Sunday, January 10, 2021

In which I propose a way to bring America together again.

I had to tempt the Universe with last week's post, didn't I? "Keep calm until there's real news," I said. Should have kept my mouth shut.

Not that I'm taking responsibility for the insurrection at the US Capitol on Wednesday. A crowd of President Trump's supporters, egged on by Trump himself, marched on the Capitol building as members of Congress and Senators inside were validating the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Hundreds of them broke into the building itself, and some of them went on a hunt through the building for lawmakers. Among their targets, reportedly, was Vice President Pence, because he would not acquiesce to Trump's demand that he figure out a way -- legal or not -- to invalidate the election returns and declare Trump president for another four years.

No, the blame for this, as far as I'm concerned, is all on Trump. He's responsible for the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer (and possibly another Capitol Police officer who died yesterday, reportedly by suicide). He's responsible for the physical damage his supporters caused to the historic building during their rampage. He's responsible for the emotional trauma he caused the members of Congress who were locked down for hours while the building was cleared -- and who then had to go back to work and finish their job. And if anyone who works at the Capitol -- lawmakers and staff -- catches the virus due to the maskless yahoos who forced their way into the building, I'm holding him responsible for that, too.

And he's leaving an even bigger mess for Biden once he takes office. Not only must he get a handle on the spread of the virus, oversee distribution of the vaccines, and turn the economy around, but now he needs to consider whether to direct the Justice Department to go after his predecessor for his crimes.

Biden promised to unify Americans, and Trump's not interested in making it easy for him.

But it's this idea of unity that interests me tonight, and what it would take to get us there. 

Some commentators have called Trump's hardcore followers a cult. If that's true -- and I think there's a lot to recommend that view -- then it follows that to truly bring the nation back together, deprogramming is in order. But where to start?

I believe we may have to go back to the very founding of our nation. 

I shared this post on Facebook earlier today, and it got me thinking. The post is about four years old, but the author describes himself as poor Mexican who grew up in a rural town in Oklahoma. He observes that poor, white Americans don't see themselves as poor, but as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires." "It is shameful to be poor," he says. "Most men, especially, think they could be Trump were it not for the unfair obstacles put in their way." And when people like Trump point fingers at immigrants or Blacks or Muslims as undeserving, poor folks go along with it because "it takes all the shame and blame away."

"If these people saw themselves as an exploited class of people, if American culture didn't stigmatize poverty so much, it might be different," he says. "To fail to transcend poverty, and to admit you are poor, is to admit you are neither hardworking (n)or clever. It's cultural brainwashing."

Wikipedia | Public Domain
Where does this belief come from? From the very first immigrants to our shores. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, German sociologist Max Weber proposed the idea that Protestantism, and in particular Calvinism, created the seeds of capitalism by praising hard work and discipline as virtues. Of course, many of America's earliest settlers were Protestants fleeing religious persecution in Europe. Unfortunately, they brought their own brand of religious persecution with them; it's a short step from "hard work is a virtue" to judging people who can't get ahead as lazy. And that brings on the kind of self-loathing that the Facebook post above describes -- as well as a desire to find someone, anyone, to blame one's perceived failure on.

Moreover, in recent decades, certain Protestant preachers have made a lot of money touting prosperity theology -- the idea that God wants you to be rich, and therefore happy. Not only is it okay to want to be rich, they proclaim, but if you're not -- well. It's a personal failing. You need to believe harder. And sliding the preacher some cash couldn't hurt.

When I shared that Facebook post, I said, "Just think: If our culture (including the allegedly Christian preachers who tout their 'prosperity gospel') had never made poverty a moral failing, Trump wouldn't have been able to gain a toehold in the first place." Because what he did was to hand poor folks a whole host of targets to transfer their self-loathing to -- immigrants, Blacks, Muslims, and "Mexicans."

It's a sickness, for sure. And it's ingrained so deeply in American culture that it may well take something like deprogramming to root out.

A friend asked me what I thought it would take to get it done. I replied that we'd need "a repudiation of the disinformation by those who've been spreading it, for starters -- not shutting down Fox News/OANN/whoever, but convincing them to admit it's all been a hoax. But the churches that have been preaching damnation for the lazy poor, and the ones preaching that Jesus favors the rich, need to admit their part in it, too.

