Why Bother with Politics?

In The Republic, Plato imagines human beings chained for the duration of their lives in an underground cave, knowing nothing but darkness. Their gaze is confined to the cave wall, upon which shadows of the world are thrown. They believe these flickering shadows are reality. If, Plato writes, one of these prisoners is freed and brought into the sunlight, he still suffers great pain. Blinded by the glare, he is unable to see anything and longs for the familiar darkness. But eventually his eyes adjust to the light. The illusion of the tiny shadows is obliterated. He confronts the immensity, chaos, and confusion of reality. The world is no longer drawn in simple silhouettes. But he is despised when he returns to the cave. He is unable to see in the dark as he used to. Those who never left the cave ridicule him and swear never to go into the light lest they be blinded as well.

-Chris Hedges

Politics

There is a sector of the American population in which politics – at least in the current American system – have little impact on their lives. These people are usually well-off from a money standpoint, and likely live in a nice neighborhood with a good family– the iconic “American Dream” scenario. To these groups, politics just means unnecessary conflict and disagreement. Politics are disruptions to the otherwise stable and joy-filled lives they already inhabit.

Then there is another sector of the American population which cares very little about politics. This is the group that doesn’t realize the impact it has. Whether that be because of their economic situation – lacking the proper resources to stay engaged in the world – their lack of education, or perhaps just plain apathy, this group fails to understand the importance of their role in a (semi) democratic state.

On the other hand there are those that care deeply about politics. These groups can come from a variety of different bases. Some choose to wrap themselves up in the emotions of nationalistic pride. For these people, the love of military, defense, and security keeps politics of the utmost importance. These are the individuals that have to conceal-and-carry their gun to church or out to eat because they are so afraid of who might attack them. This group also thinks this way from the standpoint of the country as a whole. They believe that any cut to the military budget, even though America already spends more than the next eight countries combined on their military (that includes authoritarian/nationalist governments like China and Russia), will immediately render America susceptible to foreign crime. This is interesting to me considering the United States has military bases in 63 countries worldwide, as well as by far the most military spending of any country in the world. Yet that did not stop 9/11 from happening. It lends one to believe that perhaps maybe American global imperialism and militarism provoked 9/11 more than anything else. Beyond this, Americans own by far the most guns of any other country. Interestingly enough, we also experience an extraordinary amount of mass shootings in comparison to any other countries. For some reason, many Americans hold dear to this idea that more military power will mean less violence. Unfortunately, it has only led to large amounts of mass murders and millions and millions of innocent civilian deaths. Confusing as it may be, there is a large number of the population that defines America through the lens of the military.

Another group finds politics important because it can be a tool for maintaining and enforcing values that they might find important. This is the conservative evangelical wing. The group that showed unprecedented support for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. While this group shares much overlap and can often even be combined with the nationalistic sector, they have other issues that are more important. Since Ronald Reagan, this group has fought relentlessly on three issues: Abortion, gay marriage, and crime. For some, being pro-life is all that a candidate really needs to be. Well, pro-life is somewhat misleading. Pro-life for unborn babies. Not pro-life for undocumented immigrants and children, drug addicts, poor folks, criminals, minorities, Muslims, the environment and its wildlife, or the innocent civilians that are killed in American military excursions. So, in other words, not really pro-life at all. Again, strange as it may sound, this group has found value in politics through its joining of the idealistic crusade of preserving their Christian ideals.

Another group that finds politics important is those of the free market. These are the millionaire and billionaire corporate powers and rich individuals throughout the country that can never have enough money or power. In reality, these are the people that run America. It is not the people or the legislatures or even the president. It is this group. The group that gives millions and millions of dollars to the politicians that create laws, allowing them to have less regulations, less taxes, and more wealth. This does not have an effect on the upper middle class and beyond, which is why nobody complains about it. What this means is that America is no longer all that democratic. People might help vote individuals into particular positions. But once they are in, they have don’t have any say on policy. The billionaire cooperations have the say. And it is quite consistent that in the American government, legislatures do what those billionaire cooperations tell them to do. Thus, this is quite an important base.

