Author Archive

Jan
18

I am going to have diarrhea from now until November because the thought of Trump becoming president again scares the sh*t out of me. I have run out of adjectives to describe this racist, blowhard, narcissistic, white supremacist, dishonest con man. He has told us his plans if elected, so his candidacy fills me with worry. However, winning the Iowa caucuses rarely leads to victory in the general election. The last one to do it was George W. Bush. The winner is usually some maverick who loses out in later primaries.

I am not Nostradamus or even Miss Cleo thinking I can predict the future, but looking at the situation dispassionately makes me believe the following. Barring the Supreme Court declaring him ineligible because he encouraged insurrection on January 6, Trump will be the presumptive Republican nominee for president. Unless he asks out because of health, Biden will be the presumptive Democratic nominee. Any thoughts that the Republican or Democratic parties will do anything else are pipe dreams. If we get this rematch of 2020 I believe Biden will win. The Iowa caucuses support me that Trump will not win the general election. . While the media in its attempts to gin up headlines proclaims this as a landslide victory for Trump, a closer look shows that it actually shows Trump’s weakness. First of all only 8% of Iowa Republicans voted for Trump. It is true that weather conditions suppressed the turnout, but this means that 92% of Republican voters did not vote for him. Indeed only 51% of those who did turn out voted for him which also means that almost half did not and want to move on from Trump. It remains an open question whether the Republicans who did not vote for him in the primary would vote for him in the general election. I think we are seeing a defection among Republicans that will result in many staying home if the general election goes as indicated. In addition more registered voters in Iowa are Democratic or independent than Republican. I am not going to try to predict the actual results of the general election in Iowa, I just want to say that the number of voters turned off by his antics weaken his support even in a staunchly conservative state like Iowa. I believe this will be the trend nationally. The MAGA cultists will of course continue to support him, but others will stay home or vote for someone else.

On the other side there is Biden. Progressives rail against him particularly for his support of Israel genocide against the Palestinian people, his willingness to compromise, his failure to address effectively those issues that he campaigned for, and of course his age. There are those who will refuse to vote for him for what they feel are “principled” reasons. They will vote for third party candidates or simply stay at home and not vote. I beg you not to do this. Every vote thrown away like this is in fact puts Trump closer to the White House. What good is feeling righteous in a Trump ruled country? Those things you think are bad about Biden will be infinitely worse if Trump wins.

This election will be decided by turnout. The MAGA Trump cultists will turn out for him for sure. We need to get as many voters who will vote against him and for Biden as we can. It is imperative that right minded people vote and encourage others to. When it comes down to Trump vs. Biden as I think it will, I know what I’ll do. Yes support for Israel’s war against the Palestinians is genocide, but I will hold my nose and vote for Biden to defeat Trump. Then I will campaign to try to get Biden to change the things I don’t like. I could never imagine success at doing the same if Trump were president.

Finally there are the elections for the Senate and the House. We have seen how voting for Republicans who bow down to Trump has created a dysfunctional system. We need to oust them from government if we want to get anywhere. They have refused to compromise which is at the heart of our democracy, push Trump’s agenda rather than trying to solve our country’s problems, and operate out of fear for losing power rather than the interests of their constituents. From abortion to voter suppression they are out of touch with the majority of Americans. We need congress folks and senators who work for us not Trump.

Please join me and vote for our democracy in November.

Aug
18

I suppose I should say something about all the Trump indictments. I just want to paraphrase the song “Uptown funk,” “Folks hit your hallelujah.” I haven’t written about Trump and the MAGA folks in a while because I have given up talking to them and talking about them. By now I have realized that they are happy in their fantasy world where Trump won the 2020 election, their own government is against them, anyone outside their community is a threat and the only “true” religion is their own. As James Baldwin wrote “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” The MAGA worldview is so tightly woven that any attack on one aspect is an attack on the whole. They see any fact, statement, media story, indictment, prosecution, or judicial ruling which challenges their fantasy is either a fabrication, a boldfaced lie, a conspiracy by their enemies, and proof that they are right. Their belief in Trump is so strong that nothing seems to shake it or pierce it, let alone break it. Like someone with Alzheimer’s we should let them live in their fantasy world while trying to limit the damage they do. I will not waste any more energy or my limited time on earth speaking to them.

