A thin line between tyranny and freedom

Today is the one year anniversary of the January 6th insurrection at the US Capitol building. Today, the mood on Capitol Hill is somber and quiet. President Biden and Vice President Harris gave speeches with sharp warnings to Americans, as well as to all those listening around the world. They said plainly that our democracy is fragile and without vigilance and support for the rule of law that governs America, could be lost entirely. The New York Times reported on President Biden’s speech, and gave excerpts.

“The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election,” Mr. Biden said, standing in the same National Statuary Hall invaded by throngs of Trump supporters a year ago. “He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interest as more important than his country’s interest and America’s interest, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He can’t accept he lost.”

“Without using Mr. Trump’s name, the president assailed the “defeated former president” for trying to rewrite history and for casting the attackers of a year ago as patriots. “Is that what you thought when you looked at the mob ransacking the Capitol, destroying property, literally defecating in the hallways, rifling through the desks of senators and representatives, hunting down members of Congress?” Mr. Biden asked. “Patriots? Not in my view.” “Those who stormed this Capitol and those who instigated and incited and those who called on them to do so held a dagger at the throat of America and American democracy.” 

“With not a single Republican senator in the Senate chamber, Democrats took to the floor after Mr. Biden’s speech to continue assailing Mr. Trump, “the worst president in modern times,” as Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, put it. “It was Donald Trump’s big lie that soaked our political landscape in kerosene,” Mr. Schumer said. “It was Donald Trump’s rally on the Mall that struck the match. And then came the fire.” https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/01/06/us/jan-6-capitol-riot/biden-speech-january-6

According to journalist Peter Baker of the New York Times,

 “America has not come together to defend its democracy; it has only split further apart. Lies and disinformation spread by the former president have so permeated the political ecosphere that nearly universal outrage has reverted to separate blue and red realities. Far from shunned for what even his own vice president deemed an unconstitutional attempt to thwart the will of the voters, Mr. Trump remains the undisputed powerhouse of his party — and a viable candidate to reclaim the White House in three years… Rather than a wake-up call highlighting for all the fragility of the American experiment, the violence that besieged Washington turns out to have been one more chapter in the polarizing, partisan, ideological and cultural struggle over truth and consequences in the modern era.

“In fact, no matter how many times Mr. Trump says the 2020 election was stolen, not a shred of evidence has emerged to prove it. Not one independent authority — no judge, no prosecutor, no governor, no election agency, no news media organization — has found any credible indication of fraud on a scale that would have changed the outcome.”

“Today, it has become heresy among conservatives to question Mr. Trump’s legacy…The congressional Republicans who angrily denounced the president after their headquarters was invaded have gone silent or even made the pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago, all but pretending it never happened. “It’s a pretty sobering lesson about human nature,” said Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a Democrat who led the House managers prosecuting Mr. Trump in a Senate impeachment trial and now serves on the House select committee investigating Jan. 6. “Rejecting the fact that Joe Biden won the 2020 election is now the organizing principle of the G.O.P.,” Raskin said. “That is a terrifying and astonishing new reality that we have to contend with.”

“For many Republicans, even those who privately despise Mr. Trump and agree that Mr. Biden was legitimately elected, Jan. 6 is a topic to avoid. They bristle at the focus on it, seeing it not as a good-faith effort to find out what happened but a partisan weapon to tear them down and distract from the Democrats’ own failed policies.” (NYTimes, Jan 6, 2022)

Dear Readers, I share this long excerpt from the NYTimes article with you all because it is important to understand what the motives are that underpin the GOP’s about-face concerning the January 6th insurrection. Republican lawmakers who were in the chamber that day, whose lives were as equally threatened as their colleagues across the aisle, have decided that the truth of what actually occurred, the violence and loss of life and even threats to their own lives, are no longer what matters in the United States of America. Even without Trump’s Twitter account as his 24-7 bully pulpit active in the world, he is clearly still pulling the strings of his followers, both elected and the electorate.

We are living through extraordinarily pressure-filled times. The tensions in America and around the planet, are as tight as they have ever been, affecting more people than ever before on Earth. Words like truth, facts, science, logic, reason, moral obligation, democracy, no longer have a consensual meaning amongst people. The propaganda machines behind the most powerful governments on Earth have gone above and beyond to create the current extreme atmosphere of fear and mistrust between neighbors, members of communities, lawmakers, and family members. This mistrust, fear and encouragement to report one’s neighbor to the authorities is the stuff of dictatorship movements globally. For those who don’t know that, read the history of fascist regimes during the 20th century. China, Russia, Spain, Italy, Nazi Germany, the list is unfortunately long. They all use the same basic playbook.

When the most popular articles in the January 6th, 2022 New York Times have headlines like, “Does my boyfriend like me?” it proves my point. Will democracy as we have known it have to be eradicated before the people finally wake up?

As we move forward through 2022, 2023, and 2024, I highly encourage, even admonish, every person who still has the autonomy to research and think critically, to do so. The democracy that is still hanging on by a thread in the United States could be wiped out, replaced with a form of government that is truly the stuff of nightmares. Look what happened to Hong Kong over the past year. That and much worse could potentially be the USA’s future. 

Dear Readers, I have wracked my brain and searched through my own heart over the past year, to try to make sense of what has happened in my country. Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve watched as the people of the United States made huge strides toward more freedom and liberty, toward a more perfect union. But the past two decades, and the past five years in particular, have brought us to the brink of losing many of the freedoms that were so diligently fought for. We lost some of our most eloquent voices for freedom and equality of all people. Just a few of the greatest voices include Maya Angelou and bell hooks, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, John Lewis, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There are many others who spent their lifetimes reminding humanity of the light that lives inside us all, of the value of love, equity, justice, truth and freedom. Have we collectively become so blindsided by our cell phones and social media and virtual reality games that we no longer remember the real power that resides inside us each and all?

Don’t Look Up or You will see the Truth

“Not everything needs to sound so goddamn clever or charming or likeable all the time. Sometimes we need to just be able to say things to one another. We need to hear things.” –Dr. Randall Mindy, Don’t Look Up movie

Have you watched the new climate disaster comedy film Don’t Look Up? I just saw it for the first time, and want to explain why I think you, and as many people as possible, ought to watch this exceptional movie. First of all, the film’s director, Adam McKay, wanted to make this film a comedy, instead of the usual climate disaster -horror films that are produced. The premise of the plot is that Professor Randall Mindy and his PhD student, Kate Dibiasky, discover a large comet which is almost certain to hit the earth in about six months, basically wiping out most life including humanity. They go to Washington D.C. and tell this news to the woman president (played by Meryl Streep), who along with her lacky son, is unimpressed, being much more concerned with the latest scandal her administration is dealing with. The rest of the film revolves around Dr. Mindy and Kate going through all the stages of grief, shock and finally acceptance of the comet’s approach, while continuing to attempt to warn  everyone about what is coming. 

This movie has a lot of social commentary woven through it, which makes it wickedly funny and also holds up a mirror to where human society is at in 2022. I think the film does a great job at showing our current political idiocy, highly controlled media scenarios (including a wicked personality played by Cate Blanchett), and even a character who seems to be a spin off of Bill Gates-Jeff Bezos insane multibillionaire. There’s also an appearance by Ariana Grande, who plays a weirdly comical version of herself as a mega superstar singer. If you pay close attention while watching it, you are sure to find all the archetypes of our time somewhere in the two hours plus that the movie runs.

Dr. Mindy, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, represents the Everyday Scientist who realizes that humanity is about to be destroyed, and when he and Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) attempt to warn the people of Earth, are met with such disregard and disrespect that it’s darkly funny as well as tragically sad. Here is a clip from one of the best scenes in the movie, a heart wrenching monologue by Dr. Mindy.

Dear Readers, we know that the best films are the ones that show us to ourselves in the most accessible way for the most people to understand. I recommend Don’t Look Up as one of those films. As the new year of 2022 gets underway, the Earth changes and extreme climate events continue. While our supposed leaders spend their time navel gazing and concerned with their own political power and wealth, our world is spinning closer and closer to catastrophe on a scale no one alive has ever experienced. Don’t Look Up is based on real science by astronomers who spend years working out climate models and predictions for the foreseeable future. The years we’re living through are exhausting us all, and by now we’ve seen so many climate disaster films that we are at saturation level. The humor and spot-on characterizations in this movie help to be able to stomach watching Dr. Mindy and Kate as they shout out their warnings in vain.

I hope you will take the time to watch Don’t Look Up, and allow its message to percolate within your heart and mind. It’s still not too late for humanity as a whole to come together to change our trajectory towards extinction. As the movie depicts, it will certainly be a messy ride.

The conversation about diversity, equity, & privilege in America

This is a tricky topic to write a blog post about, dear Readers. Even though it’s potentially asking for backlash, I want to attempt some thoughts around this politically tense issue.

Diversity, equity, and privilege are popular terms in our society these days, especially in the field of education. Being involved in this field for the past several years, I’ve seen these concepts only growing more prevalent. All facets of educating children and youth need to be run through the equity and diversity lens, and all white privilege must be checked at the door.

I like the pendulum analogy:  the pendulum is forever swinging from one extreme to the other in society, and at the moment we are in the wide arc of diversity.

What does this translate to in practical terms? Many things, including the fact that if a person happens to not be “of color” they are likely to be suspected of racism, white privilege, or else unawakened (not woke).  (Disclaimer:  I am a white person, living in the heart of the western United States.) I am in the midst of a graduate program to become a licensed special education teacher for K-12 students. I am a “mid-life career changer” as one recruiter put it to me, a polite way of saying I’m a little old for this game but am doing it, nonetheless.

Let’s face it, racism is as old as history itself. Since there have been different tribes of humans on the planet, there has been bias from one group towards others. Its manifestation as oppression, slavery, and violence is an ancient story here. In fact, I’ve been studying for a Praxis exam I must take and pass in order to obtain licensure; the dreaded Social Studies subtest. This test covers an insane amount of historical facts, from the time of European exploration of the Americas beginning in the 15th century, all the way through our current era. As I’m sure many readers are aware, the story of how America came to be the United States (and its 245 year history) is one of a little cooperation and friendship between different groups, and a lot of fighting, warring, pain and suffering. Abhorrent practices such as near extermination of indigenous tribes and slavery of Africans were common ways that certain white European-Americans got land, wealth and, yes, privilege. From the Spanish conquistadors who decimated Mexico, Central and South America, to the Dutch who brought African slaves to the Caribbean islands, (and consequently to the East Coast of the colonies) to the Spanish and English pirates who stole treasure as they traveled the high seas, to the Europeans who settled the original colonies at the expense of indigenous tribes’ lands and way of life, they eventually pushed across the entire continent and took what they wanted for their own gain in the name of “Manifest Destiny.” With so much bad blood as the foundation of settling and creating the United States of America, it is little wonder that 245 years later, this country is in a very tenuous position on many fronts. There is considerable evidence that we are on the cusp of complete societal collapse.

So here we are, in 2021. Never before have there been so many groups, individuals, famous and influential people of color speaking out, through all available platforms, about ending racism and unfair practices by the government at all levels. The truth of their message could not be any plainer:  People of color must be treated equally in every way as white people in the United States. It is incredible that over 150 years have passed since the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were passed which made slavery illegal and gave rights of citizenship to black people. It took a hundred more years for the Civil Rights Act to be passed, guaranteeing Black people equal protection under federal law. And yet, here we are–Black and Brown skinned people are still being treated as less than white privileged people in lots of places in the United States in the year 2021.

Of course we have made a lot of progress. Barack Obama became the first Black president of the United States in 2008. People of color are at the top of their game in many fields of endeavor, such as music, the film industry, visual art, performance art– in fact all the creative industries. Obviously they are leaders in Sports. And in science, innovation, business, government, and also education. Yes, there has been a lot of progress. Still, the struggle to end policies and practices based in racism continues. The school to prison pipeline for youth of color is real in cities across America today. It is still true that in many public school districts, white women make up the majority of teachers, and white men the majority of top administrators. We still have farther to go.

Dear Readers, I’m afraid this blog post turned into a rant tonight. There is so much more to say on this subject. But I will end with a thought to ponder. We must never become complacent, and it’s important to continually check ourselves for hypocrisy. Case in point:  The Met Gala was just held in NYC this past week. It’s an annual event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where many famous celebrities come and model the most outrageous “formal” gowns and evening wear from New York’s fashion designers. I happened to notice that New York’s Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attended the gala event, wearing a gown with the words “tax the rich” written on her backside. Although I generally like her spunk and fearlessness at calling out corruption when she sees it on Capitol Hill, I must say that there was more than a little hypocrisy involved in her choice of attending that event, and wearing that particular message. See this article for more.

https://www.businessmayor.com/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-responds-to-criticism-of-tax-the-rich-dress-worn-at-met-gala/