Sunday, December 2, 2018

How the death of a 20th Century President with family ties to early California history amplifies the struggle to reconcile history with today's politics

I am a native Californian, I'm old, and find myself in a struggle to reconcile history with today's politics.

In 2016 as we found ourselves facing an election in which American economic Neoliberal ideologues and cultural Christian traditionalists coalesced to finally take the Republican Party away from the likes of the Bush Yankee Republican dynasty founded by Obadiah Newcomb Bush great-great-grandfather of President George H.W. Bush who died this past week.

This post isn't about the death of President George H.W. Bush whose memory needs no additional positive recognition from me as most of the press has done an excellent job of pointing out how he was the last of a kind as a President. But his death reminded me of the ties of the Bush Yankee Republican dynasty to early California history and to a long tradition of advocating for human rights.

Obadiah Bush and his brother Henry, grandsons of a American Revolution militia captain, were abolitionists. Obadiah, vice president of the American Anti-Slavery Society, petitioned the New York State Legislature to secede from the Union in a protest against slavery, after which The Rochester Daily Advertiser accused him of encouraging anarchy.

His sister-in-law Abigail Norton Bush (c. 1810 – c. 1899) was a women's rights activist in Rochester, New York. She served as president of the Rochester Women's Rights Convention, which was held in 1848.

In 1849 Obadiah traveled to California among the forty-niners in the gold rush. Two years later he died aboard a ship on his way back to California and was given a sea burial, leaving seven children.

One of his sons, Rev. James Smith Bush, was was an American attorney, Episcopal priest, and religious writer. In 1865–66 James also traveled to San Francisco via the Straits of Magellan, but on the ironclad monitor USS Monadnock. In 1867–1872, James served at San Francisco's Grace Church (later Cathedral).

James was the grandfather of the late Republican United States Senator from Connecticut Prescott Sheldon Bush who was the father of President George H. W. Bush and the paternal grandfather of President George W. Bush and Governor Jeb Bush.

Prescott was involved with the American Birth Control League as early as 1942 and served as the treasurer of the first national capital campaign of Planned Parenthood in 1947. His support for hurt him in strongly-Catholic Connecticut, and were the basis of a last-minute campaign in churches by Bush's opponents during his first two runs for the Senate seat which he lost. He was also an early supporter of the United Negro College Fund, serving as chairman of the Connecticut branch in 1951.

This is the history of the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, I understood. Truthfully, within this Union of states called the United States, I simply cannot see any similarity between Mississippi, which just elected an avowed segregationist Republican to the United States Senate, and California where founders of the Bush dynasty, steeped in anti-slavery and women's rights activism, spent their early years.

In fact, being an old native Californian I don't understand how in the 21st Century America either...
  • Senator Kamala Harris, born to a Tamil Indian mother, a breast cancer researcher, who emigrated from Madras, Tamil Nadu, India, in 1960, and a Stanford University economics professor father who emigrated from Jamaica in 1961, or
  • California Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Poland and maternal grandparents of German-Jewish ancestry were immigrants from Saint Petersburg, Russia,
...can stand to be in the same room with Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith who:
  • went to a segregation academy for grade school like the one she sent her daughter to, now attended by her granddaughter;
  • joked about lynching, saying she would “be on the front row” if a constituent asked her to go to “a public hanging";
  • voted against Senate Bill 1114 proposed by Dianne Feinstein on May 11, 2017 which would have nullified President Trump’s Executive Order 13798, which directing the Secretaries of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Labor to consider issuing “conscience-based” protections for religious discrimination in a period of time of increasing violent attacks on the American Jewish community.

I know that necessarily Harris and Feinstein must attend Senate sessions. But particularly troubling is the 21st Century Republican woman segregation advocate pictured at the right standing next to Mississippi's state flag which enshrines the Confederate Battle Flag. Cindy Hyde-Smith won her election to the U.S. Senate with the strong support of the shouted bigotry of 21st Century Republican Donald Trump.

That she won in the same year that President George H.W. Bush died, a man whose family has been advocating for equality and human rights for over 150 years, is disheartening.

I am a native Californian, I'm old, and find myself in a struggle to reconcile history with today. It is almost enough to become an advocate for the California secession movement known as Calexit.

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