Woke vs. Broke

If the Republican Party is any indication of the state of things within the conservative movement, there are some real problems for folks on the other side of the cultural aisle. The most cohesive position that folks on the “right” seem to be able to take is in opposition to what they regularly refer to as “woke” culture (see Ron DeSantis[1]).  This involves making it illegal to refer to someone as “Latin-x”[2], attacking drag queens as “groomers”[3] and exporting asylum seekers to other states[4].  Oh, and let’s not forget the biggest bogeyman of them all… “CRT” (Critical Race Theory[5]) that seems to find itself at the center of almost as many legislative agendas as anti-transgender bills and policies[6].

Conservative Republicans want a big tent as long as they can control and anticipate who is coming inside…and what they do once they are there.

A lot of this anti-woke rhetoric came to full flower during the worst of the resistance to the emergent Black Lives Matter movement and echoes the ignorant media point-scoring narratives spewed by the former president and his biggest supporters.  But therein lies the rub.  With so much to complain about, there is precious little that we actually know of what conservatives want.  They don’t want abortion…but who does? Progressives want the right to determine the decision to have one without government intervention (i.e. small government…but not so small it fits in a uterus). They don’t want immigration of rapists and drug smugglers…but who does?  Progressives want a clear and legal path for migrants and asylum seekers to have a way to participate in our country without adding to their trauma (i.e. fair and humane government based on reason and facts).  They don’t want heterosexual cisgender identity to be compromised…but who does?  Progressives just want a place for those who sit outside of that definition to have a way to be recognized as fully human (i.e. actually living into the 14th Amendment…you know the big tent).  In truth, the Progressive agenda and what progressive Democrats have clearly stated they want to see in our world sounds an awful lot like the lost goals and ambitions of conservatives of a bygone era.

This is the problem.  Conservative Republicans want a big tent as long as they can control and anticipate who is coming inside…and what they do once they are there.  The other problem is that the Republican party, as the political advertising arm of conservatism, has been operating inside its tent entirely without a platform since 2020[7].  Its last platform, adopted in 2016 was less of a battle cry and more of a death wail[8].  Despite starting with its declaration about “American exceptionalism”, it paints a picture of America as a failed experiment, due in part to the work of the (so far) only black president.  There are unmistakable shades of D.W. Griffith’s “A Birth of a Nation” (1915) in the fear it works hard to conjure up.  Still, it is the last time that politically active conservatives have come together to plainly state what their agenda is.  In the absence of a platform, this means that anyone who is willing to generate a cult of negative messaging against anything perceived as progressive or inclusive or “woke” becomes a de facto conservative hero.

Enter Rep.(?) George Santos and Rep. Ryan Zinke.  George Santos (a.k.a. Anthony Devolder…and probably any number of names) is a serial liar and truly has no place being anywhere near the governance of a sandbox, let alone the United States.  He is a myth of his own making yet the most vocally conservative of conservatives in the House (among them Matt Gaetz[9]) have embraced him with open arms making his failings out to be harmless standard practice.  These aren’t lies, they are “embellishments”; everyone does it…most of all Democrats!  Next up, Ryan Zinke, recently delivered a speech in the House of Representatives (now that it is actually open for business) that speaks of the conspiracy theory of the “deep state” as proven fact.[10]  So, apparently, without a platform or an agenda or any clear sense of what one is for one can now just make it up, out of thin air and fearmongering if you are in charge…and want to stay there.

Note: this is at least part of the mentality that justified slavery…

…and what created the myth about women being incapable of voting.

…and intentionally exterminated swaths of native people.

…and developed eugenics (at Harvard)

…and well, the Holocaust.

These kind of lies for political gain only have traction because they are pasted on a blank backdrop.  But any student of how race and empire has worked in global colonial histories, particularly the United States, knows that this is also the primary tool of white Christian hegemony as a tool of conquest.  If the most powerful force in the room is entirely invisible, it is nearly impossible to point a finger at it and accuse it of any harm.  Racism doesn’t exist…because we don’t see race; race isn’t real. I’m not racist!…but you still can’t come inside the tent.

I actually have nothing against actual “conservative” values.  What I have something against is the fabrication of a nouveau conservatism built in a vacuum of lies and political myths.  Admittedly, the position I come from as a proud progressive religious leader could be labeled as decidedly “woke”.  But I think it is much worse and proving to be significantly more dangerous that the current conservative movement is not just vacant of morals and values or any kind of agenda, but that it is ethically bankrupt and unrecognizably, and maybe irreparably damaged.

In a word, it is “broke”.

[1] The Associated Press, “Judge Blocks Fla. ‘anti-Woke’ Law as Violating First Amendment,” accessed January 13, 2023, https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/post/3324/judge-blocks-fla-anti-woke-law-as-violating-first-amendment.

[2] Ayana Archie, “Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders Is Banning ‘Latinx’ from State Documents,” NPR, January 13, 2023, sec. Politics, https://www.npr.org/2023/01/13/1148966968/sarah-huckabee-sanders-arkansas-latinx.

[3] “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Administration Targets Holiday Drag Shows,” December 29, 2022, https://www.advocate.com/news/2022/12/29/florida-gov-ron-desantiss-administration-targets-holiday-drag-shows.

[4] Giulia Heyward, “Busloads of Migrants Dropped off near Kamala Harris’s Home on Christmas Eve,” NPR, December 25, 2022, sec. National, https://www.npr.org/2022/12/25/1145481615/busloads-of-migrants-dropped-off-at-kamala-harriss-home-on-christmas-eve.

[5] “Critical Race Theory FAQ,” Legal Defense Fund (blog), accessed January 13, 2023, https://www.naacpldf.org/critical-race-theory-faq/.

[6] Jayne Swift, “Gendered Racial Projects: Anti-Trans, Anti-CRT, and Anti-Abortion Legislation,” Gender Policy Report (blog), July 14, 2022, https://genderpolicyreport.umn.edu/gendered-racial-projects-anti-trans-anti-crt-and-anti-abortion-legislation/.

[7] “Resolution Regarding the Republican Party Platform | The American Presidency Project,” accessed January 13, 2023, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/resolution-regarding-the-republican-party-platform.

[8] “2016 Republican Party Platform | The American Presidency Project,” accessed January 13, 2023, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/2016-republican-party-platform.

[9] “Matt Gaetz Goes To Bat For Team George Santos And His Game Of Lies | HuffPost Latest News,” accessed January 13, 2023, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/matt-gaetz-defends-george-santos_n_63c0c0efe4b0ae9de1c669d5.

[10] “Ryan Zinke Rants That ‘Deep State’ Wants To ‘Wipe Out The American Cowboy’ | HuffPost Latest News,” accessed January 13, 2023, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/ryan-zinke-deep-state-cowboys_n_63bea99be4b0cbfd55ee5f4b.

Huddled Masses

2015-05-14 08.37.31
Legend of the Seas (2015)

As I stood on the forward upper deck of the ship looking toward New York Harbor, I felt a great sense of relief.  The crossing had been incredibly difficult, and both the ship and the crew were significantly worse for the wear…but we were almost there.

The year was 1995 and I was part of the cruise staff on a brand-new cruise ship, the Legend of the Seas.  What should have been a joy ride had mostly been a nightmare to that point.  Technical problems, language barriers for the crew, labor disputes over housing and transportation at the port and to top it off, the ship was not finished.  The areas where I had expected to be happily planning games and activities for guests were little more than empty rooms with no fixtures. Mercifully, there were no paying guests on board.

About 8 days earlier, we had snuck out of our berth at Chantier de L’Atlantique, Saint-Nazaire (the same storied place where the SS France and SS Normandie had been built) in the middle of the night after missing the tide for our big send off in front of the French national press. Our delay was due to having to unload nearly a year of building refuse and debris from the ship as well as needing to bringing on board over 1000 French workmen to continue literally building the ship as we sailed. We were a floating construction site.

In addition to the odd circumstances of our departure and the incomplete condition of the ship, during the crossing, we had been challenged by the always unpredictable North Atlantic in April.  I learned what “batten down the hatches” meant when we encountered a storm in which we were broadsided by a rogue wave that shattered windows as high as deck 5.  Most everyone on board had been ill at some point during the trip (including many of the workmen) and we were short on food.  Getting to New York was a necessity.

But now, all of this was literally in the wake behind us.  Ahead lay New York City.  At least we hoped it was there.  In the early morning fog our first glimpse was limited to the tops of the two towers of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge rising above the haze.

As we got closer, more of the crew came out on deck.  Crew members from as many as 60 different countries around the world wanted to have this first magical glimpse of New York.  For many of us, it would be a first and only time to have this sense of traveling so far by ship.  As we came closer to the bridge, we could hear the sound of traffic.  It was all a little unnerving. Being on the upper deck, one’s perspective is skewed and it feels as if you are on a direct collision course.

The French workmen had come up on deck as well. Although we had all been friendly through our journey, many of the crew had kept their distance from the largely French-only speaking workmen.  I was lucky to have studied the language in college and I had picked up some of their stories.  These were highly skilled men from families that had been part of creating some of the great vessels of the golden days of trans-Atlantic travel.  They were part of generations of shipbuilders.  At the same time, they had never traveled themselves.  Now on deck, they were awestruck at the sight of the gigantic bridge as we glided silently toward it.

The Verrazano finally emerged from the fog just as we came directly up to the roadway and it was terrifying to see it appear so suddenly and so close.  The massive throng of people now crowding the deck, seemed to gasp as one as we skimmed underneath the roar of traffic.  And then as it receded and as if some great dam burst, we all erupted into great uncontrollable cheers and shouts.  We had made it.  We were (mostly) in one piece.  We would soon be docked.  This little ship, limping across the sea had brought us safely to harbor.

But then in front of us the fog parted, like Moses and the Red Sea, and we saw it.  Still and small from this distance, but clear and beckoning and beautiful.

The Statue of Liberty.

Just as quickly as the crowd had started cheering, we all fell silent.  We looked at the great distant figure, now ablaze in the rising sun.  We looked at each other.  We saw ourselves.  We thought about our journey. We knew in our hearts that this was something greater than the distant vision before us.  Cruise staff, officer, waiter, cook, workman, French, Filipino, Barbadian, South African…we all wept.  Standing there with tears streaming down my face, I thought about this unlikely bunch of travelers from so many different places like countless travelers before us.  I thought about the Frenchmen who were standing beside me.  Their ancestors had given this statue to the United States but few of them had ever been able to see it as we were seeing it now.  I thought about having had the astounding privilege to grow up in the shadow of this great promise of freedom.  I thought about having never truly seen this promise until now.  In that moment, I lived the power of the promise of America.

I am no rabid flag waving patriot, But I believe in this promise.  My experience as the child of a Jamaican immigrant and the descendant of slaves from the Carolinas; my time spent out of this country and my time coming home; my efforts to shed light in a hurting world and my openness to receive enlightenment…so much of me has been nurtured in the fertile soil of the deeply flawed and imperfect yet totally unconditional promise that all are welcome through this “golden door.”

Only a damned fool would intentionally break this promise or try to steal this dream.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” – Emma Lazarus (emphasis: mine)


photo of statue of liberty
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