TRUTH-TELLING AND U.S. HISTORY

It was none other than “Silent” Cal Coolidge who broke his silence long enough to instruct us wisely that any act of truth-telling is an act of patriotism, because our system of government is based  on a true understanding of human relationships. Therefore Americans should never fear to learn the true story of the founding of America. We just must make certain that it is the TRUE story.

“Searching self-criticism” is good thing, Cal submitted — among individuals and among nations — especially the American nation, given our worldwide influence.

There is a great deal of “searching self-criticism” going on now in the American nation, especially over the issue of race relations.

And the truth is that our Founders worked to organize a system of ordered liberty out of pretty raw material. For instance, they did not “found” or create slavery, thought it was everywhere being practices in the new nation (and, by the way, is still practiced today in obscure parts of the globe.)  But it can truthfully be said, I believe, as did Abraham Lincoln,  that the founders laid out a structure of “self-evident” truths that would ultimately make the practice of any kind of human bondage self-contradictory.

We mortals can, out of disordered self-interest, be slow to realize truths, no matter how “self-evident” , or to adapt them into our common lives. I personally believe this will become the story of our gradual future national consensus on the truth about abortion, growing out of the emerging scientific and medical knowledge of pre-natal life and recognition of the psychological and emotional impact of  abortion on women — and men. And then this consensus will find its way into law as we uphold the principle of “liberty for all” — born and unborn.

Lincoln understood the meaning of “liberty to all” but even he, battling contemporary political and sectional realities, only gradually led the movement to legislate it into existence for Americans who were manifestly NOT free, i,e. African-born slaves whom we’d yet to regard as fully human, much less as fellow citizens. Writing after the 1860 election, Lincoln stated  that “no oppressed people will fight and endure as our fathers did (during the American Revolution) without a promise of something better than a mere change of masters,” referring to how the Founders threw off their British masters in hope of a better life.  Lincoln saw a united America as “the last best hope of earth.” And, I believe, it remains so.

It frightens me, therefore, to see our union and our common sense of hope in jeopardy, as, indeed, it is at this moment in our history.

Stephen Tootle, to name just one academic on one relatively obscure American campus ( The College of the Sequoias, a public two-year college in Visalia, California in the San Joaquin Valley) stated not long ago that his students “are mostly poor, and most of them have brown skin. But they are not stupid and they are not lazy. They have been told for most of their lives — by people claiming to help them — that the system is rigged, that the past is nothing but a record of oppression, that they should not want to participate in our sick society, that racism is the answer to racism, and that freedom exists only to crush the weak. Yet something inside them has always led them to believe that those ideas are wrong.”

Tootle wrote this exactly one year ago  — in marginally better times —  in a review of University of Oklahoma Professor Wilfred M. McClay’s newly published book called Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story. It sounds like a text book.

Any new account of the American founding comes, as I noted, at a time when our union is being severely tested by division, disease, disorder and new cries of racism.

From the sounds of it, McClay’s book could be an antidote to the late Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, a revisionist Sixties-era version of American events widely celebrated by the left when it was published so long ago and embraced, sadly, by such contemporary great Americans — to name just one — as Bruce Springsteen (at least Bruce states his debt to Zinn at, for me, a dispiriting point in his otherwise mostly heartening  memoir Born to Run. I like Bruce; I hate it that he, in singing of America, might believe Zinn’s take on our national history — that it is essentially a story of oppression of the have-nots by the haves.

I have not read McClay’s book but, from the reviews, gather that it does not paint a jingoistic, simplistic story of America as some might fear based on my description of it —  that it is full of complex ideas that  might shed new light — if you accept McClay’s version of events — on many of the story lines about our founding that we have accepted for generations as American gospel.  I suppose such an unsettling of old assumptions is what those on the left celebrated about Zinn’s history. So be prepared to have your understanding adjusted once again by Professor McClay as we continue on the American journey of self-understanding.

For instance, McClay apparently does NOT assert that the free market or the  stock-market crash of 1929  caused the Great Depression or that FDR and the New Deal brought about an economic recovery or that isolationist in the U.S. caused Hitler to come to power in Europe.

I will be very interested to read how McClay handles the whole story of slavery in the United States as we continue to strive to tell the truth to one another about the true nature of human relations. Remember what “Silent Cal” told us: to do so in an act of patriotism.

 

THE FORGOTTEN ENTREPRENEURS

I hope it doesn’t become too obvious that economics is not my “trump card.” But what American is sufficiently insulated from local or national economic policy to the point where he or she can ignore it?  Who, in however inchoate a way, doesn’t imagine exclusively economic solutions to their own or the nation’s problems? We know darn well from the evidence that the outcome of elections are very often  determined by economic factors, or whether or not a majority of the electorate is feeling economically secure or optimistic. You’ll no doubt recall that cynical, flat-footed declaration by Democrat advisor/pundit James Carville prior to Bill Clinton’s election, “it’s the economy, stupid.” And a temporarily flagging national economy probably did do in the Presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush. Continue reading “THE FORGOTTEN ENTREPRENEURS”

THEN THEY CAME FOR KATE SMITH….

Does it matter that Bob Dylan wrote and sang a song in romanticized tribute to Joey Gallo, the Mafia murderer and thug?  I’m just asking. I guess that was balanced out by the fact that Dylan also wrote and sang a song in defense of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the African-American boxer ruled to have been wrongfully convicted of murder after spending twenty years in prison.  And, I suppose, Dylan, when writing and singing, can do no wrong, at least in this era. I’m sure another era will measure him by its standards and, if found culpable of socially dubious acts or pronouncements and if someone was foolish enough to erect a statue to him, he’ll become an enemy of the people and his statues defaced and pulled down and all his music burned. They’ll wonder how the Nobel Committee could ever have considered for their exalted prize someone who (FILL IN THE BLANK WITH ACTIONS, SUNG OR SPOKEN, DEEMED, IN DEEP RETROSPECT, TO BE OFFENSIVE TO THE PEOPLE OF THE LATE 21ST CENTURY) Continue reading “THEN THEY CAME FOR KATE SMITH….”

TIMES EDITOR “CANCELLED”

Say, did you hear that James Bennett, the opinion editor of the New York Times, got fired this month for publishing — an opinion?

Arkansas Republic Senator Tom Cotton, a graduate of Harvard Law School and member of the Armed Services Committee and hence identifiable as no mere slouch who wandered in from Time Square, opined on the Times’ op-ed page that the U.S. should invoke the very old and seldom invoked Insurrection Act, which empowers the president to use troops to secure order and public safety when local authorities have lost the ability to do so and are seeking federal help. His reasoning apparently was that extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures. This was at a time when The Times was well aware that large sections of a dozen major American cities were being destroyed by out-of-control riotous looting and arson.

Some Times staffers went haywire, insisting Cotton’s words felt roughly as if someone were literally pointing a gun at them, exposing them to physical danger. Bennett retreated, begged for his professional life but got the proverbial bullet behind the ear anyway. Out of a job! His replacement has vowed not to publish anything that makes people uncomfortable.

Remember that it was the Marxists who came up with the phrase “politically correct.” They weren’t using it sarcastically. It was the rule.

The way things are going, we may be standing on a cold platform watching one Times editor after another board the train for the Gulag. Okay, okay….over the top! But is it far-fetched to think someday we may be handing “controversial”, which is to say Politically Incorrect, written thoughts under the table?

Meanwhile, even tonight — it’s apparently Portland’s turn — our cities are burning. And mayors are allegedly upset that the president has sent in federal agents to quell the destruction, even when it’s federal property, including a federal court house, that is being threatened. I guess they feel they don’t need any Act to handle things. Or that, if Democrats, they feel an obligation reflexively to reject anything that comes from this President.

It was the French mystic Leon Bloy who is said to have stood on Montmartre, looking out over wayward Paris and intoned for all to hear, “man left to man — that’s what I call ‘the wrath of God.’

 

A MONDAY NIGHT NOWHERE

Just past midsummer — July 20 — living for however long in a peninsula (Florida) of  most intense  summers, I find myself dreaming of that place where summer is just among the long multi-tonal movements in the six-movement symphony (each state being a movement) that is New England. And I’m thinking of Cape Cod, a storied sand bar in that symphony of places and seasons. We always read more into places than is really there — at least the places we have tried to like or even loved once. Florida is in that category. So is the Cape.

Now, understand that I walked today amid the subtropical beauty of a Pinellas County, Florida public park. They have many beautiful parks here and much savage raw beauty. It was very hot, but there was a breeze and I looked over a lake at a line of slash pine and there were pine and palm all around me and live oak and Spanish moss and tropical and domestic and some migratory birds calling and singing and shade and moving shadows of mountains of clouds so  typical of summers here. Beautiful! I should feel at home — if I were a tropical bird. (Well, that’s a little churlish of me. And ungrateful.)

The landscape, of course, is flat — it is flat on the Cape, too. It is often flat where there is only sand and scrub pine. And it was about 92; has been 92 most days and will be close to 92 until October. One lives in air conditioning down here.

But then, I’m hearing it’s very hot up north — as hot as 98 — so when summer simmers up in extreme ways up there, down here where summer is always consistently a matter of clean 90 plus temperatures, it get’s even hotter.

But — I’m thinking of the Cape Cod of sand dunes, and cedar shingle cottages and lobster pots we hope to find when we go there,  crossing over those bridges  and trying not to think of cluttered, ordinary, traffic-ridden Hyannis, for instance– off we go over the steel at Bourne and Sagamore, and rumbling over the mental bridges that take us into memories. Like all places that we see on postcards, there is always the modern reality — that roadside, utility wired, squalid reality, social and topographical. As a reporter, I’ve covered murders and other terrible crimes on Cape Cod — and here in Florida.

What am I trying to say? I need to get that book called Going Home in a Homeless World.

I guess I’m just thinking many thoughts of home while I’m without a home now — and no, that I don’t have a home, really– home being ultimately more than the state, for better or rose, where I was born — and being, in many ways a state of mind. And I’m feeling lost, meaning away from anything that feels like home — struggling with a swarm of personal regrets and frustrations of the kind for which nostalgia is a temporary antidote. Temporary. But the search for peace, that painful, hopefully gainful search, must begin and may never end. We move through life like turtles, burdened. Hopeful.

I will go feed turtles now in a pond that swarms with turtles  about a half mile away.  A pond that is “home” to turtles. And in the old-man face of the youngest turtle looking for a pellet of food — a small turtle on whom that shell sometimes seems like a freakish misfortune and burden to be carried for life and from which the creature within might long to be freed if they only knew it  — I will try to forget this unhappy moment, this angry moment that I, frankly, am having trouble truly articulating. I’ll go see the turtles…. I’ll feed them.

TO YOUR “COY MISTRESS”…

The editors of the Associated Press Stylebook announced on Twitter that they will no longer use the “archaic and sexist” term “mistress.” They now recommend as alternatives, “companion” or “friend” or “lover.” The reason, if you consider this “reasonable” is: “mistress” isn’t “gender neutral” I guess that’s in case your husband is stepping out with a guy. You don’t want the poor guy to be offended. Second reason: “mistress” supposedly places the blame on the woman rather than the man. Well, okay. I don’t see it, but I also wouldn’t want to see the woman taking the blame. But then, the “person” your wife/husband is cheating with — given that your husband or wife pledged to be faithful to you forever —  plainly must be aware they are aiding and abetting that breach of faith.

But let’s face it: “friend” or “companion” do not imply, in my style book, the sacred and intimate sexual violation that the supposedly archaic word “mistress” seems to carry with it — dating back, as it does, to those times when the sharing of the sexual  bond was unalterably understood to be, yes, sacred and exclusive (under penalty of sin, if not civil law). Call me old fashioned, I guess.

As for “lover” — who’s to say there’s any love involved? Maybe it’s all about money. You know — “sugar daddy” — or, lest I be sexist — “sugar mommy.” In fact, the AP Stylebook had stipulated that “mistress” should apply only to those instances where there is a long-term sexual relationship with a married man from whom the woman is receiving financial support. That sounds right.

To me, there is something appropriately odious about the word — “mistress.”   But…friends, companions, lovers, countrymen…and countrypersons….let’s just quit the hanky-panky, okay? (Now there’s a phrase you probably won’t find in the AP Stylebook.)

And by the way, what happens when you change the headline BEZOS PROBE CONCLUDES MISTRESS’ BROTHER WAS ENQUIRER SOURCE to COMPANION’S BROTHER WAS ENQUIRER SOURCE. In the former, as I read it, you instantly detect a possibly malicious intent; in the latter — well, some “companion” at the party just let it slip. We all know companions — and friends — can’t keep secrets. Lovers — maybe.

Whatever. There must be something else I can waste my time writing about tonight, since, pace the poet Marvell, I do have “world enough, and time….”

THE UNENDING QUESTION

If there were no eternal conciousness in man, if at the foundation of all there lay only a wildly seething power which, writhing with obscure passion produces everything that is great and everything that is insignificant…what then would life be but despair?

–Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him?

–Alexander Solzhenitsyn – Harvard Commencement Address, June 8, 1978

What is man that the electron should be mindful of him! Man is but a foundling in the cosmos, abandoned by the forces that created him. Unparented, unassisted and undireced by omniscient or benevolent authority, he must fend for himself, and with the aid of his own limited intelligence find his way about in an indifferent universe.

Carl Becker, describing a radical humanist point of view in The Heavenly City

But what am I?

An infant crying in the night;

An infant crying for the light

And with no language but a cry.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam”

 

 

 

 

 

A WORLD (STILL) SPLIT APART

“Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction. We cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man’s life and society’s activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?

If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.

This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but — upward.”

–“A World Split Apart”

from Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s  Harvard Commencement Address, June 8, 1978

 

 

WAKE ME WHEN I’M ‘WOKE’

“I had a dream that I was awake and woke to find myself asleep.” The quote and the mordantly upended universe of which it speaks is attributed to Stan Laurel of Laurel&Hardy fame. And in light of — or, actually, in the darkness of —  the current state of American affairs, I would like to find the person most proximate to blameworthiness and say, in tribute to Stan Laurel’s comedic other half ,Oliver Hardy, “here’s another fine mess you gotten us into.”

I hope I  have that quote right. I know I don’t have “woke” right, that etymological denotation for all who are cool and socially aware in our contemporary world. It is both broad and long when it comes to being defined, but it hangs like a name plate around  many necks in the mug shots of the usual suspects in the culture wars. I’ll understand better when I wake up “woke” , though, given the state of things, I may wish I were asleep.  (Or should that be “was”. A “woke” person, knowing all things, would know.)