Category Archives: Character

Noah Barker: ‘Make the president Christ-like again.’

Noah may love Joe almost as much as I do. That's him in the white shirt and no jacket, very excited to be right next to the ex-veep the day he came to campaign for us in 2018. That's me in the middle in the back, next to Campaign Manager Scott Hogan.

Noah may love Joe almost as much as I do. That’s him in the white shirt and no jacket, a 17-year-old pretty excited to be right next to the ex-veep the day he came to campaign for us in 2018. That’s me in the middle in the back, next to Campaign Manager Scott Hogan.

Today I called my young friend Noah Barker, fellow Smith-Norrell veteran, to talk about yard signs. He’s the one who got me some Biden signs for my neighbors, as related earlier.

Noah, who’s now a student at USC, happened to mention an opinion piece he had written for Medium — a website I had not been familiar with, but which seems to have been around for several years now. He wanted me to take a look at it and see what I thought.

I got a little panicky when I saw the headline, “Make the president Christ-like again.” I thought, whoa, Noah — we both love Joe, but let’s not go overboard! But almost immediately after that, I knew what he meant, and it worked. I could tell that from the photo with the piece: There was Joe with his head humbly bowed standing with his mask on among fellow worshipers — as human as you can get. (It would have gone well with that Facebook post I cited awhile back from Sister Nancy Hendershot — which you should go read if you haven’t.)

I read on, and saw that Noah had done a good job. Here’s his piece:

I don’t often write about my faith. I usually refrain from these types of writing because of two different lessons that I was taught as a child.

The first one was a favorite saying of my grandfather, Wilson Bryan, who would say “Preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words.” He believed that you shouldn’t have to utter the words “well, you know, I’m a Christian.” The way you treat others should show folks that something is fundamentally different about your life.

The other lesson was from Jesus, who according to the Book of Matthew said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners… But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (6:5–6).

However, I’m breaking this rule to write this essay. After watching the Democratic National Convention this past week, I couldn’t keep these thoughts to myself any longer.

It has been hard for me to watch fellow Christians continue to support a man like Donald Trump. He lies, he cheats, he steals. He spews hatred and breeds bigotry. He makes fun of others and he is never hesitant to give an opponent of his a childish nickname (see “Slow Joe” or “Pencil-neck Adam Schiff”). He never forgives and he never asks for forgiveness.

Sometimes, when I am listening to him rant and rave I’m reminded of the words of Paul the Apostle. In his letter to the people of Galatia, Paul outlines the Fruit of the Holy Spirit. In case you haven’t walked by your old Sunday school class and seen that poster in a while, these nine attributes are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I think of these nine attributes because I have never witnessed Donald Trump show any of them in his public life. Now, this has nothing to do with me being a Democrat, which I am. I saw these nine attributes present in the life of George W. Bush, a man that I almost never agreed with. They were also present in the lives of almost-presidents, like John McCain and Mitt Romney.

This is not about politics. It’s not about policy. It’s not about the Supreme Court or abortion. This is about character.

Now, let me say, I am in no position to question whether someone is a Christian or not. Donald Trump has said that he is and that is between him and God. Full stop.

However, when it comes to electing a president, I want someone who shows me that they are Christian, not tells me. I want a leader who isn’t just a Christian, I want someone in the Oval Office that acts Christ-like.

I don’t mean performing miracles or being perfect; we all fall short of the glory of God.

But, I at least want someone who tries.

Who tries to be kind.

Who tries to be honest.

Who tries to heal the wounds of our nation.

I want a president who uses love to unite us.

Who loves his enemies and prays for those who persecute him.

That’s not Donald Trump. That’s not his story. It’s not his life.

On the other hand, Joe Biden isn’t perfect, and unlike Donald Trump, Joe would be the first person to tell you that. He’s not the second coming and he’s not the Messiah, and he certainly doesn’t act like he is.

We’ve all heard the countless stories of Joe Biden comforting those with a sick loved onehelping those with a stutter, or just being kind to the people that are around him.

I believe he is a fundamentally decent man, warts and all.

I don’t agree with Joe Biden on everything, but I believe it is our job as voters to choose the better person and in this case, the better man.

That choice is clear to me.

This November, I’m voting to make the president Christ-like again.

Noah describes himself at the end as “78th Governor of Palmetto Boy’s State | Son of Lugoff, South Carolina | UofSC’23 |”

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Thanks, senator. It’s good to hear our votes count

text from Graham

Just got this text from Lindsey Graham’s campaign on my phone a few minutes ago.

I look forward to the day when he realizes that the support of those of us here on the blog — and millions of others who are just as disgusted by him for taking pride in attaching himself to Donald J. Trump — was what really mattered all along.

Maybe we can prove that to him in November.

Expect to see more about that in the coming months…

Finally, Mattis speaks up — powerfully

mattis atlantic

I made a passing reference to this in the last post, but I’m going to elevate the profile, because since then I’ve actually had the chance to read what the Warrior Monk, James Mattis, had to say today when he broke his long silence about the Trump administration in which he once served.

I urge you to read this piece in The Atlantic, which I think originally broke the story.

And now I’m going to give you the whole statement. Because not a word of what he said should be left out:

I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words “Equal Justice Under Law” are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.

When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.

We must reject any thinking of our cities as a “battlespace” that our uniformed military is called upon to “dominate.” At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict— between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part.

Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.

James Madison wrote in Federalist 14 that “America united with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.” We do not need to militarize our response to protests. We need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law.

Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that “The Nazi slogan for destroying us…was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.'” We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics.

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.

We can come through this trying time stronger, and with a renewed sense of purpose and respect for one another. The pandemic has shown us that it is not only our troops who are willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of the community. Americans in hospitals, grocery stores, post offices, and elsewhere have put their lives on the line in order to serve their fellow citizens and their country. We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s “better angels,” and listen to them, as we work to unite.

Only by adopting a new path—which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals—will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad.

Amen to all of that. Thank you, general.

The 2020 Rorschach Test

What the president of the United States did Monday was so horrific — having peaceful demonstrators attacked and swept away so that he could walk unimpeded across a park and stand awkwardly waving a Bible around in front of a boarded-up church for no discernible purpose — was so grossly inappropriate, so evocative of what a two-bit foreign autocrat would do in a country that didn’t give a damn about the ideals that animate this country, that, well, it shouldn’t have to be explained.

And yet, I’ve actually seen instances of his defenders, well, defending it. Some of it was pretty stunning.

Basically, this is obviously yet another national Rorschach Test in which you either recoil in horror, or don’t have a clue what is wrong. And the latter portion of our population is the one Trump is trying so clumsily to appeal to.

For those who get it, it doesn’t have to be explained. But I read a lot of stuff eloquently explaining it anyway.

In case you find it helpful, here are some of that, and related stuff:

I don’t know what else to say right now.

I’m just going to share this picture and hope I don’t get in Fair Use trouble. I was told to watch video of all this, but I haven’t yet. For now, the photo is enough:

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We have really nice people in Columbia, just FYI…

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This was nice.

I was reading along through the Opinion section of The New York Times this morning when I found this piece headlined, “What It’s Like to Wear a Mask in the South.” So of course I had to read it. I mean, when the NYT makes the effort to offer something from a Southern perspective, you’ve gotta check it out.

It was written by Margaret Renkl, who “is a contributing opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.” She’s apparently from Nashville.

I was reading along and thinking, “I wonder if our friend, regular contributor David Carlton, knows her.” Because, you know, writers and college profs sometimes cross paths within the context of a community.

But then, I forgot about that when Ms. Renkl turned her column over to blurbs from other people around the South, and suddenly, there was an old friend from right here in Columbia. It was Allison Askins, who in a previous life was one of our two religion writers at The State. (Yes, there was a time when The State had not one full-time religion writer, but two. We were rather proud of that.)

Allison’s was the very first blurb. Here’s what she wrote:

“I have been making masks for two groups our church is providing them for — an organization that aids the homeless and the Department of Juvenile Justice. I try as I am sewing to be intentional about the act, thinking about who might wear it, hoping they are protected in some way by it and lifting up a prayer for their life, that it might somehow turn for the better in spite of this experience. I find it so sad to think that there are people who maybe are not wearing them simply because they do not know how to get them, can’t afford them or maybe really do not know they need to. It is these among us who I believe most deserve our mercy and our love.”

I just wanted to pass that on because Allison is a very nice and thoughtful person, and I thought, you know, it’s always a good time to stop and take note of the nice and thoughtful people here among us.

I couldn’t believe even Trump did this

Look at me! I have the most popular show on TV! Isn't this great? I'm a hit!

Look at me! I have the most popular show on TV! Isn’t this great? I’m a hit!

My wife showed me this last night, and I assumed it was a joke. It looked like a real Tweet, but I figured it was from The Onion or something like that, spoofing Trump’s obsession with his own popularity.

I thought it was carrying things a bit far, suggesting even as a joke that he would brag about his TV ratings when he’s giving national briefings about something that could kill 200,000 Americans.

But then I looked. And there it was, in his Twitter feed:

Even after I saw that, I figured something was missing that would explain it. I started looking around for news stories about it, and didn’t find any right away — although there was a lot of buzz about it on social.

This morning, I found some coverage, buried way down below other stuff. But basically, they treated it as routine.

This is how far we’ve fallen in normalizing his behavior. The president of the United States puts out something you would only expect from a profoundly maladjusted child, bragging about how everyone’s watching him while thousands of people are dying around him. In the world we knew before 2016, his aides would be trying to gently maneuver him into a padded room, and preparing to invoke the 25th Amendment…

Meanwhile, from the leader of our once-great country…

trump tweet1

For what it’s worth, he did send out a followup seven minutes later saying, “Federal Government is working very well with the Governors and State officials. Good things will happen! #KILLTHEVIRUS”

Maybe someone had a word with him. I don’t know who that would be, though, since pretty much all of the grownups have left his administration.

And yeah, I’m still using that plug-in on my Chrome browser that renders Trump’s tweets in a special typeface. They come in the regular old way on my phone and iPad. But somehow this seems to bring out their essence….

You know, there’s nothing new about this. But as many times as we’ve seen this kind of childishness, I still have to ask my self occasionally, What kind of person, in a leadership position, thinks that is something appropriate to publish for the world to see?

trump meeting

I’m counting on Lamar Alexander to do the right thing

Lamar shirt

I ran across the shirts you see above at Belk the other day. The one in the middle is a dead ringer for the one Lamar Alexander wore on his famous walk across Tennessee when he ran successfully for governor in 1978 — the first statewide political campaign I ever covered.

I’ve always had a lot of respect for Lamar, as I’ve mentioned here many times. And now, the fate of the impeachment trial may lie in his hands, assuming he does the right thing. An excerpt from an NYT story from the last few days:

WASHINGTON — The ghost of Howard H. Baker Jr., the Republican senator from Tennessee who turned against Richard M. Nixon during Watergate, is hovering over Senator Lamar Alexander.

Mr. Alexander, a third-term Republican from Tennessee who is retiring at the end of this year, has said that no one outside his family has had more influence on him than Mr. Baker, the former Senate majority leader who is remembered for the penetrating question he posed as Nixon stared down impeachment: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

Now Mr. Alexander may hold in his hands the fate of another Republican president who is facing removal from office. He is one of four Republican moderates who have expressed openness to bringing witnesses into President Trump’s impeachment trial. Of the four, he stands out because he is not running for re-election and arguably has nothing to lose….

The story goes on to say Lamar “does not appear ready for a Howard Baker moment.” They based this on the fact that he wanted to wait until the first phase of the trial was completed to decide. But I have two things to say about that:

  1. That seems a reasonable hesitation to me. He was keeping his options open until the point at which a decision would have to be made.
  2. That story was written before the revelation from Bolton’s upcoming book.

So I’m going to be optimistic, counting on Lamar to do what he generally did back when I covered him as governor: the right thing.

A shot I took of Lamar on the campaign trail in 1978.

A shot I took of Lamar on the campaign trail in 1978.

So, where do you stand on carrying the bat to first base?

bregman

Here’s a little thought experiment…

Earlier, some of you expressed disapproval of the crowd booing Trump at the World Series Sunday night, while others defended it.

Contemplating another Series controversy from last night’s game (and not the disagreement that led to the Nationals’ manager being ejected — it was quite a game), it occurs to me that it might be a sort of related issue.

I’d like to see y’all’s positions on the booing thing alongside your positions on whether it was OK for Alex Bregman and Juan Soto to carry their bats to first base after hitting home runs.

I have this theory that people who were disturbed by the booing would also disapprove of the bat-carrying, both being violations of certain standards of behavior. Likewise, anyone likely to approve of the “Lock him up” chant would be more inclined to let those young ballplayers strut a bit.

Me, I disapprove of both. I see both within a context of society fraying, becoming less civilized.

You?

soto

Is Donald Trump our ‘most honest president?’

"Believe me..."

“Believe me…”

Frank Bruni reminds me of this point I’ve been thinking about making for two or three years now, but I’ve just never gotten around to it.

We know that no one who has ever held the office of president — in our lifetimes, at the least — utters more falsehoods that this guy. Certainly, no one can boast more “Four Pinocchio” scores (OK, I tried to back that up with a link, and Google failed me. Oh, I saw that the Post had to come up with a new “Bottomless Pinocchio” just for him, and that in 2018 they broke his falsehoods into two categories to keep him from dominating the standings, but I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for. I think what I’m running into is the ancient horror journalists have of saying someone or something is the most anything ever — because someone might always come up with a worse example.).

