Robin Williams scene in Moscow On the Hudson, in which he plays a foreign musician and he’s just jammed with a blues band and is talking to one of the American musicians: “When I was in Russia, I did not love my life, but I loved my misery. You know why? Because it was my misery. I could hold it. I could caress it. I loved my misery. You know, I have a whole family I will never ever see again. You see? Now you see. You know it. There it is. Now you know that the saddest thing in the world is life. Yeah, man. Now you see. Thank you. Thank you for a wonderful night. Boy, I feel great. Take care. I love you.”  “If that was wonderful, what happens when he hits deep depression?” 

The murders in South Carolina filled me with a hopeless sadness and fire-breathing rage. The ability of a number of family members of some of the victims to confront the killer in court and express their grace and forgiveness filled me with humbled awe. The President gave me a whole lot to think about. And the Supreme Court’s affirmation of national marriage equality gave me happy hope – and the sense that enough of the Justices had been blessed with true grace.

I don’t know what the lasting impact of the diverse events and language of the last couple of weeks will be for me – or others. I don’t know how I’ll feel or think or what tone my writing will take, especially as the 300-year campaign of the 2016 election moves glacially along. But whatever people’s different feelings about all this may be, none of us can deny that something extraordinary has happened. And that in itself is amazing.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Calling a Spade a Spade

For the last few days, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and soul-searching about Dylann Roof’s murder of nine black people during a bible study class at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC, last week. First, I will not do what I’m still hearing the media do: call Roof a “suspect” or say that he “allegedly” carried out this massacre. There’s no suspicion or anything alleged about it. This sick ticket told friends he was going to do it; wrote a manifesto about it on his website; and confessed to police that he had done it. We know who’s dead, we know who killed them, and we know why.

The other thing I will not do is call this incident an act of terrorism. That word has other connotations and we as a nation have become comfortable with it – albeit in a frightened, unsettling way. This was a plain, old fashioned, act of American racist murder. And the word we no longer want to say is racism.

There are supposedly intelligent people out there who think racism is over because we elected a black president. On the contrary, the deep core of racism that still exists in this country – but which a lot of people had been keeping quieter about with the passage of time and the undeniable strides of the Civil Rights Movement – has been surging upwards because of President Obama’s election. What do you think the Tea Party types mean when they say “We want our country back”? Who do you think they think took it away? How do you think they feel when they see an increasing number of black people in other significant positions of authority in government and in business?

What else explains the fact that quite a few of the 684 Republicans trying to run for president said of Dylann Roof that we’ll never really know why he did what he did. Really? He made his reasons pretty clear. He said black people were “raping our women, and taking over the country. They’ve gotta go.” That clear enough for ya?

I also want to add here something I was saving for after the 2016 election. I do believe that many Republicans and Conservatives in both houses of Congress were genuinely concerned that President Obama would attempt to do all sorts of radically liberal things; after all, he had campaigned so vehemently about “change” and “it’s our time” and all that. But the reality turned out to be that his governance has been remarkably centrist, even right of centrist, in a determined effort to work cooperatively with the opposition.

But no matter what he did or didn’t do to try to reassure them, their response was to not work with him at all! Instead, they gave obstructionism powerful new meaning. They actively disrespected him to a shocking extent. They questioned his citizenship, patriotism, college record, honesty, and said he was not a “legitimate” president. And in so doing, they riled up white supremacists like Dylan Roof and, all puns intended, showed their own true colors.

What’s hurt me most about the behavior of those who call themselves members of The Party of Lincoln, is that it clearly never even occurred to them (1) how much this milestone meant to black Americans and (2) it would have been a real gesture of human kindness and political decency if they really enhanced their efforts to treat him with extra respect and work with him especially cooperatively. They had the power to make sure he didn’t do anything too liberal. So why didn’t they do anything like this? Because it makes them crazy to see a black man in The White House. 

Despite all the racial violence we’ve recently witnessed by white police against black citizens; and despite all of the incredibly racist connections that exist in relation to poverty, hunger, disproportionate incarceration, education, unemployment, income inequality, etc., etc, etc., there has also been heartening progress in other ways. And oddly enough you see it more in the south than you do in the north. A lot of white folks who were raised in a climate of racism have matured out of it. It’s why I chose the photo shown above, of a white man grieving at the gate of the South Carolina church. 

