Friday, November 18, 2016

MY LAST POST ON THIS BLOG

I started this blog six days ago with the intention if chronicling the presidency of Donald Trump to the end of his term.  It's become increasingly clear to me, however, that closely monitoring the Trump presidency for the next four years is not something I can do and still maintain a modicum of peace and sanity in my personal life.  Accordingly, this will be my final post on this blog.  After this post, the blog will simply be retired.

My other blog, TRANSIT NOTES, will remain active, and I look forward to working more creatively with future postings on that site.  I will also be doing my part in other ways to resist the policies and actions that have been promised by Trump and his extreme right-wing supporters.  As most people will appreciate, however, it's neither joyful nor healthy to spend every waking hour worrying about the Donald Trump phenomenon.  Yes, we must resist, but we must also remained grounded in the things that give meaning and joy to our lives.  That's the balance to which I must return.

Peace to all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

UNLEASHING THE OGRES



It's a magnificent day in upstate South Carolina.  The air is cool and crisp, and the warming sun is dancing with the last of November's colorful foliage.  I've aerated several acres of pasture, read some poetry by W.H. Auden, listened to some fine music by Diana Krall, and enjoyed a tasty lunch al fresco at a local eatery.

In normal times, the abundant gifts of such a day would form an impregnable firewall against the intrusion of any discussion of the political and social environment.  As many of us know, however, this is not a normal time.  This is a time in which being angry has proven to be more important that being well-informed and reasonable.  This is a time in which truth has been sacrificed on the altar of power. This is a time in which honesty, decency, and civil discourse have been treated as hallmarks of the weak.  Perhaps most frightening of all, this is a time in which the ogres of hate have been unleashed, and are now emboldened to strike out at people who they wrongly perceive to be their enemies — immigrants, African Americans, Muslims, members of the LGBT community, and the millions of women who courageously defy the old threadbare stereotypes and demand to be treated not as sexual objects, but as equal persons and citizens in every sphere of life.

Lest someone think that I am just venting frustration as a means of post-election therapy, I urge you to examine what has happened in the final, hate-filled months of the Trump campaign.  For me, the most horrifying example is an act of racial terrorism that allegedly occurred on October 13th in Wiggins, Mississippi, the town in which I spent most of my childhood.  On that day, according to virtually all reputable news accounts, a white student at Stone High School, from which I graduated fifty-six years ago, threw a noose around the neck of a young African American man and yanked it backward.  Hopefully, the perpetrators of this attack (according to the NAACP, there was more than one student involved) will prosecuted for multiple crimes, including a hate crime, if the reports of eyewitnesses and the press are verified after investigation.      

This attack, however, was by no means an isolated event.  During recent months, people have continued to spray bullet holes into a memorial plaque marking the place where the mutilated body of Emmett Till was recovered from the Tallahatchie River in 1955.  Moreover, just a few days before the election, an African American church in Greenville, Mississippi was set ablaze and spray painted with the words "Vote Trump."

These three incidents of racial hatred are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Indeed, we learned late yesterday that acts of hatred have been on the rise in virtually every part of the country since the election of Donald Trump.  Specifically, the highly respected Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported that it has collected 437 reports of hateful harassment and intimidation that occurred during the five day period between the morning of November 9th, the day after the election, and Monday morning, November 14th.  These acts of hatred were directed at immigrants, African Americans, Muslims, members of the LBGT community, and various loosely defined targets.

Just think about that, folks.  Four hundred and thirty-seven reports of hateful harassment and intimidation in a five day period translates to approximately 87 hateful and bigoted attacks per day in this country — almost four attacks per hour!  

This rise in hate-based acts of harassment and intimidation is tragic, of course,  but not entirely unexpected, given the recent election of the champion of hatred and divisiveness, Donald Trump.  Indeed, we knew that Trump's hate-baiting statements in the early stages of his campaign would devolve into something much worse when, on August 17th, he hired Stephen Bannon, the former chief executive of the ultra-right Breitbart News website, to be chairman of the Trump Campaign. Trump chose Bannon as the leader of his campaign knowing full well that Bannon had been running a news platform for the "Alt-Right," which has been described by the SPLC as follows:
The Alternative Right, commonly known as the Alt-Right, is a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that "white identity" is under attack by multicultural forces using "political correctness" and "social justice" to undermine white people and "their" civilization. Characterized by heavy use of social media and online memes, Alt-Righters eschew "establishment" conservatism, skew young, and embrace white ethno-nationalism as a fundamental value.
In a nutshell, the Alt-Right is an anti-establishment, white supremacist movement, one that has also been associated with anti-semitism.

Last Sunday, Trump appointed Bannon, the Alt-Right champion, to be his senior presidential counselor and chief strategist, thereby insuring that the hate-mongering brand of Breitbart News will now be foundational in the development of Trump's strategy going forward.  It's a profoundly sad and distressing development, but it has the support of the most extreme right-wing elements of our society.  While I'm tempted to quote from some of the myriad statements of praise that came from the Alt-Right after the naming of Bannon as Trump's "chief strategist," I will simply refer readers to the many newspaper accounts (see, in particular, yesterday's editorial in The New York Times, titled "Steve 'Turn on the Hate' Bannon, in the White House").     

When faced with incomprehensible tragedies like the election of Donald Trump, I often turn to poetry for solace.  It was serendipitous, therefore, when, this morning, I discovered writings by the great poet W.H. Auden that seem especially relevant to our current situation.  The first piece of writing has been described by the late Christopher Hitchens as a "miniature," and it was written by Auden in August, 1968, when the Red Army rolled over Czechoslovakia.  The focus of this piece is upon ogres, a term that has come to my mind on more than one occasion as I have listened to the hateful rhetoric of the Trump campaign and monitored the rise of hate-based attacks:

The ogre does what ogres can

Deeds quite impossible for man.

But one prize is beyond his reach

The ogre cannot master speech.

About a subjugated plain

Among its desperate and slain

The ogre stalks with hands on hips

While drivel gushes from his lips.

The second piece of Auden's work that seems relevant to the current situation is a stanza from the poem "September 1, 1939," which was written during the early days of World War II.  For me, these lines capture a sense of the moral position that many of us hope to maintain as the country moves forward.  In the beginning of the eighth stanza of the poem, Auden writes: "All I have is a voice/To undo the folded lie." Then comes the final stanza: 

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and dust, 
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

So here we are one week after the election, not completely "defenseless under the night," but certainly part of a "world in stupor." With luck, however, we may find "dotted everywhere, ironic points of light."  With determination, we may "show an affirming flame" for the values and principles that underpin our resistance to Trump and his invitation to bigotry.

Monday, November 14, 2016

RING THE BELLS THAT STILL CAN RING

Leonard Cohen
Photo by Takahiro Kyono
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The unexpected political earthquake that shattered the United States last Tuesday overshadowed the death of legendary artist Leonard Cohen the day before. Ironically, however, it may be that Cohen's great song "Anthem" can provide a modicum of solace to progressives as we sadly leave the Obama era and enter the uncharted waters of a Trump presidency.  Here are the lyrics of the song,  each word of which soothes my aching heart.

          The birds they sang
          at the break of day
          Start again
          I heard them say
          Don't dwell on what
          has passed away
          or what is yet to be.

          Ah the wars they will
          be fought again
          The holy dove 
          she will be caught again
          bought and sold 
          and bought again
          the dove is never free.

          Ring the bells that still can ring
          Forget your perfect offering
          There is a crack in everything
          That's how the light gets in.

          We asked for signs 
          the signs were sent:
          the birth betrayed 
          the marriage spent
          Yeah the widowhood 
          of every government —
          signs for all to see.

          I can't run no more
          with that lawless crowd
          while killers in high places 
          say their prayers out loud.
          But they've summoned, they've summoned up 
          a thundercloud
          and they're going to hear from me.

          Ring the bells that still can ring . . .

          You add up the parts 
          but you won't have the sum
          You strike up the march, 
          there is no drum
          Every heart, every heart 
          to love will come
          but like a refugee.

          Ring the bells that still can ring
          Forget your perfect offering
          There is a crack, a crack in everything
          That's how the light gets in.

          Ring the bells that still can ring
          Forget your perfect offering
          There is a crack in everything
          That's how the light gets in.
          That's how the light gets in.
          That's how the light gets in.

In 1992, Cohen gave an interesting interview which provided an off-the-cuff commentary on the philosophy that underpins the lyrics in "Anthem."  Among other things, he said this:


. . . That is the background of the whole record, I mean if you have to come up with a philosophical ground, that is "Ring the bells that still can ring."  It's no excuse . . . the dismal situation . . . and the future is no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities towards yourself and your job and your love.  Ring the bells that still can ring": they're few and far between but you can find them.  "Forget your perfect offering," that is the hang-up that you're gonna work this thing out. Because we confuse this idea and we've forgotten the central myth of our culture which is the expulsion from the garden of Eden.  This situation does not admit of solution of perfection.  This is not the place where you make things perfect, neither in your marriage, nor in your work, nor anything, nor your love of God, nor your love of family or country.  The thing is imperfect.  And worse, there is a crack in everything that you can put together, physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that's where  the light gets in, and that's where the resurrection is . . . and that's where the repentance is.  It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things."

So what does this have to do with Donald Trump?  Everything, I would suggest. First, it reminds us that it was always foolish to think that our progressive ideals would move the country on a straight line from Obama to some imagined state of perfection.  The world has always been broken in places, and it always will be. The key to progressive evolution, however, is to make sure that our commitment to peace and progress is never broken, even as we work among the painful shards of brokenness.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

Cohen's "Anthem" also calls upon us to rise above the rubble of brokenness and look for the light that is breaking through the cracks, always breaking through the cracks.  Frankly, this has been difficult for me to do in recent days; I'm still trying to exit the swamp of my own disappointment and depression.  Yet, when I consider the history of our country, I can see that there has always been a light that has pulled us out of hatred and moved us toward a more just and decent society for all people, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.  That light may have dimmed last Tuesday, but it's still there.  Look in any direction and you will see that every act of bigotry that is being undertaken in the name of Trump is being countered by someone else's love and commitment to human decency and social justice.

We are not alone in this resistance. For all people of decency and good conscience, it's time to not only see the light, but to start ringing the bells that still can ring.  As Cohen admits, the bells that still can ring may be "few and far between," but they can still be found.  Let's find them, and ring them loudly — beginning now!



Saturday, November 12, 2016

NOT MY PRESIDENT

 
Photo by Max Goldberg
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WELCOME TO MY NEW BLOG

Four days ago, Donald J. Trump became the president-elect of the United States, not as a result of the popular vote, which he lost to Hillary Clinton by 574,064 votes, but through the operation of the antiquated electoral college system.  When he takes the oath of office on January 20, 2017, he will become the most unqualified and most incompetent president in American history.  Even more disturbing is the fact that he will usher in a period of heightened racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and tribalism, the evidence of which can already be seen in cities and small towns throughout America.  Trump is, and always has been, an unapologetic bigot who thrives on hatred and fear-mongering.  

Like many others, I have been processing the unspeakable grief that comes with learning that one's beloved country has veered off course and handed the mantle of power to a narcissistic demagogue.  That grief is especially difficult to bear when I know that Trump would have never won this election without the considerable assistance he received from three powerful men — Russian President Vladimir Putin, Wikileaks founder and editor Julian Assange, and FBI Director James Comey, each of whom meddled directly or indirectly in our electoral process to tip the scales against the woman who was destined to become the first female president of the United States.  

At this point, however, the whys and wherefores belong to the history books that will soon be written and published.  For concerned citizens like me, the most pressing questions relate to how we go forward from this debacle.  What can we do to prevent mass deportations of undocumented immigrants — a brutal, expensive, time-consuming process that would tear apart many families?  What can we do to curtail the rise of bigotry that has been gleefully licensed by Trump?  What can we do to protect the minority communities of our country?  What can we do to insure that the United States does not impose religious tests on those seeking to enter our country?  What can we do to protect women against discrimination and sexual exploitation?  What can we do to protect the twenty million American citizens who will lose their health insurance if Trump and his majority in Congress repeal the Affordable Care Act, as they have promised to do?

I could go on, of course, but the central point I want to make is simply this: Everyone who understands the threat of Donald Trump should use every legal and nonviolent means available to resist the coming storm of his presidency, and to insure that he is ousted from office in four years, if not sooner.  For my part, I will begin by starting this blog and keeping it updated with postings that I hope will be both informative and encouraging.  The time to act is now.  Patriotism does not require that progressives "come together" with Trump supporters and "give the new president a chance." It does require, however, that progressives come together with one another  and work both individually and collectively to resist the demagogue who is now a clear and present danger to our constitutional ideals and our commonly accepted standards of human decency.

TODAY'S POST

To get beyond the introduction, I want to explain why the name of my new blog is NEVER MY PRESIDENT.  The best way to accomplish this it to simply post what I wrote on Facebook a couple of days ago.  For the reasons set forth in that piece, Donald J. Trump will never be my president.


NOT MY PRESIDENT

Now that Donald Trump has become the president-elect of the United States — an achievement made possible in part by the considerable support he received from Russia's Putin, Wikileaks,  and the Director of the FBI — we are hearing the inevitable calls for unity, the urgent pleas for all American citizens to now get behind the man destined to become "our president" on January 20, 2017.  And from whom do these calls for unity come?  Ironically, they come from a man who has undoubtedly been the most divisive, hate-mongering candidate and nominee in American presidential history, a man who spent the past eight years trying to undermine the legitimacy of the Obama presidency with patently false suggestions that Obama was not a true, native-born American.  The stentorian calls for unity have also come, of course, from the Republican congressional members who have spent every waking hour in the past eight years trying to destroy President Obama, his presidency, and his legacy.  Under these circumstances, one can readily understand why people like me are both amused and outraged when we're asked in the name of patriotism and unity to board the Trump express.  Not me, my friends — never!  I won't be falling in line with an amoral narcissist whose values are totally antithetical to my own.  My position is exactly the same as that taken by columnist Charles Blow two days ago in the New York Times:  "I respect the presidency; I do not respect the president-elect.  I cannot.  Count me among the resistance."

While Donald Trump will become the legally elected president of the United States on January 20th of next year, he will never be "my president," and he will never be referred to by me as "my president."  Why?  Let me simply list the first twenty reasons that come immediately to mind:

1.  A man who has spent his entire life crudely demeaning women could never be "my president."

2.  A man who as boasted that, being a celebrity, he can get away with sexually assaulting women (we've all see the video) could never be "my president."

3.  A man who has mocked people with physical disabilities could never become "my president."

4.  A man who wants to ban Muslims from entering the United States could never be "my president."

5.  A man who has invited the Russian government to commit espionage against the United States, by hacking into the private computer systems of American citizens and organizations, could never become "my president."

6.  A man who has repeatedly expressed admiration for tyrants like Russia's Putin and North Korea's Kim Jong-un could never be "my president."

7.  A man who has said that he would not necessarily honor the United States' treaty obligations to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) could never be "my president."

8.  A man who has boldly declared that Senator John McCain is not a war hero, notwithstanding McCain's years of confinement and torture in a North Vietnamese prison camp, could never be "my president." 

9.  A man who does not read books, who has no understanding of history, and who has no intellectual curiosity — indeed, a man who has shown no interest whatsoever in learning — could never be "my president."

10. A claimed billionaire who has paid virtually no income taxes for decades, while using tax loopholes to fund a life of luxury, could never be "my president."

11. A man who, during the presidential campaign, frequently encouraged acts of violence, could never be "my president." 

12. A man who dishonored a Gold Star Muslim family, whose son gave his life in the defense of our country, could never be "my president."

13. A man who has been supported by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacy groups could never be "my president."

14. A man who has a history of discriminating against African Americans could never be "my president."

15. A man who has said that "laziness is a trait in blacks" could never be "my president."

16. A man who plans massive deportations of undocumented immigrants, without any regard for human decency or the devastating impact on families, could never be "my president."

17. A man who claimed that he could never receive a fair trial in a United States Federal Court, because the judge (a native-born American citizen) has Mexican ancestors, could never be "my president."

18. A man who is manifestly unstable, and who is easily provoked into aggressive, ego-driven behavior, could never be "my president."

19. A man who threatens to prosecute his political enemies and send them to prison, if ever given the chance, could never be "my president."

20. A man who has never had any qualms about lying, and who is driven not by morals, but by self-love, greed, and an insatiable thirst for power, could never be "my president."

Some may believe that refusing to embrace the duly elected president of the United States is unpatriotic.  In my view, however, the first duty of patriotism is to make moral choices that will uphold our highest constitutional ideals and advance the common welfare of all American citizens, not just at this moment, but for generations to come.  To that end, Donald Trump will never be "my president."


CLOSING NOTE 

In the coming weeks, I will be working on improvements to my blog site.  During the meantime, I welcome your comments.  It is through engaging conversation that we will find both solace and the courage to move forward.

PEACE TO ALL