Fixed or Fluid

Winter                                                                Stent Moon

joy friends (2)The stent moon is a crescent, 12% illumination, hanging over Eduardo and Holly’s. It’s been everything I hoped. Next, a month focused on getting Kate’s weight up. What would you name the moon for that month? I’ll take ideas until Friday.

At night, before going to sleep, I identify the gifts given to me during the day, the gifts I’ve given and any trouble I’ve caused. Then, on waking I identify things I’m grateful for and things that bring joy. These simple habits, developed in mussar work over the last year, keep me aware of the ongoing miracle of the ordinary.

20181230_064700I woke up. The air is cool. My body’s ok. Kate’s beside me with no nausea or cramping. Kepler’s wagging his tail, ready to go upstairs for breakfast. The power came back on yesterday after a long outage. The generator works. I didn’t even know it was on. The long road to DIA offered good conversation with our second son. He’s going back to Minnesota to spend time with a friend who’s depressed. That gives me joy. Ruth up here painting and giving me tips. Joy. Pure. Gertie’s kisses. Murdoch’s bouncy, smiley presence. Snow. Cold. The black clear night sky with stars and a crescent moon. A car that works. SeoAh’s cooking. Kate’s joy at her relief. Gifts, joys, and gratitude. Everywhere I look.

biopolitics2Are there challenges? Oh, yes. But our human tendency to scan the horizon for threats, be alert for danger often blinds us to everyday wonders. Life is not all about illness, or finances, or legal trouble, or separation from loved ones. Yes, these matters crop up in our lives just like the occasional predatory lion or tiger came upon our ancestors in the veldt or in the forests of India and, yes, we need to see them, understand them, respond. We do not, however, have to build our lives around them.

I’m reading an interesting book by two North Carolina political scientists, Prius or Pickup. It posits a continuum on these very matters with one ended anchored in a fixed worldview and the other in a fluid worldview. The fixed worldview folks see danger and threat wherever they look. Those with a fluid worldview have more confidence in the world, focus more on the richness of life. In between are various blends between the two that the authors call a mixed worldview.  They argue that over the last few decades our political life has gradually aggregated those with a more fixed worldview in the Republican Party and those with a more fluid worldview in the Democratic.

20180720_124756

Stay Calm and Keep on Fracking, Evergreen, 2018

A field I didn’t even know existed, biopolitics, ties these worldviews to neurological differences, our partisan political environment has an increasing gap of understanding. Since that gap has roots in our neurobiology, we find it increasingly difficult to understand, or perhaps more importantly, trust anyone in the other camp. I’ve not finished the book so I don’t know what they propose. Gifts, joy, and gratitude identifying habits might help.

2019 lies mostly ahead of us. Yes, it’s an artificial segmentation of our ongoing orbit around the sun, but it does  mark the end of one orbit and the beginning of another. (though any day of the year would serve just as well) So we might consider, as we set off on another journey of 584 million miles, what, over all that distance, over that pilgrimage on which all us earthlings travel, we’ll choose as our focus. The threats in our life? Or, the joys, the ordinary miracles? Where we put our attention is our choice.

 

 

What if the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train?

Samain                                                                          Stent Moon

sharknadoChum is in the water. It may be Sharknado for he who shall not be named’s presidency. Part of Michael Cohen’s testimony indicates that individual-1, i.e. 45, the orange tumor on our democracy, ordered hush payments to two women with whom he had affairs, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

Note the state of our public life now. This isn’t about the fact, the fact, that the President had extramarital affairs, one with a porn actress whose work is available for all to see. No. And, it’s not even technically about paying money to quiet them in advance of a Presidential election bid. It’s about illegal campaign donations, both payments constituting donations to 45’s campaign in excess of the $2,700 Federal limit.

I’m searching for the Christian ethical principle evangelicals see at work in all this. Nah, just kidding. I know worshiping Mammon when I see it. 45 is no Cyrus.

