As the horror of the wildfires continues to unfold in Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison felt the heat of anger from residents forced to evacuate, when he visited them at an encampment in the town of Cobargo, New South Wales on January 2. With the death toll for both humans and animals rising, it didn’t seem appropriate for Morrison to take a vacation as the fires grew. As people are wont to do even in the worst of situations – especially to political figures – Australian artist Scott Marsh has done what artists do best: made a stinging rebuke. His “Merry Crisis” tee shirts have already proven popular. Marsh isn’t just expressing bad sentiments towards Morrison. Proceeds from sales of the shirts will be donated to helping victims of the fires. Someone, of course, must always keep our elected officials in check.
Monthly Archives: January 2020
Instagram Moment – January 3, 2020
Retro Quote – Don DeLillo
“Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.”
Filed under History
Worst Quote of the Week – January 3, 2020
“President Trump, if you look at what he’s done, he believes the word of God and he’s living according to that. President Trump was willing to live his faith unlike any other leader I have ever seen in history.”
– Religious-right activist Laurie Cardoza-Moore, founder of the Christian Zionist group Proclaiming Justice to the Nations
Let’s look at what we have with Trump: a two-time divorcee now married to his third wife, a former teenage model from Eastern Europe with dubious immigration credentials; had trysts with an adult film “actress” and a nude model; supported by White supremacist groups; unpaid business debts; no confirmation of paid taxes. That’s all on top of his narcissistic, quasi-psychopathic behavior and verbiage, which is often a matter of perception to we level-headed personas. If Trump qualifies as “Godly”, then atheism might be the only viable option.
Best Quote of the Week – January 3, 2020
“We want to be clear that, while we love our congregation, we believe that the United Methodist policies on LGBTQ+ clergy and same-sex marriage are immoral. Depending on how this church responds to the general conference action, we will decide at a later time whether or not to become officially confirmed. But until then, we will continue to stand up against the unjust actions that the denomination is taking. We are not standing just for ourselves, we are standing for every single member of the LGBTQ+ community who is hurting right now. Because we were raised in this church, we believe that if we all stand together as a whole, we can make a difference.”
– An entire confirmation class at First United Methodist Church in Omaha, Nebraska, in a letter announcing to their congregation that they have decided not to become members due to the church’s stance on LGBTQ issues.
The National UMC has preliminarily decided to split into two distinct factions: one that will uphold traditional values, and another that will allow LGBT clergy and members and will perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.
One Last Angry Clarion Call
“It seems clear that [Attorney General William Barr] will do or enable anything to keep Trump in office. And Trump will do anything to stay there. Suspension of the election, negation of the results, declaration of martial law are not simply fanciful, alarmist or crazy things to throw out there or to contemplate. Members of Congress, governors and state legislators, leaders in civil society, lawyers, law enforcement figures and the military need to be thinking now about how they might respond.”
– Norm Orenstein, Chair of American Enterprise Institute of Public Policy Research
Donald Trump has joked recently that he might not leave office after a second term, as mandated by the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This particular amendment was ratified in response to the 12-year tenure of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The original authors of the Constitution had never intended for any elected Chief Executive to hold the position as if it were a divinely-inspired monarchy. They certainly didn’t anticipate Roosevelt, but they most likely designed the Constitution with concerns about scandalous characters like Trump. Our 45th Chief Executive made his claim about an extended presidency last month at a conference of the conservative Israeli-American Council in Hollywood, Florida. I’ve always found it oxymoronic – downright hypocritical, actually – that Trump bears such ardor for Israel and the Jewish people, while openly courting White supremacists. But that’s a different subject.
The thought of Trump holding just one term in the White House was frightening enough three years ago. That he could be elected to a second term is deeply unsettling. That he could somehow forcibly remain in the office even one day longer makes the bloodiest horror films look like Hallmark greeting card commercials.
Yet Trump is delusional enough to believe that’s a real possibility, and he has plenty of supporters who would be comfortable with such a scenario. Those of us who live in the real world understand this simply could not be allowed per that pesky 22nd Amendment. Still, even some constitutional experts have surmised Trump might make such an attempt. That would be reality TV at its worst! Richard Nixon quietly left the White House, following an impassioned farewell speech to his staff, in August of 1974. There were no guns blazing or hand grenades exploding. Nixon and his family weren’t spirited out of the White House through a tunnel to avoid angry mobs of detractors. The Nixons simply strolled onto the South Lawn, accompanied by newly-appointed President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty, to Marine One. The helicopter made the loudest sound of anything. That’s how a peaceful transition of power occurs, even in the most dire and tense of situations.
With Trump, I can almost see him and his wife, Melania, scurrying through that tunnel in a setting reminiscent of Romania’s Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu. I honestly don’t believe it will ever come to that sanguineous of a climax. Yet, I wouldn’t put it past the infantile Trump to grip onto the door frame of the master bedroom.
But, while Trump’s behavior can’t be taken too lightly, another aspect of the current American experience that definitely shouldn’t be dismissed is the effect Trump’s presidency has had on his faithful minions and the sentiments that put someone like him into office. Decades of socially progressive behavior and legislation gave us Barack Obama and others like him; individuals who didn’t meet the traditional standard of those in position of power. In other words, Obama and others weren’t White males. Just a half century ago it was inconceivable that someone like Obama could ascend to the highest elected office in the land. It was unimaginable that Nancy Pelosi would be the one banging the gavel in the House of Representatives. Only a handful of visionaries thought it possible that Hilary Clinton could be a serious contender for the presidency, or that Pete Buttigieg could live openly gay AND serve in the U.S. military AND talk about having a “husband.” People born, say, since 1990 have no idea what a vastly different world it is today than in the few years before their time.
Now, it seems the nation has digressed with Donald Trump. Decades ago, Ronald Reagan aspired for America to return to a time before the 1960s messed up everything. That was a simpler time for him and others just like him. But it meant Blacks sat at the back of the bus; women sought nothing but marriage and motherhood; queers remained in the closet; and Native Americans languished as comical figures on TV screens. The 1960s may have messed up the world for the likes of Reagan and Nixon, but it opened up the universe for everyone else.
As I marched through my junior year in high school, I began receiving phone calls from a man with the local recruiting office of the U.S. Army. I believe I’d spoken to him at least twice, before my father happened to answer the phone one day; whereupon he politely told the man that I had plans for college and that he and my mother were determined to ensure I get there and graduated. Just a few years later I’d openly stated I had considered joining either the Navy or the Marines. And each time my father talked me out of it. In retrospect, I understand why.
As a naïve high school student in the late 1940s, my father had been convinced NOT to take a drafting course and instead go for something in the blue collar arena. “Most Spanish boys do this,” is how he quoted the female school counselor telling him. My father liked to draw and – much like his own father – had the desire and talent for an architectural profession. But he’d been talked out of it. Because that was what most “Spanish boys do”. College was for White guys. Trade school and the military were for everyone else.
Years of struggle – working twice as hard for half as much – and assertive civil rights action had led America to the early 1980s, when I graduated from high school. And didn’t have to join the military. In the spring of 1983, I was sitting in a government class at a local community college, when the instructor asked, “What do we owe minorities in this country?”
Seated in the row in front of me was a young man who had graduated with me from the same high school. I knew his name, but I didn’t know him personally. Without missing a beat, he muttered, “Nothing.”
Only the few of us nearby heard him. He was White, as was most everyone else seated on either side of him. From my vantage point directly behind him, he looked angry; as if he’d been robbed of something that was rightfully his.
I finally spoke up and informed the class that “this country” owes the same thing to minorities that it does to everyone else: equality and fairness; “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, as prescribed in the Declaration of Independence. I added, “Nothing more, nothing less.”
That one young man and the others nearby nodded their collective heads and looked at me, as if I’d said something unbelievably profound – which, to them, it may have been.
That level of total fairness and freedom hasn’t been easy. But nothing so monumental as dramatic cultural changes are. The Civil War, for example, ended more than 150 years ago. Yet, some people in the Deep South of the United States still can’t let that go. They still insist it was a war over states’ rights, not slavery. They’ve been fighting that conflict all these years and they still haven’t won!
That’s a little of what Donald Trump’s presidency is all about: a bunch of old-guard folks wanting to maintain things as they were way back when. And it’s just not going to work for them any longer. The old White Republicans dominating the U.S. Senate disrespected Barack Obama as much as they could without making it too glaringly obvious. They did everything they could to undermine his presidency and essentially failed at every step. If anything, they only hurt the country and their reputations.
Social and political conservatives can’t return to an America of the 1940s and 50s any more than liberals can return to an America of the 1990s. Memories are forever, but time marches onward. It always has and it always will. Trump’s presidency may be the final battle cry of the angry White male.
But we can’t go back to whenever. Time continues.
10 After 20
“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” – Marie Curie
Here we are! It’s 2020 – the start of a new year and a new decade. Forty years ago I was excited about the prospect of witnessing and understanding the birth of a new decade. I had just turned 16 and couldn’t remember 1970. But this was different. A whole new decade! As my parents and I often did, we staged a New Year’s party in 1979; inviting family, friends and neighbors. I had taken the time to cut up strips of multi-colored paper into literally thousands of squares, which I then tossed into the air from a large brown paper bag at the stroke of midnight.
I was considerably more excited ten years later, as we welcomed the 1990s, which – even now – remains the best decade of my life. I was a young adult by then, working for a major bank in Dallas; a small personal accomplishment that made me feel I was finally a part of society and not some frustrated observer on the outside looking into a seemingly untouchable world. During that time I began making concerted attempts to become a published writer and even contemplated returning to college. These latter two dreams each wouldn’t materialize for more than another decade later.
The turn of the century – and the millennium – was one of the most exciting moments I’ve ever experienced. Like the dawn of the 1990s, it remains a high point of my life. Twenty years ago the world looked more hopeful and inviting. I wasn’t nearly as excited about the 2010s. Things had grown kind of awkward for me by then. But it’s come and gone.
So alas, we are at the threshold of the third decade of the 21st century. Every New Year’s bears the excitement of a renewal; a chance to alter our priorities and improve our stations in life. Yet, it’s different with the start of a new decade. Since the early 1900s, societal changes have occurred rapidly. For millennia, time periods were designated by century; now they’re often designated by decade. Each ten-year interval boasts its own cultural shifts; fashion and music trends; and political dynamics. As our life expectancy increases, so does our concept of time.
I’m approaching this decade with more caution, however. As I tend to do, I maintain a safe distance and analyze the universe around me and wonder what more can be done to improve not just my life, but everyone’s lives.
These last two decades have seen an explosion of technological and cultural advances, both here in the United States and across the globe. But, in many ways, things haven’t changed much. I’ve focused my concern on how dismal our political and economic well-being have become. The pathetic presidency of George W. Bush and the ever-increasing disorientation of the Donald Trump administration have set us back on many levels. Unlike 20 years ago we now have the greatest wealth gap in over a century. The first decade of the present century should have been an extraordinary time of progressive social and technological advancement. Yes, everyone seemingly has a cell phone and a personal computer. But so many promising visions of the future were lost to Middle East conflicts and an extreme level of corporate deregulation. The “Great Recession” squashed hope for many people across the nation. While many of my fellow Americans wonder if Bitcoin will make a resounding return to the financial sphere or what latest cell phone apps will be available in the coming months, I’m contemplating the grander picture.
In the 19th century, the U.S. built the world’s first transcontinental railroad system and helped create telephones and electric lighting. At the start of the 20th century, we sent men into the air and then constructed the world’s largest highway system. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy issued a challenge to the nation; wanting us “to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things; not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” And, we did just that! Just seven years later, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the lunar surface.
The 1960s and 70s saw the birth of various civil rights movements: women, non-Whites, and gays and lesbians. That forced America to live up to its promise to be a land of equality and prosperity. We finally began seeing the fruits of those movements in the 1990s.
Yet here stands the U.S. – still mired in Middle East conflicts and dealing with an economy that, on the surface, looks extraordinary. But those of us struggling with medical bills and increasingly high costs of basic living aren’t exactly thrilled that the U.S. stock market is functioning wonderfully for large corporations that don’t often pay their taxes and feel they have the unquestionable right to contaminate the environment in the name of profit.
Although I’m an introvert, I remain optimistic and would like to see society achieve some grand accomplishment over the next 10 years.
Infrastructure – As of 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the U.S. a grade of D+ for infrastructure. That’s an overall assessment of everything from bridges to railroads. To say they’re falling apart is dismissively juvenile. A grade is just a letter, but the implications are dire. In 2007, a section of Interstate 35 through Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145. But, nearly 13 years later, the U.S. is still spending more on military intervention in the perpetually-chaotic Middle East than making serious efforts to rebuild, or even refurbish, highways like I35. The ASCE estimates the nation will need up to 4.5 trillion USD to repair or rebuild much of our infrastructure by 2025. It’s one critical issue on which elected officials of all political stripes might agree. Instead, we have a president who wants to spend even more money to build a wall along the nation’s southern border with México. I can’t even contemplate how much that would cost. Knowing the U.S. federal government, though, it would be much more than initial estimates. Still, as I move around my own local area, I notice roads that have been under construction since the start of the last decade!
Subterranean Power and Telecommunication Lines – In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria rolled over Puerto Rico as a borderline category 5 storm. With an estimated cost of 94 billion USD, it stands as one of the most expensive natural disasters in U.S. history. And Maria didn’t even reach the American mainland. As with most such calamities, residents in the impact zones lived without power, which includes clean water. Like Andrew did to Florida in 1992, and Katrina to the Gulf Coast in 2005, Maria destroyed a substantial number of power and telecommunication lines across Puerto Rico. Our government’s response? USD 5 billion in aid and a president tossing paper towels into a raucous crowd.
Tropical storm systems aren’t our only nemesis. Currently, the U.S. is dealing with yet another round of powerful winter weather, with strong winds flipping vehicles and blizzard conditions hampering travel. It’s not uncommon for massive weather phenomena to impact more than 100 million people. Last October the Dallas, Texas area experienced a rash of tornado outbreaks. But that’s just in one city in one state. Other areas across the country have been struck by these meteorological vortexes. And, of course, power and telecommunication lines are among the casualties.
The same happens after floods, tornadoes, wildfires and earthquakes. Humans can never control Earth’s natural elements. Every time we’ve tried, those elements remind us who holds the true power. Still, we can lessen the severity of unruly weather by burying as many of our power and telecommunication lines underground as possible. It’s nothing new. People have been pushing this concept for years. And there are the usual detractors. Although a number of power and telecommunication lines have already been interred, opponents claim they’re not always more reliable than overhead lines. While overhead lines experience more outages, subterranean lines are generally more difficult to access and repair when problems with them do arise. Another obstacle, of course, is funding. There are greater costs associated with the installation of subterranean lines. The costs would have to be passed down to consumers somehow. But, I feel it’s all worth the financial burden. Ultimately, it costs people more to go without power – both in actual money and lives lost. The expenses incurred with the initial installations and ongoing maintenance will more than pay for themselves in the ensuing years.
Space – Since humans first looked up to the sky and began studying the stars, we’ve wondered what it would be like to fly and visit another celestial body. Now, we’ve taken flight and ventured onto the moon. The next logical step would be Mars. Plenty of people – from Elon Musk to Mars One – are making a concerted effort to get there. In the 1970s, the U.S. became the first nation to reach Mars with the Viking I and II voyages. We’ve done it again recently with the Curiosity mission. The U.S. space program was good for the country and the world, as it spurred a number of technological developments; mainly with telecommunications, but also with engineering and robotics.
Sadly, if the U.S. wants to send humans to the moon now, we couldn’t do it. We’ve let that go. Again, it’s the war factor – more money spent on Middle East conflicts than on things that really matter. But I would like to see the U.S. rejuvenate its space program and begin establishing a lunar colony; thus making interplanetary travel materialize from the pages of science fiction into reality. And, of course, we should make a concerted effort to send a craft with humans to Mars by the end of this decade. There’s more technology in a single Smart Phone than there was in all of the Apollo 11 lunar module. We can make this happen.
Thousands of years ago humans thought Earth was the only place in the universe that harbored any semblance of life. We’re starting to realize that’s not true. We exist on this third rock from the sun, but I’m certain we have never been alone. And, even if we are (by some odd fluke of nature), what’s to say we can’t venture outward and make our world more hospitable? If we rise above our own political and social distractions, we’ll understand we can do better than this. We have to do better. I can’t imagine us living in a world of such chaos and uneasiness. Throughout this next decade, we have to move forward. Time will. We have to follow it.
Photo by Josh Sorenson.
Filed under Essays