Cultural values are on display in every country, and Americans might think we come off well in the cultural lens. But viewed from most other countries, our rate of gun mayhem, killings and suicides is glaring. The Times of India commented on the latest American gun massacre during a recent visit by my wife and I to that country.
And now the rest of the world is watching our president return us to the ugly age of Jim Crow bigotry, with his comment about “shithole” countries, which are Latino and black.
Part of what President Donald Trump had to say — about his ambition to bring Norwegians here — was laughable. Why would Norwegians want to emigrate? They have a better health care system, a stable economy and they lack a gun culture.
The president’s remarks are especially poignant during this week, as we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There are many ways of describing Dr. King’s accomplishment. One is that he liberated Southerners from the debilitating and corroding burden of institutionalized racism. There is a Biblical aspect to that liberation. Also there is a psychological side. Living without hate is healthier than carrying it around with you.
The important historical comparison is between Trump and President Lyndon Johnson. The most interesting historical characters are those who move beyond the bounds of the culture that spawned them. When Johnson in December 1963 told a Joint Session of Congress that he wanted a Civil Rights Bill, he rose above being a member of the Southern Bloc of Congress, in which he had toed the line on civil rights. He closed that speech with a line borrowed from the civil rights movement. “We shall overcome,” he said.
Johnson found the vision and courage to move beyond the world of Jim Crow politics in which he had risen. Johnson said that any time a Southern politician was threatened, he would utter the refrain: “Nigrah, nigrah, nigrah.”
As the Oregon State University political scientist Bill Lunch learned through research some 30 years ago, there is among a branch of Republicans a desire to turn the clock back on the Civil Rights Act, not just about blacks but also about women, who gained new opportunities under Title 9 of that statute.
The truth is that American blacks will not return to servility, nor will women become passive, nor will gays return to the closet. Those trains have been out of the station and down the tracks for a long time.
There is a reason why the memory of Dr. King matters and why Lyndon Johnson mattered. They rose above the world into which they were born. Trump remains a prisoner of his childhood.
Trump only knows how to feed our nation’s corrosive, worst, base instincts. The man may be our president, but he has ignored the words of his own inaugural address, in which he promised to be a president for all Americans. History will not judge him kindly for that.
During our November travels in India, we observed an aspect of rural culture — outdoor defecation. While driving in the darkness of early morning, we observed women standing by the side of the road, looking away from the headlights. They carried pots.
When we asked our daughter’s mother-in-law, Zarine Rana, she explained this cultural value among many Indians. The women were going to the fields to relieve themselves. And she directed us to a Bollywood movie, “Toilet: A Love Story” — a dramatic tale about a bride who demands that her husband provide an indoor toilet in their multi-generational family home.
What ensues is nothing less than a community movement among the rural village’s women. The outcome is an indoor toilet.
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made eradication of outdoor defecation a national campaign. The U.S. Agency for International Development is assisting.
Steve Forrester, the former editor and publisher of The Daily Astorian, is the president and CEO of EO Media Group.