Staying quiet in face of racism is no longer enough

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Within minutes of seeing it, I send a message to his mother, my cousin. “Have you seen your son’s new tattoo?”

I’d spotted the tattoo on her son’s Facebook page, big on his shoulder, still shiny and fresh. There is a Confederate flag. There is a noose. There are the words Southern Justice scrolled across.

“Oh, I’ve seen it,” she says, brushing me off. “He just turned 18. He’s a grownup. What am I supposed to do?”

You are supposed to act like his mother, I want to scream. You are supposed to teach him this symbol is hateful and that you do not approve.

But I don’t. I am a polite, white, southern woman, so I gather myself up in silence the way I’ve been taught, in ladylike politesse. And I let it drop.

Writer Jamilah Lemieux writes: In times like this, white people are quick to throw their hands up and dissociate themselves from racism and the person accused of the racist act. But how many of them can say they have actively worked to challenge the racism in the people around them? How many folks have sat quietly as Uncle Jimbo tells the story of the time he put that one n***** in his place at work?

I let it drop.
I have not actively worked.
I have sat quietly.

My dad tells his favorite joke to the little kids running about. It goes something like this: Little Black Sambo is sitting on the toilet, sick with diarrhea, screaming, Mom! I’m melting!

Dad laughs. All the kids hoot and giggle. I give my dad a look, but he simply shrugs and says, “Oh, lighten up.” I go silent.

I once heard Maya Angelou speak at my school. “Used to be,” she said, in her low-timbered voice, “when someone told a joke about blacks or Mexicans or Catholics at some dinner party, I would show my disapproval with my silence. Didn’t want to rock the boat. Didn’t want to make a scene. Didn’t want to call attention. But now! “  her voice thundered with the now , “now I turn on my heel and take up my pocketbook and my wrap and out the door I go. Even if I’m the guest of honor!”

Giving a look is not enough.
I have not actively worked.
I have sat quietly.

My family goes to mass at St. Augustine Catholic Church every Sunday. After church, with FOX News on the TV, my mother makes a big breakfast while my stepfather rages for a good hour about how much he hates all the neighbors he has just seen in church, how all politicians and n****** and spics should be lined up and shot down with machine guns, and how those fags with AIDS got what they deserved. “Put them on an island somewhere,” he says, “and set it on fire.”

My mother pours him another cup of coffee. We exchange glances.

Glances are not enough.
I have not actively worked.
I have sat quietly.

Aunt Mary has several grandchildren, their photos prominently displayed on her living room shelves. “Where are the pictures of Rae’s kids?” I ask.

Aunt Mary leads me into her bedroom, tugs at the top drawer of her dresser, and hands me a stack of baby photos and grade school photos and high school photos. Rae’s mixed race children.

When I raise a brow she says, “Don’t you give me that. These are my grandkids, and I love them just as much as the rest.”

When I don’t answer, Aunt Mary sighs, “You don’t live here no more. You don’t know my neighbors. They’ll call me a n***** lover behind my back. I live alone and I need my neighbors to help take care of me. I can’t afford your political correctness.”

I hand the stack of pictures back to her. She returns them to the drawer, shoves it closed.

Raising my brow is not enough.
I have not actively worked.
I have sat quietly.

I am visiting my stepfather in a sterile hospital room. He’s had open-heart surgery and developed a massive infection, so the doctors have removed the staples and re-opened his chest.

I see that his chest is, in fact, agape, split open and stuffed with thick mounds of white gauze. He is happy to see me but in a foul mood. A black nurse is working this shift and he swears she is trying to kill him. “That n***** is got-damned worthless,” he yells when he spots her walking down the hall, not bothering to wait until she is out of earshot.

“Hey,” I whisper. “Knock it off.”

Saying “knock it off” is not enough.
I have not actively worked.
I have sat quietly.

I recall Jamilah Lemieux’s words — how quick I am to throw up my hands — and I know I am both in the wrong and not alone.

Is it so hard to say, the KKK is a domestic terrorist organization; the Confederate Flag is a symbol of supremacy and intimidation; alt-right hate groups like Vanguard America and The Daily Stormer must be publicly repudiated and shunned; President Trump’s weak and vague response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia is unacceptable?

We can do more than give up, let it drop, give a glance, leave the room, and raise a brow. We can do more than go to church, say a prayer, hide our photos in drawer, and whisper “knock it off.”

We can stop sitting quietly. We can actively work.

We can stand up and fucking scream: Enough.

For Whom I’m Praying

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I regularly receive angry mail from religious leaders chastising me for writing columns about our president. They are most always older white men.

