When a megalomaniac is cornered

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150th anniversary logo of The Nation

Sasha Abramsky’s article “Trump is a Cornered Megalomaniac — and That’s a Grave Danger to the Country” (The Nation, May 21) examines the growing crisis in the White House and the clear and present danger it poses.

“Men like Trump,” says Abramsky, “do not fade gently into their political night. Rather, with all nuance sacrificed in pursuit of their senescent need for the spotlight, they scrabble and scratch, lash out and fight. With no self-limiting or self-correcting moral gyroscope, they go down whatever paths they believe offer them the best chance of survival.”

I read Abramsky’s article yesterday and recalled a brief conversation last December aboard ship on The Nation Annual Cruise.

This morning the President was playing from the script, doing Abramsky warned he would: fighting back, lashing out at the “fake media” who don’t want him to “drain the swamp of Washington bureaucrats” in order to “make America great again,” the media who have treated him worse than anyone in American history, against those who keep making stuff up like “the Russian thing.” Donald Trump was using “all the tricks of the demagogue as he fights for his survival” (Abramsky).

A Facebook “Friend” posted a Trump call for readers to rise up in support of the victimized people’s President. This afternoon I can’t seem to find it and wonder whether perhaps Facebook, which revised its policy that allowed splattering false news in the 2016 election, had censored the post as faux news. Whatever the reason for the post’s disappearance, the reason for its initial appearance was clear.

But three things seem clear.

  1. The game is on. “Donald Trump’s grotesque presidency now hangs by a thread. By the hour, it seems, the possibility of impeachment, of him being declared incompetent to govern—or, at the very least, of his own party bringing irresistible pressure on him to resign—grows.” (Abramsky)
  2. This President has shown repeatedly that he is capable of almost anything, including, God forbid, creating or exacerbating an international crisis of epic proportions, in the megalomaniacal struggle to survive.
  3. My Facebook “Friend” doesn’t agree with any of that. She still believes in the President. She’s a good person, a fallen-away Catholic. We’re still “friends” on Facebook and in real life.

But, hey, who knows what may happen?

The President’s trip includes a meeting with the Pope. Maybe Pope Francis will hear his confession, convince the beleaguered, lapsed Presbyterian president to resign, and convince the likes of my lapsed Catholic Facebook Friend that wise people don’t confuse demagogues with victims.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 20, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Glooming Gus at the Precipice

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This otherwise cheerful morning – the sun is bright, the sky is blue, the air is brisk, the flowers are blooming – I open my eyes to find myself standing again before the precipice.

“I don’t know whether we’re on the edge of the precipice,” said Louis de Guidos, “but we’re in in a very, very, very difficult situation.”

He was speaking of the Spanish and European economy, but his description is suited to the crisis in which the world now finds itself in the aftermath of a global cyber attack and men-children in North Korea and the U.S.A. with nuclear arsenals at their fingertips.

“At times, we forget the magnitude of the havoc we can wreak by off-loading our minds onto super-intelligent machines, that is, until they run away from us, like mad sorcerers’ apprentices, and drag us up to the precipice for a look down into the abyss.” – Richard Dooling.

A lesser known author wrote on this topic:

“It’s one thing to play with toys. It’s something else when the toys are nuclear bombs and missiles.

“Our time is perilously close to mass suicide. Unless and until we get it straight that I and we are not the center of the universe, the likes of Kim Jong-un – and his mirror opposites but like-minded opponents on this side of the Pacific – will hold us hostage to the madness that lurks in human goodness.

“‘Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else?’ asked Dr. King. ‘The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.'” -“Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans: Little Boys with Toys,” Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p. 77.

Just because a person’s a gloomy Gus doesn’t mean it’s not gloomy. 🙄

  • Gordon C. Stewart, gloomy Gus, at the precipice in Chaska, MN, May 17, 2016.

Hinges: Wisdom and Discretion

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Yesterday’s “Why do we feel so unhinged?” – an attempt at a philosophical post outside the partisan political fray – cries out this morning for a less dispassionate follow-up.

Much of the reason for feeling unhinged is unhinged behavior in the White House that violates prudence (wisdom) and temperance (restraint, self-control), two of the Four Cardinal Virtues featured in “Why do we feel so unhinged?”

trump-lavrov2.jpg.size.custom.crop.1086x724The latest Washington Post news concerning the POTUS’s off-script conversation with the Russian Foreign Minister and the Russian Ambassador about a highly sensitive foreign intelligence and national security matter offers the latest evidence of Mr. Trump’s imprudence and lack of restraint.

