By Bill Mefford
Interpreting history is shaped in large part by our current context. We look back on the actions and events of the past out of our current context so much so that we easily forget what the reality was during that time; what was really happening.
I see this happening even more so now as we constantly hear about donald trump's actions and behavior being described as "unprecedented." trump has done and said things that have never been done or said by any prior president in history and it is both deeply troubling and embarrassing at times.
But I am concerned that because trump's presidency is so immeasurably corrupt, so incredibly incompetent, and that because he is such a soulless and heartless person that we are distorting history. Simply put, we cannot allow trump's utter lack of leadership to blind our memories of the tragic mistakes of past presidents. When we do that, we don't just forget past character flaws, we forget past sins for which we as a nation must strive not to commit again. Forgetting or intentionally distorting our collective memory can easily result in repeating those past mistakes and that means more people are hurt.
So, though trump shows absolutely no understanding of foreign policy and seems far more interested in forming relationships with dictators like Duterte of the Philippines and Putin of Russia than with leaders of democracies, we should not forget that President George W. Bush led the country into two ill-conceived wars: one illegal and the other one we still have not retracted ourselves from after 17 years and we likely won't any time soon.
Yes, trump is void of empathy for others and even less so if that person is a person of color, but lest we forget, it was under President George W. Bush's administration that we committed state-sponsored torture and his wars led to the murder of hundreds of thousands of people - mostly Iraqi's and Afghans, with thousands more left lame and scarred.
Yes, trump seems quite comfortable with suppressing free speech and freedom of the press as he openly questions the right of the media to "write whatever they like." He has even gone so far as to threaten to take away FCC license for news groups he disagrees with. But, lest we forget, it was under George W. Bush that the PATRIOT Act was passed, which allowed for indefinite detention of immigrants and which dramatically expanded the rights of law enforcement to search peoples' homes, their correspondence, financial records, medical records, and even the library books they checked out, all without a court order. This was a total trampling of the Constitution and it was done with full, bipartisan support of an enthusiastic Congress.
Yes, trump has taken the leash off a rabid Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) workforce which - of course, unprecedentedly - the ICE union endorsed trump for president so that they could more freely terrorize immigrant communities. But, lest we forget, it was under President Obama that we saw deportations dramatically increase and used in such a reckless way. It was under President Obama where deportations reached into the millions, representing "unprecedented" destruction to local communities and heartache to immigrant families. Further, it was under President Reagan who helped to perpetuate violence in places like El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and other Central American nations that people were forced to flee for their lives while he then refused to recognize them as refugees, which is who they are.
Yes, trump uses more than dog whistles to signal his racism; he uses foghorns. The guy is easily the most racist person to ever sit in the Oval Office - and that is saying something. But, lest we forget, at least in recent memory, it was George H. W. Bush who, in 1988, used the visual of black men in prison clothes, walking through a turnstile to signify the supposed ease with which incarcerated people (meaning, Black men) could check in and out of prison as they liked. This scared the crap out of white America and that was the point. They voted for him over Michael Dukakis. Bush turned a 15 point deficit into a big win, largely through promising to be tougher on crime. Further, we should not forget that it was under President Clinton that some of the most draconian criminal justice legislation was passed into law, which greatly exacerbated mass incarceration for people of color, especially African American men.
And yes, trump has reignited the law and order messaging which is again code for white control, even though violent crime rates are the lowest they have been in decades and even though this low rate of violent crime comes in the midst of numerous states passing laws that are evidenced-based and which attempt to bring some sanity to a prison population that is out of control. But, lest we forget, it was under President Clinton that some of the most draconian criminal justice legislation was passed into law, which greatly exacerbated mass incarceration for people of color, especially African American men. Further it was under Clinton that the use of the death penalty was greatly expanded at the federal level and he made such a point of supporting the death penalty that during his campaign for the presidency he rushed back to Arkansas to ensure an African American man with an IQ well under 80 was executed. President Obama also continues to support the death penalty as well.
Yes, trump has articulated some of the most misogynistic statements I have ever heard in my life and is the epitome of a sexual predator. But, lest we forget, President Clinton not only regularly cheated on his wife, he also was a sexual predator, manipulating Monica Lewinsky and virtually ruining her life. Both men are truly sickening.
Now, I don't bring up all of these flaws so we can simply have more people to throw more stones at. And I also do not mean to compare trump to other presidents. He simply is not comparable to anyone in his ineptitude and complete inability to to care for others. But we must remember that past presidents made significant mistakes and initiated devastating policies that harmed so many thousands of people. We must recall because we cannot fall victim to the belief that all injustice will be taken care of if we just get trump out of office. Yes, I long for that day, and hopefully it will come soon. But more than anything, we need to build a justice-centered movement that will not relax once this tyrant-wanna-be is done. We must not relax until justice flows down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.