There are things that I know, things that I only suspect, and things that I truly believe. What follows, concerning the current campaign for the election in November, falls in the middle category: I suspect these observations are true, but I’m also fully prepared to modify or change these views on the basis of additional information.
Current campaigns for public office at the local, state and federal levels concern me more than any since I first voted in 1963. Not since the Johnson-Goldwater contest of 1964 have I seen such strident electioneering toward an outcome that might literally change the direction of history. I voted then and it did. Who will receive my vote this year has never been in doubt, though I am concerned for the outcome more than any election I have known.
There are political forces at work that cause me to wonder about my country. Driving across northern Wisconsin last weekend, I saw irrational fear all about me–on billboards and bumper stickers, lapel pins and the faces of cashiers at the BP station and the car repair shop. I was geniunely afraid to let those people know me in any but the most superficial ways. Fear is abroad in the land and if it decides this election, the coalition of the contentious will, I suspect, cause me to reevaluate my citizenship.
The presidential campaign dominates the news and preoccupies the talking heads on both sides. At the risk of oversimplification, it seems to me the rhetoric is driven by two notions that thread their checkered way through most U.S. history, from the earliest European colonization to the present day: Race and Religion. But before I volunteer any further discussion of these topics in the current debate, let me insert a word or two about friendship.
Despite the three-digit number of my “friends” on facebook, I have, at most, ten or possibly a dozen friends. These are people to whom I would cheerfully donate parts of my body; folks who have seen me at my best, but also at my very worst, and yet come back for more. Friends, in my jaundiced view, are people who know you very well, perhaps too well, and like you despite that intimate knowledge. I won’t name names; you know who you are. I spoke with one of that small group last weekend about being an executor of my estate. They said “yes” and I now feel much better that my final wishes will be carried out with both style and substance. Not to worry, by the way: I have no plans to check out any time soon.
This brief commercial interruption has been brought to you by Friendship. Give it a try. You won’t be sorry. Acquaintances come and go, but friends are in it for the long haul.
There’s a loaded word. Walk into any room and say it in anything above a whisper and all eyes will turn your way–or, perhaps, the other way, hoping you will go away.
We have, for the first time (unless earlier presidents have been hiding something), a national leader of mixed race; the product of a Black Sub-Saharan African father and a White American mother. Barack Hussein Obama was born in 1961, while anti-miscegenation laws still existed in many states. Look at this map and guess which states had their laws forbiding cohabitation of Black and Whites overturned by a Supreme Court decision on 12 June 1967–less than fifty years ago! If you guessed the Red States, step to the head of the class. I was twenty-two and barely aware of it in the midst of the Vietnam debacle.
Now ask yourselves how many of those same states would voluntarily return to their pre-67 status? Interesting question. Perhaps we’ll find out.
There is still a substantial portion of the American people who choose to believe–despite certified evidence to the contrary–that our president was born in Africa and is both illegitimately our leader and also clearly “not one of us.” Egged on by Orly Taitz and “The Donald,” this substantial group of our fellow citizens are fixed on the idea that the only Black who ever sets foot in the Oval Office should be there to clean the carpet. I more than suspect this is true. Yet in the last six months of presidential campaigning, how many who have put themselves forward for your consideration have taken a firm stand against such nonsense? John McCain is the only one I can recall.
Yes, President Obama has appointed Blacks to important federal office. He has also appointed Latino/as, most notably Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. And each of these appointments has clearly bothered some folks who are colored like me. It will be different in a Romney administration, because his appointments are more likely to be the same color as the president, so we will have to look elsewhere for their kinship.
I see America changing. I hear it on the bus, in the checkout line at Cash Wise, everywhere I go. Even here in the Frozen North, there are increasing numbers of emigrants from Africa and Asia who may dress or coif or utter oddly accented speech different from my own. Big deal. Change is uncomfortable because it challenges the status quo. Let me interject something here which is much more than a suspicion on my part: I do not for one moment believe that we are a White Nation; nor that we need officially to become an exclusively English-speaking Nation; nor were we ever and especially now a Christian Nation. Words can and often have been put into the mouths of the Founding Fathers, so I won’t trot out my own examples, but it is safe to say they would recognize America, even if they had not imagined it might develop this way. They were open to change and we should be equally open to that ongoing evolutionary process.
Ooops! There’s a word I should have avoided: evolution. Both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born in the same year, 1809. Those same Founding Fathers, however, could not have imagined a president like Lincoln (with or without vampires), nor could they have foreseen the scientific revolution in Darwin’s wake. Yet social conservatives seek a place at the table for their unscientific, unverifiable notions (notice I did not say “theories”) of the universe’s origin. “But it’s only a theory” they chant in chorus at Darwin, while their own Creationist proposition is on par with creation myths such as the Iroquois, who put us on an island dredged from the bottom of the Primordial Sea by the industrious Muskrat. I would welcome a class at any appropriate educational level that would reveal the many magical and poetic creation myths of the Iroquois and Inuit, the Hindu and Shinto, the Abrahamic and the Shamanic traditions. All have much to reveal about our humanity. But they are no substitute for science.
Again, how many of our pool of presidential candidates have acknowledged Stephen Jay Gould’s notion of non-overlapping magisteria? In the necessarily science-based world of the 21st century, science cannot be compromised by such twaddle as Creationism. A 2007 study put our science education in eleventh place worldwide and I suspect we are falling rapidly and will even more precipitously in a Romney administration pandering to those who prefer simple answers in a complex world.
And while I’m throwing around the phrase “social conservatives,” let me add that I consider myself among them on the question of marriage equality. Marriage, despite what conservatives may say, has very little to do with religion. It is a legal conception far more important for the passing of property in family groups. Willard Mitt Romney should be especially concerned here. But regarding the defense of marriage as an institution, overlay this map with the one above and tell me if you see any correlation.
And then add this illustration of states with high rates of subscription to internet pornography. Are you getting a picture that so-called “Red States” are conflicted in their quest to regulate our social behavior? I’ll regulate mine if you regulate yours.
Marriage equality will, if anything, only bolster a flagging social institution with divorce rates already inching past fifty percent. Remember the candidacy of Newton Leroy Gingrich, the serial monogamist who courts his newer wives while the current ones die from cancer.
I’ll give you all a rest for the time being and save my observations about religion for another day. As Bette Davis might say, “It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”