Having said that I’m not sure what this portends for our country. Look at this from RealClear Politics today:

Favorability Ratings: U.S. Political Leaders
Favorable Unfavorable Spread
Donald Trump 41.4 55.2 -13.8
Nancy Pelosi 29.5 52.0 -22.5
Mitch McConnell 21.8 48.3 -26.5
Chuck Schumer 29.3 42.7 -13.4

In spite of the pussy grabbing, in spite of the mocking of the disabled, in spite of inciting white supremacists, in spite of being Tariff Man, in spite of all the mean, low, bitter tweets, in spite of the now becoming clear violations of federal election law, 41% of the American people have a favorable view of 45. That means that any headon assault on his presidency will deepen and harden existing divisions in our political life. Congressional leaders have lower approval ratings than the orange tumor on our democracy. We’re in deep trouble at the Federal governance level.

orge González/Flickr. Some rights reserved.

orge González/Flickr. Some rights reserved.

If I were a foreign power, I’d take advantage of this weakness in any way I could. Think Russia and China have considered actions? I’m 100% certain of it. In fact, they may both be implicated in the current chaos, and if so, it’s working out even better than they could have imagined. I’m feeling like a Brit as the empire fell apart, only in this case it’s our own government.

I suppose the only answer to the mess is to keep slogging forward, electing Democrats to more and more offices, hoping that at some point the Republican party will wake from its long hibernation and eliminate the shameful immoral collection of shills currently operating under its banner. No, I’m not under any illusion about the Democrats. I know they are part of the corporate/capitalist cabal that controls our politics. But at least the Democrats make noises, though very quiet ones, about caring for the poor, understanding the danger of climate change, restoring our geopolitical alliances. That’s more than good enough for me right now.

 

The Heat

Fall                                                                               Healing Moon

climate change vollmanThough I haven’t begun to read them yet, William Vollman’s two volume work: No Immediate Danger and No Good Alternative, the Carbon Ideologies paints a bleak picture. So does the IPCC‘s latest report. I also reported here, quite a while back, about a new movement called dark ecology that, like these three works, takes a dim view of our (that is, the world’s) willingness to execute the necessary carbon emissions restrictions.

Much as I hate to admit it, I believe these darker, more hopeless perspectives about the struggle against climate change might be right. If they are, we may be walking down a path that leads to an HG Wellian Time Machine world with the poor morlocks wandering the face of the earth (think the 99%) and the eloi burrowed into her mantle, using their great wealth and power to survive the heat and climatic chaos.

climate change eloi and morlocksIf we cannot slow down the rate of climate change (which is the most we can do, since so much climate change is already baked in), then we move to mitigation and adaptation. Geoengineering will become a buzz word as various strategies are tried. Climate refugees will become more and more disruptive across the world, especially those moving from coastal areas into interiors and onto higher ground. The already underway shifts in plant and animal eco-systems, climate refugees all, will bring them with different disease vectors, disruption to agriculture and sea life.

dark ecologyWe will not be known for Vietnam, civil rights, feminism, ruining health care, electing fascists to high office, but as the generation that allowed an earth compatible with human populations to slip away. Hard as it is to imagine the results of this inaction will be far, far more damaging than all the wars, holocausts and pogroms. How will we explain this to our grandchildren, to Ruth and Gabe in our instance? I understand the political and economic forces that have gotten us here, but explaining them will not alter the misery.

 

 

 

The country I used to know

Fall                                                                           Harvest Moon

1968The country I used to know. It wasn’t perfect. Take MLK and the civil rights movement. Vietnam. Crushing, unnecessary poverty and the dismal, shameful access to health care. Coal and gas poisoning the atmosphere. The lives of women and girls. And, yes, so much else.

It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t sit at the stoplight, look at the car next to you and wonder if this asshole voted for Trump bad. It wasn’t mock the disabled, give aid and comfort to white supremacists bad. It wasn’t lock up democracy in a Republican’s only cabinet, then turn the Republicans into mean spirited and cruel operatives. It wasn’t grow the 1% at the expense of everyone else, grow the 1% at the expense of mother earth, grow the 1% at the expense of our allies. It wasn’t give aid and comfort to our enemies, to dictators and shun our friends.

No, this, this whatever we have now is worse, so much worse. I feel as if I woke up one morning, uncertain when, and found I’d moved to 1930’s Italy or Germany or Japan. As if the cultural fabric in which I lived and moved and had my being for 71 years had torn. In this case it revealed not an inept but kindly wizard, but a disturbing cabal of old white men, each one worse than Gollum, rubbing their own versions of the one ring and saying, my Precious, my Precious, my Precious.

