Monthly Archives: October 2020
Variation on the Word Sleep
By Margaret Atwood
I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head
and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear
I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center. I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and you enter
it as easily as breathing in
I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.
The poem is for my usual Tuesday poetry post, but if you’d like to read why I chose it and a political commentary on the dangers of the new Supreme Court Justice, read on.
With the Senate confirmation of Judge Handmaid to the Supreme Court last night, I thought I’d post a poem by the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, Canadian author Margaret Atwood. To be fair, the religious extremist group People of Praise to which Amy Coney Barrett belongs were the first to call its female advisers “hands” and “handmaids.” Their use of the term predated Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. They no longer use the term. It also appears that the group was not Atwood’s direct inspiration. Still, it looks like we are in for a dystopian future of our own with the court dominated by conservatives who want to take away all the freedoms gained by women and the LGBTQ+ community in the past 50 years.
Her silence on the most basic issues of republican self-rule tells us to be ready for the worst. In her confirmation hearings, she wouldn’t say if voter intimidation is illegal, even though it plainly is. She wouldn’t say if a president has the power to postpone an election, even though he doesn’t. She wouldn’t even say that a president should commit himself to a peaceful transfer of power, telling Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) that “to the extent that this is a political controversy right now, as a judge I want to stay out of it.” What exactly is controversial in a democratic republic about the peaceful transfer of power? It’s hard to escape the conclusion that she was nodding to the president who nominated her. He said he wanted a friendly judge on the court to deal with electoral matters, and he continues to signal that one of the most sacred concepts of a free republic is inoperative when it comes to himself. Rushing to confirm such a nominee just in time to rule on any election controversies (from which she refused to commit to recusing herself) should be troubling enough. But it is all the worse for being part of a tangle of excesses by the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Keep in mind that in Bush v. Gore, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and Barrett were all Bush lawyers in that fight.
Margaret Atwood’s dystopian Gilead of The Handmaid’s Tale centers on a hierarchical system of red-clad handmaids and blue-draped wives. The handmaids are stripped of rights and forced to bear children for wealthy infertile couples. Though the wives also face patriarchal rules forbidding them from activities like reading, they enjoy significantly more autonomy than handmaids. The wives don’t merely uphold the brutal heterosexist regime; they were instrumental in its creation. Throughout Hulu’s adaptation, wife Serena, played by Yvonne Strahovski, is shown like a fictional Phyllis Schlafly, proselytizing regressive policies in flashbacks. And like The Handmaid’s Tale’s wives, Amy Coney Barrett is working to build a more unjust society for oppressed communities, despite being a woman herself.
Barrett’s confirmation will turn the clock back on human rights, but similarly to the wives in The Handmaid’s Tale, Barrett will not face the full consequences of her judicial decisions. Conservative white women have upheld and continue to support patriarchal white supremacy and punitive capitalism at the direct expense of others. Barrett’s false feminist promise of the possibility to have it all—a large family and successful career—is not a reality for many working-class women, but rather “an example to young women across America of what they can do if they have enough money.” The impact of America’s policies on Black women, women of color, low-income women, indigenous women, immigrant women, and queer and trans folks already reflect conditions similar to those in The Handmaid’s Tale.
Though Barrett skirted questions about how she would rule on abortion during Senate hearings, it is clear she seeks to erode abortion rights. Trump vowed to appoint so-called pro-life judges. Barrett’s past writings indicate she will be one. On the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Barrett supported judicial opinions to require parental notification for abortions without exception and mandate the cremation of fetal remains.
Many pregnant women already face undue burdens when seeking abortion care. The Hyde Amendment prevents federal Medicaid funds from paying for abortions. This racist and classist policy disproportionately affects Black and Latinx patients, who are more likely to be enrolled in Medicaid. Rural patients also face barriers to care: 89 percent of U.S. counties do not have an abortion clinic. Many pregnant women seeking abortions must travel across state lines to receive care, racking up travel bills, and risking jobs when they have to take multiple days off. As Barrett has said she would do, these communities would be disproportionally harmed by further restricting access to care, even if Roe v. Wade holds.
Barrett’s likely rulings on abortion aren’t the only decisions she would hand down without personal consequence. Barrett sparked controversy during the Senate hearings after using the term “sexual preference” in response to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s question about Obergefell v. Hodges. Her use of this outdated term that implies sexuality is a choice caused concern among LGBTQ+ rights organizations. This problem is even more acute in light of the statement Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito penned earlier this month, indicating their desire to overturn Obergefell. While Barrett later clarified that she hadn’t meant “any offense” by her use of the term, her apparent lack of knowledge of its implication does not bode well in a nation that already undervalues and harms LGBTQ+ people, especially Black trans women.
In 175 election-related cases this year, it found that Republican appointees interpreted the law in ways that impeded access to the ballot 80 percent of the time, compared with 37 percent for Democratic appointees. The best case for the enlargement of the Supreme Court is likely to be made by the court’s conservative judicial activists themselves. It would be good for democracy if they showed some restraint. But everything about this struggle so far tells us that restraint is no longer a word in their vocabulary and that prudence is not a virtue they honor anymore.
That’s the thing about her jurisprudence—it is not aimed at making life better for systemically marginalized people. And this is precisely the problem the handmaid comparison ignores. Barrett is the oppressor, not the oppressed. She would make handmaids out of others.
Massive personality defects ruled out listening to other people. Narcissistic to a degree, he presented himself to his subordinates and to the public as all-knowing—he could reel off an array of statistics (not all accurate) —and all-wise. A master of the media of his day—newspapers and state-controlled radio—he ruled on the basis of intuition and extemporization. He acted on the spur of the moment, always sensitive to the need to be seen as other leaders’ equal. Rarely did anyone ever try to talk him out of a chosen course, and when they did so they failed. You couldn’t reason with him. He made bad choices, disregarded warnings his country was not up to the demands he was making of it, and turned a blind eye to economic realities. Many of the failures and setbacks were his fault—though not all of them. Had he lived to write his memoirs, he would no doubt have railed against incompetent generals and inadequate subordinates. That would have been a smokescreen. You might almost think I was writing about Donald Trump, but in fact, this is a description of Benito Mussolini.
Following Donald Trump’s release from his three-night stay at Walter Reed Hospital to relieve symptoms of the coronavirus, he flew back to the White House (WH) on Marine One, exited the military helicopter, and ascended the steps leading to the WH second-floor balcony. Once there, he instantly removed his face mask as he turned to the flash cameras and camcorders below. Occasionally visibly gasping for air, he posed in the style of Benito Mussolini with an arrogant gaze and his head held high.
This current El Douche has much more in common with the actual Italian Il Duce than readily meets the eye and ear. While many of the social, political, and economic conditions differ today in the United States from Italy during the first half of the last century, some parallels persist. Trump rises to the level, and possibly surpasses, Mussolini’s arrogant swagger and all-consuming narcissism and sociopathy though I suspect Mussolini would beg to differ. Both figures are legendary for their predatory womanizing and frequent extra-marital affairs.
Both leaders had trouble telling the truth in their utterances and their consciousness. Not letting the facts get in the way is the basis of both their political strategies. According to Nazi chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” In Mussolini’s case, he came to believe his lies; it’s difficult to believe Donald Trump actually believes his, but he just may be so deluded that he does. Both could be placed into the category of “Machiavellian” in their single-mindedness, scheming, conspiracy-driven, unscrupulous, and vicious actions to advance their careers and enact their policies. To them, the ends justify the means no matter who gets hurt. It’s all about power and machismo.
Trump, however, differs significantly from Mussolini in terms of interest and achievement in intellectual pursuits. Mussolini prided himself on his scholarly endeavors and command of multiple languages. He acted on strong ideological beliefs. On the other hand, Trump acts on concerns for winning at all costs regardless of ideological positions. The only book he has admitted to reading was a book of Adolf Hitler’s speeches. While he claims to love the Bible, Trump cannot tell you a single thing within the sacred text.
Even though he is amoral and shows no signs of being a Christian, Trump received enthusiastic support from evangelicals who claimed he was the modern-day King David, a flawed womanizer who God is said to have loved anyway. Evangelicals also support Trump over his stance against abortion rights. As a socialist youth, Mussolini declared himself an atheist and railed against the Catholic Church. After taking power, Mussolini began working to pander to the Catholic Church to gain wider support. He outlawed freemasonry, exempted the clergy from taxation, cracked down on artificial contraception, campaigned for an increased birth rate, raised penalties for abortion, restricted nightlife, regulated women’s clothing, and banned homosexual acts among adult men. Despite having many mistresses, he also put in place harsh punishments for adultery. In 1929 Mussolini signed an agreement with the Vatican under which the Church received authority over marriage and was compensated for property seized decades earlier. Similar to evangelicals today who support Trump, Pope Pius XI referred to Mussolini as the “man whom providence has sent us.”
When Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States, the man who called himself a “populist” lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Over three million more voters did not support the draconian policies and vile language he uttered during the campaign. But White ultra-nationalist, fascist leaders, evangelicals, and many of their followers supported the Trump candidacy and celebrated his victory. For example, a white nationalist conference held on November 19, 2016, at the Ronald Reagan Building headlined by neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, greeted attendees with a tribute to then-President-elect Trump shouting “Hail Trump! Hail victory!” from the stage. Then, before all in attendance, Spencer gestured in a traditional Nazi straight-arm salute.
Another example is when Trump defended the white nationalists who protested in Charlottesville saying they included “some very fine people on both sides,” while expressing sympathy for their demonstration against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In August 2020, Trump addressed the baseless, far-right QAnon conspiracy theory saying he didn’t know much about the online community and its followers other than “they like me very much.” In response to a question about the conspiracy community, Trump added, “I heard that these are people who love our country.” When a reporter partially summed up the conspiracy theory to him — that it revolves around a false narrative that Trump is leading a secret, government-led charge against pedophiles, cannibals, and satanic worshippers — Trump responded: “Is that supposed to be a bad thing?” Trump said, “If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.” He’s willing to do anything to stay in power. And, let’s not forget he refused in the first presidential debate to denounce white supremacists and instead told the violent far-right, neo-fascist and male-only Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”
Once identifying himself as a Democrat, but never unequivocally disavowing himself from white nationalists, Trump has transformed himself into the mouthpiece of the extreme far-right wing of the Republican Party. Once a staunch socialist, Benito Mussolini was denounced by the Italian Socialist Party for advocating Italy’s involvement in World War I which countered the Party’s stance on neutrality. Mussolini severely transformed his political stance, and later, he became one of the chief architects of the fascist movement. Before his election, Trump had tapped Steve Bannon, former editor of the far-right Breitbart News, as his campaign director, and before firing him, elevated Bannon into the White House to function as his chief policy advisor, a position that does not require Senate confirmation. Bannon once boasted that Breitbart News serves as the mouthpiece for the so-called “alt-right,” a less odious and misleading term for white nationalists.
As President, Trump rolled back many of the rights and protections that minorities have tirelessly fought for over the past decades: affordable and quality health care, reproductive rights, voting rights, citizenship rights, anti-torture guarantees, rights of unreasonable search and seizure, rights of assembly, disability rights, LGBTQ+ rights in the military, free speech and freedom of the press rights, freedom of and from religion while attacking marriage equality. Now, with the Senate confirmation of the conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court seemingly imminent, he has the chance to continue these policies through the courts long after he has been driven from office.
Trump’s continual cries against “Islamic jihadist terrorists” as the number one threat to our nation (even as the FBI says racially-motivated violent extremists in the U.S. are the primary national threat). He issued presidential executive orders banning travel into the U.S. by six majority Muslim nations, called for U.S. Muslims to be placed on a “national registry,” and should be under surveillance to track their movements. These acts de facto “racializes” Muslims. I would not put it past Trump to call for passbooks, like in Apartheid South Africa, for American Muslims and others whom Trump deems a threat to him and his supporters.
Before becoming the Italian fascist dictator, Mussolini believed nationalism superseded class distinctions as opposed to a focus in socialism on class struggle which he had previously accepted. He argued that a vanguard of elites must lead society which would ultimately suppress democracy, and that the state must control “proper linguistic and racial confines.” Though Mussolini’s theories on “race” centered on the culture of a people as opposed to Nazism’s reliance on biology, he did assert a “natural law” thesis that “stronger” people had the right to dominate the “inferior.” Remember, Trump and his father Fred refused some years ago to rent their properties to black people, and too, his racist representations of Mexican people who attempted to come into the United States across the border.
Later, serving as Italy’s youngest Prime Minister in 1922 at the age of 39, Mussolini helped establish the secret police, outlawed labor strikes, and facilitated a one-party dictatorship. Favoring the wealthy classes and forming a virtual oligarchy, he passed legislation making it easier for privatization, deregulation of business and industry, and the dismantling of labor unions. Trump has proposed and forwarded similar policy directives including using the military to keep him in power and sending government agents into cities to attack and detain protesters without due process. Will his apparent parallels with Benito Mussolini hold – and even strengthen – during his presidency, or will he pleasantly surprise us by pivoting to become a healer of the national wounds he cut into the body politic throughout his career up to now? We all know Trump will never be a healer, only a divider. His divisive and derogatory nature is what seems to energize him.
If you are interested in further comparisons between Benito Mussolini and Donald Trump, look no further than their sons-in-law: Galeazzo Ciano and Jared Kushner. Both had similar privileged backgrounds before they married the daughters of Mussolini and Trump. Their fathers-in-law elevated them to positions in the respective administrations, and neither appeared to be qualified for their elevated stature. While there are many similarities, in contrast to Kushner, Ciano attempted to act as a moderating voice in Mussolini’s ear by warning the Italian leader their military was utterly ill-equipped for any serious and possibly prolonged war effort. He attempted to serve as a voice of reason throughout Italy’s doomed involvement. In response to questioning his authority, Mussolini summarily ordered his son-in-law’s execution on the charge of treason on February 6, 1943, before Mussolini was ultimately rounded up and killed by Italian socialist partisans. Kushner, likely, won’t succumb to the same fate, as he continues to act as Trump’s lapdog. He pushed forth Trump’s policies of denying the COVID-19 pandemic’s seriousness and even went so far as to attempt to block aid to “blue states.”
