Votes for Women!

On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, recognizing women’s right to vote. It reads: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

It had taken many decades to pass the amendment. Generations of women who had worked toward it died before they were able to legally cast a ballot. Many black women continued to be denied voting rights until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Shamefully, part of the Congressional enforcement of the Voting Rights Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 and some states have enacted discriminatory practices. The House of Representatives has passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to address these issues, but Sen. Mitch McConnell has not brought it up to a vote in the Senate. A brief overview of the bill can be found here.

Because of the centennial, there have been a number of documentaries and news features about women’s suffrage in the United States, as well as articles and editorials. We have seen striking visual reminders of the struggle, such as the women in Congress wearing white for the State of the Union address, because white was the color that many suffragists wore during their marches and demonstrations. [A side note on wearing white: When I was a member of the Smith College Glee Club, we wore white when we performed. I don’t know if this tradition sprang from the suffrage movement or not. After I graduated in 1982, the Glee Club moved to wearing all black, but I admit that I still miss the striking sight of a group of young women blazing onto the stage wearing white.]

Because of the pandemic and the current civil and voting rights struggles, the commemorations of the ratification of the 19th amendment will be somewhat muted. I’m remembering, though, the 75th anniversary, which was a special event for me.

I live in upstate New York, a couple of hours drive from Seneca Falls, home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Twenty-five years ago, I was a member of a mostly female, mostly Catholic group called Sarah’s Circle. We met for prayer and discussion on a regular basis and occasionally took part in public events. We decided to take part in the parade and other events in Seneca Falls. We marched wearing matching shirts with our logo, designed by one of our members, on the front:

The back read “Can We Talk” because, at that time, an instruction had come down from the Vatican forbidding even the discussion of women’s ordination.

This did not deter the members of Sarah’s Circle from still speaking up about women’s ordination, but we were trying to appeal to members of the hierarchy to speak with us about it. A number of the our members who felt called to ordination wore Roman collars with their shirts. At the time, I did not feel that call personally so I did not add the collar. As we marched, we sang women’s suffrage verses that one of our members had written to familiar hymn tunes.

It was an inspiring day, filled with joy, hope, and thanksgiving. We had no idea that, twenty-five years later, there would still be such a struggle for fair voting and for equal rights and opportunity. May this centennial commemoration energize us to continue to speak out and vote for those who will uphold the voting and civil rights and the dignity of every person. May we also defend vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris from sexist and racist attacks.

We’ve come a long way in one hundred years, but not nearly as far as we should have.

And the hits just keep on comin’…

Our wonderful family news has been a welcome distraction from the ever-evolving disaster of living in the United States right now.

We now have had over 5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, which is appalling and could and should have been averted. (For perspective, the US has about 4% of the world’s population but about 23% of the world’s cases.) I live in New York State and have posted a number of times how Governor Cuomo and his team followed the science and data to bring our once highest in the world levels down to about a 1% positive test rate. The daily fatalities once in the hundreds, is down to single digits. Businesses and services have been re-opening carefully and slowly, so our transmission rate has stayed very low for weeks. In September, schools will be allowed to re-open, with most choosing a hybrid model with a small subset of students in physical attendance on any given day with the bulk of instruction still happening online. As with everything else the state has done, data will determine if adjustments or temporary closures are needed to keep students, staff, and their families as safe as possible.

Many other states are having large numbers of cases, overwhelmed hospitals, and deaths, but are still opening schools, bars, gyms, and other businesses as though there wasn’t a pandemic going on. It’s as though they live in an alternate reality promoted by the president where coronavirus is just “sniffles” and the virus will “just disappear.”

Meanwhile, people are sick and dying.

Millions more are unemployed and/or impoverished. Most of the previously passed federal relief measures expired at the end of July. The House had passed the HEROES Act in May, which would have extended and expanded them, but the Senate didn’t take up the bill or craft a comprehensive plan of their own, despite the fact that the vast majority of economists, even conservative ones, say that a large-scale plan is needed to keep the economy from sinking into a depression.

Strangely, negotiations were going on between the Democratic Congressional leadership and White House chief of staff and Treasury Secretary; you would think that the Congressional Republican leadership would have been there as well, but they left town instead. Yesterday, the president announced some executive orders to address some of the issues, but they will almost certainly by found unconstitutional because Congress controls federal taxes and spending. We are dealing with not only the pain of the pandemic and its consequences but also with the shredding of our Constitutional federal government.

On top of this, the intelligence community has announced that several foreign powers are interfering in our upcoming election, partly be spreading and amplifying misinformation. Meanwhile, the president is casting doubt on the validity of our voting process, undermining confidence in voting by mailing in ballots (except in states with Republican governors, some of whom have purged large numbers of minority, student, and potentially Democratic voters from the rolls), and, through a crony as Postmaster General, slowing down the mail service. The president even floated the idea of delaying the election, something that is not at all in his power.

With both domestic and foreign interference at play, it may be difficult to mount a fair election. (By the way, the HEROES Act allocates money for both the postal service and for state election boards.) I am hoping that the vast majority of people will behave in a responsible, ethical, and legal way, so that the election really does reflect the will of all the citizens.

I don’t want to imagine what will happen if the election is unfair or disputed.

Sad stats

The horror show that is the United States and coronavirus continues.

My state, New York, was the world epicenter in the early spring. Through good leadership informed by science and metrics and residents who took the policies seriously, we were able to get the pandemic under control. Through a careful, phased, and data-driven process, we have also been able to keep our transmission rate low as we have opened more of our economy.

Still, when the map of case numbers would be released every day, New York, the fourth most populous state, showed the highest number of total cases, over 400,000, because our initial outbreak had been so severe.

Until this week.

California, which is the most populous state, passed New York this week on confirmed COVID case numbers. (All the public health experts agree that the actual case numbers are much higher, but the official count uses only testing results and death certificates.) While California had had early success in containing the virus, it re-opened businesses too quickly and many people abandoned needed precautions like masks. Hence, their caseload is soaring. I’m hoping that New York will continue to keep the virus from resurging so that we never again reach the top number of cases, but Texas and Florida, second and third most populous states, are also in the midst of major outbreaks and might surpass California’s numbers in the coming weeks.

It’s appalling.

What saddens me is that it didn’t have to happen this way. New York and some of our partner states in the Northeast learned a lot of lessons through our experiences this spring and, in the absence of a national program, have been offering to help other states deal with the virus and the economic/social fallout. This has resulted in some positive news in the states being hard-hit now, for example, the mortality rate is lower, in part because of improved treatments for the severely ill. Most of the news, though, is bad: overwhelmed hospitals, people not wearing masks and attending large gatherings, bodies being stored in refrigerated trucks because mortuaries are backlogged, more and more states where the number of cases is rising.

Meanwhile, there is still no national plan. The House of Representatives, led by the Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act or the HEROES Act in mid-May, which would address some of the current problems with testing, contact tracing, and treatment of COVID, as well as a host of economic and social impacts on individuals, families, businesses, agencies, and state and local governments. The Senate, under the leadership of Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, didn’t act on the bill this spring and just returned from a three-week break without their own version of a bill and, after a week’s work, they still don’t have a Republican proposal, much less a bill that has been negotiated with the Democratic and Independent senators so that it is ready for debate and vote.

Meanwhile, people are sick and dying, out of work, not knowing how they are going to be able to pay their bills, scared, and bewildered about their country’s dysfunctional state. The United States has become an object of pity around the world.

I’m disappointed that, even when the crisis is monumental, the Republican leadership can’t muster the will and/or competence to do their job and govern for the good of the people. If they had integrity, they would resign to make way for leaders who can and will serve the people and the Constitution. Resignations would be less disruptive than the current inaction.

One-Liner Wednesday: John Lewis

“A democracy cannot thrive where power remains unchecked and justice is reserved for a select few. Ignoring these cries and failing to respond to this movement is simply not an option — for peace cannot exist where justice is not served.”

Rep. John Lewis (1940-2020)

Please join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/07/22/one-liner-wednesday-july-22nd-the-small-things/

Badge by Laura @ riddlefromthemiddle.com

SoCS: John Lewis

When I read Linda’s prompt yesterday, I thought I would be writing about Link, a flight simulator company that B worked for early in his career, and how it went from its proud origins in the Binghamton area through various hostile takeovers, sales, downsizings, and other calamities to its current existence in our area as a shadow of its former self.

But, overnight, we got the sad news that John Lewis passed away. He was one of the last living links to the historic March on Washington for civil rights. He had been the only speaker that day who was still alive. He helped to organize the march as a young man who was the head of the Student Non-violence Organizing Committee. (My apologies if I don’t have the name completely accurate. Stream of consciousness and all that.) [Should have been Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.]

He was one of the leaders alongside Martin Luther King, Junior, in the first attempt at the the march from Selma, Alabama, to their state capital on what became known as Bloody Sunday. [Another correction. MLK was not at the first march, but joined the second march that was completed, thanks to federal protection.] As they were trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the marchers came under attack from law enforcement. John Lewis was the first person that they brought down, fracturing his skull. He bore scars from that attack for the rest of his life.

He continued the fight for civil rights for black Americans and for all Americans through the decades, including seventeen terms in the House of Representatives from the Atlanta, Georgia area. His dedication to justice, peace, and non-violent protest is widely admired and respected.

There is a hope that the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which still bears the name of a racist as it did on Bloody Sunday, will be re-named in honor and memory of John Lewis soon.

May it be so.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “link.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/07/17/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-18-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

signs of hope

As I was posting about yesterday, things are pretty distressing in the United States these days.

I am, though, finding support and reasons to hope.

Although I wish it hadn’t taken such a dire convergence of events to do, I find hope in the millions of people around the world who are drawing the fights against injustice, inequity, climate change, oppression, inequality, poverty, violence, and lack of education, opportunity, health care, affordable housing, etc. into a new vision for the common good, for care of each person and community, and for the planet. The massive disruption that we are experiencing from the pandemic and the resulting social and economic impacts gives us the opportunity to re-build in a positive, sustainable way. The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis has just released a major “Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America.” This is the kind of thinking envisioned by many long-time social justice advocates and by Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’. While there will be obstacles to enacting such large-scale change, there finally seems to be momentum toward adopting and implementing meaningful reforms, which gives me hope.

There are personal signs of hope, as well.

Sometime this summer, a new grandchild will arrive, a sibling for ABC. While we have no idea when it will be either allowed or advisable to travel to London, both ABC and the new little one are signs of hope for the future, as well as powerful motivation to makes things better for them.

Earlier this week, a lovely surprise appeared in my mailbox, a card with a beautiful photograph of a mother wood duck swimming with two ducklings. It was from two Smith college friends who are twin sisters, vacationing together on a lake in New Hampshire. They were thinking about me awaiting our new far-away grandchild “across the pond” and sharing their own family stories, filling my heart with love and joy.

They both mentioned my writing, which I appreciated. I’ve also recently received a couple of emails from a poet-friend in reaction to my posts here at Top of JC’s Mind. I enjoy reading and responding to comments here, on the TJCM Facebook page, and on my personal page, too. Sometimes, it seems as though I write and publish posts – and have no idea if they are actually reaching anyone. I don’t often look at my blog stats, but, even when I do, a visit doesn’t necessarily equal a read. My visit stats also don’t reflect people who receive posts via email. I sometimes find myself surprised that friends know certain stories or viewpoints from me when I know we haven’t discussed it, forgetting that I had posted about it. (Conversely, I sometimes think that everyone knows a certain thing because I’ve written about it, forgetting that many friends and family members don’t read my blog.)

Perhaps, hope is not the proper word, but I do so appreciate the sense of connection that comes through sharing our words and thoughts and emotions with each other. When I do have the privilege of interaction, it reminds me that I am not just scrawling words into cyberspace without purpose.

There is always the hope that someone is reading, mulling, and reacting.

Thank you, Readers. ❤

unprecedented

For decades, public opinion polls in the United States have asked how satisfied people are with the way things are going in the country, which is often referred to often as the country being on the right or wrong track. A Pew Research Center poll released on June 30th reveals that only 12% of respondents are satisfied with the direction of the country.

Twelve percent is a shockingly low number, but the number today could be even lower, given that the poll was conducted before the revelations about Russia paying bounties for the deaths of United States and coalition troops in Afghanistan, before the daily national number of new positive COVID tests reached 50,000+, and before 38 of 50 states reported rising numbers of cases on a 14-day rolling average.

The COVID numbers are going to get worse in the coming days because the seven-day rolling averages are already worse and because there are likely large numbers of people who are positive but not yet showing symptoms or being tested.

The rise in COVID cases is all the more upsetting because much of this precipitous spread was avoidable. I have written often, for example here, about the battle against the pandemic in New York State, where I live in its Southern Tier region. By following the science and metrics, our state went from having the worst infection rate in the country to the lowest. Mask-wearing, physical distancing, travel restrictions, and enhanced sanitation are part of daily life for nearly all people here. New York, which suffered the first wave of COVID cases coming in undetected from Europe, pioneered many ways to crush the coronavirus curve and keep infection rates low through robust testing, contact tracking and quarantine. It breaks my heart that other states and the country as a whole are not following a similar path to protect their residents and visitors. Governor Cuomo’s office has been in contact with governors’ offices around the country, offering assistance in fighting the virus, but it seems that few are willing to put the lessons we learned into practice in their states.

While we continue to methodically re-open different types of businesses and increase the size of (reasonable and still distanced) gatherings allowed, we keep constant watch on our testing numbers, ready to change plans immediately if the number of positive tests starts to rise. Our greatest threats at this point are complacency among people here leading them to get sloppy with our preventive measures and the risk of travellers bringing the virus with them from another state or country. New York does have quarantine rules in place for those entering the state from places with high infection rates, but we would be much better off with a national policy based on science and metrics.

I think the national polling numbers with which I began this post show that our ship of state is seriously off course and in danger of shipwreck. The vast majority of the country knows it, as does most of the rest of the world. Travel from the United States into the European Union is banned. Both our allies and our adversaries wonder how a strong and proud democracy could have a national government in such impotent disarray.

Long-time readers know that I occasionally indulge in political fantasy. I had one for a while that both DT and the VP were forced to resign due to corruption and that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi would become the first woman president of the United States. During the impeachment of the president, some argued that we should wait for an election to get DT out of office. I don’t think any of them imagined the dire mix of pandemic, attack by foreign adversaries, economic collapse, and cries for long-overdue justice and equity with which we are currently dealing. To avert more disaster and to safeguard lives and well-being, we need new leadership now, not on January 20, 2021.

I call on the president, the vice-president, and all appointed Cabinet and high-ranking officials of agencies who are not career professionals within their departments to resign, so that Pelosi, aided by experienced civil servants, can put in place national policies to stem the pandemic and to run a fair election in November, so that the newly elected president has a chance to inherit a country that isn’t a complete disaster area. Some problems could be addressed by executive order and, one hopes, others could be handled legislatively, if enough Republican senators step up to govern, instead of letting Majority Leader Mitch McConnell kill nearly every House-passed piece of legislation that lands on his desk.

2020 has been a year in which we hear the word unprecedented on a regular basis. My suggested course of action certainly would be unprecedented, but I think it offers hope of alleviating at least some of the suffering around us and averting more. It is also constitutionally valid.

