AMERICAN HISTORY MICROCOSM: JULY 30, 2020

JULY 31, 2020 KELLEY KIDD Yesterday was one of those times when all of the threads of American history are dramatically shown in the day’s headlines. The President of the United States ignored the funeral of a national civil rights icon while claiming that the November election will be rigged if he is not allowed to postpone it! Immediately a host of members of his own party and self-proclaimed conservative supporters publicly disclaimed his claim. Meanwhile three former presidents eulogized the civil rights icon at the funeral, and one of them gave a rousing speech for expanding the opportunities for larger voter turnouts, something the President clearly believes will lead to his undoing.

Then there was news that the U.S. economy has just experienced the worst quarter of contraction in history. At the same time Republican Congressional leaders announced that they would be going home for the week without passing any legislation to address that crisis. And the stock markets showed gains for America’s largest corporations, thereby clearly revealing in the most stark terms the truism that what is good for the big corporations has nothing to do with what is good for the vast majority of the American people. Millions of Americans will be left without financial relief for job loss tomorrow, and other millions will be subject to homelessness when rent protection expires at the same time. This horrifying prospect led to some political handwringing but no action. True to their current form of rewarding the super rich at the expense of the rest of us, the major investment markets took a cheery upturn today!

Congress adjourned for the weekend on the day that followed, i.e. today. Both Republicans and Democrats gave up negotiations last night after it became clear that 77 days had not been nearly enough time for the Senate Republicans to come up with a coherent response to the Democratic legislative package proposed way back then to aid workers, renters, unemployed, state and local governments, hospitals and front line health personnel, small businesses and election supervisors. On the night of this historic day, both sides agreed they did not have enough common ground to do anything but wring their hands and blame each other! The President had sent his Treasury Secretary to the negotiation. Afterwards we learned that most republican Senators had rejected the President’s tax cut proposal and did not trust the Treasury Secretary! Unstoppable force met immovable object while further saddled with undesirable burden and unlovable intrusion.

The deceased civil rights icon had become a hero championing the claims of poor people. So the same funeral-ignoring president chose this day to announce the end of long-standing federal protection for efforts to assist the poor to live in areas where their chances for a better life could be enhanced by good location for their homes. The President bragged that his actions this day would prevent suburbanites from having to share their neighborhoods with poor folks. George Wallace and Bull Conner would have been proud of this betrayal of Jewish and Christian compassion. Sadly, I suspect the President’s evangelical base will receive the news with neither reproach for the action nor compassion for its victims. So much for the Jesus who told the story of the Good Samaritan and spent his life among the poor. Most of these public housing projects hold Black folks. That fact is lost on nobody. Racism now clearly has become the principal plank of the President’s re-election campaign. He picked the day of John Lewis’s funeral as the best moment to reveal that racism in its boldest form to date.

Then there was the baseball game the night before the 24 hour period in the spotlight. The world renowned Yankees played the current champions, the Washington Nationals. All of the players on both teams greeted the national anthem on one knee with head bowed! That’s our national pastime, the great game of baseball folks. Despite the greed of its owners and the sometimes ungrateful attitudes of some of its players, major league baseball remains as a sometimes amazing reminder of the redeeming qualities of American life.

On the same night federal agents, who had been hired and paid to keep the homeland and its people safe, attacked peaceful American citizens with tear gas, a weapon outlawed for use in foreign wars by the Geneva Conventions. The President, who has bragged about the unconstitutional and brutal actions of these militarized agents, has encouraged this behavior, for which he is responsible.

That President’s pre-election polling numbers were revealed yesterday to be the lowest in memory. And polling shows a large majority of the American people disapprove of the President’s handling of both the current economic crisis and his continued attacks on the demonstrations he has helped to engender. Other related news shows the President actually trying to prevent the Postal Service from doing its job, apparently in hopes of frustrating mail-in voting, which the President claims will lead to the electoral chaos he himself is fostering. The fact is that people of color and the elderly may be most affected by any constrictions of voting opportunities. Nevertheless, in many places the President and his Republican Party seem hell bent on adding hurdles for would-be voters to overcome. By contrast, John Lewis–the civil rights hero we buried that day–is his country’s greatest champion of those rights.

Also revealed today was the fact that this President refused to even mention to the dictatorial ruler of Russia that U.S. intelligence has reports indicating that the Russian government has been financing the killing of soldiers whom that President has been elected to lead as Commander in Chief. The deaths happened in Afghanistan. He passed off questions about that behavior by shrugging that we had done the same thing to Russian soldiers in the past. In fact, that was true during the Cold War in the late 1970s when Russia was part of the Soviet Union. It should be noted that this is the same president who violated international law last year by assassinating the commander of the most prominent Iranian forces in supposed retaliation for Iran providing military equipment to rebels in Iraq, a neighboring country to Iran. Of course international law has condemned political assassinations for decades. The same President did not even mention the killing of American soldiers in the very near past.

Last, but not least, the President held a press conference to triple down on his claim that an anti-malarial drug he likes can protect from the virus that has killed 150,000 Americans. While all the scientific evidence available says otherwise, a president who has refused to implement a national strategy to combat the virus has also refused to supply major support to the states he claims have all the responsibility for leading the fight against a world wide pandemic. The press conference gave us a president who is not afraid to keep repeating snake-oil claims of companies whose bosses are friendly to him. This is the guy who used purloined Emails of his client in 2016 as the basis for his claim she was a practitioner of “crony capitalism.”

Quite a day. Wouldn’t you agree? Buckle up friends. There are many more such to follow soon. We are all living in a period of intense change that will leave us a very different country in many ways. I believe with my whole being that this is the time for action from each of us who are healthy enough to act. What each of us is called upon to do depends upon our present circumstances and abilities. Despite my advanced age and limited abilities, I have at least fifty years of training and experience in practicing law, thirty eight years in trying to be helpful to alcoholics, fifty two years of intense concern for the victims of racism and poverty, and sixty eight years of knowing that the decency and dignity of every human being is a concern the Creator of the universe expects each of us to cherish with Him. I am not infirm yet, so I have no excuses if I don’t use my legal ability and other resources as well as possible in pursuit of the justice and compassion John Lewis showed and sought his entire life.

Each is called to do his or her part. “If I am for myself only, what am I” Hillel asked 2100 years ago.”And if not now, when?” Each of us is challenged by what Martin Luther King called the fierce urgency of now. Recently we have lost an irreplaceable person whose whole being summoned us to make good trouble, necessary trouble. The deepest roots of our religious heritage must nourish our capacities to comfort the disturbed, and to disturb the comfortable. When we see ourselves becoming cynical or frightened or tired, the life of John Lewis just might remind us that we are not here to be comfortable or contented. We have work to do today, and tomorrow will be too late.

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