There IS evil…

Betsy DeVos, during the 2019 Education Budget Request Hearing

Children around the world are taught basic lessons as they learn language, culture and how to navigate among their fellow embodied human beings.  Children are taught that harming others is bad and inflicting harm can result in others wanting to harm them in retaliation.  For some reason, this lesson seems not to have stuck or maybe it has been neutralized by the intoxication of rampant unchecked capitalism among Republican leaders in our government.

Recently, totally-unqualified Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos put forward a proposal for budget cuts to her own department that would include more than $17M in cuts to Special Olympics.  Without going into the vast reach of this program, the loss or scaling back of Special Olympics would mean a move back toward some of the darkest days of marginalizing people with disabilities, not only by making their achievements and their abilities invisible but by assuming that the private sector will miraculously step up.  It was exactly that inequity that prompted Eunice Kennedy Shriver to found the program in the first place.  DeVos’ budget also includes cuts to after school programs that provide supplementary education and activity for children (mostly under served) whose regular schools are underfunded to begin with and also provides important programming for children where parents have to work full days to support their families beyond the hours of school.  I would compare Ms. DeVos to Cruella de Vil, but Ms. de Vil is a fictional character and a comparison would diminish the violence of these kinds of budgetary cuts.  Ms. de Vil also has more dimension.

In addition, the Senate has quite suddenly voted on the Green New Deal, stopping the measure with a 0 – 57 vote (all but four Democrats voted ‘present’ in protest).  This was a purely political tactic taken by Sen. Mitch McConnell to stop any serious consideration of the measure in its tracks.  The Senate Majority Leader basically took the Green New Deal and actively made it into a procedural footnote for the current Congress as a way of expressing a sentiment held by many of his Republican colleagues. For them, anything that aspires to change the status quo of capitalism for capitalism’s sake, must be stopped.  It is also the obvious agenda of this administration to willfully deny the impact and the sources of climate change, writing it off as left wing radicalism.  This despite the fact that some of the hardest hit by climate change already are farmers and residents of the great plains states and low lying delta regions that continue to vote against their own interest by returning people like McConnell to office because of some mysterious affinity.

There is only one word for this: Evil. We are hearing less and less in political discourse about ways to be united and more and more about one side versus the other and what it means to be right.  If our political system was broken by the 2000 election, it became infected after the 2008 and 2010 elections.  2016 was the beginning of organ failure and sepsis.

The vision shared by DeVos and McConnell is wholly one sided.  One might be quick to claim that this is the same for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders, but the difference here is diversity.  Republicans of all types are currently represented by the language, interest and priorities of politicians who are almost entirely white men even though the party and the nation does not share those exclusive traits.  This is not the case of the Democratic representation in Washington, D.C.  The Democrats have begun to look more like the diverse constituents they represent.  Both situations pose challenges.  For the Democrats this means learning to corral the wide-ranging and sometimes conflicting ideas of what justice and equity mean to different segments of the population; it is a challenge of expansion.  For Republicans, this means that there is an expectation to tow a narrow party line, or face expulsion into an unknown abyss; it is a challenge of exclusion.  If we are to have any hope of a peaceful and inclusive future, the mechanism that we have to create a shared public order, our government, cannot be dominated by one group of people who would prioritize wealth and entitlement for a limited few ahead of the human right to existence.  Those were the same priorities that allowed slavery to be written into the Constitution, enabled the forced removal and genocide of native people and kept women disenfranchised from voting.  Any child can understand the harm in that.



When I lived in San Diego between 2014 and 2015, I also had the opportunity to directly experience some of the lives, lifestyles and challenges at the border between Mexico and the United States.  I got to see first-hand, the bustling cities of San Ysidro and Tijuana, I met incredibly dedicated people giving their time and energy to supporting vulnerable people and had direct contact with Border Patrol Agents.  Several things stood out to me:

  • Both San Ysidro (US side) and Tijuana (Mexico side) are vibrant places with rich bi-lingual cultures.
  • Where San Ysidro’s urban center gives way to genuinely suburban and fairly typical “American” middle class neighborhoods as you move north, Tijuana has a larger, more-dense urban feel for a wider area and then gives way as you head south and east to what would be considered by “American” standards rural settings with many dirt roads and more basic infrastructure.
  • Incredible numbers of people pass both ways through the port of entry at San Ysidro/Tijuana. The number looks to be equal in both directions, but most of the congestion is on the Mexico side due to the restrictive nature of how people are processed entering the US.
  • The vast number of people crossing the border, in both directions, at this port of entry are US citizens seeking goods and services or recreation.
  • There is thriving business for Mexican vendors on the Mexican side and US retail outlets on the US side of the border.
  • The people on both sides, were friendly, welcoming, diverse, funny and completely human.  There was nothing “alien” about any of them.

Probably the most striking aspect of my education about the southern border came in realizing that nearly all of the need for goods, services and people is driven by US demand.  This is true for textiles and mechanics (see the film Maquilapolis) but this is particularly true where human trafficking and drug smuggling are concerned.  My trip was part of a seminary immersion experience and as a minister in formation, I was exposed to people who had been trafficked and people who had been impacted by the drug trade as well as people who were thriving and not touched by either but were simply trying to live and get by in that environment.  And at the same time, living in San Diego, it was very telling to travel just 18 miles north and encounter the rich, young (largely white) people who were partying hardy and looking for easily accessible drugs oblivious to the connection they had to the life I had been exposed to at the border.  In San Diego, I also encountered more than one non-Mexican person who had been to Tijuana for quick and easy sex.

2015-01-14 10.34.42The “crisis” that Donald Trump attempted to present in his 9-minute address from the Oval Office is one that will always exist as long as American citizens continue to financially drive the billion-dollar illicit drug and human trafficking trades.  The people migrating north are not the crisis; the market for the exploitation of vulnerable people is the crisis…and it is a crisis that is as old as our government.  The people “flooding” the border are not the criminals that need to be dealt with.  In large part, most of them are seeking safety from violence in countries whose governments were imploded by US intervention.  The true criminals are in Washington, D.C.; the criminals are in the financial centers and corporation board rooms, and they are the ones inflating and manipulating currencies and values, paying off pharmaceutical companies and establishing a playing field of commerce that is ripe for exploitation of the poor and vulnerable people who have little or no choice on the bottom of the equation.  The true criminals are in every neighborhood and community of the United States and they are in all socio-economic brackets.  The criminals are you and I and our willingness to benefit from a system that has always thrived on oppression.

The true crisis is that our economy and wealth continues to be driven by the concept of trianglular trade as established with African slavery*.  According to Trump, a wall would be built to keep out the people who are supposedly the problem.  But the problem isn’t the slave…the problem is still slavery.


*From the musical 1776