Unions are having tough days. Conservatives love corporations therefore they do not like unions. Conservatives, which these days includes almost all Republicans, have put out a story that unions are to blame for the flight of the factories from American cities. When they say unions are to blame they really mean that workers are to blame. Workers were too greedy. They kept wanting more money, more vacation time, more protection from unfair labor practices and safer working conditions. In other words they wanted a small piece of an increasingly gigantic money pie.
So Conservative talkers went on the radio or TV (FOX) and used obfuscation to convince laid-off workers that the unions are to blame for their plight. Of course, they neglected to mention that in this scenario they are actually placing the blame on the workers. They did such a good job that the workers began to blame the unions too. After all, Conservatives need those very workers to help sideline unions. Voila! We have anti-union “pod” people, who used to be pro-union, now joining the right-wing movement to destroy unions. The story they told had a happy ending. Once there is proof that the unions have no power, the corporations who left will come rushing back.
The right-wingers lied. They know this won’t happen but their future plans for workers do not include a role for unions. Organized labor is anathema to them, just as are all regulations on businesses. Corporations that have remained in the US can do as they please with workers when there are no unions. We were in that position long ago at the turn of the 19th century when child labor was common and working days were long. People worked weekends, every weekend. Why would we want to give up unions that Americans fought so hard to organize? People died in those struggles.
The right-wing talkers have managed to get workers all riled up over something called an “agency fee”. Unions can charge nonmembers yearly fees. People have never liked having to pay to a union they had not joined so they were ripe for the right-wing message. Conservative talkers have now hammered home the message that this fee strips workers of their freedom and that it is un-American. They don’t use the term “agency fee”, they call it something that sounds much better, they call it “right to work”.
But when a union wins a victory on behalf of workers, all of the workers enjoy the fruits of the victory, not just the members. For this reason an “agency fee” seems appropriate. We all pay extra for meds so that drug companies can do research (and make enormous profits). We don’t get to opt out of high prices if we don’t want to pay for research. The idea of the “common good” comes into play. In the case of the unions the “agency fee” keeps the union powerful enough to stand up to the wealthy and powerful corporate owners and CEO’s.
On Monday, February 26, 2018 the agency fee will be taken under consideration by the US Supreme Court in a case called Janus vs AFSCME. You should go on social media and let the Supremes know that the agency fee is important and that you don’t want the court to rule against the union in this case. Pay your union dues as long as you can afford to. You never know when you may need a union again. Without unions it would be quite easy to turn us into serfs.
Here is a link to an article on this subject from today’s NYT’s:
How does anyone ever get past the things these young people have seen? Young people fight wars and see killing but these children were not in a war. Their day began as a regular school day and became a nightmare. These images and emotions will stay with them all their lives. This terror will affect each person differently as they leave school to pursue their adult lives. Will all their outcomes be positive? Probably not. But the anger and the activism will help. I think acting from strength, the fight instinct rather than the flight instinct, will ensure healthier futures for these kids. They even may end up doing our democracy some good. And our democracy could really use some good right about now.
I cannot think about these kids and their losses without tears threatening. They are my heroes. They even went to speak with our strange and untrustworthy President, which I don’t know if could have done. They spoke with clarity and sorrow, appealing to our leader to end the stonewalling, the bullying, the political extortion of the NRA.
The NRA leaders at CPAC, on the day after the children spoke with the leader, had the audacity to strut around on the stage and say what the NRA always says, an homage to guns; their lies about the meaning of the second amendment, their exaggerated whining about imaged threats to take away their guns. Republicans cheered and agreed – chanted “lock her up” to please the man who listened to those traumatized children the day before and still needs to be petted. Would they raise such a fuss if people threatened to take away their children, which is basically what happened at Stoneman Douglas HS in Parkland.?
“Let’s arm teachers,” they say. That’s their solution. I was a teacher, an assistant professor. One day a man walked in off the street and raped me. I still didn’t wish I had a gun. What would have happened if I shot him? Would a gun have stopped him from doing what he did? Would I have been able to get to the gun since he was choking me? He was a man on the sexual predator list. My school hired a security guard after that (no gun) but he was such a pleasant man I’m not sure he would have stopped this man, who looked like one of our students. If I shot him would I have gone to jail for murder? Would I have gotten off for self-defense? I already had to go through so much – looking through the books at the police station to ID him, going to court to testify against him, going back into my classroom. If my students had been there I might have felt differently about having a gun. Teachers would do almost anything to protect their students. But with no training I would never have thought of such a thing in the 1980’s.
Suppose a teacher-with-a-gun shot an innocent student by accident. Would they be charged with a crime? Experts say that even professionals with lots of target training do not always shoot accurately. How would a teacher live with that? Would their community turn against them. Teachers are sort of like doctors who believe “first do no harm”. It is too much to make human beings take the blame for something that would not happen if a certain inanimate object did not ever find its way into a school.
For a while I taught tweens and teens (7th,8th, 9th graders) who had been suspended for taking weapons to school. What I learned is that these children took weapons to school to protect themselves from students who threatened them almost every day. A weapon could be something like a can of food in a sock. But these children left school each day to go to a neighborhood where guns were common and people were shot for standing on the wrong street corner. These children certainly didn’t need a teacher with a gun in their school.
I would not care if every gun disappeared off the face of the earth but that’s not going to happen. I understand why our forefathers made owning a gun a right. They came from settled European nations to a wild, forested and unknown land. Many had been persecuted in their native lands and they had just fought a war in this new land because they saw that the British King intended to treat them like subjects, in spite of the distance and the ocean that now lay between them. Settlers needed guns for many reasons.
Since our forefathers made sure that Americans would have the right to own guns (although those were very different times with more compelling reasons to own guns) no one, and I mean no one, wants to take that right away. But when people get defiant, when defiance overturns adult reason, and to prove a right that no one questions, people insist that they will own as many guns as they want, even guns that are weapons, and they will carry them with them everywhere – then things have gone too far, have been taken to extremes. And when you need a deranged man with no discernible humanity ( a human slot machine, a money bot) to guard the gun gate, those of us who have retained our sanity against all odds don’t know what to do – we are stunned. He manages to turn us away from a rational grownup discussion of how we can keep our guns without killing our children.
Of course this man everyone seems to fear has many allies. Maybe Conservatives have signed another pledge, like the we-will-not-raise-taxes pledge. Maybe no pledge is necessary because money is a powerful force and can be used to extort a kind of loyalty. Do we really want to pit idealistic and innocent children against this cynical verbal fascist. The NRA should get rid of Wayne La Pierre and find a leader who doesn’t foam at the mouth at a hint that there might be a discussion involving guns. I am about to thank Rick Scott, Governor of Florida, a thing I did not believe would ever be necessary. Rick Scott is talking about raising the age for gun ownership to 21 and improving background checks and more. Will he carry through? It sounds like he will. What will Wayne La Pierre do? Will he have a big fat scary conniption fit? Probably. Will Rick Scott lose his A+ rating (I can’t believe that the NRA gives grades to our politicians)? Will he lose the next election? What will that then say about the residents of Florida?
To the young people of Parkland I say that you are touching hearts all over America. It is lucky that you are old enough to speak for yourselves because no one pays attention to the grieving parents. If the 5 years olds at Newtown had been able to use their words as effectively as you have perhaps that would have done the trick. I doubt it. Bots who worship money and power have hearts of stone. Maybe next time we will get a President who will govern for the people, rather than himself and his cronies.
In a book peopled by many ghosts and few living people George Saunders writes a thoughtful book that reminds me of one of those black and white photographs with only one spot of color. Perhaps a splash of bright red or saffron yellow.
Abe Lincoln (and Mary Todd Lincoln) lost their son Willie Lincoln in 1862, probably from typhoid fever. Willie was eleven. The Lincoln’s had planned a grand party to show off the new White House décor. No expense was spared and hundreds of important people had been invited. In such a situation, do you go ahead and have the party with your little son so sick upstairs? If you are the President you must and you do, even though you know some people will think you made the wrong choice. Given that the Civil War had already begun, people’s reactions to the party were bound to be emotional even if guests did not know about the illness of Lincoln’s son.
Thus begins Lincoln in the Bardo, the first full length novel by George Saunders. On the night of the party we are introduced to one of the unusual literary devices used in this amazing book, a book that breaks new ground for fiction. The author begins quoting from some of the many Lincoln books. Each quote describes the sky on the night of the party. The descriptions are not at all consistent. Some describe a clear night with a brilliant moon. Others say the night sky was cloudy and there was no moon. Some actually recall that it was a stormy night.
The narrator uses actual quotes and avoids footnotes by telling the source, title and author as part of the story. If an author is quoted again, we get a name and an “op cit”. There are a lot of “op cit-s” in this novel, adding a sense of authenticity. You might worry that this would be deadly as a device in a novel, but somehow it isn’t, and that is part of the genius of this unusual book.
Willie Lincoln, history tells us, does not recover. He dies so young. His father is distraught.
But what is “the Bardo”? The internet tells me that in some forms of Buddhism this describes an existence between life and death. Saunders puts quite a Christian spin on this, almost like purgatory. Once Willie is laid to rest in a crypt at the cemetery his little body/soul comes forth to join the many other souls who are clinging to what they know (as much as the sort of half-life in that place bears any similarity to real life) because their human failings make them afraid to “go on”.
The Bardo is full of souls, of all classes, and all genders, all ages, and many professions. Many alliances are formed in the Bardo. Three souls in particular are our guides to the Bardo in this particular cemetery. But there are no children here. Children usually “go on” right away. However, Lincoln and Willie are so fond of each other that Willie cannot bring himself to go, and Lincoln cannot bring himself to let go.
Do souls in limbo have feelings? Is there still some sense of good and bad in the Bardo? The shades are genuinely worried about the fact that Willie is staying for his father’s sake. Bad things happen to children who stay in the Bardo. What duty do the shades take on and how does that work out? The reader gets to think long and hard about the nature of death and the after effects of decisions we make in our lives, although the denizens of the Bardo never use any words that might make death seem real. We also get to think about what might have happened if Lincoln had given in to his grief and had been unable to govern well in the critical situation of that moment in time.
I listened to the book on Audible, read by an enormous cast of some pretty well known people. This made the Bardo “come alive”. (Sorry for the double meaning.) I have to caution that not everyone in the Bardo is “quite the thing” so some of the language and the deeds get too inappropriate for children, the folks at the gym, or the neighbors to hear, especially out of context. Headphones might be a good option.
This is a unique book offering several more breaks from “life” in the Bardo to quote from the abundant Lincoln literature with plenty of “op cit-s”. If you sometimes give up on fiction because it seems there may be no new stories to tell or no new ways to tell stories, George Saunders’ book Lincoln in the Bardo will make you question that notion. Saunders book is poignant and profound; thoughtful and thought-provoking.
This site gives a list of characters and also a list of the cast on the Audible version of this book.
To my Governor, Andrew Cuomo, my fellow New Yorkers and all Americans:
Conservatives Drive Up the Cost of Local Elections and Ad Campaigns – Fair Elections are Essential in a Democracy
I am very concerned with the “Conservative creep” into central New York east of Lake Ontario. I realize that Syracuse has always had a bent towards Republicans, but candidates, until recently, have not documented the huge expenditures that we have seen in the most recent House elections. In 2016 Washington, DC came to Syracuse and fought the election out on our turf. Both parties spent lots of money. In the 24th District 7 million dollars was spent on the Katko/Deacon contest.
That’s a lot of money spent in a small city like Syracuse. Notice the big difference in the amounts spent on support ads.
If you look at the 22nd district where Elise Stefanik was elected you see that Republicans can keep driving up the cost of elections and that Democrats must follow suit, and then the Republicans just spend more and they win.
Notice the money spent to oppose and support each candidate. This only represents outside spending. This district includes many rural towns and has Watertown, NY as its largest city. Check out poor Mike Derrick. Do you think he had a chance?
In the 21st district an astonishing 12 million dollars was spent to elect Republican Claudia Tenney
These are insane amounts of money to spend on local elections and it would not be possible or necessary if the Republicans had not made sure to win the Citizen’s United decision in the Supreme Court (which was ostensibly about an anti-Hillary movie). In this way, via the courts, Conservatives have been able to up the financial ante on local elections and this probably explains, in part, why the GOP has collected 30 states (I see this as the way the Koch brothers have collected 30 states.) These people, once elected, vote with their Conservative overlords almost all the time. They know who butters their bread.
So, Governor Cuomo, now these Conservatives are trying to collect our state, and they have a good head start on at least a part of the state. They may never be able to turn New York City red, but they won’t have to worry much about that when they will have bought and paid for such a big slice of New York State west of New York City.
Conservatives Buying Local News Outlets – Free Press Essential to Democracy
Besides creeping into local elections, Conservatives have been buying up local media. Syracuse has a big university which usually signals a place with more liberal values, but the large and influential Newhouse School of communications (media) carries the name of the Conservative Newhouse family and, although Syracuse also is home to Lemoyne College, this Roman Catholic school is also quite Conservative. Still local news channels have never been a national Conservative target until now. Sinclair Broadcasting now owns NBC and CBS local news broadcasts. Sinclair is so Conservative that it has been inserting Fox “fake” news about national politics (Trump) into our local news broadcasts. They were not subtle at all at first, employing commenters like Sebastian Gorka, but recently they have been using lesser known news readers.
Naïvely, I had believed, that ABC had been left as our one local news source, but that is not so. ABC local news is owned by Nextstar, a close ally of Sinclair, out of Texas. These Conservative media companies have Ajit Pai of the FCC helping them buy even more local stations. You know him from his recent decision against net neutrality. Sinclair has requested that news managers at the stations it owns contribute a set amount to Sinclair’s PAC. If you actually think this is only a “request”, you are dreaming; this is extortion. They reason that it is fine, they say, is because it is not a request for actual TV journalists (news people) to “contribute”, so it does not constitute undue influence. (Very droll, the very fact that they are here is already undue influence).
See the end of this post for more articles on Sinclair and Nexstar. You will note that, in fact, Nexstar has already accepted $5000 contributions from news managers at the stations it owns.
This is the way dictators take over governments, although they may be more explosive and less stealthy about it. They buy elections. They say fiercely negative things about opposition candidates. These days they do this in professionally produced TV ads. They take over the media so that it cannot be used against them. As far as I know they have only bought our national politicians. Our local government seems to be, for the time being, local. This could change if Conservatives decide they have enough leverage in New York to overturn the ban on fracking or the Safe Act. Turning America Conservative is the full time hobby of the Koch brothers and the web of Conservative organizations they have created. As far as I know Conservatives have not taken over the military or the police, but they may be working on it.
What are your ideas Governor Cuomo? New Yorkers?
You may dismiss me as paranoid or just plain wrong and, since this is just one person putting together clues, I can certainly understand that. But you know there is no love lost between New York and 45, or New York and the Conservatives. You have been standing strong against the onslaught. However, you may not think things are as bad as I do. But it might be good to think about what could be done to get our local elections and local media outlets back from the right-wing, which seems to be waging a slow-mo coup against America’s two-party system. Of course, Central New York is not a thriving part of the state at the moment and there is no way that this geographic region has the financial resources to compete with the Koch brothers and big Washington politics if it becomes all-out war. And I doubt if Albany is wealthy enough to beat wealthy Conservative donors at their own game either. We would have to be quite creative and make them play a new game. Is there another game? What can be done to wean the people of Central New York, from more suburban and rural areas far from the influences of NYC, from FOX “fake” News? Don’t you think it might be worth our while to try to make our hinterlands feel less neglected?
These are times when a few men have so much power that they can just say no without giving any reasons. The problem is that these are men with power in what is supposed to be a democracy/republic. These people are elected to power by we the people. What factors allow these men, elected by us, to just cross their arms or shake their fingers and utter a stubborn and stern faced NO. And that ends all conversation on that topic. That ends any hope of discussion or compromise. Our politicians used to have to at least pretend to accept that there might be validity in other points of view. Men in the time of Trump, in the time when the GOP controls all branches of government, do not have to pretend to listen to points of view that differ from theirs. They can just say “No” – and they do it regularly. To me it looks as if our democracy/republic is already just a myth. Here’s a new and better place to use the President’s favorite put-down, but with it’s original meaning – “sad”.
Mitch McConnell says “no”.
From the Washington Examiner
Grover Norquist says “no”, “thou shalt not raise taxes”
Wayne LaPierre says “no”, “thou shalt not change gun laws
Still NO – Even after Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School!
Donald Trump says “no, and then yes and then no again”
Watching Fox News – loving the just say no guys and their friends the Kochs
It is troubling to think about ICE agents arresting people at work, on their way to work – stealing people away and not allowing their families to ever see their loved one again before s/he is deported.
It is disturbing to see that the promise made by 45, to take immigrants who had committed criminal acts first, has nothing to do with the way deportations are actually being carried out. Perhaps there are not enough criminal immigrants so ICE has to go after people with families, and caregivers, and people with jobs.
A friend who lives in northern New York, near the Canadian border, sent us a copy of a comment from one of his friends in which this person, who voted for Trump, was shocked when two of his neighbors, farmers, close friends, were deported. He had not even realized they were here without using proper channels; they had been here so long and they had been embedded in the community for so long. How did ICE find them? Did someone offer a tip? The commenter did not say how ICE became aware of the status of these old boys. The cost of their decisions, made so long ago, is high. Who gets the farm? Did these guys have families? Can their families keep the house, and the land, and the animals?
We have a statute of limitations on rape. This terrible assault cannot be prosecuted after a certain number of years. There is no such limitation on deportation, a victimless crime.
We can expect that we too may end up being emotionally affected by the sad fact that families are being torn apart by deportations, that children may be left without parents, that people may be returned to nations still in turmoil where they may be at risk, that people are returned to nations they do not even remember.
We may also be affected in ways that are personal to us. I cannot remember ever being stopped on the street or in a public space or even when traveling within the US by anyone asking me to prove that I am a citizen. In fact we are assured that legal citizens will hardly notice that 11 million people are being deported, as if these people have been completely invisible, have made no friends, have never participated in any aspects of our community.
Perhaps there are Americans who will feel vindicated by the disappearance of these “illegal” people. While Trump was making his promises in his primary rallies to send them all back to their countries of origin, people seemed to telegraph that this would finally offer justice to card-carrying Americans who were being displaced from their jobs by these immigrants and spending their tax dollars to pay for benefits that were going to people who should not be getting them. People cheered. The chant, of course, did not mention actual people. The chant was “build the wall!”
But the actual deportation push is more likely to start feeling like some strange science fiction movie where people who were there a minute ago are suddenly gone, leaving grieving friends and family behind who will need to be comforted. Or we may be one of those people who needs to be comforted.
And if you have heard anything about Trump’s budget he still plans to make some rather severe cuts to our benefits. This heartless move will actually prove that the GOP hatchet seems to have had nothing to do with immigrants, documented or undocumented.
When I read about ICE agents on a train, a train stopped in my little city, going up and down the aisles checking people’s papers, there is no description of any differences between the way people who are citizens were treated and the way “illegals” are treated. Clearly, it is impossible to tell “legal” status by just looking at people. There are no badges, no markers, no secret signs or handshakes to sort us out. Obviously the ID’s of everyone will have to be checked.
And, going forward, how will we be able to devise a system that leaves citizens free to just go about their business unchecked? How will that be possible? For each piece of supposed justice people get, some modicum of freedom will be lost. Pretty soon people may be tattooed with a SKU at birth. Being scanned in the land of the free? Not our American dream. If Big Brother (not the TV show, the novel, 1984 by George Orwell) is not watching us yet, it will be a tiny baby step to a system of constant surveillance.
There are very good reasons to resist this police state approach to deportation. The possible repercussions for we the people are many and should be quite frightening. If we want a system for immigration that works, fine. Perhaps it’s doable, perhaps not. Let’s try to design that system. It is our fault that people could live in America without going through proper channels. It is our fault because there is no system in place.
Design a system that works. Put it into operation and then excuse those who are already here unless, as you yourself proposed, they commit crimes. If we allow these mass deportations we will all pay a price. Each inhumane thing we condone sends another crack through our republic/democracy and may eventually destroy what we have loved and still wish to preserve (despite its flaws).
Two new heartbreaking deportation cases:
A Chemistry professor in Kansas, here 30 years from Bangladesh is being deported:
Many Americans worry that current immigration policies could turn America into a police state. Everyone always mentions that deportations continued without a break during President Obama’s administration and that is true. Obama abided by the laws that govern the USA. But what is going on in the administration of Trump is different in tone, visibility, invasiveness, and in terms of sheer numbers.
The way Trump deports people cannot help but remind us of similar pogroms in Europe and not just in Germany. There were pogroms in Russia and other nations also. Although the target of these pogroms in those times were Jewish people, the rationalization was that they were somehow inferior because they were not white enough or blond enough; they were not Arians. Sometimes, too, it almost seems that Jewish people were hated because they were successful and overly religious, and this seems like a factor in modern America also.
And although Jewish people are not the target of Trump’s campaigns against “illegal” immigrants, potential immigrants, “chain migration,” and even, as described in a new article out today, legal immigrants who use public benefits, the idea that America needs only immigrants who are whiter, smarter, richer is not that far from the Arian ideal of Adolf Hitler.
This is part of why the Trump take on deportation bothers us. It is against everything we fought for in the second world war. It is against everything America is supposed to stand for (but never actually has). It is blatantly racist because it embraces white supremacy without apology. Trump’s reasoning seems to be that all people of color are inferior to unpigmented people and he asks us to consider the nations they come from, their dysfunction, their poverty, their chaos. He does not take into account that America is responsible for some of that chaos, or that these nations each had thriving cultures at one time. He does not take into account that once people are removed from an environment of deprivation they often become very productive members of their newly adopted countries.
It is clear that Trump believes what he spouts. Look at the way he has embraced Steve Bannon and Steven Miller, two known white supremacists. This campaign represents Trump’s reasoning (if thoughts inspired by fear and a fascist reaction to fear can be called reasoning), concretized before he entered the oval office, about terrorism and his take on the roots of terrorism, and his plan for how to keep America absolutely safe from terrorism. Banning immigrants who do not look European is sort of Trump’s version of child seats, air bags, and seat belts, of the Great Wall of China, and even the Iron Curtain. He is a white supremacist but he is also kind of a chicken, (considering that much American terrorism has been domestic terrorism).
He also is so beloved by his base because he is not agreeing with their ideas on this matter for political reasons. He actually feels the same way his base does. He thinks these immigrants are sucking America dry and costing tax dollars in terms of reliance on public benefits which he begrudges them. A slew of Americans agree with him although the data does not really back them up. They blame immigrants for high “mainstream” American unemployment, for big government, for using tax dollars which are suddenly scarcer than they once were and for destroying the longevity of benefits which are supposed to help “real” Americans. Both Trump and Trumpers like that he will not refrain from using his cudgel mentality to do the deed and that he will not care one bit about the optics.
The dreamers are a special case in this whole deplorable campaign. John Kelly said that many dreamers did not apply for DACA because they were either scared or lazy. Well I go with scared and it looks like we can also go with smart. Dreamers who did sign up handed their personal information including addresses and telephone numbers to the American government because they trusted Obama and they were not looking ahead to who might have the office next. One thing we know for sure about Hillary is that the dreamers would have been safe with her. Now they are not safe and if they stay in school or keep their job the government knows where to find them. They are on a convenient checklist that ICE can use to round them all up. If I were a dreamer I would definitely feel betrayed and frightened, and I would be angry. The Dems are their only hope but right now the Dems don’t have many plays and the ones they do have are not good plays.
What follows is a summary of some of the most visible deportations and some of the tactics ICE and ICE police are using to deport people. Some tactics have been continued from Obama’s administration but have been expanded under Trump. They were questionable when used under Obama and they are still questionable under Trump. Hunting people down, who have taken refuge in America, at places where they are required to be, such as a job, or a courthouse makes us feel that we are living in a police state and is likely to increase sympathy for the plight of these folks. Americans are used to fighting for underdogs, not against them. We worry that what feels like a police state might actually turn into a police state.
n 2016, the Immigrant Defense Project documented 11 arrests or attempted arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents around the state. This year the number has spiked by 900%, with most in New York City.
California Labor Commissioner Julie Su says a rise in worker claims of threatened deportation was likely due to employers becoming more empowered to wield ICE as a weapon. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents swooped into Central Jersey around 8 a.m. Thursday morning and arrested two Indonesians, Gunawan Liem of Piscataway and Roby Sanger of Metuchen, said Kaper-Dale, who also runs the Deportation and Immigration Response Equipo that tries to intervene in ICE raids.
(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Vicky Chavez talks to The Salt Lake Tribune through translators Wednesday at the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City, where she and her two daughters seek sanctuary against deportation to her native Honduras.
Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos (left) and her son, Angel Rayos Garcia, and her daughter, Jacqueline Rayos Garcia arrive for a press conference Feb. 9, 2018, at the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Sonora. (Photo: Mark Henle/The Republic)
Amer Adi falls to his knees as he reunites with his mother for the first time in 20 years.
“At the same time, I feel so sad of what happened to me. I’m so sorry to tell you what happened is unjust, not right, and everyone back there knows that. What the Trump administration is doing is — you can’t even explain it,” said Adi.
Adi lived in America for nearly 40 years. He has a wife who is a US citizen, and four daughters who are also US citizens. He owns several businesses in his adopted hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. A week ago, he was deported.
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a keeper. It is almost a reference book because it is so full of data, except for the writing style which teaches us but is never pedantic. Coates speaks to us all, black and white. He lets us into his mind and into his heart. Perhaps he doesn’t sound like Harvard because he did not go to Harvard, in fact he always informs his readers that he did not finish college; and perhaps that is why he makes a fairly comprehensive black American history book anything but tedious and bookish. He does not mince words. He does not free white folks from their grievous guilt. He makes an excellent case for the paying of reparations. He does not believe African Americans should be treated as victims, but he does believe that persistent white supremacy has placed them in economic ghettos.
I read this book out of jealousy because Coates won a McArthur Genius Grant which I covet. And I read the book because Coates’ first book Between the World and Me was so clearly written and emotionally impactful and because it rang so true. I recommend both books to everyone because both are about the place where our democracy is stuck; it is about what tarnishes our dreams of equality. We cannot pretend to believe in our founding documents until we get over our fears about the possible revenge of those we once enslaved, and until we accept once and for all that pigmentation is only pigmentation and not a mark of flawed genetics.
Perhaps these issues are so dominating right now because we are striving to reach a new level and some powerful (and prune-y) old prejudices are deliberately trying to hold us back. White supremacy has been an undercurrent in America for all our days and even at the beginning it should have been at odds with the way our documents were written, except that slavery was also a part of our nation since its inception. Although that may not have been as tough a dichotomy in the 18th century, we know that it troubled some of our forefathers. We know that even then democracy was about compromises. Today, however, we know that if we don’t get past our racist beliefs that white folks are somehow better than people of color, we will not be able to hold on to democratic governance at all.
Coates’ writing is so quotable that I found my highlighting getting totally out of hand. This is a book of chapters, each representing one year of the Obama presidency, but it is also a book of essays, some written before the Obama years, some after. This is a book you can tackle one chapter at a time. It looks as if it took me a long time to read, but I set it aside to read Ron Chernow’s Grant. The appearance of these two books on my reading list at the same time proved serendipitous. Chernow’s Grant has a very detailed section on the horrors blacks faced at the hands of Southerners who has once owned slaves and who feared and hated the idea that they lost the Civil War. The governments of the Southern states did not want to protect African Americans and the federal government tried but they also wanted to reunite the North and South and so federal leaders were not as tough on Southern terrorism as they should have been. These two books pair well. Since We Were Eight Years in Power has natural divisions each section can be read separately. The book also coheres as a whole so don’t make the gaps in time too long.
Year One begins with Bill Cosby and completely avoids any discussion about his abuses of women. Bill Cosby spoke some “truths” that struck nerves in the black community. Conservative black folks thought his arguments had merit, but more activist black folks felt that blaming black folks for forces they had little control over is wrong-headed and will not lift people up. “[T]he crisis of absentee fathers, the rise of black-on-black crime, and the spread of hip hop all led Cosby to believe that, after the achievements of the 1960’s, the black community was committing suicide.” (The Pound Cake Speech) But, Coates continues, “Black conservatives have been dipping into this well of lost black honor since the turn of the 20th century.” And “Part of what drives Cosby’s activism, and reinforces his message, is the rage that lives in all African Americans, a collective feeling of disgrace that borders on self-hatred.”
Year Two begins at the Aspen Ideas Festival in the summer of 2008. “That summer Barack Obama closed out the Democratic primary and closed in on history.” “It is not so much that I logically reasoned out that Obama would author a post-racist age. But it now seemed possible that white supremacy, the scourge of America’s history, might well be banished in my lifetime.” “And if we had misjudged America’s support for a black man running to occupy the White House, perhaps we had misjudged the nature of my country.” Coates was hired by The Atlantic to write about Michelle Obama. “The fact of Barack Obama, of Michelle Obama, changed our lives. Their very existence opened a market. I felt that I had changed, but the world was changing around me.” His article American Girl is included in this section. He describes a luxurious steak dinner enjoyed with Kenyatta (his love) after he receives a fellowship in California. “We drove to a fancy steak house and ordered every course from aperitif to digestif, and we did this in that magical time when we were still barbarians, still hood, still savage and proud to be savage.”
Year Three “I have often wondered how I missed the coming tragedy. It is not so much that I should have predicted that Americans would elect Donald Trump. It’s just that I shouldn’t have put it past us.” “And so we saw postcards with watermelons on the White House lawn. We saw simian caricatures of the First Family. The invocation of a “food stamp president” and his anticolonial Islamist agenda. Those were the fetishes that gathered the tribe of white supremacy.”
Year Four “Any fair consideration of the depth and width of enslavement tempts insanity.” “To consider all this, to empathize on any human level with the lynched and the raped, and then to watch all the beneficiaries just going on with their heedless lives, could fill you with the most awful rage.” All I know is that even now, with outrages compiling daily, with the suicidal wish of whiteness on full display, with the impulse to burn down the country if the country can’t dream itself white, I am hoping that I am somehow unnecessarily bleak.” Coates’ essay on Malcolm X follows this introduction.
Year 5 “There was a time when I believed in the arc of cosmic justice, that good acts were rewarded and bad deeds punished, if not in my lifetime, then in the by-and-by.”
The essay in this section has the title Fear of a Black President.
Year 6 Even liberals believed “something in black culture had gone wrong” but Coates does not accept that argument. He talks here about housing discrimination in America and the ways in which it trapped African Americans who could not, even if they improved through degrees and employment, find a way to leave their neighborhood and that this geographical immobility limited their economic success. In this section he tackles the emotional topic of reparations. The “year” ends with this observation, “But the damage had been done. In 2009, half the properties in Baltimore whose owners had been granted loans by Wells Fargo between 2005 and 2008 were vacant; 71 percent of these properties were in predominately black neighborhoods.”
Year 7 “By the 7th year I felt like I’d figured something out, “The Case for Reparations” was, for me, the settling of an internal argument, the final unraveling of an existential mystery. The American story, which was my story, was not a tale of triumph, but a majestic tragedy.” “Something else had happened in the background. I had met Barack Obama.” His intro here is followed by The Black Family in the Ageof Mass Incarceration. A paper Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote early in his career figures prominently in this section and shows the way the government came to believe that tough love in prison was the way to fix something that has not, to this day been fixed. In fact new problems, bigger problems followed these policies. Yet we adhere to incarceration as a cure to this day. “The emergence of the carceral state has had far-reaching consequences for the economic viability of black families.” He calls prisons “the gray wastes”. He blames both Democrats and Republicans.
Year 8 “ He can’t win. This is what the president of the United States told me when we first spoke about Donald Trump.” “No one – not our fathers, not our police, and not our gods – is coming to save us.” This essay in Year 8 is entitled “My President is Black”.
If you think these few quotes and quick summaries will suffice to provide an experience of We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates you would be wrong. There is so much more.
Elon Musk launched this Tesla into space yesterday February 6, 2018. This car and it’s empty-suit “driver” is now I orbit around earth. The car has the David Bowie song “Ground Control to Major Tom (Space Oddity) playing in space on a perpetual loop. The human spirit of adventure is alive and well and offers hope for the future. Will we have a new era of Manifest Destiny, perhaps a kinder, gentler version? Something to look forward to.
Corrections: In my excitement I got a couple of things wrong. 1) That red Tesla is not circling earth. It is traveling through space on a trajectory between Mars and Jupiter. 2) Space Oddity will not play through all time. In fact it only played for six hours because of the battery life. (Someone really needs to work on batteries.)
As we were awaiting the memo that, hyperbolically, could change America forever, the one that would expose the imaginary rot at the heart of the FBI, the innocence of a President who seems more guilty with every passing day, and the memo that will prove that Mueller is too biased to continue his investigation, I found myself still stuck on the state of the union, still thinking about what I would predict we will see in the next three (and, I hope, final years) of the Trump administration. So much of politics is about predicting how a policy implemented today will affect an aspect of our society tomorrow. Where we will go over the next three years was already determined by the GOP and the Conservatives long before Trump inserted himself into the GOP moment. Perhaps there would have been no GOP moment without Trump. But many of the places we are headed in the near future were laid down by Conservatives groups even before Obama was elected. So, as I see it, we are in the midst of the “Grand Conservative Experiment (with a twist)”. How did we get here? How will it turn out? Is our course plotted on hubris or expertise? Well I would bet on the former but it may be years before I know if I am right.
When I started posting articles online ten years ago I was reacting to what right wing talkers like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh were saying as Barrack Obama started to attract crowds in the primaries before the 2008 election. They were not saying anything nice. After Obama won the election they were trying to draw parallels between Obama and Hitler. (Ironic given the events of 2017.) If Obama bore any resemblance to Hitler beyond being a great speaker I did not feel it.
The Washington Post once published a count of how many times Beck said Hitler and Obama in suggestive proximity. It came to about 140 times in one week.
So I started to tune in and pay attention to politics and I had only the vaguest historical perspective on current events. I read a lot but had not focused on political history. Rachel Maddow filled in some of my gaps and the people on news panels also knew their political history and were my teachers. Their knowledge gave them the chops I lacked.
I always wrote based on my emotional reactions to the things that were happening at the moment and that disconnection from the past probably gave me more perspective in some ways; but my perspective suffered from my lack of that strong historical base also, at times. When I thought things were happening for the first time, these professionals set me straight by tracing the precedents. But the fact that there were historical parallels perhaps led the experts to normalize characteristics of the right wing that are indeed unique to this age.
