How To Beat Trump

In Five Simple Steps

how-to-beat-trump

I keep reading articles with teasers like this in the title, but none seem to actually lay out any semblance of a plausible strategy. They make the case for doing something, with hypothetical (and often frantic) questions about what people might have done during Hitler’s rise to power, but then are incredibly thin on actual advice for what we should do here and now. This left me frustrated and depressed, until I realized that I shouldn’t wait for someone else to tell me what I needed to do. I should think about it and come up with a plan myself. So I did, and I have.

First, the caveats. Although the strategy outlined here truly is simple, it’s not easy. Some of it will require a great deal of hard work, dedication and sustained resolve. Even with all of that, success may seem evasive if not elusive.

Also, it needs to be said that I’m not a sociologist, historian, data analyst or professional political strategist. All I can offer is the work of an informed and engaged mind.

Finally, do not read this expecting a foolproof plan for keeping Donald Trump out of the White House in 2016. That would be one desired outcome, but it’s not the main goal. The main goal is to defeat not only Trump, but “Trumpism.” If we can pull that off, then it won’t matter nearly as much who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, because we will also have ushered in a new era in American politics where the people call the shots.

I don’t know if Trump’s rise is really comparable to Hitler’s. He’s certainly brought some of the most despicable and frightening tendencies in the body politic of our nation into the light of day. Whether or not he is the Antichrist of our era, in the vein of Hitler and Napoleon, it is crucial that we stand up to the racism, religious bigotry, warmongering, red-baiting, anti-intellectualism and other assorted evils and asshattery he proclaims. We must stand up, we must fight, and we must win.

So, take a deep breath, grab a cup of coffee (or a tumbler of whiskey), and consider the following step-by-step outline for banishing The Donald to the footnotes of history.

Forget about the Presidential Election of 2016.
Okay, you don’t have to forget about it completely. But you do have to think beyond it. Part of the problem with our politics in this country is that every few years we get all wrapped up in election campaigns, we put all our energy into them, and that steals attention and resources from important things that we ought to be doing day in and day out in our own communities. If all you do is vote and encourage others to do so, we’ve already lost. Some of the most effective activists I know don’t vote at all, despite all of the hoopla and constant berating messages like “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” I vote, and I pay special attention to local and state races. I don’t discourage people from voting, but it is not the only thing. It’s not even the most important thing.

Do I really need to say it? CHICAGO.
On the evening of March 11th, the people of Chicago already showed us what to do. We will need to organize and mobilize thousands of people in all of our major cities who are willing to get out in the street and shut things down. This is important between now and November, but will be even more crucial after November should Trump prevail. Please note that what happened in Chicago was possible because of years of organization and struggle there, and because of the incredible spirit of solidarity in the town. Black Lives Matter supports the teachers. The CTU supports the Fight for Fifteen. Fight for Fifteen stands tall for immigrant rights. Each one of the significant social movements in the city recognizes the relationship between the other fights for justice and their own. This is why they were able to put their stunning demonstration together in less than a week. If you’re not organizing together with others in your community already, get to it.

Give the people what they need.
Donald Trump did not create his base. People know in their hearts that we’re all getting cheated and deceived by the ruling class in this country. We know that our political leaders present little but lies and empty promises. We know that they have no solutions. Neither the neoliberalism of the Democrats nor the corporate cronyism of the GOP offers a way forward to decent lives in the future. Defending the status quo or the lesser of two evils will not stem the current tide of lunacy. People who are frustrated and frightened are looking for real hope and real help.

Trump’s message is simple: authoritarian, nationalistic and populist. His mantra of “they’re killing us on trade” because our leaders aren’t strong and don’t know how to negotiate, resonates with people facing economic hardship (real or anticipated) after nearly four decades of neoliberalism.

Those of us who care about defeating Trump and his ilk must present a powerful, plausible alternative. More of the same won’t cut it.

Strike a blow for liberty. Screw the Democrats.
If we are to present an attractive alternative to Trump and his message, it will require an independent political movement of the great masses of working folks, and a willingness to break with the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton’s campaign, in particular, is a dead end. Showing any support for Clinton, either now or in the general election campaign, will be counterproductive. Whether or not she might beat Trump in 2016 is one question, but in the long run she cannot defeat Trumpism. Supporting her candidacy is not only wasted effort, it is destructive. This goes for any other Democrat who isn’t campaigning hard for things that will make a real difference in our lives and in the lives of our children. Things like single-payer universal health care, free tuition at public universities, a $15 minimum wage, higher taxes on Wall Street, opposition to big oil and smashing the oligarchy are a damned good list, for starters – and that brings me to my final point.

Support the Anti-Trump.
Despite my reasoned and heartfelt condemnation of the Democratic Party, as long as Sanders is in the race for their Presidential nomination, he will have my support. As far as the election of 2016 goes, he has been the single visible Trump antidote. Every day that Bernie is out there railing against the corporate stranglehold on our lives, it’s another opportunity for people to wake up and to feel a sense of what might be possible if thoughtful, decent people came together in large numbers to demand thoughtful, decent government. Although his populist economic message is similar in some ways to Trump’s, his prescriptions are sound. It is obvious that the Democratic Party does not share his zeal for economic justice, and his own foreign policy framework leaves a lot to be desired, but Sanders is focusing the public’s attention on issues and solutions that would have been left out of the discourse entirely absent his campaign. We can build on that, and we should do what we can to see that his message continues to be heard.

More than anything else, our opposition to the darkness in American politics must be based on real solutions, and on a willingness to get off our couches and out into the streets in pursuit of those solutions. Our determination and steadfastness in this effort may literally be the difference between life and death for many of us – perhaps even for humankind. In some ways I’m thankful to Donald Trump for shocking us out of our complacency.

Now let’s go kick his ass.

Ain’t there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?

bowie-young-americansYoung Americans came on the radio on the drive back from dropping my daughter off at school this morning. When this album was released in 1975, I was a DJ in my hometown’s first disco, The Hideaway. This song, along with Fame from the same album, were my favorites in the stacks that autumn. They had an authentic, organic sound grounded in Philly Soul, and thoughtful lyrics that went way beyond most of the rest of what we played, which I found to be repetitious and trite.*

I’d heard lots of Bowie before, of course, and couldn’t resist the hooks in songs like Space Oddity or Suffragette City or Rebel Rebel, but his persona put me off and frightened me. I was under 18 and living in a conservative Evangelical Christian home. David Bowie and people like him were threatening and dangerous – worldly, seductive, transgressional. In the case of Bowie, that was obviously his intention.

The Young Americans album changed me. It began to change my view of the world. It wasn’t the only influence in this regard, but it helped to make me more questioning of conformity, more interested in things under the surface and more accepting of others. It prompted me to recognize and confront my own homophobia for the very first time. Allowing myself to enjoy the music pushed me to consider how silly it was to feel frightened by another human being merely because they weren’t quite the same as me. Aren’t we all different?

By the time Patti Smith’s Horses came out later that year, I was ready to listen .

* …if sometimes plenty of fun. Remember That’s The Way (Uh Huh, Uh Huh)?

To Fight the Good Fight

Over the past four years, as I began to awaken politically, it’s become important to me not only to try to recognize and understand the causes of injustices in our society, but to actually make a contribution to the struggles against them. The challenge has been to identify opportunities to make a difference, living in a small (and fairly conservative) metropolitan area. Outside the realm of party politics, which I have mostly rejected as a dead end, there is a decided dearth of organized activism in my community. This was even more the case when we lived in a small rural community in the southern part of the state.

I more or less stumbled on to a set of pursuits that form the core of my activism. I didn’t set out consciously or methodically, but simply started working on things that I thought were of value, and only realized in hindsight that they essentially comprise a political program that turns out to be just what I would have wanted to undertake. Here’s a quick list of some of those things. I share it not to pat myself on the back, nor to seek the approval or praise of others, but to spark the imagination of folks who face a similar predicament. I’d also love to hear about your projects, and what has drawn you to your own personal activism, so please feel free to comment below.

I joined a union. In another day, even the billionaires recognized the value of labor unions to democracy. None other than J. Paul Getty once said “I do believe in unions and believe that free, honest labor unions are our greatest guarantees of continuing prosperity and our strongest bulwark against social or economic totalitarianism.” Tyrants recognize this, and have routinely suppressed organized labor on the path to total power.

Although I was raised in a union home, I had never held a union card in my life. I worked in jobs where we were not organized, and it never occurred to me that we could be. Once I became more conscious, and began researching options, I was delighted to learn that the Industrial Workers of the World organize the worker, not the job. I joined the Wobblies in November of 2011. My location and the type of work I do precludes me from being a participant in most direct face-to-face activities of the union branch, but the opportunity to lend support and solidarity to my union sisters and brothers (and to learn from them) remotely has been wonderful. I’m now also a dues paying member of the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981. The mere act of identifying as a union member has brought a new perspective to daily life, and has opened up conversations and opportunities to further the cause that were not possible before.