And then there’s this. Many atheists think anyone who is religious takes a moronic, literal, evangelical view. Not true. Most look to their faith for strength, courage, basic values to live by, wisdom, patience, and the capacity to love and forgive, even when such feelings would seem impossible. As a secular Jew and Interfaith Minister of Spiritual Counseling, I admit, to my chagrin, that I haven’t found within myself the capacity to love or forgive Dylann Roof – not yet. But I’m paying attention and trying to grow. And at the very least, speak truth to power and weakness. My own and others. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Hue and Cry

As an extremely white-looking biracial person who was raised by my biological white mother and black father to “think of myself as” Colored, Negro and Black (the words changed over the years but the idea was the same), color me bemused and fascinated by the “racial scandal” surrounding Rachel Dolezal. She’s the woman who until a couple of days ago was a highly effective NAACP chapter president and is now a subject of curiosity and scorn, because she’s white (according to her white biological parents) but self-identifies as black. We might consider her transracial: a black woman who believes she was mistakenly born in a white woman’s body.

Ms. Dolezal is accused of doing some odd, even duplicitous things, including attending then suing Howard University (one of the country’s most famous black colleges) for racial discrimination because she’s white; assuming guardianship of one of several unquestionably black children adopted by her white parents; ticking several racial categories on official documents; marrying a black man (to whom she’s no longer married, but I don’t know why); and giving birth to a biracial child (biracial if indeed she’s white) who apparently looks unquestionably like a person of color.

Ms. Dolezal looks like a white woman with a tan and a ‘fro who says with no clear explanation that she identifies as black. Some black people resent this because they feel she has no personal knowledge/understanding of the black experience. But what is the totality of the black experience? American blacks come in a variety of hues because of the long history of the rape of black women by white men from Slavery until now, because there’s still a racial component to some rape.

Low self esteem still exists within the black community – less now, since some measure of civil rights success. But most people (black, white and “other”) know about the old paper bag test (if you’re darker than a brown paper bag you’re too dark); if you’re very light-skinned you’re “high yaller” (yellow); and there is still a measure of antipathy between dark and light skinned blacks, although with an interesting twist. Up until the 60s, light skinned blacks felt superior to their darker kin. Since civil rights that’s somewhat reversed. And now that there are an increasing number of biracial people there’s just a whole lot of racial confusion.

Race and racism are about color. It’s ironic but true that in many parts of Africa, American blacks aren’t considered black, because our historic coffee has been diluted with so much cream. “Pure” African blacks are black, what’s still called here “he’s so black he’s blue.” Whereas here, the economic construct of Slavery came up with the notion of the One Drop Rule (“one little drop of niggra blood and you’re a niggra too”). This made it easier and cheaper for Slave owners to acquire, even breed, more Slaves, rather than buy them fresh off the boat. It’s also true that there are millions of “white” Americans who have “black blood” in their family histories and don’t even know it!

But to get back to the beleaguered Ms. Dolezal: I personally feel a great sense of sympathy for her, as well as a kind of reverse empathy. Sympathy, because there’s obviously been a considerable amount of racial weirdness and confusion in her life and I think she does have a sense of the black experience. She grew up with a number of adopted black siblings, went to a black college where she majored in black studies, married a black man, has a “colored” child, and apparently did considerably beneficial work for the NAACP. If we accept (even if we don’t quite understand) that people can be transgender, is it really so hard to accept the concept of transracial?

My sense of “reverse empathy” comes from being told to view myself as black but my mirror told me I was not. It seemed insane that I had two parents of different colors and was told to identify with the one I didn’t look like. I had no problem seeing myself as  racially blended, but in my youth we didn’t have the terms “mixed race” or “biracial.” And when I gleefully discovered the word mulatto, which is a Spanish word for exactly what I am, I was told it was a derogatory term. I was basically told that my very being was an insult! I’m 63 goddamn years old and I still haven’t truly come to terms with my racial identity. And I think that says more about American society than it does about me.

The moral of the Rachel Dolezal story – like the moral of the Caitlyn Jenner story – is that identity is a personal and complex thing. Neither science nor sociology have a true, full understanding of human sexuality, or an explanation for the need for strong racial distinctions in a racially mixed society. What we have in both areas is ignorance, fear, polarization, habit, meanness, exploitation, and plain old stupidity. I doubt I’ll live long enough to see this stuff straightened out – and, for the record, it’s made much of my life miserable.