Tell me what you know

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“I notice that as soon as writers broach this question, they
begin to quote. I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals

If we don’t say what we know, what happens next will be on us. We can’t let that happen.

The question to which Ralph Waldo Emerson referred in his journal was different from the one we broach now, but — with apologies for the quotation he would have hated — his challenge to us would be the same: Tell me what you know. If we don’t speak what we know, the shredding of the U.S. Constitution’s system if checks-and-balances among three equal branches of government will be on us.

Emerson was referring to immortality. He knew what many others did not. No one really knows about immortality. Not first-hand. His advice can be understood differently by reading the last sentence aloud, stessing different words— tell me what you know, or tell me what you know — but no matter where you put the emphasis, Emerson’s point seems to have been the same. Don’t speculate. Speak of what you know from your own experience..

What you see with your eyes, hear with your ears, smell with you nose can be delusional, but seeing, hearing, and smelling are the ways mere mortals know whatever we know, or think we know.

What my EYES know

Whenever Donald Trump comes into view — I see a peacock. A peacock’s feathers are stunning. They’re beautiful. And they know it. They strut. A peacock commands everyone’s attention. You can’t help but look. Such confidence! Look at all those eyes!

But, as I Iearned years ago visiting wealthy parishioners whose peacocks had free reign on the grounds of their estate, you keep your distance from a peacock. If you get too close, they make a ruckus. They shriek to put you on notice. Come closer and you will pay the price. Peacocks are mean.

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ.

Watching the current American president feels like that. I see facial expressions when he tells an audience what he knows they want to hear instead of what he knows. He’s lying. Even his secure base knows it. I see the 2020 rallies, the crowds cheering for a peacock strutting around, fanning his feathers.

What my EARS know

You don’t need to have stood in the Rose Garden to know when a peacock is feeling cocky. Or threatened. You know from the sound. Bring a friendly television camera crew to show off his feathers by fanning his tail, and give him a microphone with free range and the peacock is in his glory. Camera crews permitted on his property have taken orher photos of the peacock strutting across the lawn with one of his harem, knowing the cameras already are rolling to show other TV-watching peacocks what he has that they don’t — except in their dreams — a hen with feathers like that! The peahen is all show. She never makes a squack. She only speaks out to shine the light on school bullies, guys like Daryl at my elementary school and like whoever bullied her peacock before he learned to preen and parade his way to the world’s biggest playground.

The peacock hardly ever tells the truth. Everyone knows he lies all the time. He may know it; he may not. It’s hard to tell. He speaks convincingly as one who knows, and knows more than all the other peacocks and members of the camera crews. He never quotes anyone, routinely referring to himself in the third person, as though someone else is speaking about him. What we hear is very strange. Ornotholigists provide a more objective description of the peacock’s behavior.

The peacock’s behavior is a common cause for fear. They are known to be aggressive, fiercely territorial birds…. The peacock’s low intelligence has caused wild peacocks in urban areas to attack dark-colored luxury cars: the birds see their reflections, interpret it as a second bird and attack. Peacocks have also been seen chasing people to take their food. At the same time, when a peacock is angry they have a tendency to spread themselves out – and seeing a bird your size or larger fan out, with feathers that could be misconstrued as eyes, is more than enough to cause a child to develop a long-standing phobia.

–Blake Flournoy, “Reasons to Fear Peacocks,” Sciencing, 2018.

I hear loud shrieks as the peacock chases the camera crews off the property. But the shrieks are not loud enough to drown out the sound of paper shredders shredding the papers the camera crews have come to see.

What my NOSE knows

I have a long-standing fear of fire. I remember watching the flames and smelling the smoke from the four alarm fire I watched through my bedroom window. My father, a volunteer fireman, had left home that night to put out the fire. I was afraid he wouldn’t come back.

I’m no longer five years old, but my nose knows the smell and knows that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. I smell smoke coming from the White House. I smell the Constitution burning, and see a peacock running loose, attacking his own reflection on the presidential limousine.

Leave YOUR COMMENT to widen the conversation. Tell me what you know.

–Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 26, 2019.

Donald Trump Photo Attribution: Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 201; photo by Greg Skidmore.

Of Kings and Jesters

King George III in coronation robes

King George III’s in gold coronation attire

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Jester – “Keying Up” by William Merritt Chase

The kingdoms of former times were ruled by kings. The kings appointed court jesters who acted the fool to bring the king pleasure and keep him honest. Some of the kings were what Rex Tillerson called the king, but, for the most part, those who were loyal kept the secret as best they could. Even the kings who were clinically insane didn’t confuse their roles with the jester’s. They knew who was king. They left it to the jesters to play the fool. They knew the difference between governing and entertaining. Throughout history, however, there were kings who may have been as entertaining as their court jesters, and there were kings who were insane, but they never had television cameras.

King Charles VI of France (1368–1422) became known as Charles le Fou (Charles the Mad) for a strange psychosis that included the medical diagnosis “glass delusion.” Crossing the forest in Le Mans, King Charles VI mistook his protectors for enemies and attacked them with his sword.

King Charles VI

“Madness of Charles_VI” (15th Century)

Ludwig II Bavarya GHP 447796

King Ludwig II (Mad King Ludwig)

Ludwig II of Bavaria

Mad King Ludwig later in life.

King Ludwig II of Bavaria (ruled 1864–1886) became known as “Mad King Ludwig,” thought to have suffered from  frontotemporal dementia, schizotypal personality disorder or Pick’s disease.

And there was King George III (see above), remembered for losing American colonies midway through his reign (1760–1820), alternating between eruptions of volcanic rage and sinking into panic attacks, delusions and visual and auditory hallucinations.

None of these kings had a television to assure him he was not about to shatter like a broken glass. None of them had Fox News applauding pantomimes of physically challenged reporters or terrified women who claimed sexual abuse. Nor did any of the kings have to wonder what to do when their favorite TV station no longer covered every rally after their Neilsen Ratings dropped.

What to do? 

Schedule a Thursday lunch with Kanye West and invite the White House press corps for the live, not to be missed, impromptu Oval Office visit with Kanye. But first, go on the road to Erie. Hold a rally. Pack the house with loyal subjects. Do the old campaign schtick. Attack the wicked pretender to the throne: “Lock her up! Lock her up! Crooked Hillary!” Ramp up the act. Make faces. Poke fun at the terrified woman whose story had stolen the spotlight. Bring the ratings back. Play the jester and the king. Prove to Fox you’re still entertaining.

The house in Erie isn’t packed. The schtick is old. But there’s always tomorrow’s photo op with the court jester he can count on to assure him he’s not a glass about to shatter. The Oval Office is packed! The king sits behind his desk for a little entertainment. Kanye is bizarre. Ludicrous. Off the wall. Delusional. Clearly not well.

Which was worse — the Wednesday campaign rally in Erie or Thursday’s intimate moment with the jester on steroids — is hard to say. Both lent credence to Rex Tillerson’s alleged demeaning slur. Mad King Donald — Donald the Mad — made a fool of himself.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 20, 2018.

The Straw that Breaks the Camel’s Back

256px-John_McCain_official_photo_portraitIt’s a familiar idiom from the old proverb that “it’s the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

The last straw is not the only straw. It’s the seemingly insignificant weight added to all the accumulation of straws. Wikipedia describes it as “the seemingly minor or routine action that causes an unpredictably large and sudden reaction, because of the cumulative effect of small actions. This gives rise to the phrase ‘the last straw’ or ‘the final straw’, meaning the last in a line of unacceptable occurrences, provoking a seemingly sudden strong reaction.”

 

The American public is deeply divided. Though the number of straws placed on the president’s back increased daily with the straws of guilty pleas and convictions of his inner circle, his support remains strong among his base. The president can do no wrong. He can lie. He can cheat. He can slam the press. He can belittle the disabled. He can blame ‘the deep state’. He can paint himself as a victim. But, then, something happens. One more straw appears that draws a gasp. Even on FOXNews, as in Brit Hume tweet yesterday, “Still not a kind word about McCain himself.”

Whatever one’s political leanings, people have learned that you respect the dead. You don’t speak ill of the dead. However much you may not have liked the deceased, common decency demands something different.

Donald Trump, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

President Donald Trump listens to a question during a town hall with business leaders in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Tuesday, April 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

This morning the Washington Post reports that an official White House tribute prepared in advance of John McCain’s expected death, was squelched by the president. In its place the president issued the insensitive tweet that may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

No matter what other news the president creates this week, John McCain’s casket in the capitol rotunda and the funeral to which the president has been disinvited will dominate the news irrespective of any particular medium’s political bent. John McCain, the POW whom the Donald Trump viewed as a loser, the former Republican Party candidate for president, will lie in state with nothing more than a disrespectful tweet from the President and Commander-in-Chief.

Some things are deeper than politics. Some things we can all understand. Some things — like the violation of the most basic civil code most Americans understand — have a way of provoking a seemingly sudden reaction.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 27, 2018.

 

A Profile in Cowardice

News of Senator John McCain’s death highlights the contrast between John McCain and Donald Trump, who belittled McCain’s service, never mentioned his name at the recent announcement of the defense bill that bears McCain’s name, and sent a terse condolence to the McCain family on the occasion of his death:

My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!

The ‘respect’ was for the family, not for the Senator, one more back-handed slap at the now deceased senator. What kind of person expresses ‘respect’ for a grieving family?

JFK

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

President Trump’s disrespectful tweet calls to mind President Kennedy’s autobiography, Profiles in Courage. Whatever one thought of JFK’s claim of war heroism, and whether or not one supported John McCain’s politics and candidacies for president, the chasm between the two men of courage and Donald J. Trump is unfathomable. But fathom it we must.

Can you imagine John McCain announcing his decision to fire a staff member with a tweet without a face-to-face meeting? Announcing a firing in a tweet, as Trump has done repeatedly, violates the most basic moral norms of common decency. Firing someone in cyberspace without meeting eyeball-to-eyeball in real space and time is not only insensitive. It is everything John McCain was not; it is cowardly.

donald-trump-presidential-announcement-supercut-tsr-vo-00000002-large-169

President Donald Trump

Senator John McCain was no fan of Donald Trump and Donald Trump was no fan of John McCain. The late Senator criticized Mr. Trump openly on matters of public policy; the president impugned McCain’s character as a loser. Big difference.

Before his death, Senator McCain requested that President Trump not attend his funeral and asked that Mr. Trump’s predecessors, Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush deliver the eulogies. Click this link for more information.

President Obama’s condolences to the McCain family include the following tribute to Senator McCain:

[W]e shared, for all our differences, a fidelity to something higher — the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched, and sacrificed.

Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means. And for that, we are all in his debt.

The American people salute John McCain’s honest character, and his courageous service to his country before and after he endured five years as a POW. The late senator leaves office as a winner.

115th_Congress_Freshman_Class

Photo of newly elected members of Congress.

Meanwhile, the president who disrespected him remains in the White House until Congress fires him face-to-face, and Presidential historian Michael Beschloss publishes the biography of Donald J. Trump, Profile in Cowardice: High Crimes and Misdemeanors.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 26, 2018.

 

The Shadow of Fred Trump

150202142706-new-york-times-profit-780x439To a degree greater than his Oval Office predecessors, President Trump is waging perpetual war with the press, especially the New York Times.

Why?

Like Father, Like Son

Sons who reflect deeply on what makes them tick eventually wade in the muddy waters of their relationships with their fathers.

Although psychotherapists warn against armchair diagnosis, especially by those not trained in the DSM and diagnostic practice, some things have always been in the public domain of human wisdom. Among them is the existential relationship of a father and a son.

It’s taken 75 years of self-reflection to reach the little clarity I have about my father and me. Along the way I have listened to men, young and old, wrestling with — or refusing to wrestle with —their fathers.

Sometimes the fathers are alive. Sometimes they’re dead. But a father never dies. He lives on in the son who looks to him for approval, for legitimacy, for love.

The Story of Jacob

Although we are not trained in clinical diagnosis like our psychology counterparts, rabbis, priests, ministers, and imams, rabbis, priests, ministers, and imams are privileged to wade in these sacred waters with other waders and wrestlers.

We are schooled in a companion tradition to the DSM, the ancient wisdom passed on from generation to generation by the Torah like the story of Jacob wrestling with the night visitor by the ford of the Jabbok.

The back story of Jacob’s night of wrestling is Jacob’s tricking his blind father Isaac into giving him the father’s blessing meant for Esau and Jacob’s crafty theft of Esau’s birthright.

“After that Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing from Isaac. He thought to himself, ‘My father will soon die, and I will be sad for him. Then I will kill Jacob.’” [Genesis 27:41.]

Esau’s fury has sent Jacob into flight fearing for his life. Now, after years of running for his life, Jacob is about to meet the brother he assumes intends to kill him.

300px-Eugène_Ferdinand_Victor_Delacroix_061

Jacob wrestling with the angel – Eugene Delacroix 

It is the night before Jacob’s encounter with Esau.

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’

So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.” [Genesis 32:24-31 NRSV.]

Jacob’s dark night of the soul appears at first to be his unresolved sin against his brother Esau. But beneath the obvious, what the Genesis narrator sets up as a life-and-death moment between the two estranged brothers is a night-dream resolution of Jacob’s very being — his grounding in God . . . and his father.

Jacob is not the only one who has wrestled alone in the night. No night is bleaker than the absence of love, and the darkest of them come when the absence comes from one’s mother or father.

The memory of a father like Isaac casts a long shadow over a man like Jacob. No matter how far Jacob runs from his brother, he cannot walk outside the shadow of Isaac’s disapproval. So long as we run, we miss the holy limp that results from the wrestling.

Perhaps in the light of a son’s relationship with his father we see something much deeper than politics in the behavior and speech of Donald j. Trump.

Walking with a Limp

Jacob’s night of wrestling leaves him permanently injured. Forever after he walks with a limp. After his night by the ford of the Jabbok and the next day when Esau embraces him against every expectation, Jacob and Esau join together to bury their dead father.

For Donald Trump’s sake and for all the brothers and sisters the president has managed to estrange across the world in 2017, one can pray, and hope against hope, that Fred Tump’s heir would finally bury his father’s fight with the New York Times.

FredTrumpArrest

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 21, 2017.

 

Intoxicated with Success

“[People] are undoubtedly more in danger from prosperity than from adversity, for when matters go smoothly, they flatter themselves, and are intoxicated by their success.”

This bit of wisdom from what many will consider an unlikely source invites reflection in these days when one of America’s most successful has met adversity from his peers at the G-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany.

421DA3B800000578-4674150-image-a-95_1499432704494He sits by himself at the table while others mingle. The chairs of China and the United Kingdom, whose leaders he has scorned, stay empty until they will be filled, begrudgingly, at the very last minute. One may hope it is a sobering moment of adversity.

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was laying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back . . . ” – Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis.

As an infant, Donald Trump was baptized by a Presbyterian church in Queens, New York in the tradition of the controversial 16th century theologian John Calvin. Perhaps all these years later, after all the success, but suddenly regarded as a cockroach, feeling like Gregor Samsa, he’s reading the passage from John Calvin and remembering who he really is.

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

 

Listening at Lost Nation

Shouting comes easily. Listening does not. Especially in February 2017.

Today’s Washington Post offers an exercise in listening to the real-life, on-the-ground voices of Iowans who voted for Donald Trump – who they are, why they did, and how they view him one month after his inauguration.

Click HERE for the story as told by Jenna Johnson who listened to ordinary folks in beer halls, barber shops, meat-processing plants, and places like the Pub Club in Lost Nation.

Does the piece have a bias? Of course it does, but it asks the questions and reports answers we otherwise might not hear. It begins:

“Tom Godat, a union electrician who has always voted for Democrats, cast his ballot for Donald Trump last year as ‘the lesser of two evils’ compared to Hillary Clinton.

“He’s already a little embarrassed about it.”

The point of view is biased. but it’s not fake. For those of us who are deeply troubled and unable to understand the results of the 2016 election, this reporter’s reporting of the real-life views of real-life people offers insight not available in the silo within which we live most of the time.

“On the other end of Clinton County is the tiny town of Lost Nation, where the president received 66 percent of the vote. On Wednesday night, a couple dozen local farmers and union guys gathered to play pool at the Pub Club, situated amid downtown storefronts that once contained a funeral home. (Beer is chilled where bodies were once stored.)”

Only by listening will people such as I begin to understand what happened last November and gather wisdom from beyond our silos to sustain us through this cold winter when soul food sometimes seems so far away.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 27, 2017.

 

Donald Trump is going to snap very soon, and here is how I know

Richard Willmsen of Infinite Coincidence offers this reflection from a different angle worthy of a larger audience: “I … offer up this short account of my own personal emotional development, and then explain why I think it helps explain why Trump is heading for a breakdown very, very soon.

The Clampetts are off to Washington

J.D. “Jed” Clampett and the Clampett family are leaving their Hollywood mansion for Washington, having taken offense at Meryl Streep recalling Jed’s ridicule of a disabled reporter at the Golden Globe Awards. Jed tweeted:

Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes. She is a…..

Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never “mocked” a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him…….

“groveling” when he totally changed a 16 year old story that he had written in order to make me look bad. Just more very dishonest media!

Jed was a Beverly Hillbilly, but whenever he had something on his mind, he would sit on the curbstone of his Hollywood mansion and whittle, the way he used to do back in the swamp. When he came up with the answer, Jed would exclaim, “Welllllll, doggies!”

Jed had the wisdom to his time. He was honest. He never denied his actions. He didn’t make fun of people. Jed never tweeted.

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