While we sit on a still deck,
tethered to the house,
tree fronds around us rustle
at the slightest breeze.
We trust in joists, planking, paneling,
cut years ago from rooted, swaying, living trees.
We keep pulling up stakes
to seek food and companions, shelter and home.
Yet our roofs, fields, and shops
turn into hard-edged shells, till the next big storm
draws soft skins from below the nacre.
We sing, teach, paint, cook, knit, write, and dance,
at the most imperceptible move of the spirit.
We protest the actions by the president of the United States, who, on the evening of 1 June 2020, called for military action against US residents on US soil, had peaceful protesters tear-gassed out of his way, stood uninvited before an Episcopal parish, and waved a Bible.
We call out the president for abusing what is for many a treasured spiritual resource and symbol, and we deplore his violation of sacred space.
We call out political leaders to engage the Bible in thoughtful and responsible ways. The Bible should not be brandished as a weapon to attack humanity or to violate the dignity of the human spirit. We commit to the work of studying and exposing how the Bible has been and continues to be used in this way.
Most obscene and blasphemous today was the use made by the president of the Bible. In search of a photo-op, he walked from the White House to St John, the nearby episcopal church of presidents. Part of the church—the crypt?—had been burned by demonstrators on Saturday night. This short walk required that the White House’s surrounding blocks be cleaned of any demonstrator by federal agents and military police. Once there, he lifted the holy book above his head, somewhat as it is done by excited evangelical preachers, with the boarded church in the background. What did the ad-men of his entourage think? It was a strange gesture for all kinds of reasons, the major one of which is that the hope for justice and peace, a most common cry in the demonstrations, is a central point of the Bible, especially in Isaiah. We have ample evidence that Trump doesn’t care about that idea, and that his idea of justice is vengeance. So then, was he calling for brimstone and apocalyptic punishment (domination) to rain down upon what he keeps defining as terrorists? Or even claiming the divine right to use all necessary power to quell the huge movements all across the nation? It was strange also because Trump is rather remarkable and famous for having no principle or convictions whatsoever, no belief in compassion, kindness, or forgiveness. Strange furthermore because he did swear to uphold his office on that same Bible in January 2017, while speaking of the “carnage” of life in the US a few minutes later in his inaugural speech. The carnage he mentioned is all around him now, much of it due to him and his sycophantic partners.
All large US cities saw major demonstrations again last night that often continued past the official curfews. The national government is gone AWOL. The White House used its special bunker Saturday to shelter the president for an hour or two because of a fear that demonstrators might overrun the fences. No official declaration. No national emergency speech by the president but a fresh spouting of foul twitter messages, mostly to taunt all opponents, who might now count everyone but the 40\% or so of the voters who still support him. Even independents and middle-of-the-road Republicans, if there are such, are abandoning him. Today, in a craven call to governors, he kept true to form, hiding behind their reputations but goading them and demanding that they use force to quash the demonstrations (they need “to dominate” activists), if they don’t want “to look like jerks.” He prodded them not to be too careful about the use of violence. Fortunately, there is a huge, proteiform movement of support for radical change in our society. What form it will take, nobody knows. But peaceful people seeking justice and peace—in that order—are demonstrating everywhere, sharing food and money, volunteering, mobilizing forces for voting, etc., while sheltering in place. And fortunately also, there are governors, civil authorities, health professionals, teachers, parents, a multitude of people who take upon themselves to be the leaders needed in this crisis. Governor Newsom of California again today addressed the public in this spirit of hope, courage, grassroot organization, and thoughtful cooperation. Santa Cruz had a small demonstration downtown on Saturday. The mayor of Santa Cruz and its chief of police knelt together at one point in memory of George Floyd.
The governor of California, Gavin Newsom, has been a spectacular political leader, the more so when compared to the narcissistic and violent fascist who still occupies the White House today. During his press conference today—done by video link as usual now—Newsom called everyone to do their part in taking the events, including the pandemic, as opportunities to be more caring, more compassionate towards each other. He made clear that this care has to be the life-blood of a systematic eradication of racist behavior. Racism is deeply set and entangled in our social and institutional structures. With the terrible events of last Monday on everyone’s mind, when George Floyd, a Minneapolis black man, was killed by a police officer while already shackled on the ground, he tasked everyone with doing their utmost to care for each other, transform perceptions and old habits, and implement social justice and equality. Protests have erupted in Minneapolis and other cities. The National Guard has been called in by the Minnesota authorities after violence threatened to engulf the city.
