Wednesday, November 28, 2018

I See It

This year, we have all seen it.

We have watched North Carolina, battered by storm-driven rain, roads covered, highways closed.  We watched Wilmington, cut off for days, as rivers rose and turned it into an inaccessible island.   We looked to the Florida Lost Coast, as what was a small tropical storm blossomed into a nightmarish beast, and entire coastal towns were obliterated by winds and the sea.  We saw record flooding in Texas, and states of emergency declared as the Midwest was overcome with rain.  Saw the Arizona State Fair cancelled at the height of summer, because it was underwater.

We saw California burn, conflagrations that have no precedent, as terrified Americans fled firestorms that roared through entire communities.   As they died in their homes.  As they burned to death in their cars.

These are the things that we all saw on our screens.  But there is a reality beyond what we see on our magic devil boxes.

If you live in the Washington DC are, which I do, you saw things that people elsewhere may not have seen.

Here in Washington, DC, we had a storm earlier this year.  For two whole days, the wind howled, 45-50 miles an hour, with higher gusts.  Trees were down everywhere.   We lost power for a day, and some of my nearby family lost power for multiple days.   The storm damaged roofs everywhere, tearing away siding, pulling shingles from subroofing.  Our own roof was damaged, as hour after hour, the relentless howling wind slowly peeled the vent from our roof as I watched helplessly from our front yard.  Many homes in our area weren't repaired yet weeks and months afterwards.

It was one of the fiercest storms I've ever seen in Washington, made peculiar by this:  it involved not a single drop of rain.  No thunder.  No lightning.  It was, during the day, partly sunny.  Yet with winds that never, ever let up, leaving destruction in their wake.

We saw this, in Washington, this year.

Here in the suburbs of Washington, DC this year, I grew my a garden in my front yard.  I grow greenbeans and kale and potatoes.  I have blueberry bushes, which mostly feed the birds, and strawberries, which lately have been a favorite of the chipmunks.  I've tried carrots, which have mostly not done anything at all.

I also seed-save my green beans, leaving pods on the healthiest plants, where they dry and provide me with next year's crop.

But this year, it rained.  It rained endlessly, sometimes for a week straight.  It is, in point of provable fact, going to be the single wettest year in recorded history in the Washington area.  Roads have flooded, over and over again.  The Potomac, overtopping its banks.  Some towns in the DC area were obliterated by apocalyptic deluges.  People died.

It rained so much that I lost the most of seeds I was saving, some to rot, but most of them to...seeding.  There, in their pods, the seeds sprouted while still on the plant, the roots springing out from the still unfallen pods.  I shared this with other gardeners, and they concurred.  It was weird.  Not normal.  Wrong.

I saw this, in Washington DC, this year.

There were other things.  We saw the trees, holding their leaves deep and late into a strangely delayed fall.  Among the trees, the oaks were masting, wildly overproducing acorns, which they do when stressed.  There were so many acorns in my back yard that they piled up in mounds.

These are the things you saw, if you lived in Washington DC and your eyes were open.  They are signs.

There are so many signs, in fact, that you'd need to be the world's greatest fool not to see them.

Monday, November 5, 2018

How I Became a Conservative

I've been coming to the realization slowly over the past few years, and it feels a little strange.

I mean, it does.  It's weird.  I'd always thought of myself as a little edgy, a little wild.  I fought the Man, or at least wrote snarky blog posts about the Man.  I was liberal.  My friends were liberals and leftists and anarchists and progressives.

They still are.

But I am kind of conservative now.  I mean, I am.  It's how I feel.  It's an odd thing, but I can't resist it.  While I still share significant common cause with my more earnestly prog comrades, I no longer  fully inhabit that realm.

It's probably because I am no longer young.  I no longer inhabit that place where I'm the prime demographic.  That, and I tend to creak and ache most mornings.

My wife notes it, as I gradually become more curmudgeonly.  "Honey, you really don't need to yell at those kids on our lawn," she'll say.  "But those are squirrels, dear," I'll reply.  "No, honey, those are kids.  You really should get your eyes checked," she'll reply, for the hundredth exasperated time.

That conservatism manifests itself in a range of other ways beyond my nascent presbyopia.  Like, for instance, I believe that individuality and personhood are more vital than systems, labels and categories.  I refuse to relinquish the idea that grace is a higher purpose than justice, and that the Good is a universal, not culturally subjective or personally relative.

I'm not convinced that deconstruction and disruption are inherently good.  I would rather have one true friend than a thousand "allies."

But two details of my newly found conservatism seem particularly important.

First:  I am a liberal.

It's an odd thing, a paradox, perhaps.  How can a liberal be conservative?  But it's my "lived experience."  I am a liberal, with liberal perspectives.  And the fact of my liberality makes me conservative.   I think that all things should be considered, carefully, before leaping to judgement.   I believe that bias in encounter with a new thing is unacceptable, and that we need to take and consider everything carefully and respectfully.

Not that I don't have opinions.  Lord, do I.  I also have a moral compass, one dictated by a deeply held faith.

But liberality has always meant leavening what you know with the possibility that the Other has something to offer.  It does not mean "left wing," because there has never been any functional difference between the bolshevik and the brownshirt.

Neither is liberal.  Neither is open to the soul and personhood of the Other.

And liberality seems a thing of the past in this era of social media hysterics, as our positions calcify and radicalize.  We are driven to be loudest, to be shrillest, to be roaring and bullying and mocking.  That's what gets the RTs and the likes and the shares.  That's what starts the fights, and fights draw our attention, and attention means our blog can be monetized.

Circumspect and measured?  Who wants that?  Dull.  Liberality has always been a little boring.  And so it fades into the rearview mirror.

Being that it's a thing of the past, well, that's where I'm conservative.

I hold on to a liberal worldview, because it's a good that should never have been lost, and that can't be forgotten if our republic is to stand.

Second: The current POTUS and his regime.

I do not use his name, not typically.  It seems to play into his brand, and his hegemonic black-hole ego-vortex ever-presence in media.  I never speak it in my sanctuary, because it would profane a sacred space.

But I can say this: Donald J. Trump has made me conservative.

Conservatism, after all, is holding on to the good.  Particularly the good that is threatened by misbegotten change.  Conservatism's best spirit sees where a culture has wandered from the story of its God-dreamed best self, and points the way back to that path.

I do not want the crass, false, boorish and bullying America that this presidency represents.  It bears no resemblance to the best graces of a nation I deeply love.

Donald J. Trump is a mark of America's decadence, and of our moral decay as a people.

I mean, sweet Mary and Joseph, look at him.  Let the scales drop from your eyes, and look at him.

See his story, crude and grasping and lascivious.  He shamelessly appeals to a leprous racial blight in the American soul, a sweet dark creamy rot in our national flesh that we've never fully excised.  He has no vision, no imagination, offering nothing but japing lies, transparent hucksterism, and brassy cruelty.

I want none of that.

Because I am conservative.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Common Ground

There is no point in seeking common ground, or so I hear said these days, by those who despair of our public discourse.   The assumption, in those statements, is that seeking common ground is what weak and mealy-souled people do.  You can't possibly find common ground with *them,* they say, from a heart of disturbed rage.  It is possible that this is so, although it has not always been.

Have we, as a people, reached the point where what once made America worthy and universal is now something worthy of disputation?  Where even the most essential things are now seen as something we won't accept?

I will offer you, American, a sample piece of common ground.   There are many emblems and symbols that mark our greatness as a republic, and this is one of them. It's a poem.  I love this poem, because it's speaks to the heart of our difference and goodness as a nation.  It is a proud poem.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,With conquering limbs astride from land to land;Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall standA mighty woman with a torch, whose flameIs the imprisoned lightning, and her nameMother of Exiles. From her beacon-handGlows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes commandThe air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries sheWith silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
There.  You've read it.  Of course, you should know it already.  It's "The New Colossus," by Emma Lazarus.  It's the poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.  It represents, as does that statue, our national spirit, the best angel of our life together.  A nation of welcome.  A "shining city on a hill," as a president I cast my very first vote against once so clearly put it.

But how does it sound?   Does it seem politically charged to you?  Am I being "divisive" by quoting it right now? 

The answer is, now, of course.  Yes it does feel divisive.  I feel it, too.  These words read politically right now in American history, as an indictment of one political party's current anti-immigrant agenda.  And yes, I know, you're not anti-immigrant.  You just want them to follow the rules.  Rules which, at the same time, you want changed to reduce the flow of immigration, because they're taking jobs from real Americans.  So you're not anti immigrant.  You just oppose immigration in every way, unless it's "the best people."  Meaning, not hard working souls seeking freedom and escape from oppression.  Just rich people, who already have power and freedom of movement.

This poem is written against your way of thinking.  Which is why it may prick a little.

In fact, it may sting so much that you might even be fiercely Googling Emma Lazarus, trying to find reasons why she and her political agenda are suspect and unAmerican.

It would satisfying to do so, no doubt, to punch back against the thing that challenges you.

But then do not ask, or expect, me to seek common ground with you as an American, because that's not the common ground.

Here.  Let's try something else.  It's not a familiar text, although it is one that every American citizen needs to have read all the way through at least once.  At a bare minimum, we should know the beginning of it, which establishes the fundamental principles of our lives together in this Republic.  So.  Here it is:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
This is not a regulation, a rule, or a policy.  This is, of course, section one of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.  It is the fundamental governing document of our great Republic.  

Perhaps you do not like it.  Or perhaps, from current context and your position on immigration, you'd like to be rid of it.  The political process for fixing immigration is too hard, you might say, and it's too easy for people to claim citizenship.  We need to change that!

There is a long history of such thinking, from people eager to preserve America for themselves, and to keep out the undesirables, the Wops (Criminals! Gangsters! Violent and Dangerous!) and the Micks (Illiterates! Drunks! So Violent! My Ancestors!) and so many others.  I know you cannot possibly be such a person.  My gracious, of course not.  But still, you have been made to fear, and fear does not think.

There is a process, of course.  The Founders, in their wisdom, put one into the Constitution itself:
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.
This is article Five of the Constitution of the United States of America, which lays out how that gets done.  But that's too slow, you might say.  We need someone to cut through all of that and do what needs to be done!

And there, perhaps we do have a problem. 

If you view the Statue of Liberty as unAmerican, and you reject the Constitution as a means of mutual governance, then how can I, as a proud and patriotic American, be expected to find ground with you?

Is that my doing?  Have I made that choice, by honoring and abiding by the Constitution and holding the great symbols of liberty dear?

Can we stand on common ground as Americans?  I can answer that question for myself, with certainty.   Yes.  The common ground remains.

It is where I have chosen to stand.  I will not move from it.