I do want to point out a few things. First Trump himself rarely denies that the things done to “repair” the election in his favor, did not happen. His arguments are 1) He did not know they were happening, 2) He was only exercising his free speech when he said any of those things and they have been taken out of context, 3) he was within his right as president to do them and 4) His political enemies are persecuting him and making things up. Which excuse he uses depends on the specific charge, the day of the week, and the group to whom he is speaking. However, the evidence comes from those in his inner circle who are like rats deserting the sinking ship.

I also want to point out that the prosecutions of his crimes matter. Once the people who took part in the January 6 insurrection have been and are being prosecuted, sent to jail, fired from their jobs and branded; terrorists.; you should note there have been fewer and smaller demonstrations. People know that there may be a cost for doing so and are less likely to risk it. I expect there would be a similar “chilling” effect on others if Trump’s attempts to overturn the will of the electorate, produce convictions. If they do not, we can expect more attempts in the future and better attempts to hide it.

If Trump is allowed to run and wins, American “democracy” will not survive. The things he accuses the government of doing to persecute him are exactly the things Trump and his minions would do if they again gain power. The weaponizing of the judiciary will continue as we have seen with the Supreme Court. The civil service will be politicized with loyalty to the regime the key factor in hiring and promotion. There will be attempts to have the military become an arm of enforcement of the regime. The enforcement of the cultural and religious norms of the few is the horse they rode in on and will doubtless accelerate. Education will become learning the rules they want you to, the sanitized past they want you to believe in, and the absence of critical thought that challenges the regime. Am I just being overly alarmist? How do I know all this will happen? You can just look at authoritarian regimes throughout history and all around the globe.

Finally recognize that whatever the Trump supporters criticize the government for doing, will be what a Trump government would do except on steroids. It is a standing tactic of the Trump entourage to accuse the “enemy” of doing exactly what they themselves are doing. They believe that this is a way a government operates and they have to be better at it. It fits within the paranoid fantasy in which they live. The crimes they accuse Biden’s son of doing are peanuts compared to what Trump’s son in law was doing. Remember those things I said challenged the MAGA worldview (facts, media stories etc.) well those are the things the Trump folks have been trying to create their own version to bolster their fantasy reality.

The Democrats are not blameless. They have let their support of elites allow the Republicans to start stripping away their blue-collar constituencies with social and cultural issues. Biden recognizes this and has tried to win back that constituency with “Bidenomics.” Whether he can win back enough is yet to be seen. What is clear is that the Republicans have done nothing to improve the financial conditions of the middle and blue-collar classes. Instead, they have tried to hide their economic allegiance to the upper classes behind other issues. So far this has been enough to keep them viable as a political party. We shall see if such issues as abortion, immigration, anti-woke, and LGBT opposition have gone a step too far. We will also see whether Trump’s indictments will strip away any of his support or encourage more of his opposition to come out and vote. My money is on the latter.

Apr
01

I’d like to talk about disgust. You know, that feeling that makes you go “Eww” or makes your skin crawl when you see something. We have all had it. Most of us start out with that feeling about bodily liquids for example, but as any parent of a newborn knows, you have to power through it. Nurses and other caretakers have had to learn to ignore it or work through it in order to do their jobs. I have it myself and for example cannot watch blood coming out my arm during a blood test. Others can be triggered by many other things.

I live in Texas these days where the legislature concerns itself with things like drag shows and LGBT issues instead of doing something that would actually help the citizens of Texas. The concern with drag shows has been especially enlightening since dressing up as a different gender has been such a common occurrence in our society. Even entertainers from Milton Berle to Flip Wilson, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like it Hot, Tom Hanks in Bosom Buddies, have appeared in drag in mainstream media, in movies and television. Some of the very legislators who now rail loudest about drag shows have at some time in the past dressed in drag themselves. Of course, they do so because they see some political advantage in so doing. They don’t see themselves as hypocrites because they draw a distinction between a straight person occasionally dressing in drag and a homosexual or transvestite dressing in drag. It is these non-gender conforming people who create that eww feeling of disgust in the politicians and they hope in their constituents. It is the same with the legislators’ interest in banning or limiting gender conversion therapies, medicines and surgeries. Surely this is an issue for individuals, parents, psychotherapists, and doctors to decide, not politicians. Again, it is that eww feeling of disgust toward people who challenge existing gender categories that the politicians have (or at least pretend to have) and hope that enough people who hold such a feeling will vote for them. National polls and even state polls indicate that only a minority of people feel this way enough to think that the rights of others should be curtailed. Politicians argue that they are upholding community standards that have gone to hell in the nation beyond Texas as such standards have in their view “declined.” They applaud the imaginary good old days when men were men, women knew their place, and the government (and its laws) viewed LGBT people as immoral. They cite ancient religious texts, Chrisian evangelical churches, and even the Catholic Church as supporting their views on LGBT people. They argue that it will “Make America Great Again.”

The question to ask is not whether it is right to have this eww feeling about LGBT people, but is it right to base public policy on our eww feelings? Decades of conservative policy has argued that it is not right for the government to interfere in personal matters like this no matter how one feels about them. The current Republican party has thrown this conservative tenet out the window. The obsession with abortion and transgender medicine has argued that it is indeed the duty of the government to interfere in such personal matters in the name of moral standards that are held by politicians and (they presume) by the people who will re-elect them. As a black person I cannot help but think of this without comparing it to the racial history of this country. During slavery, Jim Crow, and racial segregation, many felt that black folks were less than human in fact animalistic in their behavior. Many still do. This created that eww feeling when thinking of blacks voting, black males having sex with white women (though curiously not the reverse,) black behavior which did not show the proper subservience, and recognition of white superiority. The result was not only legislation restricting black rights, but violence against black folk. I am not saying that the curtailment of LGBT rights will inevitably go down the same road, however I do note that violence against LGBT people has increased over the last few years as has violence against black folks, non-Christians, and Asian people.

Most of the proposed legislation has not reached the law stage yet. I not only think this proposed legislation is wrong, curtails LGBT rights, and expands the reach of government, it is actually dangerous and harms many innocent people.

Mar
03

Many years ago, (1971 to be specific) there was a television commercial about a Native American viewing the mess that we had turned the environment into, which ended with a closeup of a single tear silently running down his face. Although this ad has been criticized for portraying a “magical Indian” trope and parodied because the supposed native American was actually an Italian American, I still recall it. As someone who devoted my working career to teaching about critical thinking, Africa, African Americans, and looking beyond the accepted or received wisdom of others, I can think of no better image that captures how I feel. The distrust of authority is not something new, but the aversion to science, facts, and concern for others, didn’t seem as rampant as it does now. The political divisions between parties, politicians and individuals did not seem as irreconcilable. Mainstream media presentations did not seem to miss the point as much, did not seem to be as misleading. It might just be that I am getting old. I have lived in and studied many cultures and in all of them the elders consistently thought that their society was going to hell in a handbasket. Or, it could be that something different is really happening.

The most distressing statistic I’ve seen is that 50% of Americans only read at a sixth grade level. I worry about the “dumbing down” of our society which makes the emergence of power-hungry authoritarians a real threat to democracy not only here in the U.S. but also, abroad. Indeed, the founders of the United States tried to walk a fine line between the “democracy” of a massively uneducated constituency and a “republic” that would keep in check the authoritarian tendencies of the educated elite. For example, that is why we have three separate branches of government that can “check” each other, and a bicameral legislative system with a democratic House of Representative where representation is based on population and a Senate where it is not. With its more frequent elections the House is supposed to “represent” the interests of the people, while the six-year term of the senators is supposed to keep the “rabble” in check. This distrust of the people is why we have an Electoral College instead of direct election of the president by the people. The problem is that the system has been turned upside down by the political ambitions of the elite, the influx of corporate control over politicians through political contributions, and the ability of politicians to sway the masses through technological advances in media from the radio to television to the internet. Now misinformation allows ambitious politicians and con men like Trump to deny reality, lie, steal votes and money, and solidify their control through gerrymandering, control over the education system, and voter suppression.

Although the United States has always had an ideology of universal rights on paper (e.g. all men are created equal) but this universalism has always played second fiddle to the symphony of particularism based on class, ethnicity, localism, gender and of course race. We are currently seeing a dramatic rise in the ability of this particularism to overshadow the universality. Politicians like Florida’s Ron DeSantis are hoping to ride this wave into the presidency much as Trump did. The  dissatisfaction that late capitalism has created among the middle class has been deflected onto “immigrants,” “people of color,” “LBGT folks,” as if attacking these folks could make middle class and rural white lives better. I have to wonder how the the problem has gotten so much worse lately. I am not saying it has caused the problem, but lack of education and poor reading level is exacerbating the problem and preventing a cure.

I am heartened by the fact that polls show the younger generation resistant to the blandishments of the authoritarians and most of Trump’s support, for example, among older people. Yet there is much that is disheartening too. The wide spread of these ideas, the entrenched political structures that are built on them, the increased violence that accompanies it, and the lack of Republican voices against blatant lies, all sadden me.

The point of that old “Crying Indian” commercial is that since people created the problem, people can ameliorate it. That is my only consolation as that metaphorical tear rolls down my face.

Nov
25

Facebook continually sends you reminders of “memories,” that is, posts you have made on today’s date years before. A memory came up on what would have been a few days before Thanksgiving five years ago. This was just before I took my wife for the final time to the hospital. She had been having symptoms for some four or five months before. These ranged from loss of balance to difficulty walking. She said it was “like my gyroscope was broken.” We went to various specialists e.g. allergists, ear eyes throat people, a neurologist, and not to mention her primary care doctor several times. None of them had an explanation or cause of her symptoms. She was getting worse and worse. My daughter in law is a doctor who was working at the local university’s teaching hospital. We had arranged for her to go in to see them on the Monday after Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving Day however, in my conversations with her I noticed some cognitive deficits. I asked my daughter in law to come over to do an assessment so I would know whether it was just me reading too much into her behavior. My daughter in law concurred and recommended that we take her to the hospital immediately even though it was Thanksgiving and we had planned a holiday dinner.

Thus began a nerve wracking two-and-a-half-week period. We finally got her checked in to the hospital which had a skeleton crew. The next day doctors came by on rounds and did all sorts of tests including an MRI with contrast dye which her primary care doctor and health insurers had been loath to do. As the doctor explained, “It lit up like a Christmas tree.” After months of fruitless searching, as her condition deteriorated, we finally found out what was causing it. She had a disease like “mad cow disease” in bovines in which a chemical in her brain (a prion) went rogue and started affecting other parts of her brain. It is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and is very rare in humans. Less than 1 in a million Americans get it. The normal ways to get it are through heredity or eating meat from an affected animal. She had neither of these potential causes. She fell into the 80% of cases in which the cause is unknown. Unfortunately, there is no cure and it inevitably leads to death pretty quickly. I was stunned. The hospital released her to home hospice care. We scurried around to get a hospital bed and arranged frequent visits from hospice nurses. She was eventually released from the hospital on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. We spent the ensuing days caring for the bedridden woman who was slowly wasting away before our eyes. She passed away on a Sunday 11 days after she had returned home. It was less than 3 weeks after that Thanksgiving we had taken her to the hospital.

I have not shared the details of that story with many people. That Facebook memory, it was just an acknowledgement of thanks to all the people who had touched my life, was written just before all of this happened and changed my life forever. We had been married for 44 years, had raised a son, seen a granddaughter born, and looked forward to spending our sunset years together. The Facebook memory seemed like it came from a message in a bottle, or better yet, something in a time capsule, from a person I barely recognized anymore. It was a person who did not know what was just about to happen. The message arrived early enough that I could share it again on Facebook.  It was still true. I did want to give thanks for all the wonderful interactions with people I have had over the years and acknowledge the importance of family. The Facebook algorithm that churns out these “memories” has no idea what kinds of memories it stirs up in people. Since this time, I have become part of my son, daughter in law, and granddaughters’ family, we have moved twice, and a third move is on the horizon. My granddaughter has grown from an almost two-year-old to an almost seven-year-old. I have had a hip replaced and suffer more aches and pains from age than I did then. It is still important to appreciate and give thanks for what you have rather than grieving over what you do not. It is a lesson I learned early in card games like “bridge.” You always have to play the hell out of the hand you have been dealt.

Jun
28

The Isley brothers have a song, “Fight the Power,” which has the line “When I roll with the punches I get knocked on the ground – by all this bullshit going down.” Yet rolling with the punches is what black folk have been good at throughout their history. From being rounded up by slave traders in Africa, surviving the long oversea voyage across the Atlantic, years of slavery and Jim Crow, black folk have continually been forced to make the best of bad situations. I would paraphrase the song to “you have to roll with the punches or you’ll get knocked to the ground, by all the bullshit going down.” This brings me to the recent Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade. I want to be clear on this: I think it is not only a warped opinion, but that it is a misreading of the Constitution. Clarence in his written opinion states that rights not specifically enumerated in the Constitution like the right to have an abortion, the right to same sex marriage, and even the right to use contraception are not mentioned in the Constitution and therefore are not protected by it. However, the ninth amendment (part of the bill of rights) says “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Thus, it is quite proper to add rights not enumerated by the founders who lived in an 18th century agrarian society to those protected by the Constitution. The right to privacy for example. The Supreme Court has over the years taken on this task and defined what those rights should be. The right to abortion has just been one of them. This edition of the court has deemed it not to be, even though several justices in their Senate hearings said they consider it settled law and precedent. And the punches keep on coming as the court sides with prayer by high school coaches, concealed carry guns that you do not have to have a reason to  carry, police who have not Mirandized suspects and on and on with the Court’s conservative majority.

That’s where we are. The question is what do we do about it now? Sure national opinion polls show a majority of people favor a woman’s right to choose over the right to life of an unborn fetus. This is meaningless. The Court has ruled that the choice to protect women’s rights to choose, should and will be decided by the legislatures of the states and maybe the federal one. This means that we need to roll with the punch and elect more people that will vote for woman’s rights. That is why the national opinion polls are meaningless. The only poll that counts is the election poll. If the great majority of people who hold this position are in blue states, the anti-abortion folks may still control red states. Even if more people support abortion in the red states, they need to get out and vote accordingly. Even in a state as red as Texas, in a recent UT pool 39% of respondents say abortion should always be a matter of choice, and 78% say abortion should be available in specific cases of rape or incest. Only 15% say abortion should never be allowed. Unsurprisingly there is a difference between Democrats and Republicans. Among the Democrats polled 67% said that abortion should always be allowed and only 15% of Republicans agreed. However, 42% of Republicans agreed that abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest and 15% believed that there were cases outside of rape in which abortion should be allowed.

Since the ruling my email inbox has been flooded with requests for money from politicians and women’s rights groups. They are right that the battle needs to move to the political battleground. Of course I don’t donate to every candidate or cause that asks me. How do I choose? First of all I never donate to the Democratic National Committee or its subsidiaries. I do not like its preference for centrist candidates when we actually need progressive ones to win back the working class. Secondly they use money inefficiently spending it on candidates who have little chance of winning but who have been good fundraisers or who face big name opponents. I try to direct any of my few dollars to candidates who are at least within hailing distance of their opponents. I also direct some money to organizations who are working against the voter suppression activities that the Republicans have passed. That means groups like Fair Fight in Georgia or Rideshare2vote. If any of these candidates are going to have a chance it will be because the turnout is so high they will have difficulty stealing the election. I am too old and infirm to participate in demonstrations these days, but they are valuable for networking and lifting one’s spirits by finding like minded people. They need to be followed up by voting and voter registration to be effective though.

All in all there are many things we can do to roll with this punch by the bullshit going down. Get involved. Even if the opposition candidates to these sob’s are not perfect it is important to stop the attack on our rights first. We must make the best of a bad situation. We cannot let despair drive us to inaction. Let it drive us to the voting booth.

