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We all have a responsibility to stand up for our values.
By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, is a former cultural ambassador for the United States and the author, most recently, of “Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White.”
The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States has given some Americans new hope. Not just alt-right racists who are openly shouting “Hail Trump” while still finding time to rack up increasing numbers of hate crimes, but also celebrity wannabes who realize that America no longer demands any significant standard of qualifications to run except a good PR rep. Celebs reportedly eyeing a presidential run include a babbling Kanye West and the uber-charming Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, People’s Sexiest Man of the Year.
That’s only one of the reasons that the “Give Trump a chance” philosophy is a bad one. We need to start actively re-establishing what our values are before they are slowly eroded, one bad choice at a time. By “actively,” I mean that we need to commit to an aggressive plan of peaceful actions as part of a new civil disobedience. And by “we,” I mean every supporter of the constitutional guarantees of equality, especially people of color, women, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, the LGBT community and anyone else who has been marginalized by this election.
Many leaders are calling for a hide-beneath-the-bed tactic. “I think the president has the right to choose his own people, and we should take a look-and-see approach,” said Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress. Black Entertainment Television founder and Hillary Clinton supporter Bob Johnson advised African Americans to give Trump “the benefit of the doubt.”
In the three weeks since the election, however, we have taken a look, and we have seen that our darkest doubts were justified. He has already proven to be exactly the unqualified, uninformed, ill-tempered, thin-skinned amateur that we all feared. Serious questions have already arisen about his foreign business interests, his settlement of the Trump University lawsuit (despite his proclamation that he never settles), his consideration of a ban on Muslim immigrants, his walking back on campaign promises, his blind trust issues and his involvement of his children in sensitive national interests. Most alarming is his selection of advisers. Far from the best and brightest he promised, some face serious accusations of racism. If we don’t apply the tourniquet now, our country’s constitutional values may bleed out before the next election.
The list of Trump’s travesties since the election is too long to detail here. So I’ll focus on the selection of several of his advisers, including Cabinet members, since that’s the clearest indication of where he intends to steer the ship of state and why we must take action before he runs us aground. Former Pennsylvania representative Bob Walker, Trump’s space policy adviser, has suggested that climate research is “heavily politicized” and therefore that NASA stop conducting “politically correct environmental reporting.” The Trump administration plans to dismantle efforts to combat human-caused climate change despite scientific consensus on the question. Climate change has already had a serious impact, which experts warn will only get worse. Ignoring it might benefit some businesses in the short run, but in the long run will be disastrous for our country.
Trump seems to have a penchant for billionaires as advisers. His choice of billionaire Betsy DeVos as education secretary heralds a future weakening of equal opportunity education for all. Like Trump, she inherited wealth — which does not disqualify her opinions, but it does suggest a lack of experience in understanding how most people affected by the policies she sets live. Her main cause is promoting vouchers that give people tax money to pay private school tuition, which she has been championing nationwide for years. Vouchers, which the National Education Association opposes, take money away from public education to promote religious schools, which make up nearly 80 percent of private schools. That’s a clear violation of the Constitution’s separation of church and state. But much worse, vouchers lessen the quality of education for the poor, by sending more students to private schools that choose their own curriculum with little oversight. The ideal outcome for some conservatives is to teach children their skewed vision of history, one that celebrates white male achievement as we’ve already seen in the inaccurate textbooks championed by Texas.
Trump is expected to choose billionaire investor Wilbur “the king of bankruptcy” Ross as his commerce secretary. He also announced a team of 13 mostly millionaires and billionaires to form the core of his economic advisers. What’s startling — and telling — to outside experts is that the advisers are all men, there is only one academic economist, and that these people represent the very Wall Street insiders that Trump railed against during his campaign. One has the unnerving image of men in immaculately tailored suits sipping martinis from a penthouse suite while watching the workaday people far below scurrying to their jobs like ants.
Finally, the most toxic and symptomatic advisers, Stephen K. Bannon and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Sessions is Trump’s pick for U.S. attorney general, even though his nomination to the federal bench was torpedoed 30 years ago over accusations of racism. He’s also been accused of retaliating against two black officials whom he believed interfered with that nomination. Those two men accused him of referring to one of them as the n-word, while Sessions’s black deputy in the U.S. attorney’s office said Sessions called him “boy,” and warned him to be careful how he spoke to white people. He was also accused during those 1986 Senate hearings of calling the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People “un-American.”
Racism gets the companionship of misogyny, homophobia and xenophobia with the selection of Bannon as Trump’s chief political strategist in the White House. This is the man whom fellow conservative Glenn Beck referred to as a “nightmare” and who has been compared to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist. Bannon’s “news” site, Breitbart.com, runs slanted reporting and provocative headlines that keep the dream of white male supremacy alive. A recent headline proclaimed, “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” and another, “There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews.” Bannon’s site’s campaign against trans people includes headlines like “World Health Organization Report: Trannies 49 Xs Higher HIV Rate” and “Big Trans Hate Machine Targets Pitching Great Curt Schilling.”
These people and their contra-constitutional views are a clear and present danger to America, and it is our responsibility to keep our country’s most sacred values intact. Placing them in positions of responsibility and power sends a message that the assault on “political correctness” is code for an assault on nonwhite, non-straight, non-male, non-Christians. It emboldens hate groups toward violence and justifies further marginalization of these people.
“Waiting and seeing” risks all that defines the United States as a land of freedom. In his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. argued that it was a “tragic misconception of time” to believe that waiting to see will provide favorable results. “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability,” he said. It comes through “the tireless efforts” of people seeking social justice. “Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”
We need a new civil disobedience in the American tradition of Thomas Paine, Henry David Thoreau and King. Our efforts must be organized, focused and coordinated with each other. Any action should be undertaken only when a clearly stated goal is publicly announced. For example, a reasonable first goal would be blocking Bannon from his White House job due to Breitbart’s racism and misogyny. Or an announcement by Trump that there will be no Muslim ban, after all. Or that NASA will continue to be funded to do climate research.
One essential tool should always be legal challenges. Donate money to the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and other organizations that are willing to fight corrupt laws in court, especially voter ID laws that have been imposed by Republicans to suppress voting by minority and poor constituents. The second step is to target the legislators who support any of Trump’s anti-Constitution policies by supporting their opponents in the 2018 elections. Eight Republican Senate seats will be open for Democrats or anti-Trump Republicans to take. All 435 House of Representative seats will be in play.
At the same time, we should begin laser-aimed boycotts. These should be undertaken only when there is reasonable hope of affecting those being boycotted. There are other groups calling for boycotts, even with a dedicated app, but they list way too many targets, from Amazon (whose CEO, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Washington Post) to Bloomingdale’s. While their hearts are in the right place, having too many targets dilutes the effectiveness. Instead, we should focus on specific businesses — including everything with the name Trump on it, because the name Trump is now synonymous with racism, lying to the public, misogyny and xenophobia. And we need to boycott Bannon’s Breitbart. Boycott all the site’s advertisers — TrackR, Sixpack Shortcuts, Bombas Socks, etc. — until Bannon is removed as Trump’s adviser. Kellogg Co., Allstate and eyewear company Warby Parker have recently pulled their ads from Breitbart because of the site’s “values.” Target casino owner Sheldon Adelson, a major donator to Trump’s campaign and member of his inaugural committee; because of his enormous donations to Trump and other Republican candidates, he has more direct influence than other contributors. The Venetian resort complex in Las Vegas — which includes the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, the Sands Expo Convention Center and the Palazzo Hotel and Casino Resort — is owned by Adelson. The resort complex is the best target, rather than Adelson’s other businesses, because it provides a large income and visitors to Las Vegas have many other choices where they can spend their money. People should refuse to stay there until a more suitable person than Sessions is proposed for attorney general.
That’s a start, but it’s not all we can do. We have to be prepared to go even further if necessary. During the early days of the civil rights movement, college students pushed for change by becoming Freedom Riders to ensure bus desegregation and register black voters. They were also a major force to end the Vietnam War. Now we need students to spearhead peaceful protests in Washington, D.C., and of local governments who follow the anti-American policies of a Trump administration. We also have to lend our financial, moral and physical support to Black Lives Matter as it continues to raise awareness of social inequities. Protests call attention to a problem and help educate those who may not be aware that there is a problem. This country has a long and effective history of boycotts, walkouts, marches and protests that have given power to those usually powerless.
Every time I hear someone say, “Let’s wait and see,” I bristle, because I’m reminded again of King’s writing from Birmingham. “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’”
Yes, that was then — but now seems a lot like then. And we cannot let justice be denied by waiting. History has shown us over and over what horrors that leads to. We cannot, and will not, let that happen here.