All posts by Sam Mitchell

The only surprising thing about seeing a retro campaign shirt for Reagan/Bush in an outdoor supply store in 2017 is that a Democrat wasn’t equally represented in the store’s apparel selection. Where was the retro Clinton/Gore or Carter/Mondale poly-cotton, blended, tagless, light-weight, vintage-styled tee? I honestly do not mind seeing the shirt for sale, but it does strike me as odd that a business would not be mindful as to represent the political counterpart in shirt form so that potential non-Republican customers would be included. Immediately I’m informed about the political leanings of the store’s owner and I am far less likely to shop there again.

I ask my wife why? Why has the ghost of Reagan been romanticized so much? Was it just Reagan’s grandfatherly persona or his reassuring delivery? Will he not be remembered for his part in escalating the nuclear arms race with the USSR or for the Iran Contra Affair? Was it trickle down Reaganomics? Was it his war on labor and union busting that led no employer to feel any obligation to their employees?

True, Clinton and Carter have had legacy problems. President Obama will as well. Every president has and will, but I don’t romanticize those issues. Bill Clinton’s legacy is waning due to his post presidency persona, but the economic boom during his presidency was unparalleled. While Carter may still be remembered for his weak economic disposition, he was the only president to successfully negotiate peace between Israel and Egypt. His post-presidency will certainly be met with respect due to his tireless humanitarian work through Habitat for Humanity and The Carter Center.

Why are unions, to this day, viewed entirely as un-American entities? Thanks to unions we have a 40 hour work week, weekends and child labor laws. Of course unions can have problems, but what they truly have given us is collective bargaining.

As a middle school student, I remember my father was constantly worried about losing his factory job in textiles. He was never given a raise and always said the the only thing that “trickled down” was the piss from the politician’s legs. Crude, but relatable. A union would have benefitted the employees of his company.

Since the fall of unions, income equality has increased and the middle class has decreased. There is a direct correlation. Even Reagan was twice elected as the president of Hollywood’s largest acting union, The Screen Actor’s Guild. Reagan was a former actor who had played in no less than seven westerns. Maybe the love given to Reagan was for the swagger seen on the silver screen, like other populist candidates, they are relatable as personas and not real politicians.

The same week as the visit to the outfitter, I picked up a copy of the DC animated movie, Justice League: A New Frontier, from my local library. It’s a 2008 interpretation of Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel of the same name. I had been revisiting the work of Cooke, as he died last year from cancer at age 53. I quickly reread the collected edition of his series and once again was in awe. The New Frontier, I had forgotten that the term had been used by newly elected president John F. Kennedy during his acceptance speech in 1960. The story in the comic series takes the viewer on an adventure over two decades and ends in 1960 with the formation of the Justice League on the last full-page panel. It’s symbolic and powerful.

Diving in a little deeper, I learned that in early comic history, the heroes lived in their own separate worlds. Stories did not intertwine. There wasn’t a shared universe that one might see today in many of the blockbuster hero films. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman live separately and never have the opportunity to exchange a glance, a quip, or to aide each other in the defeat of a villain. Each was emblematic of mythic story telling where the hero was fighting by themselves against the evils of the world, as seen in classic literature like Beowulf and Odysseus. Superman was the savior from another world. Batman had no Robin, and Wonder Woman was the single Amazonian who had left home. The single hero against all odds was even seen in modern storytelling like the Westerns that helped Reagan become a well known name.

During WWII, comics became increasingly popular, not only with children, but with servicemen. The men and women of our nation joined together to fight a common cause, Facism. It was not the journey of a solitary warrior and with that, the comic stories followed suit. To the amazement of readers, their favorite characters now inhabited the same universe. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all worked together. We’ve gone from the singularity of Beowulf to the collective efforts of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table to every reader’s delight.

Author Salman Rushdie is quoted as saying that he knew how great America was by the inclusiveness of the characters seen in the Justice League comics he read as a child. As long as you were good hearted, you could be a member of the Justice League, too.

Here is where it comes full circle. Former DC Comics writer and editor, Mike Friedrich, said:

“My [current] job is a labor organizer. I talk to people about how they can achieve more by working collectively than they can do as individuals. And I learned that by reading and writing the Justice League.”

It is my opinion that Reagan’s eventual legacy will be seen as mixed, and he will ultimately be remembered for quotes like, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” It evokes leadership. It evokes power. It also conjure the image of singularity and unilateral action, much like the cowboy characters that he portrayed. Little reverence is given to Mikhail Gorbachev’s role in the dismantling of the USSR by the general public. Reagan would not have been successful without his Soviet counterpart.

What the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties need to do now is remind the American people that we can work together to avoid being trampled upon. We need to make sure that those fears are allayed so that the people of our country are not comforted by an authoritarian bully. Years from now I would rather not hear another country’s leader telling us to tear down the wall that we have built.

I believe in the concept of the Separation of Church and State. Thomas Jefferson popularized the phrase and discussed the wall of “separation of church and state” in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut in 1802. Jefferson was there to address the congregation’s concerns that the rumors of the nation’s religion was to be Congregationalist. He assured them that it was not and that no denominations or religions could be appointed to the people by the government. When I hear of the “separation of church and state,” I believe that it is a good thing. Our first amendment ensures us that religion cannot be forced upon the people by the state. In this multi-layered amendment, it also addresses the right of the people to worship freely.

In the case of prayer in school, I believe that one should be able to pray or congregate as they see fit on school grounds as long as the time is appropriate, i.e. clubs or before or after school. If a student reading the Bible in the classroom was neglecting instruction for his math assignments, but was instead focusing on his devotional, I believe the teacher has every right to tell the student to refrain from her activity. I remember being a part of a prayer club in high school. It has been nineteen years since I’ve been in public education. My mother is a teacher and to my knowledge her school still has a similar extracurricular prayer club. When my father was in education, he even participated in a morning-prayer service on school property before classes began. The teachers gathered to pray daily for guidance in teaching the middle school and thank God for all of their many blessings. I constantly hear that prayer has been taken out of school. If this is reference to prayer led by public school teachers whose salaries are paid for by the government, then it doesn’t bother me that it has been taken out of the schools. Dad’s participation in morning prayers was voluntary. If he had been leading his students in a prayer during class it would have been considered improper.

When she was six, my mom was harassed by her first grade teacher. Every Monday, Miss Mary Clark would ask which student attended Sunday school the day before. Mom’s family rarely visited church and when it was brought to the teacher’s attention by a show of hands that she hadn’t gone, Miss Mary Clark made my mother and one other student stand in front of the class. The teacher would then chastise them publicly for not going. She then went so far as to tell them that they were both going to hell. Weeks later, Mom reluctantly told her father about her embarrassment at school. My grandfather called the teacher and told her to never do this again and that if she truly cared so much about little Janie’s salvation, that she had permission to pick her up every Sunday and take her to church. Miss Clark never extended the offer to Mom and she never questioned the student’s Sunday school attendance in class again.

Until 1961, prayer in school was mandatory. As a ruling of the Supreme Court it was finally outlawed. Billboards line the highways and interstates as if they were memos from God stating, “Please put me back in the schools”— God. I chuckle at these. It is sincerely doubtful to me that our problems in education and our problems in the world stem from this 1961 law.

I’ve heard many times that we began as a “Christian Nation” and that Christianity was the religion of our founding fathers. Many of our founding fathers (including the original George W., John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin) were intelligent individuals and many of our founding fathers were far more outspoken of their non-centered beliefs than that of our modern politicians who have all claimed Christianity in an outspoken way since Jimmy Carter said that he was “born-again.”

George Washington was a spiritual man who believed in God, but had his issues with Christianity. He could not be categorized as a deist because he believed God actually intervened militarily. He was accepting though of other beliefs. He even appointed John Murray, a Universalist, to Army Chaplain. Washington did this knowing that Murray dismissed the concept of hell. Washington proclaimed the role of religion in his farewell address, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports”.

When dealing with the Barbary Coast Muselmen (Moorish Muslims), John Adams (during his administration) ratified the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which states in Article XI that “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion”. Adams, was a Unitarian who rejected many doctrines of Christianity, but like Franklin, believed that religion was key to guiding the people morally.

Thomas Jefferson, the most famous of the deists, rewrote Jesus’ story in what is appropriately known as The Jeffersonian Bible. He omitted the miracles and only translated up to Jesus’ burial. He also believed that Jesus’ moral lessons were exemplary.

Let us not forget Ben Franklin. Ben Franklin believed in a providential God, but doubted the divinity of Jesus. He donated money to all denominations that asked for contributions, claiming that religion promoted morality.

These four, who many think of as our most influential founding fathers, by all means believed in God, but by many of today’s standards would not be considered Christians. I’m not trying to draw a conclusion that our Founding Father’s church education did not influence them in their personal involvement in the creation of a new country’s law, but they were wise enough not to intertwine the two directly. When many today claim that these men did not have to put the words “God” or “Christianity” in our law because it was an assumption that most were Christians leaves little credit to them.

It is obvious that “God” is in our government. “Under God” was added to the pledge of Allegiance in the mid 50s to distinguish our nation from Communist one’s which were mostly considered atheist. Of course, “In God We Trust” was already on our coins due to the rising religious sentiment during the Civil War. Do these things bother me? Of course not, but it also does not bother me when there is a prospect of them being taken away. The word “God” on money or in a pledge, whether it is there or not does not effect my personal faith. I find that these issues are really more about drawing lines and rallying a political base than actually about faith or religion.

The majority of the people in America, including our politicians, can be categorized as some denomination of Christian. Considering that the populace is made up of Christians, it goes without saying that as a majority we are and have been a “Nation of Christians,” but I do not feel comfortable calling the United States a “Christian Nation.” Not until we affect Jesus’ teaching in community living, after we feed the world’s poor and care for our elderly and after we put away our armaments, then I will feel that the title will be more befitting. As a nation, no matter who is at the head, I do not feel that we could collectively act as Christ would. I also feel that is dangerous to consider other nations non-Christian. This only displays our arrogance when we name those who we believe are inferior.

As far as offending others with our displays, we have always offended. There has never been a time when we could worship or display our religion without the fear of alienating or offending. For example (I think this works well in the South), If a Catholic school teacher led the class in a ceremony or invocation that seemed to idolize Mother Mary, might someone whose parents were fundamental Baptists and not Catholic take issue with this. Whose Christianity would be correct? Is it fair to make Jewish, Muslim or Atheist children sit through a Christian prayer at a football game that is on school grounds during a school function?

I believe religion in its simplest terms is a relationship between God and one’s self. Government cannot dictate this whether it is a law or not, but to allow the expression of faith to appear sanctioned and endorsed by the state will only guarantee civil strife.