The Day the Levees Broke
February 1, 2020
David R. Weiss
No doubt when the history of these years is recounted in a future less partisan than the present moment, it will be reckoned as uncontested tragedy and worse: the willful and cowardly betrayal of justice by those who could have done otherwise—who had more than sufficient reason to do otherwise—but chose not to.
Indeed, as we’ve seen from the earliest days of Trump’s presidency, there is a moral catastrophe playing out in the White House, and it has made unholy deals with the hyper-partisan Republicans in Congress while also sowing its vision of a future that preserves white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, and corporatism in its appointments to the federal judiciary.
What began as thinly veiled racist obstruction of Obama’s merely centrist vision of social progress, has, under Trump, flared into a full blown all-hands-on-deck last stand by yesterday’s white America against the coming demographic shift that will, by the sheer hue and weight of numbers, remake power relations in these United States. To anyone with moral honesty it is clear that both Trump and today’s GOP (despite lingering differences in detail) are conspiring in voter suppression, election manipulation, legislative obstruction, and judicial appointment precisely to forestall for as long as possible that day when liberty and justice truly are for all.
On Friday we took, not one small step, but one giant leap away from democracy and into the waiting arms of oligarchs and autocrats. The authoritarian impulse, full blown in countries we used to know as our nemeses but which we now race to emulate, propels our Grand Old Party toward a dystopian future, with the rest of us caught in its wake.
I had steeled myself for this moment, though I confess I’d also repeatedly fallen prey to the false hope that some thundering cavalry of better angels would rise within the breasts of those we foolishly trusted to check and balance. They chose instead to vote their unchecked fear. So “unsurprised” is a fair statement. But shaken nonetheless. The weight of this hollow judgment that mocks even the notion of judgment is heavier than any of us can reckon right now. Its toll will be exacted from our liberty and justice, from our aspirations and dreams—not least from the very air we breathe—in ways we cannot yet foresee.
Now, writ large in headlines from sea to shining sea, Senate Republicans affirm that our electoral politics can—and will, and should—be freely misshapen by those in power to preserve their power. As though the rule of law now means rule by might. For all of Trump’s unchecked inclinations, this is the day the levees broke, because this is the day when those who could have held back this onrushing chaos, choose instead to step aside and swamp democracy itself.
Make no mistake: the intent behind seeking to sabotage elections and prevent Congressional oversight is not simply to feed Trump’s insatiable narcissism. Its end game (for which Trump is ultimately little more than a tool) is to continue the far right’s assault on women’s rights—and their safety, the demonization of black and brown persons, the caging of immigrants—including children, the escalation of trans- and homophobia, fanning contempt for the poor, and the all-out deathly exploitation of the natural world—to which we are indelibly wed. Jesus would be aghast.
And on this day, with the levees so publicly broken asunder, it seems as though all manner of evil is now even more possible. And it is. And yet—
We who tremble today (and I am one of them) will be wise to remember that there are many—the poor, the queer, the black and brown, the immigrants, and many women—for whom those levees never held back the rushing waters of that complex force of white supremacy and its kindred evils. These persons, whose hopes have always been muted by the realities—the struggles—of their lives, know something about the dream of justice in their bones that others of us can only barely entertain in our minds. The only levees that have ever mattered are the ones that safeguard us all.
And they have yet to be built.
In the face of such leering evil, our next step can only be to throw our lot in with those never yet served by the levees we thought we could count on. And to build the next set of levees together. For all of us. Now.
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn(at)gmail.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.