Hello from my office at the University,
It is a difficult day in the history of our country. This is not a partisan statement nor is it meant to be political; it is a simple statement of fact – because the House of Representatives has voted, for a second time, to impeach President Trump. This vote was more bipartisan than any other impeachment vote in our history, but that is not to say there is some great bipartisan effort to move in this direction. Let me begin by saying this. I believe that every person who stood outside the Capitol and protested the counting of the Electoral Vote had the right to do so. It matters not whether I agree with them that the election was somehow fraudulent, for they believed it to be so. A number of people believed what was provided by certain members of both the Congress, the media, and by President Trump himself, and they stood up to argue this part of our electoral process. Again, the comments made by all people since November 3rd have had some effect on what culminated as the event at the Capitol on January 6th. It is for those reasons indeed our national life is hard. We are divided and we are hurting, but there are some things to consider in all of this. I am not a Constitutional Scholar though I have spent a lot of time considering the role of argumentation as a Rhetorical Scholar. The arguments made on both sides of the political divide have consequence. If there is anything I struggled with today is how many Congressional people today voted as they did because of fear. I note that because some of the 10 Republicans who chose to join the Democrats noted they chose to not be intimidated. There is also what is being reported about soon-to-be Former Senate Majority Leader McConnell position and what he is saying about an impeachment and trial. There is so much more, but I have just listened to the video statement of President Trump. I have only one word: yes! It was one of the most Presidential statements he has made in four years. Under duress? Yes, and are there things still missing? Yes, but for the moment, it is what we have. Perhaps we can hope for more. Maybe that is my idealism that seems to always appear. However, I agree . . . no more violence. We can make arguments about timing, but I am fine with where we are. This statement was important. I want to say this for those who believe I cannot support him, I completely support what he said about violence and will leave it at that.
Now comes the difficult part. Can we move beyond him? Can we move toward being citizens, regardless political persuasion, who are willing to consider country before party? Of course, some will, and to some degree appropriately, ask what does that mean? For me it means this. Our elected people in the Legislative Branch will have to do what they do. We have elected them and what they do is supposed to be in the interest of all of us. I understand the difficulty of that statement at this present time. I need to focus on what I can to do reach across that aisle for those I care about, but who see things differently than I do. I need to ask their opinion and be willing to listen before I speak. I need, when necessary, to disagree, but do so kindly, carefully, thoughtfully. I need to think about the country it seems we want our young people to have. Certainly, where we are now with the lack of decorum, respect, or simple decency is not what we need. I am not afraid of honest debate about where we are as a country. I am willing to say we have a serious problem. The lack of trust, be it in the other, in the media, or by the willingness to see conspiracy behind every blade of grass creates a dangerous atmosphere. It undermines more than trust in something, be it the individual or the social fabric, it destroys hope in something positive or the possibility of anything better. It would be easy to give up; the actions of our country for more than just the last five years seem to indicate we have lost our ability to work together for the mutual benefit for either ourselves or our children and their children, but I refuse to believe that. Why? – – because I know the beauty of people if we allow them to do what is in their better heart of hearts. I have been the recipient of that goodness more than once in my life. One of the most important things I understand in my life at this point is our mutuality, our interdependence. We do not accomplish anything of substance without the help or input of others. That is a fact. If anything good is to come from our lives it is through our interactions with others. It is through our willingness to work with the other. This does not mean that all of those interactions are planned, expected, or even necessarily pleasant. That is how complex this idea of beauty is. Sometimes it is out of the depths that our cries fall upon the ears of another, a person kind enough, wise enough, courageous enough to lift us and listen to our pleas for help. Sometimes, it is us being willing to be attentive enough, kind enough, and yes unselfish enough to see the needs of the other before our own. If this past year and our battle with COVID has revealed anything to me, it is our interdependence and the profound reality that we are in this fight against this invisible enemy together.
Earlier, while listening to a statement from the World Health Organization and the critical things occurring all around us, the running comment thread had numerous comments about COVID being a hoax; that no one has really die; that everything about the virus is a lie. These comments absolutely stun me; I am simply speechless. If it is not true and there is a hoax, or no one has died, how does that square up with the obituaries, the refrigeration trucks, the nurses, doctors, and anyone else working within the medical sector who merely goes to work each day? . . . can you honestly in some bizarre stretch of imagination say they are all in on the hoax too? For God’s sake?? I am beyond words. I am convinced we have entered a time where most things we have held dear, reasonable, or appropriate are suspect. The time-honored traditions of being thoughtful, discerning, and open to possibility have been trampled, but the how and why are not as clear to me. So many times I have listened to students say they believe life was easier or it used to be and my general argument has been that is a just a perception, and we know the significance of perception. And generally I was not convinced they were accurate. However, as I write this today, I find myself reconsidering that statement. Perhaps it is more difficult, but why? That is a very different question. I think it is, in part, the consequence of information overload. This has been of concern for some time, but is it really there is too much? I think it gets back to something I speak with my students about every semester. When you are researching something, it is important that you look behind the sources themselves. Who wrote it? What makes that person credible? Who is paying for their information (and that is not necessarily money paid to the writer, but also to who is bankrolling the site)? What is the purpose of the article and who is the intended audience? All of these questions need to be considered before you are willing to post that somewhere. That is why there is so many issues with what is posted. So it is not the voluminous pages as much as it is the quality or veracity of it.
