Imagining America Through a Windshield

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If nothing else, the 2016 presidential election exposed the competing narratives simmering below the surface of national discourse. Yet the choice seems clear not only on issues but also in the process. One candidate sees greatness in the distorted reflection of a rear-view mirror, while the other candidate must look through the windshield of the Democratic National Convention platform if we hold her feet to the fire. Voters face a clear choice to return to a past that never existed for most, or a future they must shape by making capital, corporations and political candidates their servants rather than their masters. Hence, the following questions are for voters of all stripes to keep in mind on what does and does not constitute greatness before they pull the lever on November 8:

Does making America great again mean going back to a time when a wealthy landlord used “C” as code for “colored” on a rental application to keep a hard-working Black woman from obtaining a decent apartment;

  • To flaunting labor laws under the weight of a legal system that allowed this same landlord to steal the wages of employees with impunity;
  • To broken immigration laws that allowed this landlord to threaten workers with deportation if they fought for fair treatment;
  • To preying on people desperate to improve their lives by slapping “university” on a high-pressured fraudulent educational enterprise filled with pipe dreams and false promises;
  • To debasing women as spoils for the rich and famous;
  • To forcing women into back alleys and using wire hangers to terminate unwanted pregnancies;
  • To denying climate change in public while erecting golf courses in private that acknowledge the ravages of changing weather patterns;
  • To using tax loopholes as corporate welfare for irresponsible business decisions to maintain a lavish lifestyle at the expense of America’s infrastructure, public education and social safety net;
  • To denigrating Blacks and tribal casinos when the wealth of this nation was built on the theft of labor from Africans stolen from their lands on land stolen from indigenous peoples; and
  • To establishing a religious litmus test for Muslims seeking to enter and remain in America when one-third of the African slaves were Muslim and the Islamic State of Morocco was the first foreign nation to recognize fledgling America’s independence from the British?

Or, does making America great mean recognizing it was a dream deferred for far too many;

  • That questions the lethal triad of originalism, exceptionalism and manifest destiny responsible for countless lives lost at home and abroad;
  • That sees the differentials of race, creed and gender as sources of strength, innovation and social solidarity;
  • That builds consensus by privileging science and fact over opinion and hearsay;
  • That reinforces the firewall between personal belief and coercion as well as evidence-backed policy-making from faith?

At base, we as a nation are truly at a crossroads facing two directions. Do we go backward by relying on accidents of birth for greatness? Or do we go forward by creating a messianic opening without the need of a demagogue; a level arena that bars entry to cults of personality where people of radically different perspectives can forge a better world?

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  • About the autor
    Kevin James

    The author is a former firefighter and supervising fire marshal with the New York City Fire Department who responded to Ground Zero on 9/11. He was one of several Muslim Americans profiled in the PBS documentary "Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet". He was accepted into the Revson Fellows at Columbia University and graduated from Columbia Law School as a Stone Scholar. He interned with the Center for Constitutional Rights as an Ella Baker Fellow in 2005 where he assisted in fighting racial discrimination in the FDNY on behalf of the Vulcan Society as well as finding legal counsel for Guantanamo detainees.

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