My favorite Western, the 1970 film Little Big Man, has a beautiful scene where the old Lakota chief, who has the gift of being invisible, walks with Dustin Hoffman through a massacre by General Custer, and they emerge unscathed.
I thought of that last week as Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, the Confederate throwback who has lately defiled the U.S. Department of Justice, calmly persisted in his mission to turn back the clock on social progress amid the insult match between Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, and despite rumors of his own impending dismissal. He enjoys his work too much.
While progressives reached for our popcorn and watched impeachment commercials, Sessions threatened to enforce federal laws against marijuana in states like California that have legalized its use. President Trump proposed to allow offshore oil drilling in most American waters, disregarding the environmental risk. Interior Secretary Zinke continued his quest to sell off public lands. Education Secretary DeVos continued seeking to undermine public education. Assaults against the rights of women, trans people, and immigrants proceeded apace.
Republicans feed white nationalist resentments while servicing military bloat and big oil at the expense of public safety and health. Along the way, they lie and cheat with abandon. Sessions brays about law and order even as his boss obstructs justice, threatens press freedoms, and violates the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause. Sessions backs militarized police.
You might not care about this if your own front door is not being knocked down with a battering ram, or your parkland or coastal community or reproductive choices are not harmed by current goings-on in the halls of power. Privilege goes unrecognized by many who have it, because it is often tacit. Privilege is about things you can take for granted that others cannot. When I leave my apartment, my white privilege automatically follows me. Being white means I am far less likely to be stopped by police than a black person. When I pull out my wallet or mobile phone, it is not mistaken for a gun.
Trump and his allies do not care about America’s diverse population, but only about their angry base and plutocrats. Traditional norms and restraints are swept aside in homage to greed and in contempt for considerations of the common good.
If you think that a “wave election” is inevitable in November, and that this president who boasts about the size of his nuclear button will be checked by Democrats retaking one or both houses of Congress, you might want to curb your overconfidence. Fifteen months ago, most of us expected the first woman president to be elected. There are many factors in any election result, but to deny that racism and sexism infect our politics is to be willfully blind. Ignorance, fear, and aggression drive us still.
In his second inaugural address, President Obama, after quoting the Declaration of Independence, said, “[H]istory tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing.” If we match Republican backstabbing with liberal purity tests, the GOP agenda’s unpopularity will not stop it from being implemented. We will be overrun, and progress that we take for granted will be undone by fanatics who do not care that their standard bearer is unstable and unfit.
The past year’s resurgent attacks on minorities and women reflect a blinkered notion of worth akin to the fiction that only corporate titans generate wealth. These lies and the rapacity they justify must be fought not only for the sake of the direct victims, but to unleash the cultural and commercial vitality without which America cannot compete moving forward. Yielding to the exclusive and supremacist ways of the past will pull us apart. A growing diversity of creators and innovators uphold our best values and prospects. We must defeat the predators and plunderers for all our sakes.
Just as the Constitution is not self-enforcing, our history is not self-preserving. Our collective memory is one of the precious things under threat from our modern-day Visigoths. Memory is power. In a cold season, let us warm and rouse our young ones with the stories of people they never knew who fought for their happiness.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2018 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.