Cleaning House

SOMETIME in the early 1990s I wrote the outline for a musical. I was still entertaining the idea of being the next Cole Porter/Stephen Sondheim and made it a regular habit to fully think through the concept, major plot points and even sketch out some of the numbers for the next great American musical.  One of those ideas was about a cleaning woman in an office.  As someone who spent much of his early professional life as an Executive Secretary (we weren’t yet called Administrative Assistants), I spent a lot of time after hours with the cleaning crews that came in at the end of the day.  In New York in the late 80s early 90s most of them were from Mexico and Central and South America with the odd Eastern European here and there; many of the maintenance folks were black men…the same age and generation as my parents.  None of these people were stupid or incompetent regardless of their language skills.  They were all working hard to support families and often putting children through expensive schools.  They were understandably proud of what they did.

My idea was a story about a woman who cleaned the office of a rising junior executive.  Unbeknownst to her, it was the office of her own son.  He Americanized his name and fabricated a story about his parents being dead…so his boss and the office didn’t know about his mother…let alone that she was a cleaning woman…let alone his cleaning woman. Basically, both the mother and the son were keeping each other secret from one another.

Mayhem ensues…

I think this story is not unusual in some ways.  Many hard-working parents do things that some kids with certain kinds of aspirations might not be super proud of…although they should be.  These parents clean, they janitor, they cook, they wait tables, they work retail, they work on assembly lines.  And they do it out of love and the belief that if they provide something for their children that can give them a solid education and a belief in their own ability to achieve something, they will have more choices than their parents.  This is one telling, out of many, of the American dream.  We like this story.  Sacrifice, success, dignity, pride, paycheck to paycheck, tough choices…its all there.

It is a shame that with so many working Americans having these stories, more of them aren’t told honestly.  The halls of government are increasingly for the wealthy.  This is actually not new, but it is on a different scale.  The level and extremity of wealth is something that is remarkable[1] and should be alarming to anyone who believes that they are being represented by “regular folks” in the government. Actually being a bartender[2] or an immigrant[3]…or the child of a cleaning woman should be a perspective that is regarded as being as valuable to making public policy as any degree from a higher learning institution, real or imagined.  This is not to say that millionaires like Kevin McCarthy[4], Matt Gaetz[5] and Marjorie Taylor Greene[6] don’t understand work, but work feels different when missing rent is a recent memory, or even current situation.

The point is, Congress is getting exactly what it deserves right now.  The priority is wealth: personal wealth, fundraising wealth, protecting the wealth of the wealthy in policy.  This is not government; this is a private club.  No one should be surprised that lies (including abominable lies[7]) are the price of admission.  There are book deals and media buzz and a sweet pension on the other side of the threshold.  Constituents?  Personal narrative? Integrity? Not so much.

We need more cleaning women making public policy.  At the very least, we’d know their real names.



[1] A 501tax-exempt, charitable organization 1300 L. St NW, and Suite 200 Washington, “Majority of Lawmakers in 116th Congress Are Millionaires,” OpenSecrets News, April 23, 2020,

[2] Lisa Miller, “The Unprecedented AOC,” Intelligencer, February 11, 2022,

[3] “Ilhan Omar Is Unlike Anyone Who Has Served in Congress. This Is Her Complicated American Story.,” Washington Post, accessed January 30, 2023,

[4] Federick Brown, “Kevin McCarthy Net Worth 2023: Salary Wife Cars House Income,” January 5, 2023,

[5] “Matt Gaetz Net Worth: Lawmaker’s Parents Among America’s Ultra Rich 1%,” accessed January 30, 2023,

[6] Steve Bennett, “Marjorie Taylor Greene Net Worth 2023: Salary Assets (MTG),” December 20, 2022,

[7] “George Santos, Who Lied About Being Jewish, Gives Speech About Antisemitism on House Floor,” Jezebel, January 27, 2023,

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,

[2] Ayana Archie, “Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders Is Banning ‘Latinx’ from State Documents,” NPR, January 13, 2023, sec. Politics,

[3] “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Administration Targets Holiday Drag Shows,” December 29, 2022,

[4] Giulia Heyward, “Busloads of Migrants Dropped off near Kamala Harris’s Home on Christmas Eve,” NPR, December 25, 2022, sec. National,

[5] “Critical Race Theory FAQ,” Legal Defense Fund (blog), accessed January 13, 2023,

[6] Jayne Swift, “Gendered Racial Projects: Anti-Trans, Anti-CRT, and Anti-Abortion Legislation,” Gender Policy Report (blog), July 14, 2022,

[7] “Resolution Regarding the Republican Party Platform | The American Presidency Project,” accessed January 13, 2023,

[8] “2016 Republican Party Platform | The American Presidency Project,” accessed January 13, 2023,

[9] “Matt Gaetz Goes To Bat For Team George Santos And His Game Of Lies | HuffPost Latest News,” accessed January 13, 2023,

[10] “Ryan Zinke Rants That ‘Deep State’ Wants To ‘Wipe Out The American Cowboy’ | HuffPost Latest News,” accessed January 13, 2023,