• Mwatabu S Okantah

Grid Lock: Dysfunction and American Politricks

Updated: 7 hours ago

“Rain beats a leopard’s skin, but it does not

wash out the spots.”


--Ashanti proverb


Independents. Democrats. Republicans. Republicrats. Conservatives. Liberals. Radicals. Crackpots. Slave-ocracy or Democracy? “Demo-Crazy.” What does it all mean? The United States of America is what it has always been. A divided and seriously flawed nation; a society that has always been unwilling to look at itself in the mirror to see its true face. A society that cannot bear to see itself through the eyes of the human refuse it has created throughout its torturous journey toward proclaiming greatness. While two old white men stare each other down over the Presidency, where do we go from here?

The original sin of slavery has always been the stain on the red, white, blue fabric of the American story. Thomas Jefferson grasped the depths of their moral dilemma from the beginning in his Notes on the State of Virginia. He mused, “Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made … will divide us into parties and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.”

I think he revealed the root cause of the white-people-fears that have always existed just below the mask of American Exceptionalism when he wrote, “What a stupendous, what an incomprehensible machine is man! who can endure toil, famine, stripes, imprisonment or death itself in vindication of his own liberty, and the next moment be deaf to all those motives whose power supported him … [through] his trial, and inflict on his fellow men a bondage, one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion to oppose.”

The Founding Fathers understood they had planted poisonous seeds that would one day bear infected fruit. They knew a monstrous debt would have to be paid. In this turbulent second decade of the 21st century, it appears the bill is finally coming due. The long hidden in plain view face of the United States has been unmasked before the world. Donald Trump’s America is not really about Donald Trump. He is the same man he has always been. The more than 70 million people who voted for him have always been there—people not bothered by his racism or his sexism, his crudeness, his bombast or his lies.

Donald Trump’s America is descended from the same America that was willing to profit from the cancers of arrogance, of ignorance, of slavery and Jim Crow—always separate but never equal—racial segregation for so long. He was able to strike the chord of a deep class resentment that has existed within the White American body politic for a very long time. His call to, “Make America Great Again,” harkens back to the “good old days” when everyone knew their place and the right white people were in charge. The fears that Trump stokes in the hearts and minds of his base are the same fears that haunted Jefferson.

It took the visceral backlash to eight years of a dignified Black man as President and a truly Black woman as First Lady to make Trump’s ascendancy a reality. Barack Obama could not have been elected President twice without the support of large numbers of white people. Those same people then flipped and voted for Donald Trump. Now, they have repudiated Trump but have given soon to be President Joe Biden a staunchly Republicrat Congress. More of the same gridlock politricks, while the same disparities in justice, healthcare, education, employment and housing continue to ravage black and brown people all over this country.

A person of African descent in America, I am descended from a kidnapped people; a people held hostage for so long, we have no memories of what it was like to live free. At the same time, it would be disingenuous to deny the racial progress that has materialized over the last half century. My maternal grandmother lived to see her children and her grandchildren flourish in spite of Black life in a hostile American society. My parents lived to see their son become a published poet and a college professor. My mother and my mother-in-law and their grandchildren lived to witness a Black man occupy the White House as President. My wife and I were among the more than one million people blessed to experience the historic 2019 Year of the Return in Ghana.

A genuine Black agenda should never be dependent upon who occupies the White House. If we do not save ourselves, we will not be saved. Stuck in a radioactive American mindset, we have become victims of the classic American stubborn refusal to change how we think and therefore how we act. In too many disturbing ways, we have become more American than the Americans. How can we not suffer from the same sickness that afflicts this nation? Is healing possible, or will we ignore the signs and wallow in the same “rugged individualism” that is crippling this society?

If Black lives truly matter, it is time to renew our essential vision and to realign ourselves with the life-giving traditions that nurtured and sustained our Forebears in the face of slavery and a withering exile in this land of our tormentors. Will we continue to try to integrate into a burning house, or is there another way? Or do we dare to achieve the seemingly impossible? I choose embracing the challenge to walk the way of a truly new world. The journey of the Ancestors provides valuable lessons that can help guide us in the struggle to navigate these still treacherous American waters.

If we learn nothing else from the Presidency of MAGA Donald Trump, we can no longer deny the spiritual pandemic that is ravaging this nation. Before we can treat the symptoms and find a cure for the illness, we must finally diagnose the dis-ease. Toward that end, these words of Nigeria’s Chief Fela Sowande have never resonated with more truth, “Power without wisdom is but another name for death…. It is not the presence of power that is evil; it is the absence of love that makes power evil and destructive.”

In this troubled time, all lives will not matter until Black lives matter. Face to face with the real, where do we go from here?

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