Tag Archives: debate

Making America Great Again

voteI find it troubling how the media exaggerates and condemns discord stemming from political debate.

For discord is the bedrock of democracy. Silence is democracy’s opposite, and should be feared, for it means a drugged populace, whose speech has been taken from them.

As we watch both political parties engage in heated debate, I see the heat as healthy. We should be celebrating the candidates’ right to speak, their passion. To be sure, there are degrees of civility and incivility, lines we don’t like crossed, a continuum that can be slippery, but that is the rough-and-tumble nature of freedom. “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Not entirely true, but true enough. We have laws governing the degree of hurt, of slander, of libel, and when dealing with public figures the laws stretch to accommodate the free speech necessary to the public square.

I celebrate the fierce rivalry displayed over the last year between our many candidates. But I also celebrate those who bemoan the incivility, the name calling, the “tricks” played with “rules” regarding delegate selection. Let those who bemoan continue to be the brave watchdogs that report the crossing of lines and the slipping down the slope of unmannerly dialogue.

All this is good for our country, healthy for America. And there are other kinds of dogs in our political arena – underdogs, those who have been surrounded and bullied by both the left and the right and the media. While it is difficult at times to view Mr. Trump as an underdog, he is clearly beset by his own party powers-that-be, as well as his opposing party and the media both left and right. It is difficult not to root for such a knight clanking clumsily about in his rusty armor, such a strange American hero disguised in rich man’s clothing. For our knights since the time of Arthur and Lancelot are supposed to be gallant and polite. Our heroes are supposed to be in rags. The riches are ordained to come later, after the conquest, like trophies. Mr. Trump is a curious hero appearing on the American scene. He is rich and he is unpolished. Upper classes call such persons “boors.” They are embarrassed by him.

America is not a monarchy and because her people are fighters in both word and deed, they have saved the disintegrating, nominal Western monarchies from foreign occupation. Essentially, America has fought their wars, rescued them. And so when I see the upper crust in Britain and France bemoan our gutter candidates, looking down at such American roughnecks, I wonder at their grasp of reality, their knowledge of history. Remember World War II? Remember the London bombing? Remember Dunkirk? Remember the Holocaust threatening Britain?

The world is affected by America’s national elections. We make a difference in the balance of power, and how we structure our elections matters immensely. While I’m not a fan of the electoral college, I understand its history and the place of state’s rights. As a conservative in California my vote has rarely counted in Presidential elections. I would like to see more enfranchisement and less disenfranchisement. I would like to see, as Mr. Trump would like to see, a complete overhaul of the electoral system.

I would like to see a more honest media, both left and right. I have read again and again allusions to Mr. Trump’s invective against Muslims, Mexicans, and women. The “invective” as I recall regarding Muslims, while poorly stated, called for a temporary ban on non-citizen Muslims entering our country until the borders were better secured against terrorists. Makes sense to me. The “invective” regarding Mexicans, again poorly stated, called for building a wall to keep the drug traffic out and to require all immigrants to enter legally and obey our laws once here. Makes sense to me. The “invective” regarding women, while again poorly stated, concerned a reaction to the slurs against his wife by the Cruz campaign. Makes sense to me.

Mr. Trump does not yet have my vote, such as it is. I am concerned, as many are, as to whom he will nominate to the Supreme Court. I am concerned about religious liberty and compromises he might make with Congress, in his deal making. But then, candidates promise all kinds of things and don’t deliver. This we know. At least he isn’t making specific false promises.

I believe that if America is made strong again, both militarily and economically, many problems will be solved or slowly dissolve. But without a strong military and a robust economy we will not be able to survive the many invasions across our borders that will destroy our culture, silencing our freedoms. Tyranny will reign, and those polished monarchies across the seas with their good manners will not send us aid, for they will have been silenced by sharia law.

It might be the time to elect a bumbling bear of a fighter, an unpolished knight in rusty armor. Perhaps he can improve his manners, polish his act. Perhaps he can be more “presidential” as his wife has urged him to be.

It might be the time to elect a strongman to protect the weak, a strongman who celebrates law, freedom, and the rule of the people. Ineffective leadership at this crossroads in our nation’s history will invite an even stronger regime from outside or from within. Americans want peace at home and abroad, but do they want marshal law, curfews, and a police state? History tells us, in the midst of anarchy, such an answer lurks in the shadows.

Let us celebrate and honor all of our candidates, for America truly has an embarrassment of riches, so many highly qualified men and women of varying ethnicities. The debate has been enriching, informing, and has awakened a sleeping giant, millions of voters paying attention. We are showing the world our greatest strength is our people. We are showing the world we are unafraid of confrontation, of free speech, and of searching for the truth. We may stumble and bumble and even be unmannerly but we will always fight to keep our Camelot democratic and free.

Wonderful Words

birdIt’s been a week of words, words, words, and more words. 

Some words were heated such as those between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz in the Republican debates. Some words were measured and thoughtful, such as those of Mr. Carson and earlier Ms. Fiorina in those same debates on Thursday. If words had trajectories, the former words were missiles launched; the latter words were birds circling and weaving.

I’ve been thinking about words and their power, particularly this last week of Epiphanytide when the Church celebrates the Word made incarnate in Bethlehem, Christ manifested to us, the world, the Word alight in the darkness. 

Words continue to light the dark, to beam bright epiphanies into despair and loss and confusion. Words comfort and heal and explain and judge. They forgive. They love.

The Bible is called the Word of God, and I’m glad the Gideons still supply hotels with free copies in nightstand drawers. The Gideons, a society of Christian businessman formed in 1899, has distributed over two billion copies of the Bible in two hundred countries in one hundred languages, today printing eighty million copies a year. Lately I’ve noticed the Bibles sitting alongside the Book of Mormon and sometimes the Teaching of Buddha. I wondered about the rarity of the Koran in these rooms but understand there is a concern about disrespect. One imam said that Muslims don’t need a copy of the Koran for they have memorized the first chapter, prayed five times a day.

It is good there are other faiths represented in these nightstands. Inclusivity protects the Bibles from the charge of exclusivity when guests complain of religion in their room. Americans are a freedom-loving people. We believe in freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of thought and conscience. It is why we debate conscientious issues before choosing our president. It is why we fearlessly use heated words, or words launched like missiles across a stage toward our opponent, missiles targeting other words.

I enjoy the politically incorrect Republican debates. They show that America still has a pulse, her arteries are flowing, her heart beating, in her celebration of free expression. Some pundits have complained there are too many candidates in the field, but I laud the number. Let us encourage this multi-faceted discussion and be proud of the raucous, boisterous conversation. Let us appreciate the talented and articulate candidates who give of their time, talent, and treasure, of varying gender and generation, race and ethnicity. This is America at its best. This is how we elect our governors.

And we use words, words, words. Let them fly through the air, circle and weave, and come home to roost in our hearts and minds. Let the words win and lose, as they become forged in debate, fired by truth.

Lots of words. I’ve been sorting our late bishop’s words, his sermons, scrutinizing the yellow lined pages, the brown parched sheets, scraps from hotel stationery scrawled with words, handwritten, prescient ideas pressed onto paper, words written in the purple ink the bishop favored. Staples or  clips join some pages, linking sermons back to 1951, his year of ordination to the priesthood. I’ve come to see an order in the pages, and the words, how they fall naturally into Church Year seasons and feast days within those seasons. There are also speeches given at dedications, ordinations, baptisms, synods, pilgrimages, retreats, and funerals. Dates, places, and occasions are recorded in the pale pencil script of his loving wife. 

Hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of words. “He was a mystic,” a friend said recently. But then, all sacramental Christians are mystical by definition, for we believe in the mystical and mysterious action of the Holy Spirit among us in this hard world of matter. We believe in the mystical change in the bread and wine as the Word once again becomes flesh and dwells not only among us but within us in the Eucharist. We believe in the Spirit mystically flowing through the waters of Baptism and the oils of Unction and the words of absolution given by a priest to a penitent in Confession. The Spirit mystically weaves into the vows of bride and groom as they say committing words before a priest who, in the name of the Body of Christ, blesses their marriage, and the Spirit works mystically through the hands of a bishop in Ordination and Confirmation. 

As I study our bishop’s words, his purple script on yellow paper, I pray that God will enter my mind and heart and speak to me just as he entered my bishop’s mind and heart and spoke to him, that I might share these words bridging heaven and earth, spirit and flesh. One day, God willing, the words will flow onto pages bound into a book to be held and read, words that will instill the greater Word.

This last week, before the political words and the sorting of the words on the yellow lined pages, I sent off my review of Michael D. O’Brien’s Elijah in Jerusalem to CatholicFiction.net. In this end-times novel, Bishop Elijah confronts the Antichrist in Jerusalem. Like his namesake, the Prophet Elijah, Bishop Elijah listens for the still small voice of God. I too am listening for it, hoping to hear those huge words spoken by the little voice, whispering in the stillness of heart and soul. I often observed my bishop listening, listening to all of us with our many words and opinions, hopes and fears, but also listening to something else, someone else, trying to catch the quiet voice that wove among us as well. 

With the many threats at home and abroad, threats to freedom and faith, to liberty and law, let us celebrate free and faithful words, expressions of who we are and who we are meant to be, as Americans, as believers in God who became the Word made flesh.

Thanksgiving for America

flagI’m pleased to announce that I have been offered a contract to publish my sixth novel, The Fire Trail. So I am particularly thankful to God as we approach this national day of Thanksgiving.

But I am also thankful for Thanksgiving itself. It is a time to be reminded to cultivate an attitude of gratitude in spite of a culture of pouting grievance. Once a year the nation recalls, with thanks, the exceptionalism of America. We look back to our history of religious liberty and the many streams of faith mapping our great land. We celebrate our history of free speech and the vitality of civil debate that built our great academic institutions. We are grateful for the remarkable centuries of relative peace ensured by the rule of law, its enforcement, and the courts that judge blindly without regard to race, gender, class, religion. No other nation can boast these things in this way.

But as we celebrate this Thanksgiving, it seems that our national and cultural firebreak, that border between civilization and the wilderness, has been breached as never before. The flames have jumped the path and are threatening our towns and very way of life.

Can we change course in time? I’m not sure. Can we put out the fires of intolerance and terror? Can we ensure those liberties we have enjoyed, for our children and our grandchildren and their children?

In many ways we have arrived at this point through our own success in creating a civilized world. Freedom carries within it its own seed of destruction. We have not worried about invasion and tyranny and submission to sharia law. In this sense we have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams, for America has created a culture of ease, believing the nation would live forever. So we have become frivolous in our worries: the use of fossil fuels or windmills, offense over a slur from an officer or a teacher, academic courses that challenge rather than validate our self-esteem. The delicacy of our concerns reminds me of T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “Do I dare to eat a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.” We continue with our lives, walking on the beach, not paying attention to the tyrants who wish to conquer our shores.

Nine-eleven caused us to sit up and pay attention, as did other shootings and bombings since, and now we watch as Paris burns. We mourn, we light a candle. But Paris is far away and surely we will manage here as we always have. So we think.

Historian Niall Ferguson quoted Bryan Ward-Perkins in the London Times: “Romans before the fall were as certain as we are today that their world would continue for ever substantially unchanged. They were wrong. We would be wise not to repeat their complacency.” Mr. Ferguson concludes, “Poor poor Paris. Killed by complacency.”

Indeed. But we like complacency. We are not used to having to pay attention. We have others do that for us – our elected officials, our military, our great minds. After all, we don’t have to pay attention much to vote, do we? Or do we?

Eva Moskowitz, founder and chief executive officer of Success Academy Charter Schools, claims in the Journal that her astounding success in raising test scores in poor communities has been mainly due to a single principle: the students must pay attention. She gives educator Paul Fucaloro all the credit for inspiration and teacher training, explaining how “Every child had to sit up straight and show he was paying attention…students had to sit with hands clasped and look at whomever was speaking…” The teacher called on the students rather than asking for volunteers. If the student couldn’t focus, the teacher moved the student to the front of the class. “As Paul repeatedly preached to me,” Ms. Moskowitz writes, “it’s morally wrong to let a child choose whether to pay attention, because many will make the wrong choice and we can’t let them slip through the cracks…. it’s our job to teach them to focus.”

I recall my own public school years in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties. These expectations and procedures were firmly in place. We were expected to listen and be prepared to answer. We didn’t sit in circles but in rows so that some students were brought to the front for closer supervision. Our attitude was graded and was the first grade my parents looked at. I could get away with B’s and C’s in academic subjects, but if there was the slightest question as to my attitude, or my “citizenship,” there would be a serious discussion about the report card.

It appears today you must send your children to a charter or private school to ensure this kind of discipline, which means that the average public school graduate has not always learned to focus, to pay attention, to have a positive attitude toward learning, to become a good citizen. It may be that many of the teachers were products themselves of such schooling and find it harsh and lowering of self-esteem to establish such behavior boundaries.

So, like the bored student gazing out the classroom window or secretly playing a digital game on a cell phone, Americans gaze out the window into the clouds, wondering whether weather is too cold or too hot, too wet or too dry. We campaign for slow-food and decry genetically modified food. We chase Twitter trends and indulge in bestseller porn.

The Fire Trail pays attention to these themes and so I’m especially thankful this Thanksgiving. I’m thankful, for I love America. I want America to be around for my grandchildren and their children, a free America, a peaceful America, and a grateful America. I want an America that holds up the ideal of a civilized world. I want a world that pays attention to goodness, truth, beauty, and most of all, love.

The Fire Trail calls attention to these things, where these ideals came from, and how we can best preserve them. It calls on the students in the back row with the dazed bored look and moves them to the front row. It asks them questions and listens to the answers. It encourages civil debate.

I’m thankful to God most especially this Thanksgiving for the astounding joyous privilege of living in this country for another year. I give thanks for those brave men and women on the battlefields of culture or combat who have paid attention and continue to watch out for us. They rebuild our fire trail daily. They keep America safe.

Thomas Sowell recently quoted Winston Churchill, appointed prime minister during World War II: “All I hope is that it is not too late. I am very much afraid it is. We can only do our best.”

We can only do our best: Another ideal to be thankful for.