What Happened?

10
Ruth Gadebusch

By Ruth Gadebusch

Although it has been more than a decade, it seems like such a short time ago that this country had crossed the Rubicon in our race relations. What joy, what hope, what excitement! We had elected our first president of African American heritage. Of course, we knew there would be diehard resistors, but the promise was there for a new era of a united citizenry with our actions more nearly matching our proclamations of equal opportunity and equal treatment for all.

What happened to that hope, that promise? Those “diehards” coalesced into an unremitting opposition. They had one goal: Block anything and everything that the President proposed, intending to make him a one-term President. Never mind that some of those proposals had historically been bottom-line issues for their opposition party.

Parliamentary procedures intended to protect minority interests were turned upside down creating a Senate functioning only negatively to block anything whatsoever coming from the other party.

Along came a man likely to go down in history as our least qualified President: totally inexperienced in government and equally lacking in integrity but obviously talented in the use of the media. He promoted dissent over unity, bringing us to the brink of losing our long-held peaceful transfer of government. Adding insult to injury is the fact that he had become President through a quirk in our Electoral College, never receiving a majority of the votes.

Time after time in his four years in office, he used his bully pulpit to stir disagreement and anger. Instead of accentuating the positive, he enthroned the negative.

Most thinking people would agree that we have much rebuilding to return to that elation of electing our first minority President. Not even the election of our first female Vice President, also of minority heritage, can fill the vast canyon that has developed.

With delayed action allowing a pandemic to explode a whole way of life, we now have unimaginable riches on one end of the economic scale and poverty engrossing a far larger group.

Instead of the traditional welcoming of immigrants by a country formed by immigrants, we have placed unimaginable roadblocks, oftentimes jerking the welcome mat just as their fingers touch it. Thus, we dash their hope of refuge from the horrors of their homeland and deprive our nation of their talents be they the educated or those who harvest our food and perform duties eschewed by many of our citizens. Some are denied for their religion.

On our southern border, we have a situation that few of us could ever have imagined. Families separated. Children by the thousands housed in situations we have long abhorred for our own.

For the rest of us, the vote always considered the instrument to right the wrongs of the world is being attacked in ways we long thought had been erased in this nation. We have severely criticized those who failed their responsibility to vote. Now it is vote-suppressing methods being adopted by many of our legislatures—supposedly to eliminate fraud, fraud that has not been proven.

Without a doubt, Black drivers are targeted for minor or even imaginary offenses. Many are killed by nervous law enforcement. People of all races just at the wrong place at the wrong time are too easily killed by those who never should have been allowed to obtain a gun at all.

For that matter, little of our penal system is hardly the model of justice we proclaim. Bad enough under normal times, the pandemic has added its own burden on those totally unable to protect themselves.

As if all this were not bad enough, we have people of Asian descent being attacked on the street for no reason other than their presence. At least that is not government-sanctioned as was the long denial of citizenship to the Chinese, whose labor played such a major role in the building of railroads that opened the American West. Nor is it government treatment of citizens of Japanese descent as in 1942.

Still, we are left to wonder what has happened to us in that great optimistic joy and hope in the election of Barack Obama to that of Donald Trump and his legacy we are now living.

One could go on and on about our failures, our sad state of affairs, but that does little good. At least we have hope with a person of experience and integrity in office.

The solutions will not be easy or even to everyone’s liking, but one need not be a Pollyanna to believe we can do better. One’s gain cannot be at the expense of another. Whether called bipartisan, compromise or whatever, there are human needs to be met together.

The rich must recognize that their lofty positions cannot be sustained without the acceptance of the basic needs of the less fortunate. After all, there are more of the latter, even in our country.

Regaining the hope that comes when the worth of all is considered must be our goal. It won’t be easy, but if we can’t do it, who can? We must commit to living that great document that we profess to revere. In not living the promise of the turn of the century, we have regressed.

All those condemning the South for its slaveholding that provoked the Civil War and the Jim Crow laws that followed had best stop to consider how our actions are going to play out in history. Such laws were not buried with the election of Barack Obama. The joy and hope of that time is tempered with the events of the past few months.

We have a new opportunity, but it will take far more than just the election of Joe Biden and our first female Vice President.

History is to be learned from. Even looking at just what has happened in our lifetime, we can do better. May we learn the lesson.

Are we prepared to make the effort? We are the good people who must show tolerance and consideration for all who share this nation, this planet, with us.

*****

Community activist Ruth Gadebusch has served as a U.S. naval officer, an elected trustee of the Fresno Unified School District, a Governor-appointed member of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and a member of numerous other community organizations. She is an emeritus member of the board of the Center for Civic Education.