America has ceded economic power to Asia. We’ve engaged in forever-wars which were not only immoral, but just brain-numbingly counterproductive. We’ve abandoned important allies on important issues.
But there’s an area where we could still, late in the game, show leadership. Yes, that’s still possible, even in this shit-salad of apocalyptic harbingers, including a plague at home and abroad, and dictators at home and abroad.
Racist, incompetent, genocide-capable leaders have always existed. But they used to pop up, like, one or two at a time. Today we have a whole roster of puffed-up, unstable strongmen. There are legitimately ambitious and effective dictators in Russia, Brazil, the Philippines, Hungary, China, the U.S., and North Korea, to name just the most obvious ones.
Is it hard to imagine any two of the above leaders making a deal to look the other way at each other’s atrocities, in order to retain power?
Hell, with this group, I could see a freaking five-way pact — Russia, China, Turkey, Brazil, and the United States all promising to overlook genocides or marital law among signatories with no press criticism at home about unfolding atrocities, nor about the existence of the pact.
One can imagine how cheaply Trump would sell off the right to mention Uighurs publicly. That probably costs what? Two or three Chinese trademarks for Ivanka?
As long as our country is taking water fast, as long as our so-called democratic experiment looks increasingly likely to sink, we might as well go out like the Christians we claim to be.
In the formulation made popular by the evangelical movement, what would Jesus do?
At least 5-to-1 odds he’d reprise his role as spokesman for the poor, the disenfranchised, the discriminated against, the migrants, and yes, the poor bastards who are today being forced to keep working because their grocery-store jobs, FedEx jobs, and Amazon jobs are deemed essential … but not essential enough to pay more than $9 bucks an hour.
A SEARCHING AND FEARLESS MORAL INVENTORY
We’re way overdue for ‘a searching and fearless moral inventory’ in this nation. COVID19 and Tump feel like just the latest raging, dumpster-fire catastrophes.
What would we as Americans even say to a returning Jesus right now?
Hell, Jesus is probably still rip-shit about MLK. That assassination happened, like, yesterday, in God years. After all, God works on 2,000-year-long cycles. The shootings of JFK, Malcolm X, MLK, and RFK were 20 seconds ago.
An incredulous Jesus might ask, Are you even shitting me right now? You’re going to keep killing all of them?
I’m guessing Jesus is mad about all of it, going all the way back — segregation, torture, separating families, rape, enslavement, genocide. Those things occurred at our country’s founding, and they’re occurring now, just like they always have.
I wouldn’t be shocked if Jesus even stopped watching. As a Netflix show, we’d be terrible. After three episodes, he may well have said, I mean just, like, unwatchably dumb.
I’m not an authority on the religious Jesus, nor the historical one. But with even a passing knowledge of U.S. history and the Bible, I can locate the Son of God in same general ballpark, Venn Diagram-wise, as MLK. Overlapping categories include: charity, courage, nobility, generosity, non-violence, and fuck-the-man/fuck-the-Sadducees spirit.
A FAT CHUNK OF THAT NEXT $2 TRILLION STIMULUS PACKAGE
America is losing, with only a few ticks left in our democracy. We just are. It would take an absurd final play to stave off defeat. But one possibility sits right in front of us.
We apologize. We start paying back. We earmark a fat chunk of that next $2 trillion COVID19 stimulus package to pump money into communities which are still suffering under the boot of institutionalized racism. We enact policies and public-health measures to begin the process of discussing slavery and genocide like actual adults. We acknowledge that events from long ago have massive, continuing effects on descendants of both victims and perpetrators.
We could start small. Name a historical review commission. Let commissioners study what places like South Africa, Germany, Cambodia, Chile, and Rwanda did to grapple with their past genocides. What worked, what didn’t?
We could follow the lead of universities, such as Georgetown and Harvard, which are acknowledging their past institutional involvement with slavery and are responding with targeted measures to begin paying back.
As the writer Eve Ensler has convincingly argued in another context, and as AA adherents have discovered in still another context, the act of apologizing is extremely powerful, both for the speaker and the listener. It is healing for both.
