Northern Valley Beacon

News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Trump Derangement Syndrome

Trump's political cohorts have taken to referring to his critics as haters possessed by the Trump Derangement Syndrome. That phrase is borrowed from the term Obama Derangement Syndrome,  which referred to quite a different circumstance.

As Obama's presidency progressed, it became apparent that he had a segment of people who hated him on the basis of racial resentment.  They were replaying a syndrome from the freeing of the slaves and, a hundred years later, from the civil rights era.  Some white people deeply resented it when blacks were treated equal to them.  If a black person achieved a position of power or authority over them, it was more than they could handle.  They went into a deranged rage.  The same kind of rage was inspired when women achieved power and authority over some men.  Some of those men quit their jobs rather than work under a woman boss, others contrived defamation campaigns against the women, and some just spent the rest of their lives stewing.  Equality is not something many people are comfortable with, and there are those who will extract a cost from it.

Obama opponents created images that made Barack and Michelle look like chimpanzees or African primitives, and the verbal assaults against them followed the same pattern.  A racism that became somewhat dormant after the civil rights push was reactivated when a black man became president.  Many could no longer repress themselves, and their seething racism erupted with a fury.  A man they thought  should be a houseboy ended up presiding over the White House.  That unleashed a pent up rage that has swept the nation and led to the election of Donald Trump, who began his campaign with the racist appeal of denying Obama's American birth.

That demonstrated racism is a major reason that people oppose Trump.  He has continued it by publicly insulting black people such as Maxine Waters, LeBron James, and Don Lemon as having low intelligence.

From people I know who have encountered Donald Trump, I have never heard a good word about him.  I knew of him, but in the mid-1980s when I met a retired commercial banker and officer of many Chicago civic organizations when we were both house guests at a mutual friend's, I received an full account of Trump.  I had been the business editor of an Illinois newspaper.  The ex-banker and I got into a conversation about crooked business executives we had run across.  He told me about Donald Trump and why he was despised by honest businessmen in Chicago.  At the time Trump's incessant lying, bilking of contractors by refusing to pay his bills, and his swindles in business deals had formed his reputation among the legitimate business people.  He has never been welcome in Chicago because any business venture with which he is associated is suspected of fraud.

The banker told me a story--I don't know if he witnessed it or was told about it--about a man bringing Trump to an exclusive men's club for lunch.  Most of the members got up and left when Trump walked in.  They wanted to demonstrate that they would never associate with a person as unscrupulous as Trump in their business or their social lives. His business reputation was despicable to them.  Established business men warned others not to do business with him.

Trump finally did business in Chicago when he built a hotel there in the early 2000s.  The family that owned the Sun-Times newspaper sold him the land.  Trump further financed the hotel by selling individual rooms to investors who would receive a percentage of the revenue from their rental.  Trump reneged on his contracts and was sued by a number of condo tenants and investors, including the Sun-Times family.

Trump is a shyster through and through.  His record of swindles, fraud, and theft are a matter of public record.  He is the deranged one.  Even the conservative newspapers have published his misdeeds to show he is unfit for the presidency or any other office of trust.  People hate the proven and often flaunted crookedness of Trump.  Their repulsion is not based upon political differences, but on the total decay of his character.  People with a sense of decency and a respect for honesty detest what Trump does and therefore despise him as a person.

Trump is a criminal.  He escapes prosecution because h
the cases against him end up in civil courts through which victims of his fraudulent schemes try to get their money back.

The derangement syndrome is in Trump himself.  He does nothing that is truthful or honest.  Therefore, it is also in his supporters who either cannot acknowledge his nefarious character or openly  approve of his criminality as an enterprise.

There is a Trump Derangement Syndrome, but it is not in the decent people who think a fraudster should not be president of the United States.  It is in those who have accepted criminality as the American way.


Friday, November 2, 2018

Hate had a really good week. America joined the Holocaust. What's next?

The killers were unleashed.  

First, one went after the Democrats.  He mailed Donald Trump's favorite targets, which Trump has been careful to name, each a bomb, 16 by last count.  His bombs did not explode.  No one has explained why, as of now.  At least, he tried.  I think.

While the bomb search was going on Wednesday, a man walked up to a black church near Louisville, KY, tried the doors, but couldn't get in.  So then he went to a nearby Kroger grocery store and shot a black grandfather shopping with his grandson in back of the head, and then shot a black woman in the parking lot.

On Saturday, a guy with handguns and a Colt AR-15 went into a Pittsburgh synagogue during worship services and killed 11 Jewish people and wounded another six.  The attack is said to be the worst against Jewish people in American history.  America joined the Holocaust.

All three of the alleged perpetrators were captured alive.  Two of them had histories of mental problems.  The Jew killer did nothing to concern people who met him.  He just posted a lot of anti-semitic stuff on the anti-social media.

Meanwhile, the alleged president warned that the migration caravan that was making its way through Mexico to the U.S. border was actually an invading army of ruthless criminals.  He said he would call out the troops to resist the invasion.


Hate-driven rage keeps breaking out in America.  We were, up until about three years ago, considered the world's leading democracy.  Except that the propensity for violence we demonstrate gave many observers of the nation cause to question if our reputation was deserved.  Gun violence and mass shootings are so frequent that America appears at war with itself with a degree of violence and instability usually attributed to undeveloped countries. 

This is the country that elected Donald Trump as its president.  For some, he represents precisely what they want the country to be.  George W. Bush's ex-press secretary, Ari Fleischer, states the case in a New York Times article on Trump's behavior: "It’s misleading to compare Trump’s behavior to his predecessors because he was elected to be different from his predecessors.”

Most of us thought Trump was elected to be president as defined by the 240-year history of the office.  By comparing Trump to Obama, Fleischer explains the difference:
“Trump often sounds bad but he acts well, while President Obama always knew what to say but he didn’t do things well, he didn’t do things right.  He had soothing words and comforting nonthreatening language, and that didn’t improve our standing anywhere, including domestically.”
Fleischer talks in defense of Trump and condemnation of Obama  in that accusative jabberwocky that serves as discourse on the part of a large segment of the GOP.  His words, like Trump's, have no factual reference.  Specifically, what has Trump done well that Obama did not?  Is he actually contending that Obama reduced U.S. stature in the world and Trump raised it?  What world is Fleischer living in? 

While Trump lies constantly, insults, and abuses people, he is  advised to tone down the rhetoric.  That remonstrance is an evasion of what Trump is.  He has nothing to do with rhetoric.  He is not trying to engage people with verbal reasoning.  His verbal repertoire is to tell lies, call names, insult, abuse, and self adore.  

Everything Trump says and does exudes malice.  He was not elected by his supporters to be president.  He was elected by that class of perpetual seventh-grade bullies to lead them in their exercise of ill will.  Trump has all the intellectual capacity of a pit viper.  So do his disciples.  That's why America has come to resemble a snake pit rather than a democratic community.  Their idea of greatness is to strike out at whatever they choose to.  Their life-motive is to find a hate object and assault it.  It gives them pleasure.  It makes them feel powerful.

Hate can take many forms of expression:  anti-semitism, racism, anti-LBGT, misogyny, misandry, or any other social or political category into which people can be classified and designated for hatred.  And includes just being a presence that someone wishes to hate for personal reasons.  Hate is an attitude which looks for objects on which to fix.  It is a pre-existing condition within the human character.  Some haters are selective about whom to inflict with their hatred, but the defect of character is the telling aspect.  The admonition to "love your neighbor" is a recognition that hatred is the destroyer of human potential.  Any expression of hatred is an admission of that character defect, the particular mode of its expression, such as race or politics, not as important as the fact of its presence in an individual.

The fact is that the people whose ambition it is to inflict their ill will on people within their own country and the rest of the world are in control.   The constant news accounts of mass shootings, local and national politicians telling racial lies, and the bitter divisions in the country portray a nation that is not basking in liberty, equality, and justice.  It is a country bubbling in hatred.

Perhaps, an election can turn down the hate speech and forestall an eruption into open warfare.  But people think the violence in America is an anomaly.  It, and the words which drive it, are a constant.  Before any viable corrective action can be taken, the people need to understand what America has, in fact, become.


Saturday, October 27, 2018

Protecting kids from a political party that runs on nothing but malice

A few weeks ago we received a post card from the  South Dakota GOP in behalf of the Al Novstrup campaign that was malicious, dishonest, and utterly debased in its defamation of Novstrup's opponent.  Novstrup is the incumbent senator for South Dakota District 3 running against challenger Cory Heidelberger.. 

Among Cory's many activities is his teaching of math, French, and language arts.  His most recent full-time teaching job was in Spearfish.  When his spouse, a Lutheran pastor, accepted a call to Zion Lutheran Church in Aberdeen, the family moved here.  Cory has been an active presence in civic and political affairs in Aberdeen, and writes and edits the most literate and intelligent political blog in South Dakota, the Dakota Free Press.   He is also on the Aberdeen School District roster of substitute teachers, which can often be full time work.  He has been a debate coach and is a strong advocate for that activity in building informed, critical minds.  He backs up his political beliefs by running for political office as the Democratic candidate for the District 3 seat in the State Senate. 

Novstrup's post card tactic was to make a strident and malicious defamation of Cory's background.  It screamed: PROTECT KIDS NOW! VOTE NO TO CORY HEIDELBERGER ON NOV. 6.”
Its premise is that Heidelberger poses a danger to kids.
It is suggesting that he has been a menace to students in his work and would extend the danger as a state senator.

The postcard is an unmitigated libel clearly intended to damage Heidelberger's reputation.  It attempts to use an incident from Cory's past teaching and amplify into a definitive statement of character.

Cory has been open and honest about the incident cited in the postcard.  When he was a teacher at  Madison High School, he encountered a bullying situation.  He did what a responsible teacher does and accosted the misbehaver.  He used a mild expletive in remonstrating the kid about his behavior.  When the offender tried to walk away from the confrontation about his behavior, Cory grabbed him by the collar to stop him.  The Madison school districted fired Cory.

In recounting the situation, Cory says, "When I found I was not getting through to the bully, instead of trying to play cowboy, I should have called for assistance and escorted the bully to the principal’s office for proper punishment."  Al Novstrup and his GOP goons try to portray Cory as a menace while he was in fact protecting students against some bad behavior on the part of another student.

The Madison High School administration and school board sent a strong message to students and teachers that bad behavior by students is protected and woe be to any teacher who interferes with it.  Cory's response to the situation might have needed some corrective comment, but the Madison administration reacted with incredible stupidity and cowardice.  This kind of action in which a teacher is condemned for trying to deal with a misbehaving student is what Al Novstrup endorses.  Although Novstrup's dishonest representation of the facts of the matter exposes his own malicious character.

When Cory says he should have called for assistance, the question arises, who would he call and how would such a call be made?

Aberdeen had a similar case come up.  When a student acted out during a middle school science class, the teacher grasped him in a bear hug and hauled him out of class.  The teacher was fired, but the teacher and the union took the case to court.  The court ordered the teacher to be reinstated.  The teacher's lawyers brought the testimony of students in the class into court, and they testified that the teacher took the drastic action with the student to prevent him from harming the other students.  The court faulted the administration and the school board for failing to investigate and gather accurate information about the incident and for acting without knowledge of what, in fact, had taken place.

This is the kind of situation that Al Novstrup contorts into a lie about the experience and character of Cory Heidelberger.  In this age of Donald Trump and the constant outpouring of lies and malice coming out of the White House, GOP voters seem to think this is the way political business gets done. GOP operatives in South Dakota were using malice and false accusations before Trump entered politics.  The successful campaigns of John Thune and Kristi Noem were largely devoted to false and deleterious portrayals of their opponents.  Both of those candidates have earned reputations as feckless purveyors of party lines with puny legislative accomplishments.

Al Novstrup's own legislative record shows that he has a peculiar obsession with the sexual orientation of students.  In his claims to be concerned about the welfare of children, he exhibits a menacing desire to inflict punishment on some.  He has been particularly obsessed with where transgender kids may go to the bathroom.  Vote Smart has compiled his legislative record on the matter:



Feb. 22, 2017
Bill Passed - Senate
(22 - 12)
Yea
March 8, 2016
Bill Failed - House
(25 - 43)
Nay
March 3, 2016
Veto Override Failed - House
(36 - 29)
Yea
Feb. 9, 2016
Bill Passed - House
(45 - 23)
Yea
Jan. 27, 2016
Bill Passed - House
(58 - 10)
Yea
Jan. 26, 2016
House
Co-sponsor
Jan. 12, 2016
House
Co-sponsor
March 3, 2015
Bill Failed - House
(30 - 37)
Nay
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

2016
20%
2015
0%

His record shows an obsession with how kids may relieve themselves or who may participate in sports, but does not care if the schools have safety plans in place to protect students from active shooters or similar menaces.  

The Novstrup family operates amusement parks for children for its livelihood.  In Aberdeen, their Thunder Road is operated in conjunction with the city's Wylie Park.  Some of us who know of Novstrup's perverse obsession with gender issues and his malicious streak of character in maligning other people simply do not chance exposing children in our charge to it.  

We can eliminate Novstrup's pernicious influence in the State Senate by voting for Cory Heidelberger.  And we can keep our children away from Thunder Road in Wylie Park.  

That is how children can best be protected.



Thursday, October 25, 2018

Brown County: the proud incubator of EB-5 and the latest CFU (commission f***-up)

It was emblazoned as the headline story Tuesday of the Aberdeen American News:

     $9000 in late fees concern officials


The "officials" are members of the Brown County Commission, some of whom are up for re-election.  The money concerns penalty fees for screwing up the routine tasks of processing the compensation and benefits of county employees.  The article says:

Brown County commissioners have enlisted the help of the South Dakota Department of Legislative Audit to resolve problems with the county’s payroll and benefits system that have resulted in more than $9,000 in penalties in the past month.
 
It’s not clear exactly what went wrong. 
Commission Chairman Doug Fjeldheim said the county had to pay late fees to the Internal Revenue Service and the South Dakota Retirement System for late payments and missing payroll reports.
The processing of payrolls is a constant routine.  County employees have been getting it done for decades.  They know the requirements and the schedules to be met.  So what happened?  The commission chairman said:


Basically, what it all stems from is we’re trying to outsource our payroll, but the issues started a little before that,” Fjeldheim said.
He said that by outsourcing the commission had hoped to save $25,000.  In that statement is a clue.  It reveals the intrusion of politics into the running of county business.  The county commission in recent years has become dominated by the GOP. Whereas once its members worked hard at making a limited budget do the work of maintaining the county, the GOP in good old South Dakota brought petty politics and cronyism to the county.  The GOPers like to limit government and turn it over to outside businesses to see if they can make money.  They claim businesses can run government more efficiently than government can.  They do not acknowledge how badly many businesses are run or that the most incompetent bureaucracies are in corporations.
Brown County commissioners at work

Fjeldheim said, “Everybody is pointing fingers at everybody else. So we’re going to let (Legislative Audit) figure out where the problem lies. We kind of know what happened, but we can’t undo it."


Employees of the county know who the screw ups are.  They could tell without equivocation who did not do their job.  Even from the outside, it is not difficult to figure out what probably happened.  When the GOP took over the commission, it had a crony who needed a job.  They fired an an employee and made the guy the information technology director.

The guy has made quite a history if problems.  When he imposed his systems on the county, the Brown County Fair had to deal with confusion and tongued-off patrons in its ticket sales.  That was something new for the Fair.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that some county officials had not been receiving G-mail messages to them.  An explanation was offered that made no sense whatever to people who work with and administer e-mail programs.

And now, the county suddenly has problems with its payroll and benefit system.  As the information technology
 director is specifically charged with the responsibility to "develop and maintain software systems to insure statutory compliance as well as the proper flow of County information,"  the obvious question is to ask why the systems and procedures for the payroll and benefits suddenly had a problem.  

Asking the state Department of Legislative Audit to examine the problem will simply obfuscate it with the usual political jabberwocky.  

The best way to solve the problem is to vote for county commission members and officials who can do the straightforward job of running the county, not imposing two-bit politics and cronies on the people.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Actually, what divides us is not political

What divides the country has political ramifications, but is not at root political.  The differences go far beyond and into matters more basic than political policies  and preferences.

The dividing factors are between the honest and the criminal.  
Between the intelligent and the stupid.  Between the benign and the malign.  Between the courageous and the fearful. Those differences cannot be reconciled at the ballot box.

The situation is one that involved the settlement of America, but that is often not acknowledged in the immigrant experience.

It is undeniable that immigrants came to America for better economic and social lives.  But what kind of people actually undertook the journey.  There is a body of literature which portrays the coming of Scandinavian immigrants to America. It includes Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rølvaag and The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg, from which an excellent film was made.  But they portray the struggles of families to establish themselves on the frontier and they are faithful to what occurred, but there are other stories of emigration that represent quite different circumstances.

My maternal grandmother and two of her sisters came to America as single women.  Their parents and brothers remained in Sweden.   I have only fragments of their stories, but have been able to learn quite a bit about the social history that motivated them to move.  I attended a college that was formed by Swedish Lutherans and took courses in the Swedish culture.  Some of the faculty were experts on the migration from the Scandinavian countries and the experience f the immigrants in America.

My grandmother did not like to be questioned about her life in 
Sweden.  She would give us grandchildren cursory answers to our questions and then dismiss us by saying there were some matters that she left Sweden to get away from.

At the time she and her sisters left, Sweden was operating according to the centuries of European feudalism.  There was little future for any young people, and the brochures flooding the Scandinavian countries about the opportunities in America were powerfully enticing. For young women in in Scandinavia, the future was hopeless.  Marriage seemed like the only option for a better life.  Emigration was vigorously denounced as a betrayal by the dominant conservative society in Sweden.  For young women to leave the country was an act of defiance.  In his book A Folk Divided, H. Arnold Barton writes of the prevalence of young women making the
 journey:

"More characteristic among the newer arrivals, however, was the young, unmarried woman ... As domestic servants in America, they ... were treated as members of the families they worked for and like 'ladies' by American men, who showed them a courtesy and consideration to which they were quite unaccustomed at home.”
My grandmother and her sisters did not come from a rural family in Sweden, but from the merchant class. But like their rural sisters, they found jobs as domestics in Chicago and Minneapolis.  They had a feminist streak in rejecting their subservient roles.  I remember my grandmother and her sisters (Hulda, Amanda, and Tekla) as always dignified.  My two great aunts married men in Minneapolis who forced construction companies.  My grandmother married an alcoholic charmer who floated from one place to another.  She had 16 children with him, 8 of whom survived into adulthood.  He eventually abandoned her, his seven sons and one daughter on the Nebraska frontier, from where they eventually worked their way back to Illinois where, as a Wisconsin friend puts it, the soil is so rich it's vulgar.  With all that, my grandmother never forgot why she left Sweden.  One of the history professors I worked with explained that Swedish society at that time was something people strove to get away from.  The revulsion among many of the people overrule any patriotic or family loyalties.  It was not a nation they wanted to be a part of.  While America offered them opportunities, the power that drove them was an intense disaffection with their homeland.

Oddly, that history professor and Arnold Barton, the history professor who wrote the book I quoted from, both went to Sweden to live when they retired.  The emigration of millions of people, the breaking away of so many families, impelled a social and political change in the Scandinavian countries.

