Category Archives: Character

How about that Joe Biden, huh? You go, Joe: Do it!

Joe Speaks

How relaxed have I become since Joe Biden became my president? This relaxed: I forgot to watch his speech last night.

I had intended to watch it. But then I had a busy day, getting my stitches out and all, and ended up working pretty late — until well after 9 p.m. Finally I turned on the tube about 10 — intending to stream something, but the TV input happened to be set on broadcast — and there was Joe, in the chamber, shaking hands with people! I had missed it!

I was disappointed, but it was OK. I was sure whatever he had said was fine, and I could read all about it in the morning. Which I did. And if you need to catch up, here’s a transcript.

As you know from last year, I wasn’t all that interested in what Joe would do once in office. As I’ve said so many, many times in the past in many contexts, I don’t like campaign promises, and don’t want to hear grand plans (which kind of eliminated Elizabeth Warren right off). What I want is character. That, and solid experience. You don’t know, can’t know, what the big issues will be during an upcoming term (although in this case, we knew covid had to be dealt with). So I want someone I trust to cope with whatever happens competently, and decently. Someone who I believe will do the right thing both in terms of effectiveness and morality.

And Joe fit that bill perfectly.

Of course in this case, it was also about replacing the malevolent, clueless lunatic who had occupied the office for the past four years. Once that was done and covid was competently dealt with, I’d be happy.

What I didn’t reckon on — in fact, practically no one did — was that once in, Joe would be this ambitious. I didn’t know he would come in and try to accomplish more than any president since LBJ, if not FDR.

But hey, that’s fine with me. Pretty much everything he’s trying to do makes sense, and I’m on board. And pleased. What Joe is doing is saying, “These are the things government ought to do. Let’s get them done.”

One thing I’m seeing people say about him — and they’re right — is that he’s not content to just undo the damage done by Trump. He’s looking to roll back all that Republicans have done — in terms of alienating the American people from their government — since Reagan.

It had never occurred to me that that could be done — returning us to being the kind of confident country, with faith in each other and our way of governing ourselves, that we were before Reagan, before Watergate, before Vietnam. The country of FDR, Truman, Ike (Mr. Interstates!), JFK and LBJ (pre-credibility gap). The country whose leaders said, “Let’s do this!” and we just went out and got it done.

Will it be easy? Not at all. There are 50 people in the Senate determined to stop him from doing anything he tries to do. If the Republicans had a party platform — which they don’t; the sick personality cult of Trump doesn’t need one — Joe could try to accomplish everything on their list, and they’d oppose it because it’s him trying to do it. In a situation like that, you might as try to do the right thing instead. Especially if you’re Joe.

Obviously, Joe is more of a visionary than I am. And I bless him for it. We’ve needed this, for such a long time…

There are things we should do. Let's do them...

There are things we should do. Let’s do them…

Spy Wednesday question: Who was Judas? Why did he do it?

Harvey Keitel as the Judas-haired betrayer in 'The Last Temptation of Christ'

Harvey Keitel as Judas in ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’

Just thought I’d share this essay I ran across in America magazine. It was written in 2006, sort of pegged to the then-recent emergence of “The Gospel of Judas,” but the Jesuit publication posted it again on the day of Holy Week when Judas is said to have made the decision to betray Jesus.

I throw it out there so I can see what y’all think. For 2,000 years, people have been projecting all sorts of interpretations upon the man and his actions, from the mundane to a figure who was used as an excuse for Christian anti-semitism.

Judas gets pegged with being motivated by greed, which is problematic, since he’d abandoned whatever material comfort he had ever possessed to follow Jesus around for three years. Anyway, he refused to keep the money. Sometimes the theory is politics — such as saying his last name, Iscariot, is derived from sicarii, or dagger wielders, a band of religious terrorists of the time. But as the writer of this essay — Father James Martin, editor-at-large of the magazine — notes, that movement hadn’t taken off until years after Judas’ betrayal and suicide.

After reading such a serious examination as Fr. Martin’s, I’m a little embarrassed to say this — it seems both irreverent and anti-intellectual — but I’ve always found the “Jesus Christ Superstar” version persuasive. At least, it connects on an emotional level. The Judas of the rock opera sees himself as Jesus’ best friend, one who truly believes in the values his master espouses but is uncomfortable both with all “this talk of God,” and the likelihood that Jesus is getting them all into big trouble. Why not help the authorities take him off the street and let everything cool down? Then, of course, he’s devastated when his actions lead to the crucifixion. At the outset, Judas presents his case this way:

I remember when this whole thing began.
No talk of God then, we called you a man.
And believe me, my admiration for you hasn’t died.
But every word you say today
Gets twisted ’round some other way.
And they’ll hurt you if they think you’ve lied.
Nazareth, your famous son should have stayed a great unknown
Like his father carving wood He’d have made good.
Tables, chairs, and oaken chests would have suited Jesus best.
He’d have caused nobody harm; no one alarm.