ValuesAs I drive down the hill, then climb back up, I wonder if this is the way it was. Lives going on, wives in hospitals, trying to make sense of the unexpected, sudden calamities that visit us all but finding those calamities embedded in a greater one like Russian nesting dolls. Kate’s struggle a small instance of the larger one, a people beset by unforeseen tragedy. But, where do you take a country in extremis? Where are the emt’s for a sick nation?

This will sound strange, but I find Kate’s troubles, significant and important as they are to our family and friends, pale in comparison to the rot, yes, the evil, the poison in the veins of our body politic. These are not times of political disagreement, of debates over national debt or military preparedness or immigration policy, these are times with the flavor of a cold civil war.

I cannot describe to you how sad all this makes me. How disorienting I find these times. I don’t know what happens next, where we go from here. I hope the November elections shake the foundations of the Republic.

Too much. Kavanagh’s cowardly confirmation now seats two known sex offenders, criminals, on the highest court in our land, both with lifetime appointments. How can we trust our country? What does it mean to be an American now?

Going to the movies

Lughnasa                                                                Waning Summer Moon

In the spirit of the holiday weekend I’m relaxing before school starts, religious school that is. Getting ready has occupied my mind on some level every day since mid-June. Now that Alan and I have a plan, I’m giving myself these three days as a break. Feels great.

Yesterday Kate and I went to BlacKkKlansman. I’m sure many of you who read this have seen it, so we’re a little late. Several folks from Beth Evergreen have seen it. The story is a bit thin. The KKK in Colorado Springs was not historically significant and though hateful were, even as presented in the film, inept. What Spike Lee has done is take that thin story and use it as the core of a biting criticism of the Trumpstate and the folks he encourages.

He begins with a satirical short film of Alec Baldwin playing a fictitious race “scholar.” He also includes clips from Gone With the Wind and Birth of a Nation, both of which smuggle in a great deal of cultural commentary on race relations and the historical context that created and sustains white supremacist ideology. He also has several Trump related jibes. For example, after a Klan initiation ceremony, David Duke has a screening of Birth of a Nation. The berobed stand up and shout “America First!” According to a Colorado Springs reporter at the time, Nancy Johnson, this happened. There were also references to making America great again.

The Adam Driver character was not Jewish in reality, so Spike Lee’s casting of him as Jewish was a vehicle for commentary on anti-semitism. Driver’s comments about being raised as a secular Jew who had not thought much about his heritage are a critique of passing, whether by blacks or Jews. The frisson between Stallworth’s blackness, which undergoes a transformation when he goes undercover to a Stokely Carmichael, by this time Kwami Ture, speech and Driver’s gradually emergent Jewish consciousness was a key feature of the film for me.

The film does not end in the Stallworth era Colorado Springs. Instead Lee cuts to actual footage from the “Unity” march for white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. Included are several different perspectives of James Alex Fields Jr driving his silver Dodge Charger into a crowd of counter protesters and killing Heather Heyer. Following those news clips and cell phone videos are scenes from Trump’s infamous, “There were good people on both sides.” reaction to those events.

A profound scene, which interlaces with the Klan initiation in which Adam Driver participates as Stallworth, has Harry Belafonte sitting in a Huey Newton chair, telling the story of the  lynching of Jesse Washington in Waco, Texas in 1916.

The ongoing satirical edge of the film, begun with the Alec Baldwin short, lulls the viewer into the same sort of “oh these buffoons aren’t a serious threat.” mentality that pervades our cultural perception of not only the Klan but other white supremacists, too. Until, that is, we see Fields’ Dodge Charger smash into unprotected protesters. Until we see our President giving aid and comfort not to the victims but to the perpetrators. Then we’re forced to go back and consider Scarlett O’Hara wending her way through wounded Confederate soldiers and the blackfaced actors in the Birth of a Nation footage. We’re forced to consider that the America First shouts with the right arm salutes was not an artifact of an era now past, but with us now and not only with us now, but with us at the highest levels of our government.

