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The Danger of Presidential Racism - Tulsa 1921, George Floyd 2020

May 16th, 2022

What a president says, matters.

When he was running for president in 1912, Woodrow Wilson signaled to the African American community, whose votes he was courting, that he was on their side: “Should I become President of the United States, [Negroes] [sic] may count upon me for absolute fair dealing and for everything by which I could assist in advancing the interests of their race in the United States.” Wilson, a Democrat, won, in part, by capturing the votes of many African Americans, formerly embraced the Republican Party. Long-sought equality seemed within reach.

But only weeks after his March 7, 1913, inauguration, Wilson - in an April 11 meeting - assented to requests by determined Southern cabinet members to segregate their departments, which had been officially integrated for 50 years, since the time of Reconstruction at the end of the Civil War. The U.S. Postal Service and the Department of the Treasury soon went into action, rushing to move African American workers into desks and tables that were separated from white workers, and moving Black workers out of formerly shared locker rooms and restrooms. Screens were posted around African American workers, so no white person could see them.

Wilson told a group of African American leaders at the White House that segregation was necessary to “prevent racial friction.” Instead, by reversing his pre-election pledge, he provoked it.

W.E.B. DuBois, the editor of NAACP’s The Crisis, responded, “The federal government has set the colored apart as if mere contact with them were contamination,” adding, “Behind screens and closed doors they now sit as though leprous. How long will it be before the hateful epithets of ‘Nigger’ and ‘Jim Crow’ are openly applied?”

In the years following official segregation of the federal government, the security of African Americans became ever more tenuous. Recruitment for the armed forces for World War I featured a draft registration card that crudely instructs the enlistee: “If person is of African descent, cut off this corner.”

Racial separation signaled to racists that Uncle Sam doesn’t see Black people as equal, and in the 1919 summer months following the return of service personnel from Europe, white rioters attacked and killed hundreds of African Americans, including fellow servicemen, in 33 cities spread across the entire country. Black life was in low regard.

The seeds of division Wilson had planted produced such venom and disregard for the lives of Black people that the most successful and prominent community of African Americans in the country, Greenwood - a 40-square block district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, known as The Black Wall Street - was invaded by white mobs on June 21, 1921, firebombed by planes and totally destroyed. Upwards of 300 African American men, women and children were killed, and the Black Wall Street lay in embers.

When Donald Trump called the white supremacists in Charlottesville, “very fine people:” when he said African immigrants come from “shithole countries,” and when he fed crowd rage toward protesting African American football players, urging, “Get that son-of-a-bitch off the field!” we had another president taking aim at our own citizens, only this time it was being done with blunt furor and open hate, with no attempt to hide his disdain for Americans he just doesn’t like to see.

The signals he gave to those seething with hate, the ones who had been in the background, those who had gathered secretly in the woods as militia and KKK, came out in full force on January 6, 2021. The wink he gave to police about their treatment of suspects likely ended the vibrant life of George Floyd in 2020 Minneapolis.

Are you willing to allow this venom to pour into our communities and neighborhoods? To see open attacks on people of color? Will you do anything to stand up for justice and the rule of law?

Sadly, we have seen more videos of three or four or five police officers arresting African American men for simply being in a public space. in 2018, a woman was choked and her clothes torn off, as she asked why a disagreement over plastic-ware caused her to be cornered by police in a fast-food restaurant. When an officer used that coded-phrase, “You’re resisting me,” he seemed to feel that gave him full authority to do whatever he willed to her partially-clothed body.

Then, in a moment separated by just miles and hours, a lone African American man had the courage to lunge at a gunman in a similar fast-food outlet, and stopped potential carnage. What a comparison: two policemen tackle an unarmed girl, while a Black man heroically tackled an armed gunman.

And how many unarmed Black men and women have been killed by police, in the encounters we know about, since 1999?

How can we - you and me - ensure that this outrage stops, that this legacy of violent racist hatred ceases?

America, what horror is looming toward us? What fate is staring in our face?

March 27th, 2022

We see news of violence at meetings of school boards - our closest local governmental body, overseen by elected, unpaid, community volunteers - meetings formerly peaceful and respectful, that have become shouting rows tinged with threats of violence over issues that barely exist - face masks, “critical race theory” - which is a college-level concept not taught in public schools - and attempts to purge books from school libraries over alleged sexual content, which one Iowa resident alleged included “child-adult sex and books that promote pedophilia,” a preposterous statement.

The furor against schools, against libraries, against face masks, against the vaccines that have saved our lives in a worldwide pandemic, is creating a cauldron of hatred that will - if we cannot control ourselves - steer our beloved country further away from civility on “this land … your land” - the hills and cities and farms and hamlets and apartments and factories - into fearful disorder.

Meanwhile, civic order is also seeing challenges to local and state elections, as the “stolen election” lie has caused local administrators - some experiencing threats to their lives - to resign, and new state laws are passed to restrict who can, and how easily, vote, both of which foretell an assault on our precious right to choose whom to elect as our leaders.

This apparent chaos exists because one man, who had been our president, repeated and repeats, over and over - with no evidence - the “Big Lie” that his attempt to win reelection was stolen from him. And because elected leaders in his party, extol and repeat his lies, a huge portion of our country believes our president is illegitimate.

Reflect that each of these questioning officeholders appears to see no problem with the vote count in their own reelection - won by having their name checked on the very same ballot on which voters also checked a box for the office of president. If the ballots were fraudulent, wouldn’t their own election be fraudulent, too?

Imagine how empowered Russia’s and China’s leaders must feel, watching us tear each other apart, weakening our national government. Perhaps that’s why Putin is killing his opponents and destroying Ukraine? Maybe he thinks the U.S. isn’t such a tough opponent anymore.

Stoked by enormous lies, repeated over and over, by extremist politicians and the far-right cable “news” channels in a symbiotic echo chamber, many of us believe the government is against us; that it is threatening our freedom.

But look at what objectors to our government can do here - demonstrate, peaceably, with marches and signs and even slow-driving “convoys” around our nation’s capital - and compare that to the genuine threat to freedom ripping apart Ukraine, where middle class cities, families, children, schools and hospitals are being destroyed by Russian tanks and bombs and missiles, just because the people and the government won’t surrender their genuine freedom to a murderous dictator.

Being asked to wear a mask, to get vaccinated, during a worldwide outbreak of a new and deadly infection that has claimed millions of lives, is called an assault on our freedom? Look to Ukraine, if you want to see what a real assault on freedom looks like.

Here we can express our disagreement, but not express it with violence. Why would we? We can go anywhere we want, walk wherever we want every day, if you are white, that is. We can travel between cities and go to work, our children can go to school, we can read whatever we want, say whatever we like, love whomever we love, watch whatever we want, listen to whatever we want to hear - all without anyone in authority telling us we can’t; all without anyone grabbing us off the street.

Are the anti-mask/anti-vaccine and anti-school cries for “freedom” a foretelling of widespread violence? Is it actually true, frighteningly true, that greater numbers of us think political violence is acceptable? That another January 6 would be likely … in the freest nation on Earth?

We know this is happening. And it frightens me to death.

My friend in The Netherlands wrote to me that “Biden’s (1/6/22) speech, the whole horrible event of January 6th, has been given much attention on tv over here. And that makes it clear how important it also is to us and our values … democratic values.” He added, “One can hardly believe what is happening right now in Republican states like Arizona and Georgia, where Trump’s lies in advance are given a ‘legal’ basis for overturning the correct results of elections in the future.”

Where are we? Is this the United States of America? The place where Jefferson declared, “all men are created equal”? Where Roosevelt strove to calm Depression fear and to topple fascists abroad? Where JFK sought a New Frontier and Johnson said, “We shall overcome”? Which Reagan called “a shining city on a hill”? Where Lincoln pledged that our unique commitment to self-governed liberty “shall not perish from the Earth”?

America, who are we? And what will we become?

Will we become?