The president of our country, meanwhile, pours gasoline on the fire in the middle of a pandemic. He considers any supporter or even claimant of justice to be an enemy that needs to be destroyed. He is not content to use media platforms to spout lies and incendiary one-liners, he is now aiming at killing free speech if it clashes with his villainous views. Only stratospheric stock market numbers may pacify him for a minute or two. He has not hesitated to encourage violence via his Twitter account to the point that the media company at last flagged one of his messages (“when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” an old racist phrase that has the cause and effect backwards). This new stage in seeking to divide and polarize a nation looking for unity of purpose will solidify his core base. Let us hope that it will also decrease any chance he has of getting the votes of independents or even those of some Republicans whose embarrassed and shameful silence may include absence at the polls.
Aide-toi, le ciel t’aidera! says Hercules to a cart driver in La Fontaine’s fable of Le charretier embourbé. This proverbial bit of moral code goes back to antiquity. It made sense as part of the Greek notion of freedom and autarky, when it didn’t hurt that authority over oneself was enhanced by dominion over women, children, strangers, and slaves. This authority over others did not trouble the moral luminaries of the time and could be assumed to be part of the natural world. The English version, “God helps those who help themselves,” is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin but was first formulated in these exact words by Algernon Sidney in the seventeenth century. What is peculiar is that many people in the US think that the idea and even the formula originated in the Bible. For some, it might even be a commandment. In fact, it is not biblical at all, in spite of somewhat similar statements in the late book of Proverbs, and in spite of attempts to interpret some parables in the synoptic gospels—the faithful servant or the ten virgins—along this line. It is part of the mishmash of notions purporting to support a proudly conquering capitalism. Believing that it is a biblical verse is a way of surrendering one’s independence of thought to a mythic authority, while sugarcoating what can often be bitter and cruel. As many know, including a minority of Christians, this view of the person is a radical misunderstanding of the notion of grace. Jesus’ words and deeds were mostly concerned with those who need other people’s help and the biblical god doesn’t seem interested in those who help themselves, or at least not that barefacedly. The biblical god helps widows, orphans, strangers, oppressed Israelites, precisely in circumstances when human solutions are hard to come by.
As I walk along the ocean this morning, I start to think of my own steps, I expect them to calm the strange feeling—a mix of anxiety and nervousness— that has engulfed all my thoughts for the past few days. Listening to the noise my shoes make on the path reminds me of the slow walk of the old mare Tamise on the road after an afternoon of hoeing. She was a quiet, smart, stubborn mare on the farm. The recreated memory of her measured pace comforts me, and perhaps even more the fact that she accepts to be bound to me by the rope of her bridle which I hold by old reflex but which she does not need to find the trough and her stall.
Super Tuesday came and went yesterday. There was a broadly shared, nervous expectation that Sanders would win big especially in the western states, collect many more delegates for the convention in Milwaukee than Biden who won a decisive victory a few days ago in South Carolina, and end up being the nominee. I wished for that outcome even though I don’t agree with some of Sanders’ suggestions and hoped he would tone down his message if he won. But it is Biden who clearly was chosen by the majority of democrats and mainstream media to represent them against Trump and defend entrenched interests this fall. Bloomberg declared for Biden, as did Klobuchar and Buttigieg last week, which probably helped some during the vote, as did the rain of media articles warning about a Sanders nomination… It would be nice to know the proportion of voters by revenue and age bands this Super Tuesday. In any case, it looks as if the attention given to cultural and morality matters in the past forty years continues to be an effective cover for both the Republican and Democratic parties, though from different so-called right and left angles. There remains a fundamental agreement about accepting the mechanisms of market capitalism as they developed under the aegis of the USA (see Rubin two days ago in his NYT piece), the absence or relative weakness of regulations in business and banking, the continuation of private health insurance programs, the role of the Federal Reserve, and need to go deeper in reshaping federal programs, except war (= aka Department of defense). Social Security and Medicare are in the crosshairs of Republicans and could be retooled with the help of the right of the Democratic party. How far private banking would go in replacing federal programs would be the object of intense discussions. It could happen with the assent of many people at the helm of the Democratic and Republican parties. I suppose that Biden would be willing to negotiate an arrangement with McConnell if it were presented as an element of freedom. Social Security and Medicare would be transformed into what the 401K funds, education costs, and health have become: fragile, exposed replacements for older public pension, education, and health systems in which the risk used to be much more broadly shared (except for health). The stench of Trump gone, one would be relieved for a while to breathe the fragrant air of ethical capitalism.