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.

 

ISOLATION

We isolate now, reluctantly. The pandemic has plunged us into surreal global circumstances. It’s entering the history books. It is far from over.

Most of you know about Thoreau and his cabin. More of you might not know of Henry Beston who built a little cabin — a little house, actually –on the dunes of outer Cape Cod in the Twenties. It’s worth exploring and sharing his account of that nature-filled isolation in that twenty-by-sixteen dune dwelling not far from the pounding surf. He called it the Fo-castle. His book on his time in that house on the dunes is called, The Outer Most House. 

I recall the sadness when that little house that had withstood many storms was washed out to sea during the cataclysmic Blizzard of ’78. But a replica was built in its place, and a society of nature lovers and preservationists have sprang up long ago in Beston’s memory.

Bottom line here: we mortals have been known to seek out isolation and to have benefitted memorably from it. Just a thought. No, you don’t have to build a cabin. Just recall the diagnosis of Pascal, that many of our problems come from an inability to sit alone quietly in a room.

THE “INEQUALITY” DANCE

Round and round it goes, the insistent tub-thumping chorus masses of folks now and then have been dancing to for decades– the claims of rising wealth inequality in the U.S.. Well, I find much that is said on this score persuasive, since I’m often feeling unequal in wealth, though also knowing I have no one to blame, really, but moi. This might be different — indeed, I suspect it is — for millions in a different, less malleable social and, therefore, economic situation. The Democratic Party’s sharp dance to the left has undeniably been fueled by this obsession. Hence, we have proposals for Medicare for All and various supposedly playing-field-leveling wealth taxes.

It’s a complex question. I admit that…

But prominent economist Thomas Piketty has, I’m told, been among those defining wealth as the value of all assets held by households minus their debt.  He and others  leave out future Social Security payments, which, according to what I’ve read, account for 58 per cent of wealth for the bottom 90 percent of wealth distribution. I live in that broad bottom, among the 90 per cent.  I’m not doing great, but, having paid into the SS system over a lifetime, I’m afloat — and, of course, am free, thank God, to improve my lot and move farther away from the bottom. My prospects for doing that, as with everyone else, waxes and wanes. So it goes.

And now I read that a new paper — new to me, at least, and other sources I consult — from the University of Pennsylvania finds that when Social Security wealth is accounted for, inequality has remained constant over the past three decades.

So, could the sharps and flats of the music score for this whole “inequality dance” amount to a mere accounting error?

I personally think the drum majors for the inequality parade — excuse the mixing metaphors here — are marching to the tune the Marx and Engels band struck up a Century ago. No, no, no, I’m not saying the Democrats are Marxist. But they damn well have begun to look and sound like Socialists. I’ll not try to draw out the distinction here. It would seem tiresome, pedantic and, given my knowledge, might be inaccurate. If you’re reading this and feeling either pro OR con, kindly weigh in with your own distinctions.

I’d simply say that socialism is Marxism lite. It is, ultimately, an ideology whose tenets exist independent of mere numbers. It asserts a view of human nature and economics supportive of the notion that we can all be radically made equal in our aspirations and abilities — and bank accounts. It has always and everywhere produced  dubious and, ironically, unequal results or, as in the case of China or the old USSR and the flash over murderous insanity of Pol Pot and Cambodia,  a river of blood, not to mention gross — INequality.

But I’m sure the dance will go on. And on and on…especially this election year.

IT’S QUARTER TO FOUR, THERE’S NO ONE IN THE PLACE EXCEPT YOU AND ME…

And, in silence, spending the night by choice on the hard laminate floor of my study, unsoftened by a reasonably thick carpet, without much comfort from a comforter, some facts of one’s life — hard, uncomforting facts — become manifest in the darkness. So you sit up to write about them — and they vanish. Isn’t it always the way? But they are worth pursuing, as best you can remember them, by the dawn’s coming light — on this First of May.

BAD MOMENTS IN BLACK ROCK

Hate to pile on. Hate all the hate. But, let’s see — beyond hate, there were some seeming facts to be sorted out in this pandemic crisis after it came ashore in the U.S.

