Point of View Columns

Devil in The White Dress

Trump’s State of the Union speech received mixed reviews, to be kind. They ranged from “psychotically incoherent” (Van Jones) to “his worst speech ever” (Rick Santorum) to “the most inspiring State of the Union speech in history” (guess……………you are correct, Sean Hannity). The fact that for many the most memorable moment was Speaker Nancy Pelosi clap-shaming Trump kind of says it all. But there was more going on that night, and there are some women in Congress, all dressed in white, who have some explaining to do.

It was certainly noteworthy and historic and far too long in coming for the largest number of women in Congress be seated as members. Many of these women dressed in white to commemorate the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919. This amendment was ratified and became a part of the Constitution in 1920. The 19th Amendment was seen as the signal and most important victory of the almost 100 year old women’s suffrage movement.

One has to wonder if all of those women dressed in white knew what they were celebrating. The history of the (white) women’s suffrage movement existed hand in hand with domestic terrorists like the Knights of the White Magnolia and the Ku Klux Klan and the rhetoric of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton rang with words like “sambo”, “baboons” and “black rapists” as they advocated for (only) white women to have the right to vote.

But even in the age of Trump facts matter. The 19th Amendment did not give women the right to vote – it prohibited states from preventing women from voting. The 19th Amendment did absolutely nothing to protect or assert the rights of black women when it came to voting. And the almost 100 year old women’s suffrage movement was a virtually whites-only organization that grudgingly permitted black women a seat on the back of the suffragette bus, alternatively ignoring and insulting them.

And it is because of this skewed whitewashing of women’s history that little white girls and white boys and little black girls and black boys do not know the names of Mary Church Terrell, Ida Wells, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Coralie Franklin Cook, but they do know the names of unreconstructed racists and bigots like Anthony and Stanton.

While there was a linkage between the abolitionist and suffrage movements prior to the Civil War, ironically due in no small part to advocacy by the African American hero Frederick Douglass. After the Civil War the cause of the rights of black people diverged from the agenda of advocates for women’s suffrage.

That is because the female leadership of the women’s suffrage movement were as racist as their American male counterparts. Leaders like Anthony and Stanton opposed the 15th Amendment because they felt that white women should have the right to vote before black men. The leaders of this movement barred black women from their marches and many of their public events and the historic Women’s March on Washington 1913, black women were forced to march – you guessed it – at the rear of the parade.

And when the 19th Amendment was ratified, the leaders of these (white) women’s movement did nothing to support their black sisters in their effort to vote. Black women were arrested, beaten, sexually assaulted and killed in their efforts to claim the benefits that the Women in White celebrated at the State of the Union.

Of course there should be no surprise that white women in the North and South stood by while their white brothers, sons, fathers and husbands rained all kinds of holy hell on black people in America.

The book Without Sanctuary is a photographic history of lynching in America. In almost every one of these horrific pictures there are crowds of white people in attendance, looking on with undisguised pleasure and even glee. And at least half of those in attendance were — you guessed it – white women.

The facts are that the 19th Amendment did little or nothing for black women, and the rights asserted by white women as a result of this amendment meant nothing for black women until the passage of the Voting Rights Act — 45 years later. One wonders why these female members of Congress, black, white, Latina and Asian would think it important to celebrate this historic moment of white female supremacy – and not even notice the irony of wearing white for such a celebration.

The fact is that there are many times in this country’s history and in the present when women of all colors and backgrounds have come together to advocate justice for all. The fact is that the 19th Amendment is not one of them, and just like Robert E. Lee’s birthday and the Confederate flag, it does not deserve celebration or observation.

For more information and more facts please see Brent Staples NY Times article on this subject


Point of View Columns

Drama in the Fourth Quarter

Recently, President Obama pointed out something that the fans of the National Football League Seattle Seahawks (and the fans of the Green Bay Packers) experienced firsthand last weekend – the fourth quarter can be an interesting time in sports. And, as President Obama’s most recent State of the Union address shows, the fourth quarter of the Obama Administration may prove to be just as interesting as the Seahawks-Packers game.

During this week’s State of the Union speech, another of facts of American political life became apparent. First, despite the tsunami of attacks, insults, falsehoods, conspiracy theories, faux scandals (think birther or Benghazi, to name a few), President Obama still contends, he still competes, he still adheres to a vision in which the people of this country have a better life.

Second, it is also clear that the Teapublican majority in the House and Senate is not prepared to cede even the slightest credit for anything to this president. While applause meters should not be seen as a definitive indicia of much of anything, the protocols of SOTU speeches do call for applause and the Teapublicans would not, seemingly could not, applaud such mayonnaise on white bread good news items as the historic decline of unemployment, the lessening reliance on foreign oil or the fairly benign notion that the minimum wage should be raised from its current, hardly luxurious $7.25 level.

Indeed, the only time that the Teapublican cabal applauded spontaneously is when President Obama mentioned that he would never run for office again. It was, however, a move that the Teapublicans immediately regretted as the president reminded them that he was not running anymore because he had beaten them in the last two elections – thereby proving once again that at times silence really is golden.

Real world, real time issues like education, immigration reform, tax reform and the implementation of a reality-based environmental policy all need to be in the forefront of policy decision-making in Washington. The Teapublicans offer little hope that they have any interest in improving the quality of life for anyone given the fact that their first act in the new Congress was to bring a bill to the floor that articulates draconian restrictions on abortion – as if this issue is what keeps the majority of Americans awake at night. Female Teapublicans squelched this particular bit of grandstanding, but it is an unfortunate sign of things to come.

Meanwhile, another highlight of President Obama’s speech was his call for the lifting of the Cuban trade embargo, a punitive policy that was a failure at the beginning, a failure for the past half century and is a failure to this very day. And in this instance, failure means that the trade embargo has done nothing to change the political environment in Cuba, it has imposed unnecessary harm and damage on the Cuban people, and it has denied economic opportunities to American firms who cannot compete with companies that are based in more enlightened – or pragmatic – countries.

Needless to say, the Teapublican leadership seems intent on clinging to this hoary and worn out relic of the Cold War, even as the Berlin Wall has become part of the pavement between East and West, even as Vietnam and the People’s Republic of China have become robust trading partners with this country. What is it about Cuba that warrants such enmity and political hatred?

For the answer to that question, one would have to ask the aging, Castro-obsessed Cubanos in Florida and New Jersey. They are clearly the tail that is wagging the Teapublican dog in this case and it would seem that they don’t have any real answer except that they want Cuba to go back to the good old days that they remember in their fizzled dreams – and it ain’t gonna happen.

Meanwhile, President Obama is pursuing a progressive agenda that, while far from radical, does move the country in a different direction than that proposed by the likes of John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, et. al. As noted, the fourth quarter should be interesting.

Point of View Columns

The Real State of the Union

This Tuesday evening President Obama will address the nation, and the world, and deliver the first State of the Union address of his second term. As we listen to his presentation and to the inevitable commentary from pundits and commentators it might be a good idea to actually consider the state of this union of United States. As is the case in many instances there is good news and not so good news.

The not so good news is that there is a hardcore cohort of right wing zealots who have seized virtual control of one of the two major political parties in this country. The Teapublican agenda is dismissive of all aspects of history that do not support their base philosophy which is that government is the enemy of the people and should be curtailed or eliminated wherever possible.

Such a perspective neatly avoids the reality behind the reason that this country is truly exceptional. Indeed, without free, compulsory, universal public education – a national highway infrastructure – an unparalleled network of public and private higher education institutions – a social safety net that provides healthcare, food and housing for a huge segment of the populations – a relatively reliable system of laws, rules and regulations – this country would not only be unexceptional, it would be on its way to Third World status – only bigger than most such countries in that category.

Somehow, the right wing of the right wing has bought into this Ayn Rand grim fairy tale that divides all of humanity into makers and takers. And in this fractured fairy tale, the makers are all self-made men and women who have succeeded solely by reason of their talent, skill and overall superiority. These “makers” don’t bother to explain how the lights work and the water runs in their self-made universe.

And the Teapublicans have become so convinced that they are absolutely correct that they have adopted a terrorist philosophy whereby the end justifies any means. So far those means have included insulting the President of the United States at every turn, trying to subvert the electoral process throughout the country and threatening to collapse the economic infrastructure of the United States.

So far the insults have fallen short as President Obama doesn’t dignify the mudslinging with a response – well, there was that time that he barbequed Donald Trump at the National Press Club Dinner, but who could blame him? The Teapublicans in state after state tried to suppress the vote in the 2012 election, and while they were not successful they are also not finished trying to pervert democracy in this country – The RobertsScaliaThomasAlito wing of the United States Supreme Court will weigh in on the Voting Rights Act very soon so buckle your seatbelts.

Finally, Teapublican craziness was cited by numerous financial analysts as the reason why the credit rating of the United States was downgraded in 2011. Now they are trying to make you believe that doing the flamenco on the edge of the fiscal cliff is some kind of patriotic strategy when that strategy is the real job killer in this economy.

The good news is that people who believe in a progressive approach to public policy, government and life have found a political voice. That voice does not belong only to Barack Obama although he is a hell of lead singer.

The last election proved that there are men and women throughout this country who are willing to stand up to the Teapublican lyingbullyingintimidating tactics and speak out for what they believe in. This growing New Majority is voting for candidates who are also willing to stand up to the pseudo-tsunami that the Teapublicans would have us believe is the wave of the future.

The 2012 election also illustrated that the battle lines are no longer between the red states and the blue states. The battle is not a class issue in the traditional sense of the word. Rather, the battle lines are between those who believe that the role of government must include compassion, innovation and continual renaissance. In the other corner are those who believe that Adam and Eve walked with the dinosaurs and that government has no role to play until they need help – then the tune is different, if only for a few days.

The State of the Union is a precarious one, to be sure. The final good news is that justice, compassion and a progressive vision of the future are sure to triumph.