January 16, 2022 / by 

 

“I Want to Thank My Two Closeted GOP Colleagues”

I listened to some of the series of speeches given by House members today, recalling their personal experiences of last year’s insurrection. I would catch a couple speeches, then make a pastoral visit, then hear a few more on my way to a meeting, then a couple more after the meeting was done. Even so, I was struck by how different these speeches were, compared with what usually is said by members of Congress.

The first difference that hit me was the use of first names. There was almost none of the usual congressional stylings of “the gentleman from . . .” or even “Representative so-and-so” but instead it was “Jason” and “Lisa” and “Pete.”

The second difference was the presence of language referring to the “Capitol Hill family.” It is rare that congressional staffers, food service people, janitors, and Capitol Hill police are recognized on the floor, but yesterday they were not only recognized but called out and praised by name as well. So too were media members who were there that day, who we celebrated for trying to do their jobs — reporting the story out on their laptops or taking photos and video with their cameras — in the midst of the insurrection. I expected to hear about the various police officers who died or were injured, but the thanks given to all these non-elected people was surprising, heartfelt, and stunning.

But the third thing that hit me came when Adam Schiff offered his remarks. He began by saying he had been focused on preparing to engage the arguments put forward by those objecting to the results coming out of six different states, and not on what was happening outside. Then he said this:

It was not until our leadership was swiftly removed from the chamber and police announced that we needed to take out our gas masks that I understood the full extent of the danger. When the order came to evacuate, I stayed behind for a while, until two Republicans came up to me. One of them said “You can’t let them see you. I know these people. I can talk to these people. I can talk my way through these people. You are in a whole different category.”

Notice what’s missing? The names. In this midst of all the thanks that all the speakers were extending to everyone, Schiff did *not* mention who those two Republican colleagues were, who were so concerned about his safety. This wasn’t a snub – far from it. This was Schiff declining not to out them as compassionate to a Democrat, even while he held up their behavior as laudable.

There is a strong — and I mean STRONG — culture in Congress of respecting things said in confidence between members from different parties. They recognize that they need to be able to speak frankly with each other if they want to get anywhere, and that only happens when both people can trust that their conversation will remain between the two of them until they are ready to reveal it. Break that rule, and no one will speak across the aisle with you again.

I have to wonder, though, how long such treatment will last in the current climate.

Beginning in the 1980s, gay activists outed a number of conservative politicians for their hypocrisy – cruising the gay bars at night, and then the next day voting against AIDS funding or LGBT rights or otherwise obstructing anything that might be seen as helping the LGBT community. These outings were by no means universally accepted within the activist community, as “working from within” had a place, as did the respect for being able to come out on your own terms. There was also a fear that outing people would backfire and only add to the public stigma of being LGBT. The reply by those doing the outing was “if this is what working from within gets us, we can do without it.”

Congressional Moderates in today’s GOP are living in deeper political closets than gays in the 70s or even communists in the 50s. “If anyone learns that I speak nicely with the Democrat who led Trump’s first impeachment trial, let alone warned him to flee from the mob, I’m toast.” Those closeted GOP members of Congress who warned Schiff about his personal danger may want to thank him for returning the favor this afternoon, by not putting them in danger by naming them publicly in his remarks today.

You can be sure that Trump and his followers are probably beating the bushes, trying to figure out who those two treasonous Republicans are, to drag them out of the closet and wreak their vengeance upon them. Perhaps these two ought to think about how to come out on their own terms, before angry Republicans do it for them.


James Taylor, King Herod, and January 6th

James Taylor in Concert (h/t photographer Elizabeth Warren. Yes, that Elizabeth Warren. [CC BY 2.0])

Back in 1988, musical storyteller James Taylor put out an album entitled “Home By Another Way.” “Never Die Young.” The song “Home By Another Way” from that album is one of my favorites, and is built around the story of the Magi, celebrated on the liturgical calendar of the Christian Church on January 6th as the Festival of the Epiphany. As JT properly observes, the story told by Matthew’s gospel is less about the Magi meeting Jesus and more about another meeting they had. Here’s how Matthew put it:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

There is no way that Herod’s words to the Magi were anything but a ruse, and anyone hearing this story back in the day knew it. Herod the Great was a feared figure, having risen to power through his father’s political connections with Julius Caesar. In the time-honored tradition of despots everywhere, he was ruthless to those below him that he viewed as potential threats to his wealth and power (i.e., all the locals), and relentlessly sucked up to those above him (i.e., Rome). This combination led the Senate of Rome to appoint him “King of the Jews” and he held fast to that title for almost four decades by employing domestic spies to sniff our plots against him, a massive bodyguard to protect him, and whatever bloodthirsty tactics he deemed necessary to keep him in power.

Herod the Great was succeeded not by his eldest son, but by his most ruthless son, known as Herod Antipas. Antipas clearly followed in his father’s footsteps, in that he had his two older brothers convicted of treason and executed, thanks to a kangaroo court over which he presided. Antipas went his father one better by ditching his first wife for a second one – his own niece, Herodias. The Herodians were also very big on self-promotion via large, splashy building projects using someone else’s money. There’s much more like this to the Herodian family history, as they all were a real piece of work.

James Taylor understands Herod very well, and offers a warning to the Magi and all who will listen:

Steer clear of royal welcomes
Avoid a big to-do
A king who would slaughter the innocents
Will not cut a deal for you
He really, really wants those presents
He’ll comb your camel’s fur
Until his boys announce
They’ve found trace amounts
Of your frankincense, gold and myrrh.

Not a nice guy, this Herod fellow.

