This I Believe

Jeff - Portland, Oregon
Entered on January 24, 2008

In the background for the 2008 presidential elections, the ruin brought about by 20 years of failed “trickle-down” economics policies threaten to destroy the foundation of our nation and I am left to wonder why so many Americans seem confused about the choices that face them.

Our neighbors abroad have long viewed ours as a confusing society, but we all know that underneath our many glaring contradictions, Americans are good people.

Perhaps it is understandable after 8 years of bald-faced lies heaped upon us by trusted leaders have clouded reality for many of us. That the perpetrators have thus far escaped tarring and feathering is only a function of the number of security guards they have at their disposal.

We have heard loud and clear that “impeachment is off the table.” It is apparently not politically expedient to even consider officially enumerating crimes if those who committed them hold trusted positions of power – not to mention our children’s futures. As a person who does not believe in capital punishment, I therefore find it difficult to consider anything but the old-fashioned remedy.

But this is a slight digression. It goes deeper than tar and feathers because while the neoCons are the face of the lie, those who hold office are only its visible representatives. It is their supporters to whom I would appeal. I know they are good people, so I have to believe that if they really understood what they were supporting, most of them would recoil in horror.

These thoughts take me back to September 19, 2001. I was living in San Francisco and like everyone else, I spent the week following the horror of the World Trade Center attack walking around in a daze. What helped me find my footing again was a wise move by our then mayor Willie Brown. Seeing the potential hysteria and random violence that might follow such an event, he called together the city’s religious leaders. I’m not sure he got them all, but a good number of faiths were certainly represented.

One by one, they tried to help us make sense of the incomprehensible. Of all the speakers that day, I was most struck by the Reverend Dr. Amos Brown. A minister and civil rights leader, he is well-known for his outspokenness. Let us say he is not shy.

He began by condemning the attacks on innocent people. Those who would commit such crimes can claim no allegiance to any God, we were told.

But then he dropped the bomb. He asked us the salient question that still runs through my thoughts so many years later.

“Is there anything you did (America) to set up this climate?”

I now find only skewed, out of context references to his moving speech, so I will do my best to recall its tone and content from memory. It went something like this:

“I am reminded of a dear friend whose young children were playing in the yard one day. You know how it goes – children play and sometimes things get carried away. Suddenly little Mary burst into the house with tears in her eyes. ‘Mommy! Mommy!” she cried. My friend wrapped her arms around the child (as mother do).

“There, there,” mommy said. “What happened?”

“Billy hit me,” Mary sobbed.

My friend hugged her daughter closer.

“Well. Billy shouldn’t have hit you. We are going to get Billy and punish him.”

Then she held her daughter in front of her and looked her in the eye.

“But what did you do?” she asked.

“America, America,” the reverend continued. “What did you do? – either intentionally or unintentionally — in the world order, in Central America, in Africa where bombs are still blasting? America, what did you do in the global warming conference when you did not embrace the smaller nations? America, what did you do two weeks ago when I stood at the world conference on racism — when you wouldn’t even show up?” Ohhhh – America! What did you do?

The conservative media held up this impassioned speech (and other similar sentiments that were raised in the aftermath of 9-11) completely out of context. Those who were “with us” decried such remarks as “outrageous” and “unpatriotic.” “America has a right to its values!” they cried out.

But they missed the point. Like most rational human beings, I (and I am certain Dr. Brown) do not offer any defense or justification for those who would fly a plane into a building. Dr. Brown is quite right – there is no God or religion of any kind involved in killing anyone. This was a terrible, terrible crime.

Still – the question remains and I am haunted by it and I believe the question is still something we must face up to if we are to get beyond our woeful present state. I am not sure what the answer will be, but we haven’t even gotten to that point yet. The question not only remains unanswered, but unasked!

Where is our debate, America? Dr. Brown was not trying to accuse us of anything. He was only trying to shock us into facing this question because until it is asked and considered and debated and discussed – we are doomed to continue on our same misguided path. It is certainly not the only question, but is it not a perfectly valid one?

Carl Rove and Dick Cheney and “the gang” have done a perfect job of hammering away at the very foundations of Democracy. To dissent is to be unpatriotic – they have taught us. To question is wrong – we are told.

But how can a society change and progress when we are afraid to look into the mirror and question ourselves? Indeed, one question each of us must consider as debate ’08 gets underway is Dr. Brown’s most fundamental pondering. “What did you do?”