mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Celebrating The Nation That Can’t Stay Still”: The Purpose Of The Past Is To Serve The Present And Future

It is the birthright of all Americans to be patriotic in their own way, something worth remembering at a moment of great political division. Instead of challenging each other’s love of country, we should accept that deep affection can take different forms.

There is, of course, the option of setting politics aside altogether on the Fourth of July. Anyone who loves baseball, hot dogs, barbecues, fireworks and beaches as much as I do has no problem with that. Still, I’m not a fan of papering over our disagreements. It is far better to face and discuss them with at least a degree of mutual respect.

When it comes to the varieties of patriotism, I’d make the case that some of us look more toward the past and others to the future. Some Americans speak of our nation’s manifest virtues as rooted in old values nurtured by a deposit of ideas that we must preserve against all challengers. Others focus on our country’s proven capacity for self-correction and change.

As a result, one stream of reverence for our founders flows from a belief that they have set down timeless truths. The alternative view lifts them up as political and intellectual adventurers willing to break with old systems and accepted ways of thinking.

These are broad categories, and many citizens are no doubt drawn simultaneously to aspects of being American that I have put on opposing sides of my past/future, continuity/change ledgers.

Nonetheless, most of us tilt in one direction or the other. Standing at either end of this continuum makes you no less of an American.

Eighty years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt went to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, to offer an Independence Day address insisting that the inventors of our experiment created a nation that would never fear change. He spoke nearly seven years after the onset of the Great Depression in the election year that would end with his biggest landslide victory. FDR was in the midst of the boldest and most radical wave of reform that the New Deal would produce, and you can hear this in his speech. It still serves as a rallying cry for those of us who see our founders as champions of repair, renewal and reform.

What, he asked, had the founders done? “They had broken away from a system of peasantry, away from indentured servitude,” Roosevelt explained. “They could build for themselves a new economic independence. Theirs were not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be. And so, as Monticello itself so well proves, they used new means and new models to build new structures.”

Not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be: Thus the creed of the reformer.

As for Jefferson himself, Roosevelt said, he “applied the culture of the past to the needs and the life of the America of his day. His knowledge of history spurred him to inquire into the reason and justice of laws, habits and institutions. His passion for liberty led him to interpret and adapt them in order to better the lot of mankind.”

Here again, the purpose of the past is to serve the present and future. History is about testing institutions against standards and adapting them, as Roosevelt put it, to “enlarge the freedom of the human mind and to destroy the bondage imposed on it by ignorance, poverty and political and religious intolerance.”

There is a straight line between Roosevelt’s understanding of our tradition and President Obama’s as he expressed it in his 2015 speech on the 50th anniversary of the voting rights march in Selma.

“What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished,” Obama declared, “that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?”

No doubt many Americans celebrate a narrative on our national holiday that has a more traditional ring than FDR’s or Obama’s. We can jointly honor our freedom to argue about this but perhaps agree on one proposition: If we had been unwilling in the past to embrace Lincoln’s call to “think anew and act anew” and to find FDR’s “new means” and “new models,” we might not have made it to our 240th birthday.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 3, 2016

July 4, 2016 Posted by | 4th of July, Independence Day, Patriotism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Struck Just The Right Note”: At Baltimore Mosque, Obama Crushes The Muslim Haters

The two most powerful moments during President Obama’s first visit to an American mosque on Wednesday didn’t happen during his speech. Rather, they occurred in the moments before the president took the podium.

The first came when a color guard made up of young Muslim American Boy and Girl Scouts entered the venue. One of the older scouts told the flag bearer: “Proudly present the flag of the United States of America.” The audience, ranging from community leaders to Muslim-American military veterans to the two Muslim members of Congress, stood in unison to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The words of this pledge never seem to resonate as much. Here we were waiting for the President of the United States to speak to us because the spike in anti-Muslim hate had so skyrocketed that he felt compelled to address the issue. I had to fight back tears as we got to the last line of the pledge: “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

You see, that last line is the promise that brought my Muslim immigrant father as well as the parents, grandparents, and even some of the people in that room to come to America. They came here for the promise of being treated equally regardless of faith, ethnicity, or race. But that promise has been in peril as of late.

And the second moment that emotionally stood out was when the young African-American-Muslim woman, Sabah, introduced the president. Sabah spoke of the challenges of wearing a hijab—some had called her a terrorist. Yet she noted that far more of her fellow Americans of all backgrounds had been supportive. And then she delivered a passionate line that elicited huge applause from the crowd: “I’m proud to be American, I’m proud to be black, and I’m proud to be Muslim.”

That is what America is truly about. We can be hyphenated Americans and be just as American as anyone else.

President Obama even touched on Sabah’s very point in his speech when he said, “You aren’t Muslim or American. You are Muslim and American.” That was a theme that came up often in his speech at the Islamic Center of Baltimore, which was part pep talk for Muslims, part calling out the haters and also part calling on Muslims to play a role in countering radicalization.

But the heart of the President’s speech was trying to educate our fellow Americans about Islam to counter the anti-Muslim climate we live in today. One that has seen close to 100 anti-Muslim hate crimes in the last two months according to a Department of Justice official I spoke to at the event, which is far higher than we see reported in the media.

Obama began by countering the concept that some on the right peddle that Islam is foreign to America. The president declared, “Islam has always been part of America.” Adding, “Starting in colonial times, many of the slaves brought here from Africa were Muslim.”

The president also spoke of how Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia statute for religious freedom expressly included Islam as one of the protected faiths (“the Mahometan” was TJ’s word for a Muslim). Obama also added something I had never heard before: Some had accused Jefferson of being a closeted Muslim. (I wonder who was the Donald Trump of the 1700s who did that?!)

Obama then traced the contributions of Muslims in America as well as noting that Muslim Americans keep us safe. “They’re our police and our firefighters…They serve honorably in our armed forces—meaning they fight and bleed and die for our freedom. And some rest in Arlington National Cemetery. “

And the president recognized the extraordinary Muslims he had met at the mosque that day, from educators to business people to the first hijab-wearing Muslim to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. But he added that despite the accomplishments of so many Muslims, he “could not help but be heartbroken to hear their worries and their anxieties.”

Obama relayed how he had received letters from Muslim-American parents who shared disturbing questions their young children were asking, like, “Are we going to be forced out of the country? Are we going to be rounded up?” Another Muslim American child wrote to him to say, “I’m scared.” The president responded forcefully that these are “conversations that you shouldn’t have to have with children—not in this country.”

The reality though is that’s where we are today as a community. There are young Muslim Americans who have been made to feel less than fully American simply because of their faith. We are seeing Muslim-American students bullied and taunted for wearing a hijab or having a first name like Mohammed.

The questions I find myself asking are: Will it get worse? Will the extreme voices win out? Will the good people simply be “bystanders to bigotry,” as Obama put it? Or will the voices of reason prevail?

I’m sure many Muslims at the event had similar question in mind. Perhaps sensing that, Obama told the audience: “I believe that, ultimately, our best voices will win out. And that gives me confidence and faith in the future.”

With of every fiber of my being I believe the president is correct. And despite the Trumps, Ben Carsons, or others on the right who believe that demonizing Muslims will make us cower in fear or even consider leaving this country, they are wrong. Our community, like every other minority community, will grow and prosper. I say that because our nation’s history tells us so. And because of our nation’s eternal promise that liberty and justice are not reserved only for one select religion or race, but “for all.”

 

By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, February 4, 2016

February 6, 2016 Posted by | American Muslims, Bigotry, Islamophobia | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Republicans Pander To Anti-Muslim Bigotry”: Constitution Says ‘No Religious Test’, Not ‘Only The Religious Test That I Can Pass’

The founders of this nation recognized Islam as one of the world’s great faiths. Incredibly and disgracefully, much of today’s Republican Party disagrees.

Thomas Jefferson, whose well-worn copy of the Koran is in the Library of Congress, fought to ensure that the American concept of religious freedom encompassed Islam. John Adams wrote that Muhammad was a “sober inquirer after truth.” Benjamin Franklin asserted that even a Muslim missionary sent by “the Mufti of Constantinople” would find there was “a pulpit at his service” in this country.

Indeed, the Constitution states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Some of the GOP candidates for president, however, simply do not care.

Ben Carson said Sunday that he believes Islam to be inconsistent with the Constitution and therefore he could not support a Muslim candidate for president. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “I absolutely would not agree with that.”

A campaign spokesman, seeking to clarify Carson’s remarks, effectively doubled down by claiming there is a “huge gulf between the faith and practice of the Muslim faith and our Constitution and American values.”

Carson is dead wrong, but at least he seems sincere about it. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said he could only support a Muslim candidate “who will respect the Judeo-Christian heritage of America.” Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) said a president’s faith should be irrelevant, but he understood many people felt otherwise because “we were attacked by people who were all Muslim.” And front-runner Donald Trump, when asked about the possibility of a Muslim president, wisecracked, “Some people have said it already happened” — a reference to oft-repeated lies about President Obama’s faith.

I was ready to offer rare praise for Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), who rejected Carson’s outrageous view by pointing to the Constitution’s prohibition against religious tests. But then Cruz went on to say the United States should accept Christian refugees from the Syrian civil war but not Muslims, who might, after all, be terrorists.

There is an ugly undercurrent of anti-Muslim bigotry in this country, and the Republican Party panders to it in a way that the Democratic Party does not.

This rancid sentiment was on display at Trump’s town hall meeting in New Hampshire last week, at which a questioner began by stating a premise: “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one. You know, he’s not even an American.”

The man went on to say that these problematic Muslims “have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?”

Trump should have showed some backbone and told the man his worldview was based on paranoid fantasy. Instead, he made vague noises of agreement, or at least non-disagreement — “[A] lot of people are saying that. . . . We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things” — which kicked off a round of criticism from his campaign rivals.

But where were these high-minded, all-embracing Republicans when Trump and others, with no factual support, were casting doubt on Obama’s religion and birthplace? Leaving Obama aside, since he’s in a position to defend himself, where were the wise GOP elders when their party became a refuge for extremists spouting the worst kind of anti-Muslim rhetoric?

After the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush did an admirable and important thing: He made clear that blame for the atrocity should not be ascribed to Islam itself but rather to a small group of radical fundamentalists.

Going forward, however, his administration was neither specific enough nor consistent enough about culpability for the terrorist strike. Warmongers found it politically useful to suggest involvement by Iraq, which had nothing to do with the attacks. Meanwhile, officials played down the fact that most of the attackers came from Saudi Arabia, considered a valuable ally.

This fuzziness, I believe, helped give some Americans the impression that the United States was at war not with small and vicious bands of jihadists but with Muslims more broadly. Democrats almost invariably pushed back against this dangerous misimpression. Republicans far too often did not.

On the campaign trail, GOP candidates are touting their own Christian faith in what can only be described as a literal attempt to be holier than thou. They should reread the Constitution, which says “no religious test” — not “only the religious test that I can pass.”

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 22, 2015

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Muslims, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“It’s Not His Politics That Worries Me”: Donald Trump And The Decline Of American Character–A Cautionary Tale

There is no disputing that Donald Trump is having a significant impact on the 2016 presidential sweepstakes—something that many Americans apparently view as a great step forward on the American political scene.

Indeed, to a portion of the electorate, Trump’s current political success is a positive development that represents the rise of a candidate willing to “tell it like it is”—despite the fact that so much of what Mr. Trump tells us is the precise opposite of telling it like it is.

To other Americans, Mr. Trump’s political rise is little more than a sideshow extravaganza—good for making your favorite news broadcast more entertaining but, ultimately, devoid of substance and doomed to failure.

To me, the rise of Donald Trump is an American tragedy serving as a cautionary tale of what we are becoming as a society and the need to rediscover true American values before they are gone forever.

I don’t offer this viewpoint because of my disagreement with The Donald on his politics.

In truth, I really don’t know what Mr. Trump’s politics are—given the extraordinary disparity between his professed liberal politics of just a few years ago and his hard line approach to political issues of today. Trump 1.0 favored a path to citizenship for illegals and a universal health care system. Trump 2.0 takes a far more conservative approach towards immigration and is critical of anything and everything done by the Obama Administration.

Yet, it is not his politics that worries me. It is his character and how Americans are responding to it that I find so disturbing in terms of the very character of the nation.

If you think character doesn’t matter, I would remind you that being the American President is all about character—and character is often best judged by how successfully we take to heart the lessons passed down from parent to child over many generations.

It is certainly true that Trump has succeeded in fulfilling one of the character traits parents work to instill in their children—the drive to be successful.

While I fear that Trump is taking the lazy way out in his presidential campaign, as demonstrated by his refusal to prepare in favor of just “winging” it in his speeches and the policy pronouncements he has provided, his great success in business could not have happened without the willingness to work hard to accomplish great success. This is a trait that would cause most any American parent to glow with pride.

Certainly, it didn’t hurt that Mr. Trump was provided a running, head start by his own father, a successful real estate developer in his own right who turned his business over to his son. Still, you don’t take a successful business and turn it into a mega-empire without a lot of hard work.

But this is where behavior that would make your parents proud comes to an end.

Can you imagine what your mother would say to you were you to grow up to become an obnoxious braggart who constantly rises to remind anyone who will listen that you are very, very rich? Can you imagine what your father would say if you took it upon yourself to constantly intone on your own remarkable greatness and how anyone who disagrees with you is unworthy of respect or worse?

And can you imagine what your parents and grandparents would think of a society where this borderline psychotic self-aggrandizement is actually appreciated and cheered by the populace?

Many of us were taught that if you have nothing nice to say about someone then you should just say nothing at all.

Of course, I realize that this is a rule that doesn’t apply in the world of politics, particularly when it becomes necessary to respond to a charge or an attack from an opposing politician. Yet, even in the brutal world of politics there have long been rules of engagement when doing battle—and The Donald appears more than willing to happily break them all.

Personal attacks on character are nothing new in American politics. However, it is our tradition that when a presidential candidate has something awful to say about another presidential candidate, it is left to a surrogate to do the dirty work. This has always been the case because of the importance that somebody seeking the presidency be viewed as too principled, too decent and, yes, having far too much character to descend into the gutter.

When John Adams, in the first contested presidential battle in our nation’s history, wanted to take a serious character shot at his opponent, Thomas Jefferson, Adams did not take on the job himself as that would have been in exceedingly bad taste and represent conduct unbefitting a president. Instead, he had his surrogate, Alexander Hamilton, write an article in the Gazette of the United States accusing Jefferson of having an affair with one of his slaves. This was a very big deal at that point in history and likely played a role in Jefferson’s defeat.

When John Quincy Adams was campaigning against Andrew Jackson in the 1828 race for the White House, he did not stand up and accuse Jackson’s mother of being a prostitute and Jackson’s wife of being an adulteress. Instead he left it to the Coffin Handbills distributed by supporters of John Quincy to do the dirty work. Why? Because presidential candidates must show the character necessary to run the nation and getting directly involved with such base attacks would not do.

It remains the case in the modern era to leave it to a surrogate to do the dirty work for those who wish to be the leader of the nation—and with good reason. How a president’s character is viewed plays a serious role in that individual’s ability to succeed in the job, both at home and abroad.

When it comes to letting the nation know how amazing a candidate is and how lucky the country is that a particular candidate would bless us with his or her service to the nation, your parents would quickly remind you that it is best to allow other people to sing your praises rather than to sing your own in symphonic measures.

This is the great tragedy of Donald Trump. For all I know, Trump might have the talent to excel in the job. But there is no way that I would bet on his success given the megalomania that exudes from every pore of his body.

Does anyone remember when the key knock on Obama was that he was arrogant? Yet, many who lodged that charged are the very people who support Trump’s behavior, despite it taking arrogance to a new and previously unseen level.

The willingness of many to now accept such behavior is, in my estimation, a great tragedy in the current state of the nation. When so many would take a positive view of character deficiencies that would once not only disqualify one who seeks to lead the nation but further disqualify that individual from meriting an invitation to cocktail party, we’ve got a serious problem.

Think about it. It used to be that nobody likes a braggart and a bore—now, a significant percentage of the public wants one to be the president.

Is this really what and who we want to be?

I sincerely hope not.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Contributor, The Policy Page, Forbes, July 24, 2015

August 3, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Electorate, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Commemorations Of The Lost Cause”: A More Perfect Union Comes From Accounting For The Past

The Confederate markers continue to tumble — flags, statues, monuments. After Dylann Roof associated his alleged atrocity with the Confederacy, politicians fell over themselves getting away from its symbols.

While a few supporters of the Old Dixie are resolute, most leading public figures want nothing to do with commemorations of the Lost Cause. Indeed, once NASCAR declared that the St. Andrew’s cross and stars was not a fit emblem for its franchise — where that flag has been always been revered — the earth shook.

So after decades of protests over the Rebel flag and other Confederate insignia, which enjoyed prominent display in public spaces for much too long, that battle appears over. Progressives won in a rout.

But the war has only just begun. America has yet to come to terms with its original sin: slavery. Until we do, the removal of flags and statues remains a small gesture, a harbinger of a reckoning not yet come. Some 239 years after that awe-inspiring Declaration of Independence — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” — we are still in denial about the foundations upon which this republic was built.

Most high-school graduates can probably recite the bare outlines of the infamous Three-Fifths Compromise that allowed the delegates to the Constitutional Convention to adopt a founding document. That agreement counted each enslaved human being as three-fifths of a person.

(It remains a testament to the complex nature of the human enterprise that one of the greatest thinkers on liberty, Thomas Jefferson, owned slaves. When we speak of Jeffersonian democracy, what, exactly, do we mean?)

Some high-school grads may also be aware of the Dred Scott decision, rendered by the Supreme Court in 1857. It stated that even free black men had no rights that white men were bound to respect.

But here’s a fact you probably didn’t learn in your high-school history classes: Much of the wealth that the United States acquired early on was built on slavery, that ignominious institution in which one human being may own — own — another. As historian Eric Foner has put it: “The growth and prosperity of the emerging society of free colonial British America … were achieved as a result of slave labor.”

That wealth was not confined to the slave-owning South, either. Although the planters certainly owed most of their money to their unpaid laborers, Northern institutions also profited. Northern banks, insurance companies, and manufacturers all benefited — some more directly than others — from slave labor.

This is a great country, but it has a complicated history. The building of America was a violent, oppressive, and racist undertaking, not simply a virtuous tale of brave men breaking away from the overweening British Empire. The story of Colonists who were tired of paying high taxes on their imported tea is a well-told anecdote, but it neither begins nor ends a rather more painful narrative.

And enslaved Africans were not the only ones who suffered. Following the practices established by the European conquerors, the new government stole the best land from the Native Americans, consigning them to isolated corners of the country when it did not kill them outright.

Yet, our mythology and folklore acknowledge very little of that. That’s not in the stories we tell, the songs we sing, the poems we recite. It’s not only that history classes are haphazard and superficial, but also that our common tales are woven from misrepresentations, if not outright lies. Land of the free? Not at first.

Truth be told, history is a hard sell in these United States, no matter how it’s presented. We’re a moving-on people, hustling forward, closing the books, looking ahead. That has helped us in so many ways. Unlike, say, the Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East, we don’t consume ourselves with arguments more than a millennium in the making.

Yet our failure to acknowledge a turbulent and cruel history is a hindrance, a barrier to a richer future. We can continue to perfect our union only through a full accounting of the past.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, July 4, 2015

July 7, 2015 Posted by | American History, Confederate Flag, Slavery | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

%d bloggers like this: