Why Paul Ryan Should Read Flannery O’Connor

book-cover

“As far as I am concerned,” she said and glared at him fiercely, Christ was just another D.P.”

Mrs. May to Father Flynn in Flannery O’Connor’s “The Displaced Person”

 

The most heartbreaking of all Flannery O’Connor’s stories, “The Displaced Person,” seems particularly poignant given the ban on Muslim refugees instated last weekend.[1] Set right after WW2, the story dramatizes the attempted assimilation of a Polish refugee into bigoted backwoods Georgia.

As David Griffith points out in his excellent essay on the story in The Paris Review:

O’Connor takes her title from the Displaced Persons Act, which, between 1948 and 1952, permitted the immigration of some four hundred thousand European refugees into the United States. President Truman signed the bill with “very great reluctance” for what he saw as its discriminatory policy toward Jews and Catholics: the Act stipulated that, in order to be eligible, one must have entered Germany, Italy, or Austria before December 22, 1945, which, according to Truman, ruled out 90 percent of the remaining Jewish people displaced by the war. Similarly excluded were the many Catholics who’d fled their largely Communist countries after the December 22 deadline.

“The bad points of the bill are numerous,” Truman wrote. “Together they form a pattern of discrimination and intolerance wholly inconsistent with the American sense of justice.” He called the decision to enforce the December 1945 deadline “inexplicable, except upon the abhorrent ground of intolerance.”

In the story, O’Connor’s displaced person’s work ethic so far exceeds that of the slothful, under-compensated blacks and whites who work on Mrs. May’s farm that he threatens their livelihoods. Worse than that, he violates Southern taboo of racial purity when tries to contract a marriage between a black field hand and his young Polish cousin languishing in a camp back home.

When an outraged Mrs. May confronts Mr. Guizac about the proposed interracial marriage — “You would bring [that] poor innocent child over here and try to marry her to a half-witted thieving black stinking nigger” — he says quite sensibly, “She no care black [. . .] She in camp three year.”

In the end, xenophobia and bigotry triumph over charity as the displaced person – the one good man to be found in that collection called A Good Man Is Hard to Find – is done away with.

She had felt her eyes and Mr. Shortley’s eyes and the Negro’s eyes come together in one look that froze in collusion forever, and she heard the little noise the Pole made as the tractor wheel broke his backbone.

* * *

Obviously, refugees rank as some of the planet’s most vulnerable souls, driven from their homelands — from their familiar cultures — into alien worlds of gibberish, incomprehensible mores, and worse.

The refugees turned away this weekend had undergone as much as 48 months of vetting from several agencies and pose virtually no terrorism threat whatsoever. No one from the banned countries has ever committed a terrorist attack on US soil – unlike citizens from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Pakistan, who weren’t included in the ban, people from countries where Trump has business interests.

Imagine the refugees’ heartache after so much suffering, boarding a plane headed for their dreamed of destination, only to be turned away and sent on a long, long flight back to perdition.

Of course, it’s not surprising that the sadist Trump would shatter the hopes of the dispossessed to score political points. After all, as many have pointed out, he’s cruel, hosted a reality TV show in which he lovingly embraced the chance to humiliate people with the words “you’re fired.” No one would expect him to take refugees’ plights to heart.

On the other hand, you might think Paul Ryan, who embraces his Catholicism the way Steve Bannon does his booze, would take Jesus’s words more to heart. But Ryan has come out fully supporting the ban.

I’ll let Jesus – the ultimate Displaced Person – have the last say:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:3)
Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted. (5:4)
Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth. (5:5)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled. (5:6)
Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. (5:7)
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God. (5:8)
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God. (5:9)
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:10)
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. .5:11-12

Oh, by the way, what was the percentage of evangelists’ votes Trump garnered?


[1] The Trump’s claim that it’s not a ban on Muslims rings hollow when the administration offers exemptions to Christians and Jews.

tissot-the-lords-prayer

Free Melania

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I had never heard of Melania Trump before her husband ran for president.  When I saw her descending that fateful escalator the night he announced his candidacy, I dismissed her as a gold-digger willing to exchange booty for fabulous wealth.  However, now after the first few days of this administration, I see her in a different, more sympathetic light, as someone brow-beaten into marrying that brutish, boorish buffoon.[1]

What a wretched life she must lead.  Imagine sharing a bed with Trump. His snoring, I bet, could provide a convincingly horrid soundtrack for Dante’s Inferno.[2]  Let’s face it, sleeping with Donald Trump, eating breakfast with Donald Trump, listening day in and day out to Donald Trump bloviating about how fucking wonderful he is has got to get really old really fast.

I’d rather be sentenced to 20 years riding on Disney’s “It’s a Small World.”

small-world-copy

Melania’s Wiki bio makes it sound as if she had a stage mom, given that the future First Lady’s modeling career began at age five. Having a stage mom is bad enough, but having one in the former Yugoslavia certainly must have made it worse. Imagine coming home after an exhausting shoot to a dingy self-contained living unit in a soulless Soviet era high-rise lined up like a domino along the diesel stench of a poorly maintained highway. Plus, her old man was a Marxist-Lenin fanatic, which is probably just as bad (or worse) than being reared by a fanatical Christian evangelist.

If beauty were her ticket out, who dare blame her? Sure, she could have stayed in Milan and married a calcio[3] star, but certainly the lure of New York would be hard to resist.

* * *

Wiki claims she met the future president at a Fashion Week party where she refused to give the lout her phone number because he had another date (or perhaps because he resembled a mutated, bulbous tangerine sporting a hairstyle that a Teddy Boy might find outrageous).

 

 

Teddy Boy

Teddy Boy

Eventually, she gave in – imagine the relentless badgering she must have endured – and for a while she had the good sense to break off the relationship after it had started. But let’s face it, Donald always gets what he wants — if you don’t count the respect of Hollywood or the intelligentsia or at the present moment, 55% of the US population.

No doubt you’ve witnessed her daily humiliations, and if you haven’t, allow me to share two telltale images.

gracious husband

gracious husband

happy couple

happy couple

Not surprisingly, #FreeMelanie is now a meme on Facebook and Twitter, and I think her escape from the White House could make a killer pulp thriller if you changed the names and set it in the future. You could have her fall in love with a secret service agent or kidnapped like Patty Hurst and go rogue by helping her abductors knock off unqualified cabinet members.

Or how about a Greek tragedy with a CNN panel serving as a chorus?

Certainly, there’s a budding Dostoyevsky out there who could capture her feline Slavic beauty and concoct some redemption for her suffering in a 600-page novel.

I personally don’t know – and I’m serious – any sane woman who would trade places with her.


[1] I realize the too-too muchness of that relentless B-alliteration, its amateurish boom boom, but, people, I’m trying to echo Trump’s own crudity and amateurishness, so give me a break!

[2] For the sake of your and my own sanity, I’ll spare us a description of what I envision the “ol’ in-out, in-out” with Donald Trump might be like.

[3] I.e., soccer

3 Contrasting Visions of the Trump Presidency

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Boy, I really didn’t realize how dark Trump’s vision the US is until I read his inaugural address:

Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories, scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge . . .

I first Trump may have actually written this himself. I couldn’t think of a professional speechwriter who would come up with a simile so imagistically clunky as “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.”  But it turns out Miller and Bannon are to blame.

Anyway, are you visualizing the image?

Florida National Cemetery, Headstones, war heroes

tombstones

rusted-out factory

rusted-out factory

 

scattered

scattered

Perhaps there are more than a few rusted-out factories in Michigan, but down here in South Carolina where I live I couldn’t locate one to save my life. I asked my son who drove up from Orlando yesterday how many rusted-out factories he’d see during the seven hour trip, and he said that the only factory he saw had smoke coming out of the smokestacks.

Also – and I’ll move on – the children in South Carolina suffering from poverty aren’t huddled in inner cities but eking out their existence without Medicaid expansion in shacks that litter the landscape.

Okay, now that I got that off my chest, I’d like to offer brief synopses of how three thoughtful pundits perceive the Trump presidency, and I’ll go from darkest to brightest for sanity’s sake.

Sarah Kendzior

skSarah Kendzior, the author of The View from Flyover Country, is an anthropologist who specializes in authoritarian states and writes for various newspapers. She considers the accession of Trump as nothing less than catastrophic. She foresees a coming kleptocracy as a fragile democracy succumbs to fascistic institution-gutting by Trump and his mob-like nationalistic white-supremacist cronies.

In 2014 she served as an expert witness for an Uzbek refugee. Here is her account:

My job was to tell the judge about Uzbekistan: a country ruled by a dictator who abuses executive power to obtain personal wealth, threatens independent media and protesters, spies on real and perceived enemies, packs his administration with lackeys and relatives, refuses to disclose his financial holdings, molds public opinion through media domination, persecutes innocent Muslims under the pretext of fighting terrorism, and distracts the citizenry with pageants and spectacle, often proclaiming that he is making Uzbekistan great again.

