Hypocrite-in-Chief: And Another One

It’s time to Break It Down!

With apologies to Donald McKinley Glover, Jr., AKA, Childish Gambino, AKA, mcDJ, “This Is America” (https://youtu.be/VYOjWnS4cMY)! As we Americans find ourselves nearing a year and a half into the zone we casually, or at least generally, refer to as the Trump Presidency, so, so many precedents and unconventional occurrences have become the rule rather than the exception. Daily.

It this era of transconfiguration, more aptly devolution, America is a place in which our titular leader eschews norms with fierce intentionality. We have become a nation-state in which defaming long-time allies, and coddling historical adversaries is de rigueur, if not flat out expected. To be blunt, we live in a world, more precisely, in a country, where no matter how confounding, outrageous, or bizarre the news of the day happens to be, if it pertains to the President, I no longer have the capacity to be surprised.

In recent months, up until yesterday, Trump has granted seven clemencies: five pardons and two sentence commutations. Pardons forgive people who have committed crimes, and restore at least some of their rights. Commutations reduce prisoners’ sentences and most often free them immediately. Here are a few examples:

  • In April, Mr. Trump pardoned Scooter Libby, a former George W. Bush administration official convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in 2003.
  • In May, he posthumously pardoned Jack Johnson, who died in 1946, at least in part at the behest of Sylvester Stallone. Johnson was a Heavyweight Boxing Champion, convicted in 1913 of taking his white girlfriend across state lines.
  • In June, he granted commutation to Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother and great grandmother who was serving a life sentence in prison for nonviolent drug offenses. The sentence was rendered in 1996. Kim Kardashian West’s support buttressed Johnson’s case.
  • Trump also pardoned Dinesh D’Souza last month. Mr. D’Souza pleaded guilty in 2014 to illegally using straw donors to donate to a Republican Senate candidate in New York.
  • Last August Trump gave his first-ever pardon to Joe Arpaio, the bombastic former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. The 85-year-old earned much of his legacy for illegally detaining Latinos, and keeping inmates in brutal jail conditions during his 24-year tenure as sheriff. His tactics led to a 2017 criminal conviction after he violated a court order to stop racially profiling Latinos.

Trump has floated the idea of pardoning Martha Stewart, whom a jury found guilty in 2004 of obstructing justice, and lying to investigators about the reasons she sold shares of stock. She served five months in prison. He also teased the notion of commuting the sentence of former Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, who is serving a 14-year sentence after being convicted of corruption ensuing from a scheme to sell the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama, who had been elected President in 2008. Both those things …could…happen, but they will have to get in the queue.

Yesterday, Trump signed full pardons for Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond, Jr., and his son Steve Hammond. The Hammonds were convicted in 2012 of setting fires that spread on government-managed land near their ranch. Dwight was initially sentenced to three months in prison, while his son Steve was ordered to serve a year and a day. Prosecutors appealed because those sentences fell short of the five-year minimum for arson committed against federal property. First, just ponder that for a moment. An apparently activist judge (which Republican reputedly disdain) decided that the minimum sentence was too harsh for these fine, upstanding citizens…who had merely took over, and set fire to public lands. No biggie, right? Right!!! Spoiler alert: Prosecutors won their appeal and the Hammonds were ordered to serve the entire five years; hence, yesterday’s pardon.

Seriously, to characterize, these pardoning the Hammonds as anything short of Trumpian-level hypocrisy would be an abomination. Never mind the arson though;  the Hammonds’ debacle led to the Ammond Bundy incident, which included armed conflict resulting in the loss of life. Privilege!

This pardon sequence showcases the double standard of justice still prevalent in America. Yes, it’s a race thing. Period, full stop. To call it anything else is to dissemble, deflect, deny…oh, just call it what it is…lie!

Whites cloak themselves in the flag, call themselves survivalists, invoke the anthem, and spread insurrection. They are deemed overzealous patriots whose love of country and hatred of taxes got the best of them and prompted them to misbehave. Where’s my violin?

To be black and challenge authority on almost any level in this country is apt to garner an invitation to go back to Africa, or to incite the N-word, or to risk police brutality…or worse. Kneeling football players are SOB’s who should be fired, while Maxine Waters is low IQ, and of course, President Obama was a Kenyan-Socialist-Muslim, because he had the temerity to win the Presidency. Twice! And don’t even mention real pushback. The mere existence of the Black Panthers prompted local, state and federal authorities to enact new laws, including gun control in California, expressly to curtail their impact, and to make it easier to arrest and prosecute them.

Trump’s pardon of the Hammonds is just the latest episode of rapprochement with his overwhelmingly white and frequently intolerant base. Meanwhile, recollections of the Central Park stand in stark contrast.

A jogger was raped and beaten in Central Park in 1989. Four black and one Latino teenager were charged, convicted and jailed for the crime. However, the evidence was shaky, and confessions were allegedly forced. Trump ran full-page ads in several NYC newspapers calling for the resumption of the Death Penalty. A subsequent confession by a previously convicted murderer and rapist, along with associated DNA evidence and his admission that he acted alone resulted in the five being released, after serving as many as a dozen years in jail. Oh yeah, none of the Central Park 5 was ever found at the scene of the crime.

Not surprisingly, they sued the City. They were awarded a $41 million settlement. Meanwhile, for decades, Trump continued to call for them to receive the Death Penalty, and quite naturally criticized the City for reaching a settlement. Yes, “This Is America,” and he is the…”Hypocrite-In-Chief: And Another One!”

I’m done; holla back!

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Independence Day: Free At Last Redux ’18!

It’s time to Break It Down!

Today’s post is a revised reprint of a blog I originally published July 9, 2008, and then subsequently in the July 4, 2012, and July 5, 2017 Editions of “Break It Down!” Since today is literally the 4th of July, this redux version is timely. I hope you are having a wonderful Independence Day, 2018, and that if you get around to reading it, that you will enjoy this week’s blog.

So as I approached this Fourth of July, as always, I did so with complicated panoply of thoughts, a few of which I will share here. Our great country, and yes, by many measures it is great, strives to be all it can be, at home and abroad. It’s appropriate to note we have been successful on many fronts. On others, we still have work to do. It’s fair to embrace our successes, and necessary to accept our challenges. Doing both is the only way we can reach our true potential.

As African Americans, we often find ourselves pulled in divergent directions over how to address this day; perhaps everyday. A hundred fifteen years ago, W.E.B. Du Bois framed it thusly in “The Souls of Black Folk:”

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.  One ever feels his twoness, –an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

I endorse Dr. Du Bois’ views on the subject.

But lest anyone rush to judge Du Bois, he is not alone; he is not even the first to cast a disparaging eye at the relationship between African Americans and the Fourth of July. On July 5, 1852, fifty-one years earlier, Frederick Douglass gave a speech at Corinth Hall, in Rochester, NY, his home. In a passage of that speech, Douglass said:

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Suffice it to say neither Douglass, nor Du Bois was sold on the notion of the Fourth of July as a pure as the driven snow family friendly holiday. But that is not the sole point of this post.

No, history has given us the gift of some intriguing coincidences, as well as some compelling ironies. In observing both, there are times when, even though I hold him/her in great awe, and with the highest regard, I am convinced God is, if not a confirmed jokester, at the very least, the owner of a genuinely robust sense of humor.

During a number of past holidays, I have addressed ad nauseam, the “principle of incompatibility” that divides holidays from structured endeavors such as reading, studying, and heaven forbid, working. To that end I usually try to ratchet it down a notch or two, or several, during holidays. The fact that today is July 4thAmerica’s official Independence Daymakes that messaging exceedingly apropos.

Looking back at Independence Days past, 1826 probably held one of the more noteworthy coincidences.  July 4th, 1826, marked not only the 50th Anniversary of American Independence, but was also the day two of our nation’s Founding FathersJohn Adams and Thomas Jefferson, died. Yes, they died the same day in the same year. Such an occurrence today would almost certainly serve as a catalyst for rumors of a death pact.

