questing for equilibrium in a querulous age – a personal reflection

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On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States; this following a tediously contentious (or was it a contentiously tedious?) presidential campaign season. Through it all, myriad political pundits, social savants, mass media, and people spanning the spectrum of humankind seemed to be able, even willing to assent to one thing: the zeitgeist, the spirit of this age of America is tempestuous.

I agree. Wholeheartedly. Meaning completely, not enthusiastically. Two words I have begun to employ when describing my sense of the dis-ease affecting, afflicting America: calamitous and fractious.

On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln, accepting the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination as United States senator (an election he lost), gave an address that has come to be known as The House Divided Speech. Casting an image of American disunion rooted in powerful antipathies regarding institutional slavery, Lincoln said, in part: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

It may be an overreach to aver that the current state of contention in our nation is comparable, whether in the depth of animus or the breadth of involvement of the populace, to Lincoln’s time. However, as I wasn’t around in the mid-19th century so to assess by experience the possible equivalence, I’d say it’s close enough.

And I seek equilibrium. Not peace necessarily, if by peace I desire and define it as a countrywide calming of the roiling waters of our national temperament. I don’t see that happening. Rather I long for balance, a personal equipoise in our querulous age. For, as one who, with soul-deep and heartfelt compassion, strives, at times struggles to understand and accept “the other”, all others who think and feel differently than I…

I am disturbed by the clamor of strident voices on all sides. Many (blessedly not all), as I listen, seem to belong to folk who seem to see the world through a monocular lens. Seemingly able to espouse one point of view or one set of points of view, they seem unable to acknowledge as valid or principled any other. For example, as I have friends and associates on each side of our national political divide (and, truth be told, they always have been on each side), I’ve heard it said or written: “To vote for Donald Trump is to vote for an isolated America.” and “To vote for Hillary Clinton is to vote for a perpetuation of politics as usual.” These are the kinder statements. For to paraphrase what I’ve also heard said and seen written: “To (how could you?!) vote for Trump is a sign of a mean-spirited, sexist, racist, nativist mentality.” “If you’re not outraged and taking to the streets in protest, you’re not paying attention (read: “You’re either blind and deaf or dumb!).” and “To (how could you?!) vote for Clinton is a sign of a capitalistic, godless immorality.” “If you’re in the streets protesting, you need to get over it and let us get on with it (read: “We won and you didn’t!).”

In this, I am distressed that many (again, blessedly not all) seem to have parted company with family and friends, associates and acquaintances – seeing and speaking with one another less or not at all, disengaging from long standing activities, traveling no longer in the same circles, unfriending one another on Facebook.

Now, it’s not that I don’t have deeply rooted opinions, strong beliefs, and durable political preferences. I do. And it’s not that I don’t think and feel, speak and act on them. I do. Still, at the proverbial end (and beginning and middle) of this day and age, praying we survive it, people and relationships are more important to me. Hence, by my faith in the Jesus I follow who, in the most unconditional expression of love, in the name of his and my God, forgave those who were killing him, I, at the least, choose to love and to listen to “the other”, all others. And in my loving and listening, I find my equilibrium.

12 days ‘til (all I want for) Election Day!

Our American commercial economic machine has turned its attention to Christmas. Store aisles are lined with toys for tots and decorative baubles, bangles, and beads to festoon the soon to appear evergreen trees (which, I imagine, if they could feel, would be chomping at the bit to get those Halloween candy displays and pumpkin patches out of their way!).

However, for me, Christmas can wait. Another über-significant day fast approaches. Election Day. As I am not one of thousands of Americans in various states who have cast their ballots in early voting, Tuesday, November 8, is my opportunity “to exercise my political franchise.”

One of the grandest learnings my family taught me was the value, indeed, the virtue of voting. My parents, Bill and Lolita Abernathy, my grandmother, Audia Roberts, and my aunt, Evelyn Roberts, considered the casting of a ballot, yes, a long-fought, hard-won political right, especially for black people, but also, through history’s illumination of those who died to make it possible, an elemental act of American citizenship imbued with the spiritual quality of an active, living legacy. Voting wasn’t an option, but rather an essential act of individual responsibility of communal consequence.

As I consider the principal candidates at “the top of the ballot”, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I face a dilemma of mind, I feel a dis-ease of soul…

All I want for Election Day (I confess it’s a lot!) is to vote for a candidate who I believe is committed to:

  1. The vocation (yes, from the Latin vocare, “to call”, thus a political-spiritual calling) of public service.
  2. The vigorous and virtuous pursuit of collective societal interests, indeed, the common national and international good (meaning, for me, believing and treasuring the dignity and equality of all people); necessitating the practical recognition and prudent restriction of the influence of singular special interests and wedge issues (whether of race, class, religion, and region) and, as importantly, personal self-aggrandizement.
  3. The viewpoint of “both-and”, not “either-or”, even more, a worldview that believes in the reality and knows the language of ambiguity, eschewing notions of absolute certainty, thus, being able to entertain a contrary opinion, indeed, person as not innately duplicitous, erroneous, injudicious, or malicious (read: dishonest, wrong, stupid, or evil).

As I reflect on the public histories of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump and particularly the less than bighearted, high-minded tenor of the current presidential campaign, each, in her and his own way, fall short of what, who I want. Thus, come November 8, I will vote, but not with liberty of mind or lightness of soul.

curious-est and curious-est

After my “curiouser and curiouser”

blog post of August 2nd,

commenting on our increasingly stranger and stranger

(mostly about Trump) presidential campaign, I reckoned

that between then and November 8th

I’d be moved to write a piece

called “curious-est and curious-est”

(for I love to make up words when I can’t find ones that best

express

my sense of what I perceive as essentially oddest

or fundamentally quirkiest

about our quintessential humanness).

 

Also in my August 18th post,

“my pivot,”

I declared my dismay

with folk on the airways,

whether candidates, political commentators,

or reporters,

who, standing on whatever side

of the political divide

were unwilling and unable

to channel

some (any!) degree of personal honesty,

humility,

indeed, integrity

to say of an opponent,

of another view a proponent,

You have a point.”

 

Thus, at that time,

I decided for a time

to walk away

from my day to day

view

of the news.

 

Well, some of the latest

words & deeds of the (unprincipled?)

principals,

which I consider fancifully (comically) escapist,

if not also colonially (sadly) expansionist,

have caught my attention,

leading me, at least once more –

long before

I thought I would

or could

to exercise my imagination…

 

To wit, Trump, in every recent speech

seeking to reach

African American voters –

appealing

by asking,

regarding

his view

of Democratic policies failed and few,

“What have you got to lose?” –

might, I think, choose

to make his pitch to an audience other

than largely white and rather to one with people of color.

 

Even more, Trump,

concerning

his cornerstone stance on immigration,

pledging

the immediate deportation

of “illegals”, 11+ million, each and every,

by force, if necessary,

now,

with a speedy,

practically

and politically

expedient nod to the Hispanic community,

is contemplating the “softening”

of his policy.

 

Still more, Trump, citing an audit

(for a man of his wealth, nothing odd about it)

won’t his tax returns release.

Hmmm, has he something to hide

about his business and financial ties?

Or is it

that he doesn’t

have as many billions as he contends

or that his liabilities trend

far higher than the value of his properties?

 

Now, not, never to overlook Clinton

whose problems with her family Foundation

continue to dominate the front page,

verily, the center stage

of her White House run;

involving foreign national contributions

that loom large in the pay-to-play

State Department controversies

and her stubbornly ongoing,

insufferably never-ending,

supernally everlasting

email difficulties.

 

Ah, “curious-est and curious-est,”

yes,

I believe this describes this campaign season best.

Or perhaps a word even better than best

is the one I used already

in my August 1st post, “unreliability & unreality”:

“mess”!

 

Still, I digress

with one last comment,

at least for this moment…

 

“Politics,”

it hath oft been said,

“makes strange bedfellows,”

meaning, I suppose,

that common interests can bring together those

who, on the face of their individual views, would oppose

each other.

 

So, I wonder,

verily, imagine something even curious-est than this curious-est

presidential election campaign mess:

What if two diametrically disparate groups –

say, right-wing constitutional conservatives

and left-wing social progressives –

both tending to speak from the ground of reasoned conviction

and neither liking the choice between Trump and Clinton,

coalesced;

that is, formed a – however temporary – union,

indeed, a communion

to engage in sober conversation

(one void of dissembling disingenuity,

the sort of which I hear from the major political parties)

about national policy.

 

The point?

To bring to the center the far-flung positions

on one of our dominant continuums of opinion

as an act of radical inclusion,

therefore, counter to the division

so characteristic of this election season.

 

The purpose of the conversation?

To see,

if declared enemies,

as people of goodwill,

might find a way, still

unfound

and unknown,

toward a consensus

to bring us –

not some of us

or only friends of us

or just us,

but all of us

forward toward a future of equality

and opportunity.

my pivot

As a political junkie…

 

(after all, I majored in poly sci,

as an undergraduate, with an intent eye

on a legal career,

probably as a champion premier

in criminal defense

representing those charged with a capital offense

[hmmm, perhaps one of the presidential contestants?])

 

…I watch CNN and MSNBC

every day,

religiously,

listening to every commentator’s

accounts of the candidates’ bluster,

every reporter’s

reviews of the campaigns’ composure

about things gone right

that appeal to the throng

and fluster

about things gone wrong.

 

Now, 82 days

away

from the election,

I can’t,

I won’t

watch anymore

(at least not for a while).

For I’ve come to a renewed recognition

that less is more,

for I cannot abide, accept,

or otherwise respect

wholly partisan perceptions

and über-biased declarations

by which no one

(and I mean no one

in my observation)

staunchly supporting,

unfalteringly upholding

either the Democrat Clinton

or Trump the Republican

can or will concede

a point,

any point

to “the other side.”

 

Finally, I’ve had to say,

Really?”

Does not one’s integrity,

cannot one’s honesty,

and will not one’s humility,

whate’er her or his position,

whate’er the presenting question,

and whome’er her or his opposition,

commend,

command

that she

or he

say,

“Yes,

I guess,

well maybe I profess,

perhaps I must confess,

dare I say acquiesce

that you have a point”?

Hillary’s risky, pesky email-fail

What is the difficulty

(or is it controversy;

some consider it villainy,

even perfidy!)

that Hillary

has with email?

(those, thinking the worst, considering her troubles an epic fail!).

 

In addition

to the 30+ thousand

missing

e-mailings

(were they classified

or non-classified?

it’s all so murky and mulishly unverified!)

during her term as State Department Secretary

(actually, the number up-or-down varies),

now, we hear of potential conflicts of interest

(focusing again on the issue of her trustworthiness),

what politely,

politically-correctly

we call “boundary violations”

between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation

(founded in 1997,

a non-profit organization;

its mission:

“to bring people together to take on the biggest challenges of the 21st century”).

 

The issue is (isn’t it always!) stipendiary,

in another word, monetary.

 

To wit: did the Foundation

whilst Hillary

was the State Department Secretary

engage in “pay

for play”

with corporations

seeking favorable recommendations,

thus violating governmental ethical regulations?

 

Ah, methinks there are so (too?) many questions

involving this presidential election

that whether one favors either Trump or Clinton,

each with his and her high negatives,

perhaps the alternatives

Green Party Jill Stein or Libertarian Gary Johnson

might be worth at least a moment’s reflection.

tr(i)ump(hal)ism

Triumph (noun): achievement or attainment of an established aim, success or conquest as in a victory in a battle or contest.

Triumphalism (noun): an attitude or belief that an ideology or policy, principle or practice, system of discernment or action, whether personal and individual or communal, is superior to all others. Generally, the term bears a pejorative connation, for descriptions of triumphalist behaviors tend to fall in categories of schadenfreude (taking excessive delight in another’s error or failure) or xenophobia (considering one’s culture or society, people or nation greater, better than [up to and including deriding] all others).

Trumpism (noun): a statement made by one whose attitudinal self-perception is triumphalist, characterized by (1) a depreciated capability to connect one’s personal intent in word and deed and the perceptions of others, thus, being unable to appreciate and acknowledge the inherent variance between the two, (2) a diminished capacity to discern the ethical (moral impact) and political (communal effect) content and context of one’s words and deeds, and (3) an atrophied ability to admit to error or to confess a need or desire for forgiveness from persons or parties aggrieved by one’s words and deeds.

Yesterday

at a Wilmington, NC, assembly

(yep, he’s at it again!

would that he refrain!)

Donald Trump ignited a new controversy;

remarking, I perceive, ambiguously

tho’, too, presumably sincerely

(thus, not facetiously)

about the right to bear arms

that some interpreted as advocating harm.

To wit: “Hillary (Clinton) wants to abolish…essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

Trump’s words (as all words, I aver, even when a speaker exercises greatest care in the service of definition and description) are equivocal. Did he mean to advocate violence against his chief rival for presidential office or to rally all staunch right to bear arms Second Amendment supporters to vote against Clinton? Trump’s response to the charge of the former: “Give me a break!”

Donald Trump’s repeated demonstrations of his lack of ability to acknowledge with generous honesty and gracious humility that his language, particularly his public-speak, can be perceived other than he intended and, when that happens (as it does for all of us) to admit his error and to ask for pardon, for me, make many (most?) his words tr(i)ump(hal)isms.

“bump”? no, thump!

The post-convention “bump”

(that magical,

predictable

rise in the national polls; the grand prix

for the party’s presidential nominee)

has proved more of thump

for Donald Trump.

 

For he can’t seem to get his out of his own path,

largely unable to check his wrath;

invective-sputtering,

vitriol-spewing,

billowing,

blustering

in every direction,

no matter the person or position;

thus, himself in his foot shooting

or his foot into his mouth putting

whichever metaphor works best

to describe his daily gaffe-fest

(I hope he’s been having fun,

for in the long or short run

few can say the Republican Party

is particularly happy!)

 

Yesterday, Trump

took yet another thump

when he rolled out his proposed economic policy…

 

(here, I digress

to address

my presumption that the plan would benefit all,

for, after all,

he is the self-professed “blue-collar billionaire,”

who, indeed, advocated for working mothers with tax deductions for daycare,

but his plan, in the main, as I hear it, comes with a huge hitch –

more blessings in tax cuts for the rich!)

 

word came that 50 former officials in national security

(Republicans all;

the gall!)

among them, Michael Hayden, former head of the NSA and the CIA

and Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge, each an ex-Secretary

of Homeland Security,

declared Trump “not qualified” for the presidency.

 

I do not believe,

much less can I conceive,

how a party nominee

can see

his way to election –

the reckoning day

a spare 3 months away –

when he suffers the defections,

becoming the object of the disaffections

of folk in his own party

whose loyalty

one might expect.

So, Mr. Trump, what’s next?