ON SERIOUS EARTH

What do the times seem to require? A resort to permanent, essential things and a retreat from dirty, miserable politics. This would be an important heart and soul realignment at a time when politics has become a religion for so many people. Why else would the world of politics have become so desperate, especially on the left. On the right, where the most traditionally religious peoples in America tend to gather for mutual support, they are seeing their most cherish, deeply traditional religious and spiritual principles threatened — along with their religious practices and observances as legitimate pandemic-related health concerns get catapulted into extreme quasi-religious concerns and church-going and religion are viewed as less essential than commerce, entertainment and supermarket-going. Body vs. soul. Body wins in an increasingly, radically secular culture. A post-Christian culture, we were calling it — well before the pandemic. Religion is no longer viewed as something that keeps body and soul together.

This has led me to a decidedly secular, even probably atheistic or, at best, agnostic late British poet of some renown named Philip Larkin (1922-1985), an Oxford-educated librarian and scribe regarded to be among the spokesmen for the “angry young men” of Britain’s post-WWII generation. He wrote, among many other things, a poem called, “Church Going.”

From the beginning, as you read, you know church is not a natural place for Larkin to find himself. It was 1955. He was 33. England was still reeling economically and socially in the aftermath of war’s bombardment, privations and civilization-rattling concussions. There was the usual fevered political activity in the public square.

Larkin writes of being in church…

Once I am sure there’s nothing going on

I step inside, letting the door thud shut.

Another church: matting, seats, and stone,

And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut

For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff

Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;

A tense, musty, unignorable silence,

Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off

My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,

Move forward, run my hand around the font.

And so it goes on, for eight stanzas, as the poet explores this church. But I have to wonder what brought this “angry young man” into this particular space in the first place. I must read the poem again — and again — for a sense of that. It is an ruminative and enjoyable poem. It is far better sometimes to read what the non-religious, world-weary, agitated-in-mind and the cynical have to say about a church than what the pious and religiously convicted might spew. You can discern where the non-religious are hiding those natural spiritual impulses.

And Larkin asks,

I wonder who

Will be the last, the very last, to seek

This place for what it was…

Some ruin-bibber*, randy for antique,

Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff

Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?

*bibber in this context means addictand Larkin does make “antique” singular.

This might be called, far from a profession of faith, a cold profession of anti-faith. Larkin also asks, “for whom was built this special shell?” And though he wonders what it all might be worth in dollars ( or pounds), he adds, “it pleases me to stand in silence here…” in “a serious house on serious earth.”

We are standing, pre-and-soon-to-be-post-inauguration, mid-turmoil “on serious earth” in America. I, for one, plan to stop into a church, though feeling more like Philip Larkin than any regular church-goer (which I am). I’ll be in a place, as Larkin choruses,

In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,

Are recognized, and robed as destinies.

TRUMPOCALYPSE

It was ugly. Our nation’s Capitol under assault as historians tell us it has not been under seige since 1812….but this time by our fellow citizens.

Things like this happen in banana republic civil wars. But, softly, as comity and unity have eluded us, we have long been descending into a “soft” civil war in our nation.

Why, to mention just one point of vexation, must the president who thoroughly, unyieldingly, even if perhaps disingenuously, defended conscience rights for medical workers, merchants and religious citizens and the rights of the unborn and who also boldly addressed the conundrum of illegal immigration (though taking harsh measures that backfired and affronted millions) and who seemed prepared to address what Republican neo-cons have tragically fudged — namely, the national dissipation caused by foreign wars and unbalanced foreign trade and other engagements– why didn’t we see the apocalypse coming in which this rude beast revealed himself — and not for the first time — to be, among many other dark and terrible things, a philosophically unmoored narcissist? A man so absurdly and disturbingly self-deluded as to believe he won a national election “by a landslide” when, in fact, as the whole world knows and any sane person can see (despite some obvious, serious but ultimately minor polling irregularities or fraud) that he had lost soundly — and if not by a landslide, certainly by an indisputable margin. Surely his repudiation would have been overwhelmingly obvious to any human in their right mind; to any mortal with a particle of humility or the temperament of a statesman. Richard Nixon, after all — way back in 1960 — plainly realized his narrow defeat by John F. Kennedy might have been achieved through voter irregularities in Lyndon Johnson’s Texas and Richard Daley’s Chicago. But he went away quietly to fight another day.

Other politicians — maybe even many, if not most in our time — have displayed a measure of narcissism, egoism, self-delusion — Nixon among them. But here it was so nakedly obvious from the outset and so markedly extreme… but, what choice did we have if we were worried about the aforementioned issues? Republican primary voters winnowed the field of candidates and chose Donald J. Trump, leaving only two dubious choices, if, like me, you regarded Hillary Rodham Clinton to fairly drip with dubiety.

Yes, we knew Trump was all those bad things and none of those good things, didn’t we? And we knew he was woefully inarticulate and, therefore, unable to make a strong, coherent case even for the best things he championed. He exaggerated everything, too often invoked the adjective “incredible”, therefore rendering all that he said UN-credible.

How desperate was nearly half the nation that voted for him to avoid the fate of Hillary Clinton? Yet Trumps’s behavior in office has convinced half the nation to risk the fate that awaits us under a hollow-out, borderline senescent Democratic shill who will likely stumble his way through only one term, if that, leaving us thereafter to the vicious machinations of the jackals of the far Left and their allies, the wolves of the liberal media.

Yes, we will continue at war.

We could not help but see at every turn that Trump was a reality show star, a creature of the oversized malignant mass media his most fervid supporters disdain and resist and that he was likely to confuse reality with fantasy?

But then, the intersection of the electronic media and reality in every aspect of our lives might be on display at its purest in the NFL, where the camera-eye view determines so many outcomes. (Okay, not a good example. But, I submit, a good entry-level point of inquiry into just how the rules of every game, including the political game, and all that we call “reality” have been penetrated by the dragon-eyed media. In the case of professional football, at least, it helps us make hair-splitting distinctions between, for instance, a fumble and a non-fumble. Millions in wagers and attendant legitimate financial outcomes ride on the interpretation of multiple camera angles. I guess that’s progress for you. )

Oh, how very dangerous seems this moment in our history! Oh, how the political polarities have widened and, it seems, “the center cannot hold”– and the ghost of William Butler Yeats looms over us, reminding us of another ravaged time in history — European history in that case — when, as Yeats sang at that moment in 1920, ” the best lack all conviction while the worse are full of passionate intensity.”

But some of the best citizens I know are full of “passionate intensity” and voted for Trump. Those of us — the legions of us — who were witnessing the radicalization of the political party our families had embraced in our childhood and that we ourselves embraced when we were old enough to vote — we long ago felt forced into the arms of that other so-called Grand Old Party that had so long been demonized by our working class, blue-collar, immigrant parents and forebears. And how many of us periodically longed to be joined to a Third Way; to follow a Third Path, wishing such a path would be opened up for us — perhaps a third political party. Trump seemed a third alternative and precipitated a phenomenal third wave of enthusiasm among earnest, hard-working Americans. Now they hear masses of their opposite-minded fellow citizens — souls arguably in the grip of an extant and daemonic cultural and political Third Way — a decadent, superficial, desacralized miasma — insisting, not entirely without some good reason, that what millions of us opted for amounts to some semblance of The Third Reich?

And, let’s face it: Donald Trump is a product of that very same unmoored, secular-decadent, utterly superficial, desacralized culture so many of us have reviled — and rejected.

Another fact played into our choices. Congress was in deadlock and much of the nation was weary of traditional politicians and their slippery, disingenuous ways. They longed for a fixer, a manager — a non-politician. One good by-product of this debacle may be to restore us to a sense of what temporizing qualities come with the professional politician, as opposed to the CEO jump-when-I-say-jump manager. Perhaps we should learn to like politicians again.

But, in trying to come to terms with how we got here, I recall what Ben Domenech, publisher of the Federalist, said in February of 2016 — He said, “Trump’s rise bespeaks the utter failure of (the Left’s) program”, i.e., Barrack Obama’s and the Left’s likely faith that “once working and middle class voters received the government’s redistributive largesse, they would be invested in maintaining the Left in power.”

Uh-uh. No, they wouldn’t. Not that time around, anyway.

Hillary was beaten, however narrowly, by Trump — and Trump voters — not the insurrectionists or bedazzled cultic Trumpets leavening the center of the pie, but those millions at the edges –souls Domenech characterizes as “moderate, disaffected (and) with patriotic instincts” who ” feel disconnected from the GOP and other broken public institutions (and) left behind by a national political elite that no longer believes (they) matter.”

Hillary Clinton called the “a basket of deplorable.” The Left will call them racists. And race-hustling frauds with wide influence now abound.

As for those fervid Trump voters, I’ve seen such souls at huge park rallies and miles-long boat rallies here in Florida. They are middle class, mostly but not all white and full of a passion I have not heretofore witnessed during an American political campaign.

Meanwhile, the likely damage to their cause and every cause I and others hold dear may be lasting. Or — maybe not. The “average” person knows that the Capitol insurrection was an aberration, albeit a serious one, not the whole story of this new and probably unstoppable national resistance movement — resisting the Left. After all, the Left has repeatedly insisted that last summer’s massively destructive MLP riots were not the whole story of their movement. We currently, it seems, have many cases in the media of selective indignation.

But before, during and now after Trump’s reign, yes, collateral damage has mounted for those of a certain conservative mind. Traditional conservatives warned us against Trump for this very reason.

Michael Medved, conservative film critic and commentator said ( again, way back in 2016), “Trump’s brawling, blustery, mean-spirited public persona serves to associate conservatives with all the negative stereotypes that liberals have for decades attached to their opponents on the right.”

But Medved also predicted at the time that, “if Trump won the nomination, the GOP is sure to lose the election.”(February 15, 2016).

No. To the astonishment of millions, he won, first, the nomination and then the general election.

But the Grand Old Party DID lose at that moment — not the election, but so much more in the way of multiple political and cultural imponderables. You can imagine them — trust, credibility, a clear future, etc.. The same sort of stuff the Democrats began jettisoning in the minds of much of the nation when it started its trek leftward.

So — we are divided. And a house divided cannot stand. (Where have I heard that?) This big old Republic will keep plowing forward through troubled waters.. The fate of uncomprehending and hapless Captain Trump will become manifest and should include temporary or permanent political exile, if not — as so many wish — consignment to the brig. Perhaps he’ll come to his senses and belatedly acknowledge his sins. Perhaps he’ll repent and reform in a rare instance of a leopard changing its spots. One can only hope so, because so many are disappointed in him and how he trashed any semblance of a legacy. Jokes about what will constitute his Presidential Library will be making the rounds. (I hear the Smithsonian has been collecting rubble from the trashed Capitol building.)

The fact that, for the first time in our history, a defeated Presidential candidate will not attend the inauguration will set a dark precedent. But that’s alright. I don’t intend to attend (or watch) the inauguration, either. (I know; that’s different. Who cares if I watch? )

Finally….

David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth — as market-oriented a lobbying entity as one could imagine and not really my cup of tea — displayed a great deal of insight (again way back in February 2016) when he wrote, “both parties have failed to lead. Obama and congressional Democrats manipulate the levers of power to push America farther toward European socialism; Republicans promise free-market alternatives but end up caving in to pressure or carrying water for the GOP’s own big-government special interests.”

And so, here we are. Which way now, America?

ETERNITY’S CHILD

So we advance slowly and, to me, sadly and reluctantly out of the Christmas season. I dislike January for the letdown that always feels cold and bare, even in warm, florid Florida ( I apologize if it’s your birth month, because only a backward-looking nostalgic fool like me resists the biting cold reality of time marching on.)

I should paste the image of the magazine cover here, but I’ve reminded people on Facebook that in January, 1967, I — and everyone in the United States under the age of 25 — was TIME Magazine “Man of the Year.” (This was before the early wave of PC ruled the noun “man” exclusive and sexist.) We, the under 25 baby-boomer generation were, at that tender moment in American history, the majority of the country, hence worthy of note for our potential to change the world. We didn’t. Not really. And time and war quickly began depleting our ranks.

The magazine cover image shows a young, handsome white male — sort of an imagined composite of EVERYBOY — with a similarly generic girl (young woman), African-American male and Asian male arrayed sort of like a deck of cards. But the white guy is out front. This time period — 1966 into 1967 — would be the last time a white Caucasian male would be seen as representative of all of American youth .No white male is entirely representative of anything in America now — and that is as it should be. We aren’t that representative, and our generational and wholesale numbers are shrinking. (Put gray on all four of those TIME Magazine heads now.)

Too bad that , at this point in time, “identity politics” has commenced to divide that multi-cultural TIME image with every American of every race who came after 1967, being turned against one another.

But back to my main subject here — the passage of time.

(I’m reminded of a fellow television reporter who, in doing a story down here about homeless guys congregated with their beer coolers under a Tampa Bay bridge, offered the memorable — or slightly memorable — line, “they’re just passing their time, until their time passes.”

The other memorable thing about that story was the voice and image of a homeless guy lifting the lid of a cooler and proclaiming, “you just reach in and get ya a nice cold beer.”

I confess, at that moment, that guy’s life — a this was fleeting thought on my part, and a shameful one at that — didn’t seem like a bad way to pass the time or pass a whole life — as long as the supply of cold beer held out.

That was about 38 years ago. I’ll bet the beer’s gone. And I’ll bet that guy’s time passed.

Anyway, here we go again — into January, named somewhere back there for Janus, the Roman god of doorways, beginnings, the rising and the setting of the sun. We are going through that door again. Beginning a new year — still stalked by a pandemic, as by the grim reaper.

“The things of time are toys,” wrote Rev. M. Raymond, O.C.S.O. , which, in French, stands for Cistersien de la Stricte Observance. The English translation is easy — Cistercians of the Strict Observance. It refers to a cloistered order of Catholic monks known as the Trappists, named after La Trappe Abbey, one of their ancient spiritual redoubts.

Fr. Raymond goes on, “You are eternity’s child and your eternity has already begun! There is a compelling urgency to every day and every hour of the day. In it we are to witness to the truth — that God greeted and gifted us at Christmas.”

I tend to forget that.

This year, I pray I remember. And that my time goes on — and on….into a Baby Boomer’s bright morning. I’m not ready for sunset, much less the night.

And hold the beer.