The other turn that the movie makes is the implicit correlation between the America Love it or Leave it slogans embraced by the Klan and the same cultural tensions existing now. The era of the 1960’s lives on. Here’s a quote from a woman I know, an email she sent after I commented on a friend’s positive post about this movie:

Unless i have misinterpreted your comment on Ron S.’s FB, I didn’t know you are anti our country, our flag, and no doubt have always been. If so, how come you and the others are not moving to another country? Seems hypocritical that you all are still here. To me, this is not at all free speech ala the 1st Amendment.

 

Moral Minyan

Summer                                                                             Monsoon Moon

justice

Suggested to the woman who organized the immigration talk that perhaps the Beth Evergreen Social Action committee should be doing this kind of work. She passed my e-mail on to the Rabbi and to the chair of the Social Action committee. Lengthy response from the Social Chair chair amounts to, we do small things because they’re not political. Sigh. Same ol, same ol. Heard this all the time as a clergy in the Christian church, less so in the UUA. Say the word politics and you’ve touched the third rail.

Uncharacteristically, however, I intend to stay back from this conversation. I’ve got Jewish Studies Sunday Sampler and 6th grade religious school to prepare for. Perhaps the slight nudge will create a larger conversation. Hope so.

justice2

Kate and I are going to a protest at the Aurora ICE detention center next week. It’s led by the Moral Minyan*, a project of bendthearc. Family separation, though attenuated by the court ruling last week, remains a reality. Immigration is a distinctive American good, mixing our polity with new citizens from all over the world. It’s always been fraught with tension, with nativism, xenophobia, chauvinism, and, our record as a people with regard to persons of color is still miserable, but that French gift, Lady Liberty, with the poem by Emma Lazarus, represents the ideal toward which many of us strive. I believe most of us.

This notion that only a certain kind of person, usually white, can be a good U.S. citizen is racist at its core. The obvious rejoinder is the facebook meme of Indians confronting immigrants on the Mayflower. As Valentina said Tuesday night at Beth Evergreen, “Immigrants work hard. Immigrants pay their taxes, raise families.” Immigrants contribute to our national well-being and always have. In fact, immigrants created our nation.

justice obama

This current politics of meanness, of grudge-settling, of honoring foreign strongmen over our own government BY OUR PRESIDENT, the unleashing of the American id typified by the Charlotte rally and the way too many video clips of various individuals calling out persons they suspect of being “illegals” or “terrorists”, makes us all smaller. He who shall not be named is spending the capital accumulated since World War I which made this country a superpower. Shame on him.

Justice theodore-parker-bend-the-arc-email1

Parker was a Unitarian clergy, an abolitionist, and an activist who kept a loaded gun at his desk in case slave catchers showed up. Be like Theodore.

 

*In Jewish tradition, acts of public prayer require at least 10 people to gather to form a minyan.

In this moment of political crisis, we’re calling on progressive Jews across the country to gather to form Moral Minyans for acts of public protest, solidarity, and organizing as part of a national network of Jewish Resistance.

People who become leaders of Moral Minyans have a variety of skills and experience levels. We provide trainings and support for activists in our network who are organizing their Jewish community in living rooms and in the streets.

 

Concentration Camps, in the U.S., Right Now

Summer                                                                      Monsoon Moon

florenceSad. Mad. Incredulous. Shocked. Mystified. Hurt. The Florence Project. Kate and I went to Beth Evergreen last night to hear Valentina Montoya*. She’s a mental health attorney for the project, which means that her clients are not only caught in the detention trap, but have serious mental illness as well.

Reading about family separation, shaking our heads, how can they? That’s one experience. Hearing Ms. Montoya talk about children in detention, five month olds, toddlers, blind children, physically and mentally disabled children, children who have no apparent medical care or educational opportunities, children who know their parents as mama and daddy, but don’t know their given names, children separated from their parents with no tracking or identifying system in place, one four-year old boy, for example, who refused to change his clothes because he was afraid his parents wouldn’t recognize him, that’s another.

florence2Ms. Montoya became too emotional to talk. Several times. She answered question after question from this audience of maybe 75 people, all outraged, most wanting to do something. Kate stood up and asked what kind of medical care did these children receive? Ms. Montoya said no particular medical care was available. That means diabetes goes untreated. Other chronic conditions, too. Another asked what kind of education the kids were getting? Ms. Montoya said, “The kids speak Spanish; all the guards and caretakers speak English.”

