Reprinted with permission from AlterNet. For a majority of Americans, feeling traumatized and terrified are reasonable responses to the words “President-elect Donald Trump.” But even if his inauguration marks the demise of the star-spangled mythos we grew up on, being catatonic is no way to spend the next four years, especially if we’re lucky enough to… Continue reading
An agnostic Jew finds sanctuary among black worshipers
by Dell Franklin
Maybe it was time I showed up at a “house of worship”—church, synagogue, mosque, etc.—after a more than 50-year absence (except weddings and funerals) as a fully committed agnostic. So when my brother-in-law, who along with my sister is white and a volunteer sponsor of minority foster children for an organization associated with the black A.M.E. Church, invited me to join him for morning services at that church in Los Angeles, I said yes.
I was curious and also looking forward to entering the unknown as the 1 percent minority, if that. Also, having lived on the mostly white conservative Central Coast of California for the last 30 years, I was excited, as a kid reared in mixed-race Compton, to again rub elbows with black folks.
The church was a huge, stately structure. We arrived early and people were milling around, dressed in their best for a festive Thanksgiving. At the entrance we were greeted by a man in an immaculate black suit and white gloves who welcomed us, while another man similarly clad handed us programs titled, “God’s blessings inspire an attitude of gratitude.” A few ladies stood talking, nodded at us, smiled, and I was immersed instantly in a cocoon of warmth and graciousness of a different kind.
We found our seats up front, in the second row, along the middle aisle. Already, the choir was in place behind and beyond the pulpit as dignitaries of the church sat in a row behind the lecterns. My brother-in-law, Bruce, was eager to hear a visiting pastor from the Dallas, Terry White, and the church’s own pastor, “J” Edgar Boyd, in the face of Trump’s recent election as president.
But to me, this occasion posed a brilliant cornucopia of unrivaled people-watching, my favorite pastime. The ladies seemed aglow with the proposition of their attendance, as if this was a highlight in their lives, or perhaps the highlight of their lives. How could an agnostic, a cynical bastard like myself feel cynical about this as these ladies caught my eye and smiled and welcomed me to their church?
As the massive cavern filled with black people only, a different emotion filled me—I was getting with it. I was among the congregation and did not suffer the usual guilt of being a nonbeliever facing a man preaching the Bible, nor the self-betrayal of just being in their midst, nor the boredom and manipulation I had resented and endured in the synagogue growing up, or any of the other churches I had been forced to attend for weddings and funerals. I felt utterly at ease here—and safe.
The service began and hymns and litanies led to prayers by a lady reverend, another lady, and a teenager. Scripture was read—Samuel—a commentary having to do subtly with Trump, followed by the choir, which was just warming up, and then came Pastor Boyd, his constant refrain, over and over and over again, with more and more emotion, what these people, his people, felt after the election, after years and years of struggle: “WE MADE IT!”
“YES, WE MADE IT!” People began to stand, mostly women. They nodded and raised a hand and announced their agreement. “Yes, we made it!”
“AND WE WILL MAKE IT AGAIN!” Over and over again, and Trump’s name was never mentioned, but everybody got the pastor’s message. Black people had overcome slavery, lynchings, beatings, the unleashing upon them of vicious dogs and powerful water hoses and teargas, incarceration for whatever the white man deemed guilty, centuries of civil rights abuse and bludgeoning of spirit, but always, always, they “made it.”
The reverend was a resonant showman, the ebullient spirit pouring forth from his every pore, preaching that two-fisted old fashioned religion, and Bruce and I found ourselves rising with the throng, clapping our hands, and when the pastor finished in a rousing finale, a tall man in a light brown suit led the choir, and now the place was really rocking, the blend of powerful, magnificently blended voices leading a chorus among the congregation, and I found myself not singing, because I know no words and I was not really a person who talked about the lord or Jesus or even God, but instead watched the people, and especially the ladies, so carefully attired, jewelry gleaming, and I was reminded of the hardship most black women endure, reminded of my days of working on the riverboat Delta Queen on the Mississippi River back in 1969, and being the only white employee below the officers, and of being taken as a guest to a blues club in Memphis by a crew of waiters and maids, and getting with that music, and watching my friends react to this music, such sad, woebegone music, and, while dancing with one of these ladies, who was sending her pay home to her children and family in New Orleans, I asked how people could be so joyous over such brokenhearted music, and she told me, “Honey, we got to celebrate our sufferin’, or we ain’t gonna make it.” And, “We got our blues, and our church, and they can’t take that away.” And she smiled, knowing I had no clue to either and probably never would, but that was okay, too.