Listen, Jesus, do you care for your race?
Don’t you see we must keep in our place?
We are occupied; have you forgotten how put down we are?

I am frightened by the crowd.
For we are getting much too loud.
And they’ll crush us if we go too far.

Of course, that’s not far off from what Fr. Martin presents as a serious, plausible set of assumptions:

Perhaps the most plausible explanation for Judas’s action was articulated several decades ago by the late William Barclay, author of the widely used multivolume Daily Study Bible. Barclay posited that the most compelling explanation is that in handing Jesus over to the Romans, Judas was trying to force Jesus’ hand, to get him to act in a decisive way. Perhaps, he suggested, Judas expected the arrest would prompt Jesus to reveal himself as the long-awaited messiah by overthrowing the Roman occupiers. Barclay noted that none of the other traditional interpretations explain why Judas would have been so shattered after the crucifixion that he committed suicide. In other words, only if Judas had expected a measure of good to come from his actions would suicide make any sense.

This is in fact the view which best suits all the facts, Barclay concluded.

Anyway, I’m curious what you think.

Yeah, I realize some of my unbelieving friends will think this is a silly question. Some of you may even be of the persuasion that sees Jesus, much less Judas, as a fictional character. Which strikes me as extremely unlikely. Even if I didn’t believe, my understanding of history and how it unfolds would cause me to acknowledge that something happened there in Jerusalem during the time Pontius Pilate was procurator and Caiaphas was high priest. Something that started small, but gradually led to a movement that ended up taking over the Western world. And the broad outlines of the Jesus story seem a reasonable way that movement would have started.

Of course, even if you acknowledge that, you could say that Judas and the role he played were inventions by the followers of this new sect. Fr. Martin deals with that this way:

But a wholesale invention is probably unlikely. By most accounts, Mark wrote his Gospel around 70 A.D., only 40 years after the death of Jesus. Luke and Matthew wrote some 10 to 20 years after Mark. The early Christian community, therefore, would have still counted among its members people who were friends of Jesus, who were eyewitnesses to the passion events, or who knew the sequence of events from the previous generation. All these would presumably have criticized any wild liberties taken with the story. Rather, as Father Harrington says, Judas’s betrayal of Jesus was a known and most embarrassing fact. In other words, the ignominy of having Jesus betrayed by one of the apostles is something that the Gospel writers would most likely have wanted to avoid, not invent.

And even if I were an atheist, if there were a modern-day-style biography of Judas available — something as painstakingly detailed as Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, or McCullough’s John Adams — I’d run out and get a copy and read it eagerly. So I could, you know, better understand the people and events that had pushed the world in the direction it took over the millennia.

But people didn’t process information that way 2,000 years ago. The things we don’t know even about Roman emperors would be embarrassing to any modern biographer, historian or journalist. And the people who set down the Gospels and other books of the New Testament were infinitely more interested in relating Jesus’ teachings than they were the backstory of the man who betrayed him. To them, writing at least 40 years after the events, Judas was just this bad guy who did this bad thing. Or good thing, as the “Gospel of Judas” would have it.

But what sort of man was he, and why did he do it?

Tomorrow I’ll think about something else. But this is Spy Wednesday.

The kids aren’t getting smarter — or any more responsible

queue

A friend sent me this picture a little while ago. I immediately asked whether she was still there, and could get me another shot without that car in the way.

She said it wasn’t hers; she had gotten it from a Tweet:

I checked with the guy who posted it, and he said he took the picture at about 3:30 p.m. today.

That’s the same spot pictured in this previous post, at 5:48 p.m. on Sept. 9.

The earlier shot was less… impressive, if that’s the word you want to use.

It almost seems irrelevant to ask, but how many masks do you see? No, I don’t see any, either.

What does one say about this kind of indiscriminate, homicidal behavior?

I dunno. Here’s what Chris Trainor of The State had to say:

Oh, one more thing: I don’t think they’re waiting to get into Subway. It’s about the bar next door. But that’s just a guess on my part, based on what I was told the last time. I asked Lee Snelgrove, and he didn’t know — he was just riding by…

Bruni on the one word for Biden so far: ‘generous’

Bruni

Just a little something to feel good about…

I enjoyed Frank Bruni’s e-newsletter this week, particularly since I hadn’t seen one lately — he’d been away writing a book or some such. I hope he won’t mind if I quote from it fairly extensively. The email was headlined, “The one word that defines Biden’s presidency so far.”

An excerpt:

How good it feels to write that! President Joe Biden. We needed a change, and now we have it, and the rightness of this particular one was captured not just in his excellent inauguration speech but also in other words and gestures of his in the hours just before and after that address.