This was an especially poignant topic for Beth Evergreen. As Renee said, “I’m a child of holocaust survivors. I’m uniquely qualified to call these what they are, concentration camps.” I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s true. No Zyklon B. For now. But, as Renee said, “If they can come for them, they can come for me. Maybe next, maybe three, four down the line.”

Here’s a thing I’d not paid attention to in the news reports. The families separated in Florence, Arizona, a distant, isolated location for an ICE detention facility (not an accident) are asylum seekers. That means they came to a U.S. port of entry and, as required by our law, asked for asylum. These are legal immigrants who have fled horrific conditions of gang violence, local drug cartels, domestic abuse, government oppression and seek refuge here. Let me say that again, these folks are LEGAL immigrants.

The bad elf, Jeff Sessions, has done everything he can to undercut the law by, for example, offering a biblical rationale for family separation, trying to defund basic legal orientation services. DHS lawyers raise jurisdictional issues in immigration proceedings to obfuscate and extend detention proceedings.

florence4Part of the problem for legal projects like Florence and Rocky Mountain Immigration Advocates is immigration law itself. It’s a hodgepodge of laws, rules, exceptions that have accreted like barnacles over the years, making it an area of the law for which even its specialists can claim only partial knowledge. That means even willing pro bono lawyers are often not competent to help. This makes it even easier for mendacious buffoons like Trump, Sessions and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Michele Nielsen to throw forks and knives into the wheels of justice.

It was, all in all, a heart rending evening. Unimaginable suffering. Detention is different from prison. In prison you know when you’re going to get out. Detention is indeterminant. Until Sessions quashed it, each detainee used to get a bond hearing every six months. That hearing at least offered a review of your circumstances and a possibility of release. With that bond hearing eliminated, there is no legal requirement for a time certain when your case will be heard. If at all. This out Kafka’s Kafka. And, it is definitely, a first step toward Nazi area solutions for folks we don’t like.

 

valentina-150x150*Valentina Restrepo Montoya was born in Boston to Colombian-immigrant parents. She earned her J.D. from Berkeley Law, where she advocated on behalf of asylum seekers, latinx workers, latinx tenants, and indigent defendants in criminal cases. Valentina clerked for The Southern Center for Human Rights, where she investigated language access to adult and juvenile courts. After law school, she joined The Southern Poverty Law Center, dedicating herself to litigation against The Alabama Department of Corrections for providing constitutionally inadequate medical and mental health care to prisoners, and not complying with The Americans with Disabilities Act. Prior to joining The Florence Project, Valentina was an assistant public defender in Birmingham, Alabama. She enjoys playing soccer, reading The New Yorker, practicing intersectional feminism, and rooting for The New England Patriots.

Choose Life

Summer                                                              Woolly Mammoth Moon

Installing solar panels, 2015

Installing solar panels, 2015

Here’s a surprisingly existential sentence from economic journalist, Annie Lowrey, “The way things are is really the way we choose for them to be,” she writes. Her new book, “Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World” (Crown),is considered as part of a New Yorker article, “Who Really Stands to Win from Universal Basic Income?”

UBI is an interesting idea, made more interesting by Nathan Heller who offers a good summary of its possibilities and pitfalls, and I recommend the read; but, I’m much more taken by that single sentence of Lowrey’s. Lowrey is, as Heller says, a policy person, so her comment in this instance refers to our economic reality. Our economic life is not a divine endowment from a class loving God, rather it is the sum of choices we make as a people, choices reflected in our laws, our deference to the wealthy, our moralizing (Calvinist driven in large part) of personal income and wealth (more, better person, less, worse person), even the choices we make as consumers. In sum we live in a created society, one that we can choose to recreate or even uncreate.

IMAG0912Why are we so reluctant to recognize that racism, sexism, homelessness, income inequality, white fear are the result of decisions we’ve made collectively and individually? I think the answer lies in ideas Arthur Brooks identifies as the bedrocks of conservative thought. Below is a portion of that article, Republican or Conservative: You Have to Choose.* NYT, June 25, 2018. Though it may surprise readers of this blog, I have considerable sympathy for these ideas.

