- Glenn Sonnenberg
Musings from the Bunker 7/31/20
I had today’s Musings written up and ready to go. Then several things came rushing to my mind from the past 48 hours that made me rewrite this.
THE PASSING OF JOHN LEWIS
As we all know, civil rights icon and long-time congressman John Lewis passed away after a distinguished career. After lying in state in the Capitol, his funeral was held today. Beyond the eulogies and the retrospectives in the media, I was most moved by his own farewell op-ed piece that appeared posthumously in today’s New York Times. It is worth quoting in its entirety and I hope all will read this in his memory:
“While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.
That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.
Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.
Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.
Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.
Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.
You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.
Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.
When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”
EULOGIES ARE WASTED ON THE DEAD
My father used to say that eulogies are meaningless after people are gone. He felt we should “eulogize” people—by acknowledging their value and sharing with them our love and admiration while they are alive. I think this is great advice. I would hope we all increasingly share with loved ones how much they mean to us and to reflect upon leaders who, like John Lewis, represent the best of us, while they are still with us.
THE FIRST “FORMAL” SALVO IN THE DELEGITIMIZATION OF THE ELECTION IN NOVEMBER
As many feared, Mr. Trump, now behind in national polls by double-digit numbers (and leading in many swing states and traditionally Republican leaning states), has ramped up his allegations that the election in November will be fraudulent and invalid, calling on postponement. I’m curious how postponement of the election will somehow improve the election’s accuracy. Here’s his tweet:
“With Universal mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
As we become more desensitized to the rantings of our President, we ought not let this tweet go without comment. Mr. Trump is positioning himself, yet again, as the victim. While his call for postponement of the election likely will fall on deaf ears (only Congress can constitutionally postpone a national election), he accomplishes several things with this tweet:
• He casts doubts among voters. To the extent to which the President creates an aura of inevitability of a “fraudulent” result, he suppresses turnout.
• He delegitimizes a Biden administration. This really is an attempt to cast a pall over a Biden administration (if Biden is victorious) and starts such an administration unnecessarily under a cloud. [Compare this with the eventual magnanimity of Al Gore when he could have exited the 2000 election with animosity and sowing the seeds of dissension and resistance to the Bush administration.]
• He provides fodder for his supporters to reduce voting options. This will become a mantra among Republican politicians and commentators that they will use to bolster their attempts to “make the election fairer” by supporting efforts to suppress votes. One can see states reducing numbers of polling places and reducing the ability to vote by mail by falling back on this false claim of illegitimacy.
• He sets up a narrative to challenge votes in states that are close on November 3. This is the first step in the cascade of lawsuits to toss out ballots if the vote is even remotely close (although if it’s a landslide, I suppose he can then argue that it is inconceivable there could be so many votes against him)
• He deflects from the actual reasons he is losing—his completely botched response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the massive wealth inequality that has been highlighted by the pandemic, the woeful lack of leadership coming from his White House, and his horribly divisive and incendiary messages with an underlying racial overtone. He has been fueling a narrative that “only he” can bring us law and order and he has characterized peaceful protests as justifying the aggressive use of federal forces, using questionable measures, to quell opposition.
• He may actually succeed in casting doubts on the election results. And this could lead to violence and a constitutional crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Civil War.
• He may encourage supporters to vigilante type protective actions. Would it surprise anyone to find gun carrying “real Americans” standing watch at polling places, quelling minority voting? After all, these are some of the people marching on the Michigan state house with guns in hand.
• He sets up his “shadow government” if he loses. Make no mistake that this President will not honor the time-honored tradition of past Presidents to step aside from the national political debate. He already is preparing his Fox-alternative network, with him at the helm.
These are dark days. And, while he may be imbalanced, impulsive, incurious, autocratic, and even truly dangerous, he knows how to plant seeds with his supporters and encourage further polarization of our now fragile social fabric—anything he needs to do to ensure his victory and/or cast the reason for a defeat anywhere but at his own feet.
But if this weren’t enough, his tweets in the past hours include pandering to swing states, one by one, about his sending money to expand their airports, allegations that Portland would have been “no more” and burned to the ground without his authorizing federal troops, a single “LAW & ORDER” (all capital letters) tweet and this:
Mail-In Voting is already proving to be a catastrophic disaster. Even testing areas are way off. The Dems talk of foreign influence in voting, but they know that Mail-In Voting is an easy way for foreign countries to enter the race. Even beyond that, there’s no accurate count!
All while the Republican-led Senate refuses any meaningful expenditures to shore-up our often antiquated voting systems.
Sorry this is so long. But I encourage you to read the beautiful piece by Ursula Le Guin entitled “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” I read this as part of an Aspen Institute seminar I attended today. Here is David Brook’s 2015 commentary on this Hugo Award winning piece: