A NATIONAL HOLIDAY: “WHO ARE WE? WHAT HAVE WE BECOME?
Pulitzer Prize critic photographer Philip Kennicott‘s “We used to think photos like this could change the world. What needs to change is who we are” discusses the disparate responses to the photograph of the father and daughter who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande. This Fourth of July it raises questions that deserve a thoughtful national conversation.
Kennicott’s op ed was a week ago, which means it’s mostly out-of-mind. Other photos, video coverage, and news stories have come to the fore, but our responses to them are as different as Kennicott described:
There is a fundamental difference between these two interpretations: One requires time and effort, an act of engaged empathy, while the other is a quick judgment that reaffirms an existing sense of the world. The power of a photograph like this depends on the time we devote to it and our basic sense of who these people are.PhilipKennicott, Who are we? What have we become?, Washington Post, June 36, 2019
People of my ilk gasp with horror at the sight of real people lying face down on the shore of the river they had hoped to cross, the exodus from hopelessness to a better life in the land of promise on this side of the shore. Others see the father and child as the consequence of having paid the price for breaking the law.
THE FAULTLINE AND ABYSS
Stories that have replaced the photo from the shore of the Rio Grande come so quickly we don’t have time to stop and think about what we’re seeing, or hearing, and why we’re seeing or hearing them the way we are. The focus of the faultline of public perception is Donald Trump. We either love him or hate him with little room between visceral disgust and vociforous affirmation. Bridging the two sides of the chasm is anathema to both sides of the political-cultural chasm. If we don’t stop and find a way forward in the USA, all of us will fall into the abyss.
News of Mr. Trump crossing into North Korea last week is a case in point. The US President breaks precedent by stepping across the dividing line between the two halves of the Korean Penninsula.
People of my persuasions immediately dismiss it as one more stunt. The North Korean leader who called Mr. Trump a baby and threatened a nuclear attack and the American President who called Mr. Kim “Little Rocket Man” have laid aside their schoolyard name-calling and bullying. But it’s confusing. We are the anti-war people. We stand for peace. We are the peacemakers who likely would applaud if it were some other president. Mr. Trump just did what my faith tradition called for in 1967:
The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace. This search requires that the nations pursue fresh and responsible relations across every line of conflict, even at risk to national security, to reduce areas of strife and to broaden international understanding. Reconciliation among nations becomes peculiarly urgent as countries develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, diverting their manpower and resources from constructive uses and risking the annihilation of humankind.Confession of 1967, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim shocked the world by doing what the Confession of 1967 called for. Whatever reasons underlie what happened, whether the handshakes were genuine or disingenuous, when something happens that we see as good, should we not encourage more, not less, of the same?
People who support President Trump applaud him for singularly bold leadership, daring to do what no previous president has done. Mr. Trump has once again defied the operations of “the deep state” in a way that puts the faux news media back on their heels. Calling Mr. Kim “Little Rocket Man” and threatening to obliterate North Korea were strategic steps that made the breakthrough possible. This is no ordinary president. Mr. Trump is a patriot’s patriot, strong, strategic, and deserving of the nation’s unconditional support.
But it’s confusing.This support rises from historic Cold War perceptions of North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union as godless enemies of all that is good in the West. Being tough on communism was required to make us secure in a world where softness would mean surrender — the end of freedom, free markets, religious freedom. Insuring national security comes first, and national security means elimination of the enemy, not accommodation.
MOSQUITOES AND FLY SWATTERS
When a people becomes anxious, when up is down one day and left is up is down the next day, the mind gets scrambled in search of solid ground.
Reason and civility become the pests in the living room. The fly swatters come out. Hard lines get drawn. Some of us are mosquitoes; some of us are fly swatters. There is no room for conversation between mosquitoes and fly swatters.
The Fourth of July comemorates the Declaration of Independence, the birth of the American Republic. There will be parades in cities and small downs across America, and a huge parade in the nation’s capitol sure to further divide an indivisible nation. The American flag will fly everywhere. Who we are, what we have become, and who we shall become beg for reasonable discussion. Without it we will be a swarm of mosquitoes with fly swatters and a nuclear arsenal.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 3, 2019