I’ll focus on three unscripted sentences shortly after 5 p.m., when a small group of journalists were on hand for his signing of several executive orders in the Oval Office. One of them asked about the content of a letter that President Donald Trump — who actually followed tradition in this instance — left Biden. There’d been doubt that Trump would do so.

“The president wrote a very generous letter,” Biden said. “Because it was private, I will not talk about it until I talk to him. But it was generous.”

Generous. The word grabbed me, and not because Biden used it twice.

For starters, “generous” perfectly describes Biden’s response to the question he was asked.

He could simply have declined to characterize the letter, citing etiquette and discretion. He certainly wasn’t under any obligation to compliment and essentially thank Trump, not after Trump refused to accept the legitimacy of Biden’s election, spread conspiracy theories and fomented violence. Trump was intent on making Biden’s transition into the presidency as rocky as possible and bequeathing him a country almost impossible to govern.

Biden nonetheless went out of his way to be big. To be kind. He placed Trump, of all people, in proximity to “generous,” when our former president (it feels good to write that phrase, too!) is anything but.

Ever since Election Day, Biden hasn’t merely been urging civility. He’s been modeling it, despite a magnitude of ugliness and absurdity from Trump and his Republican enablers that has tested it at every turn. It’s a monumental feat of discipline. It’s the epitome of grace.

And it’s the definition of, well, generosity, which is as good a one-word summary of what America and Americans need right now as any other. We need it from our president. We need it from other political leaders. We need it most of all from ourselves….

It’s small things like that that, if we pay attention, can remind us of how blessed were are in this country now.

Others can talk about policies or programs or whatever interests them. For me, this sort of thing is why I wanted Joe Biden to be our president. Because we really, really need this…

Statement on the Inauguration from the McCain Institute

Joe speaking at John McCain's funeral...

Joe speaking at John McCain’s funeral…

I pass this on because amid all the gazillions of stories on the Inauguration, this might not come to the fore.

No, it’s not as good as McCain himself commenting, but it’s the next-best facsimile. It complements the witness of our last three real, normal presidents yesterday, who came and paid their respects the way statesmen do.

Oh, and did you see where W. praised Clyburn, and gave him credit for saving the country by endorsing the only Democrat who could have beaten Trump? Those are obviously true statements, but I thought it good that W. took the time to say them.

Anyway, here’s the statement:

Statement by The McCain Institute on the Inauguration

WASHINGTON, DC (January 20, 2021) The McCain Institute for International Leadership congratulates President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President Kamala Harris on their inauguration. Every four years, our sacred tradition of renewing democracy is a testament to the righteousness of the over 230-year-old experiment in self-determination.

As the Biden-Harris administration assumes office, a tumultuous domestic and global landscape awaits. The American people are resilient, but in order for us to rise to these challenges, a page must be turned and a nation must begin to heal. We must put country over party and end the partisan rancor. These ideals must be reconciled first by our leaders, who must lead by working together in a bipartisan manner to do what is best for Americans, not what is best for either political party.

In 2018, Senator John McCain said in his farewell statement: “We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country, we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.”

With this vision in mind, today, we honor the bipartisan and civil friendship by pledging to work with President Biden, Vice President Harris and their administration in any way that can improve security, economic opportunity, democracy, human rights, freedom and human dignity around the world.

“On the home front, we have witnessed firsthand the weaponization of misinformation and its negative results. The images of the U.S. Capitol under siege on January 6, 2021 will forever be ingrained in our memories as the day that democracy was threatened at the core of our fundamental freedoms. Those who perpetrated the violence must be held accountable as well as the government leaders who did their part in spreading the misinformation about our elections. On the global front, we must meet the challenges and threats from China and Russia head on,” said McCain Institute Executive Director Mark Green. “The COVID-19 pandemic has, unfortunately, emboldened some of the enemies of freedom across the globe, destroyed economies and livelihoods, and have made life even harder for the most vulnerable among us. These unprecedented times prove that American leadership on the world stage is desperately needed now more than ever.”

About the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University

Inspired by the character-driven leadership of Senator John McCain and his family’s legacy of public service, the McCain Institute implements programs and initiatives to make a difference in people’s lives across a range of critical areas: leadership development, human rights, rule of law, national security, counterterrorism and combatting human trafficking.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Institute is proudly part of ASU, the largest public university in America– ranked #1 in innovation for six years running.

Mitch puts on his Big Boy Pants

mitch

OK, so maybe I was a tad dismissive today when Mitch McConnell made his grand gesture…

I know it’s not helpful. I know having the top-ranking Republican in Congress congratulate Joe is better than not having him accept reality, even after all this time.

I know that Joe himself would not be so dismissive, because it’s his job, his mission, to pull our country back together. And he’s worked with this guy before, and might well be needing to work with him a lot in the future. And if I were Joe’s communications director or something, you’d see me striking a different tone.

But I’m not, so I indulged myself there.

Hey, I get it. Mitch didn’t do the right thing over a month ago because a) he knew it wouldn’t have deflected Trump’s nonsense, and b) he didn’t want to start an intraparty kerfuffle “that could hurt the party’s chances in two Georgia Senate runoffs and imperil must-pass legislation.”

He thinks he’s done the statesmanlike thing, you see.

But you know, I don’t give a damn about his Georgia runoffs. And I feel a great amount of disgust for anyone who would tolerate the determined efforts of the President of the United States to undermine our electoral system and our country just so he and his party can cling to power.

So it’s nice Mitch has donned his Big Boy Pants. But he should have pulled them up a long time ago…

Now is the winter of their discontent… apparently

Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III in "The Hollow Crown: The Wars of The Roses."

Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III in “The Hollow Crown: The Wars of The Roses.” We don’t need this…

This is a very dangerous time, a time no Americans have faced before.

A rough beast squats in the White House, refusing to move, even though it’s his time to slouch off (is it OK to mix references to Shakespeare and Yeats, or is that kind of like confusing metaphors?).

Almost half of the country (thank God less than half) voted for him, and has been brainwashed by him into utterly rejecting reality. And now he is rejecting his own rejection. We have never seen this before, ever. And we have never had so many people seemingly ready to accept something so profoundly, shockingly unAmerican. Now is the winter of their discontent, and they are acting as though they wish to bring the cold dark upon the whole country.

I referred to this in a tweet last night:

Four years ago, I flirted with the idea that maybe — in a vain attempt to embrace their duty as Alexander Hamilton conceived it — presidential electors should refuse to vote for Trump.

I realized I was wrong — partly in response to comments some of you, such as Phillip Bush and Dave Crockett, posted to correct me — and did something you seldom see me do: I wrote and published a separate post saying I was wrong, and why. In other words, I did what we’re all waiting for Trump’s supporters (not so much the man himself; let’s not expect too much) to do — I came to my senses.

Aside from the guidance from some of you, I was influenced by the fact that I had been watching the second half of “The Hollow Crown,” a brilliant compilation of eight of Shakespeare’s history plays — from Richard II to Richard III — telling the horrible story of the Wars of the Roses.

I highly recommend the two series. After watching that second one (the three Henry VI plays and Richard III) I put the first series (Richard II through Henry V) on my Amazon gift list, and someone in my family was was kind enough to get it for me. You really should try watching them, particularly the bloody second batch.

That, and my more personal wanderings through history compiling my family tree, impressed me more than ever how fortunate we were to be living in the world’s oldest and most stable liberal democracy. As I wrote at the time:

For so much of human history, no one had much of a sense of loyalty to a country, much less to a system of laws. They couldn’t even be relied on to be loyal to a certain lord for long. Everybody was always looking for the main chance, ready to kill to gain advantage even temporarily.

Our 240-year history, our country of laws and not of men, is a blessed hiatus from all that. We may descend into barbarism yet — and yes, the election of a man who shows little respect for the rule of law is not a good omen — but so far the Constitution has held….

At least, it had held up to that point. But it hadn’t been tested yet the way it’s about to be tested…

"Plucking the Red and White Roses in the Old Temple Gardens," by Henry Albert Payne

“Plucking the Red and White Roses in the Old Temple Gardens,” by Henry Albert Payne

Would you hire this man?

Well, this is a particularly awesome ad on any level. I especially like it because when it comes to voting, or endorsements, I’ve always thought in these terms — I’m hiring someone for a job. It’s one reason I make such a fuss about people’s resumes — and also about their characters.

The thing about Trump is, I’ve always found it unimaginable that anyone would consider hiring him for anything, anything at all — much less the highest office in our land (in the world).

Oh, by the way — if you have hearing trouble the way I do, you might like this version with subtitles:

In any case, enjoy. And think. And run out and vote, if you haven’t yet…

interview ad

Noah Barker: ‘Make the president Christ-like again.’

Noah may love Joe almost as much as I do. That's him in the white shirt and no jacket, very excited to be right next to the ex-veep the day he came to campaign for us in 2018. That's me in the middle in the back, next to Campaign Manager Scott Hogan.

Noah may love Joe almost as much as I do. That’s him in the white shirt and no jacket, a 17-year-old pretty excited to be right next to the ex-veep the day he came to campaign for us in 2018. That’s me in the middle in the back, next to Campaign Manager Scott Hogan.

Today I called my young friend Noah Barker, fellow Smith-Norrell veteran, to talk about yard signs. He’s the one who got me some Biden signs for my neighbors, as related earlier.

Noah, who’s now a student at USC, happened to mention an opinion piece he had written for Medium — a website I had not been familiar with, but which seems to have been around for several years now. He wanted me to take a look at it and see what I thought.

I got a little panicky when I saw the headline, “Make the president Christ-like again.” I thought, whoa, Noah — we both love Joe, but let’s not go overboard! But almost immediately after that, I knew what he meant, and it worked. I could tell that from the photo with the piece: There was Joe with his head humbly bowed standing with his mask on among fellow worshipers — as human as you can get. (It would have gone well with that Facebook post I cited awhile back from Sister Nancy Hendershot — which you should go read if you haven’t.)

I read on, and saw that Noah had done a good job. Here’s his piece:

I don’t often write about my faith. I usually refrain from these types of writing because of two different lessons that I was taught as a child.

The first one was a favorite saying of my grandfather, Wilson Bryan, who would say “Preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words.” He believed that you shouldn’t have to utter the words “well, you know, I’m a Christian.” The way you treat others should show folks that something is fundamentally different about your life.

The other lesson was from Jesus, who according to the Book of Matthew said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners… But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (6:5–6).

However, I’m breaking this rule to write this essay. After watching the Democratic National Convention this past week, I couldn’t keep these thoughts to myself any longer.

It has been hard for me to watch fellow Christians continue to support a man like Donald Trump. He lies, he cheats, he steals. He spews hatred and breeds bigotry. He makes fun of others and he is never hesitant to give an opponent of his a childish nickname (see “Slow Joe” or “Pencil-neck Adam Schiff”). He never forgives and he never asks for forgiveness.

Sometimes, when I am listening to him rant and rave I’m reminded of the words of Paul the Apostle. In his letter to the people of Galatia, Paul outlines the Fruit of the Holy Spirit. In case you haven’t walked by your old Sunday school class and seen that poster in a while, these nine attributes are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I think of these nine attributes because I have never witnessed Donald Trump show any of them in his public life. Now, this has nothing to do with me being a Democrat, which I am. I saw these nine attributes present in the life of George W. Bush, a man that I almost never agreed with. They were also present in the lives of almost-presidents, like John McCain and Mitt Romney.

This is not about politics. It’s not about policy. It’s not about the Supreme Court or abortion. This is about character.

Now, let me say, I am in no position to question whether someone is a Christian or not. Donald Trump has said that he is and that is between him and God. Full stop.

However, when it comes to electing a president, I want someone who shows me that they are Christian, not tells me. I want a leader who isn’t just a Christian, I want someone in the Oval Office that acts Christ-like.

I don’t mean performing miracles or being perfect; we all fall short of the glory of God.

But, I at least want someone who tries.

Who tries to be kind.

Who tries to be honest.

Who tries to heal the wounds of our nation.

I want a president who uses love to unite us.

Who loves his enemies and prays for those who persecute him.

That’s not Donald Trump. That’s not his story. It’s not his life.

On the other hand, Joe Biden isn’t perfect, and unlike Donald Trump, Joe would be the first person to tell you that. He’s not the second coming and he’s not the Messiah, and he certainly doesn’t act like he is.

We’ve all heard the countless stories of Joe Biden comforting those with a sick loved onehelping those with a stutter, or just being kind to the people that are around him.

I believe he is a fundamentally decent man, warts and all.

I don’t agree with Joe Biden on everything, but I believe it is our job as voters to choose the better person and in this case, the better man.

That choice is clear to me.

This November, I’m voting to make the president Christ-like again.

Noah describes himself at the end as “78th Governor of Palmetto Boy’s State | Son of Lugoff, South Carolina | UofSC’23 |”

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Thanks, senator. It’s good to hear our votes count

text from Graham

Just got this text from Lindsey Graham’s campaign on my phone a few minutes ago.

I look forward to the day when he realizes that the support of those of us here on the blog — and millions of others who are just as disgusted by him for taking pride in attaching himself to Donald J. Trump — was what really mattered all along.

Maybe we can prove that to him in November.

Expect to see more about that in the coming months…

Finally, Mattis speaks up — powerfully

mattis atlantic

I made a passing reference to this in the last post, but I’m going to elevate the profile, because since then I’ve actually had the chance to read what the Warrior Monk, James Mattis, had to say today when he broke his long silence about the Trump administration in which he once served.

I urge you to read this piece in The Atlantic, which I think originally broke the story.

And now I’m going to give you the whole statement. Because not a word of what he said should be left out:

I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words “Equal Justice Under Law” are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.

When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.

We must reject any thinking of our cities as a “battlespace” that our uniformed military is called upon to “dominate.” At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict— between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part.

Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.

James Madison wrote in Federalist 14 that “America united with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.” We do not need to militarize our response to protests. We need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law.

Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that “The Nazi slogan for destroying us…was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.'” We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics.

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.

We can come through this trying time stronger, and with a renewed sense of purpose and respect for one another. The pandemic has shown us that it is not only our troops who are willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of the community. Americans in hospitals, grocery stores, post offices, and elsewhere have put their lives on the line in order to serve their fellow citizens and their country. We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s “better angels,” and listen to them, as we work to unite.

Only by adopting a new path—which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals—will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad.

Amen to all of that. Thank you, general.

The 2020 Rorschach Test

What the president of the United States did Monday was so horrific — having peaceful demonstrators attacked and swept away so that he could walk unimpeded across a park and stand awkwardly waving a Bible around in front of a boarded-up church for no discernible purpose — was so grossly inappropriate, so evocative of what a two-bit foreign autocrat would do in a country that didn’t give a damn about the ideals that animate this country, that, well, it shouldn’t have to be explained.

And yet, I’ve actually seen instances of his defenders, well, defending it. Some of it was pretty stunning.

Basically, this is obviously yet another national Rorschach Test in which you either recoil in horror, or don’t have a clue what is wrong. And the latter portion of our population is the one Trump is trying so clumsily to appeal to.

For those who get it, it doesn’t have to be explained. But I read a lot of stuff eloquently explaining it anyway.

In case you find it helpful, here are some of that, and related stuff:

I don’t know what else to say right now.

I’m just going to share this picture and hope I don’t get in Fair Use trouble. I was told to watch video of all this, but I haven’t yet. For now, the photo is enough:

bible

We have really nice people in Columbia, just FYI…

screen

This was nice.

I was reading along through the Opinion section of The New York Times this morning when I found this piece headlined, “What It’s Like to Wear a Mask in the South.” So of course I had to read it. I mean, when the NYT makes the effort to offer something from a Southern perspective, you’ve gotta check it out.

It was written by Margaret Renkl, who “is a contributing opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.” She’s apparently from Nashville.

I was reading along and thinking, “I wonder if our friend, regular contributor David Carlton, knows her.” Because, you know, writers and college profs sometimes cross paths within the context of a community.

But then, I forgot about that when Ms. Renkl turned her column over to blurbs from other people around the South, and suddenly, there was an old friend from right here in Columbia. It was Allison Askins, who in a previous life was one of our two religion writers at The State. (Yes, there was a time when The State had not one full-time religion writer, but two. We were rather proud of that.)

Allison’s was the very first blurb. Here’s what she wrote:

“I have been making masks for two groups our church is providing them for — an organization that aids the homeless and the Department of Juvenile Justice. I try as I am sewing to be intentional about the act, thinking about who might wear it, hoping they are protected in some way by it and lifting up a prayer for their life, that it might somehow turn for the better in spite of this experience. I find it so sad to think that there are people who maybe are not wearing them simply because they do not know how to get them, can’t afford them or maybe really do not know they need to. It is these among us who I believe most deserve our mercy and our love.”

I just wanted to pass that on because Allison is a very nice and thoughtful person, and I thought, you know, it’s always a good time to stop and take note of the nice and thoughtful people here among us.

I couldn’t believe even Trump did this

Look at me! I have the most popular show on TV! Isn't this great? I'm a hit!

Look at me! I have the most popular show on TV! Isn’t this great? I’m a hit!

My wife showed me this last night, and I assumed it was a joke. It looked like a real Tweet, but I figured it was from The Onion or something like that, spoofing Trump’s obsession with his own popularity.

I thought it was carrying things a bit far, suggesting even as a joke that he would brag about his TV ratings when he’s giving national briefings about something that could kill 200,000 Americans.

But then I looked. And there it was, in his Twitter feed:

Even after I saw that, I figured something was missing that would explain it. I started looking around for news stories about it, and didn’t find any right away — although there was a lot of buzz about it on social.

This morning, I found some coverage, buried way down below other stuff. But basically, they treated it as routine.

This is how far we’ve fallen in normalizing his behavior. The president of the United States puts out something you would only expect from a profoundly maladjusted child, bragging about how everyone’s watching him while thousands of people are dying around him. In the world we knew before 2016, his aides would be trying to gently maneuver him into a padded room, and preparing to invoke the 25th Amendment…

Meanwhile, from the leader of our once-great country…

trump tweet1

For what it’s worth, he did send out a followup seven minutes later saying, “Federal Government is working very well with the Governors and State officials. Good things will happen! #KILLTHEVIRUS”

Maybe someone had a word with him. I don’t know who that would be, though, since pretty much all of the grownups have left his administration.

And yeah, I’m still using that plug-in on my Chrome browser that renders Trump’s tweets in a special typeface. They come in the regular old way on my phone and iPad. But somehow this seems to bring out their essence….

You know, there’s nothing new about this. But as many times as we’ve seen this kind of childishness, I still have to ask my self occasionally, What kind of person, in a leadership position, thinks that is something appropriate to publish for the world to see?

trump meeting

I’m counting on Lamar Alexander to do the right thing

Lamar shirt

I ran across the shirts you see above at Belk the other day. The one in the middle is a dead ringer for the one Lamar Alexander wore on his famous walk across Tennessee when he ran successfully for governor in 1978 — the first statewide political campaign I ever covered.

I’ve always had a lot of respect for Lamar, as I’ve mentioned here many times. And now, the fate of the impeachment trial may lie in his hands, assuming he does the right thing. An excerpt from an NYT story from the last few days:

WASHINGTON — The ghost of Howard H. Baker Jr., the Republican senator from Tennessee who turned against Richard M. Nixon during Watergate, is hovering over Senator Lamar Alexander.

Mr. Alexander, a third-term Republican from Tennessee who is retiring at the end of this year, has said that no one outside his family has had more influence on him than Mr. Baker, the former Senate majority leader who is remembered for the penetrating question he posed as Nixon stared down impeachment: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

Now Mr. Alexander may hold in his hands the fate of another Republican president who is facing removal from office. He is one of four Republican moderates who have expressed openness to bringing witnesses into President Trump’s impeachment trial. Of the four, he stands out because he is not running for re-election and arguably has nothing to lose….

The story goes on to say Lamar “does not appear ready for a Howard Baker moment.” They based this on the fact that he wanted to wait until the first phase of the trial was completed to decide. But I have two things to say about that:

  1. That seems a reasonable hesitation to me. He was keeping his options open until the point at which a decision would have to be made.
  2. That story was written before the revelation from Bolton’s upcoming book.

So I’m going to be optimistic, counting on Lamar to do what he generally did back when I covered him as governor: the right thing.

A shot I took of Lamar on the campaign trail in 1978.

A shot I took of Lamar on the campaign trail in 1978.

So, where do you stand on carrying the bat to first base?

bregman

Here’s a little thought experiment…

Earlier, some of you expressed disapproval of the crowd booing Trump at the World Series Sunday night, while others defended it.

Contemplating another Series controversy from last night’s game (and not the disagreement that led to the Nationals’ manager being ejected — it was quite a game), it occurs to me that it might be a sort of related issue.

I’d like to see y’all’s positions on the booing thing alongside your positions on whether it was OK for Alex Bregman and Juan Soto to carry their bats to first base after hitting home runs.

I have this theory that people who were disturbed by the booing would also disapprove of the bat-carrying, both being violations of certain standards of behavior. Likewise, anyone likely to approve of the “Lock him up” chant would be more inclined to let those young ballplayers strut a bit.

Me, I disapprove of both. I see both within a context of society fraying, becoming less civilized.

You?

soto

Is Donald Trump our ‘most honest president?’

"Believe me..."

“Believe me…”

Frank Bruni reminds me of this point I’ve been thinking about making for two or three years now, but I’ve just never gotten around to it.

We know that no one who has ever held the office of president — in our lifetimes, at the least — utters more falsehoods that this guy. Certainly, no one can boast more “Four Pinocchio” scores (OK, I tried to back that up with a link, and Google failed me. Oh, I saw that the Post had to come up with a new “Bottomless Pinocchio” just for him, and that in 2018 they broke his falsehoods into two categories to keep him from dominating the standings, but I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for. I think what I’m running into is the ancient horror journalists have of saying someone or something is the most anything ever — because someone might always come up with a worse example.).

He seems the personification of the old gag, “How can I tell when he’s lying? His mouth’s moving.”

The thing is, though, what if he’s not lying, technically? What if he actually believes all of these laughably false things that he asserts with such vehemence? The guy’s not terribly bright, and he’s such a narcissist that it’s possible that he convinces himself that any assertion that is helpful, or that he perceives as helpful, to Donald Trump is automatically true.

There’s plenty we can point to that supports this position on the matter. How else do you explain, just to grab a recent example, his repeated assertion that his July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president was “perfect?” Or that the whistleblower (remember the whisteblower, that guy whose role in all this long ago became redundant in light of subsequent revelations, a fact that has not yet penetrated the Donald’s skull?) is peddling untruths. He continues to assert both of these things even though the rough transcript the White House itself released shows him to be obviously wrong on both counts. Not to mention all of the subsequent revelations that show that phone call to be just one piece of a large, consistent pattern.

Maybe you want to say he’s crazy rather than dumb. Either way, you can say his ability to discern the truth is severely limited.

So in that case, is he a liar? Don’t you have to mean to lie for it to count?

Anyway, I’m thinking about this again after reading the recent Frank Bruni column headlined “‘Human Scum,’ ‘Lynching’ and Trump’s Tortured English.” (Subhed: “The president needs a thesaurus and a therapist, though not necessarily in that order.”)