She goes on to note

American authoritarianism will not be a carbon copy of other states. Mr. Trump’s authoritarianism will exploit pre-existing vulnerabilities – corporate corruption, institutional rot, systemic racism, a weakened economy, a struggling media, celebrity worship – and exacerbate them until our nation is no longer recognizable.

Should this occur, it may look like home, but it will not feel like home. What may be wrenched from us is a fundamental sense of security and sovereignty. When cable outlets are not promoting white supremacists or debating the humanity of Jews – yes, this is what our media airs now – they occasionally document Mr. Trump’s kleptocratic behaviour.

It’s almost dark enough to drive me to the nearest burnt-out strip mall to see if I can score some smack; however, Dr. Kendzior preaches resistance, not submission, and yesterday’s massive protests offer some hope that we’ll not take Trump lying down.

But we are still here, we the people, the inconvenient background players in Donald Trump’s self-serving shakedown of the American dream. We the people have been calling our representatives, demanding to know what is going on. We the people never did form that more perfect union, but we are not about to trade in the red, white and blue for the gold-plated facade of a tyrant tycoon.

We the people look out for each other – even when no one looks out for us.

David Brooks

brooksChances are you’re familiar with David Brooks, the affable guy-next-door conservative columnist for the NY Times and frequent contributor to the soon-to-be privatized PBS.

Brooks is considerably more upbeat about the survival of our democracy:

Some on the left worry that we are seeing the rise of fascism, a new authoritarian age. That gets things exactly backward. The real fear in the Trump era should be that everything will become disorganized, chaotic, degenerate, clownish and incompetent.

He sees hope in the possibility that the polarization Republicans and Democrats will end as the two join forces to quell the megalomaniacal maelstrom that will be Trump’s governing style:

We’ve wondered if there is some opponent out there that could force us to unite and work together. Well, that opponent is being inaugurated, not in the form of Trump the man, but in the form of the chaos and incompetence that will likely radiate from him, month after month.

Brooks ends his most recent column with this Panglossian hope:

With Trump it’s not the ideology, it’s the disorder. Containing that could be the patriotic cause that brings us together.

Peter Leyden

d6qgkbh_400x400According to his by-line, Peter Leyden “is the founder and CEO of Reinvent, a media company.” He sees Trump’s inauguration not as “the beginning of an era – but the end.”

He posits that Trump’s atavistic wish to flip the calendar back to the USA’s manufacturing heyday is doomed because of the evolution of technology into an ever-increasing interconnectedness of digital technologies, which “will be totally global and operate on a planetary scale.”

Whereas Brooks sees Trump uniting the Right and Left, Leyden foresees him being the “vehicle that will finally take down right-wing conservative politics for a generation or two” by “completely and irrevocably alienat[ing] all the growing political constituencies of the 21st century: the Millennial Generation, people of color, educated professionals, women.”

He goes on to say suggest that it’s actually ultimately fortunate that Hillary lost because she “would not have been able to finally bring down the conservative movement and its archaic ideology.”

Wesley Moore

meWesley Moore is a very confused and woebegone blogger. He has no earthly idea what’s going to happen. You can find him at any number of Folly Beach drinking establishments or loitering in the parking lots of burnt-out strip malls.

 

The Other Liberace

 

28 Jan 1978, Los Angeles, California, USA --- Liberace spoofs a day in his own life during a television special, including a scene where he baths in his $55,000 marble bathtub. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

 

Let’s face it, as far as taste goes, Donald Trump makes Liberace seem almost restrained.

No, that's not Donald Trump depicted in the painting

No, that’s not Donald Trump depicted in the painting

setting of many a historic tweet

setting of many a historic tweet

What’s with this rococo? Hasn’t Trump read No Exit?  Stupid question.

Imagine being his housekeeper, a fate worthy of Dantean damnation, Hell’s Tenth Circle, where the super avaricious have to scrub parquet floors to the eternal piped-in sounds of 3 Doors Down between chronic eagle-liver-plucking visitations from the Donald himself.

Okay, back to Liberace.  Hair style comparison.

liberace_colour_allan_warren_31944

side-hair

Where the two differ obviously is in their dress.  Trump seems to have some obsessive compulsive disorder that demands he wear exclusively dark suits and garish cardinal colored ties, most often red.

"Part of the beauty of me, is that I'm very rich."

“Part of the beauty of me, is that I’m very rich.”

Compare that with Liberace’s sartorial inclinations.

liberace_piano-300x300

Here are a couple  no brainers:  Which of these super celebrities had the sunnier public persona? Which one would you rather be in charge of the nuclear codes?

Two Fools in Love

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Although 25 and engaged to be married, I didn’t own an automobile until my future father-in-law, Ralph Birdsong, suggested his daughter Judy lend me the money, which he no doubt hoped would facilitate my gaining some sort of gainful employment before the nuptials.

