Point of View Columns

No Fun and No Popcorn at This Circus

From the time that Donald Trump oozed into the public consciousness of New Yorkers who were addicted to lite news, he has been the master of distraction. Even as his multiple business ventures lumbered and careened into failure (remember Trump Airlines? Trump University? Trump Casinos?) he proclaimed himself to be one of the wealthiest men in the world. And some of the world believed it and rest of the world didn’t care (except for his ex-wives and legions of debtors who have not, and will never be paid). His ability to dangle bright shiny objects of controversy, publicity or just noise are reminiscent of the basic protocols for a three ring circus.

Even though Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus has gone the way of the passenger pigeon, there are still enough circuses around for the analogy to have meaning in these days and times. The basic principle being that whether the circus has one, two or three rings, there are enough attractions and distractions so that the audience cannot really focus on the fact that the lady on the flying trapeze is barely flying through the air and the lions and elephants parading around are long past their prime and, in many instances, are seriously sedated. But with multiple distractions and attractions spinning, flying, marching and clowning around, the audience goes home entertained and satisfied.

And it clear that Trump has brought his well-worn and perfectly polished circus act to the White House. And that is how the nation focused upon the profound insult visited upon American and Allied soldiers who died in World War I by Trump while plans were in place to replace the despicable Attorney General Jeff Sessions with a wannabe hack nobody named Mark Whitaker.

And while we focused on the expectedly abrupt departure of Sessions and wondered and the incredible lack of qualification that can best describe Whitaker, in his last and final dastardly act as Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended the Obama era policy that called for the Justice Department to investigate police shootings of unarmed civilians. This was the policy that was the basis for supervision and consent decrees to control and eliminate racist police policies in Baltimore, Chicago and Ferguson, Missouri.

But while we were watching this particular high wire act we learned that the senior deputy to John Bolton (a Neanderthal Cold Warrior if there ever was one), the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States was fired by Donald Trump because his wife did not like the deputy. And because our senses are virtually overwhelmed by the spinning plates and dancing clowns and piano-playing monkeys in the Trump circus, we actually lose sight of the fact that the individuals who are supposed to be responsible for national security policy in a world that includes ISIS, North Korea and Russia are subject to the piques and tantrums of the wife of the President of the United States despite the fact that her knowledge of foreign affairs and foreign policy would not overflow a thimble similar in size to the one that contains Trump’s foreign policy expertise.

And while we are distracted by that bit of business Trump embarks on an historic attack on the American press and the First Amendment, banning a reporter from the White House because he does not like Jim Acosta, while seeming to single out black female reporters for extra insult and opprobrium. His assault on the Fourth Estate has been so dangerous and the seeming prelude to even more dictatorial actions, that Trump has managed to get CNN and Fox News to join forces in a lawsuit against him creating such an impossible union that Americans are search the sky for pigs flying past a blue moon.

And while a Trump-appointed federal judge presides over what may be an historic test of the strength of the First Amendment and the Constitution (and with a Trump majority on the Supreme Court waiting in the wings), Trump is stomping one tweet closer to ending the Robert Mueller Russia investigation. That singular rash act would seem to bring about a constitutional crisis that would make the Nixon era seem like a dispute over parking tickets. And the brief and sordid history of the Trump presidency tells us that not only is Trump’s naked obstruction of justice possible – it is probable.

And what that same history also tells us is that another circus act is waiting in the wings – it might be military action in Venezuela, it might be a much needed reform of the criminal justice system it might be the firing of his Chief of Staff John Kelly, or it could just be another Trump insultathon at the upcoming G-20 Summit. What we do know is that is that as long as Trump is president the circus will continue.

All that is missing is a calliope.

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Point of View Columns

A Message to Millennials

As the first presidential debate of 2016 approaches it is now a considered fact that the millennial of America are going to be a key determinant of who is the next President of the United States. To put it another way, millennials have a major say as to whether the previously incomprehensible thought that Donald J. Trump could be president could, in fact, become a reality.

What was previously thought to be a no-brainer is now a toss-up. That a serial foe of racial equality, gender respect and basic decency is the nominee of a national political party is a commentary on the Republican Party, the tone and content of socio-political discourse in this country as well as a damning commentary on each and every one of us.

Somehow, in the give and take of what passes for politics, too many of us have failed to teach the relevance of the past to the present and the future. As a result, too many of our millennial brothers and sisters have grown up insulated from the history of the struggle for civil rights, human rights and gender equity. And so, it is time for a Message to Millennials:

Dear Millennials:

For those of you who were born since 1985, I offer you a sincere apology on behalf of those of us who, in a sincere desire for you to embrace an unfettered future, neglected to provide you with the historical details that have brought you to the threshold of that future. By sanitizing and condensing that history, we have unintentionally diminished the true nature and viciousness and ferocity of the forces that have always opposed civil rights and human rights and gender rights that you have rightfully taken for granted.

So, as the 2016 presidential election approaches you should know some very real facts that have nothing to do with the grossness, obscenity and classless nature of Donald Trump. That you might consider it acceptable under any circumstances that such a man could be the successor to President Barack Obama tells me that you have little faith and respect in the governmental process that has brought you to the threshold of that unlimited future that you should rightfully take for granted, but cannot and should not.

So please think about this:

• The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not a constitutional amendment, it is a law. Laws can be repealed and redefined. The right wing of the right wing of the Republican Party, including the Teapublican wing that has been led by Mike Pence, is committed to diminishing the scope and impact of that historic legislation in the name of states’ rights and private property rights.

• The next President of the United States will appoint at least two Supreme Court justices over the next four years. If Donald Trump is president, those two justices will join the Roberts – Alito – Thomas cabal to establish a right wing majority for at least the next decade and you can kiss the rights afforded by the Civil Rights Act goodbye. – That would include the right to go to any restaurant or hotel regardless of race or sexual orientation…..and, there goes marriage equality.

• Donald Trump chose Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate and he is on the record as looking forward to “the day that Roe v. Wade is on the trash heap of history”. So all millennials, especially female millennials, should speak with your mothers and grandmothers and learn what life was like was like in this country when a woman’s right to choose was the subject of criminal prosecution.

• Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, there have been conservative activists who have dedicated their lives to eviscerating this law which simply protects the rights of black Americans to vote. These banal bigots achieved a huge victory in 2013 when the Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court decision gutted that Voting Rights Act. A Trump presidency will guarantee the end of voting rights equality as a unquestioned goal and we will literally see the slithering serpents of Jim Crow (I hope that you have heard of Jim Crow) come slithering out of their previously sealed tombs.

I am not trying to scare you, but if the truth is fearsome to you, so be it. Please understand that the franchise
that you own was won with the blood and lives of people who you will never know, people of whom you have never heard. Please understand that your vote is worth something more than making a statement.

Please know that the difference between Clinton and Trump is not like the difference between McCain and Obama or even Romney and Obama. This is more like Humphrey and Nixon in 1968.

And I can tell you that, as an 18 year old who thought that there was little difference between Nixon and Humphrey, I was terribly and horribly wrong. Nixon begat Ford who begat Reagan who begat Bush and Bush again.

It is now 2016 and I am asking you to please not make the mistake that was made in 1968. You can’t afford it. This nation cannot afford it.

With much love and respect.

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Point of View Columns

Black Lives Don’t Matter

The recent revelation by Richard Nixon’s domestic policy advisor that primary motivation behind the so-called War on Drugs was to destabilize the national black community should have ignited a firestorm of outrage. The truth is that the outrage has been muted in the black community and the white community has been mute. Given how successful the War on Drugs has been in accomplishing its mission in destabilizing black lives, the deathly silence at its revelation raises the legitimate question, do black lives really matter in these United States of America?

Since the inception of the “Black Lives Matter” movement a constant question has hovered regarding its necessity. After all, don’t “all lives matter”? And that ought to be true that “all lives matter”, but clearly that is not the case.

Imagine if the revelation of the racist origins of the War on Drugs indicated a focus on the Irish community, or the Italian community or the Jewish community. Imagine that the results of this racist policy were the destabilization, degradation and incarceration of millions of members of the targeted ethnic group. It is fair to imagine that there would be one hell of a firestorm of justifiable outrage accompanied by clarion calls to eliminate all vestiges of this “war” as a reasonable first step – followed by enormous remediation strategies including reparations for the victims.
Putting aside imagination, the revelations of the Nixon policies targeted black Americans has elicited barely a yawn. It has been a 24 hour story at best.

There have been no calls for Congressional investigation and virtual silence from the Congressional Black Caucus.
CNN, MSNBC and BET have dedicated a few moments of air time to this horror of historic proportions and then gone back to the mind numbing coverage of the Republican Clown Show that is disguised as a presidential campaign. Indeed, none of the remaining five presidential candidates, Democratic and Republican have taken note of this governmental atrocity.

It seems as if all Americans have become anesthetized when it comes to tragedies in the black community. Whether it is police violence, infant mortality, mass incarceration, gang violence or truncated life expectancy there is no shock value left regarding these tragedies and so many more.

And perhaps the final and sad explanation is that black lives really do not matter in this country. And that final and sad explanation is supported by the fact that the story of the Nixon race strategy, a strategy that comes uncomfortably close to community genocide, is not surprising given past American history and current American reality. And clearly the institutional disaster visited upon the national black community is not enough to elicit protest, demonstration and demands for true justice.

Where are the black ministers thundering from the pulpits, calling out this injustice and demanding justice? When is the next NAACP march, when is the next Black Lives Matter demonstration, when is the issue even going to be raised during the seemingly infinite number of presidential debates?

The answers are nowhere, never and never. The reality of black lives really not mattering in this country is a suffocating and sad reality in the United States of America.

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Point of View Columns

A Voice from the Past

It seems like yesterday, but 44 years ago this month I had the privilege of both graduating from Dartmouth College and speaking at the commencement exercises. I was reading that speech recently and I was amazed at how much has changed and how little has changed. I hope that you will appreciate this “Voice from the Past”.

Mothers and Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, Mr. President, Faculty and Guests:

We are gathered here this morning to celebrate what is supposed to be a great day, a day of significance, and a day of meaning for all those involved. But what does this day mean for us, what does this day mean for us, the Black students who have survived the Dartmouth College experience?

This day means that we recognize ourselves as being the result of years of labor and sacrifice, the labor of fathers, the sacrifice of mothers, the encouragement and help from brothers and sisters, the support of friends. What we owe for this labor, this sacrifice, this encouragement, this help, this support, we can never pay back in material terms no matter how hard we try. For what we have been given can never be measured in terms of money, the god of fools. For what we have been given was given in the spirit of love and we must return in the same that love, otherwise we have not survived the Dartmouth experience, but rather we have been crushed by it.

If we are to make the years of labor and sacrifice meaningful, then we must dedicate ourselves to our people. We must dedicate ourselves to Black freedom and Black peace of mind, no matter what the obstacles, no matter what the barriers, no matter what the side alleys that lead to dead ends of frustration and negation. We must dedicate ourselves to putting an end to the sad humor of the contradiction of a Black man in a white man’s school trying to learn how to free himself.

We were made to be free, Black men and Black women were not meant to be anybody’s hand servants or slaves, we were meant to stand tall and proud under the sky of liberation without any clouds of oppression or injustice on the horizons of our minds. And if we are to be free once more, then we must not be surprised by whatever America tries to do to us. Three hundred years of oppression, three hundred years of blood, three hundred years of brutal and inhuman treatment should have taught us that much.

But, when we were first put in chains, our ancestors were surprised; when Reconstruction was found to be a sick white joke we were surprised; when Marcus Garvey was railroaded to prison, we were surprised; when Emmett Till and Mack Parker were murdered, we were surprised; when Malcolm X, the prince of blackness was murdered in cold blood we were surprised; when Martin Luther King, the prince of peace, was killed were still surprised; when Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed by the animals that masquerade as Chicago police, were we were still surprised; and even last month, when more of our brothers and sisters were shot down in Augusta and Jackson, we were surprised.

Well, we can’t be surprised any longer. What goes around comes around, and it’s time for the other folks to be surprised.

We have been told to believe in America, to believe that there was something deep down inside America that was good. And what has happened?

Black brothers die daily in the Indochina madness that is just another example of the sickness of America spilling out all over the world, and still be try to believe; Nixon tells Black people that he doesn’t give a damn about us, that he would rather put a white man on the moon than put food into a Black (or white) child’s stomach, and still we try to believe; the Congressional Records of the United States detail the construction and planned use of concentration camps and still we are supposed to believe.

The time has now come for us to believe in ourselves. The time has come to make ourselves free. Our stars of freedom still shine and our saints of righteousness do live. You only have to look around.

The stars are in the eyes of little Black babies and children who were born destined only for freedom, the saints of righteousness are the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters who have provided the strength for Blackness to survive in the face of the forces of evil.

The time is coming, the time has got to come, when freedom will be seen in our smiles, and our Blackness will mean freedom. We have to believe this, because this is the only reality left to us.

That is what we are about, that is what today means for us. To best sum up our feelings though, I would like to quote a poem written by Brother Herschel Johnson, of this Class of 1970, as this poem speaks for the souls and spirits of all of us:

For you mothers with dirt-rough hands

For you with backs aching from bending

And flushing and scrubbing

For all you women on transit

You with brown bags under your arms

Bringing home the leavings of white folks

Bringing it to your children

For all you Black mothers and fathers

Who had to live with humility

And yet have had the pride to survive

For you Black mothers and fathers who raised us

Your men are now with you.

Thank you and may a beautiful Black peace always be with you.

 

This was written 44 years ago – it could have been written today.

 

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

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