The Rule of Law; Trust; The Presidency

That the United States is a nation built on the rule of law is a given for historians and political commentators.  It’s the Constitution, laws, common law and case law that define our central themes about values, freedom, crime and justice.  The rule of law may be central to our national ethos but sticking to it has always been a struggle.  It’s been tested by armed insurrection, political duplicity, tolerance of social customs of oppression and suppression and “legal” practices that are morally reprehensible.  Nevertheless, the rule of law has prevailed in the end.

Overlooked, I think, is the amount of trust required for the rule of law to work with enforceable authority.  We as a people must trust that elected leaders will honor the rule of law and be held accountable if they stray too far from it.   For the people to have trust, its elected leaders must be trustworthy.  There seems to be a range of how trustworthiness is defined as that word allows considerable variance from the ideal. Limits to variation are set by some broad, ill-defined measure of public tolerance.  With few exceptions, America’s reliance on the rule of law to be honored has worked at the national level, until recently. Up to a certain point there have always been exceptions at the local level where privileged and powerful people have been allowed to operate above the law with impunity.  The same has not been true at the national level where miscreants have been found out and punished.  Presidents have been forced to resign.  Members of Congress have been censured, stripped of committee assignments, arrested and convicted of crimes when their behavior went beyond the limits of tolerance.

With the election of Trump, national limits of tolerance changed abruptly.  He ran for the office with a life long history of evading and avoiding the rule of law with no serious consequence.  No wonder he continued to behave the same way once in office.  With his campaign boast that “he alone can fix it” should have been a warning for what was to come. Once in Office he publicly declared that as president he could do anything he wanted and it would be legal because the president did it. His disregard for the rule of law resulted in two impeachments not sustained by the Senate, proving to himself and his supporters that he could continue flouting the rule of law on national television and get away with it.  In an appallingly curious way it made him a folk hero to millions who had spent years grumbling over coffee or beers about what they would say to all those uppity government types if they had the chance. Now here was a president doing just that and getting away with it.  It either didn’t matter or didn’t occur to them that Trump was destroying the democracy and social structures that have made the U.S.A. a great nation of freedom and promise.  He even ran his businesses as profit making subsidiaries of the executive office.  I suspect a good many Americans believed Trump was doing no worse than any other president, he was just more public about it. It’s a belief that might have been drawn from examples of local politicians who ruled as if kings and got away with it.

` Whether liked or not, the Biden administration has restored respect for the executive office as well as an overall adherence to the rule of law. Results of his presidency have served to regain international respect for the country. He’s even kept from interfering with the investigation of his son and the consequences Hunter might face if tried and convicted. At the federal level, it’s a promising start for the moral renewal of American politics but the future is not guaranteed.  Trump, DeSantis, Pence and other Republicans are running for president, each promising to be more trumpian than ever.  The Freedom Caucus representing about ten percent of the House of Representatives openly disregards the rule of law and time honored legislative customs that allow room for bipartisan agreements on crucial matters. They’ve also unleashed a cascade of phony investigations into non existent Biden corruption.  They can’t even produce smoke from an illusory  smoking gun, but wild allegations blasted over cable television serve to incite public doubt.  As history proves, sowing doubt is all that’s needed to wrest democracy from the hands of voters. 

What will happen on election day?  We will wait and see. So much depends on decisions voters make in November of ’24.  Reading tea leaves, examining entrails, casting lots, or relying on speculating pundits is of no avail. Even the Magic Eight-ball is silent.

Polarization Is Not What It Appears To Be: so what is it?

I think it was NBC Nightly News (don’t hold me to it) that reported on the polarization of American society and politics through a series of “man on the street” interviews. All interviewed believed and bemoaned it.  One seemed to speak for the rest when he said he would vote for a third party presidential candidate who’d be a more centrist unifier. It made me wonder.  Is the whole of the nation divided one side against the other? What is centrist?  Does a unifier build uniformity or greater acceptance of diversity?

An April, 2023 report said that two thirds of the American public believe the nation is more polarized than ever.  A deeper look into the report revealed a wide variation between self identified Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Urbanites, Suburbanites, Town residents and rural residents.  With few exceptions, each believed the others were the polarized ones, and each professed beliefs about the others’ politics and prejudices while denying the prejudices attributed to them.  That’s a simplified version of data you can look up for yourself. 

