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

A Fate Worse Than Death

shapeimage_2

This is the time of year when I typically publish my annual “That Was the Year That Was” post, sashaying down memory lane reprising old chestnuts from the last 12 months in an egotistical attempt to drive up my hit totals before the new year. (This year’s total to date 23,358, but who’s counting?)

However, 2016 has been so horrible with the deaths of friends, the reoccurrence of Judy’s cancer, and the election of the Tangerine ManBaby™, I can’t summon the strength to revisit what has seemed the entire 14th Century [1] compressed into 366 dolorous days.

illustration from a Norwegian newspaper

illustration from a Norwegian newspaper

Instead, I’m going to reprise a post from my all-but-defunct Late Empire Ruminations blog from 2011, back when Donald Trump was, according to Barbara Walters, merely one of the year’s “10 most fascinating people” (as opposed to a Mad Tweeter with access to nuclear weapons).

Anyway, Enjoy, and Merry Xmas/Happy Hanukkah/Wonderful Kwanzaa/ Super Saturnalia, etc.


Jean Paul Sartre’s existential hell of No Exit seems downright paradisal if you imagine the unspeakable horror of being trapped in an open boat with Barbara Walter’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2011*, i.e., Herman Cain, Katy Perry, Eric Stonestreet and sitcom co-star Tyler Ferguson, the Kardashians, Simon Cowell, Derek Jeter, Amanda Knox, Pippa Middleton, Donald Trump, and the late Steve Jobs, who in this scenario would be cannibalized by the survivors.

One wonders if such an array of narcissists in such a small space might upset the delicate balance of matter v. anti-matter, their collective self-absorption sucking the entire universe into the insatiable black hole of their egos.


*For some odd reason BW deems the Kardashian sisters as one person and the duo of Stonestreet and Ferguson as one person as well (perhaps because they play a gay adoptive couple on television). Otherwise, we actually have 14 fascinating people.

black-hole

Come to think of it, this idea would make one hell of a movie, if any investors out there are ready to kick in some capital and send it my way. Of course, the film will begin on the QE2 in the near future, our 14 fascinating cast members on their way to Iran to entertain occupying troops in the first term of the Gingrich Administration.* Unfortunately, killer drones attack the luxury liner, killing Derek Jeter and Pippa Middleton, perhaps the least egotistical of the fourteen.


*2016 note:  Yipes, I wasn’t too far off.

As the survivors vie for attention (imagine the McLaughlin Group in full-throat contention), the electromagnetic force of their egos creates a black hole that sucks them to a new universe where they each form a separate planet (with its unique costuming) and the rest of the movie is devoted to their preparations for an intergalactic war that will put all six Star Wars movies to shame.

I mean, it’s like Open Water 2 meets Starship Troopers. Picture Donald Trump attempting to fit the cotton-candied parallelogram of his hair inside a space helmet or Amanda Knox skipping out on amassing an air force to go clubbing at the mos-eisley-cantina.

mos-eisley-cantina

We’re talking boffo box office, investors. You know how to contact me.


[1] A few highlights from Century 14: the Great Famine of 1315-1317 kills millions in Europe, the Hundred Years’ War begins in 1367, the bubonic plague hits its peak in the years 1346-1353 reducing the world population an estimated 350-375 million. I know those plague death numbers sound unbelievable, even by Wikipedia standards.

How Democritus and Heraclites Might Have Reacted to the Trump Election

four-elements

 

This evening after a series of minor vexations – son sick, Gamecocks clobbered, eye invaded by wayward particle – I got to thinking about Horace Walpole’s observation that “[l]ife is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think.” I quote Walpole when I’m teaching tragedy and ask students to offer an interpretation.

It’s a hard question, hard to put the answer into words.

Of course, to address the question, you need context.   For example, let’s examine the thinking/ feeling/comedy/tragedy conundrum from the perspective of Trump’s election.

(I know some of you may have supported Trump, perhaps because you feel immigrants are overrunning the country or that massive tax cuts will defy history and fuel an economic boom or that you consider Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama Satanic spawn or some/all of the above).

However, the [tautology alert] a priori premise in this thought experiment is that Trump is a vulgarian with authoritarian tendencies whose boorish pronouncements during the campaign have eroded codes of civility and whose total lack of a sense-of-history and intellectual curiosity make his election as leader of the free world very, very unfortunate.

Not to mention his pathological avariciousness.

Democritus

Democritus

Okay, let’s bring in the cynical pre-Socratic philosopher Democritus, aka “the laughing philosopher.”

Seneca claimed that Democritus, whom he called “the Mocker,” laughingly held human beings in disdain, modeling a detached amusement at the foibles of the masses. In temperament think Bill Maier as opposed to Louis Black.

If human folly is laughable, this election might very well provoke Democritus to guffawing at this turn of events:

A swindler and pathological liar who pleads guilty to fraud a week after the election and who referred to his opponent as “Crooked Hillary” with the help of Fox News and Russian hackers (not to mention the New York Times) convinces a majority populace that he’s “more trustworthy” than she.

[cue laugh track]

Coal miners in Kentucky counties who have decreased their uninsured rate by almost twenty percent vote 93% to 6% for a man who wants to abolish the estate tax.

[cue laugh track]

Thinkers like Democritus take the long view.   Human folly is essentially history’s major motif. Thinkers are familiar with not only Huck Finn’s the “Duke and the Dolphin” but have read Swift and Shakespeare and perhaps Horace and Juvenal.

In their view, only incredibly naïve pollyannas would expect their generation to be less prone to foolishness than their forebears. Most of humankind is purblind, always have been, always will be.

After all, anyone reading this will be literally dead in 80 years. So what if the American Experiment fails? So what if Arizona once again boasts a view of the Pacific? Letting the little people decide was a very, very bad idea.

Just desserts.

By the way, should I add that this view might be considered elitist?

Heraclitus

Heraclitus

Heraclitus, on the other hand, aka the “weeping philosopher,” was a feeler, invested in the here and now. So what if Swift’s view of Yahoos was essentially correct? Those yahoos who voted for Trump in Kentucky lives will not get any better but actually worse: they will lose that recently acquired insurance, babies will die, and those promised coal mining jobs ain’t coming back ever.  Once again, they’ve been lied to.

How horrible, Heraclitus laments, that such chicanery is so rewarded. A spoiled, 70-year-old adolescent tweets preposterous lies and pays no apparent price for his dishonesty and in the mean time transforms the Founding Fathers’ republican democracy into an authoritarian kleptocracy!

People are real, not abstractions to be mocked. Pain is real.

In fact, sorry. My eye is killing me. I got to sign off.

 

fallout1

 

 

The Con: You Can Fool a Whole Lot of People a Lot of the Time

snake-oil

Last Tuesday, lots of low information voters stood in the relatively short lines where white people vote and cast their ballots for Donald Trump because they’re sick of Washington DC and wanted to take a sledge-hammer to the status quo.

These people are unaware that not much got done in Washington under Obama (except for saving the economy and adding 20 million to the ranks of the insured) because the Republican Congress thwarted his every move. Mitch McConnell infamously announced right from the get-go, i.e. right after Obama’s first inauguration, that his goal was to make sure that Obama would be a one-term president.

Well, these low info whites are going to get their way now because things are about to get done in Washington – the Affordable Care Act will be repealed, massive tax cuts signed into law, environmental protections gutted, banks deregulated – sis-boom-bah!

Perhaps because Trump’s gruff plain speech echoed their thoughts and expressed their prejudices, they figured he would give a shit about them and get those factories humming again, but, of course, all Donald Trump cares about is Donald Trump, and certainly his polices aren’t going to help those disaffected Michiganders and Ohioans; indeed, they’ll make their lives even less lavish. No doubt, these pissed off citizens don’t know that Trump literally defecates in gold-plated toilets. They couldn’t see that he’s the great-great grandson of the charlatan who sold their great-great grandfathers that snake oil.

Trey Lott and the lobbyists, on the other hand, will do right well as deficits rise like volcanoes, necessitating drastic cuts in non-military spending in subsequent years. The real irony, though, is that after the election, it’s not Republican Party that is, to quote Matthew Yglesias, “a smoldering heap,” but the Democratic Party instead.

Although Abe Lincoln’s famous statement, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time,” might very well be true, it’s also true that you can “fool a whole lot of people a lot of the time — over and over again.”

The Zombie Apocalypse Blues (We’re All Gonna Die!)

Zombie Apcolpse

 

Born six years and ten months after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I am old enough to remember looking up at the stars above the steeple of the Methodist Church across the street from our rented house to see if I could detect Sputnik inching its way across the night sky.

We’re all gonna die!

Five years later, I would crouch underneath my desk at Summerville Elementary School as we practiced surviving a Soviet nuclear attack.[1]

We’re all gonna die!

A few months ago, I huddled beneath a Harkness table with high school students as we practiced surviving an assault from a deranged assailant.[2]

We’re all gonna die!

* * *

In the swirl of everyday events, it’s sometimes difficult to see strange occurrences as nothing more than mundane. In our particular culture, mass murder has become mundane. I’m not at all surprised to awaken to the news that some disaffected religious fanatic or marginalized bigot clad in body armor has decided to take out his grievances on complete strangers. Chances are that the murderer here in the United States is a native-born citizen of the-home-of-the-brave-and-the-land-of-the- free. Chances are he feels unaccepted so decides to throw a tempter tantrum.

Now, even the loneliest of the alienated can commune with fellow disaffected psyches on the Internet, cross-pollinating hatreds. Omar Mateen, our butcher de jour, actually checked his Facebook page during the carnage to see if the shootings had gone viral. Despite his having sworn fealty to ISIS right before the attack, I suspect that repressed-queerness, a tyrannical father, and high-school unpopularity had as much to do with his rage as geo-political/religious fanaticism.   Maybe he didn’t get enough positive attention when he was growing up. Now, he has gone viral, achieved infamy, set the Internet ablaze by obliterating the lives of his victims, their families, and friends.

Meanwhile, Congress is unwilling to ban the sale of assault weapons to people on no-fly lists, the Republicans have nominated PT Barnum-Meets-Mussolini, the Democrats a woman with a 55% disapproval rate, forest fires roar and oceans rise as satellites galore orbit the Earth keeping tabs and providing entertainment that features zombie apocalypses.

We’re all gonna die!


[1] Did they do this in the “separate-but-equal” African American school across town?

[2] Did little colonists in their one-room schools practice for a possible Indian attack?

 

Yeats’ s Second Coming, the 2016 Election Edition

 

Turning and turning in the never-ending news cycle

The primary voter cannot hear the RNC;

Coalitions fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Donald Trump is loosed upon the world.

The slime-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of commonsense is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

 

Surely some revolution is at hand;

Surely another revolution is at hand.

Another revolution! Hardly are those words out

When a vaunting image out of black-and-white newsreels

Troubles my sight: raised hands at rallies where

A shape with a man’s body and the hair of a troll,

A face with stunted gaze and a sphincter-like mouth,

Spews feces of hate while all about him

Swarm legions of lemming-like whites,

Shouting curses and slugging protesters!

It looks as if a half-century of stony sleep has been

vexed into nightmare by yet another authoritarian,

who now that his hour has come round again

slouches towards Washington to be sworn.

donald sphinx

A Kennel of Doggerel for Donald

A Kennel of Doggerel for Donald

 

 

Guess what? Sometimes the past isn’t prologue.

Take, for example, Donald J Trump.

The pundits just knew he’d sink in the slog

slinging that shit out there on the stump.

 

Looks as if the pundits were wrong

to base their predictions on Bachmann and Cain,

who got off to strong starts in 2008

but ended up missing the convention-bound train.

 

They’re not Trump. Both lacking and defying gravity,

he bloviates brandishing a bloodstained skewer.

Confronting him seems like sheer insanity —

like picking a fight with Jessie Ventura.

 

Guess what? Sometimes the past isn’t prologue.

Take, for example, Donald J Trump.

The pundits just knew he’d sink in the slog

slinging that shit out there on the stump.

 

Jessie Ventura, former Governor of Minnesota

Jessie Ventura, former Governor of Minnesota