I have been intentionally silent through the Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump. I wanted to see how it would play out. I was also exhausted. Exhausted by the rhetoric, by the continual tossing of the fact salad and the micro splicing of reality by the Trump team. I was also exhausted by Democrats presenting an unrelenting cascade of rational, reasonable realities and sounding a bit too much (and looking a bit as well) like the reincarnation of the last Unitarian to run for President, Adlai Stevenson.
And today we watch while the self declared “Grim Reaper” of the US Senate waves his scythe and strikes down his ultimate target: Democracy for all the people.
In my work I am also relentless. As a preacher, I constantly drive home the message of how “relationships” must sit at the heart of community. This seems like an obvious no-brainer, but in today’s world, it is incredibly easy to lose track of. I often frame this in terms of a contrast between relational and transactional. For me, ‘relational’ draws on first hand personal knowledge and (yes) feeling. It draws on ideology and values and a sense of shared obligation. Again, seems obvious…yet, it is clear by the current occupant of the White House that these simple goals have been devalued (like the Rush Limbaugh Prize…formerly the Medal of Freedom.) I’ve written the following before: Donald Trump is not the problem, he is the symptom. A society that has become dangerously transactional is the real problem. Transactional so that health care is primarily about what you can afford, not what you need; transactional so that gun ownership is not about an actual threat but about possessing superiority over the perception of threat; transactional so that merely being an observer to the piling on of wealth for the 1% is framed and then received as a benefit for all; transactional so that womanhood is prioritized by its ability to fulfill male pleasure and male centered procreative ambition.
The demonic nature of the ‘Transactional States of America’ underlies the entire impetus behind an ad that aired for the Trump campaign during the superbowl. This ad featured Alice Marie Johnson who’s prison sentence was commuted by Trump at the urging of Kim Kardashian. This ad is meant to appeal to black voters. I have no issue with Alice Marie Johnson, more black people out of prison is great. And still, I have to weigh these facts: Kim Kardashian (who may be a perfectly decent human being) has a media presence that is built entirely upon appropriating and glomming on to blackness. Kim Kardashian is not black…but her social media persona sure wants to be. Next, Alice Marie Johnson being freed from prison is a good thing, but most black people aren’t in jail. Although we recognize the very real greater threat of incarceration of black people (based on racist policies that are protected by the government)…it is not a top line black “kitchen table” issue; racism and systemic issues of objectification and disenfranchisement are what matter to most blacks on a day to day basis. Finally, images of grateful, weepy black people have been used for a literal century to prop up the fragile white savior trope. This is closely related to the same mentality that says things like “slaves didn’t have it so bad” and “blacks were better off on plantations.” All of this is 100% transactional. There is no love lost in these relationships. I guarantee you that given 6 black women of similar size and stature, I’m sure Trump couldn’t pick out Alice Marie Johnson. She is only worth what he is able to get from her: enough black votes to win.
It is a free country. People can vote for who they want. Alice Marie Johnson and Kim Kardashian can be boosters for any candidate of any party they wish. Yet, we all must remember that if we continue to prioritize transactions over relationships, all of us (academic elites, farmers, day laborers, corporate CEOs) will be reduced to only the value that can be extracted from us, which is the very same formula that drove plantations.
If this is a free country, why would we actively vote to be slaves?