When This Is, That Is

Exploring the world of conditionality

The Right Man for the Job

Caravaggio's Narciso (1594-1596).*

Caravaggio’s Narciso (1594-1596).*

I’m beginning to see how Donald Trump is the right man for the job. I don’t mean President of the United States, though, because he’s unqualified for that one. Rather, he—and only he—is uniquely qualified to use his coming position as president to fulfill a purpose whose time has come. It’s now or never.

As president, he will show us Americans what the rest of the world already knows about the country we call our Homeland. As a country, the United States is narcissistic, duplicitous, dishonest, and dangerous. As president, Trump will hold a mirror to us the people and say, in contradiction to a few other politicians: “This is who we are.”

For too long we have wrapped ourselves in the flag of American exceptionalism, believing (by God!) we have the unique purpose in the world to rule. We piously claim ourselves a Christian nation, but we sell more weapons around the world than any other country. We espouse freedom but overthrow weak democracies in order to exploit their human and natural resources. We start wars so as to promote our own interests, regardless of the economic and human costs. We oppress our own citizens through bigotry and hatred.

Politicians, i.e., Republicans, like to tout their Christian values. To me, Christian values are things like “love thy neighbor as thyself,” caring for the poor, “turning the other cheek,” the Beatitudes,** and all those other Christ-like qualities one finds in their over-thumped Bible. Yet those politicians ensure the poor stay poor (while blaming them for their poverty), ensure the rich get richer (while saying they deserve it), decry peacemakers and justice-seekers as unpatriotic, undermine their opponents with lies and cunning, use their office to increase their own power and influence, and many other tawdry things. And we the masses cheer (or jeer), just as ancient Romans had done at the Colosseum and Circus Maximus.

Such are we—as a nation—the Great Pretenders, wrapped in delusion.

Now (by God!) we have Donald Trump. He, too, is a pretender. And a con-man. He doesn’t try to hide who he is, either. He is the greatest, the best, the only one who can save the country—but that’s just his sideshow-barker’s cry. Something else awaits us inside his hall of mirrors. He made a lot of promises for the sole purpose of garnering the support of the masses. It worked, and he’s in.

Based on his campaign, post-election behavior, and his selections for cabinet and other positions, Trump’s plan for making America great again will not entail building up and unifying, but demolishing and dividing. In the meantime, he will line his pockets and those of the plutocrats he’s brought into power with him. The rest of us, I fear, won’t fare so well.

Well, fine. He’s who—and what—we voted for (not all of us, but enough). Donald Trump is who we are as a country. Some of us, though, don’t find that image so appealing. These are people who, like me, cringe when we see our reflection in the national mirror. Many of us have seen it for years, generations even. Most of us have gone along with the program with uncomfortable acceptance. Others of us (but not enough) have stood up and stood out but with only small success.

And now, maybe enough of us—even those who believed the Flim-Flam Man from Queens—will be so appalled by his behavior and disregard for the average citizen and the world that we rise up in outrage and say: “If the United States will be truly a good and moral force in the world, then we must begin now to practice what we preach so the rest of the world will see us as we wish to be seen.”

All our politicians at every level—whether Democrat, Republican, or whatever else—need to hear this cry. We must demand they and other leaders set examples of goodness and not greed, harmony and not hatred, justice and not judgement, virtue and not viciousness. We must insist they create conditions that foster the health and wellbeing of all of us, not just the ruling class.

Donald Trump has exposed the right’s longstanding moral corruption masquerading as sanctity. He has shown us just how complacent, misleading, and corrupt much of our media have become. He has revealed how the Democratic Party has lost its way as champion of the working class. For all this we should thank him.

Now, we, as a country, must shatter the mirror of national narcissism that Trump holds before us. Let us use him as a beautiful, beautiful catalyst to create the kinds of change that benefit us all, every one of us. This is real life I’m talking about, not just another episode of “Celebrity Apprentice.” We’ve had enough of that.

*The story of Narcissus and Echo

**The eight Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3–12 during the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The Power and Fallacy of Belief and Our New Civil War

battle_of_franklin_november_30_1864

Battle of Franklin, Nov. 30, 1864. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

With all the disinformation, fake news, innuendo as fact, and lies gone unchallenged, it’s been difficult to get a grasp of anything close to truth during the past campaign for president and post-election. This onslaught of propaganda has rendered truth irrelevant, further cementing Red-Team beliefs and Blue-Team beliefs as well. Belief is a Kevlar vest against sharp attacks of disagreeable facts. And it’s an armor-piercing bullet, a weapon of force and power.

It’s been difficult for me to disentangle what I read in the news from both camps and make of sense this of war of beliefs between the Reds and the Blues. To help me put things into perspective I reached back in history to an era where the destructive forces of belief split the nation.

We all know of the Civil War, the War Between the States, between North and South, between the Blue and the Gray. Although I think even today some would deny it, the root of this war was slavery.

Slavery was the way of life in the South. It was as natural as magnolia blossoms. It’s mentioned many times in the Bible and not unfavorably. Belief held that God approved of slavery, endorsed slavery. It was right and good. Moreover, it was a necessary duty. Such was the belief that made slavery possible, thus making it possible for those upright people of Southern gentility to sleep well at night and with a clear conscience.

Ah, but those in the North, those abolitionists, believed slavery was an abomination. It could not be possible for a good and gracious God to condone slavery. Slavery was evil and it must end.

So here we have two strongly held and conflicting beliefs. Some 500,000 people died for those beliefs. Those conflicting beliefs ripped families apart. Those conflicting beliefs wrecked the Southern economy.

Such is the power of belief.

But who was right? Where lay truth?

Did Northern victory prove that God abhorred slavery? If so, all those Southerners held wrong beliefs about God and a few other things, too. Or could it be that God got whupped along with the true believers? If that’s the case, then Satan, not God, stood behind Northern victory. And, hell yeah, the South will rise again!

Or maybe, just maybe, God had no opinion of slavery or the war, for that matter. If so, the South used God as an excuse for deplorable behavior (not at all uncommon, don’t you agree?).

Such is the fallacy of belief.

So what do you believe? Is slavery right or wrong? Was God with the Gray Team or the Blue Team? Or nowhere to be found? Is belief the same as truth, or is truth independent of belief?

And here’s another bit of perspective-putting: Abraham Lincoln, that good and deliberative man so determined to keep the union together, was despised by half the country for what he believed.

Now take this perspective on truth and belief, pop it into this very day, and make of it what you will.

9/11, Hurricanes, Elections, and Change

During a conversation with a friend soon after September 11, 2001, I compared the al-Qaeda attacks to a major natural disaster. The difference, I said, was our collective reaction. Suppose a tremendous earthquake had toppled the World Trade Center. The destruction would have been widespread, with thousands more people killed. Would there still be this angry, vengeful response which had already begun to grip the country?

My point was lost, however, because equating the 9/11 attacks with a natural disaster evoked its own kind of angry response. After all, other people did this to us. Our anger and thirst for vengeance were justifiable.

There is an old Zen story where a man is fishing from his boat on a fogbound lake. Through the mist he senses another boat coming directly at him. The startled fisherman shouts an angry warning. As the oncoming boat strikes, the fisherman curses the other. Quickly, the mist clears and the fisherman realizes the boat that rammed him is empty and adrift. Embarrassment replaces his anger.

Why is it that when other people, rather than nature, are the cause of our misfortune our reaction is different? I think it’s because, first, we believe other people should know better (as we always know better). Second, even though we can mitigate the effects of nature to some extent, we can and should control the actions of those human beings who would thwart, threaten, or harm us. Third, if we can’t control the actions of those who would thwart, threaten, or harm us, then we can justify doing whatever necessary to deter, punish, or avenge. And of course, somebody must pay. 

Religious beliefs entwine natural events with references to acts of God. We like to know why bad things happen. If the cause isn’t human, then it must be divine. If the cause is divine, then who are we to question? Historically and psychologically, God provides a needed explanation for the otherwise inexplicable and helps make tragic natural events easier to bear. Religion tangles things further when disasters become for us God’s judgment and retribution for things other people do, justifying one group’s destructive acts against another.

It’s ironic how easily so many of us accept natural disasters as God’s judgement on others, but when science tells us the progressively worsening changes in our global climate are the result of human activity, many of those same people deny it’s happening and call it a hoax.

Regardless, we humans and our descendants will have to live with and adapt to whatever climatic changes come our way. Ten, twenty-five, 100 years from now, no one will care that Al Gore was right and Rush Limbaugh was wrong about global warming any more than we care today that Galileo was right and the Church was wrong about heliocentrism.

Over eons of time, earth’s climate has changed in many inhospitable ways. The world has seen massive earthquakes, floods, droughts, tornadoes, and volcanic eruptions. But these events never matter unless humans are in the picture. It’s all about us, isn’t it? We humans are right in the middle of this swirling ocean of change that goes on and on. We are part of it, and we have adapted. So far.

Political and social change are as inevitable as changes in weather and climate. Societies manage themselves by creating governments, religious institutions, and other social structures, but over time these have and will change as we continually adapt to new circumstances and conditions. Social and political development and evolution are unstoppable. People do what they will to control their environment, survive, and—if possible—prosper. Sometimes what we humans do in the name of control, survival, and prosperity is grand and life-affirming. Other times it cruel and inhumane. It’s always been like this. It’s the nature of who we are and what we do.

When I told my friend my thoughts about the 9/11 attacks being no different from a natural disaster, this is what I had in mind. As individuals, the hijackers committed a singularly evil and unjustifiable act of violence. But it was just another tragic event in a very long list of examples of man’s inhumanity to man that has been part of the cycle of life and death on earth for thousands of years. Eventually, what happened on September 11, 2001, will have all the emotional impact as the events at the Alamo. Remember the Alamo?

Had we been more vigilant (and we could have been), we may have prevented or lessened damage of the events of 9/11. But there are some things we cannot prevent. We can’t prevent droughts, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, or arctic meltdown. We can’t always prevent other people from doing us harm (remembering that we are “the other” to someone else). We cannot prevent change, we can only live with it.

Hurricane Sandy pounds the eastern United States, and its powerful effects will be far-reaching. People are doing what they can to protect themselves and their property. Some will fare better than others, depending on many unpredictable factors. When it’s over, some will celebrate their good fortune of surviving another massive and destructive natural disaster, others will curse their misfortune and mourn their losses. Either way, as a country, we will clean up and carry on.

Yet another hurricane awaits off shore. When it strikes, it will rake the entire country. Unlike Sandy, this hurricane, which has been brewing for many years, is entirely human-caused. But like any hurricane it is unstoppable. We’ll have better information about areas of damage by November 7. When the skies clear, some of us will celebrate survival-as-victory, others of us will react with grief and anger at our misfortune. I hope the damage is manageable and that the inevitable post-disaster pillaging and plundering are minimal.

Some interesting things I found when researching this essay are here:

http://www.beliefnet.com/News/2005/09/Katrina-Gods-Judgment-On-America.aspx

http://christiannews.christianet.com/1215711636.htm

http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2012/0919/Massive-Arctic-ice-melt-far-surpasses-previous-record

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