This is America Dammit: or, Not Giving Up on the Weary Mother of Exiles

I still approve the following message. “This is America dammit,” and we will have Taco Tuesday and we will go have Indian food, and I refuse to lose sleep over where people go to the bathroom, and any other number of countless issues window-dressed to camouflage the totality and truth of a candidate or party’s platform.

The notions of “taking our country back” and referenda on “what is American” and who are actually patriots need to vanish from political jargon, and as implicit ballot initiatives permanently.

The ideal we were supposed to have been built on and is stated in blunt terms in “The New Colossus,” the poem brandished at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, has to continue to be the bedrock of this country regardless of how it’s built upon. We, as a nation, have survived not by sharing a common ethnicity or religion but an idea that there is a home here for all of us for the another moniker that Emma Lazarus first placed upon Lady Liberty in the first stanza of “The New Colossus” was Mother of Exiles. Persistent favoring of certain groups and marginalizing those who do not conform to the mold have no place here, but it happens daily, has been codified in the past, and it was longed for in droves all across America last week.

Should we forget what these fundamental freedoms were truly designed to mean when first written, then we risk forfeiture of them for a generation who see the world in a vastly different light.

What I mean by that can be summed up by what I consider the most overlooked part of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and applying it to various groups of Americans. The downplayed statement in King’s immortal speech is as follows:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Fifty-three years ago what Dr. King was saying was those very words from the preamble of the Declaration of Independence had never applied literally to all Americans.

When you think for just a moment that’s not partisan but an undeniable truth, some might even be so outlandish as to say it’s a fact. Those who bristle at that notion are in denial.

To underscore that not all men have always been created equal, even though most agree what those words really meant to those in the colonies in 1776, consider these facts:

Women won the right to vote in August of 1920. For 144 years they were not legally deemed equal participants in our democracy. If you factor in Roe v. Wade, which gave women power to make a decision about their health that only they are situated to make; that’s 194 years of women as second class citizens in a state-sanctioned manner, an era now in peril of recommencing if Mike Pence has his way.

Demi Moore in If These Walls Could Talk (1996, HBO)

Demi Moore in If These Walls Could Talk (1996, HBO)

In 1924 Native Americans were granted citizenship by the US Congress, 432 years after the continent was supposedly discovered. However, due to state laws dictating voting rights, all Native Americans were not awarded the vote until 1948. So after 465 years the Native Americans finally had equal voting rights but it’s been 515 years after Columbus entered this part of the world and the US Government is on the brink of breaking yet another treaty with a native tribe.

African-Americans were formally freed from the bondage of slavery 151 years ago. However, if there weren’t Jim Crow laws and segregationist policies to scrap Dr. Martin Luther King never would’ve needed to deliver an “I Have a Dream” speech, and I think it’s clear that that dream remains unfulfilled despite the fleeting mirage some saw in 2008 and naively named post-racialism.

For homosexuals, it’s true that the path from Vermont allowing Civil Unions in 2000 to the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states in 2015 was short even in sociopolitical time, but we’re not that far removed from sodomy laws finally being struck down nationwide (2003), the end of a silent White House during the AIDS epidemic (1987), and in 2016 states were literally legislating bigotry under the guise of religious freedom in Mississippi and North Carolina.

And the Band Played On (1993, HBO)

And the Band Played On (1993, HBO)

Democracy makes no promises to its citizens that they will always feel comfortable or like everything the government passes into law, quite the opposite, but that is exactly why voting in primaries, general elections, at the local and state level, and especially in mid-terms, is so key. The sad truth is that the further down that list you go the smaller the turnout is. Therefore, you have a very small populous picking the primary winners that the whole country has to deal with and choose between half-blindly and en masse. That unequivocally has to stop. Stopping it has been necessary for a while but it’s increasingly clear that it cannot continue if we seek to remain functional, and I say this as someone who proudly voted for Hillary Clinton both in the primary and in the general election (both deeply flawed systems which will be discussed separately).

What Democracy does promise that we all tend to forget, and is becoming increasingly lost, is a sense of equality. Emotion cannot be legislated, therefore why does it seem that when people are making decisions about their policy-makers, or even policy for that matter, there is no balance between emotion and logic at all? It’s all one or the other.

Furthermore, the pivotal questions voters have to ask themselves should never have been “Am I better off now than I was four years ago?” but instead should be “How many Americans do I think will be adversely affected by my choices and can I really live with that?”

The War Room (1993, Criterion)

The War Room (1993, Criterion)

Let’s face it, because it seems to be something we only ever point out to the losing side, but if you voted for Trump as a protest, as a laugh or because YOLO, not only you but all Americans will have to deal with the reality that that has created. Are you willing to accept that? Because now the comeback can’t be about Crooked Hillary’s emails or Crazy Bernie being crazy, it has to be solely about Trump and if he’s delivering on any promises he made at all, or as I suspect may be the case: is he even pursuing any of them in earnest?