As Matthew tells the story, the Magi understood this as well, and decided not to go back to Herod after visiting Jesus:

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

In JT’s telling, the Magi “went home by another way.” But Taylor isn’t singing just to retell the story of what happened back then. He’s preaching, in his own way, drawing his listeners into the song and changing us here today:

Well it pleasures me to be here
And to sing this song tonight
They tell me that life is a miracle
And I figure that they’re right
But Herod’s always out there
He’s got our cards on file
It’s a lead pipe cinch
If we give an inch
That Herod likes to take a mile

It’s best to go home by another way
Home by another way
We got this far to a lucky star
But tomorrow is another day
We can make it another way
“Safe home!” as they used to say
Keep a weather eye to the chart up high
And go home another way

Yes, Herod *is* always out there, looking to game the system and rape the system and break the system if that’s what it takes to keep himself in power.

But there is also always another way, a way that leaves Herod and his successors powerless and impotent.

The way of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, of Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
The way of Ella Baker and John Lewis, of Robert Graetz and Jeannie Graetz.
The way of Ida B. Wells and Upton Sinclair, of Harvey Milk, Del Martin, and Phyllis Lyon
The way of the Flirtations and Sweet Honey in the Rock, of the Weavers and John McCutcheon.

Tomorrow is January 6th, and I’ll read this story from Matthew again in my study first thing in the morning. Then I’ll pull up this song and listen to the wisdom of James Taylor, urging *us* to go home by another way — a way of justice and peace, a way of hope and love.

Brother James, if you’d take the lead, it’s time to sing . . . and you all are invited to sing along.

Updated to correct the album title. Thanks, @RyanCaseyWA, for pointing it out.


GOP Denounces Barry Goldwater, John Tower, and Richard Nixon?

John Tower and Barry Goldwater, ca. 1963.

The Republican governors are all clutching their pearls over Biden’s announcement to use the power of the federal government to require many businesses across the country to ensure their employees are either vaccinated against COVID-19 or are regularly tested. The New York Times did a round-up of some their comments, many taken from either Twitter or Sunday morning talk shows. Here’s a taste . . .

Now, they [various GOP governors] are arguing that Mr. Biden’s plan is a big-government attack on states’ rights, private business and personal choice, and promise swift legal action to challenge it, setting up a high-stakes constitutional showdown over the president’s powers to curb the pandemic.

“@JoeBiden see you in court,” Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota wrote on Twitter. Gov. Mark Gordon of Wyoming said the new rule “has no place in America,” and said he had asked the state’s attorney general to be ready to take legal action.

In Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton questioned President Biden’s authority to require vaccinations or weekly testing at private businesses with more than 100 workers.

“I don’t believe he has the authority to just dictate again from the presidency that every worker in America that works for a large company or a small company has to get a vaccine,” Mr. Paxton said, speaking on a radio show hosted by Steve Bannon, who served as a strategist for Donald J. Trump during part of his presidency. “That is outside the role of the president to dictate.”

[snip]

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas called the actions an “assault on private businesses” in a statement on Twitter. He said he issued an executive order protecting Texans’ right to choose whether or not they would be vaccinated. “Texas is already working to halt this power grab,” he wrote.

Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona wrote on Twitter: “The Biden-Harris administration is hammering down on private businesses and individual freedoms in an unprecedented and dangerous way.” He questioned how many workers would be displaced, businesses fined, and children kept out of the classroom because of the mandates, and he vowed to push back.

*sigh*

Friends, let me introduce you to Public Law 91-596, initially signed into law on December 29, 1970 by Richard Nixon, and amended variously since then. Below are the first two sections of the law. Notice, please, the language I’ve highlighted with underlining (bold is from the original text):

An Act
To assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women; by authorizing enforcement of the standards developed under the Act; by assisting and encouraging the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; by providing for research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health; and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this Act may be cited as the “Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.”

Footnote (1) See Historical notes at the end of this document for changes and amendments affecting the OSH Act since its passage in 1970 through January 1, 2004.

SEC. 2. Congressional Findings and Purpose
(a) The Congress finds that personal injuries and illnesses arising out of work situations impose a substantial burden upon, and are a hindrance to, interstate commerce in terms of lost production, wage loss, medical expenses, and disability compensation payments.

(b) The Congress declares it to be its purpose and policy, through the exercise of its powers to regulate commerce among the several States and with foreign nations and to provide for the general welfare, to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources

My, but the language of paragraph (a) sounds like Congress intended the US Department of Labor to regulate conditions that create or spread illnesses in the workplace, and paragraph (b) states pretty clearly where Congress claimed the authority for doing so is grounded in the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.

Continuing on, the act spelled out some of the details of that “purpose and policy” with the following 13 sub-paragraphs (again, underlining is mine):

(1) by encouraging employers and employees in their efforts to reduce the number of occupational safety and health hazards at their places of employment, and to stimulate employers and employees to institute new and to perfect existing programs for providing safe and healthful working conditions;

(2) by providing that employers and employees have separate but dependent responsibilities and rights with respect to achieving safe and healthful working conditions;

(3) by authorizing the Secretary of Labor to set mandatory occupational safety and health standards applicable to businesses affecting interstate commerce, and by creating an Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission for carrying out adjudicatory functions under the Act;

(4) by building upon advances already made through employer and employee initiative for providing safe and healthful working conditions;

(5) by providing for research in the field of occupational safety and health, including the psychological factors involved, and by developing innovative methods, techniques, and approaches for dealing with occupational safety and health problems;

(6) by exploring ways to discover latent diseases, establishing causal connections between diseases and work in environmental conditions, and conducting other research relating to health problems, in recognition of the fact that occupational health standards present problems often different from those involved in occupational safety;

(7) by providing medical criteria which will assure insofar as practicable that no employee will suffer diminished health, functional capacity, or life expectancy as a result of his work experience;

(8) by providing for training programs to increase the number and competence of personnel engaged in the field of occupational safety and health; affecting the OSH Act since its passage in 1970 through January 1, 2004.

(9) by providing for the development and promulgation of occupational safety and health standards;

(10) by providing an effective enforcement program which shall include a prohibition against giving advance notice of any inspection and sanctions for any individual violating this prohibition;

(11) by encouraging the States to assume the fullest responsibility for the administration and enforcement of their occupational safety and health laws by providing grants to the States to assist in identifying their needs and responsibilities in the area of occupational safety and health, to develop plans in accordance with the provisions of this Act, to improve the administration and enforcement of State occupational safety and health laws, and to conduct experimental and demonstration projects in connection therewith;

(12) by providing for appropriate reporting procedures with respect to occupational safety and health which procedures will help achieve the objectives of this Act and accurately describe the nature of the occupational safety and health problem;

(13) by encouraging joint labor-management efforts to reduce injuries and disease arising out of employment.

And what kind of liberal cabal forced this clearly authoritarian legislation through Congress? I’m glad you asked.

The Senate vote was 83-3, with 14 not voting. Among the 83 were Barry Goldwater and John Tower — not exactly a liberal pair of folks. The only three senators to vote against this were James Eastland, Sam Ervin, and Strom Thurmond. Over in the House, the final vote was 310-58, with 65 not voting. Looking at the voting patterns of some of the state delegations, it’s plain to see that this was both bipartisan and widely accepted on their side of the building, too.

  • Kentucky (4D/3R) voted 7-0-0;
  • Wisconsin (5D/5R) voted 9-0-1;
  • Oklahoma (4D/2R) voted 5-0-1;
  • Florida (9D/3R) voted 6-4-2, with the 4 nays all Democrats and 2 who abstained both GOP;
  • Tennessee (5D/4R) voted 5-1-3 (the 3 included 2 Dems and 1 Republican);
  • Arkansas (4D/1R) voted 4-0-1 (the 1 was a D);
  • South Dakota’s (2R) voted 1-0-1;
  • Montana (2D) voted 2-0-0;
  • Wyoming’s sole GOP representative voted aye.

In other words, there were staunch conservatives who voted for this, along with plenty of non-conservatives. The bill that became Public Law 91-596 was seen by a wide majority of both the members of the House and Senate to be a good thing, and well within the powers of the Federal Government to undertake.

Go back to the text of the law above, and look at items 6 and 7. These both make clear that OSHA’s mission includes dealing with disease transmission in the workplace. Then skip down to 11, which says the Federal government should work with states, including providing grants for this work. You know, like providing a free vaccine to deal with disease transmission in the workplace.

OSHA has been around for more than 50 years, and no one has succeeded in challenging their the authority to regulate health conditions in the workplace under this act. There have been successful arguments overturning specific regulations, but the authority to regulate has not been overturned.

I’m not a governor or an attorney general, but I can read the plain text of the law. I can see the wide political range of legislators who voted to create OSHA, and given that OSHA is still here and going strong after 50 years, it’s clear that the ability of the federal government to regulate the workplace for safety and health has not been overturned or declared unconstitutional.

So if anyone reading happens to be in conversation with one of these pearl-clutching Republican leaders when they start in on their “This is unprecedented and un-American!” nonsense, ask them for a link.

Better yet, ask Governor Ducey why Goldwater voted for OSHA. Ask Governor Abbott and AG Paxton why John Tower voted for OSHA. Ask any of today’s so-called conservatives why a bunch of other conservatives voted with Goldwater and Tower to approve OSHA, and why a conservative like Richard Nixon signed it.


Flashbacks to the 2015 Campaign

Katy Tur at SXSW
[h/t nrkbeta Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) ]

Several years ago, I got Mrs Dr Peterr Katy Tur’s book Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History. Tur had been the NBC reporter assigned to the Trump campaign in 2015 and 2016, and listening to the impeachment coverage yesterday and the coverage this morning, one episode she recounted in the book came flashing back . . .

In Dec 2015, three days before Trump announced his pledge to institute a Muslim travel ban, Trump got rattled at a rally in Raleigh NC where protesters coordinated their efforts and threw him off his game, interrupting his speech every couple of minutes from different parts of the arena. Disgusted, Trump abruptly left the podium and started shaking hands offstage, and Tur sent out a simple tweet describing what had happened.

Right before lunch the next day, Hope Hicks wrote her to say “Katy, Mr. Trump thought your tweets from last night were disgraceful. Not nice! Best, Hope.” Shortly thereafter, the media gets the word about the travel ban Trump intended to announce that night, and that becomes the big story of the day with Katy doing liveshots all afternoon. That evening, before a rally inside the USS Yorktown (an aircraft carrier-turned-museum in Charleston harbor), Trump blasted her with four attack tweets in the span of four minutes.

Tur says the rally’s specific location was a surprise, in that it wasn’t held on the carrier deck but inside the belly of the ship, with the media crowded into a pen.

Yes, we are in a pen: a makeshift enclosure made of bicycle racks and jammed full of desks, reporters, and camera equipment. We’re in the middle of the carrier, slammed against the right side wall. As usual, almost all of Trump’s supporters are white and a lot of them are looking at us, not exactly kindly. The campaign and Secret Service force us to stay inside the pen while Trump is onstage. They even discourage bathroom breaks. None of them have a good explanation for why we’re kept separate from the supporters. Are we the threat or are they?

Trump starts his rambling speech, and the crowd eats it up. Then Trump opens up on the media.

“The mainstream media,” Trump says. “These people back here, they’re the worst. They are so dishonest.”

Hoots and hollers.

And then I hear my name.

“She’s back there, little Katy. She’s back there.”