"And then we need to have a big ol' program in place to help folks sort through the cognitive dissonance when everything they've been led to believe has been cut out from under them."

And I said doing what needed to be done to get the right-wing media and the prosperity-gospel peddlers on board would probably be unconstitutional. It's clear to me they wouldn't do it willingly -- they're making too much money by fleecing these folks.

The likelihood of any of this happening is vanishingly small. But as I said to my friend, "I can dream, can't I?"

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These moments of dreamy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep those masks on and keep staying home!

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Keep calm until there's real news.

I had a topic for this post all picked out and researched and everything, and then this afternoon the Washington Post threw a monkey wrench into my plans. Well, phooey on them. I'm gonna write this post anyway -- and I'll work in their bombshell, too. 

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Best Graphics dot com | CC0 | Pixabay

It was Wednesday, November 25, 1987 - the day before Thanksgiving. I was at my brother's house in a northwest suburb of Chicago, baby Kitty in tow. (Her father was in the Navy, and I think he must have been on deployment in the Mediterranean Sea.) At the time I was working for WTAR-AM in Norfolk, VA. I'd been a news anchor and reporter for about nine years.

We had the TV on, and the noon news featured a breaking story: Chicago Mayor Harold Washington had collapsed at his desk at City Hall. He was transported to a hospital, where he died that afternoon.

The early evening news ran the story at the top of the show. The story topped the 10:00pm show, too. 

When it was still leading the next morning, Thanksgiving Day, my mother complained aloud: "Are we going to have to listen to this same story all weekend?"

To which I replied, "Of course. It's a holiday weekend and this is an honest-to-goodness news story. The only other things they have to talk about are the holiday traffic death toll and Toys for Tots."

I mean, I don't recall my exact words, but I'm sure that was the gist of it. I had worked enough holidays by then to know the feeling of desperation a newsperson gets when you have to put together a newscast but you have nothing but evergreen stories and wire copy to fill it with. However people might have felt about Harold Washington as Chicago's mayor, his death was a blessing for every reporter and anchor in town who had to work that weekend.

Now, 1987 was toward the beginning of the phenomenon known as the 24-hour news cycle. If we had trouble filling a five-minute radio newscast on a holiday in those days, imagine what it's like for a producer at a cable news network today, looking down the gaping maw of a news-free holiday weekend. What do you do? Well, you have your reporters record a bunch of evergreen stories ahead of time and parcel them out over the next several days. You also have your reporters do what are called pre-writes, or the "this is what's coming up next week, once everybody gets back to work" stories.

Right now today, we are at the tail end of the holidays, the grimmest two-week period for anybody in news anywhere. So many people with regular jobs are on vacation that even when it's not Christmas Day or New Year's Day, reporters have trouble getting hold of sources. So especially now, right after New Year's Day, news organizations run a lot of pre-writes. 

And what's coming up? Big political stuff! Two Georgia Senate elections on Tuesday! Congress meeting to certify the presidential election results on Wednesday! So we're getting a lot of "news" stories about these two events. I've put "news" in quotes because a lot of what we're getting is actually speculation -- and a lot of the speculation sounds scary. 

Here's an example: The Proud Boys are coming to DC on Wednesday, but they're going to wear black so no one can tell them from Antifa! We don't know how many will come, but still! Scary!!!

And then there's all the political theater surrounding the joint session of Congress on Wednesday. Do the Republicans challenging the results have enough votes to keep Joe Biden from winning? (Nope.) Can Vice President Pence refuse to certify the Electoral College results because other electors in certain states want their votes counted instead? (Again, nope.) But what about that lawyer in Georgia who tweeted that Pence should be executed by firing squad if he doesn't declare Trump the winner? It's all so scary!!!

Yes, it is. It's meant to be. That's how 24-hour news operations keep hold of your eyeballs so their advertisers can sell you stuff. 