May
23

Do you ever have a memory that is so distant that it seems like it happened to a different person? It was so out of character for you and the details are so hazy that while you remember it happened, you can’t believe that you did it. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this story before. It is not that it is a secret or that I am ashamed of it, but simply that no circumstance has come up that made it relevant. I took the spring semester of my junior undergraduate year off. I worked and made a little money so that I could go to Europe that summer. I had a semester’s worth of AP credits so it wouldn’t set my college career back. My closest friends were going to spend that semester abroad so I would be away from them and disrupt my college social life anyway. During that semester I learned that one of my favorite jazz musicians was going to perform at the college and I could get in for free with my college ID. It would be a welcome break from work life so I took the bus up for the two-hour ride. Some other friends had arranged for me to flop in an empty dorm room double. The other person in the double was the pregnant girlfriend of somebody (I can’t remember who) who had come to see her boyfriend. I hadn’t met her before, and she was anxious, fearful and depressed about her situation. That first night to cheer her up I suggested an adventure. The college was building a new building that would be the tallest on campus and we could get up to the roof of the unfinished building. We made our way up to the top of the building without too much difficulty. From there we could see the entire campus and much of the small town in which it was located. I remember saying to her once you have been to the highest place around everywhere else was down. I think doing something forbidden took her mind off her situation and cheered her up for at least a while. It may have reminded her of who she was and that her life was far from over. The next evening, I saw my jazz concert and then left to return home. I never saw or heard about her again. I don’t even remember her name. The whole experience was out of character for me. I am introverted and not a rule breaker normally. Befriending a complete stranger and sneaking around unfinished buildings is not my normal mode of operation. However, in retrospect it was a random act of kindness which made someone else feel better.

I don’t know what made me think of this story and I’m not sure why I am even telling it. It has been irrelevant to the rest of my life. I certainly did not intend it as a “humble brag” for a random act of kindness that’s over 50 years old. Perhaps it is a reminder that we are capable of doing things outside our comfort zone. As Walt Whitman wrote in Leaves of Grass: “I am large. I contain multitudes.” We probably all do. Don’t be afraid to discover a new side of yourself. Even at 72 I still do things I didn’t realize I was capable of doing.  I still discover new sides of myself (like writing this blog.) Above all be kind to each other. Yeah, I know there are many people who are not but that’s not the point. You are not responsible for them and can control them only to a limited extent. Be in full control of yourself and be the person you wish they were.

May
11

As the political primary season rolls on Trump endorsed candidates keep winning their races. The media keeps seeing this as proof of his continuing power and influence within the Republican power. That’s all well and tidy, but I didn’t expect his power or presence to wane.  At the same time members of the former Trump administration keep revealing startling stories of how extreme, far-fetched, and dangerous his ideas were that had to be kept in check by more reasoned subordinates. Moreover, the Republican party has become a party of extremists. Not only is it racist, anti-immigrant, and pursuing Taliban-like policies toward women, it has become a party of federal interventionism, cozying up to our foreign opponents, and Christian religious fervor, that has caused real conservatives like George Will to leave the party.

The only hope we have of not sinking into Trump led authoritarianism has always been voting Democratic. To be sure, the Democrats have not made that easy with their lackluster candidates, stalled policy programs, and mixed messages. The story of the upcoming elections will be whether the Democrats can turn out enough voters to stop Republicans who are pursuing policies that most Americans say they don’t want. Some pundits say that the Biden administration’s failure to stop inflation will outweigh opposition to abortion as an election issue. We can only hope that the abortion issue becomes a “bridge too far” for the Republicans, but there is no guarantee.

Despite the fact that Biden himself can do little about inflation, America’s obsession with a cult of personality finds him boring compared to the flamboyant Trump. The fervor that extremist Republican voters have must be countered by an anti-Trump get out the vote movement. This would of course be easier if the Democrats united behind a policy program that actually served the needs of voters. They seem unable to do that. Even worse than that, the Republicans are winning without a program that would actually help the economics and well-being of the non-one percenters who support them. They are winning by appealing to the defensiveness of voters who feel they are losing some of the little they have, voters who have given up on believing the government will improve their condition and will settle for not slipping backwards. They feel they are under attack and the Republicans are their best chance at defending them from the people of color, non-Christians, and immigrants (legal and illegal) who threaten them.

