Yesterday was a new era in America. President Biden was inaugerated during a pandemic. A star was born, a young poet, Amanda Gorman. Ms. Gorman taught Americans and all the world the power of words. She sketched our history, captured our pain, bared the soul of a nation, wove us together from West to East and North to South. She gave us a vision for the future of light and she did it all with the musicality of words. Her words will be studied and remembered for generations.
The next time someone asks me why the humanities are important I am going to reference the words of Gorman “We must see light. We must be brave enough to be the light.” As we move into a new day, we are all better off for being part of yesterday.
My dad grew up in the South in a small town called Lancaster, the deepest, darkest backwaters of South Carolina. He attended the Citadel for college, alma mater to Robert E. Lee, the civil war general. Founded in 1843, Citadel graduates fired the first shots in the Civil War. A rigorous military school, academically comparable to our national military academies, the Citadel was not a bastion of progressive thought.
My ancestors, I am not proud to say were the plantation owners who came from England in the 18th century. English gentry, 2nd sons without land establishing large successful plantations based on slavery. My sister and I can still remember visiting my grandmother, Daisy, who lived to be 102. She owned a large plantation home, a replica of “Gone with the Wind”. The plantation land had been sold by the time we arrived in the 1950’s to visit. But her home and surrounding plot was still a compound with a family duplex built in back. Sections of the house had been walled off so her black maid could have a place to live. A big white mansion had screened front porches for sleeping during the muggy southern summers and large fans throughout because it had no air conditioning. The rooms were huge with high ceilings. We never saw the kitchen, hidden somewhere in the back. The black maid accommodated our food needs.
When we visited our relatives in Lancaster, we could have been dropped into the book, “The Help”. Silent black women dressed in soft pastels with white aprons would appear and take our orders for sweet tea or Coca-cola. As small kid from Wyoming, I found being waited on and sitting quietly in a fussy dress while adults conversed around me quite bizarre and uncomfortable.
We drove to the south whenever we visited. Days of traveling on endless turnpikes with visits to historical monuments and battle fields. I remember asking my mom, “Why are there signs saying whites only and colored on the bathrooms.” Her response, “We don’t do that in the West.” Not exactly an answer but I got the message that this was not a way to live.
Colored only signs in the south
My mom and dad were like, the current royals, Megan and Harry. Dad met my mom in Wyoming when he was stationed at Warren Army base. He was smitten and wrote her throughout the war. They married right afterwards. Dad joined the family business in Lancaster taking mom far from her western roots. They lived in the duplex on the compound. Mom used to describe black people lined up to pay their rent every Friday outside my Grandfather’s bank. She did not approve of making money on the backs of poor black families. My dad was a partner in the family department store, the only one in Lancaster. Dad took his funds out of the family business and moved west. I think because mother couldn’t stand the genteel standards of the southern women and the inherent racism in the town. But in fairness to my Dad, the war had changed him. He had fought with men of many different races and traveled the world eventually being stationed in India.
My sister and I were born and grew up in Wyoming, certainly not a bastion of progressive thought. Yet, my sister and I are both liberal Democrats. We have seen and experienced racism as an ingrained culture. We know what it’s like to be dropped, like Alice in Wonderland, into a world that is very different than our own. We both have adopted children of different nationalities. We have traveled the world and been open to new experiences. The seething, undercurrents of racism in the 1950’s in the south have stayed with me always. I don’t want to use restrooms delineated by color or belong to organizations that exclude entire groups of people. I believe in welcoming all into our churches.
Martin Luther King Day reminds me of my upbringing. I know he had a tremendous cultural and social battle to wage. Unfortunately, that struggle continues.
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“Every day is a journey and the journey itself is Home”
(Matsuo Basho, Japanese Poet 1600’s)
There are approximately 11 million people living in the United States illegally. The question is not so much how did they get here but why did they get here and why historically have we offered these individuals a home. We have invited many people to come to our country and serve in positions that we are unwilling to take. I heard an Idaho Dairy farmer on public radio before the election say he was voting for Trump. The farmer employs illegal workers, Mexicans, who have been in Idaho working on his farm for many years. When asked about Trump’s plans for deportation, the farmer explained that Trump wasn’t talking about removing his workers; Trump was talking about removing the criminals.
