Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Distractions

Trump is a distraction.

Admittedly, a professional circus-grade distraction.  A weapons-grade distraction.  A two-mile-diameter key ring full of the shiniest keys humanity has likely ever produced.

But a distraction nonetheless.

No.  I’m not suggesting that he’s harmless, or that we should not worry our pretty little heads about him.

But yesterday, while we were doing the whirling-dervish thing about allegations of prostitutes allegedly doing, well, drippy things on hotel room beds with the Short-Fingered Vulgarian allegedly in the room … and about a press conference that featured both blatant abuse of journalists and faint hints of future fascistic, authoritarian behavior …

Everything else was happening.

By which we mean: por ejamplo, multiple confirmation hearings of Cabinet-level-position nominees occurring simultaneously (the better to keep the press and the public from being able to keep track of all of them, all at once).

One of those got my attention.  Seriously.  Hard.

In what seemed to be the only moment gobsmacking enough to bring the Senate chamber to almost complete silence, in the late afternoon [Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff] Sessions had this terse exchange with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Whitehouse suggested that lists were already circulating suggesting there might be purges or demotions of certain career appointees in the Justice Department. Whitehouse wondered whether Sessions would have a problem with career lawyers “with secular beliefs,” having in the past criticized department attorneys for being secular. Sessions replied that he has used that language about secular attorneys to differentiate between people who recognize objective “truth” and those who take positions “in which truth is not sufficiently respected.”

Whitehouse replied, with a leading, and perhaps slightly conclusory question: “And a secular person has just as good a claim to understanding the truth as a person who is religious, correct?” At which point Sessions responded, “Well, I’m not sure.” For a few seconds the Senate chamber seemed to go completely silent.

Sessions was quick to reiterate that he doesn’t believe in religious tests, … But it was one of the very few moments in which Sessions’ deft denials of prior positions and statements veered completely off script. It spoke to the levels of obfuscation that are now customary in such confirmation hearings, especially about matters of faith, and the degree to which hearings become theater in which little [that is] true about the nominees and their most deeply felt positions are revealed. It also demonstrated that the views that Sessions is hiding are absolutely inimical to the democratic values of many members of the Senate and a large portion of the country.

These are the people who, for the last forty years, have been setting the table for this.  They have been laying the groundwork.

Partly for a fascist leader-type to emerge and assume the Presidency, so as to be able to appoint extremist-conservative Supreme Court justices and thereby affect long-term legislative and judicial control over American laws and lives.

But partly for such a leader to emerge who would properly distract from the work that they really wanted to accomplish, once they had control of both the US Senate and the US House of Representatives.  With no opposition-party executive branch to offer veto power to stop their legislative efforts, the sky could be the limit.

And the Vulgar Talking Yam is the perfect distraction/leader, since he’s so over-the-top, and so attention-diverting, and already even before running for President was considered the kind of celebrity whose *anticipated presence* at a podium was reason enough for cable news outlets to broadcast images of that empty podium – because that was news.

Sort of an orange herring.

His words and deeds are so spectacularly over-the-top – and they are, by themselves, entirely deserving of attention and backlash and pushback and righteous indignation and all the other reactions that are entirely appropriate – that it’s almost sensible that all of us who are reacting badly to Orange Muppet Hitler behaving badly that we would miss the other, potentially more horrible things that may be happening.

So now we have a nominee for US Attorney General – a job description which, boiled down, says “the chief law enforcement officer for the United States” – who doesn’t trust people who are not overtly religious to have “just as good a claim to understanding the truth as a person who is religious”.

And that would doubtless influence how he enforced the existing laws of the United States.

 

For forty years, the groundwork has been laid … for not necessarily a generically authoritarian regime, although that would be considered a bonus by many of the groundwork-layers (see Robert Altemeyer’s magnificent research regarding authoritarian followers), but for a theocratic government.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …” is the very first thing that the very first amendment to the US Constitution says.  Clearly, the founders of our country considered – based on bitter experience – that it was a terrible idea for a government to be allowed to determine a state-sanctioned religion.  That way lies Crusades and the like.

Let’s be honest: this country already has a state religion: the worship of money.  But if Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III and the legions of extremist conservatives who have been massing their forces, waiting for the perfect moment to launch an offensive on American government, have their way … well, that First Amendment nonsense won’t get in the way of the establishment of right-wing Christians as the preferred religious and governmental authorities of the United States.

And here, again (readers of this blog will note that I’ve opined on this topic in this space before), Christianity is getting a bad name.