The growing number of people of color in the country means that this is a losing strategy if the POC vote for Democrats. While this may bode well for the future all we actually have is the meantime and indeed it is a mean time. That is why voter suppression is such an important part of the Republican strategy. Many states have already implemented redistricting to weaken the political power of opponents to Republican candidates. That is the battlefield on which the coming political war will be fought. All of us who oppose Trump need to get out and vote as well as helping and encouraging others to do so too. That is why I contribute to groups like Stacy Abrams’ Fair Fight and Ride2vote. This is not the time for voter apathy, symbolic votes for third party candidates, or waiting for the right candidate to come along. We must hold our noses and vote for whoever can best stop the Trump endorsed candidates. This is a war in which some of us are fighting for our lives literally. We cannot be picky about what weapons we use. I detest the Democratic National Committee, it is out of touch with voters, too corporately oriented, and has engaged in some shady tactics. Nevertheless, it seems that our only choice is to vote Democratic this year and work to have better choices in the future.

Feb
19

This is going to seem like a long meandering entry that takes its time getting to its point, but please bear with me. As those who follow my Facebook newsfeed may know, I am currently rehabbing from hip replacement surgery. In the course of that rehab a musical phrase kept occurring to me: “I’m not what I used to be, I’m not what I want to be” I wracked my brain, searched the internet for those lyrics. Where had I heard them? Then I finally remembered. I used to teach four courses per year (I know, seems like a luxury nowadays) at a college. Some courses had to be taught in a two-year sequence, but every two years I had an open spot to teach a course of my own devising. Over 25 years ago with my free course I taught a course called “Redemption Songs” which looked at African American history through the prism of its religious and related secular music. It took as its title and central point Bob Marley’s song “Redemption song” which begins

“Old pirates, yes, they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit

But my hand was made strong
By the ‘and of the Almighty
We forward in this generation
Triumphantly

Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have
Redemption songs

The course was about how such redemption songs enabled African Americans to survive and move forward “triumphantly.” We looked at work songs, spirituals, blues, gospel, r&b, Motown, and finally reggae songs to explore the relationship between the music and survival. I remember we had some friends over for dinner and when the conversation turned to what I was currently working on. I played for them some of the music I was “auditioning” for the course. My friend turned to me in amazement. “You got somebody to pay you to listen to this music?” As I sheepishly said yes, he just shook his head. As part of the course, I showed a documentary “Say Amen Somebody” about the rise of African American gospel music built around the career of Thomas A. Dorsey who played the blues with Bessie Smith and composed many of the first gospel songs including “Precious Lord Take My Hand.” The featured artists in the documentary included the Barrett sisters who were quite well known and loved within the black community, but little outside it until this movie. Sure enough I found the phrase I had been looking for within one of their performances of “He chose me.” in the film. It wasn’t a part of the normal lyric for the song but an expostulation they added. It also led me to another of their performances in the film, this time of the song “No Ways Tired.” This song had begun life as an African American spiritual and had been “gospelized” by the famous gospel choir leader James Cleaveland. The Barrett sisters’ version had the lyric:

“Nobody told me that the road would be easy, but I don’t believe that he brought me this far to leave me.
Sometimes at night you know my way gets drear, but I hear my God say I am here.”

Given the song’s origin as a spiritual during slavery I could imagine those lyrics going through the head of a runaway slave or just a slave who had a hard day. The lyrics fit my current situation, but my situation seemed so petty in the face of those faced in slavery and freedom by so many other African Americans. This reminded me of an opinion piece I had read in the New York Times on February 13, 2022 by African American historian Dr. Tiya Mills:

“Everyone around me seems to be talking about the end. The end of nearly a million American lives in the Covid pandemic; the end of American democracy; the end of a public bulwark against racism and blatant antisemitism; the end of the post-Cold War peace in Europe; the end of the stable climate; and the end of our children’s best futures, to name a few undeniable possibilities. A condition of apocalyptic anxiety has overtaken us, raising our collective blood pressure, and sending us deeper into a maelstrom of suspicion, conspiracy thinking and pessimism. I confess that I have also been down in this foxhole of doomsday thinking, but hearing it voiced by one of my children, a girl who should have a whole, vibrant life ahead of her, snapped me out of my anxious crouch.

