Posts Tagged ‘slavery’

It’s Time for the Filibuster to Go

Sunday, April 4th, 2021

By Bob Gaydos

 Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith goes to Washington,“ Hollywood’s version of the filibuster.

Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith goes to Washington,“ Hollywood’s version of the filibuster.

     “If it’s good enough for The New York Times, it’s good enough for us.”

      With those words of wisdom, a newspaper editor gave a willing but wary member of his staff a gentle shove into the world of editorial writing. The staff member was me. The editor was Bill Kennedy. The newspaper was The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y. The time was late November, 1983. My maiden piece had appeared on Nov. 23,1983, the 20-year anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Serendipity. JFK and I share a birthday.

       On this day, I was asking Bill about an editorial I was thinking of writing, but which The Times, which circulated in our area, had just voiced an opinion on that morning. It was pretty much the same as what I had in mind and I was a little annoyed that they “beat” me. An ego thing.

      “Do we care?“ I asked.

      “Do our readers care, or even notice?” Bill answered.

      I wrote the editorial. The topic has long since been lost in my memory. But Kennedy’s message remained.

       It came to me in a flash a couple of weeks back as I was having a debate with myself on the wisdom of scrapping the Senate filibuster. I had pretty much decided I was all for it because, honestly, I am up to my eyeballs in Mitch McConnell single-handedly trying to destroy this country for anyone but the super-rich and super-white. With him as Senate majority leader for 10 years, any meaningful piece of social legislation proposed by Democrats had no chance. Now, as minority leader, he threatens to use the filibuster to kill Democrats’ sweeping voter reform law while having the gall to claim that Democrats refused to negotiate on it with Republicans.

         My only hesitation in writing this piece was that even some Democrats were defending the filibuster because of its “ttradition“ in the Senate and its supposed protection against a super majority running roughshod over democracy. Those arguments had pretty much lost out and I also thought about the threat the filibuster would pose to immigration reform, criminal justice reform and anything else President Biden might propose to advance racial and cultural harmony in the nation in the wake of four years of the divisive Trump administration.

         Enough of McConnell, already, I said to myself. Let’s save the country while I’m still alive to appreciate it. And then there was the Times editorial: “For Democracy to Stay, the Filibuster Must Go.”

        Well, thanks, Bill.

         Of course, I was so upset that I let them beat me on writing the editorial and didn’t want people to think I just copied theirs, that I waited a good two weeks before sitting down to do mine. This is it. The filibuster must go.

         Here’s why.

         Even though it is promoted as a barrier to a majority abusing its power over a minority, its primary application from the beginning has been to allow a minority of senators to exclude minorities in America from enjoying the rewards of democracy. First, it was slavery. More recently, civil rights legislation. Forget Jimmy Stewart in the movies. It is an outdated tool that has been used to preserve and promote bias. And for all it’s “tradition.” the Senate has already written exceptions into the rule.

         A brief description of the filibuster rule is appropriate here. When the Constitution was written, the framers kept it simple. In order for a bill to pass in the 100-member Senate, a simple majority of 51 votes was all that was needed. When Southern members took to long-winded floor speeches (filibusters) to delay or deter votes to abolish slavery, a rule was approved that requires the votes of 60 senators to end a filibuster.

        Modern senators being less fond of doing the actual work of talking for hours on end, in relays if necessary, to defeat a bill, amended the rule so that any senator can delay a vote on, and maybe defeat, any bill, simply by sending an e-mail saying he or she is filibustering it. That’s it. Go to lunch.

       In effect, that means the bill sponsor has to find 60 votes instead of 51. And, of course, there is no real debate on the bill. The Senate has already excluded money-raising bills and the appointment of federal judges and Supreme Court justices from the filibuster, allowing, most recently, Donald Trump to appoint three new justices to the high court.

         Some (including two Democrats) have suggested going back to the talking filibuster so that there is actual effort required to oppose and maybe some debate on the bill. But there has seldom been any debate provided by the filibuster and, even assuming Republicans are willing to argue for hours on end against expanding voting rights, Biden and the Democrats don’t have the time to waste.

          With Georgia leading the way, Republican legislatures and governors across the country are passing laws to make it much more difficult for members of minorities especially to vote. Basically, that’s un-American. More to the point, it’s racist as hell.

         The only way Republicans win congressional races in a lot of areas is by gerrymandering voting districts so that their candidate has a majority of Republican voters in the district. Even in Georgia, though, that failed when Democrats managed to put together a major get-out-the-vote effort. Republicans are basically scared to death they will not get elected again.

           Being able to vote should be one of the easiest things to do in this country. It’s almost insulting to have to write a column arguing that point. The fact that Republicans lied about the presidential election being stolen from Trump — and some still do — and make no bones about imposing restrictions on people’s ability to vote suggests that there is no debate to be had on this issue. Republicans just don’t want minorities to vote. They are not concerned with changing their policies to attract the voters, just denying the votes.

          Democrats have the presidency and control of both houses of Congress (but only the slimmest of majorities in the Senate) for two years. Midterm elections often produce changes in the power structure. Democrats can go a long way to repairing the damage done in the last four years by the Trump administration. (Biden has already started.) Democrats can go even further by passing sweeping voters rights legislation that will ensure that Congress is truly representative of the majority of the people rather than in the hands of a tyrannical minority interested only in power, not governing.

         Of course, what I just said is pretty much what The New York Times editorial also said. What can I say, great minds think alike. If it’s good enough for The Times (sorry, a slight edit, Bill), most of the time, it’s also good enough for me.

(Personal note: I wrote editorials for The Record for 23 years until I retired. Thanks, Bill.)
rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

America’s Getting a History Lesson

Saturday, July 18th, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

A statue of Christopher Columbus is toppled in Baltimore.

A statue of Christopher Columbus is toppled in Baltimore.

      Christopher Columbus was sent to the bottom of the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. Stonewall Jackson has been removed from his pedestal in Richmond, Va. The Washington Redskins are considering changing their nickname. Can the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves be far behind? The State of Mississippi is removing the Confederate flag symbol from its state flag. Several members of Congress have asked the Army to rename any buildings and remove symbols at West Point that honor Robert E. Lee and any other Confederate officers.

       America is getting a history lesson, many generations too late, and we owe it all to … Donald Trump.

       Sometimes life is weird. There’s a school of thought which holds that humans learn the important lessons in life only by going through difficult, challenging, perhaps painful situations. Some call them “opportunities.” The universe — your own personal one, or the one we all share — is thought to like harmony. Everyone singing in tune, so to speak. But apparently it takes going through disharmony to get there. Otherwise, we don’t pay attention and just go on thinking everything’s fine. How much disharmony is necessary before we learn the lesson seems to depend on how well we pay attention in class. That is, do we notice the disharmony, understand what it really is, know what or who caused it and do we look for a solution — a real, lasting solution, not a paper-over job that makes us feel good for awhile?

        History suggests we favor temporary, feel-good “solutions.” What follows is an extremely condensed lesson:

        European settlers “claimed” (and named) America more than 500 years ago, killing and raping natives who already lived here. Disharmony. Over time, however, generations of European-Americans made amends for this grand theft, first by having a special dinner with native Americans and later calling it Thanksgiving, designating unwanted parcels of land for the tribes to call their own reservations, killing thousands more in Western movies that portrayed them as savage redskins (Oops! Sorry, Washington.), ignoring tribal laws and customs that were inconvenient, letting tribes open gambling casinos and giving Columbus, the guy who started it all and gave the natives the name “Indians,” his own holiday. We’re square now, right, Chief?

         While this lesson was slowly unfolding, dark-skinned natives of African nations were being kidnaped and brought to America to serve as slave labor for plantation owners in the South. These unwilling immigrants were bought and sold as property for generations, without rights and mostly without education. They were the backbone of the American economy. Still, many Americans, mostly in the North, were not OK with slavery. Eventually, after much disharmony, a Civil War broke out over it, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves, and the North won the most brutal war this nation has ever fought. A divided nation was rejoined and a semblance of harmony was restored. 

          Now free, Blacks nonetheless continued to live as second-class citizens throughout the segregated South for about 100 years. The 1960s brought another revolution. Marches, demonstrations, violence, death. But President Lyndon Johnson muscled the Civil Rights Act through a contentious Congress. Voila! No more segregation. Schools were integrated. Everyone was “equal.” Wow, it was about time, Americans agreed. We’re good now, right, Bro? Hey, you want to play football at our college? 

         At the same time, however, many Southerners also said let’s not forget those courageous generals who led the Confederacy’s fight to maintain slavery, even in a new nation if need be. Let’s erect statues praising them everywhere we can think of. And don’t you just love that Confederate flag? Live and die for Dixie. Uhh, also, we don’t really need to rush with this “all men are equal stuff,” do we? 

       So everything was cool, no more separate water fountains or schools. No more use of the “N” word, at least not publicly. No more profiling of people of color by police, well at least not officially. America was now, finally, a color-blind nation. It had to be. After all, it was the law. Harmony was mandated.

       Then along came Trump, a man who never read a history book, indeed could barely read at all. The Republican Party, which had become the favorite hiding place for all those white Americans who would still be slaveholders if it was allowed and who still had no problem with separate water fountains and who apparently never learned what the Civil War was about, made Trump its presidential candidate. Americans, in their wisdom, and with the considerable help of Russia and an antiquated electoral system, elected Trump.

        It turned out a lot of Americans didn’t like the Democratic candidate because she was a woman and she was smart and tough and knew more about the job of president than Trump and all the would-be Republican candidates put together. Vote for Trump, they said. He’ll shake things up in Washington.

      And they were right.

       A man who operates solely out of self-interest, Trump’s primary “governing” tools are chaos and vindictiveness, which he wields as weapons. In his effort to “Make America Great Again” (as in, before the Civil Rights Act), he has destroyed international alliances, stoked bigotry against all non-whites, encouraged violence — including by police — against peaceful protest and made it safe in the minds of his racist followers to come out of the woodwork to spew their hatred. There is a crisis of conscience in America every day. The evidence is in the news media, which he has labeled “the enemy of the people.”

         Evangelical Christians claim Trump was sent by some God to save them, but not necessarily the rest of us. The Rapture notwithstanding, I’m working on that need for harmony thesis. I’m thinking Trump may be the inevitable result of a universe frustrated with our inability to learn the lesson.

         Major change sometimes requires major pain. Having dozens of videos of police brutality against people of color splashed across social media helps. So does having an inept “leader” who flouts the law, promotes racism and violence, and lies on a daily basis. He is disharmony personified. We don’t need history books for this; we’re living it.

         So … wait a minute! Did you see what they did? Again? This doesn’t seem right! Down with Columbus! Down with Robert E. Lee! The Chicks are no longer from Dixie and FedEx insists that the football team that plays in the stadium which bears the company’s name must change its mascot. When big business gets a conscience, it may be a sign that America is finally learning the lesson. It’s simple: We are supposed to love and help one another. All one-anothers. Harmony.

         The universe may be speaking to us, in a sense, through Donald Trump. I pray we hear it this time.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer in residence at zestoforange.com.

 

On Influence and Insensitivity

Sunday, March 10th, 2019

By Bob Gaydos

Kylie Jenner ... queen of selfies

Kylie Jenner … queen of selfies

It’s been awhile since I put my name on something I wrote, mostly because there’s really been only one one thing to write about. But other life goes on, so …

Last time out, I wrote about how I had recently come to the realization that, much as I chafed at the designation, given the 21st century dilution of the term and the relaxed admission standards that allow anyone with an attitude and an audience into the club, I was — am — for better or worse, a pundit.

 In my defense, just being able to write that sentence should qualify me.

But punditry, I have even more recently learned, is small potatoes (chicken feed, chump change, yesterday’s news) compared to the title to which anyone with any interest in the power of persuasion today should aspire.

I want to be an influencer.

Really. It’s a job. I just found out. Some pundit.

Influencer is such a legitimate thing that Forbes Magazine has initiated a list of the Top 10 Influencers for 2018 in a variety of  categories. It’s starting with Beauty, Fitness and Home, capitalized I assume for influence.

Apparently one qualifies for this list by telling tens of thousands — even millions — of people who follow you on social media what beauty products you prefer, the type of fitness regimens, supplements, food, clothes you prefer or let them in on the type of furniture or decor you like to surround yourself with when relaxing at “home.” Then a lot of those people go out and buy the stuff. Companies pay you for your creative messaging.

It’s kinda like being a shill. In fact, it’s exactly like being a shill. It just pays a lot better, if you’re, you know, influential.

If you sense me being a bit flippant and sarcastic about this discovery it may at least in part be because I am not just a little bit envious of these people who have discovered a way to earn a good living by sitting home, posting photos and writing blurbs on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and other social media sites and being paid by companies whose product they promote. You don’t even have to use it. All you really need is a ton of followers who believe you and apparently await your every posting to find out what they should really like, then buy it.

For one thing, this says a lot about buying habits today, when so much shopping is done on the internet, with no opportunity to check out the merchandise firsthand. Well, heck, if Randi Jo Cutie Pie says those are cool candles or neat boots or dynamite hair products, they must be. Look, she’s got a million and a half followers.

The Forbes list was heavily female and mostly millennials, which would suggest that a male in his seventh decade might look for another line of work. It’s also prominently featured on Instagram, which I thought was mostly for sharing cellphone photos. So, on second thought, I’m going to stick to punditry, where I don’t have to worry about competing with Kylie Jenner or Cardi B.

Yet.

— Maybe it’s just me, but …if I’m going to get the news that I’m about to shake off the coils of my current mortal construct and rejoin the Greater Consciousness in some other form real soon, I want a living, breathing doctor standing next to my bed delivering the diagnosis as compassionately as possible, not a streaming image of someone, presumably a doctor, on a screen on a machine wheeled into my hospital room.