When affairs were going well, Mussolini considered Ciano a trusted advisor. As conditions increasingly deteriorated, and as Ciano advised a different course – specifically for his father-in-law to sign a separate peace with the allies to spare the country needless loss of life and devastation — Mussolini only distrusted Ciano more and accused him of treason. Trump has shown he will do the same thing to his cronies if they displease him as Jeff Sessions, Michael Cohen, John Bolton, and many others did. The Trump administration has been a revolving door of people as Trump dismissed one after the other for the slightest disagreement.
The lesson of this history? Choose your leaders with great care, for they can do real and lasting damage.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
—Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)
We are told to emulate Jesus in all that we do. A week from Tuesday, on November 3, 2020, those of us in the United States have a choice to make between a moral person and an immoral person to lead our country. There is only one choice that any of us can make and honestly believe in our hearts that we are making the right choice. We must vote for Joe Biden. When Joe Biden seeks to inspire or comfort, he turns to his faith. His speeches are woven with references to God, biblical language, or the pope. When Donald Trump seeks to inspire or comfort, he turns to derogatory language. He lashes out against those who oppose him, whether they are a Democrat or a Republican he believes is disloyal to him. Often, he turns to those who have evil in their hearts (racists, homophobes, conspiracy theorists, etc.). Do you want someone who shows love and compassion or someone who shows hate and contempt? The choice couldn’t be more straightforward.
This is not going to be a long post from me today. I want to post a video by Rev. Brandan Robertson, a noted author, activist, theologian, and pastor, working at the intersections of spirituality and social renewal. He currently serves as the Lead Pastor of Missiongathering Christian Church in San Diego, CA. Robertson received his B.A. in Pastoral Ministry and Theology from Moody Bible Institute, his Masters of Theological Studies from Iliff School of Theology, and is completing his second Masters in Political Science at Eastern Illinois University. He currently resides in San Diego, CA. The Human Rights Campaign named him one of the top faith-leaders leading the fight for human rights. Robertson has worked with political and social leaders worldwide to end conversion therapy and promote LGBTQ+ rights. Robertson currently serves as the co-chair of San Diego Pride’s DevOUT Interfaith Coalition, has served as the national spokesperson of Evangelicals For Marriage Equality, and developed the Evangelical Outreach Program for Faith In Public Life and the Bridging the Divides Program for Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. Here he is discussing why Joe Biden is the only Christian choice for president.
When you go vote, don’t think that just voting for Joe Biden will be enough. You have to vote blue down the ticket. The Republican Party turned away from morality to support Donald Trump. They made a Faustian deal, and now, they need to pay for it. They have abandoned whatever spiritual values or moral principles they may have ever had to obtain knowledge, wealth, and power. They do not deserve our votes. It is time for a blue wave in this year’s election. Too much is at stake, especially with the impending 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
When I was young, I had a fascination with panda bears. I had several stuffed pandas that I loved. It’s funny looking back that I collected teddy bears that I often slept with at night as a child. I had one named Andy Panda and one named Sandy Panda. I don’t remember the names of the others, but Sandy was always my favorite. Whenever I was feeling down, Sandy was always there to cheer me up. She and my cat Calico never failed to be my faithful companions when I was sick or scared. Calico was an actual real cat and the sweetest animal I have ever known. When it comes to my cats, Victoria and I had a special bond, but she could be mean to other people. She tried to kill my grandmama’s chihuahua one time. Isabella is a one-person cat who is more persistent than any cat I’ve ever had. She does not understand the words “No” or “Move,” and she can be very temperamental at times. She is also a murderess and torturer when she finds a mouse. I won’t even describe some of the horrors I woke to occasionally in my old apartment.
Pandas, though, were a fascination of mine growing up. I wanted so badly to go to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and see Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, two giant pandas given to the United States as gifts by the government of China following President Richard Nixon’s visit in 1972. Sadly, Ling-Ling died suddenly from heart failure in 1992, and Hsing-Hsing died in 1999 due to painful kidney failure. I didn’t get to visit Washington until three years ago when I went for work, and I got to see very little of the city. I wouldn’t see my first panda in real life until sometime around 2012 when I got the chance to see the Giant Pandas at Zoo Atlanta. Even as a grown man in my thirties, I was so excited to get to see real pandas. It’s the only time I have ever seen live pandas, but it was a memorable experience.
Did any of you have a stuffed animal that loved? What brought you comfort when you were sick or scared as a child? To be honest, I wish I still had Sandy sometimes. I loved that bear.