This is just a change. I have given these impromptu words of maternal reassurance some thought since then, and I am not prepared to retract them yet. This is not the end. It is a change, albeit the largest and most dramatic transformation that many of us have seen in our lifetimes. Change is often frightening. We strive for stability. Because of the stress change causes, we often shrink or freeze in the face of it.”

She continues:

“The capacity to recognize those moments of emergency, catastrophe and impending loss as moments of change and then to anticipate what might come next are part of the psychological and emotional tool kit that saved Black America….Despite our anxieties, we are not standing on the precipice at the end of America or the end of the world. Instead, we face change of a nature and magnitude that we may not fully perceive, but which history gives us a way to confront.”

I live in the state of Texas nowadays where conservatism has such an iron grip on politics, that I often feel like Dr. Mills describes. It is a state where actions to stem the spread of Covid are prohibited; there are bans on abortion; teaching history that might make white folks uncomfortable is prohibited; books that describe different experiences of America are banned by conservative parents who are taking over school boards; where walls are being built to keep out immigrants, and where the fossil fuel industry prevents meaningful climate change.

I will take her advice however and work to create change and mitigate the effects of these policies to the best of my abilities. My own problems seem “a hill of beans in this crazy mixed-up world” to quote the movie Casablanca. Perspective, it’s good for the soul.

Nov
26

The Rittenhouse case went exactly as I would have predicted. If I were a betting man, I would bet on white supremacy every time the judicial or legislative institutions of white America come into play. This comes not from some Cassandra-like prediction ability, but a lifelong study of American racial history. Why then did I feel it in the pit of my stomach? First, I guess because it confirmed that America is what I thought it to be. Any person of color who is looking to American judicial institutions for justice will find “just us” bearing the burden of a racially skewed system. However, it is more than that. I felt the same feeling when I realized that the murder of little children in Sandy Hook not only did not bring about tougher gun laws, but it also unleashed right wing conspiracy theorists who said that it never happened or was part of some left-wing plot. I felt the same way when the congresspeople whose very lives were endangered in the January 6 insurrection spurred on by Trump’s attempt to overturn the will of the people, refuse to condemn the insurrection and Trump himself. I feel the same way when Ted Cruz whose father and wife were attacked by Trump in 2016, still kisses his ass every chance he gets. When an underage vigilante crosses state lines and kills two white demonstrators and is not convicted, what chance do the rest of us have?

People of color always use a thought experiment to point out that racism is involved in any incident. We ask, “would the outcome have been different if the race of the participants were different?” I have seen some black commentary that if Rittenhouse had been black, it would have gone down quite differently. If the police would not have shot him, the judicial system would have convicted him in a New York minute. Not only would he not have had the $2,000,000 right wing slush fund to pay for the best attorneys, but he would also have faced a nearly all white jury. The argument that he feared for his life would not have worked. To continue our thought experiment, if Rittenhouse’s victims had been black the self-defense argument would have worked even better. It worked for Rittenhouse because the jury members themselves felt the same fear themselves. It has worked for cops for years and worked for Trayvon Martin’s murderer. We shall see what we shall see in the Arberry case, but I would not be surprised if those white men get acquitted too.

I am also mad at myself for holding on to the slightest hope that it could have been different, that things were changing, that finally we would see some justice. I feel like Charlie Brown continuing to hope that Lucy will allow him to kick the football rather than pulling it away. All his experience should tell him it will be the same as always, but he holds on to this vague hope that it will not. I go back and forth whether holding on to hope is a good or bad thing. Should I be a confirmed cynic or the slightest bit of an optimist. How can one go on without hope?

Finally, I think of my 5-year-old granddaughter. Right now, she is sheltered in a cocoon of love. We are building her confidence in her ability to act in the world. One day however, she is going to confront this ugliness in the world. When do we start preparing her for this? What can we do to prepare her to see the beauty in the world while at the same time standing firm against the ugliness? I may not be around when she does. I realize this is something that every parent of color must think about but that white parents probably do not. It is like preparing a male child how to act around the police, so he won’t come home beaten, jailed, or killed. Knowing what we know about the world, I shudder to think about the world she will inherit.