A Wall Street Journal article, March 4th , 2017 entitled “Time Makes Migrants of Us All” argues that in a global economy rapid change means that at some point in time, even if we never travel afar we will feel foreign. This week, I was visiting with several older women who were discussing how difficult it is for them to keep their computers up to date and how stymied, frustrated and panicked they feel when their computer isn’t working. My attorney recently had his office flooded by Idaho’s ongoing winter. Removing the water and remodeling his office has totally disrupted his work flow. My kids laugh at me when I refer to “The Google” or the snappychat (still a foreign entity to me but certainly a prime purchase on the stock market last week).
If we take a longer historical view and accept that we are all on life’s journey together than we are all immigrants forging our way forward towards a new future. We all came to American from somewhere. I read an article this fall about the drama in our DNA. If we really analyze our DNA and look at human development through the ages, human evolution is a scientific soap opera. The drama of human history revolves around climate waves of decimating cold and surging heat. History includes killer romances. Humans and Neanderthals apparently had love affairs in which the human DNA proved toxic to the Neanderthals. Interbreeding proved a disaster for the Neanderthals who never recovered decimating the race in the course of millennium. Humans went on to become stone tool makers, who were also artists (40,000 years ago).
We moved from hunting and gathering to farming in the Fertile Crescent, planting crops and domesticating animals. We learned to digest milk and metabolic fats. We got taller, developed lighter skin and eyes in the colder climates. Leprosy and TB emerged and threatened us as did the plague and flu. We are all carriers of this genetic history. The fact that we are here means that our ancestors were survivors. Among us today 2% of us have DNA that goes all the way back to those Neanderthals who we wiped out 50,000 years ago. Their genes are still with us.
A rudimentary look at my own family tree suggests many opportunities for diversity. My son is a fifth generation Wyomingite. My great grandfather moved to Wyoming territory as a miner. His tiny one-room mining cabin in the Snowy Mountains still isn’t accessible by road even in the summer. Hard to believe that a mountain man living high in the Rockies by himself didn’t do some womanizing at some point in time. He later became a railroader when the Union Pacific came through Wyoming, served on the first territorial legislature, and eventually killed himself. No one ever said why. His wife took to traveling all over the nation by train. My grandmother and grandfather were both highly educated for the time. Grandmother was one of the first classes of women to graduate from the University of Wyoming. My grandfather held an engineering degree from the University of Michigan and served as Wyoming’s first Highway Engineer. On the surface, our Wyoming lineage looks extremely homogenous, Caucasian builders of a new state but just like Thomas Jefferson’s family, I can’t swear there aren’t other branches that are more colorful than we are.
My dad’s family is even more likely to have a dramatic history. He grew up in South Carolina on a plantation that was downsized by the time I was young. The big house remained but the land had been sold off and other houses built around it. My grandmother still had “colored” help (her terminology in the early 1950’s). I don’t think my grandmother ever learned to cook. The history of long-term southern families is thwart with secret interracial mixing. I can’t image that ours is not the same. I have an adopted daughter from China and my sister has an adopted daughter of Mexican/Native American descent. So if the historical roots of our tree are not diverse, the new leaves are bright indeed.
When we as a country talk about sending people home, maybe we should first think about where our home is. I don’t mean our literal home but where did we come from in history. Where would we be now if our ancestors had been sent home or couldn’t develop the genetic structure to continue forward? Even in our life time, are we not all immigrants in the new global high tech world? Have we not had to learn a new languages to dwell among the ever evolving technology.In this life time, have we not journeyed far from the party-line rotary dial telephones and manual typewriters to the new frontier virtual reality?
Is my home Ashtree Way, Boise, Idaho, the United States, the world, the 21st century, or all of the above?
