Monday, June 18, 2012

Lincoln's Shadow, cultural taboos and a bit of 'grit'

I believe that most presidents are haunted by the shadows; that in four or eight years they will not, and cannot combine the eloquence, common tongue, brevity and insight of Jefferson or Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln most of all.

In 268 words with the Gettysburg Address, he centered the present in all that America had struggled with, and the lofty ideals it struggled towards. He addressed the idea of the individual as part of the nation but also how the concept of nation is greater than an individual. He reinforced that the concept should not be lost but held in the simplicity that those who are part of the nation ARE the nation, and should be represented by them. He held the present in the palm of his hand, taking responsibility for articulating the reasons for sacrifice, whether a person agreed with them all or not. And at the same time, espoused openly a radical idea of equality, one which was taboo, and though it took 149 years from then until now, when a Black American is the president, a representative of the people, in a government for the people, it is a topic still ringed in taboos. He reminded all of his limits as a President, that he could not, in grandstanding, in ringing speeches, turn something sacred, no matter how many influential individuals might cheer. It was the acts of farmers, and school teachers and the sadness that so many who died, who spilled blood, who lost innocence of the soul which made the ground sacred. Because they died believing that they did not act in vain, and their lives and deaths had meaning. Here, he took upon the voice of President, the elected voice of the people to take responsibility, that he act until their vision was a reality. And looking forward unto the day when the nation existed under new freedom, and equal freedom in action and representation.

All in 268 words. It seems we are in dire need for a President who can see where we have come, the inequities which still exist, those who fight and die as they lived, still attempting change. I hope for one who speaks as a President on what needs to and will occur.

But in quips or notes, Lincoln’s words are ones which manage to hold the highest idealism, but always with the present knowledge of his own and others human limitations. “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”, “He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.” Or the simple, “Everyone like a compliment.”

After Bush was elected, along with so many others, on the backs of the fear of LGBTQIA and that people like myself would love openly, I was saddened beyond words. There is ugliness in all of us, and I respect those who, like I do, seek within the self, as I look in myself, to root it out.

President Bush was open with his hate, and it was ugly, and unforgettable when he attacked same sex marriage in a State of the Union address.  Astounded still and hurt when later said that the threat of Linda and I together was a greater threat to the US than terrorism. He was a man who inspired a bigoted ugliness in those who felt it safe to do so, like how one person making racial jokes can, by position, influence or location, inspire others to open racism to ‘fit it’, or ‘be one of the gang.’ That kind of scarring ugliness spread to election ads of candidates as each seemed to scramble to assure all that they would use their power to ensure the elimination of a relationship like Linda’s and myself, like friends of ours, like all the LGBT couples. We came back to Canada to be married not just in the eyes of God, but in the eyes of government as well: equal at last, or so it seemed. Meanwhile, I am a US citizen, Linda is not, and so Linda cannot take, as spouse, what is rightfully hers: the green card, to live and work with her spouse, leading to citizenship herself. The right of a family: our family, is sacrificed not for the future of a nation, but for the ugly fear of the unknown, and the taboo.

I know, that Lincoln was as fallible as any of us, but seemed humble enough to be aware of it. “Die when I may, I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.”

It would be an honor to have such said of me. Such simplicity and openness is something which is often feared, and rarely duplicated in politics. Why do Presidents tell us that lying to us is in our best interest, and we, individually and as a nation accept it? It seems the idea of a leader ‘of the people’ wasn’t our future after all.

I remember discussing with Linda, as we could see the pendulum turn at the end against Bush and whomever the Democrats put up would win. It was between a white woman, Hillary Clinton, and a Black male, Barack Obama. And the election of either, and one would be elected, would set a precedent, and change the asperations of the youth, the possibilities of the present, and tiptoe around two of America’s cultural issues: the stereotypes of non-whites, particularly blacks in the US and the idea of true equality for women. Which, we debated, did the Democrats think a step too far for the general population to follow? We watched from Europe, with Germany’s female leader, as well as the history of female leaders in most European countries, and representation ranging from Sweden and Denmark’s 40%+ of parliament members to the mid 20’s in more conservative nations. The US had less than 10% females, in congress and senate, even now, while minorities combined, represented 16-17%.

I thought, naively, that with all other ‘western’ countries having had a female leader, including Canada, that a female would be more acceptable than the idea of a black leader over a white congress. I based this on cultural popular representation when TV in the last 40 years has failed to put individuals of color in anything more than a ‘supporting role’ (unless I am missing a series of shows). When I think back on the ‘big name’ or ‘leading edge’ shows from HBO, Showtime, or other stations like Rome, LOST, Breaking Bad, 24, Criminal Mind, Hawaii Five-0, Law and Order, Deadwood, Son’s of Anarchy, Game of Thrones, NCIS, etc. These shows say that the world is concerned over ‘the problems of white guys’ while the few high production shows showing individuals of color, like The Wire and Treme have leads and side individuals who are criminals, addicts, disenfranchised and those abused by poverty, or abused the system which seems to make living harder, not easier for them, or both.

