Bluster and a Path Forward

4 May 2017

blog

Dear Friends and colleagues:

OMG, when he juts his chin out he even looks like Mussolini… The brouhaha around the new President’s first 100 day is as fake as his patriotism, as evidenced by this birthday card to Melania Trump, complete with a U.S. flag with all of thirty-nine stars.

Sometimes a prop is just a prop. And we should take it as such.

It has been a tumultuous year so far. Maybe we can take a breath and consider what the first milestone of a new White House administration means for our friends, family and communities. And for communities around the planet. In those 100 days we got a new Supreme Court Justice, legislation that gives states the right to defund women’s health services at Planned Parenthood; launched 59 missiles on Syria in retaliation for a chemical attack on Syrian citizens by President al-Assad, and dropped the “Mother of All Bombs” on Isis fighters in Afghanistan. Secretary of Agriculture nominee ethically challenged Sonny Perdue was finally confirmed, a mixed blessing at best, but the top tier of other appointments reads like a litany of generals, fat cats, bankers, and nepotism. I wake up every morning grateful that at least we haven’t bombed Korea….then I remember the new normal and check the news to be sure.

I am not the first to make a comparison to Tsarist Russia and the Romanovs, including personal Trump wealth enhanced and intermixed with the national treasury and gilded palaces (Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago), with Trump children clueless about the lives of regular folks (Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump) in charge of domestic and foreign policy, and Steve Bannon in the role of Rasputin. And speaking of Russia, as with Watergate, it is the “cover-up” that will prove the undoing of the administration—unless.

Unless we collectively come to believe and allow “alternate facts” and bellicose mendacity to become mainstream in the 21st century United States of America, and I fear that is a very real possibility. I am old enough to remember when President Ford pardoned Richard M. Nixon saying that the country needed to start healing. Well, I for one think we need to bring accountability back into fashion before we move on, and document the crimes in a country seemingly willing to accept “alternate facts,” “too big to fail,” and to accept this new version of the “strong man” era that led to the death of millions of people in WWII. In that context, our president’s infatuation with the “strong men” at the helm in Turkey, Russia, the Philippines, China and elsewhere is chilling.

Because here there are millions of American citizens who still approve of this new American jingoism. It is important to remember that, seemingly no matter what the Leader says or does, more than 60 million citizens (roughly the number of votes Trump received in the 2016 presidential election) will follow. Remember, Trump was the candidate who famously said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” To be sure, a robust right wing media machine will slam again and again the meme that Trump’s achievements are “good” for us, and “good for America,” echoing the themes of Animal Farm and 1984. It is we the people who must insist on championing truth, each and every day, and not allow a new generation of people to believe in the new normal.

Reality check—there were 231,500,000 plus citizens eligible to vote, and more than 92 million who did not vote in the 2016 elections.

I interpret these figures to mean that more people must participate in the democratic voting process if we are to continue to live in a democratic republic, and that means we have to fight a mindset that allows and even encourages voter suppression tactics and legislation under the guise of cracking down on “voter fraud.”

I know, I know. Many if not most of you read this column for news and views on food, food policy and justice issues. But this is a wake-up call, in case you still need it. While we waited for a new Agriculture Secretary to be confirmed, Congress began hearings on a new Farm Bill for 2018, and the Trump administration quietly began to change regulations and policies throughout the many agencies and departments in our federal system to undo decades of policies for people. So, yes, we have to stay on top of the policy issues on which we all work and which affect our constituencies and communities. And we can’t get too distracted by the latest outrage in the White House or on Twitter. But we also have to focus on those points at the national level –such as the attack on women’s health and Planned Parenthood and the EPA— where we can also be effective, along with hundreds of thousands of our countrymen and countrywomen who continue to turn out in marches in support of our values and in protest of the new administration, as we continue vigilance on the policy and agency regulatory fronts.

In preparing for a university workshop near Palo Alto I reviewed the “Path to Prosperity” that Paul Ryan developed when he was Chair of the House Budget Committee, before he became Speaker. Now that his party controls both houses of Congress and the White House, his fiscal philosophy is haunting for those of us who believe we are responsible for the people in our communities and that the families in our country deserve food, healthcare, and a safe environment and that children are entitled to a decent chance to grow up healthy and sane.

In the continuing narrative about what has been accomplished by presidential executive orders while Congress continues its dysfunction, the truth is that a pervasive philosophy of venality and fear is spreading and taking root in federal agencies across the country, thanks to those executive orders and leadership from the likes of Secretaries Jefferson Beauregard sessions, John F. Kelly, Betsy De Vos, and others. After eight years of at least beginning to ask the hard questions of law enforcement and begin honest discussions of race, privilege and classism, enforcement agencies are now encouraged to revert to the worst practices of racism and classism of previous generations.

On the environmental front, defunding the EPA and the ridiculous mandate to “eliminate two regulations for every new regulation” ignores the fact that regulations were put in place to protect human health and the environment, and not as some would have us believe, to thwart American business.

Let’s face it, it’s about accountability. We are now seeing the sad results of a ruling class (see Peter O’Toole in The Ruling Class) and the eventual “dumbing down” of leadership and a lowering of the bar for a new generation of Trump bureaucrats. And while our leaders haven’t yet attained the status of O’Toole in the movie (although the jury is still out where the president is concerned), we have seen the whining of supposedly brilliant business leaders only lend credence to the challenge that we need smarter people in those positions—in business and in the President’s cadre of cabinet positions.

If you can’t make a decent profit without despoiling the environment then get out of the way and let someone better equipped to do the job. If you can’t make a profit without stealing and rigging the system, then it is up to we the people to hold you accountable. If the ruling class will not hold themselves accountable, then we the people must hold them accountable.

When I finished the workshop I left the university students with three things that each of us can do on a personal level to make the change we need to see in the face of the current Americanism celebrated by President Trump.

Grow something. It is not too hokey to recommit to being a part of the circle of life. There is something visceral about working in the soil, and seeing something grow and being part of the cycle. It can still be a shock for children (and others) to learn that food does not come from a super market. It can make food policy real for everyone.

Knock on your neighbor’s door. As the middle class moves towards extinction, you will be surprised to learn just who is one paycheck from homelessness. It is also an excellent way to begin to have the conversations that we have to have to engage more people in the democratic process. Remember those 92 million voters who did not participate in the process in 2016? It is a myth to believe they all live in the Midwest. Ask your neighbors—but don’t ask in a challenging manner. Engage in respectful conversation.

Which brings me to the third thing each of us can do to change the world.

Break bread with people. Consciously set out to invite people to a meal—your family, your neighbors, members of your community. It is something so simple, and something that used to be an integral part of life in these United States. You might be surprised how this custom has changed over the past few decades. When I asked students how many of them were raised eating dinner with their families, less than 40% raised their hands.

So, it really does come back down to food.

But lest we get too lost in the policy-ground-level-weeds, let us keep it real. Let us not allow the roar of the bellicose make us shy away from the work we must do in 2017. Let’s start and keep the conversations going with our family, our friends, our community, but especially with those who are not of like mind. Remember, they are here with us, in our community.

Maybe the best thing we can do is to listen to those—family, co-workers, whomever—who seem to be embracing the new normal. If we can learn how and why people support American jingoism, we will be better prepared to engage the 46% of the country who sat out the last election. They are the allies we need to support our values, and the programs for which we work so hard.

We have a lot of work to do, and it will not be achieved by answering political fund appeal emails alone.

But you can help us to keep the conversation going by contributing to CFJC.

Please continue to work with us, but more importantly, please keep the faith. To participate in democracy is a wonderful thing of which to be part. Truly, now more than ever.

Best.

armando-sig

 

 

 

Y. Armando Nieto
Executive Director

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