It’s another piece addressing a thing that probably explains as well as anything why people who work with words tend to see Trump as dumb, while it is less obvious to certain other people:

The other day he turned to the bounteous trove of the English language for a pejorative worthy of his critics’ awfulness, at least as he sees it. He decided on “human scum.”

He sought to capture the horror and injustice befalling him. What he came up with was “lynching.”

There’s being crude with language, there’s being loose with it, and then there’s being Trump, who uses words the way a toddler does marbles, grabbing the ones that are most bluntly colorful and tossing them into the air just because he can.

Trump is as inept at English as he is at governing. He’s oxymoronic: a nativist who can’t really speak his native tongue….

And so on. But the passage that prompts this post is this:

I’ve written before that Trump, “in terms of the transparency with which he shows us the most eccentric and ugliest parts of himself,” may inadvertently be “the most honest president in my lifetime.” His language is obviously central to that. It’s a glimpse into his fury and fears…

Which is slightly different from what I said above. Basically, Bruni is saying that no matter how untrue and badly chosen his words are, the emotion behind them reveals the true Trump.

My point is that maybe we can’t label Trump’s perpetual flow of falsehoods as lies, because he really doesn’t know any better.

Either way, Trump comes across as less dishonest than a mere examination of facts would suggest.

What do y’all think?

 

The greater wonder is that there are people who don’t see it, or don’t care, or both

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Just this morning I got around to reading Frank Bruni’s Sunday column, which begins:

The wonder of the Trump administration — the jaw-dropping, brain-exploding phantasmagoria of it — is that it doesn’t bury its rottenness under layers of counterfeit virtue or use a honeyed voice to mask the vinegar inside. The rottenness is out in the open. The sourness is right there on the surface for all to see.

It’s at the president’s rallies, where he plays a bigot for laughs, a bully for applause.

It’s in the ballrooms and beds at Mar-a-Loco, where he mingles official government business with free marketing for his gilded club.

It’s in the transcript of his phone call with the president of Ukraine, for whom the quid, the pro and the Biden-ravaging quo couldn’t have been clearer.

It’s at the microphone in the White House briefing room, where his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, showed up on Thursday, announced that President Trump would host the next G7 meeting at one of his own golf resorts, and conceded that, yes, aid to Ukraine had been tied to that country’s indulgence of the president’s political obsessions….

Yeah, it’s pretty amazing, all right — in that we’ve never in American history seen anything like this.

But you know what is a greater wonder? The fact that there are all these people out there — Republican officeholders, and the “base” that terrifies them — who don’t see it, or claim not to see it, no matter how many times Trump slaps them in the face with it, compelling him to look.

People still defend him, in spite of all.

That’s the wonder of it…

Doesn't it make you proud to have a South Carolinian acting as White House chief of staff? For the moment, I mean?...

Doesn’t it make you proud to have a South Carolinian acting as White House chief of staff? For the moment, I mean?…

Those moderates I’ve praised? They’re now talking impeachment

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, former CIA case officer.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, former CIA case officer.

Remember when I wrote about Mikie Sherrill, the moderate Democrat who is emblematic of those whose elections tipped the House to the Democrats last year (in contrast to “The Squad,” whose elections meant nothing)? I described her as just the kind of person I’d jump at the chance to vote for, any time.

She’s an example of someone who steers clear of partisan combat, spending her energy on issues of concern to all her constituents, regardless of party. It’s for the sake of people like her that Nancy Pelosi has kept her foot on the brake with regard to impeaching Trump.

Well, she, and her friend Rep. Abigail Spanberger — whom I have mentioned in similar terms — and five other moderate freshmen have now had enough, as they explained in an oped today:

This flagrant disregard for the law cannot stand. To uphold and defend our Constitution, Congress must determine whether the president was indeed willing to use his power and withhold security assistance funds to persuade a foreign country to assist him in an upcoming election.

If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense. We do not arrive at this conclusion lightly, and we call on our colleagues in Congress to consider the use of all congressional authorities available to us, including the power of “inherent contempt” and impeachment hearings, to address these new allegations, find the truth and protect our national security.

As members of Congress, we have prioritized delivering for our constituents — remaining steadfast in our focus on health care, infrastructure, economic policy and our communities’ priorities. Yet everything we do harks back to our oaths to defend the country. These new allegations are a threat to all we have sworn to protect. We must preserve the checks and balances envisioned by the Founders and restore the trust of the American people in our government. And that is what we intend to do…

Why are they doing this? Because of what we’ve learned the last few days, about the possibility that the president of the United States used taxpayer money to pressure a foreign government to help him tar a domestic political opponent.

And because of who they are:

We have devoted our lives to the service and security of our country, and throughout our careers, we have sworn oaths to defend the Constitution of the United States many times over…

Because like the intelligence officer who blew the whistle, they are looking at something alarming to people who love their country.

Because duty demands it.

And that’s where things stand now…

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot.