Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Speaking Factually and with a Little Perspective

I am no less guilty than anyone else, but I detect our collective ability to speak or write correctly—and by that I mean factually even more so than grammatically—has eroded to the point where we make casual mistakes that can shift the public dialogue. Take, for example, a comment from Monday night’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

While discussing the assault on the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs last week, Noah said, “If I had to imagine the type of person who would shoot up an abortion clinic …” 

Noah fell into the all-too-common trap of calling Planned Parenthood “an abortion clinic” instead of recognizing it as a women’s health clinic that provides reproductive health services including abortions. 

Robert L. Dear Jr.’s murder of three last week was an example of domestic terrorism, yet too few in the media have recognized it as such. 

Speaking of terrorism, and the threat thereof, is it not disingenuous of Republicans to want to prevent Syrian refugees from entering the country because they fear one or more of them may attack us while they stubbornly refuse to limit alleged security risks on the government’s No Fly List from legally obtaining firearms? They claim it would undermine Second Amendment rights even though it is far more likely those already deemed possible terrorists would kill Americans than the refugees seeking a peaceful life within our borders.

The debate on Syrian refugees has mostly focused on the quality and extensiveness of the vetting process. Here’s a link to an article written by Scott Hicks,  a longtime immigration lawyer, detailing the process: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/cosmostheinlost/2015/11/19/exclusive-longtime-immigration-lawyer-pastor-explains-the-refugee-process/

Founding Fathers and Other Disreputables: How to explain the Donald Trump phenomena and how long it might last—The Washington Post tried in a Thursday article which contained the following illuminating paragraphs:

“Trump is a loud­-mouthed person, yes, and he does sometimes just say things to women to hurt their feelings,” an Indiana woman said during a late-October focus group of GOP primary voters conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

“But I’m going to stick with my belief saying that he’s going to try his best to get the country back the way our Founding Fathers had it at one time” (http://wapo.st/1Sk2Glw). 

The scary part of this seemingly blind support for a racist, a bigot, a dissembler, a sexist, a nativist, an ignoramus when it comes to history and other topics, is that too many Americans share those beliefs. It only validates my belief that we are a nation with too many idiots.

Let’s consider her desire to get back to the way our Founding Fathers had it at one time. Does that mean she condones slavery? That Afro-Americans are to be considered three-fifths of a person? Is she okay with the idea that women were not entitled to vote? For that matter, many white men were not eligible either—in most states you had to be a landowner to earn the right to cast a ballot. Does she favor state legislatures picking U.S. senators rather than direct elections by voters? And should we vote separately for the vice president? 

The Founding Fathers got lots of things right. But they also left out lots of stuff. Do we want to abandon our national parks, for example? Or social security? Or the protections afforded by the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Drug Administration, the FBI and other agencies that protect us from enemies within and outside our borders?

Trump is not alone in his depiction of foreigners—Syrians and Mexicans, to name two groups—as being unfit for residence within the United States. Yet, the provenance of their remarks can be traced back to the 19th century. In her book Team of Rivals, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin quotes U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas (D-IL) during one of the famous Lincoln-Douglas senatorial campaign debates of 1858: 

“The signers of the Declaration of Independence,” said Douglas, “had no reference to negroes at all when they declared that all men are created equal. They did not mean negro, nor the savage Indians, nor the Fejee Islanders, nor any other barbarous race. They were speaking of white men. … I hold that this government was established for white men and their posterity forever, and should be administered by white men, and none others.” 

Apparently, even a president considered one of our greatest, Woodrow Wilson, shared some of Douglas’ beliefs and prejudices. In the words of a New York Times editorial, “He was an unapologetic racist whose administration rolled back the gains that African-Americans achieved just after the Civil War, purged black workers from influential jobs and transformed the government into an instrument of white supremacy” (http://nyti.ms/1OfBkxV). Our commander-in-chief turned out to be a discriminator-in-chief. It’s no wonder Princeton University students want Wilson’s name expunged from the school he was president of before being president of the United States. 

Discrimination against Native Americans, along with disregard for a Supreme Court ruling, stained Andrew Jackson’s presidency, though it is doubtful many of his contemporaries thought so. Jackson forced the Cherokee Nation off of its land in the Southeast and relocated it in the “Trail of Tears” to Oklahoma. In doing so Jackson refused to uphold a ruling by the Supreme Court that “made the Indian Removal Act invalid, illegal, unconstitutional and against treaties previously made by the United States.” 

Little wonder then that advocates of placing a woman’s face on one of our currency bills favor removing Andrew Jackson’s visage from the $20 bill and not Alexander Hamilton’s from the $10 bill. It also doesn’t hurt their argument that Hamilton was the architect of our national financial system while Jackson fought against the national bank.

Speaking of nefarious characters within and without, the U.S. and the world is obsessed with ISIS, and who can blame them given the Islamic terrorist organization’s beastly activities in the name of religion, at least as its adherents see it. The barbaric actions of ISIS and other jihadists come roughly 1,400 years after Muhammad founded Islam. 

For the sake of comparison, let’s see what was happening some 1,400 years after Jesus? Oh yes, the Spanish Inquisition, which followed on the heels of various Crusades which attacked Moslems, Cathars and Jews in the Holy Land and Europe. Looks like 1,400 years is not a happy time for those who don’t scrupulously adhere to organized religions. 

(By the way, if we assume the formal Jewish religion started around the time of Moses, estimated to be around 1200 BCE, 1,400 years later would be just after the Jews twice lost rebellions against Roman rule in Judea.)