Archive for November 2nd, 2008

Closing Arguments: Wright and Wrong

November 2, 2008

My heart sank this afternoon when I read that the Pennsylvania Republican Party made an ad featuring Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former and controversial pastor. The one shred of dignity and honor John McCain has held onto during this campaign is that he kept his promise not to raise Wright as a campaign issue.

A week and a half ago, I was on my way to work when I saw a series of lawn signs in the median. Sprinkled among the signs for various candidates were signs that said “Obama’s Preacher Says God D*** America.” I wanted to stop and collect them myself, but I had to be at work, so I called David and asked him to text me the number of the Obama campaign office in Fairfax. I called them and told them where the signs were, they thanked me for calling and told me they would take care of it, and sure enough, the next day the signs were gone.

I wouldn’t encourage taking down campaign signs lightly. I would never advocate removal of a sign for a candidate, no matter how much I despised him or her. I would never even remove those dopey signs that say “Drill Now. Pay Less. Vote GOP.” But this sign was just too misleading and slimy to be tolerated.

A few months ago, I listened to Bill Moyers’ interview with Reverend Wright, conducted back in April. During the show, he played an extended excerpt from the sermon in question, including the incendiary and misleading quote in question that was played in an endless loop for a few days during the primary. And I have to tell you, I found that sermon very moving. Wright’s message was that Christians should not confuse allegiance to God with allegiance to their government. Governments, he said, often fail to do God’s will. Specifically, the United States government has committed many great wrongs, and he went on to enumerate many of them, slavery and segregation among them. These are acts that God would condemn. So, we say God bless America, but on the contrary, God would condemn America for its wrongs. He wasn’t swearing from the pulpit, for Christ’s sake (leave swearing to heathens like me): he was using the word “damn” in its traditional sense, to mean “condemn.”

Even more disturbing than Americans’ 30-second sound-bite attention spans is the fact that for a significant number of folks, even hearing the expanded version of Wright’s message wouldn’t quell their indignation. For reasons that utterly escape me, a goodly proportion of this nation cannot stand to acknowledge history when it comes to our own country.

Much about the founding of the United States was groundbreaking, laudatory, paradigm-shifting. There was a lot of genius among the Framers. America’s aspirations are basically good, and we have exported those aspirations to other nations. So, yay us.

However. Aside from the good, there are grave iniquities looming large on the landscape of our nation’s history. The extermination of the native peoples who inhabited the land that we stole, for example. The subjugation and enslavement of hundreds of thousands of African Americans with the complicity of government. A shameful century of lynching, segregation, and disenfranchisement after slavery itself was ended. And those most notable wrongs are only the tip of the iceberg. For example, our government has supported, and continues to support, repressive and dictatorial regimes in other places when it suits our economic purposes to do so (see, e.g., Saudi Arabia).

But you can’t bring this up to many Americans without being branded a dirty traitor. Well, I’m already considered a fake American because I live in an urban area and a fake Virginian because I live too close to DC, so I can say whatever I want. And I say, f*** that. I see nothing more patriotic than wanting this country to live up to the ideals it espouses (claims to espouse, used to espouse before 2001?). In order to hope to do that, we must acknowledge the wrongs we have committed. It goes along with the whole removing the plank from your own eye so you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye thing. I don’t understand the perspective of people who insist that we pretend that stuff never happened, or worse, that it has nothing to do with what’s happening in 2008. We’ve come a long way, but our history reverberates even into the present moment. Anyone who claims otherwise isn’t paying attention.