Read, learn, seek truth, and vote, knowing that in the United States of America, your voice matters, and your vote is, without question, fairly counted.

What is a “Big Lie”?

July 9th, 2021

I felt so ashamed afterwards. After I told a lie.

My Mom had spent all morning taping up pretty pictures she’d cut out from Life magazine. After she finished, my brother and I continued to play, and our scooting little feet got onto the surface that Mom had decorated. The pictures began to tear. In a short time, all the pictures Mom had posted had been ripped and ruined. She came up, angry when she saw what we’d done.

I blurted out, “Frankie did it! It was Frank!”

It was a lie. A small one, but the memory of it haunts me still.

But what if Mom, herself, stood up at the PTA and declared that the principal had poisoned the town’s water tank. Mom? Really? But, why would she say that? Does she really know it? I lied about the pictures, but that’s pretty serious. She’s my Mom. It must be true.

Most of us never lie. But, if you do, no one feels good about it, because a lie is a betrayal of trust. And since we are each inclined to be truthful, most of us were stunned, when Donald Trump publicly stated that Barack Obama, the man who sought to become our president. wasn’t a citizen and, in addition, was a follower of Islam.

“Obama is a Muslim!” Wow, really? Trump’s a well known man. I see him on TV all the time. People that famous don’t lie. He’d never lie about something that important, would he? I’d be humiliated, if my Mom or my wife or my pastor discovered I’d lied to them.

Now, each day seems to begin with a statement, words and exclamation points, from a smartphone inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. And it usually comes with a claim that will be said by some to be true, while others will likely say it is not.

This is a list of some President Trump’s pre-election claims, and the links to sources that show each claim is not true:

  • “Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.” - a long investigated lie.
  • Obama founded ISIS - untrue.
  • The Election Is Rigged - untrue.

Back in the earlier 20th century another politician with a huge ego was elected to lead a European country. His rise to power was accompanied by many questionable statements, huge statements that sounded like facts, as he presented them. Millions believed these untruths told as if true, thinking that no one that important could possibly lie about something so serious.

This European had developed a theory about truth and power. He called it The Big Lie. And here’s how he described it in his autobiography,

“[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.

“It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down.”

The European politician’s use of the big lie, after his election, was transferred to a man who became his chief information officer, who would use the lie as a central to his work,

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

When he was seeking the office, Trump said - and often says now - that the newspapers and television news reporters all lie … all the time. But how do we find out what he says every day? From newspapers and television/radio news programs. His relentless challenges and charges against genuine news are what is most troubling today, because truth, the facts we all acknowledge, is at the core of our democracy. Without truth, what are we?

Newspapers hire reporters (which I once was) to record the details of events or reveal unknown facts. News is how we find out what is happening each day, to discover what is true, what you alone could not discover, without the newspaper (or radio/TV news).

Opinions are only allowed on the editorial and OpEd pages in newspapers and commentary in broadcast news. Everything else is strictly limited to facts, or, as we call it, news. And editors — who re-read and fact check articles, before they can be printed or spoken — enforce that policy with strict attention to the details of what a reporter has written.

Presidents rarely like reporters and news, because reporters find facts that presidents don’t want to be revealed. But past presidents respected newspapers and news broadcasters, because they know they are vital to stability of our system of government. Thomas Jefferson, as he was preparing the Constitution of our nation, wrote,

“[W]ere it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, January 16, 1787

Now, in 2018, think about the statements that “all news is fake,” the press are “the biggest group of liars,” “the lying New York Times,” and on it goes. Every reporter is a liar and everything that I say is the truth. Why would anyone keep insisting that every one of our sources of news and information is lying to us? Do we honestly believe that we have liars everywhere, except in the White House?

When you talk to people from other countries - frequently, cab drivers - you begin to understand that the freedom to speak your mind is the most valuable right we have, because some other countries don’t allow it. Spies can be everywhere, even in families. What they value most here: the freedom to speak. But with that freedom comes responsibility to say truth to others.