He seems the personification of the old gag, “How can I tell when he’s lying? His mouth’s moving.”

The thing is, though, what if he’s not lying, technically? What if he actually believes all of these laughably false things that he asserts with such vehemence? The guy’s not terribly bright, and he’s such a narcissist that it’s possible that he convinces himself that any assertion that is helpful, or that he perceives as helpful, to Donald Trump is automatically true.

There’s plenty we can point to that supports this position on the matter. How else do you explain, just to grab a recent example, his repeated assertion that his July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president was “perfect?” Or that the whistleblower (remember the whisteblower, that guy whose role in all this long ago became redundant in light of subsequent revelations, a fact that has not yet penetrated the Donald’s skull?) is peddling untruths. He continues to assert both of these things even though the rough transcript the White House itself released shows him to be obviously wrong on both counts. Not to mention all of the subsequent revelations that show that phone call to be just one piece of a large, consistent pattern.

Maybe you want to say he’s crazy rather than dumb. Either way, you can say his ability to discern the truth is severely limited.

So in that case, is he a liar? Don’t you have to mean to lie for it to count?

Anyway, I’m thinking about this again after reading the recent Frank Bruni column headlined “‘Human Scum,’ ‘Lynching’ and Trump’s Tortured English.” (Subhed: “The president needs a thesaurus and a therapist, though not necessarily in that order.”)

It’s another piece addressing a thing that probably explains as well as anything why people who work with words tend to see Trump as dumb, while it is less obvious to certain other people:

The other day he turned to the bounteous trove of the English language for a pejorative worthy of his critics’ awfulness, at least as he sees it. He decided on “human scum.”

He sought to capture the horror and injustice befalling him. What he came up with was “lynching.”

There’s being crude with language, there’s being loose with it, and then there’s being Trump, who uses words the way a toddler does marbles, grabbing the ones that are most bluntly colorful and tossing them into the air just because he can.

Trump is as inept at English as he is at governing. He’s oxymoronic: a nativist who can’t really speak his native tongue….

And so on. But the passage that prompts this post is this:

I’ve written before that Trump, “in terms of the transparency with which he shows us the most eccentric and ugliest parts of himself,” may inadvertently be “the most honest president in my lifetime.” His language is obviously central to that. It’s a glimpse into his fury and fears…

Which is slightly different from what I said above. Basically, Bruni is saying that no matter how untrue and badly chosen his words are, the emotion behind them reveals the true Trump.

My point is that maybe we can’t label Trump’s perpetual flow of falsehoods as lies, because he really doesn’t know any better.

Either way, Trump comes across as less dishonest than a mere examination of facts would suggest.

What do y’all think?

 

The greater wonder is that there are people who don’t see it, or don’t care, or both

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Just this morning I got around to reading Frank Bruni’s Sunday column, which begins:

The wonder of the Trump administration — the jaw-dropping, brain-exploding phantasmagoria of it — is that it doesn’t bury its rottenness under layers of counterfeit virtue or use a honeyed voice to mask the vinegar inside. The rottenness is out in the open. The sourness is right there on the surface for all to see.

It’s at the president’s rallies, where he plays a bigot for laughs, a bully for applause.

It’s in the ballrooms and beds at Mar-a-Loco, where he mingles official government business with free marketing for his gilded club.

It’s in the transcript of his phone call with the president of Ukraine, for whom the quid, the pro and the Biden-ravaging quo couldn’t have been clearer.

It’s at the microphone in the White House briefing room, where his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, showed up on Thursday, announced that President Trump would host the next G7 meeting at one of his own golf resorts, and conceded that, yes, aid to Ukraine had been tied to that country’s indulgence of the president’s political obsessions….

Yeah, it’s pretty amazing, all right — in that we’ve never in American history seen anything like this.

But you know what is a greater wonder? The fact that there are all these people out there — Republican officeholders, and the “base” that terrifies them — who don’t see it, or claim not to see it, no matter how many times Trump slaps them in the face with it, compelling him to look.

People still defend him, in spite of all.

That’s the wonder of it…

Doesn't it make you proud to have a South Carolinian acting as White House chief of staff? For the moment, I mean?...

Doesn’t it make you proud to have a South Carolinian acting as White House chief of staff? For the moment, I mean?…

Those moderates I’ve praised? They’re now talking impeachment

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, former CIA case officer.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, former CIA case officer.

Remember when I wrote about Mikie Sherrill, the moderate Democrat who is emblematic of those whose elections tipped the House to the Democrats last year (in contrast to “The Squad,” whose elections meant nothing)? I described her as just the kind of person I’d jump at the chance to vote for, any time.

She’s an example of someone who steers clear of partisan combat, spending her energy on issues of concern to all her constituents, regardless of party. It’s for the sake of people like her that Nancy Pelosi has kept her foot on the brake with regard to impeaching Trump.

Well, she, and her friend Rep. Abigail Spanberger — whom I have mentioned in similar terms — and five other moderate freshmen have now had enough, as they explained in an oped today:

This flagrant disregard for the law cannot stand. To uphold and defend our Constitution, Congress must determine whether the president was indeed willing to use his power and withhold security assistance funds to persuade a foreign country to assist him in an upcoming election.

If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense. We do not arrive at this conclusion lightly, and we call on our colleagues in Congress to consider the use of all congressional authorities available to us, including the power of “inherent contempt” and impeachment hearings, to address these new allegations, find the truth and protect our national security.

As members of Congress, we have prioritized delivering for our constituents — remaining steadfast in our focus on health care, infrastructure, economic policy and our communities’ priorities. Yet everything we do harks back to our oaths to defend the country. These new allegations are a threat to all we have sworn to protect. We must preserve the checks and balances envisioned by the Founders and restore the trust of the American people in our government. And that is what we intend to do…

Why are they doing this? Because of what we’ve learned the last few days, about the possibility that the president of the United States used taxpayer money to pressure a foreign government to help him tar a domestic political opponent.

And because of who they are:

We have devoted our lives to the service and security of our country, and throughout our careers, we have sworn oaths to defend the Constitution of the United States many times over…

Because like the intelligence officer who blew the whistle, they are looking at something alarming to people who love their country.

Because duty demands it.

And that’s where things stand now…

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot.

A story that sheds light on why I’m for Joe Biden

Biden stump 1

Tonight Joe Biden (and others) will be at the Galivants Ferry Stump Speaking. I had thought seriously about going, but decided I had too much to do to take the trip — almost two hours each way. (If you’re closer, I urge you to go. The Stump is always interesting, and this special-edition gathering promises to be particularly so.)

So I’ll give you a picture or two from the last time I saw and interviewed Joe at the Stump, and give you a link to my column about it. It was in 2006. (Special bonus feature: The column quotes former blog regular Paul DeMarco, who happened to be at the Stump — as I noted in a separate post at the time.)

And to add a measure of substance, here’s something else I meant to post last week. I don’t expect it to change any minds among those of you who don’t like Joe for whatever reason, but I offer it as another window into why I’m for him, and really don’t have a second choice among the others running.

It’s a story from the NYT about the way he handled the process that ended in a vote against Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee, Robert Bork. An excerpt:

Joseph R. Biden Jr. was on the brink of victory, but he was unsatisfied.

Mr. Biden, the 44-year-old chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was poised to watch his colleagues reject President Ronald Reagan’s formidable nominee to the Supreme Court, Robert H. Bork. The vote was unlikely to be close. Yet Mr. Biden was hovering in the Senate chamber, plying Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, a Republican of modestly conservative politics and regal bearing, with arguments about Bork’s record.

Rejecting a Supreme Court nominee was an extraordinary act of defiance, and Mr. Biden did not want a narrow vote that could look like an act of raw partisan politics….

Mr. Biden’s entreaties prevailed: Mr. Warner became one of 58 senators to vote against Bork, and one of six Republicans.

That’s Joe. As the piece says, it was a moment when “Mr. Biden’s political ethos found its most vivid and successful expression.” At a moment when most partisans would be satisfied simply to win, Joe wanted to go the extra mile to win in a way less likely to tear the country apart. One more excerpt:

The strategy Chairman Biden deployed then is the same one he is now proposing to bring to the White House as President Biden.

In the 1980s, as today, he saw bipartisan compromise not as a version of surrender, but as a vital tool for achieving Democratic goals….

And in both defining moments — his leadership of the Bork hearings and his third presidential campaign — Mr. Biden made persuading moderates, rather than exciting liberals, his guiding objective….

Yep, that sets him part from the people in his own party and the other who tend to think it terms of getting 50 percent plus one and cramming their policy goals down the opposition’s throat.