In the aftermath of our Epiphany Day (January 6th)- and it seems so ironic that the attack on the United States Capitol happened on Epiphany – there is so much that has happened, and it seems we are only getting started, but the suspension of President Trump from a variety of platforms is an incredible double-edged sword. I understand the rationale of the platforms in our national situation at this moment, but the role of social media and its power is currently immeasurable. That is the reality of the social media-verse. Therein lies the problem because they are private companies. They have the right as a private company to do what they do, but that makes the Zuckerbergs, the Dorseys, the Bezoss, the Torbas, the Matzes each the ultimate puppet masters of sorts. Once they decide and do what they do, is there any reconsideration, and how is that decided? This is a serious concern. This makes life much more difficult because we have become so dependent on their platforms. The internet developer noted that he was not particularly pleased with what was created, and I can certainly appreciate that reticence. Yet, we are certainly not putting that genie back in the bottle, but can we step back from our technological dependence and once again fathom writing in a more “old-school” manner? I took the time to write and send Christmas cards this year, the first in quite some time. It was a labor of love because it required me to think about each person who whom I send a card and understand why they were important in my life. I should have sent more, but I ran out of cards. And I made two trips to the post office for more stamps.
I should return to the quote that I have chosen to use for this blog post. This is a quote from Abraham Lincoln. It might not be one of his most famous, but it is perhaps one of the most substantive when you consider what his Presidency was trying to manage. What I appreciate as I read more and more about Lincoln is this rather meek, or at least introverted, man had an incredibly strong sense of principle. If you research his presidency, you will see he was trying to balance a desperate world and a profoundly difficult personal life. I can imagine there were moments he had no place to turn except to his God. I can imagine this tall and somewhat formidable person falling to his knees wondering if divine intervention might be possible. The struggles of the Union in 1860 have more parallels to our world now than some might realize. If you take the time to do some research, you might be stunned at the parallels. We have a divided country, one between rural and urban America. We are divided between those who believe we have a right to a white society and those who believe we are a much more complex tapestry today. That was slavery in the 1860s and it is a remnant of Civil Rights still not realized today. That is the reality of our racial divide. We are racially divided, plain and simple. That is a difficulty and it is something we must figure out as a country. It is something we must figure out as humans. It is something we must be honest about. I believe the most profound consequence of COVID is many of our inequities have been exposed to a degree never before seen. There is no where to hide. There is no carpet big enough to sweep it under. And that is good, but it is simultaneously painful. We must step back and consider what it means to be a country of equity, fairness, justice, and yes, a country of law and principle. Each of those terms are ideographic, which means they are complex and they have immeasurable baggage behind them. We need to understand more completely what they mean if we are to move beyond this difficult time.
This is where Lincoln was, and is still, so profoundly wise. In difficulty there is beauty. What does that mean? It means it is necessary to see the goal and understand that the path to things like equity, fairness, and justice are necessary to create something that makes it possible for people to dream and believe in hope. It means that we are truly a society of human beings who desire a society that allows all who put an honest effort in to see progress. This is not simply some idealistic end game. It is building on the belief that we are all equal in the sight of something bigger, a Creator if you will. Scripturally it goes like this: “To whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48). This is a tough verse. It does not begrudge your success or your wealth, your talents or your abilities, but simply says if you have it, you are expected to be gracious with it, even more you are required to be gracious period. We have lost that attribute too often. In our propensity to reach our ideal of individual freedom, we believe what we have accumulated is ours. Our incredible selfishness is contrary to the gospel. That is simply the way it is. The beauty of our lives is to be shared. That is something I believe Lincoln had somehow figured out. In spite of the difficulties he faced as our nation’s President, he was able to find the beauty in life. Can we step back in the midst of this difficult time and find the beauty in our lives? And then can we share that beauty with those around us no matter who they are? I know it is easy to become disillusioned, but I refuse to give in and not search for the beauty. I know it is there because I experience it daily. As America we must realize we have been given much, but much is required. It is interesting to me as I listened to an old song by REO Speedwagon the other day, it seemed like it could have been written during the past year. From their live album a song called “Golden Country.” I remember blaring this out of the widows in Holling Hall many an afternoon.
Thank you as always for reading and I wish you peace.