At a party years ago in Tanganyika, (Tanzania) a newly elected Nigerian official sat to my left at dinner. During the course of the meal, he leaned in my direction with a furrowed brow. “Tell me, in a democracy, when one party wins an election. why does it tolerate the existence of an opposition? Why not destroy it, instead?” He shook his head slowly as he gazed down at his plate. “That is something I have never understood.”
Naturally, I was stunned by the question. This newly elected official’s confusion about democracy didn’t bode well for his country. Today, fifty years later, I am the one who fears for my country’s democracy. A scant few days ago, our 45th president introduced plans “to reduce the role of the federal government in protecting minorities.” (“Rolling Back Civil Rights Prosecutions,” The Week, June 9, 2017, pg. 6.)
He plans to disband a section of the Labor Department that oversees minority participation in federal contracts. That means minority owned business have no assurances they can compete for federal projects.
The president proposes similar cutbacks for the Civil Rights Office within the Department of Education. By reducing staff, he makes it difficult for authorities to investigate discrimination complaints in school districts. (Ibid, pg. 6.)
Donald Trump’s so-called fiscal reforms disrespect the rights of minorities and that disrespect trickles down to be reflected in the attitude of some public servants. After a bike accident, Honduran Marco Huete lay in the street, seriously injured. Yet when a police officer arrived on the scene, he showed little concern for the man. His first questions were, “Are you Illegal? Speak English? Got ID?” (The Week, June 9, 2017, pg. 6)
Of course, civil liberties and civility can lapse among citizens of every persuasion. In Portland, Oregon, two white women who studied culinary art in Mexico closed their tortilla shop after being accused of “cultural appropriation: exploiting the culture of “marginalized” people.” (The Week, June 9, 2017, pg. 6.)
What nonsense. Language, culture and art thrive on cultural appropriation.(Blog 4/14/17) Shared ideas bring people together. Cultural appropriation honors diversity.
Enrichment, tolerance and justice stem from civil laws and civility. They make a nation stronger, not weaker. Before I built a wall, I’d want to know what I was walling in and walling out. Fools never wonder.
(First published 6/16/17)