Statues are being removed by protestors or by elected officials, right-wing militia have plotted to kidnap governors, Trump supporters are increasingly unhinged by Trump’s violent rhetoric. In this context, how can we possibly heal post Nov. 3?
Can We Heal?
If So, How?
There is currently a pattern of what should be considered criminal neglect on the part of all branches of US government:
- We are without a national COVID strategy with projections now predicting over 400,000 Americans will have died from COVID by February, with a buffoon president rejecting sensible prevention actions, exposing his own supporters to infection, and with public health officials, including Dr. Fauci, being all too timid in outing Trump’s outrageous behavior.
- Even without COVID, our health system leaves millions vulnerable from inadequate, costly coverage, copays, and coverage exclusions, and the ongoing skyrocketing costs of medicine.
- Our public education system begins two years too late, leaving millions of young families without affordable quality early childhood development services, and ends four years too early, leaving tens of millions of college graduates hopelessly in debt.
- Our Congress has failed to address even our 20th-century infrastructure, leaving our roads, dams, and bridges in danger of collapse while failing to even hint at a plan for a 21st-century renewable energy & telecommunications infrastructure.
We have become a country that throws its hands up at challenges and kicks the can down the road. The absence of trust in government’s capacity to address these problems has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The seeds of our doubt in government have been systematically sown by right-wing plutocrats like the Koch brothers, DeVos family, and others who fund right-wing think tanks that create their own facts, science, and reality, a reality that allows their continuous wealth accumulation while destroying the poor, the middle class, and the Earth. It has also divided our country, creating an increasingly large gap that separates two segments of our nation with some proportion on each side feeling justified in taking violent action. There is daily media conversation about the possibility of a coup or violent actions at the polls.
It is important that this context be understood. We are not helpless, but we feel that way too often, as we face one dispiriting battle after another for what should be common-sense solutions to solvable problems. And we are systematically divided–intentionally divided–with largely white, too often poorly educated swathes of Americans standing in fear of every progressive policy, seeing even the smallest common sense reform as a threat to their freedom and the country they love, even seeing a mask as a threat to their liberty.
Yet, almost all progressive policies would address social, health, and economic challenges that are decimating poor white communities almost as badly as they are destroying communities of color.
After Nov. 3, we must begin developing strategies to heal this breach. It is clear our leadership is incapable of doing so and our media has a self interest in promulgating the divide. So, we must explore how and why this divide must be healed, for the good of all of us. We need our energy and passion to be focused on our very real problems, not on each other.
Here is where I want to pivot only slightly to discuss the Santa Fe obelisk and its being pulled down by protesters on Indigenous Peoples’ Day earlier this week. For those who are not aware of the history of the obelisk, we off this from historian Estevan Rael-Gálvez:
“The Soldier’s Monument or Obelisk honors the lives of men who died in two intersecting conflicts — the Civil War and the Indian Wars….This memorial is among the oldest placed in this landscape and is built in the shape of an Egyptian obelisk, an ancient symbol representing creation and renewal, particularly in its association with the light of the sun. It was identified with the benu bird, a precursor to the Greek phoenix, but tied to two gods, Thoth, keeper of the records and Ra, the sun god. It is seated upon a raised base, decorated with laurel wreaths symbolizing triumph, held up by four pillars framing inscriptions on marble, one of which has been the subject of contentious civic debate and community activism for decades.”Historian Estevan Rael-Gálvez.
What was not mentioned by Rael-Galvez is that until the 1970s, the obelisk included an inscription “to the brave heroes who have fallen in various battles with savage Indians….” And while the word “savage” was etched out by an unidentified individual almost 50 years ago, there is good reason for indigenous outrage that such a monument should be at the center of the town square.
We are seeing other statues being removed legally or as part of activist action across the nation. In either case, one side celebrates while the other is left feeling disrespected or violated. If you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all, you will appreciate where our sympathies lie. We were strongly opposed to the Entrada and pleased to find it end as a public event on the Santa Fe Plaza. But there are significant segments of the population for whom the Entrada was a seminal festival, a source of cultural pride.
I am trying to sort out how our city, our state, and our nation can address these divisions, can find a way to identify and advance our common goals and face our common needs while respecting our differences. Or is our future going to be continuing battles of words with each side operating with their own inflamed sense of justice, buoyed by their own facts, arguments, and media sources, with frustrations increasingly leading to threats of violence or violent actions?
I am not seeing how healing will be possible when protestors pull down obelisks, statues of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Jefferson Davis or any of the dozens of other statues commemorating presidents, generals, and others who have since been recognized as representing racist or colonial actions, policies, or eras. On the other hand, statues commemorating Kit Carson are deeply offensive to indigenous people, as was the obelisk. Statues of Jim Crow “heroes” must trigger revulsion among African Americans who live in communities still honoring those who condoned or promoted lynching, segregation, and other racist actions.
In the instance of the obelisk in Santa Fe, in June our Mayor announced that the obelisk indeed would come down and that “a proper place” would be found for it.
“In this historic moment, we are being called upon to come to terms with our past. When the history of the 21st century is written, 2020 will go down in history as the moment when we either stepped up and took advantage of the challenge we are facing or allowed the past to swallow us up,” Webber said.June 17, 2020, ABQ Journal
For four months, the Mayor failed to follow through on that commitment and didn’t communicate about any plans that were unfolding to resolve the situation. With Indigenous Peoples’ Day approaching, he had to realize that the obelisk’s continued presence in the center of the plaza would be a focal point of protests. If he had taken “advantage of the challenge” the absence of an obelisk would have been something celebrated as elected leadership facing up to our history. Instead, he was “swallowed up” by the moment.
Roxanne wondered yesterday whether a better end to the obelisk saga, and other culturally offensive statues, would have been for the Mayor and City Council to propose its being placed in the New Mexico History Museum where it could be put in historical context and educate the public about its origins and why it is now controversial. Where other displays could honor the courage of indigenous people and celebrate both the Spanish and Indigenous history and culture. We do not learn from history by removing vestiges of ugly, even murderous, eras in that history. But we also can no longer abide symbols commemorating heroes of hatred, racism, and genocide being displayed in public squares.
I had planned on ending the post here because while Roxanne’s idea about the obelisk seems a worthy way to have resolved one manifestation of the increasingly dangerous divisions plaguing our nation, frankly, addressing the obelisk seems far easier to resolve when compared to the divide that separates our nation.
But, as often happens when I am going to write something that is about the tenor of the times, I receive an article from someone that is so germane to what I am writing that I must find a way to incorporate it into the piece. This post had been completed Thursday morning when Charlotte Lipson sent me a blog post, “Winter is Here” by Sean Patrick Hughes, someone who I had never read before. The quote will make it evident why I want to read more from him and have subscribed to his blog:
“There’s a consistent pathology in the American political debate. The chronic form metastasizes when we deny that we have problems in common. The easiest way is to simply say that a problem is not a problem and just push on. If we can’t deny it outright, we’ll get to work on making the case that the cure is worse than the illness. This should sound very familiar to Americans right now. The roads we’ve kicked cans down are long. And the cans we’ve kicked are many. And you can go on for quite a long time kicking them, but eventually there’s a reckoning. And the cycle moves on. It is the chronic American political condition.
The acute sickness is much more dangerous. It’s when we refuse to acknowledge that we are one people. Problems may be self-evident. But we deny that we have them in common. Because we deny we have each other in common. And so, some problems not only aren’t things to solve. They’re weapons to use against the “others.””Winter Is Here: Sean Patrick Hughes
This, it seems to me, is the heart of the matter, we are no longer in this together. Hughes is more optimistic than I am. He goes on to say that Covid is the existential problem we simply can’t deny, a can we simply can’t kick down the road. And we can’t solve it unless and until we acknowledge that the problem is ours to solve together, that it simply will not be beaten if some communities shelter-in-place, consistently don masks, and avoid completely all large gatherings while 40% of us go about our lives without a care in the world. We are seeing today how that approach works. We will also not meet this challenge if when a vaccine is developed, half of America refuses to take it. We must own Covid as “our” problem.
Hughes feels that Nov 3 will be the turning point and may it be so. But as much of this post has described, I am not seeing how, even with a Biden landslide, that we rally around him and unify or heal. Or even if we do not rally around him, we somehow rally around beating COVID and that maybe out of that process, that collective problem-solving, we realize we have more to gain by working together on those challenges I identified at the beginning of this post.
I don’t really see a “fix” for what ails us, but I think that it needs to be addressed as an issue that in some ways dwarfs all the other issues we must face. How can you address a pandemic when 1/3 of our nation refuses to wear masks and doesn’t believe the science? How can we address the climate crisis when 1/3 of our nation doesn’t believe the science and points to snow as evidence that the earth is not warming?
About a year ago, Roxanne and I spent a day in dialog with Trump supporters working in a series of conversations facilitated by Better Angels. Their premise was that by reasonable people speaking with each other in a moderated framework, some level of consensus could be achieved, some common ground identified, a starting point. But 6 hours of “conversation,” while civil, was nonetheless maddeningly pointless, as they had their set of facts and logic and we had ours. There was no common ground to be found. And that may be the crux of our national problem.
And so to return to the beginning of this post where I itemized a list of national challenges that impact all of us across divides. Could conversation about those needs be a starting point for a dialog where we can at least agree that these problems need to be addressed and that they are shared problems? From there, could a national debate be initiated on how we might address those challenges? It would feel encouraging to at least feel that most of us were collectively thinking about these challenges, acknowledging that they are “our” challenges, and seeking ways to address them. One promising sign I see is a national exhaustion, a gut feeling that we can’t continue like this, part of it is COVID, but part of it is just the exhaustion of our public debate being so fueled by hate. Maybe we can start by agreeing on just one thing: the way we are living right now is simply not ok. We must find a better way. We must heal.
Having said that, I wish I were more optimistic about our prospects of healing our divisions. But 2020 has eroded my optimism? How about you? Where do you see a path to a national consensus?
In solidarity and hope,
Paul & Roxanne
Figuring this out is outside my capacities, so I am turning to you. Do you see a path to healing this nation, to repairing the divisions, to working together to address the challenges ahead? Please comment below.
Categories: Social & Racial Justice & Immigration Reform