Point of View Columns

The Myth of Sisyphus Revisited

As we continue to process the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States we can consult Greek mythology for some perspective and perhaps some answers. Specifically, we can look at the Myth of Sisyphus and the eternal punishment that was visited upon him for his pride and various transgressions against the gods. When we examine the Myth of Sisyphus we see ourselves – people who are appalled at the reality of a Trump presidency that is no longer an unthinkable possibility.

By way of perspective, in Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a mortal who alternatively aided and enraged various Greek gods. Upon his death he was sentenced to pushing an outrageously heavy rock up a very steep hill, only to see the rock roll back down the hill at the end of every day – for eternity. Consequently, the Myth of Sisyphus as the allegorical expression of humans engaged in struggle and effort and to reach the precipice of success, only to have to repeat that struggle and effort again…..and again, forever.

With the election of Donald Trump as President, black Americans, progressive Americans and many others, are about to watch the outrageously heavy rock of progress against racism, sexism, homophobia, soulless lack of compassion for the poor and defenseless, roll back down the hill – perhaps to where we were in the 1960’s, or the 1950’s or the 1800’s. For we see in Trump’s campaign rhetoric and his initial presidential appointments, more than a whiff of the meanness, and more resonance of the dog whistle that translated “Making America Great Again” to “Making America White Again”.

But when the legions of appalled Americans begin to ask “Why?” and “How?” we can begin by looking at the person that we see in the mirror in the morning when we brush our teeth. Collectively we have grown complacent about the enormous progress that has been made over the past 150 years. It was only 151 years ago that black Americans were emancipated from race-based slavery. It has not been 100 years that women have had the right to vote. Gender equality is a child in its infancy, and the first strides to eliminating homophobia are also baby steps compared to the vile, virulent and violent assaults on those who are “other” by reason of whom they choose to love.

Because of the wonders of very real progress, collectively we have come to believe that these changes have become woven into the American fabric, somehow replacing the savage threads of racism, sexism, homophobia and voluntary ignorance. And with that belief has come complacency, unwarranted comfort and willful ignorance of the forces that have been arrayed against that progress, forces that have been working 24-7 to bring about a special day – a day that turned out to be November 8, 2016.

And if we say that we didn’t see it coming it is because we didn’t bother to look or didn’t believe what we saw. The forces of regression and repression hid in plain view and we truly have no excuse. The Klan never disappeared. The Tea Party was never only about opposition to the first black President of the United States. The agenda of the Freedom Caucus in the Congress was clear and obvious to all who bothered to pay attention. But many of us were distracted or complacent in the false comfort of thinking that there was no way that the Civil Rights Act or Roe v. Wade or the Environmental Protection Agency or Marriage Equality could ever become nullities.

Now we know that we are entering an era of protracted struggle. In this column the past election was described as the “Gettysburg of the Culture Wars”. Unlike in 1863, the South won, philosophically and literally – when the Attorney General of the United States –under whose jurisdiction lies the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice – is someone named Jefferson Beauregard Sessions from Alabama, named after a slave owner and a defender of slavery respectively, we know that we are in for tough times.

Of course, too many of us have either forgotten or never known protracted struggle for rights and justice in this country. We have entire generations for whom marches, boycotts and demonstrations are just quaint black and white photographs and film clips of another time in the distant past.

But it is time for protracted struggle – – again. And just like Sisyphus we find ourselves having to push the boulder of justice and liberty and freedom back up the hill of interposition and nullification. And should we grow weary we should remember the opening lyrics to “God Will Take Care of You” –

Be not dismayed whatever betide
God will take care of you……….

But, of course, we must remember that God takes care of those who endeavor to take care of themselves. And in these days and times, taking care means protracted struggle against the forces that are now arrayed against the rights, freedoms, liberties and expectations of life that we hold dear.

Point of View Columns

Reaction to the Election of Donald J. Trump – In Real Time

The following was written approximately 12 hours after the election of Donald Trump was confirmed:

“I will need more than a few lines to express my thoughts about the election…..was up until 3.20 and saw the blasphemy through to the bitter end….was up at 5.30…went biking @6.30 and was in a tv studio @8.30 for about an hour and a half talking about the election results…….will decompress tonight and try to sort out my thoughts…the one thing I know for certain…I will not let the likes of Donald Trump bring me down for next to a moment…..my grandmothers were a domestic and a seamstress respectively, my grandfathers were a stevedore and a Pullman car porter respectively….after all that they faced – and my mother and father have faced…they would be embarrassed and ashamed if I would let a spoiled foul mouth billionaire diminish my spirit for even a nanosecond……that will never happen….Nietzche said if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger….We are not dead and we are getting stronger every day!”

Point of View Columns

A Message for November 9th

As Election Day in America dawns in just a few hours, just about everything that can be said has been said – but not everything. That is because after Donald Trump loses on November 8th, America will be at yet another crossroads in its conflicted history.

Historians will one day ask how was it that the same country that elected as President Barack Obama, an African American progressive Democrat, could four years later come uncomfortably close to electing a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic Know-Nothing. The historians of the future will wrestle with the implications of the phenomenon known as American Schizophrenia but in the meantime we have to address the very real implications of the Trump candidacy and the massive vein of distaste for the present America and hate for the future American that it revealed.

