Friday, June 02, 2017

The Great Schism

Listening to the Other Side
Without a Jealous Mind


            So he did it. I thought for a little while he was playing his “art-of-the-deal” game, keeping everyone on tenterhooks while he pretended to be considering an extreme position. But no. He’s out for revenge on all the environmentalists and the people who believe science is right about climate change because he knows none of them voted for him and hate the sight of him on their television and internet screens. So now he’s going to screw them, and he’s going to rub it in.

            That’s my left wing response. Here’s my right-wing response:

             I believe God takes care of us, not the government, and I am sick and tired of all these intellectual Ph.D.s and pseudo-scientists and so-called educated college wimps acting like they know what the good Lord is up to with this weather business when all they learned in college was atheism. The government thinks it’s God, but it’s just a tool of the Devil.
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            You see, I decided to listen to the “other side.” I don’t mean where my dearly departed Mother and Dad are, but where the right-wing lives. Guided by a friend, I watched a video by “Coach” Dave Daubenmire, a prophetic right-wing figure whose most recent hour-long diatribe calls on Christian men to become more violent.
            I get the logic. They hate liberals. Who are liberals? Candy-assed feminist men, Jews, blacks and browns, journalists, and the highly educated—Democrats, mostly, or out in Left field with the Greens and sometimes the Socialists, giving our country away to Them.
            What I don’t get is how taking up violence against the liberal enemy is Christian. In my understanding of the Gospels, Jesus never advocated violence against an enemy. But Coach Dave apparently sees a different Jesus than I. He has his Jesus and I have mine. And you have yours, and she has hers, and on an on , etc, etc. We all have our own idea about how this world runs and who should be in charge, and Coach Dave proudly brays when Trump pushes Montenegro Prime Minister Duško Marković aside to get front and center among a crowd of world leaders posing for a photo. That’s how a POTUS should act, he says. Show them who’s The Man.
            He also stoutly approves of Republican Greg Gianforte’s response to the Guardian reporter who asked him about the American Health Care Act. Gianforte threw the reporter, Ben Jacobs, to the floor, cursing him and breaking his glasses. That’s what a real man does to these girlie boys who stand in the way of God’s Kingdom. And he still won the election! Montanans know what’s up, they’re not fooled by this communist crap.
            Coach Dave assures us that the Lord Jesus Christ was not passive. He was a real man, a Man among men. He stood strong against the Powers That Be. How many Christian men today will do that? But that’s what Coach Dave charges his Christian men to do. No more Mr. Nice Guy. It’s time to get real with these sissy liberal punks, give them the taste of a knuckle sandwich.
            Coach Dave would like Ezra Pound’s poem about Jesus, “The Ballad of the Goodly Fere.”
                        “No capon priest was the Goodly Fere,
                        But a man o’ men was he!”
            Ezra Pound, of course, was a fascist sympathizer who backed Mussolini’s rise to power in Italy. Some people theorize Trump is a lot like Mussolini. So is this a pattern? Do admirers of manly saviors, like Coach Dave’s and Ezra Pound’s versions of Jesus, tend to be fascists?
            I was raised to see Jesus as a non-violent pacifist. Coach Dave instructs his Christian men to be warriors against the desecrators of their religion. We each can justify our interpretations by the Bible. Is the Bible bi-polar? This is not a frivolous question. Is Coach Dave’s preferred Jesus who drove the money-changers from the temple with a whip the same prophet who said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”?
            Who’s correct, which path is the true one? I personally prefer the latter. Though I’m not a nominal Christian, I revere the Christ spirit and the man whom we’ve determined embodied it. But how do I explain the cleansing of the Temple? How does Coach Dave explain the Sermon on the Mount? These are 2,000-year-old arguments, at the least.
The Real Issue
            Leaving them aside, then, I don’t think the central question here is who’s the true American or whether Jesus was a pacifist or a  warrior, calling us to turn the other cheek or fight back. I think the real issue, less important but more urgent, is the survival of the United States of America.
            At present we are obviously not “united states.” After Trump’s announcement to pull us out of the Paris Climate Accord, the governors of New York, Washington, and California announced they were voluntarily and independently signing on to the Accord. Immediately something like 100 cities agreed, and more states, municipalities, and even major corporations are expected to follow.
            It looks like “the great American schism,” which my Facebook friend Stephen Schwartz has warned about for years, advances now apace. But how can we carve two nations out of the present United States when the two sides, who may speak the same language in name, are so divided geographically? The blue states will resemble the Palestinian non-state, with their territories separated by hostile forces except perhaps for the blue islands of Colorado, Illinois, and conceivably one or two others. And perhaps there will be city states, as well—Austin, Atlanta, Charlotte, Albuquerque, and hopefully Norfolk.
            My opinion, of course, is that pulling out of Paris is sheer madness, inadequate as the agreement may have been in relation to the gravity of the climate problem. But everyone on my side of the fence knows that, while on the other side, while they gloat over my side’s anguish, they want nothing to do with remedies that will change their lives. They want coal to come back for them. They say, “My grandfather, my father, and all my uncles were coal miners, and I’ll be damned to hell if I’m going to take a job in a pussy industry like solar or wind when all my people for generations have mined coal.”
            It’s hard to argue with people attached to family and clan traditions where “progress” is seen as a betrayal of your ancestors. Those roots go deeper than the concept of a general good and, of course, include “dat ol’ time religun.” But not for me.
            I frankly love the idea of “the United States of America”—United being the operative word. That idea to me is bigger than either side, and it’s rare if ever in U.S. history when it’s been in full operation, where everyone, however grudgingly, agrees. But to me it’s the one big idea we have as a people: A union of totally disparate groups around the idea of Union.
            It’s like a marriage in which the parties are determined not to fail. That alone can cause parties eventually to love one another.
            (The reason for that is a secret. It’s because all people are lovable. Shhhhhh! Don’t tell!)
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            Coach Dave is a man who’s quick to tell you his age—mid-sixties, I forget which digit. He sits as if at a sportscaster’s desk with an aerial shot of an empty football stadium as his backdrop. From there, he rants, his stubbly white beard and ball cap identifying him as an angry white man, a proud redneck who also, he assures us, is a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ. 
            He’s saying Christian men have got to toughen up, stop shying away from violence, and take the fight to the liberals, man-to-man.
            Really?
            I’m sorry, but isn’t this a little ridiculous—a man, no more than ten years younger than I, about to hit his first heart attack, cancer, or stroke—actually challenging me (for example) to a fist fight over politics and religion and who’s the real American? 
            I saw two old black men get into an argument in Thomkin’s Square Park in New York City one afternoon in 1968 or ‘69. They were both obviously inebriated, staggering as they faced off, fists up, taking ineffectual swings at each other as if waving away flies, until one of them got out his pocket knife and threatened to stab the other, who became enraged and resumed swinging while the other man poked at his fists with his knife. At that point a third man jumped up from a nearby bench and intervened, talked some sense to them both, and, with an arm around each, walked them back to the bench, where they sat down. After all, it really wasn’t worth the effort—two old fools too dumb to know they’re both standing on the steps of the Exit. Someone—a friend to both—has to remind them.
A More Perfect Union
            I grieve at the thought that we might relinquish the great idea of a United States of America. Say it to yourself and tell me you don’t feel something, even if it’s bitter.
            I think of Thomas Jefferson, my favorite founding father, as the architect of that idea when he wrote The Declaration of Independence and also successfully pressed for a Constitutional Bill of Rights. (His only indisputable crime against humanity was owning slaves, which he knew was wrong but couldn’t give it up. I like to think it was because he was afraid he’d lose Sally Hemings, who he loved in torment. For that I offer more pity than condemnation.)
            Jefferson conceived of a Union of disparate elements and Lincoln—to keep the chain going for a moment—insisted on preserving that Union. It takes my breath away that we now see two sides determined to tear it apart rather than admit the other side is American, too. Who will keep the name if the schism really comes? Or will we just fight over borders for hundreds of years like the Europeans have?
            Jesus Christ, men! What the hell! 
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            Here’s my take:
            We’re all human first. And then we’re Americans. Americans don’t have to love each other or even want to know each other. But for Americans to argue among themselves over who’s the true American is like those old black men, probably in their ‘80s, trying to settle an argument going back so far they can’t remember what started it. 
            No one can win this red-blue/right-left stand-off. But as Americans we all can lose if we don’t put United first and States second. To me that means we’ve got to have the oversight of a national government. We’ve got to have Washington to be our ultimate safety, our referee, assuring justice in our Union among all Americans.
            An American is a person born or naturalized in the United States. Period.
            So if we give up the United States of America, as so many are calling for, we surrender the Great Idea of “out of many, one,” which is printed on our money as a reminder of our deeper truth.
            It’s not just about accepting “the other,” either. It’s also about accepting ourselves. We are the United States of America. The United States. Unless we cast that name aside, we’re bound by honor to meet its demands.
            So I say to Coach Dave, on the very outside chance he’s reading this, that though we stand on totally opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, I know we share enough as Americans that we could have a few laughs over beers in a country bar or stand together in a moment or two of awe at a July 4th fireworks display. And I’m sure there are many other examples where we live in a common America. Isn’t that proof enough that we’re both Americans? Do we have to be mortal enemies because we have different ideas about Jesus and how much government we should have overseeing our lives?
            And more to the point, why do we get so angry that we’d like to saw each other apart? That just doesn’t make sense. Are we having a mental health problem here?
            “What are you afraid of?” you ask your Christian men who don’t step up to fight. But one could just as easily ask, “What are you afraid of, Dave, that you won’t sit down and make peace?”
            We’re going to need a third alternative, a peace-maker who understands the great Jeffersonian idea of the United States of America—“out of the many, one”—and brings both sides back together to the park bench to sit down and remember the good times. Otherwise, a lot of people are going to get hurt, before and after we understand what we’ve given up by forgetting our one big idea.

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