Trump then calls her a liar several times, and a third rate reporter several times as well, before pivoting to a more general attack on the media. Finally, once he’s got the crowd sufficiently whipped up, he formally announces the Muslim ban, and the crowd which she described earlier as looking at her like “a large animal, angry and unchained” went nuts.

She goes live with Chris Matthews as Trump leaves the stage, and when she’s done with that, Chris Hayes takes over and wants to keep her on the air for the lead story on his show that followed Matthews’.

[Trump] supporters are taking their time to leave. They’re still whipped up. I know someone is going to start yelling at me as soon as I start talking. So I do what I always do. I find the pinhole deep in the back of the lens and I tune everything else out.

A couple of minutes later, I’m done. The crowd that had gathered behind my live shot is gone except for a few stragglers, yelling at me. They’re five feet away, held back by those lousy bicycle racks. A Trump staffer shoos them away. MSNBC has cleared me and my bosses want [her cameraman/sound tech] Anthony and me to get out of there as quickly as we can. I don’t quite understand why until we pack up and start to head out. A Trump staffer stops me and says “These guys are going to walk you out.”

I look over and see two Secret Service agents. Thank goodness. They walk Anthony and me along the gangway back to our car. It’s pitch black and I’m nervous. We’re parked with the crowd.

Once we’re moving, I take a look at my phone. My mom has called. And called. And called. I dial her back. “Are you okay? Where are you staying? Can someone stay with you? You need security!? She is crying. And it hits me.

I’m a target.

On that day in December 2015, the security professionals of the US Secret Service recognized that Trump was dangerously inciting a mob, and stepped in to protect the target he had singled out.

On January 6, 2021, Trump again incited a mob, and this time there was no one to stop them.


Laughing in the Face of Denial

TOPSHOT – Trump supporters engaging in healing the country at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021. –  (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP) (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

Not this again.

From Trump lawyer David Schoen on day one of the second Trump impeachment trial:

[The House impeachment managers] tell us that we have to have this impeachment trial, such as it is, to bring about unity. But they don’t want unity, and they know this so-called trial will tear this country in half, leaving tens of millions of Americans feeling left out of the nation’s agenda as dictated by one political party that now holds the power in the White House and our national legislature. But they are proud Americans, who never quit getting back up when they are down and they don’t take dictates from another party based on partisan force-feeding. This trial will tear this country apart, perhaps like we have seen only once before in our history.

*sigh*

Long ago, as a young pastor, a couple came to me about concerns with their marriage. The husband had slept with someone else, and when his wife threatened to file for divorce, they came to me together for advice. After some pleasantries at the beginning of the conversation, the tone quickly shifted. Filled with righteous indignation, the husband said “She’s going to file for divorce and break up our family! Whatever happened to forgiveness? Tell her she can’t do that!”

I laughed out loud.

Not a chuckle, not a single snort, but a good 15 seconds of laughter. (I said I was young.) They both looked at me in absolute shock. When I quelled my laughter, I said “*She* is going to break up your family? Please. *You* broke up the relationship when you slept around. That relationship is dead. You have to decide if you are willing to take responsibility for that and make the effort to repair it, or if you want to live in denial that breaking your marriage vows wasn’t that big a deal and sleeping around really didn’t hurt anyone.”

This was met with silence, so I plunged on.

Still speaking to the husband (but with the wife listening closely), I said “You don’t get to decide the terms of how she forgives anyone. Forgiveness doesn’t mean everything goes back to the way it was. It means that she quits seeing you as a monster, and quits letting the pain you caused her continue to govern her life. If she forgives you, it doesn’t automatically mean that you two will stay married. It just means she is done with letting what you did continue to hurt her. If you want this relationship to be healed and this marriage to be rebuilt, that starts with honesty, not denial. Honesty about what happened, honesty about how damaging and painful it was, and honesty about what you are or are not willing to do going forward.”

No, that husband was not David Schoen — but in listening to Schoen yesterday, the two of them sure sound a lot alike. The more Schoen and the defenders of Trump talk about unity and moving on without acknowledging anything about Trump’s role in the insurrection, the more they show they have no interest in unity or healing.

But we already knew that.

In one of my former congregations, I had a parishioner who was a psychologist who worked with men who had been convicted of child abuse, and the two of us had a number of long conversations around abuse and denial. When someone is accused of child abuse, my parishioner told me, he would see the same dynamic play out with each one. First, they deny that the abuse happened. “I didn’t do it!” When presented with evidence that they did indeed do it, the denial shifts to avoiding judgment: “OK, but it’s no big deal. No one got hurt. She/he came on to me. He/she had it coming. You have no right to judge me for that.” When that doesn’t work, denial pulls out the big trump card to avoid any consequences: “You have to forgive me!”

Perpetrators of abuse turn to denial because if there are consequences to their actions, something will have to die – their image of themselves, their relationships with others, and more. Denial is how they hope that nothing in their lives will have to change, with no consequences for their damaging actions.

Honesty, on the other hand, is where perpetrators of abuse turn if they are truly interested in healing and moving on. From everything I heard yesterday, the abusers and their enablers have no interest in healing. Power? Absolutely. Healing? Not so much.

This trial will not tear this country apart. Trump has already torn it apart.

The question now is whether the Senate wants to honestly acknowledge that reality and begin to deal with it by holding Trump accountable, or if they want to remain in denial and encourage the tear in our country to continue growing.

 


Amanda Gorman Made Silvester Beaman Sad, Joe Biden Happy, and John Lewis Dance

"https://youtu.be/lI1c-Lbd4Bw

The saddest person on the Inaugural stage was not Mike Pence, the outgoing Vice President. Indeed, after what he had to put up with from Trump for the last month, he’s probably relieved if not outright happy. The saddest person was not Amy Klobuchar or other presidential hopefuls who came up short during the primaries, who no doubt imagined themselves as the person taking the oath of office today. The saddest person on the stage today was the Reverend Doctor Silvester Beaman of Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware.

The happiest person on the stage was President Joe Biden, but it’s not because he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States of America. It’s not because the inauguration went off without more violence. It’s not because he can finally *do* things to address all the problems he and we are facing, which had to have been incredibly frustrating as the transition floundered and foundered and blundered its way to today. It’s not because he accomplished what Beau wanted him to do.

The reason Beaman was so sad and Biden was so happy is this: Biden finished before Amanda Gorman spoke and Beaman had to follow her. Honestly, I half expected Beaman to step up to the microphone, ask “Can I get an Amen?”, and then drop the folder with his prepared benediction and sit down. Don’t get me wrong: Beaman’s words were good, but he had to know that he was following something epic.

When I saw Gorman come down the Capitol steps wearing her yellow power coat, her bold hoop earrings, her bright red wrap around the powerful tight braids atop her head, I just sat back and smiled. Michelle Obama looked great in her purple, but she was a member of the audience today. Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez both made their entrances before they picked up the microphone, and were fine, but Gorman owned those steps in a way that no on else did today. Seeing her enter reminded me of AOC stepping onto the House floor in her power red suit as she prepared to respond to being called a “fucking bitch” by Florida Congressman Ted Yoho. Before Gorman opened her mouth, it was clear that she had Something To Say and it was going to be good.

And make no mistake: she did, and it was.

It was incredibly powerful for three reasons. First, Gorman was unapologetically herself: young, African-American, articulate, and proud of all three. She did not cast herself as Maya Angelou or Robert Frost, two earlier inaugural poets. She spoke with the rhythms of rap that are the language of her generation and her community, embracing the whole heritage of Africans on this continent, and conscious of her power in this moment.

Second, Gorman was unflinchingly honest. She spoke of the ugliness of our history at times, at the tragedies we have been through, and the reality of what is going on right now. There were no pious platitudes to paper over the pain that far too many have had to deal with for far too long.

Most of all, Gorman was unimaginably hopeful. If she owned and possessed the four centuries of pain poured out on the Africans brought to this country in chains and their descendants who lived through slavery, official Jim Crow, and unofficial oppression, she also owned and possessed the strength that carried them through it all, forcing this country to slowly and painfully look at its past, decide to change, and actually make those changes begin to come to be.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust
for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.

This is the era of just redemption.
We feared it at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour,
but within it, we found the power
to author a new chapter,
to offer hope and laughter
to ourselves so while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert:
how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

We will not march back to what was,
but move to what shall be
a country that is bruised, but whole,
benevolent, but bold,
fierce, and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain,
if we merge mercy with might and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.

And with these words, I thought immediately of John Lewis, the happiest person *not* on the stage today.

Gorman was not mindlessly repeating the words of an earlier generation of activists, but building on them. Just as the 23 year old John Lewis spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, so the 22 year old Amanda Gorman stood at the other end of the Mall, on the steps of the Capitol in which John Lewis served until he died, and she is taking this nation one more step forward. She isn’t asking permission to do this, or suggesting this be done. She is declaring reality: we will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation.

I am glad that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris defeated Donald Trump and Mike Pence. I am relieved that we have made it through the transition between the election and today. I am still shaken by the insurrection of January 6th and what may yet lie ahead on that front. But I am dancing in my living room right now, and am convinced that John Lewis is dancing in heaven today, because in Amanda Gorman we see that the good troublemaking goes on.

How could catastrophe possibly prevail?


Who Did More This Year to Help their (or anyone else’s) Country?

What do you do when confronted by a humanitarian crisis? José Andrés did it the only way he knew how: by feeding people, one hot meal at a time. Buy the book here.

While Marcy’s earlier post comparing and contrasting the destructiveness of the current administrations in the US and UK is important, it is far too depressing a way to end 2020. Don’t get me wrong: we absolutely need to be aware of the specific problems induced by, exacerbated by, and enabled by Trump and Johnson, but as critical as that examination of the mess is, we need one thing more.

While Donald and the Grifters were doing their worst this year in DC/Mar-a-Lago, and Boris and the Bunglers were doing the same in the UK, there were others doing other things that were absolutely spectacular. They were spectacular on their own, but in contrast to the elected national leaders, they were even more amazing.

Over in the UK, while Boris was fiddling over Westminster and worrying about deficits, a young footballer (US: soccer player) named Marcus Rashford decided he’d had enough. Marcus grew up in public housing, and was quite familiar with being short of food growing up. One reason his mom fought to get him into a football academy/boarding school at age 11 was because he was good at the game, and another was that it meant he’d get fed decently and allow her income to feed the rest of the family.

Rashford has never forgotten what a difference a decent meal means to a young child, and his efforts to address childhood hunger have grown as he has moved from being a teenage football phenom into one of the stars of the Premier League. A year ago, he led a big local effort in his hometown of Manchester to provide food to the hungry over the holidays; this past year he has been leading the effort to do the same with kids all over the UK — and doing so in the teeth of policies put forward by Boris Johnson and the Tories. In a powerful open letter to the members of Parliament last June, Rashford wrote:

This is not about politics; this is about humanity. Looking at ourselves in the mirror and feeling like we did everything we could to protect those who can’t, for whatever reason or circumstance, protect themselves. Political affiliations aside, can we not all agree that no child should be going to bed hungry?

The next day, after a couple of abortive attempts to defend themselves in the face of huge public support for Rashford’s letter, Boris Johnson and the Tories announced a U-turn and set up a program to feed hungry kids over the summer.

