Right away people are going to ask about this title. ‘What is he trying to say?’ they’ll say. ‘Is that a reference to controversial minister, Jeremiah Wright, and if so, what does that have to do with the long delayed third part of a purported trilogy about our congressman’s townhall meeting back on the 22nd?’ That sort of thing.
Some might try to pass it off as a reference to the biblical preachers of old who preached fire and brimstone and a message of retribution for the people who dwell in iniquity, but the structure is far too arch for it to not be about Wright, right?
You remember Jeremiah Wright? The hard preaching Chicago minister who sermonized to Barack Obama for 20 years before being dropped like a flaming spud-nick back in March of ’08, when then-candidate Obama started to take some heat for the texts of Wright’s sermons. You surely remember the whole “Goddamn America” thing, what fun it was watching that traitor get fried, huh? What does that have to do with little protester me, attempting to call Trent Franks to the carpet in the middle of 900 rabid right-wingers?
When last we traced the exploits of our protagonist, it was August 22nd of 2009, over a year removed, and at a Kingman, AZ church, not Chicago. And furthermore, Trent Franks was the speaker and there was no Wright in sight.
So, as I was saying, I asked my question, “Mr. Franks, you are part of the same crowd who sold us the George Bush Administration with its WMD deception that led to the deaths of over a million people, that sold us tax cuts which created massive deficits, which have crippled our economy, which sold us the stripping of American liberties in the name of security. As a millionaire you have worked very hard to help the wealthy at the expense of the many; and that appears to be what you are doing now. When our healthcare system is the most expensive in the world with worst record among developed countries for actually helping the sick and the poor, here you are, feverously working to spend more on weapons, but not on saving lives. My question for you is this: with such a long and distinguished record of doing what is wrong for America, why should we trust you now?”
And Trent Franks flinched. Not much, not for long. The guy’s been in public office somewhere or another since, you guessed it, 1984. He’s dealt with dissidents before. He knows how to channel the energy in a room. Before his adoring rightwing audience, he sliced me and diced me, duly thrashing me for my serial transgressing on the right wing’s recent record while his fans cheered on.
Just as my braying had spooked the herd of elephants in the room, his soothing voice reassured the converted that the heretic was of no consequence. It was like a scene from the WWF, as Jesse Ventura explained in Alex Jones’ “The Obama Deception,” a political bit of fakery meant to move the masses, but after the cameras are off the supposed opponents buddy up and laugh at the stagecraft. Silly little audience heckler gets trounced by the circus strongman, the crowd goes wild! In fact, it worked so well for Franks; I could have been a plant, a straw man for the hero to pillory so the audience can glory in their righteous indignation.
But, there was a difference between the scene we played out in public and what he told me in private afterwards. Trent Franks’ official response to me as duly reported by Suzanne Adams of the Kingman Daily Miner was,
“Bush ‘would be pretty surprised to hear that I was supporting his administration,’ Franks said. He had supported an alternative to Bush during the election. And the people that made fun of Bush and his focus on nuclear weapons may one day wish he was back, Franks said. ‘There was a lot that I didn't agree with him about, but he did keep us safe. As far as the status quo, I think we should be moving toward a more freedom-oriented system and I think that's what our healthcare bill will do.’"
Like various remarks Franks made throughout the course of his two and a half hour speaking engagement, Franks’ reply to me, while pristine on the surface, was full of inaccuracies and intentional distortions, contradictions so blatant that they showed themselves within the context of that single afternoon’s talk. For the two simplest examples: Franks attempted to distance himself from Bush in that opening line of the quote, but elsewhere in the course of the afternoon, he spoke long and waxed eloquent about his “good friend George Bush,” and “flying on Air Force One with George Bush,” etc. with each variation on the truth gauged towards maximum audience effect, not absolute veracity.
Then there’s the scene in July 2008 at the Judiciary Committee hearing on “The Imperial Presidency” dubbed the “non-impeachment impeachment hearings” led by Dennis Kucinich. Franks had loudly been part of the Bush cover team in the impeachment hearings, making impassioned speeches about the injustice of besmirching a glorious man like George Bush by merely suggesting he ever even erred. Here is an actual quote from my coverage of the hearing for OpEdNews: “somehow we're going after this president you has done everything in his power to protect us.”
Later on “Franks contended that though the president has only has a 30% approval rating Congress' approval rating is in single digits due largely to its despicable hounding of the poor president. Coincidentally later that same day MSNBC showed the latest poll which had the numbers at Bush 23%, Congress 15%.” He also claimed any who questioned Bush should “be ashamed” and any accusations of Bush wrongdoings were “fairytales.”
Further, a scan of Franks’ complete voting record, again courtesy of Vote Smart.org, shows Franks’ allegiance to the party line, which by definition was explicitly the Bush agenda for the last 8 years. So whatever “distance” Franks wants to feign, it wasn’t significantly shown in his actions as a legislator either.
As for “keeping us safe,” Bush and his policies have probably done more to enflame Moslem extremist ire than any one else since Popes stopped holding crusades and presidents took over the funding; as Erik Prince of Black Water recently acknowledged. The fact that the whole world knows the Iraq War was based on a lie and that America still refuses to do little more than grudgingly ignore it is the kind of genuine reason people in one country come to hate the people of another country. Creating millions of new enemies for us is not my preferred method for promoting the American public’s safety.
It was through Bush and the Republicans’ efforts that de-regulations of the housing markets coincided with the sub-prime lending that set up the housing bubble. Then, a change in policy led to the stampede that brought the market contraction to a crisis. Then while millions of Americans roiled in the foreclosure waves and job losses Bush offices again with Repub support organized the trillion dollar bailouts which give public money to the rich and debt to the poor in addition to their foreclosed homes. You remember the bailout? The one we now condemn Obama for?
And don’t forget Bush once proudly laughed as he called himself “the world’s biggest polluter” at an international conference. His multitudinous efforts on repealing the environment progress of previous presidents through the potentially impeachable practice of signing statements was monumental enough by itself but that amounts to only a fraction of the decimations promoted by the Bush administration with Franks adamant approval. The changes in policy direction were widespread and have already caused irreparable harm. And not just some namby-pamby environmental impact like the extinction of some silly little spotted wombat living on some tiny river valley nobody cares about.
Based on policies his office pushed, engineers stalled and underfunded levy maintenance in New Orleans, then stalled and underfunded the initial rescue effort. And in the aftermath, Bushco quietly sanctioned the widespread land grab of poor people’s property in the name of business investments, leading to widespread homelessness and misery.
All of which reads like the exact opposite of keeping America out of harm’s way.
But these were not the facts Franks’ audience wanted to be confronted with. The message they were wanting to have reinforced was god, country, guns and tax cuts and that was the raw meat Trent Franks was serving up. And Kingman ate it up. For better or worse, Trent Franks is the icon of what the Republicans of western Arizona want to see as their noble world vision.
So, it was small surprise Frank’s supporters gave him one of his biggest standing ovations following his reply to me. While Dem congressmen around the country were hashing their way through hostile town hall moshpits, Franks was preaching to the choir, greeted like the feature speaker at a church revival, which in fact is what he was.
The minister who introduced Franks keenly, perhaps intentionally explained that when he recounted their numerous experiences together, both social and religious. Folks dressed up in their Sunday best with lots of red, white and blue. The stage craft of the event made it clear: It was essentially a Saturday go-to-meeting service. Franks was one of the brethren, a returning hero for the church of the Republican Religious Right. Or at least the way it looks from Kingman, AZ.
What Franks said to me were the lines people needed to hear to be reaffirmed in their belief system. Franks’ speeches about the glories of the Republican positions on healthcare, immigration, the war on terror and the economy, didn’t have to be based on reality. They just had to satisfy the moment till the talk could get back to what the audience wanted to hear about: god, country, guns and tax cuts and oh yes, how we’re number one and all that stuff.
Even if it’s not true, it’s the only message some conservatives want said. And it is not that they just don’t want to hear it, they don’t even want it said. As if to really love a country, one must deny its flaws at all costs. Germany had had a lot of deniers at one point and look how far a government can stray if people are expected to ignore and deny misdeeds. It’s certainly not an attitude I would take with my children, to deny their misbehavior, they’d never correct it. It’s been proven again and again it is not a safe one to take with our leaders either.
But the Republican Religious Right of America have a lot of denying to do these days and are not ready to be held accountable for the indignities and inhumanities their reign has wrought. Like the recently reported on Republican mother who is outraged that the president might want to speak directly to the children of our country with his Tuesday Sept. 8 speech, afraid her child might hear that America is imperfect because the president wants to get kids believing we need to work to fix it.
This is the kind of willful, insistent angry ignorance that filled the halls of a church that claimed to proclaim love and joy of our great and varied country, yet told a woman who dared admit she was a democrat that she needed to leave, she wasn’t welcome to see her own congressman because she was a commie, etc. This is a true story of someone else whose willful public humiliation didn’t quite make it into the news. And, like me, she made a point of recording it for the good people of Mohave County to share.
Bullhead City blogger Kim Lawrence recounted her catalyzing experience in her account of the event posted on “Activist in Training” (http://frominsidethesnakepit.blogspot.com/ ): “I still don't understand what people were trying to prove carrying guns into a church, but while I felt somewhat nervous, I wasn't afraid...yet. My friend and I sat down and I was immediately called out for being a Democrat. I was called evil, a socialist and a communist, then asked to leave. All this coming from a well dressed older gentleman who looked like he could have been very nice. I stayed my ground, stating I am an American citizen and had a right to be there.
“I am also appalled at the out right lies regarding our President and how Rep. Franks not only allowed it but encouraged it. He seemed smugly pleased with the anger and hate. Shame on you!! And in a House of God no less!! … Hatred toward your fellow human beings should never be condoned.
“It was a frightening ordeal and not necessarily from the standpoint of being a liberal in a hall of extreme right wingers, but more from the standpoint of an American seeing such outright hatred. I understand anger. Many are angry at rising costs, that their man didn't win the Presidency, and many don't agree with liberal politics, but the blind, raw hate that has come to surface and enticed by so called leaders like Franks is the most disturbing thing I think I've come across.”
This was the kind of crowd who scared also a man in attendance because as the event proceeded he became physically afraid he’d be called out as a non-believer and the crowd would turn against him and the guy was once a wrestling coach. This is the kind of crowd that wants a man like Trent Franks to tell them they are the good guys even as they do things their bibles tell them are bad: acting in hate, supporting unjust wars, ignoring the needs of the sick and the poor.
And Trent Franks is the right Jeremiah to preach that such acts are righteousness and it’s the wicked in the society that are to be condemned for its sufferings: the immigrants, the foreigners, the poor. Trent Franks is as anti- an anti- liberal as could be concocted in a Heritage Foundation think tank if they had a genetic lab. In fact, if you took an alphabetical laundry list of liberal stances on issues from abortion to women’s equality, he’s been against it. For just one example, he is so determinedly against legislation aimed to improve women’s equality that he’s figured out a way to vote against bills to help women end wage discrimination five different times, under five different names. That’s dedicated.
So after his momentary flinch, that brief shining instant of his tape loop reloading, Franks made the right move to cast me, the designated non-believer, to the flaming pit while the multitude cheered and then continued to entertain “birther” questions long after even the converted had lost patience with it. Why? To focus the hatred of the masses against the president. In this, Franks was little different from Tempe’s Steve Anderson, the stridently Right AZ minister who now has twice called for the president’s death from the pulpit. If that’s not the equivalent of “Goddamn America,” then I’m unsure what qualifies.
But, here’s the thing that the righteous of Kingman missed, after the crowds had left and the autograph lines formed. Yep, I got Trent Franks’ autograph, even a couple of photographs of us mugging for the camera and talked with both him and his staff separately, cordially, and extensively. I’ve got this one photograph showing us smiling as he told me how much alike we were and how much we probably agree on.
Just like Jesse Ventura noted in the “Obama Deception,” the scene was little more than stagecraft meant to sway the masses. Franks had played me like a ricochet and won the moment. But if Jeremiah Wright had been wrong for using the church to condemn our country’s leaders, then Trent Franks is the Right’s right Jeremiah.
And if Trent Franks is what passes for what is right these days, I am proud so many call me wrong.
--mikel weisser writes from the left coast of Arizona