Ernest Quintana didn’t get that personal treatment at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Fremont, Calif. Instead, with his 33-year-old granddaughter standing by his bedside, the 78-year-old, who had been admitted to the hospital for the third time in 15 days because of difficulty breathing, heard the headset-wearing image on the screen say there was serious lung damage. “Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can treat very effectively,” the image said. He also said giving his “patient” morphine might help with pain, but would make breathing more difficult. He topped off his “On Demand” consultation by responding to a question about hospice care thusly: “I don’t know if he’s going to get home.”
     

The grand daughter was mortified, as were Quintana’s wife and daughter, who had briefly left the hospital to go home and shower. They complained to the hospital, which was semi-apologetic. Quintana died two days later.

They call it telemedicine and it presumably has its place, but a spokesperson for the AMA said delivering a death sentence electronically should be a doctor’s “last choice.”

Don’t they teach this stuff in med school?

—  Speaking of insensitivity, maybe it’s just me, but the State of Virginia would appear to have a serious race issue. The governor, Ralph Northam, is desperately trying to repair his image after a racist yearbook photo of him was published and he subsequently admitted to wearing blackface in his youth. The state’s attorney general admitted likewise. Both men are white. But get this, mere days after her husband pledged to devote the rest of his term to racial equity, his wife, Pam, leading a tour of the governor’s mansion, handed raw, prickly cotton to 13-and-14-year-old black pages and asked them, “Can you imagine being an enslaved person and having to pick this all day?”

No, they couldn’t and no, they weren’t happy with the hands-on history lesson. Neither were their parents. A former middle school teacher, Northam said she does the same with all the history tours she leads.

Maybe they need to re-evaluate that lesson in First Lady school.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

The Incivility of Any Civil War

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

By Gretchen Gibbs

A brutal civil war is being fought in Ukraine.

A brutal civil war is being fought in Ukraine.

The Ukraine people look haunted in the newspaper photos. Some want to stay with their country, some want to separate and join Russia. We tend to think of them as non-overlapping groups. My experience this past weekend on a trip to Washington, D.C., led me to think about the matter differently.

Our own Civil War divided our country in ways hard to fathom. I know little about the Civil War beyond the Ken Burns series and what I gleaned in high school and college. I have heard that books about Lincoln sell better than anything else, and given that, I am hesitant to put forward any views at all to readers who may be much more knowledgeable than I. But there must be some who don’t know all the things I learned this weekend.

First, I went to hear a concert at the Church of the Epiphany in downtown Washington. An attractive church with great stained glass and excellent acoustics, it is pre-Civil War and housed wounded Union soldiers during the fighting. According to the historical poster outside, Washington as a whole was essentially a southern, secessionist city, and that was especially true for the area of the city around the church. Most of the members were for secession. Jefferson Davis was a member with his own pew until conflict with the minister, who was strongly pro-Union, led to his departure. The poster mentioned that Mary Todd Lincoln had a brother and three half-brothers who fought for the Confederacy. Two of them were killed and one was wounded.

The next day we (I, my brother and sister-in-law) went to Arlington National Cemetery. I’d been before, but the lines after lines of white gravestones, stretching off in all directions, still made me gasp. These dead are from all our wars, of course, not just the Civil War, but there were three quarters of a million deaths in that war, the most costly of our history.

We climbed a steep hill to the former home of Robert E. Lee. Arlington Cemetery was built on his property just over the line in Virginia. It was  confiscated by the Union early in the war as a sort of statement: “See what you’ve done.” When you look out from the front porch, you see a bridge crossing the Potomac and right at the end of the bridge, the Lincoln Memorial. The two men seem enmeshed, or at least their differences bridged. I knew from Ken Burns that Lincoln had asked Lee to head the Union Army, and with great difficulty Lee had refused.

I didn’t know that Lee had released all his own slaves five years before the Emancipation Proclamation. I didn’t know that his wife returned to the house after the war ended and died five days later, apparently of a heart attack brought on by the level of destruction. Few of the articles in the house today are original, except for furniture or dishes or pictures that have been returned by some descendant of a Union soldier who stole them. Now the site is a National Monument, and rightly so, for Lee was a remarkable man. After the war, he became president of Washington and Lee College, and tried to help heal the divisions in the country.

Another thing I learned, not this weekend but when doing research on the 1692 witch trials for The Book of Maggie Bradstreet, was that my ancestors in Massachusetts had slaves. They were called servants, but they were slaves. Tituba, who set off the whole Salem witch hysteria, was a slave from the West Indies. Northerners didn’t need slave labor the way the plantations needed it, but that didn’t prevent them from using it when they could.

It’s a kind of cliché, “brother against brother,” but the ways the Union and Confederacy were linked and divided were so complicated, they can’t possibly be reduced to “good vs. bad” or “right vs. wrong,” the way we learn in high school to think about it.

When we see the division in Ukraine, or in Syria, or earlier, in North and South Korea, and North and South Vietnam, we could reflect more on our own experience. People suffer, for such a long time and in such complicated ways, from a Civil War.