But Poor Boris just couldn’t learn. In October, as COVID-19 continued to ravage the UK, Rashford and others asked Parliament to set up a meal program that would feed poor kids over the Christmas holiday break when there would be no “free lunch” meals at school. Rashford pushed, but the Tories in parliament held firm (or firm enough) to reject a motion to pay for these meals, and so Rashford pushed some more. Two weeks and much outrage later, Boris caved again.

What is so powerful about Rashford personally is that it’s not just about food with him — it’s that he sees real people struggling with real problems, and he works indefatigably to address both the problem and the person. For instance . . .

In February 2020, Rashford received a letter from a young fan, who invited him to be a judge at his school for a poetry competition.

“Dear Marcus Rashford, please will you be our judge for our World Book Day poetry competition?” read the letter.

“The deaf children in Manchester will write poems. Please can you pick your winners! And give our prizes if you can? Please let us know if you can before Feb 7th.”

After agreeing to judge the competition, Rashford then started learning sign language in preparation for the meeting the kids.

The England international has vowed to hand out the awards in person when the current lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Thank God, Marcus Rashford is not alone.

Based out of the US, world-renowned chef José Andrés has been doing the same kind of work. It began when Andrés saw the absolutely inept response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. He gathered a bunch of cooks, called on his network of suppliers, and set up a huge field kitchen operation to feed both those responding to the emergency but also the ordinary folks who live there. His work to organize a response meant jobs for local restaurant folks who provided the bulk of the workforce alongside his emergency crew members, and this became a juggernaut in the disaster relief world: World Central Kitchen. Since then, WCK has gone into Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, Florida and the Gulf Coast after US hurricanes, and all kinds of other locations suffering from disasters, man-made and otherwise.

And then came COVID-19.

As pandemic-related lockdowns ravaged the food industry, Andrés devoted himself even more strongly to turning the devastated restaurant industry into a powerful force for feeding the growing numbers of folks in need of food. “It is WCK’s intention that by working directly with restaurants and providing demand for the restaurant business, we can get meals to those who need them most while also uplifting an industry that needs all of our help to keep their doors open.” Andrés sums up the mission of WCK quite simply: “Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people may eat, we will be there.”

And they are.

The key to the work of both Rashford and Andrés is that they see themselves as partners with those in need, not as saviors who swoop in and do their thing, take a bow, and then leave. This mindset of partnership stands in stark contrast to Trump and Johnson, and the way in which the broader, non-political community has gotten behind folks like Rashford and Andrés is a challenge to politicians, as Johnson’s Tories learned not once but twice.

This afternoon, Rashford tweeted this out (paragraph breaks added for readability, but punctuation from the original):

I’ve got a game tomorrow so I need to sign off here but before I go I wanted to reflect on what has been the most challenging year. I’ve been so proud to see people coming together to help those in need and that same compassion needs to continue into 2021 because it’s people like you that make this country great and there is still so much more work to do. We have shown the difference we can make when we unite.

Don’t look back on this year thinking you haven’t achieved anything, you achieved everything. You survived 2020. Your strength was tested and you made it. Give yourself a pat on the back. I’m hoping in 2021 I get to celebrate in the crowd with you again, I really just miss that, I can’t believe none of you got to be with me for the Leipzig hat trick but hoping there will be many more.

Everything I have achieved this year has been our achievement I couldn’t have done it without your support. Let’s aim and hope for an equal playing field for all in 2021. Love to you all. Be safe and a happy new year. MR x

[That Leipzig hat trick was amazing – he came off the bench in the second half and scored 3 goals in just 18 minutes. But I digress.]

Back in late 1970s, in the face of anti-gay activists like Anita Bryant and the politicians like John Briggs who sought their votes, Harvey Milk brought his own community-based political approach to the streets of San Francisco. While he was withering in his critique of those who put the big money powers first, of those who lived to oppress others, and those who preached a “go slow” approach to seeking change, he knew that was not enough. When speaking to his supporters about reaching out to others, he told them that beyond criticism, one more thing is needed: “You gotta give ’em hope.”

That’s what Marcus Rashford does. That’s what José Andrés does. That’s what countless of less famous others do on a smaller, more local level. As I said at the top, Marcy’s earlier post was necessary, but going forward we need signs of hope.

But Rashford is right: there is still so much more work to do. As we come to the end of 2020 and the start of 2021, as we mourn the efforts of Trump and Johnson to push their countries into hopelessness, who gave hope to you and your corner of the world?


Poor Donald Trump Got Dumped

h/t rocksunderwater (public domain)

Poor Donald Trump.

He’s been having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, every day for about the last six weeks. He lost the election, then in his battle to overturn things in court he lost and lost and lost and lost some more, each time more bigly than that last. But the worst day, the most terrible horrible no good very bad day of them all, had to be last Sunday, when the Russian electronic spying operation using Solar Wind to hack into highly sensitive government and corporate networks became public.

There has been a lot written about the potential damage of the Solar Wind mess, both in terms of national security and corporate secrets, most of which is speculation. But there is one bit of enormous damage that is obvious, not at all speculative, but is getting no attention at all from anyone.

Along with the rest of the world, Donald Trump just learned that he got dumped by Vladimir Putin.

We almost made it up where they are
But losing your love
Brought me down hard
Now I’m just hanging, just getting by
Where expectations aren’t that high, but

Here on cloud 8
A lotta nothing’s going on
I’m just drifting day to day
Out here on my own
While up on cloud 9
I hear ’em party all the time
They don’t hear my heart break
Down here on cloud 8

Poor Donald. He just learned that Putin has been doing stuff behind his back, all while Putin has been telling him that he’s Putin’s BFF. It’s been almost a week, and poor Donald still can’t come to grips with it.

