The Nightmare Continues

What disturbs me most about our current political situation in The United States is that our president has worshipers who see nothing wrong (or won’t admit seeing anything wrong) with his behavior. The nation (like other nations) is divided into “haves” and “have-nots,” as it always has been. The have-nots found in Trump a vulgar, abrasive, puerile leader who, unlike them, has the power (or chutzpah) to scream at the establishment  (of which he is ironically a prime member) and pretend to thumb his nose at the values of the rich, while he luxuriates in his dominance, authority, and supposed wealth and privilege.

Of course, the “haves,” though quite aware of Trump’s moral depravity, will not call him out, because they are benefitting more than the rest of us by the man’s cheating the nation for his own financial gain and political power. It’s why so many seem blind to his detestable personality, values, back-stabbing behavior and general repulsiveness. Instead of a weaker but honest, fair-minded leader, they have chosen an ogre who, even fifty years ago, would have been the stuff of fiction, someone right out of the works of George Orwell.

President Trump has managed to convince the “lower” echelon of our country that he is on their side. My prayer now is that he fails to cheat the nation in the next election, even if he doesn’t get impeached and removed early from office. If his fawning rabble has not yet learned (or admitted to) the truth, our dictator in chief will not be leaving The White House until the nation collapses or becomes the true dictatorship that Trump thinks it should be. Just remember that when Trump refers to the USA as “my country,” he means it literally. JB

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The Wonderful Rush of Self-indignation

“Promises only bind those who believe them.” Jacques Chirac

The first thing I saw this morning on Face Book was the post of a “news” article titled “The Democrats Should Be Impeached.” There were several likes (of which I was not one). The message was just another example of sour grapes at discovering that even the president may be liable for serious errors in judgment that can cross the borders of what is fair or even legal. The president’s loyal base have done everything they can to bolster the commander in chief just short of canonization or deification, excusing, along the way, behaviors that would have put former presidents in prison.

This very narrow view exists, however, on both sides. There are Democrats who are also guilty of getting their news from limited or completely one-sided sources (i.e. MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal). Constant exposure to just one party’s messages, interpretations, and news sources can ultimately turn some folks into rabid, self-righteous goons, always ready to pounce upon anyone who may have a different take on whatever happens in Washington. This includes the president himself. What bothers me is that a news outlet like Fox has become a multi-billion dollar propaganda machine to convince a naïve public that the crude, greedy, conniving, wart toad in the Oval Office is actually a prince interested in the welfare of the nation. Too many have been mesmerized to the point that they see (or at least won’t admit reality they do see) only some impossibly angelic aura instead of the vulgar, poison-tongued phony he really is. Even the fact that he admires Vladimir Putin and Kim Jon Un provides no clues for his worshipers to his ethos.

It’s as though we have become two separate nations residing in the same space at war with one another under a puppet master half the country sees as its savior. Both sides are self-righteous, but I believe the division is perhaps the worst since our Civil War (1861-1865). I am often terrified that the nation is becoming increasingly toxic or at least oblivious to the fact that the commander in chief is conning us and probably laughing about it while he watches Fox News every evening. There seems to be no middle ground left. I would love to support him, if he had even a shred of dignity, compassion, or ability to unite us in a time when we are more and more at odds, one side against the other…with no middle ground left. All we hear is the president screaming messages in parking lots and making insulting comments about anyone who doesn’t agree completely with him and worship him as the idol he believes himself to be in his delusional state of self-aggrandizement.

I pray daily that some middle ground can eventually be discovered where we, as a nation, can find some level of reason, compassion, compromise and justice again through someone who doesn’t see himself as some kind of Tsar, Emperor, or Fuhrer who believes fervently that the world belongs only to him and his immediate family. There has to be a better way through a better leader.  JB  

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History Cannot Be Erased

I will turn seventy-four on my next birthday and have been pondering lately the changes in American life and politics that have occurred since I was a child. Harry Truman was president until I was six years old, but I remember more about his wife Bess and his daughter Margaret than I do about him. Because I was born after WWII, I recall a childhood of safety and order in our Indiana home, where life was very much like that in the idealized family TV shows we watched on our primitive black&white set. I loved school. I had no awareness then of certain evils, like the closed-minded persecutions by Joseph McCarthy against those accused of Communist sympathies. Other political and social phenomena escaped me as well. Ignorance was indeed bliss to me.

