Living Large In Carson City: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ Edition


Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in East Texas, there was no lack of racism, bigotry, or hatred of select groups that stood out from the lily white, mostly Protestant population base in which we lived. As children, we were not so much taught hatred and bigotry as we assimilated it from our parents, ministers, school teachers, coaches, and just about everyone in a position of authority we encountered. We went to all white schools, churches, and social functions from the county fair to Friday night football games.

As hard as it is believe in our small East Texas hick town at that time, Hispanics and Jewish people were not present in our lives. I can not remember a single Hispanic family living in any neighborhood in the area. One Jewish family lived in town, but in our naive vision of the world, they seemed like ordinary people who were embraced by the majority of the population as one of our own. I say “majority”, not because I know there were those who may have felt animosity toward them, but back then,  because I never saw or knew of them does not mean they were not present.

Five miles to the east of town was a even smaller community where the vast majority of Black families lived. In the 2001 census, Blacks made up 90 percent of the population, and I suspect that ratio would apply back when I was growing up. There was little commercial infrastructure in town other than a small gasoline/grocery store that sat at the main intersection of town. For all practical purposes, they were a part of our world in a commercial, if not cultural, sense. Their school was located within our borders. The one movie theater in town segregated them to the upper balcony. They were segregated at the doctor’s offices, the hospitals, and few, if any, commercial venues like restaurants or bars allowed them on the premises.

These are my roots, and I want to say I am not proud of the fact that my family was part and parcel of this dynamic. As a child, I had no choice. My parents were so steeped in the Southern tradition of racism and bigotry, and their lives were defined by it. The notion of raising their children any other way other than the way they were raised was simply unthinkable. We were living in a toxic bubble that allowed no room for enlightened change or ideas that went counter to the zeitgeist of the times. In a very real sense, we were no different from any other small town across the deep South.

The first chink in the racism armor came in 1964-65 when my hometown was forced to integrate the public schools. In their skewed wisdom, the city fathers decided to take a end around approach to desegregation. While whites had separate elementary, middle and high schools, the Black community had only one school housing all students until the early 1960s when a Black elementary school opened. A few black students opted to attend the various white schools in town, but it was not until 1969 when the last Black class graduated and the school was closed.

Of the Blacks who chose to attend the white high school the first year, three athletes were among them. These three young men became the first Black people I (and my football teammates) got to know personally. They worked hard to gain our acceptance, which could not have been easy for them. Yet, they became our friends and taught us that skin color was not a barometer of a person’s worth, or something to judge others on because they were different from the majority. We were after all young men with a world of experience ahead of us. For the first time in our short lives, I began to question the negative stereotypes our parents and environment had foisted on us without our permission.

That was 50 years ago. For a good part of my adult life, I had to fight back the powerful pull of racist thinking from my past. It was not easy in the beginning, but I was lucky and left home as soon as I could and moved on, leaving behind the ever-present pall of racism my hometown and family still lived under. It was difficult, but eventually, thorough education and a series of enlightened friends and acquaintances, I grew past the teachings of my youth and learned to accept people for who they are, not who they are based on fear and negativity. Honestly, I had hoped America had, on the whole, done the same.

Then, along came Donald.

In the run up to the midterm elections, Trump has, and continues pulling out all the stops to fire up his band of deplorables. His sidling up to white supremacist and the dark racists side of his base through his embracing of “nationalism” is both disheartening and a little frightening. The thing about racism is that it is insidious, and at the same time, it debases, not just the target of the racist act, but the perpetrators as well. While I believe as a child I had no choice about the racial undertones under which I was raised, once grown and old enough to think on my own, it became evident that racism is not genetic, but a choice that a person has to make by disregarding common sense and the humanity of both themselves and those it is directed at in the end.

The one overriding component of a racist’s mentality is fear. Fear of the other. Fear of those people not like themselves. In the case of many of Trump’s older, white base, the fear of being displaced by brown or black people, especially brown people, and losing their time honored position at the top of the racial food chain is paramount. Of course, fear fuels hatred, which ultimately, is expressed by anger, and eventually with enough goading and baiting as Trump is wont to do, acting out on that anger.

Americans saw the end result of Trump’s irresponsible rhetoric last week when the FBI took bombing suspect Cesar Sayoc Jr. into custody for mailing 13 packages containing pipe bombs to Democratic politicians, donors and CNN. While none of the intended recipients were hurt, later in the week things turned ugly and deadly when Robert D. Bowers entered a Pittsburgh Jewish synagogue, The Tree of Life Congregation, with an AR-15 and three handguns and opened fire. Eleven people were killed and six others were wounded including four police officers.

The link between Sayoc and Trump is easily traceable. He attended Trump rallies in the past and had plastered his van with images of Trump and related hot button topics. Bowers’ relationship was more muted. A neo-Nazi, Bowers spent time on the website, Gab which, as you would expect, is a place for people like him to go and vent with like minded people. Supposedly, Bowers hated Trump, but not for obvious reasons. He felt Trump was not anti-Semitic enough for his tastes. Regardless, Trump’s rhetoric and constant blowing dog whistles certainly a deadly climate for both men to become emboldened enough to act out theirs evil deeds.

Trump’s modus opernadi is to play on the weaknesses of his followers. Racism, hatred, nationalistic tendencies are all fair game when it comes to Trump getting his way. The coming midterm election has caused him to ramp up his rhetoric, and his actions are becoming increasingly draconian. The caravan of ragtag men, women, and children traversing Mexico from Honduras headed for the United States’ southern border are suddenly an invasion. His attacks on the media as enemy of the people continue and will surely end in someone getting hurt or killed.

Yet, this is the America that we live in today. The gap between Trump’s deplorables and the rest of us is huge and will not be spanned easily or soon. As long as there is inequality in wealth, social mores, ideological differences, and of course, racism, fear, and hate, this is our fate. We can not afford to give in to these forces, but we can not afford not to confront them either. As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.  Trump’s deplorables are not our enemy. They are our fellow Americans. It is up to all of us to remember that and find a way to span the gulf separating us as a nation. If we do not, no one is going to come out of this a winner.

Living Large In Carson City: The Devil Is In The Details Edition

The Tree of Life

This weekend tragedy struck – again – when a neo-Nazi named Robert D. Bowers entered the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh and opened fire killing 11 worshipers. Bowers has been charged with 29 criminal counts ranging from murder to ethnic intimidation and hate crimes to name a few. Located in a predominantly Jewish enclave that for all intents and purposes was an idyllic neighborhood where no one expected carnage on this scale to ever happen. Throughout the years, the synagogue has been the cultural and religious center for the Pittsburgh community since 1864 when the congregation was founded in the city’s downtown. To better understand the importance and cultural influence the synagogue has had on the lives of the people of Pittsburgh read Howard Fineman’s moving and provocative New York Times op-ed found here.

While I am no fan of religion, indeed, I side with Deepak Chopra’s description of the institution when he said,

“God gave humans the truth, and the devil came and he said, ‘Let’s give it a name and call it religion.'”

Despite the fact that there can be no devil without a God, my heart breaks when I see the list of the dead, mostly elderly Jewish people, and think of the pain and sorrow that their families, the city and friends must feel who have lost the love and companionship these unfortunate people offered. As an atheist, my lack of belief does not trump the faith that people who choose to believe have and cherish in their lives. It would be hypocritical for me to not want to be persecuted for my lack of belief and vice versa. Faith in God, or lack thereof, is a personal choice, and I celebrate their right to believe as I hope they do mine.

However, heart-wrenching events like this one have become all too common in the environment of today’s intolerance, hate, and bigotry that is consuming the nation day by day. While we mourn the passing of the people of the Tree of Life Congregation, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that our culture is in the throes of a toxic battle for control of the government that is sweeping the nation and has only accelerated over the past two years. We have lost our empathy. Our love of our fellow human beings. Our personal allegiance to the Constitution and what it stands for all Americans.

And for what? Political expediency? When a man can gain the highest office in the land and turn his back on the conventions and mores that have made this country great and strong, the fault is not his alone but shared by us all. Certainly, Trump and his followers are to blame for the intolerance and hatred that has come out of his fold, but the rest of us are culpable as well. Or to put it more politely, the nation is on the brink of breaking into pieces if we donot find a way to get past our differences and move forward with humility and inclusion.

The issue that I struggle with is my anger toward the people who would gladly restrict the rights of some while retaining their own rights at the expense of the Union. Trump and his ornery band of deplorables seem hell bent on reshaping America in a whiter, less diverse and more totalitarian image that makes my blood boil. Trump is quick to brand the truth as fake news when it suits his purpose or simply to obscure what is actually happening. Shamefully, the Republican Party has capitulated is now wandering through a wilderness created by Trump and have sold their souls to gain a modicum of power and control that is illusory at best and destructive both in the long and short hauls.

There is no better example of Trump’s control over the conservative narrative than to look at the American evangelicals. Despite his philandering, lying, cheating and hypocrisy, the evangelicals of America have embraced him wholeheartedly as one of their own. Of course, religion has a variety of gradations, but in this case, they seem to span a wide variety of levels of sanity. For instance, on one extreme you have people like Rick Wiles whose beliefs fall somewhere between the Stone Age and the Taliban of the Middle East. Recently he stated,

Do not be fooled by what’s happening in America. The anarchists in America, their enemy is not the Republican Party. Their enemy isn’t corporations. Their enemy is the church. They’re coming against the church and I’ve been warning people for years and years and years—you better get ready, you better be prepared, if these people ever get power, they’re going to slaughter tens of thousands of pastors, tens of thousands of Christians.”

“They will spill blood in America,” Wiles added. “That is their purpose. That is their objective.” Wiles

People like Wiles in an earlier time would be found wandering the streets of major cities clad in a sandwich board that proclaimed “The end is near. Repent”. Now, they have the ear of the president of the United States. Wiles is only one of a cadre of religious zealots who air programs daily spreading their message to a host of believers around the country. The message is fear. Think about what that means. This message is based on a religious belief system that few adherents have the will or mental capacity to deny much less resist.

Okay, you might say these are the fringe groups that have always been with us since religion began. However, one of the leading organizations at the forefront of the surge of evangelical ideals is the renowned Billy Graham Evangelical Foundation. In an op-ed published in the organizations newsletter last week, the editors stated,

The past 22 months have brought significant progress in restoring religious liberty in the United States. But if Christians do not remain engaged, those gains could be brought to a screeching halt or even lost after next month’s midterm elections. If progressives reclaim a majority in Congress, not to mention in state and local governments, believers will once again be open targets for punishment by left-wing activists bent on silencing those who wish to live out their faith in society. BGEA (My emphasis)

This is yet again Trump supporters willing to test the bounds of credulity. Maybe it is me, but goll durn it, I don’t remember American evangelicals being “targets of punishment by left-wing activists bent on silencing those who wish to live out their faith in society”. Which brings us full circle from The Tree of Life causalities and the monster that Trump created. Those killed in this past weekend’s terrorist attack on their synagogue where people of faith who were doing what their faith and heritage called upon them to do. Worship their God. Trump and his minions, including evangelicals, have become provocateurs whose mission is only to grasp power and control for their own insidious ends.

I won’t ask you to pray for our country. What I will ask is to be cognizant of reality and pay attention to what is going on in the country. In a recent article by Franklin Graham, Billy’s son, he titled the piece, Why This is the Most Important Election of Our Lifetime. Let’s not pretend he is hoping for equality of rights for everyone. Take it as a warning and vote to ensure your voice is heard over the Trump rabble.