The American people and the people of the world should expect wisdom and self-control (restraint) from the most powerful man in the world. But when a society’s traditional values get obliterated by an entertainment culture whose entertainment President gets his news from watching “Good Morning, Joe” and Fox News and tweets warning shots at the FBI Director he’s just fired, the greater tragedy may be that America got a mirror image of ourselves. Until finally the question former First Lady Michelle Obama asked after the new president signed an executive order undoing the Obama Administration’s healthy school lunch program: “What is wrong with you?”

The question goes all the way back to Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero in ancient Greece and Roma, and to Thomas Aquinas, who was schooled in the Four Cardinal Virtues at the University of Paris in the 12th Century.

As previously noted (see “Two Universities: Paris and Liberty” in Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p. 101-102), it’s a long way from the University of Paris to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia where the the new president delivered his first commencement address last Saturday.

Trump and FalwellLiberty President Jerry Falwell, Jr. urging Liberty students and faculty to buy guns to teach the Muslims a lesson when they show up at Liberty is a far cry from Jesus’s teaching that those who live by the sword will perish by the sword. While Liberty’s President, like the Liberty’s commencement speaker, measures life by what is the greatest and the biggest – Liberty boasts of being the biggest university in the world – Jesus spoke about “the least of these,” by which he did not mean the least qualified, the least accredited and least academically respected educational institution. No, he was talking about the down-trodden, the poor, the meek of the earth, the sick, the dying, the friendless, not the successful elect, the saved, the righteous, the true believers, or the well-off. This is the school President Trump chose to address last week.

Here again are the Four Cardinal Virtues on which the western moral tradition claims the good life and the good society hing. They are called ‘cardinal’ from the Latin word cardo (‘hing’) because the door to the good life and the healthy society hinges on them.

Prudence/Wisdom. In Greek and Roman philosophy – the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero – and in subsequent Christian teaching, all other moral virtues depend on prudence or wisdom (Greek: φρόνησις, phronēsis; Latin: prudent): the ability to judge between appropriate (i.e. virtuous as opposed to vicious) actions in a given time and circumstance.

Temperance (Greek: σωφροσύνη, sōphrosynē; Latin: temperantia) – restraint, self-control, abstention, discretion, and moderation – is the practical exercise of prudence/wisdom.

Today is another day in America. Another day in whatever as yet un-masked country provided the highly classified intelligence report to which the President off-handedly referred in the Oval Office while bragging about his “great intel” to the dismay of an onsite witness wise enough to blow the whistle on the latest example of imprudence and intemperance that put the world at risk.

O God, who would fold both heaven and earth in a single peace:
let the design of your great love
lighten upon the waste of our wraths and sorrows:
and give peace to thy Church,
peace among nations,
peace in our dwellings,
and peace in our hearts…. Amen
[Book of Common Prayer]

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 16, 2017.

 

Why do we feel so unhinged?

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Vertus_cardinales_par_Germain_Pilon_(Louvre)

Vertus cardinales par Germain Pilon (Louvre)

Yesterday a friend reminded me of the Four Cardinal Virtues:

  1. prudence (wisdom),
  2. justice,
  3. temperance, and
  4. courage.

They are called ‘cardinal’ (Latin cardo; English: ‘hinge’) because they are the ‘hinges’ of the good life and the good society. These are the hinges on which the door to the good life opens.

We don’t think much about ‘virtue’ in the Ayn Rand society. We have learned to recoil at the smugness of those who claim to be virtuous. Even so, one is led to wonder whether we recoil at the imprudent, ill-tempered tweetings and firings in the news because of lingering respect and yearning for the Four Cardinal Virtues, the traditional moral hinges of our cultural heritage.

Prudence/Wisdom. In Greek and Roman philosophy – the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero – and in subsequent Christian teaching, all other moral virtues depend on prudence or wisdom (Greek: φρόνησις, phronēsis; Latin: prudent): the ability to judge between appropriate (i.e. virtuous as opposed to vicious) actions in a given time and circumstance.

