Monday, September 7, 2020


Every year my heart is gladdened when the pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) in my garden reaches its fullest flowering in late summer because 1-its gloriously beautiful blooms are eye-catching, and 2-cooler and drier air is just around the corner. So, fellow southerners, let us rejoice. It is pampas grass time. 

Welcome, blog reader, on the seventh day of September 2020, Labor Day. In America, today marks the unofficial end of summer and the beginning of the last phase of the campaign leading to the general election of 3 November. Election Day will arrive in less than two months.

Like it or not, we are in a unique and historic moment of time in which we are afflicted with layers of crises. First we have the worst public health crisis in a century. The COVID-19 pandemic is running rampant, particularly in America. It has disrupted our daily lives as nothing since the Second World War. Simultaneously, we have the worst economic crisis in America since the Great Depression: mass unemployment, business closings, recession. Moreover, we have mass, sometimes violent, social demonstrations in virtually every city and town as people demand racial justice or "law and order." And, in the midst of all of this, the United States is heading into a monumental political test, the likes of which the nation has not seen since 1968, possibly since the Civil War. It is enough to make even the strongest person wilt in despair, or maybe stay in bed cocooned in covers. We should not and need not do that. Let us take a closer look at some of the storms swirling around us.

PANDEMIC. COVID-19 continues to spread at about the same pace. According to Worldometers, in the past week, 31 August to 7 September, there were 1,899,163 new cases in the world for a total of 27,312,773. This is a 7% rise. As for deaths in the world, there were 92,384 in the week, up 5%. 

The United States continues to be the worst hit country in the world with by far the most cases and deaths with no end in sight. In the last week, there were 285,413 reported new cases, a rising rate of 5%. There were 6,026 deaths in the week, 3% increase. The death total for the U.S. is now 193,253. The actual figure is believed to be much higher. Thus, nearly 1,000 Americans are dying of the disease every day. This is about the same rate as the last few months. 

The southeastern states continue their longterm paths of outpacing the U.S. In South Carolina, there were 6,628 reported new cases in the last week, for a total of 124,952. This is a 6% rise, above the national number. In SC, there were 178 deaths in the week, for a total of 2,887. This is a 7% rise.

Alabama is faring about the same. There, 7,079 new cases were reported, for a total of 132,314. This is a 6% increase. There were 114 new deaths in the week. As of now, 2,276 Alabamians have died of the plague.

Charleston County continues to be a hopeful spot in the dismal numbers. It reported 440 new cases last week, for a total of 14,440. This is a relatively low 3% rise. However, the county continues to be the hardest hit in the state. The county is now reporting 246 deaths, up 11 last week. The spread of the disease in Charleston County is now below the state average as it has been for the past few weeks.

In general, the pandemic is spreading apace in the U.S., particularly in the southeast. It is killing about 1,000 Americans a day. Nearly 200,000 of our compatriots have died of the virus. We can expect 300,000 to be dead by the end of the year. 

LITIGATION. As far as I know, nothing has changed recently in the litigation between the two dioceses. Now that August has passed, perhaps the new month will bring some movement on the three issues we are watching: whether Judge Dickson will grant a stay pending the Church's appeal of his order; whether the SC Court of Appeals will agree to pass the appeal along to the SC Supreme Court; and whether the U.S. Court of Appeals will hold a hearing or go to a written decision.

POLITICAL. The question of the day is, Will President Trump repeat his victory of 2016?

What is the difference between 2016 and 2020? Trump won in 2016 for many reasons, primarily by exploiting the socio-cultural divisions in the country. In 1990, the Cold War ended and the United States lost its external threat that for nearly half a century had forced a certain unity in the country. This unity had been crucial in the development of the great democratic revolution from the 1950's onward as blacks, women, the disabled, the poor, the old, and homosexuals won greater and greater equality and inclusion in the national life. This period saw arguably the largest expansion of human rights in the nation's history. However, this transformation also caused a backlash, mainly from the people who felt most threatened by the reforms, namely the white male power structures which had monopolized national institutions from the start. A counter-revolution developed centered in elements such as the white working class man, white southerners, white evangelical Christians, and the Wall Street oligarchy. Once the forced unity of the Cold War ended, the nation quickly devolved into tribalism stoked by political opportunists. Donald Trump arose to power on white racism, by greatly magnifying the false charge that the first black president, Obama, was illegitimate because he had not been born in the United States. Racism was the ugliest, and most powerful, part of the counter-revolutionary backlash of the post Cold War period. Trump proved just how powerful it was. He used it successfully to divide and conquer.

The schism in South Carolina was part and parcel of the clash between the two tectonic plates of contemporary American history. From the start of the great democratic revolution, the Episcopal Church aligned itself strongly on the side of revolution. It gave equality and inclusion to blacks, women, homosexuals, and the transgendered. The minority counter-revolutionaries within the Church balked at this. When it was clear they had lost the fight over democratic reforms, the reactionaries bolted. Five dioceses voted to leave TEC. The diocese of South Carolina was the last (the diocese did not leave the Episcopal Church, but the majority of the people did). These five, with a lot of help from anti-homosexual rights equatorial African bishops, formed a new denomination that aimed to be the replacement for TEC in the Anglican world. The Anglican Church in North America was explicitly created to keep open homosexuals and women from having equality and inclusion in the church. Thus, the schisms in the Episcopal Church were very much a part of the culture war in contemporary America. The Episcopal Church was on the side of the democratic revolution while the schismatics were on the side of counter-revolution.

Donald Trump was not a political figure. He had never held a public office. He had no certain positions on issues. He was a demagogue who picked up on what he believed to be a winning strategy of championing the racial backlash against the great democratic revolution, the most visible element of which had been the civil rights reforms. By promoting the birther movement against the first black president, he staked out the leadership of the reactionaries in the culture war. By carrying just enough votes in key states, he won in the Electoral College. In short, Trump won election to the presidency in 2016 because of the divisions in the country.

Once in office, Trump constructed a compact with his followers ("base"). He offered them actions on the counter-revolution by rolling back as many socio-cultural reforms as he could manage. In return, he demanded support for autocratic rule. It worked. As reaction set in, Trump built a personal rule disregarding constitutional limits and long established norms of presidential behavior. Thus, two movements came out of Trump's administration, counter-revolution and imperial presidency. More and more, the person, the office and the state combined leading to a crescendo in the Republican National Convention when fireworks spelled out TRUMP over the national mall and the White House.

Just because something worked in 2016 does not necessarily mean it will work in 2020. Times have changed. The mood of the country is strikingly different now than it was four years ago. However, Trump's strategy has not changed. He is running the same playbook as he did last time. 

What is different now is that we have layers of crises burdening the country. In 2016 there was no external threat forcing a unity on the nation. There is today, the coronavirus. Most Americans are united in fear at what the virus will do to them and their loved ones. They are looking to the national leadership for a way to rally the country and defeat the deadly enemy. That leadership, however, is missing in action. Trump has been grossly incompetent at handling the new national threat. Meanwhile, the U.S. is the world's epicenter of the pandemic with by far the most cases and deaths. Trump has utterly failed to lead the nation against its worst health danger in a century. His ineptitude has been costly to America in more ways than one. Most Americans are well aware of his failings and they hold his mishandling of the virus against him. 

Trump's strategy of 2016 is out of sync today. Most of the country is unified by the virus, not divided. His stoking of social and cultural divisions does not seem to be effective beyond his solid base of 40% or so of the electorate. However, Trump appears to be unable to adapt and change strategy. His approach of lessening the fear of the virus is not working; and his retread of divide and conquer is not working. Too, most people know Trump much better this time than they did last. A library of best selling books on Trump has been published revealing in detail this man's character and personality. Some of them are devastating. Moreover, I suspect the entertainment value of putting a "colorful" character in the White House has worn thin. So, I see many reasons to believe Trump's chances of winning this time are less than in 2016. However, we have to bear in mind that Trump does not operate by conventional rules.

Many people in the know say Trump divides the world into two groups, winners and losers. He sees himself as a winner. He will go far to keep from being seen as a loser. His recently reported comments about military service are in line with this. Even if he did not say all the appalling things he is reported to have said about fallen soldiers, he is on record disparaging military service as with John McCain and the Khans. To Trump, they are losers and suckers. 

The chilling fear I have now is that Trump will call out two para-military groups at his disposal to try to cling to power after it is clear he has lost the vote: the federal officers, as border patrol, and the right-wing, pro-Trump self-created military-styled militias, the modern Brown Shirts. We have already seen these two groups in action in Portland and Kenosha. It is possible Trump will use these groups to try to control or overthrow the election. If so, this would be a coup d'état and would force a national crisis unlike anything since the Civil War. No one wants to think about such a thing, but in Trump world nothing is beyond the imagination. Just look at how he staged the Republican National Convention breaking all the rules of the Hatch Act and daring anyone to do anything about it.

So, Trump has given us this moment of political crisis. He is raising two problems with which the voters must wrestle. He is offering to break the back of the great democratic revolution and to transform the presidency into an autocracy. If he gets reelected, he will certainly feel free to do both. That is why this election has the potential of producing the most consequential transformation of American life since the Civil War.

Bottom line---we have less than two months to go before this Battle-of-Gettysburg-election will determine whether America continues down its historic road of democratic republicanism or whether it veers to the right into a fascist dictatorship. I believe this election will determine whether America continues to develop as a multi-cultural, diverse, egalitarian democracy or swings to the restoration of the white male power structures under rule by force. 

Should we worry? Yes. Should we despair? No. As stressful and frightening as all of this is, I think we need to keep the biggest picture in mind. The Bible tells us God created humankind in His/Her image to be God's representatives in the world. We are here for a reason. We have a mission from God. As long as we keep our eyes on this, the troubles of the world will not overwhelm us. Always remember, we are here for the living of this hour. My warmest best wishes to you, dear reader. Peace. 


One more thought. Are people who give their lives in military service for their fellow human beings losers and suckers? When I want to reflect on such a question, my mind always goes back to Andersonville, the site of the notorious Civil War prison. I once lived in nearby Americus, Georgia, and came to know and revere this hallowed ground. 

So, when I want to put things in perspective, I go back to Andersonville and stroll among the 13,000 graves of men who suffered terribly and died miserably far from home. They gave up their lives on a quest to free four million of their fellow human beings from bondage. If that is not honor and valor beyond measure, I do not know what is. These men who gave up their lives so that others might have freedom were anything but losers and suckers.