Category Archives: American culture

More random thoughts….

Why didn’t we listen to Michael?

There’s actually a critical point here– the anger and disenfranchisement of what used to be the middle class in this country has been out in the open for quite some time, and it has been given voice/exploited by movements of the left and right.  The Tea Party and the Occupy Movement, Trump and Bernie Sanders, have all addressed, in different ways and from different angles,  the collapse of the old economic order in this country.  To me, obviously, some of these approaches are more legitimate than others, but they are all talking about basically the same thing.  The part that grieves me is that Hillary just could not get across to those caught in this upheaval that she, and not that shyster Trump, would be better able to help right our socioeconomic ship.  For sure, it’s now clear that this is a core issue that can no longer be explained away, nor can those suffering because of it be patted any longer on the head and given blithe and vague assurances that everything will be all right in the end.

Hillary failed to make that connection, and that’s on her.  In truth, she had her issues and she was not the most inspiring candidate.  But it is also an evident truth that she rode into this campaign with the weight of twenty-five years of right-wing lies and character assassination on her back, and that had to have contributed to her defeat.  Well, congratulations, FOX News, et. al.– you finally achieved your goal, the destruction of a competent and qualified public servant’s career.  You can be proud of yourselves, I guess, in your narrow-minded and mean-spirited little way, but when the bill comes due in the next six months to a year, don’t come back to us whining that you didn’t know how horrible it was going to be under President– and soon, Il Duce– Donald Trump.  What goes around, comes around.

I’m trying to find silver-linings around here, although they seem elusively scarce.  One is perhaps the thought that Trump is going to unite those of us who see through his bullshit and who want something better for the country.  Another is that, just maybe, when everything sorts itself out this country may be in a position to finally face up to and deal with all the broken promises and lost hopes that fueled the anger that Trump fed upon, or which generated him in the first place.  But it’s an open question how bad things are going to get in the interim, how much suffering people will have to endure before this is over.

Note: here and there on the blogosphere I am detecting the occasional “Trump better watch out, look what happened to….” insert your favorite assassinated politician from history.  So far I’ve seen allusions to Caligula and JFK.  We need to knock that shit off, right now.  We’re supposed to be the ones who respect Constitutional process, guys, and part of that is having the patience and courage to let it work out.  Muttering about political violence only feeds the paranoia of the other side; actually committing political violence is the last act of desperation, when all other means of redress has been exhausted.  That, by the way, is called ‘revolution’, and we are not there, people, not yet.  Pray God we won’t have to go there.  So put a sock in it.

Personal note: in my posts from yesterday I tried to sound an encouraging note on the lines of ‘carry on with normal life while getting ready to oppose Trump’.  I will admit that the first person I am trying to calm down is me.  I am positively oscillating between taking deep breaths and screaming out loud.  I hear the words ‘President-elect Trump’ on the radio and I want to puke.  We have entered a danger zone such as we have not seen in this country since 1861, and it’s hard to not to panic over it.  But just as you don’t want to panic while swimming or on the road, so we don’t want to panic over Donald Trump.  This disaster– and I have no doubt it’s going to be a disaster, unless God grants us an unwonted measure of grace– is going to take some months to unfold.  We need to keep our heads about us and work on ways to resist what is coming.

Sad/scary note: Trump, of course, is the effect, not the cause.  He was produced by the anger and dislocation of millions of ordinary Americans, which has been aggravated and exploited by decades of right-wing propaganda demonizing anyone perceived as ‘progressive’ or ‘other’.  Americans, in fact, have spent the last generation dividing themselves along ideological lines, to the point where we no longer see each other as fellow Americans.

The logical end of such a path is, to put it bluntly, civil dissolution and civil war.

Pray God, we can find a way off this road before we get near that destination.  But we need to understand where we’re headed, in case anyone was unclear.

Geez, I was going to try and end on a positive note.  Okay, here goes– there are millions of people who worked for Hillary and voted for her, and we are not going away.  We were even a majority.

More thoughts to come.

 

 

 

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The state we’re in– further political thoughts, August 8, 2016

In a  previous blog post I made the case that Donald Trump is basically a megalomaniacal con-man who is exploiting the real hurts of average people to promote his brand, which is himself.  He has no a real plan to redeem the country, or even run it with reasonable competence.  His ideas are not merely unworkable (“We’ll build a wall and make Mexico pay for it!”), they are actually dangerous.