While watching Men in Black III with Linda, the character J goes to what he thinks is K's apartment.  It is occupied by a white mother with several small children.  J, played by Will Ferrell, has a craving for chocolate milk and asks to drink the milk from one of the children.  A child, perhaps 6 or 7 asks the mother, "Why is the President drinking our choclate milk?"

I was stunned, and turned to Linda and whispered, "Was that a joke?  That most American's can't tell the difference between two black men?"   I still can't tell if that was mocking general practice as later agent J goes back to 1969 and is pulled over on the assumption that because he is driving a nice car, it must be stolen.   Which in some parts of LA, while I grew up, was no joke at all, but a sad reality.  However, racial profiling in the LAPD had been demonstrated repeated until Rodney King became the 'last straw.'  Then President Bush brought racial profiling back and campaigns against Muslim men running for congress used to include hints or accusations of connections to Terrorism or 'Anti-American.'  A good example of views can be seen in 30 days, the show where individuals live for 30 days in a different culture within the US.  The white midwest male who lived with the Muslim family at first was worried he was being 'converted' but finding a spiritual leader who could help explain the practices for him helped him understand a lot.  But his attempts to get signatures on a petition against violence towards Muslims had people calling him some horrid things, and 'Anti-American' was one of the nicest. 

Obama opened a door, and I hope that after four years, is judged on his merits rather than his skin color.  And it is a possibility and example of the highest office that I hope other minorities can walk through, and other nations, like the UK to have a Prime Minister of 'Asian' heritage (the description in the UK for individuals with connections to India). Though the frequent claims that because President Obama is black, or a person of color he thus must not be from America at all (The first time I heard this, I asked if the person suggesting it was making some sort of April 1st joke, it seemed so....absurd) demonstrates the problems 150 years later on a nation, united in equality.

On a side note, I finished watching True Grit, a Cohen Brothers film, with a female protagonist, aged 14, who seeks a man of ‘Grit’ to follow and bring her father’s murder to justice. She seems to know far to much about the law and like all Cohen brother’s films, classic actors are made so ugly as to be unrecognizable, while given free reign to their eccentricies while we are bathed in language which is invigorating as it is ludicrous (unless Texas and Arkansas rangers did debate the meaning of Latin phrases while on a manhunt). Sadly, Maddie is the only female of note, and this is again, the woes of whites, but good to see this smart 14 year old female take on these males used to having their way and outsavvy them, and if need be, out grit them too.


Neil said...

WEll said, Beth. President Lincoln led his country forward for the benefit of all. I believe that President Obama is trying to do the same; but the Conservatives in the USA and Canada seeme to want to gain and hold power through ignorance, fear, and at best, half-truths.

Joe Clark would have been a great Prime Minister (and I've been an NDP supporter for most of my life). But the media wouldn't give him a chance, and he ended up with a minority government that lasted only nine months.

In the 1950s, Robert Heinlein wrote a series of stories he called the future histories of the USA. In his stories, the Reverend Nehemiah Scudder won the 2012 election. In 2016, there was no election. The religious right had begun squashing Americans' freedoms, access to education, and access to the outside world. Mrl Harper is beginning to remind me of that fictional character, and the Tea Party may as well have used his platform as their founding documents.

I wish that someone like YOU, Beth, could be our Prime Minister. Someone with intelligence, integrity, and honesty.

Maybe someday...

Love and zen hugs,

Anonymous said...

Ever since the Reagan administration it has seemed that the divide between the right and the left in politics is greater and the rhetoric is more hate filled. The hate speech and intolerance just seemed to grow exponentially under George W. Bush. The tactic has seemed to be to work on getting people to vote based on their fears rather than on their hopes.

Sadly, the MIB III line about the President drinking milk is a joke and yet it isn’t. US society seems to be full of people who can’t look past things like race or color to see the individual and so to them all (insert ethnic group here) look the same.

I can truly say about you that you HAVE always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where you thought a flower would grow. You work very hard on being the best possible person and encourage growth and change in all those around you.


Linda McClung said...

It can definitely be said of you that you pluck thistles and plant flowers where they might grow. You change the world for the better, Beth.

This is a great piece of writing, Beth. Very thought provoking. Personalizing the politics to individual lives, in my opinion, helps people who really listen with eyes open to have a more balanced approached.

I hope polititians are judged on their actions not on racial stereotypes - no matter what the country.