Sunday, August 14, 2016

Grace under Pressure

I would say I honor our Constitution.

But there's something pro forma about that when your family has been here since 1648, and you had relatives at Lexington and Concord Bridges. Oh, yeah. Nice constitution. Yawn.

I came to feel more deeply about the Constitution as a southern civil rights worker. We had no real protection, but the federal government's authority over interstate commerce gave the Feds some power over the state. (We didn't know that Hoover's FBI was busy trying to blackmail Martin Luther King.)

Opposing the War (Viet Nam), before that became fashionable, I came to value the First Amendment, and the Fourteenth. Representing clients in a pro bono free-speech legal cases strengthened my respect for our Constitution.

But how to love the thing, Khizr Khan taught me that. I urge you to listen to the "All Things Considered" interview with him. 

Khan came from a place with no such document. He knows how marvelous our Constitutional freedoms are. He carries a pocket copy, and keeps others at home to give away. 

As a child, I visited the Statue of Liberty.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
That sounded pretty neat. I did not then know that on my father's side, relatives of mine had been among those masses crowding into lines at Ellis Island or its predecessor, desperate to live in the United States. I just felt proud that we were so kind, so fair.

Khizr Khan reawakens in me that wonder, that love of what is good in our country. His reverence for the Constitution, his teary eyes reading the Fourteenth Amendment. Sure, it ain't just the document, it's a whole tradition; but the document matters.

It's hardly worth noting the contrast with Donald Trump. Trump says he'll enforce “all ten or twenty or however-many articles there are in it.” I doubt he's read the Constitution, unless he was forced to do so in military school. How he has convinced so many good people who love the Constitution to support him is a sad mystery.

But I feel cheap saying that. I'd rather just express respect for the Khans – father and son and, yes, mother, who capably edited the father's speech as they prepared to appear at the Democratic Convention.

Mr. Khan is a humble man whose unpretentious eloquence humbles me. His son was a true hero, who intentionally walked toward a known danger to spare many other lives by giving up his own. 

Asked to relate something about his son that we don't know, Khizr Khan recounted an incident at the University of Virginia. Humayun kept seeing a basketball court with a black group playing at one end and a white group playing at the other. They never played together. That bothered him. He tried to play with each. Then he organized a game in which captains, one from each group, picked teams, but each had to have an equal number from each group on his team. They played, and began talking as well. Cool! 

But when tears welled up in my eyes was when I heard that after Humayun's death, some of those players visited his parents, told them this story, and said it had changed their lives.

Whatever your politics, and whether or not you approve of the war, no one can deny that Humayun had a special grace. Grace and courage. Listening to this interview, I know where that grace came from.

This is a family we can learn from.
[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 14 August, 2016, and is also available on the newspaper's website and on KRWG-TV's website.  I welcome comments, criticism, and questions.]

[It's strange how we can get so emotionally committed to a point-of-view that we blind ourselves to further information and evidence on the subject.  I can understand and share the anger many people feel about aspects of our world that the prevailing political system just ain't dealing with: joblessness, economic inequality, the middle-class getting squeezed out economically, and terrorism, the continuous war, and the fact that we now have to deal with generations of carelessness has done to our Earth; and the feeling that our leaders don't give a damn or can't do anything or have sold out to powerful interests.  But each of these -- let alone the combination -- is a complex problem with many contributing causes and no simple solution.   Solutions require patience and study and skill and maybe inspiration.   
I guess I feel that many people have fixed on Trump as a magic solution -- or at least a way to ring a very loud warning bell that our political leaders won't be able to ignore.  "At least he'll shake things up!" conservative friends often say.  This morning (for domestic reasons not here relevant) I felt for a moment like smashing my water glass against the wall.  Trump is the water glass many people are angry enough to throw at our political system.   
Even as Trump's incompetence and emotional problems become clearer, and as he attacks veterans and jokingly suggests violence against a possible President Hillary, and shows his fondness and admiration for Vladimir Putin, and otherwise does and says things most of his supporters would want to hang me for suggesting, they forgive him; or ignore the actual Trump while shouting for election of the symbolic Trump; or interpret his conduct in odd ways. 
Mr. Trump's overreaction to Mr. Khan is just one of many symptoms.  A wiser course would have been to ignore Mr. Khan; to say, when asked, that "I sympathize with the Khan's grief, have nothing but admiration for their son, but obviously disagree with their view that Hillary Clinton is the right solution for our country."  Not  something he could do.
It does appear now that the national electorate will quite sensibly resist the temptation to use Trump to "shake things up" -- though Lord knows we need some shaking up, just not the sort Trump offers! -- and elect Ms. Clinton by a wide margin.  But no one should lose sight of the anger -- sure, some racist, but mostly a reasonable anger at a troublesome world -- that fuels this Trumpism.  Electing this guy President would accelerate our decline, not reverse it. 
I guess I hoped maybe a few Trump supporters might take a moment and listen to the "All Things Considered" interview with Mr. Khan, and just reflect on it.  Trump won't; but you can.]

[One further thought: "Grace under Pressure" [Hemingway's definition of courage, as I recall] applies also to Hatch Police Officer Jose Chavez, who happened to stop the wrong car in a routine traffic stop.  Ironically, I was supposed to be riding along that night with a Dona Ana County Sheriff's Deputy, but canceled only because an 85-year-old friend's kids were in town.  Also ironically, a week earlier I'd been at the excellent DASO use-of-force training session; in one exercise, I played a deputy approaching a car in a routine traffic stop; I have quick reactions, but I'd still have been shot several times before I could have drawn my gun upon seeing the driver (played by Major Brent Barlow) pull his gun; even if I approached with my gun out, I couldn't point it at him and fire before he'd already gotten off three shots at me. 
The whole community sympathizes with Officer Chavez's family; and we should all contribute what we can to this fund for the education of his two daughters!
Even if we can't give much, we should each contribute something.]

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