Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Nation versus the State

The current American State was created by the Constitution, a document written in 1787 and adopted by the thirteen states in 1789. By that act, the first post-revolutionary state, the government created by the Articles of Confederation was overthrown. The Constitution established the second post-revolutionary state. You could call the second American Republic.

The authors of the Constitution conceived of the American nation as an ordered society in which white men of property were supreme, and others were subordinate to them, not because the government said so, but because it was the natural order of things. White supremacy was reality, according to them.

Their view was that the nation (the people as a whole) was naturally dominated by white men of property and so the state that they created to govern that white supremacist nation was structured to preserve white rule. The new government was studded with anti-democratic barriers to thwart reform from below. The founders created the strongest central government they could that still lacked the power to interfere with the practice of slavery.

So, White Nationalism is not a strange new ideology. White Nationalism is the founding ideology of these United States. The present government of the United States, the one created by the Constitution of 1789, is a White Nationalist State. We see this today in belief that white Americans are the "real Americans," or that August Wilson is a great black playwright, while Arthur Miller is a great American playwright.

Today, we consider that the American Nation, (the people, the society as a whole) is a multi-cultural nation. We are a multi-cultural people, with all the unity and disunity which naturally flows from that fact. But the structure of the American state is, from its beginning, white nationalist, which makes it a barrier to justice for the multicultural American nation.

The structure of the state, the government, is at odds with the nation, or the people and society.

The question now is whether the present US State, as structured by the US Constitution, can deliver democratic justice, especially to People of Color, and even more particularly, Black People, anytime in the foreseeable future.

If you think that the answer is "yes," then your strategy has to be gain enough political power in the system as it now stands to deliver the reforms needed for justice. How's that being working out?

If you think that the answer is "no," then your strategy has to be to work for structural changes in the government, either through a series of amendments to the present Constitution, or the replacement of the present Constitution by a new one.  But, the prospects of amending the Constitution to create a democratic and just state is that the anti-democratic features of the Constitution are designed to prevent that kind of change.

The alternative is to propose a new Constitution.

I think that it is time for a group of prominent and respected people who represent the full range of the American people be gathered to propose a new, or radically revised, Constitution, one that dismantles the anti-democratic structures of the present one, and yet still protects the civil rights of those with minority opinions.


  • The qualifications to vote and the administration of elections should be standardized across all states: universal, automatic registration, national standards on voting periods and administration etc. 
  • Local policing should be directly accountable to the Federal government with a nation-wide system for civilian review of police conduct. 
  • A nation wide system of equitable public school-funding.
  • The abolition of the Electoral College
  • Positive guarantees of rights to health care, education, housing, food, etc. 
How would democratic self-government in the United States be structured? How could a government be created that would have the power to reverse and repair the injustice and exploitations of centuries of white supremacy? How would get from here to there?

A new people's Constitution written by an all-peoples' Constitutional Convention could establish a goal, a positive vision of our hopes.  

With the election of Trump, people are talking the possible end of the American Republic. But we don't want to just preserve the American Republic. The pre-Trump status quo is not our goal; it was unacceptable, then and now. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Illegitimacy of Donald Trump

Four reasons why Trump is an illegitimate President, in order of importance:

1. He lost the popular vote. The Electoral college is a anti-democratic vestige of the Constitution which violates the principle of the equal protection of the laws.

2. The widespread practice of voter suppression in key states which provided the margin Trump needed in the EC.

3. The participation of the government's internal security forces (the FBI) in an effort to swing the election, by selectively releasing and withholding information about its investigations.

4. Colluding with a foreign government's illegal collection of non-public information and receiving and using that information in its campaign communication.

Again, illegitimate is not illegal. Trump himself has trafficked in the accusation of illegitimacy. The most obvious is his birtherism about President Obama. Another was his repeated statement that Hillary Clinton should not have "been allowed" to run for President.

John Lewis is right.

If #Trump is illegitimate President, as per @repjohnlewis, then elevating Mike Pence isn't the solution.

The illegitimacy of Trump extends to the whole ticket, because the whole administration was elected together. The election of the President/VP together on a Party Ticket (recognized in the 12th amendment) effectively limits the impeachment of a President to cases of individual misconduct. There is no constitutional means for holding a political party accountable for cheating in an election. Yet that is the situation we are in.

What can we do?

I think that it is important to resist any attempt to assign meaning to the idea that "Trump won". Like when people say that Trump won because "the people" don't like Hollywood celebrities, but he didn't win. Like when people say that Trump won because people don't care about his tax returns -- but he didn't win! He didn't win because people don't like political correctness, because he didn't win! The only reason why he is being inaugurated is because our constitution is anti-democratic.

Analysis of why Trump won has to be limited to why Trump carried particular states, but not implying that Trump won because of broad national, cultural trends, because he didn't win. 

Accepting that "Trump won" is the gaslighting of America, trying to manipulate us to think that something happened that did not happen. And the "Trump won" gaslighting is based on the foundational gaslighting of the country: that white people know what is real, and others do not.

Is there a constitutional means to change the party holding the White House, especially when the party of the President controls the House and Senate?

In today's circumstances, it would require: 

1. The election of a new Speaker of the House, either a Democrat, or a respected centrist, by a coalition of Democrats and dissident Republicans.
2. The simultaneous impeachment of the President and Vice President.

Monday, January 02, 2017

The Spiritual and the Political in Unitarian Universalism

I think that we have to stay true to what we have learned in contemporary UUism. 

We put forth an idealistic and utopian set of social values in 1985, the Seven Principles.

Most know the story of the Seven Principles and how they came about. Those that know our theological traditions recognize them as a summation of our public theology, the only kind of theology that the Unitarian Universalists could agree on. Battered and bruised by the intractable humanist/theist conflict, Unitarian Universalists adopted an agnostic pluralism about cosmology and unified around a public theology summed up by the Seven Principles. 

It is not surprising that a statement of public theology would become the cornerstone of our contemporary faith. We have long said that what matters in religion are “deeds not creeds.” And we have long thought, along with all the other practitioners of liberal religion, that the true test of religion was the effect it has on people and its society.

The seven principles describe our vision of the Beloved Community, both in our congregations and in the world at large. And so, we went forth to put them on posters in the entry ways to our sanctuaries, and to carry them on little cards in our wallets to give to curious strangers, and to teach them to our children as the highest order statement of our faith. 

Since then, however, we have learned that the obstacle to the Beloved Community the Principles envision are the systems of oppression that rule our world. 

There are many ways that we came to learn this: the influence of the women’s movement, the leadership of African American Unitarian Universalists, the anti-racism education efforts, the experience of the Welcoming Congregations program, struggle to come to grips with clergy misconduct. All of these, and more, brought home the fact that simple justice, fairness and equity in social relations were prevented by engrained habits and perceptions of reality. Bigotry and prejudice were tips of the iceberg; much more was beneath the surface. 

We learned that to live in the world imagined by our Principles, we had to root out and dismantle systemic injustices.

We also began to see that oppression itself was encoded in human behavior. There is a human proclivity to create and sustain relationships of domination and subordination, a proclivity that requires constant awareness and vigilance to even see. Oppression changes shape and form and surfaces even in institutions and organizations that commit themselves to fighting oppression.

The realization of the pervasiveness of oppression carries with it the knowledge of individual complicity in it. 

To see one’s own complicity with systems of oppression is not possible as an individual. To forego the rewards of that complicity requires a strength beyond individual character. Anti-oppression requires dependence on others, and on sources of personal strength beyond the self: on a covenanted community, and on however conceives of a “higher power.” As James Luther Adams has put it, “there is a sustaining, creating and transforming power”  In other words, sustaining resistance to systemic oppression is spiritual work, bringing the self into dependence on and alignment with that power.  

The realization that the obstacle to justice and equity is systemic oppression irrevocably merges our political/social stance with our spiritual message and religious traditions. 

Our collective path to these revelations has been not a straight line, but by following our noses, UUism is moving from being hyper-respectable to an emerging radicalism. Our story is our story, but lots of others are following the same trajectory. 

We are now a part of a large scale social movement(s) against systemic oppression. 

Our particular angle on this work include (1) the necessity of building local, wholistic communities, (2) the insistence that overcoming systemic oppression is not just political, but a spiritual transformation, and so the process needs time for worship, (3) the importance of holding everyone along the path with love, (4) the necessity of forming children and youth in anti-oppressive values. Not everyone wants to do this work the way that we think it needs to be done, and that's OK. 

Our problem is not knowing what to do, but explaining/teaching that what we have learned is life-giving, empowering knowledge.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Truer Words Were Never Spoken

“The left wants power taken away from the white establishment. They want a profound change in the way America is run. "

-Bill O'Reilly, Fox News

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


I admit that I am embarrassed by the post-election opposition to Trump.

Millions of dollars were raised by the Greens for a recount that went no where. It was obvious from the start that the actual outcome of the election was not going to be changed by the recount. Was anything found that has identified a practice that must be stopped, or a reform that must be made?

Millions of signatures were collected in an effort to change the minds of the electors. The result was that GOP electors held firm, while leftwing Democrats started wandering off to other candidates, including Sanders. Not a shred of strategy and coordination visible to the naked eye. Again, the chances of success were so small that the effort was guaranteed to fail. It was not only doomed to fail, but doomed to never even get off the ground.

Now, I read that we are all supposed to turn our lights off the night of the Inauguration. Because it can be seen from space! I doubt it. And who is up there to be impressed?

The whole safety-pin thing was equally ill-considered, promising more than could be delivered.

It seems that the talk of churches becoming "sanctuaries" is also very premature. Most churches don't even have showers.

The requirements of leadership include not leading people on wild-goose chases. Having a strategy beneath the tactics. Not projecting images of ineffectuality or frivolity. Not promising more than can be delivered. Not endangering people and institutions without careful consideration. Demonstrating a realistic sense of what is possible in the moment and what is not. 

I'm not saying that every campaign has to be for a winnable reform. But if you say that you are calling for a truly massive demonstration on the National Mall, you better have the capacity to get more people there than can be counted.

Huge numbers of people are frightened and boiling mad. The leadership that will turn this moment into a movement has not fully emerged yet. Maybe it will and maybe it won't. (Remember how the massive demonstrations against the War in Iraq did not give birth to a mass-based antiwar movement once the war started.)

I am looking for the emergence of serious leadership. I suspect it will come from the sources that have been effective leaders in the past, and from the communities that have long histories of struggle: the sparkplugs of the sustained movement for Black Lives, the North Carolina Moral movement, the protracted struggle for the water at Standing Rock.

But enough of the silly, symbolic, and substance-free campaigns.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Interview With Jeanne Pupke

 A new UUA President will be elected at the General Assembly in June of 2017.

Three candidates are in the running: Susan Frederick-Gray, Alison Miller and Jeanne Pupke. All are ministers currently serving congregations.

Each of them have agreed to allow me to interview them on Zoom for this blog. I am hoping to do at least two interviews with each of them. The first will be about them, their family and religious background and their call to ministry. The second will focus more on their views about current issues in Unitarian Universalism. Each interview will be about 30 minutes. I hope that these interviews will provide a closer and more personal look at them than what has been usually available in these campaigns in the past. The first round of interviews are now complete.

For the record, I do not now have a preference for any of the candidates. I think that they are all capable and inspiring leaders of our faith.

Here is my interview with Jeanne Pupke:

Friday, November 11, 2016

Smothering Hate

I have been saying for years now.
After the Trump campaign, does anyone doubt it's true?
Trump is gonna Trump. The give and take of Washington politics will unfold as it will; there is very little that we citizens can do about that. Did all those marches and demonstrations stay Bush's hand when he was set on invading Iraq?

But the gravest danger of the Trump election is that it legitimizes and normalizes hate speech, bullying, harassment: speech that demonizes. It has the potential to normalizing bigotry and misogyny, allowing the most dangerous elements of the society to function openly and to intimidate the rest of us into silence and acquiescence.

That does not have to be.

We have to work every day for the next four years to contain hatred in the public sphere. What is unacceptable has to be remain unacceptable. Hateful, or bigoted expressions must remain to be seen as "beyond the limits." Bigots must continue to feel that they are constrained in expressing their views in public. It should cost them something whenever they inject poison into the bloodstream of the body politic. They should remain feeling that they are hemmed in and repressed by a culture of "political correctness," which is what they call courtesy, respect, mutuality and democratic culture.

We have to re-humanize this culture. We must all defend the humanity of every person or group that is being demonized by the conservative movement, which is now led by Donald J. Trump: Immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQI people, African Americans, poor people, women, and journalists.

We are holding the public space for an inclusive, big-hearted, and justice-oriented culture.

We are holding the space for beloved community.

It means calling out hateful speech whenever it is heard. It pushing messages of inclusion and justice into the public square by every means possible. It means that everyone wears a button everyday with a message that affirms the inherent worth and dignity of someone who is marginalized. It means that every car has a positive bumper sticker. It means that everyone refuses to be intimidated and that everyone else comes to the defense of the victims of intimidation. It means that we stick together.

Love smothers Hate.