He’s tweeted about getting the COVID-19 vaccines out (“Yay Me!”) He’s tweeted about the “fact” that he actually won the election and condemned everyone who has failed to have his back (Brian Kemp, he’s looking at you). He’s tweeted about bizarre public health theories (“masks and lockdowns don’t work!”). He’s tweeted about vetoing the defense bill in order to defend 19th century traitors. He’s tweeted about Senator-to-be Tommy Tuberville, on whom he’s pinning his hopes of overturning the election when the electoral college vote gets to Congress. He’s tweeted against Mitch McConnell for arguing against this. But despite this flood of tweets, the one thing he can’t bear to tweet about is being dumped.

And it’s not just that he got dumped. It’s that Putin cheated on him.

He cheated on Trump for months, privately whispering sweet nothings in his ear in their special phone calls, while working behind Trump’s back. Worst of all, in Trump’s mind the hack tells Trump that Putin believed that Trump would lose, and Putin needed to take advantage of Trump’s blindness while he could.

And it’s not just that Putin cheated on him and didn’t believe in him. It’s that everyone knows that Putin cheated on him

Angela Merkel knows. Boris Johnson knows. Emmanuel Macron knows. Justin Trudeau knows. Xi Jinping knows. Kim Jong Un knows. Jacinda Ardern knows. Even Andrés Manuel López Obrador knows about it, and Trump is sure that everyone in Mexico is laughing at him. Even the nobodies who rule those shithole countries know, and they’re laughing too. Putin made him look like a fool in front of everyone in the whole cafeteria world, and they’re all laughing at him.

And it’s not just that Putin made him look like a fool. It’s that there’s not a damn thing that Trump can do about it.

Everyone knows that Trump has been played, bigly. Trump can’t run a PR operation to deflect things. He can’t deny that it ever happened. He can’t say that he dumped Putin and not the other way around. He can’t pretend it doesn’t hurt. And he can’t keep everyone in the whole damn world from talking about it, and from laughing about him behind his back.

While up on cloud 9
I hear ’em party all the time
They don’t hear my heart break
Down here on cloud 8
They don’t hear my heart break
Down here on cloud 8

And before you think this is all a good laugh, and that Trump got what’s been coming to him, I’ve got two words for you: John Hinckley. Something tells me that Trump does not take well to being dumped, being cheated on, and being held up before the world as a fool.

And that scares me.


A Most Ordinary Passing of A Most Extraordinary Writer

John Le Carré, giving a speech at the German Embassy in London [Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic]

I don’t remember when I first read John Le Carré – sometime in the late 70s or early 80s, probably after watching the BBC miniseries of his novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy when it was shown on PBS. The genre was ostensibly a spy thriller, but it was not like other spy thrillers then in circulation.

Consider the central character of George Smiley, whom Le Carré introduces like this:

Mr. George Smiley was not naturally equipped for hurrying in the rain, least of all at dead of night. . . Small, podgy and at best middle-aged, he was by appearance one of London’s meek who do not inherit the earth. His legs were short, his gait anything but agile, his dress costly, ill-fitting and extremely wet. His overcoat, which had a hint of widowhood about it, was of that black, loose weave which is designed to retain moisture. Either the sleeves were too long or his arms too short for, . . . when he wore his mackintosh, the cuffs all but concealed the fingers. For reasons of vanity he wore no hat, believing rightly that hats made him ridiculous. “Like an egg cosy,” his beautiful wife had remarked not long before the last occasion on which she left him, and her criticism as so often had endured. Therefore the rain had formed in fat, unbanishable drops on the thick lenses of his spectacles, forcing him alternately to lower or throw back his head as he scuttled along the pavement which skirted the blackened arcades of Victoria Station.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but George Smiley is not James Bond, Jack Ryan, or Jason Bourne.

To my great delight, Le Carré wrote characters who are so delightfully ordinary, grappling with concerns and issues equally ordinary, even while dealing with concerns and issues that were extraordinary in the extreme. Yes, he wrote of the secret world of spies and the not-so-secret world in which they do their spying, but there were shades of gray all over the place, making his writing much more engaging than folks like Fleming or Clancy. Le Carré’s novels, set in the cold war and post-cold war world, explored loyalty and betrayal, failure and success, enemies and allies (and associates who are neither), and human frailty and strength, and I loved the way he made me explore those very same things.

John Le Carré passed away last night from pneumonia at age 89 – a most ordinary passing of a most extraordinary writer.

One of the things that grabbed me initially in his writing is the utter absence of over-the-top James Bond-ish spy gadgets that appear at just the right moment to rescue the hero or the mission. Similarly, his novels are not filled with physically strong and athletic heroes like Jason Bourne, but ordinary folks with bad backs, heart problems, and old injuries that slow them down. Most of all, the stories explore notions of empire (lost ones, struggling ones, and ones looking to emerge) and individuals, unafraid to ask difficult questions about one’s own nation or self, and face the flaws that emerge with the answers.

Another thing that drew me in was the manner in which he described the world of government. I had just finished serving as an intern at the State Department, and the world of Tinker, Tailor rang true. Yes, the government of which he wrote was English, not American, and most of the people in the stories were in the secret services, not the diplomatic service, but nevertheless, the way he described them fit my limited but at that time very fresh experiences in DC. Here were government employees who had to worry about their budgets, who had to negotiate (or fight) bureaucratic battles with other departments, who had to wrestle with how much (or how little) to tell their bosses or their allies, and who had to deal with the Ordinary Stuff of life while also dealing with Very Important Stuff at work.

But most of all, Le Carré was a great storyteller. One indication, from his obituary at The Guardian: “The world of “ferrets” and “lamplighters”, “wranglers” and “pavement artists” was so convincingly drawn that his former colleagues at MI5 and MI6 began to adopt Le Carré’s invented jargon as their own.” When the spies themselves are so drawn in to the story you are telling about spies, you’re doing it right.

Le Carré is also indirectly responsible for drawing me to Emptywheel, many years ago.

In Tinker, Tailor, Le Carré spins a tale of the unmasking of a Russian mole embedded in the higher reaches of the British secret service known as “The Circus.” The Honourable Schoolboy is the sequel, in which Smiley and his colleagues have to deal with the aftermath of all the security breaches exposed in the earlier book. Near the opening, Smiley gathers the remains of the Circus leadership, and after displaying in excruciating detail the extent of the damage done to the Circus, Smiley points to the way forward:

The premise, said Smiley, when they had resettled, was that Haydon [the mole] had done nothing against the Circus that was not directed, and that direction came from one man personally: Karla [head of the Russian secret service].

The premise was that in briefing Haydon, Karla was exposing gaps in Moscow Centre’s knowledge; that in ordering Haydon to suppress certain intelligence that came the Circus’ way, in ordering him to downgrade or distort it, to deride it, or even to deny it circulation altogether, Karla was indicating which secrets he did not want revealed.

“So we can take back-bearings, can’t we, darling?” murmured Connie Sachs [the ancient head of the Russian desk at the Circus], whose speed of uptake put her, as usual, a good length ahead of the field.

“That’s right, Con. That’s exactly what we can do,” said Smiley gravely. “We can take the back-bearings.” He resumed his lecture, leaving Guillam [another senior spook], for one, more mystified than before.

By minutely charting Haydon’s path of destruction (his pug marks, as Smiley called them); by exhaustively recording his selection of files; by reassembling — after aching weeks of research, if necessary — the intelligence culled in good faith by Circus outstations, and balancing it, in every detail, against the intelligence distributed by Haydon to the Circus’s customers in the Whitehall market-place, it would be possible to take back-bearings (as Connie so rightly called them), and establish Haydon’s, and therefore Karla’s, point of departure. Said Smiley.

Once a correct back-bearing had been taken, surprising doors of opportunity would open, and the Circus, against all likelihood, would be in a position to go over to the initiative — or, as Smiley put it, “to act, and not merely to react.”

Call me crazy, but isn’t that a perfect description of what Marcy does here at Emptywheel, supported by other frontpagers and the EW commentariat? Read the documents, read between the lines of the documents, compare these documents with those documents, look at what is said and what is not said, build the timelines, and pretty soon you’ll see what someone doesn’t want you to see.

After years of being enthralled by Le Carré, how could I not get drawn in to this place?

*raising a glass*

To a most extraordinary writer, at his most ordinary passing.

*ding*


Afraid? Who, Us? We’re Not Afraid!

h/t Flazingo Photos
[Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) ]

Politico has an interesting piece up about whether Trump administration staffers, especially at the senior level, will face any difficulties in life after January 20, 2021. Will they have trouble getting a new job? Will they be treated like Alan Dershowitz in the Hamptons at Martha’s Vineyard, and find themselves off the best invitation lists for the Villager’s Dinner Parties?

On the one hand, these Trump folks make a good point: the fact that more than 70 million people voted for Trump indicates that this was not a top-to-bottom repudiation of Trump and everything he stood for. The fact that so many of the folks eyeing the 2024 GOP presidential nomination are embracing Trump and his quixotic challenges to the election result suggests that these staffers won’t have a shortage of people looking to hire someone who has Been Inside The White House, even if it’s Trump’s White House.

But there’s one thing that suggests they are still worried. There’s one thing that suggests that they are looking over their shoulders. There’s one thing that suggests that they are not as comfortable as their brave words declare them to be.

Here’s a hint:

“. . . said a White House official . . .”

“. . . some current and former Trump officials . . .”

“. . . One top official at the White House . . .”

“. . . Many top Trump advisers now say . . .”

“. . . said one of the president’s closest advisers.”

“. . . Interviews with numerous current and former Trump officials reveal . . .

” . . . Most Trump officials feel . . .”

“. . . as one Trump official called them . . .”

“. . . said an administration official. . . .”

“. . . said a senior administration official . . .”

” . . . said a Trump adviser . . .”

” . . . said a Senate GOP aide . . .”

” . . . said a former senior administration official . . .”

To Politico’s credit, they did manage to quote one person by name in this story:  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

But back to those Trump staffers. For folks who are quite sure they will land on their feet, they are mighty nervous about putting their name next to their words. Maybe it’s because of this:

“None of the Trump officials interviewed for this story seriously believed that Trump would prevail in the election, and it was taken as a given that they would all soon be looking for work outside the administration.”

These unnamed Trump officials may not fear repudiation by the DC social circles for having been complicit in locking children in cages and taking them away from their parents, never to be reunited. They may not fear for their next job, despite enabling the feeble and fatal Trump administration response to the coronavirus pandemic. They may not fear poverty, because they’ve got their book deal lined up already.

But their unanimous unwillingness to allow their names to be used says they are afraid of something. Or should I say “someone”?

It’s Donald John Trump, and he’s not going away.

*That* is what worries these people. It’s one thing to say “Look at the Dubya folks – they did just fine as their Iraq War stuff and market crash faded into history.” But as long as Trump doesn’t fade away, neither will their enabling of his policies. And deep down, they know that Trump is not going to quietly ride off into the sunset. Ever.

Be afraid, Unnamed Senior Administration Officials. Be very afraid.

[The post has been edited to correct the object of Alan Dershewitz’s unrequited feelings. While it is possible the residents of the Hamptons may have just as much disdain for Mr. Dershewitz as the residents of Martha’s Vineyard, that is not a matter of public record. We regret the error of not giving the residents of Martha’s Vineyard their due.]

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/author/peterr/