I have little patience with such people. And that’s another reason why Joe is my guy. He’s the one candidate who is the polar opposite of what’s wrong with our national politics…

Biden stump 2

I am appalled that this man represented my country at the D-Day commemoration

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As y’all know, I generally don’t like to let the sixth of June go by without acknowledging it in some way. The events of that day in 1944 stagger the imagination, and loom large in my concept of my country and its place in the world.

It’s not just the bold stroke at dislodging Hitler from the Continent, from the world. For that matter, I’m not even sure it was the decisive battle of the war; I remain too ignorant of the titanic struggles on the Eastern Front to be able to peg that with confidence. Serious students of history can have lively arguments about that.

But it was monumental. In fact, it was, on almost any measurement or any scale, just possibly the most impressive thing the human race has done in one day in the past century. It’s absolutely astounding, not just as the aggregation of personal acts of courage it took, but the fact that human beings worked together that well to do a supremely difficult thing that was eminently worth doing. (So yeah, for me there’s a huge communitarian aspect to it.)

A thing that hope for future freedom depended on to such a degree…

So I like to take note of it, I feel obliged to take note of it, particularly since I live in a world in which far too few people even care about having a concept of historical context, of what it took to form our present existence. And the 75th anniversary, likely the last major milestone that any of those few remaining veterans will see, is particularly important.

But I haven’t written about it before this late hour because I haven’t wanted to share the cloud of negativity that has overshadowed this event for me this week, this year.

All week, we’ve been building up to it. The man this country elected president has been slouching toward Normandy ever since the weekend, spewing his vulgarity, his grossness, his self-absorption and disregard for decency before him like the burning fuel from a flamethrower.

I’ve been so embarrassed for our country that Queen Elizabeth, the prime minister and other dignitaries of the best friend this nation has ever had have been forced, by respect for our relationship, to entertain this supreme vulgarian. The Brits have been doing what decency and respect for friends demands, and the fact that they’re having to lavish all this on Donald J. Trump is our collective fault for electing him.

I’m not going to recite all the mortifying things he’s said and done this week while representing our country among civilized people abroad. Go read about them yourself, here and here and here and on and on. I call your attention in particular to his constant evocation of himself, which is the only person on the planet he cares about.

All that has been bad enough.

But to know that this person was going to head our delegation to the commemoration of the Normandy landings was so much worse.

This was a day for taking stock of our country and what it has stood for, what it has meant to the world back before the ugly resurgence of “America First.”

This was a day for humbly acknowledging Courage and Honor and Duty and Sacrifice. And we sent a man who does not know what those words mean, who does not care that he does not know, a man who in fact is the embodiment of the opposites of those virtues.

Seventy-five years ago, we sent such good men over there, the best we had.

Look what we sent this week.

And yes, yes, I know we sent D-Day veterans as well, and I stand in awe of them. No one, not even Trump, can take the slightest scrap of honor from them. But look who we sent to stand in front of them…

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David Brooks is exactly right today about Joe

his Joeness

In today’s column, David Brooks gets Joe Biden exactly right.

The headline is “Your Average American Joe.

The subhed is, “Biden is not an individualist.”

Absolutely. And amen to that.

An excerpt from the end:

… The character issue will play out in all sorts of subterranean and powerful ways this election. We have lost our love for ourselves as a people, a faith in our basic goodness, and this loss of faith has been a shock. A lot of voters want to raise their children in an atmosphere marked by decency and compassion, not narcissistic savagery. Values are central to this race.

Here is what is subtly different about Biden. He’s not an individualist. He is a member. He belongs to his family; his hometown, Scranton; his Democratic Party; his Senate; his nation, and is inexplicable without those roots. He used the word “we” 16 times in his short video announcing his candidacy.

Some candidates will run promising transformational change. Biden offers a restoration of the values that bind us as a collective.

Yes! I could have done without the word “collective;” as it brings to mind the AOCs and Bernies of the world, and that’s definitely not who Joe is. I’d have gone with “a community,” or “a people.”

But otherwise, very nicely done.

We communitarian types may not have a party, but we have a candidate…

I support every 2020 hopeful you can find in this photo

Obama_and_Biden_await_updates_on_bin_Laden

Yesterday, Bud said “This year there is an embarrassment of riches among the Dems,” just before listing 18 people running for president.

I’m glad he’s pumped about it, and that’s certainly a bunch of names, but the fact is that until Joe Biden entered his name today, there wasn’t anyone who was even close to being ready for the job.

There is no one else who has been anywhere near the presidency or who has held any kind of position that prepares one for the presidency the way 36 years in the U.S. Senate and eight years at the right hand of our nation’s last sane, decent president do.

When I got to thinking about how to graphically demonstrate that fact, I thought of this picture.

I’m not saying Joe Biden went out and got bin Laden personally. I’m not saying he’s doing anything special in that picture. I’m saying that he happens to be in the room because of who he is, because of what he’s done, because of his experience and personal leadership qualities. His life experiences brought him to that room at that moment.

And those experiences — combined with his basic human decency, which is a quality more needed at this moment than at any other in our history — make him qualified to be president of the United States.

He’s not qualified because he’s in the picture. He’s qualified because of who he had to be and what he had to do to get there.

And yeah, Hillary Clinton was qualified, too. She was a pretty good secretary of state — not to mention the eight years she spent at the center of presidential power before that.

But she was a terrible candidate, badly lacking in the ability to relate to voters.

I think Joe will be different in that regard, if he’s not brought down by a million cuts by all the Lilliputians out there.

He’s a natural campaigner. And a decent human being.

But most of all, he’s the only person who is even remotely qualified. And the best person to replace the least qualified, least decent president in our history, by far.

Aw, lay off the kid with the funny name, will ya?

The State decided to run an “opinion” page today, which served the purpose of bringing to my attention this Doyle McManus column that The Los Angeles Times ran a week ago. An excerpt:

Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., could turn out to be the biggest, boldest surprise of the 2020 presidential campaign. But he’d better come up with some policies first.

Buttigieg was virtually unknown outside his home state until two months ago, but he has surged into third place in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire

There’s only one element missing from Buttigieg’s potentially meteoric campaign: positions on major issues.

That’s not an accident. He says voters aren’t looking for policy papers. They care about values and character, and knowing that a candidate cares about their lives….

Aw, lay off the kid, why don’t you?

I hold no particularly brief for Buttigieg. I’ve heard him on the radio and have found him surprisingly impressive, and I’m not at all shocked that he has risen in the polls in spite of his absurd youth and lack of relevant experience.

These pins are being offered by Annie Fogarty, @FoGaGarty.

These pins are being offered by one Annie Fogarty, @FoGaGarty.

But y’all know my candidate is announcing tomorrow.

Still, I don’t like to see anyone taken to task for failing to make specific campaign promises.

As I’ve said many times before, I don’t want candidates making campaign promises, any more than they absolutely have to to get elected — and unfortunately they do have to, since most voters aren’t like me. (The Smith/Norrell campaign had some policy proposals out there before I joined. I did not push to elaborate upon them.) No one knows what kinds of situations a candidate might face in office if elected. I prefer that they keep their options open so they are free to choose the wisest course under those unpredictable circumstances.

My favorite example of why campaign promises are a terrible idea is “Read my lips: no new taxes.” Once in office, Bush found himself in a situation in which he found it advisable to compromise with Congress on a budget deal that in fact raised some existing taxes. That sank him politically. But acquiescing in a tax increase wasn’t his sin. His sin was in making the stupid promise to begin with.

So how do I choose a candidate? By the quality of his or her character, of course — at this moment in our history, considering what it in the White House, being a decent, honest human being is more important than ever.

Just as important is what we’ve seen that person do in the past, preferably in public service. It’s not just that such experience helps you know how to do the job. It’s that, if you have a significant record of such service, it means we the people have had the opportunity to observe how you have performed, and decide whether what we have seen inspires confidence that you will deal appropriately with future challenges in office, whatever they may be.

So to the extent Buttigieg has a problem in my book, it’s that lack of experience — in office, and in life. He’s an attractive candidate, but would be more so with more of a track record.

Just don’t get on his case for not laying out a bunch of specific policy proposals. To the extent that there’s a problem with him, that’s not it.

One of my favorite moments from the campaign

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While I’m sharing photos of James enjoying the campaign trail, I need to show you this sequence, which never went out on social media, but which was a favorite moment of mine.

This was at the Joe Biden fundraiser. This was after all the speaking, when the candidates and Joe were just meeting and greeting and posing for selfies and such.

A lot of politicians kiss babies. But I’ve never seen one get more of a kick out of a baby than this. And it didn’t seem to bother him that this baby was campaigning for someone else…

 

Amazingly, they’re actually getting the boys out of the cave

Ekapol and players

Ekapol Chanthawong and some of his players.

I really spoke too soon the other day when I celebrated the discovery of those boys missing in the cave in Thailand. I was far too sanguine.

