Letter from Birmingham Jail

I read Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail every year around this time, but I was struck by its truth and eloquence and importance even more this year, in this age of Trump. I wonder if the President has ever considered just and unjust laws or read Augustine or Aquinas. Has he ever concerned himself with the underlying causes of oppression in America? Would he scoff at the notion of creative extremism? All we know of late is that he's obsessed with cable news, that he questions U.S. policy on immigration from "shithole countries," and that he pigeonholes staff based on ethnicity. I urge you to read MLK's letter in full -- this excerpt is one of my favorites:

"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity."

The State of Things

From Harper's Weekly, last week: "U.S. president Donald Trump, who was once implicated alongside a Saudi arms dealer in a scheme to avoid paying sales taxes at a Manhattan jewelry store, visited Saudi Arabia, where he ate steak with ketchup, participated in a sword dance, and announced plans to sell the country more than $110 billion in U.S. arms. Trump then visited Israel, where he said in a meeting in Jerusalem that he had 'just got back from the Middle East,' canceled a speech before Israel's parliament because he didn't want to be heckled, and visited and signed the guestbook of the country's Holocaust museum. 'SO AMAZING + WILL NEVER FORGET!' wrote Trump, whose administration once omitted mention of Jewish people in a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Trump visited Belgium, where he reportedly ate 'lots of' chocolates and then complained he did not have a positive impression of the European Union because it took him two and a half years to get a license to open up a golf course in Ireland."

A President's Humanity

Last night, as we watched CNN coverage of the dismal New Hampshire primary and discussed some of the ill-advised policies of the leading candidates, a friend commented that he misses the Reagan years and another noted that even the Bush Gore election season was more civilized than this. There's so much fear-mongering and mud-slinging, and so little substantive debate and mutual respect. We're watching unprincipled clowns, not statesmen. After reading this David Brooks op-ed this morning, I had a think about the Obama presidency and Obama the man, and I agree with some of Brooks' main points, particularly that he "radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners, and elegance." Though I have not agreed with most of his policies over the past eight years, and have been exasperated by his foreign policy particularly, I certainly prefer him to Clinton, Sanders, Trump, and Cruz, and would be tempted to vote for him again given the current state of affairs.

". . .a sense of basic humanity. Donald Trump has spent much of this campaign vowing to block Muslim immigration. You can only say that if you treat Muslim Americans as an abstraction. President Obama, meanwhile, went to a mosque, looked into people’s eyes and gave a wonderful speech reasserting their place as Americans.

He’s exuded this basic care and respect for the dignity of others time and time again. Let’s put it this way: Imagine if Barack and Michelle Obama joined the board of a charity you’re involved in. You’d be happy to have such people in your community. Could you say that comfortably about Ted Cruz? The quality of a president’s humanity flows out in the unexpected but important moments."

Atem Lo Levad, Carrots & Sticks

President Obama gave a thoughtful speech in Jerusalem last week, and as this article notes, "Just through his rhetorical approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President Obama has helped restore some sanity and humanity to the debate." You can read the whole speech here, or if you just want highlights, NPR has 5 here. I particularly like this bit:

"That’s where peace begins, not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people; not just in some carefully designed process, but in the daily connections, that sense of empathy that takes place among those who live together in this land and in this sacred city of Jerusalem. And let me say this as a politician, I can promise you this: Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things."

And this defense of Palestinians' rights:

"The Palestinian people's right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own, living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student's ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land."

Chestnut is the Best Nut

Tried not to listen too closely to the Presidential Debate tonight as I was doing my tax law homework. Here's what I retained:

  • Exchange about the navy and our deficiency of boats, horses, and bayonets but abundance of aircraft carriers
  • Romney started shifting toward domestic policy, someone tweeted: "The ayatollahs are asking each other - what is this Massachusetts?
  • Domestic policy debate continued, someone else tweeted: "So Obama is going to enhance America's standing abroad by air dropping math teachers into Afghanistan?
  • In other political news on twitter, the Democratic nominee in Wyoming, possibly the worst candidate of all time, is using the slogan: "Chestnut is the best nut for Senate"

Good job America.