To wit:

The CDC messed  up  its initial testing kit, then the FDA likely put obstacles in the way of a deployment regimen. The President, sensitive to the slightest criticism, failed to own the problem. The “news” networks, salivating over this morsel of Trumpian non-acknowledgement ( the phrase “I don’t take responsiblity” will echo down the long re-election corridor to November) eat it up. Perhaps no politician would totally own it and would try to defer blame, but less obviously than DT. He will never let himself be on the defensive, and that’s probably somewhere in the celestial book of political rules of engagement — or disengagement. He should clean up the mess by seeing who messed up. That will look, as usual, like he’s deferring blame or executing the surfs, but, truly, somebody messed up and I doubt it was him. God knows, he has no problem with firing people. I gather that’s what he did every week on The Apprentice.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s former staffer Tara Reade is claiming Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993. Her first complaint came a year ago, described only as “inappropriate touching.” Well, will the media that ran Judge Kavanaugh and his family to ground react similarly to this allegation?  What do you think? Reade’s isn’t the first such suggestion that Biden has had wandering hands and words back when this hollow, chuckling fool had strands of real hair and maybe felt he deserved a little more female attention than he was getting. Pity this poor Galahad, finally in striking distance of his Grail and some woman comes along to remind him he’s just a rank groper.

THE GLORIES OF ISOLATION

Fr. George Rutler is an author and a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, pastor of St. Michael’s Church in the neighborhood still known to many as Hell’s Kitchen, though I’m told it has undergone significant gentrification from its bad old days. I’ve copied and pasted here his weekly message for Sunday, April 26, 2002 setting out the potential blessings — and, yes, glories and glorious spiritual opportunities — afforded us by our current isolation, which at time might seem more a bane than a blessing.

Read and enjoy and, perhaps, benefit.

Among logical fallacies, the argument from authority, “argumentum ad verecundiam,” means accepting a proposition because its source is authoritative, even though the matter is outside that source’s competence. Such a fallacy, for instance, might approve Einstein’s view on politics or religion because he was such an important physicist. However, precisely because of his inventiveness, it is not fallacious to accept as valid his assertion: “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulate the creative mind.”
   Einstein was a remote disciple of the quirkily brilliant early nineteenth-century philosopher Schopenhauer: “A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.”
   There is some consolation in that at present, when “cabin fever” is an ancillary affliction of the coronavirus. One does not have to be a physicist or philosopher to know that while “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18), there is a difference between cursed loneliness and benevolent solitude. The integrity of one’s spiritual life can be measured by understanding the difference. Thus Pascal, who was a Christian mystic and a mathematical scientist, famously said: “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a room alone.”
   The Nazis locked the Dominican nun, Blessed Julia Rodzinska, in a cement closet for a year, and witnesses remarked on the radiance of her face. The Venerable Cardinal Nguyen van Thuan spent thirteen years in a Vietnamese prison, nine of them in isolation. I can attest to the serenity of three men I met who never were lonely in solitude. One was Bishop Dominic Tang of Canton, who spent seven of his twenty-two years in prison in solitary confinement. Cardinal Kung Pin-Mei of Shanghai was thirty years in prison, much of that time in solitary confinement. Father Walter Ciszek died in New York after five years in isolation in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison and fifteen years in the Gulag.
   These names came to mind when I read of a CNN commentator, who has shown condescension for the Church and promoted an article calling for the abolition of the Catholic priesthood. He tweeted that, after some weeks in lockdown, during which he kept his lucrative job, he “crawled in bed and cried.”
   Saints in solitude often did not have a bed to crawl into, but they were with God, and would have been embarrassed for the Governor of New York, who said of the pandemic: “The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that.”
   Another governor, the fifth of the Roman province of Judaea, was told: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11). We know who said that.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Father George W. Rutler

 

SORRY….

Pitiful stall to my entries and updates here. Dealing with assorted obstacles, nothing serious. Laziness may be one of them. A sea of distractions might be another. But I’ll be writing here every day — beginning tomorrow…April 25. Promise. Feel free, if it interests you, to search through former entries. Have a good night.

BAD NEWS FOR THE NEWS FOLKS

Bad news for all my former colleagues in the news media. A recent Gallup Poll asked Americans whether they approve of how the U.S. leaders and institutions are handling the coronavirus pandemic. Donald Trump, who the press corp has roughed up regularly during the crisis, had a 60 per cent approval rating. I am drawing from secondary sources here, so, at this writing, I don’t know how Vice President Mike Pence, the CDC and Congress rated — but, according to what sources I do have accessed, they all scored higher than — the news media. More people disapproved than approved of its coverage, 55 per cent to 44 percent.

Now — I don’t like the way Trump interacts with reporters who ask questions he doesn’t like or his blanket denunciation of reporters. However, some of those questions — and he sniffs them out easily — are subtly or overtly of the “gotcha” variety.  And Trump’s base and, apparently, many others, feel he should be getting far more credit for his efforts, and far less criticism. But, this is a Democracy, thank God. I know Trump’s current dust-up with governors is being perceived as the case of a man who doesn’t understand the Constitution. I know and very much like Harvard professor Larry Tribe. But I recall, going all the way back to Reagan, that Larry will be reliably on the liberal side of Constitutional interpretation. Not sure where I fall down on the issues of the governors. I haven’t heard Larry on the matter. The folks at MSNBC like to go to him. I’m sure he’s out there, likely fulminating. God bless America!

And, speaking of that — that’s the problem, you might say, with a Democracy in which many people don’t trust what should be their reliable source of unbiased information — the Fourth Estate. Especially in a crisis such as this. The media is preoccupied, it seems, with partisan, divisive squabbles.  Trump hates them and they often waste their time hating him back.

But I’ll say this. Whenever Mike Pence steps to the microphone, I’m finally hearing that Consoler-in-Chief I welcomed during the Obama, Bush or Clinton-era crises. Trump is not good at that. Mike is. He reminds us, we’re all in this together.

VIRUS VIGORISH

A Las Vegas firm has compiled some unusual proposition wagers during this time of pandemic-related stress and tedium when bookmakers and gamblers, like the rest of us,  are in need of deep and consistent diversion and maybe a way to keep making money.  A proposition wager pertains to the occurrence or non-occurrence of certain events in a sporting event, irrespective of who wins or how many points are scored. For instance, the number of strikeouts a pitcher will throw or how many touchdowns will be scored by a non-offensive player.

In this case, the odds-makers are calling for bets on how often President Donald Trump speaks certain words and phrases during his nightly coronavirus briefing.  (I mean no criticism of the President’s pandemic policies –not here, not now, anyway — when, as a college English major and former high school orator, I point out that our Commander-in- chief employs a fourth-grade vocabulary when speaking in public. Of course, I’m not the only one to notice this. Frankly, I don’t know how this Yale graduate ever passed the verbal SATs. But one might say, he’s a man of few words — endlessly repeated.

According, that Vegas firm has determined that “we’re doing a great job” has an over/under of 2.5; “best” is 5.5; “more tests than any other country” is 9.5 and the omnibus “fantastic, incredible, amazing, tremendous” gets a whopping 24.5.

Okay, they’re plainly having a little sport, quite literally, with the Chief Executive and, as we know, ridicule hardly musses the golden coif of DT, who gives ridicule in equal measure as he receives it. And,  heck, as he insistently brags, the ratings for those  afternoon virus briefings has spiked. For most people, it’s for whatever new information can be gleaned from them — in between all those repeated words and phrases. But now we know that gamblers may be hanging on every word — or phrase.

 

CONFINED AND BRIEFLY CONFOUNDED

Hello, all. If you’re visiting here, welcome. But for the next 24 hours (it’s March 30 at 10:33 p.m.) I need to work in some new material here, especially about these anxious, seemingly endless days of self-quarantine and confinement. A pandemic demands daily engagement. I’ve been stalled. Not alone, I suspect. But the point of a blog, at least in part, is to banish our aloneness, right? I’ll be back.