“Bending the Arc of the Moral Universe Toward Justice”
In March 1965, a year and a half after the historic 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which I participated in. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a non-violent Voting Rights march with John Lewis from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and spoke these words about voting freedom to a crowd of thousands:
“How Long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Dr. King was a minister, an orator, and a prophet. He saw the universe as basically moral, spiritual, beneficial, holy, curved in an unfinished arc which gravitated toward justice. His vision embodied what was happening on this earth, where man can do justice or injustice to his neighbor. He foresaw a march toward justice in our country and the world, and that the march and the bending would not be long. When the arc is fully bent, reaching the ground, equal justice for all will be realized.
The perfect arc we know is the rainbow. It requires a rare combination of sun and water to realize its multi-colored glory, and it reaches the earth at both ends. But it is evanescent and impermanent, and fades if that combination is absent. The arc of justice enlarges and contracts, and has not yet established itself on the earth.
We know from experience and history that true justice requires a social system based in truth and freedom.
Frederick Douglass said on an anniversary of the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation:
“The life of a nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.”
Lawn signs in Westchester carry another lesson from Dr. King:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
A government or society built on lies and deception cannot be just. Untruths are unjust. Slavery is unjust. Justice in a country requires a firm foundation, the free consent of those governed based upon a true knowledge and evaluation of right and wrong. Lies and deception prevent that.
There cannot be true justice in a dictatorship or any autocracy where freedom is limited or non-existent, particularly freedom to dissent in speech or action. Unjust measures must be promulgated, and unjust penalties must be imposed, to control defiance of the dictator. The only truth is what the dictator says it is. Important countries are now dictatorships, including Russia, China, North Korea, Turkey, and Venezuela. Their tyrannical creed that Might makes Right threatens democratic regimes in Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, and Ukraine, as well as minorities such as the Kurds, Armenians, and the Muslim Uighurs in China.
What has happened in America to the freedom and truth necessary for full justice? What has happened to Dr. King’s idea of an America where people are judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin? Where there is equal justice under law, and no person is above the law? Where the ideals of our nation’s creed are reflected in our political discourse and actions?
Now, 53 years after Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, we wonder whether the arc of the moral universe is still bending toward justice, or whether injustices in the world and our country have reversed that arc.
Significant advances in civil rights and equal opportunity, including employment, were made under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman before and during World War II. The early 1960s saw Head Start, the Peace Corps, the Office of Economic Opportunity, the Legal Services Corporation, the Voting Rights Act, and the Equal Rights Amendment. It also saw the assassination of two Kennedys, and Dr. King. Lyndon Johnson, who got many of these through, was a fervent champion of equal justice for all. Forty years went by before Barack Obama was elected, and his breakthrough presidency from 2008 to 2016 was one of radiance, promise, and inclusivity with the arc bending toward justice.
The long 500-year African-American journey through injustices, including slavery, lynching, Klansmen, incarceration, denial of voting rights, segregated ghettos, facilities, transportation, and businesses, seemed to be moving forward. But equality, integration, tolerance, and friendship proved too much for prejudiced Americans who begrudged those things to others.
Unfortunately, segments of our population brought their festering ill-formed resentments against racial progress and justice, and elected President Trump, who assembled the kindling of prejudice, lit the fire, and poured oil on it.
The painful truth about our government and society from 2016 to today must be told. Many Americans including former President Trump, have advocated or pledged allegiance to a destructive “Alternative Reality.” Its currency is lies and fantasies, not objective, verifiable, scientific truth. Trump, his supporters, and the conservative media, have been the primary issuers and users of this currency
Trump’s “Birther Movement” was a big lie; Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and was always an American citizen. Trump’s Inauguration crowd was not nearly as big as that for President Obama or many other Presidents. Russia, not China or Iran, interfered significantly in the 2016 and 2020 elections on behalf of Trump, not on behalf of Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden. Climate change is not a “hoax,” it is all too real, evidenced by hotter and drier climates, melting ice caps, piercing winds, huge forest fires, and higher ocean levels. Hydrocarbon emissions, fouled waters, plastic dumps, dying fish, are all real danger signs.
Neither Hydroxychloroquine, nor Lysol, nor Remdesivir, nor a lightbulb in the stomach, prevents or cures Covid-19. “Herd Immunity” was not a feasible goal for Covid-19 in 2020 or for at least much of 2021. Covid-19 did not magically “disappear.” Masks and social distancing work to slow the virus; big, tightly packed, unmasked crowds, including Trump political rallies, spread it. Our national government under Trump failed abysmally and has been dishonest about everything related to the Coronavirus pandemic. Trump has done an injustice to the American people: 27,000,000 have already been infected, over 457,000 have paid with their lives.
His baseless lies about our electoral system have been extremely or more harmful to our democracy. In 2020, there was no fraud in the use of mail-in ballots, early in-person voting, or drop-off ballots, all of which were sorely needed because of the Coronavirus. The 2020 Presidential election was not “rigged” in any state; the ballot counts were accurate. No factual evidence of any fraud or miscount was shown to any court or administrative body. Trump and his lawyers batted 0 for 60. But the greatest internal threat and injustice to our democracy was, and is, the continuing lie that Trump won the 2020 election.
The Democratic Biden-Harris ticket won the election, the Republican ticket of Trump and Pence lost the election.
Amid the horrors of the pandemic, Trump tried to eliminate Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. Trump alone has, by objective count, told over 25,000 lies, many on matters of the highest gravity. A grave injustice to veterans, including me, and those in military ranks, was when he, who never served, called them “suckers” and “losers.”
Another backward-looking part of the Alternative Reality is America’s unexplained and unjustified shift out of time-honored alliances and organizations. We have abandoned or undermined long-held commitments to the Kurds, to Ukraine, to NATO, to the Iran Nuclear Treaty, to trade pacts, and to international health organizations. Trump adopted dictators and refused to criticize their actions. He repeatedly failed to confront Russia on its internal poisoning and coercion of dissenters, its interference in America and other countries, and even its bounties for killing American soldiers
The Alternative Reality also features repeated verbal abuse of non-Trumpers. Trump vilified his Republican opponents in 2016, has degraded Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, and recently even Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell. He has used tweets and incendiary language, inflaming his rally crowds to shout, “Lock her up,” and to make abusive threats about those who irritated him. Simply to win elections, they falsely label their opponents as “Socialists,” “Marxists,” “Communists,” and “far left radicals,” meanwhile enjoying social security payments and Medicare treatments.
A major contributor to estranging so many Americans from truth and justice, transporting them to the Alternative Reality, is the conservative Media. Millions of Americans daily view Fox News and AON, and listen to local radio stations, which conservative corporations continue to buy up. These exclusive purveyors of news, politics, and viewpoints broadcast right-wing, Trump-centered, conspiracy-laden falsehoods. Trump and his media call the real, truthful news “fake news.”