Point of View Columns

Rebirth of a Nation

It is rare that we recognize history being made as it happens. Times of great stress and tragedy – Pearl Harbor, the assassinations of Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and 9/11 were all moments that were etched in history in real time. And then there are days like November 6, 2018. While there is the very real hope that some cataclysmic event will not occur, it is also quite clear that there is a very real opportunity for the citizens of this country to begin to divert the United States from what has seemed to be an inexorable slide into permanent division and hopeless conflict inflamed by racism, hate and lies.

When Donald Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, there was a feeling that seeped into the national consciousness that the circus act that resulted in his improbable election was not going to end. And it became clear that the word “circus” was not going to be the benign cavalcade of clown shows, trapeze artists and somnolent lions. The Trump “circus” has turned out to be an affair of which Caligula would have been proud with damage and destruction and mindless outrage being the main events. The Trump Circus has provided very little bread for any but the very rich, but the circus act has entertained and inflamed his base to the point where a Trump-led victory in the midterm elections would certainly send this nation careening into something that would look very much like chaos.

And that is where the opportunity for historic action comes in. There is no way that Donald Trump will not be president on November 7th. But if enough Americans vote, and are allowed to vote, and are able to overcome vile Republican efforts at voter suppression – then Donald Trump will not be able to use the United States Congress as his personal sock puppet. If enough Americans see November 6th as an opportunity to bring some sanity and clarity and minimal decency into the political and governmental processes in Washington, then he will be rudely disabused of his very clear belief that his real title is “king”, and that as “president” he will have to contend with constitutional checks and balances that will occasion the rebirth of this nation.

It is not an exaggeration to state that the current condition of this country, anesthetized by lies, terrorized by presidentially-inspired hate without even a fig leaf of an attempt to be decent could have lasting effects long after Donald Trump is lost on the trash heap of history as a failed president and a miserable human being. However, the rebirth of the nation begins with voting – not necessarily for the perfect candidate, but certainly for the possibility of rebirth and renewal.

This country has always been a nation of second chances. Voters will determine if this is also a country capable of rebirth.

 

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Point of View Columns

The Birth of Trumpageddon

Historians will undoubtedly look at the 2016 presidential campaign as being unique. The looming and tantalizing presence of Trumpageddon will virtually overshadow everything, much the same way as Donald Trump himself sucks up the media oxygen every day of this very bizarre year. But the most astute historians will go back a half century earlier to discover the roots of Trumpageddon, roots that have nothing to do with Donald J. Trump and have everything to do with the intentional reinvention of the Republican Party in 1964.

Prior to 1964 the national Republican party was indisputably more progressive when it came to civil rights for black Americans. After all, the Democratic Party was deeply rooted in the South, roots that went back as far as the end of Reconstruction and the federal occupation of the formerly treasonous Confederacy in 1876.

After all, the Republican Party came into being with the abolition of slavery being a principal plank in its national political platform in 1860. Abraham Lincoln, the author of the Emancipation Proclamation was a Republican. And when the seething South was liberated from federal occupation in 1876, due in large part to the tricknology of Rutherford B. Hayes who swapped the freedom, civil rights and physical safety of Southern black people in exchange for the presidency, southerners embraced the Democratic Party as their own.

The Democratic Party in the South was the party of Jim Crow and lynching. Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican president, invited the first black American to dine at the White House. Woodrow Wilson, a Democratic president, hosted the premier of “Birth of a Nation” in the White House.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democratic president, never supported anti-lynching legislation for fear of alienating his Southern party members. And it was Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican president, who sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision that racially segregated public schools were unconstitutional.

Prior to his untimely death, Democratic President John F. Kennedy was nowhere near a staunch supporter of the Civil Rights Act that was passed posthumously. And in 1960, Richard Nixon, his Republican opponent in that presidential election, had virtually the same amount of support in the national black community as he did.

As late as 1964, the Democratic Party was the home of  blood-soaked and hate drenched racist villains such as Thurmond and Stennis and Faubus and Wallace and Bilbo. And in 1964 every state that had been a part of the Confederate States of America was firmly on the Democratic side of the national political register.

And then the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed with the urging of Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson, followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And as if by magic, during the following decade, the Republican Party was ascendant in the South, vacuuming up all the disenchanted white Southerners, supposedly in the name of conservatism and state’s rights, but in reality the transition was fueled by the deep and abiding resentment that black Americans were afforded some measure of citizenship by the Damned Democrats.

Should there any be any doubt regarding the linkage of race and the Republican ascendancy, it should be remembered that Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of Republican conservatism, launched his national presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, less than twenty years after three civil rights workers were lynched within miles of the podium on which he stood. And when Reagan proclaimed that “government was the enemy”, he was referring to that same federal government that was often the only source of protection for black Americans seeking asylum and vindication in their own country. That dog whistle blew loud enough for white ears in the South and throughout the nation.

It should, therefore, be no surprise that the modern Republican Party, reborn in radical response to the advancement of racial civil rights would be the home of the impending Trumpageddon. It certainly should be no surprise that the political party that turned a blind eye to the clear racist and racial efforts to delegitimize the first African American presidency would serve as the incubator for those would seek to delegitimize the entire apparatus of the federal government.

Republican leaders like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell who refused to extinguish the dark magical thinking that claimed that Barack Obama is a Muslim, or “hates America” or is not even a citizen, cannot be surprised that a master manipulator like Donald Trump could harness this malevolent harvest and turn it into a movement. And now, for good historical reason, Trumpageddon is upon us.

The Republicans are reaping what they have sown.

Wallace Ford is the Chairman of the Department of Public Administration at Medgar Evers College in the City University of New York. He is the host of The Inclusion Show and the author of two novels, “The Pride” and “What You Sow”

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Point of View Columns

Remembering November 22, 1963

There are moments in life, some personal, and some shared, that are indelibly embedded into memory. I was in an airplane over Namibia heading to New York when my son was born. I was in a restaurant in Washington when my father died. I was in Ghana when the first man walked on the moon. And I was on crutches in the hallway of my high school when I first heard that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

This historical moment, which occurred fifty years ago today, is viewed very differently depending on the demographic that you occupy. Anyone born before 1940 had lived through the Great Depression and a World War – they had personally witnessed and experienced death, destruction and the explosion of dreams. While they would certainly have been moved to tears and carried very heavy hearts on that never to be forgotten Friday, the death of John Kennedy was one more painful episode in a life that had seen people lose their homes, their jobs and their lives.

Anyone born before 1940 had seen entire nations razed to the ground. Concentration camps in Europe, America and the Pacific were not distant memories. Anyone born before 1930 had seen much of the world turned into a charnel house, this planet had become the abattoir of the Devil. And the death of John Kennedy was one more familiar burden.

Anyone born after 1955 has only the faint memory of a child or a reference in a history book when it comes to the death of John Kennedy. Their memory is forever refracted through the prism of other people’s memories. And this particular death goes into the catalogue with other historical assassinations from Caesar to Lincoln. Historically important, deeply significant, but lacking in emotional burden – after all, no one weeps while reading a history book.

For those people born between 1940 and 1955 however, the killing of John Kennedy was a moment of profound significance – significance that went far beyond the horrific event of the president of the United States having his head blown off in full view of the world. For those of us in this particular demographic, the assassination was a wakeup alarm for a generation that was comforted with manufactured Technicolor dream scenarios.

In this scenario, all good things were possible, and bad things either happened to someone else in some other country, or just to someone else. In this scenario, the promise of the future was eternally bright and we were taught that this bright future was ours as a matter of birthright. In this scenario monstrosities and atrocities and cynicism belonged to the past.

The election of John F. Kennedy, the youngest person ever elected president, meant that youth was claiming its American – and global – inheritance. That youth was us and the idea of a New Frontier and a Peace Corps and “…asking not what this country can do for you but what you can do for your country” was intoxicating stuff.

It was cool to be optimistic. It was cool to care about others and the world. It was cool to be brilliant and educated and embracing of culture and sophistication. And it was so very clear that this would last forever, that this is the way it would be.

And then it wasn’t.

Black and white televisions broadcast the unbelievable news and radios crackled with reports that surely came from Hell. There was no way that dreams could just die. There was no way that a symbol of hope and promise could just be killed.

And there was no way that we could know that while the earth had barely settled on the graves of the young girls assassinated in Birmingham, Alabama that Malcolm X had less than two years left to live.

We had no way of knowing that both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy would be dead in less than five years. We didn’t know that John Coltrane, John Lennon and Fred Hampton and Jimi Hendrix and George Jackson would also be dead before too long.

And we had no way of knowing that our brothers and sisters would be dying on battlefields in Watts and Newark and Vietnam and Waco and Ruby Ridge and Jonestown and Iraq and the World Trade Center.

But we began to learn how fragile dreams are and how precious hope is. We began to appreciate the uncertainty of tomorrow and unfortunately, we all began to drink from the cup of cynicism, too many of us too deeply.

And now, on the fiftieth anniversary of the death of innocence for an entire generation, it is now time for that generation to stop thinking about what might have been and spend the rest of the time with which we may be blessed working on what can be.

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Point of View Columns

Rick Santorum Makes Me Want to Throw Up!

The saga of Saint Santorum continues down a long and winding road that is clearly the route for the race to the bottom – the bottom of indecency, the bottom of untruth, the bottom of misguided zealotry. And just when you think that Rick Santorum has hit bottom (with Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul racing close behind), he finds another bizarre bog in which to wallow.

During this past week a video tape of a 2011 speech by Saint Santorum surfaced in which he stated that John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech on the separation of church and state “made me want to throw up”. When asked about his stone-headed, infantile response last week, Saint Santorum doubled down, clinging to the threadbare logic of his earlier statement and then lying by saying that John Kennedy stated that there was no place for “people of faith” in public service.

The creepy, cringe worthiness of his craven grasping for headlines is appalling. What is more appalling is that there seem to be millions of Americans who find the philosophical slop that is served in the Santorum trough to be delectable and delicious.

It doesn’t seem to matter to Saint Santorum and his brothers and sisters in ignorance that in his 1960 speech John Kennedy actually established a platform whereby men and women “of faith” could participate in the public arena without their faith being an issue. Indeed it is doubtful that Rick Santorum, who clearly believes that flaunting his Catholicism, is a sign that he is a “man of faith”, could even be a serious candidate for president if it were not for the pioneering steps taken by John Kennedy.

And just as clearly, Saint Santorum either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. A good demagogue never lets facts get in the way.

Not satisfied with trashing the legacy of John Kennedy, Saint Santorum continued with his weekly spiel of lies and misrepresentations regarding President Obama. He called President Obama a “snob” because he advocates post-high school education for the young people of this country.

Of course, in his daily dance with the devil, Rick Santorum characterized Barack Obama’s policy as wanting all Americans to go to college, which is simply not true. And then Saint Santorum suffered a severe attack of stupidity by saying that the Obama Administration’s post-high school education policy had as its goal “remaking” Americans in the image of Barack Obama. Psychiatrists everywhere can have a field day trying to figure out the bizarre workings of the mind of Saint Santorum on this one.

And through it all Saint Santorum is clearly on a mission to control and manage the lives of the women of this country in a way not seen since the days of the Puritans. His adamant stance with respect to abortion totally disrespects the concept that every woman should have a choice when it comes to such an intensely personal matter. That he would absolutely oppose such a procedure even in the case of rape or in an effort to save the life of the mother sounds like he is walking around with troglodyte mud on his shoes.

And, of course, his opposition to contraception makes him sound like he is reading from a script written by the same people who gave us “Reefer Madness” sixty years ago. Except now, nobody is laughing.

Santorum’s opposition to women serving in the military is clearly born of some misguided notion of chivalry. And all the while he campaigns for home schooling while terming compulsory public education “a relic of the industrial revolution”.

A combination of the policies of Saint Santorum will result in a country where women will not have the right to control their bodies. Without that control, without unfettered access to public education and with a continued circumscribing of the rights of women in the name of chivalry – this country will be a very sad a backward place as it will betray every hope and dream that made this country “exceptional” even as it has fallen short of attainment of those hopes and dreams.

Every morning it seems as if this will be the day that people finally recognize Saint Santorum for the ridiculous and fraudulent moralistic fascist that he is. And every evening it seems that more Teapublicans prefer Rick Santorum, or anyone else, to Mitt Romney.

What this means for the G.O.Tea Party is hard to tell. But it is clear that everyone else should be very afraid.

Remember November 6th!

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – September 9, 2011

Everyone over the age of 40 remembers where they were on November 22, 1963 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Everyone over the age of 15 remembers where they were on September 11, 2001 when the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists. Today’s Weekend Edition of Point of View provides a retrospective as to the meaning of that terrible day.

Where America Was. Where is America Now?

On the evening of September 10, 2001 Michael Jackson performed at Madison Square Garden in New York City, providing the 18,000 people in attendance with a brief and shining demonstration of true genius. At least one young woman attended that concert and partied afterwards. As a result she was too tired (and hung over) to go to work the next day.

She worked in an office near the top of one of the Twin Towers. Going to see Michael Jackson saved her life.

A young man had a job interview with a firm in an office near the top of one of the Twin Towers. His appointment was for 9 a.m. He wanted to make a good impression so he got to his appoint about 15 minutes early. He was killed trying to make a good impression on his prospective employer.

The stories of 9/11 are full of pain, grief, sorrow, anger and the realization of the random nature of life on this planet. The smallest change in routine could have resulted in life or death that day – as is the case every other day of our lives.

But it was the random nature of the unknown rage from an unknown land that troubled and tortured Americans in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. It was beyond belief that there were people in this world who hated the greatest country in the world so much. It was beyond belief that we were so vulnerable.

And after the cries of pain had been silenced and the tears of grief and sorrow had dried anger took center stage. We had been attacked by enemies. The enemies must be slain.

But these enemies wore no uniform, had no nationality and carried no flag. Al Qaeda doesn’t even have a motto. We learned that Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan, sheltered by the Taliban – so there was a target for the cold steel of anger that had been forged in the fires of 9/11. Except……

Except that, in going after bin Laden it became to kill many thousands of Afghan men, women and children. Some were enemies of this country. Many more fell into the awfully banal category of “collateral damage”. And then…..

The government of the United States decided that this was an opportune time to ramp up the Big Lie. A key plotter in the 9/11 tragedy was Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi despot. It wasn’t enough to pursue bin Laden, the downfall of Hussein was critical to the safety of the United States and was important in avenging 9/11.

And so 9/11 and the so-called War on Terror became the password that unlocked all of the horrors of war. “Collateral damage” claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and so too many other places. The War on Terror excused the suspension of constitutional rights for Americans and human rights for suspects who were subjected to torture in black holes around the world through a process called rendition.

In times of tragedy friends, families and communities come together. Differences were forgotten in the aftermath of 9/11 as we realized that the terrorists were didn’t care about our color, religion or national origin. We were targets and that was enough. And for a while, it seemed that silver lining on the cloud of 9/11 would be a different sense of a national community.

But the anger morphed into war and the war morphed into horror. And then there was revulsion and shame. And those who were expressed revulsion at water boarding and torture and rendition and mindless war found their patriotism questioned by those who felt shame in their heart of hearts.

For the first time since the American Revolution the United States pursued war(s) without raising funds for the war through taxes. Combined with the Bush tax cuts, the wars drained the national treasury and turned a multi-billion dollar surplus into a multi-trillion dollar deficit.

The wars created a schism in this country as it became clear that both wars were pathways into a bloody morass with no way out – the fact that the war in Iraq was based on pure fabrication made matters worse. The schism resulted in Americans questioning the patriotism of other Americans and this schism set the stage for the Tea Party radicalization of American politics who now want to “take America back”.

We know now that the goal of Osama bin Laden was not to simply destroy the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. His real goal was to destabilize the United States.

It remains to be seen if that goal will be achieved. We still have the ability to prevent that goal from being achieved – but it will require will as well as power.

Have a great weekend!

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