The sad truth, however, is that Trump is in no way the cause of the division this country is experiencing at the moment.  He’s merely using it to his advantage.  Our division into mutually antagonistic ideological camps has been going on for decades.

There has always been social and political tension and contention in this country.  This is inevitable in a society made up of many different groups holding a variety of beliefs.  The Founding Fathers actually recognized that faction was inevitable and took it into account when formulating the Constitution.  Americans have long had a genius for weaving contentious groups together into a, if not completely harmonious, then at least reasonably unified consensus.

Sometimes, however, this consensus breaks down.  The most obvious example, of course, is the Civil War.  Americans in the middle of the Nineteenth Century found themselves unable to continue to paper over the chasm between free state and slave state, between an agrarian South focused on social hierarchy and chattel labor and an industrializing North focused on an open society with free labor.  All attempts at compromise failed and Americans divided themselves into antagonistic camps which, in the end, could find no way to resolve their disagreements other than by force of arms.  The war quite literally destroyed the old Union and birthed a new political order, a new United States.  If that new society was any more just and free than the old, the price paid for it was undeniably high.

We live in another era of partisan division.  Many have remarked on how people are living more and more in “ideological silos”, in which they interact only with people who largely agree with them.  The Pew Research Center has done statistical analyses of this fact that are worth reading.  One of the interesting aspects of these analyses is the finding that those who are more political involved tend to have the most consistently liberal or conservative ideologies.  As these studies put it, centrists largely “…remain on the edges of the political playing field….”

The reasons for this bifurcation are numerous and go back decades– the upheaval of the Sixties, the rise of a vocal and uncompromising conservatism, the culture wars of the Eighties and Nineties, the advent of largely conservative media that has been less interested in journalistic fairness than in demonizing those who hold contrarian opinions (although liberals are hardly innocent of this sort of thing), the contested presidential election in 2000, 9-11, the Iraq war, and the growing threat of terrorism.  People have a profound sense that their government is more and more the creature of plutocrats and money-men.  On top of all of this, the nation is going through demographic and social changes which leave some people feeling alienated from their own country– the United States is well on its way to no longer being majority white, nor normatively heterosexual, nor largely Christian (I personally doubt we were ever really that Christian as a society, but that’s another post).

We are increasingly a nation divided against itself.  We have lost much of our sense of common purpose and identity as Americans– or rather, we spend a great deal of time telling ourselves that people who think differently from us or who look different are not real Americans.  This partisan division has been reflected in the operation of our government, or perhaps rather, its non-operation.  In recent years ‘legislative action’ has too often consisted of using the mechanism of government to deny your opponents legitimacy and anything resembling policy success.  When you see this sort of thing becoming common, it is a sure sign that the established mechanisms of governance have begun to break down, and that new mechanisms and a new consensus need to be created.

Unfortunately, at the moment no one seems to have a clear understanding of how to achieve this new consensus.  At the same time, many people seem to want to restore the America they think they’ve lost, or to bring in someone who will take positive action– whether or not it’s constitutional– to ‘protect’ us.  Hence, Trump.

The essential point is that, even if Trump loses this election, the forces he is exploiting– or that, in another sense, brought him into being– will still be seething with resentment and misplaced rage, doubtless looking for the next man on a white horse. This is almost unprecedented in our history.  The only analogous situation I can immediately call to mind is Huey Long in the Thirties, who was another demagogue who exploited populist discontent.  There was a reason Franklin Delano Roosevelt considered Long one of the most dangerous people in the country.

Personally, I have no ready remedy in mind to heal this rift and soothe the minds and hearts of those who are looking for– let’s not mince words– a dictator.  The rhetoric has become too heated, the divisions too deep for an easy solution.  Possibly all we need to tip us over the edge into some sort of authoritarianism is for some latter-day John Brown— domestic or foreign– to do something appalling (a terrorist nuke on America soil would do the job, if an example is needed) and the American people might just select a Trump-figure to lead them.  We are in dangerous waters.

The only thing I know for sure that we must do is speak the truth, protect the rights of everyone– even if they wear a hijab or have Mexican grandparents– and vote as if the future of the Republic is on the line.

Because it is.

 

 

Behold, Christmas is upon us….

…and I wish I was somewhere else. Pluto would probably be pretty quiet right now….

I have already ranted blogged at length about how American culture denigrates and corrupts Christmas, particularly from my perspective as a Christian, so I will not belabor the point. Instead, I just have a few curmudgeonly, very-nearly Scroogish observations about the season–

1. I’m currently working a temp job at an office supply store which runs a loop of Christmassy songs that sound as if they’re mostly from the Big Band era or earlier. Having listened to this stuff for hours on end, I have one pressing, existential question–

Just how many versions of Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer are there?

I mean, I’ve heard versions by Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, and Burl Ives, along with jazz versions and scat versions. There’s probably Andy Williams, Perry Como, and Elvis Freaking Presley versions, too. There may even be a Mormon Tabernacle Choir version, which, if it does exist, is probably a definitive sign of the demise of American culture. I mean, what’s the big deal?

2. While we’re on the subject of Rudolph, it probably says something about me that I have always thought Rudolph should have told Santa to shove it. On the other hand, Rudolph could be taken as a metaphor for how oppressed classes still lend their support to their oppressors in the service of some mythical greater cultural good that purports to shower blessings on all members of society, while actually disproportionately advantaging the dominant/oppressing class (and, crap, I’m not even a Marxist). I mean, what’s does Rudolph get out of hauling that heavy sleigh through the mucky weather? A warmer stall in the stable? Extra deer-chow? Single-payer health-care? Not on your roasted chestnuts, brother….

3. Regarding Santa– if you took at least one secular song about him seriously, you’d have to report him to the cops as a peeping tom and creeper….

(The Boss almost makes the song decent, though…)

4. In that same vein, we now have Elf on the Shelf. Frankly, I had never even heard of this until this year, and I agree with the criticism that it equates good behavior with gifts. And, yeah, it’s kinda skeevy and creepy, too. The frightening thing is that some people make this their whole holiday tradition. Freedom of religion, sure, but oh, wow….

5. Re: the War on Christmas controversy– well, duh, when did these numb-nut right-wingers actually get around to noticing? (Answer- when it served their political agenda, of course). Hot flash, bunky– there’s been a war on Christmas for at least the last century. However, the main adversary of Christmas hasn’t been those nasty, perfidious secular humanists (most of whom are actually very nice people) or the advocates of political correctness (who are mostly folks trying to balance out centuries of oppression embedded in language and conceptual categories)– no, the great enemy of Christmas is the commercial impulse of American culture, in particular, and Western society in general. Linking Christmas to commerce drains the sacred and powerful out of the whole business (C.S. Lewis, as usual, wrote a short but pithy satire on the subject) and obscures it’s great and critical point– the inauguration of God’s decisive redemptive act in human history.

6. Which brings me back to those asinine Christmas songs I have to listen to at work. In removing the central, true message of Christmas and focusing instead on the ‘festive season’, these tunes– many of which were written by very good song-writers, who had no idea they were participating in a cultural and spiritual debasement– take Christmas and make it sound as if it’s a double-helping of pink cotton-candy, rather than the awesome– ‘awe-full’– act of redemption it actually was. Listening to this crap, which I would never do willing on my own (I’ve walked out of church services where they sang “Jingle Bells”), is worse than fingernails on a blackboard. It doesn’t help me get through my shift.

Sigh. As I said, this is a curmudgeonly, intolerant, ‘bah-humbug’ sort of rant (Scrooge’s problem was not so much that he disliked Christmas celebrations, but that, in the sour bitterness of his soul, he forgot God’s call to mercy and charity, of which Christmas-keeping is, properly, just a reminder). It’s my way of blowing off the pent-up steam of frustration at all the things that irritate me at this time of year. I don’t expect to startle anyone with my insights (none of which are original with me), and certainly I don’t expect to affect the course of my native culture. Just an old fart venting….

But what, you may ask, do I choose to listen to for Christmas? If you’re curious, give this a listen. And if that doesn’t completely re-frame your perspective, try this.

Just strap yourself in first.

Later.

Jon Stewart gives us the straight scoop

Jon Stewart, as usual, perfectly frames both the Mohammed Cartoon shooting and the “invasion of Texas”–

http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/c54ewk/to-shoot-or-not-to-shoot—fear-and-absent-danger

I’m gonna miss this guy when he’s gone.

I’ll make one personal comment on the invasion of Texas conspiracy theory– what have we come to when fringe-conspiracy paranoia has become the default world-view for even a noticeable fraction of Americans? And how do we claw our way back to rationality?

Beats me. But I won’t be too worried as long as we can laugh about it.

An additional couple of thoughts….

In my most recent post I painted an apocalyptic picture of a future America I think is at least potentially possible, if not likely. I realized afterwards, however, that I left off saying what might be done about it, and, perhaps more personally, why I have not yet fled to British Columbia or Antarctica or some other place where Congress’ ravings don’t apply. It also may raise a few questions about me in people’s minds when, in subsequent posts, I go on blithely talking about my writing and movies and such, as if I didn’t believe my country is in deep effluvium.

Let me try to s’plain myself.

There is much we can do about the danger we’re in, and mainly it’s simple; apply the tools of citizenship and democracy– obey the laws, pay your taxes, vote (can’t leave that one out), let your representatives know exactly how you feel (don’t let them, for a moment, assume they know how you feel), and don’t shrug your shoulders and be all fatalistic when the government does something you don’t like. If your Congress person or the President or some other government hired hand does something you don’t like, let them have it. Above all, speak truth to power when needful. Personally, my jury is still out on whether Edward Snowden should be considered a hero– he is certainly no Daniel Ellsberg, who stood up and faced prosecution after the revelation of the Pentagon Papers– but the truth about NSA spying needed to be told. We need more transparency like that.

But there is one more thing I believe we Americans need to do, something I think we used to do much better than we do nowadays– speak and act with humility, knowing that no one faction has all the answers to the totality of the problems we face. The people who pose the greatest danger to our civil peace and commonwealth are those who are totally certain that they have all the answers, who believe everyone else should get in-line with their agenda, and who are ready to destroy anyone who doesn’t. At the moment, we seem to be awash in that sort of absolutism.

Doing all these things is the only legitimate way to make sure the system works. It will be a telling point if we do all this and the system still cannot be salvaged. That will be the moment for a new constitution and a new social contract. If we’re lucky….

On a personal level, there are number reasons I haven’t already applied for asylum in Canada–

1. I already live within a two-hour drive of the border. And it’s real easy to cross in places….
2. I don’t speak French, and French-speakers don’t want me to try to learn (polly-voo Franksass…)
3. My daughter has told me she wants to graduate from high school in the US.
4. Hockey. Really, this is a game?
5. Curling– ditto.
6. Having to learn a new national anthem (although, the Canadian anthem sounds a lot more musically accessible than “The Star-Spangled Banner”. C’mon, guys, who thought this was a good idea?).
7. I guess I still have a fair deal of hope. A lot of people are already living in an America that is mostly inclusive and tolerant. There is a good chance that sort of wacky behavior will spread. And there are a lot of people who starting to stand up and say out loud that allowing the US to fall into the hands of oligarchs of any stripe is unacceptable. When I get down, I try to remind myself of that.
8. I am, after all, an American. I don’t think I would be happy living anywhere else. I don’t want to give up on my country just yet.

***********************************

There, I think I’m done talking politics for a while. My next few posts will be focused back on my writing, but I will also be posting more original fiction, as part of a change I am making in my writing efforts. More about that later.

Santa Claus is white!?!?! OMG!!!!!

Re: Megyn Kelly– dumb Fox commentator– I could rant on and on about Fox and its twisted, racist agenda, but I’m just gonna let Jon Stewart take care of her– thank God for Jon Stewart–

http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/thu-december-12-2013-evangeline-lilly

Proving, once again, that humor is the most powerful weapon against tyranny.

‘Nuff said.

My problem with Christmas

It’s the Christmas season. Twenty-four days of misery and suffering. Yippee.

Jingle-bells and toy soldiers and Santa Claus. Wreaths and holly-bushes and freaking Christmas TV specials. Special Christmas sales and doorbuster bargains and reindeer. I despise it all.

Geez, you’re probably saying, what’s this guy’s problem? Well, allow me to explain.

To be precise, I don’t dislike Christmas. As a Christian, Christmas is terribly important to me. But it’s because it’s important that I get enraged at how our culture handles this season. And then there’s my fellow Christians…

To put it succinctly, American culture twists Christmas to an unrecognizable monstrosity. What follows is an explanation of how and why. If strong language offends you, turn back now.

The dominant culture of America, whatever myths it tells itself about itself, whatever positive aspects it does have, is cynical, materialistic, secular, and mammon-worshiping. As such, it takes an important moment in the Christian calendar and turns it into an opportunity to sell stuff, something, frankly, it does with almost everything else in our society (think about it for a moment). Seeing this, I’m not that surprised when the mainstream media follows every up and down of the Christmas selling season with obsessive, panting interest. It doesn’t surprise me when the true message of Christmas gets buried under news of how many Playstations and LED TVs have been sold this week.

I do get enraged over the fake sentimentality and cosmetic tinsel our culture shellacs over its commercialism. It’s a horrifying, sickening white-wash of fake good-will and boisterous cheer, with candy-canes and elves and Christmas trees. Our culture vomits out this bilge to try and pretty up and disguise the naked avarice of its un-Christian Christmas. The true gospel message gets lost under layer upon layer of this tacky garbage.

What really, really pushes me over the edge, though, is how many Christians buy into this trash and seem to not realize how anti-Christ secular Christmas celebrations are. Sometimes it seems that Christians are the people most in need of reminding of the true meaning of Christmas.

Here it is– Christmas is nothing more or less than the first act of Christ’s Passion.

The necessary first act. Do we really not remember this? Do we really forget the implications of the Biblical narratives of Jesus’ birth?

The world, then and now, is broken, foul, ruined. God’s intended order of love, peace and companionship with humanity has been lost in the sins and selfish willfulness of men and women, who try to set themselves up as petty gods, whose own happiness and comfort is the axle around which the universe should spin. The result is sickness, brokeness, wars, slavery, exploitation, racism, genocide, poverty and tyranny. The whole sorry business deserves to be shoved straight into Hell, wiped clean.

Instead, God gave us Christmas.

Pause and think about what this means. God, the creator of all that was, is, and ever will be, in a stupefying act of grace, stepped down into the everyday world of mortal life, not to hang out or to lead some sort of social revolution, but to restore a broken relationship with humanity, by means of an act of sacrifice no one else could do. We see stories in the news all the time about parents, mothers and fathers, sacrificing themselves to save their children. How much more, then, would God, whose love is deeper than human imagination can picture, be willing to sacrifice himself to save a whole race of children who have lost their way? He was willing to step down and across the gulf between his divine infinity and human finiteness, to become mortal, to live and work and eat and sleep, and then, after such a short time as a man, to turn around and go willing to a horrible death for those same broken, lost people– the very ones nailing Him to a cross. When you think about what God started at Christmas, it stuns you and takes your breath away. It should drive you to your knees, every time. If it were not the Lord Almighty we were talking about, you’d almost say that this was the act of a desperate God.

That’s why Christmas is so important– and why its perversion by the dominant culture is so horrifying.

Now, nothing I’ve just said is original with me, except possibly the vehemence with which I express my opinion. You can find all these criticisms in C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer and even Charles Schulz’ Peanuts, for Pete’s sake. They do seem to need to be repeated at intervals, though. Even as Christians talk about “the reason for the season”, we tend to get wrapped up in the busyness of the season and start to act like everyone else for whom Christmas means presents, eggnog, and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

I say “we tend” because I need to stop at this point and accuse myself of hypocrisy. I like finding a gift beneath a Christmas tree on Christmas morning as much as anyone. I love stocking stuffers, especially chocolate oranges. And we are deploying our Christmas tree even as I type this. We are all compromised by our inevitable involvement in an economic system that actually depends every year on the Christmas season to put it into the black. And all the caroling and trees and extra chocolate and lights are, frankly, seductive and fun. Of course, so is adultery.

So, in the end, what’s the point of my ranting and raving? Speaking to my fellow Christians, here’s what I am trying to say– no, you can’t get away from secular Christmas crap, not completely. I firmly believe, though, that we are still called to remind the dominant culture that there is a different way, a better way, a truly counter-cultural way, to live and be. And insisting on the true meaning of Christmas– the incarnation on the way to Golgotha, and the empty tomb– is necessary to that call.

Even if it sometimes means that people think you’re a Scrooge and look at you funny in the checkout line at Target.

That’s all I have to say.

Later.