Thoughts on Biden’s speech tonight

This morning Joe Biden became the president-elect. Tonight he celebrated. Kamala Harris spoke first and then introduced Biden.

I live-tweeted:

Harris began with John Lewis. Who is John Lewis? Get up to speed with these posts.

Harris gave a shoutout to the real heroes of this election. Democracy survived this week because of the work of these women and men:

Kamala Harris was wearing a white pantsuit, presumably to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment. Here is historian Chris Gehrz:

Kamala Harris is the first woman VP in American history. I am the father of two daughters:

There was a pro-family vibe tonight that I have not seen since Obama:

Biden came out looking fit and ready to go. And yes, Springsteen was involved!

I wrote a piece about this Springsteen song back in 2012:

A great day for educators, especially those of us who study and teach in the humanities. Jill Biden is a professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College. She plans to continue teaching during Joe’s presidency. One of our own is in the White House!

There was a lot of historical references–direct and indirect–in tonight’s Biden speech:

And some American civil religion:

Biden wants to bring the country together. He will have his work cut out for him:

In addition to Ecclesiastes, Biden referenced this popular Christian song:

And yes, this was sung at my wedding in 1994.

Evangelicals liked this song too, Kevin! 🙂 It was a fixture of the evangelical “praise song” movement:

It was a good day for the United States of America

What Donald Trump said about John Lewis

Watch Trump’s interview with journalist Jonathan Swan on Axios on HBO:

The section on the late civil rights activist John Lewis begins at the 35:23 mark, right after Trump says he has done more for the African American community than Lyndon Johnson, the president who signed into law both the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965). This interview apparently took place on the day Lewis was lying in state at the U.S. Capitol.

Trump says he does not know how history will remember John Lewis. Of course Trump could have said that Lewis will be remembered as a member of the Nashville Student Movement, a freedom rider, an activist who was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, a chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or a member of the House of Representatives who fought for civil rights. But he said none of these things. Why? Because Trump cannot conceive of Lewis’s contribution to American history outside of how it intersects with his own presidency. He is incapable of seeing himself as part of a larger story of the American past because he knows that his presidency, like all presidencies, is just a small part of a long narrative. If Trump thinks historically it will make him feel small. As I have written before, his failure on this front is the essence of narcissism.

Within seconds of Swan’s question about Lewis, Trump notes that the Georgia congressman chose not to attend his inauguration. As we will see, Trump simply cannot get past this talking point.

Swan asks Trump if he finds Lewis to be an “impressive” man. Trump responds: “I can’t say one way or the other; I find a lot of people impressive, I find a lot of people not impressive.” Trump then repeats the fact that Lewis did not come to his inauguration and adds that Lewis did not come to any of his State of the Union speeches either. For the record, Lewis refused to come to these events because he did not believe Trump was a legitimate president:

Trump says that “no one has done more for Black Americans than I have.” He again notes that Lewis did not come to his inauguration. This time adds: “he should have come, I think he made a big mistake.”

Trump finally admits that Lewis devoted “a lot of energy and a lot of heart to civil rights,” and then adds, “but there were many others also.” When asked if he would “support” renaming the Edmund Pettus Bridge after John Lewis, Trump responds: “I would have no objection to it if they’d like to do it.”

Many have called Trump a racist who does not care about African-Americans. Trump disagrees with this. He believes that the economy raises all boats, including those of Black Americans. Of course now that that the economy is in the tank, and COVID-19 is here, Black Americans are suffering at a much higher rate than White Americans. Why? As evidenced from Swan’s interview, Trump is not interested in this question. In the end, he has allowed revenge and payback to get in the way of celebrating one of our greatest heroes. It shameful. But it is also what we have come to expect in the Trump presidency.

Bebe and Marvin Winans: “Good Trouble”

At John Lewis’s funeral service:

 

Born in Troy, Alabama; to Eddie and Willie Mae

Share-croppers workin’; in the heat of the day

He knew there was much more, so he asked the Lord to show

All he achieved in his life, we already know

CHORUS:

Here was there when you call in a hurry

Tell you the truth don’t you worry

He was willing to fight in the struggle

He was willing to get into trouble

He was willing to get into trouble

He took on the wrong of this world, like civil and voting and rights

No matter the problems he he faced, kept his eyes on the prize

And then he learned to walk by faith, and believe God until the end

And knew we would overcome, and love is gonna’ win

CHORUS

And as you put on your robe to go home

We will continue to fight and be strong

As you put on your robe to go home

We will continue to fight; continue to fight

CHORUS (repeat)

Court evangelical James Dobson invokes the Civil War in a letter to followers on the November elections

Dobson and Trump

Read the entire letter here.

Let’s break it down:

Dobson:

As I write this newsletter, voters across this nation are only a few short months away from the next general election. What an ominous time this is for our 244-year-old republic. Its future hangs in the balance. The choices we make on November 3rd will send this nation down one of two dramatically different paths. The wrong decision will be catastrophic. I agree with former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, who said recently that the next election will be “the most important since 1860.” He also warned that if we appease or ignore the violence and anarchy occurring in the streets, it might be the end of civilization as we have known it. Those are sobering words coming from a man who has stood at the pinnacle of national power.

This is standard Christian Right rhetoric. Dobson quotes Gingrich’s claim that this coming election is the most importance election since 1860. Gingrich has been using this line (or something similar) for a long time. He said the exact same thing about the 2016 election (go to the 1:55 mark of this video). And before that he said the exact same thing about the 2012 election. In 2008, he said the outcome of the election “will change the entire rest of our lives.” In 1994, he said that the midterm elections “were the most consequential nonpresidential election of the 20th century.” Every election is consequential. How long are we going to listen to Gingrich before we call this what it is: fear-mongering.

Dobson:

Mr. Gingrich referred to the significance of 1860 because that was the year Abraham Lincoln was elected president. I’m sure the Speaker would agree that the following election of 1864 was also critical to the future of the nation. Lincoln and his opponent, Maj. Gen. George McClellan, were in a hotly contested campaign for the White House that could have gone either way. The “war between the states,” as it was called, had been raging for three ghastly years, and the entire nation was staggered by reports from the bloody battlefield.

Lincoln was running for a second term, and he campaigned on the promise of finishing the war and preserving the Union. These were momentous times for the young nation. During the first week of January 1863, the President signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves.

Democrats and their presidential candidate, Maj. Gen. McClellan, initially campaigned on a “peace platform,” pledging to end the war and send soldiers home. As the election approached, he talked more about negotiating to let the South establish a separate government whose cornerstone would be slavery. If McClellan had been elected, there would have been no foreseeable end to the inherent evil of buying and selling human beings and treating them like cattle. Thus, the Civil War was a struggle for the soul of America.

Dobson then mentions why he spent so much time on the Civil War in this newsletter:

Why have I recounted our Civil War history and the election of 1864 at this time in our history? It is for two reasons. The first is to consider some striking similarities between then and now. Our nation is divided like no time since the Civil War. Lawlessness and anarchy stalk the cities as angry mobs riot, burn, loot, rob, and kill innocent bystanders. Cultural monuments are being destroyed. Scores of people have been shot. Our courageous police officers are being brutally attacked by the same people they have vowed to protect. A man and his son stopped to ask for directions, and he was gunned down on the spot. A one-year-old baby was shot in the stomach while he sat in his stroller. The child died at the hospital.

What began as a justified and lawful protest in response to George Floyd’s senseless murder by a rogue police officer has morphed into violence for the sake of violence. Hatred flows in the streets, including vitriol directed at the President of the United States or anyone who dares to support him or his policies. Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religious liberty are being trampled. There is also widespread belief that violence and anarchy are being organized and funded by powerful forces that are maneuvering America toward a socialist dictatorship. There is always a kingmaker behind such lawlessness. Most disturbing is open talk of another civil war. It is troubling to even utter those words. The last time Americans faced off against each other, 600,000 soldiers died. May God forbid it from happening again.

Please don’t tell me that I am wrong about the role fear plays in the Christian Right view of politics.

What is happening in our country right now is disconcerting to many of us. But it pales in comparison with what the country faced during the lead-up to the Civil War and the war itself. There is no chance that an actual civil war will erupt in this country. Dobson is using the past to scare people. But this is what culture warriors do. These kinds of historical analogies are not helpful.

Instead of scaring people by referencing “600,000” lost lives, Dobson should spend more time critiquing the president for his handling of the coronavirus. If he really cares about families he will condemn Trump’s failure of leadership, his ambivalent rhetoric on masks, his treatment of Anthony Fauci, and his appeal to doctors who believe the virus comes from demon sperm. Nearly 155,000 Americans have died of this virus and the number is growing every day. Perhaps these are the deaths Dobson should be worrying about right now.

Dobson goes on:

During the revolution of the 1960s, I recall a ubiquitous bumper sticker that read, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” It was a catchy phrase that made sense to those who opposed the Vietnam War. But my reaction to it then and now is “What if they gave a war and only one side came?” That question keeps me awake at night. There are multiple millions of passive Americans out there today, many of them Christians, who are clueless about what is happening to their homeland. They are losing something precious and irreplaceable. Do they not understand that their children and those who are yet to be born will live in tyranny if we fail them on our watch? Countless young men and women have laid down their lives on battlefields around the world to protect liberty and our way of life. Now, what they purchased for us with their blood is slipping away. Disengaged people won’t lift a finger to preserve this great land. They won’t take even a few minutes to go to their polling places to vote. There are also thousands of pastors who won’t allow voting registration tables in the lobbies of their churches. Don’t they know or care that America is on the ropes? Hordes of angry anarchists are salivating over the next election, hoping to push America over a cliff. If they succeed, as Newt Gingrich said, Western civilization will never recover. Is there anyone left who believes some things are worth dying for? Aren’t there patriots out there such as Patrick Henry who said in defiance of British tyranny, “Give me liberty or give me death!”? That was the spirit during his day. The Declaration of Independence closed with these words endorsed by the signers, “We pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” They knew they would be hanged if they lost the war. Why did they do it? Because they loved their country enough to die for it.

Dobson has been watching too much Fox News. The average American family is worried about their jobs, whether to send their kids to school, and keeping themselves and their families safe from COVID-19. They are less concerned about the “hordes of angry anarchists…salivating.” In one speech on July 22, 2020, Biden showed more empathy and concern for American families than Donald Trump has shown in his entire presidency thus far.

By the way, kudos to all those pastors who refuse to bring electoral politics into their churches.

Dobson invokes Patrick Henry. But where is his acknowledgement of men like John Lewis, a man whose entire life was defined by the phrase “give me liberty or give me death?” Lewis loved his country and was willing to die to defend its promise. Perhaps he should watch Barack Obama’s speech yesterday at Lewis’s funeral. (I doubt that will happen).

And now Dobson is calling us to vote for a man–Donald J. Trump– who knows nothing about true patriotism, Christian faith, or the promise of America.  Dobson’s president couldn’t pull himself away from his Twitter feed long enough to pay his respects to Lewis. This Christian Right culture warrior has a lot of nerve dropping this fundraising newsletter during a week that we remember a true American hero.

More Dobson:

How I pray for the emergence of silent, intimidated Americans who will come out of their hiding places to let their voices be heard on Election Day 2020. There must be tens of thousands of ministers in our midst who, like the Black Robed Regiment of the Revolutionary War, will strip off their clerical garb and fight valiantly for religious liberty. If these men and women of faith and conviction don’t come to the rescue of their country, it is doomed.

Dobson doesn’t realize that the violence in the streets propagated by 18th-century patriotic ministers–the so-called “Black Robed Regiment”–makes what is happening in Portland right now look like a county fair.

Dobson closes his letter with “seven critical issues”:

1. The Next Generation

There is a fierce battle being waged now in the nation’s classrooms for the hearts and souls of our children and grandchildren. Those of us who are passionately committed to the Judeo-Christian system of beliefs are losing our kids right before our eyes. They are being force-fed a radical curriculum that is godless, anti-American, and sexually perverse. Make no mistake, the left and secular culture are manipulating the minds of your sons and daughters every day of the year. I urge you to be extremely careful about those whom you set in power over your children. Protect them with your very lives.

Let’s remember that Dobson founded an organization called “Focus on the Family.” What does it say about the state of the white evangelical middle class family if its kids are incapable of navigating our current cultural waters from the perspective of Christian faith? Perhaps Dobson should be asking this question. If white evangelicals and their churches were doing their jobs in educating young people how to engage the spirit of the age, there would be nothing for them to fear in the public schools.

2. The Sanctity of Human Life

All life is sacred and is a gift from Almighty God. But as you know, America has the blood of innocents on its hands. Since 1973, more than 60 million babies have been murdered through abortion and countless lives have ended by euthanasia. This is the most tragic holocaust in the history of the world! Some states have even passed laws allowing wounded and suffering infants to lie alone on porcelain trays after somehow surviving unsuccessful abortions. They will die without the comfort of their mothers’ breasts. If that doesn’t touch your heart, you are without compassion. I hope you will not cast a single vote for any politician who supports such wickedness.

Neither Donald Trump or Joe Biden can stop abortion in America. Trump’s Supreme Court justices might one day overturn Roe v. Wade, but this will merely send the issue back to the states. Does anyone expect California, New York, and other so-called “Blue” states to make abortion illegal? If you care about abortion, why not vote for a candidate with a plan to address poverty and racial injustice? Such a focus will keep abortions in America on a steady downward trajectory. Dobson needs a new political playbook.

Abortion rates

3. Marriage and Family

The family is God’s original building block for society. Marriage continues to serve as the foundation for every dimension of human life. Everything of value rests on it, including procreation and the care and training of children. If that ground floor is weakened or undermined, the entire superstructure of civil society will come crashing down. But listen carefully: powerful and highly funded forces, including LGBTQ and other leftist entities, are determined to destroy the family as an institution. It is already on its knees, and its future is grim. Before you vote, find out what position the candidates have taken on this issue. Then vote accordingly.

This emphasis on the family comes from a man who said little or nothing when Trump separated families at the border, put children in cages, and threatened to deport DACA recipients. Parents shield their kids from this president because they don’t want to expose them to his lies, tweets, vulgarity, and general manner of treating people. Trump has brought pornography into the mainstream of our culture and has made a mockery of the civic virtues we try to teach our kids. Please, Dr. Dobson, consider that the man you support undermines everything you have spent your life defending. Your support of him is dripping with hypocrisy.

4. Religious Liberty

The first item listed in the Bill of Rights addresses the issue of religious liberty. All the other enumerated rights flow from that fundamental freedom. That is why it is alarming to recognize that this right to worship and honor God as we choose is under vicious attack today. The courts have done the greatest damage, but now an entire sub-culture is trying to bring down the Christian faith. Whether it has invaded your private world or not, it is at your front door. It was this primary concern that led to the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War in 1776. We can’t compromise one jot or tittle within that fundamental right. Fight for it with every ounce of your strength and determination. Don’t let the government close the doors of your church or tell you when you can sing praises to the Lord Almighty. They have a devious agenda, and it is dangerous. Be ready to go to the mat in defense of what you believe. And let this passion influence how you cast your ballot in November. Here I stand. Will you join me?

This paragraph is wrong on so many levels. While real threats to religious liberty do exist, especially for faith-based schools, hospitals, and other institutions, this kind of rhetoric does little to help the country reach a genuine pluralism. (Here is a more thoughtful approach to the matter).

First, let’s be clear about the meaning of the American Revolution. An attack on Christian faith and religious liberty was not the primary concern that led to the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution.

Second, the rights of Christians to worship when such gatherings might lead to the illness and death of other people is not a very Christian approach to public life. Does Dobson really think that governors trying to protect the health of all of the people in their state are operating with some kind of “devious agenda” to extirpate Christianity from the land? This is absurd. One could even make an argument that the care these governors are taking to protect citizens from COVID-19 is actually more Christian in character than this selfish appeal to individual rights.

5. Capitalism v. Socialism

It is difficult to believe that for the first time in American history, our nation appears to be thinking about trading our democratic way of life for the tyranny of socialism. I can hardly catch my breath. Could we really consider abandoning the beloved system of government that was designed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people? Is it true that up to 40 percent of millennials and others are prepared to surrender their liberties in exchange for the absolute authority of the state? Democracy and capitalism have made ours the most powerful and successful nation in the history of the world. Are we really considering scuttling the system that has served us for 244 years in exchange for what some people call “free stuff?” I pray not! But that option awaits you in the polling booth.

Joe Biden is not a socialist. Joe Biden believes in democracy. (By the way, I am not sure Trump believes in democracy). I don’t know of anyone who is willing to “surrender their liberties in exchange for the absolute authority of the state.” Another scare tactic.

6. The Judicial System

Given recent rulings, we know that judicial overreach has almost ruined this great nation. Justices and judges are constitutionally charged to interpret the law, not make law. But again, and again, they have overstepped their authority and brought us atrocities such as abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, and the so-called “separation of church and state,” which doesn’t appear in the Constitution. Most recently, the Supreme Court handed down one of its most egregious rulings since Roe v. Wade. It is the case of Bostock v. Clayton County. This decision was not based on constitutional law but on the whims of six justices. It created a new legal definition of sex out of thin air. Lawyers tell us that this ruling will affect every dimension of culture and haunt the nation as long as it endures. Please don’t vote for politicians who will expand, rather than limit, the power of the judiciary.

When the Supreme Court rules in Dobson’s favor he loves it. When it does not rule in his favor, he says they have “overstepped their authority.” If the Supreme Court suddenly decided to make gay marriage illegal, overturn precedent in Roe v. Wade, or pass an Amendment declaring the United States to be a “Christian nation,” Dobson would cheer such judicial activism.

7. The Nation of Israel

Scripture tells that those who bless Israel will be blessed (Genesis 12:3). Our prayer is that the next Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. will continue to promote and cultivate a vibrant bond of friendship with the nation of Israel, which is our only ally in the Middle East. Anti-Semitism and all forms of racial discrimination are inherently evil, and we condemn them categorically. We are a nation that is dedicated to “freedom and justice for all” (The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance).

Is Dobson willing to extend “freedom and justice for all” to all Americans? Does he give his highest loyalty to Israel or to fellow Christian believers–members of the worldwide body of Christ–in Palestine? It is possible for Christians to reject anti-Semitism and still find solidarity with fellow believers. Dobson’s binary thinking does not allow for such a position.

I have written about this here before, but as I read Dobson’s newsletter, and saw the big orange “DONATE” button on the top of the web page, I was reminded of what Moral Majority veterans Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson (no relation) wrote about the Christian Right fundraising formula in their 1999 book Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America:

First, they identify an enemy: homosexuals, abortionists, Democrats, or ‘liberals’ in general. Second, the enemies are accused of being out to ‘get us’ or to impose their morality on the rest of the country. Third, the letter assures the reader that something will be done…Fourth, to get this job done, please send money.”

Obama’s speech at John Lewis’s funeral

Watch:

I was struck most by the way Obama rooted John Lewis’s life, and by extension the civil rights movement, in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the vision of the founding fathers, and our failure to live up to these universal ideas. Here are some thoughts:

0:00: Obama begins with James 1:2-4. It is good to hear again from one of the most explicitly Christian presidents in American history.

1:28:  Let’s remember that Obama is talking here about John Lewis, a graduate of American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville and an ordained Baptist minister. Lewis’s Christian vocation–his calling, if you will–was to fight racial injustice in a non-violent way. There is something deeply Christian about Obama reminding us that Lewis considered it “pure joy” to suffer as a result of his call from God.

2:17: Obama says, “This country is a constant work in progress. We are born with instructions. To ‘form a more perfect union.’ Explicit in those words is the idea that we are imperfect.” Here Obama is reflecting the founders’ view of human nature. They knew that humans were imperfect people who needed to rise about their passions and imperfections to create a just democracy that celebrated the dignity of all people.

Much has been made of the way Reinhold Niebuhr has influenced Obama. We definitely see some of that influence here as the former president reflects on human nature. Obama’s eulogy combines both a belief in the limits of humanity and a belief in the hope of humanity. As a Christian, I can never fully embrace Obama’s optimism, but like Niebuhr taught us, we should never stop confronting sinful actions, institutions and leaders. (I prefer to see this task in the way theologian N.T. Wright explains it. The work for justice and our defense of human dignity in this world is required of all citizens of the Kingdom of God. Our work in this world is building and preparing that Kingdom, a Kingdom that is “now,” but also “not yet”).

5:00ff: Obama’s discussion of Lewis’s life and his moral courage is so refreshing in the context of our current presidential administration. Obama’s eulogy has pulled many of us, at least for a moment, out of the cynicism of the Trump presidency. It certainly lifted my own daughter out of her cynicism. We watched the speech together. What Obama said has pervaded the conversations taking place in our household over the last twenty-four hours.

13:50ff: Obama connects the Civil Rights struggle to American values. If I hear him correctly, the problem is not with the values themselves, but with the failure to apply them to African Americans.

14:21: Obama references 2 Corinthians 4:8-10. It is worth remembering the context surrounding these verses because the larger passage says a lot about Lewis’s Christian faith and the way it manifested itself in the fight for justice and the dignity of all of God’s human creation. Here is 2 Corinthians 4:

Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

15:00: “The troopers [on the Edmund Pettus Bridge] parted.” (Or perhaps this).

15:30ff: Here Obama starts dabbling in civil religion. This is a kind of Christian nationalism. He uses theological words like “redeem” to describe Lewis’s, and by extensive all American’s, faith in our founding values.  As I argued in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?, this kind of Christian nationalism was a dominant theme in the rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr. and much of the early civil rights movement. While men like John Lewis put their faith in the God of the Bible, they also put their faith in the Enlightenment ideals that informed the founding of the United States of America.

Obama says Lewis lived an “exceptional” life–a life representative of an exceptional nation. He embodied:

that most American of ideals, the idea that any of us, ordinary people without rank or wealth or title or fame can somehow point out the imperfections of this nation and come together and challenge the status quo and decide that it is in our power to remake this country that we love until it more closely aligns with our highest ideals. What a radical idea. What a revolutionary notion–this idea that any of us, ordinary people–a young kid from Troy–can stand-up to the powers and principalities and say ‘no, this isn’t right, this isn’t true, this isn’t just.

Obama’s reference to “remaking” America echoes Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom.” He is suggesting that the American Revolution was radical in the sense that it allowed people like John Lewis to stand up to racial tyranny. This entire section of the speech reminded me of the recent discussion of the American Revolution sponsored by the World Socialist Web Site. Obama reminds us that the American Revolution is not an event fixed in time, but rather a constant struggle to apply its principles to our daily lives. Each generation must take-up this struggle.

23:00ff: Obama channels Lewis here. His attack on Trump speaks for itself. He says that democracy requires us to “summon a measure–just a measure–of John’s moral courage to question what’s right and what’s wrong and call things as they are.”

25:57ff: Obama quotes Acts 18:9: “One night the Lord instructed Paul, ‘do not be afraid, go on speaking, do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you for I have many in this city who are my people.” While Paul was not referring to the right to vote, the idea of using the ballot box to fight injustice and defend human dignity is a fair application of this verse.

36:40: Obama connects the black lives matter protests in the streets to the ideals of the American Revolution. He uses the words of Martin Luther King Jr:

“By the thousands, faceless, anonymous, relentless young people–black and white–have taken our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” Dr. King said that in the 1960s and it came true again this summer. 

The work continues…

Bible verse of the day

“Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters whenver you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so you may be mature and complete lacking nothing.”

James 1:2-4

What is Trump doing during the John Lewis funeral?

Lewis and Lawson

John Lewis and James Lawson, 2018

If you are not watching the John Lewis funeral right now, I hope you get a chance to see some of the speeches after they are posted online.  For example, 91-year-old Jim Lawson, an advocate of non-violent protest, offered a speech that connected the civil rights movement and Lewis’s life to both American and Christian ideals. It was a powerful message. Lawson mentored Lewis and several other young Black men and women who were part of the civil rights movement in Nashville.

Here is the speech:

Several years ago I got a chance to visit Nashville and meet Rip Patton, one of Lawson’s  disciples during the Nashville Student Movement. Patton was a twenty-one-year-old music major at Tennessee State University when he met Lawson in 1959. Lawson trained Patton (and others) in non-violent protest. Soon Patton found himself seated at a lunch counter in downtown Nashville, where he would be spit on, punched, and covered in ketchup, mustard, salt, and water. Patton did not retaliate because he had been educated by Lawson in the spiritual discipline necessary for a situation like this.

Donald Trump refused to pay his respects to John Lewis as he lied in state at the U.S. Capitol. I am guessing it had something to do with Lewis’s refusal to attend Trump’s inauguration.

So what is Trump doing during the ceremony? He is tweeting this:

What an embarrassment.

Lonnie Bunch on John Lewis

Dedication Ceremony of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Lonnie Bunch is the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and was the founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. Over at Politico he reflects on the life of civil rights activist and congressman John Lewis.

Here is a taste:

I first got to know Congressman Lewis when the Smithsonian hired me to make real the centurylong dream of a museum on the National Mall dedicated to the history and culture of African Americans. Without his persistence, the museum might never have existed. Upon his election to office in 1986, one of the first bills Lewis introduced was legislation to create the museum. He continued to champion it, building enthusiasm for the project among his colleagues and constituents for 15 years, before the National Museum of African American History and Culture Act finally passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

Every time I met with the congressman, I was struck by his patience and perseverance, qualities one would expect from someone who had been deeply involved in the struggle for civil rights since he was a teenager. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s radio sermons and the movement to integrate Alabama’s schools, John Lewis gave his first sermon at Macedonia Baptist Church in Troy, Alabama, when he was just 15. When he later attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary, he tried to start a campus chapter of the NAACP, only to encounter resistance from the school’s leaders, who were reluctant to lose the white support they counted on. Lewis became adept at overcoming resistance throughout his life and shared wisdom about doing so with many people—myself included. As I struggled to build the National Museum of African American History and Culture, I cannot count the number of times I looked to his example of fighting the good fight every day.

Read the entire piece here.

Barack Obama on the passing of John Lewis

Obama and Lewis

On Medium:

America is a constant work in progress. What gives each new generation purpose is to take up the unfinished work of the last and carry it further — to speak out for what’s right, to challenge an unjust status quo, and to imagine a better world.

John Lewis — one of the original Freedom Riders, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Member of Congress representing the people of Georgia for 33 years — not only assumed that responsibility, he made it his life’s work. He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise. And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.

Read the rest here.

What I wrote about John Lewis in *Believe Me*

Lewis dead

p.176: “But the problem with Donald Trump’s use of American history goes well beyond his desire to make America great again or his regular references to some of the darker moments in our past–moments that have tended to divide Americans rather than unite them. His approach to history also reveals his narcissism. When Trump says that he doesn’t care how ‘America first’ was used in the 1940s, or claims to be ignorant of Nixon’s use of ‘law and order,’ he shows his inability to understand himself as part of a larger American story. As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote in the wake of Trump’s pre-inauguration Twitter attack on civil rights icon John Lewis, a veteran of nonviolent marches who was severely beaten at Selma: ‘Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter.’

p.185: “As I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, I wondered if I could ever muster the courage of John Lewis and Joanne Bland as they marched into the face of terror on Bloody Sunday. Such audacity requires hope.

Believe Me 3d

John Lewis, RIP

Lewis dead

Sad news. Here is Katharine Q. Seelye of The New York Times:

Representative John Lewis, a son of sharecroppers and an apostle of nonviolence who was bloodied at Selma and across the Jim Crow South in the historic struggle for racial equality and who then carried a mantle of moral authority into Congress, died on Friday. He was 80.

His death was confirmed by a senior Democratic official.

He announced on Dec. 29 that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and vowed to fight it with the same passion with which he had battled racial injustice. “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” he said.

On the front lines of the bloody campaign to end Jim Crow laws, with blows to his body and a fractured skull to prove it, Mr. Lewis was a valiant stalwart of the civil rights movement and the last surviving speaker at the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

More than a half-century later, after the killing in May of George Floyd, a Black man in police custody in Minneapolis, Mr. Lewis welcomed the resulting global demonstrations against systemic racism and the police killings of Black people. He saw those demonstrations, the largest protest movement in American history, as a continuation of his life’s work, though his illness had left him to watch from the sideline.

Read the rest here.

“The Essence of Narcissism”

Those who follow me on Twitter (@johnfea1) may recall that last week I got a bit obsessed with the present-day relevance of Christopher Lasch’s 1979 best-seller The Culture of Narcissism.

It seems that Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson has been having similar thoughts. Here is a taste of his most recent column “Trump’s Attack on John Lewis is the Essence of Narcissism.”

…The problem, however, runs deeper. Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter. He will lead a nation that accommodated a cruel exception to its founding creed; that bled and nearly died to recover its ideals; and that was only fully redeemed by the courage and moral clarity of the very people it had oppressed. People like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. People like John Lewis.

“Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter.” Brilliant.  Such a “feel” or “interest” would require some degree of empathy and self-sacrifice.

Somebody needs to issue a new edition of The Culture of Narcissism.  Eric Miller should edit it and write an introduction connecting it to our times.

 

Some Very Quick Thoughts on What Historians Might Write About Trump’s Election

trump-pressJohn Lewis may be correct.  The Russian hacking controversy and the last-minute Comey/FBI revelations about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails has deligitimized Donald Trump’s presidency. Yes, the Electoral College selected him last month.  Yes, he will assume office next week. Yes, Clinton was not a perfect candidate. She probably should have offered a more compelling message to the American people and finished the campaign in a stronger fashion.  And we may never know if Putin’s hacks and Comey’s announcement had any direct effect on voting in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania or elsewhere.

I am afraid that Lewis’s remarks about Trump’s legitimacy, while important, will get little traction outside of the Democratic Party.  But historians will write about all of this.  People will always wonder if Trump won fair and square.  There will always be a figurative asterisk next to Trump’s name in the history books.  Some historians will try to defend Trump, but in order to do so they will need to dredge all of this stuff up again and bring it to the attention of the American public.

And if Americans ever get around to doing away with the Electoral College, the Trump victory (and the Bush victory in 2000 and others) will be seen by many as a betrayal of democracy made possible by an antiquated and out of date electoral system.  Al Gore and Hillary Clinton will be portrayed as victims of such a system.

Of course this is all very preliminary.  Historians will also judge Trump on what happens in the next four years and beyond.  We do know, however, that Trump’s kryptonite is the idea that he is not a legitimate POTUS.

John Lewis: “But I met Hillary Clinton…”

Today Civil Rights hero John Lewis endorsed Hillary Clinton.

In the process he also questioned Bernie Sanders’s involvement in the fight for African American civil rights.  Watch for yourself:

I am not sure what Lewis means here.  Bernie’s participation in the fight against segregation in Chicago is well known and well-documented.  Does the fact that Lewis never met him suggest that his work on behalf of this cause  is invalid?

And what about his claim to have “met Hillary Clinton?”  Certainly he was not referring to the high school student who was a “Goldwater Girl” in 1964?

If Lewis wants to endorse Clinton he should simply come out and endorse her.  She has a good record on civil rights.

We don’t need to know who John Lewis has met and who he hasn’t met or which Democratic candidate has the best and most legitimate connection to the civil rights movement.

Lewis and Sanders