The U.S. is showing itself to be worn at the seams, the bright muslin florals have faded. Cushions once springy and round are flattened with irregular wave patterns. The large coffee table can no longer be trusted to hold so much as a feather. Newer furniture scattered along the edges has yet to be intermingled and arranged within the space, it seems it doesn’t fit. These bold new styles and exotic finishes show some wear and tear themselves, though not necessarily from the ravages of time. A petition is going around for all new furnishings, but no one can agree on the details.
I witnessed the “peaceful transition of power” on Friday from a man who taught courses in Constitutional Law, to a man who uses Twitter as a primary communication channel for his rants; from one who is exemplary in family life to a man who abuses women; from a man who believes there is such a thing as the “common good,” to a man who, ultimately, only considers what is good for him and his sycophants. I watched the ceremony, and listened to that man set forth his “new vision [of] America First.” It seems that every presidential transition is a reaction to the previous administration, but this, this feels different.
The inaugural speech was as brutish as I expected, with all the fear-mongering imagery that raised this man to power. But from his bleak vision of a burned-out middle America, I heard one thing of interest. Apparently, ‘we the people’ have been granted permission to take ‘our’ country back. In other words, it is up to us to make this country as much for our Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, even atheist neighbors as it is for ourselves. Not every citizen is a Christian, so let’s drop the pretense. And while the men who delineated independence from England’s crown perhaps never imagined the diversity of population, nor the size of territory the United States would become, they nonetheless placed certain rights in writing. It has been and will continue to be up to we, the people, to affirm and reaffirm those rights for every person who lives from sea to shining sea, not just landholding white males.
The stated “new vision” for the nation is deceptive because it is not new at all. It is the same vision that men have desired and profited from for centuries; circle the wagons, keep the goods for ourselves, let them take care of themselves. Trump’s claim that ‘American’ wealth has been stripped from middle class homes and redistributed around the world leaves him and his ilk untouched. Blame is laid at government’s feet for somehow allowing all this wealth to fly away, when the mechanisms and means for money moving around the world lies squarely within large businesses and multinational corporations–all friends of the new administration. Who gets the goods when the wagons are circled?
What is most obvious and most disturbing for its power to occlude is the attack on free speech and the press that we are witnessing. There are numerous headlines about reductions in staff from newspapers around the country, the New York Times being among the most high profile. Journalism at a national level relies upon critical investigation from local sources. It is time to pay for our newspaper subscriptions again, especially if we’re reading online. News sources are no more free than they are unbiased, and the ads one sees speak volumes. And, let’s face it, if we’re going to “take our country back,” we need reliable information. Personally, while I deeply respect the writers of Mother Jones, Sojourners, and the Nation, I tend to read news more often from NPR, the Guardian, and BBC. I have, in the last year, added Indian Country Media Network to my list of sources as well.
This nation has been schlepping democracy around the world for some time now, using it as a weapon to enter conflicts abroad since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. It is time for us, the people, to understand a little better just how our democratic republic functions. Let’s start with a quick refresher from Schoolhouse Rock. Three branches of government, working together in a system of checks and balances. Will that continue with this administration? I don’t believe so, which means this is now becoming more of an audience participation kind of spectacle.
So, here are my initial thoughts on a brief survival guide for the next four years, or until someone torches the government curtains.
- Read the news. As in, the critically vetted news that comes from the AP and Reuters. – Focus on the issues you care about–not just one, but at least a couple. Let’s not perpetuate the single-issue voter cop-out.
- Read U.S. history. My personal favorite is Howard Zinn. Perhaps start with the period of “yellow journalism,” or, leading up to the first world war.
- Read Scripture together. Read your own holy book and the holy books of others.
- Do not do this on your own. Do not attempt to process the state of the world alone. Just don’t.
- Add your local representatives to your contact list and moisten those pen tips.
- Gather together regularly to do stuff for one another, for your community, for your city.
Where is God in our current context? God will be found when we meet with those who are cast outside the gates of ‘normal’ society. Let us go and meet God. Then, while we still can, let’s work to make this country as much for ‘them’ as for ‘us.’