Where faith divides: How do voters define justice in 2020?

In a recent phone conversation — a catch-up during COVID isolation — a longtime friend talked of a memory that seemed especially relevant these days. A fellow cradle Catholic, whom I met at a Catholic university, she recalled how startled she was on entering my childhood parish for my decades-ago wedding and finding herself surrounded by statues of the saints and Christ on the cross, familiar to her but so very different. The faces and hands and pierced feet were painted black, so unlike anything she had experienced growing up.

It stopped her, until she realized how appropriate the scene was. Of course, these representations would be reimagined in the image of those who gathered and worshipped in this particular holy place, located in the heart of West Baltimore.

It opened her eyes and, at that moment, expanded her worldview. The incident was one among many that inched our friendship toward a richer, more fulfilling space, where we could see the world and its gifts, as well as its inequities, through one another’s eyes.

Democrats offer virtual vision for an inclusive America. Your turn, Republicans

It turns out the crowds, the balloons and confetti were merely froufrou, just window dressing. Stripped down, it was even easier for the themes of this week’s Democratic National Convention — and the party’s vision for the future — to break through.

The Democrats’ unity on display could be a bit ripe for parody, for sure, a little like seeing Sylvester and Tweety Bird declaring a temporary truce before the inevitable chase continues. The scenes of comity — Republicans crossing over to extol the character of Joe Biden, progressives vowing to work with moderates — would most certainly be replaced by the usual infighting and struggles for policy influence even, or especially, if Democrats win big in November. That’s the Democratic and (small “d” democratic) way.

Sometimes a “big tent” gets awfully crowded, and messy. And with Democrats, the mess can sometimes overwhelm the message or, as in 2016 when Bernie Sanders’ supporters were still complaining loudly on the convention floor, consume it.

But that oft-used expression, that diversity is America’s strength, so often mocked as cliché, still has the ability to provoke a sentimental misty eye if offered with sincerity. And when a loud segment of America obviously rejects it, captured on way too many angry viral videos — well, that’s when it becomes more important to protect the promise.

“Uniting America” has been the message of the Democratic National Convention and the party’s campaign, virtual and otherwise, moving into the fall. Democrats are betting the country is exhausted and pushed to the brink by challenges that an entertainer in chief is ill-equipped to handle.

‘It’s just history’: Kamala Harris as the VP nominee

Kamala Harris made history, again, this week, when she became the first Black woman and first Asian American picked for a major political party’s presidential ticket. The daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, the California Democrat has been many firsts.

She has been a county deputy district attorney; the district attorney for San Francisco — the first woman and first African American elected to that position; and California’s first female, Black and Asian American attorney general. Harris was also the second Black woman to join the Senate, succeeding Democrat Barbara Boxer in 2017.

Not quite four years ago, it was Joe Biden, as vice president, who swore her in as California’s junior senator. Now Biden is counting on Harris to help him win the White House as his running mate.

With us on Political Theater to talk about this pick is CQ Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis, a longtime political correspondent covering the intersection of politics, culture and race.

Trump in trouble revisits his tried-and-true — protecting your neighborhood from ‘them’

As polls show his base stagnant and his poll numbers dropping, Donald Trump has decided to replay an old favorite. While trying to strike fear of the invading “other” is right out of the 1968 playbook of both Richard Nixon and George Wallace, it’s also a tactic Trump honed at his father’s knee. It makes perfect sense for Trump in trouble to return to what he knows — and he knows all about shutting the literal and figurative door on Black folks moving into white neighborhoods.

In the 1970s, Trump and his father, Fred Trump — president and chairman, respectively, of Trump Management — were named as defendants in lawsuits brought by the Justice Department, accusing them of turning away African Americans who applied to rent apartments in some of the company’s buildings. That would be breaking the letter and spirit of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, something that was by no means the exception among property owners of the time.

The reaction, though, was pure Donald Trump. Rather than settle the lawsuits quietly, as some did, he called the charges “absolutely ridiculous,” denied them, countersued and said the government was trying to make him rent to “welfare recipients,” all sadly predictable. Though the Trumps eventually settled without admitting guilt, test renters of different races received different treatment, and investigations found that certain discarded applications were marked with “C” for “colored.”

Though the coding for a tenant deemed undesirable has changed, the sentiment remains. Trump 2020, in the middle of tweeting misinformation about COVID-19 treatment during a pandemic that has taken more than 150,000 lives in the United States, has decided that the best reelection strategy is fear, warning “Suburban Housewives of America” that Joe Biden “will destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream,” and that electing the former vice president would mean hordes of people moving in, and lowering home values and raising crime rates.

Yikes! Is the president trying to protect me from me?

To remember John Lewis, remember the real John Lewis — and his righteous fight

Many Americans, when they remember the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, reflexively turn to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, quoting selective passages about content of character. But my sister Joan, who stood under a shaded tent that day, making signs with freedom slogans for out-of-towners to raise high, had a different answer when I asked for her thoughts. Not to take anything away from King, she told me, “It wasn’t just that speech. It was all the speeches.” And what impressed her teenage self most were the words of a man who was just 23, a few years older than she was.

On that day, John Lewis was already stirring up the “good trouble” he favored when he said: “To those who have said, ‘Be patient and wait,’ we have long said that we cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now!”

It was a speech that, in an early draft, was a tad fiery for some elders in the movement for equality and justice. Lewis did tone it down — but not enough to lose its urgency.

Some of the tributes to Lewis, who died last week at the age of 80, emphasized his generosity of spirit, evident in his ability to forgive and embrace those who beat him into unconsciousness. But the picture is incomplete without acknowledging the impatience, the fury to make it right, that saw him through more than three dozen arrests, five after he was elected to Congress. Just as those who would have been or probably were in that majority of Americans who considered King a rabble-rouser then and revere him now, many are all too eager to recast Lewis as a secular saint who just wanted everyone to get along.

Of course, they would. It would let them off the hook.

There is more than one way to be Black — and to be an American

Elijah McClain of Aurora, Colorado, was many things. The slight 23-year-old, who looked younger, was a massage therapist one client described as “the sweetest, purest person I have ever met.” He was a vegetarian who taught himself to play the guitar and violin and shared his musical gifts with shelter animals to calm them. Family members said he sometimes wore a ski mask because he was anemic and always cold, and perhaps to create some distance in a world he found overwhelming. (And aren’t we all supposed to be covering our faces these days.) In his final trip to a convenience store, though, he interacted with the clerk and customers, it seemed from video, offering a bow on his way out.

Did he look “sketchy” and “suspicious” to a 911 caller and police because he sang to himself on the walk home and waved his arms, perhaps conducting a symphony only he could hear? McClain told the police who stopped him, “I am an introvert, please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.”

The three officers escalated the confrontation, took him down with a hold that made him utter a too-often-heard refrain: “I just can’t breathe correctly.” One officer threatened to sic a dog on him. If they saw his quirks, his idiosyncrasies, his joy, it did not translate. If they heard his pleas, these enforcers of laws the young man had not broken did not listen. “You are beautiful and I love you,” he told them. He apologized for vomiting as police tossed around his 140-pound body before medics shot it up with strong drugs.

Now, Elijah McClain, who police say committed no crime, is dead.

The very American Postal Service now a partisan pawn, with democracy at stake

When I was a little girl, the youngest of five children in a family with parents who made ends meet while never letting us see them sweat, the U.S. Postal Service was as welcome as Santa during the holidays. While dad was tending bar and waiting tables at parties after he signed off from his 9-to-5, mom picked up shifts at the post office, handling the packages and cards that swamped the system in December.

God bless the Postal Service, an essential piece of America’s history before it was America and included in the U.S. Constitution, which gave Congress the power “to establish post offices and post roads.” Founding father Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster general under the Continental Congress, and a young Abraham Lincoln was appointed postmaster of New Salem, Illinois, in 1833.

Though African American postal workers experienced discrimination, they sought work and served despite routine and harsh obstacles. Well into the civil rights era, that federal job could be sustenance for African Americans locked out of corporate America. Among the postal force could be found many civil rights activists, such as John L. LeFlore, a letter carrier in Mobile, Alabama, from 1922 to 1965, and an NAACP organizer who fought for the desegregation of Mobile’s public schools and businesses and for voting and housing rights.

The post office has been a pathway to the middle class for many hardworking families of every race, and has delivered in urban centers and rural outposts without fear or favor, in snow and rain and heat and gloom of night and … you know the rest, to bring mail, medicine and more. Connections forged with letter carriers could be more personal than businesslike.

What’s not to like?

A lot, to listen to some of our country’s leaders, who seem determined to sabotage something that has been integral to the country’s development. This is at a time when the Postal Service could be crucial to the right to vote, which might explain one reason for the controversy — the No. 1 reason, perhaps.

‘There are no degrees of separation’ — How the Charleston church shooting looms over the current racial justice debate

It’s been five years since the deadly, racist-motivated shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina But the scars are still present in the current debate over racial justice, Black Lives Matter and the legacy of white supremacist ideology.

CQ Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis talks to Political Theater about how the tragedy in Charleston still resonates as the United States grapples with its ugly history.

Will cries of justice resonate with Trump voters of faith?

For so long, the Supreme Court was the deal-maker and -breaker for white evangelicals and, to a lesser extent, white Catholics and their unshakable partnership with the Republican Party. The GOP knew it in ways the Democratic Party never did, to its peril come election time. In 2016, with a narrow victory, President Donald Trump won the right to transform the federal judiciary and, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s help, has delivered.

But with the court’s decision this week protecting the rights of gay and transgender workers, written by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, Trump’s prime-time appointee, some of those voters were a little shook. This would not be the only reason to wonder if Trump is losing his grip, if only a bit, on his most faithful (no pun intended) voting base.

While there is no reason to think that those guided by socially conservative beliefs will turn en masse to the Democrats and Joe Biden — better the thrice-married devil you know — a few in that group may be considering issues of life and rights in more nuanced ways. You can see it in the sometimes clumsy but also heartfelt reflections on the growing protests proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” and demanding police reform.

How open are faith leaders to the cries for justice from their flock and from “the least of these”? And if actions to eliminate inequality matter, will the Trump administration be evaluated and found wanting? Not that it would trigger a seismic shift away from a candidate and a man who is transactional in all the ways that matter. But might it initiate a conversation centered on the words of that good book Trump brandished but never bothered to open in his infamous photo op in front of St. John’s Church?

A mercurial Trump foils Charlotte’s best-laid RNC plans, probably

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, especially for a city that wants to be world class. Charlotte would join that list of cities to have hosted both Democratic and Republican national conventions. Its hotels and restaurants and streets would be bustling. Its arena would be filled with crowds, greeting the acceptance speech of repeat GOP standard-bearer Donald Trump, guaranteed grabber of headlines (and other things, as the Access Hollywood video attests).

And the world would be watching.

Well, the world is watching, all right, as what was a somewhat grudging but eventually accommodating relationship has deteriorated into sniping and bickering, with a nasty split on the horizon.

As usual, the catalyst for the acrimony was Trump himself.