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 Sadness of Victory

 

I’m grateful Barack Obama won reelection. Of the two candidates he is the more principled and the one more able to understand and address the needs of the entire country, not just the other 47%. In spite of the powerful propaganda that says he has done nothing during the past four years, Obama has a long list of accomplishments to his credit. But I’m not writing to extol his accomplishments and virtue or cheer his reelection. I’m writing about sadness.

Yes, I’m grateful that, as a country, we did not pay the ransom demanded by the Republican party, which has held the president—and the country—hostage since Inauguration Day, 2009. It says a lot about our collective national character. But Obama’s first term brought another aspect of our national character into the world spotlight. What it exposed is very ugly and destructive. 

When Obama took the electoral vote, I felt a surge of relief. But I feel no joy or excitement. I feel no momentum moving forward. I feel sad about the whole thing. I’m sad because we will have four more years of resistance and obstruction from the House of Representatives—all for the purpose of preventing one man from doing the job we elected him to do and denying him any credit for the good he’s done and will strive to do. I’m sad because we must endure four more years of  hatred spewing forth from Limbaugh, Coulter, Palin, Hannity, Beck, O’Reilly, Rove, Trump, Breitbart, and so many others whose sole purpose is to foment dissension and even revolution.  

A world free of differences of opinion is not possible, nor is it desirable. In a reasonable society, people can overcome their differences, find a balance, and work together for the greater good. The fomenters of hatred, dissension, and revolution do not have the common good in mind. They may talk about the Constitution, but they don’t believe in we all the people. They may point to the Declaration of Independence as an inspiration for revolution, but that document is built on reason, not on hatred. 

No good will ever come from speech fueled by hatred. Never—no matter how tightly wrapped in a flag of patriotism or supported by a cross of religion—will speech steeped in hatred be a force for good. Never. It is always a force for evil. Freedom of speech is an American hallmark. But what happened to integrity and responsibility? It’s sad that we’ve given so much power to hatred. Very sad. 

I don’t believe that all those who supported Mitt Romney were inspired or influenced by the evil speech that is so prevalent today. But millions and millions of people were and are, and the world knows it.  

Had Mitt Romney won the election, we could have expected profound changes—for good or bad—in law and the economy. We will never know. Certainly, we would have had relief from the hateful, misleading diatribes that masquerade as truth. But all that is superficial compared to the deeper character flaws that would yet be festering within our national psyche had the election turned out differently.  

But it’s Obama and not Romney who is president. What comes next depends on what power we, as a country, will give to the hate mongers and obstructionists. I just can’t bring myself to feel very good about any of it.

On Teaching Children How to Think or What to Think

This showed up one day on my Facebook newsfeed. It’s among the thousands of catchy image quotes that friends like to share. I found one attribution to cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead. Although I couldn’t verify the quote anywhere else, it does seem consistent with other things I’ve read about her.

Teaching children how to think seems a fine idea, don’t you agree? But what does that mean, really? What teachers themselves know how to think? Who are the teachers who know how to teach children how to think? What does “how to think” mean in the first place? 

Most children’s first teachers are their parents. And most first-time parents are, themselves, very young when they have children. Child-rearing is an occupation undertaken with “no experience necessary,” including experience in teaching anything, let alone thinking skills. From my own parental experience, I know that much of what I taught my children—if not explicitly, then implicitly—came from what I learned from my parents. 

“How to think” was not part of my growing-up curriculum. “What to think,” however, was—not only at home but at school. Some things I learned as matters of fact include: the United States is the best country in the world, and good Catholics go to heaven (and, at best, Purgatory for the rest of you). Only later, when I was able to look at these two “givens” objectively—through my own reasoning—was I able to come to different conclusions.

“How to think” implies using reason and logic to analyze information or situations in search of understanding or other desirable outcomes. And that implies the need for a well-rounded education—not necessarily a college degree, but at least some exposure to a variety of topics and disciplines (e.g., history, humanities, physical sciences, civics and political science, religion, etc.) Part of that education comes from exploration and experimentation—whether physically, mentally, or spiritually. In other words, a variety of diverse life experiences. How can you evaluate something without having something else to measure against? 

Also important is an understanding of (or just recognizing) the many biases and fallacies people fall prey to without even knowing it. Salesmen, advertisers, politicians, preachers, and other persuaders are expert in using these to get what they want: which is to convince you it’s what you want too. To me, knowing how to think seems a valuable asset and survival tool (unless you’re living in 1984).

As beneficial as this may seem, however, critical thinking—and the education that fosters it—may be at odds with the Judeo-Christian ethic and core narrative of our country. Both of these are matters of faith, and faith definitely falls into the “what to think” category. 

Martin Luther, the rebellious Catholic priest and principal of the Protestant Reformation, said:

Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than not—struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God. 

The definition of reason is: “the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic.” Reason is dangerous because those who know how to use it may come to different conclusions about things that were once accepted as matters of faith and fact and “because I said so.” 

Animosity to reason is alive even today, at least in some parts of the country. Built into the 2012 Texas Republican Party platform is this statement:

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority. 

So not everyone believes teaching children how to think is a good idea. “What to think”—e.g., fixed beliefs firmly instilled by one’s parents—is the order of the day here. By objecting to this, I don’t mean to imply that we should raise little anarchists without any respect for authority. I believe in teaching respect, especially respect for one’s parents and teachers. But that respect should be founded on love and wisdom and not on fear and guilt. And parents should have enough respect for their children to teach them how to make their own decisions, develop their own consciences, and form their own opinions.

Someone else who doesn’t appreciate the value of education is Karl Rove, who said:

As people do better, they start voting like Republicans…unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing.

On second thought, he may appreciate the value of education very much. Apparently, a well-educated and thoughtful electorate is something to fear.

Please take the poll, and leave your reasoning in the comments section if you’re so inclined.

 

Two Post-election Scenarios—Neither One Bright

grover norquist quoteTwo weeks ago, a friend of mine shared this photo-quote on Facebook. I started to write a snarky comment but deleted it. I realized I had much more to say about the quote than I could cover in the two or three sentences that would quickly get lost within Facebook’s short attention span. Instead, I came here and spent the rest of the day researching and exploring some ideas around the topic. When finished, though, I couldn’t bring myself to push the Publish button. I hadn’t expected to come to such a gloomy conclusion. I tried to brighten things up a bit—put a more positive spin on things—but I just couldn’t write my way out of the Orwellian box canyon I’d created for myself. 

But after a few days it began to feel as though I’d left something undone. I have other topics I want to write about, but it seems a landslide has blocked my path. I got the idea that writing this preamble may help with some of the backhoe work. We’ll see. Meanwhile, what follows are the thoughts triggered by what Grover Norquist said about the coming presidential election.

**** 

The history of the United States offers several examples of internal threats that had the potential to destroy or do massive harm to the country through the power of hatred and divisiveness. The Civil War is at the top of the list. More recent examples include the labor movement, Civil Rights movement, and Vietnam War.

So, I want to be careful about saying we’re in the darkest of times and on the brink of a mighty disaster. Yet maybe we are.

We’re approaching the election of a president. It’s something we’ve done every four years, more or less, since George Washington was reelected in 1792. Presidential elections are contentious events, with all candidates insisting they know what’s best for the country and that they have the right qualities and skills to lead the country into the future.

But it seems that strong leadership in the Executive branch is not all that important to those who would back one of today’s contenders. The Republican/Tea Party does not care who is elected, as long as it’s not Obama. This news is a few months old now, but it’s the first I’ve heard of it. For those of you who think Obama is a fascist, take a look at this story by David Frum. David Frum, if you don’t know, is a conservative Republican, so this can’t be construed as liberal propaganda. Grover Norquist, if you don’t know, is the political activist who got most Republicans in the 112th Congress to sign a pledge affirming they would not raise taxes. Read the pledge and see who signed it here

This is what Grover Norquist said in February at the 2012 CPAC convention, before Mitt Romney looked like the sure winner of the Republican nomination:

All we have to do is replace Obama. …  We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget. … We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don’t need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate.

In other words, all the Republican/Tea Party needs is a paper-signing puppet who will do what he is told. It appears Mitt Romney may be that puppet. Meanwhile, Norquist—through his pledge—has a firm hand on the controls of the Legislative branch. A Romney presidency will lock it in, unless the Democrats make significant gains in Congress.

And what would a Romney presidency look like? I’m no political analyst, but the word “austerity” comes to mind. The rich will get richer, and the poor (from the middle class down), well, poverty is just another word for nothing left to lose. The same policies that supported Enron’s fleecing of thousands of pension funds and savings accounts, and that brought down the economy in 2008, will prevail. The economy—and the environment—will be pillaged for corporate gain. Then what? Will the masses rise up against the plutocracy with weapons more powerful than placards?

Yet many hold out for Barack Obama’s reelection. What are the consequences if Obama does win? I fear it will different from the usual acceptance of “four more years” of any recently reelected incumbent, notwithstanding the impeachment hearings of Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon.

The Tea Party came into power in 2010 as a direct response to Obama’s presidency. Never mind that it has done everything possible within the law (forget ethics) to thwart Obama. Since the rise of the Tea Party, there has been lots talk of armed revolution. Armed revolution! Examples are herehereherehere, and here. Isn’t that enough? These are not conspiracy theories from the fringe. These are real people advocating real events. They are angry and afraid, and they do love their guns. We very well could have an armed insurrection on our hands if Obama is reelected. All it takes is someone to fire the first shot in the right place and at the right time. See the first example above.

I don’t like being so cynical and pessimistic about the future of the United States, but this is the way it seems to me. This feels like it’s more than just another election where after it’s over, we’ll all go back to the mall for a nice day of retail therapy. It feels more like war brewing. And regardless of which side wins, the losers will be all of us within the middle and lower classes. But isn’t that the way it is in all wars?

Good Shepherd, Bad Shepherd*

Collage of notable shepherds
How can you tell the good shepherds from the bad?

The word sheeple has been around for at least 60 years as a derogatory reference to people who are docile, foolish, and easily led—like sheep to slaughter.

There is a paradox here, because sheeple applies to absolutely no one. Stop anybody on the street and ask, “Are you docile, foolish, and easily led?” and you will see what I mean. We’re all to smart for that.

But what about the Christian metaphor of the Good Shepherd? Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is the one who will tell us (his flock of sheep) right from wrong, keep us safe from harm, give us good counsel when we are confused, and wrap us snugly in the warm folds of his robes on that last, darkest, and most frightening night of the soul. Is this a case where people choose to be sheep?

Well, not all people will be sheep. Like Jesus, there are some others who stumble into—or seek out—the role of shepherd. They are smarter and more intelligent than the flock they aspire to lead. Some of them take on the role of shepherd out of love and compassion for the poor sheep, who, by their nature, are truly helpless. Others aspire to the role of shepherd out of the delusion they know what’s best—for themselves, for sure—and will take the flock by whatever means they can. Some of them will even lead their flocks directly to the slaughter-house.

All shepherds and hopeful shepherds have a message for the flock. But the sheep may have difficulty discerning among those who would help them from those who would harm them. Many people, like sheep, don’t have—or don’t utilize—the capacity to discern the truth. They are unable to make skillful decisions about what’s in their own long-term best interests and the best interests of those who share the pasture. Because, like sheep, they can know only what their immediate instincts tell them. And the instincts of sheep aren’t very good. Can a sheep recognize the butcher as he walks into the pen with a loaded rifle?

But we’re really not sheep. And it is possible to separate the good shepherds from the bad shepherds—if we’d really care to take a close look at them and listen carefully to their messages. Listening carefully doesn’t mean hearing what we want to and not hearing what we don’t.

• Is the message filled with compassion, hope, love, tolerance, and concern for the welfare of everyone in the flock? Or is the message filled with hatred of “the other,” fear that “the other” will take what’s “yours,” and intolerance of anyone who doesn’t accept the message?

• What’s the overall demeanor of those who would aspire to lead you? How do they live their lives—not just when they are in the spotlight, but when no one is looking? Are they kind, gentle, and honest;  are they authoritarian, overbearing, and deceptive; are they generous and humble, or greedy for money, fame, and power?

• Are they wise or deluded?

Although it may take a long time and will require some effort, truth can be found.

Provided truth is what you really want.

The photo collage is of some notable shepherds, some of whom are speaking to their flocks. Can you tell the good ones from the bad ones? If so, how?

In the picture are, in no particular order: the Buddha, Jerry Fallwell, Benazir Bhutto, Idi Amin, Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, Anwar Sadat, Jimmie Carter, Menachem Begin, Mother Teresa, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, Rush Limbaugh, Nelson Mandela, Joseph Stalin, Pat Roberson, Dick Cheney, Aung San Suu Kyi, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Martin Luther King, Mao Zedong, Mahatma Ghandi, Barack Obama, Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Dorothy Day, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jim Jones, Mitt Romney, and Jesus, who is shone once as the Good Shepherd and again preaching the Sermon on the Mount.

Please forgive me if your favorite—good or bad—is not in the picture. There are so many.

*This is a rewrite of an article first published here on February 27, 2010. I think it’s as timely today as it was then. The original post was inspired by a story sent to me by someone suggesting that Barack Obama is leading the United States down the same path as did Adolf Hitler lead Germany (that story has since been removed, but there are plenty of others out there).

Inappropriate Speech: It’s Not All about Rush Limbaugh

I grew up in a household where foul and derogatory language was a rarity. As I progressed through childhood, I noticed that my parents didn’t use many of the words I’d become accustomed to hearing at school. I wondered if they even knew them. 

Eventually I came to work in construction and realized how naïve I’d been. It must have been around then that it occurred to me: “Of course my parents know those words. How could they not?” 

Although I do remember, long ago, being threatened with a bar of soap on the tongue, I learned (indirectly) that it wasn’t the language that was bad, per se, but it was inappropriate in the household setting. The unspoken message was, “We just don’t talk like that at home.”

As a parent I took the same approach when my young children brought home playground language. “It’s not appropriate here,” was my message to them.

Language is a powerful thing. It’s like fire. Used appropriately it can bring benefits such as understanding and harmony. Used inappropriately it is divisive and destructive. Also, how you use language gives an impression of who you are and how you think. And what you think of others.

I’m among those who objected to Rush Limbaugh’s recent verbal attacks on Sandra Fluke. His remarks were in no way appropriate, and he’s since retracted them. However, it took a massive movement to show him just how inappropriate his language was. Without it, it would be business as usual—meaning he’d be saying the same things he’s done for the past 20 or so years.

The backlash centered around his “attack on women.” Yes, given the circumstances and the issue surrounding Limbaugh’s remarks, it was an attack on women. Many of his remarks are direct and excoriating attacks on women. But for me, it was just another example of inappropriate language bought into the national “household.”

One thing that Limbaugh does well—despite his distasteful language—is point out hypocrisies and double standards between “right” and “left” and other whole segments of society he doesn’t like. In this AP story, he’s quoted as saying, “Rappers can say anything they want about women. It’s called art. And they win awards.” He’s absolutely right. There is a sub-culture where women are routinely called whores and bitches. Not only is the language tolerated, it’s celebrated and imitated. 

A sub-tempest has developed over whether comedian Bill Maher, who donated $1 million to President Obama’s political action committee, is equally guilty for his raunchy slurs against Sarah Palin. Limbaugh and some of his supporters insist that Obama give the money back. This story in the Christian Science Monitor asks whose worse, Limbaugh or Maher?

The question is ridiculous for two reasons. First, it does nothing to solve a problem. Rather, it maintains a firm battle line between warring segments of American society. Second, it skirts the real issue.

Both Limbaugh and Maher (not to mention dozens of others) use language inappropriate within our national household. And here, you may note, I’ve walked into a trap of my own making: “Who are you to say what’s appropriate language and what isn’t? It’s all well and good for you to force your kids to watch their mouths, but don’t go trying to force your values on me!”

I got it. 

But where is the value in disrespect and divisiveness? What is the value in language that is harsh and harmful?

It may be valuable to those who have disdain for people they don’t like, but I say there is no human value to it, no societal value. But there is definitely monetary value. In this story from the Sacramento Bee, Limbaugh supporter Cal Thomas writes

A lot of what he does is theatrics designed to rev up his audience with red meat and to dramatize a point. It isn’t that he is insincere about his positions; rather, it is because the media environment, in which we are all forced to live, requires some to be louder and more emphatic than others to attract attention and ratings.

It bears repeating: The need for attention and ratings has created a “media environment in which we are all forced to live.” Rush Limbaugh and people like him—people from every political and social sector—have created the very “media environment” they (and we) are victims of. They have to be raunchy and divisive with their “red meat” language. Otherwise no one would listen to them. And then what would we do for entertainment? 

UPDATE: I just discovered this story on radio-info.com that states that Premier Networks has sent out a memo stating that 98 advertisers want to avoid “environments likely to stir negative sentiments.” The memo further states:

They’ve specifically asked that you schedule their commercials in dayparts or programs free of content that you know are deemed to be offensive or controversial (for example, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Leykis, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity). Those are defined as environments likely to stir negative sentiment from a very small percentage of the listening public.

Writing about the memo in the Daily Beast, John Avalon makes a powerful statement about being nice with language in the national household:

But the left-wing talkers being condemned are actually following a model that Rush & Co created. Complaining about the escalation on the other side while ignoring the ugliness from your ideological allies is the larger problem, and it goes beyond hypocrisy. The only way we are going to stop this cycle of incitement is if we try to apply equal standards to both sides of the aisle. It’s not a complicated concept—it’s nothing more than the golden rule we learned in nursery school: treat others as you would like to be treated. And as political commentators like the radio pioneer Will Rogers once taught us, we can make serious points using satire, humor that is not designed to divide and destroy.