It’s National Redemption Time

en.wikipedia.com
en.wikipedia.com

Would the United States be better off if mothers were guaranteed paid maternity leave of five months? Or better if workers had at least a month of paid vacation every year? Or if workers had more say in the policies and operations of the companies for which they work? Or maybe if school lunches were actually not only nutritious but also sophisticated and tasty?  How about no death penalty? How about prisons that are not designed to punish so much as to simply deny freedom of movement and association to convicted criminals for a fixed amount of time and to help them during that time to build new lives when they are released?

These and other provocative questions are raised in Michael Moore’s new film, “Where to Invade Next.” The film is a sort of political travelogue around Europe, with a side trip to Tunisia, exposing policies and practices in those places that Moore posits would be good ideas for the United States of America. He even claims most of the good ideas originated in the United States, raising the question of why we are not using them now.

This is a spiritual question for me (although probably Michael Moore would not use that language). Or as others might say, it is a matter of values.

Part of the answer, as I see it, is revealed in a segment of the film where Moore contrasts the dogged insistence of Germans to learn from the horrors of their past–to expose the national involvement in the Holocaust, to remind each other in very public ways of how they rejected humanistic ideals and accepted, even celebrated, ugliness and monstrosity. Germany does not stop telling the stories of victims and its complicity in the evil.

face2faceafrica com
face2faceafrica com

Moore draws a sharp contrast between that behavior and the denial that pervades U.S. culture and politics around our racist, white supremacist past and our national white-privileged present. Moore shares graphic pictures and videos of police beating black suspects and inmates today and their counterparts in harsh pictures of lynching in the past. Have we made any progress?

Well, yes, of course, laws are more fair, and the equality promised by the Declaration of Independence and the constitution and fought over during the Civil War is closer to realization than it was one hundred years ago. But legislatures still pass laws whose effect, and I think intent, is to reduce voting by proportionally disadvantaged portions of the citizenry, and we are locking up Black men at an alarming rate (and we can’t blame this on higher rates of drug use in the Black community than among those who call ourselves white, because the reverse is true). As Michelle Alexander has written, this “incarceration while black” is the new Jim Crow.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander amazon.com
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
amazon.com

To be sure, the countries Moore visited (‘invaded,” he says, in an attempt to connect our militarism with our lack of social progress, a subject for another blog) are not perfect. They have problems, too. But they are doing things to improve the life of their citizens, and they are doing this through the social contract, through the governments they institute, as our framers instituted our nation “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

As I read these soaring words, these noble objectives, I hear the stark, deeply disturbing, contrast with the political rhetoric awash among us today.  The framers approached the national question, “Who are we called to be?” with hope, with generous spirits, with an awareness of divine providence and abundance. Too many of our leaders, and would-be leaders, today approach the same question with stinginess, with an underlying mentality of scarcity, with deep fear expressed in angry words of division and derision toward those who disagree.

Our national soul is at stake in this election season. We need to find it and claim it, really claim it for the first time since the early days of the new nation and perhaps the Civil War.

The fundamental question remains, will we, as Dr. King said in 1963 and as Lincoln said 100 years earlier in different words with similar import, will “this nation . . . rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed . . . . ?”  

boston.com
boston.com

Or will we continue to stumble over the ugliness of our past, denying the roots of our present-day tragedies, pretending that murder and mayhem, poverty and power-less-ness among whole segments of our people are simply the fault of a few bad actors and some weak, lazy individuals and even groups of people out to take advantage of kindness, care, and just treatment under law?

It’s confession time, my fellow Americans, my fellow “we are white” Americans. Black activists, artists, and others keep giving us yet another chance to clean up our act, keep marching and protesting and educating, and still too many of us look away. And the politicians who never even mention “race,” let alone racism, white privilege or white supremacy, are lying to us. They may be lies of omission not commission, but at some point not speaking a hard truth means you are complicit in the ongoing power of that truth.

Denial of a real problem is dangerous to your mental health. That is just as true for our nation as for individuals.

ejvictorsofa.tk
ejvictorsofa.tk

We need to go into analysis, as a nation, to name, face, hold up, and root out our demons. Michael Moore has given us a mirror to look into, a way to ask some questions of ourselves and our leaders. As a first step, I urge you to see the film.

And if you have not yet begun a conversation about our national disease in your family, at your workplace, your spiritual home, your neighborhood, or not yet participated in such a conversation, I urge you to start (or continue) that conversation now.

It’s redemption time, folks, and each of us has a role to play.

May God Save the People of this Commonwealth!

Hear ye! Hear ye! The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia is now in session. May God save the people of this Commonwealth!

imageThat is my somewhat tongue-in-cheek sentiment, but it also reflects my real fear at how much damage an ideologically driven legislature can do. Some of that damage comes from things they will not do, and other risks lie in what they will do. The former means things can’t get worse, but that does mean we can breathe easy. The latter may not ultimately occur because Governor McAuliiffe will use his veto pen and is unlikely to be overridden in the Senate.

But I still pray for us every day the GA is I session, and I encourage you to do so, too.

It seems reasonable to assume they won’t advance LGBT equality, but in that way they will actually continue to do real damage. Kids will still be subjected to “therapeutic bullying,” workers will still fear losing jobs (and some will) if they come out, renters will still face discrimination, and transgender Virginians will still lack some fundamental protections.

And they won’t pass Medicaid expansion, so hundreds of thousands wiimagell continue to suffer from the lack of adequate health care. Sadly, too many legislators focus only on money and miss how we all are impoverished when some of us face structural obstacles to good health. Failing that test of corporate well-being is missing the true bottom line.

There are some good signs: there may be improvements in public school standards and they may work with the Governor to improve management of public-private partnerships for roads and other public works.

But it seems safe to say they will continue to shortchange higher education in their rush to cut spending instead of raising revenue, and they will do nothing to stop the flow of guns in and out of the Commonwealth (or their unsafe use here).

I am always a hope-filled person– my middle name is Hawley but in many ways The “H” stands for HOPE–but I am praying, my friends, big time.

There are somimagee stand outs–Senators McEachin, Watkins, and Howell, and Delegates Krupicka, Loupassi, McClellan, Plum, and Rust, come to mind (and there are undoubtedly others)–among the sea of political mediocrity in the world’s oldest deliberative legislative body, but on the whole we are not being well-served.

We will survive, I am sure, but oh what a wondrous thing it would be if this fall a goodly number of these legislators were replaced (and not by the voluntary absence of senior members and others who are tired of “the games” too many of their colleagues play). We need a GA with more grown-ups.