There is however a small base that believes politics are important for something other than greed and corporate power, military prowess, and religious conservatism. This viewpoint, I believe, is why every person should engage in the world that we live in and find value in politics, even if it might mean disagreeing with a friend or family member. Because, in truth, politics affects the lives of individuals throughout the world. By neglecting to act and engage in what is true and beneficial for others, just for the sake of maintaining your own satisfaction and comfort with those around you, seems to be a very selfish way of thinking. On top of that, not being able to engage happily with someone who shares a differing view also seems quite childish.

That being said, politics are important because they have an impact on other individuals. As I Christian, I celebrate the fact that I live in a country that, despite its limitations, enables me to speak out for the livelihood of others in a peaceful and loving way. For most of my life, the Christian message of “loving your neighbor” was just something that you do within your community. It meant being kind to others in the community, volunteering for certain community services, maybe adopting a child, donating money to charitable Christian organizations, or many other great things like these. These all are awesome and amazing things that each person should maintain as fundamentally important. I have a deep respect for anyone who has chosen to adopt a child, engage in community service, participate in work trips, donate large sums of money, etc. These are amazing acts of love.

But often, engaging in politics gets pushed to the side. This leads us to having little knowledge of politics and the world we live in, and eventually, either not really caring at all about politics or hopping on one of the two sides with little knowledge of the implications of the policies that the side may stand for.

This is when, for example, Christians might take the message of Christ and intermingle it with the message of military, wealth, or religious conservatism. The reality is Christ was a radical proponent of peace. He was radically critical of large, wealthy institutions. He was highly critical of nationalism. And most of all, he was immensely critical of those who continually engaged in persecution. All things that are phenomenally prominent in the conservative political atmosphere. But, because we make our Christian lives all about how we act in our community and our personal lives, we just hop on the political bandwagon that all other Christians are on. Yet when we sit down and examine the teachings of Christ, often they are completely contrary.

For me, politics are important because it impacts whether we are going to airstrike communities and kill innocent people. I don’t know the people that we might be killing, but I feel for those who lose their lives or those they love, no matter what flag they live under. Brotherhood and sisterhood goes beyond borders.

Politics are important to me because they decide whether or not a child from an undocumented family will have his/her mommy or daddy ripped away from his/her life. Politics are important because they determine if the 80-year-old widow in the house down the street will get the proper health coverage she needs. They are important because they decide whether we want to rehabilitate drug addicts and treat them for it (like seemingly every other country does), rather than send them to prison. Politics decide whether we are going to kill a criminal or allow them to have life, even amidst their mistakes. It decides whether all people will be told that they will be helped when they get injured or sick, not just those who are wealthy enough to pay for it. It decides whether we will say to those that we may disagree with,that they have a right to the same joys and freedoms that many others have. It decides whether or not we are going to knowingly continue to destroy wildlife and the environment. It decides whether we are going to help victims and those who have been wronged.

This is why politics are important. And this is why I encourage you to engage in the world around you, to contact your political representatives, to vote for people that will help others, not just yourself or the wealthy and powerful. You see, that is the great thing about being an American. We have the freedom to be active. And a world that is active and engaged will see the world beyond the self. It will see into the lives of the other.

What Do We Do About Terrorism?

ReThinking Thinking

Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: Stop participating in it.

-Noam Chomsky

My_Lai_massacre

My Lai, 1968

I have written several times in critique of the United States and its inclination to become a police or military force in the world. I’m sure that this has made many uncomfortable. A lot of Americans have grown up with the belief that the United States can solve the problems of other nations and will do so in a just way. This is because most of us have been fed a nationalistic version of American history. The kind that minimizes the conquering of American Indians, slavery, racism, and oppression, and in turn praises victories in war, military excursions, discovery, and invention.

My call for us to question U.S. military action comes not only from an essential aspect of my Christian faith, peace, but also from my reading of history through…

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What Do We Do About Terrorism?

Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: Stop participating in it.

-Noam Chomsky

My_Lai_massacre

My Lai, 1968

I have written several times in critique of the United States and its inclination to become a police or military force in the world. I’m sure that this has made many uncomfortable. A lot of Americans have grown up with the belief that the United States can solve the problems of other nations and will do so in a just way. This is because most of us have been fed a nationalistic version of American history. The kind that minimizes the conquering of American Indians, slavery, racism, and oppression, and in turn praises victories in war, military excursions, discovery, and invention.

My call for us to question U.S. military action comes not only from an essential aspect of my Christian faith, peace, but also from my reading of history through the lens of the “other.” I can already hear the challenges from my patriotic readers: How is the United States supposed to fight terrorism?

First, let me say this. In 2017, politifact did a fact check on violent extremists in the United States since 9/11. The results showed that there have been 85 attacks, with 225 deaths. Of those attacks, 23 were conducted by Islamic extremists, killing 119 individuals. 62 attacks have been conducted by right-wing extremists, killing 106 individuals. For reference, about 750 people have died from lightning strikes since 9/11.

But let me offer some food for thought on this issue and what would be my response to this challenge. If we are ever to decide how we should deal with terrorism, we should first look at how other countries should have dealt with terrorism by the United States. So, lets look at some specific examples: How should the Japanese government have dealt with the United States dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which murdered over 225,000 Japanese civilians. School children, mothers, fathers, teachers, bankers, farmers, grandparents. Akiko Takakuro, who was 20 years old when the bomb was dropped, speaks of what happened:

Many people on the street were killed almost instantly. The fingertips of those dead bodies caught fire and the fire gradually spread over their entire bodies from their fingers. A light gray liquid dripped down their hands, scorching their fingers. I, I was so shocked to know that fingers and bodies could be burned and deformed like that. I just couldn’t believe it. It was horrible. And looking at it, it was more than painful for me to think how the fingers were burned, hands and fingers that would hold babies or turn pages, they just, they just burned away. For a few years after the A-bomb was dropped, I was terribly afraid of fire. I wasn’t even able to get close to fire because all my senses remembered how fearful and horrible the fire was, how hot the blaze was, and how hard it was to breathe the hot air. It was really hard to breathe. Maybe because the fire burned all the oxygen, I don’t know. I could not open my eyes enough because of the smoke, which was everywhere. Not only me but everyone felt the same.  (http://www.hiroshimaremembered.com/history/hiroshima/page14.html)

Not only were many killed instantly, but for decades after, Japanese people have suffered deformities and cancer because of the harmful effects of the bombs. What would have been the appropriate response of the Japanese in that situation?

Or how about in World War II when British and American forces firebombed the completely non-military target of Dresden, killing as many as 135,000 civilians in the process. Victor Gregg, a survivor, recounts his experience:

As the incendiaries fell, the phosphorus clung to the bodies of those below, turning them into human torches. The screaming of those who were being burned alive was added to the cries of those not yet hit. There was no need for flares to lead the second wave of bombers to their target, as the whole city had become a gigantic torch. It must have been visible to the pilots from a hundred miles away. Dresden had no defences, no anti-aircraft guns, no searchlights, nothing. (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/feb/15/bombing-dresden-war-crime)

Or what about American ventures in Vietnam, where we thought we would intervene because we couldn’t stand the thought of communism. It is estimated that some 2 million Vietnamese civilians died throughout the war, and another 5.3 million injured. One of the most horrific events in all of American history occurred in a village in Vietnam called My Lai, where around 450 unarmed civilians – women, children, and the elderly – were murdered, raped, and mutilated by American soldiers. Efforts by the U.S. military and government were quickly undertaken to prevent any word of this getting out. In part, they succeeded. Lt. William Calley was the only member of the American troops to be charged with a crime. His sentence: Three and a half years of house arrest.

What must have been the appropriate response of the Vietnamese people after this act of terrorism?

And we can go further, to the Contras in Nicaragua, where the Reagan administration funded and sent military backing to fight alongside the right-winged terrorist group, known as the Nicaraguan Resistance. This resistance, with the help of the U.S. military, fought against the socialist backed Nicaraguan government, committing over 1,300 terrorist attacks, with more than 70,000 political killings in El Salvador, 100,000 in Guatemala, and 30,000 in Nicaragua. Father Miguel D’Escoto, who lived through the experience during the 1980’s, describes his feelings for Ronald Reagan:

First of all, let me start out by saying that, of course, Reagan is now dead. And I, for one, would like to say only nice things about him. I’m not insensitive to the feelings of many U.S. people mourning president Reagan, but as I pray that god in his infinite mercy and goodness forgive him for having been the butcher of my people, for having been responsible for the deaths of some 50,000 Nicaraguans, we cannot, we should not ever forget the crimes he committed in the name of what he falsely labeled freedom and democracy. (https://www.democracynow.org/2004/6/8/reagan_was_the_butcher_of_my)

How should the Nicaraguan government have responded to this act of terrorism by the United States?

And finally, we arrive to today, where American anti-Islamic airstrikes have plundered the Middle East for the past several decades. And contrary to its efforts, has ironically not solved the problems to attain world peace. Different terrorist groups are rising up, and each has a deeper hatred for the United States than the next. American politicians hype up the success of these military actions but downplay the innocent killing of civilians, brushing those off as “collateral damage.” It doesn’t matter if we killed a few hundred innocent people in an airstrike, at least we are ending terrorism! Shockingly, the fighting terrorism with terrorism tactics have not been as successful as most think.

While we can continue going down the line on horrible atrocities committed by the United States, we can also choose to look at the amazing individuals who have chosen to fight for peace. People like Martin Luther King Jr., who not only fought for civil rights, but was also extremely vocal about fighting against the Vietnam War. Or Eugene Debs, a socialist presidential candidate who spoke out against military involvement in World War I and was sentenced to ten years in prison for speaking out against the American government. Or Dorothy Day, a Catholic social justice activist who was beat, clubbed, and imprisoned for her protests against World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. And of course, Bob Dylan. Listening to his songs (“Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Masters of War”, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, “With God on Our Side,” the list goes on and on…) one will quickly understand the role he played in the peace movement.

There are many others who have been willing to suffer the consequences that come from fighting against the military regimes of the world’s greatest power. Because of this, we have hope. Our nation is filled with those willing to take a stand for peace, even in the face of immense persecution, hatred, or ostracization.

For us, we need to be those people. The people willing to come out against military action. To say that the answer to terrorism is not terrorism. And when we come to the ever so difficult question as to what to do about terrorism, we must first ask ourselves how we believe other nations should have responded to American terrorism. Because the boy in Hiroshima is our son. The girl in My Lai is our daughter. The families who face the continuing military barrage by American forces are our brothers and sisters. They are not as politicians like to say, “collateral damage.” When we can address this question reasonably, then, maybe then, we might obtain the right answer and truly begin the long road to peace.

 

A Response to the State of the Union

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

-Howard Zinn

Trump

On Tuesday night I watched President Trump’s State of the Union address. While I didn’t cringe at everything the President said during his address, I found a large portion of it quite unsettling. I thought I would address a few of Trump’s comments that I found quite troubling. Keep in mind this is not just what I find troubling about President Trump but where I see fundamental problems in American society as well.

In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life. Our motto is “in God we trust.”

In 1782, Congress officially established the phrase E Pluribus Unum – Out of many, one – as the official motto for America. But, in 1956, Congress passed a new act which made the phrase “In God We Trust” the new official motto. Through PBS’s American Experience, an episode was done called “God in America.” The show addresses how this phrase, “In God We Trust,” had become America’s national motto in 1956. At the heart of the issue was the overwhelming support in Washington for a rebellion against the godless, communist, Soviet Union during the Cold War, and an alliance between the powerful church leader, Reverend Billy Graham and President Dwight D. Eisenhower to combine the message of God, with the message of patriotism. As historian Frank Lambert explains, “the motto reclaims this notion that we’re a chosen people and that we were conceived under God and that we flourish under God, and we turn our backs on God at our own peril.”

As Americans, we should be ever weary of our nation’s tendency to intermingle faith and nationalism. Not only does this give way to a watered down version of what faith is, but it also lays the foundation for the violence, hatred, and oppression of the idealistic crusades that have been the embodiment of American history. Native Americans, African Americans, communism, abortion, drugs, Islam, homosexuals, undocumented immigrants, and many others.

The American nation is not a chosen nation. Our motto may be “In God We Trust,” but when I see that, I see a god of power, military, security, wealth, and law and order. I don’t see the God that prays forgiveness for those putting him on a cross. Or a God that says “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” I see a giant military beast, ready to use any tactics of violence and oppression to make sure everyone is behaving the way it thinks they should. If that is the god we are supposed to trust in, count me out.

Preston’s reverence for those who have served our Nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.

This was a great thing that this young boy did. So many have sacrificed so much for our country, and they deserve the honor and respect that Preston chose to give them. But Trump had to make this boy’s kind deeds into an attack on Black NFL players who protested during the national anthem.

I hope a day will come when white people can find it within themselves to understand that a white individual’s understanding of American history (and thus, the flag), is a lot different than a Black individual’s understanding of American history. Everyone knows that we had slavery and that was a bad thing. But, of course, we’re past that, right? Well, no, we are not. As white people, we have to live with the mistakes that our ancestors chose to make. And the mistake wasn’t just slavery. It was slavery followed by decades of hateful oppression, violence, and injustice. And as descendants of this troubling history, we have to deal with the consequences of our complicated past. Today, black individuals find themselves in higher poverty, higher incarceration, and much less likely to find work than the average white individual. But to deal with this troubling issue, is not to spit back in the faces of those whom have experienced these consequences. To me, it is troubling that we have a president that refuses to understand anything beyond the white, nationalistic vision of American history.

We are defending our Second Amendment, and have taken historic actions to protect religious liberty.

I found this so interesting, yet telling that the defending of our Second Amendment is lumped into the same category as protecting our religious liberty. Here, Trump, who is clearly speaking to his conservative evangelical base, is essentially saying, “We are allowing you to keep your assault rifles, and protecting and enforcing the fundamentals of Christian ethics in America!”

To me, this is sickening. First, the hidden claim that somehow Christianity in America is under some sort of attack. First of all, not one of America’s presidents in all of history have been an atheist, and one could make a strong case for every American president being a Christian. The American people will not elect a president who does not carry the title “Christian.” At least for now. Also an overwhelming majority of the U.S. population identifies as Christian. According to a Pew Research Center study, 70.6% of Americans identify as Christian (http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/). Oh, and the U.S. motto is “In God We Trust.” In other words, Christianity is not under any sort of attack like many Christians like to make it sound. While it likes to make itself sound like a persecuted minority, it is quite clearly the majority. Unfortunately, a majority that, throughout history, has continually found itself being the persecutor, rather than the persecuted.

We have ended the war on American Energy — and we have ended the war on clean coal. We are now an exporter of energy to the world.

Most conservative politicians have now at least accepted that climate change is happening. They just claim that it is caused by natural occurrences instead of human pollution, CO2 emissions, and high releases of methane. But Donald Trump refuses to accept that climate change is happening at all. Moreover, he is willing to take an active part in polluting and destroying the natural world, and taking over lands of native peoples for the sake of the power and wealth of big American cooperations.

My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too.

Here’s the crusade against the non-American (unchosen) children that did not choose to be born here.

Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values. In confronting these dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense.
For this reason, I am asking the Congress to end the dangerous defense sequester and fully fund our great military.
As part of our defense, we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression. Perhaps someday in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet.
To me, this is the most troubling of all. That as a nation we have gotten to the point where our attempt at peace is not to rid ourselves of the materials that actively and continually delay the peace, but to make more weapons, so that everyone will be afraid of us. Our solution to peace is to become the almighty power, the worldly beast.
It is at times like this that we would do well to listen to the words of a man that walked the earth 2,000 years ago, when he told us, “those who live by the sword die by the sword,” and “if someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.”
The economy is doing very well. More people have jobs. For this, I am grateful. But the state of our Union will never be something that we can be proud of until we finally choose the poor over the wealthy. Peace, over violence. Humility and understanding, rather than power and nationalism. And love, over security.