E Pluribus Unum: What Would MLK Do?

e pluribus unimMartin Luther King, Jr. has been gone almost forty-eight years and there is no one quite like him today in America. There were some who stepped up over the years and spoke out but today we really don’t have anyone of his stature who can serve as a voice and conscience of America. I think he would have his hands full if he was alive today. We have many who will stand and spread an opposite message who simply do not know right from wrong.

It seems that a certain ugliness of spirit has overtaken us in recent years. Right now it is manifest in the political ranting of Donald Trump and a few others. Privileged voices speak out against those they wish to blame for imagined threats and petty grievances. Last year I recall Al Sharpton complaining about the skin pigment of Oscar nominees. The “Black Lives Matter” slogan ignites all sorts of debate and demagoguery on all sides. Trump and his kind think that if only we could deport the illegal aliens, block all Muslims from entering the country and threaten our real or imagined enemies with annihilation  we would be better off. The privileged class in America, whether economically privileged or racially privileged, feels threatened and those among them with the money or power to do so are manipulating the others with fear and unfounded rumors.

We frequently hear people complaining about “political correctness” and saying that they will have none of it. They are willing to insult and make crude comments about anyone or anything. It gives them a feeling of power to degrade someone else. Political correctness is nothing more than civility.

The deep-seated fear and anger that has taken root in the country seems different to me from what we once recognized as basic intolerance or racial bias. We have had that for centuries and God knows it has been a thorn in our side from the very beginning and has erupted in horrible and bloody ways. What we have now is something very mean-spirited and hard to define. There is a loss of civility and a willingness to embrace hatred and even overt acts of violence.  We have seen people murdered in churches, mosques burned, attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics with people killed,  and now a ridiculous armed gang occupying a bird sanctuary.

We had that kind of violence in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement. People were killed and churches were bombed or burned. Peaceful protests were attacked by mobs and police dogs. Back then, much of the problem was institutionalized racial bias in the South and northern cities and elsewhere. There was something identifiable that was wrong that had to be fixed and people moved to fix it. Leaders like Martin Luther King were able to frame the discussion and move things toward a resolution.

Now we are hearing of all sorts of alleged and imagined evils that often do not exist or do not exist nearly at the level that would require the anger and hatred that we are seeing. There are popular voices that keep spreading this fear and building on the anger. They are doing this for a reason and are benefiting somehow by stirring up this hatred. President Obama is, of course, an easy target for several reasons and it comes with the job. There are many other targets and many outlandish claims being made. There are real problems and there are grievances but these false complaints and outlandish claims divert attention away from them.

I occasionally hear statements, accompanied by hand wringing, that white people will be the minority in the United States in just a few decades. I have news for you…white people are already the minority in many parts of the country and all is well.  Non-white people have the same values and life goals as white people. They want to work, have families, live in a decent home and have their kids live safe and healthy lives and get a good education. What is wrong with that? That is not a radical departure from what white people want…it is the same thing.

I recently drove across northern Arizona and scanned the radio for something to listen to. My car radio settled on a Christian station with a call-in talk show. In about four minutes of listening I learned that all “progressives” were friends and supporters of ISIS and supported terrorists; the Roman Catholic hierarchy was so old and feeble that they didn’t recognize that the younger priests were communists and were recruiting communists to fill the seminaries; Methodists in particular and other protestant churches were also riddled with communists; and the Jesuits are all communist agents. This  all was broadcast out for public consumption before the call-in portion of the show started — just to set the tone. This was the insane agenda of the commentator in charge of the radio show. You have to wonder where this person got these ideas, where he came from, who is paying for this program to be aired and how did it get on a Christian radio station. Some people will hear these outlandish statements and believe they are true. I have a retired friend who was an educator and has a masters degree. She became so convinced that the Census Bureau was a secret arm of ACORN that she refused to participate in the 2010 census. When a census taker was sent out to her home she threatened him with violence and chased him off her property and then proceeded to brag about how she had taken a stand against Obama.

It is time to stop this foolishness. In March of 1865, while we were still engaged in a horrific civil war, Abraham Lincoln was faced with what he surely knew would be a reunified nation not at peace with itself but filled with hatred and a thirst for retaliation in an uneasy state of military enforced order. He offered these words in his Second Inaugural Address:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Let us move forward together into the unknown because we are able to overcome. We have done so before. We are E Pluribus Unum. If anyone says otherwise, they are wrong.

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Letting Them Rest in Peace

westport battle
Battle of Westport

The last mortal casualty of the Civil War was laid to rest over 150 years ago.  Somewhere around 750,000 people died in that war. Most of the soldiers died from disease — for every three killed in combat there was another five who died from disease.  Many more were maimed for life.

There is a great deal of agitation and consternation over the future of the Confederate flag and what it actually stands for. To claim that the flag stands to memorialize and honor Confederate soldiers who died in a misguided and vain attempt to preserve slavery (yes, that’s what it was about in the south) is to, conversely, dishonor and minimize the efforts and sacrifice of Union soldiers who also died in the conflict in the struggle to preserve the Union and abolish slavery. Many soldiers’ lives were cut short even if they survived the war. My great-grandfather died from complications from a Civil War injury long after the war ended. Another relative suffered thirty years of pain with a war injury until he finally had his leg amputated in the  1890s.

The Confederate flag doesn’t stand for or serve the purpose that it was originally intended. It is now mostly a tool to symbolize obstructionism and white privilege. No matter what you think of it or it’s history, today it is the bigot’s flag. It was once vilified as “the traitor’s rag” and has evolved into the “bigot’s rag”.

Slavery and the Civil War were horrendous things in our history. I was born and raised in Missouri, a one-time slave state. The Civil War there was particularly brutal on all sides.  Slavery in Missouri was not as widely practiced as in the deep south but had a particular ugly aspect — one not much talked about.  Slave plantations in parts of Missouri were essentially stock farms where slaves were bred and then shipped south.  Slaves could not be imported into the United States after 1807 so there was a business side  to the “peculiar institution” — making baby slaves that could eventually be sold south to large agricultural plantations. I’m sure this went on all over the south but it is seldom talked about. Where do you think all those slaves came from?

The killing of the nine church members in Charleston is not directly related to the Confederate flag.  The murders are related to the mindset and bigotry that the flag represents.  The flag bolsters and fosters the hate and aggression that permeates the minds of too many people…not just in the south. That’s how the murders are connected.  You can see Confederate flag “do-rags” on bikers in California or any state. The flag decorates pick-up trucks in Michigan or Idaho or anywhere in the country. Six-year-olds wrapped in Chinese-made Confederate flag beach towels in Texas or Cape Cod don’t (yet) know what that symbol is about but others with them or seeing them do and it won’t be long before they figure it out.

It is time to grow up and put all of that behind us. This is not “political correctness” as right-wingers like to complain about. They don’t fly Nazi flags in military cemeteries in Germany. Put the flag in a museum — there is no place for the Confederate flag in public or government institutions or business…as in state flags or license plates.  It’s time we laid it all to rest.