From my front porch
It is important to understand that we are not at war as Trump and others have declared. Rather we in the throes of a global humanitarian crisis. Our lives and futures depend on knowing the difference.
You might wonder what difference it makes as to how we name our situation. In my estimation, it is the difference between life and death — a difference between who lives and who dies — as well as how we treat and value each other. Our answers to these questions determine our approach and solutions.
A war creates enemies — us against them stratifications and behaviors. At its core, a war is contentious and depends on hatred and anger towards our perceived enemies. War promotes and demands that we accept the idea that some people are collateral damage whose suffering and death are essential for a long-term victory. In other words, war requires human sacrifice as necessary to redeem, restore and resurrect us as well as the nation into a new life.
A humanitarian crisis on the other hand creates neighbors rather than enemies. It creates an environment of caring compassion, regard, empathy, and helpfulness towards each other. In other words, unlike wars, a humanitarian crisis starts by reaffirming the value of every human being. Consequently, saving lives drives our mission and approaches to addressing and ending a crisis. Redemption, restoration, and resurrection in a humanitarian crisis emerge out of a life affirming ethic rather than a death driven one. It focuses on ending human suffering, reaffirmation of community and our common connections, as well as inspiring leaders to touch and feel the suffering, needs and humanity of others. These are the common ingredients that bind us together in a beloved universal community.
During one of his press conferences, Trump asserted that the globe is up against a vicious enemy. With this declaration, he turned a humanitarian crisis into a war where a virus becomes an enemy with a human face.
Days later the governor of Texas followed Trump’s declaration of war with the chilling remark that grandparents should be willing to die for their grandchildren and for the good of the economy. Implicit in this remark is the accusation that if grandparents are not willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of dying to save the lives of their grandchildren as well as the life of the nation, they are dangerous enemies of both. Instead of requiring grandchildren and grandparents to focus on the virus as the crisis, it shifts the source and cause of fear, angst, and desire to survive away from it towards the grandparents.
Recently a Congressperson from Indiana declared in an interview that legislatures needed to “put on their big boy and girl panties” and simply let Americans die.
Does this sound familiar? You are right. Their attitudes are familiar because they continue an unbroken history of disposability where rulers dismiss some bodies as human waste.
Today in this culture of disposability, grandparents are no longer victims of this crisis as are their grandchildren. Rather this narrative turns grandparents and the larger community of elders into predators who want to live off of the backs and suffering of the young and the nation. If we are not willing to sacrifice our lives for young people, we are depicted as greedy and selfish predators for wanting to live.
Trump’s war call and consciousness of othering have begun to infiltrate the hearts and discourse of some members of the Republican Party. Larry Kudlow, for example, outright stated that it will be necessary to sacrifice some lives in order to save others. His message expands the group of sacrificial lambs to include larger groups of people. His declaration raises several socio-ethical questions. Who decides who are the ones who should sacrifice their lives and bodies so that the most deserving should live? Who are the beneficiaries of the sacrifice? Who is the most worthy? What values and assumptions drive these decisions?
I don’t know about you, but this nation’s history of White male power rooted in purity codes is enough to make me pause and interrogate the theme and subtext of their messages that dance around genocide and eugenics. History teaches us that we have heard this message from the Eugenics Movement during the first six decades of the 20th century. It was not a message promoted by extremists or misfits. Rather so-called normal people such as academicians, politicians, activists, and practitioners shaped a eugenics movement based on the idea of inferior and superior genes. They used this to determine who were worthy assets and who were unworthy liabilities. For them, groups with inferior genes threatened the short term and long-term health and well-being of the culture of Whiteness and the continuity of the superior WASP Nordic ethnic group.
These following passages by Edwin Black provide us with a sobering framework for understanding the dangerous rhetoric as well as the socio-spiritual and political world view that shape Trump’s reduction of this humanitarian crisis into a war.
“Throughout the first six decades of the twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of Americans and untold numbers of others were not permitted to continue their families by reproducing. Selected because of their ancestry, national origin, race or religion, they were forcibly sterilized, wrongly committed to mental institutions where they died in great numbers, prohibited from marrying, and sometimes even unmarried by state bureaucrats.” Black, Edwin, WAR AGAINST THE WEAK: EUGENICS AND AMERICAN’S CAMPAIGN, Dialog Press, 2003
Black continues by observing that “In America, this battle to wipe out whole ethnic groups was fought not by armies with guns nor by hate sects at the margins. Rather, this pernicious white-gloved war was prosecuted by esteemed professors, elite universities, wealthy industrialists, and government officials colluding in a racist, pseudoscientific movement called eugenics. The purpose: create a superior Nordic race. To perpetuate the campaign, widespread academic fraud combined with almost unlimited corporate philanthropy to establish the biological rationales for persecution. Employing a hazy amalgam of guesswork, gossip, falsified information and polysyllabic academic arrogance, the eugenics movement slowly constructed a national bureaucratic and judicial infrastructure to cleanse America of its ‘unfit.’ Specious intelligence tests, colloquially known as IQ tests, were invented to justify incarceration of a group labeled ‘feebleminded.’” Black, Ibid.
Black calls out the systemic and socio-spiritual forces that drove the Eugenic movement with this observation. “Although much of the persecution was simply racism, ethnic hatred and academic elitism, eugenics wore the mantle of respectable science to mask its true character. The victims of eugenics were poor urban dwellers and rural ‘white trash’ from New England to California, immigrants from across Europe, Blacks, Jews, Mexicans, Native Americans, epileptics, alcoholics, petty criminals, the mentally ill and anyone else who did not resemble the blond and blue-eyed Nordic ideal of the eugenics movement glorified.” Ibid.
It is very striking as to how much of this history still remains and manifests itself in the spirit and language that define Trump and his companions’ approach to handling this pandemic.
It remains because it is a tactic that the guardians of Whiteness know works because they have successfully socialized it within White Americans. From the womb to the tomb they are taught that White survival, identity, well-being, and rights require them to constantly be at war with dangerous others because of inherent moral and physical defects that contaminate Whiteness.