Oh. That European’s name: Adolph Hitler. And his information officer was named Joseph Goebbels, more frequently known as the Minister of Propaganda.

Sources:

Mein Kampf
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/excerpts-from-mein-kampf

Joseph Goebbels
http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/holoprelude/goebbels.html

Mein Kampf discussion
https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/does-mein-kampf-remain-a-dangerous-book

A Note to U.S. Catholic Bishops

June 20th, 2021

Gentlemen,

At a time when our very democracy is in peril, you have questioned Catholic officials for their stance on whether women ought to be able to choose an abortion, equating those officials with someone who supports or promotes that terrible procedure. Yet another, essential matter cries out for your leadership.

What have you done to chasten and deny the Eucharist to public officials who question the legitimacy of our elections? Who belittle the storming of our U.S. Capitol, the center of our democracy, our first branch of government, our Congress, in a violent insurrection? What have you done to call out those who have incited violence to solve our political differences?

Sirs, this is the most frightening time in my 75 years as a Catholic U.S. citizen. We look to you for leadership and moral courage to uplift the legitimacy of our form of government and the sanctity of our elections, and instead you focus on an issue that addresses none of that. My children, my grandchildren live in fear for their futures, as almost half the country believe the enormous lies of a former president and his acolytes.

Please, focus on our nation and the weakening of our democracy by an entire political party. That is the issue of our time. Are we to be bystanders, as a would-be dictator turns us into a fascist state? As Catholic legislators and political figures encourage this abhorrent, appalling public display of immorality?

For now, all I can say to you is, “Shame.”

Please, act on this matter, require and call on our public officials to act with the utmost urgency to preserve what makes us a beacon of liberty, a worldwide center of hope. Otherwise, that beacon will be snuffed out, with a puff of inaction from those who could act, but, instead, choose to stand by and merely observe.

Sincerely,
Nicholas Penning

Driving While Black … “Three Times”

May 20th, 2021

This column has been written in loving memory of Calvin Milton Jones, who died May 25, 2011.

“Has that ever happened to you?”

His face looked at me with the most serious expression I’d seen from this gentle man.

“Three times,” he said.

My friend, the late Calvin Milton Jones, had just sent me a copy of Dick Gregory’s talk to a Tavis Smiley “State of Black Union” convention center audience. Gregory, the comedian and activist, wondered aloud, that if Bill Clinton was truly “our first Black president,” would he know (at 1 min,50 sec.) how it felt to be a Black man, driving down the road, and hear a police siren:

“Mr. President, do you know what it feels like to be a Black person, to be a congresslady, to be a lieutenant governor with 12 doctor’s degrees, and driving down the street, and hear the police siren, and you start squeezing that steering wheel tight, and they pass by you, and you Thank God! Damn! You didn’t do nothin’ in the first place. Do you know what it is to be Black?”

The primarily Black audience was in howls, cheering with a standing ovation at Gregory’s presentation. And I realized then that the expression, “driving while Black,” was so real and so common that an entire audience of hundreds had reacted, knowingly and in unison, with raucous laughter at Gregory’s searing remarks.

After I watched it, I walked over to Calvin’s office and asked him, “Has that ever happened to you?”

He looked me straight in the eye, “Three times” … on the way to and from Washington and his hometown in North Carolina.

So this gentle and generous man … who arrived at the office at close to five o’clock every morning — even the day before he died, sick with pneumonia — to turn on the lights, make the coffee, check the phone and computer systems, arrange the conference rooms to be sure everything was in place for the days’ meetings … told me, with those words, that he had been stopped by police officers on three separate occasions, just because they knew they could taunt another Black man.

This man, Calvin Milton Jones … who wouldn’t harm a soul, who cut all the lawns in his neighborhood, because he didn’t want it to look unkempt; who, unasked, often waxed neighbors’ cars; and who would give you the shirt off his back, if you were in need … this man had been pulled over three times for no other reason than the color of his skin.

Imagine how it must feel to look up into the eyes of a uniformed man, who, you and he know, could change your life in an instant.

