Event supersedes event. History on fast-forward. Because of what I did for so long -– forty years of commentary –- I’m moved to give an accounting. More properly, a reckoning. But nothing has come. And I can’t force it. Again, this evening, here I sit.
In truth, as a writer and as a person of some age, the admission that I’m stunned stuns me, because it proves that, for all my knowledge and supposed toughness, I’ve remained a historical innocent, able to conceive but unable to accept something as historically repetitive as this: that an overwhelmingly white voting bloc, representing nearly half the nation, has lost the capacity to tell right from wrong.
And is it only the Trumpists? If the human beings designated “illegal” were also designated “white” –- that is, if Hispanics weren’t brown and spoke posh English -– don’t you think MSNBC and The New York Times and their customers would notice that the most pervasive, effective, cruel and disruptive of all Trump’s policies proceeds daily and devastatingly without significant interruption or commentary from anyone with a nation-wide voice, including the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren? What this says about the depth of racism across the liberal spectrum is so fucking appalling that I hit a brick wall when attempting to think or write of it.
The English-speaking media does good enough coverage when things get noisy: white Nazis, armed anti-Semites, marching by torchlight past a synagogue while the Charlottesville police are conveniently elsewhere and the president of the United States opines that among those marchers are some “very fine people”; the president of the United States pardoning a serial violator of the Bill of Rights, because it’s okay as long as Arpaio’s victims are a New World Hispanic shade of brown; the president of the United States reneging on a federal promise to 800,000 youths, 97% of whom are in school and 100% of whom have been vetted for criminal charges and declared innocent (I think of the Czeslaw Milosz poem about Nazi-occupied Poland where Jews were destroyed after “obeying the order to register, when only the disobedient would survive”). Juicy headline stuff, all of it, and, by and large, the English-speaking media has been professional and even tough, but for a singular underlying –- oh, underlying what? Aspect? Current? Mood, atmosphere? Something in the air left unsaid.
Charlottesville, Arpaio, DACA – three major events in less than a month’s time that triangulate to an inescapable conclusion for
which every one of us must assume responsibility: the Executive Branch of the United States government, supported by GOP majorities in the Legislative Branch, is aggressively and effectively racist. It’s easy to pass a resolution a month after the fact –- far easier than taking a personal stance. It’s also easy to say, “So what’s new? This polity has always been racist.” Well, “so what’s new” cut it with me. That’s a shrug, not a stance. An entire segment of our population is terrorized, assaulted, conceptually and physically, and the English-speaking media’s coverage and analyses focus on matters of policy. What is left unsaid is that this administration’s attack on Hispanics, and its appeal to the worst of our society, is an attack upon the dignity and morality of every one of us.
The English-speaking media ignores, every day, that Hispanic communities are under a literal state of siege, invasively watched, harassed, and, in effect, terrorized. Surely this is worth five minutes’ coverage every night on the major news shows, Anderson, Rachel, Lawrence, Wolf? Surely this state of affairs is the signature distinction of our shared present.
Trump is cunning to go on and on about his wall, because even many who openly and sincerely oppose it have, in their hearts and minds, a very tall wall between their sensibilities and the fact –- the fact, goddamnit –- that, now, every day, in our country, armed persons invade the privacies of decent people and shatter their lives because they can, and they can because the undocumented are brown and Hispanic and it was not possible for them to escape dire poverty, unconscionable violence, and hopeless chaos unless they crossed our border any way they might manage. They came to us in hope, and honored us by doing so –- hoping that we are much better than we’ve proven to be.
The wall that I am most keenly aware of is the wall that I address: the American conscience.
I’ve heard the righteous and the good say, “But they’re illegal! They broke the law!”
No. The law is breaking them. You of “they broke the law” are not the first to excuse heartlessness and complacency with an appeal to legality.
…crap, I didn’t mean to write that. Still, I shall let it stand. I didn’t mean to write it because I’m no moral giant, I’m not personally standing in the doorway and telling the ICE-man to fuck off, I’m not getting myself arrested to demonstrate this administration’s perversion of our laws.
So let the moral giants speak:
Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”
Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
That’s a hell of a thing to be responsible for: to choose, by inaction and voicelessness, the side of the oppressor.
As in any pre-fascist state, the obvious has become obscure, so it becomes our duty to be obvious:
It is wrong to use armed force to separate peaceful families who do not suit your doctrines. Whatever the problem, tearing families apart is not a way to solve it. Government does not own these people (or any people), yet they are treated as arbitrarily as Southerners once treated slaves. Where is the national voice to remind us that the Constitution is the law of the land and applies not only to U.S. citizens but to every human being on our soil?
The George W. Bush administration had to go offshore -– to Guantanamo, Cuba -– to create a place in which people are not created equal and endowed by their Creator. No need now to journey to Cuba. Now that unholy place, where all are not created equal, exists just down the road, around the corner, across the street, at your door.
Yes, the same can be said of the lives of working class African-Americans, and, in varying degrees, the lives of women and LGBTQs. That is part of my point, as I bring some focus on a federal effort –- powered directly by the White House and the Department of Justice, and supported by majorities in an overwhelmingly white, wealthy and male Congress -– to send an armed force into vulnerable Hispanic communities to disrupt and demoralize them as they are coming into the political awareness that, demographically, they could hold great power if they organized.
Every time I read this I read it for the first time:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
It is stupefyingly blind to believe that the Trump administration arms ICE and local police with military-grade weapons and equipment in order to deal with other people.
Whatever you say reverberates,
Whatever you don’t say speaks for itself.
So either way you’re talking politics.
Those lines state an unshakeable fact of everyday life.
History is not a textbook or a study, history is what we do and what, through us, finds a voice. History, for each of us, is how we have collaborated in a collective fate, as we learn or refuse to learn history’s constant lesson: You are not only what you do, you are also what you turn your back on.
Michael Ventura © 2017. All rights reserved.
Michael ventura is a writer who lives in the mountains of northern California.