Today I received this note from a local Methodist pastor in my mailbox:

I could assume you are one of the democratic “Trump haters” in which case the president can do nothing that would please you. I am sorry you feel the way you do and that you would consider publishing such a mean piece about our president. I wonder how such a beautiful lady (picture) could have such “bad” thoughts. Why don’t you join many of us in praying for our president.
____________

To all those who write, I say:

Dear Pastor:

In no particular order …

I pray for the handicapped reporter our president mocked from the stage.

I pray for the woman about whom our then 60 yr old president said, “I did try and fuck her. She was married. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there.”

I pray for all of the women about whom the president referred when saying, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

I pray for the gold star parents he smeared, and for all good people who are now threatened and persecuted by hate-groups who now feel emboldened by this president.

I pray for the elderly and uneducated students of Trump University who were sold a scam and lost thousands of dollars in order to line his pockets.

I pray for the refugees escaping persecution whom he insists on barring from the safe harbor of this great country.

I pray for our military troops and generals, as they work for a man who claims he knows more than they do.

I pray for freedom of the press

 

I pray for the courage of Congress and the survival of our democracy.

And most fervently, I pray for Robert Mueller and his team.

Thank you for writing.
Teri Carter

White House liar-in-chief is no Boy Scout

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Pablo Picasso, Buste de Femme

In the latest Quinnipiac poll, 54 percent of voters say they are embarrassed to have Donald Trump as president. Asked if the president is honest, 62 percent answered no.

To the president’s credit, he works hard to achieve these staggering numbers. On July 25, he told the Wall Street Journal, “I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them, and they were very thankful.” The Boy Scouts deny making said call, much less that it was the greatest speech ever made.

On July 31, he told his Cabinet he’d received a congratulatory phone call—“The president of Mexico called me, they said their southern border, very few people are coming because they know they are not going to get through our border, which is the ultimate compliment.”—only to have the Mexican Foreign Minister issue a statement, “President Pena Nieto has not recently communicated by phone with President Donald Trump.”

There is a pattern.

Remember when then-candidate Trump said he’d gotten a letter from the NFL complaining about the scheduling of presidential debates, and the NFL said no such letter was ever sent? Or when he lied about tapes he might have made of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey? Or when Comey testified under oath that the president lied when he said Comey had lost the confidence of an F.B.I. in disarray. “Those were lies, plain and simple.” 

As Steve Schmidt, former campaign manager for John McCain, said, “You have to make an assumption at this point that every statement made from this White House is a lie.”

To Trump loyalists crowing their tired Obama line, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” note the difference between a mistaken statement soon apologized for vs. Mr. Trump’s innumerable, casual lies that serve simply to stroke his own fragile ego.

Forget fake news. Fake accolades are high on our president’s priority list, a habit dating back to the 1990s when he would call NYC tabloids, pretending to be a spokesman named “John Miller”, to plant stories about himself. “He’s somebody that has a lot of options, and, frankly, you know, he gets called by everybody. He gets called by everybody in the book, in terms of women.”

At age 71, it seems the president is neither able nor willing to clean up his act. He lies big and he lies small, and half the country shrugs.

We were told we were going to win so much we would get tired of winning. Is this what winning looks like, keeping track of our president’s false and misleading statements?

Seven months in, the president is busy patting himself on the back, but for what? His sole accomplishment was putting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, but even that can be attributed entirely to the efforts of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

He watched the healthcare debate from the sidelines, never holding a single press conference to sell it or a town hall to answer questions.

He has not made time to visit military leaders in Afghanistan, but has spent approximately 60 days escaping to Trump properties where he canoodles with the high-society set and plays golf.

He flies around the country on Air Force One performing his tried and true campaign speeches as if he has not already won the presidency, fomenting crowd favorites like, “We are going to start saying Merry Christmas again!” A lie that gets resounding, if ignorant, applause, since no one ever stopped saying Merry Christmas.

According to Quinnipiac, the president’s approval rating has reached an all-time low of 33 percent, but I will say this: the most truthful thing about the president is that he has always been clear about who he is. So he lies. So what.

“One of the ironies here,” says presidential historian Jon Meecham, “is a base of Americans who don’t trust Washington sent someone to Washington who is fundamentally untrustworthy.”

In the earliest stages of his campaign, Mr. Trump railed before a crowd at Iowa Central Community College, ’’How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?’’

Pretty stupid, it turns out.

Tweeter in Chief

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Photo credit: The Washington Post

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The president is not presidential. He does not hold press conferences to push his agenda. He does not preside over town halls. He does not explain policy from the podium. He does not speak to his Attorney General when he is displeased.

He tweets.

Waking up to the president’s Twitter feed brings Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury to mind. Not the book, mind you, but that famous line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth from which the title derives: “a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Because what, if anything, do a president’s tweets signify?

In a 60 Minutes interview on healthcare, the president said, “I am going to take care of everybody … Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”

But there are never details on said care. He mostly delivers his favorite zinger, “the disaster known as Obamacare,” and tweets like he is coaching a baseball game. “Go Republican Senators, Go!”

