The End of Racism... and Politics

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Political parties can be a problem.

For example, one party has portrayed itself as defenders of racism and discrimination. They have taken the position that it is OK to treat certain members of society differently, as lesser humans. To them, it has been acceptable to take away the constitutional rights of these outcasts.

The other political party has adopted a more enlightened view. They have supported freedom and civil rights for everyone. They have argued that we should all be treated the same by the government, not allowing some to be categorized as inferior to the majority, with less freedom and fewer rights. That party is the Republican Party.

This was the view 150 years ago. Where is it now?

You see, that is how the Republicans began: as the liberal do-gooders who wanted to abolish slavery. The evil Democrats were vehemently opposed to this radical poppycock. They wanted to maintain the long established tradition of treating some humans as mere chattel, to be bought and sold on the open market, like so many cattle.

Sunday marked 150 years since the ratification of the 13th Amendment, the one that abolished slavery. It was a milestone, in the same league as the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights. With its ratification, America began its journey to the top of the pile of Enlightened Nations of the World.

We proved that we could evolve and constantly improve, and that our experimental system of government was really working. We had created a system to ensure a living Constitution, one that could be amended over time to reflect our growing sophistication and enlightenment. As times (and our way of thinking) changed, we were able to keep our most important law, the Constitution, up to date.

Today, that system of Constitutional Democracy is being threatened by racist rhetoric. Ironically, it is the person identified as the current leader in the race for the Republican Presidential nomination that is promoting racism. His comments make a mockery of our Constitution. He openly proclaims passing laws that violate the heart and soul of the most important amendment, at least in my book: the First.

Why is the First Amendment the most important? I see it not only in terms of freedom to practice your religion (the reason my ancestors came here in 1638) and freedom of the Press, but also in terms of the freedom to speak, in my case on behalf of my clients in court.

You see, the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments are great when it comes to protecting my clients from Government oppression. But when all else fails, I got the First on my side.

There's a reason it is first, after all.

I have actually argued this in court, when judges are telling me shut up and sit down and stop telling everyone my client is presumed innocent. The First Amendment gives me the constitutional right to keep on talking. Well, at least to try.

But to my ancestors and many today, the most important aspect to the First Amendment is Freedom of Religion: the right to believe in whatever we choose to believe in, free from the imposition of a State Religion.

ISIS clearly does not believe in this concept. They want to impose their religious beliefs on everyone, forcing non-believers to accept that or die. It is clearly the opposite of everything we stand for.

So why are so many people standing up and cheering for the identical rhetoric being spewed by people on our side, the one that is supposed to be the Good Guys? Why are people so willing to turn their backs on our wonderful Democracy and Way of Life, to embrace the same fascist demagoguery that ISIS promotes?

Simple. ISIS is getting their way. They are winning the battle for our hearts and minds.

ISIS has tricked people. Tricked them into acting and believing the same way they do, making them do as they do, advocating religious oppression and opposing Freedom to Worship as we wish. We need to refuse to play along with their demented game.

I grew up in Illinois, where we proudly proclaim "The Land of Lincoln" on our license plates. Growing up, Lincoln was my hero and role model. I lived in a super conservative household (where Reagan was viewed as a commie upstart who belonged in the Democratic party) in a super conservative town (where my former high school classmates are likely to form prayer circles to address the world's problems, freely expressing their religious beliefs on our Facebook page). I like that. It feels like freedom to me. It must be Lincoln's influence.

I'll never forget that first trip my family took to see his tomb in Springfield, the first of many. I imagine he is spinning in that grave as I type this.

Lincoln was a rising star in the Grand Old Party, staking his reputation and future on his strong beliefs in the rights of every man to be free (women would have to come later.) Why was his party so Grand?

Well, at first it wasn't. The Dems had that moniker. But, gradually, the Republicans stole it. They started out small, with Gallant Old Party. Then, over time, the name evolved, and so did the Republicans; they adopted labels like "the grand old party of freedom," and "the grand old party of human rights." At least this is how the Republic magazine referred to them in 1874. The rest is history.

That history is taking a beating right now. It seems that the Grand Old Ideals of the Grand Old Party are being trampled. It's not hard to see why. People are scared. And fed up. And they need someone to blame. It worked for Hitler when he blamed the Jewish people for the Great Depression. People back then, even here in America, argued that the bankers were Jewish, the Great Depression was caused by bankers, so therefore Jews were the problem.

Without honoring that misguided view by analyzing whether or not it was true, even if it were true the reaction was to paint an entire group of people, one defined by their religion, with a giant ill-informed brush. Many Jewish people were poor ghetto dwellers, who had as much to do with banking as your typical Muslim has to do with ISIS.

That is, not at all.

I could go on. But I won't. It is not up to me. It is up to the responsible leadership of the Republican Party, people like Paul Ryan to speak up and set the record straight, which he is doing.

As always I don't want to take a stand for or against one party or the other. If you ask me, they both have their issues. But the issue here is one of universal concern, which has nothing to do with which party you belong to. The Grand Old Party was named because of its grand ideology, an ideology that was revolutionary at the time. And liberal. And inclusive, not exclusive. One that protected the rights of the oppressed.

It would be nice if everyone remembered that and the lesson history teaches us about that grand old name. If they only did maybe poor Abraham Lincoln could stop spinning in his grave.