I suspect many will agree they can live with it. I suspect many believe they have been marginalized these past eight years. However, the fact of the matter is you can hate political correctness (if it were possible to debate that in a vacuum I would), or you can hate career politicians; and that’s fine, but if you’ve never experienced any of the following:

  • Spent the better part of your life getting comfortable in your own skin;
  • Struggled to have pride in yourself;
  • Grappled about whether or not you should wear your heart on your sleeve or hide your emotions away;
  • Been discriminated against for one simple genomic switch that was flipped that you have no control over;
  • Ever felt less than because of where your parents were born;
  • Been legally discriminated against based on any of those factors…

If you’ve never experienced any of the above things, then you, my poor misguided friend, do not truly know what it feels like to be marginalized, and I pray you never learn. To those who know these feelings all too well, those who were just getting used to being out in the open, and feel the need to recoil; we cannot afford to.

tumblr_oaphroabmi1uxvrrjo2_500

I, and I suspect I speak for many, will not go quietly and “give you your country back” because I did not steal it, it is mine too, and people outside oneself have to be taken into account on occasion. Not only did I reject the politics of fear and silence before when I wrote the following in June:

I refuse to judge…
Americans by the Ku Klux Klan,
Germans based on Nazis,
Muslims based on Al Qaeda or Isis,
Christians by the Crusaders.
I refuse to judge.
I refuse to live in fear of…
Americans,
Germans,
Muslims,
Christians.
I refuse to live in fear.
If you choose to live in fear
you truly fear to live.

But I reject them more now than ever and even though you think you’ve won some kind of mandate wherein the Empire Strikes back I will not be silent in my rejection of many of the things Trump’s win explicitly and implicitly stands for. What was sold to the American people was a regression away from solutions that were deemed to be dysfunctional, and that is not unusual in the landscape of American politics. However, what the past has shown is that regressive policies and repeals never replace the issue with a solution, they only take away the scapegoated culprit:

Prohibition didn’t end alcoholism and bolstered organized crime. Legalizing alcohol anew did not fix the problems that it created it just allowed us to drink out the final, most furious blows of the Depression without fear of prosecution for doing so.

Similarly repealing Obamacare without any consideration of how to replace it provides no solutions to those in excess of 20 million who are for the moment insured because of it and Medicaid expansion.

Confirmation (2016, HBO)

Confirmation (2016, HBO)

Rewarding the Republicans’ political gambit on the Supreme Court merely allows for further unprecedented obstruction, (but, hey, at least it may be bipartisan obstruction now), and a Justice that in three election cycles may be completely out of step with the shape of the nation.

Electing Trump will not clean up corruption in Washington. Just because he hasn’t played that game before does not mean he can change it. This is a man who has never held public office or served in the military and now he has been given access to the nation’s highest office and the world’s most potent military, which needless to say is without precedent. Having catch-phrases about corruption and bragging about how you are far and away are smarter than generals is not preparedness to serve but rather naive hopes to dictate — that has also been a fairly bipartisan standpoint.

Trump will not curb illegal immigration because his plan of the border wall hinges on something that will never happen: Mexico paying for it. I think another thing we can agree on is that we sure as hell don’t want to pay for his bigger, better wall but we may have to or it won’t happen.

trump_mexico-xlarge_transjozhgfdjg6wth7yhmdoz3gjjyzbvlbj7is5apillura

However, what casually died a death last week was the kind of thought process Bill Clinton succinctly stated during the primaries, which frankly all candidates should be judged by and I used it myself this time around:

“Every presidential election, people run. And believe it or not, it’s kind of scary this year, but believe it or not, most everybody actually tries to do what they say they’re gonna do when they’re running. They are telling you what they believe. And, so you gotta take ’em seriously, but you also have to take seriously whether they have any chance of doing what they say they’re gonna do or any record of doing it.”

MSNBC last week quoted an article in The Atlantic which described the Trump phenomenon best saying he is taken seriously not literally by his supporters, which just blows so much up we’d previously believed.

rbg-snl2

Kate McKinnon as Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Saturday Night Live

With that, and Citizens United, politics as we knew them died last week. I always suspected reports of the GOP’s death and American Democracy were greatly exaggerated. If only that were true, but as ever before things have just shifted anew under the same banners as previously.

The GOP is very much here but repurposed, with new players at the helm. SCOTUS, for as fully functional as it was at the time, paved the way for legalized oligarchy with its Citizens United decision no matter how stridently Ginsberg was against it, that die was cast when Justice Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote the majority opinion. Even if Obama or Clinton were to pick Scalia’s successor a constitutional amendment requires an unlikely seismic shift in our political landscape.

However, even my bemoaning above is a top-down political vantage point, which is not how America was constructed to work, and much less to be reformed when it needs it.

Louis C.K. summarized beautifully what a punching bag the POTUS is whether they deserve it or not. Those of us who always seek progress, hope, change, and togetherness (i.e., the campaign buzzwords of recent Democratic candidates) have to stay vigilant, active, and seek changes in the Senate, House and local offices.

So here are some places where there was a rejection of Trumpism last week and what needs to be built on:

  • The House and Senate GOP margins got smaller.
  • Tammy Duckworth being elected to represent Illinois is a staunch repudiation of Mark Kirk’s Birther-inspired comments where he mocked her based on her bi-racial parentage.
  • Jamie Eldridge won his Massachusetts State Senate Race against an avidly pro-Trump alt-right candidate, Ted Busiek, who would not rescind using the other f-word as a pejorative.
  • As much as I hate them, filibusters are still legal and I feel they may be on the rise when Congress is back in session.
  • Obama is still around until January 20th, 2017.
  • No matter what Trump’s first 100 days are like I am, and I hope many others are counting down to Tuesday, November 2nd, 2018; and are prepared to vote out those we can to make necessary changes to the forthcoming Congress.
  • Four states passed legalized recreational marijuana, which should help incarceration rates in CA, NV, MA, and ME in lieu of criminal justice reform.

Not listed among the silver linings are most of the local & state races I voted in, most of them wins for Democratic candidates.

giphy-5

However, one local election that I didn’t have a vote in, can also count as a silver lining. Wilmington’s mayoral incumbent, Dennis P. Williams, who took over from James M. Baker, a three-term mayor and Democrat , sunk the ship so to speak, so he lost in the Primary. The man who beat him, Michael Purzycki, being named Mayor-elect proves that, at least on a small scale, unpopular incumbents can be replaced by a candidate from the same party.

I write this long, sprawling battle cry today and plan on writing something monthly (at least) between now and mid-terms (and 2020) because complacency on both sides (winning and losing) after a far-too-long campaign is commonplace. However, things do not happen at a grassroots level anymore because we’ve forgotten it’s still actually kind of possible until we were reminded. I tried to make my own dent in other parts of the nation as well, making small donations to several key races, equivalent to Bernie Sanders’ average donation during his presidential run.

That is something you undeniably had to admire about Bernie Sanders, he woke many people up. What we didn’t count on was Trump doing the same, but just because Trump did doesn’t mean we lay down and give up entirely on our democracy just because we suffered a setback. We never would’ve made it this far if we had.

Larry David can be Bernie and so can you! (SNL)

Larry David can be Bernie and so can you! (SNL)

Bernie will stand and fight Trump to his face, all you have to do is read The Speech or even his Twitter feed since Trump challenged Bernie to a debate, to know that’s true. Failing to have stopped Trump this time around, we as Americans who have concern for those outside our immediate circle, for those whose shoes we do not walk in, have to continue to scrap, claw, fight, get on or representatives to resist as best they can to allow the tide to turn too far adrift, lest we allow the worst angels of our nature further batter our now-weary Mother of exiles into submission.

The myopic belief that the President is the be all and end all has to stop, and those in red states and blue states alike can stop that seeming like a reality if and when we show up in droves any times the polls open for any reason. Because if all that gets us to speak is a quadrennial referendum placed on the one person bearing all the burdens of our nation, how can we expect to ever really change a damn thing?

Think of the Statue of Liberty for a visual if the base falters it all falls down no matter how bejeweled the crown is, if we forget what is written at the base of it, it ceases to be a symbol but merely a statue France gave us to pretty up our living room. We have to stop seeking miracle workers for the highest office in the land and find people who want to work at all levels of government to positively affect change.

Kevin Kline in Dave (1993, Warner Bros.)

Kevin Kline in Dave (1993, Warner Bros.)

If you can’t find that person running for City Council or Mayor or State Representative or whatever office that may be, then it could be you. And considering upwards of 50 million people just gave Trump that chance it’s not too bold to say it should be you in a more modest office.

That’s what Bernie Sanders means by “Our Revolution.” That is what “Our Revolution” can and should mean. It does not mean it ended in the primary because Bernie lost. It doesn’t end because not enough people were with Hillary in the right places but because in a true democracy, which we can reclaim against all odds, it’s about the many not the one, if the many make themselves heard, and they can only do that by getting in many ears.

E pluribus unum. Out of many one, now more than ever that is our hope and goal, and so may it be forevermore.

Advertisements