They challenge the Lockean idea of a social contract among independent actors, a notion at best abstracted from common life. They challenge the fabric of a liberal political worldview. I agree that we are not wholly autonomous individuals. Heidegger’s notion of thrownness underlines this point by reminding us that our life begins in a particular time, in a particular place and in particular circumstances over which we had no choice whatsoever. Brooks says something similar, “…individuals emerge out of families, communities, faiths, neighborhoods and nations.” To this point, I’m with him. There are unique realities that shape us.

IMAG0913But, to sacralize that unique reality, “…conservatives have always placed tremendous emphasis on the sacred space where individuals are formed.” says Brooks, serves to deny its perniciousness, its damning of so many to lives of desperation, marginalized from both economic and cultural blessings. Once we emerge in the era, the family, the town or neighborhood or rural place, the religious or areligious space gifted to us, the nation of our birth, once we are over being thrown into circumstances beyond our volition, we gain the power of choice.

It is decidedly not the case that though thrownness may come first, as Brooks says “The order comes first.” that “…individual freedom is an artifact of that order.” No. Order is neutral, neither a moral good, nor a moral constraint. If the order into which we are born nourishes lives, lifts people into their best possible existence, then, yes, let’s sustain it. If, however, the order into which we are born is itself pernicious, damning us to poor education, inadequate nutrition, a lifetime of social doubts about our worth, then we must recognize the truth of Lowrey’s wonderful encapsulation of the liberal perspective: “The way things are is really the way we choose for them to be.”

 

*”Conservatives said we…think you’ve got human nature wrong. There never was such a thing as an autonomous, free individual who could gather with others to create order. Rather, individuals emerge out of families, communities, faiths, neighborhoods and nations. The order comes first. Individual freedom is an artifact of that order.
The practical upshot is that conservatives have always placed tremendous emphasis on the sacred space where individuals are formed. This space is populated by institutions like the family, religion, the local community, the local culture, the arts, the schools, literature and the manners that govern everyday life.
Membership in these institutions is not established by rational choice. We are born into them most of the time and are bonded to them by prerational cords of sympathy and affection. We gratefully inherit these institutions from our ancestors, we steward them and pass them along to our descendants.”

Say It Ain’t So, Bob

Beltane                                                                               Sumi-e Moon

20151022_101834Probably won’t be going back to Chainsaw Bob’s. Went yesterday to get my chain sharpened. They have a new deal, smart, where you leave your old chain and they put an already sharpened one on your saw. Supposed to save time. And it would if the guy putting the chain back on wasn’t trying to sell another guy a saw.

Gave me plenty of opportunity to peruse the new signs hung over the desk between the shop and the front. A picture of Hillary Clinton had these remarks. Hillary Chicken. 2 fat legs, 2 small breasts and lots of left wings. Next to it was a sign that read. Startling news! 25% of women in the U.S. are being treated for mental illness. You know what means? 75% are untreated! Under these signs a woman whom I assumed was Chainsaw Bob’s wife met customers, organized service and took money.

first-they-came-for-the-mexicans-and-i-did-not-10234171Sexism is still raw and unvarnished in many places, like racism on public display in Charlottesville, Virginia. Murica.

We live in our bubbles. The Big Sort, published in 2009, had the subtitle, Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. Yesterday the Denver Post reported that the population of downtown Denver had increased by 3 times since 2000 to twenty-six thousand with 81% single, white and with an average age of 34. This is just a single instance of folks choosing to live among those similar to themselves in race, wealth and educational level.

This from Richard Florida and his excellent website, Citylab:  “Americans have not only grown more ideologically polarized over the past couple of decades, Republicans and Democrats are drawn to very different kind of places. Back in 2004, Bill Bishop dubbed the self-segregation of Americans into like-minded communities, “The Big Sort.”” Oct. 25, 2016

When I grew up in Alexandria, Indiana, during the 1950’s it was segregated by race, one black family in the town of 5,000, yet there were college educated folks living next door to factory workers who had, at best, graduated from high school. As a result, I have a blue collar sensibility that sets as deep in my character as the college-educated one I gained at home. Even this modest class diversity is rarer and rarer as suburbs and city neighborhoods, cities and rural areas grow more and more homogeneous.

electoral map

With a pussy-grabber in chief who sees good folks on both sides in Charlottesville, this sorted and ideological reinforcing America is ripe for a wave of extremism even more shocking than we’ve already seen. Trump’s approval rating is growing, still dismal, but moving up. The 30% or so of the U.S. who are his base may not seem like much, 70% are not his base, but Mao noted that only 3% of a country needed to be active revolutionaries for a rebellion to succeed. And he proved it.