I became active in the NAACP. Much like joining a union, it had not occurred to me that someone like me could be a part of an organization like the NAACP. If you click on the “About” section of this site, you’ll see from the picture that I am a grey headed white guy. I didn’t know that the NAACP was open to people of all races, and didn’t know whether I would be welcome in its ranks. But when I read about some pamphleting that had been done in our county by the KKK, I felt compelled to do something formal and substantive to stand against racism. I found welcoming arms and the fellowship of kindred souls in Kankakee Branch 3035. I created a new website for the branch, got involved in the city council campaigns of some of our members, and am currently working to organize a community town hall on race.

I marched for marriage equality. This was at my wife’s prompting. It was a small demonstration, organized by the LGBT community and their allies, friends and family members here. We walked from the farmers market gazebo to the county courthouse, where we heard speeches and learned about the bills that were being considered in the state legislature. Besides showing solidarity by taking a visible public stand for justice, my wife and I also became acquainted with some of the local organizers. We joined them when they met with our state representative, and advocated for their rights under the principle of religious liberty. I also subsequently helped organize their tabling at the county fair. These efforts seemed almost trivial to me at the time, but thousands of similar efforts across the nation brought the movement to victory.

I started a community singalong and a radical reading group. Pete Seeger had great confidence in the power of song to change the world. He said this.

“Finding the right songs and singing them over and over is a way to start. And when one person taps out a beat, while another leads into the melody, or when three people discover a harmony they never knew existed, or a crowd joins in on a chorus as though to raise the ceiling a few feet higher, then they also know there is hope for the world.”

So on May Day of 2014, we held our first gathering of the Key City Singalong. We sing a wide variety of songs, in fact, everyone who attends gets to decide what we’ll sing. So it’s not all specifically songs about social issues, but we do sing our share of old union hymns and other songs of relevance. We are also creating a small community of people who demonstrate, each month, that there are things of value in the world that are not commodities.

This month will also mark the first meeting of the Chicago Southland Jacobin Reading Group. It’s too early to tell whether we’ll be successful in creating and sustaining any scale of interest in monthly discussions of explicitly socialist ideas in the area where I live, but I have hopes.

Both of these events are held at Feed Arts and Cultural Center, where I’m a resident artist. The place also hosts lots of other wonderful activities to build community and nurture the arts. We’ve even had concerts from notable singers in the political folkie tradition, like Matthew Grimm and David Rovics.

I help out at a food pantry. Pope Francis says this is how prayer works: “You pray for the hungry, then you feed them.” Although our family contributes funds to organizations that feed and care for others, I wanted to get involved directly in some work that helps to alleviate the effects of poverty and meets the basic needs of people in our community. After speaking with Sister Denise Glazik, who is a Pastoral Associate at our church, I began volunteering at the Center of Hope. It’s about an hour of honest work on Thursday morning, unloading trucks, sweeping and mopping floors, stocking shelves and such. I find it to be one of the most satisfying and rewarding activities of the entire week.

I’m working to organize against the military recruitment of our children. While attending a talk in Chicago last month about the realities of the war on terror, one question was stirring in my heart. What can I do about this? Our nation’s unrestrained militarism around the globe seems like just too big an issue to approach. Fortunately, the presenters mentioned in their talk that under the No Child Left Behind legislation, schools were compelled to give the personal data of students to military recruiters unless a parent explicitly opts out, and that groups formed to educate parents on the issue were springing up around the country. I’ve begun to reach out to school board members and others about this issue, and plan to make it a project in the coming months.

Will any of this matter? Considering the massive and daunting problems we face, we may not know for a long time, perhaps not even in our lifetimes, whether any of our efforts will be enough. I do know that each of these activities are concrete, practical and have potential. Beyond that, they make sense in terms of the grand narrative of our era. The principal menace in our world today is an ideology centered on corporate power, militarism, racism, anti-intellectualism and attacks on freedom and democracy. So to fight the good fight we join unions. We work against the war machine. We build friendships and unity across racial lines. We support the arts and cultural literacy. We engage in intellectual pursuits and discussions. We feed the hungry.

When we do any of that, we rise up against the forces of greed and death. Whether it will be enough to turn the tide in that struggle, I know not. But I must believe that it matters. There’s just no sense in believing that there’s nothing we can do.

rise-up

Don’t Call Me A Liberal

Once upon a time, I thought I was a Liberal, and I thought the terms “Left” and “Liberal” meant pretty much the same thing. Then a funny thing happened. I began to read.