The people who have spent the last four decades infiltrating the government and the media and public life … are the people who would impose their will, autocratically and discriminatorily, on people who don’t look like they do, who don’t think like they do, who don’t have money like they do, who don’t worship like they do, who don’t love like they do.

There are many people in this country – and sadly, they are either in positions of authority or are about to be – who profess to be Christians but don’t know the first thing about it.  Who drape themselves with the mantle of Christianity but who violate the teachings of Christ with their every word and action.  Who give Christianity as it was first conceived a bad name.

In case anyone needs a refresher:

 

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(Matthew 5:3-10)

 

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

(Matthew 25:34-40)

 

Apparently, those tenets are for suckers.

Hell, if someone doesn’t look like me, think like me, get paid like me, worship like me, love like me … they don’t deserve the same rights that I do … is what these people are saying.  Some couch it in flowery distracting language; others really don’t, anymore.

 

To be clear – full disclosure – I am a straight white Christian male.

To be clearer, though, I am a straight (who respects the right of not-straight people to live their lives in the way that they do), white (who tries like hell to understand what kind of everyday life non-white people have to live, thanks to generations of white people who oppressed them and still do), Christian (who actually pays attention to the actual teachings of Christ) male (who has nothing but respect for women because they’re human beings, and human beings deserve respect regardless of who they are).

So, I’m totally comfortable saying: I loathe these people, and what they intend to do to this country, via what they intend to do to many groups of American citizens.

Cheeto Mussolini is a cartoon character.  A dangerous one, to be sure – either via his conscious actions or the consequences that will surely occur in the wake of any of his impulsive lashings-out.

But the Congressional majority that has been elected to office (and the voting-rights rollbacks and gerrymandering that have assisted in this represent a topic for another time), as well as the current cartoonishly corrupt nominees for Cabinet-level positions, represent a far greater danger to this country and all of its citizens.

More specifically, the people within those groups who claim to be followers of Christ but wouldn’t know a parable if it hit ’em in the head … and who wish the government could do their religious recruiting for them … and who wish to take away rights from the people who don’t look, think, earn, worship, or love like they do … in fact, who wish to inflict actual cruelty, to PUNISH fellow Americans who are different from them …

These are the true villains in this.

Yes, engage Pumpkin Spice Pol Pot.

But don’t be distracted.

A far more awful game’s afoot.

 

RESIST.  REJECT.

January 12, 2017 Posted by | civil rights, current events, government, news, politics, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peace on Earth, … Oh, Never Mind

I’ll keep this relatively brief – partly because some time ago I blogged about this subject and there are some topics I’ll repeat myself about, happily … and others about which I wish I didn’t feel the need to write at all, never mind again and again.

By now, if you’re anywhere online, you’ll have noted that last week, when the Starbucks coffee empire decided to make its coffee cups red (instead of the usual green) in recognition of the upcoming holidays, a small subset of our great nation lost their minds.

In short, the “controversy” appeared to surround the fact that there wasn’t a specific message or image to indicate that those particular “holidays” were in fact the ones that Christians celebrate. (There’s a tiny debate in MY mind about how certain of those Christians celebrate certain of those holidays, which I’ll get to.)

Of course, as is their custom, the pretend cable channels that broadcast pretend news have stepped in to help amplify the Losing of the Minds.

Those non-journalists have once again invoked the now age-old chestnut to describe any tiny little perceived lack of respect toward this most traditional of holidays in this most traditional of religious traditional faiths. Yes indeed, we have again seen the annual arrival of The War On Christmas.

It turns out that the impetus for this most reason strain of the War On Christmas Virus was a rant ‘n’ rave session by a fellow from Arizona.

Joshua Feuerstein, who identifies himself as an “American evangelist, Internet and social media personality” on his website, posted a video on Facebook about the Starbucks cup that has been shared nearly 500,000 times. In the video, the Arizona-based Feuerstein says he told baristas in a Starbucks that his name was Merry Christmas so they would write Merry Christmas on the red cup. “I think in the age of political correctness we’ve become so open minded our brains have literally fallen out of our head,” Feuerstein says in the video. “I decided instead of simply boycotting, well why don’t we just start a movement.” … “I’m challenging all great Americans and Christians around this great nation, go into Starbucks and take your own coffee selfie. … Let’s start a movement and let’s call it, I don’t know, hashtag Merry Christmas Starbucks,” said Feuerstein, who also said in the video that he wore a Jesus Christ shirt and took a gun into Starbucks with him, “since you [Starbucks] hate the 2nd amendment.”

Oh. I get it now. This is only tangentially about the Yuletide, and much more about a fellow who likely suffered from a dearth of parental attention as a kid, or who perhaps feels the need to compensate for some other lack in his life.

And about a fellow whose interpretation of that Second Amendment to the US Constitution roughly boils down to “my right to have guns trumps any other consideration anywhere anytime”. Considerations like other people’s safety, security, well-being, and sometimes their very lives.

As the astute Charlie Pierce puts it, “Because nothing says ‘Peace on Earth, good will to men’ like a pest in a Jesus shirt coming into a coffee shop strapped.”

Meanwhile, it can’t be a coincidence that the media people who this year and every year drive or amplify the War On Christmas idea into American skulls, do so using the terms “war on…” and “assault on…” It just can’t. The terminology of terror has been proven persuasive. (Friends, it’s exactly that; and you cannot convince me, after all these years of post-9/11 alert-level colors, that it ain’t.) The language of violence gets people’s attention like no other language.

Also, and more sweepingly, the media amplification systems do their thing in a way that makes them (as well as the yahoos whose yahoo-ism they prop up) seem blind to the basic Scriptural underpinnings of that most traditional of holidays … and toward making a buck off of other people.

Which is kinda the point of some people’s take on Christianity in the first place.

 

P.S. Me, I think if there were really a War on the Christmas that a lot of these people celebrate, it would take the form of a massive boycott of all holiday shopping activities.

November 11, 2015 Posted by | current events, news, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rights and Protections, Part 2 -or- The People Who Bug Me

A postscript of sorts to the day’s Big News From The Supremes (or at least two-thirds of them)…

A good friend of mine posted online, earlier today, suggesting that she was tiring of reading posts and press statements from various people, who were not supportive of the Supreme Court’s marriage-equality decision, that featured the skilled use of complaining. (She phrased it differently and more succinctly; using a reference that a smaller subset of our universe would grasp immediately.)

After the decision was handed down, swiftly from out’ the larger world of Bigger Names the complaining did appear.

It’s not the Josh Robinsons of the world who really bug me.

Although I will say, it was more than a bit jarring to read this young gentleman’s Tweet: a not-especially-well-logicked one which compared same-sex marriage to pedophilia and child molestation. In our current public-discourse environment, not surprising, but still arresting. Being that this is a country endued with Free Speech, it was inevitable that somebody, a highly-paid professional athlete or similar public figure, would Tweet something out like that, which would then go viral because of its author’s celebrity.

[Ed. note: I happen to know a pair of same-sex couples, who each have adopted at least one child, whose relationships and parenting tactics, I am quite sure, would never in a million years remotely resemble anything but what they are: loving parents just trying to bring up decent kids in an often-indecent world, caring for each other and their children because that’s what good parents do, no matter who they are. Weirdly, this is not the point of this post; but I felt it very important to point out, at least parenthetically. Because maybe Mr. Robinson isn’t lucky enough to be able to observe how non-disastrous it can be. Maybe he just doesn’t know any same-sex parenting couples personally. Yet. Or maybe he does, and just doesn’t know it. … Yet.]

(Also: maybe I don’t live in the right part of the world, or follow that corner of American pop culture closely enough … but before this afternoon, I didn’t know that Tweeter Josh Robinson of the Minnesota Vikings was cornerback Josh Robinson of the Minnesota Vikings. Now I do. In a tiny way, I think he’s gained more than I have from this transaction. Which is sad. For me, at least.)

So, Josh Robinson pulled a “complain, complain, complain” … and predictably, some of the online world praised him, and some of the online world condemned him. And, give or take a Vikings pink slip (not a certain thing by any stretch), Mr. Robinson will impact my life, and the lives of the people who now are allowed legally to get married, not a bit. And life will continue forward. He’s got celebrity, and notoriety, and a slightly more public platform from which to pontificate; but no particular power over me or my friends, really.

So, in the grand scheme … whatever.

It is, however, the Jim Hoods and Ken Paxtons of the world that bug me.

Jim Hood is the Mississippi attorney general. Very soon after the Supreme Court handed down its decision today, his office released two statements.

On his Facebook page: “The Office of the Attorney General is certainly not standing in the way of the Supreme Court’s decision. We simply want to inform our citizens of the procedure that takes effect after this ruling. The Supreme Court decision is the law of the land and we do not dispute that.”

Except, as described in his press release:

The Supreme Court’s decision is not effective immediately in Mississippi.

It will become effective in Mississippi, and circuit clerks will be required to issue same-sex marriage licenses, when the 5th Circuit lifts the stay of Judge Reeves’ order.

This could come quickly or may take several days.

The 5th Circuit might also choose not to lift the stay and instead issue an order, which could take considerably longer before it becomes effective.”

So, AG Hood is using whatever legal tactics he has at his disposal to carry out a letter-of-the-law version of “dragged kicking and screaming”.

(Whether he actually has those tactics to use … is debatable; the Supreme Court ruling read, in part: “The Court, in this decision, holds same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States. It follows that the Court also must hold – and it now does hold – that there is no lawful basis for a state to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the grounds of its same-sex character.” And the day when a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stay actually does trump a Supreme Court decision will be a Constitutionally touchy day. But anyway…)

Meanwhile, Ken Paxton is the Texas attorney general. He’s being dragged kicking and screaming, too. He released this press statement today:

Today’s ruling by five Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court marks a radical departure from countless generations of societal law and tradition. The impact of this opinion on our society and the familial fabric of our nation will be profound. Far from a victory for anyone, this is instead a dilution of marriage as a societal institution.

What is most disturbing is the extent to which this opinion is yet another assault on the actual text of the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law itself. Just as Roe v. Wade ripped from the hands of the American people the issue of life and placed it in the judge-made ‘penumbras’ of the Constitution, so has this opinion made clear that our governing document – the protector of our liberties through representative government – can be molded to mean anything by unelected judges.

But no court, no law, no rule, and no words will change the simple truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Nothing will change the importance of a mother and a father to the raising of a child. And nothing will change our collective resolve that all Americans should be able to exercise their faith in their daily lives without infringement and harassment.

We start by recognizing the primacy and importance of our first freedom – religious liberty. The truth is that the debate over the issue of marriage has increasingly devolved into personal and economic aggression against people of faith who have sought to live their lives consistent with their sincerely-held religious beliefs about marriage. … This ruling will likely only embolden those who seek to punish people who take personal, moral stands based upon their conscience and the teachings of their religion.

It is not acceptable that people of faith be exposed to such abuse. …

Our guiding principle should be to protect people who want to live, work and raise their families in accordance with their religious faith. … Shortly, my office will be addressing questions about the religious liberties of clerks of court and justices of the peace.

Displays of hate and intolerance against people of faith should be denounced by all people of good will and spark concern among anyone who believes in religious liberty and freedom for all.

Despite this decision, I still have faith in America and the American people. We must be vigilant about our freedom and must use the democratic process to make sure America lives up to its promise as a land of freedom, religious tolerance and hope.

So, AG Paxton’s take is somewhat different. Hot on the heels of, “well okay, that’s the (flawed) ruling then” … comes the distinct air of “this ain’t over yet”.  Maybe it’s a Texas thing … maybe it’s just a Ken Paxton thing … but most of his press releases about Court decisions or other legislation he opposes contain a sentence or two to the effect that we’re going to fight this, don’t you worry your pretty little head.

In this press statement, it’s five paragraphs’ worth of a public official camouflaging ideological petulance behind expressions of faith and support for “religious liberty”. He appears to fundamentally miscast “religious liberty” as not a shield against people keeping him from worshiping as he pleases but as a sword to be wielded against those who do not conform to his beliefs.

Not only is Paxton hiding behind those expressions of piety and concern for the faithful, but he’s folding them into a diatribe about how his faith is under assault from all sides. “Displays of hate and intolerance against people of faith” are cast as boogeymen, and tacitly (but no less clearly) those displays are cast as coming from people who support marriage between members of the same gender.

[Ed. note: I might also suggest that Paxton uses an argument that turns a complete 180 degrees from what seems to me the actual genesis of the marriage equality movement. My sense is that the “debate” over the issue of marriage has increasingly devolved into personal and economic aggression against same-sex couples who have sought to live their lives merely as participants in the institution of marriage. Perhaps a post for another time.]

The arguments of Paxton and Hood, and perhaps people like Robinson as well, for that matter, are based on a “faith” grounded in self-centeredness, rather than in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Love others as you would love yourself, except if they make you feel icky. My way, or the highway.

But by contrast with a professional football player, who only has the celebrity influence accorded to him by (fleeting) fame or popularity which he can only hope has some effect on his fans … Attorneys General have political and civic power that they can and do wield over all of the people in the states in which they serve.

On top of which, these two particular AGs seem to be holding desperately to the notion that they are within their rights, in one way or another, to defy the rulings of the US Supreme Court. (And I don’t find it difficult to imagine that they would bring the full effect of their political power to bear on anyone who protested or defied a Supreme Court ruling that they, or their faith, or their devotion to “religious liberty”, did support or agree with.)

Those are the kind of people who still bug me – and worry me: the ones for whom it is unclear what limits they feel their instruments of pushback may or may not have.

June 26, 2015 Posted by | celebrity, civil rights, current events, government, news, politics, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment