Three year-old grandson Elijah’s a joy. He’s joyful! He’s loving. He’s funny. He makes me smile with his summersaults, singing and dancing. He makes me proud of him every morning when he helps fill Barclay’s bowl with his prescription dog food. Like Barclay, Elijah sees no evil, hears no evil, and speaks no evil, but he recoils at the sound of meanness.
Elijah isn’t mean. He loves Nora; Nora loves him. Elijah doesn’t know he’s Black; Nora doesn’t know she’s White. No one is superior at daycare.
Elijah doesn’t know what a country is, let alone that there’s something wrong with it, or how to make it great. He hasn’t learned to fear people like those who lynched 14 year-old Emmett Till in 1955, or their White nationalist offspring: the Boogaloo Bois, the Wolverine Watchmen, and the Proud Boys “staying back and standing by” with their pistols and rifles loaded if things don’t go their way in the 2020 election.
My grandson is too young to know the names of Medgar Evers, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, James Baldwin, W.E.B. Dubois, Paul Robison, Congressmen John Lewis and Elijah Cummings, President Barack Obama . . . or Trevon Martin, Freddie Gray, Philando Castille, Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, George Floyd, and countless other unarmed people like him who were killed by the police.
Elijah is three years-old. He didn’t see President Obama award the Presidential Medal of Honor to Civil Rights Movement hero Congressman John Lewis, or President Trump bestow the same honor on Rush Limbaugh whose daily radio broadcasts are seances with Joe McCarthy.
When I came home from voting with the bright red sticker I VOTED, Elijah recognized the letters. He knows his ABC’s. Someday I’ll tell him I voted for him and for all his friends and enemies.
Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, many a son is driven mad by a father’s ghost. Although most of our fathers were not murdered, as was Hamlet’s, our fathers whisper through the air long after they have ceased to be. We hear a voice that defies us to be as big as they or to exceed their stature, or to fill the void of emptiness and their sense of shame and shortcomings they took to the grave, or to find the love they withheld from us as children. A father’s ghost sometimes drives a son mad.
We are our father’s sons. Appearances to the contrary, madness is never far away.
“That he is mad, ’tis true; ’tis true ’tis pity;
And pity ’tis ’tis true —a foolish figure….”
— Plutonius to Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother.
(William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2.)
The healthier sons among us still see our father’s ghost without being stuck in a room where his is the only voice that keeps us captive. We write a wider narrative that puts the father’s ghost where it belongs within the expanding narrative to which experience over time leads us to write. The less fortunate walk through life in “the hollow inner space where the story should be, but never was.” (Dan P. McAdams, The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump.)
The hollow inner space where the story should be
People without a redemptive narrative of the self — a life-story written in one’s own blood: the defeats no less than the successes, the release from the father’s ghost, the changes that unmute the helpless child’s cry for love and integrate the conscious changes that awake us from sleep-walking — deserve our pity and prayers.
A truly authentic fake
“Trump is always acting, always on stage,” writes McAdam, “— but that is who he really is, and that is all he really is. He is not introspective, retrospective or prospective. He does not go deep into his mind; he does not travel back to the past; he does not project far into the future. He is always on the surface, always right now.
“In his own mind, he is more like a persona than a person, more like a primal force or superhero, rather than a fully realized human being.”
Glitter and compassion
Long before the chairs and drapes in the Oval Office were glittered with yellow-gold, Edgar Alan Poe wrote in his Philosophy of Furniture, “Glitter — and in that one word how much of all that is detestable do we express.”
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a tragedy too detestable to express: a trail of tears created by a son’s inability to write a narrative that integrates and moves beyond obsession with his father’s ghost.
The hollow inner spaces of others bring a tear to God’s eye, and call us to compassion in hopes that a new narrative of redemption. Truly authentic fakes who hide their emptiness with glitter deserve our pity and our prayers. They do not deserve applause or votes.
Any responsible citizen keeps track of the news. No American can honestly claim ignorance about matters of utmost national importance, like a white supremacist domestic terrorist plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan, or the invitation to a domestic terrorist group to “stand back, and stand by” . . . or the lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Anyone who can’t — or won’t — answer the question whether it is legal to interfere with and intimidate citizens’ Constitutional right to vote; anyone who can’t, or won’t, say unequivocally that the Constitution does not grant a president the authority or power to prevent the peaceful transfer of power; anyone who claims not to know President Trump’s frequently declared three-fold litmus test for filling the vacant seat of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg brings to mind the wisdom of Albert Einstein, Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes, and St. Augustine.
The lie was raised to the dignity of a political instrument.
Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle that fits them all.
It’s not easy to love one’s enemies and to pray for those who persecute you in 2020. It’s hard not to cheer when the president who has shown no grief for the 214,000 American dead or compassion for the sick and mourning succumbs to the virus he once called a hoax. But this is not a time for cheering. No amount of cheering will fix what ails us.
“For everything there is a season, and time for every matter under heaven,“ wrote the ancient Hebrew sage (Ecclesiastes 3:1) centuries before a young Donald Trump found direction in Norman Vincent Peal’s gospel of the Power of Positive Thinking that vaccinates a person or nation against self-defeating thoughts that block success. No longer is there a season or time for weeping. No time for mourning. No time for Ecclesiastes’ sullen declaration that “all is vanity” or the depths of despair in the Psalms, Proverbs, Jeremiah, Lamentations, or the “Woes” of Amos and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Evil is shrunk to the size of a thimble — the temptation of thinking negatively about success. Slowly but surely, the prosperity gospel without a cross replaces the ethic of the Golden Rule — “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — and the Sermon on the Mount’s “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
“[T]he struggle against evil can make us evil,” wrote biblical scholar Walter Wink in Engaging the Powers, “and no amount of good intentions automatically prevents its happening.”
Good intentions have been hard to find, and, when we think we’ve found them, they sometimes become evil in disguise. The “vanity” of Ecclesiastes is never far away. The Hebrew word “hehbel” is a breath of air, or of the mouth — evanescent, empty, puffed up, wicked, false, and often idolatrous.
Evil as a Parasite
Like other parasites, evil does not breathe on its own. It requires a host. It exists only because of goodness. Rarely candid or self-identifying before its work is done, evil is pernicious. It slowly sucks the oxygen out of goodness. It wears the masks of saviors whose agendas are destruction. Evil is an arsonist masquerading as the fire department that will rescue us, while it strikes the matches that turn forests and homes into cinders and ashes. It assures us that the scent we smell is not real. It presents itself as what is the straight-forward talk that warps what is straight into something crooked.
The Scent of Smoke
Sometimes the scent and sight of smoke rise from a constitution in flames. A crook with Covid-19 lights a match in the name of law-and-order while encouraging the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” and saying not a mumbling word after the federal and state agents uncover a white supremacist plot to kidnap the Governor of Michigan and spark civil war.
Though the parasite of evil starts slowly, its threat to our health cannot remain hidden forever. Eventually the power of positive thinking has to face the greater power it denies. The longing for goodness, truth and beauty may yet lead vanity to the operating room where a real doctor removes the parasite from the body politic.
This is a season to straighten what is crooked, to resist evil, while always reminding ourselves that the struggle against evil can make us evil.
If you applauded the president’s message to the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” when the 2020 election doesn’t go his way, don’t read this tongue-in-cheek letter. If you find it chilling and need a good laugh, this epistle may bring a smile and a chuckle.
Views from the Edge: To See More Clearly, by the wetland, MN, October 1, 2020.
At least two things stay the same: 1) The wisdom of the elders, whose walks over the hot coals of turmoil have brought them to a deeper serenity, and 2) history repeating itself when memory of a previous era is almost gone. We begin with a moment my elders in a Care Center.
Serenity in the Care Center
Click Conversation in the Care Center to read and hear the All Things Considered (Minnesota Public Radio, 91.1FM) ) commentary written during an earlier campaign season not that different from today’s. The MPR page includes an audio link.
Is history repeating itself?
American historian David McCullough answered “Yes” when asked at a Westminster Town Hall Forum whether history repeats itself. Things do come ’round again. They go away until they’re nearly forgotten. 2020 marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the political party that turned a floundering democracy into a totalitarian state built on a fictional master race.
Do two things at once. Stay calm and resist evil with goodness. In the words often heard by congregations as they leave Presbyterian worship to exercise their faith in public life,
“Go out into the world in peace. Have courage. Hold onto what is good. Return no one evil for evil. Strengthen the faint-hearted . . . .”
“Nine-eleven” is still with us in 2020. But it’s different now. September 11 shook us from head to toe. September 11, 2020 should shake us more.
On this 19th anniversary of 9/11, we remember what we prefer to forget: the scene of highjacked American Airlines passenger planes leveling the World Trade Center twin towers like tidal waves erasing a sand castle.
In Washington, D.C. American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. AA Flight 93 would have struck the U.S. Capitol, if not for the heroic intervention of two passengers who risked everything to stop it.
What we see is horrifying, but it is behind us. That was then; this is now. Al-Qaeda was responsible for 9/11. But only a slash (/) and three hyphens distinguish between the date from the three digit rescue call. Who will answer the 9-1-1 call from the burning house of the American people in 2020?
9-1-1 on 9/11 2020
Fires are sweeping across the U.S.A. Some fires we see. The forest fires in California, Oregon, and Washington are vast and spreading. The governors have sounded the alarm; fire-fighters are responding as best they can. Other fires, like global warming and coronavirus pandemic, are less obvious. Only the devastation they cause can be captured on camera. Those fires have no address. Neither does the arsonist.
Holding the Bag for the President
“He sins as much who holds the bag as he who puts into it,” says an adage from an anonymous source. I had to read that twice. Translation on 9/11 2020: the party that holds the bag for the president’s unconscionable dereliction of duty is as responsible for the president himself.
Bob Woodward’s new book Rage and the recently released recordings of the president’s voice leave no doubt about President Trump’s character and behavior. Republican Party spokespersons can no longer politically afford to ignore what they already knew, but they will find a way, and FoxNews will serve as the party’s public relations firm.
GOP Senators and Representatives are as responsible as the president for his lies, deceptions, misinformation, disinformation, distortions of fact, assault on essential institutions, and the president’s defiance of his Oath of Office to protect the country from all enemies, foreign and domestic. They are as responsible as he for stoking the embers of white supremacist lawlessness, shifting blame for police homicides and street violence to their victims and to Black Lives Matter, pushing infectious disease researchers and climate scientists off stage and out of sight, staying mum and turning a blind eye to the Blue states of the Pacific Northwest, and holding the bag for Vladimir Putin’s agenda of weakening public trust.
Brian Murphy served as the Trump Administration’s Acting Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis in the Department of Homeland Security from March 2018 through August 2020. Now he is a different kind of public servant. He is the whistle-blower whose complaint is a 911 call to save us from fraud by Homeland Security leaders who undercut national intelligence that showed Russia was working to undermine the United States. Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American (9/09/2020) tells a chilling story.
The complaint also concerns the DHS Threat Assessment leaked yesterday to Politico. Wolf and his deputy Ken Cuccinelli—also appointed illegally, according to the GAO—prohibited the release of the threat assessment because it discussed both the threat of white supremacists and of Russian influence in the United States. This, they said, would reflect badly on the president. “Mr. Cuccinelli stated that Mr. Murphy needed to specifically modify the section on White Supremacy in a manner that made the threat appear less severe, as well as include information on the prominence of violent ‘left-wing’ groups.” Wolf wanted to add information about the ongoing unrest in Portland, Oregon.
Murphy refused to sign off on their alteration of the intelligence report, warning that it was “an abuse of authority and improper administration of an intelligence program. Wolf ordered it revised anyway. Murphy warned that the final version of the threat assessment would “more closely resemble a policy document with references to ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups than an intelligence document.” This is the document leaked in draft form to Politico yesterday.
Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, 9/11, 2020
A 9-1-1 Response for a Kidnapped Republic
The Republican Party has some things in common with the terrorists who turned passenger planes into missiles and sent a dark cloud of smoke over America.
The party of my parents’ generation has been highjacked. If we don’t have the wisdom and courage to stop it, the party and country of Abraham Lincoln will disappear like a sand castle.
I have no doubt how my mother and father would have voted in 2020. They knew that “all sin is a kind of lying” (Augustine), and that “the recognition of sin is the beginning of salvation” (Martin Luther). I sense their tears and hear their voices.
“It’s [not] my party, and I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to!”
After posting “The Incendiary President” yesterday, someone with better memory than I remembered the guest commentary aired by Minnesota Public Radio’s All Things Considered 10 years ago. Some things don’t change. The audio has vanished, but MPR’s archives preserves the text. In 2020, we are reaping the harvest of what we’ve sown.
Our nation is being poisoned by inflammatory rhetoric. How else does one explain the sending of a used condom to a Minnesota congresswoman, or the phone message left on Rep. Keith Ellison’s answering machine: “Timothy McVeigh said dead government workers are good government workers. Goodbye, Sambo”?
And that’s just here in Minnesota.
The success of a democratic republic depends upon the civility of its citizens and their respect for the offices of public servants, regardless of who occupies the office. Unless we clean up the language of our civil discourse, we are inviting unimaginable tragedy.
According to a Harris Interactive Poll taken this month, “more than 20 percent believe [President Obama] was not born in the United States, that he is ‘the domestic enemy’ of whom the U.S. Constitution speaks, that he is racist and aynti-American, and that he ‘wants to use an economic collapse or terrorist attack as an excuse to take dictatorial powers.’ Fully 20 percent think he is ‘doing many of the things that Hitler did,’ while 14 percent believe ‘he may be the anti-Christ’ and 13 percent think ‘he wants the terrorists to win.'”
Though I distrust the percentages of any poll, whatever the real percentages of such views, this cocktail is lethal. But it is not new. The acrid taste is familiar to my generation We grew up in another time when the civil discourse was being poisoned.
Sen. Joseph McCarthy was dumping poison — instigating a national witch hunt for communists and communist sympathizers in government, the entertainment industry, and labor unions. In the spring of 1954, McCarthy’s crusade of insinuation, innuendo and guilt by association was brought to an end by journalist Edward R. Murrow and Joseph Welsh, attorney for the U.S. Army.
Sharpening his teeth to devour his adversary by character assassination, McCarthy snarled and reminded Welch that one of Welch’s colleagues had belonged to an organization suspected of communist sympathies. Welch replied with words we all need to hear again: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
Welch’s words took our breath away back then. They still do. A sense of decency is the only thing that will strengthen us to escape the politics of assassination and allow us to seek solutions in a difficult time. In Murrow’s words, “We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from the fearful.”
Painting the president of the United States or members of Congress with McCarthy’s sloppy brush as domestic enemies — let alone as the Antichrist — gives deranged minds a license to send used condoms or hateful voicemails. Or even to plot an assassination.
I am a pastor. The use of Christian scripture to stoke the fires of fear and hate are the hardest to take. The Christian life takes evil seriously, but there may be no greater evil than ill-informed, loud spirituality. All the great religions hold some version of the essential tenet expressed in the First Letter of John, which, incidentally, is the only place in all of Christian Scripture that the idea of the Antichrist appears. “He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still.”
Where are the likes of Edward R. Murrow and Joseph Welsh now? We need them again.
Gordon C. Stewart, Minnesota Public Radio (91.1 FM), March 29, 2010. Re-posted September 4, 2020.
Good cartoons pack a wallop. They go to the heart of the matter. They squeeze book into a small picture frame. Steve Sack’s “GOT A LIGHT?” in Saturday’s Star Tribune does that. As we enter the home-stretch toward Election Day 2020, “Got a light?” cuts through the smoke and mirrors to issue a warning: “Don’t be stupid!”
Don’t strike the match that fuels the Trump campaign. Don’t be stupid!
White Supremacy dressed in Black: “Umbrella Man”
The backdrop for “Got a Light?” is the moment alleged to have turned a lawful citizen protest following George Floyd’s murder into a lawless scene of window-breaking, looting, and torching of the Third Precinct headquarters of the Minneapolis Police Department. A cell phone video preserved the provocative behavior of an unidentified white man dressed in black, wearing a gas mask, and holding an open umbrella on a sunny day. The video went viral.
The StarTribune reported that, before he smashed the store windows on Lake Street with a 4-pound sledge-hammer, “Umbrella Man” had spray-painted “free [expletive] for everyone” on the doors of AutoZone. Who was the white provocateur who lit the match that turned a peaceful protest into a riot? Why was he there so conspicuously?
"Investigators finally caught a break when a tipster e-mailed the MPD identifying him as a member of the Hells Angels biker gang who 'wanted to sow discord and racial unrest by breaking out the windows and writing what he did on the double doors.'
“Subsequent Investigation claims his association with the Aryan Cowboys Brotherhood, ‘a small white supremacist prison and street gang based primarily in Minneapolis and Kentucky.'”
Whether or not those claims are true, one thing is certain. The white man dressed in black holding an open umbrella on a sunny day appeared suddenly, shattered windows, and casually slipped away. He came from somewhere. He returned to somewhere. Umbrella Man was not a demonstrator. He did not come to protest the killing of George Floyd. He was a provocateur.
Both “agent provocateur” and the shortened “provocateur” can refer to someone (such as an undercover police officer or a political operative) whose job is to incite people to break the law so that they can be arrested, but only “provocateur” is used in English with the more general sense of “one who provokes.”
American White Alt-Right nationalist provocateurs like Umbrella Man may seem strange, but they are not new. The difference is they longer wear white hoods, carry torches, or burn crosses on the lawns of Black houses. They have no need to work under cover of darkness. The occupant of the White House permits encourages them to light matches in broad daylight to provoke the civil unrest that will rally an electorate to heed his call to establish law and order.
During the press conference the eve before his visit Kenosha, a President of the United States of America again refused to denounce the lawless abuse of power that killed Jacob Blake. Today, defying the expressed request of the grieving family, the mayor, the Governor and other Wisconsin elected officials, the president made his appearance, praising the police and adding further insult by answering a journalist’s question directed to the grieving parents of Jake Blake. The president again stoked the fires of white supremacist lawlessness, encouraging white men holding umbrellas on a bright sunny day to create the civil turmoil that will get him re-elected. “I am your law-and-order President!” “Russia, if you’re listening . . .
Provocateurs and the Rise to Power
The Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler rode to power on the civil unrest created by the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Nazi Party’s paramilitary, whose acts of violence they blamed on Leftists, anarchists, traitors, and non-Aryans created a climate that would welcome the Strong Man.
Once in office, Hitler no longer needed the SA or their commander, Ernst Röhm, whose loyalty he had come to doubt. When Herman Göring and Heinrich Himmler alleged that Röhm was organizing a coup, Hitler authorized and led the covert operation that became known as the Night of the Long Knives, the murder of SA leaders, including Röhm, whom Hitler had ordered to gather at a hotel in Bad Wiessee, a small town far from public notice. Eighty-five SA officers were murdered on the spot, or, like Röhm, taken to Berlin to be executed.
Cruelty Does Not Stay Masked Forever
Some things cannot be kept quiet. When the press began to learn of the purge, Reich “Minister Without Portfolio” Joseph Göring ordered newspapers not to publish the names of the dead, and ordered police stations to burn “all documents concerning the action of the past two days.” Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Hermann Goebbels went on the radio to announce to the nation that Hitler had prevented traitors from overthrowing the government and throwing the country into turmoil. Eleven days later (July 13, 1934) Hitler gave the nationally broadcast speech to the Reichstag (the German equivalent of the U.S. Congress) in which he conflated the nation and himself. The strong man who has promises to make Germany great again proclaimed himself “the Supreme Judge of the German people” and called those who opposed him traitors.
If anyone reproaches me and asks why I did not resort to the regular courts of justice, then all I can say is this. In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I became the supreme judge of the German people. I gave the order to shoot the ringleaders in this treason, and I further gave the order to cauterise down to the raw flesh the ulcers of this poisoning of the wells in our domestic life. Let the nation know that its existence—which depends on its internal order and security—cannot be threatened with impunity by anyone! And let it be known for all time to come that if anyone raises his hand to strike the State, then certain death is his lot.
Adolf Hitler, broadcast speech to the Reichstag, July 13, 1934.
Concerned with the potential resistance of the Reichstag and the courts, Hitler’s cabinet pasted a veneer of legality over the purge: “The measures taken on June 30, July 1 and 2 to suppress treasonous assaults are legal as acts of self-defense by the State.”
Germany Then and America Now
There is no official equivalent of the SA in the USA. But neither the president nor his storm troopers need a command structure to carry out the mission they share. Provocateurs like Umbrella Man need the the Commander-in-Chief to stay silent and shift the blame to the non-Aryans among us.
Is it unreasonable to suppose a president with no moral compass, fearful of losing his bid for re-election, at risk of losing his fight to keep his tax returns from public scrutiny, and facing multiple felony indictments after leaving office would use the provocateur’s playbooks his first ex-wife and the co-author allege to have been only books in his bedroom, Mein Kampf and The Speeches of Hitler?
This re-blogged post featuring Bill Moyers’ interview with American poet W.S. Merwin (1927–2019) caught my attention while preparing a Views from the Edge reflection (yet to be published) that will draw from Albert Camus’ statement about war living inside ourselves.
The YouTube featured by this blogger was an unexpected gift. Ponder and enjoy!
[.. BILL MOYERS: When we confirmed this meeting, you suggested that I read a poem in here called “Rain Light.” Why did you suggest that one?
W.S. MERWIN: I don’t know, I just — that seems to be a very close poem to me.
BILL MOYERS: Here it is.
“All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud touches…