But the crucial first step is, say it out loud.
We tortured people.
We enslaved people.
We killed people.
That’s how we founded our country. We still do it now with drone strikes, enhanced interrogation, the so-called ‘war on drugs,’ use of lethal force by police, widespread incarceration, and endless war abroad. Even more impressively, we hector the rest of the world NOT to commit human rights violations. As President Clinton once said of House Speaker Paul Ryan, “You got to (admit) one thing — it takes some brass to accuse a guy of doing what you did.”
As Americans, we have some heavy-duty, gnarly karma which we are still working out. Two crimes of excruciating intensity shudder down through the ages — the enslavement of Africans and the slaughter of Indians. We need to say those crimes out loud. Weirdly enough, we may even need to do it right now, during COVID19.
This global moment is a fluid, volatile, profoundly disrupted moment, not to mention yet another example of institutionalized racism disproportionately killing black people and Native Americans. It’s a perfect time for us as individuals, and as a nation, to take moral inventory.
For an instructive example of what not to do, look at Turkey, one of the first practitioners of modern genocide. Turkey is at the opposite pole from Germany, as far as official mea culpas and public policies after a holocaust.
Turkey’s government is the poster child for the intricate, fractal Orwellian Hell which starts erecting itself, once a nation denies the fact of 2 million inhabitants having been raped, tortured, starved, and slaughtered.
In America, Faulkner was right; slavery was the original sin. (Well, that and killing Indians.)
Look at the news last week in Kentucky. One of Trump’s brand-new, deeply under-qualified federal judges issued an openly theocratic “ruling.” Writing about a local church which planned to congregate despite public-health guidelines, Judge Justin Walker said,
[F]or the men and women of Christians On Fire, Christ’s sacrifice isn’t about the logic of this world. Nor is their Easter Sunday celebration. The reason they will be there for each other and their Lord is the reason they believe He was and is there for us. For them, for all believers, “it isn’t a matter of reason; finally, it’s a matter of love.”
And this judge, just six months into his district-court job, is already nominated for the crucial D.C. Circuit. His ruling last week is an early audition to be shortlisted one day for SCOTUS vacancies. Judge Waker on the Supreme Court is a scene from The Handmaids Tale.
A NOBEL PRIZE FOR TRUMP
What would Jesus say at this moment in world affairs?
Unlike Judge Walker in Kentucky, I can admit I don’t know. But if you put a gun to my head, which in this climate feels increasingly likely, and if you forced me to pick a good, Christ-like model of leadership from recent world history, two who jump out are Ghandi and MLK. The courage and righteousness of those two was undeniable. Next-level, epochal leadership was shown.
Trump could be next to join them.
I’m kidding, but only sort of. Here are a couple scenarios in which Trump could be imagined floating the idea of reparations for slavery.
One is abject terror at the possibility of losing power. Any black voters peeled from Biden are electoral gold.
The other scenario is, someone telling Trump he could win the Nobel Peace Prize via reparations rhetoric, if not the actual deed. Make the promise, as with the Border Wall, and then later claim accomplishment, facts be damned.
The big, “beautiful,” impenetrable Border Wall does not exist. But it doesn’t matter. Trump says it does. He is breathtakingly effective at telling the same huge lie over and over, until half the country believes it.
If you don’t think #reparations and #Nobel Prize would trigger the filter settings on Trump’s phone, you haven’t been paying attention. Just the intoxicating combination of those two glorious words – Trump and Nobel – would inject the scheme straight to the deepest core of his tiny, panicked, psychotic brain.
Sure, he knows reparations talk is a possible reap-the-whirlwind scenario. But that whirlwind is beginning to arrive anyway. Look at our world now.
Depending on the week, it’s either the worst U.S. economy of all-time, or the best. Either 2 million Americans will die, or just 60,000. You’ll have to keep checking your phone to find out. Fun!
What would Jesus say right now?
He might say:
Oh my god, you fucking imbeciles, how could I possibly make it any clearer? You sinned. In an egregious way. TIME TO APOLOGIZE. Time to start paying back. And yes, I mean to use the word “pay,” you conniving fuckers. Time finally to cough up the one thing you’ve been obsessed with — without interruption — since your nation’s founding … money.
Go back over the early blueprints for our government; the Founders were aristocrats trying to make the smart, long play to remain rich forever, as a class. Indeed, time-traveling founders would be be quietly satisfied and impressed by the current spectacle of low-income, voter-suppressed, “essential” citizens getting paid peanuts for their “essential” jobs.
America brags about capitalism. Here’s a principle to consider. If a job is truly essential, fucking pay for it that way. Show the money.
The truth is, the Founders were just fine with slavery. They also didn’t think twice about genocide against Indians.
FUCKED EITHER WAY
You might ask, why in the world would Trump do something as dangerous as double-crossing the white supremacists among his followers?
He won’t do so willingly, but he is just crazy enough to entertain the idea for a hot second and then lie about it later. He can always retweet the idea one day and then deny it the next. A reversal like that is just another day at the office.
In my absurd fever dream of Trump even mentioning reparations, he would rightfully be worried about assassination.
Which he opposes. (Again rightfully.)
Racial violence is the raw, gaping wound which we are still lying to ourselves about in the United States. In a sense we’re almost as reprehensible as Turkey denying the Armenian Genocide. At least we’ve had 250 years to work our way toward meaningful amends. By comparison, at 100 years, Turkey is still a rookie at covering up original sin.
We have seen occasional, operatic gestures of mercy from Trump toward individual African-Americans, such as prisoners enduring unjust sentences or a rapper arrested abroad. We’ve also seen Trump’s inscrutable — or maybe simply addled — fascination with celebrities like Kanye and Diamond & Silk.
Trump famously asked an African-American audience, ‘What the hell do you have to lose’ by voting for Trump? He put his finger on something in that moment. He wasn’t wrong that Democrats, too, have failed back voters spectacularly. Not nearly as spectacularly as post-WWII Republicans or Trump himself, of course. But Trump’s crass, sneering, rhetorical demand may have hit home with at least some black TV viewers.
At least this crazy racist is saying out loud what we know to be true, that black people are always, always fucked, either way.
Trump himself is an actual white supremacist, on the incontrovertible facts.
The only way the word “reparations” ever passes his lips is if he is about to fall into the terrifying abyss of One-Term Presidency — a fate too excruciating for him even to contemplate. The current COVID19 instability, coupled with his suddenly endangered re-election prospects, could push a frightened Trump to double-cross anyone, even white supremacists.
Would he be scared of assassination? Of course. But he could increase the size of his security detail by a factor of fifty. Americans would nod vacantly, or get turned on by the escalating tension, or maybe, as in the final moments of The Truman Show, merely reach for their remotes and ask, Anything else on?
A reparations hail-mary wouldn’t necessarily force Trump to give up his other addiction, which is addressing live rallies. He could simply appear by video, as Big Brother does in 1984, as teachers now address students, as doctors now examine patients, as loved ones now say goodbye to dying COVID19 patients.
It’s all on our screens now. We don’t have to leave our house. We’re not allowed to leave our house. We’re like the the housewife in Fahrenheit 452 who derived mirthless, addicted amusement from the interactive soap operas screening 24/7 on her walls.
Orwell and Bradbury were right, about all of it. Today is just the latest inflection point.
But hey, if Trump won’t say “reparations,” I’d settle for a few courageous clergyman to connect the dots. Or maybe a reasonable, reassuring, Jesuit-educated public health official, like Dr. Anthony Fauci. The effects of slavery, genocide, and institutionalized racism are public-health problems.
Unfortunately, #reparations will be left instead for Russian bots to use as a tool of division. Which is a shame. It need not be a wedge issue. A meaningful apology, sincerely undertaken, has the opposite effect. It brings two sides closer together and unlocks a future which would otherwise be impossible.