And now we have young Trayvon Martin, killed by a single shot from the gun of a self-appointed ‘neighborhood watchman,’ who said Trayvon was, “suspicious … looks Black” and, chasing Trayvon against orders, told 911, “They always get away.” But “they” (Trayvon) did not get away; and the man who hunted him down wasn’t even arrested.

Walking while black?

Author Donna Britt, commenting on the shooting death of Trayvon, said, “I don’t know what this child could have done to be safe, except not be Black.”

Being, while Black.

These two men, going about their business, are stopped for being “suspicious,” for being Black men living in the world’s lone superpower; which the rest of us tell ourselves is “the land of the free” … the “sweet land of liberty” … that exists, “under God … with liberty and justice for all.”

Perhaps it is … for some.

The Capitol

February 8th, 2021

You and I watched January sixth in sickened awe, in disbelief, in anger; as thousands of our fellow citizens climbed and clawed all over our gleaming national symbol, as a fire-breathing mob, stoked in hatred, enraged against their own government, screaming through its corridors in a violent, barbarous and flagpole wielding fury, bent on destruction and death - which they achieved.

Only one other time brought the reaction I had that day: It was the fear and uncertainty from viewing television images of Spanish soldiers shooting inside their democratically-elected parliament in an attempted coup d’etat in 1981.

The thought that anyone, in a modern democracy, would enter an assembly — Our assembly, Our Congress — and threaten its members with weapons, struck fear in my heart then. But never, ever did I think such an outrage could descend on our own gleaming citadel of freedom.

The people who work in that building work for us, you and me. They are our only voices in our nation’s government. They listen and react when you write or call. I know. I have worked in and around it for more than 40 years.

When a constituent of a House or Senate member’s district or state calls or writes, the people who work there take notice. If you visit in person, it’s almost like the red carpet gets rolled out. They care about what you think and what you say, because your vote will either re-elect or defeat them.

The men and women who work there are just like you or me: they’re young and idealistic, they’re older and wiser; they worship or not; they have spouses and partners and friends and children and dogs and cats. And they work hard, with schedules that pack meetings and visits and writing and voting from sunup to way past sundown.

Your government will act for you, if you make your voice heard; if you phone or write to your own representative/senator to urge passage or revocation or a bill or amendment, if you vote to elect/reelect the leader you want - not based on how hard s/he is attacked by her/his opponent, but based on the ideas s/he puts forth in the election contest and the perceived values s/he holds.

Our government isn’t the president, it isn’t one man. It is people who come to Washington from our own town and county, city and state.

Our government is us, you and me, and what that mob did on January 6 was to attack the very heart of each one of us, the heart of our nation, the cause for which Abraham Lincoln - who in 1865 was sworn in on those same steps, desecrated by the mob - spoke eloquently at Gettysburg:

…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

It could have perished on January 6, 2021, but it did not. Our duty is to stand fast for our country, and ensure that perish, it never will.

Why Won’t He Leave Us Alone?

December 14th, 2020

Why won’t he leave us alone?
Why won’t he just go away?
We’re tired of his gripes and hate-laced rants,
We just want a normal day,

One filled with letters and phone calls
Emails and the aroma of dinner,
And sounds of kids in the halls,
And a “my, you look so much thinner!”

Enough with the lies and constant attacks,
On to truth and all relevant facts,
So we may know, and our allies, too,
That the U.S. of A. is again back
Tested, but tried and true.

Let us live, in Peace.

Election Emotion, Violence and Overseas Enemies

October 31st, 2020

Mr. President and Campaign:

Before you issue any more orders for your followers to “poll watch” or “stand by” with weapons in our streets on Election Day, consider this: our enemies overseas look upon the chaos you’re encouraging and they see a nation weak from within.

They see our shores as perhaps not so formidable.

No country has invaded us since 1812, but nations with unstable leaders, who relish disorder and anger in their cities and towns, do not fare well in history. Hold back, America. Be calm. Vote with all your mighty conviction. Then go home and await the returns.