Some of the things I began to read were outside of what is often called “the main stream” of American political discourse. I read The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord. It rang true to me, accurately describing our society in a way that I hadn’t seen it described before. It turns out that Debord was a Marxist. Who knew?

I began to have an aching sense that what I believed in my heart to be true was not really reflected in the actions or the statements of the Liberal politicians who generally received my support and approval – people like John Kerry, Dick Durbin, Claire McCaskill or Barack Obama.

At some point, I ran across an interesting tool for defining and assessing a candidate’s or an individual’s political tendencies. It’s called The Political Compass.

Instead of defining the political spectrum as “Liberal to Conservative” or “Left to Right” the Compass is a Johari Window, with a Libertarian/Authoritarian axis as well as a Left/Right axis. A person can fall into one of four quadrants: Authoritarian Left; Authoritarian Right; Libertarian Left; and, Libertarian Right. Also, degrees and shades within each quadrant are assessed.

I was surprised to learn that I am about as far down in the Libertarian Left as one can be.

noebie-political-compass

That little red dot represents me.

The really astonishing revelation came when I looked at the analysis of historical figures, and current day American politicians. It looked something like this.

historical-compass

Wait a minute. What are my Liberal heroes doing up there in the same quadrant as Reagan? Obama is just barely to the Left  economically of Hitler? What the heck is going on here?

As I studied more, I learned that I would be considered a “Left Wing Anarchist/Marxist” based on my answers on the assessment. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that at first. Puzzlement would probably be the best description. I did, however, attempt to learn more about what all of those scary terms mean.

Then another funny thing happened. It was called “Occupy Wall Street.”

Although I didn’t understand precisely what was going on at first, the things I was hearing from the folks in Zuccotti Park rang true to me, in the same way that Debord’s book had, in a way that was a revelation. They were articulating the alienation that I felt, and the injustice that I saw, putting it all into focus for me – giving me a context and vocabulary that I had lacked. Their criticism of the Obama Administration was refreshing. Here was a group of folks being called “the Tea Party of the Left” and yet they seemed to have no interest in catering to the Democrats. By then, neither did I.

Once I gave myself the space and permission to question Liberal orthodoxy, I nurtured my newfound political identity with a wider range of information. I had never read Marx. I had never read Bakunin or Emma Goldman or E.V. Debs or James P. Cannon. I had never listened to the songs of Joe Hill.

I read, and began to search my heart, and realized that I had accepted a lot of ideas that don’t hold up well under closer scrutiny. For instance, almost anything falling into the category of “bipartisan consensus” was tossed by the wayside pretty quickly. The more I questioned, and the more I learned, the more the label “Liberal” became a pejorative term. In fact, in gatherings with other Leftists, I found that calling someone a “Liberal” could be fighting words.

Here’s why this matters and why it is important to correctly name things. When we don’t properly describe the political landscape, it limits the range of discussion and critical thinking that is publicly acceptable. For me, that little bit of space between Obama and Romney is just not enough. When we accept the typical U.S. Liberal/Conservative continuum as the only thing that exists, it precludes an entire world of ideas, analysis, strategies and potential solutions. It also reinforces the “lesser evil” narrative that liberals always trot out in election season. “Yes, we’d like to see more progress too, but this is the real world. Do you want another Scalia on the Supreme Court?”

When we take pains to understand and properly name the entire range of political currents and tendencies, we can also begin to reclaim our history, and to see the connections between the politics of the past and the politics of our own time. We can learn that vigorous, fighting labor unions are the best bulwark against totalitarianism, and realize that opposing Scott Walker’s or Bruce Rauner’s corporatist anti-union agenda places you on the same side of history as those who opposed Adolf Hitler. Such is the great power in naming things accurately and placing them in context.

I would encourage you to take The Political Compass assessment yourself, and learn more about their model and what each quadrant means. It may offer you some new perspectives on our politics and where you fit in. I know where I belong now.

So please, don’t call me a Liberal.

The Spirit of Resistance

Each year as Columbus Day is observed in the United States, I struggle with how to approach the commemoration. Though I consider myself a dissident and a person who cares about justice, even I am sometimes put off by comments about the holiday which offer little but iconoclasm, hostility and snark.

It seems to me that Columbus Day is an opportunity to do more than that. First, we can take at least a moment to affirm the truth about Christopher Columbus. More exploiter than explorer, more gore monger than governor, his main achievement was to institute an orgy of theft and butchery which would continue through four centuries of genocide. This needs to be acknowledged and proclaimed as fact, simply and directly.