What does this augur for our future as a nation? At a minimum it means a large percentage of the population will be unhappy with the government. At its maximum it could mean a white male populist revolt favoring Chainsaw Bob’s tilt to American politics. That’s close to where we are right now.

The Past is Present

Beltane                                                                        Mountain Moon

It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood yesterday. When Colorado throws out low humidity days, bright blue skies and warmth, not heat, the desire to play hooky from whatever it is your doing, even if it’s retirement, is strong. On these days Black Mountain is a tall, lodgepole covered green mass outlined against the blue, a few wispy cirrus clouds far above even it’s 10,000 feet peak.

TexasI’ve been reading a book by Lawrence Wright, God Save Texas. Wright is a writer for the New Yorker, a Pulitzer prize winner for his book, The Looming Tower, and a resident of Austin since 1980. His reporting, at least about Texas, has a wry sense of humor, expressing his obvious affection for the state without losing sight of its many quirks. I especially appreciated two points he made, the first about Texas culture and the second about Lyndon Johnson.

In talking about the distinctive Tex-mex culture that underlies current Texas life, country-western music, big belt buckles, Mexican influenced food, German architecture and antebellum south architectural influences, and the six-flags over Texas history of the Lone Star state, he posits 3 levels of culture. Tex-mex is level 1, the ur-Texas. Level 2 was the invasion of corporate capitalism, homogenized skyscrapers, symphonies, art museums, theaters, shopping malls. Level 2 was an attempt to become more mature, more European, more east coast driven by immigrants chasing oil money. Level 3, happening now, is a return to level 1 while retaining the positive aspects of level 2.

ricoeurIt reminded me, the reason I liked it, of Paul Ricoeur’s notion of second naiveté in which a scholar of religion first distances him or her self from his faith as a result of academic work, then returns to the texts after that distancing with a second naiveté, an embrace of the former belief now informed by reasoned analysis. The result, in both cases, is something new, neither level 1 nor level 2, but an amalgam.

The second point was one about Lyndon Johnson. Wright, who was born in August of 1947, and I share some history as opponents of the Vietnam War and excoriator’s of LBJ. In fact, I remembered while reading this part of God Save Texas that the Hey, hey NRA, how many kids have you killed today chant has its roots in one we used against LBJ Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids have you today? Wright says he wishes we’d been gentler on LBJ. Me, too.

LBJ2Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR and LBJ would be my top five Presidents, no particular order. Yes, Teddy Roosevelt and maybe Eisenhower are in a close second tier. I disagree with historians who rank Truman and Reagan above LBJ. And JFK is overblown. LBJ gave a damn about those in the U.S. who had less. In a commencement speech at the University of Michigan on May 22nd, 1964, he “… called on the nation to move not only toward “the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society,” which he defined as one that would “end poverty and racial injustice.” Miller Center, UVA

He made real progress toward those goals.* In his legislative accomplishments LBJ recognized that we are not a nation of individuals only, but a community, one in which the privileged, whether by birth, race or wealth, share with those lives were not privileged: people of color, seniors, the disabled among them. Since Reagan the attacks on this vision of the U.S. have come hard and fast, until now that sense of common ground has all but eroded into a grim, mean, racist society. We are poorer, literally and spiritually, for it.

 

*“There were environmental protection laws, landmark land conservation measures, the profoundly influential Immigration Act, bills establishing a National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, a Highway Safety Act, the Public Broadcasting Act, and a bill to provide consumers with some protection against shoddy goods and dangerous products.

To address issues of inequality in education, vast amounts of money were poured into colleges to fund certain students and projects and into federal aid for elementary and secondary education, especially to provide remedial services for poorer districts, a program that no President had been able to pass because of the disputes over aid to parochial schools.” Miller Center, op cit