The point it seems to me is that we are not as divided as news media and popular belief say we are.  The persuasiveness of the message drilled into us day after day convinces us that all those other people are polarized, but not us. The same messaging demands that unless we are uncritically loyal to our side the other side will destroy the nation and that there can only be two sides: liberal or conservative. To conservatives, all liberals are extreme leftists.  To liberals all conservatives are anti-democratic right wingers. In the daily news cycle grind there are enough loud voices at the extremes to drown out others. Non-stop revelations about the latest  outrages from Trump, DeSantis, Abbot and McCarthy leave little time for anything else.

The difficulty facing Americans wanting more politicians who can meet in the middle is that the meaning of middle has changed.  From the late 1930s through the early 1980s the middle was defined as the place where the agreed upon role of the federal government in actively promoting investment, research, education, public health and civil rights was negotiated between liberals who desired more for the little guy and middle class, and conservatives who wanted less regulation of business and lower taxes on the very wealthy.  Conservatives were a check on liberal enthusiasm and liberals were a check on conservative miserliness.  Neither conservatives nor liberals were a bloc so there was always room for bipartisan deal making that could generate a majority vote.  Starting with the Reagan administration the middle shifted far to the right.  Conservative activists took more extreme positions complaining that it was necessitated by the extraordinary demands of liberals, demands that had never been made. The tactic worked.  For the middle to be met liberals had to move right.  The current Congress is hamstrung on certain key issues because enough right wing extremists have the votes to stop everything unless their demands are met without question or negotiation.  The middle has become what will appease them. 

I can understand why “the man on the street” wanted a unifying centrist leader to emerge, one who could be the sensible voice of the broad American majority of people who lean a little left or right, but not far from the old center.   Oddly Biden and his administration are the centrist’s unifying voice he wants.  Even though he is already in the White House, the third party candidate people ate unwilling to admit he is trying to do what they desire..  Why is that so hard to see? I believe there are two reasons.
First national cable news outlets are loathe to admit it.  Even liberal MSNBC shades its approval of Biden in an effort to appear balanced.  Fox and other right wing sources give him no credit and harp endlessly about socialist agendas that don’t exist and corruption for which there is no evidence. Good old CNN reports both sides as if they had equal merit.

Second, the now well established Republican tactic is to attack, attack, attack with no regard for truth or intention of seeking agreements for the good of the nation.  For them it’s win through unconditional defeat or nothing. It’s far removed from the Republican party of decades past. The yield of noxious weeds sowed by Gingrich, Norquist and others is Trumpism and the Freedom Caucus. They were abetted by the Koch network, for whom I have some sympathy.  A cadre of self righteous, powerful men turned out to be naively unsophisticated.  They thought they would be the puppeteers of a big business libertarian movement, but it turned out their puppets had minds and resources of their own, and refused to have their strings pulled.  Whatever remains of authentic conservatives has ben cowed into going along  to get along and not lose in primary elections.  It’s a sad state of affairs because the. Nation needs a responsible conservative movement on the center right, and it doesn’t have one.

What will it take?  Enough authentic conservatives committed to the old middle to stop belittling Democrats, stand up to Trumpism and the Freedom Caucus, duke it out in the primaries with messages that don’t rely on fear mongering, and ignore the barking junk yard media dogs.  Likely?  The Magic Eight ball does not answer.

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Created in the Image of God: what is God’s image?

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?  That was a question raised in a recent Q and A session for parishioners.  Given the current angry debates about transgender people and their civil rights it wasn’t an unexpected question.  After all, if we are created in the image of God what right do we have trying to change it?

It’s true we are created in the image of God and God did make us male and female, but the two are not different ways of saying the same thing.  Whatever the image of God is, it’s not sensate material. To believe our bodies are what is created in the image of God is to create God in our image, something we are accused of doing by ardent atheists.  The image of God has to be something else that we share in part with whatever God is.  So the first question needed to be asked is “What is the image of God?” At the same time the matter of male and female needs to be set aside with the admonition that while most people are born either male or female, nature’s irregular ways cause a small percentage to be born with the wrong genitals. Obviously it’s more complicated than that but it’s just the way things happen in nature.

So to get back to the image of God, what is it?  Our little group came up with some potential answers. Scripture, as we understand it through the lens of Jesus, says that God is creator of all that is seen or unseen.  God is love.  God sustains material existence.  God blesses, heals, chastises and corrects humanity’s behavior.  There must be some way in which being created in the image of God participates in things like that.

When Jesus sent the new disciples out two by two to go into nearby villages and proclaim the news that the kingdom of God had come near, he was telling them to do what the image of God is.  It is of God and it heals, reconciles, and proclaims what is just.  It is of God and has no other source.  It can be received in peace or rejected but it must be proclaimed.  It is good works that bring God’s blessings in them, something entirely different from doing social good out of mere human motivation to do good for others.  It is the proclamation of God’s abounding and steadfast love, not believe or go to hell.   It is not naive about humanity’s manifold sins and wickedness but confronts it head on with the means of repentance, reconciliation and forgiveness.  In other words it participates with God through Christ Jesus to bring a little of the kingdom of God into the lives of those who will receive it and to open the way to life eternal for those willing to follow the way.  It condemns no one and does not deny God’s ability to work in other ways through other people.  What we Christians know for certain is that the image of God in which we are created has been made known to us directly from God through Jesus, who is the Word of God made flesh for a time.

Sadly, Christians can slide into prideful complacency or the deeper hubris of assuming exclusive ownership of being created in God’s image. When that happens the light of the kingdom of God that has come near begins to fade away, and the power of the Good News begins to weaken.  That makes it easy for non-Christians to treat Christianity and the church as just another cult offering teaching no better or different than others.  It’s easier to think that Christian God is just another tribal deity manufactured out of superstition and used as a tool to grab power over others. 

To know that one is created in the image of God is a sacred treasure to be honored by following in Christ’s way of love.  To recognize that every human being is created in the image of God is to respect and honor it in all  others, no matter their belief or lack of it.  It is a way to better understand what it means to be created in the image of God.  It is only one way. There are others. Each adds more to understanding the image of God that will always be incomplete.

Vision Quest: how does vision work?

Until recently, the mechanics of how vision works were not been an important question for me.  I’ve always been exceedingly nearsighted, but glasses fixed that.  In my sixties, along with many others, cataract surgery was necessary and repaired my nearsightedness.  Then with the onset of macular degeneration, a common condition of aging, the treatment became monthly or six week eye injections. No matter the amount of Lidocaine used, I have to say that eye injections hurt! I got used to it, however, it was saving my sight. What I did not anticipate two years ago were retinal hemorrhages. They caused legal blindness that can be retarded by treatment but not cured.  Deterioration appears to have stabilized, so I’ve not lost all sight. In decent light, I can see objects, movement and color up to a few hundred feet ahead.   These issues have made me think about how vision works. My elementary understanding is that it’s largely neurological. Visual receptors in the retina receive input from the act of looking at something. They pass the data along to the optic nerve sort of like a digital camera converts analog images into digital code.  The data received at the rear of the brain in the optical cortex where it is decoded into an image of the thing looked at. So far so good. This is where it gets complicated. A decoded image has little meaning if there isn’t a frame of reference that fits it.  Think of a toddler learning the names of objects: dog, cat, cow.  We think we’re teaching language when we point and say the right word for the right object, and so we are.  But we’re also teaching the optical cortex to associate characteristics of a certain shape with an identity that can be easily replicated whenever any new dog, cat or cow is encountered no matter where or what conditions surround it. With a lot of deer in our area, I’ve seen toddlers pointing at a fawn and saying “doggie.”  A good guess but a mistaken one without having encountered the image before.

Back to my issue.  My retinal receptors now send incomplete, distorted data to the optic nerve.  The brain’s magic is that it can decode bad data into recognizable images if it has enough remembered references from which to work.  It means that every day encounters with familiar places and things that I can recall from before my eyesight loss can be composed into recognizable if fuzzy out of focus pictures.  It’s why, white cane in hand, I can confidently walk almost anywhere within a mile or so of home.  It’s also why the tools of ordinary daily life are discernible, most of the time. Occasionally my memory tempts me toward over confidence and I can make stupid mistakes, none serious so far. Little things check the temptations.  Too often I knock over a full glass, lose something in plain sight, or fail to recognize what a common object is.  It’s all but impossible to look at the face of someone, even a good friend, and clearly recognize it. There are some get-around tactics.  Focus on one thing at a time, associate size, shape and movements with particular individuals, and the hardest, intentionally and consistently put things in the same place: something I consistently don’t do.

We’ve learned in recent travels that there are limitations to my comfort levels.  In strange environments where I have no prior frame of reference, even simple objects fail to have meaning. My brain has nothing remembered to associate with new incomplete, distorted input data. I need someone tell me: this is where you are, this is what it is, this is what it does, this is how to understand it.  It’s a more sophisticated version of the child’s dog, cat, cow lessons.  With sufficient verbal and visual clues, the brain is able to construct a reasonable facsimile of what those with full sight see.  Even though it lacks details, it stores the memory for future use should I ever return. My discomfort becomes more acute in crowded places of moving objects going in various directions, with sudden, unpredictable moves.  It means a stationary frame of reference has to be ignored in favor of physical safety.  Airports and crowded streets in strange cities are prime examples.  They create a degree of high anxiety and confusion abated by my wife, Dianna, acting as guide and protector – a bitter sweet reversal of roles.  We’ve adapted well with our new roles and have only once been uncomfortably separated.  Although, she often disappears into the labyrinth of the grocery store, but I have the cart and know she’ll eventually return,.

Committing place characteristics to memory is my key to physical adaptation.  It seems to come without effort, which is to say I don’t have to concentrate on thinking “Oh, I have to remember this.”  It just happens.  On the familiar sidewalks of my daily wandering I know that if I’m at this place there is a bump, step or missing paving stone.  Once, when alone at a sandwich shop, I turned the wrong way to go home.  After a block or two I wondered where the heck I was.  Not to worry, knowing and recalling the streets in that area eventually I found my way.  The walk home was a bit longer than usual, but I made it. I also found with that experience that iPhone walking directions are not helpful: head northeast on Maple and turn left on Pine, fails to tell me which way is northeast, whether I’m on Maple, and how will I know when I get to Pine.  Maybe the Apple people can work on that. 
Well, enough of all this rambling. Important worldly events are afoot, and more needs to be said about religious faith.  So back to work.

Spiritual but Not Religious, Religious but Not Spiritual, and the Christian Church.

The non-religious are now dominant yet survey after survey report that they remain spiritual seekers.  I don’t know what that means but it seems to include a broad range extending from a romantic contemplation of nature to a desire for oneness with an ill defined One.  Even those who deeply dislike “organized religion” are prone to adopt their own rites and rituals toward being spiritual but not religious.  A few scientists and philosophers argue there is no such thing as soul and that spirituality is only a function of biological electrical impulses.  Their credibility crumbles when they can’t get away from knowing that their sense of self, their curiosity about what is real and true, and their own ability to think with deep profundity is somehow not the same as the mere ebb and flow of nerve signals. 
So, what is it that drives humanity to desire spirituality in such a material world? The quest for spirituality cannot be erased because the spiritual is real.  The material and spiritual world co-exist.
Christianity understands the mutual existence of material and spirit in a symbiotic relationship.  Body and soul are not separate things but one integrated whole.  Moreover, it is in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, that is the most clear example for us to follow as embodied souls.  It is through God that we are led to understand that achieving a spiritual life also includes an equally rich material life. A rich material life of intention to follow God’s moral commandments, as understood through the lens of Jesus and the way of love.
We know well how material life can be abused and corrupted.  How we treat our bodies, possessions, relationships and creation is far too often the result of selfishness, greed, lust for power and status, etc. the quest for spirituality can also be abused and corrupted.  It can be ignored and denied.  Romantic notions of becoming one with God undermine the sanctity of materiality.  Expecting nature to be the repository of the spiritual is a chimera.  Spiritual wholeness is approached only through communion with God.  Each of us has an environment in which that is more easily done, but it is not the source. 

Questions more often raised with pastors are about traditions, teachings, rites, rituals, the right bible to read, the right way to pray, and a definitive answer to what scripture means. I’m reminded of students demanding to know how much of the syllabus has to be read, how long papers have to be, and what has to be done to get a good grade with minimum effort.  Pastoral response has to turn the questions around: how are all these things designed to be avenues, conduits to a more full spiritual life anchored in community worship and instruction?  The elements of “organized religion” must the tools or respite, renewal and amendment of life that is the stuff of every day life away from church.  If organized religion has failed to meet the needs of spiritual seekers, it is because it has failed to connect the things of church to spiritual hunger in a way that unifies the material with the spiritual as made known by God through Jesus.
Some churches are so focused on emotional conversion or the singular role of the Spirit that the reality of daily material life is treated as if it were a dirty secret best left outside.  Others so dwell on material well being as to devolve into a blasphemous prosperity gospel.  Some, like my denomination, can get so wrapped up in rites and rituals that they are deemed sufficient.  The most egregious offenders may be churches that measure religious success by attendance and money raised. 
For me it is in the Episcopal Church that spiritual and material are most fully recognized as an integrated whole. The liturgy has the power to move one from secular time and space to holy time and space.  The deepest most intimate communion with God comes in the Holy Eucharist of holy food and drink through which our embodied souls are united, of only briefly, with Christ himself. The Eucharist concludes with the invitation to go in peace to love and serve the Lord in our ordinary secular daily lives.  If worship is not conducted to that end, no elaborate ritual with all the bells and whistles is of much good.  Maybe an enjoyable entertainment but that’s all.  Other denominations have other ways that work for them.
I cannot deny that God may be acting through the faithful of other religions, but I am certain that the ways of God are made known to us by God directly through ‘his’ Word made flesh present to us in Jesus, and not through any intermediary.  Jesus is not a prophet but the fulfillment of all prophecy.  That conviction will not convince or convert anyone by itself but it is the Good News that Christians are compelled to proclaim and live into as best they can.  It is the way in which the spiritual and material find their integrated wholeness. When teaching and practices of the church fail to go in that direction they fail to meet the standards of Christianity, no matter how often lusty alleluias and the name of Jesus are heard in them.  

On Being a Real American: Assimilation or Amalgamation?

Assimilation is the word used to describe what it takes for an immigrant to become a “real American.”  I don’t know if it’s ever been clearly defined, but I know what it’s intended to mean.  Immigrants are expected to leave traditional dress and social customs behind, adopt American ways of dress and social behavior.  English is to become one’s first language as quickly and with as little residual foreign accent as possible.  Ethnic heritage is welcomed when it’s expressed as as a nostalgic memory of the old country, honored but left behind. Annual celebrations in ethnic costume are OK but that’s it.  Old country recipes are to be adjusted to fit the tastes of real Americans so they can be added to the American menu.

he model for what assimilation looks like has been the self identified white middle class in each of its manifestations over the decades.  In other words, to be a real American was to be as white and middle class as possible.  I believe it was well intended.  After all the mythical white middle class had defined America in its own image from the first colonies until today.  America was to be a melting pot. Most were welcomed, some with deep suspicion, but it was expected that within a few generations immigrants would become essentially indistinguishable from real Americans in general. Immigrants from Europe, given a few generations, made it happen so it seemed to work.
There were exceptions.  Formerly enslaved blacks where expected to become as white as possible in behavior but they were obviously not white, so white behavior could never be more than a thin facade.  Jews could look white and act white, but they had strange customs, a second language dear to them, and were never going to become Christian, or at least agnostic.  One could like but not trust them and it was best if they were not allowed to live in real American neighborhoods.  Mexicans (meaning all  Hispanics) never quit being Mexican and what could you do about it?  American Indians were forced into treaties and schools designed to make assimilation their only path to a full free life, but under living conditions preventing it. Efforts were made to strip them of cultural and religious heritage but it never worked.  American Indians didn’t even get citizenship until a hundred years ago.  Western states were harshly cruel to Asians.