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I was going to end this post by advising us all to use our heads over the next few days -- to carefully consider the likelihood of certain things happening, and to spend time, if at all possible, looking for a news story with a calmer point of view. I was going to close by saying we'd all know a real bombshell when we saw it.

And then WaPo went and proved my point. They got hold of tape of a phone call President Trump made yesterday to Georgia's secretary of state, pleading with and badgering the guy into "finding" enough ballots to overturn the state's election results and give the win to Trump. I listened to excerpts this afternoon. I'm no lawyer, but it sure sounded to me like Trump is trying to get Brad Raffensparger to throw the election. 

That's illegal. Someone found guilty of that crime could face a sentence of up to five years in federal prison.

So my original advice still stands: Don't let the scaremongering distract you from real news.

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These moments of calming blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep masking up and keep social distancing!

Sunday, December 27, 2020

We're at a crossroads. Which way will we go?

 

I think you all know by now that I'm taken with the idea of liminality -- the place or point at which things meet. Dawn and dusk are liminal times. Beltane, in early May, and Samhain, in late October, are also liminal times, when the veil between this world and the Otherworld is at its thinnest.

This period we're in now -- the days between Christmas and the New Year -- has traditionally been another liminal time. I've heard it has to do with the calendar; in an early version, each month was assigned the same number of days, leaving a period of several days between the final month of one year and the first month of the new year. However these extra days came about, they became a sort of time out of time, given over to feasting, merrymaking, and all sorts of mischief, encouraged by a Lord of Misrule

Then, of course, the Catholic Church got hold of things and turned the party into the twelve days of Christmas.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about. 

I saw a striking image on Facebook a few days ago. It showed a crossroads in a desert: a road crossing over an arroyo or a seasonal stream. The caption suggested that 2020 -- the whole year -- has been a crossroads. And in many ways, I think, it's true. Modern life as we know it came to a screeching halt in mid-March, once we had an inkling of how bad things were going to get. A lot of what transpired afterwards was pretty awful. I don't have to enumerate the bad stuff -- all of us were there. 

But good things happened this year, too. People got married. Babies were born. Some folks discovered they liked working from home. Others recovered from cancer or some other terrible but non-COVID-19 illness.

For me, on the whole, 2020 has been a good year. I was able to retire from my day job on schedule, and I moved from the East Coast to New Mexico when I'd planned to do so. I'm a homebody anyway, so not being able to see people in person hasn't bothered me much. Some things have been inconvenient, to be sure, but overall, life unfolded for me pretty much as I expected it would. And yes, I know how lucky -- how privileged -- I am to be able to say that.

Regardless of how 2020 treated each of us, we are all standing, now, at a crossroads. The New Year stretches before us, bright with promise for some of us, shrouded in mystery for others. That's not metaphorical. Once or twice in my lifetime, I have stood on the threshold of a new year and could not -- could not -- make out where I would be at the end of it. In each case, those years have been marred by some personal upheaval.

That's not the case this year. When I look ahead to the end of 2021, I see myself settling in here in Santa Fe. I see the vaccines taking hold, allowing the rhythms of life -- of all our lives -- to resume beating normally. 

Or rather, beating to our new normal. Because maybe, just maybe, good things will come from having hit pause this year. The caption for that crossroads image I saw on Facebook said, in part, "Coming together and creating compassion and support will shape the future of how the planet and humanity will move forward." Those seem like worthy goals to me. 

Happy New Year, everyone.

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These moments at the bloggy crossroads have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. We're so close to the finish line! Keep washing your hands and wearing your mask!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The return of the light.

Tomorrow is Yule -- the winter solstice -- and that means our annus horribilis is almost over. And not a moment too soon, I say.

It has become customary for me to post a holiday ficlet at this time of year, as a gift to all of you. As I thought about what to write, I realized what I wanted to know most was how the folks from Seasons of the Fool have done this year. Here's what I learned.

Elsie Weber-Dahl reached for the doorknob and paused. “Oh, drat,” she muttered, and reached for the top mask on the stack of brightly-colored fabric masks in the basket by the door. Affixing the elastic straps around her ears, she pulled open the door – just in time to see the delivery boy from Al’s getting into his car. He had left the grocery order on the snowy stoop, though. She waved, and he dimmed his headlights in acknowledgement before pulling away.

She sighed. It had been weeks since she’d been any farther than the end of their driveway. They hadn't even gotten a tree for Yule. She had really hoped to have a chat with another human being, but she hadn’t been fast enough. 

She shut the door partway and called over her shoulder, “Thea, dear, we need to bring the groceries in.”

“Yes, dear,” replied her wife, distracted. Elsie went to the kitchen to find out what the matter was. There was Thea at the kitchen table, her chin in her hands, studying the three-card Tarot spread before her.

Elsie rubbed Thea’s shoulders. “That Tower,” she said bitterly. The Tower was the worst card in the deck. On it, a bolt of lightning shot from the blue, destroying a brick tower and sending those inside it plummeting to the rocks below.

Thea sighed and nodded. “It’s still with us. But at least it’s in the rear-view mirror,” she said, pointing at the offending card on the left side of the spread.

“The present isn’t much better, though,” Elsie said. There in the middle sat the Death card – a skeleton on his horse, with everyone bowing to the ground before him. Elsie knew the card didn’t mean literal death – although with this virus wreaking havoc throughout the world, it certainly could. But what it typically meant was change – the end of things as we have known them – and that certainly fit the events of this horrible year, too.

“I know,” Thea sighed. “We’re still in the thick of it. But look here.” She tapped the card in the future position on the right side of the spread: the Six of Swords. Two figures huddled in a boat, their backs to the viewer, as the boatman punted them toward a distant shore. “Soon we'll be our way out.”

“They look so defeated,” Elsie said softly. Thea looked up at her and put one of her hands on one of Elsie’s, squeezing gently. Then she rose. “Let’s get the food in before everything freezes.”

The two elderly ladies donned their winter gear – coats, hats, and boots – and then took off their hats to get their masks properly affixed. “I’ll be glad when we don’t have to do this anymore,” Thea grumbled as she put her hat back on.

“We could skip them this time,” Elsie said. “It’s not like we’ll see anyone out there.”

“But we can’t be too careful, dear,” said Thea. “Not when the vaccine is so close.”

“I know, dear. I know.” Elsie blew out a breath and opened the front door.

As they brought in the last of the bags, Thea paused, her eyes on the cottage kitty-corner from theirs. A car with Illinois plates sat in the driveway, its sides splashed with road salt, and a light glimmered in the living room window. “Julia’s here,” she told Elsie as she followed her to the kitchen.

“Oh?” Elsie dropped her bags on the counter and hurried back to the living room to peer out the window. “I wonder if she brought the little one.”

“We could go over and see,” Thea said. The two women shared an excited smile. They hadn’t seen their neighbor in months.

“Let me put some cookies on a plate,” said Elsie.

A few minutes later, cookies in hand and masks in place, they walked to Julia’s cottage and knocked on the door. “Just a minute,” a muffled voice came from inside. Then the door opened and there was Julia, her own mask hiding her mouth. But her eyes and voice smiled as she said, “I had a feeling it would be you two.”

“We brought you some cookies,” Elsie said. “Fresh baked this morning.” 

A tiny person wormed past Julia and threw herself on Elsie’s legs, nearly knocking her over. “Ms. Elsie!” she cried. “Ms. Thea!” And Thea got a similar enthusiastic hug.

“Six feet, Raylee,” Julie admonished.

The little girl sprang back reluctantly from the women. “I'm sorry. I forgot.”

“We talked about this,” Julia went on, taking her daughter’s hand. “We need to keep the ladies safe.” Raylee hung her head. 

“It’s all right,” Thea said. “We won’t get sick from you hugging our knees.”

Julie took the plate of cookies. “Thank you for these,” she said. “I’d invite you in, but…”

“Sure,” Elsie said, too quickly. “Can’t be too careful.” She beamed at Raylee. “How have you been?”

The little girl sighed. “Okay.”

“Zoom doesn’t work very well for kindergarteners,” Julia explained. “It’s been a hard year. The school district tried a staggered schedule for in-person learning, but then some kids got sick. So we went back to Zoom.”

“I miss my friends,” Raylee said.

“You’ll see them again,” Elsie reassured her. “The vaccine is coming. Next year will be better.”

“No, it won’t,” Raylee said. “It’s going to be like this forever.” She turned away and flopped down on the couch.

Julia and the older ladies shared a sad smile. “Daddy will be here tonight,” Julia called to her daughter, who didn’t seem to hear.

“Are the older kids coming with Dave?” Elsie asked.

Julia shook her head. “Too much homework. Randi’s in college now, and it’s finals week. And Rich…” She looked away. “Freshman year of high school. He got behind due to all the upheaval. In-person, remote, in-person, remote…” She crossed her arms. “It’s been so hard. I’ve barely gotten any work done this year.”

Elsie’s heart hurt for Julia. She reached out to hug her, but stopped herself just in time.

“Well,” Thea said. “We should be going.”

“Thank you for coming over,” Julia said. “So nice to see you both.” Reluctantly, she closed the door.

As the ladies traipsed back to their house, Elsie said, “We have to do something for that child.”

Thea glanced back at Julia’s cottage. “I have an idea,” she said.

The next morning was still quite dark, and very cold, when the Weber-Dahls approached Julia’s cottage. Thea rapped smartly on the door, and a moment later Dave opened it. His hair was thinner than Elsie remembered, but his eyes above his mask lit up. “Hello there,” he said. “I heard you stopped by. Thanks for the cookies.”

“You’re welcome,” said Thea. “Is Raylee up? We have something to show her.”

Dave laughed. “What, now?”

Right now,” Elsie said with an insistent nod. “You, too. And Julia.”

Dave side-eyed them. “What are you two up to?” He shook his head. “All right. Give us a few minutes.”

“Dress warmly,” Elsie said as he shut the door. Then they went back to their house to wait.

A few minutes later, the Turners emerged from their front door, swaddled in winter gear. Sharing a grin, the ladies went out to greet them. “Good morning!” Thea called. “Follow me!” She stepped off smartly up the street, the others falling in behind her.

“What’s that?” Raylee asked, sidling up to Elsie – but not too close.

“This?” Elsie said, lifting the thermos she carried in her gloved hands. “You’ll see.”

At the corner, Thea turned left, toward the lake. “I knew it,” Dave said. Julia shushed him.

The wooden stairs down to the beach hadn’t been shoveled, of course, but Thea and Elsie helped each other down without mishap. The Turners followed, staying a safe distance from the elderly ladies. The breeze off the lake was sharp, but they had timed it well. They wouldn’t have long to wait.

“Raylee,” Thea called. “Remember how dark it was when we left the house?”

The little girl nodded solemnly.

Thea pointed toward the east. “What’s that?”

Her eyes widened. She turned to her mother. “The sky is orange, Mommy!”

Julia nodded. “It is, isn’t it?”

“Do you think it will stay orange?” Dave asked her. “Let’s see.”

So the five of them stood on the snowy sand, listening to the creak of the icy lake and watching the sunrise.

“This calls for a toast,” Elsie said, unscrewing the thermos lid. Thea produced paper cups from a pocket and held them out for Elsie to fill. 

“Hot chocolate!” the little girl cried as she received her cup.

As Thea finished passing out the cups, Elsie said, “Raylee, do you know what today is? It’s the winter solstice – the shortest day of the year. It’s been getting dark so early – have you noticed?” Raylee nodded. “Well, starting tomorrow, the days will begin getting longer again.” She smiled at Thea. “No matter how dark it seems, the dawn always comes.”

“The light always returns,” Thea said, smiling back. Then she raised her paper cup. “To the light!” They removed their masks and toasted the return of the sun.

As they walked back home, Raylee skipping ahead, Julia told the ladies, “Thank you so much. It’s been such a hard year. I can’t wait to get back to normal.”

“We’ll never see that normal again,” Dave said.

“No, we won’t,” Elsie said. “But who knows? Maybe our new normal will be better.”

Lake Huron sunrise | ehrlif | Deposit Photos


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These moments of hopeful blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Happy holidays! Stay safe!