Many Americans have reached the point where they think the U.S.is no longer their nation.  With the election of Trump and the values and behaviors he so stridently displays, America has asserted itself as a socially depraved society.  Trump followers are more interested in nurturing their hatreds  than in developing liberty, equality, and justice.  While many entertain the possibility of voting Trump and the Trumpists out of power, the fact is that they have shown a strong anti-democratic and anti-decency strain in American society which will remain no matter who wins the election.  A growing number of people I encounter would simply like to leave them behind.

The problem is that there is no longer an America of opportunity and open spaces to go to.  A segment of the country has undergone a social and cultural decay that pervades the nation as a whole.  It has regressed us to the bigoted factions of the pre-Civil War era, and with a vengeance.  It leaves many people in a dilemma.  Stupidity cannot be fixed.  Benignity cannot change dedicated malice.  The fearful will cower before the force of malice.  The belief in human integrity that powered the Greatest Generation has been displaced by an admiration for the dishonest, the avaricious, the mendacious. As Proverbs point out, consorting with the evils of society makes one part of them. But how do you separate yourself from them?  You avoid them and oppose them when you must.  But the important thing is the avoidance.  That is what is going on in the nation.That is what divides us.  

Politics cannot cure the disease that has infected America.  It can only spread the infection.  The solution is for people of good will and good purpose to form enclaves in which the ideals of democracy can be preserved and practiced within a group, at least.  

The division of he people of America is not a bad thing.  The survival of decency depends on it.




Sunday, October 14, 2018

The churches are hell

I once served on the board of deacons at a church in Rock Island, Ill.  It was a church that was attended by most of the faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology,  which has since moved to the University of Chicago campus, and the faculty from Augustana College, of which I was one. Standing Rock native Vine Deloria, Jr., earned a degree from the seminary when it was in Rock Island.  

I still belong to a church, but haven't attended in a long time. The role of churches and schools in forming the American democratic culture is a powerful, inspiring story.  But like many people, I am estranged from organized religion.  Our schools have been diminished by the right-wing effort to make them subservient to the one percent by turning them into corporate indoctrination centers.  What genuine education is offered is provided by teachers who struggle daily to carry their mission as defined by the history of American education, not by conservative school boards that try to purge the curricula of the humanities and established science.  As for the churches, many have turned against the teachings of the Christ for whom they are named.  Many so-called Christians could not hold Christian doctrine as presented by Christ in their systems if it was emulsified and pumped up their asses in liquid form.  They call themselves a Christian nation and quote the scripture according to Mein Kampf.

The church I belonged to in Rock Island was five blocks from Augustana College and four blocks from the huge Farmall tractor plant.  A number of members expressed a desire to build a new church in a more suburban-like neighborhood.  A large Latino population was moving into the neighborhood, and the long-time residents were getting older. As a number of busy streets ran through the neighborhood and the railroad tracks were two blocks away, many transients were often in evidence. The pastor thought the church should accept a mission to serve the people in the neighborhood. The church became a site for the congregate meals for the elderly.  Vagrants often visited the church.  The pastor arranged if they stopped by when a meal was being served, they would be fed.  If they looked for a handout at other times, the pastor gave them meal tickets which could be redeemed at nearby restaurants or stores.  The church would the  pay for the meals or food.  I remember a Christmas Eve service when six or eight men in funky winter clothes showed up, attended the service, and then joined the congregation for the buffet afterward, filling their pockets with sandwiches, cookies, nuts, and candy.  Some members sniffed with indignation, but the pastor welcomed the men and encouraged them to take whatever they wished to make it through a Christmas Eve night.  The pastor also organized a group that would do grocery shopping for the elderly, particularly during the harsh winter months.  

When the talk about moving got constant, the board of deacons decided to have an every-member visitation and obtain a statement from each church member on what they thought we should do.   The deacons and other church leaders gathered for a retreat to study the results of the canvass and formulate a proposal to present to the congregation.  A large majority of members voted for the church to stay where it was and continue in its efforts to serve the neighborhood.  The pastor asked those assembled at the retreat what could be done to improve its efforts.  One man, who was a hospital administrator, spoke up and said that the only way to improve the church's programs was for the pastor to resign.

The man who said this had been complaining about the pastor's sermons that focused on the needs to feed the hungry and heal the sick.  He said the pastor was using the pulpit to preach socialism.

The chair of the board of deacons was an administrator at the college, also an ordained minister, who asked me to drop by his office a few days after the retreat.  He told me that the pastor was submitting his resignation to become pastor of a large church near Chicago.  Other churches in the synod had been observing the program at our church and had been trying to recruit the pastor.  The church council had to form a search committee to find a pastor.  When we had our meeting to organize the committee, a senior member of the council who was an attorney moved that the person who had asked for the pastor's resignation be specifically excluded from the search process because he did not represent the interests of the church or the congregation.  The vote to exclude him was unanimous.

After I moved to South Dakota, I joined a church that my children attended.  I did not become active in church business, but actively supported some of its programs.  A close family friend was very active in the leadership so I was informed about matters.  When the senior pastor took a position in the national headquarters of the synod, the church hired an unusually dynamic man to lead the congregation.  He added 1,300 members to the congregation.  

My son came home from a church program one evening and said that the senior pastor was resigning.  The daughter of a council member told my son he was being forced out because he was watching pornography on the church computers.  We asked our close friend if that was true, and she said that he was resigning but that the reason was made up by a council member who wanted to boss and bully the staff and other council members.  When the pastor opposed some of his orders, the man wanted him gone.

The accusation got to other pastors in the synod and synod officials and was the subject of a brief investigation.  They quickly concluded that the accusation was false.  The church staff said it was a made-up charge by a man who did not like the pastor's politics--he preached civil rights, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and was a strong advocate for dealing with the mental health of troubled youth.  The man had a faction within the church who supported him.  The pastor was nearing retirement age and took a job as the interim pastor for a new congregation in a very alluring setting.  Synod officials were particularly concerned because the incident would make it near impossible to find a replacement pastor.  

At the same time this was going on, my spouse who had been a staff member for Sen. Tom Daschle lost her job when Daschle lost an election.  There was a faction in the church that was opposed to Daschle and made gloating comments about his loss to her.  We realized that mean and cheap politics had subverted the church.  It had become a festering example of the kind of human meanness from which churches are supposed to be a refuge.  We realized that our children were being affected by the negative tone that had pervaded the church.  Except for weddings and funerals, we have not attended since.  Neither have our children, who are now adults.

This situation is by no means unique to us.  When speaking of the political state of our nation, the term Christian is often used as a synonym for the malicious bigotry that pervades the country.   My experience with the organized church is one shared by many people.

It explains what Sartre meant when he said, "Hell is other people."  Especially in church. 





Thursday, October 11, 2018

The inevitable second civil war (or, Je suis un angry mob)




Columnist Tom Friedman thinks we are headed for another civil war.  He writes:

I began my journalism career covering a civil war in Lebanon. I never thought I’d end my career covering a civil war in America.

He explains what brings him to this point:

Sure, we’ve experienced bouts of intense social strife since the American Civil War of 1861. I grew up with the assassination of Martin Luther King and raging street battles over civil rights and Vietnam. And yet this moment feels worse — much less violent, blessedly, but much more broadly divisive. There is a deep breakdown happening between us, between us and our institutions and between us and our president.
 
We can’t find common ground on which to respectfully disagree; the other side is “the enemy.” We shout at each other on television, unfollow each other on Facebook and fire verbal mortars at each other on Twitter — and now everyone is on the digital battlefield, not just politicians. 
Across the land, before dinner parties or block parties, the refrain “I hope none of them will be there is uttered with increasing frequency, referring no longer to people of another race or religion — bad enough — but to people from a different political party. 
When he talks of the refrain  I hope none of them will be there,I recognize something I have thought and said and heard others say many times over recent years.   When I see a Trump sign or someone wearing a MAGA hat, I take it as a signal that they have declared themselves as enemies of democracy and benevolence.  They have chosen to pursue self-induced stupidity and malice as their way of life. They endorse and support corruption and fraud as long as it benefits them, and despite claims to be patriots, they actively undermine liberty, equality, and justice for all.  They have declared their aversion to democracy. by supporting one of the most malicious, vile persons to attain the leadership of a country.  His record of corruption, insidious dealings, and constant dishonesty is a matter of open record to which he adds more everyday.  Still, people choose him as the emblem of their principles.  These are people who, like Trump, can speak only in terms of insult and abuse and malicious falsehood.  One can expect only incivility from them.That is why I, like many, hope none of them will be at places where I wish to go.  And if they are likely to be there, I simply don't go.  You know they will use every opportunity to be insulting and obnoxious.

When the the political divide between the people in America is discussed, it usually contains a suggestion that we need to be respectful and open to hearing other viewpoints.  Those suggestions are made without examining the nature of the personal encounters that motivate the divide.  When people choose to be intractably disagreeable, they may insist they are merely using their right to free speech, but forget that other people have the right to take offense when they are disrespected, insulted, and abused and to assert their own rights.  Intelligent people understand the futility of trying to communicate with a dedicated abuser.  Rather than engage, they avoid.  And that is why the divide between Americans is reconcilable.

The principle involved is stated in our oldest wisdom literature:
Proverbs 26:3-12 (ESV) A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools. Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence. Like a lame man's legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools. 
Social scientists have yet to explore the effects of the social divide outside of politics.  There has been a change in the social and civic organizations, churches, and society in general.  Fraternal organizations, civic clubs,  veterans organizations, country clubs have sold off once-commodious facilities or closed all together.   Their leaders complain that people just don't want to belong to such organizations.  When pressed, they admit that people find no advantage to such organizations because they would be associating with people they have no use for.  The pastor  of a church said that membership in his congregation has remained stable, but attendance in church events has fallen so that some activities have been dropped.  He explained that his congregation comes for formal services, but avoid anything where they have to talk to each other.  

Studies have marked the decline in social interaction, and discuss the displacement of face-to-face encounters by technology and the social media, but these do not account for underlying causes.  The pastor says that politics is the wedge.  In talking with his parishioners he finds a stark difference in values, and the people do not want to deal with opposing values.  They dislike each other, and the idea of Christian fellowship is a travesty to them.  Young people drift away from the organized church because the hypocrisy is most evident to them, the pastor said.  

While she was widely criticized for it, Hillary Clinton stated the situation:  "You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about," she said.  And another perspective is when you find civility an absurd response to malice, dishonesty, insult, and abuse that is the standard fare in the Trump world, you avoid it. 

The resistance to Trump and his band of churls has been civil and non-violent.   So far.  The protests have been constant from the day of Trump's inauguration.  They have extended to accosting politicians in the street, in restaurants, on elevators, and interrupting Congressional meetings.  But the protests have not extended beyond "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."   So far.  But Trump and the GOP have chosen to portray the protests as rule by an angry mob.  And that characterization sends a strong message to the protesters that they are dismissed and demeaned and portrayed as the enemy.  The thought is circulating that Trump and the GOP need to see what an angry mob is like, and old battle plans from the late 1960s and early 1970s are beginning to be reviewed.

The conservatives have often said that they are prepared to launch a "second amendment response" to the liberal protests.  They have ignored what a major gun dealer said during one of those spikes in gun sales after a mass shooting after which gun control was proposed.  He said as many liberals were arming and stocking up on ammunition as were the "Second Amendment crowd."  They just weren't as noisy about what they were doing and why they were doing.  Both sides were preparing for potential battle.

A Washington Post analysis recounted the many people on both sides who see the U.S. as on the brink of civil war.  They see no possibility or any reason for reconciliation.  To many, the democratic principles that enable differences to be resolved through dialogue and the ballot box have been destroyed or have failed.

As the man who pretends to the presidency keeps saying,  we'll see what happens.  The election may be a declaration of war.



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