Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Too Long; Didn’t Read -or- Only Half the Story

Earlier this week, Steve Schmidt let fly, on Twitter.

If you watch MSNBC with any regularity, you’ve seen Mr. Schmidt. He’s the fellow with the goatee and otherwise clean-shaven head … whose entire head gets radiantly red when he rails against the current federal leadership in these United States.

He tweeted thusly [punctuation corrected because yeah, I’m a nut about that]:

The 43rd President of the United States listened to Trump’s inaugural and turned to the former Secretary of State and said, “well, that was some weird shit.”

Indeed it was. Trump raged about “American carnage”, and described a [dystopian] America that existed only in the fever dreams of a noxious mix of conspiracy theorists, demagogic commentators and dishonest propaganda platforms getting rich by spreading the disinformation planted by foreign intelligence services.

Three years on, it turns out Trump’s speech was prophecy. He has brought devastation to America. His legacy will be mass death and economic collapse caused by his staggering incompetence and ineptitude. The United States is the epicenter of Covid-19 disease and death, and the reason is because of Trump. Trump has failed at an epic level.

He has divided the country and stoked a cold civil war. He has lied more than 17,000 times, and desecrated the American Presidency. He has assaulted American patriots, [and] our most important institutions, and attacked the rule of law.

He is corrupt, indecent and utterly lacking character. He processes none of the qualities of greatness and goodness that have steered our country through its darkest nights. He is a fool without compare. He is intellectually unfit and mentally fragile. He is unworthy of his office and unfit for its duties.

We are living in a moment of American weakness unlike any of us have ever seen. Trump is the architect of that weakness. He is the instrument of our precipitous national decline. Recovery from this disaster will take many years. Trump is not capable at any level of leading it.

The election ahead is the most important this country has faced since 1864. Let it end this rancid era of the reality-show Presidency. Let it send this tiresome and ignorant bully back to Trump Tower and cleanse the stench of his corruption, idiocy, race-baiting and failure from our national life.

The name Trump will long linger. It will stand for suffering and unnecessary death. It will stand for economic collapse and financial ruin. It will stand for failure and weakness. It will stand for decline and dishonesty. It will stand for stupidity and indecency.

But mostly it will mark a tragic time in America where the worst leader in our long history, a man so outmatched by history’s test was the President. He will be remembered rightfully as the worst one we have ever had.

 

Which is fine, as far as it goes. And it goes fairly far.

But it would be well to note that immediately, a comment appeared, in the form of a multiple-Tweet thread, from a gentleman called Bradley Dlatt. Mr. Dlatt is a Chicago-based insurance attorney, but otherwise not a nationally-known pundit or similar. And this Tweet sets Mr. Schmidt’s commentary in a bit more context … context which will be important to keep in mind, come November.

Mr. Dlatt tweeted thusly:

Good thoughts here, Steve, but any conversation about Trump that divorces his brand of division, cruelty, incompetence, and ineptitude from the political party that elected him and has enabled him only tells half the story.

That story begins in 2008, with a little known Alaska Governor your team plucked from obscurity named Sarah Palin.

The media loved to talk about her, because she made division, incompetence, and ineptitude “cool” by being an “average person” who shunned expertise and science. Sarah Palin also made it “cool” to be objectively wrong and uninformed, thus creating a brand of politics best summarized as: “if your gut believes it, it must be true.”

Sarah Palin also gave us a new brand of conservatism that many call simply “Own the Libs” conservatism – a knee-jerk approach to politics wherein conservatives were taught to believe that any idea proposed by a progressive politician must inherently be wrong.

From Sarah Palin, we get the proliferation of sites like Breitbart News, a mainstream focus for the first time on conspiracy theorists like InfoWars, and the birth of “the tea party” – an anti-government, anti-science, and anti-intellectualist movement where Trump found a home.

The Tea Party was a political melting pot for racism, anti-intellectualism, anti-elitism, “Own the Libs,” and “if my gut believes it, it must be true” politics. Because it was entertaining, the media propped up the Tea Party as the “conservative” response to Obama. Since no other conservatives stepped in to fill the void and the media likes a good story, the Tea Party quickly gained popularity as the “GOP response” to Obama, unseating moderate republicans and bringing the Palin Values into the conservative mainstream.

When Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and others within the GOP mainstream saw that the Tea Party was a credible threat to the hold on the GOP and could whip voters into an Anti-Obama frenzy, they went “all in” and essentially capitulated to the Tea Party worldview. After the Romney Experiment (“run a conventional Republican”) failed in 2012, Mitch and others doubled-down on the Tea Party. The result was that voices like Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann, and Tom Cotton, who firmly espouse the Palin Values, were elevated within the GOP.

Enter Donald J. Trump.

Trump, a tea party figure and TV celebrity, took everything that Sarah Palin was saying in 2008 and everything the Tea Party said from 2009-2014 and “turned it up to 11” – the fringiest of the fringe. The Trump Train gathered steam within the GOP, powered by the media’s infatuation with the ever-entertaining candidate.

There was a single moment in early 2016 when Santorum, Cruz, Marco could have united by backing one of their 3 to end Trump. Mitch could have made it happen. Instead, the leaders of “mainstream conservativism” refused to coalesce, capitulating to Trump’s popularity with their “base” much as they did to the Tea Party several years before. The result: Trump wins the GOP nomination.

Fast-forward to January 2016.

Trump is inaugurated after running as a “Tea Party Turned Up to 11” candidate and with almost full backing from the ashes of “mainstream conservativism” who – again – gave in to the “Own the Libs” view whereby Trump > any qualified candidate.

Now, we’ve reached Present Day. Trump is all of the things you say he is, Steve, but he can be those things without limit because any elected Republican with political capital helped put him in the White House, opposed impeachment, and ran on the same Tea Party/Palin Values.

 

With this in mind – the fact that Donald Trump won more primary votes than any candidate for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination ever, and the fact that if the national Republican Party establishment wanted to derail his campaign, they surely could have and would have …

It will be well to remember that Steve Schmidt, former communications and public affairs strategist, has the following on his professional resume:

[] 1995: Managed the unsuccessful campaign for Kentucky attorney general of Republican Will T. Scott.

[] 1998: Managed the unsuccessful campaign for California lieutenant governor of Republican State Senator Tim Leslie.

[] 1998: Was communications director of the unsuccessful campaign to unseat US Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) of California’s Republican state treasurer Matt Fong.

[] 1999: Was communications director of the unsuccessful presidential primary campaign of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), leaving in June when the campaign reduced its senior staff.

[] 2001: Was Deputy Assistant to President George W. Bush and Counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney.

[] 2004: Was a member of the senior strategic planning group ran President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign (oversaw the reelection “war room”).

[] 2005/2006: Was the White House strategist responsible for the US Supreme Court nominations of Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.

[] 2006: Was campaign manager of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s re-election campaign in 2006.

[] 2008: Was senior campaign strategist and advisor to the presidential campaign of Arizona Sen. John McCain.

[] The New York Times described Schmidt’s management as having transformed the McCain campaign into “an elbows-out, risk-taking, disciplined machine”, crediting him with aggressive responses to press criticism and creative methods of manipulating the news cycle. In a September 2008 Times opinion piece, columnist Michael Scherer nicknamed Schmidt the “lord of outrage”.

[] Schmidt may be best known for pushing John McCain to select Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

 

So, yes, Mr. Schmidt is rightly scathing in his indictment of the current occupant of the White House.

But from a larger perspective … a perspective that requires people to remember recent history, say, before the year 2015 … it is important to note that Steve Schmidt is part of the team that is responsible for all this.

I can think of plenty of people who would be better suited to speak Schmidt’s words on national cable news television – people who played zero role in creating the current state of national Republican politics and in fact were hair-on-fire warning everyone about it.

And I can think of people who would be better suited to sitting down and, in the recent words of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), “keeping their mouths shut.”

May 15, 2020 Posted by | current events, Famous Persons, government, media, news, politics, Twitter | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Connections

Well, I think I know how TV talking heads feel, now.

Ya know – the evening news comes on, the camera swoops in (never used to swoop in, when I was a kid, but whatever), and there are two news anchors, tailored suit, primary-color dress, well-coiffed, serious but inviting.

Good evening everyone.”

That’s what they say first. And what is being said inside their heads (probably… I assume… come to think of it, I do have a former student whom I could ask about this) is: “everyone whom we presume and pray are out there, watching their televisions… watching our specific program… we hope…”

But they look into the camera in such a way that we are convinced that they’re looking at us, talking to us, and knowing that we’re listening.

It’s a skill.

Fortunately, this past Friday night, that skill was not required of me, so much as it was asked of the gentleman running the session.

 

You’re aware, perhaps, that all over the country, indeed all over the world, precautions are being taken to try to slow down the spread of a virus. (“Oh,” says my dear reader, “I am aware and then some, to the point that I am a walking talking definition of the word paranoia, but prithee continue as if you need to explain.”)

So, large-group gatherings are postponed, canceled, not spoken of in polite society. For heaven’s sake, they cancelled March Madness. That’s how big this is.

You may also be aware, if you’re a regular reader of this blog (not that I’ve been an especially regular post-er, but that’s not your fault), that one of my professional activities kinda involves crowds.

As a church musician, every Thursday evening, I get together with a church choir. Over the course of my nearly two decades in that job, the choir I’ve conducted has been ten, twenty, thirty strong. And our choir room is just not that big. We sing, so we breathe on each other.

And every Sunday, even during the summer when the choir is officially given a couple of months to take a breath, I interact with a couple hundred people or more. Morning service, hello howdy handshake hug; coffee hour afterward, hello howdy handshake hug. In retrospect, when I consider how many other non-COVID-19 contagions are out there, not to mention germy door handles, it’s remarkable that I haven’t gotten sick more often.

But now, all around us, school districts are closing (they also deal with crowds, and not always with crowds of people who are well-practiced in conscious hygiene). And since the schools in the town where we do our church-gigging have closed down for two solid weeks at least … we have been advised to do the same.

For me, this is a first. Growing up in this church, I recall the senior pastor being housed in a parsonage located right next to the church building – so even if the snow is falling at seven inches an hour, he or she could make it to church, so there would be an opportunity for worshippers to worship. Even though our current senior pastor lives in a parsonage a short drive away, on snowy Sundays, he gets there. On a couple of specific recent very-snowy Sundays, we’ve held services that featured congregations small enough to fit into the chancel – please don’t sit on the organ or the altar, but other than that, welcome in! – but as the Bible says: where two or three are gathered…

So now they’re telling us it’s a bad idea for two or three or several dozen to gather.

What to do?

Well, clearly, don’t hold services for several dozen people on Sunday morning, at least for the next few weeks.

No services.

So there are those of us who will definitely will miss it. And not just those of us on the payroll. No indeed.

Every Sunday, our choir sings and belly-laughs in equal measure. Every Sunday, go away from the sermon having learned something, genuinely. Every Sunday, I look forward to seeing friends, checking in, commiserating, celebrating.

And: we have a congregation that mirrors the current trends – all ages, but a great many older members. Who, we are told, are particularly at risk for severe illness and death as a result of contracting COVID-19. So, best not to expose them to the risk of exposure.

But, for them as much as anyone and arguably more, the church community represents a great majority of their connection to other people, their social interaction, their feelings of utility (through our Christian-education programs and community outreach and all the rest of our activities). So if we shut down our church’s activities entirely, and they’re encouraged to stay in their homes … and if they’re not necessarily comfortable with (or conversant in) social media and other forms of electronic communication that would otherwise help keep them connected and such …

Important, then, to maintain some connection.

 

So, this project emerged: after numerous conversations of past years in which the opportunities and challenges of broadcasting our services out into the world via cable-access TV or the Internet or whatever mass-media option may one day exist but doesn’t yet … Nature has forced our hand, at least in the short term. So, we’re doing that. This week, next week, and the week after, we’ll have a pre-recorded Sunday worship service available on-demand. Thanks to our town’s cable-access TV organization, we’re doing this thing.

This past Friday night, about a half-dozen of us, including our senior pastor and my music-staff colleague and I, gathered in our Sanctuary to pre-record the first of these services.

It was weird, but good. Or it was good, but weird. Both, really.

It was weird to be conducting a Sunday-morning worship service without a congregation. There is a certain energy, obviously, that was missing here. In a similar way to holding basketball games without spectators, or a presidential-candidate debate without a studio audience. There’s a give-and-take, audible and not, in our usual gatherings that was missing on Friday night. We expected that going in.

Pastor makes a funny in the middle of the sermon, and no laugh. Musicians sing a little “We’ll Understand It Better By and By”, and at the end, not even an “mmmm” from the absent congregation. (We don’t require applause; we don’t require any particular reaction at all, really, but it’s still odd.) Liturgist says “let us pray”, and the seven people in the room read the printed prayer together, but it’s not the same as when two hundred people read it in a Collective Voice.

But, as I noted at the beginning of all this, this is how it is when Rachel Maddow or Bob Costas or name-your-talking-head sit in a television studio somewhere and say what they have to say. Apart from an unseen off-camera production assistant chuckling at a funny turn of phrase, there’s no one there to react. The only sounding board in the room is a literal one: the back wall.

They have to assume that there’s someone out there, in another place, who is reacting and, to whatever extent, interacting with them. It’s not easy; but it’s their training … or at least they’ve made their peace with it. They do their thing, and, I assume, they don’t think consciously about the people they’re addressing.

So, I didn’t expect to feel quite the way I did, as I sat at the piano, or toted my bass guitar, or helped speak the congregational responses into my microphone.

 

My imagination went to work. As I sang, or played, or spoke, I found myself (or I found a tenth of the back of my mind) keeping the potential audience in mind. No – I was keeping the potential congregation in mind.

And not in the way that a televangelist probably does. Your average mass-media preacher accepts that thousands, millions of people are watching, but he or she can’t possibly know them all.

Friday night, I was thinking of this choir member who sits a few feet away from me in the alto section … or that couple who usually sits about two-thirds of the way to the back of the Sanctuary with their two completely adorable children … or this pillar of the church who usually sits up front and all the way over by the windows … or this particular young acolyte who is a stellar candle-lighter even though she’s hardly four feet tall …

and I was imagining that they might be watching on Sunday afternoon (specifically 2 PM, when the recording is available). They could well be watching, and participating in, the service we were conducting in that moment.

Further: as befits my “weird but good, good but weird” thought at the beginning of this … I found that I was doing my best to connect with those people, in whatever small way, as if they were watching and participating right then.

Maybe it was wishful thinking.

Or maybe those news anchors actually have those senses, too, but they’re too professional to let anyone know, in the moment.

On the other hand, they’re reading the news, and keeping people out there connected to information they needed to have, sometimes in order to stay safe in various ways. Not unimportant, most times; but …

Friday night, we were doing our little bit to help keep people safe; and to maintain a more personal connection; and to keep communicating the Good News.

 

<<<>>>

 

P.S. Here’s how to access our church’s pre-recorded services, if you like:

[1] Go to www.sudburytv.org.

[2] Select the “Watch” option at the top of the computer screen and click “video on demand”.

[3] A new page will appear, where the most recent videos will be listed on the bottom. Our service will likely be the most recent. You can also search “SUMC.” The video will play.

(We’re also researching ways to live-stream Sunday worship so that you may tune-in while the service is happening. When a live option is found, more instructions will be made available for joining remotely with a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Watch this space, and wash your hands!)

March 14, 2020 Posted by | current events, media, religion, social media, SUMC, technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pious Public Pronouncements

[Excerpted from a Facebook post from today.]

Well, let me pause for a moment. I would like to link to one of my favorite vituperative left-leaning bloggers, who writes more fragrantly than I do, as a little “got-yer-back” to a thought I’ve been having. <http://driftglass.blogspot.com/2018/08/the-real-complaining-party-at-bar-in.html&gt;

Here’s what’s bugging me: Currently there are a bunch of people getting lots of credit online (cable TV, Twitter, etc. etc.) for expressing their horror as they seem to suddenly realize: “HE’S HORRIBLE. And his party has Suddenly Become Horrible.”

Rick Wilson, with a best-seller book called “Everything Trump Touches Dies”. Well, duh. Steve Schmidt with a sweet MSNBC contributor gig. Bill Kristol and David Frum, speechwriters and neoconservative think-tank jockeys whose every foreign policy stance has been proven wrong for at least a decade and a half. Nicolle Wallace, with a sweet MSNBC show-hosting gig now.

All of them Never-Trump people… and all of them just waiting for this all to blow over, after which they’ll then go right back to trying to make liberals cry, or forming the Second Tea Party.

Whatever happened to that tale about the scorpion who stung his rescuer and then shrugged because it was in his nature…?

Rick Wilson was a political-advertising guru who gave us George W. Bush’s sliming of John McCain during the 2000 primaries.

Steve Schmidt helped give us Sarah Palin. Enough said.

Bill Kristol and David Frum helped sell us the Iraq War.

Nicolle Wallace was George W. Bush’s White House Communications Director, then was communications director of the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign, and then was a senior advisor to the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign. She didn’t stumble into these gigs. She signed up.

These, and pundits like them, are not people who were on the fence about backing Republican people and policies who were incompetent, craven, and/or cruel. They had experience in this long before the Toddler-in-Chief became a thing.

So in my book, even though they’re taking great pleasure in saying things that will make us liberal types thrill to their seeming conversions … they have one hell of a long way to go before I can happily listen to them as confirmed Lefties.

Because we who were paying attention for the last three years know full well that HE’S HORRIBLE. And we who were paying attention for the last 25 to 40 years know full well that his party has been espousing horrible policies and acting horribly.

I don’t like to hold grudges. I like to be welcoming. But I also like to bear-hug tight to that aphorism about people who forget history, and also to the aphorism (there must be one) about people who try to get other people to forget history. Because not only can that bear-hug inform my assessment of Pious Public Pronouncements … but it reinforces one idea:

We were right all along, thank you kindly.

So … anyway …

74 days to the midterms. VOTE, and then, should we prevail in wresting Congress from the clutches of the current majority … be prepared to tell all those corporately-funded “moderates” and “converted Republicans” to go pound sand. ‘Cause we’re wise to them.

August 24, 2018 Posted by | current events, media, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment