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A Modest Proposal on Reparations

We’re way overdue for "a searching and fearless moral inventory" in this nation.

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Kiryl Lis / Shutterstock
Kiryl Lis / Shutterstock

America has lost considerable standing as a superpower. We’ve ceded economic power to Asia. We’ve engaged in forever-wars which were not only immoral, but just brain-numbingly counterproductive. We’ve abandoned important allies on important issues.

But there’s an area where we could still, super late in the game, show leadership. Yes, that is still possible, even in the midst of this sh*t-salad of apocalyptic harbingers, including a plague at home and abroad, and dictators at home and abroad.

Racist, incompetent, genocide-capable leaders have always existed. But they used to pop up, like, one or two at a time. Today we have a whole roster of puffed-up, unstable strongmen. There are legitimately ambitious and effective dictators in the U.S., Russia, Brazil, the Philippines, Hungary, China, and North Korea, to name just the most obvious ones.

Is it hard to imagine any two of the above leaders making a deal to look the other way at each other’s impending genocides, in order to retain power?

Hell, with this group, I could see a freaking five-way pact — Russia, China, Turkey, Brazil, and the United States all promising to overlook genocides among signatories with no press or criticism at home about unfolding atrocities, nor any press about the existence of the pact. One can only imagine how cheaply Trump sold off the right ever to mention Uighurs from the White House. That probably cost what? Two or three Chinese trademarks for Ivanka’s fashion brand?

Dark goddamn times.

So, what do we do?

As long as our country is taking water fast, as long as our so-called democratic experiment looks increasingly likely to sink, we might as well go out like the Christians we claim to be.

What would Jesus do right now?

At least 5-to-1 odds he’d reprise his role as spokesman for the poor, the disenfranchised, the discriminated against, the migrants, and yes, the poor bastards who are today being forced to keep working because their grocery-store jobs, FedEx jobs, and Amazon jobs are deemed essential … but not essential enough to pay more than $9 bucks an hour.

A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory

We’re way overdue for “a searching and fearless moral inventory” in this nation. COVID-19 and Tump feel like just the latest raging, dumpster-fire catastrophes.

What would we as Americans even say to a returning Jesus right now?

Hell, Jesus is probably still rip-sh*t about MLK. That assassination happened, like, yesterday, in God years. After all, God works on 2,000-year-long cycles. The shootings of JFK, Malcolm X, MLK, and RFK were 20 seconds ago.

An angry Jesus might ask, Are you even sh*tting me right now? You’re going to keep killing all of them? What in the actual f*ck.

I’m guessing Jesus is mad about all of it, going way back — segregation, torture, separating families, rape, enslavement, genocide. Those things occurred at our country’s founding, and they’re occurring now, just like they always have.

I’m surprised Jesus even keeps watching. As a Netflix show, we’d be terribleAfter three episodes, Jesus would say, I mean just, like, unwatchably dumb.

I’m not an authority on the religious Jesus, nor the historical one. But with even a passing knowledge of U.S. history and the Bible, I can locate the Son of God in same general ballpark, Venn Diagram-wise, as MLK. Overlapping categories include: charity, courage, nobility, generosity, non-violence, and f*ck-the-man/f*ck-the-Sadducees spirit.

A Fat Chunk of That Next $2 Trillion Stimulus Package

America is losing, with only a few ticks left in our democracy. We just are. It would take an absurd final play to stave off defeat. But one possibility sits right in front of us.

We apologize. We start paying back. We earmark a fat chunk of that next $2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package to pump money into communities which are still suffering under the boot of institutionalized racism. We enact policies and public-health measures to begin the process of discussing slavery and genocide like actual adults. We acknowledge that events from long ago have massive, continuing effects on descendants of both victims and perpetrators.

We could start small. Name a historical review commission. Let commissioners study what places like South Africa, Germany, Cambodia, Chile, and Rwanda did to grapple with their past genocides.  What worked, what didn’t? We could follow the lead of universities, such as Georgetown and Harvard, which are acknowledging their own past institutional involvement with slavery and are responding with targeted measures to begin paying back. As the writer Eve Ensler has convincingly argued in another context, and as A.A. adherents have discovered in still another context, the act of apologizing can be extremely powerful, both for the speaker and the listener. It is healing for both.

But the one absolutely crucial first step is, say it out loud.

We tortured people.

We enslaved people.

We killed people.

That’s how we founded our country. We still do it now with drone strikes, enhanced interrogation, the so-called ‘war on drugs,’ use of lethal force by police, widespread incarceration, and endless war abroad. Even more impressively, we hector the rest of the world NOT to commit human rights violations. As President Clinton once said of House Speaker Paul Ryan, “You got to (admit) one thing — it takes some brass to accuse a guy of doing what you did.”

As Americans, we have some heavy-duty, extremely gnarly karma which we are still working out. Two crimes of excruciating intensity shudder down through the American generations — the enslavement of Africans and the slaughter of Indians. We need to say those crimes out loud. Weirdly enough, we might even need to do it right now, during COVID-19.

This global moment is a fluid, volatile, profoundly disrupted and disruptive moment (not to mention yet another example of institutionalized racism disproportionately killing black people). It’s a perfect time for us as individuals, and as a nation, to take moral inventory.

For an instructive example of what not to do, look at Turkey, one of the first practitioners of modern genocide. Turkey is at the extreme opposite pole from Germany, as far as official mea culpas and public policies. Turkey’s government is the poster child for the intricate, fractal Orwellian Hell which instantly starts erecting itself, once a nation denies the obvious, historically incontrovertible fact of 2 million inhabitants being raped, tortured, starved, and slaughtered.

In America, Faulkner was right; slavery was the original sin. (Well, that and killing Indians.)

Look at the news last weekend in Kentucky. One of Trump’s brand-new, woefully under-qualified federal judges issued an openly theocratic “ruling.” Writing about a local church which planned to congregate despite public-health guidelines, he said,

[F]or the men and women of Christians On Fire, Christ’s sacrifice isn’t about the logic of this world. Nor is their Easter Sunday celebration. The reason they will be there for each other and their Lord is the reason they believe He was and is there for us. For them, for all believers, “it isn’t a matter of reason; finally, it’s a matter of love.”

And this judge, just six months into his district-court job, is already nominated for the crucial D.C. Circuit. His ruling last week is an early audition to be shortlisted one day for SCOTUS vacancies.

A Nobel Prize for Trump

What would Jesus do at this moment in world affairs? What would he say?

Unlike Judge Walker in Kentucky, I can admit I don’t know. But if you put a gun to my head, which in this climate feels increasingly likely, and if you forced me to pick a good, Christ-like model of leadership from recent world history, two who jump out are Ghandi and MLK. The courage and righteousness of those two was undeniable. Next-level, epochal leadership was shown.

Trump could be next to join them.

Wait what??

I’m kidding, but only sort of. Here are a couple scenarios in which Trump could be imagined floating the idea of reparations for slavery.

One is abject terror at the possibility of losing power. Any black voters peeled from Biden are electoral gold.

The other scenario is, someone telling Trump he could win the Nobel Peace Prize via reparations rhetoric, if not the actual deed. Make the promise, as with the Border Wall, and then later claim accomplishment, facts be damned.

The big, “beautiful,” impenetrable Border Wall does not exist. But it doesn’t matter. Trump says it does. He is breathtakingly effective at telling the same huge lie over and over, until half the country believes it.

If you don’t think #reparations and #Nobel Prize would trigger the filter settings on Trump’s phone, you haven’t been paying attention. Just the intoxicating fantasy of combining those two glorious words — Trump and Nobel – would inject the scheme straight to the deepest core of his tiny, panicked, psychotic brain.

Sure, he knows reparations talk is a possible reap-the-whirlwind scenario. But that whirlwind is beginning to arrive anyway. Look at our world now.

Depending on the week, it’s either the worst U.S. economy of all-time, or the best. Either two million Americans will die, or just 60,000. You’ll have to keep checking your phone to find out which. Fun!

What would Jesus say right now?

He might say:

Oh my god, you f*cking imbeciles, how could I possibly make it any clearer? You sinned. In an egregious way. TIME TO APOLOGIZE. Time to start paying back. And yes, I mean to use the word “pay,” you conniving f*ckers. Timefinally to cough up the one thing you’ve been obsessed with — without interruption — since your nation’s founding … money.

Go back over the early blueprints for our government; the Founders were aristocrats trying to make the smart, long play to remain rich forever, as a class. Indeed, time-traveling founders would be be quietly satisfied and impressed by the current spectacle of low-income, voter-suppressed, “essential” citizens getting paid peanuts for their “essential” jobs.

America brags about capitalism. Here’s a principle to consider. If a job is truly essential, f*cking pay for it that way. Show the money.

The truth is, the Founders were just fine with slavery. They also didn’t think twice about genocide against Indians.

F*cked Either Way

You might ask, why in the world would Trump do something as dangerous as double-crossing the white supremacists among his followers?

He won’t do so willingly, but he is just crazy enough to entertain the idea for a hot second and then lie about it later. He can always retweet the idea one day and then deny it the very next day. A reversal like that is just another day at the office.

If the absurd fever dream of Trump even mentioning reparations ever did come to pass, he would rightfully be worried about assassination.

Which he opposes. (Again rightfully.)

Racial violence is the raw, gaping wound which we are still lying about in the United States. In a sense we’re almost as reprehensible as Turkey denying the Armenian Genocide. At least we’ve had 250 years to work our way toward meaningful amends. By comparison, at 100 years, Turkey is still a rookie at covering up original sin.

We have seen occasional, operatic gestures of mercy from Trump toward individual African-Americans, such as prisoners enduring unjust sentences or a rapper arrested abroad. We’ve also seen Trump’s inscrutable — or maybe simply addled — fascination with celebrities like Kanye and Diamond & Silk.

Trump famously asked an African-American audience, ‘What the hell do you have to lose’ by voting for Trump? He put his finger on something in that moment. He wasn’t wrong that Democrats, too, have failed back voters spectacularly. Not nearly as spectacularly as post-WWII Republicans or Trump himself, of course. But Trump’s crass, sneering, rhetorical demand may have hit home with at least some black TV viewers.

At least this crazy racist is saying out loud what we know to be true, that black people are always, always f*cked, either way.

Trump himself is an actual white supremacist, on the incontrovertible facts.

The only way the word “reparations” ever passes his lips is if he is about to fall into the terrifying abyss of One-Term Presidency — a fate too excruciating for him even to contemplate.

But hey, if Trump won’t say “reparations,” I’d settle for a few courageous clergyman to connect the dots. Or maybe a reasonable, reassuring, Jesuit-educated public health official, like Dr. Anthony Fauci. After all, the raw wound of racial violence and injustice may be easily viewed, and addressed, as a public-health problem.

Forget Trump and Fauci. What would Jesus do? True, he wasn’t running a country. But he was speaking truth to power. Jesus was explaining to the powerful how they were running afoul of basic spiritual laws. Either the U.S. starts acting in ways which might conceivably pass muster with our supposed savior, or we should shut our traps about Jesus once and for all.

Trump’s election was so radically disruptive. The current COVID-19 instability, coupled with his endangered re-election prospects, could push a frightened Trump to double-cross anyone, even white supremacists.

Would he be scared of assassination? Of course. But he could increase the size of his security detail by a factor of 50. Americans would nod vacantly, or get turned on by the escalating tension, or maybe, as in the final moments of The Truman Show, merely reach for their remotes and ask, Anything else on?

A reparations hail-mary wouldn’t necessarily force Trump to give up his other addiction, which is addressing live rallies. He could simply appear by video, as Big Brother does in 1984, as teachers now address students, as doctors now examine patients.

It’s all on your screen, folks. You don’t have to leave your house, just as the housewife in Fahrenheit 452 derived mirthless, addicted amusement from the interactive soap operas screening 24/7 on her walls.

Orwell and Bradbury were right, about all of it. Today is just the latest inflection point.

Originally published on Kit Troyer’s Blog.

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