Turned out their situation was still horrifically perilous. So perilous, in fact, that this just would not work as fiction. In “Lassie,” Timmy was always falling down an old mineshaft or something (this was such a common plot device in the late ’50s that as a little kid I had the impression the whole country was honeycombed with abandoned mines, all of them covered only with rotting boards that wouldn’t even hold a small boy’s weight). But all Lassie had to do was get within hearing of the shaft, hear Timmy yell, “Go for help, girl!” and the day was saved.

A fictional plot like this would be dismissed by the most credulous viewer as too contrived: It takes six hours, much of it underwater, even for an elite diver to get to the precarious shelf where the boys are, cut off by rising rainwater. It’s so difficult that a veteran diver, a former Thai Navy SEAL, died Friday just trying to place spare air tanks along the route. The boys can’t swim. Even if they could, they’re not trained SCUBA divers. Some of the passages through which they have to pass are so tight that air tanks would have to be removed for even the kids to get through them. It’s so hard to get them out that consideration was given to leaving them there for months until the rainy season is over, resupplying them for the duration. But no — the monsoons continue to fall, meaning the water in the cave will rise.

What else could possibly go wrong?

And yet, amazingly, things went wonderfully right today: They got four of the boys out! Which is just astounding as well as wonderful. But it will be hours, perhaps a day, before more get out. Imagining the terror, the physical exertion, the determination and courage it took those four weakened boys to get out makes me shudder.

But they got out!

A lot of attention has focused on the one adult with them, 25-year-old assistant soccer coach Ekapol Chanthawong, a former Buddhist monk. Some have been critical, saying he should never have gotten the boys into such a situation. But the story plays differently within Thailand itself:

But for many in Thailand, Ekapol, who left his life in the monkhood three years ago and joined the Wild Boars as an assistant coach soon after, is an almost divine force, sent to protect the boys as they go through this ordeal. A widely shared cartoon drawing of Ekapol shows him sitting cross-legged, as a monk does in meditation, with 12 little wild boars in his arms.

According to rescue officials, he is among the weakest in the group, in part because he gave the boys his share of the limited food and water they had with them in the early days. He also taught the boys how to meditate and how to conserve as much energy as possible until they were found.

“If he didn’t go with them, what would have happened to my child?” said the mother of Pornchai Khamluang, one of the boys in the cave, in an interview with a Thai television network. “When he comes out, we have to heal his heart. My dear Ek, I would never blame you.”…

During my brief stay in Thailand three years ago, I was often impressed by the straightforward piety that runs through the hearts of the people there. Just one of many illustrations: We spent two nights in the farmhouse of my daughters’ adoptive “grandparents” in the rural village in which she served her two years in the Peace Corps. In the corner of the room in which we slept on floor pallets there was a small Buddhist shrine.

On the morning we were leaving, before she would let us go, the “grandmother” kneeled before the shrine and let us know we were to kneel beside her. Of course we did, as she prayed for our safety during the rest of our journey. We were deeply touched.

And as it happened, we had a wonderful time, and our trip was remarkably free of untoward incidents.

Call that good luck if you like, but I think all good-faith efforts to reach out sincerely to the Divine have value, however you define the Divine and whatever your dogma. In any case, the presence of that spiritual young man seems to be helping to keep those boys going under the most trying of circumstances.

I don’t have a shrine in my house, but I’ll be going to Mass later today. And on this Sunday, I hope and pray the other nine boys get out as safely as the first four. And that Ekapol does, too…

We explored a cave while we were in Thailand, too. Here, our guide gives us some pointers at the entrance as we prepare to climb down into it. I don't think I'll do that again...

We explored a cave while we were in Thailand, too. Here, our guide gives us some pointers at the entrance as we prepare to climb down into it. I don’t think I’ll do that again…

Can it with the lame excuses for incivility

The president of the United States is a jerk. His loyal followers are jerks, as they eagerly demonstrate at the rallies where he laps up their adulation. His jerkiness is what they love about him, and theirs is what he loves about them — or would be, if he were capable of loving anyone but himself.download (2)

The people in his administration are, with occasional exceptions, also jerks.

And if you think that the way to defeat all these jerks — in elections, or merely in the court of public opinion — is to be a jerk yourself, then you’re an idiot.

Oops. There I go, being a jerk myself. But I’m pretty sick and tired of hearing people give stupid excuses for being uncivilized.

I sort of reached the end of my patience with the “They did it first!” argument this morning:

I don’t know about Democrats, but anybody who wants to turn back the tide of boorishness is going to have to start by acting like a grownup. That’s not all that’s required to win, of course, but it’s a prerequisite for my vote.

Poor Eugene Robinson. I normally don’t even read his columns. That headline of his just ended up being the straw on the camel’s back….