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Transcending Trump: August 7

Transcending Trump: August 7

The headlines opined: “Trump v. Nixon- No Comparison.” Of course, everyone has been making the comparison, with the Russia scandal so front and center in the headlines and the growing fear that our entire Constitutional system is under attack. I remember the day Nixon resigned.  I was watching TV with some friends of a friend in Paris. Reading the subtitles as President Nixon made his much-heralded announcement, one of them asked me, “Why would Americans force Nixon to step down? He was a respected diplomat. He  ended the Vietnam war and opened China. He founded the E.P.A. and enforced the desegregation of schools. He was a good president.”

“But he was a liar and a cheat,” I responded.

The French speaker looked at me incredulously. “You Americans are so naive. Do you really expect politicians to be honest?”

The answer back then was yes. It still is.

As much as I am opposed to Trump’s politics and the rise of red state conservatism in America, I am far more troubled by the loss of our Enlightenment ideals- those powerful (and often conflicting) beliefs that have been the hallmark of American political rhetoric for almost two hundred fifty years: freedom, equality, democracy, individualism, hard work and the optimism that comes from a belief in progress and perfectability. Perhaps these were never actually the basis for American politics. My daughter’s Turkish boyfriend certainly scoffed at that claim. Perhaps they’ve always just been rationalizations for brute aggression and capitalist greed, and Trump is just claiming our true national birthright.

But how I hope that’s not the case. How I pray that there is still a place for a constitutional government based on these ideals and that our congressional leaders will find the courage to stand up to this President and reclaim the moral leadership that has.

Le Jeu d’Adam

Le Jeu d’Adam

Sometime around the end of the 12th century a morality play emerged in the Occitan region of southern France called “Le Jeu d’Adam.” On the surface it recounts the stories of Genesis about humanity’s fall: the temptation in the Garden of Eden and Cain’s jealous fratricide. It also offers a dire warning to the growing number of Cathars and Waldensians who were considered “enemies of the Church.” In my upcoming novel “Elmina’s Fire,” I’ve told the story from the point of view of a pious Catholic girl who is tormented by fiery demons and jealousy towards her younger sister. She laments:

The next day was Good Friday and I spent the day in church with Papa and Amelha. As I confessed my sinful heart, I prayed for its release. My soul, like Cain’s, had been branded with the sin of envy, and I begged you, God, to show me a different path. That Easter, I once more stood transfixed before the sacred host and gratefully took Christ’s body into my own. How I wanted to believe that my soul had been wiped clean; but, Dearest God, the flames of envy and desire still burned within me, and I knew it wasn’t so.

As I try to digest each new atrocity that comes out of Washington, I must accept that human nature hasn’t much changed. The jealousy and rivalries that rule our land threaten to destroy our once great nation. I shudder at what might be in store for those our president now deems to be “enemies of the people.” And I pray that I will have the courage and the strength to stand up for them in a way Elmina could not do.

 

What’s Next?

What’s Next?

It’s been a challenging time, these past few months of bracing for the onslaught.

In mandala work, black can denote death and deep depression, while purple often signifies grief and mourning. That sure fits this one.

I’ve been walking around like a zombie, unwilling to face the reality that almost half of my country voted for Donald J. Trump, voted to support a populist nationalism as powerful in its hate-filled rhetoric as that which came out of Nazi Germany in the the 1930’s. Like the jagged lines of this mandala, it seems like an assault on everything that is decent and good about my country.

But now inauguration day has come and gone. The great dismantling is underway. The pipelines are going in, the wall is going up and the world’s refugees are no longer welcome on our shores. And it’s only been four days – we are not even close to hitting bottom.

And yet, since participating in the Women’s March on Saturday, I’m filled with a new sense of purpose. In the past few days, I’ve signed petitions, called and written my Congressional Representatives, joined the Episcopal Action Network, and signed on to an Immigration Advocacy Group. An shut-in friend and I are starting a weekly letter-writing circle. There is something being hatched here. I don’t know the answer to my question, “What’s Next?” but I do know that my old mantra of “I’m not really very political” is no longer a tenable option. A new Linda is waiting to be born.

I Ain’t Afraid of Your Yahweh

I Ain’t Afraid of Your Yahweh

 


“I ain’t afraid of your Yahweh.

I ain’t afraid of your Allah

I ain’t afraid of your Jesus

I’m afraid of what you do in the name of your God.”

I’m part of a newly minted street choir in Portland, Maine that meets each month to sing out our frustration and make plans to lend our voices to social justice events. In this confusing time, it’s good to connect with others, young and old, who will not be silenced by the malignant force that’s overtaking our world.  It’s good to be a small part of the resistance and making plans to participate in the Woman’s March in Augusta on January 21.

But as we get into the catchy rhythm of Holly Near’s song, I grow increasingly sick at heart. For one thing, despite all my misgivings about religion, I am a church person- a former UCC minister turned Episcopalian. All the good that I try to do in the world is offered in the name of my God. And I’m not alone. Since the founding of our nation, faith communities have been at the base of our nation’s most powerful protest movements for abolition, temperance, peace and civil rights. Progressive church leaders march each year in the Portland Gay Pride parade, they advocate for the homeless, they urge all of us to look to our faith in our efforts to shape the world. Many of us will be marching on January 21 in the name of what we choose to call God.

I keep on singing.

“I ain’t afraid of your Bible.

I ain’t afraid of your Torah.

I ain’t afraid of your Qur’an….”

And I have a realization. My deep malaise is not so much about losing an election. It’s not even about the prospect of watching almost a century of progressive policy unravel and seeing such hard-won programs as Medicare, Medicaid, the EPA, minimum wages, and Union protections evaporate into thin air.  It’s deeper than that.

I think I’d be OK- well, better anyway- if an obnoxious tea party conservative had won the election. At least he or she would be standing on some kind of deeply felt principles: Biblical, libertarian, pro-life. I’d disagree with the politics and policies, but at least my faith in the American political system would not be shaken to its core. For twenty-seven years I taught high school history and helped a generation of young people grapple with six core (and at times conflicting) American ideals: freedom, equality, individualism, concern for the common good, pragmatism, and optimism. We’ve disagreed mightily over how to balance and achieve these ideals, but we’ve had a basic platform from which to argue. I recognize now how much I’ve taken for granted a political system in which we have a common ideology. I WANT the sense that I’m working together with those I may disagree with to act in the name of our respective gods.

But that’s not what is emerging. The conservative right has jettisoned its moral high ground to  embrace Donald Trump, a man whose life and rhetoric have been entirely devoid of principle. And the Republican Party, drunk with its own power, seems hell-bent on leading us into some twenty-first century version of The Lord of the Flies. They have embraced Trump’s blatant intermeshing of business and political power is the new normal. They’re not going to get bent out of shape by allegations from seventeen security agencies that our election process was hacked by Russia for the purpose of controlling its outcome. They seem OK with Nazis in the White House. They’re noncommittal about a president who refuses security briefings and taunts the public with a game of “I know something I won’t tell.” Their first move as a new Congress was to dismantle the House Ethics Committee. . . .

Right now I am afraid.

I’m afraid to turn on the news and see what’s happening next.

I’m afraid of a government that no longer has even a pretext of idealism to it.

When in comes right down to it, I’m less afraid right now of what you do in the name of your god than in what we as a nation are going to do in the name of NO god.

Politically Naive

Politically Naive

 

On August 9, 1974 I was sitting in a living room in Paris, surrounding a small television set with a group of French friends. They were incredulous over the impeachment of President Nixon and his decision to resign. To them Nixon was one of America’s finest Presidents, the one who had eased tension with the Soviet Union, ended the War in Vietnam, and opened relations with China. He had enforced desegregation of schools and founded the Environmental Protection Agency. They asked me why Americans would turn their back on such accomplishments over a little political scandal.

 

I answered by talking about the importance of honesty and integrity and having a political leader the nation could look up to. They just laughed. Their response translated to something like this, “Americans are so naive. It’s not possible for a politician to be honest and get elected at the same time. You all just turn a blind eye to the corruption in your government and then get all bent out of shape when you’re forced to look at it.”

 

I’m thinking about that exchange this morning. A posting came across Facebook to the effect that the most alarming thing about Hillary supporters is they don’t care about the scandals surrounding her. I bristled, but had to acknowledge there’s some truth there. I’d rather have a President who shares my ideals and can work the system than a bully whose values I abhor. Still, I’m sad. That naïve young woman who sat in a French living room forty years ago hasn’t completely disappeared. She does want to believe that we are a nation under God, one that honors the Enlightenment ideals on which we were founded. She wants our leaders to be admirable men and women who are dedicated to these ideals in both their personal and professional lives. She wants to think that a nation of the people, by the people and for the people can still flourish on the earth. She really does want our democracy to work.

 

And yet as I write this, I let out a heavy sigh. Our democracy isn’t working. Political corruption seems to be the order of the day. There’s another round of e-mail allegations against Hillary. The Standing Rock protesters are being arrested and routed from their camps. Our Congress is so polarized it’s been unwilling to make necessary reforms to the Affordable Care Act or even consider a nominee to the Supreme Court. Nightly pundits discuss the possibility of armed resistance to the outcome of this election. Like everyone I know, I fear our nation will not be able to heal its growing divide and the deep wounds caused by this campaign. I guess I wonder myself whether democracy and integrity are incompatible.

 

And yet, I do so long to have my faith in democracy restored. I listen to Michelle Obama and my cynicism cracks. I voted Tuesday in a room filled with multi-ethnic people, all of us taking seriously our responsibility as citizens, and I felt a swelling of patriotic pride. I follow with excitement the campaign of Muslim immigrant Pious Ali for City Council here in Portland, and I think that despite the bile of this campaign, perhaps all is not lost. Have you seen things during the insanity of this election year that give you cause for hope in our political system? If so, I would love to hear from you.