Racism and Violence in America

W.J. Astore

Violence is endemic in America.  So too is racism.  And they make for a combustible mix.

Recently, we’ve witnessed three incidents of black men either being killed or deeply discriminated against.  First there was Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man shot and killed while jogging in Georgia.  Then there was Christian Cooper, a black man birdwatching in Central Park who asked a woman to leash her dog in accordance with the law.  She called the police on him while lying that he was threatening her.  The third case saw a black man, George Floyd, being choked to death while on the ground with a police officer’s knee on his neck.  The police ignored his pleas that he couldn’t breathe.

And some people think the big problem in America is Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem so as to highlight violence against blacks:

cartoon

I have no magical pixie dust to solve racism and violence in America.  What we need to do, collectively, is take a long look in the mirror.  We need to recognize we all bleed red.  We’re all vulnerable.  We all share (or should share) a common humanity.  And then we need to act like it.

Most people want one thing: they want to be treated with respect.  With dignity.  As equals.  Let’s do that.

Of course, it doesn’t help that President Trump is a racist.  It doesn’t help that Joe Biden bragged about locking up “those people.”  The plain truth is that we need to be and do better than our leaders.  Because, far too often, those leaders are looking for ways to divide us as a way of exploiting us more easily and effectively.

We need to reach deep down and discover (or rediscover) our common humanity.  We need to fight together for what’s right and against what’s wrong.  And that means we must stand united against violence and racism in America.

The New American Motto: Choose Death!

-Clint-Eastwood-clint-eastwood-24780712-1024-768
Clint Eastwood as the Outlaw Josey Wales

W.J. Astore

As some Americans party hearty this Memorial Day weekend, I just happened to catch this snippet via The Washington Post:

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) [of Arkansas] said a recent high school swim party contributed to the state’s “second peak” of infections but still encouraged residents to venture out. “We take the virus very seriously, the governor told Fox News. “It’s a risk, it causes death, but you can’t cloister yourself at home, that is just contrary to the American spirit.”

Don’t you love the false choice?  Apparently, the only two choices available to Americans are 1) Cloister yourself at home; 2) Get out there, throw caution to the winds, and celebrate your “American spirit.”

What about a third choice?  Get outside, be responsible with social distancing, wear a mask when necessary, and be prudent while thinking of others and their health and safety.

Again, no one said you had to cloister yourself like a nun, but at least you’re not harming anyone if you do.  Far, far worse is an attitude of total irresponsibility, as the Post reported here from the Ozarks: A nearby bar and grill advertised a pool party for hundreds of people called “Zero Ducks Given.”

Ah, yes, how clever.  Or, as I like to say, “Live free and die.”

But let’s remember what the Outlaw Josey Wales said about this: “Dyin’ ain’t much of a living, boy.”  Just so.

We Put A Man on the Moon …

apollo08_earthrise
Earthrise as seen by Apollo 8

W.J. Astore

Is it possible the U.S. hit a peak of sorts in 1969?  I know – 1969 was a Nixon year, another year of destruction in Vietnam, though the music in those days was far better than today.  But I’m thinking of Apollo, as in our landing on the moon in July of 1969.  Having recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, that momentous event is still on my mind, especially when I think of the old poster I had on my bedroom wall that showed the Apollo journey from earth to the moon, its various stages and maneuvers.  It was all bewildering to a young boy caught up in the space program, but at least I knew my country was at the forefront of science.

In 1969 America reached the moon!  We respected science.  Many Americans were trying to end a disastrous war in Vietnam.  People marched for civil rights, they fought for equal rights, there was a sense America’s potential was nearly limitless.

WTF in 2020?  Many Americans, including our president, don’t respect science.  We fire doctors for calling out quack medical cures.  We put a breeder of labradoodles in charge of our Covid-19 pandemic response.  Wars just go on forever with little resistance.  We’re sliding backwards in rights for minorities, for women, for workers.  And the space program?  Moribund in the USA.  We’re very much stuck on earth, an earth that is less hospitable to life than it was fifty years ago.

The years 1970-2020 has defined a half-century of American decline.  Perhaps we might speak of five bad “emperors”: Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Shrub Bush, and Obama, now joined by Trump, our very own blend of Nero and Caligula.  He fiddles and diddles while America burns.

Joe Biden and the establishment Democrats are hardly the answer.  Even Jesus isn’t the answer unless we start taking His words about the rich (and so much else) seriously.  The Jesus of my youth had no use for greed and money and material goods – He taught us our treasure was in heaven, gained by righteous living through faith while manifesting love.  That sacrificial message is drowned out today by the so-called prosperity gospel, preached by ministers who are cashing in even as they tell their followers that wealth is the most legitimate form of God’s grace.  Back in the Catholic church of my youth, such ideas would have been blasphemous.  At my church I recall the example set by Sister Emily and Sister Jane Elizabeth – they sure weren’t living in luxury.  Forgive them, sisters, they know not what they do.

Here we are, in 2020, in a land of un-truth, in a universe of alternative facts, in belief systems where money matters more than anything, where even ministers stoke conflict, and we wonder why we can’t come together and develop a clear, coherent, and coordinated response to the coronavirus crisis.

How to change this?  How about letting experts lead us?  You know the saying: it ain’t rocket science.  But Apollo was rocket science, and so we deferred to experts, and they got us to the moon and back six times and patched together an amazing rescue of Apollo 13 when it went wrong.  To beat Covid-19, we can’t listen to Trump and his band of grifters and losers.  We must listen to the scientists, the doctors, and act collectively based on sound medical science.  The “rocket scientists” will get us through this, together with the humanists and the selfless efforts of so many medical workers and (mostly) nameless others.

Longer term, we need to re-create our government, because it has, quite simply, betrayed most of us.  Simultaneously, we need to move beyond nationalism and think and act on a global scale to save our earth.  If Apollo taught us one thing, it’s the wondrous value of our own planet.  The moon may be a place of magnificent desolation, but who wants to live permanently in desolation?  We need global vision and action, not only to help prevent future pandemics, but also to preserve our planet as a viable biosphere for a global population projected to top ten billion people in the coming decades.

Nobody said it would be easy; yet if we stay on our current course, just about anybody can guess humanity’s fate.  But if we can put a man on the moon, surely we can come together to create a better future for ourselves and our children.

The year was 1969, and this song by the Youngbloods went gold: “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.  Right now.  Right now.”  It wasn’t – or shouldn’t be — just hippie dreaming.  Indeed, it’s the essence of true Christianity.

The Last Honest Speech by a U.S. President

jimmy-carter
Former President Jimmy Carter

W.J. Astore

I was sixteen when President Jimmy Carter gave his so-called Malaise speech in 1979.  Focusing on America’s wasteful energy consumption, Carter vowed to cut America’s dependence on oil imports while pushing alternative energies such as solar.  In crafting his speech, he listened to regular Americans and diagnosed a national peril far worse than America’s wanton consumption of energy.  And for his honesty, Carter got voted out of office in 1980.  The sunny optimism of Ronald Reagan arrived, though the “sunny” part didn’t include the solar panels that Carter had added to the White House.  (Under Reagan, these were quickly removed.)  For Carter’s expertise in science (he was formerly a naval nuclear engineer under Admiral Hyman Rickover) came Reagan’s fossil-fuel-friendly policies and Nancy Reagan’s penchant for astrology.  It was morning again in America in the sense that profit once again took priority over policy and people – and fantasy took precedence over reality.

Let’s take a fresh look at Carter’s speech, one in which he never used the word “malaise.”  Carter told Americans in 1979 that: “We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.”

The second, much to be preferred, path was: “the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our Nation and ourselves.”

Does anyone have any doubt about which path America chose under Reagan and his successors?

The “certain route to failure.”  A route where tens of millions of Americans lose their health care during a pandemic; a route where the government bails out the richest corporations first and the poorest Americans last, if at all; a route where division and fragmentation are the order of the day, embraced by a president who revels in chaos and his own self-interest.  And a route where that same man is likely to be reelected as president in November, despite his colossal mismanagement of a health crisis that he can’t even bring himself to understand, let alone attempt to control.

Jimmy Carter caught the looming dysfunction back in 1979: “What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests.”

In the four decades since then, Congress has been totally consumed by these “well-financed and powerful special interests,” so much so that, to repeat myself, they get bailed out first during a pandemic, tapping into a slush fund that may rise to $4 trillion, while most Americans are lucky to see a one-time payment of $1200.

Meanwhile, what is the message to regular Americans from President Trump and his handlers?  You must get back to work.  Never mind a deadly pandemic.  We must get the economy humming again.  We must make and consume, just as we always have.  Yet Carter had a warning here as well:

“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”

Small wonder that he lost, right?  What madness was Carter talking about in 1979?  Material goods aren’t the source of happiness?

Carter made matters worse by calling for energy conservation and gasoline rationing.  He even asked Americans to lower their thermostats in the winter and to reduce their speed on the highway.  That commie!

In 1980, Americans rejected Carter’s call for sacrifice, preferring the fantasy sold by Reagan.  Forget conservation and gas rationing.  I can’t drive fifty-five!  Don’t you know the best way to help the poor is by empowering the rich?  It’s called trickle-down economics (don’t listen to that guy who called it “voodoo economics”).  Might makes right and the Vietnam War was a “noble cause.”

In 1980, it was like the country took a collective journey to “Fantasy Island,” maybe on the “Love Boat,” a TV show where Ronald Reagan could have had a star turn as an ageing, washed up, actor.  Reagan gained the Oval Office instead, and the former pitchman for GE got to work selling a corporate-dominated America as the natural end state of Democracy.  Yay capitalism!

Is it any surprise that real wages for workers in America have basically been flat since the time of Carter?  Reagan instituted Robin Hood in reverse, facilitating an economy where the rich got far richer, mainly by trampling on the backs of the middle class and poor.

So, we collectively bought a cancerous fantasy in 1980, one which has now metastasized with a malignant and sociopathic exploiter, Donald Trump, at the helm.

One thing is certain: you won’t get any honest speeches from Trump.  Nor from his predecessors back to the time of Reagan, as they all did Wall Street’s bidding, Democrats and Republicans alike.  Nor can you expect any future honesty from the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden.

For the last honest speech by an American president, you must go back to Jimmy Carter in 1979.  The malaise came, not from his speech, but from our failure to listen to him.

VE Day, 75 Years Later

W.J. Astore

It’s worth pausing this month to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, marked by Adolf Hitler’s suicide and Germany’s unconditional surrender.  The Allied victory was a triumph of coalition warfare, the “Big Three” represented by the Soviet Union, the United States, and Great Britain, joined by so many other countries and peoples.

The Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, Dwight D. Eisenhower, sent a disarmingly simple message to mark Germany’s total defeat and surrender:

“The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945.”

It was a true “mission accomplished” moment — perhaps the last clear one America has had in any major war or conflict since then.

Eisenhower was a complex man who presented himself as a simple one.  One thing he knew was how to lead, to bring people together, to keep hotheads like Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and General George Patton under control while maximizing their gifts.  It’s difficult to imagine a better coalition commander than Ike.

I love this image of Ike from May 7, 1945 (Ike is seen here with his deputy commander, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder of the Royal Air Force):

Ike

Note the simplicity of Ike’s uniform (just three rows of ribbons, and no badges, devices, or other military gewgaws).  The same can be said of Tedder’s uniform (a few ribbons, his wings, and that’s about it).  Compare their uniforms to America’s current Chairman of the JCS, Mark Milley:

mark-milley

With all this self-congratulation and self-glorification, is it any wonder America’s generals found stalemate in Korea and defeat in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan?

VE Day represented enormous sacrifices by peoples around the world to defeat a murderous fascistic regime in Germany.  Well should we remember it and learn from it.

Random Saturday Musings

W.J. Astore

Hello, loyal readers of Bracing Views!

