AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY

As one police officer lay dead this morning, others wounded, and as I’ve watched innocent people pummeled and brutalized by rioters in a world out of control, and as I’ve listen, with much disgust, to the national media coverage of these events ( Savannah Guthrie on NBC this morning speaking of “unrest, some of it dangerous” LOL), I’m reminded that, back in the mid-seventies, I met renowned — and liberal — journalist Joe Klein ( author of Primary Colors) at a New York journalism conference. He told me more than once in separate conversations that he believed The Boston Globe had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for lying about the realities of forced busing in Boston. Joe, like millions of citizen and journalist, cared about racial justice. But the realities on the ground in Boston were that busing was essentially pitting one poor neighborhood against another, was social engineering run amok, imposing the ideal on the real (putting it mildly), fueling racial division and animosity, disrupting and ultimately denigrating actual education in the city, and, of course, leading to racial violence in and out of the school buildings and massive white flight to the suburbs. The Globe’s basic narrative was that it was all about achieving social justice and white neighborhood were to blame for resisting this bit of spinach on their plate. The newspaper acted as advocate rather than information source. Were there some bigots in Southie and in Boston? Sure. I knew and know some. They’re everywhere — outnumbered, very evidently, by people of good will. Early in this century, the city of Boston finally abandoned all its legal efforts to continue to fight parents’ efforts to get rid of the strained efforts to artificially achieve racial balance in the schools. The city and schools once very racially imbalanced were still imbalanced — from a majority white to majority minority. And everybody was the poorer for the effort. The mayor’s and other leader’s rationalization? “It’s a different city now.” No it wasn’t and isn’t. It’s every bit as racially imbalanced as it was in 1974 — and the negative legacy of forced busing is on display in schools and in neighborhoods. You’ll never get the Globe or City Hall to admit that. So, in the wake of an undeniably horrible and deadly act against a black man by a midwestern police officer, all the urban forces of social disintegration are on display — I’ve seen video of an innocent man being beaten by two black youths with two-by-fours as he tried unsuccessfully to protect his business. Stuck in my mind is the image of a youth twice his size pulling him up off the ground already nearly beaten to death and smashing him against the front of his store. I watched, as have all of you, scores of primarily black youths smashing windows and rushing from stores with armloads of looted merchandise, laughing gleefully. “Peaceful demonstrators?” Of course, there are some — massively outnumbered by criminal hooligans. I don’t need to catalogue all that you’ve seen. The national media would have us believe that these youths, with some exceptions,
are acting out of outrage over their mistreatment at the hands of a racists society. They are testing our credulity to the breaking point. We have seen police, in their desperate and pathetic effort to placate demonstrators engage in the symbolic act of “taking a knee.” This, after which the destruction of their cities continues unabated. I guess maybe we can call that an act of surrender. And we must not say that any of this is being instigated or fueled by outside agitator looking to sustain massive social unrest in the service of an essentially anarchic agenda. We are witnessing the political class, even the President to some extent, rendered impotent and craven by this social revolution that threatens all of us and which has absolutely nothing to do with social justice. I recall President Lyndon Johnson’s perplexity after he skillfully managed passage of a landmark Civil Rights Act, only to see Detroit and other cities set ablaze ( and Detroit has struggled to recover from those nights of horror.) And media coverage? I’ll call it what liberal journalist and author Neil Sheehan chose to call — whether one agrees or not — most representations of the reality on the ground in the tragic Vietnam War — a “bright shining lie.” He was speaking of the Administration at the time. It is the mainstream media that willfully filters, mutes and distorts reality now. By the way, I worked at the Globe as an editorial assistant — a low level person, but nonetheless able to sense the palpable air of advocacy and bias against busing’s sometimes all too easily dismissed opponents. We are witnessing a rolling tragedy, aided and abetted by the media. We will have trouble recovering from it as we struggle to recover from a pandemic. And we are being handed a mess of infuriating lies and being told not to acknowledge the true nature of what we are seeing — and have seen before — with our own eyes. This is as tragic as things get.

WHAT?!

