Hello from my upstairs sanctuary,
Each day I want to believe – seriously I do – that we cannot become more divided, more visceral, more unwilling to listen to the other, but each day it seems I can be proved wrong. The last 24 hours have my head reeling. To listen to the flash gernades in the background as I waited for the President to address us from the Rose Garden yesterday was such a juxtaposition that seems to typify everything in our country right. That was one thing. However, to find out on the hand that he (or his Attorney General, William Barr – and this is an addition) specifically had Lafayette Park cleared of a largely peaceful protest, using flash grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets to walk over to St. John’s Church carrying a Bible moved beyond even how low I imagined he could go. The response of the Episcopal Bishop this morning (and clergy who were gassed in the church) sums it up quite appropriately. And, then to top it off, he broke his own curfew, just imposed by Mr. Law & Order, to walk over there. Where in any of this can one find even an inkling of appropriateness?
As a person who has a background as a history major, a theological background as a former ordained Lutheran pastor, and two degrees in rhetoric, I find myself trying to make sense of the optics of last evening’s incredibly profound fiasco that began as a Presidential statement. Certainly, I agree that when protest disintegrates into violence and looting, that is beyond a serious problem (and some for whom I have great love and I have disagreed since my posting about this). However, there needs to be recognition of the reason the anger has become so visceral. I could list the names over the last 10 years; I could explain what I know my students of color face everyday in terms of being treated differently, viewed suspiciously, or spoken to disrespectfully by supposed law-abiding, often conservative-Christian, white people. Most of us, if we will stop and think, would be angry, fed up, and struggle also. Think about it on an individual scale. Anyone who has been married and divorced: generally (hopefully) you believed you could not love that person more on the day of your wedding. And yet something disintegrated. The hope, the trust, the foundational belief in the goodness of something changed. Did you ever holler, swear, throw something, punch something, do something out of anger you wish you had not done? Did you ever hate them so much you wished them dead? Sad, but most of us can probably answer yes. When you are so angry you wish them dead or out of your life, regardless, perhaps we come to some understanding of how the loss of hope, trust, and foundational belief in society for those marginalized for years might feel. I have watched as some have gotten angry merely over being told to wear a mask and have stormed the State Capitol waving guns (which btw, what did 2nd Amendment have to do with anything in that statement last night?). If the same people now demonstrating against discrimination, even without hollering or chanting, walked into the State Capitol carrying a gun, legally or not, what would happen? I would venture someone would be in a hospital recovering from bullet wounds, and charges would be filed. Do you not see the double standard in this? Can we not admit we have systemic racism in this country? Why is it we are afraid of mail in ballots? That is the way to manage a change appropriately should we as a county believe there is a change needed. I voted two weeks ago. I requested and got my ballot. It came to my mailbox as it should; I filled it out as I should; and I was notified that it was received and would be counted, as I should. Studies have shown the incidences of fraud are minimal (I could list them, but will not) and the states with Republican or Democrat governors is split almost 50/50. In addition, of 5 Western States, those who have gone to mail in balloting, three have a Republican Governor or chief election official (Collier, 29May2020). The governors and the chief election officials of any state, regardless their administration’s party have a swore duty to uphold laws. The seemingly prevelant argument that Blue States have no laws, nor enforce them, is asinine. The false narrative that all non-white people are trying to sway an election is fear mongering at the very least. More importantly, it is yet another example of disenfranchisement of a significant part of our electorate at its worst. It is discrimination at its most fundamental worst. Certainly the right to cast a ballot has been a struggle many in of our democratic country has experienced from the outset. There was a reason for the passage of voting laws to curb that. Yet, as typical of our states’ rights bent, if you were a woman, a black, an immigrant who gained citizenship, the ways states made it difficult to vote are legion. Too often the stories of KKK leaders, those who hid under their pointed hoods, were the very law enforcement people, the very lawyers, and the esteemed businessmen of their communities, too often the supposed Christians sitting in the pews on Sunday morning, but more accurately little more than bigots and liars with not enough balls to be honest.
The difficulty today is the only thing changed is their tactics, but their actions result in the same discriminatory and hate-filled rants that went along with their white-nationalistic, their white-supremacy-filled, hateful rhetoric and the crosses they burned in the night. Today they argue that the way of the white person is being overrun by immigrants, illegals, or academic liberal ideology that somehow questions their 21st century version of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. I know this is an incredibly inflammatory statement that will anger some people, but I believe this is where we are. The President’s statement yesterday is not that different from the arguments that an Austrian failed-artist once made to rile his base supporters in the 1930s. I am reminded of the statement of Martin Niemöller, the German theologian and pastor imprisoned for his opposition to what Hitler had done to the church. Hitler demanded that the church show allegiance. Hitler too was obsessed with loyalty. Niemöller wrote, “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.” Being called socialist is something this President has done to those like Senator Sanders and Warren, and certainly many in the right fringes have picked that up. The role of unions has been battered by big business and certainly those who do not want to allow labor a decent wage. This has been an argument for some time. And yet, while the President has promised job things like the auto plant in Lordstown, OH would be back bigger than ever, he has taken more than one auto company CEO to task for not playing his game. An issue of loyalty again. As I have noted in recent blogs, the fact that we can go from 3.3% unemployment to 19% in less than three months (40,000,000 people unemployed) gives some indication of how strong the job market really was. And while there has been a significant uptick in discrimination and hate crimes against the Jewish people, what is happening continually against blacks, which has never really stopped, the Muslim people, particularly post-911, the Hispanic people, because current administration policies from the very first statements when President Trump declared his candidacy, and now Asians, because of Covid, referred to regularly in discriminatory terms by the President as the China Virus, are all exemplars of this administration’s bigotry. To what extreme has this happened? Check out the recent video news conference when he told an Asian reporter to ask China about the Corona virus. When she appropriately asked why he would say that to her, he acted like she was wrong. Incredible. Futher, more problematic is his overt and blatant racism is met too often by silence by many in the Republican Party, the very party the helped pass the 13th Amendment and was led by the Illinois Senator who stated unequivocally that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (Lincoln, 1858). In questioning the role of slavery in the country, Lincoln understood that this was a national issue, not merely an issue of popular sovereignty as his opponent Stephen Douglas had argued. I believe we are, at minimum, at a crossroads once again. Yet as our President wants to claim law and order through his militaristic threats, he simultaneously argues the states need to do their work while he has ultimate authority. It is the divide and conquer strategy. When there is no clear path forward, chaos can reign and the individual gets lost in the morass. More significantly, the creator of the chaos claims it is not their fault.