Christmas may be over but the work of Christmas is just beginning; to help those who are most vulnerable. One example of need in our communities is Flint, Michigan’s water problems. No public official in Michigan was deliberately trying to poison children in Flint. There is no public enemy number 1; rather we see a series of bad choices and then a cover-up. “Administrative Evil” is normal administrative professionals engaging in evil acts without being aware that they are doing anything wrong (Adams, Balfor 2009).
My poem “Flint (2014 ongoing) captures a real case of administrative evil in action.
Flint (2014 ongoing) by Julie Robinson
purveyor of health
taken for granted
streams out of taps
into our mouths
circles down drains to
no filters in place
brackish, brown, stinky
a public disgrace
none of it safe
flows through the body
restricted to bottles
Summary of the Flint, Michigan Water Issue
My husband, a physician, frequently says the United States health system is more dependent on our high quality public health programs than on our abundant supplies of physicians and hospitals. One example of this is drinking water from the tap. If you have travelled in other countries where the water is undependable such as Mexico or China, you know what a gift it is to be able to drink water directly from the faucet in the U.S. Of course, that is not true everywhere is the U.S. The place that has received the most publicity for public health problems over the past few years is Flint, Michigan. In Flint, a decision was made to move the drinking water to the Flint River in 2014. This decision was made to allow time to build a pipeline to connect to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA).
Mayor Walling explained the decision as follows: ‘It’s regular, good, pure drinking water, and it’s right in our backyard… this is the first step in the right direction for Flint, and we take this monumental step forward in controlling the future of our community’s most precious resource.’ “
Rather than testing the water first to make sure the public was safe. The City chose to take a less expensive route of “waiting to see” what happens.
High lead levels started being documented in February 25, 2015. This information was deep-sixed by public authorities. By December 2015 as lead levels continued to climb, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency over the elevated lead levels in the city’s water. “I am requesting that all things be done necessary to address this state of emergency declaration, effective immediately,”
The water continued to be unsafe in Spring 2016. Both Presidential candidates Trump and Clinton and President Obama visited to symbolize their concern. Concern is not corrective action! By July nine public officials in Michigan had been charged with criminal offenses for the problems with Flint, Water. These public officials were charged with misconduct and misuse of public funds.
Today, filtered Flint water is safe to drink but not everyone, especially low income families, have access to working filters. The courts have ordered that these individuals be provided with bottled water.
A $170 million stopgap spending bill for repairing and upgrading the city of Flint’s water system and helping with healthcare costs was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on December 8, 2016. The Senate approved it the next day. $100 million of the bill is for infrastructure repairs, $50 million for healthcare costs, and $20 million to pay back loans related to the crisis.
The Dogs of Hell were trained Rottweilers, who escape a military compound and terrorized al small town in a cult movie of the same name (1982). Replicating the actions of these fictional canines, the most racist, bigoted Americans have been unleashed by Trump’s unlikely Presidential win to terrorize people of color, the LBGT community and other vulnerable individuals.
Previously suppressed by societal norms and national leaders committed to inclusion and diversity, the day after the surprise win by Mr. Trump, these marauding dogs began shredding our fragile web of political correctness. The real face of the ugly American is now in full view. Apparently, I have been living in a fantasy world believing that we were slowly eradicating these attitudes but I have discovered to my chagrin that our progress in the area of inclusion is an extremely fragile safety net loosely tethered by a web of civil rights laws, court decisions and public civility.
These Dogs have previously been muzzled by the broader community’s values. The Dogs’ attacks after the recent election have taught me that bigotry is flourishing in this country in hidden places like mold spores invisible to the naked eye, thriving in dark moist environments. The election provided the necessary well spring for an explosion of white backlash.
These dogs are even rampaging in Boise, Idaho. Last week, they wrote “Nigger!” as graffiti near our Black History Museum. My family was horrified when I used the “N” word at the dinner table describing the incident. My daughter scolded me and said, “Never use that word again!” I would like to comply; but the only way to grasp the harshness of these attacks on the population they are intended to traumatize is to speak truth. The “N” word does not capture the abuse and rebuke inherent in this demoralizing word scribbled in large letters in plain view for the sole purpose of causing pain.
The lone black female in the Idaho Senate, told me this graffiti is not an isolated incident. She described to me the experience of a two black children playing outside in Boise being accosted by white adults the day after the election and being told; “We can kill you and your parents, now.”
My sister tells of the Asian man she knows, born and raised in Caldwell, Idaho (a town of 50,000, 25 miles west of Boise) who has never experienced discrimination in Idaho. Last week a car driving by him, rolled down the window and an invisible male voice shouted, “Go back to where you came from!” The fact that this man would be returning to Caldwell would be amusing if it weren’t so horrifying.
These are just a few incidents from Idaho, a small, almost exclusively white, homogeneous state. We are generally pro guns but peace abiding. Imagine the power of this unfettered hate in larger cities with more diversity and opportunity to choose “We” versus”They”.
The Oxford Dictionary has named “post truth” as the 2016 word of the year. The word describes a culture in which an individual’s decisions are based on appearances, frequently generated by incorrect or deliberately false social media postings, not on facts. I am fascinated and nauseated by our “post truth” world. In our current political milieu, the Dogs of Hell can become vicious overlords of the most vulnerable. Made up stories of Muslim attacks lead to hatred of innocent neighbors. Women wearing head coverings, symbols of respect for their religion, are suspect.
The trial of Dylann Roof is currently in the news. He is the white young man who joined a black Bible study group at Emanuel African Methodist Church, Charleston, South Carolina and ended up killing nine church members (2015). He has been quoted as saying he, “wanted to ignite a race war.” Roof’s actions resulted in public outcry, prayer vigils and persecutors seeking the death penalty. He failed in his revolution.
Unlike Roof, if not restrained, the Dogs of Hell are capable of phenomenal harm to our constitutional rights. This election, we, the people, have unleashed violent forces of hatred in America.
As Christmas approaches, as Christains let us not just pray for peace on earth as if we are speaking of some distant land. We need to pray for peace in small town Idaho and other parts of America. We must actively engage our spiritual communities and push back the forces of hate which are spreading dark clouds of fear over our land.
The Trump Lexicon keeps evolving as President Trump moves forward implementing his agenda. To see the latest Trumpisms go to: pinkpoliticsllc.com
Our words have the power to destroy and the power to build up (Proverbs 12:6).
I volunteer to tutor refugees. These individuals have escaped unspeakable horrors and are learning English. Working alongside these kind, hard-working adults has taught me how blessed we are to live in America. Mr. Trump has created his own language to describe America, Trumpism. Mr. Trump’s own description of Trumpism: “I know words, I have the best words but there is no better word than “stupid”. Words most frequently used by Mr. Trump: win, stupid, weak, loser, moron, politically correctness, smart, tough, dangerous, bad, lightweight, amazing, huge, tremendous, terrific, zero, out of control, classy.
Listeners know when we hear Mr. Trump that his terminology is slightly off but those of us who grew up in the U.S. intuitively understand what he is saying. I challenge you to think about what you would think if you and your family had just escaped extreme violence half way across the world for sanctuary in the United States and you heard Mr. Trump describe America. Below is a short list of Trumpisms. There is no attempt to capture all of his misused words or to provide citations. Rather, I want to capture the essence of his language.
Trumpism: Words made up by Mr. Donald Trump in his run for President of United States in 2016. Mr. Trump has a vast, original lexicon which creates sweeping indictments and vicious mental pictures using just a couple of words or phrases. Some of his words are spoken; others have been tweeted in the wee hours of the morning. Trumpism could also be considered Mr. Trump’s political platform. Trumpism pushes nativism (foreigners are suspect) and populism (giving power to the people rather than political elites). Through twitter and his speeches, Mr. Trump has created a mish-mash of images of America as a dark, dangerous place in deep economic decline. Mr. Trump’s America needs saving. His slogan is “Make America Great Again” as if returning to the past is a positive. His primary policy proposals are deporting illegal immigrants, tightening and/or stopping future immigration of certain groups particularly Muslims, emphasizing that foreign individuals living in America commit the majority of violent crimes particularly rape and robbery while taking away American jobs. Trumpism’s primary focus is that Muslim refugees are terrorist infidels, illegal Mexicans are criminals and global trade has crippled America.
