I’ll never understand why school has to start in the middle of August, but I’m glad the halls of learning are open for another year. We need the schools more than ever these days, first of all because there is so much to know. The other night I saw on public television that what we used to call the planet Pluto is not really a planet. Not only that, but there are some 2,000 objects orbiting our sun out there by Pluto, four or five of them big enough to have names. Yep, there’s just a lot more to learn than when I was in school; so go at it, kids, hot August and all.
There is also need for renewed understanding about what has always been taught. On Aug. 15, we passed the 400th anniversary of the beginning of slavery in America. I was taught in high school that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery but about states’ rights, because the U.S. Constitution gave states the option to approve the buying and selling of millions of people and treating them like property. I hope now the evils of slavery are made clear, and the troubles those evils still cause are thoroughly discussed.
And then there’s this: Every day we have presidential orders that wreak havoc upon defenseless people, threaten the economic well-being of us all and degrade the environment to the extent that even the bald eagle, a national symbol, could become extinct. And we have this emerging certainty that our president, who for decades has systematically discriminated against people of color as employees and clients of his businesses, is running for reelection by appealing to ever-present attitudes of white supremacy among us.
We are seeing the basic values of a just society flipped upside down. Lying, double dealing and purposely stirring up conflict have become political virtues. When vices become virtues, we can expect trouble. When the leader of the land berates people of color as part of a political strategy and his audience stands up and cheers, the trouble becomes clear.
For a long time it was possible to think of our president as a bumbling oaf who just doesn’t grasp reality very well. It was possible to laugh at his outrageous lies just because they are so outrageous. But it’s much more dangerous than that. He has gotten rid of everyone who might bring well-grounded truths to him. He has captured a political party that wholeheartedly supports or quietly acquiesces to his misguided whims. The Federal Department of Justice seems ready to do his bidding. So far, he’s gotten away with just about everything, including conflict of interest, obstruction of justice and much else.
I hope the kids in school are learning it doesn’t have to be this way. I was taught that our presidents are not kings, rather they are but one part of the government. They can’t run roughshod over congress, they can’t act entirely on their own, and if they break the law or fail to uphold their oath of office, they can be charged, tried and removed. My teachers got it right on that score, bless them.
Furthermore, I was taught that the people have the right to assemble and protest and seek “redress of grievances.” I think that’s how it was put. And the press has the freedom to find out what is happening and report it. I hope this is something kids still learn in school. And I hope they learn about the need for fair elections and the high privilege of voting. May they learn these lessons well.
Bob Jones is the former minister of the Guerneville and Monte Rio Community Church.