Say Their Names: Solemn Reminders of the Cost of Systemic Racism

The MLK Celebration Committee of Southern Brazoria County and the Brazosport Center for the Arts and Sciences have teamed to present the Say Their Names Memorial in celebration of Black History Month.

The communicative power of simplicity, silence and visual presence has been matched, at least in my experience, only by the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. The first thing that struck me was the number of memorial pillars arranged in The Center’s outdoor viewing area.

Then you see that there are photographs memorializing other victims on each of the four sides of the pillars. Fifty pillars, 200 victims. And, of course, they could not include, or even know, the thousands of victims of lynchings and other fatal injustices Black Americans have suffered in this country.

The presentation touches one deeply as you see the beautiful faces of Americans, young and old, who had no place to look for justice when confronted with the reality of America’s deep and persisting racism.

Please go, see and feel the presence of these Americans. Their years were stolen but their memories live as an ever-present reminder of the miles we have to travel before we become the nation we must become. The memorial is at the Brazosport Center for the Arts and Sciences at 400 College Drive in Clute. It will remain there through March 13, 2021.

Happy Valentine’s Day: Eleven Months in Isolation and Reading Your Way into Depression

You would think that eleven months in coronavirus isolation would give you time to read some of the fun things you have been putting off. Maybe some good humor, or even some poetry, although most of it seems to have been written by people in depressed states.

But, speaking of poetry, a friend gave me Mary Oliver’s Devotions for Christmas. She celebrated the beauty of the natural world. That would be uplifting if we weren’t rushing toward the total destruction of nature.

Well, that stretches it a little. We are only destroying the elements of nature that support the kind of life we humans are accustomed to. It is only a bit comforting that no matter how much we abuse it, the rock we call home will continue spinning its annual trips around our supporting star.

If we snuff out human life, evolution will kick in again and we can pick up where we left off in a few million years – if we can somehow remember where we left off.

No, it is just as well we begin anew. We will need a new Bible, of course, with revealed word that can be dug up from the past. I would suggest Mary Oliver’s book for a book in the new bible on our revived planet Earth. Devotions could well be called the Book of Psalms in the New Good Book if her poetry somehow survives. Ms. Oliver was, herself, too modest to name her collection Psalms.

Some of my other choices seem to reveal a masochistic need to deepen the suffering of living in lockdown for what has been almost a full year. One of my first choices was The Plague by Albert Camus. It gave me a pretty nice introduction to the psychology of living in the lockdown world of pestilence and death. It’s not a pretty picture. But it has a happy ending when the rats return to the streets. Normalcy.

Then, Donald Trump’s niece, Mary Trump, emptied Donald’s family laundry basket so we could all pick through all his dirty cotton boxers and sweaty undershirts. (Mary L. Trump, Ph.D, Too Much and Never Enough) In it, Ms. Trump reveals that DJT is a narcissistic sociopath. I’m not certain that I am correctly citing her professional diagnosis but it will do as confirmation of what most of us have been able to conclude by watching the evening news. If anyone thought Ms. Trump exaggerated his sorry condition, the events of January 6, 2021 confirmed that, if anything, she underreported the depth of his dysfunction and the danger he poses to those around him.

Of course it has been the daily newspapers that absorbed most of my reading time. When DJT was elected I added online subscriptions to the Washington Post and New York Times to my daily encounter with the news. No one can read all of either one of those papers every day. But it gave me a good way to ease into the day’s new developments by reading yesterday’s with horror and a cup of coffee. Although I am never able to read everything in these two papers, I manage to read a lot and I also get to feel good about supporting serious national journalism. Oh, and Jeff Bezos.

Then I made the mistake of beginning to plow through The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. I really thought it would have a calming effect by reinforcing the idea that as bad as Trump is, it could always be worse. I am still reading, just beginning actually. I have read 22 per cent of the book. (Thanks to Kindle, I can give you a precise report of my progress.)

But, already, I have been repeatedly chilled by the similarity of the track Trump is on to that of Adolf Hitler’s steady ascent to despotic power in the Thirties. Trump’s impeachment and pending legal actions by state and federal prosecuting authorities provide no exception. After all, Hitler spent nine months in jail after his Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, He used the time to write Mein Kampf, ghosted by his prison companion and lifetime follower-to-be, Rudolf Hess. If Trump should be jailed on tax evasion, he would no doubt compose his own manifesto with the help of some more literate inmate with ten-finger typing skills.

They say that as a discussion grows longer on the internet, the more likely that someone will throw out a Hitler analogy or some other Nazi comparison. (See “Godwin’s Law“.) And, there, the discussion generally ends. There is nowhere else to go as the discussion has degenerated into absurdity.

But don’t be too quick too quick to dismiss this one. Reading about the rise of Hitler after WWI, the similarities are downright uncanny. One begins to wonder if Trump has read the Shirer book. That’s not likely since he is a notorious aliterate. Nor has he likely read Mein Kampf, although his ex-wife Ivana claimed he kept a copy of Hitler’s speeches on his night shelf. Godwin’s Law would say that’s enough already. Out of bounds. End of discussion.

But, take a look, friends. The Big Lie. Check. The doubling down on claims shown clearly to be false. Check. The cultivated cravenness of partisans. Check. The promotion of violence among supporters. Check.

But to be fair Trump is missing a few important characteristics.

  • He seems not to like the sight of blood. He is happy for others to bathe in it but he doesn’t seem likely to be putting contracts out on people’s lives. As mob bosses go, he seems like a pretty lily-livered one. But he would undoubtedly develop the skills with time, need, and toothless legal and legislative oversight.
  • He is cagey smart and plenty manipulative but he lacks strategic thinking skills. He has people for that but neither are they exactly world class. (Think Stephen Miller, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon.)
  • He espouses no particular ideology of relevance for American voters beyond a nihilistic attitude toward science, government, American culture and rule of law. There is, of course, a unifying principle of opposition to anything vaguely inclusive of people of color, any color but pink-orangey-white. His son-in-law and daughter are Jewish so he differs with Hitler there, but only because they are snow-white and Jared is from a proper criminal family and had, from Donald’s perspective, the good sense to marry gentile.
  • Nor does he have Hitler’s oratory skills. He does standup comedy for the amoral semi-literate, racist groups but he doesn’t have the ability to excite millions of Americans with exciting crescendos of inspirational illiberalism. He can barely read aloud from a TelePrompter. Although sometimes I suspect he reads as he does to communicate to his followers that he doesn’t really mean what he is saying; he is required to say some things to stay barely inside the bounds of decency so that they may all survive another day as a movement.

So, where does that leave us? All I would say is that comparing Trump and Hitler does not extend to my good Lake Jackson Republican friends. They have simply had no choice (so they thought) but to follow along with the nominee of the party they have belonged to for years.

I would suggest to them that they take a look at our party system and the ease with which an extremist or demagogue can take over a party through our system of primaries, gerrymandering and campaign financing. So long as things move along as usual with ho-hum races between ho-hum candidates, there will continue to be folks sent off to legislative bodies to do their bidding and vote against taxes and regulation, except for being “pro-life” when it comes to regulating women and pro-death when it comes to reading the Second and Eighth Amendments. I think most of my long time Republican friends in Lake Jackson are repelled by Trump. The ones who continue to worship him after the Capitol riot are either folks who never participated much in politics or they were conservative Democrats of the early Strom Thurmond, Huey Long, Lester Maddox variety.

But keep and eye on DJT. I think he will keep holding rallies and egging on his followers. If he climbs back into office in 2024, America is in grave danger. You may say that his age is on our side but there are more youthful pretenders out there: Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, and Ted Cruz to name a few. Graham and Cruz are prime examples of the power of power to turn old opponents into remorseless lackeys.

So ignore my reading list if you are looking for uplifting ways to pass your days in coronavirus solitude. Get a copy of Love Story from an old paperback bookstore in the neighborhood and have a happy Valentine’s Day.

Yours Truly Shows Off His Renewed Patriotism and Pride in Having Served

I found it appropriate that our last president (No. 45) was found to be unqualified to serve by a condition that affects heels. I have never made much of my stateside years in the U.S. Army because I actually got more from it than I gave: GI Bill, some great administration experience, and, best of all, a year to live in Colorado. Others gave their lives – whether they believed in the cause or not. Thus I am not inclined to stand and take applause and TYFYSs on Veterans Day. But Donald Trump made me very proud to be a veteran and proud to fly the flag of the United States of America.

Two & One-Half

THE TWELVE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS DONALD TRUMP HAS TAUGHT ME (Thing No. 2):

The beauty of the symbols of our democracy, freedom, and rule of law.

I came of age just in time to face the draft for Vietnam. I voted for Lyndon Johnson in my first presidential election in 1964. I was an enthusiastic supporter and was proud of his commitment to the Kennedy legacy in civil rights. I was even more in his camp after he signed the voting rights legislation the next year. By 1968, I had soured on LBJ because of the war in Vietnam. That was the year I was drafted. (Disclosure: Not a war hero. My service was stateside.) Until 2020, I looked upon 1968 as America’s worst year during my lifetime.

It was hard to be in love with America during those times. If you didn’t like the idea of torching villages in a country that had the audacity to opt for social and economic policies different from America’s you were told that you could “love it or leave it.” Super-patriots were waving the flag as if they owned it and they dared anyone else to defile it even as they defiled it themselves. Americans who viewed their citizenship as something other than slavish devotion to the policies of Johnson and Nixon administrations were made to feel like outsiders, even in the country of their birth.

Richard Nixon pushed me farther away from old-style patriotism with his efforts to undermine rule of law and set the presidency up as the dominating branch of government. It wasn’t easy to be proud of the symbols of our nationhood during that era. We came to associate patriotism with the pig-like grunts of “USA, USA, USA” that we heard at the Olympic Games. America wasn’t showing its best face to the world.

Donald Trump, oddly, has restored in me that spark of pride in being an American that lived in my heart and mind before Vietnam and before Nixon. I grew up with all the same mythology around the founding that the super-patriots learned as children. After shedding the emotional appeal of the symbols of nationhood during the sixties and seventies, it gladdens me somewhat to have it restored, although I would have preferred another way of coming home.

Trump’s rule has led me to a warm embrace of our tradition of openness to immigration and the welcoming hand we have traditionally extended to folks from troubled countries around the world. It took Trump’s putting children in cages at the border to help me appreciate the importance of America’s role in the world as one people who could extend the hand of freedom to those suffering the oppression and poverty of dictators. And it took Trump’s literally embracing the flag onstage to make me want to take the beautiful symbol of our union into my own care to save it from his lecherous fondling.

To celebrate my return to patriot status, I have purchased an American flag and installed a bracket on a front porch column to let the neighbor’s know that the folks who had the Biden-Harris signs in their yard are as entitled to fly the flag as are the neighbors who still fly a Trump 2020 flag. And just so they will make the association, we are saving it until Inauguration Day to raise it for the first time on the property.

Who knows? At noon I may take it in hand and march around the neighborhood and sing “Hail to the Chief.” I’m still trying to decide.

279 Days in Lockdown: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

First: the bad. We won the election and he won’t give up. Who cares?

And then the ugly. Lake Jackson continues to clean out garages. What else is there to do during a pandemic? It’s nice to see it all piled on the curb waiting for the trash truck. And it usually stays a couple of weeks because few people bother to go to the city web site to check heavy trash pick-up days.

And then there is the Wal-Mart Christmas yard decor. Inflatable characters that usually get disconnected and die on the lawn during the day. But these ghastly guys stayed inflated to inspire the Christmas spirit in the neighborhood. The yellow one must be the Grinch. Snoopy, of course, is recognizable by his dog house. But the one on the right? Is there some connection between Christmas and Dia de los Muertos that I haven’t heard about? Whatever the explanation, it is adds a touch of homeliness to the neighborhood.

But then there are some good things to note on day 279.

There are still geese who make their home at Shy Pond. They still maraud the neighborhood and sometimes attack the children who expect them to be grateful for their offering of stale, freezer-burned bread crusts. But they are natural, handsome and real — and they are not known to be coronavirus vectors.

And there are azaleas blooming in December. Something we don’t often enjoy, even in Texas.

And there is Christmas cactus. Always beautiful to behold. This one is bursting with blossoms and holds the promise of even more.

So there are some things to celebrate this year. Merry Christmas Lake Jackson.

Comparing the 60s with Today: In The Facts

At the request of the editor, I pared this down to the number of words they could publish. I did all my own editing, so don’t blame The Facts for the barbs that are missing. I just felt that they didn’t add anything to what I was trying to communicate. So no more “laughably and contemptibly” inept DJT. Inept says it will enough.

The Facts has a brutal paywall Trump could be proud of. I don’t hold it against them. They are in one of the country’s toughest businesses right now and they have never been more important. So, here is a copy of my Word file. And if you don’t subscribe to The Facts, please do. They make it easy: Go This Way with your credit card. You will be glad you did.

My contribution to the Wednesday, November 25, edition:

I started out to compare today’s protests and politics with those of earlier decades. After attempting a list of particulars, I began to think more of the general trends. Leadership and media seemed to offer the two most prominent differences. With the passing of power back and forth between the parties over the decades, these trends have resulted in the spiraling descent of the Republican party, and our country under its leadership, to where we are today. 

Social media and cable news have changed the quality of reporting and allowed competing versions of political “reality” to develop for self-selecting audiences. We repeat our own version to other like-minded people through social media – the echo chamber effect. People in the 60s and 70s tuned in Walter Cronkite and whatever he said carried the weight of truth. If Cronkite caught a politician lying or taking personal benefit from public office, there were fraught political consequences. 

Legitimate journalists today have been assailed by some politicians and even referred to as enemies of the people by the sitting president. These attacks and his universe of “alternate facts” are repeated and amplified in the social media echo chamber. These systems of competing truths did not exist in the 60s.

Devotion to democracy and the expansion of the electorate was then – in spirit at least – universally blessed. These values have been challenged in the current alternate reality as niceties designed to relegate a once dominant class of citizens (older white males like me) to minority status. 

The movement of women and minorities into roles of power is judged in that alternate reality as the gift of affirmative action rather than the deserved result of their own hard work, intelligence and abilities. It’s hard on the ego to see the world becoming fairer as you, in turn, have to yield some of your own privilege.

We sometimes look at generational cohorts as meaningful units of analysis. My generation, bookended by the Greatest Generation on the older end and by the Baby Boomers on the other, is often overlooked. Those of us born just before the end of WW II are called the Silent Generation. The existential threats of our day were Vietnam and the nuclear arms race, both aspects of the Cold War. African Americans shared those threats and added to them the enduring cruelties resulting from our history of slavery.

The generations younger than the Boomers now face an even more complicated set of challenges, a whole battery of crises in fact, that should be keeping us all awake at night. Most of them are the result of an economy that has pushed consumption beyond the planet’s sustainable limits. Climate change, pandemic diseases, failing governments, human migration, the growth of terrorist organizations (foreign and domestic), wealth and income inequality, unmet infrastructure needs, and a government that is unwilling to meet the people’s needs are all on the list of realities that face young people now trying get educated and join the work force. On top of that, they have to deal with college debt far beyond anything I faced in my generation.

All of these problems can be addressed but they need the focus and work of governments here and abroad. They must lead people to commit to the hard work and sacrifice that can take us into new centuries with the expansion of democracy throughout the world. They must lead us to respect the planet and each other so that all of us can have the one thing we want most – an environment of peace and plenty for nurturing our children.

The other major difference that I see between the present decade and those of the 60s and 70s is our national political leadership. At the time, I could not see any redeeming qualities in Richard Nixon. The public would not tolerate lies from political leaders. Nixon spied, he lied, he connived and covered up. Yet he took his job seriously and he had the grace to resign rather than put the country through any more Watergate agony. And there were members of his party who had the strength of character to confront him with the truth of his situation and the nation’s needs.

President Trump, in my estimation, is inept and uninterested. He has no respect for the presidency or the constitution. And the Republicans in congress offer him no guidance or try to rein him in. I recognize that these points will be argued endlessly by his supporters. In defense of my position, I can only offer my years of study, witness and the close attention I have paid our country’s politics during my entire adult life.  

My hope for Generations X, Y, Z and Alpha, it is that we can instill in them, once again, a devotion to truth, to service and the restoration of a leading role in the world for the United States. Public service can be their gift to their fellow citizens, not a gateway to grift. I hope we can help them to see that running for political office is a high calling and that it should always be done with humility, generosity of spirit and a dedication to our deepest civic values. That was the inspiration my generation took from President Kennedy and Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. They will not find any such inspiration in the White House today.

We have come up short in many ways. But we can pass the torch to our youth with confidence in their ability and the strength of their character. I know some of them well in my family and in my church. Above all else this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for them.

Guest Column, The Facts, November 25, 2020, by the Lake Jackson Citizen