Temperance (Greek: σωφροσύνη, sōphrosynē; Latin: temperantia) – restraint, self-control, abstention, discretion, and moderation – is the practical exercise of prudence/wisdom.

Justice (Greek: δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosynē; Latin: iustitia) is the moral and economic balance between selfishness and selflessness, between having more and having less than one’s fair share.

Courage (Greek: ἀνδρεία, andreia; Latin: fortitude) means not only fortitude/strength, but forbearance, endurance, and the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation.

Could it be that the daily unhinged violation of the Four Cardinal (hinge) Virtues is why we feel so unhinged?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, the Ides of March, 2017

 

Hammer-strokes against the darkness

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My heart aches over what J. C. Blumhardt called “the wasted fields of mankind.” The fields of humankind are being laid waste in our time, as they were in his (1805 – 1880). What to do?

I’ve made phone calls. I’ve written. I’ve posted here and on FaceBook. I’ve written a book on collective madness. But none of it seems to have mattered much until I remembered the words of Johann Christoph Blumhardt, the German pastor who pioneered in the field of religion and mental illness at Bad Boll.

Our prayers are hammer-strokes against the princes of darkness; they must be oft repeated. Many years can pass by, even a number of generations die away, before a breakthrough occurs. However, not a single hit is wasted; and if they are continued, then even the most secure wall will fall. Then the glory of God will have a clear path upon which to stride forth with healing and blessing for the wasted fields of mankind.

Write. Write, Write. Make phone calls to congressional representatives, the White House, the princes who exercise public power and authority. Phone again if the voicemail box is full. Write again. But sustain all the activity with the hammer-strokes of prayer against the princes of darkness for the healing and blessing of the wasted fields of humankind. Live by the hope that not a single hit is wasted and that even the most secure wall will fall.

Thank you, Mom, for the faith to hammer on. RIP.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017

The Firing of James Comey

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danbalz_0Dan Balz has always struck me as among the best of professional journalists. He asks the questions and searches for truth wherever it may lead.

At 8:49 P.M. last night, within hours of President Trump’s surprising firing of FBI Director James Comey, he managed to write and publish the piece that greeted readers of The Washington Post this morning.

Click HERE to read Dan Balz’s hastily gathered thoughts on the curious firing of the controversial FBI Director, its historical context and future implications. Anyone who can write that cogently in a little more than a heartbeat is a writer’s writer.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 10, 2017.

 

Never judge a book by its cover

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The location of the Maine bed and breakfast we’d booked for Friday night stumped the GPS. The voice kept saying “Stop and walk from here,” but we couldn’t just stop – we were driving 55 mph in traffic in the rain, and there was no place to pull over – and we had not a clue where “there” was.

After being lost for half-an-hour in who-knew-where, Kay called the owner . . . who turned out to be at a wedding 2,000 miles away in Colorado. Her husband (we’ll call him “Bob”) would be expecting us, she said, but she could reach him. “He might be down with the chickens.”

Bed and Breakfast slippersBob was nowhere in sight. Still uncertain we were “there”, we let ourselves in through the big green door. Kay called Colorado again to confirm we were at the right house – the one with a green door. Yup! We were “there” but there was no Bob. A pair of men’s slippers at the foot of the staircase told us he couldn’t be far.

Twenty minutes later Bob, in his early 30s, appeared from the basement. His long flowing hair and “Oh, Wow!” come whatever may persona flashed our memories back to Woodstock and Haight-Ashbury in the ’60s. We were staying in the palatial home of a 30 year-old hippie. Some things don’t compute easily.

BandB upstairsThe chicken-tender turned out to be a great host, and the land and house far exceeded our expectations – 16 pristine acres of meadow and woods, and an 8,200 square feet mid-century modern house with indoor swimming pool, hot tub, Wifi, old phonograph, and an enormous suite with a to-die-for kind bed and a huge beautifully tiled bathroom.

The next morning over coffee, Bob and I had an hour alone where he began to unfold his story which, at the beginning, bore little likeness with the anti-war counter-culture I’d known in the 1960s. Bob had served in the U.S. Air Force!

After a year-long immersion in Pashtun in Monterey, CA, he had served as an Air Force translator based in Qatar, flying reconnaissance missions over Afghanistan. Of the 25 member crew on flights that listened in on the Afghan conversations on the ground, Bob was the only one who could translate the language which advanced technology allowed them to overhear.