In Columbia, SC, where I had recently dropped out of grad school and earned a whopping $1.15 an hour as a dishwasher at Capstone Cafeteria, I had applied for some jobs, had even gotten an interview, but without enough money for cab fare, I had ridden a borrowed bicycle to the interview in a three-piece suit that was so sweat-soaked by the time of my arrival, I turned right around and pedaled home, a pathetic, clueless, Chaplinsque figure wobbling along the shoulder of Two-Notch Road inhaling diesel exhaust as sixteen-wheelers rushed past in 98-degree heat.

My first meeting with Ralph Birdsong had occurred some months before when Judy invited me to her home in Atlanta during one of our breaks. Because I didn’t want to arrive in a Greyhound bus, I concocted a romantic, grandiose scheme where I would hitchhike from Summerville to Spartanburg and take the train from there to Atlanta after spending the night with my former housemate Mike Rice, better known as James Paul Rice, now that he’s just published a novel under that name. No passenger trains ran from Charleston to Atlanta so I would be hooking up with Southern Railway’s City of New Orleans in Spartanburg.

Anyway, I could crash with Mike, and the timing was propitious, because he had been invited to the pre-opening of a swanky bar. He told me to bring a suit, so I borrowed one from my father and also his matching a half-size-too-small cowboy books. Mike agreed to take me to the train station at the ungodly post party hour of 5 a.m. Hitchhiking with a suitcase, I scored a ride to Columbia and then another to Spartanburg without having to stand illegally on the shoulder of I-26. Once I landed in Spartanburg, I called Mike from a payphone to pick me up.

The pre-opening of the swanky bar was a blast – free booze – the beautiful people of Sparkle City in attendance – and I-and-I looking swank in my black suit and whipped back hair – looking swank, that is, until I noticed a yellow strip of fresh yellow paint running down the right side of my suit. I had leaned against a wall that had been recently touched-up.

So I didn’t arrive at the domed train station in Atlanta sporting a black suit, but Judy was there waiting, and her parents were very nice to me despite my ragtag appearance and the rather obvious chip on my shoulder. I don’t remember much more about the trip except that we went to a park and right before we left, I got to meet Judy’s sister Becky who was pregnant not long after having lost her first child, fifteen months old. I remember Becky saying that she thought the baby she was carrying might end up being an acrobat given how her nerves had been creating spasms during those difficult days. Now that child – a builder, not an acrobat — is pushing 40, has two daughters of his own, and is the epitome of laidback.

Of course, Judy gave me a ride home to Columbia, and it would be three months before we decided to get married, both jobless, but headed to Charleston to begin a life.

from left to right, I-and-I, Judy Birdsong, Ralph Birdsong, Dot Birdsong, and Jake Williams

from left to right, I-and-I, Judy Birdsong, Ralph Birdsong, Dot Birdsong, and Jake Williams

 

By the way, I bought a very used MG-BT for $1700 with the money Judy lent me, a choice that could not have pleased Ralph, and come to think of it, I’ve never paid her back. Maybe I’ll surprise her with a check at our 39th anniversary.

1977-mgbgt

What truly amazes me now is the generosity and tolerance of Judy’s parents who embraced me for what I was and throughout the rest of their lives never uttered a negative word to me, except for that one time when Judy’s mother Dot told me it wasn’t a good idea having my toddlers fetch beer from the refrigerator for me.

Cruel and Unusual Punishments

a-clockwork-orange-puremovies-620x299

[H]owever unlimited the power of the court may seem, it is far from being wholly arbitrary; but its discretion is regulated by law. For the bill of rights has particularly declared, that excessive fines ought not to be imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted . . .

from the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution

I have always loved the sound of the phrase “cruel and unusual punishment.” Sonically, you get all four of the basic metrical feet in four words, a trochee, an anapest, an iamb, and a dactyl, in that order. Plus the delicious elongation of the long U sounds of cruel and unusual, not mention the internal rhyme of “un” and “pun.”

Mr. Tom Waits, would you please indulge us with a recitation?

 

Something so horrid shouldn’t sound so enticing.

chair

To me, it’s amazing that some state approved punishments aren’t considered cruel and unusual. Take death by the electric chair, for example.

 

For execution by the electric chair, the person is usually shaved and strapped to a chair with belts that cross his chest, groin, legs, and arms. A metal skullcap-shaped electrode is attached to the scalp and forehead over a sponge moistened with saline. The sponge must not be too wet or the saline short-circuits the electric current, and not too dry, as it would then have a very high resistance. An additional electrode is moistened with conductive jelly (Electro-Creme) and attached to a portion of the prisoner’s leg that has been shaved to reduce resistance to electricity. The prisoner is then blindfolded. (Hillman, 1992 and Weisberg, 1991) After the execution team has withdrawn to the observation room, the warden signals the executioner, who pulls a handle to connect the power supply. A jolt of between 500 and 2000 volts, which lasts for about 30 seconds, is given. The current surges and is then turned off, at which time the body is seen to relax. The doctors wait a few seconds for the body to cool down and then check to see if the inmate’s heart is still beating. If it is, another jolt is applied. This process continues until the prisoner is dead.  (Wikipedia).

Here’s a link to a more thorough explanation via video.

Although only 9 of the 45 executed in the US in the last 15 years have gone to the electric chair, it is still used, and, therefore, not all that “unusual.” The rest of the state-sponsored offings were rendered via lethal injection, but now that drug companies are balking at providing lethal drugs, the good ol’ electric chair might make a comeback.

To me a truly cruel and unusual punishment would be something like this, not lethal, more like an “enhanced timeout.”

Let’s say some miscreant has mocked someone with a physical disability.

You strap him into an electric chair, inject him with an amphetamine, and force him to watch ten consecutive episodes of Little House on the Prairie.

I guarantee you he’ll never do it again. In fact, he might prefer the actual electric chair and its 2000 volts.

living-room-modern-brown-living-room-theater-wall-unit-with-tv-entertainment-center-set-in-modern-living-room-entertainment-centers

 

That Time I Got Called into the Principal’s Office for Teaching Filth

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Okay, the Prince of Lies wings his way upward and on a cliff encounters a woman naked and beautiful from the genitals up, but horror-show-hideous below, where “[v]oluminous and vast,” a hydra-like reptilian whiplash “of scaly folds” slithers.

Satan can hear the muffled howling of dogs, the frenzied yelps coming from . . . from within her . . . “about her middle round.” These dogs “kennel” in her womb, exit and reenter periodically, and with “their wide Cerberian mouths full loud,” let out “a hideous peal.”

[Gross!]

Next to her sits a blob-like creature not “distinguishable in member, joint, or limb.” On what might be considered his head, he wears a “kingly crown.”

[What the Hell?]

Well, boys and girls, sin is ugly. Check out Hieronymus Bosch or Breughel the Elder.

farting-painting

This unholy trinity described above consists of Satan, Sin, and Death. You see, one day when he was strolling the gold-paved streets of Heaven, Lucifer had this chick split open his head and emerge, Athena-like, fully armed.  A rebellious thought had roiled his erstwhile Seraphic mind and presto Trouble!

So Beautiful was this feminine doppelganger of a daughter, he had sex with her, impregnated her, right up there in Heaven.

Her name is Sin.

[Tsk Tsk]

After the war and the expulsion of the rebel angels and their general Satan, Sin gives birth to a blob-like boy who rips open her womb and transforms her limbs into snakes. This offspring, son of Satan, immediately rapes her and impregnates her with the above-mentioned hellhounds.

His name is Death.

Satan + Sin = Death.. . .

* * *

One cloudy day in the early 90’s, I receive an email from our new principal. He’d like to see me in his office, which, because of some construction, is a trailer. I don’t put this encounter off. I stroll over as soon as I can.

Once inside, I sit down on the proffered sofa.

“Well, Wesley. I’ve had a mother call and complain about one of your sophomore English classes.”

“Really? What’s the beef?”

“She says you’re teaching obscenity. By the way, what are you teaching?”

“’The justification of the ways of God to men.’”

“Huh?”

Paradise Lost.”

He smiles, nods. “Okay, thanks.  I’ll explain it to her”

* * *

Believe it or not, sophomores dig Paradise Lost if you set it up right and read a fluidly truncated version. You teach it like it’s sci-fi. After all, Hell in Paradise Lost is a far distant planet; Satan flies through outer space to find Earth.

You got monsters, battles, video-game like scenery.

Add to that full frontal nudity and the gorgeous music of the poetry.

 

 

Eve separate he spies,

Veiled in a Cloud of Fragrance, where she stood

Half spied, so thick the Roses bushing round

About her glowed, oft stooping to support

Each Flower of slender stalk, whose head though gay

Carnation, Purple, Azure, or specked with Gold,

Hung drooping unsustained, them she upstands

Gently with Myrtle band, mindless the while,

Her self, though fairest unsupported Flower,

From her best prop so far and storm so nigh.

 

[I’ve modernized the spelling].

 

serpent