The Wall: Mr. Trump’s proposal to have Mexico pay for a wall dividing Mexico and the United States with the intention of stopping Mexicans from illegally entering the U.S. Mr. Trump estimates the wall will cost $5 billion dollars. He promises the entire cost will be paid for by the Mexican Government. The Mexican President has refused to pay for the wall in a tweet. Tweeting seems to be the primary form of policy development in this election year. Mr. Trump sees the wall as a beautiful thing with a door right in the middle for legal Mexicans to be welcomed to America.
Bad Hombre: Uncomplimentary reference to undocumented Mexicans living in America. Hombre is Spanish for man. Trump used the reference to reinforce his vision of increasing hordes of criminals illegally crossing the Mexican border. In fact, the Pew Research Center documents that the number of illegal Mexicans coming into the U.S. has stabilized in recent years and declined by about 1 million since 2007. About 2/3 of all illegal immigrants have lived in the U.S. for a decade or more. About half of immigrants coming into the U.S. are women. There are 5000 children in foster care whose parents have been detained or deported by U.S. immigration authorities. This figure is estimated to rise to 15,000 children over the next five years because of tightening immigration policies. These women and children have not been part of any policy discussion during this presidential season.
Nasty Woman: Mr. Trump’s description of Mrs. Clinton at the 3rd and final debate. He uttered it to interrupt Mrs. Clinton presentation on Social Security. His intent was appeal to the old boys club where powerful women are seen as unpleasant and pushy and frequently described in private as “bitches”. In this case, Mr. Trump’s effort to belittle women led to a social media backlash from women who saw Trump’s remark as sexist rather than as descriptive of Mrs. Clinton’s temperament. As a young professional woman in the seventies, I can attest that smart, ambitious women were not described in positive terms by their male coworkers. I am proud to be a Nasty Woman.
Miss Piggy: a revered children’s puppet on Sesame Street. Miss Piggy is a large female Pink Pig who dresses in extravagant outfits and frequently wears a crown. Most American’s know Miss Piggy. Mr. Trump referred to Miss Universe 1996, Alicia Machado, as Miss Piggy when she gained weight after winning the Miss Universe title. Using Miss Piggy as a descriptor is a classic example of Mr. Trump’s skill at choosing short phrases to create a lasting image.
Miss Housekeeping: Another term, coined by Mr. Trump, to describe Ms. Machado, who represented Venezuela in the Miss Universe Pageant. This image is premised on Latino women largely serving in housekeeping positions in the U.S. This nickname can be seen as a sexist slur against Latino women and as slamming hard work done by many Americans who are surviving on pay below a living wage. Nationally, unauthorized workers compose 23% of all domestic workers.
Locker Room Banter: Mr. Trump’s justification of the conversation he was having with Billy Bush prior to an appearance on AccessHollywood in 2005. In the recorded encounter, Mr. Trump used extremely vulgar terms to describe women and what he would do to them. When the tape was released, Mr. Trump defended the conversation as the kind of talk that routinely goes own in all male places such as locker rooms. My husband played college basketball and when I asked him about it, he responded that young guys might not use the best language but this is an example of a 60 year old man (at the time) who could be expected to have outgrown the titillation of talking dirty. Billy Bush was relieved of his position on Good Morning America for his role both in the conversation and for not bringing the tape to light sooner.
Bigly: Frequently used by Mr. Trump to describe an idea or policy which is large in scope. Bigly is an adverb and Mr. Trump has used it correctly. On questioning, Mr. Trump’s staff clarified that Mr. Trump is not saying “bigly”. He is instead saying, “Big League.” Here is an example from an actual speech: Donald Trump has said, “Iran is taking over Iraq and they’re taking it over bigly.” According to staff this is incorrect reporting. Instead, Mr. Trump said, “Iran is taking over Iraq and they’re taking it over Big League.” I personally think bigly is easier to understand in the contexts he uses it. Either term gives us the idea, that this is something big.
Extreme Vetting:Mr. Trump’s proposal to conduct ideological screening of new arrivals from countries with a history of terror (specific countries are unspecified). Mr. Trump had previously said he would ban all Muslims from coming into the country. This proposal would allow in some individuals. However, all individuals from countries harboring terrorists would be banned from the U.S. until this new screening test was designed and in place. The U.S. already has extremely rigorous screening approaches in place sometimes taking many years. In addition, it is difficult to assess an individual’s most innermost beliefs and private opinions. In a country that values free speech, this proposal may be difficult or impossible to implement. Finally, individuals from other countries are less likely to engage in violence than native born Americans.
Yuuuge: Mr. Trump’s unique way of saying huge.
Braggadocios: A braggart who boasts so much about themselves that they become annoying to their audience. The term was commonly used in the 19th century. The word is so seldom used in the 21st century, braggadocios is not considered part of our common vocabulary. Mr. Trump, who usually says he does not want to seem braggadocios, has breathed life back into this word.
Birther Movement: People who question of the legitimacy of President Obama’s birth certificate. Starting in 2011, Mr. Trump persistently demanded to see President Obama’s birth certificate to demonstrate that Obama was born in the United States as required by the U.S. Constitution. Recently, Mr. Trump has said he believes Mr. Trump was born in the United States.
Speaking Mexican: Reference to Jeb Bush in a tweet. Mr. Trump means that Mr. Bush is fluent in Spanish, something Mr. Trump obviously is not.
Taking the Shackles Off: A twitter comment on Mr. Trump’s revised strategic campaign breaking free from the traditional Republic platform and policy. Trump’s new approach was the result of some Republicans disavowing their support of Trump in the wake of NBC sex tape. This announcement was followed by a stream of tweets filled with rage and resentment towards traditional politicians.
Rigged Elections: As political polls have begun indicating that Mr. Trump might lose, Trump has become more strident in his claims that the media and the Democratic machine are rigging the election. Mr. Trump has said he would accept the election results if he won. However, when questioned during the third debate, he refused to confirm that he would accept the results. The charge of rigged elections is at the very heart of the U.S. democracy where for centuries Americans have cast their votes and lived with the results. Mr. Trump’s charge also suggests he is not familiar with the structure of U.S. elections. Elections (even for national candidates such as Congress and the President) are under the control of the states. Forty-seven of the fifty states and the Puerto Rico have a Secretary of State position. The primary duty of this individual is to serve as the chief election officer for the state. In the three states without a Secretary of State, the responsibility for elections falls to the Lieutenant Governor. Given the diffuse structure of elections in the U.S. it would be difficult to rig the outcome nationally. As we know from the 2000 Bush/Gore Presidential election, the role of the Secretary of State in a close election can be very important. Former Vice President Gore received about 540,000 more popular votes than Bush across the nation. In Gore’s presidential run, the Florida Secretary of State, Republican Katherine Harris certified that Bush had won the popular vote in Florida. Her decision was confirmed by the United States Supreme Court on a 5 to 4 decision preventing a recount of key precincts in Florida. Former Vice President Gore honored the decision and has been largely invisible on the national stage since.
Gloria Steinman told a sold out crowd in Boise on October 17, 2016 that the right to vote is what makes America great. People have fought hard and lost lives for each of us to have the equal opportunity to weigh in on America’s future. The America of 2016 is far more expansive and inclusive than our forefathers envisioned. We are a nation where each of us can vote regardless of race, religion or gender.
The refugees I work with fled totalitarian and military reigns with the hope of becoming Americans and gaining the right to vote. Hidden in Trump’s mangled phrases is the clear threat to equal opportunity. Isolationism doesn’t create greatness but it does breed fear. I am yuugely hoping that Americans in bigly numbers will notpick a braggadocios birther, who engages regularly in unseemly locker room banter demeaning women, for their next president.