By now, there are very few people who doubt that “Make America Great Again” is a thinly-coded dog whistle for a return to a time when white American males strode this land like entitled lords without having to take the time to consider racial, gender or immigration issues except in passing. And just in case someone did not hear that whistle, the very last Trump campaign commercials refer to a global conspiracy headed by shady bankers, all of whom just happen to be Jewish (one has to assume that reference to the Protocols of Zion was just too complicated for a two minute commercial).

There is no reason to expect that the sheetless Klansmen and the Breibart refugees and the birthers and the nativists and the resurrected America Firsters are going anywhere anytime soon. The sad and true fact is that in going down to an historic defeat, Donald Trump will have been able to attract tens of millions of American voters to his doomed candidacy.

What is also sad and true is that there are truly deplorable people who supported candidacy who are not going anywhere. They will continue to hate and continue to vote. They will elect members of Congress and governors and mayors who will cater to their deepest hate and their visceral fears.

What is also sad and true is that not all of Trump’s supporters are deplorable. There are certainly millions of men and women who are afraid for their jobs, for their way of life and for the future of their children. These are men and women who listened to the sounds of the Pestilent Pied Piper Named Trump and who believed that the simplistic, fact-free and mythical solutions that he offered with the cult of His personality would indeed solve all of their problems and make their dreams come true.

Donald Tinyhands will fade into deserved obscurity. But there is an America that not only needs a voice, there are men and women who need to be listened to – and we ignore them and belittle them at the peril of the Republic itself.

Supporters of Hillary Clinton should celebrate and then they should listen – there are unheard voices that need to be heard.

Point of View Columns

November 8, 2016 – The Second Battle of Gettysburg

The noted journalist and historian Carl Bernstein has observed that the 2016 presidential election is “the Gettysburg of the culture war” and he is absolutely right. And with Election Day just a few days away, some historical perspective will be helpful in truly understanding how important November 8, 2016 will be in American history

In July of 1863 the Union army had yet to win a major, much less decisive battle against the armed forces of the Confederate States of America. Led by the flawed but charismatic General Robert E. Lee, the Confederate Army had actually invaded Pennsylvania with the plan of encircling Washington, DC and forcing President Abraham Lincoln to agree to a negotiated settlement that would recognize the independence of the CSA.

The three day battle was epic in its loss of life, demonstrations of bravery and insane bravado as well as the gut-wrenching shifting of fortunes that ultimately left Lee and his Army a shadow of itself as it limped out of Pennsylvania, never to win another major battle as the CSA simply bled to death, the funeral ceremonies being held in Appomattox in 1865.

But it didn’t have to be that way – with a few twist and turns of fate and luck Lee could have won. And if Lee had won the CSA would almost certainly have become an independent country, immediately recognized by Great Britain which hungered for southern cotton. Racial slavery would have been institutionalized for at least another half century and the literal complexion of the North and South would in no way resemble the America we know today.

The Gettysburg analogy is appropriate for the next week’s election because for the past half century there has been a cultural civil war being waged in this country. Issues ranging from racial civil rights to gender equality to the right of women to control their bodies to environmental sanity to marriage equality have resulted in battles that have raged in cities, states and in Washington, D.C.

There might actually be common ground on issues such as taxation policies and the limits of social service support by government. But there are entrenched forces on both sides of basic issues such as racial and gender equality or the right of women to decide how they will live their lives and control their bodies. On these and other issues there really is no middle ground.

And what we now see with not only the candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is not only an incredible divergence of temperament, intelligence, qualifications and personalities, but also a yawning gap between the policies of the platforms of the parties that they represent. And while there might be some value in parsing Clinton’s e-mails or coming to grips with Trump’s incredible obscenity, the fact is that the platform of the Republican Party calls for the repeal of Roe v. Wade as well as the mindless denial of climate change.

The fact is that the Republican Party is the home of men and women who have spent a half century of their lives seeking to roll back the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and who literally celebrated when the Supreme Court gutted that historic and that foundational pillar of the civil rights movement in the Shelby v. Holder decision of 2013.

And the fact is that a President Hillary Clinton will appoint Supreme Court justices who will defend Roe v. Wade and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a President Donald Trump has promised to do just the opposite.

In 1863 the literal character of the nation was at stake and that battle of Gettysburg, which could have gone either way, determined that the United States of America, flawed and faulty as it has been, had the potential and the possibility of aspiring to and achieving the greatness articulated in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence authored by similarly flawed men.

In 2016, the literal character of the nation is again at stake. A victory by Donald Trump will guarantee the degradation of the rights, hopes and aspirations of millions of Americans in order to keep the promise to the shrinking majority of non-college educated and angry and disaffected white Americans to “Make America Great Again” –an America when blacks and women and gay Americans knew their place in the shadows….an America where the myth of liberty and justice for all satisfied the then dominant white male American majority.

It is not possible to exaggerate the apocalyptic results of a Trump presidency. Hillary Clinton will not be a perfect president, but then there has never been a perfect president.

The Gettysburg of the culture wars will be fought on November 8, 2016 – each and every one of us has the power to make a choice as to the outcome of this battle.