It made me think about my own life, and how easy things were for me, how I, a white person, could hitchhike from LA to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and land the best job on the Delta Queen as the ship’s storekeeper. No black person could hitch through the south without fearing disaster, and none of the uneducated blacks on the Queen had the training to be a storekeeper, as I had, starting out as a 15-year-old stock boy in Compton.
Those maids on the Delta Queen reminded me of the ladies in this congregation, who, as mothers and providers, and believers, beamed with pride and hope and faith cutting through hardship and hurt. The faces and bodies of these women depicted heroic resilience beyond my comprehension, and the more I watched them, as the choir moved into a higher gear, and the people began swaying and repeating, a spirit entered me. I saw what religion meant to these people, and joining them made me feel good, and grateful, and strangely whole. I didn’t have to believe in Jesus, or the lord, or God, or any god, but just needed to be among people who genuinely believed, and shared, and found this day, and perhaps every Sunday of their lives, a salvation and a salve for the week’s wounds and life’s unfairness, a refuge from what occurred daily outside the walls of this massive church.
The Gospel ended and now Reverend Terry White Sr. from Dallas took over, and his oration, like Pastor Boyd’s, came from an echoing chamber deep within, and his showmanship and passion soon had everybody rising and repeating his words, and he wound himself into a fury, moving this way and that, his voice powerful, and the whole place rocked and rocked, and I thought to myself that if I lived around here I might show up at this church more than a few Sundays a year, to again drop some cash into their coffers and experience what was proving to be to me an almost Zen-like occasion.
In the end, we all held hands, swaying back and forth, and afterwards I was myself shaking hands with men and hugging women as we headed toward the exit in a cloud of jubilation. Outside, a few more hands were shook, and then I ran into the man in the brown suit who led the choir, and I told him how great I thought they were, and he shook my hand and said, “Thank you, we give it our all.”
I ran into a lady who must have been well past 80, struck up a conversation, and she urged me to come back, and hugged me. Driving back, Bruce said, “You think we feel entitled, going in there, because we’re white?”
“You think two black men would be as welcome in a Southern Baptist white church, or any white church?”
“I don’t know. Churches are supposed to be welcoming places. Maybe, but I doubt it.”
We talked about the white man who went into the black church in South Carolina and shot and killed innocent people. And they forgave him, prayed for him. To those people I don’t think it was just about Jesus, or the lord, or God, but a spirit of humanity and magnanimity, just as they would accept me in that very same spirit as a nonbeliever, a person who walked out feeling that humanity and magnanimity and carrying it with him for that day and to this day too, and perhaps for some time to come. §
Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he maintains his love for humanity, and the hope of people who struggle against ignorance and hate. His other works can be viewed at dellfranklin.com
Viewpoint from a Progressive activist
We may not have much control of the present situation. But we can choose to learn from it.
It is easy to look at Trump voters and say, “These people are just idiots and racists!” But if you read any coverage of the exit polls, you know that it isn’t that simple. I did, because I want to understand their concerns, the reasoning behind their votes. I want to make sure that I hear their voices, so that next time we might appeal to them better. They give myriad legitimate reasons for voting for Trump: The bad economy, the hopeless corruption in DC, the fact that Hillary was seen as an insider. We should study these reasons in detail. We should do so to empower ourselves.
No one has power over Trump voters. No one has power over progressives who spurned Mrs. Clinton. The singular power we have is to learn. Blaming anyone else is fruitless. It simply means that we won’t change anything — we’ll end up doing the same thing again, with the same result.
Progressive votes for Jill Stein cost Hillary Clinton nothing—she would have lost even if she’d gotten every Stein vote. But what did cost the Clinton campaign, dearly, was the absence of progressive activists, those who man the phone banks, walk precincts, and help organize marches and rallies. These activists multiply their votes many times over.
Progressive activists—for whom the value of justice is paramount—tend not to be party operatives. Their loyalties are not conveyed simply because a politician carries a party label. They’ve been burned far too many times for that. And burned doesn’t mean not getting your favorite piece of feel-good legislation; burned means that people died. It means that people were maimed. Families were ripped apart. It means that these activists laid awake at night, driven to despair, to rage. This is why they work to multiply their votes, why they vigorously support candidates who actually reflect their values: Otherwise the injustice will go on forever. They will never sleep.
Party political operatives will say, “Well, Clinton voted for the war in Iraq because, in 2003, the intelligence we had and the geopolitical calculations necessary for the strategic….” And the progressive activist gives not a shit about any of that. The progressive activist sees instead an Iraqi mother cradling her dead child. This activist knew that the war was based on lies at the time, as anyone who was paying attention would have. The reason for the war was unjust, the vote for the war was unjust, the death of the child and the pain of the mother was unjust. And now you ask these activists to campaign for someone who sponsored all of that? Injustice.
