Sunday, March 18, 2018

Supporting a Corrupt Charlatan

A friend recently asked me, "Why is it that so many people still support Donald Trump, knowing what they know?"

My friend, a progressive, widely read white male, was looking for a logical answer, and I struggled to provide a response that might make sense in a crazy world.

I began with the anti-Obama white working-class men, especially, and some in the financial field who overlook Trump's apparent association with Stormy Daniels and his loose association with the truth.  These voters seem to value, I suggested, Trump's spontaneity and lack of political correctness. As for evangelicals who should be turned off by the White House resident (I refuse to call him the President) and his corruption, his foul mouth, etc., I suggested that anyone for these right-wing voters is better than a progressive Democrat because of the right-wing agenda.

In the final analysis, though, I suggested that the reason is more emotional than rational: Trump appeals to those who feel threatened---fearful--of change, of immigration, of minority advances (gays, women, blacks, Hispanics).  This fear leads to anger and hatred, and no number of inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and outright lies, no amount of incompetence can shake their devotion to the GOP leader.

It's hard to explain to explain to my friend and others the various factors involved, especially the deep-seated resentment that built up, first during the Clinton years, then surged during the Obama years, blinding many on the right to the dangerous character who's now in charge,  a man recently called by former CIA director John Brennan "a disgraced demagogue [whose place is] in the dustbin of history."

In several studies by experts in the American presidency, Trump was ranked last, beating even Warren Harding and James Buchanan as the worst inhabitants of the White House.  They now look like saints compared to this crooked, lazy, ill-informed, impulsive, incoherent, inarticulate scum-bag, whose tenure so far has put the U.S. on a dangerous course.

Trump, as several foreign policy experts have said, keeps creating problems in the world rather than solving those we already have.  Why? He says he like conflict and chaos; he really likes attention and will do and say anything, however reckless, to put himself upfront in the media.   He alarms knowledgeable, sensible people like David Miliband, former British Foreign Secretary, who says we are now at a "most dangerous moment" in world affairs because of the Trump administration.  Trump has made the U.S. something of a rogue state, as unpredictable and dangerous as Russia,  sowing discord with friends with policies on trade that change as fast as you can tweet. Richard Haass calls it a government in disarray.

As Peter Baker of the NYTimes points out (3-18-18), full-time fact-checkers struggle to keep up with Trump's distorted claims. Polls indicate that most Americans see him as dishonest. "While most presidents lie at times, Mr. Trump’s speeches and Twitter posts are embedded with so many false, distorted, misleading or unsubstantiated claims that he has tested even the normally low standards of American politics."
As the media work overtime trying to keep up with the ongoing catastrophe being daily created by Donald Trump, people like my friend, looking for a rational explanation for what support he has, come up short. The answers, as much psychological as political, are rooted in the recent history of this country and in its worship of the entertainment media as a source of power. Where, after all, would Trump be without Fox News to beat the drum for mendacity and madness at the center of our government?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Making Friends with Death

Today, on a beautiful spring day, when I visited my favorite lakeside park, where snowy egrets were nesting above flowering azalea bushes, where boats with happy passengers glided by on deep blue waters and people were picnicking, why was I thinking of death? 

The reason, as several friends know, is that I have, crazy as it may seem, committed myself to do a talk with discussion at my church in a few weeks in a Lenten program called Making Friends with Death. It is a topic I have long postponed exploring, much less sharing with others.

I begin with the usual fears we have about death even though we know that trees shed their leaves, and animals and people die every day. The people are the only ones who object, calling it an outrage, the ultimate horror and enemy that cancels all we have been.

In a recent article in Commonweal, the Irish literary theorist Terry Eagleton has some suggestive, although incomplete, things to say on the topic of how to think about death.  As soon as one reaches a certain age, it seems inevitable that death and dying should become not merely something that happens to other people but an ever-present reality for each of us.

A friend recently wrote to me: "Now that I am 65, death seems friendlier."
I wish I had that optimism, for I have long had a terror, mainly about the how and the when my life would end, and with it my memories, my voice, my personality, my consciousness, all that is my self.

What will remain?  We don't know. I quote the great mystic and poet John of the Cross: "What will take place on the other side, when everything for me will be changed into eternity, I do not know: I only know that a great love awaits me."

It's impossible to fathom what existing outside of space and time, in a bodiless dimension, might mean. Dante and other poets give us metaphoric interpretations of the afterlife, but it is ultimately a great mystery: believers trust that they will be with God while others see nothing but an endless sleep, a total annihilation of the individual.

So it is a great challenge for a person of faith to look at the New Testament, at Christian tradition, and at his or her own experience and feel confident that when we die we do not end anything, as the Trappist Thomas Keating says, but experience "the final completion of the process of surrender into God." 

Christians, as Eagleton says, believe in the power of the resurrected Christ, which means that death is redeemed; yet at the same time, we see the physical process of death and decay as an abomination, our enemy, since it involves such an irreparable loss.   Death may be natural, but we don't like it or want to be around when it happens to us.

So my presentation will be provocative, daring, and difficult but I hope illuminating, at least for me, as I complete my thoughts on the great mystery that awaits us all.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Food and contemplation

A chilly spring morning finds me trying to pray, to reflect on what Ron Rolheiser has to say about prayer, and finally to try to understand what he means by saying that living contemplatively means that our lives are not trivial, unimportant, or anonymous.

When I think of the ordinary tasks of the day, I turn to my love of food and the way I enjoy Lidia's Italian cooking show on TV because she is so natural and well grounded, just as food (even shopping) keeps us grounded. I think of her as I cook and I value the time I spend in the kitchen, with the ordinary, everyday details that make up a life, from chopping to cleaning up the sink.

To work with food, to read about it (no wonder there are so many cookbooks and magazines devoted to recipes, so many restaurant reviews) is so fundamentally human; somehow doing so connects us with the earth, with creation, and with others around the world who are also chopping, cooking, eating, savoring the flavors that nature so bountifully provides.

I used to think of cooking as a creative thing, and it is; now I see it mainly as a spiritual act that reminds us how earth-bound attention to the present really is.  The life of prayer and contemplation is not vague and abstract and other-worldly; it is rooted in the goodness of everyday, in the creation of which we are a part.

To cook and to eat what we prepare is in a sense to be in communion with Mother Earth and with God's creation. This realization is itself a prayer and a reminder of how the little, ordinary things of daily life are holy, are universal and timeless; and that our humble daily tasks, which may seem tiresome or boring, are important reminders of how important everything we do is and how important every moment is.

So our lives, even if spent doing ordinary things at home, are far from unimportant, trivial, or anonymous--if we see them mindfully.