I asked him how good his language skills were, whether he was confident in the accuracy of his translations. He smiled and shook his head. There were so many colloquialisms that were not part of his year-long Air Force Pashtun language immersion, he could not be certain. His job, as he came to see it, was to keep innocent people from getting killed.

After discharge from Air Force, Bob returned to Maine and got involved in politics.

Were you a Bernie guy?” I asked. “No,” he said, “I worked for the Ron Paul campaign.” Later he made a run for State Assemblyman in 2012, but his libertarian positions on gay rights and legalization of marijuana cut into his popularity with his Republican base. “I’m done with politics!”

When I said we need to get money out of politics, Bob suggested another way of seeing it –  “We need to get politics out of money” he said – and described the alternative Bitcoin economy of which he is a member, complete with the Bitcoin Visa card he uses to buy groceries and other purchases in the controlled world of the Fed and other national and international monetary systems.

After his 2012 run for the Assembly, Bob and his girlfriend lived two years in Chile, followed by two more years in Colorado before before bringing their world experience home to Maine.

Now trusted old friends, Bob asked, “Would you like to go down to see the chickens?”

Maine chickensThe chickens were in the basement – 30 young chicks being raised under the lights – next to an equal number of cannabis plants.

Bed and Breakfast pot

Bob was as tender with the chickens as he’d been watchful for the Pashtun peasants below his reconnaissance flights in Afghanistan.

“Oh, Wow!” I said.

Moral of the story? “Never judge a book by its cover. The story is much more interesting and worth the read. It’s a short walk from here to there. “Stop and walk from here.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 9, 2017.

 

 

 

 

The 101st Day – What to do?

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Today, following the first 100 days of President Trump’s inauguration, we offer a non-partisan invitation to focus on a phrase from a familiar prayer:

deliver us from evil“and lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.” 

Most days we pray the prayer without much reflection. Like many other things we repeat by rote memory, we give little thought to temptation or the need to be delivered from evil. But today the phrase calls out for deeper self-examination and reflection about the world in which we live.

“This was the most divisive speech I’ve ever heard from a sitting American president,” said Republican former advisor to four presidents David Gergen in response to President Trump’s speech celebrating his first 100 days in office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

“He treated [those who are disturbed about him or oppose him] basically as ‘I don’t care, I don’t give a damn what you think, because you’re frankly like the enemy,'” said Gergen. “I think it was a deeply disturbing speech.”

The Lord’s Prayer (aka “the Our Father” and “the Jesus Prayer”) will be prayed in churches throughout the world today.

“Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven…”

“Forgive us our sins (the acts and states of mind that separate/divide us from/ hurt others) as we forgive those who sin against us.” 

“Lead us not into temptation (or “the time of testing”/”time of trial”), but deliver us from evil.”

Amen. May it be so! Lord, save us, and the world You love, from our worst selves.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 30, 2017.

 

Last TGIF of April – Day One

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The best advertisements are the ones that aren’t paid for. Thanks to Day1 for featuring a chapter from “Be Still!” Departure from Collective Madness” today. Click THIS LINK to read “Homeland Militarization” on Day1.

spare-change-lg-300x199Then, If you like it . . . . buy it and let me know. I’ll gladly send a rebate of 99 cents to complete the purchase of the kindle edition, or 98 for the paperback.

coffeeBetter yet, next time we see each other, I’ll spring for a cheap cup of coffee and a rich conversation.

Wishing you a happy Day1 this last Friday of April!

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 28, 2017.

This incessant business

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John MuirJohn Muir, father of America’s National Park System, wrote:

God has cared for these trees,
Saved them from drought, disease,
and a thousand tempests and floods,
but he cannot save them from fools.
[John Muir, Our National Parks, 1903]

President Donald Trump spoke at the U.S. Department of Interior yesterday and signed an executive order freeing up use of public lands, land “which belongs to the people, which truly belongs to us.”

Henry David ThoreauHenry David Thoreau wrote in 1863:

I think there is nothing, not even crime,
more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to ay, to life itself, than this incessant business.

[Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle, 1863]

 

 

The Muir and Thoreau quotes lead the chapters  “A Joyful Resting Place in Time” and “The Bristlecone Pines” of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness. God bless the memory of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. We are increasingly without principle. They’d turn over in their graves. It’s up to us to honor their principles.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, April 27, 2017,