It Was God and Guns

A number of years ago, on our then-annual summer sojourn to central Wisconsin – before the political rise of former President Donald Trump, but after former Republican WI Gov. Scott Walker had taken office and assumed the acrimonious, politically warlike approach toward Democrats, liberals and all who opposed him that Mr. Trump subsequently adopted on a national scale — we noted a wide number of enthusiastic expressions of support for Mr. Walker throughout the area.  I was then fairly surprised by it.  This part of Wisconsin was then and remains today fairly economically deprived.  Even in summer – the tourist season – many of these little Wisconsin communities are ghost towns during the week.  One day, we happened to encounter a retired social studies teacher who had spent his career in one of the small local high schools.  Some way or other, we became aware of the fact that he was liberal, which enabled me to ask about the issue that had been puzzling me:  all one had to do was look around to see that the Walker Administration had done nothing for these people, but their support for the Republican Governor was ardent and palpable.  Why?  I was even then geeky enough to say:  “These people should be for Roosevelt.”  He was of the vintage to understand the reference.  He replied:  “It was God and guns that did it.”

Although this is merely repeating a lament that I have previously recorded in these pages, it nonetheless seems appropriate today to note that the true danger facing our nation is not Mr. Trump or his cohort.  Through their messaging, spread by propagandists such as Fox News, they have provided an alternate reality regarding the 2020 presidential election, the Capitol insurrection, COVID, the environment, and on and on; but their supporters have zealously chosen to embrace narratives that anyone willing to apply any level of discernment would immediately recognize as false.  These citizens have done so because they loath what they perceive that a multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-gender, urban-based segment of our electorate has done to desecrate their values and denigrate their standing in society — what they consider America to be.  I have heard more than one alt-right proponent – U.S. OH Rep. Jim Jordan comes to mind – declare that the Democrats and progressives hate conservatives.  I ask you to consider whether in any aspect of life, winners “hate” their adversaries.  They don’t – they’ve won.  It is sometimes the losers that hate.  Mr. Jordan’s declaration amounts to pure projection — not because progressives are any morally better; they reek with condescension toward rural America and its values — but because over the last decades, progressive attitudes have come to dominate our culture.  I would submit that it may be some among those who consider their country to have been overrun by attitudes they find abhorrent that perhaps harbor the deepest antipathy.  They reject demonstrable truths.  I recently heard a commentator use a phrase that frequently comes to my mind:  They want what they want.

I have sometimes quoted Dr. Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, in these pages; based upon his research, Dr. Haidt articulately argues that people are ruled by their emotions and use their intellectual powers to provide rationalizations for their visceral inclinations.  Given our national posture today, on the anniversary of the event that I consider to portend the most danger to our democracy since Pearl Harbor, I instead quote another, perhaps as insightful about certain aspects of human nature as he was malignant:

“The broad masses of a people consist neither of professors nor of diplomats.  The scantiness of the abstract knowledge they possess directs their sentiments more to the world of feeling.  That is where their positive or negative attitude lies.  … Their emotional attitude at the same time conditions their extraordinary stability.  Faith is harder to shake than knowledge, love succumbs less to change than respect, hate is more enduring than aversion, and the impetus to the mightiest upheavals on this earth has at all times consisted less in a scientific knowledge dominating the masses than in a fanaticism which inspires them and sometimes in a hysteria which drove them forward.”

  • Adolf Hitler:  Mein Kampf 

I believe in America:  it has been very good to me and mine, and for the billions in this country and across the world for whom it has, despite its failings, been Ronald Reagan’s Shining City on a Hill.  I do not dismiss the possibility that we will regain a level of political and cultural equilibrium.  At the same time, I confess that a year after the Capitol insurrection, we continue to face the greatest challenge to our system of government that we have faced since the end of World War II.

“Never Seen Anything Like It.”

On Thursday, a young couple in our extended family to whom we are very close had to flee their home to escape the wildfires that swept Colorado in the Boulder vicinity.  They and their young daughter were thankfully able to evacuate safely.  They discovered yesterday that their house was one of the few in their area not consumed by the flames, but as this is typed, they don’t know whether the structure, given its immediate proximity to the inferno, is or can be made habitable.

