the politicization of death

On October 4, 2017, Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson, Sergeant La David Johnson, and Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright, members of a 12-man unit on routine patrol in Niger, were ambushed and killed by a larger force of ISIS militants.

This past week, we have borne witness to what I consider the sordid politicization of death.

First, believing no two people ever mean the same thing when employing the same words and, thus, as the firmest believer in the necessity of defining one’s terms, I digress.

Politicization, in my lexicon, is the act or process of becoming politically conscious. Here, I understand “politically” in the primary sense, derived from the Greek polis (city) and, broadly applied, the human community (which is as expansive – locally, regionally, nationally, globally – as one’s imagination allows). Thus, to be politicized is to be aware and to practice with effective, respectful care the art of human relationships.

In the clutch of human selfish self-interest, politicization can be distorted. An example: One’s negative description and definition of the word or action (or unspoken word or untaken action) of another so to depict, so to diminish that person as lacking in character or virtue or falling short of accepted ethical norms.

This, for me, is when politicization is made sordid. This is what we witnessed this past week.

President Donald Trump telephoned Mrs. Myeshia Johnson, wife of Sergeant La David Johnson, to express his condolences and those of a grateful nation, saying, in part, as it has been reported, “He knew what he signed up for, but it still hurts.” U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Florida and a friend of the Johnson family criticized Mr. Trump as lacking empathy. Mr. Trump defended himself, denying Representative Wilson’s characterization.

I am no fan of Donald Trump. I consider him zealously egoistic and injudicious in speech and action, at times, dangerously, given his role and responsibilities. (However, I am not one who claims, “He’s not my President.” I am an American. Mr. Trump is the American president. Therefore, he is my president.)

I also am less than sanguine about Representative Wilson’s public and repeated declarations of her discontent with the content of Mr. Trump’s words to Mrs. Johnson. For her criticisms, in my view, precipitated a furious round of point-and-counterpoint because of which the primary attention has been given to the politicization of death and not on the lives and legacies, the memories of and the memorials to the dead.

I never served in the military. In World War II, my father, William, served honorably in the army in the Philippines. Through his recounts of his experiences and his revelations of the scars he bore, some invisible, but no less abiding, I, at an early age, learned to honor the sacred sacrifice of all who wear the uniform and bear arms, whether near or far, to maintain the liberties Americans enjoy (though, yes, it must be confessed, imperfectly and unequally).

Thus, this day, I want to – I will – do nothing but pray:

O gracious God, Sovereign Source of all life, Supreme Solace for the dead, I pray You receive into Your nearest, dearest Presence in Your heavenly habitations the souls of Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson, Sergeant La David Johnson, and Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright: Heal their wounds, bind them fast and forever in Your peace. And, by the living breath of Your Spirit, comfort, come with strength upon the families and friends of these fallen brothers in arms, guiding them through the shadowy valleys of their grief with the grace of the light of Your everlasting love; through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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my intentional protests

On Friday, September 22, 2017, President Donald Trump spoke at a Huntsville, Alabama, campaign rally, ostensibly to support U.S. Senator-appointee pro tem Luther Strange, embroiled in a tight runoff election race to succeed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mr. Trump, already America’s Tweeter-in-Chief, at all hours freely firing off 140-character (in my view, insubstantial, thus, misfired) commentaries on matters great and varied, has fast become our national and self-styled Riffer-in-Chief known for his impromptu reflections on current events. At that rally, Mr. Trump offered this unscripted appraisal: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL[1] owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now! Out! He’s fired! He’s fired!’?”[2]

The reactions to the president’s comments have been swift and divergent. Senator Strange, surely speaking for many, said, “Our supporters are very deeply patriotic, they respect the values that the president represents and what he stood for at that rally…I think it was well received, I couldn’t agree with the president more.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and others rebuked the president’s remarks as “divisive” and reaffirmed the rights of players to exercise free speech. At a number of yesterday’s NFL games, during the playing of the national anthem, many players knelt or locked arms and, in one or two cases, remained in the locker rooms, taking the field later.

Unsurprisingly and, for me, sadly, given, I think, our now über-polarized and politicized social climate, the attending issues have been amassed and molded, that is, misshapen and shrunken to a contest between patriotism and protest. These and all matters are complex and, I believe, incapable of being confined to, verily, defined by an either-or calculus.

All this said, I offer a couple of left-field, that is, off-the-point-of-the-raging-debate observations…

Though I disagree with much of Mr. Trump’s allegations of “fake news” and though I recognize that every news account or narrative has an inherent social slant and political perspective, I protest inaccuracy in reporting. Yesterday morning, listening to NPR,[3] Weekend Edition Sunday host Lulu Garcia-Navarro, in conversation with reporter Mara Liasson, said, “Let’s talk about football…following up on (President Trump’s) remarks calling NFL athletes to be fired for protesting racism during the national anthem…”[4] No. Mr. Trump criticized the demonstrations by athletes as unpatriotic acts of disrespect for flag and country. Whether I agree or disagree with Mr. Trump (or anyone!), I desire, in this case, his point to be reported correctly.

During the Alabama rally speech, Mr. Trump also opined on the NFL’s declining popularity owing to changes in the rules to promote player safety, which lessen the physical contact desired by the players and the fans.[5] Perhaps for some, but, for me, no. My decreased attention to the NFL[6] has to do with my protest against what I believe to be the League’s less than consistent, verily, far short of just efforts to address, among a number of issues, (1) domestic violence allegations against (indeed, acts of) players and other violations of personal conduct policies, (2) player safety concerns, particularly related to longstanding and irreversible post-career physical and mental deterioration, and (3) racial inequities in team ownership and upper echelon management positions.

 

Footnotes:

[1] National Football League

[2] Last year, Colin Kaepernick, then quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the national anthem, saying, in part: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Kaepernick’s protest encouraged other athletes across the professional and amateur spectrums of sport to perform similar acts to illumine the disparity between our nation’s constitutional pledges of equality and characteriological practice of inequality. I wrote about Kaepernick’s protest in previous blog posts: September 3, 2016, The Star-Spangled battle? and September 30, 2016, where I stand on sitting & kneeling.

[3] National Public Radio

[4] My emphasis

[5] On this point, Mr. Trump said, in part: “…The NFL ratings are down massively…Because you know today if you hit too hard, fifteen yards (penalty)! Throw (the player) out of the game! They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys (involved in) just (a) really beautiful tackle. Boom! Fifteen yards!…They’re ruining the game! They’re ruining the game. That’s what (the players) want to do. They want to hit! It is hurting the game…”

[6] I have not watched an entire NFL game since early fall 2014, coinciding with the League’s mishandling of the domestic violence case against Ray Rice, a former Baltimore Ravens player. (See my previous blog posts: September 8, 2014, the (p)rice is wrong and September 10, 2014, relationships – reason & irrationality)

Trump change

Donald John Trump, the 45th President of the United States, on the long march, slog through the campaign to his election and inauguration, and now in office, among many pledges, promised “to drain the swamp” of the rapacious and mendacious Washington, DC, political establishment characterized by institutionalized (constitutionalized?) cronyism.

Would that he would endeavor to fulfill this promise (such an attempt I consider a chivalrous task of Don Quixote-esque proportions). But no (though I do perceive this similarity between the man of La Mancha and Mr. Trump; both replace a realistic view of the world with an imaginary and narcissistic – thus, self-serving and, therefore, inevitably self-defeating – vision of life and their noble, exalted place in it). A half-year into his presidency, Mr. Trump appears to me to have remained as he, again, from my perspective, alway hath been – as rapacious and mendacious as the town and culture he vowed to change.

Therefore, Trump change truly is chump change of trifling measure and even less meaning.

As President Trump, the Tweeter-in-Chief, might opine: Sad

questing for equilibrium in a querulous age – a personal reflection

IMG_0069

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”?