U.S. History, the Arc of the Universe and a Trump Presidency

One of my favorite parts of this school year has been teaching social studies to my third grade ESL kids. I have this class first thing every morning. This instructional delivery method of English is what is called sheltered content instruction, meaning that I teach the grade-level content that all third grade students learn, while providing language support and extra vocabulary instruction to make the content comprehensible. (This is a little teacher-y but hang with me for a moment.) I love history, and I’ve never gotten the chance to teach it before. It’s a great way to start the day.

The third grade curriculum focuses most units of study on a historical figure. Students learn about each person in depth while learning about the surrounding historical context. It goes in chronological order, so we’ve done Paul Revere, ancient Greece and the foundations of U.S. democracy, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and next Mary McCleod Bethune. By the end of the year we will also learn about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Caesar Chavez, among others.

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image via Pixabay.com

It’s so interesting to trace the story of our country for children. One thing that I’ve been reminded of this year is how much of the story is about people’s triumph over systems of oppression. My spiel at the beginning of each new unit of study goes something like this, to tie everything we’ve learned together:

“So we started the year talking about Paul Revere. Remember that Paul Revere and the American colonists wanted to be free from England because they wanted a democracy, where people could choose their leaders and everyone would be treated equally. But we’ve learned that America wasn’t free and fair for everyone. Who wasn’t treated equally? (Black people, women, etc.) The next person we’re going to learn about helped to make America a more fair country for everyone, and that person’s name is ________.”

(I’m not injecting my personal opinion here, by the way. This is literally what the standard says to teach: “Students will discuss the lives of Americans who expanded people’s rights and freedoms in a democracy.”)

Children are so clear-eyed about what’s right and what’s wrong. These kids don’t have  much background knowledge about U.S. history, so they’re hearing everything basically for the first time. When I taught them about the institution of slavery in the United States they were a) horrified and b) surprised that it had been allowed to happen. The same for women not being allowed to vote.

History is speaking to me a lot right now as we are going into the Trump presidency. In many ways it feels like we are taking a big step backward. Unprompted by me, my students have made this connection as well. “Mrs. Love, Donald Trump doesn’t think that black people and people who speak Spanish are as good as white people like him. It’s just like it was a long time ago.”

A Trump presidency hurts partly because it disrupts the narrative that so many of us have always believed; that our current president up until now has seemed to believe. “The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” U.S. history seemed, until now, to show this. Gradually, painfully, slowly, our country really has become a more free and fair place for everyone. Not perfect, certainly, but better. Does that “bending toward justice” stop now? And what should our response be? As citizens? As thinking people? For me, as a teacher? A white person?

I think the big, unsettling question right now is about whether DJT is a four-year aberration or a signal of fundamental change in the arc of the universe. I don’t think anyone can know the answer yet.

My News Feed As a Sign of Changing Times

I currently have 1,008 Facebook friends. Approximately 90% of them are Southern Evangelical Christians from my hometown and/or my college. I have always been able to rely on my Facebook friends to provide a slice of conservatives’ opinions about the current news cycle. In the past, I have usually disagreed with most of them most of the time.

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Image credit: pixabay.com

Take the 2008 election, for instance. My Facebook friends were figuratively frothing at the mouth when Obama was elected. I saw lots of posts about “Praying for this country in these dark days” and “Remember, our first allegiance is to God’s kingdom, not rulers on this earth,” and the like. There was some birtherism, too–“Everyone knows Obama isn’t a legitimate president,” “Show me the birth certificate” etc. I’ve written before about how I came to vote for Obama in 2008. As I appeared to be in the vast minority at the time, I was afraid to publicly disagree and start an argument, so I stayed silent.

The passing of healthcare reform in 2010 was more of the same. “Great to know that now our healthcare system will go down the toilet like Canada’s” and “This will ruin my doctor husband’s career” etc. But I was a little bolder this time. I remember I posted this funny graphic and then got some pushback about it. I didn’t want to get into an argument, so I took it down.

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Still funny. (Image credit: Pinterest.com)

So I have normally been able to count on most of my Facebook friends to make political comments that I don’t agree with, sometimes gently and sometimes in a more inflammatory way. Election years have always been particularly bad, and that’s with me deleting the most obnoxious posters, including the mom of a close childhood friend, because I just couldn’t take it anymore.

But I have noticed a change over the last six months that I believe is reflective of how many conservatives’ viewpoints may slowly be shifting, just a bit. First of all, a very small number of my Facebook friends openly support Donald Trump–I’ve seen maybe two pro-Trump posts. This is reflective of the views of prominent Evangelical leaders like Russell Moore, who has been very openly never-Trump. I don’t agree with Moore on many political issues, but I respect his integrity, disavowal of bigotry and nativism, and adherence to biblical values in the face of opposition from many other Evangelical leaders who are falling in line behind Trump. Most of my Facebook friends seem, like Moore, to fall into the “choice between two bad options” camp when it comes to this election: anti-Trump and anti-Hillary. I can respect that.

That brings us to the events of the past week. I have been so, so surprised to see the reactions on Facebook. What I expected was what I have seen every time before: all the reasons why Alton Sterling and Philando Castile deserved it, all the reasons why the killing of the cops in Dallas was much worse than the other shootings of the week, all the reasons why #BlackLivesMatter is wrong and #AllLivesMatter is right. And there has been some of that.

But overwhelmingly, I am finally seeing my conservative, white Facebook friends acknowledge the reality of systemic racism in American society, particularly American policing. They are posting about how #AllLivesMatter is hurtful and hateful to a community in pain. People who I disagree with politically on almost every issue are acknowledging that the shootings of Sterling and Castile were unjust, and that the Black Lives Matter movement is not to blame for the shooting in Dallas, either.

This seems to reflect something real that has happened in America this week. White conservatives are, just maybe, getting it. This is reflected in comments from unexpected sources, such as conservative leader Newt Gingrich, among others, who made this statement:

“It took me a long time, and a number of people talking to me through the years to get a sense of this. If you are a normal, white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America and you instinctively under-estimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk.” (source: Slate.com)

Back on Facebook, I have also noticed many more people refusing to stay silent. Rather than just ignoring an ignorant post on their newsfeed, or quietly deleting someone, many of my white Facebook friends are speaking up and becoming allies to the black community in very powerful ways. This is something I am trying to do, too. I’m ashamed I stayed quiet for so long, and I’m trying to fix that. This week when I have seen ignorance and hate, I have said something. Have I done this perfectly? No. But I am done with being quiet, even if it would be more comfortable to be so. I don’t like debates. I don’t like arguments. I don’t want to be seen as a Facebook troll who is looking for attention. All I know is that this issue is too important for silence. Black Lives Matter.

5 Reasons Why #I’mWithHer

Just in case there was any doubt.

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Source: wikipedia.org
  1. She’s experienced.

Hillary’s been Secretary of State, a U.S. Senator, first lady of the United States and first lady of Arkansas. She knows how governing works. She has the knowledge necessary to be an effective president. As a former secretary of state, I think we could all feel very comfortable about her interactions with other countries.

In the real world outside of politics, we don’t like hiring people who don’t have experience related to the job they are going to be doing for us. I don’t like to hire a babysitter who has never been around toddlers before. We don’t hire contractors who have never renovated a house. So why is the title of political “outsider” (aka no political experience) seen as a positive quality in a person running for the most powerful position in the world?

2. She has real, substantive policy proposals with the knowledge to back them up.

Her policy proposals are detailed and realistic. She has a large amount of knowledge on a wide range of issues. No one running for president on either side during this election has been able to match her in this area. (Check this out and laugh when you compare the two.)

3. She’s a pragmatist.

Hillary isn’t especially inspiring. She’s not sexy. But she is practical. Related to points one and two above, she knows how things work, and she’s focused on solutions. She’s willing to reach across the aisle, compromise, and work with Republicans in order to make things happen. This is one of the things that Hillary gets criticized for the most by Bernie supporters, but it’s one of the things I like most about her.

Bernie’s impracticality is the reason I’ve chosen Hillary. Check out this quote from Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast comparing the two:

“What Sanders does is that he stakes out moral positions that are laudable abstract goals. But I’ve been shocked sometimes by how little thought he seems to have given to how to get to these goals…Now, to Clinton. What she offers are solutions.”

4. She cares about the rights of women and children.

Hillary has been a lifelong supporter of women’s rights. (Perhaps not surprising as she is a woman herself.) In 1995, during a speech at the United Nations Fourth World Congress on Women, she famously said “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” Her main proposals as a presidential candidate related to women’s issues are ensuring equal pay for women and fighting for paid family leave and affordable child care.

One of Hillary’s consistent priorities throughout her career has been early childhood education, particularly for poor children. All the way back as First Lady of Arkansas, she introduced a home visiting Family Literacy program for the parents of young children called Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters. As a senator, she called for increased funding to states to establish free pre-k programs for low-income and limited-English proficient children. One of her highest-profile presidential proposals is to create universal, free pre-k for 4-year olds.

5. She will preserve the legacy of the Obama administration.

I don’t understand at all how people complain about how Obama has been the “worst president in history.”  Really? REALLY?? Let’s look at some facts, shall we? As of January 2016, unemployment in the U.S. is down to 5%, the lowest it’s been in seven years. Obama’s job approval rating is currently at 50%. He has run “an amazingly scandal-free administration” during his time in office. Osama Bin Laden is dead. We are no longer involved in the war in Iraq.

Through the Affordable Care Act, 18 million Americans have health insurance now who didn’t before. This has affected my family personally–when Jonathan was unemployed last year and couldn’t be added to my health insurance, he was able to get affordable health insurance through the ACA. And because I work at a small non-profit now, we purchase our own health insurance and get partially reimbursed for my individual coverage. I’m not sure if we would have been able to afford that without the ACA.

So when Hillary says she is going to defend President Obama’s accomplishments and build upon them, that means something to me. I think we’ve seen a lot of good things happen in the last eight years, and for the country to continue to go in the right direction the new President will need to build on that positive momentum, not tear it down.

Also, one last thing: There is no conceivable reality in which I would vote for Donald Trump for President. 

So there’s that.

What do you think? If you would like to share, who are you voting for, and why?

Story of a Voter: On Being an Evangelical Who Doesn’t Vote Republican

According to the Pew Research Center, I shouldn’t vote the way that I do. Statistics from a large study conducted last year confirm what seems like common knowledge–white, evangelical Protestants like me overwhelmingly vote Republican.

The stats:

  • White Evangelical Protestants (all ages):
    • 68% Republican/22% Democratic
  • White Evangelical Protestant Millenials (under 34):
    • 70% Republican/19% Democratic

As you may have gathered, I don’t vote Republican, and barring some drastic change to the modern Republican party, I don’t see myself doing so for the foreseeable future. This puts me in the significant minority for the combined factors of my race, religion and age. So what? Here’s the thing that makes me a little bit interesting: I am not a registered Democrat. I’m an independent who once voted for the GOP.

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*By the way, it’s not common practice for me to talk about my political views. I have always believed in the old adage that it’s rude to talk about politics in mixed company (including virtually), and I think most of the people who post a lot about politics online are looking for a fight and/or attention. I’ve also worried ever since college that other Christians would think badly of me for my views (see more below). But I’m not 20 years old anymore, and I can’t be scared out of sharing my opinion because someone else may not agree.*

So consider this a coming-out party of sorts. What changed with me? Here’s the story.

I voted for the first time in the 2008 presidential primary in Tennessee, when I was 20 years old and a sophomore in college. This is before I really followed politics closely, but I checked out all of the candidates and chose someone who I thought had integrity and who had similar moral values to mine. I voted for Mike Huckabee.

During this election season, I was in college at a small, conservative, Southern Baptist university. It was a given in this environment that if you were a good person and Christian, you would of course vote Republican, and I think this is partly why I did the first time.

As that year progressed and the nominees for both parties were chosen, I started to really investigate what both candidates believed. I found things that I agreed with on both sides, but I became increasingly troubled by the Republican party’s platform. Did I really agree that taxes should be lowered for millionaires? Did I agree that it should be easier for all Americans to access and own guns? Did I agree that the government had little to no responsibility to provide for the poor? No, no and no.

And I found Barack Obama very inspiring. His positive message of hope and change spoke to me, and I believed that he would really change things for the better. I also wanted a chance to help elect the first black president. Still, John McCain is a fairly moderate Republican, and if Sarah Palin hadn’t been his nominee for VP, I just might have voted for him. But if there’s one thing I absolutely cannot stand, it’s anti-intellectualism, which to me she epitomizes.

So I voted for Obama in the general election. I felt so excited and empowered to vote my conscience, at least until my friend/roommate/sorority sister told me that she was mad at me, and that I should keep this information to myself unless I wanted everyone else to judge me, too. She also mentioned that almost everyone she knew would react badly to a black man being president, so there was no way Obama could win and I had thrown away my vote. True story: I came back to our apartment that day with a water bottle with an “Obama ’08” sticker that had been handed to me at the polls. I put it in our shared fridge. Later I found the Obama sticker ripped off of it and in several pieces in the trash can. Nice, right?

I’ve voted Democratic ever since. I don’t agree with all parts of their platform, but it most closely mirrors my values at this point. Each election year, I truly give all candidates a chance, and I could conceivably vote for a moderate Republican (a rare beast these days). But the post-Obama Republican party has so far had nothing to offer me. I find the elitist, xenophobic, racist, obstructionist strains of the GOP that have emerged over the past eight years morally repugnant, and totally incompatible with my faith in Jesus and my understanding of his teachings.

As a moderate, young, white, educated, evangelical Protestant in a battleground state, I see myself as something of a test case for what is wrong with the modern Republican party, and why their electorate is shrinking every year. Republicans want people like me to vote for them. Unless the party undergoes a dramatic change, that will continue to happen less and less.