This past week, outside an antique shop along New Hampshire’s Seacoast, I walked past a van festooned with stickers, one of which read, “We tried change. I want my country back,” a message generated in opposition, no doubt, to the “Hope and Change” promised by candidate Barack Obama in 2008 – promises President Obama has struggled to achieve in spite of unrelenting, unprecedented Republican opposition.
Which America. I wondered, did the driver want back — what change did the driver oppose?
Was she opposed to the Change that delivered the ObamaCare to millions of Americans, a promise finally secured by a majority of Supreme Court justices — and which could be extended to millions more needy Americans if it wasn’t for GOP opposition?
Was he opposed to the Change that empowered millions of Americans to legally marry whomever they wish, regardless of gender — asserting rights enshrined in the Constitution, rights based on law, not on scripture.
Maybe they’re opposed to the fact that Obama is re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba after decades of failed embargo policy?
Or are they opposed to the negotiations between P5+1 and Iran that if successful could control Iran’s ability to have a nuclear weapons capability while preserving its legitimate right to a peaceful nuclear program?
What do they want back? Do they want to go back to the great recession? To greater income inequality?
Do they want to witness more entanglements abroad and inequity, injustice, discrimination and voter suppression at home? Do they want America to stop striving to fulfill its promise to all?
Certainly, I’m sure, they don’t want to go back to the days before Loving v Virginia where a state could ban inter-racial marriage — where lovers could be subject to arrest and imprisonment if they acted on love rather than obey state law. Certainly they don’t want to go back to the day when men had dominion over women – or when marriages were little more than property contacts.
Is that what they want?
The election of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 gave most Americans hope, yet today, Independence Day 2015, change has never been slower and uglier and I believe the fault rests most heavily with Republicans and their refusal to turn their back on Lee Atwater’s Southern Strategy and to fully disassociate themselves from fringe elements — from Cliven Bundy to Donald Trump — who lurk in their midst.
I believe most Republicans, perhaps even my “I want my country back” neighbors, truly wish for an America based on “Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness,” not just for themselves or for white, straight folks but for everyone. Whatever they wish, however, those Republicans today increasingly find themselves prisoners of a process and loyal to a party increasingly defined by the Duggars, Duck Dynasty, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson.
A party attentive to “Mullah” Mike Huckabee and “Taliban” Bobby Jindal’s hysterical jeremiads preaching Christianist jihad against the Supreme Court is a party that has lost touch with both the Constitution and the American people. A party that rejects pluralism and denies climate change and evolution cedes, in my opinion, any claim to intellectual or moral authority. A party that won’t disavow leaders who want to erase the line between church and state is a party not ready to lead.
In a free society believers are often challenged between the understandings of their faith and their obligations as a citizen.
Personally. I’ve always found that protecting the rights of all Americans is the best way of protecting my own rights.
Preaching jihad because the United States Supreme Court had the effrontery to assert that all Americans are entitled to equal protection under the law is offensive. American rights are derived from the progressive Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and are adjudicated in courtrooms, not derived from Scripture and pronounced from pulpits.
The arguments that Christianists are making are not dissimilar to the arguments made by Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Daesh leaders to control their people: they manipulate and distort scripture to achieve a predetermined conclusion and to acquire power.
That’s called eisegesis. It’s wrong, hubristic, dangerous and needs to be repudiated by other Republicans.
The country has spoken. As New Hampshire celebrates the Fourth of July with fireworks and barbecue while being swarmed by politicians pandering for our votes let’s be attentive to what has truly been placed before us.
From trauma in Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island and Baltimore, from massacres in Aurora and Sandy Hook, from recent Supreme Court decisions through the national conversation we are having over the Confederate flag and — most importantly – through the power and grace of the voices of the victim’s families heard from a courtroom in Charleston SC — Let us listen.
“First they ignore you,” union activist Nicolas Klein said in 1918. “Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you…”
America’s not ready to build a monument to Barack Obama, our first African-American President — yet. Obama has had to endure unimaginable dog-whistles, slights, insults, and obstruction; there are still high-ranking Republicans who deny his legitimacy and birthright. His Administration has had to bear the burden of 400 years of bigotry and prejudice placed upon the shoulders of one man and yet he has persisted — and prevailed.
We should always demand change, not just from our leaders and pretenders to power but also from ourselves. We should always strive to live up to the truly aspirational promise of the Declaration of Independence. I don’t want my country back. I want a better country, one that provides Life, Liberty, Happiness — and Justice —for all Americans, regardless of gender, creed or color.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.