“Yes, America is burning, but that’s how forests grow.” What?? What?? Wait a minute!! Let me read that again. “YES, AMERICA IS BURNING, BUT THAT’S HOW FORESTS GROW. Did someone really say that at a time like this? Certainly not anyone in a position of responsibility at a moment when untrammeled violence and flames are ravaging our cities and thousands of business are being looted and destroyed and police and citizens injured or even killed. It could only have been some callow, starry-eyed 6th grader, making it someone — just somewhat — forgivable and maybe worthy of a C+ for poetry. Or, perhaps, for splendidly observing nature’s grand pageant. Above all, I thought to myself, no adult ELECTED PUBLIC OFFICIAL ever said such a thing at a perilous and tragic moment when so many of our fellow citizens of every race are suffering. So I checked and read the remarks in the context of the speech that contained them, only to find them even more ludicrous, shocking and outrageous — in context. Some of you would rather not know who would say such a thing, if, indeed, they came from a public official. And I don’t blame you. So, warning: the following may contain information that may be unsuitable for those already suffering spasms of rage at the excuses and accommodations the political class and the media are making for the chaos that engulfs us. Those words came from Maura Healey, Attorney General of my native Massachusetts. Let me just say that a week ago, we were united as a nation in our disgust and anger and calling for justice at the sight of an innocent African-American man being strangled to death in broad daylight by a thug cop. Many of us do not deny that too many African-American men have been shot or killed by police for it not to signal some need for reform, intervention and re-education. ( I was an M.P. in the Army and underwent police training.) But now we are all being called racists. And we have an Attorney General suggesting we are undergoing a necessary purgation. She needs to say that to some small business owner, preferably an African-American one, standing in front of the charred remains of his clothing store. The 6th grader gets a C+ for poetry. Madame Attorney General gets an INCOMPLETE. Surely she can do better than this. For one thing, she can’t seem to see the trees — being American lives, labors and hard-earned possessions — for this fancifully regenerating forest. God help us!

MINNEAPOLIS THUGS etc.

Thug cop, righteously outraged citizens…then come the professional anarchists to set everything afire.

So — a bad thing happens. Happens to an African-American man. We’ve watched it. Been enraged and disgusted. (I’ll bet non-African Americans have suffered the same brutal injustice at the hands of a thug cop and we don’t know at this point the motive of this particular thug cop in a city I somehow believed might be generally more congenial on all  scores only because it is in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s pacific, as in “peaceful and friendly” mid-west “where the dark fields of the republic roll on under the night.” But it’s either very significant or not that the victim was black. In the wired, camera-ready age, such things don’t escape public view, and it’s good that they don’t. (Let me modify that — many abuses do still undoubtedly escape public view, just fewer of them. ) Then, The Outside Agitators — such as ANTIFA — converge. The criminals and anarchists take to the streets to exploit the situation.  They burn and loot. Shades of Detroit, L.A., Watts, Rochester, etc.,etc.etc. 170 business damages or destroyed in this episode — that can be updated by the hour. A police precinct burned down — and left undefended. Leaders retreat from the role of leadership, cowed into inaction. Fortunately,  that seems to be changing. The home of the rogue jerk thug cop surrounded and food kept from being brought in even to  his family (not that it is lawful to starve an accused criminal — and his family — to death). The attorney general’s house surrounded:  intimidation, vigilantism, black racism ( one call recorded by cameras, “Kill all the Whites”.) Feckless pathetic politicians, race-bating charlatans such as Al Sharpton rush in.

I recall being at a drive-in movie in Fresno, California during the summer of ’67, a summer of much rioting in the nation. I’d walked to the concession stand in the middle of buy something and was walking back to the car where my friends and fellow employees at Kings Canyon National Park were waiting to enjoy the main featured  movie. Suddenly on the big screen — they still had newsreels at the movies in those days — were scenes of Detroit burning during race riots there, an episode that helped begin that city’s decline. Then on the same big screen came a black-and-white image of President Lyndon Johnson addressing the riot situation. Echoing over the swarm of cars at the drive-in came LBJ’s words, “burning and destroying buildings has nothing to do with civil rights.”

This was the President who’d ushered with much political skill and maneuvering the monumental Civil Rights Act. Historians have said he was perplexed that he could do some much and then face this. He probably came to understand, as we must understand, that it isn’t all about racism. It’s about political anarchy and a belief that violence and upheaval  usher in a new world order that generally falls outside anything we’d recognize as democracy, equality, racial harmony or justice. And it’s also kids of every race seizing the opportunity for destruction and trash all forms of authority. Listen to the lyrics of much rap music over the last generation. But it’s also about the “professionals” who know enough to exploit to the breaking point every civil unrest.

This is a tragedy redux. It will not end, ever, I fear. And I’m full of fear — as mass mayhem — that it bound to erupt down here in Florida, for what self-respecting trouble-making, race-baiting anarchist wants his neighborhood to escape the plague — falls into the middle of a pandemic which it shall also almost certainly re-ignite.

Pray. Then act. Or, at least, write or speak your own protest against criminal professional protesters.

A POLITICAL GLANCE

…and nothing but a glance, very brief, in which I raise the question, was Barrack Obama a great President? I see ABC News has a poll saying that. Greatest President of the lifetime of those polled. Hmmmm.

Well, his was one of those Presidencies — there have not been that many, really, or perhaps none — in which the elites, Hollywood, those who play hard at identity politics decided this dazzlingly fine and personable liberal young speaker got to walk, boat-to-boat, on water, get the Nobel Peace Prize, t-shirts, Oprah. He was above criticism in their mind from the start, every bit as much as, in their mind, Trump is beneath contempt. An example of what I call the physics of politics — for every action there is an equal and opposite RE-action.

But while I liked President Obama, spoke with him briefly just once before he was elected and can well understand why people would contrast this natural “consoler-in-chief” unfavorably with the blustery, uncouth incumbent, I can’t see that he did anything except saddle us with an unworkable health care plan and push the Democratic Party culturally left — a journey it is continuing. Where are the  guiding, stable principles? For instance — one tender example — on what grounds, other than a glance at the polls, was he ever against gay marriage? And one what grounds, other than a glance at the polls, justified his shift on such a profound, paradigm-adjusting issue?

It seems to me he ruled by executive order. This has become popular in the time of Congressional gridlock. But Congress is often gridlocked because we are in the middle of a shatteringly important social-cultural shift that threatens to pull us apart. There are days I think the modern American Presidency, not unlike the modern Papacy, has become too complex for one person.

As Kevin D. Williamson put it back in December of 2016, Obama ruled with a pen and a phone. He was great, as Clinton was great, to those who measure greatness by the force of your speech. In substance, in all kindness, I don’t think we’ve seen greatness for a while.

MEMORIAL DAY

Happy Memorial Day. My father died on Memorial Day when Memorial Day was always May 30, regardless of the day of the week. I think my father died on a Friday. He was an Air Raid Warden during the war, having four children when war broke out and being over thirty and working in a business vital to the war effort, i.e., he was a coal and oil salesman. So he did not have to become a uniformed military. I shall write more about him when that anniversary — that actual date — comes around. He died in 1964, the day after the greatest triumph of my teenage life and a distinguished moment in all of my life. More, later.

Meanwhile, as a veteran, I salute all my fellow veterans. I was, being in Korea, technically in a war zone and potentially very dangerous area. But I was insulated from the real danger so much of my generation endured in Vietnam. The danger lingered in friends like Bob Ryan, a captain in the Americal Divison who stepped on a mine in March, 1968, barely saved his foot, though toward the end of his life he was in danger of having it finally amputated — but died likely of complications from Agent Orange exposure. Bob died in February, 2017. I miss him. He was a good friend. A veteran who, like so many, was anti-war. War isn’t, really, a thing to be for, ever. Sometimes, the enemy forces our hand. Sometimes we crack out of turn. Either way, it’s a tragedy.

THIS IS BAD FOR OUR COUNTRY

…and I refer to the fact that Joe Biden has committed to picking a woman as his veepee running mate, strangling off the pool of possible talent for a post that will need the best person, irrespective of gender. But this is our modern identity politics at work.

I try not to state the obvious here. Far better to spend time watching a red-winged blackbird or feeding the dog than to worry about Joe B.

A DANE FOR OUR TIME

One day in high school, I was wandering through the book section of a downtown Boston Department store. I think it was the late-lamented Jordan Marsh. Or maybe it was Filene’s ( are they also in the “late” category? I’m not even sure. Alas, I’m out of touch with what is memory or what is present reality in that particular hub of the Hub that goes by the name, in Boston, of Downtown Crossing. )

The high schooler then shopping for, maybe, neckties or maybe just enjoying exploring the retail heart of the city, was just beginning to acquire an interest in reading books and, thereafter, keeping the books, read or unread, forever. Such a book was The Journals of Kierkegaard.  I stood there, age 17 or maybe 18 ( Oh Lost Years!!) and recalled that this Soren Kierkegaard had provided the epigraph for a novel I’d just felt grown up enough to read by the (late) Walker Percy. So — I bought this book of 19th Century journal entries and commenced to leaf through it and extract digestible, comprehensible bits of daily life ruminations by this fascinating, brilliant, rebellious and restless, melancholy, uncompromising  Dane who did not live a long life — he was only 42 at his passing, possibly from a form of tuberculosis, after collapsing in the street.

