Thursday, June 27, 2019

America Is Losing Its Soul

This photo sums up the horrors of Trump?pence. 
America has much ugliness and many horrors in its history, ranging from genocide committed against Native Americans, to over two centuries of slavery as a legal institution, to concentration camps for Japanese Americans during WWII.  Most of us like to think that at least since WWII America has by and large embraced its better angels and cast aside the hate and bigotry of the past.  Yet, as the ongoing human rights crisis at America's border with Mexico reveals, a portion of Americans, including Donald Trump and Mike Pence, exhibit a moral bankruptcy not that far removed from that of Germans who either participated in or conveniently looked the other way as Hitler and his Nazi regime committed atrocities and millions were murdered. Among those seemingly condoning the horrors at the border are evangelical Christians who continue to support Trump and his nightmarish policies.  Indeed, as I have noted before, in the era of Trump, one cannot be a decent and moral person and be a Republican or Trump supporter.  The two are mutually exclusive.  For the rest of us, if we do not do all in our power to remove Trump and his acolytes from power, we become as soulless as his followers.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at America's steady loss of its soul.  Here are excerpts:

The photograph conforms to all the necessary standards for a media image depicting tragedy. It shows a father and his daughter, face down, at the edge of a river, their bodies floating in the muddy water. They can’t be identified and their faces are not visible, which would violate standards of “taste” at many media outlets. But the story of the two people in the photo by Julia Le Duc has been documented.
Salvadoran migrant Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his toddler daughter, Valeria, died Sunday after being swept away by a strong current while the family was trying to cross the Rio Grande into the United States. Unknown to most of the world until this week, they are now briefly famous, a toddler in red shorts and tiny shoes, tucked inside her father’s dark T-shirt, seemingly at rest as if napping with her dad on a hot afternoon.
[I]t recalls the vulnerability of Alan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian Kurdish boy whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015. Nilüfer Demir’s picture of the boy, who seemed to be resting after play, became one of the most searing images of the European refugee and emigration crisis. Both images share elements with other photographs in which the innocence of childhood highlights the cruelty of human or natural forces . . . .
[T]hese images have already broken through our own resistance to seeing pain and tragedy in the world, we imagine that they must break through the collective conscience as powerful political icons. They enter our consciousness almost by stealth and then explode, and that is how we assume they’ll work in the public square, too.
As it circulates, we believe it will acquire enough force and familiarity that our political leaders will have to do something different — change policies, reverse course, revise their own understanding of the severity of a problem. For more than a century, this metaphor has been in operation behind the scenes whenever journalists, or activists, hold up photographs to the world, and say: This is a truth you must acknowledge.
The metaphor of “breaking through,” however, relies on an understanding of the human conscience that is being sorely tested at the moment, not just in the United States, but in every country where nationalism and nativist populism are creating divisions between us and them, between the rightful “folk” and the supposedly illegal outsider.  . . . The thing that needs to be broken through is a basic sluggishness in the moral apparatus, a resistance to doing the hard work of humanizing the other.
But when nationalism has successfully dehumanized the other, there is no breaking through, and people who imagine that a photographic message must assuredly be so powerful that it will touch all hearts are forced to grapple with a more confounding truth: Not all consciences operate alike, not everyone is susceptible to what seems a basic, even rudimentary level of empathy. And so, there is a paradox: We resist the idea of living in an us-vs.-them world only to find that our basic sense of “us” is already fractured. We look out at our fellow humans and can’t honestly understand how their minds work. At some level, we think, “Can’t you see what is happening in this image?” As if seeing and understanding are identical.
This one photograph tells us very little about Ramírez and his daughter, and perhaps with all the attention it has received, we will learn more about the reality of who they were. But just as important is the imaginative reality of the viewer’s effort to sense them as humans, absolutely identical in value and dignity to any person in our most intimate circle of acquaintance.
Of course, one doesn’t have to do this work. Images of tragedy that arrive in a divisive political context often have an off-ramp. You may look at this photo and think that its deep message is “We are all hoping for a better life and will take extraordinary risks on behalf of those we love.” But someone else will probably say, “People shouldn’t cross borders without permission.” The drowning becomes a kind of punishment, a river stands in for ideas of human authority, and the photograph doesn’t break through anything. It merely reiterates an old and cherished belief: Bad things happen to those who break the rules.
There is a fundamental difference between these two interpretations: One requires time and effort, an act of engaged empathy, while the other is a quick judgment that reaffirms an existing sense of the world.
The day after these two people perished in the Rio Grande, the president of the United States dismissed an accusation that he had sexually assaulted a prominent author and columnist in the 1990s. He used a phrase similar to ones he has used in the past to deflect similar allegations: “She’s not my type.” It is a terrible thing to say, with a specifically misogynistic meaning in the context of how men practice violence against women.
But it is a perfect summation of our new and deformed American conscience. . . . . For anyone who wants an off-ramp to the moral demands made by this image, this could be the universal caption: “They weren’t our type.”
Once again, I find myself deeply ashamed to be an American.  As for the "Christians" supporting Trump, they make an outstanding case not only of their own hypocrisy, but of why one should reject their form of Christianity entirely.

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