Violence and chaos can weaken us as never before, and those leaders who wish us ill are watching with all the craftiness of Scar in the Lion King, waiting for his moment to pounce on the wounded prey in his sights.

Together, we are strong.

Divided against itself, as Abraham Lincoln said, a house - even our house - cannot stand.

Cry, My Beloved Country.

September 14th, 2020

The people of other nations are worried about us.

Us? The United States of America?

Yes. Due to the actions of our president, the U.S.A.’s self-described stance as “exceptional” is in jeopardy.

How did we become exceptional? In the 20th century our place was firmly established by President Franklin Roosevelt, who built a governing-manufacturing-citizen coalition here, and a coalition of allied nations in Europe and Asia. Together they patched enormous and varied resources, which enabled the defeat of war-waging Germany and Japan.

The peace and order that followed has been maintained and bolstered by U.S. leadership and military might that left us atop the world of nations.

But we are no longer leading, no longer convening the major democracies in the cause of freedom and justice. The shine is gone. Instead, our president dismisses allies and embraces murderous dictators, even musing how much he admires their power over their countrymen: “He [North Korea’s Kim] speaks and his people sit up in attention. I want my people to do the same.” His people? Sir, you work for us.

Because of his divisive words, his daily blasts of insult and rage, our civil discourse is fracturing, with crude online and in-person name-calling that’s harmed children and families, that some have now carried to physical violence in the streets.

Beloved country, what is happening to us?

In the midst of a global pandemic, unseen by the nations of the globe for more than a century, coupled with the ensuing economic depression, our president mocks world renowned U.S. scientists, shuns their life-saving advice, denies states life-saving support and encourages disorder.

Consequently, we hear some of our fellow citizens exclaim, at a time of a deadly contagion, “I want to be ‘free,’” from the “oppression” of suggestions by public health officials to wear a mask, because “I don’t want my government telling me what to do.” But without the leadership of these agencies, how can we expect to be rid of the COVID-19 virus and its deadly threat to our lives?

Our governors asked us to stay at home, and we did, for three months. As a result, the rate of COVID-19 infection, then roaring through the states, and the horrible rising toll of death, slowly stopped climbing and reached a plateau, which allowed hospitals and healthcare workers to breathe and their facilities to re-group.

But then … infections began to skyrocket in those states whose leaders ordered them to “re-open,” for citizens to resume normal activities. And with the onset of flu season, we’re told by our scientists that illness, COVID on top of flu, will again rise and become deadlier than it was last spring.

Remember those health workers so daily taxed, their energy overcome, seen in harrowing video diaries last spring? What’s to become of them? On those dedicated health workers will fall the burden of our mistakes, of failed national leadership.

All while our president has so diverted our attention from our genuine national crises, to those of his own personal imagination, that our nation risks a shattering of what makes us “exceptional.”

After federal forces descended on Portland in the summer, columnist Roger Cohen received a letter from Brown University history professor Michael Steinberg, the former president of the American Academy in Berlin, who expressed these alarming words:

“The American catastrophe seems to get worse every day, but the events in Portland have particularly alarmed me as a kind of strategic experiment for fascism. The playbook from the German fall of democracy in 1933 seems well in place, including rogue military factions, the destabilization of cities, etc.”

Even Germany’s leading news publication has expressed its concern for us, saying, “the foundations of American democracy have grown brittle.” — a warning from the nation once, itself, consumed by fascism that fought to consume the world.

Does this sound like the United States of America we want to pass on to our children, and their children? We’ll have a chance to decide, in less than 40 days.

What say you, beloved country?

How to Apply for Your Absentee Ballot

August 18th, 2020

Simply go to this link - https://www.usvotefoundation.org/vote/voter-registration-absentee-voting.htm - to fill in an online application for your absentee ballot for the November 3rd Election.

At this site - https://www.nass.org/can-i-vote/absentee-early-voting - which is operated by the National Association of Secretaries of State, the organization for those officials who manage elections in each state, you will be taken to your state’s election office, where there are instructions on how to apply for your absentee ballot.