I Think Something Similar Happened with Ivan the Terrible

I’ve lately heard some friends talk about how low the Trumpers will go in their tolerance for their president. And I’m afraid it doesn’t matter how morally repugnant Trump is as long as he can stock the courts and give hell to the “illegals.” To his supporters, the ends justify the means. Dearies. Have you ever been in an argument with somebody like that? You realize, at some point, that they seek to win at any cost—even if it means sacrificing any mutual respect, trust, or goodwill that has ever grown between you. And this suggests that although, in the end, they may win their fight, they’ll have lost the relationship. In this case, of course, it will be a relationship with half the country (and possibly a large portion of the world). And if I were a Trumper, I would think very carefully before accepting a sacrifice like that.

A friend once said she wondered what would happen to the arch right if they finally succeeded in mangling the courts to the point where they toppled Roe v. Wade and marriage equality. What would the conservatives have left to rally around? Who would be their grand enemy then?

I’m guessing it would be immigrants, seeing that Trump is already promising to “save ICE.” That will be his battlecry for the midterm elections. We liberals need to be very cautious about how much we let him frame that contest.

And as for the Republicans, I suggest (again) that they reconsider who they’ve let into their bed. Trump rallies people behind him by pointing to enemy after enemy. That’s what bullies do. The trouble is that there always has to be an enemy. And this means that if you let Trump do everything he wants to quash women’s rights, gay rights, and immigrant rights, you better have some other scapegoats to feed him after he’s done. If you don’t, his enemy might well become you. And then, because you’ll have driven off everyone else in the meantime, there will be no one left to spare you from the very country you saved.

The Law is Death

If in her desperation, a foreigner breaks a rule of residency whose infraction typically results in a misdemeanor, I don’t see how anyone has the right to punish her by abandoning her to atrocity. I don’t understand this. I don’t think I’m equipped to understand it. And when I consider those who are so able, I’m left thinking that if legality is the true cornerstone of their morality, then they must be simpletons, or henchmen, or devils.

(Originally posted June 22, 2018)


I’ve been hesitant to post this, not because of my opinion (As if!) but because I’m not sure it’s pertinent to a wider audience. Then I started to think that a whole mess of us are trying to figure out how to be effective activists, and that maybe any information in one direction or another would be helpful. 

On Saturday, I attended a community-action meeting that was both interesting in how it attracted a diversity of races and laudable in how it sought to strengthen a sense of community among the races. It was somewhat hampered by a presenter who didn’t listen to the conversation among the races, and where this caused the most problem was in relation to the concept of power. The presenter—who was Latino—thought that do-gooder people don’t like power. They don’t mention it, he said, in their churches. This is when some of the African Americans asserted that in their church, they talk a lot about power—the power of God, say, and God’s ability to empower. The presenter blew past that. And he insisted that we don’t like power, because we’re afraid of failure. He also said that the vast majority of us aren’t powerful at all. He then went on to his next bullet point—and I, for one, stopped taking notes. 

At this point, I could hare off on a tangent about bad teaching—but I won’t. (I won’t, I won’t.) Instead, I’d like to return to the conversation the presenter squelched. I can’t speak for other races—and I won’t attempt to. But I would like to suggest that the reason white people like me hesitate to talk about power, is because we have so much of it. This man said that I, as an individual, am not powerful. And he’s right. As a squatty fortysomething from a small city, I’ve got nothing. I spoke my outrage to the governor last month. She lied to my face, and walked away. 

But let’s not kid ourselves. As a white, straight, affluent Protestant I have all the power in the country. Maybe all the power in the world. I am female. So I guess this ties one limb behind my back. But if I may speak for the whiteys who seek to be good citizens, I’ll say that the reason we don’t talk about power in our churches is because we know we use our power to oppress. We do it without trying. Saturday’s meeting took place in an African-American church. All the white people sat in the front, and all the black people sat in the back. All the white people, who wanted to combat racism, sat in the front of a church where they were the guests. We didn’t even think about it.

I suggest that maybe we should. And I mean that we should think in two different directions. The first is the way about which we’re self-conscious—the fact, for example, that we felt empowered to take the prime seating in a neighbor’s house. This is the kind of privilege that embarrasses us—and rightfully so. The other way we should think about power is to recognize that just because we do bad things with power doesn’t mean that power is bad in itself. Our privilege is unfair. We have come to our position by standing on the deaths of millions. But privilege also has vantage. It has resources. It has immunities. Privilege allowed me to walk up to the governor. Privilege lets me go to the front lines of a protest, and not worry so much that I’ll get put in a chokehold (or worse). In Iowa, my race enjoys an incarceration rate that 1/11 of what my black neighbors endure. It’s wrong to ignore that. And it might be doubly wrong if we don’t use that privilege to benefit our neighbors.

My suggestion is that although we should never act as if we deserve our power, we should pick it up. We should present it to our neighbors, in the way of trying (but not ever succeeding) to return something we took from them. And then we should leave it at the cause’s best disposal.

(Originally posted May 12, 2018)

Honest Answer to the Race Question

At yesterday’s community meeting, I heard an interesting thing. Somebody asked a white minister if he was racist. The answer was something I like, even though I’ve since modified it somewhat. It goes like this:

I am part of a racist community, but I try not to be racist. Still, because I know that I am tainted by this community, I will try not to become defensive when you show me ways that I am racist.

(Originally posted May 6, 2018)

Iowa’s Fetal Heartbeat Law

I will turn 43 this month, and James and I are still talking about whether to have children. We haven’t decided yet, because we’ve let things grow so late. We know the odds of our having a child have decreased; many women my age have at least one miscarriage. Beyond that, we also know the odds of our having an unhealthy child have increased to something between 2 and 3 percent. (The risk of our having a Down’s baby are a bit higher, but that doesn’t worry me as much.) 

Now the reason I share all of this personal information is that the Iowa legislature just passed what’s called the fetal heartbeat bill. My old pal, Gov. Reynolds, has indicated she will sign the bill into law. And when that happens, this legislation will become the most restrictive abortion measure in the country. It will make all abortions illegal after doctors detect the fetal heartbeat. The law does make some provisos for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest, and it allows an escape measure for conditions that pose grave threats to a pregnant woman’s physical life. That said, however, fetal heartbeats generally present at around six weeks. At that point, some women aren’t even aware they’re pregnant.

So here’s more personal information: Although I do support a woman’s right to a safe abortion, I see it as a lesser evil (to, say, a botched abortion) and I can think of almost no circumstance when I would have one myself. But the outlier for me is severe deformation of the fetus that would result in a life of agony for the child. I’m not talking about cerebral palsy here. I’m talking about cephalic disorders, progressive bone disorders, and ailments that I don’t even know about. I don’t know how many of these disorders you can detect in utero–or when. But I believe you can determine some–at some point. James and I also haven’t gone through the grim work of determining when we would (and wouldn’t) consider euthanasia—but I think part of that decision will now hinge on whether we’d be willing to take a trip out of state.

Let me remind you: I worked in a group home with adults who have developmental disabilities. I knew a twenty-five-year-old woman who had the mind of a six-month-old. I knew of a man who was so habitually violent that he gave his caregiver a concussion. I knew a woman who would try to drown herself in the bathtub, because she was aware that she would never have a husband and a family. And still, I don’t recommend euthanasia for fetuses with the disorders that afflicted these folks. I studied the Nazi T-4 euthanasia program for Germany’s so-called “useless eaters.” I know the evils of preventive killing. But I’m also not in the business of bringing a child a life of physical suffering, in the name of God. This is especially true considering that each case is so very different. That’s what this law will overlook: Each case is different. And the agony of choosing what to spare your afflicted fetus is only exacerbated by a law that claims to know the right decision in every situation.

If the state really wants to love its children, it can sponsor better health care for pregnant women. It can provide better relief for families who have children with special needs. (I can’t tell you how many clients we cared for on major holidays, because their families just dumped them at the facilities and never came back.) In fact, if the state really wants to help, it can pump funds into facilities that try to provide good environments for people who have to live with these disabilities. I know a woman who slumped all day, because she didn’t have the physical ability to hold herself up, and because we didn’t have the funds to give her a wheelchair that would let her recline. I know horrible cases of burn-out turned to neglect, because the care facility didn’t have the resources to attract enough caregivers who would afford their current workers time off. I know of sexual predation that occurred to a paralyzed woman who couldn’t speak, because, although each facility runs a background check, the employment bar is just so low.

Look. This isn’t a tidy post, because it isn’t a tidy issue. But that’s my point: You can’t flatten the wilderness of birth defects with a single, rubber stamp. The reality is too rife with terrors and complications. Today I am terrified–and I’m not even pregnant. But I’ll tell you this: The heartbeat law pushes me that much closer to my decision not to get pregnant. And that in itself is a loss.

(Originally posted May 2, 2018)

Incarceration Ratio

 US News and World Report named Iowa the best state in the country. Our governor is all about this. And I too love Iowa, with its farms and its schools and its space. I especially love Iowa City, which Livibility ranked as the #2 most livable town in the country, and which UNESCO ranks as one of the most literary settlements in the world. But here’s something few people mention. (I’ve quoted it from my church’s bulletin): “The Sentencing Project, which compiles state-level criminal justice data from a variety of sources, tells us that the racial disparity in incarceration rates for black and white U.S. residents in the state of Iowa is 11.1:1” 

After further research through the Sentencing Project, I’ve learned that the national sentencing average of black males vs. white males is 6:1. (I don’t know about females–but I assume the ratio is comparable.)

None of these stats is good, of course. But it’s clear that Iowa–that abolitionist bastion–has a problem.

(Originally posted April 15, 2018)