He screams from the sidelines. I need a win on the board!

Whether you are for or against in the healthcare debate, the fact remains: there are millions who count on Obamacare to keep them, and their children, alive. Americans who lie awake nights with worry. The words “let Obamacare implode” are not presidential, they are the diatribe of a lazy despot who would rather let his people suffer than do the work required of his position.

Six months in, the president is already bored with legislation. Bored with this healthcare nonsense. Bored with the not-so-glamorous parts of the presidency.

So he tweets.

Of course, the president’s supporters argue otherwise. He is an outsider, not politically correct, draining the swamp. He fights for the working man and against the liberal elites, coastal elites, and intellectual elites at Goldman Sachs who paid Hillary Clinton big bucks for a speech.

Yet most of Trump’s White House staff—Mnuchin, Cohn, Ross, Powell, Bannon, Donovan, Scaramucci—reads like a Real Housewives of Wall Street cast, a swanky, black-tie invitation list of Harvard-educated bankers. So goes the biggest joke on Wall Street, “Is there even anyone left at Goldman Sachs?”

One morning last week, at 5:55 am, the president issued a string of tweets on military policy that began with, “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow……”

In the long nine minutes between this first tweet and the next—his intent to bar transgender Americans from service — Pentagon staffers held their collective breath. Was their Commander in Chief about to tweet us into a war?

And imagine you are one of those 15,000 transgender service members, many of whom are on the front lines risking their lives, hearing from your president in a tweet: you are not good enough to take a bullet for your country.

In her July 27 Wall Street Journal column, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote, “Half the president’s tweets show utter weakness. They are plaintive, shrill little cries, usually just after dawn.” The mad king wakes up in a mood, lashing out, and “meanwhile, the whole world is watching, a world that contains predators. How could they not be seeing this weakness, confusion and chaos and thinking it’s a good time to cause some trouble?”

The president is not draining the swamp. He is simply the most dangerous alligator in the swamp.

Safe behind the screen of his Twitter handle, the president ridicules his staff, dares Congress, berates the press, and dresses down everyone from the leader of China to cable TV hosts.

He flies around the country on Air Force One, refueling his ego with campaign-style rallies, delivering his most-reliable applause lines. Hillary lost! Lock her up! Fake news! Look at this record crowd! We are going to start staying Merry Christmas again! (Note: we never stopped saying Merry Christmas.)

What he does not do is govern.

Out on the road, free from the prison walls of the White House, the president opines on the glory days of his big election win—Michigan! Wisconsin! Ohio!—and soaks up the adoration of his doe-eyed believers in their red, team-Trump hats.

Only to wake in the morning, empty again, reaching for his phone. His tweets full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Maybe someone could tell Mr. Trump he is the real president, not just playing one on Twitter.

If Trump offends you, it’s your own fault

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Photo credit: The Associated Press

When Carl pulled his bedroom door closed behind us, when I heard the old metal latch click into place, I knew what would come next: the mounting of his defense.

“You think you’re doing her a favor,” he said, reaching out, laying his hand soft on my arm. “But you’re wrong, and you’re going to look ridiculous. I haven’t been sleeping, maybe she told you, so I’m exhausted, jet-lagged, getting over something, I don’t know what, but I’m not feeling like myself, know what I mean?”

Carl was my best friend’s husband. Handsome, charming, successful, a hard worker, a man’s man, family man, the life of the party. And a closet alcoholic. I’d come over that evening to tell his wife what had happened at her 50th birthday party the week before, but Carl was there to head me off.

So I stood there, trapped in my best friend’s darkening bedroom, and let her husband call me a liar.

Living with Donald Trump as president is a lot like living with an alcoholic: his behavior, however embarrassing or reprehensible, must never be questioned; everyone outside his very tight circle has an ulterior motive and cannot be trusted; if he has offended you, it is somehow your own fault.

And most importantly, he, alone, tells the truth.

As media outlets investigating Russian meddling into the 2016 election closed in on the president’s eldest son’s emails, as well as a secret meeting of top Trump campaign officials, the president—who has not held an official press conference in five months—lashed out on Twitter.

“Remember, when you hear the words ‘sources say’ from the Fake Media, often times those sources are made up and do not exist.”

At 3:30 a.m on Sunday, July 16, he kept at it: “With all of its phony unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting, #Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country! Hillary Clinton can illegally get the questions to the Debate & delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News Media?”

On his recent trip to Europe for the G20 Summit, the president took the opportunity to bash the American press on foreign soil. A first for a sitting president. “They have been fake news for a long time. They’ve been covering me in a very, very dishonest way,” Trump said, singling out CNN, then went on to say, “NBC is equally as bad,” as well as his favorite punching bag, the failing New York Times.

The president’s behavior is textbook. None of this is his fault. How dare anyone question him. Only he tells the truth.

In the darkening bedroom with Carl, I stated the facts. At his wife’s party, he was already slurring his words when I arrived at seven p.m. He didn’t so much hug me as fall on me, only to do the same an hour later as if he’d never seen me before. He grabbed one friend by the face and begged unendingly to kiss her, cornering her again in the laundry room. He yanked me down on his lap, refused to let me up, and petted my hair like I was the dog. And he remembered none of it.

But Carl, as he always did when confronted with embarrassing, unwelcome facts, mounted a loud, belligerent defense. “Did you see me with a drink, did you? No, because I rarely drink. When was the last time you saw me with a drink in my hand? Never, that’s when. Maybe you were the one who was drunk!”

At his one and only official press conference back in February, the president brushed off questions about his administration and used his time, not to tout his accomplishments or his plans for our future, but to attack the press.

“The press has become so dishonest,” he said, “the press, honestly, is out of control. You can talk all you want about Russia, which was all fake news.”

Five months have passed. Russia, it turns out, was never fake news. And yet the president continues to ask the American people: who are you going to believe, me or the #FakeNews?

The night after my bedroom lecture from Carl, I told my friend about the party. She listened, and was sometimes horrified, but in the end she could not let herself believe a word of it. Carl had already explained. He was just having a good time, and he really had not been feeling well, I didn’t understand, he was exhausted, plus you know how jet-lag can affect a person.

“Besides,” she said, “the one thing he has never done is lie to me.”

Like the president, he, alone, tells the truth. It’s textbook.

 

8 years of suffering under Barack Obama

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Photo credit: The Associated Press

 

The sentence I hear most from well-meaning, conservative friends since President Trump’s election is this: “We suffered 8 years under Barack Obama.”

Fair enough. Let’s take a look.

The day Obama took office, the Dow closed at 7,949 points. Eight years later, the Dow had almost tripled.

General Motors and Chrysler were on the brink of bankruptcy, with Ford not far behind, and their failure, along with their supply chains, would have meant the loss of millions of jobs. Obama pushed through a controversial, $8o billion bailout to save the car industry. The U.S. car industry survived, started making money again, and the entire $80 billion was paid back, with interest.

While we remain vulnerable to lone-wolf attacks, no foreign terrorist organization has successfully executed a mass attack here since 9/11.

Obama ordered the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

He drew down the number of troops from 180,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan to just 15,000, and increased funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He launched a program called Opening Doors which, since 2010, has led to a 47 percent decline in the number of homeless veterans.

He set a record 73 straight months of private-sector job growth.

Due to Obama’s regulatory policies, greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 12%, production of renewable energy more than doubled, and our dependence on foreign oil was cut in half.

He signed The Lilly Ledbetter Act, making it easier for women to sue employers for unequal pay.

His Omnibus Public Lands Management Act designated more than 2 million acres as wilderness, creating thousands of miles of trails and protecting over 1,000 miles of rivers.

He reduced the federal deficit from 9.8 percent of GDP in 2009 to 3.2 percent in 2016.

For all the inadequacies of the Affordable Care Act, we seem to have forgotten that, before the ACA, you could be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition and kids could not stay on their parents’ policies up to age 26.

Obama approved a $14.5 billion system to rebuild the levees in New Orleans.

All this, even as our own Mitch McConnell famously asserted that his singular mission would be to block anything President Obama tried to do.

While Obama failed on his campaign pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, that prison’s population decreased from 242 to around 50.

He expanded funding for embryonic stem cell research, supporting groundbreaking advancement in areas like spinal injury treatment and cancer.

Credit card companies can no longer charge hidden fees or raise interest rates without advance notice.

Most years, Obama threw a 4th of July party for military families. He held babies, played games with children, served barbecue, and led the singing of “Happy Birthday” to his daughter Malia, who was born on July 4.

Welfare spending is down: for every 100 poor families, just 24 receive cash assistance, compared with 64 in 1996.

Obama comforted families and communities following more than a dozen mass shootings. After Sandy Hook, he said, “The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old.”

Yet, he never took away anyone’s guns.

He sang Amazing Grace, spontaneously, at the altar.

He was the first president since Eisenhower to serve two terms without personal or political scandal.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

President Obama was not perfect, as no man and no president is, and you can certainly disagree with his political ideologies. But to say we suffered? If that’s the argument, if this is how we suffered for 8 years under Barack Obama, I have one wish: may we be so fortunate as to suffer 8 more.

Saying goodbye to Lea

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There is a saying that we keep our old friends to remind us who we were, and that we find new friends because we see, in them, who we want to be. I believe our animals come to us in exactly the same way, when we are lost, when we are searching for our next self.

Thank you, Lea, for finding me. RIP. You’ll always be my best girl in the whole wide world.

Go swim in all the oceans, okay?

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