Monday, October 29, 2018

WAR REPORT, 2nd edition

No one should have a shadow of doubt any longer that we are in the midst of a war in America. The culture war was the theme of my last blog posting, "The Forest and the Trees," on 25 October. Since that posting, three major episodes in the war have occurred. The national character is being tested as it has not been in decades. The future of the nation is at stake. I am not exaggerating. We Americans must arise and save our country. The barbarians are at the gates. Wait. No. They are not outside the gates; they are inside. The enemy of American democracy is all among us. This is a civil war.

One of the three events was the interment of the ashes of Matthew Shepard in the Washington National Cathedral. On Friday, Oct. 26, a grand, beautiful, and moving two-hour ceremony was held in the cathedral for the placement of the remains. Shepard was a martyr for homosexual rights. Twenty years ago, he was brutally beaten and left for dead by two men who disapproved of his sexual orientation. He died a few days later. He has become the visible symbol of the gay-rights movement. Video of the ceremony is available on Youtube.

On the same day, Cesar Sayoc was arrested in Florida and charged in the case of sending at least fourteen bombs in the mail. Sayoc was apparently a fanatical follower of President Trump. The bombs had been sent to prominent critics of Trump, certain Democrats and CNN. The apparent motive of the bombs was to kill the leaders of Trump's opposition.

The next day, 27 October, police charged Robert Bowers with killing eleven people and wounding six others in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. He reportedly told police "I just want to kill Jews." This was the worst attack on Jews in American history. Acts of violence against Jews have escalated dramatically since Trump became president.

Recall, too, that on Wednesday, 24 October, Gregory Bush, a 51-year-old white man, was arrested and charged with murder in the shooting deaths of two African Americans in a Kroger store in Jeffersonville, Kentucky. 

Some people may argue that all this means is we live in a violent country in a violent age. This is true and does explain what is happening to a certain extent. America definitely has a romanticized culture of violence. Our politics have long been divisive and destructive. Trump did not create the present culture war, he just greatly expanded it by his base demagoguery.

Americans love their guns. There are more firearms in the country than people. Gun stores, shows, and sales abound. Gun ranges are packed on the weekends. Many places have open carry laws so that anyone may walk down the street packing heat. We have romanticized the wild west.

Combining our culture of guns and our growing political division creates a toxic brew of violence. Adding into this mix is the Internet that provides all sorts of ways for people to share, organize, and promote their views, however bizarre and deadly they might be.

To be sure, many of the episodes of mass murder in America are not politically or culturally motivated. There is a long list of cases where the apparent aims were indefinable. To my knowledge, the police have never discovered a motive for the shooting in Las Vegas, the biggest case of mass murder in American history. Apparently, the shooter had no motive; and we will never know what was in his obviously extremely disturbed mind. And, what about the devastating tragedy at Sandy Hook? No motive of which I am aware. And, what about that case in the Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas? Apparently, that one was about a domestic dispute and had nothing to do with anything else. Thus, we cannot attribute all of the cases of mass violence in America to the culture war. Having said that, we most certainly can attribute many of them to the culture war. The information we have on the Bush, Sayoc, and Powers episodes indicate they were parts of the culture war, one apparently to kill political opponents, two apparently to kill targeted minorities. All of these came from the anti-democratic side. As far as we can tell, all three of the accused were angry, white, middle aged, working class men.

So, what are we Americans to do now? How in the world are civilized people ever to get control over the out-of-control and ever-worsening culture of violence in America? Here are my thought for what they are worth:

1---Recognize the reality of the culture war. For the last thirty years, America has been vastly divided politically. As I have said, this division is basically between those who want to expand democratic rights and those who want to diminish democratic rights. This political division includes a culture war. The basic feature of this culture war is the backlash of the Angry White Working Class Man against his perceived threats: blacks, women, gays, foreigners, and Jews. The Man sees all of these elements, and others, as ruining, or at least seriously threatening, the social, cultural, and economic power that he believed he enjoyed in the past and is still entitled to enjoy into the future. In reality, history is against the Man. Within a short time, the Man will become a distinct minority in America. The present day culture war is really his last gasp of power.

2---President Trump is a self-serving demagogue who is ingenious at capitalizing on the culture war. He has greatly expanded the national atmosphere of intolerance and violence. He has perfected the politics of divide and destroy. He has bullied and intimidated his way to power. He openly encourages acts of violence against opponents. He repeatedly calls the free press the enemy of the people. He has also completely aligned the two parties as sides of the culture war. The Republican party is fully the party of Trump. Even otherwise sensible politicians, as Nikki Haley, have bowed to the demagogue. Donald Trump is the worst president in American history but is strongly supported by some forty percent of the American people who see him as the best president ever.

3---Recognize that many Americans do not revere the ideals of American democracy. About a third of Americans prefer to have an authoritarian governing system rather than a democracy. Fascism lurks just below the surface of American life. Trump is their would-be authoritarian hero. They see in him the warrior king who will defeat their enemies and return the Man to controlling power. Even evangelical Christians are devoted to this man who apparently has no ethical or moral principles, simply because he will pack the federal courts with culturally reactionary judges. They believe the courts will return the Man to his rightful place. The eighty percent of white evangelicals who voted for Trump remain the bedrock of his base.

4---VOTE! We are not a fascist nation, yet. We are still a functioning democracy, and the best way to make it function is to vote. In fact, it is the only way to make it work. There is an election coming up on Tuesday, November 6. At this point, it looks as if the Democrats will regain a majority in the House of Representatives. Whatever the outcome of the election, however, I fear that things will get worse before they get better. If Trump's side wins, he will take this as validation and there will be no stopping his reactionary and authoritarian agenda. If his side loses, he will increase the attacks on the Democrats as the enemy of the people (along with the media). I'll bet things get more violent in the months ahead. We will see more attacks on the tree of life.

I am not telling you how to vote. I am telling you that the two parties have lined up on opposite sides of the culture war. The Democrats seek the expansion of democracy in America. The Republicans (Trumpistas) seek the diminution of democracy in America. So, you figure out which side you are on.

One last thought today. The synagogue massacre last Saturday reminds us that all of our places of worship (and other public places too) are vulnerable to the insidious and rising violence all around us. We must think of ways to secure our churches. And, this is not just for Sunday morning services. Recall that the Mother Emanuel massacre was in a Wednesday night Bible study in the basement. Churches are easy targets. We must find ways to give our people safety and security in the church buildings. Episcopal churches are especially vulnerable since this denomination is well-known to be "gay friendly." I fully expect any day now for an armed person to intrude into one of our churches to kill gays, just as Bowers wanted to kill Jews.

The Gregory Bush mentioned above in the Kentucky incident, had reportedly tried to enter an historically African American church before the shooting. Finding the doors locked, he proceeded to the Kroger store. 

Whatever happens, we must surround and protect our fellow human beings now under attack. We must all be blacks, women, gays, foreigners, Jews. We must tell people like Bowers, you have to go through us first. You kill us before you kill the others. My great personal hero is Jonathan Daniels. He made the shooter go through him, and in so doing saved the life of an innocent child. We can save our country for our children. We must.

Thanks to Forward Movement for the following (find here ).

May we stand ready to lay down our lives for others, especially the defenseless and the outcast. Amen.

O God of justice and compassion, you put down the proud and mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and the afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness, Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


2nd edition:

9:30 a.m., 30 October.     News broke this morning that President Trump is planning a direct attack on the United States Constitution. Axios is reporting (find here ) that Trump is planning to issue an executive order removing the right of a person born in the United States to American citizenship. 

This is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
Amendment XIV, Section 1,  "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the states wherein they reside."

The president does not have the right to violate an explicit provision of the Constitution. To override a provision would require a constitutional amendment. Trump cannot change the constitution by executive order. The courts would shoot down his executive order in an instant. Therefore, I think it is safe to conclude this is an election stunt meant to foment anti-immigrant hysteria as if there is not enough already around the supposed "invasion" by a pathetic rag-tag "army" of desperate women and children. Trump's shameless demonization of helpless, defenseless, desperate people is repugnant to a moral, decent society. This is not the America that most of us want. He is not the leader that most of us want, and for good reason.

What this news does tell us is that Trump has no regard for the Constitution. There is no bound to his demagoguery. He may not be able to violate the national institutions this time, but this will not be the last attempt. He and his followers are assaulting the institutions all around us. We can be sure, there is more to come. It is not hyperbolic to say we are in a national emergency.