A Time For Reckoning

We have not seen this movie before, and we do not know how it will end. For people about my age or older, the closest we have come in our lifetimes to the current situation was in 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis in the spring of 1968, which set off demonstrations and civil disobedience all across the country. Parts of Washington DC were destroyed.  This was the case in scores of mainly poor, minority neighborhoods in cities all across the country. Embry and I were living in New York then. When the assassination happened, I was in my final semester at Union Seminary, and Embry was about to graduate from Barnard. Classes were canceled for the remainder of the school year as the demonstrations and arrests increased. It felt like we were on the verge of civil war.

It feels a lot like that now except the protests against the brutal murder of George Floyd and police brutality in general are just part of the picture. We also are in the middle of the covid-19 pandemic, and we have the most incompetent–and also the most dangerous–president in the history of the republic. It is a time that is almost impossible for us to fathom. No, we have not seen this movie before, and we surely do not know how it is going to end.

But what we do know is this: How we come out of this crisis will determine the fate of our country and perhaps the planet. Will we use this experience as a wakeup call,  a time of reckoning, a time to address the terrible inequities and unfairness that are fault lines in our society that the pandemic has exposed, or will we allow what I call The Forces of Darkness to tear us apart? Trump’s photo-op catastrophe in front of Saint John’s Episcopal Church highlights once again what is at stake. His response to unrest is to hunker down, to fight back, to use force to punish adversaries, and to divide and conquer. Four more years of Trump could mean the end of democracy and the end of the America as we have known it. The stakes have never been higher.

We know now and have known for a long time that the image of the United States as the shining city on a hill is not the true image of this country. We are still dealing with the awful legacy of slavery. We have gone through the era of Jim Crow, the Robber Barons, the Great Depression,  Joe McCarthy, ill-fated and unnecessary wars like Vietnam and the Iraq War, and now the era of Donald Trump– police brutality, incarceration of minorities, lingering racism, increased inequality, cronyism, anti immigration, and overshadowing almost everything, the looming devastation caused by global warming. There has never been a time where good leadership is needed and yet is in such short supply.

But there is another America, an America that says we can do this, we can tackle these problems. We came through the Civil War. We freed the slaves. We responded to the era of the Robber Barons with anti trust legislation and tax reform. We prevailed over the McCarthy witch hunt. We fought in two world wars and defeated Fascism and totalitarianism. We outlasted Communism. We passed civil rights legislation and the New Deal and expanded the social safety net. We invented the Peace Corps. We have the most dynamic economy on the planet. Despite Trump, we still have a free press and freedom of speech.

Yes, we have our warts and fault lines, but we also have our victories and accomplishments. We are a great country, despite our failures.

There are two endings to this movie. The happy ending is the defeat of Trump, and the retaking of the Senate by progressive Democrats while keeping the House. This era would begin with a vaccine for the coronavirus. It would produce progressive legislation, which would start to tackle inequality, the problems in education and health care, racism, incarceration, police violence, and global warming. It would promote  science, affordable housing, the rebuilding of our infrastructure, welcoming immigrants, and a fair tax structure. This period would restore our leadership role on the planet and secure our place as the greatest county on Earth.

The other ending is the tragic one. I can’t bring myself to fathom that one.

Lord have mercy.









7 thoughts on “A Time For Reckoning

    1. Joe,
      Your sentiments are nobel, but where’s the evidence that the Democrats can make a difference in, for example, urban poverty? Progressive (and not so progressive) Democrats at the city, state and national level have promised for 50 years to eliminate urban poverty. Despite running our biggest cities with the most poverty for more than 50 years, they have little to show for it. What have they done to eliminate poverty? You can find the statistics as well as I can: number of unwed mothers, number of children raised without fathers, percentage of school drop outs, crime rates: not much has changed since the 1970s (except for the up-spike around 1990). Way back in the 1960s, Moynihan tried to point out the sociological basis for urban poverty. But his recommendations were ignored, fearing a racial backlash. But he was spot on, and since then it’s been clear that the best way for ghetto kids to escape poverty is: 1) finish school, 2) don’t get pregnant (or be an impregnator, 3) get a job and stick with it thru the age of 25.
      So, rather than admitting most of their programs didn’t work, then figurIng out how to put evidence-based programs into policy, the Democrats once again are reverting to blaming the Republicans and promoting identity politics (racist whites, slavery-repressed blacks, . . .) and expressing heart-felt anguish for the dozen or so blacks killed by white policemen yearly, a number that’s been constant for about 15 years despite tons of money and training thrown at police departments. And repeating the tired, cliches: “the retaking of the Senate by progressive Democrats . . .would produce progressive legislation, which would start to tackle inequality, the problems in education and health care, racism, incarceration, police violence, and global warming. It would promote science, affordable housing, the rebuilding of our infrastructure, welcoming immigrants, and a fair tax structure.” To me, these are hollow words from tired liberals who can’t think out of the box.

      1. Thanks, Irwin. It is great to get comments from people who have different opinions. I will respond to your comments in my next blog. I also invite you to be a guest blogger making the case for what you think should be done to address the big issues facing us—global warming, growing inequality, lingering racism, etc. If you do not agree that these issues are important that is also a case worth making. Thanks again!

  1. Joe,

    After four or five straight nights being appalled and dismayed by the news, Guthrie and I decided to take a break; so we watched Schindler’s List. You will recall it as the story of a cold blooded World War ll German businessman who used Polish Jews as slave labor and then gradually entered into a state of disillusionment to become their salvation and, in the process, bankrupting himself.

    It appears now that some former Trump lieutenants have reached the tipping point of disillusionment and have violated the dictum of silence regarding their former boss. First, Marine General James Mattis blasts Trump with a salvo of stinging criticism. Then Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the JCS. George Bush a few days ago, Barack Obama about the same time. Mattis was the most direct, citing lack of mature leadership and the making of a mockery of the Constitution. The obscenity of Trump posing with Bible held high after having his way cleared by force of arms seems to have been the proverbial straw.

    I don’t know, but I believe that one of the reasons Trump managed a win in 2016 was that some Dems decided to take the day off on Election Day. That cannot be allowed to happen this year. I am a self described independent. I have voted since 1964, ten times for Republicans and four times for Democrats. This November let there be no Democratic voter that takes the day off.


    1. I hope that you are the miner’s canary on this one and that most Independents and Republicans of good will-surely there are some left–will follow suit. Turnout is the key on getting Trump removed.

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