“I woke up this morning to a country – and to a reality – that seems darker than I ever had thought I would witness first hand. I’m struggling to move beyond the shock and the despair and the shame and the creeping but growing anger.” That passage was sent by a friend I mentored when he five years ago launched his teaching career. Conscience and heart are large parts of his character though he no longer earns his living in schools. The idealism of youth – as it should – shapes his visceral reaction to the Presidential election. That attribute and the energy it ignites press older folk like me past complacency so social change can occur.
We need change within our governance system and our political campaigns, from costly competitive attack ads that breed arrogance, cynicism and slander to Lincoln-Douglas-style debates over vision and policy. President John F. Kennedy, anticipating a 1964 reelection campaign against Senator Barry Goldwater, proposed such an approach and the Arizona Republican agreed. They would campaign together across the country, sharing stages, debating their views. Does our need-it-now culture of soundbites, tweets and clashing cable commentaries naming instant winners and losers make that impossible?
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Would a bipartisan panel of prominent Americans devote itself to soliciting editorial and civic support for a plan that puts candidates, producers and facilitator in a sparse studio, sans the cheering-jeering audience and day glow backdrop that diminish the candidates’ exchange? Could a required 24-hour pause before post-session media analysis lend depth to the process of vetting the candidates’ claims? What leverage would compel politicians and networks to support such a plan?
…what if a beyond-the-box thinking candidate sponsored affordable housing, after-school programs, health clinics, innovative police training on race, and food pantries instead of one after another one-off campaign commercials?
With 30-second commercials in television prime time priced at an average $110,000 and $ 3 million during the Super Bowl according to Adweek, what if a beyond-the-box thinking candidate sponsored affordable housing, after-school programs, health clinics, innovative police training on race, and food pantries instead of one after another one-off campaign commercials?
We need change as a people who slap flag symbols on buses and trains, bandana’s and napkins, and clothes of all kinds – and drape full-size “super flags” across NFL stadium fields without knowing the significance of flag colors and associate it with military service – “fighting for freedom” – while denying the domestic extent of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, the oppression of immigrants and transgender citizens, and the inner city economic deprivation that protests in Ferguson, Baltimore, Milwaukee and elsewhere revealed.
We need change from singing both “God Bless America” and the “Star Spangled Banner” at ballgames and chanting “USA! USA!” as gold-seeking Olympic athletes dominate smaller, poorer lands, to striving for justice for groups beyond ours until we
achieve it – and then join with pride as one mighty chorus in “America the Beautiful because we at last made it so.
It begins by defining our terms as if still in school. What does the President-elect’s pledge to “Make America Great” mean from his and our perspectives? Does it harken back to chattel slavery, Jim Crow lynchings, lawful segregation and white supremacy? Does its law enforcement promote public safety for all Americans or use any means necessary to preserve privilege and keep others controlled? The Ku Klux Klan’s David Duke asserted online after Secretary Clinton’s concession that “our people had a lot to do with Trump’s victory!” “Hostile acts against minorities, often invoking Trump, erupt across the U.S., a New York Times headline reported.
Will redemptive steps flow from his frank and accurate admission or does Trump’s rise dispel that chance?
Police killings of unarmed men of color obsessed us all till the campaign’s last stage. “They’ve been unbearable and must become intolerable,” Clinton said. The International Association of Chiefs of Police President, Terrence Cunningham, in a convention keynote addressed “darker periods when police officers, because of laws enacted by federal, state and local jurisdictions, became the face of oppression against communities of color.” Will redemptive steps flow from his frank and accurate admission or does Trump’s rise dispel that chance?
President George W. Bush asserted we would “export democracy” to the Middle East but his “War against Terror” he fractured Iraq, spawned the Islamic State, made us fearful at home (“If you see something, say something!”), and wrecked our economy. $490 billion in benefits due war veterans augments a $1.7 trillion war cost thus far – compiled during domestic tax cuts Bush initiated — according to a 2013 Brown University study by the Watson Institute for International Studies that Reuters reported.
Was it a ruse to disguise a capitalist oil-seeking imperative for an arrogant upper- and middle-class lifestyle that lives for the moment – and Iraq oil field access for corporations such as Chevron and Mobil?
Was it a ruse to disguise a capitalist oil-seeking imperative for an arrogant upper- and middle-class lifestyle that lives for the moment – and Iraq oil field access for corporations such as Chevron and Mobil? “Of course it’s about oil. We can’t really deny that,” said General John Abizaid in 2007, then head of our Military Operations and Central Command in Iraq. Democracy abroad and at home is in peril.
This election did not endorse arbitrary imperialism abroad or abhorrent personal behavior, though, given candidate Trump’s ugly pantomime of a disabled reporter, his reckless nuclear threats against ISIS, his boasting of sexual assaults on married women and his vow to prosecute jail his Democratic opponent, one may well argue otherwise.
This was instead an angry election, a middle-finger-thrusting action against a political establishment in Washington marked by partisan conflict that broke with tradition by blocking legislative proposals, striving in courts and Congress to repeal duly enacted laws and refusing to consider a qualified Supreme Court nominee – an establishment removed from the day-by-day economic marginalization of many Americans despite public talk of “recovery,” and oblivious to their fears that the quality of life will decline for their children. Terrorism and perpetual war, global warming and rising living costs suggest their fears are well-founded. Even worse is feeling powerless to change it.
Thus Trump voters changed what they could – putting someone without government experience in office, overlooking his aristocratic background and sense of entitlement, intent on perceiving a “man of the people.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, swore upon Barack Obama’s January 2009 inauguration that the GOP’s “sole agenda item for the next four years will be to destroy the Obama presidency.” Trump himself led the so-called birther movement, denying the reality of Obama’s U.S. citizenship and presidential legitimacy. Neither McConnell nor Trump was held accountable for this unprecedented, relentless and racist assault on a President. While Obama and Clinton rightly took the high road in this election’s aftermath, calling on us all to “have an open mind,” because Trump’s success in office will mean our country succeeds,” we must close our minds against the isolationism, prejudice and bigotry that his ascension for now represents.
…censoring third party voices and dissenters from North Dakota’s Standing Rock Reservation where 200 tribes unite to nonviolently resist a corporate oil pipeline’s desecration of sacred lands, and cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco where anti-Trump protests erupted — also exists among Democratic and third party voters..
Voter hostility toward Super Pac proliferation, its mega-money shaping of politics, and the homogenizing control of media by Disney and other large corporations – censoring third party voices and dissenters from North Dakota’s Standing Rock Reservation where 200 tribes unite to nonviolently resist a corporate oil pipeline’s desecration of sacred lands, and cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco where anti-Trump protests erupted — also exists among Democratic and third party voters..
Trump made himself attractive as a self-styled “man of the people” while a charter member of the elite wealthy 1% club because he seemed to authentically “say what he thinks” without the overproduced polling and focus group testing that weighs political implications of possible public statements and policy positions, 84 sample slogans by Clinton’s team, for example, including “I’m with her,” and “She’s Fighting for Us” before it settled on “Stronger Together.” Trump’s core constituency of white working class men felt vicarious strength, I sense, from his tough talk about foreign affairs, claiming he knows “more than the generals” and rhetorically asking “if somebody hits us within ISIS, you absolutely wouldn’t use a nuke?”
Change movements are persistent, resilient. They organize in the present to ensure long-term survival and draw strength from our history of domestic human rights movements. As election shock ebbs there is work to be done.
First Lady Michelle Obama when countering Trump’s misogyny warned that “maybe we’ve grown accustomed to swallowing our emotions, knowing no one would take our word over his.” Our collective salvation may now lie in emotion as sparking will and action to oppose an injustice to anyone, anywhere throughout Trump’s White House term. Whether to women, minorities, the disabled, immigrants, Muslims or LGBTQ Americans we must resist injustice while further building extant change coalitions, Make the Road by Walking, Black Lives Matter, Border Crossings, the Within Our Lifetime Network, Bend the Arc, Hope in the Cities and Everyday Democracy included. Change movements are persistent, resilient. They organize in the present to ensure long-term survival and draw strength from our history of domestic human rights movements. As election shock ebbs there is work to be done.
Will Senate Democrats, led by Brooklyn’s Chuck Schumer, stand firm as a “loyal opposition” backed by half the country or accommodate the new leader as they did after 1980’s Reagan landslide? Will we behave as “neutral people, who have lived their lives on a no-see, no-hear basis, and have absolutely no opinion on anything that does not concern them directly,” as the late activist Phil Berrigan wrote of others in a 1972 letter to his brother Father Daniel Berrigan– which of course takes sides by default – or will we each find whatever platform we can to count ourselves in?
It reassures me to place Trump’s election in context as one, with age, tends to do. I marched through muddy streets in Washington’s winter rain at a “Counter-Inaugural” protest of Richard Nixon’s 1972 reelection; my daughter at age 9 in 2000, as I ended her bedtime story, asked “Will we be moving to Canada?” after the Supreme Court put George W. Bush in office. We’ve endured bleak political times as a nation and emerged for the better before.
“the reality that history consists of alternating periods of movement and stagnation, of action and reaction, of tremendous hope and enthusiasm, which can be followed by cynicism and exhaustion” while lauding their notion of “history’s upward arc.”
Bayard Rustin, the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’s chief organizer, in a 1970 Tuskegee Institute commencement speech, taught graduates “the reality that history consists of alternating periods of movement and stagnation, of action and reaction, of tremendous hope and enthusiasm, which can be followed by cynicism and exhaustion” while lauding their notion of “history’s upward arc.”
Those words console me. Ahead lie better times. But challenged by Rustin’s lifelong activism, from participating in the harrowing, groundbreaking 1947 Journey for Reconciliation, a precedent for the dangerous Freedom Rides of the ‘60s, to his Civil Rights role as an openly gay change agent, I honor the passions my 25-year old daughter, 19-year old son and millennial friend now express.
With reflection; my friend transcends his pain. “In darkness good deeds can shine even more than they normally would,” his second letter concludes. My daughter researches socially responsive cellphone providers and banks as alternatives to Verizon Wireless, Wells Fargo and others funding the oil pipeline construction through the Standing Rock Reservation. She shares that information with customers at the store where she is a cashier, suggesting they transfer accounts. My son turned a college public speaking assignment into analyzing institutional racism’s causes and addressing its impacts, with a program proposal that fit campus needs.
Teachers at my school, with refreshing administrative support swore we would protect our Muslim students’ families and our immigrants in general from any mandated registration or threatened deportation. We’ve signed petitions for progressive Minnesota Congress Member Keith Ellison, a Muslim, to head the Democratic National Committee, and for the Electoral College to make Clinton President because she won the popular vote.
This is nothing dramatic and there are no magic answers. We will do all the good we can and keep faith. We trust that you will.
Michael McQuillan served on the NYPD Training Advisory Council, teaches history in New York City and is a founding member of Hope in the Cities’ National Network.