The debacle of January 6, 2021—a mob of rightwing extremists incited by the President to attack the U.S. Capitol—is a raw image of the danger confronting a deeply divided people. President-elect Biden will have to work hard to keep a coalition together for advancing a bold agenda that is likely to encounter Republican obstructionism. More than civility alone is required to meet the challenge at hand.
Factionalism, dissension, and polarization to the point of political dysfunction (some say at the risk of disunion) is the disorder we must allay if we hope to secure the future. The election of 2020 left a riven nation in limbo. This is the moment to seek a democratic way forward.
Remedying alienation is not a matter of setting differences aside. It does require abandoning divisive demonizing, however, and fostering a sufficiency of political cohesion to contest differences constructively. (more…)
With the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the likelihood of her quick replacement by yet another Trump nominee, talk of packing the Supreme Court has intensified. Of course, all such talk is rendered politically impracticable if Democrats fail to sweep the 2020 election. Even if Democrats should win control of the government, talk of packing the court is fraught with troublesome connotations. It is a bad metaphor for characterizing legislation to increase the number of sitting justices, unless one is opposed to changing the status quo. Restoring justice to the Supreme Court is a more serviceable metaphor.
Former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden walking with supporters at a pre-Wing Ding march from Molly McGowan Park in Clear Lake, Iowa. (Credit: Gage Skidmore)
Joe Biden went to Pittsburgh on August 31 to make a campaign speech condemning the violence Donald Trump incites. That was the immediate reason for speaking out, but it was also an occasion to speak up for a better America, one that most citizens can affirm and from which no one should feel excluded. The operative term is “should.” Biden’s speech is an invitation not everyone will accept but a working majority should find agreeable. It is a good speech worth revisiting.
The message of the speech should help to bring a coalition of voters to the polls large enough to win the election by a sufficient margin to overcome the effect of voter suppression, ballot disqualification, gerrymandering, and other obstacles designed to thwart a fair election. While the speech does nothing to persuade Trump’s base or Republican partisans, it does not provoke them in kind—it does not aim to alienate the ruling minority in an already polarized electorate so much as it tries to unify the fractured majority. Without a coalition of progressive and centrist voters, the minority will prevail as will the toxicity of their undemocratic and illiberal assault on the republic. (more…)
Today when North Americans—like erstwhile Romans—turn their hearts and minds to the ruins of the American Republic, my thoughts go back to Denny Green, unwilling prophet and former coach of the Arizona Cardinals. In 2006, after a heartbreaking 24-23 loss to the Chicago Bears, Green unleashed one of the legendary, post-game rants in sports history:
The Bears are who we thought they were!…. If you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were! And we let them off the hook!
Contemplating the rot and corruption of our present government and its Maximum Leader, I echo the words of prophet Denny: “Republicans are who we thought they were!”
“The Plague in Rome” by Jules-Élie Delaunay, 1859. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
“Spare us, Good Lord; spare Thy people, whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy most precious blood.”
Prayer of a clergyman who walked every evening through Whitechapel, in Daniel Defoe, Journal of the Plague Year
The disease is called COVID-19, but the NAME of the PLAGUE is TRUMP. He claims that the disease will “go away” (in this fallen world, what does not go away in time?), insists that the pandemic is a “hoax” and cries out—while the number of infections rise—for the labor force to go back to work. Not content with locking up immigrant children in concentration camps (there is rightly no other name for them), Trump expects children who are citizens to return to school in person as part of an effort to jump-start the US economy. In another age, he would not have hesitated to throw children to the fires of Mammon in exchange for wealth and profits.
Trump went to Tulsa, Oklahoma (the site of an infamous massacre of African Americans by the city´s white population) for one of his political rallies and left behind a trail of infections among his retinue and followers. He went to South Dakota (the site of the Wounded Knee Indian massacre) in spite of our history of deliberate infections of Native Americans by European settlers. Imagine German Neo-Nazis celebrating political rallies at Dachau and Bergen-Belsen (where Anne Frank died) and one begins to perceive the dreadful implications of these events. (more…)
The Mount Rushmore Monument as seen from the viewing platform, 4 June 2003. (Credit: Dean Franklin)
Was your Fourth of July a happy celebration? Perhaps you were sheltering from Covid-19, perhaps not. Maybe you enjoyed a robust display of fireworks, maybe not. Possibly you attended the president’s political rally, probably not; but you heard about it. There was nothing to celebrate in that event, at least not for most of us.
Trump’s July 3rd rally speech in South Dakota (the state in which the Wounded Knee Massacre of several hundred Lakota people occurred in 1890) was another self-serving exercise in sheer alienation. He opened a hole in the nation’s soul through which spewed raw fear and ugly hate. (more…)
Computer render of SARS-CoV-2 virus. (Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library)
If you follow stories about COVID-19 (and who doesn’t?), you have heard the pandemic rendered in terms of war. China declared a grassroots people’s war on COVID-19 in mid-February, mandating the use of high-tech surveillance measures to track the movements of the public. On March 3, South Korean President Moon Jae-in declared war on the novel coronavirus. He called for a general emergency response, including emergency quarantine measures. It is a war on an unseen enemy—an epic battle that like other wars is hellacious. It sickens and kills but also infects people with fear, hatred, and prejudice. This “China” virus, as the American President insists on calling it, conjures up the mid-19th century specter of an unclean, uncivilized “yellow peril.” (more…)
“Destruction” from “The Course of Empire” series by Thomas Cole, 1836. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
(KJV, Isaiah 14:12)
Forgive me the sacrilege of borrowing the title of Ben Jonson’s tragedy to signal the downfall of Donald Trump. Jonson’s Sejanus His Fall stands in correspondence to the Trump presidency as the Alhambra of Granada stands to Trump Tower, or as Tecumseh Sherman’s monument in New York City (at Central Park, by Augustus Saint-Gaudens) stands to Humpty Dumpty of nursery rhyme lore. Trump will soon shatter in one thousand pieces. All the King’s horses and all his own men will have pushed him ignominiously from his gaudy seat on his wall. (more…)
Cover of “The Heroes of Battle Rock” narrated by J.M. Kirkpatrick and edited by Orvil Dodge, 1904. (Credit: Robert L. Ivie)
In the middle of September, Bill-the-mail-carrier delivered a package containing an old pamphlet and an accompanying note from my brother saying he thought I might find it “a fun fast read.” The pamphlet likely belonged to our deceased mother. She could have picked it up on a visit to the Oregon coast with her historically-minded brother and sister-in-law. The whole family, including my brother and me, is Oregon born.
There is something atavistic about this pamphlet. It manifests a recurring ancestral outlook, the cultural DNA of white settlers, the origin myth gone ironically nativistic in today’s battle of white indwellers against immigrants of color.
“The Heroes of Battle Rock” is what Kenneth Burke calls a representative anecdote “in a bad sense.” Its implications for human relations are anything but positive. It is reductive in its “motivational calculus” and thus simplistic, polarizing, and combative in the attitude it conveys toward non-whites, which would not be a matter of so much concern if it were atypical and strictly historical. (more…)