Then and now, Mom in America


The night Barack Obama won the 2008 election, I gave the news to my mother-in-law, who at the time was dealing with the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia. “Maggie! Barack Obama has been elected president! A Black man is the president of the United States!”

Her eyes shone with a light I hadn’t seen in more than a year and she smiled, “Praise the Lord! I never thought I’d live to see the day!” Then she said, “Oh, but I fear for his life,” and the light behind her eyes dimmed and away she went, back into the depths of her consciousness.

I went out to the porch of our Columbia Heights row house and hugged my wife as people streamed through the streets dancing, singing and chanting, “YES WE DID!” The atmosphere was electric as everyone out there just knew we were living in a historic moment and the world would never be the same.

Francel had called my mother and as she handed me the phone she was literally shaking with happiness. She whooped loudly and skipped down the seventeen steps to the sidewalk, sharing high-fives with the passersby. I talked with my mother in Riverside, Calif., while people danced in the rain at the intersection of 13th and Fairmount streets NW in Washington D.C.

My mother shouted exultantly, “Do you believe it? Do you believe it?” I could feel her joy from the other side of the country as this was a moment toward which she had worked for a lifetime.

For as long as I can remember, my mom was very active as an advocate for her community and in the struggle for civil rights. As a member of the Central Long Island Branch of the NAACP, she employed her passion for artistic expression and produced the monthly newsletter that received a national award from the organization.

As a little kid, I have memories of accompanying her while she canvassed for candidates, worked the polls and designed campaign posters and literature. My most vivid memory of those days is the time when my siblings and I accompanied her to the polls and entered the voting booth. She lifted me up and told me which lever to flip, then told us, “We just voted for President Johnson!”

Before I left for college, she had no trouble getting me to help in her efforts, and she was pleased when at 16, I volunteered on the campaign of Thomas Downey, who was the youngest member of Congress when at age 25, he was as one of the “Watergate Babies” elected in the 1974 midterm backlash against Nixon and the GOP.

When I returned home in 1980, I immediately joined her and my dad, (technically my stepfather but always just my other dad) in organizing the community to demand a municipal water supply. In our area of Suffolk County, drinking water was pumped from wells beneath our residences, but the landfill in Wyandanch had leached toxins into the aquifer rendering our water — of excellent quality when tested by the state environmental lab for my 8th grade science project — no longer potable. Working in concert with NYPIRG (NY Public Interest Research Group) and another affected community, the county and state succumbed to pressure and installed a municipal water supply.

In 1988, I worked on the Long Island campaign for Jesse Jackson and then signed on to the Michael Dukakis campaign, and boy. was Mom proud! I had made my way up from teen volunteer to party operative and political appointee, and she loved telling the folks she worked for about me.

Mom was later with me on my wife’s campaign for District Court judge, and she celebrated when Francel was appointed as the first Black woman judge in the history of Long Island, then comforted us when my wife was ultimately defeated at the polls in 1991.

She retired to Southern California for the climate and to be near my brothers, but the conservative bent of her Inland Empire district eased her away from politics. She began producing 3-D sculptures in paper and stayed current with national politics. She dared to hope in the candidacy of Obama even though she had been a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton.

The ecstasy of witnessing the election of the first Black president of the United States told her the decades of effort had been worth it. She had persevered even in the face of fierce opposition. When she was in nursing school, she and her Black classmates were threatened with expulsion if they attempted to join the March on Washington in August 1963. She told us she always regretted her decision not to buck the school so close to graduation.

But none of that seemed to matter because with Obama’s election and after decades of striving, we, as a people, were getting to the Promised Land!

Then America, for whom my mother had dedicated so much time, faith and effort, rewarded her with a punch in the gut and a slap to her face.

Being New Yorkers, we knew all there was to know about Donald J. Trump and how he was the consummate bullshit artist. Mom was the person who told me her opinion that if Trump hadn’t been Fred Trump’s kid, he would be a squeegee guy at the on-ramp of the Queensborough Bridge, or perhaps a vacuum cleaner salesman.

Mom just knew America wouldn’t trade Obama for Trump. Hillary Clinton would be the first woman to ascend to the presidency, she was sure.

After the election, our conversation about possibilities became prayers the nation would limit the damage done by the right wing.

Her biggest fear was that the nation would go backwards in short order to the bad old days that MAGA represented. She knew racism and discrimination from the moment she started school in Lindenhurst, one of the few Black students in her grade school. A boy had claimed someone stole something of his and she was forced to submit to a strip search in front of her class.

The despair in her voice the day after the violent Charlottesville Unite the Right rally broke my heart as she told me how it took her back to her childhood in1930s Long Island where the German American Bund — also known as the America First movement — brazenly marched in full Nazi regalia through downtown Lindenhurst and maintained a large compound in Yaphank called Camp Siegfried.

Mom used to joke that Japan had saved American society from Nazis by attacking Pearl Harbor.

In the summer of 2017 as she turned 90, her health began to rapidly decline; she passed in spring 2018.

As her consciousness began to dim, my brother said she believed she was living in our home back in Amityville, but when he asked if she knew who the president was, she replied, “That son of a bitch Trump!”

Watching the Trump Rally for Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance in Youngstown this weekend made me thank God she wasn’t here to see it. I saw a combination of Nazi symbolism mixed in with the White Christian Nationalism and QAnon Cult crazy.

SUPPLEMENTAL READING: What is QAnon? A primer on anti-Semitic crazy

What disturbed me most was not the fascistic rhetoric from the Joseph Goebbells’ playbook — that’s been a given since Trump descended the golden escalator in 2015. No, it was the religious fervor of the assembled crowd that had me greatly troubled, and more than anything it was the raised arms of the assembly. Holding up your arms during a service is to show surrender, submission, humility, or to give reverence and adoration to God, to be filled by the Spirit.

I get that, I’ve felt that, but this was not that.

This was not fealty to God, it was supplication to the newly self-anointed QAnon Messiah. Some thought it was a type of “Nazi Heil salute,” but it was more like saying, “We’re Number One!” which would represent the “Where We Go 1 We Go All,” or the shorthand Qanon motto, “WWG1WGA.”

This is not a movement to be feared at the polls but should be feared because it is chock full of crazy SOBs who may be willing to martyr themselves for the cause of Q! Think shades of ISIS and Al-Qaeda!

Trump’s MAGA base is shrinking as more and more Republicans tire of his constant whining about being cheated out of the election in 2020. Many are finally catching on to the grift and the realization that the only way Trump avoids prosecution is to regain the presidency with the backing of the Republican establishment.

However, none of the Republican leadership will give us a Joseph Welch moment because at bottom they want what Trump wants, a white nationalist authoritarian state. They hitched themselves to his crazy and find themselves like the proverbial guy who has a Tiger by the tail … can’t hold on but can’t let go.

The Republican Party has managed to flip conventional wisdom on its head as pundits tell us that the party in the White House ALWAYS gets the crap kicked out of them in the midterm elections of that Administration’s first term … except in 2002.

What made 2002 different? It was 9/11/2001.

Did anything happen before Joe Biden’s administration took power? Not much, just a global pandemic that shut down the world in 2020, and Donald Trump who tried to overthrow the U.S. government on January 6, 2021, with a violent insurrection at the Capitol.

Anyone who gives you the historical midterm prediction this year should be ignored, and any representative of legacy media who thinks it is appropriate to “just ask questions” concerning Hunter Biden’s laptop should be firmly dismissed.

America has been in this situation before but not like this. Strange days indeed.


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