The department store, the book section (those were the days before Barnes & Noble, etc.) are gone. But — I still have my battered, yellowing copy of Kierkegaard’s journals. Not sure if I ever read it cover to cover. But from the underlinings and highlightings it’s clear that I got acqainted with it. In subsequent years I bought a combined volume of Fear and Trembing and  A Sickness Unto Death by Kierkegaard. I gave both an extensive, repeated thumbing through, and, regrettably, gave that two-punch away before moving to Florida. Yes, I do regret that.

At any rate, here is Kierkegaard writing on August 16, 1847: “I now feel the need of approaching nearer to myself in a deeper sense, by approaching nearer to God in the understanding of myself.”  I doubt that my 17 or 18-year-old self saw that particular quote that day in the downtown department store, but I was probably beginning to feel that need Kierkegaard was feeling.

All these years later, I’m still feeling it — and still liking the idea of getting to know Mr. Keirkegaard better. The isolation of a pandemic would be a good time for that. I’ve not known another soul called Soren — and am drawn to a philosopher who also identifies as Christian but who dives deeply inward often to explore that faith. In an undated entry in 1843,  the good Soren wrote, Nulum existit magnum ingenium sina aliqua dementia is the worldly  expression of the religous proposition: whom God blesses in a religious sense he eo ipso curses in a worldy sense. It has to be so, the reason being firstly, the limitation of existence, and secondly the duplicity of existence.”

Wow! (Got to bone up on my Latin, too.)

THE NATIONAL STRATEGY THAT WASN’T

Let us now praise maligned, neglected American prophets, one of whom sat in the Oval Office not long ago and saw what we are seeing now and for which we should have been better prepared. No,no,no, not HIM. I speak of George W. Bush.

In the summer of 2005, the then-President was on vacation in Crawford, Texas and was reading an advanced copy of a new book about the 1918 pandemic.( My accounts don’t mention the name of the book, damn it. I’ll find it!) Bush was overwhelmed by what he was reading and appropriately fearful that what brought the planet to its knees early in the last century could happen again, quite easily.  He instructed members of his government to come up with a plan, prefatory to a “national strategy.” And staff members did, indeed, work on a plan for the next three years, according to reports.

“If we wait for a pandemic to appear,” Bush said in a speech, “it will be too late to prepare. And one day many lives could be needlessly lost because we  failed to act today.”

So — what happened? To that plan?

Meanwhile, in a recent press conference, President Trump was asked if he had any interest in reaching out to former Presidents for help in dealing with the pandemic.  His response? “I don’t think I’m going to to learn much.”

Pause, think about that answer. Just think about it.

If Trump loses in November and, as a consequence, unleashes on us the rolling leftward failed strategies of the Obama years on all fronts,  it will be because of the arrogant, stupid, ignorant things he’s said and the  transparently ludicrously egotistical attitudes he’s adopted. I state the obvious.

Fact is, he’s right about many things (just ask him). But …..well, just stick with ignorant. Add a need for common sense.  And the national interest. Of course you reach out. Period.

Meanwhile, again — what happened to that Bush-suggested “national strategy”? I, for one, would like to hear from the former President on that. We’re suddenly hearing a lot from Obama. Please, G.W., balance out the ledger here.

REMEMBERING THE ROYAL EXCHANGE

In the early days of the Eighteenth Century, after many a universal cataclysm, the British essayist Joseph Addison, writing in the May 19, 1711 issue of The Spectator, offered a bit of a paean to his fellow mortals engaged in commerce. “I am wonderfully delighted to see such a body of men thriving in their own private fortunes and at the same time promoting the public stock; or in other words, raising estates for their own families by bringing into their country whatever is wanting, and carrying out of it whatever is superfluous.”  Similar sentiments run through my mind when I see 21st Century businesses “stepping up”, as we are fond of saying, to help alleviate deprivations brought on by Covid 19 as it beleaguers The Family of Man. Sounds like capitalism at its best and most generous.

Continue reading “REMEMBERING THE ROYAL EXCHANGE”