Some progressive activists might triangulate, and “vote for the lesser of evils.” But hold your nose and vote is not the same as campaigning. On myriad levels, they saw Bill Clinton’s policies as a continuation of Ronald Reagan’s — because, on myriad levels, they were. If you do not know this, HERE IS YOUR POWER: Question it. Learn about neoconservatism, neoliberalism. Read Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser to witness the dovetailing of the two parties under Bill Clinton; read Fighting Words: How Liberals Created Neoconservatism by Ben Wattenberg. Don’t be afraid. Be curious. Learn.
Progressive activists saw Hillary Clinton’s policies as a continuation of her husband’s policies. And why wouldn’t they? She said that they would be. She touted her eight years in the White House as her guiding experience. Many, having spent decades fighting Clinton’s unjust policies, decided that the Green Party had to be supported, if there were ever to be hope for justice. Stein’s vote tally did nothing to change the outcomes of the election—but Stein’s support did double from the last election. And that was the result of the efforts of those activists.
“Well, why didn’t they do that for Hillary?” you ask. “It would have saved us from Donald Trump!”
Because these activists, who have lain awake nights for years on end, tortured by the thought of the dead and maimed in Iraq, the endless shredding of families torn apart by Bill Clinton’s “tough on crime” policies, by the economic devastation caused by Clinton’s deregulation of Wall Street, are not going to help paint a smiley face on any of that. They oppose all of it. They will oppose it to the grave, and into the bowels of Hell, if necessary.
They will not triangulate injustices. They will not trade two lives here for four over there; they will not be told that they should support Clinton because she will only kill thousands while Trump will kill tens of thousands.
They will not support lesser evils. They will not support evil at all.
And if you want to win next time, you will have to reject evil, as well. §
Sean Shealy is an activist and the author of Corruption & Cover-Ups of the Bush White House Unmasked and the novel Killing Limbaugh.
The worst are filled with passionate intensity
Last weekend, my wife and I decided to go a hotel in Rockaway Beach, Oregon, an unpretentious beach town on the Central Oregon Coast, hoping that a trip to the ocean would reduce the considerable anxiety and anger that we both were feeling after the election. The place had a real bargain: for $70 a night, a two-room apartment about 90 feet from the ocean, with only the beach in between.
We hit the local cafes and bars for eating out. The Bar & Grill was toward the end of our list. The internet said the place had broasted chicken and my wife wanted that for dinner. We sat at the bar, as we often do, because it’s easier to have conversations with the locals.
On my left was an empty stool, and on the next stool over was a big man with a Dallas Cowboys hat and jacket. His wife was the bartender/manager. She had on an Ohio State sweatshirt. I love to gab with locals in a bar, so I started talking to the guy about the Cowboys. Well, I hate the Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, but I was careful to say that I loved the old Cowboys teams from the ‘60s and ‘70s but didn’t really care now how they did.
Someone down the bar said the guy was actually from Arizona, and his college team was Arizona State. He told me, yes, that was his team. He was vague about why he liked the Cowboys. His wife said it was the cheerleaders.
“One of the most admirable people in the country came out of Arizona State,” I said.
“Yeah,” the guy said. “And he was killed—you know how? With friendly fire.”
I already knew that. Then I said, “I have great admiration for the military, but one thing that really hurts me is that so many fine young men and women have been killed for a bunch of crazy bastards in the Middle East who hate us no matter what we do.”
He put down his beer, puffed out his chest, and said, “I guess you’re one of those Clinton lovers.”
I tried to get the conversation back on the military, in a positive way. “Look, what I’m saying is that this country has sent a lot of kids to die with nothing to show for it, beginning with Vietnam. I hate that.”
“We could have won that war. We never put everything we had into it. What kind of fucking shit are you talking here?”
He was loud. My wife was next to me. It pisses me off for people to be that way in front of a woman. Old School, I know, but there it is.
“Look,” I said, pointing my finger at him, “let’s have an understanding. We can say whatever we want to say except let’s not use the F-bomb and call names.”
He thought for a moment, took a sip of his beer. His wife came over and shook her fist at him and told him to shut up. He agreed with me to keep things civil. We shook hands on it.
We talked briefly about something else, I can’t remember what. Then he said something about Obama causing all the problems in this country and now things would be great. I said that Obama had at least kept young Americans from getting killed for nothing. “Fuck you,” he growled. “Fuck you, you goddamn liberal pussy.”
I said, “Fuck you, and shut your fucking mouth.”
“Go ahead, take a swing,” he said.
I have a standing rule about this. In this day and time you do not take the first swing unless you are being robbed or someone has moved to attack you. Otherwise, you will be sued or thrown in jail. So I put my right fist, tightly clenched, on the bar, clearly visible to him but just behind my right shoulder so I could hit him with everything I had if he made a move.
“You go for it, you fat son of a bitch, and I’ll knock the living shit out of you,” I said. He was at least ten years younger, heavy but very strong, as his handshake had shown. Maybe an out-of-work lumberman, or maybe just an asshole with a big mouth. But he just sat there. He was a bully, pure and simple.
His wife was beside herself. “I told you!” she screamed at him, shaking her head and retreating to the kitchen.
I paid the tab. My wife was not happy with me for having begun a conversation with the guy in the first place, but she was, thank God, agreeably intoxicated. As we walked past the guy she tapped him on the shoulder. He turned his face and she gave him a peck on the cheek, laughed, and we walked out the door. He had no idea what to make of that, God bless her.
Here’s what I hope I learned from this:
No doubt there are white people who have been left behind in the “new” economy. No doubt it is easy for many of these people to believe that identity groups have gotten all the attention, and political elites have either taken the white working class for granted or screwed them directly or deceitfully for years.
But, too often, their legitimate gripes are subordinate to the hatred they have cultivated over the last two decades, and especially the last eight years. Everything must be good or evil, and everything that is not blindly pro-white, pro-military, and anti-Obama is evil. As Yeats wrote, “the worst are filled with passionate intensity” and no longer have any real bearings, only irrational fear, hatred, and resentment.
The “alt right” has scooped them up and brainwashed them into believing that the worst part of themselves is now the best part of themselves, justified, heedless, self-righteous and authoritarian. It’s not just the economy, stupid. It’s humanity led once again to its darkest side.
My ill-advised visit to their dark place will be my last. I was close to being there myself. §
John Willingham is a writer and editor from Portland.
Donald Trump’s real Americans don’t play golf and would never under any circumstances be allowed on any of his courses and if they tried an armed security detail would throw them off and possibly shoot them.
Donald Trump’s real Americans would never be allowed to sit at his table for any meal because they never went to finishing school and possess atrocious manners, like talking with a mouthful of food and wanting to wash it down with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
Donald Trump’s real Americans would not get past the front door of Trump Tower before an armed security detail turned them back into the street because of their noxious apparel and tattoos.
Donald Trump’s real Americans are positive President Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim who wants to take their guns away and let ISIS terrorists take over the country and impose Sharia law on defenseless white people like themselves.
Donald Trump’s real Americans will deny they’re racists because they approve of the frothing-at-the-mouth-lectern-pounding black pastors he digs up to defend him, and who are looking for more TV exposure and a possible talk radio show.
Donald Trump’s real Americans believe whoever can tell the biggest most outlandish outrageous lies will win the Presidency of the United States—and they’re fine with it.
Donald Trump’s real Americans hate out-of-touch Hollywood celebrities and Academic scholars who bad-mouth their Donald and would like to knuckle their heads like in the old days when sissies and faggots got their asses kicked simply for existing.
Donald Trump’s real Americans are some of the meanest and nastiest looking people on the face of the earth.
Donald Trump’s real Americans relish the role and identify with their Donald as the “Ugly American,” because they believe all Europeans are socialist pussies who play soccer instead of football.
Donald Trump’s real Americans wouldn’t mind the Donald nuking some of our enemies.
Donald Trump’s real Americans look at him as the latest and perhaps last white hope in a country taken over by suspicious black, brown and yellow people who want to keep them from making America great again and subject them to lower class status.
Donald Trump’s real Americans are some of the fattest people on the face of the earth.
Donald Trump’s real Americans are a lot of old Viet Nam veterans who wear those funny hats and medals and have to know that their Donald was a draft dodger with a rich dad who paid off a doctor and would have been given a blanket party in basic training as soon as they realized he was afraid to get his itty bitty under-sized hands dirty.
Donald Trump’s real Americans include xenophobic, homophobic climate change denying ex-jocks like Curt Schilling who fears for his daughter if she walks into a restroom and has to face a transgender creature who will molest her.
Donald Trump’s real Americans don’t care if he refuses to show his income tax forms, nor if he’s a crook, because they feel everybody’s a crook and it’s best to have the biggest crook and liar in the country in the White House because he’ll out-crook all the crooks in the world trying to fuck us.
Donald Trump’s real Americans, from the look of them at rallies, need lobotomies, and those who haven’t look like they’ve already had lobotomies.
Donald Trump’s real Americans don’t care about his policies or qualifications to govern the country, they just want to sit on their asses and enjoy a reality show while the country goes to hell because their lives suck anyway. §
Dell Franklin is a real American but not one of those kind. He writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur. He posts stories and commentary at dellfranklin.com.
Their differences aren’t a battle between good and evil
by Mark Russell
OK, here’s the thing with the Democratic primary: everyone imagines they are supporting the one candidate who can save us from the abyss and feel aggrieved and belittled by the other side. I am personally a Bernie Sanders supporter, but the truth is that this is not a battle between good and evil so much as an awkward contest between two animals who evolved in entirely different ecosystems.
Hillary Clinton is like a grizzled hunter in the Amazon. Every day is a battle for survival. She has suffered every venom and poison imaginable and from her time as being the wife of a Democratic governor in a red state to being Secretary of State to the most besieged administration in modern history, she has lived her entire life in a rainforest filled with things determined to kill her. Her political survival instincts have adapted accordingly.
Bernie Sanders is like a wallaby. He hails from the benign ecosystem known as Vermont, where he lacks any natural predators. He will be the beloved senator from Vermont for as long as he cares to be. So he hops around wherever he wants, unafraid that anyone might use his words to crucify him. Propose a $15 minimum wage? Just have a friendly chat with anyone who disagrees. Call yourself a “socialist?” Sure, why not? We’re all friends here. On the other side of the world, though, if Hillary Clinton channels her inner Eleanor Roosevelt, the Republicans call it a seance. Write a few State Department emails from your personal server? Suddenly there’s a major Congressional investigation, even though nobody cared when previous Secretaries of State did exactly the same thing.
Bernie’s instincts have evolved so he feels no danger in exposing his head to say what he thinks, however far afield it may be from current political reality. Hillary’s instincts, on the other hand, have adapted in a harsher environment, where extreme cautiousness and distrust are rewarded.
Likewise, the two candidates’ strengths and weaknesses are a direct consequence of their respective environments. Three decades of jungle warfare against Republicans has left Hillary battle-tested and well-versed in the dark arts of political campaigning. She will, I have no doubt, annihilate whoever emerges from the Republican Convention and be drinking out of their skull by November. But at the same time, this experience has made her reticent to take strong positions, to say things that could be later used against her. She tends to “evolve” rather than stand on principle. Bernie has no such qualms and, from the very beginning, has taken principled stands on the Iraq War, universal health insurance, gay marriage, etc., which while controversial at the time, have since been borne out by history. He is the forward-thinking visionary that Hillary is not, but he also seems naively unprepared for the shitwave of dirty tricks and false accusations that will come his way if and when he has to run a national campaign against a Donald Trump or a Ted Cruz.
I’m not telling you who to vote for in the Democratic primary. Thanks to decades of self-selecting news coverage, extreme right-wing radio, and the derangement induced by the reality that the white male vote is no longer enough to carry national elections, the GOP field has been reduced to an incoherent fever dream of xenophobia and obsolescence. Either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would be infinitely preferable to anyone in that mental ward. This primary is not a choice between good and evil, as some Democrats have made it out to be, but rather the choice between different types of leaders, the visionary versus the tactician, whose approach to politics has largely been forged by differences in environment rather than character. §
(With Links to All The Real News You Need If You Weren’t Watching Democracy In Action)
by Jason Vest
Trump: Expectations of Decisive Iowa Win, and With It Actual Explosion of Rich Lowry and Bill Kristol’s Heads, Dashed; Republicans and Democrats Alike Rue Lack of Latter, Start Plotting on How to Go Dave Brat On Editors They Both Hate
Cruz To Rubio And Christie: I Don’t Know If It’s More Amazing That My Establishment Hedge Fund Donors Are Better Than Both Y’All’s, Or That I Get Their Money AND Get To Be An “Anti-Establishment Candidate”
Sanders to Clinton: Triangulate This
Clinton’s Future: Looking Like Rahm Emmanuel’s Present?
O’Malley: Being In This One Percent Blows
Christie: Eating It In Iowa, Saving Room for New Hampshire
Huckabee: I (Heart) Duggars
Paul: Dude, Where’s My Utopian Voter Bloc?
Gilmore: Less Than Zero. §
Jason Vest agrees with H.L. Mencken that it’s almost impossible to make a career in politics without embracing the ignoble and vulgar.