Following the election of President Donald Trump, Oklahoma’s U.S. Senators James Lankford and Jim Inhofe earlier this year refused to hold traditional town hall meetings with their constituents.
It’s just as well: Had they been present to face the 1,500 people who attended the Indivisible Oklahoma public meeting on Saturday at Rose State Community College, the senators might not have appreciated the panelists’ explanation of how today’s right-wing agenda is born of fear and xenophobia.
Even if they couldn’t say so aloud, however, surely Lankford and Inhofe understand that Trumpism is also founded on decades of conservative and neoliberal, national and international efforts to privatize our democracy.
As the officeholders and political activists on the Indivisible Oklahoma panel knew from personal experience, Trumpism was first nurtured by quiet and well-funded groundwork in states like Oklahoma. The hard lessons we’ve learned will be brought into the battle against President Donald Trump.
Inman warns against limiting opportunities
Oklahoma House Minority Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City) recalled the lesson of the rope and why we should never cut it. Like the generations of Americans who preceded us, Inman was taught to climb the rope to a better life.
Trumpism, however, would limit the opportunity for people from other backgrounds, races and religions to achieve the American Dream.
And this unworthy goal is not just due to a panic prompted by economic insecurity. Whether we’re talking about the rollback of health coverage, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the attack on public education, or the potential dismantling of environmental protections, Trumpism would, as Inman said, privatize corporate profit and socialize the costs of shredding our public systems.
A foundation for that reactionary campaign has discreetly been laid in several states and through a national campaign to promote gerrymandering and to create a “citizenless democracy” by disenfranchising voters.
Edmondson on health care, environment
Former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson cryptically compared the titles of the old and new federal health insurance programs. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the name accepted by former-President Barack Obama, affirmed our faith that America can find a way to provide high-quality health care for all.
Meanwhile, the Republicans’ American Health Care Act makes it clear that, No We Can’t! Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and company deny that our democracy can do what other industrial nations have accomplished.
Edmondson also reminded us that, during his 16 years as Oklahoma attorney general, his office protected consumers against the corporate powers that now seek to destroy the Environmental Protection Agency.
Then, Edmondson’s successor, now-Environment Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, opened the door to rampant fracking and the gutting of environmental protections. Now, Pruitt wants to do the same to America as a whole.
The Sierra Club’s Johnson Rainwater also urged the audience to study the international roots of the neoliberal corporate agenda. I would only add that the most famous of them, the McKinsey Group, provided the basic model for corporate school reform, which has been imposed on Oklahoma and most of the nation.
Civil discourse, neighborliness on display
The alternative to dread and defeatism was also on display in the packed auditorium Saturday night. Individuals shared stories of neighborliness and cooperation. The mother of a transgender student thanked her hero, Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman), for her support.
The meeting also stressed the importance of civil discourse. Once, a couple of loud audience members interrupted Inman. Briefly, the health reform discussion generated some excessive heat.
Freedom Oklahoma’s Troy Stevenson quickly intervened.
It can’t be a coincidence that, as numerous efforts have been made to advance an anti-LGBTQ agenda in Oklahoma, Stevenson, state chambers of commerce and our common decency have been effective in beating back the hate.
Muslim solidarity caps the evening
The evening’s last topic, the defense of immigrants and Muslims’ rights, brought the event to a rousing climax. We were regaled with the story of Muslim students’ encounters in the office of the notorious Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw). As was reported on CNN and the Huffington Post, before Bennett would allow Muslims to visit with him, he required them to complete a handout full of libelous charges against Islam. For instance, it asked questions such as: “The Koran, the sunna of Mohammed and Sharia Law of all schools say that the husband can beat his wife. Do you beat your wife?”
I’d add two points about the surrealistic encounter at the State Capitol that helped propel the final panelist, CAIR Oklahoma’s Adam Soltani, into the national debate. It was Bennett’s extremism that made the national headlines. The coverage, however, was made possible by the conscientious and sincere efforts by CAIR to reach out to all types of Oklahomans. It was years of steady persuasion that laid the foundation for Americans across the nation to see individuals like Soltani and CAIR’s activists for who they are — caring and committed patriots with captivating senses of humor.
Soltani reviewed some of the anti-Muslim violence, apparently including murder, that Trumpism has spurred. He also said he receives threats and is told to “go back to where you come from.” But, no, Soltani is not going back to Kansas.
Create genuine populism in the 21st century
The wonderful turnout on a Saturday evening tells me that Virgin is correct when she said: The best thing about the Trump election is that it has spurred the growth of movements like Indivisible Oklahoma.
We are going back to our roots, our sense of community. Oklahoma was one of the first places assaulted by the privatization agenda that is Trumpism. We will use our hard-earned experience in battling that corporate agenda to produce a genuine populism worthy of 21st-century America.