For those who have been Feeling the Bern

If you’ve been Feeling the Bern, I share your heartache over not winning. For I have memories.

1968. Images still clear in my mind: the film clip of a South Vietnamese officer putting a gun to the head of a young Viet Cong and pulling the trigger; a sign saying, “The Vietnamese didn’t fight in our Civil War.” President Lyndon Johnson had escalated a war in southeast Asia that many Americans, especially young people, demonstrated against. In opposition to the war, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota had the courage to challenge the incumbent Johnson for the presidential nomination. Male students cut their long hair and shaved so they could go door to door rallying support for McCarthy. Largely because of young people’s passion, Johnson announced he would not seek reelection.

Who knows what might have happened had not the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., been assassinated four days after Johnson’s announcement? Or had Robert Kennedy, who had entered the Democratic race, not been shot and killed in San Francisco?

Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic candidate. Many young people felt so disillusioned they refused to vote. Richard Nixon was elected, and we all know how that turned out.

What did I learn from this period of disillusionment? That Americans will elect a crook before they’ll elect anyone veering far to the left.

This doesn’t mean we should disengage from politics. It means we need to find new ways to bring about change. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Work for progressive candidates down list. Even school boards are political entities. In North Carolina, where I live, our state representatives have enacted legislation abhorrent to anyone concerned about justice issues. A Democratic president and democratic governors need legislators who will work with them, not obstruct them as Republicans in Congress have done.
  2. Get informed on issues you care about and work for the candidates who share your concerns.
  3. By working I mean contact candidates through their staffs, ask what needs to be done.

In 1968 many of my generation lost our innocence. But we came out of the tragedies and disappointments wiser. And of course, older.

Is Hillary so dishonest?

Mom was the nurturer, greeting us when we came home from school, preparing our meals. Dad was the boss, the enforcer of rules, often with the palm of his hand. This clarity of roles gave us a sense of security.

Nowadays Mom goes to work and Dad has relinquished much of his authority. The old order has shifted in other ways. If we’re white or heterosexual we’ve lost assurance of our superiority. Black and white intermarry; homosexuals marry. On the global stage the clear issues of the Cold War have vanished, replaced with a militant Muslim enemy that strikes unexpectedly. Our lifestyle of big cars and unlimited use of electricity is affecting Earth’s climate, a science beyond our comprehension.

We older folks yearn for Mom and Dad—as they once were. Enter Donald Trump, the authority figure who’ll return our country to how it used to be.

But Hillary—she doesn’t behave the way a mother’s supposed to. She’s not a national nurturer but a trained lawyer who as a senator voted on complex issues; who as Secretary of State negotiated with leaders of other countries. She’s been hardened by battle.

Anyone who’s seen TV commercials, even if they’re muted, recognizes the little green creature advertising Geiko and associates the Statue of Liberty with Liberty Mutual. The purpose of repetition in advertising is to keep a product in the viewer’s mind, to repeat an idea so often that it’s finally accepted as truth

So it has been with Hillary’s reputation. Since 2008 Republicans have anticipated her candidacy in this election and committed themselves to eroding the perception of her character. They exploited the Benghazi attack, sponsoring multiple investigations and repeating the message that she couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth. They exploited her using a private email server, though other government officials have done the same. All the while the press allowed itself to be manipulated into continuously analyzing opinions about her integrity—until her dishonesty was taken as fact.

I’m not suggesting Clinton is beyond reproach. Her experience is so broad there’s something in her voting record or foreign policy actions to offend anyone. I am convinced, though, that public perceptions of her dishonesty are the result of a non-stop propaganda campaign.

Our job as voters in this election isn’t to choose the most nurturing mother or the most intimidating father. It’s to select an individual who understands and supports the Constitution, who appreciates the complex web of international relationships, whose knowledge is respected worldwide.

A person who firmly believes in “liberty and justice for all.”

A restroom war in North Carolina

So North Carolinians are arguing over restrooms again—what might happen if a certain segment of the population used the wrong one. Didn’t we go through this back in the sixties, when white folks fought to keep separate facilities for “colored” and “white?” Now the North Carolina House is distraught over the city of Charlotte’s ordinance expanding anti-discrimination laws for public accommodations. It’s the transgendered population our representatives would have us fear, how their choosing which bathroom they want to use “poses an imminent threat to public safety, ” (Speaker Tim Moore). The issue is worth the $42,000-a-day expense of meeting in special session, he says.

(I’ll avoid references to these elected officials who so boldly favor local control—except, it seems, when a city does something they disapprove of. )

A special session to make Charlotte’s ordinance illegal would supposedly contribute to the safety and well being of women and children. While I certainly appreciate Mr. Moore’s and his colleagues’ concern, let me remind him there are other issues more threatening to our safety. Granted none of them as scintillating as imagined drag queens such as what we see in movies pulling down their pants in front of innocent children and women.

Strengthening gun laws would do more to protect women and children, but would draw far less support. In 2015 there were 53 domestic violence homicides in our state (http://www.nccadv.org/homicides-20150. While mass shootings make headlines, suicides and accidental shootings in homes where there are guns take far more lives.

And what if our representatives announced a commitment to protecting women and children from air and water pollution? Yawns. Which has allowed elected officials to gut the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) http://www.indyweek.com/news/archives/2015/04/23/bill-that-would-gut-state-environmental-policy-passes-nc-house-committee.

Keep in mind these are the same people who try to control women’s reproductive rights, who reject climate science, who undermine the quality of our state’s educational system, who voted to allow magistrates to refuse to perform gay marriages if their religious beliefs opposed it.

With national primary races for President so entertaining, few are paying attention to state politics. Which could explain why Tim Moore and his cohorts are talking about transgendered individuals using public restrooms. His efforts though should remind us that statewide elections are as important, if not more important than national ones. Candidates who deserve our support need financial backing and a team of workers. Otherwise restrooms will be the big campaign issue.

 

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman and Out of the Pumpkin Shell.

 

 

 

The Christian Agenda

The 2016 primaries have come to the Bible Belt. Already politicians are competing for the evangelical vote.

For too long we progressive Christians have allowed evangelicals to be spokespersons for the Gospel. In fact, in the minds of many outside the Christian faith, “Christian” and “conservative” are synonymous. Evangelicals tend to preach against homosexuality and gay marriage, abortion, the evils of banning prayers in public schools, the war on Christmas. As a result, their followers block entrances to Planned Parenthood, write letters to the editor of local newspapers, run for office, refuse to marry gay couples.

Most importantly, they vote.

As a Christian, but—for lack of a better label—a liberal Christian, I’ve had the privilege to listen to the sermons of outstanding progressive/liberal clergy. At election time I’ve noticed they tend to be quiet, as if they don’t want to offend or use their position of influence to sway decisions. As usual they assure us of God’s love. We’re to help the poor and needy. We’re to confess ours sins. We’re to act with courage. We’re to speak out against injustice. All as if an election is not approaching.

In a political advertisement, Marco Rubio says voters will decide” what kind of country America is going to be in the twenty-first century.” On CNN Franklin Graham encouraged evangelicals to vote and to “stand for biblical principles.”

No doubt my list of biblical principles won’t correspond with Graham’s. Yet as a progressive/liberal Christian, I am one whose faith influences my voting. I will be looking for candidates who in their words and past actions have demonstrated the following: 1) a compassion for the poor, the refugee, the marginalized; 2) a concern for God’s creation, that is environmental issues; and 3) a commitment to justice—racial, gender, economic, criminal.

I’m not suggesting that liberal clergy tell us who to vote for. But we need to hear them apply ancient truths to current events. Together we need a more public struggle about what God requires of us as American citizens, what kind of country we’re going to be. Whether or not we liberals speak boldly about biblical principles, we can be sure our evangelical sisters and brothers will be promoting an agenda we do not share.

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman (Wipf & Stock, 2010), a collection of short stories in which the author imagines heroes of Hebrew Scripture as women; and Out of the Pumpkin Shell (Spinsters Ink, 2009), a laugh/cry novel about women’s friendship and family secrets.

Donald Trump, the Republicans’ idea of a strong leader

In the final assembly of ninth grade I received a leadership award. The recognition was probably based on my saying hi to everyone I passed in school hallways. After that, at each educational level, my understanding of effective leadership evolved. During my senior year of college the student government president was an intelligent young man of gentle spirit who had earned the trust of his peers. He didn’t thrust himself into the limelight but quietly carried out each task his role required. Later he was awarded a scholarship to Harvard for graduate studies and eventually became a superintendent of schools, a leader in his community. A strong leader, no doubt.

The New York Times (12/11/15) has reported, “More than four in 10 Republican primary voters say the quality most important to them in a candidate is strong leadership, and those voters heavily favor Mr. Trump.”

Which leaves me wondering about the qualities of leadership. Here’s my list: An effective leader is one who 1) serves a higher cause than self; 2) is trusted by the majority of the group to whom s/he is responsible; 3) has a deep understanding of the constituencies s/he serves; 4) doesn’t exert power over the group but empowers others; 5) demonstrates an openness to those of opposing viewpoints, with repeated efforts to draw them into the sphere of influence; 6) appeals to and calls upon the higher instincts of the group; and 7) can successfully navigate relationships with other groups/nations.

In recent months, as the country has faced one crisis after another, I’ve watched President Obama speak to the American public. His posture erect, with no grandiose swinging of the arms, he has shown his respect for the office of President, a cause, a position, greater than himself. His speeches, calming in tone, have not been self-serving; rather they have demonstrated his understanding of his responsibility to keep the country safe. He has chosen words carefully, not from a sense of “political correctness” but from a respect for the country’s various constituencies, including Muslims.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump tosses out words as if they are confetti, labeling an opponent as “weak,” intended to make Trump appear strong by contrast. His reactions are reflexive, rather than reflective. Bomb ‘em, keep ‘em out, execute ‘em.

May the American people choose women and men who will lead us with strength grounded in wisdom rather than fear.

 

Republican debates: for love of a good fight

My daughter’s adolescence gave me two insights into human behavior: we love a good fight, and in our weakest moments we go on the offensive. Both truths were clearly demonstrated in Wednesday evening’s Republican debate.

During our daughter’s middle school years the family lived in Southern California. Over her lunch hour, when gangs were sure to get into fights, she’d follow them around. She didn’t want to miss the excitement.

Americans like the drama of a good fight. From John Wayne westerns and Audie Murphy war stories to today’s crime shows and intergalactic battles, we find pleasure in watching the survival of the fittest. We bet on cock fights, boxing matches, football games.

Donald Trump’s no fool. Right away he set the campaign tone. Like the school yard bully he strutted around, tossing out insults. We’ve followed him, itching to see who’ll take him on. Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Carly Fiorina seem up to the challenge. Interestingly, Ben Carson’s contrasting calm demeanor seems to be serving him well. Jeb Bush’s isn’t.

Sadly the media have been lured into the love of fight. Wednesday night Cruz rightly criticized the inane nature of the questions. He pointed out that the Democratic debate was different, attributing differences to the media giving the Democrats an easy ride. No, the CNN moderators were professionals. Rather than encourage a fight, they asked policy questions allowing candidates to show their differences. It was a debate for grown-ups. Republicans deserve the same kind of forum.

This brings me to my second observation about human behavior: in our weakest moments we go on the offensive. When our daughter knew she was in trouble, she’d attack us first: “How dare you wake up my friends’ parents in the middle of the night to ask if I was there.” “You are the worst parents…”

Wednesday, as soon as Cruz blamed “the mainstream media,” other candidates joined in, referring to “the liberal media.” This worked for Republicans in George W. Bush’s campaign. Cowed by accusations, journalists quit asking the difficult questions. This, in turn, has led many liberals to conclude that the press is conservative.

I’m not suggesting that Republicans bear sole responsibility for the direction their debates have taken. Rather that the public’s lust for blood and our tendency toward offensive posturing have brought us to this point. As far as the media is concerned, we’re getting what we want.

 

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman and Out of the Pumpkin Shell.

Pope Francis and the world beyond our experiences

Every Friday my high school English teacher tested the class on a list of vocabulary words. Lately one of those words has been swirling around in my mind. Solipsistic: being self-centered; thinking our own experience is the only reality.

Until this past week the 2016 campaign—who’s ahead, who’s lagging, who made some ridiculous statement—had lured many of us into thinking American politics, “our own experiences,” defined reality. This belief both entertained us and fueled our animosities. It led us to ignore the rest of the world—except those we fear.

Then Pope Francis arrived and called us out of our solipsistic thinking.

Not by scolding us or denouncing our sinfulness. He did not preach against a self-centeredness that builds a wall along our southern border, or cuts funds to our children’s education. He did not chastise us for denying dignity to those imprisoned or the homeless. Instead he reminded us of our heritage. Before Congress he cited four individuals who exemplify the best in our character: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. Many of us listened and said, “Ah, yes, we ARE people of compassion, courage, hope, and spirituality. People who value all human life and work on behalf of others.”

During the interfaith prayer service at Ground Zero, Muslim and Jew recited a litany of peace. A stage full of women and men whose lives are grounded in different religions prayed to the One who guides them. Francis, by his presence, called us all to open our minds to others’ faith traditions.

Throughout his homilies the Pope reminded us that every refugee has a human face, a personal story. Every individual who lost his or her life because of the attack on 9/11 had a human face, a personal story. Every person trying to survive homelessness has a human face, a personal story. Every woman and man in prison has a human face, a personal story.

Solipsistic: being self-centered; thinking our own experience is the only reality.

Francis came to us not as a man of power wanting to convince us that his reality is the correct one. He came not as a saint, but as a servant. Not as a solipsist, but as one who lives for the world. He reminds us of compassion and generosity, virtues that are part of every culture and religion when practiced with humility.