Providence Lost

“There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children, and the United States of America” is a famous quote often attributed to German chancellor Otto von Bismarck (1818-1898). If this is true, Bismarck stole it from the French (like Alsace-Lorraine), just adding the USA to the old saying that “God always helps fools, lovers and drunkards.” Even so, Americans took the Iron Chancellor’s quote as a compliment, and history as proof that God is on our side. But God helps those who help themselves, and our recent history makes me wonder if we still enjoy Providence’s protection. We certainly lost it on Nov. 8, 2016, when Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States.

Twenty-twenty has been a terrible year for the world in general and for the United States in particular. We face a new and unexpected scourge, COVID-19, which has struck at least a million Americans, killed over a 100,000 of us, and caused the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Twenty-twenty has also witnessed more than its share of racial terrorism where white police officers, and white civilians taking the law into their own hands, used “law and order” as an excuse to murder African-American men and women. The death of George Floyd, by Minneapolis police officers on May 25, proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that black Americans (and other minorities) would not be treated with justice in the good old USA. Thousands of Americans, of all races, genders and classes, took to the streets to protest racial injustice in this country. Most of the protesters were peaceful though some, alas, took to looting and violent attacks to express their anger.

Things would have improved somewhat if we had a president who understood the fears and hatreds of the American people and who worked to bring our country together. Unfortunately, Donald Trump does not have the qualifications to be an effective leader. Even worse, he does not have the qualifications to be a decent human being. Politically damaged by his sloppy treatment of the pandemic, Trump views the current crisis as an excuse to marshal his base, win re-election and make himself a dictator. Trump could have given a healing address of unity, like those delivered by previous presidents, both Republican and Democrat. Instead, Trump declared himself the “law and order president,” threatened to send the military to states where governors refuse to “dominate” the upheaval and ordered law enforcement to violently disperse protesters in front of the White House so he can walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church across the street and brandish a Bible for the cameras. Like a dog marking his territory, Trump had to show the world that he is still in charge, especially after the media reported that he took refuge in a White House bunker, while protesters raged outside.

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As a light-skinned Cuban-American of European descent, who has benefitted from white privilege all my life, I cannot fully comprehend what black men and women go through in our racist society, nor do I presume to speak on their behalf. However, I can be a good ally and support their struggle for equal justice and humanity. At least I can show some empathy, which is something that Donald Trump seems unable to do. The fight to bring George Floyd’s killers to justice is the fight to bring racial justice to America. Perhaps, by doing so, we can regain some of the divine Providence that we lost.

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