Adams and Jefferson shared more than joint status as two of the fifty-six co-signers of the Declaration of Independence; they also went on to become the 2nd and 3rd Presidents of the United States, respectively. It is reported that Adams’ last words were, “Jefferson still survives.” However, unbeknownst to Adams, Jefferson had died earlier that day.

Adams and Jefferson had quite a concurrent history.  Adams was the first to serve as America’s Vice President, he was the first President to live in the executive mansion (known today as the White House), and he was also the first President to be defeated in a re-election bid…by Jefferson, who had served as his Vice President.

Thomas Jefferson went on to become President after defeating Adams, but not without a bit of what we would think of today, as drama.  Aaron Burr tied Jefferson with 73 electoral votes.  As a result, the election was sent to the House of Representatives to determine the winner. After 36 ballots (that’s right 36), Jefferson prevailed. In later developments, Burr, who served for a time as Jefferson’s Vice President, killed Alexander Hamilton, who was also a Founding Father, in a duel. Not surprisingly, Burr’s career in politics took a precipitous decline afterward, although he was never convicted of a crime for his role in the incident.

Burr’s leaving the office meant Jefferson had to secure another Vice President for his second term as President. After 203 years, P-Funk fans still tip their hat to Jefferson, as he selected George Clinton to hold the second chair. (Funk-a-teers and P-Funk Mythology devotees will know what I mean…see George Clinton, musician, and his anthem Atomic Dog, as a point of reference).  I digress!

The virtually concurrent deaths of Adams and Jefferson marked an intriguing Independence Day coincidence of considerable magnitude. July 4, 2008, Independence Day again collaborated with the death of a prominent political figure, this time in what many consider a compellingly ironic twist. Former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, popularly known as Senator No, a nickname he appeared to relish, died leaving a legacy that will be debated, by supporters and detractors for many years to come.

It is a fact that there are those who consider Helms a patriot. Others have cited his “courage” to stand against the forces of change, on issues ranging from gay rights to trade agreements, to foreign aid. Many of his most notable tirades focused on issues of civil rights and affirmative action, and funding for AIDS research. He was also a leading Senate opponent of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, and he authored and/or approved the infamous, in North Carolina anyway (but highly effective), “white hands” commercial, aired during the first of two Senate campaign battles against former Charlotte Mayor, Harvey Gantt (1990).  For that moment in time at least, Senator No drove the concept of negative campaign advertising to a new and ugly low.

The Honorable Senator No appeared to take great pride in his predictable opposition to progressive ideals, and often needled the media when he felt he had bested their desired interests. He earned the distinction of being North Carolina’s longest serving Senator. That is a noteworthy accomplishment, and cannot be diminished.

However, it must be noted that many of the tributes and editorials that began streaming forth FridayJuly 4, 2008, sanitized the bigotry and raw mean-spiritedness that marked so many of Helms’ political encounters; especially his triumphs. His was a divisive, zero-sum brand of politics that often targeted the historically disenfranchised for more abuse, insult, and exclusion. In that light, it is impossible to deny the essence of irony in the events of Independence Day, 2008. He was a bona fide Tea Party hero, before his time. One can almost envision the spirit of King, after having scaled the mountaintop, uttering that famous three-word phraseFree at Last!

In my solitary reference to him during this post, I cannot wind down this blog without stating the obvious. Helms and some of his tactics were eerily reminiscent of some of those employed by a certain contemporary politician who holds one of the most powerful positions in the world, and whose 5-letter name rhymes with grump. In an effort to embrace the liberating theme of Independence Day, I opted not to promote “name that rhymes with grump” fatigue, by making this post about him. Indeed, it’s “Independence Day: Free at Last Redux!”

I’m done; holla back!

Read my blog anytime by clicking the linkhttp://thesphinxofcharlotte.blogspot.com. A new post is published each Wednesday. For more detailed information on a variety of aspects relating to this post, consult the links below: