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Don’t watch their lips, watch their feet

The former vice president was in rural Kentucky campaigning for Democrats, where he stated that President Trump “is just trashing American values the way he talks about people, the way he makes fun of people, the way he denigrates folks” (New York Times, Oct. 12).

In July, Joe Biden responded to the forced separation of migrant families: “This is not who we are: America is better than this.” He condemned Trump’s immigration policy, calling the separation of migrant families “one of the darkest moments in our history” (The Hill, July 21). Where was Biden when President Obama separated families and deported nearly 3 million migrants?

Biden’s societal views are similar to those of Obama, who claimed that U.S. torture during the Afghan and Iraq wars contradicted basic American beliefs. The former Harvard law professor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate admitted that “We did some things that were wrong [and] we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.” According to Obama, CIA and military personnel tortured people because they were afraid and under “enormous pressure” to prevent further attacks on the country. Their feelings and motives, however, are absolutely irrelevant when it comes to international law.

Obama stated that it was “important not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those [CIA] folks had.” Apparently, U.S. citizens hadn’t shown the proper empathy for CIA personnel who raped, sodomized and killed prisoners of war. The Geneva Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a signatory, is crystal clear on this matter: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability of any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.” Since Obama, the former Harvard Law School professor, is fully aware of this prohibition, he simply chose to ignore this international legal standard.

How would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and allegedly one of Obama’s proclaimed heroes, have responded to documented evidence on torture? He would have condemned it and Obama’s pathetic defense of the practice. And he certainly would not castigate those who condemned torture by calling them “sanctimonious.” In arguably his greatest moral and political oration, King would have asserted that such torture was done by “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government” (“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967, exactly one year before he was assassinated).

Obama’s claim that torture and other war crimes are “contrary to our values” is simply untrue, as any accurate examination of U.S. history will reveal. In judging the actions and proclaimed beliefs of our political officials, therefore, and the dominant elite they ultimately serve, therefore, we need to stop watching their lips and watch their feet to see what they actually do. We must distinguish the real history of the country from false tales put forth by this elite and passed on by its media, education, and religious enablers. We proclaim ourselves as the most exceptional people on earth, but our lived history profoundly contradicts this assertion.

We must reject Biden’s “America is better than that” version of history, and Trump’s “Make America great again.” Injustice — including torture and wars of aggression — has been ingrained in the very fabric of the nation since the founding. It has only been alleviated or ended by mass movements from below that forced a change in these practices. It was never given as a gift by those in power.

John Marciano lives in Talent.