In the last 24 hours, this President, who can argue that he can grab women by the genitals and they will let him, wants to now hold up a Bible and somehow make us believe in his faithfulness. As a former pastor, I will note I never believed I had the right to question the position of someone’s soul, but I do believe that the importance someone’s faith has in their life is demonstrated through their daily actions and words. I will let that statement speak for itself. And as such, the photo opportunity after clearing Lafayette Park is an anathema to faithful well-intended, struggling Christians or people of any faith for that matter. As people protested in Lafayette Park on Monday, members of the clergy were at the church, offering water and aid as things were peaceful. As noted in the New Yorker today, the scene that unfolded as the President strolled into the recently cleared park was beyond words. “When he reached the sanctuary, he did not go inside. Instead, he turned toward the camera, and members of his entourage assembled into a tableau so bizarre that it took a moment to understand what was unfolding. He held up a Bible and posed with it for the cameras, clasping it to his chest, bouncing it in his hand, turning it to and fro, like a product on QVC. He did not offer a prayer or read from scripture. On either side of him, his aides fidgeted awkwardly; there was the droopy, basset-hound visage of his enabling Attorney General, William Barr, his unrelenting cheerleader Mark Meadows, the chief of staff; his spokesperson, Kayleigh McEnany, who grinned madly. Apart from Ivanka Trump, none wore masks” (Osnos 2Jun2020). There was no contacting the Bishop or the clergy of the parish, there was no mention of God, it was simply an arrogant bully, a foul-mouthed, poor-excuse-for-a- President getting his picture taken with sacred scripture. This crawls into the depths of nothing I have read or researched since the Reich Church swore an allegiance to Hitler.
When are we willing to admit the mistake we made in the last election? Hopefully soon. While I was not an initial Biden supporter, wanting the process to play out, his statement yesterday is more presidential than any statement I have heard in three and a half years (this is an edit also). When are we willing to question the policies of an administration who make a mockery of checks and balances, and jeopardize the very democracy we want to believe we have? If you take the time to look at some of the speeches in Germany of the 1930s and the Presidential rhetoric of today, the parallels are obvious, but the enemy is a bit different. The enemy is not pointed at any one group, but rather at anyone who speaks out in disagreement. Certainly, the use of Hispanics, immigrants, Arabs, Muslims, and other groups of color are well encased in the President’s disdain, but it goes farther. When anyone disagrees, his inability to manage disagreement is well evidenced. I can appreciate that people were fed up with the normal politics because they too (and I believe there are good people on both sides of the aisle) seem to do little more than figure out how to stay in office and maintain their power; most often at expense of the masses. As I have argued, term limits would be an important remedy, but I would term limit both Congress and change the term length and change the length of a term for the President also. I would do the following as related to terms and their limits:
- Six Years (three terms) for House Representatives
- Eight Years (two terms and this changes the length) for Senators
- Six Years (one term, which changes to a single term and the length of term) for the President
I know this would have some difficulties like, for instance, is a President automatically a lame-duck? Six years is a long time to do nothing, but I am thinking it would require people to work harder, more diligently, and more thoughtfully. I would also take away their life-long pensions (at least in Congress). It would limit the power any one person could have and in that is democracy. Can we admit that President Trump, who I can appreciate was elected both because of his business acumen and because Secretary Clinton had flaws as a candidate, has not been successful? If the economy was successful, would it have tanked as quickly? Would the stock market had wiped out things as quickly? Can we admit that we have a systemic racism issue in this country and while looting and rioting are a problem (as one of my colleagues regularly admonishes me ‘Michael, that is an F-ing understatement), the anger behind it is justified and must be worked with? It is a mistake not to do so. To admit failure or mistake is difficult, but it is also a chance for redemption, which is a biblical term, a theological term. It is a chance to change direction and make amends for our failings. It is a chance for forgiveness and for renewal. We need renewal desperately if we are to come together as a people. The words of the Reverend Doctor King need to ring out from every corner of this land if we are to create a society he dreamt of. I wish I would have been more courageous earlier in my life to speak against so much injustice, but like Niemöller, I have too often acted as if it did not affect me it was not my fight. I have to admit, I was wrong, but never again. I will not be silent in the face of tyranny and injustice, the injustice that too many people I care about face each day. I know this is a difficult blog for some to read, and I am more than willing to speak and listen to those who disagree with me. Come visit the acre and I will make the coffee or offer a beverage. I am not kidding. I am not saying you do not think; I am not saying you are bad if you openly disagree. I am saying I think I have too often been silent when I should have stood up and supported those who do have the same opportunity to speak up. That time is now.
Thanks as always for reading.