Even I could hear the echoes of Southern resentment seeping through the statements and actions of the Republican Party. The modern resentments of tea party folks who were mainly upset about taxes they were paying and what they were paying for (safety net/ entitlements/ deadbeats and illegal immigrants) seemed to be a grassroots kind of activism until it became clear that it was simply a new form of racism. But we all saw the drive that anger brings. When those harboring antique Civil War resentments saw what the energy behind this modern anger, joined to theirs might offer in terms of momentum to their party, they were quick to forge a bond. Even though the anger seemed to come from different sources it was the same anger and it was aimed in the same direction.
Through seven years of obstruction and talking points it was clear to me that the Republicans were riding the coat tails of these powerful waves of anger. Add to the tea party the fairly new eureka moment that the Evangelicals and Roman Catholics seemed to reach that forged another alliance of anger around the failure, so far, to overturn Roe v Wade, and you have the battering ram that the Republican Party became.
Republicans, Conservatives, and Evangelicals had, along with members with deep, deep pockets, already laid their plans. They knew how to be sure they would win the next election. They made money speech, and then gave each dollar a vote (metaphorically). When they did this they were able to openly invite wealthy donors into the fold. They overturned a key section of the Voter Rights Act which allowed Republicans states to make it more difficult for Democrats to vote. They had used their gerrymandering privileges to engineer districts that would maximize Republican votes and ensure that these districts would remain in Republican hands. They were involved in a concerted plan to turn the US map “red”. You could see them collecting more and more states. (If you collect 36 states you can call a Constitutional Convention and rewrite the Constitution to reflect your views.) There strategies were pretty transparent and virtually unstoppable.
They had wins (the wave election of 2010) and setbacks (the death of Judge Alito – turned into a win by a move that will live in infamy) (the 2nd term of President Obama). But you could tell the GOP was all dressed up with nowhere to go. And then a bad boy asked them to the prom and promised to get them everything. Common sense dictated caution, but bad boys are seductive. However the GOP was not totally besotted, the passions of the Republican/ Tea Party/Conservative/Evangelical/ Roman Catholic alliance never wavered from those talking points, now a decade old.
It became obvious, at least to me, that they would never stop obstructing until they took over the US government. That, to me, is a coup. They were and are so convinced that they know how to bring back “the Shining City on the Hill”, the golden age of their hero, Ronald Reagan, and also a booming economy. We knew what their plans were if they did get control of the government – limit the size of the federal government, get rid of regulations on business and finance, lower corporate taxes, end entitlements, drill everywhere, and cancel environmental protections which are obviously unnecessary if you, conveniently, deny climate change. This whole agenda is clearly designed to please big business and was perhaps even created by big business (Koch brothers and other wealthy donors).
Curses the GOP coalition said – they still had to overturn the right to have an abortion and perhaps even access to contraception – but (because Obama) they now had to repeal Obamacare and reset the definition of marriage back to when it described a union between a man and woman.
The Republicans want to undo every Democratic influence since the Great Depression (maybe even since the Civil War – although the Dems were called the Republicans then).
The Republicans won in 2016. The State of the Union is in their manipulative and reactionary hands. They are trying to complete their entire list of talking points, which has now turned into a check list. We had better hope that their predictions about what is best for America are correct because they are becoming our new reality. (Winning seats in 2018 for the Democrats would slow them down.) If we can slow them down long enough the fever could break and they could come to their senses. (Highly unlikely)
The Republicans have a new leader, 45, and he has added a few items to that GOP checklist which were not, perhaps, priorities but are still policies dear to Republican hearts.
Deport all illegal immigrants
Take land from national parks for fossil fuels and private owners
Rewrite trade agreements
End old alliances
Pack the courts with Conservatives
Pit human rights against “religious freedom”
Lead citizens to question what is true and what is false
I could go on but you get the drift. The GOP is in charge and they told us all along what they would do, although maybe they would not have pursued so openly the items mentioned above if Trump had not been elected President.
To me the state of our union could not be worse. The GOP cannot and will not control Trump, who wants to destroy the Justice Department and the FBI for personal reasons, and deconstruct every other department to show the GOP how to downsize.
The Republicans and their wealthy donors/overlords are so married to their vision for America that it almost feels as if the only way to get around it is to go through it so they can see that it will not work. That could take a while. Big business will be so delirious over the prospects of unfettered capitalism that things may seem on the uptick for quite a while. Eventually the GOP spending spree and the relaxation of necessary standards will prove to be a terrible match with the global economy which is becoming an inevitable reality. We should not let this GOP vision play out if we can help it because we don’t know if we will ever be able to win back the human rights and environmental progress we fought for so long to get, or how long it might take to govern again, or if our democracy can ever function again. Right now my sense is that the state of the union is just about as bad as it was before the Civil War, and worse because of the authoritarian overtones of 45. Our only recourse right now is to fight, fight, fight and try to change the majorities in Congress in 2018. What kind of damage will eight, or perhaps even more, years of Republican/Trump policy bring? If we don’t go there we will never find out – and that would be the best course of all.