If corporations are people, can they catch the coronavirus?  It appears not, therefore they’re not people.  But let’s imagine corporations could catch COVID-19.  Don’t you think if Trump Inc. could be killed by a virus, the president would have acted far faster than he did?

When did fantasy become more important than science in American life?  My guess is roughly 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected on sunny optimism and trickle-down economics.  It’s only gotten worse since then.

The military-industrial complex has been relatively quiet lately, except for all those loud flyovers in honor of medical workers, first responders, and the like.  I haven’t heard anything about the Pentagon volunteering to cut its budget, either now or in the future, to help desperate Americans make ends meet.

Those demonstrations by Trump supporters who want “to reopen America”: they sure carry some interesting signs, as in this photo from Cape Cod:

Gessen-CapeCodProtests

Some priceless symbols here: “the blue lives matter” flag to the far right, the various “don’t tread on me” flags, symbol of the Tea Party, together with signs to reopen gun shops.  It truly amazed me, as a history professor, to learn that so many of students equated freedom with the 2nd Amendment.  Reducing freedom to guns, God, and Old Glory (and perhaps gold as well) is truly a propaganda victory for the NRA, the Republican Party, and corporations in general.

Another perspective on that photo: these protesters are pro-authority, i.e. they support the police with the “thin blue line” flag but they’re anti-authority in that they resist a Republican governor’s call for social distancing during a pandemic. So they’re selectively pro-authority when it’s convenient for them to be, and anti-authority when they can’t gather and shoot their guns.

Echoing the photo above, this cartoon truly made me laugh out loud, perhaps because I had aquariums from roughly the age of ten to eighteen:

the fish

I love the fish holding the “My Choice” sign.  Except it’s not simply a “choice” when your decision to jump out of the tank imperils the lives of others.

I saw Tara Reade’s interview with Megyn Kelly, which I highly recommend.  Let’s just say I find her account far more credible than Joe Biden’s blanket denial.  Here’s the link:

When it comes to Biden versus Trump, I can’t vote for either man.  Both are deeply flawed individuals.  I do agree with Tara Reade that Joe Biden should be replaced, no matter how unlikely that seems.

We need a leader who’s calm in a storm, a leader with compassion, a leader with experience with adversity, and a leader who wants to end America’s calamitous wars.  Yup: I’d still much rather see Tulsi Gabbard than any other Democratic candidate, even Bernie Sanders.  (Bernie really let me down with all that “my friend Joe Biden” talk.)  Of course, barring the apocalypse, this isn’t going to happen.

What say you, readers?  If Biden can be replaced, who should replace him, and why?

A happy Saturday to all!

Trump’s Motto: Pass the Buck

19e7c9e6eab8c66052800dfcabfe7012da-16-truman.rhorizontal.w700
President Truman: Unafraid to take action — and responsibility

W.J. Astore

President Harry S Truman famously had “The buck stops here!” on his desk.  He was unafraid to take responsibility — to make the tough decisions when they reached his desk.  And for this and other reasons he’s gone down in history as one of America’s better presidents.

News that President Donald Trump will soon disband his COVID-19 Task Force is consistent with Trump’s (unofficial) motto: “Pass the buck.”  Trump has apparently decided that Covid is a losing issue in 2020 with respect to his reelection, and if Trump knows one thing, it’s how to dodge responsibility for his own mismanagement.  Just consider his many failed casinos and business ventures.

If Trump appeared as a contestant on his own show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” is there any doubt he’d be the first guy fired?

Despite his complete lack of empathy and his total failure to take responsibility for his actions, Trump’s supporters still embrace him.  As they might say themselves, the Lord truly works in mysterious ways.

Yet despite all his tough-guy posturing, Trump is a very weak man indeed.  He doesn’t have Truman’s guts.  When Trump faces a difficult, demanding, or tough issue, his instinct is to avoid it, or spin it, or lie about it.  He’s both craven and lazy.  And uncaring to boot.  And in the coming months that combination is going to cost America a lot more lives.

As Don Henley sang, “These days the buck stops nowhere/no one takes the blame/but evil is still evil/in anybody’s name.”