Moral Bankruptcy

Last Thursday, apart from being the day after the plumber came, Tropical Storm Ida dumped on us, and the first day of September, the New York Times headlines were disturbing.  I don’t have time to read many news stories in depth, but I glance at the headlines to inject just enough worry into my day.  After discussing the flooding, Afghanistan, and a few other stories a particular quote caught my eye and kicked my gut: “Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, threatened to retaliate against technology companies that comply with the inquiry into the Capitol attack.”  This was a bit much after reading how much suffering is going on in the world.  Republicans threatening retaliation to keep the truth hidden in plain sight.  Is there any term for this but moral bankruptcy?

I simply can’t understand how any moral Republican can hold their head up proud.  I grew up Republican.  I was conservative most of my way through college.  I would never have stood up for a politician of either party that said “I’ll get you back if you tell the truth.”  Lies are the most insidious of acts.  How can you ever believe someone after they establish a reputation of being untruthful?  How can you believe he actually does support your cause?  How can you believe anything he says?  Not only that, but threatening his own fellow Americans for wanting to find out what his party supported on January 6.  There’s a reason the day is known as Epiphany—“the manifestation.”  When truth becomes clear.

A political party that has nothing to offer but lies and violence has become an organ of organized crime.  Perhaps our legislators should be given a dictionary open to the entry titled “perjury.”  We now have Republicans who lie under oath to become Supreme Court justices.  Who try to start rebellions with mobs ready to murder their colleagues and who then sit back and claim the rectitude of God Almighty when it’s over.  What have we come to here?  People were drowning in basement apartments and people were suffering loss of power and damaged homes.  Republicans meanwhile were working up threats of retaliation against people for simply trying to get at the truth.  The plumber did the job he said he would.  Those who projected and tracked Ida told the truth to try to save lives and property.  In the sewers of Washington, however, those loyal to the party vowed to keep their secrets safe. 


Afghanistan

As much of the world watches in dismay, the Taliban have taken over Afghanistan.  Most religious rule ends up being harmful to women, it seems.  We have centuries of male-run Catholicism showing how both witch hunts and heretic murder became common in Europe.  Do we expect any better now that religious extremists have taken over a nation next door to Iran?  The mix of politics and religion has generally not been favorable and unfortunately if the Republican Party could have its way we would see a similar thing here in the United States.  An ill-executed coup d’état on January 6 of just this year led to the epiphany that the Republican jurists would protect those who tried to overthrow the US constitution in the name of religion.  And we know how they feel about women’s rights.  We should look at Afghanistan and tremble.

It seems difficult to believe that less than a century ago we went to war to defend democracy.  Senators alive to witnesses the privations of war are now recklessly trying to remake America in the image of a fascist state.  Instead of looking at Afghanistan as a mirror, the only thing they can see is this is a Muslim nation.  Christians would surely never try to take over a capital by force.  They turn a blind eye to our own insurrection, not yet nearly a year old.  Ironically the book they claim to follow contains a often quoted but more often ignored statement: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…”   It’s no accident that their intended victim was a woman.

Religious politics can be maintained by force of arms or legal maneuvering. Both are evil.  The result is the same either way: women and thinking people suffer while the self-righteous rule.  Even such basic assumptions as protecting their own people from a horrible disease by the simple expedient of a free vaccine has been politicized for purposes of keeping in power.  When the moderates in their own party speak up they are shouted down.  How different is this than the shouts of triumph heard in Kabul?  The alternative—government that allows the freedom to believe what you will as long as all people are treated fairly—has been made out to be a sin.  The god worshipped both by Republicans and the Taliban has little sympathy for humanity.  He, and most certainly he is male, is all about power.  We watch in dismay.

Photo by Joel Heard on Unsplash

Ocean Day

Yesterday was World Oceans Day.  It’s probably a measure of how busy I’ve been that I missed it until well into the work day.  Environmental care is one of my major concerns—something that the majority of Americans share but which Republicans block at every chance they get.  The oceans are the largest part of our planet .  Viewed from certain angles, the globe has barely any land on it at all.  And yet, since we live on the dry part, we use the wet part as our dumping ground.  There is an entire island in the Pacific made of plastic refuse.  Big petroleum doesn’t want any alternatives offered even though plastic is one of the most toxic products we produce for other life on this planet.  Shouldn’t governments share the values of their people?

Born in the landlocked western part of Pennsylvania, I first saw the ocean when I moved to Boston.  It was almost so distracting that I couldn’t study.  Here was this seemingly endless expanse of water that we so poorly understand, the symbol of eternity and life itself, right before me.  It was while living on the coast that I came to read Moby-Dick.  I could spend hours on the rocky shoreline, gazing out toward the seas in wonder.  I’m not a sea-farer myself.  I have inner-ear problems and being on a ship for any length of time would likely lead to extreme discomfort.  I can imagine, however.  Eventually I would read Coleridge and Hemingway and understand that I was not the only one who felt this way about the seemingly endless water.

Some of my earliest literary memories involve Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us.  It’s another book that opened young, landlocked eyes to what our world really is.  The image of water eternally crashing onto the shore is a comforting one.  As Carson knew, we came from the water and we yearn for it still.  Life as we know it isn’t possible without our oceans.  Yet, having petty human needs for extreme wealth and a sense of power over others, we pollute these seas with oil and plastics and chemicals and figure it’ll be somebody else’s problem.  In reality, the problem belongs to all of us.  Plastic Island, as it’s now being called, is nearly three times the size of France.  It’s composed of 100 percent pollution.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is being considered by some the eighth continent.  World Oceans Day should never slip away unnoticed.


Herd Not Heard

When mass shootings become commonplace, you might think bipartisan efforts would be made to stem the violence.  If so, you misunderstand how little the pro-life party actually values life.  By pumping its adherents full of fear, they use the hand not waving a gun to pocket donations from the NRA.  Human life is only valuable to get yourself elected.  It’s difficult to remember days when I didn’t awake to hear of someone with more guns than restraint opening fire in a public place.  Mental illness, it seems to me, is fairly widespread.  It’s no deterrent, however, to purchasing military-grade weapons and using them when the stress levels get too high.  Meanwhile lives of those—whether fellow gun owners or not—are lost.  And Republicans argue that nothing should change.  You’d think the insurrection might’ve changed their view.

How does one go to bed secure knowing the next day they may be reading about another mass shooting?  Sure, the perpetrator will be caught, if not already dead, and families will be bereaved but we know our rights!  Funny how even the Bill of Rights can be prooftexted by those who do the same with the Good Book.  What is so hard to understand about “Thou shalt not kill”?  Coveting, however, and adultery, seem alive and negotiable, to gather by their support of 45.  Such selective reading generally turns deadly and constituencies become mere statistics.  What seems to be missing is a basic sense of social justice.  A social justice that applies to all.

The idea of wanting a country only for white men and their subservient wives is a relic that simply refuses to acknowledge that societies change.  We’ll never reach perfection, but that’s no excuse to stop trying.  Firearm regulation might be a rational place to start.  While party politics will get in the way of this the pools of blood will grow only deeper.  What seems to be missing is the acknowledgement that these are people we are losing to assuage one party’s ambitions.  Wouldn’t prioritizing education and providing mental health services be better?  Ah, but it might stop some of the wealthy from pocketing yet more money from those who are lined up against the wall.  Of course, you can be in the majority and still be gerrymandered into silence.  When the Gun Ownership Party begins saying aloud that it can’t win elections fairly, and makes noises about beginning to cull the herd, we should all be getting a little nervous.


Come People and Consider

“Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible.  This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.”  So Daniel answered the megalomanic king Nebuchadnezzar, according to chapter 2.  This is some Scripture that CPAC has chosen to ignore, or at least not bothered to read to the end.  In truth I was always bothered when Daniel said “Thou art this head of gold”—which seems to be more brass-kissery, if you get my drift, than prophecy.  But dear CPAC, the statue of Nebuchadnezzar crumbles when the kingdom of God arrives, unable to stand on its feet of clay and iron.

Image in public domain, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

I’m not one to tout Daniel as prophecy, but seldom have we seen such things come true so literally.  If we turn to the other testament, in a somewhat politically incorrect aphorism a personage of the gospel of Matthew quoth, “they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”  Funnily, those who claim to support a “Christian” America have failed to read even the surface of the Good Book.  Without the Bible what is fundamentalism?  That image in Daniel 2 is considered an idol.  After all, when the Trump of antiquity built a statue all were required to fall down before and worship it.  Those who didn’t were thrown into the fiery furnace.

The Conservative Political Action Conference has sent shivers down the collective spine of our nation.  Even as it was going on I was standing in the rain signing petitions for local Democratic candidates because going inside meant being potentially infected by the Republican disease known as Covid-19.  Apparently half-a-million dead is never enough for those who believe in a social darwinism although they claim to base their lives on the book that says all this took a mere seven days.  Although Daniel gained great fame and wealth by telling the king what he wanted to hear, during a party a few short chapters later he saw a hand writing on the wall.  “And this is the writing that was written, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.”  And although given a third of Belshazzar’s kingdom that very night it was all lost to Darius.  “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”


Politically Incorrect

We’ve been dwelling so long in the materialist worldview that we’ve come to doubt evil.  Oh, we still use the word, but we don’t really believe it manifests itself in any real way.  I wonder, however, about it’s association with power.  Lord Acton’s adage is appropriately apt, but when the word “corrupt” enters in one has to wonder about whether evil is lurking.  I’m thinking about these things because some friends were recently telling me about “political” machinations of the Republican Party right here in Pennsylvania.  Initiatives that rank and file Republicans object to as being unfair, but are trying to be ramrodded through because they will keep one party in power forever.  Trump, a man with a staggering number of lawsuits against him before he even received the “grand old” party’s nomination, made it acceptable to bring blatant cheating into the political arena.

Credit: Elkanah Tisdale (1771-1835), via Wikimedia Commons

A recent story in the New York Times discussed how the Republican Party has been focusing on winning despite what the people want.  Its own people.  In other words, a planned destruction of democracy.  A hostile takeover bid for the nation.  Here in Pennsylvania, those who understand the legislation say, a variety of bills and propositions are being put forward—particularly gerrymandering—to ensure that the losers of the popular vote will nevertheless win.  We’ve seen this on the national level when the electoral college has elected a couple of Republican presidents who’ve clearly lost the popular vote.  It never elects Democrats that way—they win both popular and electoral votes when they win.  The fact that Republicans are actively trying to make it harder to vote so they can maintain minority(!) rule would be ironic if it weren’t so, well, evil.

I remember my first civics course (which most Republicans, it seems, never took) in middle school.  I remember my teacher—who was a smart man—saying that voters never elect someone who will hurt their financial interests.  This was before Reagan was elected and every Republican president since has favored the rich over their own poor and working class supporters.  I’m not a political scientist.  I find politics boring and I resent having to try to have to learn an entire new discipline just to keep living in the country where I was born.  We would find, I expect, widespread agreement that taking a country by force of arms is evil.  Taking it by shady lawmaking that is the very definition of corruption, apparently, is not.  The Trump administration took corruption to new heights, right in the eye of the public.  Could a Democrat make such a showing in an election after stating outright on television that Republicans can only win by cheating?   And when he lost fairly and squarely to try to overturn that result and still be the favored candidate for a party that’s lost its moral bearings?  We put the word “evil” to bed a little too soon, I fear.


Leadership

After four years it finally feels safe again.  We can celebrate Presidents’ Day, although now and forever with some trepidation.  Even as Republicans still protect the insurrectionist Trump, democracy has survived his tenure of horror.  Many Americans don’t realize just how close to Nazi Germany we came.  There are many who hold party above the good of the nation, something our founders, one of whom we celebrate today, feared.  The outdated safeguards of democracy, such as the electoral college, have been used more than once to “elect” presidents the American people did not want.  One guess as to which party this has only favored.  Democracy, we’re now being told, is fragile.  It shouldn’t be.  Only the designs of a party scheming for personal enrichment makes it so.

Today we can at least take a breather and be glad that we no longer have a bigoted, sexist, classist, racist incumbent.  We have a female Vice President of color.  We are on the long, slow road to recovery.  The senate, clearly recognizing Trump’s danger to the nation, voted to acquit him because Republicans fear not being reelected if they stand up to him.  Our democracy’s not out of the woods, even this Presidents’ Day.  Until the GOP learns to grow a backbone we’ll be in constant danger of collapsing.  Anyone with back trouble knows how it can stop you in your tracks.  Of course, once you’ve made a deal with the Devil, there’s no getting out of it.  Most Republicans could benefit from just a touch of folk wisdom.

When one party sides with armed thugs who’d have happily killed them if they’d been found just a little over a month ago, our grounds for celebrating today remain on thin ice.  The GOP, which has no moral compass left, has decided that bullies and armed bandits are the way of the future they’d like to see.  Although Trump lost both popular elections they’d still vote for him a third time and support him again if he incited another insurrection.  It’s Presidents’ Day but we’re still on the edge of a precipice.  When a political party refuses to learn from its mistakes, and indeed, tries to build upon them, our celebration of democracy must, by definition, be subdued.  We do have grounds for hope.  Efforts to get the coronavirus under control are starting to take effect.  We have a sane human being in the Oval Office.  Until the GOP disavows evil, however, we’ll continue to live in fear.

 


BLM, MLK, and Justice

Martin Luther King Jr. was a martyr.  The word martyr means “witness.”  Given what we’ve all seen done by the Republican Party over the past two weeks, let’s hope they at least know the meaning of the word repentance.  King died trying to set people free.  Half a century later we’ve had to witness a sitting US president praising an armed mob, some of whom were carrying confederate flags, storm the Capitol.  Then, that very night, we watched Republicans still attempt to repress legitimate votes in order to keep white supremacy in power.  The set-backs of the Trump administration will take years to overcome.  King stood for equality.  He called for fair treatment.  He knew his Bible.  Now those who cynically hold the Good Book up for the camera can’t quote it but can tear down everything it stands for.

We need Martin Luther King Day.  This year especially.  We need to be reminded that all people deserve fair treatment.  Justice isn’t a meaningless word.  The color of one’s skin is no indicator of inherent worth—that belongs to everybody.  Throughout the country there are heartfelt memorials to King.  The various Trump towers—often segregated and reserved for the wealthy—are monuments of a different sort.  There is power in symbols.  Those who praise and crave money above human need will ultimately be remembered for how evil seeped into their bones.  How hatred of others and narcissism defined their rotten moral core.  Today we try to focus on a good example, but present reality keeps getting in the way.

Four years ago I joined about 1.3 million marchers in Washington, DC.  The Women’s March, as estimated by government officials on the ground, was more than twice as large as the media estimates still tout.  I’ve puzzled over this for four years—why when an oppressed group makes a stand officials and pundits feel the need to downplay it.  King made a stand and he had a dream that one day we wouldn’t have to make marches on Washington just so that everyone could have the equal treatment they deserve.  Human rights are the only rights we have.  Even as some haters are planning further acts of violence to object to a humanitarian president, we are given a necessary reminder that all people deserve fair treatment.  Black lives do matter.  Why has half a century not been enough to assimilate that simple message?  We need to sober up from the drunkenness of irresponsible power.  We need to learn the simple fact that nobody should be killed for being black.  That whiteness is toxic.  That we need to call out those who would use privilege to claim otherwise.


It Happened on Epiphany

Photo credit: Martin Falbisoner, via Wikimedia Commons

Can you spell treason?  It does begin with the letters “T-R-.”  The events of yesterday made it difficult to sleep securely in “the land of the free” as thugs took over the capitol building in Washington, and even after that Republicans still contested the electoral votes from Pennsylvania, preferring a treasonous president to a democratically elected Joe Biden.  As all of this was playing out, Georgia gave control of the senate to the Democratic Party.  Like many Americans born in a democracy, I stared at the news aghast yesterday as Republicans, fully in the public eye, tried to dismantle the very system by which they themselves were elected and even went so far as to claim they were patriots for doing so.  They draw the evil courage to do this from their “Christian” faith.

Yesterday was Epiphany, a Christian holiday.  To see Republicans—claiming the name Christian—attempting to overturn democracy on that very day was sickening.  To my mind it will live on like 9/11 as one of the most dangerous days in US history.  When asked to get the crowds that he personally incited to disperse, Trump released a video on Twitter telling his followers that the election was stolen and fraudulent but they should go home.  Pouring gasoline on a fire he himself lit, sending both houses of congress into hiding, his snakes-in-the-grass continued to support the myth that Trump hadn’t been defeated.  When the smoke clears this American thinks it’s time to dust off laws about treason and start applying them again.

Congressional leaders, and the president, swear to uphold the Constitution—hand on the Bible.  In the most closely watched election in history, with no evidence of fraud, when the loser wouldn’t concede his party backed him.  The Republican party has been infected with evil, I fear.  Even after seeing the turmoil that their posturing caused, they tried to discount the votes from my state just to keep a very dangerous man in power.  Our democracy didn’t die yesterday.  It died four years ago.  Claiming the name “Christian” without ever reading the Bible or attending church or caring about their fellow human beings, the Republican party has gone down in infamy on the feast of Epiphany.  The electoral vote count by congress is a mere formality, and I, a native and resident of Pennsylvania, am outraged that anyone claiming the power of a democratically elected office—disputing the very process that gave them any influence at all—questions my right to vote.  Why hasn’t treason been invoked?  Four years under the influence of the Evil One has shown its effects, and it happened on Epiphany.


Truly Exceptional?

Exceptionalism seems to be in the air these days.  Most recently it’s become a plank in the Republican platform—America is God’s own chosen nation (despite what the Bible actually says).  It’s also been a trait of nearly all human endeavors.  Human exceptionalism, that is.  The idea, whether admitted or not, is based on the Bible.  Even those bespectacled scientists who make no time for religion insist that humans are different from other animals.  Why?  The Bible tells them so.  Evolution certainly doesn’t.  And so we go about thinking how superior we are to other lifeforms.  And not only that, but to other humans in other geographical locations.  It seems Homo sapiens sapiens could use an ego check every now and again.

Not only does our sense of superiority go downward over the animals, it also reaches to the very boundaries of this infinite but expanding universe.  We are alone, scientists declare.  The only intelligent life in a universe far beyond the ability of the human brain to comprehend.  There can’t be any alien visitations with (laughably) superior beings crawling out of their flying saucers.  No, we were the best that evolution could do.  And we elected Donald Trump to be our president four years ago.  What’s that about an ego check?  Especially since we’ve learned that there is water on the moon.  Almost certainly there was once liquid water on Mars.  There may even be traces of life in the atmosphere of Venus (although the earthly jury is still out on that one).  Only humans can make that declaration.

Photo credit: NASA

I have to wonder at this arrogance that comes along with consciousness.  Do we believe we’re the best simply because we learned to apply the laws of rationality to our gray matter?  Back when I was a seminarian the word “pantheism” was rather like a swear.  To suggest a universal connectivity (literally) was an offense against the deity portrayed in the Bible.  (I would hope that a God that big would encourage us to understand the implications of a universe so large.)  We humans have our good points, of course.  I love people and their foibles.  Were we not so dangerous we might even look cute in the cosmic eyes above, as well as the inferior eyes of our pets.  Exceptionalism, it seems to me, ought to be the dirty word.  It seems far more human and humane to throw the gates open wide and consider the possibilities.  I love people, but if we’re the best there is, the universe is in serious trouble.


Childhood’s End

Childhood.  It’s a time of many lessons that we soon learn to apply to all of life.  One of those earliest lessons is “Don’t be a sore loser.”  When someone else wins you congratulate them with a smile, even if you’re inwardly aching.  Fair play, it’s called.  Or morality.  All of these characteristics are sadly lacking in the Grand Old Party, it seems.  There has been no evidence of voter fraud, Biden currently leads by over 5 million votes, and yet Trump refuses to concede.  Not only that, the dissembler in chief, Mitch McConnell encourages such behavior.  In my fundamentalist church you’d have failed Sunday School for less than that.  And where are the biblical literalists?  Right there with them, thumping their Bibles but not reading them.  What happened to turn the other cheek?  Or even, for God’s sake, an eye for an eye?

Instead the world is watching as a putatively grown man throws a temper tantrum about losing.  Hilary Clinton conceded on the night of the election.  I’m sure it didn’t feel good to do so.  Nor did it feel pleasant for the 44 other losing candidates (in fact, more) who had to go home with their hats in their hands.  Not content to act like a king, Trump is behaving like a monarch for life.  His followers, perhaps aware that Americans will never again put up with such a travesty of a presidency, insist that someone must’ve miscounted by about five million.  They won’t be content until they can count themselves, throwing away any ballots they disagree with.  And they’ll continue to call themselves Christians.  Because, like the Donald, they can.

I’ve reached the stage in life where childhood has become a lingering preoccupation.  I sure got some things wrong.  Not being a sore loser isn’t one of them, however.  Like all people I’ve lost my fair share of contests.  Sometimes the stakes have been very high.  If you want to retain any dignity or moral standing at all, you know you simply have to admit, “I lost.”  We knew as soon as Trump was nominated in 2016 that he wouldn’t admit he lost then, even if he had.  We knew four years ago he’d never admit he lost when he would.  The Republican enablers stoked those fires in which to burn the Constitution.  Some of us, at least 77 million at latest count, are tired of all this political theater.  Big boy pants, it seems, are difficult to locate this season.


Please Vote

If you haven’t done so already, please vote.  This day has never felt so portentous before.  I’ve been voting since the 1980s and we’ve had some real unsavory choices in some past years.  Never had we had a monstrous incumbent set on destroying the very nation that made him what he is.  Those who don’t, or won’t read the facts haven’t learned what’s obvious even to lifelong Republicans I know—Trump cares only for himself.  His family confirms it.  His policies, such as they are, show it.  He provides lip service to anti-abortion while using stem cells from fetuses to cure his own case of Covid-19 that he caught only by ignoring the science that tells us masks and distancing are necessary.  Even as our infection rates pass what they’ve ever been before, he fiddles while America burns.

Some of us have noticed a profound quiet for the past week or so.  It’s like the country’s running a low-grade fever.  Republicans have been attempting to prevent people from voting, wanting a country more like them, mean and unforgiving, that they can call “Christian.”  To me this feels like 9-11 did, only we have known the plot all along and have been too stunned to do anything about it.  Democracies are founded on the principle of the choice of the electorate.  The only way that we can make that choice known is to vote.  It’s the only way left to be a patriot.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was faced with a similar situation in his native Germany.  An evangelical Christian, he didn’t acquiesce to Hitler, glorying in the rush of power.  He wrote that when a madman is driving the wheel must be wrenched from his hands.  Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazis he tried to displace, but his spiritual eyesight was clear.  Faith can blind believers to the truth.  We’ve seen this happen time and time and time again.  Instead of condemning we need to help them since they cannot help themselves.  This is the truest form of what Jesus stood for.  Read the gospels if you doubt.  This year the decision isn’t for Democrat or Republican, it’s for clear-eyed assessment or self-adoring narcissism.  If a mirror’s held too close, we can’t see what’s truly reflected.  We must vote today to show what we want America to be.  The eyes of both the past and the future are upon us.  How will we want them to be remembered?


Moral Imperative

It was a walk up a long, steep hill, but it was worth it.  Last Saturday my wife and I voted.  It had the feeling of accomplishment.  The long, steep hill was also a symbol.  Wearing masks, sucking breath in through fabric in the single nation hardest hit—this great rudderless ship—we went to say “enough.”  The clearest indication of evil in the present administration (and here we’re starved for choices) is the open attempt to sabotage voting.  Some GOPers are placing fake ballot boxes in public locations while the pretender-in-chief has encouraged his followers to vote twice and has tried to prevent his “fellow Americans” from having their legitimate say.  Sometimes you have to climb a high hill, but the view from the top may just be worth all that effort.

We are a suffering nation.  Not only have we become divided, that division has been stirred, and prodded, and poked by a man who knows the only way to win is to divide and conquer.  Untie what used to be the United States for personal aggrandizement.  Voting is more than a right, it’s an absolute duty.  All who do it are patriots.  In this we can be united.  Perhaps a bit winded, stop to take a look at the trees on the hills showing their true colors.  We woke up stuck in a nightmare four years ago.  We’ve lost four years of our lives.  We’ve climbed so many hills and sunk into dark, deep valleys.  Does that flag look a little tattered to you?

Back in high school we all wondered how autocrats like Hitler and Mussolini came to power.  We’ve watched it happen in a nation that was the avowed enemy of fascism within living memory.  And for what?  The right to wear red baseball caps that claim our nation wasn’t great to begin with?  Great is not the same as perfect, to be sure.  We were producing the technology (that is by definition “progressive”) that the world craved.  We were ensuring the rights of all people.  We were cleaning the environment.  What within all of this isn’t great?  How has it become better in these four misspent years of worry and weariness, bringing us to the brink of nuclear war without a thought of the incredible effort it took to build all of this.  Or the effort it took to walk up this long, steep hill.


The Good of Others

On a recent trip to visit family in upstate New York, the Sunday we had to leave (for work Monday is an implacable law), we decided to have lunch in a local park.  The weather was fine and there was plenty of social distancing, given the size of the grounds.  After a nice picnic and stroll, we realized it was getting late to start out in order to get home by my oddly early retiring time.  We headed back to our hosts’ car only to find it wouldn’t start.  They had a new battery and so we popped the hood and hoped to find something obviously wrong as we waited for the long response time for AAA in a rural area on a weekend.  We were a little concerned because we still had a long drive and no real way to get back to our own car, parked at our hosts’ residence.  A stranger came up and asked if we were having trouble.  Listening to the symptoms he said, “Do you mind?”  Putting his head under the hood, he said, “I’m a mechanic.”  He had our host try again and the car started right up.  He refused to take payment and wouldn’t even give his name.

Despite the fear the Republican Party tries so hard to spread, it has been my experience that good Samaritans abound.  When I’ve had car trouble far from home, I’ve never waited long beside the road before a stranger has stopped and asked if they could help.  Technology may make us feel more self-sufficient (we have smartphones and can call for our own help), but it doesn’t always work that way.  My wife had accidentally left her phone at our hosts’ place, and I’d forgotten to charge mine so the battery was depleted.  Uber would require an active, charged phone and our hosts were using theirs to communicate with AAA.  If the stranger hadn’t stopped by we would’ve been stuck, likely for hours.

I oftenconsider how Calvinistic GOP thinking can be—assuming the “total depravity” of everyone and declaring that we must be kept in check by laws that maintain outdated concepts of both humanity and justice.  To be sure, there are dangerous individuals out there.  Would you want Trump to stop by if you were having car trouble?  What selfless behavior could you expect from that quarter?  Sucker!  In general, however, people are good.  They are motivated by what they think is right.  We’re in a pandemic.  The mechanic didn’t know us (we outnumbered him), he had no obligation to help.  Good Samaritans exist, and they are frequently found outside the yellowed leaves of Scripture.

Balthasar van Cortbemde – The Good Samaritan, via Wikimedia Commons


Keep Cool

I know national secrets.  You can too!  Bob Woodward’s Rage contains them because Trump is willing to talk about anything that aggrandizes himself.  The real takeaway, and in many ways the point of Woodward’s book, is that Trump knew about and decided to downplay Covid-19.  And not because he didn’t think it was serious, but because he didn’t want to hurt his chances of reelection.  Although Woodward had no way of knowing in the middle of the summer, when the book went into production, that 45 would be infecting his senior staff mere months later, he would likely have been able to predict the results.  With the best medical attention in the world, Trump would recover and immediately downplay the virus that has now killed over 210,000 Americans.  Why?  He wants to win the election.

Many of us knew in November 2016 that this wasn’t just another Republican nominee with questionable intellect.  We knew that Trump had a long, long track record of caring for nobody but himself and that isn’t the kind of person who can lead a nation.  He had seventeen interviews with Woodward as he was writing Rage, and, as we might guess before opening the book, those interviews indicate that being president, for some, is all about bragging rights.  Knowing how serious the coronavirus is, he decided to ignore it for political expediency.  Now we see his own party’s leaders daily falling into the epidemiological pattern of the science they disbelieve.  Early on wearing masks was politicized and now we’re being told a deadly disease is a walk in the park (if you’ve got the best healthcare in the world).

I’m reluctant to write about politics.  I find it boring and intellectually stultifying.  But even under George W. Bush I believed that the president had what he believed to be the best interest of America at heart.  All that has changed in the last four years.  The Republican Party has sold its soul to the cult of Trump and those of us who’d rather just watch horror movies and write books and stories have had to become political activists simply to try to save democracy from the slide into a fascist narcissism that is intended to prop up one man’s ego.  Woodward’s book is more than a series of interviews with a dangerous man, it is a condemnation of political leaders who’ve failed their country repeatedly, without recrimination.  Of course, it is only intended for those who read, or maybe I’m just angry.