American’s dominant white culture and its ability to dictate what it is to be a real American is no longer acceptable.  The moment is nearly here when no color of skin or historic place of ethic origin will be in the majority.  Peoples of different races and cultures are less willing to give up everything to become as white as possible.  Assimilation has also bred decades of resentment over white arrogant condescension – something white America was blind to.   It’s time to move into amalgamation.  
Amalgamation combines a variety of ingredients to become a workable whole, without each ingredient giving up it’s own identity.  Any cook can explain how that works. Ingredients combine to complement each other in ways that produce a new taste and look. Complementary combination changes each ingredient yet doesn’t erase its individual characteristics.   People are not recipe ingredients, but I think the analogy makes its point.

Amalgamation cannot eliminate tensions and differences between groups but it can create conditions under which complementary cooperation will produce a stable equilibrium of unity to guide the nation forward.  Who gets to decide how amalgamation is to work successfully and become the new definition of what it is to be a real American?  It’s going to have to be a bit organic with leaders emerging from every part of society to work cooperatively as public representatives of the new way. It can’t be imposed from above.  It has to emerge from grass roots thought and opinion leaders.To use another analogy, think of it as like a NATO, ASEAN, or the European Union.  None is a perfect example but you get the idea. 

Who will be the losers?  The most obvious are whites resentful of giving up their historical place of privilege.  Even those on the bottom rung had at least some privilege denied to all others or they thought they did.  Losers will also include power and position greedy members of non-white groups who know well that amalgamation will corrode the very conditions giving them room to rule others.  Hard core leftists are never happy and amalgamation will make them more so because it will deny them the conditions they so love to rail against. Will it produce an American paradise? No!  In words reflective of Jon Meacham, humanity’s ability to engage in manifest  sins and wickedness knows no bounds. But perhaps we will be better able to corral the tendency and work harder for the common good to preserve our treasured freedoms.

Patriotism and the Military

Williamsburg, VA lies on a narrow peninsula with the James River on one side the York on the other, both ending at the Atlantic. It retains the height of colonial British American charm. The park like William and Mary campus anchors one end of the community and Historic Colonial Williamsburg the other. Historic houses, the Royal Governors palace, and original state house are represented by docents in colonial costume.  Bucolic parkways connect to Jamestown, the first British colony in North America, and Yorktown, site of the final battle of the Revolutionary War.  Behind the landscaped tranquility of the region are dozens of active military installations representing every branch of the armed forces, all there but hidden from easy view.  Artillery fire can be heard loud and clear once or twice a week. Being a small region with nothing very far way, the gunfire is a reminder that armed conflict raged up and down the peninsula from 1607 through the end of the Civil War. The region endured the cruel era of Jim Crow and segregation until the late 1960s.  It brings to mind the fact that armed conflict and military action has no inherent moral value.  It can be used for any purpose to achieve any end.  Moral justification, if there is one, depends entirely on the ideas and ideals that underlie the conflict.
Our daughter was walking her dog in Colonial Williamsburg a few days before July 4th when she was surprised by the sound of regular artillery fire.  It wasn’t the sound of a colonial canon used in historic demonstrations.  Wondering to herself out loud, a passerby said it was the sound of freedom.  That comment fits in with national pride that too easily equates American freedom with military victory.  It is said we owe our freedom to veterans, those who died in the service of the country, and to active soldiers, sailors and airmen.  To remain free we must maintain a vigilant, well equipped military readiness.
For decade upon decade, we have fought wars against foreign enemies and domestic rebellions to defend our republican democracy and its treasured freedoms. Men and women have gone into harm’s way knowing they might be wounded or even killed.  It required disciplined courage that comes only when the moral reasons for doing one’s duty are worth it.  They are owed a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid fully.  Those who serve now and are prepared to go as they are called are also due our full support in every way. 
There have been wars where American armed forces came to the aid of other free nations under attack by forces intent on destroying them and creating a potential threat to us.  It feels appropriately patriotic to believe the United States goes into armed conflict only with the moral wind at its back.  Those are the wars, after all, that are woven into the national memory, celebrated with holidays, parades, and movies.  Sadly, as some recent conflicts attest, we haven’t always gone to war to deter a threat to us, but exploring that is for another time.
Patriotism, it seems to me, has to be grounded in commitment to the  ideals that are the foundation of our American form of government, and to the difficult progress made toward realizing a fuller measure of freedom through laws, practices and the national ethos. The military was not part of of the foundation laid by the writers of the Constitution. It is rather a tool to defend against military threats from elsewhere. It can be a tool to support and defend nations whose own security is related to ours, and possibly for other purposes to which we have made international commitments in support of freedom and democracy.  The military is a necessary bulwark, but it cannot defend against the most pernicious of internal threats from organized movements operating against democracy, freedom, and justice. We experienced the penultimate version of it in the Civil War.  While the Union was victorious at terrible cost, the war did not stop internal movements from continuing their work, even to this very day. The plotters are aided by foreign enemies who recognize that undermining our democracy from within is easier and safer than confronting it militarily. 
We owe much to the military but it is not the source of freedom.  In the wrong hands it can easily become freedom’s enemy.  In the midst of internal treachery, the psalmist declared a truth that has too often been ignored:   “Day and night they go around its walls, and iniquity and trouble are within it. Ruin is in its midst; oppression and fraud do not depart from its marketplace. (Ps. 55.10)

Reparations: Yes? No? What Kind?

Reparations for descendants of black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved is an essential element of the healing reconciliation that is much needed.  However, I am not persuaded by proposals for cash payments to them.  It smacks too much of “Here’s some money so that makes everything OK. Now let’s hear no more of that systemic racism nonsense.”  It’s a cheap way out of completing the more difficult work begun with the civil rights movement of the 1960-70 era.  To be sure, governments pay compensation to individual victims injured by some act of a government agent or agency.  The payments may be needed, but seldom heal anything.  Cash payments seem to be written off as a cost of doing business, the tolerable price of paying off an injured party without rectifying injurious practices.

Several recent Supreme Court decisions demonstrate that the nation has farther to go in recognizing the deeply rooted beliefs and practices continuing to deny the full measure of justice to some Americans than are more freely available to others.  Conservative Justices of the Supreme Court struck down the administration’s plan to cancel or reduce student loan debt using a legal theory created out of thin air.  A web designer gained the right to deny services to LGBT customers even though she had not yet started her business, had no customers, and claimed a request from a gay man who didn’t exist.  Affirmative action in higher education was struck down while arguing that it wasn’t really being struck down.  An 1868 treaty promising the Navajo Nation all the water it needed from the Colorado River was neutered when the court said the treaty didn’t require the government to ensure it was delivered.

There were a few hopeful decisions appearing to stop egregious gerrymandering of congressional districts, but the overall trend made it clear that the U.S. cannot shake off its long history of legal and socially systemic racism causing injury to real people today, not just those in the past.  In a liberal twist on the theme, San Francisco is considering reparation payments to resident black Americans who can show an ancestry of enslavement.  California joined the union in 1860 with a constitution outlawing slavery. Chattel slavery was practiced in the South but never in California.  However, the California history of American Indian enslavement and punitively harsh laws consigning Asians to little more than bonded servitude remains an issue best ignored, or so it seems. If cash payment reparations are justified, I think California needs to look to its own story.  The same can be said to one degree or another about every Western state.

Reparations are indeed much needed but not in the form of cash payments.  We’ve got serious structural conditions working against the full measure of justice owed to all Americans but denied to many.  Addressing those head on is to my mind the kind of reparation needed.  It’s a difficult moment for the nation.  A conservative populist movement has gained momentum that has mobilized those who would like a return to a small government laissez-faire economy giving full license to the wealthy to do as they want.  At the same time, it’s encouraged outrage from lower income and rural Americans who have been led to believe they are forgotten and treated poorly by elites and urbanites.  It feeds the worst of our national instincts and behaviors.  The movement is opposed by equally outraged liberals full of self righteous hubris lacking humility and whose most outspoken adherents appear to have all the answers but ask none of the questions.  It’s given all the room needed for authoritarian wannabe fascists to strut in the media and on the electoral stage.

It’s embarrassing. Still, I believe America’s better nature will prevail.  The 2024 national elections will dominate the news, and they are important.  The harder, more necessary work has to take place in elections at the local and state levels.  It’s work that can’t rely simply on electing the right candidates.  It has to start with responsible voices boldly speaking as liberals and conservatives who know how and are willing to work together for the common welfare of the people.  The have to be voices declaring there is no room for blatant prejudice or any policy that denies justice to some while giving it to others.