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.

Failing the Constitution

I woke up this morning thinking about the United States Constitution, specifically about the Preamble, which I can recite from memory. (Thanks, Schoolhouse Rock.)

The Preamble sets out the goals of our democratic republic. It famously begins, We the People of the United States. This means everyone is part of this enterprise, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or political views. It was part of the wisdom of the Founders to frame this document in such an expansive way, even though, at the time, only free men, who were overwhelmingly white, could vote. Much of the history of the United States has been about expanding our understanding of who “we the people” are, a process that continues to this day.

in Order to form a more perfect Union – We the People are, at this moment, moving away from a more perfect Union. I take this Constitutional call seriously and am sad and frightened about the current state of affairs, which is causing so many divides in our country. There are millions of people who are embroiled in an “us versus them” mentality over religion, political party, race. gender, ethnicity, and/or viewpoint on a particular issue. There are millions of people who can’t have a civil discussion of an issue without petty name-calling and dismissiveness of the other’s viewpoint. That moves us away from “a more perfect Union”.

establish Justice – Our Constitution creates an entire co-equal branch dedicated to this goal. Sadly, the independence of the judiciary is under threat, most obviously this week by the executive branch interfering in the sentencing of a friend of the president’s who was tried and found guilty by a jury on all seven counts with which he was charged. The Attorney General, who is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, is supposed to be the chief law officer for We the People; as such, most attornies-general have observed independence from the executive branch. AG Barr is not doing that. Chillingly, he has also ordered that no investigation into political campaigns can occur without him personally giving permission. This mean that the Federal Bureau of Investigation cannot follow leads, collect evidence, question witnesses, or take any action unless Barr authorizes it. He could order investigations of Democratic candidates while blocking those of Republican candidates. Given that twelve Russian operatives are under indictment for election interference to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, this raises the specter of similar efforts by Russians or other foreign actors not being investigated at all, as long as they benefit the current administration and other Republican candidates.

Meanwhile, the Senate has been interfering with the judicial branch, too. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would not bring President Obama’s federal court nominees to the Senate for confirmation. Not only did Merrick Garland not get a vote to join the Supreme Court but also dozens of nominees to lower courts were denied votes. McConnell has spent a lot of the Senate’s time pushing through the current administration’s judicial nominees, even those rated as “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. Traditionally in the Senate, sixty of one hundred votes would have been needed to bring these to the floor, but that rule has been suspended, so even the not-qualified candidates receive lifetime appointments to the courts with only fifty votes.

insure domestic Tranquility – Our domestic life is anything but tranquil. The incivility noted in the “more perfect Union” section too often devolves into verbal abuse and threats to personal safety. There have been threats of violence, even death, to journalists, public officeholders, diplomats, members of the military, and people who either question the administration or come forward to give truthful testimony.  Even ordinary folks can be threatened over simple things like video games or expressing their opinion about books or topics of public interest.

Too many people are hurt or killed by violent acts, especially those involving firearms. Mass shootings and police shootings get the most media coverage, but every day people are shot by someone they know or are victims of accidental shootings. The majority of gun deaths in the United States are suicides. These are not marks of domestic tranquility.

Millions of people don’t have access to sufficient food, safe shelter, medical care, and other necessities of a dignified life. Most of them are employed, but not earning a living wage. Millions of people are suffering from addictions. Millions of people are exploited because of their gender, immigration status, age, or other factors that make them fearful to seek help. Millions of people face discrimination because of their race, gender, age, ethnicity, or beliefs. None of these things are tranquil for those suffering through them or for those who sympathize with them.

provide for the common defence – The United States military is the most powerful institution in the world. It should be used to defend the United States and our allies from aggression. Often, the presence of US military is enough to deter countries from attacking their neighbors. I am appalled by the way this administration has pulled back support for our allies, such as South Korea, Ukraine, NATO, and the Kurds. These actions make both the US and our allies less defended and less safe. The treatment of the Kurds is especially troubling. The Kurds did the bulk of the work in taking back land controlled by ISIS; the US withdrawal that the president declared after talking with the autocratic leader of Turkey left the Kurds with no protection from the Turks and the Russians who have taken over the Kurdish towns and driven the residents into exile. Meanwhile, ISIS, continues as a terrorist organization, which is a continuing threat to the US and our allies.

promote the general welfare – This is the phrase from the Preamble that I quote most often. The Constitution is calling us to care for one another. This is also sometimes called in our modern American English working for the common good. This is one of the purposes of our government, but too often government acts in the interests of those individuals, families, businesses, and organizations that are wealthy. This tiny fraction receives a lot of benefits that ordinary folks don’t. Case in point: the tax reform that gave permanent tax cuts to businesses and large tax cuts to the wealthy, while giving some short-term tax relief to some non-wealthy people and higher taxes to others.

Too often our elected officials ignore promoting the general welfare, instead focusing on their campaign donors, businesses in their district or state, and wealthy folks rather than what is good for the general population, both in their district/state and throughout the country. Votes are cast not in the interest of the whole populace but with an eye to what the voters in their party’s primary wants.  Even worse, some officeholders feel that they only represent people of their party or those that voted for them. That is not the framework laid out by the Constitution. We the People expect our government officials to cooperate in passing, executing, and adjudicating laws that promote the general welfare and protect our rights, not to block a proposal because it originated in the other party or was passed by the other house of Congress. Examples of this are the hundreds of (mostly bipartisan) House-passed bills this session that Leader McConnell has blocked in the Senate and the comprehensive immigration reform passed by a bipartisan majority in the Senate in 2013 but not brought up for a vote in the House because it would have passed without a majority of the Republican members voting in favor.

and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity – While I feel fortunate to have these blessings, so many others do not. They face discrimination, poverty, abuse, hunger and other problems every day. I mourn the country and world we are leaving to the younger generations and those to come. We are leaving them with division and peril, with our world damaged so much that some of the ecological systems will not be able to recover fully even over centuries. Recognizing this, many young people have taken action to demand change. The Sunrise movement works on issues of climate change and environmental degradation. After a mass shooting at their school, the students of Parkland High mobilized young people across the country to demand protection from gun violence. It is incumbent on all of us to support our younger generations, already part of We the People, and future generations who one day will be.

do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. – We the People established our government. It belongs to all of us, not just to a few of us. We need to hold government accountable for the purposes for which we established it. We need Congress to take responsibility for passing laws that are fair to everyone. We need them to exercise their Constitutional duty to declare war when necessary, rather than ceding that power to the commander-in-chief or military leaders. We need everyone to realize that Article II does not give presidents the power to do whatever they want. They are subject to Congressional oversight and judicial proceedings. The courts have to realize that they exist to interpret the Constitution and laws, not write them.

It is troubling that a large percentage of people in this country today tell pollsters that they believe Congress and the courts should get out of the president’s way so that he can do what he wants quickly. This is incredibly dangerous to our democratic republic. We the People must be informed on what the Constitution dictates and hold officeholders and other public servants to it. Those who commit serious breaches of the Constitution should resign. If they don’t, they should be removed by legal means or, at the very least, not re-elected or re-appointed.

I have not been silent on these issues but, given the troubling events of the last few weeks, I felt the need to write this lengthy post to be among those sounding the alarm that our country is in danger. Like me, most of us do not have a large megaphone to broadcast our voices far and wide, but if enough of us speak up in defense of our Constitution, our government will hear the voices of We the People.

What a week!

I started the year by posting for 33 days in a row, thanks largely to Linda’s Just Jot It January.

Then, I fell off the wagon.

Today, though, I am taking advantage of being kept inside by a snowstorm to try to process what has been a surreal week into a post.

On the personal side, my spouse B has been involved in a major workshop week with co-workers from the US and Germany, so he has been working loooong days, sometimes capped off by group dinners that run late into the evening. Between his schedule and working around the weather, things were already feeling unsettled here.

This just added to what has been a very unsettling week here in the United States. T and I had watched giant swaths of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. The House managers who served as prosecutors were very methodical in laying out their case. The president’s defense team was much harder to follow and tended to be in conflict with both some of the evidence and some of what other members of the team had presented. Their arguments were often circular.

For example, one of the arguments that the president’s team was making against the second article of impeachment for obstruction of Congress was that the House should have gone to court to enforce their subpoenas. Meanwhile, a court case that the House had brought trying to enforce subpoenas in the ongoing investigation of Russian election interference saw the Justice Department lawyers arguing that the courts weren’t the proper remedy, that impeachment was! As Rep. Adam Schiff, who was leading the House managers, said, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

Because the Senate had voted not to call witnesses or request documents, the first part of the week was about senators being able to speak for ten minutes about their reasoning behind their upcoming trial vote on Wednesday. However, on Tuesday night, President Trump gave his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.

The State of the Union is usually a very formal and solemn opportunity for the president to lay out their agenda for the coming year, including what legislation they would like to see taken up by Congress and passed. It was obvious from the start that this address was not going to follow that norm, when the Congressional Republicans started chanting “four more years” before the president even began speaking.

Much of the president’s message mirrored his campaign speeches. As a reasonably well-informed citizen, I knew immediately that some of the things the president was claiming were not true. He tried to take credit for things that actually happened during the Obama administration. He said he would always protect health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions at the same time the Justice Department is in court trying to have those protections under the Affordable Care Act thrown out.

It was surreal.

The State of the Union often features special guests of the president who sit in the gallery near his family. Their stories are inspiring and heart-warming. President Trump added a twist, though, in that most of the people received a surprise reward.  This seemed to harken back to Donald Trump’s experience as a “reality show” celebrity. A couple of these surprises made me cringe. There was a girl, attending with her mom, who received a scholarship to attend a private school. Education is a wonderful thing and I am happy for this girl, but the president framed it as her leaving “a failing government school.” In the United States, we don’t call them “government schools”; we call them public schools. One of the responsibilities of our government is to provide free public education through primary and secondary school. If a public school is doing poorly, it is up to our government at all levels, working on behalf of the taxpayers, to ensure that the school is brought up to a high standard – for the good of those students and the general public. To see the president totally abrogate responsibility for our public schools, which serve the vast majority of US students, was disheartening.

The shocking part of the evening was the “surprise” awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh. This is the highest civilian honor in the United States and is usually given to individuals who have brought people together in a positive way. By contrast, Rush Limbaugh has been sowing division for decades. He regularly belittles people who don’t follow his particular brand of conservatism. [Fun fact: He once railed against a women’s prayer group of which I was a member. We were a small, local group getting lambasted on nationally syndicated radio. It was ironic, because his actions gave us more power and visibility and led to a 60 Minutes interview.] Limbaugh has recently revealed a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis; it is appropriate to ask for prayers and well wishes on his behalf, but the Medal of Freedom is not an appropriate honor for so divisive a figure.

Speaking of prayer, yesterday was the National Prayer Breakfast, which is sort of an unusual occasion in and of itself, but I can’t give its history here as this post is already shaping up to be long. First, though, there needs to be a wrap-up of the impeachment trial.

As expected, Trump was not removed from office. All the Democratic and independent senators voted for removal on both counts. There had been hope that some of the more moderate Republicans would join them, especially on the abuse of power article. Several Republican senators, in opposition to the president’s assertion that his behavior was “perfect”, issued statements saying that what the president did was inappropriate but didn’t warrant removal from office so they were voting for acquittal.

In the end, one Republican, Utah senator and former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, did vote to remove the president on the abuse of power charge. In his ten-minute floor speech, he spoke about how difficult this decision was. He is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and because he had sworn an oath to God to deliver “fair and impartial justice” and because the House managers had put forward convincing evidence of the president’s abuse of power, he decided that he must follow his conscience and vote to convict. He did not let political expediency deter him from his obligation to follow the dictates of his faith and the Constitution. He has faced immediate backlash from the president and other members of the Trump family, as well as from some of the conservative media. I appreciate Romney’s integrity. It took a lot of courage to vote against a president of one’s own party in an impeachment trial. Indeed, this is the first time that that has happened in the United States.

Which brings me back to the prayer breakfast…

The keynote had been on the subject of love and, in particular, the Christian call to love one’s enemies. When President Trump, who is ostensibly Christian, spoke, he proceeded to attack the faith of those he considers his enemies. After speaking about the impeachment, he said, ” I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.  Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so.” This was a thinly veiled attack on Sen. Romney for his impeachment vote and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who, in answering questions from reporters has revealed that she prays every day for the president. Speaker Pelosi was sitting at the head table, only a few feet away from the president as he spoke. As a fellow Catholic, I admire Nancy Pelosi’s prayer life and don’t doubt for a minute that she sincerely prays for the president and for our country every day. That the president dismisses people of faith, equating his own viewpoint as being right and theirs as being “wrong”, compounds the damage that he has done to our country.

After President Clinton’s impeachment and trial, he apologized again to the country and made a plea for reconciliation and moving forward as a nation. (He was impeached for lying under oath about an affair.) By contrast, when President Trump spoke later in the day after the prayer breakfast, he did not admit any wrongdoing and blamed everything on Democrats and anyone else he considers an opponent.

At this point, without a unifying leader, I don’t know how Americans can fully come together as a nation to meet our challenges. I do want to point out, however, that, under Speaker Pelosi’s leadership, the House of Representatives has passed over 300 bills, the vast majority of which are bipartisan, that Majority Leader McConnell has refused to take up in the Senate. I am a member of NETWORK lobby for Catholic Social Justice. Every Congressional session, NETWORK scores the votes on ten bills that deal with social justice issues, such as fair pay, access to medical care, and equal justice. For the first time ever, this year they were unable to score the Senate because they hadn’t held votes on the bills that were companions to the House-passed bills. I and millions of other Americans expect and deserve more.

I swear that I did not spend the whole week on nothing but politics. I wrote a new poem in response to a challenge on The Ekphrastic Review. If it gets accepted, you can be sure there will be a link here at Top of JC’s Mind – and a mini-celebration that I managed to get a poem published in 2020.

Now, I think there is a snow shovel that is calling my name…

 

 

the other side

Because I want to be informed, even when it is scary, I listened to the first day of Trump’s defense in the impeachment trial.

It was puzzling.

A lot of what the president’s team spoke about wasn’t related to the case. It seemed that they were bringing up a lot of different issues in order to distract from the evidence that the House managers had presented over the three days of their presentation.

There were also a number of instances in which the defense would quote a certain person’s testimony and say, because that person didn’t know a certain piece of information, then it must not be true, failing to note that another witness or piece of evidence did provide that information. They also complained about there not being proof of such-and-such, which would be either proven or disproven if the administration hadn’t blocked all document requests and subpoenas for testimony.

It’s also confusing when the president’s lawyers try to draw parallels between this impeachment investigation and prior ones that had had a justice department investigation prior to Congressional proceedings. Other things are just strange, such as the defense saying that Congressional committees need a vote in the House before issuing subpoenas and/or document requests. Congressional committees routinely issue document and testimony requests in their oversight investigations.

If I, a citizen with no legal training, can notice these things, how can the senators, many of whom are lawyers or who have staff with legal expertise, fail to notice these problems?

I don’t know if the president’s team will make more sense in the next two days of the trial or not, but their first day is not at all convincing.
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There are still a few days to join in with Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/26/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-26th-2020/