Democracy in Authoritarian Times

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American poet Walt Whitman, September 1872, Brooklyn, New York. (Credit: G. Frank E. Pearsall)

We promote a mythic sensibility in this forum on the assumption that, for good or ill, myth is ubiquitous in human affairs. Our goal is not to debunk myth. We expose it where it harms polity and sustains war, but we also wish to cultivate myth to redeem democracy and promote peaceful pursuits.    

A culture of positive peace requires a democratic ethos. Democracy is not simply a matter of voting. It is an attitude, an outlook, a way of life that entails managing our serious differences robustly and constructively. It is not to be confused with the present outbreak of authoritarian populism and demonizing rhetoric.

As E. J. Dionne Jr. maintains, populism per se is not a villain nor is it necessarily hostile to democracy. The kind of populism that maintains faith with democracy does so by challenging “ruling elites to face up to injustices that undermine free institutions.” It does not define “the people” narrowly or treat political opponents as enemies. (more…)

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Crossing of the Rio Grande

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“Coronado sets out for the north” by Frederic Remington, oil painting, circa 1890-1900. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

(Donald Trump is hollering that “caravans of immigrants” are headed for the US border. He threatens to suspend both DACA and NAFTA in retaliation.

We know our president does not know very much, and does not care to know. But just so we remember who we are and where we came from, I offer the following from my Stories of the Conquest of the Kingdom of New Mexico. The passage is written with apologies to Ray Bradbury and his much admired The Martian Chronicles.) (more…)

The Distraction of War

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Colossal statue of Mars (Pyrrhus). Marble, Roman artwork. (Photo credit: Jean-Pol Grandmont)

Charles M. Blow, in a New York Times column, expresses a worry that must have crossed millions of minds many a time.  It certainly troubles me.

Mr. Blow begins his column, “Donald Trump:  Man of War,” by quoting a tweet from the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, saying Donald Trump “is now set for war on 3 fronts: political vs Bob Mueller, economic vs China/others on trade, and actual vs. Iran and/or North Korea.  This is the most perilous moment in modern American history–and it has been largely brought about by ourselves, not by events.”

In agreeing with Haass’ assessment of our present peril, Blow makes explicit the dynamic at work.  Trump is getting desperate, which makes him dangerous.  He will harness the power of the presidency to save himself, which is why he is heading toward actual war.

Would Mr. Trump take the country to war to save his presidency?  This would not be the first time that starting a war has raised a president’s approval ratings.  (more…)

Two-Minute War

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Capt. Anthony Deiss, a public affairs officer with the 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, South Dakota Army National Guard, visits with Richard Engel, NBC news correspondent, 7 July 2010, at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Credit: Sgt. Rebecca Linder, U.S. Army)

I have been watching network news regularly over the past year, since Mr. Trump assumed the presidency. I am not a big fan of network news. I default to newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Guardian for more complete coverage. But the evening television news, given its entertainment format, is a way of keeping up with popularized versions of daily events.

It is easy to be ensnared and stupefied by the evening news melodrama. While watching the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt on March 15, I was suddenly alerted by my internal propaganda detector to a two-minute story about a previously secret skirmish in Syria between US special forces and Russian mercenaries. The incident had occurred a month earlier, on February 7, in an area of eastern Syria where ISIS forces recently had been driven off. Americans directly engaged Russians in combat for the first time in 50 years. The US officer in charge, Brigadier General Jonathan Braga, was concerned that the battle could lead to real war with Russia. (more…)

Childermas

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“The Virgin And Child Surrounded By The Holy Innocents” by Peter Paul Rubens, oil on panel, 1618. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

O sing him a song that is new,

Play loudly, with all your skill.

Psalm 33

From the Liturgy of the Hours on the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents, celebrated by Christian Churches on December 28, comes this reminder in an antiphon to the Psalms of the Catholic Common of Martyrs: “These are the first of mankind to be won for God and the Lamb; innocent, they stand before the throne of God.” It is a reference that combines an allusion to the Children’s Massacre in Matthew 2:16 with the white-robed martyrs of the Book of Revelation:

These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.

And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God. (KJV, Rev 14:4-5)

To reprise what has happened in Revelation up to this point: the Beast has been enthroned on the earth by the Dragon; the Beast was also given power to make war with the saints and overcome them. (more…)

Slaughter of the Innocents

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“Massacre of the Innocents” by Valerio Castello, oil on canvas, 1650-59. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In Rama was there a voice heard,

lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children,

and would not be comforted,

because they are not.

Matthew, 2:18

After the fall of the US Empire, we will not be remembered for our shining Constitution, or our dream of freedom, or because we landed the first man on the moon. We shall be remembered—as Allen Ginsberg once prophesied—as votaries of Moloch,

(What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?[1])

who were willing to throw our children into the fire in the belly of the beast for the sake of our profits, our fascination with guns, and our sad imbecilities. (more…)

Trust Me

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Lenco BearCat G3 of the Ottawa Police Service, 9 September 2014. (Credit: Matti Blume)

‘Trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential in a democracy.”

“Armored vehicle use by police departments is not new but has recently become quite controversial due to some individuals[‘] misconceptions of the intended use of these vehicles. Unfortunately, some law enforcement agencies have used the vehicles in what, even to the greater law enforcement community, would seem to be, given what is known, an inappropriate fashion.”

Bloomington, Indiana Police Department, September 15, 2015

Coming soon to Bloomington, Indiana—the Lenco BearCat armored vehicle manufactured for police and military use. BearCat is an acronym for “Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck.”  (more…)

Narcissus

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“Echo and Narcissus” by John William Waterhouse, oil on canvas, 1903. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In these political days, much is said about Narcissists and Narcissus. It would be good to remember the myth in order to avoid our typical game of finding a foreign noun or story, applying it to describe a specifically North American (usually deplorable) phenomenon, and then projecting the flaws we have confined in that concept on alien others.

The story is found in Book III of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The water-nymph Liriope, mother of Narcissus, once asked the ancient seer Tiresias how long her child would live. “To old age,” he replied, “if he does not come to know himself.” At sixteen years old Narcissus’ beauty enchanted both boys and girls, but

that slender figure

of proud Narcissus had little feeling

For either boys or girls.[1]

(more…)

Enough? Playing with Nuclear Fire

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North Korea’s ballistic missile – North Korea Victory Day – 26 July 2013. (Credit: Stefan Krasowski)

The Editorial Board of the New York Times hit the nail on the head of the North Korean missile crisis in its editorial of February 1, 2018, “Playing with Fire and Fury on North Korea.” After reviewing recent developments that suggest Trump is inclined to risk what is likely to be a devastating war with North Korea, the Board ends its editorial with perspectival flourish:

The United States has been at war continuously since the attacks of Sept. 11 and now has just over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories. Enough.

Indeed, one wonders if there can ever be enough in an ongoing sixteen-year-old forever war spanning the globe. (more…)

Patriotic Animus

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ARLINGTON, Texas (Nov. 13, 2011) Sailors assigned to Navy Recruiting District Dallas hold a giant American Flag on the field at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at the beginning of a Dallas Cowboys home game against the Buffalo Bills. The Dallas Cowboys Football Club honored all five branches of the armed forces during pre-game and halftime ceremonies. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Tackitt/Released)

The forever war on terrorism, to which the country has become well accustomed, permeates US public culture. Militarism—the predominance of military virtues and ideals, the heavy investment in military capabilities, and the aggressive use of the military to advance national interests—is sanctioned routinely in political rituals large and small.

Tune in to a professional football game, for instance, to see opening ceremonies that feature a flag the size of the playing field, a military color guard, and a soloist in uniform singing the national anthem, culminating in a flyover by jet fighters.  Along the sidelines, head coaches, their staffs, and players wear military camouflage caps and jackets. And so it goes, on and on.  (more…)