As I aged, I naturally became more aware of injustice and political wrangling between Democrats and Republicans. However, I don’t recall any time of such bitter and vicious political division until Nixon and even more so the amoral tactics of politicians like Newt Gingrich. Now, however, even his winner-take-all ethos seems rather tame in current Washington, where back-biting attacks seem to have become the norm. No holds barred. The most troubling thing is that “winning” has become almost like a sport, even more important than what is probably good for the nation itself and even the world.

Many Republicans will say that our current president is up-front in not pulling his punches about everything and everyone. Twitter has become America’s face on the world stage from a puerile man with no pause button to temper his rage and terrible need to put down all those who have opinions that differ even slightly from his own. He is like a recalcitrant child in a room of adults, some of whom think it’s cute that he said someone is ugly or has a big nose. Diplomacy, as a result, is experiencing a slow death in Washington, as though Don Rickles has become the new resident of the White House, where doting fans chuckle at the resident man-child’s gaffs on a daily basis….or cower behind closed doors because of them.

The world is watching more closely than ever before, but that doesn’t matter to the resident egomaniac whose only values and desires center around money, “winning,” snide insults, and being worshiped. It is terrifying that the man’s attention span is usually that of a distracted child who can hardly read. More terrifying still is the number of cow-towed cronies who are our leader’s enablers and hand puppets, scared of their own shadows on a platform always teetering on the verge of collapse in the face of tantrums and a vengeful nature of psychotic proportions. “Winner take all” is the current philosophy, regardless of the nation’s needs. The only worse leaders I can recall, besides Nero in ancient Rome, are Idi Amin of Africa, and Maduro of Venezuela. Now, the Democrats are developing some spine to face facts and deal with them accordingly, despite the president’s legions of blind and obliging marionettes.

What I wish all current politicians could remember is that the world is watching and recording all of this, and history will look back at what is happening now (as it does on Nixon). Cowards who fall into line behind a tyrant because they’re afraid of losing their own status and prestige will be remembered without pity or affection as the scared toadies they really are.

Compromise will return eventually, because it will have to, along with awareness that money and power will not save the country or the planet, facts to which many current leaders have turned a blind eye because of greed and/or terror.   JB

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Love of One’s Country

I’m probably more naïve about my own nation and its political meanderings than I ought to be, but it’s been a long time since I felt a rush of pride or emotion about my country. I still display the American flag on special days and am still moved enough to stand when I hear The Star Spangled Banner, but that old patriotic zeal, the kind that can bring tears, has been absent from me for a while.

There are two Americas again, not so very unlike the two from 1861 (yes, even before my birth), immersed again in a wave of rancor that continues to divide us more and more over our differences in politics, religion, race, language, education, and money. It seems at times that many folks now expect America to be a homogenized vanilla ice cream sundae, no chocolate, other flavors or colors allowed. A terrifying nostalgia for earlier times (especially the post-war 1950’s) has consumed at least half the nation with a paranoia that has transformed ignorance and fear into things controlled by puppeteers in Washington but apparently providing too an adrenalin rush from politically self-righteous zeal of unimaginable power that brings to mind George Orwell’s 1984, which he published in 1949.

Accusation, blame, misleading rhetoric in short, easy-to-digest sentences with a fifth grade vocabulary, vile language, unwarranted accusations (from both sides) have created a nation at war with itself, a nation I can hardly recognize, one that makes the America from 1973 under President Nixon look like an episode of Sesame Street.

The twisted language of silly slogans and name-calling have replaced balance, restraint, and even truth. It’s almost like a middle school playground, where whoever can come up with the meanest and most memorable insult wins. The laugh-track is broken with what too many Americans seem to see as heroic figures totally on their side, figures, however, that turn out to be remakes of Don Rickles and Archie Bunker whose verbal harpoons were amusingly revealing of the underbelly of America but which didn’t take the place of civil discourse and intelligent, constructive debate. The laugh-track has become the voice of half the nation, while the rest of the world sits back, wringing its hands as it watches us implode.

I long to feel again the shared love of my country, not as though on a team from some gameshow, where winning is the only concern, but with a love that we used to feel even when we disagreed. I long for intelligent debate, based upon facts and some degree of civility, not the resentment and enmity that are almost becoming accepted hallmarks of discussion in and out of politics. I don’t know if it’s too late yet to go back to when winning wasn’t the only thing that mattered in the wider picture, where reason created some sense of balance instead of giving the constant expectation of what is snide and fragmented.

I still love my country but feel strongly that something is at stake. We’re all at a crossroad, even as I write this, where we must, together, decide how to rediscover or reinvent “the land of the free.”   JB

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Divided We Fall

Sometimes I believe we, as a nation, haven’t been as socially, politically, racially, and culturally this divided since 1865. Democrats and Republicans have become two separate countries that have begun to place party loyalty above even what is right in terms of our supposedly shared rhetoric about equality, among other things.

The almost constant rancor from both sides came to a head this week once again with the President’s snide comments about four women who dared to be almost as vocal as he usually is. The ladies aired their justified political grievances in far milder ways than the President does, but as always, the comments made by the women were met with defensive harpoons of insult, since everything is always about the President, or at least he thinks it is.

His diatribe was sexist, political, and racist all at once (a new low, even for him), showing once again his paranoia regarding any comment he deems capable of cracking what he sees as his sparkling, perfect veneer. His gutter mentality and street fighter demeanor seem to be especially vulnerable to strong, intelligent women. Add color to the mix, and Mr. President’s vitriol   ignites like a stick of TNT, bringing out his most vociferous fantasies. “There isn’t a racist bone in my body.” Please, it’s the only bone he has.

The most painful part of this over the past couple of years is the willingness on the part of his political base to excuse his gangster behavior with equivocations they would never even dream of extending to any other president in history. Had Barak Obama said anything even half as ignorantly mean-spirited to anyone in or out of government, he would have been even more politically lynched by Republicans than he was already.

The double standard and spineless reluctance of so many Republicans in the Senate to stand up to the President as the selfish, egomaniacal fake he really is seems appalling to the rest of us, who are weary of waiting for someone to change the soiled political diapers of this man child and dictator, who is more and more making our country the pariah and laughing stock on the world stage. My greatest fear is that we’re almost becoming numb to his behavior, like parents of a recalcitrant and potentially dangerous child who defies every precept of civilized behavior with screaming tantrums and throwing blunt objects, when he doesn’t get his way.   JB

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A Tale (Trail) of Cocktail Mishaps

As I age, it becomes more terrifying every year to look back at parties and wedding receptions, where I have indulged too freely in partaking of “spirits” at those events, and having let go of any real sense of decorum that otherwise tempers my behavior.

The worst experience of which, to my knowledge, there is no photograph or film footage (I hope), involved a few friends from our college dorm and me attending an off-campus party, where alcoholic beverages were being served in abundance. It was 1965, when I was nineteen, so I can at least claim some degree of innocence in my blundering behavior that night in imbibing too much. Cocktails that evening flowed like tsunamis, but I had heard many times, even from my father, that “Never mix; never worry” was good advice, so that evening I stuck to what had rather a lethal sounding name but what tasted innocent enough for  Mr. Rogers to serve in his neighborhood: Harvey Wallbangers.

The upshot of this incident is that I woke up the next morning wearing my pajamas, slippers, and Stewart plaid bathrobe. I was reclined on the wooden porch swing of a house I didn’t recognize, an elderly man with his wife, holding the folded Sunday newspaper and tapping their feet as they scowled down at me in the morning light.

“Young man, what are you doing on our porch?” It seemed a perfectly valid question under the circumstances. I groped for an answer, my head splitting with pain. The only response that came to me in that moment was something like, “I think I may have a brain tumor,” followed by, “Where am I?” The couple looked at one another, half-smiling, knowing the story without my having to say anything further. At any rate, they let me use their phone to call my roommate, Denny, at our dorm, who picked me up after I had been given two cups of black coffee by the stunned couple. Their house turned out to be on the other side of town from the campus, and I had no plausible explanation for Denny, who hadn’t been at the dorm when the other guys took me there the night before to get my nightclothes in order to complete the caper they had designed to embarrass the wits out of me. The whole thing provided a lesson I never forgot.

Subsequent such events over the years pale by comparison but usually involved wedding receptions, where after a couple of martinis, Old Fashions, or gin and tonics, I would end up in a group doing the Chicken Dance, the Hokey Pokey, Macarena, or the Hora, minus my necktie and jacket, my sleeves rolled up. It haunts me even now that across the nation there is plenty of home movie footage, along with plenty of photographs of me doing unintentional impersonations of Crazy Guggenheim at those receptions, putting my school teacher image in possible and irrevocable peril. Please insert smile face here.  JB

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Party Politics in America

The Democratic and Republican political parties in America have, over the past few years, become caricatures in their almost comic and sometimes even grotesque posturing, one against the other. The two labels have taken on associations and stereotypes that border on the heart of comedy itself. Either word can now evoke gut reactions instantly of rage, revulsion, or a festival of other emotional upheavals.

The word Democrat and the word Republican have become receptacles of assumption and automatic insult, generally exaggerated and very often unmerited by the opposition.

In terms of politics, the HBO saga, Game of Thrones has nothing on us politically in The United States. Calling someone a Democrat or Republican can now be the most extreme affront one can summon, and there continue to be ridiculous and oversimplified associations that gradually lose their significance, rendering everything either black or white, with no middle ground left. What does it mean to “drive like a Republican” or “sneeze like a Democrat?”

We’re becoming essentially two separate countries, each looking down its nose at the other. No foreign and enemy power could so successfully have divided us in a conflict that has perhaps been bubbling since the end of the American Civil War in 1865. The once vibrant red, white and blue I remember from my childhood (1950’s, NOT the 1860’s, thank you very much), seem now to be fading to a dull, lifeless gray, where there is no more contrast or compromise. Our game has lost its once shared purpose or what’s best for the nation as a whole in favor of something like a sports event played for points and “winning” but from which no one really gets a trophy or honor for patriotism in favor of the country itself.  JB

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Confessions of a Somewhat Devoted Skeptic

I attend services every Sunday morning at a liberal protestant church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the word “Christian” aligning me in one way or another with Jesus Christ and his teachings. In considering all the detail and significance of that association, I wish to be more honest than orthodox in explaining, as best I can, what it means to me, personally, to continue my lifetime devotion in going regularly to church.

The bottom line for me in any social or religious discussion must be about how we human beings treat each other, not just on Sundays, but every day of the year. Our compassion for and care of those in and out of earthly peril is central to my being drawn to any discussions of who we are and why we are here on earth. At times I find myself, during sermons and church ritual, trimming away mentally the details with which I may take issue, leaving behind only fundamental thoughts regarding hope and compassion for my fellow-beings. It is possible or even probable that some worshipers around me would be horrified, or at least a bit unsettled to know that I find the more “magical” parts of religion simply too much for me to swallow without a big jug of olive oil or other lubricant. The resurrection of Christ, salvation, heaven, and even any kind of afterlife are simply too remote, though lovely, for me to grasp enough for me to buy the whole package and remain true to myself.

It is quite enough for me to be present in the now of things without having to imagine and accept mystical and invisible pie-in-the-sky musings, however gloriously warm and fuzzy they may be. Even the eternal reunion with relatives and other loved ones puts me off a bit. Stephen Fry expressed it best when he imagined being regrouped with dreadful cousins and intimidating aunts and uncles forever in paradise. What could be more dreadful than Christmas afternoon for eternity?  No, the here and now are enough for me. I can’t imagine or require a heaven, though hell is a bit easier for me to conjure (algebra class, 1961). None of this is important to me. I love the music, the fellowship, and sharing with other congregants some hope for a better world, but the wizardry or enchantment of pie in the sky simply escapes me, which is why, though I attend church weekly, I will never be an actual “member,” as I was while growing up, despite my church’s very liberal views. There is still the oral statement of belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God…all way out of my league if I am completely honest, as I am a mere earthbound seeker, not so much of the heavenly or supernatural as of the rational and practical side of compassion and making the world better NOW.

The sermons are always reasonable, inspiring, and never accusatory. The music is glorious (wonderful organist and choir). Dare I ask for or expect more? In previous centuries, I would have been branded a heretic and probably burned at the stake had I been open about my innermost thoughts regarding faith. Now I’m satisfied to be labelled eccentric or unorthodox. I believe in science more than I do in mysticism, which unfortunately is rather a large part of what most religion entails. This doesn’t mean that I can’t be irrational. I mean, I have actually watched Fox News (my favorite oxymoron) from time to time, and believe in things I can’t really see. I know there’s a Uganda, though I’ve never been there. The very weirdest views and behaviors of religion can only begin to compete with those of current politics in The United States, so I don’t really feel a great deal of guilt at being a benevolent, if half-baked skeptic. If there is a rational God scratching his head at my blithering attempts to make sense of this world and of religion, I can only remind myself that I and all other people were supposedly made in God’s own image.  JB

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Why I Go To Church

No one has ever asked me why I go to church, though I suspect some people have wondered why. It may have something to do with people not wanting to be rude by posing such a loaded question, but I suspect the real reason may be sheer terror of a response that might be the length of a sermonette, interrupted only by a quick escape excuse of having cookies, or kids in the oven at home.

I suppose that there are parts of religion that are childlike in the best sense of the willing suspension of disbelief, discussed by writers like Edgar Allan Poe.  Despite my having to use a cane to walk confidently, however, if a stranger at Publix were to ask me in the canned goods aisle if I were “saved,” I could probably manage the hundred-yard dash faster than Roadrunner. Meep meep!

What is there about openly expressed religious devotion that can embarrass folks in venues other than a chapel or sanctuary? Large gatherings of people praying in public after a fire or other disaster don’t seem to agitate passers-by, but someone in the Walgreens parking lot proselytizing with pamphlet handouts makes us uncomfortable, perhaps because we can feel inadequate to deal with something that for many or most of us is excruciatingly personal, requiring a venue, where we know our feelings or convictions are shared.

There is no such anxiety, however, when on Sunday morning (or any other time), I enter church. As soon as I pass through the doors into the narthex, I am offered a bulletin and welcomed into a place where kindness, acceptance, and fellowship are offered unequivocally, always with a message of love, hope, and healing for all who enter. All of this is shared without the requirement of a ticket, my SAT scores, proof of my worthiness, academic knowledge of scripture, or a spotless record of my past behavior. Who among us could enter otherwise? It is a place of healing that begins within ourselves as we are reminded that there is what may be called the eternal within every visitor, something wondrous that connects us all to what is inestimably beautiful and unimpaired by the world outside, where there are still greed, envy, and cruelty that can at times blind us to an inner light that is always ours for the asking, a light that is shared sympathetically for all of us who are at times world-weary.

My answer to that question of why I go to church can never be answered too easily or accepted by all who hear it, but if I distill the response to its bare essentials, it is that the hope and strength I find there give me (messages through sermons and music) something I can take home with me, like a lit candle, and share through my behavior and outlook all the remaining days of the week, even when darkness comes, until the candle is relit the next Sunday.  JB

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The Cost of Social and Political Division

 

What is there about that adrenalin rush that comes for some from the self-satisfied, arrogant, and self-righteous emotion that is looking down one’s nose at people who are “different” from us? Perhaps in an increasingly diverse society and wider melting pot, arrogance grows faster and more easily when we think that there is some level of encroachment on our personal or ethnic turf. It’s not necessarily even to know the names and diverse stories of those whom we revile. Skin color, language background seem to be enough to validate the narrow and insensitive judgments about what we believe belongs only to us.

Never mind that less than half of us are third-generation or older, or that American Indians are the only true natives. It’s so much more convenient and efficient to clump together and cast aspersions upon groups of people whom we don’t know and call them invading foreigners not eligible to work for or participate in the American Dream. Stereotypes are so much easier to deal with than personal stories of struggle and hope. It’s simpler too to ignore the tremendous incentives those folks can have to work hard and earn for their families that sense of safety and belonging that can come for citizens in a land of opportunity for all.

 

 

The fear that exists now for too many Americans is fanned by those who want and need political points for their own power and leverage, whose voters continue to shun the words of Emma Lazarus, words printed at the base of The Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your, tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

 

The terror that exists now for too many Americans is fanned by those who want and need political points from their voters, who are too often stirred to action by words invoking fear and division. The result is that we are at war with ourselves and as divided as we were during the American Civil War more than a hundred and fifty years ago. That combination of greed, ignorance, and fear could be our undoing if we can’t widen our collective view of humanity.

I read an editorial this morning in the Sun Sentinel (Florida) suggesting that any long-term solution “will have to be comprehensive, including pathways to citizenship for the undocumented workers who are critical to the economy, more judges to consider asylum and other appeals, more agents to police the border and a properly managed guest worker program.”

If many readers see me as a bleeding heart liberal who believes in pie in the sky, then I admit to having lost touch with the America in which I thought I grew up, the line, “with liberty and justice for all” now ringing a bit hollow for me and so many others, especially those struggling for their very lives in a world gone mad in its quest to maintain a false sense of safety on a foundation of division and hypocrisy.   JB

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