As I watch the current state of the US Government, it is difficult to regard it without also taking in the national climate surrounding what is going on. Mass shootings, chronic homelessness, rabid religiosity and total religious apathy, education in decline, greater wealth gap, gender and gender identity wars, the complete meltdown of information systems and above all the total and absolute disintegration of cultural trust. Houston we have a problem.
To me, this whole thing reminds me, sadly, of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. I’ve referenced this movie before. In it, the director portrays a world that is thrown into chaos when black people are liberated, particularly when a black man is in leadership (at least that’s how this black man sees the movie.) That was 1915. What is happening right now in 2013 is exactly the same thing; we have a black man in leadership and the cornerstone of everything American is falling to pieces. Simple, right?
No, not so simple. This is what I believe, our dear conservative tea party Bible beating white male friends would like to have us believe: that because a black man is in the white house, mayhem ensues. He (Obama) doesn’t have the capacity to lead; he is polarizing; he is inept; he has no authority. This story line is exactly what D.W. Griffith was preaching. But my dears, that was a movie, made by one white man 98 years ago. This is real life. Or is it? Could it be that our Tea Party friends aren’t quite as simple and bumpkinish as some of us high flying, over educated Liberals want to believe? Remember, the Tea Party created Sarah Palin. She is a complete and ignorant nobody, yet she is in our NATIONAL media and consciousness. She is the ultimate creation of the “gotcha media” that she so scorns. Like the bride of Frankenstein, SHE LIVES…and it would seem that she is carrying the torch for a completely fabricated movement to make President Obama the scapegoat and to reaffirm the bedrock of what American culture was originally built upon: oppressive white male colonial power.
Now why would someone do this? Why would anyone wish to play out the storyline of a movie like Birth of a Nation? Well, if you are attached to the security you felt when your world wasn’t challenged by someone else’s culture, or gender expression or wealth priorities or look or smell, you might just want things to go back to 1861. But in this modern era, we live in an increasingly unstable and erratic world. Most specifically, from November, 22 1963, as a nation, the United States was suddenly living in a world where “if it could happen…it would.” The President of the United States was shot and killed and unlike the Lincoln murder that took not only days but sometimes weeks for people to become aware of, the entire nation experienced the loss of John F. Kennedy in real time. The unthinkable of losing someone who’s image we had seen repeatedly and who’s voice we had known, happened and was transferred globally within minutes.
And that was just the beginning. Footage of race riot brutality, Viet Nam, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy. We spent the 1960’s being emotionally raped by a serial sickness of “if it can happen…it will.” We emerged assuming that if a public figure was out in the open, they would be shot; if world finance was on the rise, sooner or later it would come crashing down; if there was a conflict between nations somewhere in the world, it would escalate into a convoluted political quagmire with unthinkable loss of human life. And then, just as we were starting to show a few signs of emotional healing…September 11, 2001. The attack on the World Trade Center in New York, more than the 50, 100, 200 years of tragedy leading up to it, sent us nationally over the edge. Regardless of the political motivations of the attackers, or their connections to international networks or global terrorism, 9/11 meant that we were locked in the cycle of abuse once again. If it could happen it would.
Suddenly we have Homeland Security, border control, language like “Islamist Extremism,” “freedom fries,” and cries of U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A! We entered an age of chronic national post traumatic stress disorder. Our first thought is fear. Our world is shaped by laws that, despite the language of law (innocent until proven guilty) assumes the worst. We put people in prison for assumption; we have insurance we don’t need nor could ever use; metaphorically, we are shuttered away in our minds and our attitudes so that even if it is good for us to be in the sun, we don’t want any part of it because we might develop cancer. Our reaction to learning of the abuses in the Catholic church is a classic example. We assume now that everyone who interacts with children is predatory and thus we’ve created boundaries and walls and assumed guilt and an environment of suspicion. There now little Johnny, you’ll be safe! Of course you won’t know what to do with yourself when you need comfort and you won’t think you could ever trust an adult, and you will develop attitudes that present no sense of community or interdependence on your peers or cultural identity and you will develop into someone who is more likely to perpetrate a mass shooting because of your disconnectedness and mistrust of others…but you’ll be safe!
The current state of affairs is not just about the assumption of privilege by white men. It is about the assumption of privilege being played out in a culture of trauma. The million white man march of the tea party is reactionary; it is a symptom, it is not the problem. Certainly, we need to fix the symptoms: racism, homophobia, classism, sexism, ageism, etc., but we need to go to the root of a national consciousness that is in deep and excruciating pain.
I am frequently asked about God and religion. This is a constant for anyone who is in seminary. I always reply with “I” statements, because I deeply believe that faith is entirely personal and that although we can unite as people who experience faith, the expression of that faith is as variable as the people involved, even within faith traditions. For me, I believe that that breaking the cycle of trauma is dependent upon faith, for the sake of a better word. My “faith” is rooted in my interpretation of Christian teachings and Unitarian Universalist principles. For others, it may be in Islam, or Judaism, or Humanism or Hinduism. It may be a “faith” that is not god centered at all. But trauma, any trauma, can only be healed by the distinct belief that one is unconditionally safe and loved, where the cycle of anticipating harm or loss is broken and put to rest.
The Tea Party and the Million White Man March are not the enemy. Instead, it is very clear that in a changing world on shifting ground they do not believe that they will be safe and cared for as they had been in the mythical pre-Birth of a Nation past. As a result, they are trying to create this safety just as they created Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz by elaborately and deliberately fabricating a world where Obama will ultimately be a scapegoat and everything will magically return to the “way things were.”
And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. (Matthew 8:26 – NRSV)
I see you Tea Party; I see who you are and I will not let your fear bring us all down. I will acknowledge your pain, for we all share in the trauma; but I will call you out on your crap. Just remember that ultimately I will love you all the same, as I ask you to love me, because ultimately that is the only way this cycle will end.