Beyond that, we can honor the spirit of resistance which is still alive today in groups such as Idle No More, and we can support them and join them in their efforts.

We can also spend some time learning about the peoples who were indigenous to North America, and take time to remember and honor those who fought for their own freedom and dignity.

Today, I am reading The Autobiography of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, or Black Hawk written by the great warrior who perhaps best exemplifies the spirit of Native resistance in the region where I live.

I won’t wait for the government to change the name of the holiday to “Indigenous Peoples Day.” I certainly won’t refer to the holiday as “Black Hawk Day” since, sadly, most of my friends and neighbors would only think it has something to do with the ice hockey team.

But today I will celebrate Black Hawk – and Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull – and others who had the courage to fight back. I will mourn those who died on the Trail of Tears, at Wounded Knee, and elsewhere at the hands of my European forebears. I will pray for the will and the way to join the resistance against imperialism, occupation and genocide wherever it exists in our world today.

Such is a fine and fitting commemoration.

For Flag Day

This is an article that I wrote in June of 2003, long before I began blogging. In anticipating Flag Day, I realized that I hadn’t yet published it on this updated version of the Weblog. It explains pretty well, I think, why I don’t fly the Stars and Stripes much anymore.

Among the Believers

“In each generation, with toil and tears, we have had to earn our heritage again. If we fail now, we shall have forgotten in abundance what we learned in hardship: that democracy rests on faith, that freedom asks more than it gives, and that the judgment of God is harshest on those who are most favored.

“If we succeed, it will not be because of what we have, but it will be because of what we are; not because of what we own, but, rather because of what we believe. For we are a nation of believers.”

— Inaugural Speech of Lyndon Baines Johnson, January 1965

For many years I would fly an American flag at my home on every day that weather permitted. From my earliest recollection it has represented something very deep and spiritual to me. It has represented unity.

At first, it was the unity of national identity – my tribe. In Oreana, Illinois, USA the tribe’s members were typically native midwestern, Anglo and Christian, but I had the sense very early that there was a bigger tribe. I was taught that America was a big place where all kinds of people came from all over the world. E Pluribus Unum – “From the Many, One.” What made us “one” people? Why did so many folks come from so far away and endure such hardship? They did it because they wanted to be free. So, sometime during grade school the flag began to represent freedom.

As I grew a little older, I began to learn that freedom is relative. I remember seeing Norman Rockwell’s depiction of “The Four Freedoms” – freedom from fear, freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom from want. Growing up in the 1960s, it was easy to sense that some people living among us weren’t completely free. The ideal wasn’t being fully expressed and experienced yet. We had to keep working for it. This was only right and just and our duty as Americans. So the flag began to represent justice.

When I was 11 we moved to Decatur and I still recited dutifully with my hand over my heart every morning in home room – “with liberty and justice for all.” The flag was so beautiful. It embodied the most noble and desperate longings of humankind, and it belonged to me. It belonged to all of us at Stephen Decatur High School. It belonged to the Blacks and the Italians and the Greek girls who came to school with ashes on their foreheads at the beginning of Lent. It belonged to my history teacher, who was Jewish. It belonged to every creed and race, even us mutts of generic European extraction. It belonged to us all. The ideal belonged to us all. The dream belonged to every one of us, and we belonged to each other. One tribe out of many. E Pluribus Unum.

Now that I’m older, I realize how naïve some of my perceptions may have been about our distance from the ideal. The truth is that for many people in our society the words “liberty and justice for all” have sometimes been akin to a cruel joke. Despite that, I’ve never once doubted the ideal itself.

People used to poke fun at me for flying my flag all the time. “What’s up with the flag? It’s not a holiday today.” Then it seemed as if overnight that changed. Suddenly, there were flags everywhere. Stores were sold out of flags that had collected dust for years. People put flag decals on their cars and taped newsprint flags to their windows.

I’d like to fly my flag along with the others, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it does to most of the people waving it so frantically these days. In fact, the sentiment expressed by many is like some dark, shadow version of my American Ideal. It’s full of anger and revenge and political partisanship blended with no small measure of religious and racial bigotry. My flag isn’t like that. My flag isn’t about hatred or fear.

I worry about my flag and my country. The America we live in today seems so different from the America of my enduring imagination. I wonder if that America will survive this age of abundance. We’re obviously at a crossroads, at a time both of great opportunity and grave danger, and may well look back on this decade as a defining moment for generations to come.

I don’t know how well my generation will stand the test of “toil and tears” required to earn our heritage. I do know that what we have and what we own, our military and economic hegemony, these things will inevitably pass. What we are, what we stand for – unity, freedom, justice – these ideals will last.

Can we become, finally and truly, “a nation of believers?”

The Center of Hope

Awhile back I became familiar with the Catholic Worker movement. A part of their philosophy involves voluntary poverty, and sharing everything in our lives with people in need. The credo is “if you have a coat on your back, and a coat in your closet, one of them belongs to someone else.”

This is a hard teaching for me.

I grew up in a family of modest means. My father died when I was six years old, so I was raised by a single mom who worked part time. Yet we always had adequate housing, decent clothes to wear and I cannot remember ever going to bed hungry. I now suspect that my mother sometimes did without things that she would have liked in order to provide for me, but I never heard her complain about it, and I don’t recall her ever being in any sort of true physical deprivation. I was afforded every opportunity in terms of education, despite our limited resources, and I was not saddled with the crushing student debt which is so common today.

I have lived “from hand to mouth” at many points in my life as an adult, but I have not yet ever experienced the desperation of poverty that afflicts tens of millions in the United States. At the age of 56, I am not wealthy, but I finally enjoy what might be called a “solid middle class” standard of living.

In short, for most of my life I have thought of myself as one who was struggling to get by, not as one living in relative abundance. Like many who share my status, I felt that I was “doing the best I can” to help others by making regular donations to various charities.

At long last it has occurred to me that it’s not truly “the best I can do.”

Yet, it is difficult for me to imagine myself doing as Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin did in establishing Catholic Worker – forsaking even a modest level of comfort to live and serve among the most destitute in our community. There are, of course, many “practical” considerations involved. What about my wife and daughter, who have not been stricken with such a revolutionary conviction? It would be one thing for me to deprive myself, but I’m not sure that it would be just or proper to require such a thing of them.

Perhaps this is all just rationalization. Suffice it to say that I have struggled and pondered these sorts of questions for many months now. There was a particular moment where the weight of guilt came crashing down on me while hearing this story from the Gospel According to Matthew.

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

During Advent of 2013, at Reconciliation, I broke down in tears while describing this struggle of conscience to the priest. I left the rite with a determination to do more than simply write checks to charities as a way to meet my Christian obligation to others. I decided to find ways to participate directly in meeting human needs. It may not be all that is required, but it is a start.

I met with Sr. Denise, the Pastoral Associate at our church, who prayed with me and gave me information on several organizations in our community working to reduce the suffering of those in poverty. This morning, I worked for the first time at the Center of Hope, a local food pantry. It was ninety minutes of honest work, pushing a broom, mopping floors, helping to unload a truck from the food bank and breaking down boxes for recycling. I met some very fine people. Some of them have been volunteering at the Center for a decade or more. I hope that one day I will be able to look back on as many years of dedicated service.

This post is not written in a spirit of self-congratulation. To the contrary, I feel deep shame at having squandered so much of my life, turning a deaf ear toward the pleadings of the Gospel and a blind eye toward the needs of others. I am also still terribly troubled about the question of my second (and third, and fourth) coat, and all of the other comforts that I enjoy and do not yet share.

Dorothy Day said “I firmly believe that our salvation depends on the poor.”

This morning, for the first time, that statement gives me hope.

Obamacare and the Southern Strategy

I happened to run across a video from a late night TV show where they went into the street to interview people about the new health care law. They asked a simple question. “Which do you think is better, Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act?” Not realizing that the former is merely a nickname for the latter, the majority of those interviewed disliked Obamacare and liked the Affordable Care Act. When asked why, the interviewees expressed a laundry list of reasons, at the top of which seemed to be something about free choice.

This video may seem like it was a stunt, rigged for maximum comedy value, but polling in recent months has suggested that a large chunk of the U.S. electorate favors the policies set forth in the Affordable Care Act when they aren’t identified as Obamacare, but the same large chunk opposes the law when it is given that name. The ridiculous justifications people in the video made for their preference of ACA over Obamacare is fairly reflective of broad sentiment throughout the land.

How can this be? How is it that so many Americans can express such strongly felt opposition to a thing that they actually favor? This question has puzzled me since I first heard of the polling results awhile back. In pondering it, I believe that I may have identified not only what is at its root, but what is at the root of much of the acrimony in our politics today.

For nearly fifty years now, beginning with the Presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater in 1964, the GOP has pursued a strategy that exploits racial hatred and fear. Here’s how President Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Phillips described the “Southern Strategy” during an interview with the New York Times in 1970.

From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that…but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.

This strategy of racial polarization was successful in realigning our nation’s electoral politics, and it placed race at the center of the Republican Party’s agenda for the decades that have followed. In 1980, Lee Atwater (who was an adviser to Presidents Reagan and Bush, and chaired the Republican National Committee from 1989 to 1991) explained politics in the South like this.

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

Whether coded or more direct, the thrust of the strategy is to portray government (and particularly the federal government) as an entity that takes something away from hardworking (white) people who have “played by the rules and earned everything they have” in order to give it to undeserving, lazy, promiscuous (not white) people. Here’s a quote from President Reagan during his first run for President in 1976 where he describes a mythical “welfare queen.” He places her on the South Side of Chicago, a thinly veiled code to let his audience know her color.

“She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”

Or there is Senator Jesse Helms’ re-election bid in 1990, where he attacked his opponent for support of “racial quotas” using a television ad depicting a white person’s hands, crumpling up a letter notifying him that he was denied a job because he was white.

Even when race is not explicitly mentioned, it is rarely unclear who these “undeserving” recipients of the government’s largesse are.

Whether the issue is terrorism, public assistance, Affirmative Action or the Affordable Care Act, the message from the Republican party is always the same. White Americans (i.e., “real” Americans) are having their rights, their livelihoods, their health and their safety endangered by a government that is intent on favoring people of other races.

Now, consider, for a moment, how President Obama’s opponents have portrayed him – even prior to his election in 2008. Remember Jeremiah Wright? Remember the birth certificate shenanigans? The fist bump controversy? Secret Kenyan Muslim Socialist bogeyman…

From the beginning of his first term in office, the Republican party has called into question not only Obama’s policies, but the very legitimacy of his Presidency. They have cultivated a base that is preoccupied with race, and they are now bound to play to that base. Also, this is successful. One need look no further than the hysteria over “Obamacare” for an example.

Lest you accuse me of being a partisan “playing the race card” let me point out that I have been very critical of President Obama over these past few years. I did not vote for him in the last election, and have publicly denounced his policies (both domestic and foreign). I have not refrained from criticism of the Democrats at large either. As to the Affordable Care Act, I see it mainly as a law that was written by the lobbyists for big health care providers, insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms. In other words, I am not a fan.

Still, when I see people portraying their stand against Obamacare as the moral and historical equivalent of taking a stand against the Nazis as they came to power, I have to ask myself what could possibly inspire such insane hyperbole. If there’s a better explanation than race baiting, I’m sure that I don’t know what it is.

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Here’s a link to the Jimmy Kimmel video Six of One mentioned above.

Among The Believers

This is a repost of an article that I wrote in June of 2003. Events of the past week called it to mind.

“In each generation, with toil and tears, we have had to earn our heritage again. If we fail now, we shall have forgotten in abundance what we learned in hardship: that democracy rests on faith, that freedom asks more than it gives, and that the judgment of God is harshest on those who are most favored.

“If we succeed, it will not be because of what we have, but it will be because of what we are; not because of what we own, but, rather because of what we believe. For we are a nation of believers.”

— Inaugural Speech of Lyndon Baines Johnson, January 1965

For many years I would fly an American flag at my home on every day that weather permitted. From my earliest recollection it has represented something very deep and spiritual to me. It has represented unity.

At first, it was the unity of national identity – my tribe. In Oreana, Illinois, USA the tribe’s members were typically native midwestern, Anglo and Christian, but I had the sense very early that there was a bigger tribe. I was taught that America was a big place where all kinds of people came from all over the world. E Pluribus Unum – “From the Many, One.” What made us “one” people? Why did so many folks come from so far away and endure such hardship? They did it because they wanted to be free. So, sometime during grade school the flag began to represent freedom.

As I grew a little older, I began to learn that freedom is relative. I remember seeing Norman Rockwell’s depiction of “The Four Freedoms” – freedom from fear, freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom from want. Growing up in the 1960s, it was easy to sense that some people living among us weren’t completely free. The ideal wasn’t being fully expressed and experienced yet. We had to keep working for it. This was only right and just and our duty as Americans. So the flag began to represent justice.

When I was 11 we moved to Decatur and I still recited dutifully with my hand over my heart every morning in home room – “with liberty and justice for all.” The flag was so beautiful. It embodied the most noble and desperate longings of humankind, and it belonged to me. It belonged to all of us at Stephen Decatur High School. It belonged to the Blacks and the Italians and the Greek girls who came to school with ashes on their foreheads at the beginning of Lent. It belonged to my history teacher, who was Jewish. It belonged to every creed and race, even us mutts of generic European extraction. It belonged to us all. The ideal belonged to us all. The dream belonged to every one of us, and we belonged to each other. One tribe out of many. E Pluribus Unum.

Now that I’m older, I realize how naïve some of my perceptions may have been about our distance from the ideal. The truth is that for many people in our society the words “liberty and justice for all” have sometimes been akin to a cruel joke. Despite that, I’ve never once doubted the ideal itself.

People used to poke fun at me for flying my flag all the time. “What’s up with the flag? It’s not a holiday today.” Then it seemed as if overnight that changed. Suddenly, there were flags everywhere. Stores were sold out of flags that had collected dust for years. People put flag decals on their cars and taped newsprint flags to their windows.

I’d like to fly my flag along with the others, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it does to most of the people waving it so frantically these days. In fact, the sentiment expressed by many is like some dark, shadow version of my American Ideal. It’s full of anger and revenge and political partisanship blended with no small measure of religious and racial bigotry. My flag isn’t like that. My flag isn’t about hatred or fear.

I worry about my flag and my country. The America we live in today seems so different from the America of my enduring imagination. I wonder if that America will survive this age of abundance. We’re obviously at a crossroads, at a time both of great opportunity and grave danger, and may well look back on this decade as a defining moment for generations to come.

I don’t know how well my generation will stand the test of “toil and tears” required to earn our heritage. I do know that what we have and what we own, our military and economic hegemony, these things will inevitably pass. What we are, what we stand for – unity, freedom, justice – these ideals will last.

Can we become, finally and truly, “a nation of believers?”

flag at evening

Why I’ll Vote Green in 2012

Having vowed that I would not vote for President Obama again after he went back on his word and signed the NDAA, I have been a man without a party for much of the year. I’ve examined all of the candidates who are on the ballot here in Illinois (and several who are not). After months of thoughtful and prayerful consideration, I’ll be voting for the Green Party ticket of Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala on November 6th.

Here’s why.

The Greens’ platformwhich focuses on democracy, social justice and sustainability, reflects my deepest values and concerns. It does that better than any other party on the ballot in Illinois. Also, the Greens have a record, both in the United States and worldwide, of putting these values into action when elected. I agree with what they propose, and I trust them to hold with it once in office.

The Greens are here to stay. The Republicans and Democrats do their best to keep a lock on ballot access throughout the United States. As a result, it is difficult for other parties (whether on the left or the right) to maintain a national presence over time. The U.S. Greens have continued to grow since first winning local races in Wisconsin back in 1986. They have contested the Presidency since 1996, and as a voluntary confederacy of state parties, they continue to build from the ground up. It seems to me that this is the only way to effectively challenge the powers that be over the long term.

The Greens are worldwide. The most serious problems we face in this age are not peculiar to the Unites States. In fact, I believe that our very existence as a species on this planet depends on organizing and working in solidarity internationally. The Greens are well established in Europe and Canada, and are gaining a foothold in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and throughout the Americas. Their call to “think globally and act locally” seems a practical approach to finding and implementing solutions.

My vote for the Greens can make a difference. Michael Harrington once remarked that the Democratic Party is “the left wing of reality” in the United States. Forty years later, one might well say the same thing of the Greens. I have no illusions that Stein will be elected President in 2012, but I do believe that helping the Green Party reach the threshold that offers them likely ballot access in future elections is the one cause where my vote will actually make a difference.

I’ve not yet decided to formally join the Green Party of Illinois. I plan to continue to learn more about their activities and organization over the coming months, as I’m doing with a lot of leftist and left-leaning groups at this point. I’d also like to see where leadership emerges and consensus develops on the left as the global political and economic crisis unfolds.

I know that my decision to cast my vote for the Greens this year will draw some criticism, particularly from my erstwhile colleagues in the Democratic Party, who will say that a vote for anyone other than President Obama is, in effect, a vote for Romney. To them, I simply reply that if Obama can’t win Illinois without my vote, then his candidacy is already doomed.

I also know quite a few Illinois Socialists who are still stinging from the Green Party’s challenge to their ballot petitions this year, and who may be sore at me for giving the Greens my support. Still other friends believe that participating in the electoral process at all only serves to support a decadent system that is at the root of most of our troubles to begin with. All I can say in response is that old habits die hard. I just can’t fathom staying away from the polls, or casting a write-in vote that won’t be counted.

A Fellow Worker that I once knew was fond of musing “If all of the people who say they wish there was a viable alternative would vote for an alternative, it would be viable.” My conscience tells me to put that sentiment into practice this year.