Friday morning reports were full of what we have come to recognize as standard reporting for these tragedies:  that it had been exceptionally dry for a Colorado December; that the winds, driving the fire in seconds across football field-sized areas, were unprecedented; that those covering this wildfire declared that they had “never seen anything like it.” The comments, though wrenching, were dishearteningly familiar — the same as those we have heard in descriptions of our nation’s fires, floods, and mudslides in the northwest, tornados across the great plains, droughts devastating once-fertile farmland, and hurricanes ravaging Puerto Rico, the east, west, and gulf coasts, let alone of the destruction wreaked in so many areas of the world:  Haiti, Africa, Asia, South America, etc., etc., etc.  From the comfort of our homes, we view these disasters with horror and sadness but now, perhaps also a level of detachment:  there have been so many, they have become so common, that it is difficult – at least for me – not to become a bit numb … until it hits somebody you know, somebody you love. 

While progressives passionately advocate for all measures that will reduce America’s carbon emissions to limit the destructive effects that these have upon our climate, there are factors that the most ardent frequently ignore, among them:  we have a lot of families that depend on the fossil fuel industry for their incomes, with at this point – despite Democrats’ protestations – less than comprehensive means to avoid the significant deleterious economic and psychological effects on many of these Americans that would result from the elimination of their livelihoods; our efforts will have little impact if other nations, most notably China (who is reported to be currently relaxing its climate control efforts to counter its slowing economy), don’t employ similar measures; and the more we rely on electricity, the more our power sources may become prey to terrorism and natural disasters that might critically impact our access to power during the north’s frigid winters and the south’s torrid summers.

When we visited Alaska, I was struck by the fact that although it is among our most politically conservative states, no Alaskan we met disputed climate change or the need to address it.  They have seen their glaciers disappear and watched the abundance of their wildlife and its behavior patterns – upon which so many depend for their livelihoods – alter drastically.

I am confident that our young couple will be fine; they survived, and no matter what the ultimate determination of the condition of their home, they are smart and resilient, they will be sustained by their love of their daughter, and they will enjoy the support of a large and loving family.  Even so, the fact remains: It’s not that we haven’t seen anything like this before; it’s that we’ve seen too many like this before.  As I’ve indicated earlier in these pages, I consider the need to safeguard voting rights and outcomes our most immediate national legislative priority.  That said, while taking into account the many interests and issues affected by climate change policy, may this new year be the year in which we as a nation, despite our factious political atmosphere, make meaningful progress toward protecting our world for our children and grandchildren.

May you and your family have a Happy and Healthy New Year.  Stay Safe. 

May Peace Be With You

“… [M]ay the Lord bless his people with peace.”

  • Psalm 29:11

“… Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”

  • John, 20:19

“As-Salaam-Alaikum.

  • A religious salutation among Muslims, meaning, “Peace be unto you.” 

“Inward his peace, and his vision inward shall come to Brahman and know Nirvana.”

  • Hinduism:  Bhagavad-Gita

“May I be a balm to the sick, their healer and servitor until sickness come never again …”

  • Buddhist Philosopher Shantideva

“If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.”

  • Confucius

It took little time to find quotations representative of faiths of which I am less familiar; a longing for peace seems universal.  May you and your loved ones enjoy its warmth during this Season. Happy Holidays. 

“What are you doing here?”

[Hopefully, all reading this note will excuse my adaptation of a well-known fable.]

“Look, we did something that was historic, we saved tens of millions of lives worldwide when we, together, all of us, we got a vaccine done.  This was going to ravage the country far beyond what it is right now, take credit for it… it’s great, what we’ve done is historic. … [I am both vaccinated and boosted.]”

  • Former President Donald Trump, December 20, 2021

So, the man died and arrived at the Pearly Gates.  The Lord looked out, saw him, and said, “What are you doing here?”

“I died, Lord,” he replied.

“What did you die from?”

“I died from the Coronavirus, Lord.”

“How did that happen?  Did you get vaccinated?  Did you get boosted?”

“No, Lord!  It was my freedom!  It was my faith!”

“So … First, I sent you Dr. Fauci, an eminent doctor, who told you vaccinations were safe.  Then, I sent you Pope Francis, who told you that getting vaccinated was an ‘Act of Love.’  Finally, I even sent you … Donald Trump, who told you that vaccinations protected America. 

What are you doing here?” 

On Chris Wallace

Yesterday, Chris Wallace announced he was leaving Fox News for CNN+, CNN’s streaming service.  It is reported that his Fox News contract was up, and he’s out of there.  As I noted when CNBC News Anchor Shepard Smith left Fox News in 2019, I place the highest credibility upon those willing to speak the truth when the truth is contrary to their own interest.  I accordingly considered Mr. Wallace’s approach on Fox News a particularly vital contribution to the ongoing cable news debate of national issues specifically because he was on Fox News, which generates its revenues by serving Trumplican sugar to an audience that laps it up.  I observed when noting Mr. Smith’s departure: 

“It is no surprise to the readers of these pages that I am generally in agreement with the sentiments expressed by the Morning Joe panel and the rest MSNBC lineup (although I’m occasionally surprised that they don’t asphyxiate themselves on their own hyperventilation); I enjoy the relish with which the majority of the CNN talking heads pursue [former President Donald Trump’s] falsehoods and inanities (although I wonder how they avoid drowning in their own antagonism); but I’m always acutely aware that no matter how sincerely these MSNBC and CNN commentators hold their views, they’re on those networks’ air because their employers’ business models in part involve inciting antipathy toward Mr. Trump and his cohort.  What made Mr. Smith different was the fact he was speaking to an audience that generally mostly strongly disagreed with the truth he offered.”

It also made Mr. Wallace different.  It has been reported that Mr. Wallace recently objected to Fox News leadership regarding the network’s airing of Patriot Purge, a 3-part series conducted by Fox News Commentator Tucker Carlson.  I have been aware without following the situation closely – I want to spend as little of my remaining life space as possible attending to Mr. Carlson, and to the reporting on Mr. Carlson’s pronouncements – that Patriot Purge seeks to rewrite the history of the January 6th Capitol insurrection, and has been lampooned by credible fact checkers for boosting Trumplican propaganda.

Godspeed to Mr. Wallace in his new endeavors.  Although he is reported as leaving of his own volition, I doubt that the Murdoch Family and Fox News leadership care that much.

“The nationalization of the broad masses can never be achieved by half measures, by weakly emphasizing a so-called objective standpoint, but only by a ruthless and fanatically one-sided orientation toward the goal to be achieved.”

  • Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

On American Kindness: Redux

[The wrenching verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial this past Friday may have been the legally-correct result, but the conclusion is inescapable that the whole situation was a senseless waste caused by a clueless teenager, carrying an assault weapon with no idea as to the potential consequences of his actions, who traveled from his home in Illinois to a Wisconsin city where he had no valid business.  On Sunday, we had the senseless tragedy in Waukesha caused by the apparently random act of a man, reported by The New York Times to have “a long, violent criminal history,” who was out of jail on bail that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office now states was set “inappropriately low.” The families of those killed and injured in Kenosha and Waukesha should be giving thanks this week instead of grappling with unfathomable loss.  Although there is no solace for these families, when considering these tragedies I thought of an experience I described in these pages in February, 2019.  While there is so much in our current national and global situation to concern us, perhaps the help TLOML and I received on a dangerously cold night — from an elderly African American gentleman who, demographically, probably voted for President Joe Biden and from young Caucasian auto mechanics, at least one of whom, demographically, probably voted for former President Donald Trump — offers some consolation, at least for those not gripped by the deepest despair, that most of our people have good in them.  May you and your loved ones, as well as those from afar who have found refuge within our nation, have a warm and healthy Holiday.]

Over the weekend, we were in Milwaukee for a family gathering, and our fairly new Prius was struck, opening a gash on the left rear side that we were pretty sure when we discovered it was at an angle such that wind shear would cause some of the rear fender to rip off if we tried to drive back to Madison without having it attended to.  (No note was left.)  From an engine standpoint, the car was completely drivable.  We were able to make an appointment at a nearby service center (more on the shop below), and at a few minutes past 5 on a Friday night, set off to drive about 4 miles in significant winds and bitter, bitter cold with the dark coming on.

We didn’t make it.  About half way to the shop, we heard a bang and realized that part of the fender had flipped back due to the wind.  We pulled over in the now almost-dark to retrieve what had come loose, cars moving around us, fairly concerned about what we were going to do.

A van slowly pulled up behind us and stopped.  Its motor kept running, its headlights stayed on, and its emergency flashers came on.  An African-American gentleman, in his mid-50’s – warm, friendly, reassuring — got out of the van, came up, and — with cars continuously going by us and in temperatures and wind cold enough to numb your bare hands in a couple of minutes — helped us put the pieces temporarily back in place, and with duct tape he provided, we got the fender patched sufficiently so we could finish the drive.  Then we exchanged names, we thanked him – I don’t think it was possible for us to thank him profusely enough – shook hands, and … he bid us good night, and went on his way.

Got to the service center.  The shop is for engine repair, not body work, but the rep and a couple of the technicians came over and when they heard that our goal was simply to make the car secure enough to get back to Madison, they said they thought they could attach a couple of fasteners that would hold the left rear together, and told us to go to dinner (we had family with us in another car) and come back in about an hour. 

When we got back, the car looked like it had a few stitches, and was clearly sturdy enough for us to get it home.  We asked what we owed; we heard:  One of the guys had some time.  No charge.  Glad we could help.

For those of us that tend to focus on the seemingly paralyzing political acrimony we have at home and the serious issues we face here and internationally, it’s good to recall:  There exists, as there always has, a good will, a kindness, a generosity of deed and spirit in America.

Vacation Impressions

We just spent a week touring the eastern part of Wisconsin – some of which, despite its proximity to our residence in Madison, we hadn’t visited since our honeymoon, 45 years ago.  It was a wonderful trip.  (I’m our trip planner, and like George Peppard’s fictional John “Hannibal” Smith of the 1980s television series, The A-Team, I love it when a plan comes together.)  Amid a lot of fun and interesting sights and experiences, a few impressions linger. 

Whether it be as a result of the additional federal $300 weekly stimulus payment which just ended in Wisconsin, workers’ fear of contracting COVID, their assumption of new occupations during the pandemic quarantine period, or otherwise, a significant percentage of pre-COVID hospitality workers have not returned to their jobs at northeastern Wisconsin hotels and restaurants.  Hotel housekeeping services are provided upon request rather than as a matter of course.  Restaurant service is a little slower than one would expect in some establishments, abysmal in others.  “We can’t find anyone” was a common plaint, particularly in Door County (for those from outside the Badger State:  that’s the beautiful and heavily-toured part of the Wisconsin that juts northeast into Lake Michigan).  In a tale of dueling mixologists:  in one town, a genial dispenser of spirits bemoaned others’ unwillingness to work; in another, an equally genial bartender opined that the shortage wasn’t for lack of willing workers, but because employers weren’t willing to pay staff what they should.  My general sense was that the proprietors of many of the businesses we visited were eager to pay anything remotely within reason to get additional help.  Whatever its cause, we will soon see whether the hospitality staffing shortage recedes as benefit checks end and more of the vaccine-hesitant get their shots.  If not, it may require a significant shift in expectations for hotel and restaurant patrons in some parts of Wisconsin and the nation.

One of our stops was in the historic, quaint, and decidedly well-to-do town of Cedarburg, just north of Milwaukee.  At one point during the pandemic, the local authorities apparently instituted a mask mandate, but at this point, the town has adopted an honor system.  Almost every shop had a sign such as, “No need to wear a mask if you are vaccinated,” or “Please wear a mask if you are not vaccinated.”  Since TLOML is the shopper and I am simply her escort, it gave me time to chat with sales people about how they had fared when they had in a sense been required to enforce a mask mandate.  One woman told me that Cedarburg “is very closely divided [politically], which made it very difficult for us.”  Another:  “It gave me PTSD.  I actually hated to see customers come through the door.  If they institute another mandate, I’m closing rather than deal with the abuse.”  Another – from a charming, white-haired woman:  “When I asked a well-dressed older man to put a mask on, he screamed at me and called me, ‘A F*****g Nazi.’  My heart was still beating fast an hour after he left.”

Too many of us have lost our sense of decorum.  While former President Donald Trump clearly provided certain personalities the license to act out, they still have to take responsibility for their own behavior.  Although I have a fiery Irish side and have made it difficult for more than one salesperson in my lifetime [sometimes with good reason; sometimes, in retrospect, perhaps not  ;)], I cannot rationalize making a salesperson’s life difficult when anyone with the slightest sense of awareness should understand that the clerk is simply trying to abide by the law.  Anyone that reads these pages is aware that I support vaccine and mask mandates, and seriously question the sense of those that contest them.  Even so, if one is going to get angry about a mandate, go yell at those that imposed it.   

Finally, we have literally traveled Interstate 94 between Madison and Milwaukee hundreds of times.  There are signs along the highway indicating sights to be seen.  We have never exited.  On this trip, we did.

An early stop was Aztalan State Park, a National Historic Landmark depicting an ancient Middle-Mississippian village existing between 1000 and 1300 A.D.  The Aztalans had an advanced culture for the time based on farming with a clear social structure.  It was fascinating.  We recommend it to all in our area.  That said, aside from one gentleman who has made the study of ancient native peoples his hobby, there was nobody else in the park.  We assumed that the lack of people resulted from it being a weekday after school started.  Our companion advised us that he visited the park regularly, and there is rarely much attendance.

Our last stop of the day was Ten Chimneys in Genesee Depot, the vacation home of the Lunts, which has also been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, a married couple, are at the forefront of the American theater pantheon.  Their work spanned four decades from the 1920s to 1960.  Mr. Lunt was born in Genesee Depot, and built – some of it with his own hands; he was a clearly multi-talented guy — an impressive home on 100-acre grounds to which the two repaired each summer.  At their estate they entertained such stage and screen luminaries as Sir Laurence Olivier, Katherine Hepburn, Helen Hayes, and Noel Coward.  Mr. Lunt died in 1977, Ms. Fontanne in 1983.  The complex was interesting and certainly worth visiting if one has an interest in American theater history.  Clearly elegant in its day, more than a bit eccentric, now — despite extensive and effective restoration – it is a bit faded, a relic of a former age.  Only two other visitors joined our tour, conducted by two docents, all six of us senior citizens.

The day’s lasting impression:  the Aztalans are long gone.  Despite their impressive culture and community, today only a few archeologists know or care that they were ever here.  The Lunts dominated American stage in a way that perhaps no one else has.  Query how many Americans still recall the couple called “the greatest husband-and-wife team in the history of American theater.”  What it made me realize:  how few of us will make the impression upon our times that the Aztalans and Lunts did; and how even these have faded.

Our youngest grandchild is 2.  If I’m fortunate enough to live another 10 years and if he retains his faculties to a ripe old age and if he remembers me fondly, some vestige of a memory that I was even here might last to 2100.  It is more probable that any meaningful memory of TLOML and me will pass when the last of our children passes.  So it’s important to do what you can, while you can.  Help your loved ones.  In an observation perhaps more relevant for retirees with time and resources than for the younger among us having to deal with the obligations of family and career, a portion of one’s time might best be spent volunteering in one’s community.  But by all means, devote yourself now to what you feel is the most important — for however long now might be. Judging by the dimming legacies of the Aztalans and the Lunts, ultimately only the Almighty will remember that most of us were here.

On Vaccinations and Masking: John Stuart Mill … and Joinville, Brazil

Given the fact that three members of our family studied Political Science during their education regimes, we have a disconcertingly extensive collection of the works of political theorists from Plato to J. D. Vance.  [Given Mr. Vance’s transformation from telling observer to pandering politician, I suspect that being linked to Mr. Vance in the preceding sentence has made Plato cringe in the Hereafter ;)].  The persistent resistance of anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers to employ or enable others to institute measures now clearly demonstrated to help limit the spread of COVID-19 – on the ground that it is an encroachment upon someone or other’s freedom – recently caused me to pull out John Stuart Mill’s 1859 essay, “On Liberty.”  

Considered by some the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century, Mr. Mill, an Englishman born in 1806 who was among the first members of Parliament to condemn slavery in America and, author of the 1869 essay, “On the Subjection of Women,” among the first to argue for social equality between men and women, is a founding father of the notion that each person should be free to conduct his or her affairs in his or her own way.  “On Liberty” is an ode to individuality.  In it, Mr. Mill waxed eloquent about our need for eccentrics (he did literally talk about eccentricity).  He did not believe that society was advanced by those in the conforming, complacent majority.  Thus, I was curious to see if I could discern, if he was alive today, how he would assess the views of those staunchly opposing mask and/or vaccine mandates on the ground that such constitute an infringement of citizens’ “liberty.”

It didn’t take much guesswork.  Early in “On Liberty,” Mr. Mill wrote:

[T]he sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection.  That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.  His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant.  He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right.  … [T]he conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to some one [sic] else.  The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others.  In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute.  Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.  [Emphasis Added]”

I would venture that given the strong evidence that masking and vaccines have helped check the spread of a deadly disease, Mr. Mill, a Godfather of Liberty, would have no patience with mask and vaccine mandate naysayers.  Some who claim to cling to the libertarian philosophy that Mr. Mill articulated over 150 years ago might still assert that such mandates constitute an infringement of their rights because the science is not completely settled.  Given the data we have, I suspect that at this point such supposed reservations would hold no sway with Mr. Mill.  He was also a scientist who believed that knowledge was derived from experience.  In A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive, he wrote in 1843:

“After a general law of nature has been ascertained, men’s minds do not at first acquire a complete facility of familiarly representing to themselves the phenomena of nature … [T]his habit, in the case of newly-discovered relations, comes only by degrees. … But in time … a prolonged habit of arranging phenomena in certain groups, and explaining them by means of certain principles, makes any other arrangement or explanation of these facts be felt as unnatural … [The philosopher’s] real reason for rejecting theories at variance with the true one, is no other than that they clash with his experience … he adopts the true theory because it is self-evident …”

While the vast majority of those opposing vaccine and mask mandates as intrusions on their “freedom” probably have no familiarity with Mr. Mill – not all of us can be this geeky; somebody has to get stuff done – FL Gov. Ron DeSantis (possessing a Yale undergraduate degree and a Harvard law degree) and TX Gov. Greg Abbott (possessing a University of Texas undergraduate degree and a Vanderbilt law degree) should be and presumably are well aware of Mr. Mill’s philosophy and of the careful distinctions he articulated over a century and half ago regarding an individual’s right to liberty.  As they exert all of the powers of their offices against imposition of what are demonstrably the most effective measures for preserving the health of their respective states’ citizens, they are shameless, despicable provocateurs.

On a less ponderous note:  in an early April post, I entered portions of a close friend’s email describing the manner in which he had spoofed a young woman getting her first vaccination shot by suggesting that she would receive the inoculation not in her arm, but rather in a lower bodily area in which we have all received other injections.  [He also indicated that she later indicated by gesture that she did not appreciate his sense of humor when she discovered that he had been pulling her leg (so to speak  ;)].  Now, it turns out that our friend was perhaps not that far afield.  There is a link below to a Washington Post article by our favorite correspondent, “Most everyone gets the coronavirus vaccine in the arm.  Butt this Brazilian city is shooting lower,” in which he reports that in the Brazilian city of Joinville, medical personnel providing injections have elected to wage a rearguard action.  As justification for its bottom-up approach, a city spokesman has cited the Brazilian health ministry’s guidance that for vaccinations such as the COVID inoculation, the body’s ventrogluteal region is one of the “best options” for “alternative administration” of the shot.  In light of this guidance, I suspect all reasonable observers will agree with the Joinville medical community that given the world’s vital need for widespread COVID protection,  any twinges we have about vaccines should be put … behind us.

May you have an enjoyable Labor Day weekend.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/27/most-everyone-gets-coronavirus-vaccine-arm-butt-this-brazilian-city-is-shooting-lower/

Rage Surfing

Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, March 31, 2016:

“I bring rage out.  I do bring rage out.  I always have.  I don’t know if that’s an asset or a liability, but whatever it is, I do.”

  • Rage, Bob Woodward, 2020

It is clear that former President Trump is authentically enraged.  Throughout his public life and perhaps throughout his entire life he has genuinely felt disrespected, and what he considers rightly his to have been unfairly taken from him.  It doesn’t matter, in this context, whether such feelings are reasonable; they are sincere.  It enabled him to give voice to a large swath of Americans stung by the scorn of elites who feel that what makes sense to them, what seems fair and right to them, what should be theirs, has been robbed from them by those with ways foreign to them.  Some of their anger (certainly their resentment at the disdain of the elites) – if not Mr. Trump’s — is justified.  That said, our national fabric seems to be wearing dangerously thin because these — even if in many instances, their plight has resulted from an intentional or oblivious failure to adapt to an evolving world — consider themselves to have been dispossessed.  They are … Enraged.

I fear that we are at a perilous point in this country.  I would submit that while Mr. Trump made the rage socially acceptable, displayed a unique ability to exploit and exacerbate it, and for a while was arguably able to manage it, neither he nor anyone else any longer controls it.  One frequently hears commentators opine that if Mr. Trump would admit the truth about this or that, more aggressively tout COVID vaccines, etc., etc., our social conditions in various areas would improve.  I disagree.  Mr. Trump now appears to me more than a bit spent; he seems to be struggling to maintain his position as titular head of the Enraged to whom he gave license (I recently saw them referred to as, “Trumplicans” – an apt moniker.  I intend to use it.)  The former president is renowned for his ability to “read a room”; I suspect that he realizes that his influence is waning better than bootlicking Republican officials or the talking heads do.  Although he can justifiably claim credit for the development of life-saving COVID vaccines during his presidency, he gives at most tepid support to inoculation efforts because he fears losing the support of the anti-vaxxers.  He’s no longer leading the Enraged; he’s trying to stay in step with them.  Objective observers can appropriately decry Fox News’ despicable failure to accurately cover the House of Representatives’ Select Committee on the Capitol riot, the Coronavirus, and the value of the COVID vaccines; however, when Fox reports a fact that the Enraged don’t like – for example, (accurately) calling Arizona for President Joe Biden on election night – the Enraged don’t believe Fox but instead abandon it for outlets that will tell them what they want to hear.  The majority of Republican officials can be rightly castigated for spinning fabrications that they for the most part must recognize to be poppycock; I would venture that they, manifestly more desirous of retaining power than abiding by their oaths of office, realize that if they tell the truth, the Enraged will simply replace them with others who will support their reality.  Driving through the middle of Wisconsin this past weekend – six months after President Joe Biden’s inauguration — I saw a huge Trump banner flying above a peaceful corn field.  It used to be that a losing presidential candidate’s banners were quickly dismantled by his disappointed supporters.  Trumplicans are not only enraged … they are defiant

We have always had, and will always have, fringe elements.  What appears alarmingly clear is that at least at this point, a disconcertingly significant segment of our electorate will not accept truth.   One need merely note that 60 judges and innumerable state election officials, many of them Republican, found no merit in Mr. Trump’s electoral challenges in order to understand that he lost the election.  One need merely note the correlation between states’ vaccination rates and where COVID is again raging in order to recognize the effectiveness of COVID vaccines.  One need merely believe one’s own eyes in order to acknowledge that there was a seditious and murderous attack on our Capitol on January 6 undertaken by Mr. Trump’s supporters.  The Enraged are currently intentionally and wantonly choosing to ignore truth easily discerned.

Rather than leading a movement, I would submit that most of those courting Trumplicans are merely surfing the rage.  Some, such as U.S. WI Sen. Ron Johnson, U.S. FL Rep. Matt Gaetz, and U.S. GA Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, are enthusiastically leaning into it (although I concede that these may be sufficiently unbalanced to actually believe what they are spouting).  Some, such as U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, are shamelessly attempting to stay atop it to further their own ambition.  Some, such as Fox News, and, ironically, Mr. Trump himself, are attempting to stay sufficiently abreast of it to maintain their relevance.  Still others, such as U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, are attempting to simply ride it out.

Rather a distressing picture.  That said, a leaderless cult is more easily divided and quieted; if Mr. Trump’s influence is indeed dissipating, as yet no demagogue combining his rage and animal magnetism has appeared to seize his mantle.  We can only hope that enough of the Enraged can be cajoled into accepting truth soon enough for us to maintain a viable democracy.

On the Catholic Bishops’ Vote and the Unsolvable Dilemma

As all who care are aware, last month the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) voted by a large margin to – in the USCCB’s own words – “… task [its] Committee on Doctrine to move forward with the drafting of a formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.”  In the Catholic faith, under the doctrine of “Transubstantiation,” the whole substance of bread and wine are changed into the substance of the Body and Blood of Jesus (the “Eucharist” or “Communion”) when consecrated by the priest during the Mass.  The words describing the Doctrine Committee’s assignment, innocuous in and of themselves, were widely interpreted as an initiative by conservative Catholic bishops to issue a statement disfavoring the provision of Communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians such as President Joe Biden.  The USCCB’s action stirred immediate and intense controversy, and apparently caused the body to issue a qualification that “There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians.”  Even so, American Bishops’ overwhelming support for creating a document which might at least impliedly cast disapprobation upon pro-choice Catholic politicians underscores the marked rift between Catholic liberals and conservatives that has developed in the U.S. Catholic Church.

That life begins at conception is one of the core tenets of the Christian faith.  Even the fiercest pro-choice advocates will presumably acknowledge that if one accepts the premise that the fetus is indeed a person, the conclusion that abortion is murder is inescapable. No one can deny the emotional force, the hope, the prayer that drives a couple yearning to have a child and the joy that accompanies their earliest awareness that a baby is in the mother’s womb; it makes one wonder why the Almighty grants conception to some who have no wish for it, while withholding the blessing from others so desperately seeking it.

I nonetheless find the seeming thrust of USCCB’s initiative deeply troubling both as a Catholic, and as an American.  From a personal standpoint, I, like the President, have been a practicing Catholic my entire life.  I, and I assume the President, believe that life begins at conception.  My spouse and I, and I assume the President and Mrs. Biden, would not have aborted a fetus.  It accordingly appears to me that despite the fact that I have tried for close to seven decades – while admittedly frequently failing — to be a faithful Catholic, any disapprobation that the majority of American Catholic officialdom may, even by implication, level at Mr. Biden is also directed at me, given my support for his candidacy against a materialist with notable fascist tendencies who, notwithstanding his purported “pro-life” stance, enthusiastically incites false and hateful discord among our people and intentionally implemented demonstrably inhumane border policies while in office.

I will always believe that the best way forward for our nation is through accommodation of competing positions held in good faith (i.e., not espoused for political or other self-interest).  Abortion is the one issue that seems to me by its very nature to defy compromise between Americans sincerely holding conflicting views. That said, I would submit that Christians’ belief that life begins at conception — no matter how fervently held — is, inherently, no more (or less) than a matter of Faith.  Many scientists reject the notion that the few cells existing upon and for a period following conception constitute “life.”  I claim no expertise in other religions, but understand that neither Jewish nor Islamic scholars consider life to begin at conception, and that these Faiths do not prohibit abortion in the early stages of pregnancy.  There are certainly millions of Americans of other or no faiths who reject the notion that life obtains either at conception or for a period thereafter.  Justice Harry Blackmun, in Roe v. Wade, observed, “It is undisputed [i.e., even those defending the Texas criminal abortion statutes at issue in Roe conceded] that, at common law, abortion performed before ‘quickening’ – the first recognizable movement of the fetus in utero, appearing usually from the 16th to the 18th week of pregnancy – was not an indictable offense. …  In this country, the law in effect in all but a few States until mid-19th century was the preexisting English common law.”  [Note to the Originalists now sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court.  ;)].  Notwithstanding more recent holdings arguably designed to limit abortion rights, the Supreme Court held in Roe and has maintained since that a woman has the constitutional right to abort a fetus.  It is Mr. Biden’s duty as President to protect women’s constitutional rights as defined by the Supreme Court and to not impose his personal faith beliefs on the American people – the majority of whom, if polls are to be believed, favor women’s right to early term abortions. 

Despite its backtrack, there is no little irony in the USCCB’s apparent intent to pressure Mr. Biden, given the reassurance that then-Democratic Presidential candidate U.S. MA Sen. John F. Kennedy delivered in September, 1960, to a conference of Protestant Ministers fearful of the influence that the Vatican might seek to assert on a Catholic president:

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no … minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote …  I believe in an America … where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials …. I want a chief executive … whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation. … Whatever issue may come before me as president … I will make my decision … in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.”

One of our children remarked to me recently that while our family was being raised, there was much greater emphasis in our household on our Catholic faith than there was on our identity as American citizens.  Despite my many failings, I hopefully still place much greater weight on what I believe the Almighty expects of me than I do upon my responsibilities as an American.  Even so, I have not been able to avoid the conclusion that in a diverse secular civil society pledged to separate the affairs of church and state, I should accept the fact that my religious beliefs regarding abortion are not shared by a substantial segment of my fellow citizens.  I accordingly cannot make the abortion issue my overriding civic focus. I fear that any attempts by American Catholic hierarchy to impose its views upon the nation generally will ultimately severely undermine the Church’s mission in the United States. 

Although Mr. Kennedy’s words obviously no longer resonate with U.S. Catholic officialdom, I would venture that the following passage offers ample ground for reflection – perhaps providing solace, perhaps evoking despair — for an American Catholic who seeks in good conscience to differentiate between faith and civic responsibilities:

[Then the Pharisees said,] ‘Tell us, then, what is your opinion:  Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?’  … Jesus said, ‘… Show me the coin that pays the census tax.’  Then they handed him the Roman coin.  He said to them, ‘Whose image is this and whose inscription?’  They replied, ‘Caesar’s.’  At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’

Mt. 22: 17 – 21