Trump and George Wallace

May 30th, 2020

“Sure, I look like a white man. But my heart is as black as anyone’s here.” – George Wallace

My dad voted for George Wallace. It might have been in 1968. or maybe it was in ’72. Probably my father voted for Wallace in both elections, but I don’t know for sure. It’s hard to remember things from that long ago.

I was just kid back then. I grew up in West Allis, Wisconsin. It was/is a blue collar suburb of Milwaukee. At that time it’s residents were mostly Slavic and working class. No blacks living there at all. None. Zero. My dad’s family and his friends were economically very left wing, but extremely conservative on social issues. I remember, after the 1967 riots in Milwaukee, my dad and his brothers talking about buying guns to “keep the niggers out”.

Fifty years later, George Floyd is murdered by a cop, and cities are burning again.

And the ghost of George Wallace haunts the White House.

I’ve been reading a book from Hunter S. Thompson called Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. It is Thompson’s account of his experiences as a journalist covering the race between Nixon and McGovern. Thompson also talks a lot about Wallace in the 1972 election campaign. His comments are both illuminating and bizarre. Hunter is Thompson was to journalism what Frank Zappa was to music.

For example, Thompson says this about a Wallace rally at Serb Hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in April of 1972:

“For the next two hours I was locked in a friendly, free-wheeling conversation with about six of my hosts who didn’t mind telling me that they were there because George Wallace was the most important man in America. ‘This guy is the real thing,’ one of them said, ‘I never cared anything about politics before, but Wallace ain’t the same as the others. He don’t sneak around the bush. He just comes right out and says it’.”

“It was the first time I’d ever seen Wallace in person. There were no seats in the hall; everybody was standing. The air was electric even before he started talking, and by the time he was six or seven minutes into his spiel, I had the sense that the bastard had somehow levitated himself and was hovering over us. It reminded me of a Janis Joplin concert. Anybody who doubts the Wallace appeal should go out and catch his act sometime. He jerked this crowd in Serb Hall around like he had them on wires. They were laughing, shouting, whacking each other on the back…it was a flat out fire & brimstone performance.”

Thompson calls a Wallace rally an “act” and a “performance”. What does that remind you of? A MAGA rally, maybe?

Here’s another quote from Thompson:

“That may be the handle. Maybe the whole secret of turning a crowd on is getting yourself turned on by the crowd. The only candidate running for the presidency today who seems to understand this is George Wallace.”

Who in politics today only lives for his rallies? Who, during our time, turns on the crowd by getting turned on?

Donald Trump.

In his book, Thompson writes at length about the 1972 Democratic primary in Florida. There was a slate of eleven candidates, and Wallace got 42% of the vote. The losing Democrats, immediately after the election, condemned Wallace as a bigoted racist. They implied that all those Floridians who voted for Wallace were also bigoted racists.

Bad move.

There is evidence that Trump is a racist. There is not evidence that all of his supporters are. Trump, like Wallace, has tapped into a deep, visceral fear in the white working class. These people are worried about health care. They are worried about keeping their jobs and supporting their families. They are worried about losing their identities. Some, but clearly not all, of this angst is legitimate. Trump, like Wallace, attracts these followers, not because they are ignorant or stupid, but because they have been ignored and slighted by mainline politicians. Hillary considered these people to be “deplorables”. Obama said,

“It’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

People know when they are being held in contempt.

That’s when we get George Wallace or Donald Trump.

 

 

 

 

Life Goes On

May 25th, 2020

Hans called us on Friday evening, long after I had gone to bed. Actually, he called us three times in quick succession. Karin was still up, but she didn’t pick up the phone until Hans made his third attempt to reach us. Generally, a call from a family member at an odd hour means that something is wrong, really wrong.

I was half-awake, so I tried to listen in to the phone call as I was lying in bed. I couldn’t hear Hans’ side of the conversation, but I could hear Karin’s responses. She said “Oh my” and “Uh huh” a lot. Then she asked, “So, the test was positive?” I thought to myself, “What test?” Then Karin said, “So, is Gabby excited?”

Mystery solved. I could relax.

Karin is a night owl. It was several hours later that she crawled into bed. She got next to me and said,

“Goodnight, Grandpa…again.”

I mumbled, “Goodnight”, and rolled over on to my side.

I didn’t go back to sleep right away.

I kept thinking about Gabby being pregnant again, and about little Weston becoming an older brother in a few months. I worried about Hans worrying. Dads do that sort of thing.

I asked myself in the darkness of the bedroom, “They want to bring a child into the world now?”

That was perhaps not a charitable thought, but it came to me anyway. This is not a particularly hopeful time in human history. The question becomes: “Is there a good time to have a baby?” The answer is: “No.”

I am pretty sure that every era during the last several millennia has been fucked up in some profound way. There has never been a golden age, so there has never been an auspicious moment for a child to make an appearance in our world. We keep showing up anyway.

I am still happy for Hans and Gabby, and for Weston. A baby is a promise of a new beginning. I think one reason that most people love babies is that each child is a new life, a new chance to get it right. I look back at my life as a messy series of blunders and tragedies, and it gives me hope to believe that maybe, just maybe, the coming generation will do it better. It is an absurd idea really, but it is one to which I cling.

Karin is obviously excited about the prospect of a new grandchild. She is looking forward to going to Texas again. She wants to see Weston, and I am sure that she wants to spend time with Gabby. She will probably say “hi” to Hans too.

 

Older brother

Weston, our grandson, looking at his mom’s positive pregnancy test, and wondering, “What is this all about?”

He will find out soon enough. His world will be rocked.

Oh, on another note, we had some news from a young woman that we love.

She came home with her boyfriend. Then she walked up to me and waved her hand. She wanted to show me her engagement ring. I looked at it.

She smiled, and dryly said, “It’s real.”

Indeed it is.  Life goes on.

 

 

 

 

 

First Century Jewish Woman

May 23rd, 2020

My sister-in-law is excited about writing her first book, as well she should be. Shawn has been a writer for a number of years, and she has finally convinced somebody to publish her work, and actually pay her for her efforts. A Catholic publishing house, Our Sunday Visitor, has agreed to print an inspirational guide by Shawn. I believe the working title for the book is “Mary’s House”.

Shawn and I have discussed her book. The basic idea is that Mary, the mother of Jesus, invites people into her home, and these visitors talk with Mary about their lives. The reader is likewise invited to mentally enter Mary’s house, and engage in conversation with her. The book potentially provides a starting point for prayer and meditation.

“Inspirational” texts have the unfortunate tendency to become really cheesy. I am not worried that Shawn will fall into that trap with her writing, but it is easy to put words into somebody’s mouth. It is especially easy to do that if that person has been dead for nearly two thousand years. So, there needs to be a conscious effort to maintain some level of authenticity in story. This is difficult with regards to Mary, since everything we know about her could be written on a single sheet of paper. Mary’s life is in many ways a vacuum, just waiting to be filled by an author’s imagination.

Most of what Catholics think about Mary is not from the Bible. A lot of our beliefs come from the theology and traditions about Mary that has accumulated over the course of twenty centuries. We seem to know quite a bit about Mary the Mother of God, the Theotokos, the Kwan Yin of the West. We know next to nothing about Mary, the peasant woman in rural Palestine.

Shawn wanted to know from me what Mary would say about God. I guess she asked me about this because I have been hanging around an Orthodox synagogue for a decade. I gave her some ideas, but as I thought more about it, I realized that I really had no clue what a First Century Jewish woman would say. I know that she would not say what a modern Catholic woman might say about her faith, but that doesn’t help much.

I decided on Wednesday to join the synagogue’s schmooze session on Zoom. The meeting is hosted by Sarah, the rabbi’s wife, and it amounts to a virtual kaffeeklatsch. There were five people in attendance at this session: four Jewish ladies and myself. I mentioned Shawn’s book and I asked the other participants for their input. I told them,

“In Catholicism, Mary is kind of a big deal. I’m not going to try to explain why.”

They all nodded. There were no eye rolls.

Then I asked them, “Alright, so what would this woman be like? What would this Jewish mother say?”

Those questions provoked a rather interesting discussion.

One of the people in the group, Susan, asked me, “What time frame in her life are we talking about? Is this before or after, well, you know…”

I answered, “I believe we are talking about after her kid was tortured and executed by the Romans.”

Susan went on to ask, “So, when she got pregnant, what did she think? Did she really believe that God did it?”

I shrugged. “Well, that’s what the book says.”

Tamar and Jane suggested some reading materials about that time and place in history. I look forward to seeing those, and forwarding them to Shawn.

Sarah wrapped things up by say, “I don’t think we can put ourselves in the place of a woman from two thousand years ago. Things were just so different then.”

That’s hard to argue with. If these women can’t completely identify with a Jewish mother from the Roman period, then I certainly cannot. I agree that many things in life are radically different now. However, basic human nature has not changed in two millennia. One thing that I love about the stories in the Torah are that they remain so relevant to our times. The passions and foibles of men and women are the same now as they were in ancient times. We have the same hopes and fears, the same struggles.

Probably, Shawn will have to rely on her personal experiences as a mother to write this book. That might be the key to its authenticity.

By the way, Susan wants to read the finished book.

 

 

 

 

 

A Crucible

May 22nd, 2020

“But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.” – Malachi 3:2-3

The pandemic is a crucible. Every person on the planet is being refined. Each individual is finding out who they really are, and they are getting a better understanding of everyone else.

It’s not pretty.

I am thinking specifically about how the COVID-19 virus is affecting our personal relationships. In a way, the current situation reminds me of how it felt thirty years ago when HIV and AIDS were ravaging the country. Prior to the onset of the HIV infection, there was a consensus of sorts that a person could have sex with anybody (or anything) and not have dangerous physical consequences. AIDS changed that idea in a hurry. Suddenly, people were aware that an intimate relationship had possibly lethal costs. There were serious risks involved.

COVID-19 has upped the ante. Now, just a handshake could mean illness or death. Each man or woman has to re-evaluate what is the danger to themselves, and what is the danger to the other person, whenever they meet in the flesh. We live in a new world, where every physical encounter requires a roll of the dice.

It helps when scientists and competent government officials can give people guidance on how to deal with the situation. Sadly, we are getting confusing messages. We are learning that there is no such thing as perfect safety. We are discovering that continued separation also has health costs. I know this from painful experience. Now, in an effort to revive the economy, various restrictions are being relaxed. Many rules no longer apply, and those that still exist are not enforced.

The lockdown forced us all to withdraw from a number of interpersonal relationships. We were required to be away from most other people. A couple months of that gave me a sense of what people were really important in my life, and how much I wanted to be with them. I have also got a sense of how important I am to other people. There has been a sorting process, separating casual acquaintances from true friends. Sometimes the depth of a relationship is defined by risking physical contact. Sometimes a real friendship shows itself through the willingness to remain apart. Every human connection is different, and there is often the potential for hurt and misunderstanding.

I wrestle with these relationships, and how to maintain them. Sometimes, the question is not about maintaining a bond with another person. Sometimes, the question is about how to let it all go.

Yesterday I drove across town to talk with a friend of mine from the synagogue. We pulled out a couple chairs and sat in his driveway, basking in some rare sunshine. Could we have spoken with each other using Skype or Zoom, or some other electronic means? Yes, we could have done that, but it wouldn’t have been enough. I am by nature an introvert, but even I need to be near a friend at times. Perhaps our meeting was selfish on my part, but it was good for my mental health. I was told before I left that our talk was also important for my friend, and by extension, for his wife. My friend’s wife told me this. Were there risks ? Yes, of course. The three of us, by mutual agreement, accepted these risks. We kept our separation, and did our best not to exchange germs, but nothing is 100% safe. Nothing.

I want to visit our oldest son in Texas. We talk on the phone nearly every day, and that is a very good thing. I know that sometimes his PTSD from the war gets the best of him. I feel the need to go down to Texas and just sit with him, and listen. I fear for him. Once again, I feel that using electronic means to communicate is not sufficient. My son and I need to connect in a close, human way. I need to look him in the eye when he speaks to me. He needs to physically see me too.

A few people have told me not visit until there a vaccine, or some other guarantee to prevent infection from the virus. I translate that to meaning: “Don’t come. Ever.” Perhaps I am misinterpreting the message. That could very well be. However, I truly believe that COVID-19 is here to stay. It will move around the earth’s population, and mutate. A vaccine that works this year may not work in the next. If a person tells that they don’t want to be close to me until they feel completely safe (and that is absolutely their right to say that), then I have to conclude that I may never see them again. We’re done.

I don’t want to get sick, and do not want to infect anybody else. I wonder how to do that and still retain my humanity.

 

Derek

May 16th, 2020

I walked out of the Home Depot yesterday afternoon, carrying some parts for a plumbing repair that I really don’t want to do. Seriously, all I plan on doing is fixing the stopper on a sink in the bathroom but, based on previous experience, I will probably break something important and also get water all over the floor. I will first watch a You Tube video about doing the repair. That will no doubt confuse and depress me.

As I walked across the parking lot of the hardware store, I was accosted by a young man asking for money. This was odd, partly because the Home Depot is in the City of Franklin, which is a relatively affluent area. I have in the past been hit up for money by people in downtown Milwaukee, but never in the suburbs. This was something new.

The man was thin. He had long, lank hair, and he had a mask hanging over his neck. He did not seem to be high or drunk. He just seemed a little lost.

He said, “Can you spare me some cash? My family is living in a motel right now, and need to scrape together some money, so that we can stay there for another night. I lost my job and I don’t know what else to do.”

I reached into my wallet and handed the guy a five.

He kept talking. I found that to be strange. Usually, a panhandler will take the cash and move on. At most the person might mumble a quick, “God bless you, Brother”, or something like that. But this guy wanted to speak to me. So I listened.

He looked at me and said, “I like your beard, man. I grow my hair long, but I got it cut a while ago. How long have you been growing that?”

I told him, “Five years.”

“Wow. Really, That’s cool.”

I asked him, “What’s you name?”

“Derek.”

He went on, “I have been walking through this lot. I don’t like doing this. I have even asked people if I can help them to load up their cars or trucks. I don’t want to beg. It’s hard. People yell at me and call me a loser.”

I asked him, “Who is calling you a loser?”

He replied, “Lots of people! They get mad and say, ‘Get a job, Loser!’. Some of them even throw garbage at me from their cars.”

I looked at him, “Nobody is a loser.”

Derek didn’t hear me. He wasn’t really listening. The man just wanted to tell his story. It was pure flow of consciousness.

I asked stopped him and asked, “How did you lose your job?”

Derek answered, “I was working at this local car dealership. I worked in the parts department. I packaged parts for delivery. I did some detailing too. Then they furloughed some of us. I was supposed to still working part time, but they never called me back.”

He continued, “I put in for unemployment. They let you do that once a week. I haven’t heard nothing back yet. I haven’t got any money yet.”

He was on a roll. “I have a four-year-old boy. He’s with his mom right now. I mean, I don’t know what to do.” If we get thrown out of the motel, where do they go? Where do we go? There is nothing open where a mom and her kid can hang out for a while.”

He told me, “Another gentleman gave me five dollars, but I need more than that. I am willing to give people my information. I’ll show you a picture of my son.”

He held out his smart phone which had a very cracked screen on it.

I shook my head. I sighed.

I pulled out my wallet again, and found another fin. It was all the cash I had. I handed him the bill.

He said, “Thanks. I appreciate it.”

I told him, “Take it a day at a time. It will work out.”

I’m not sure I actually know that it will work out for Derek, but I want to believe it.

I started to walk away.

Derek said, “Thanks again. Have a good day.”

“You too, Derek.”

I am certain that, in the coming months, I will have more conversations like that one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goat Screw

May 14th, 2020

Yesterday afternoon the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the “safer at home” regulations that had been imposed by Governor Evers in April. In a way, the court’s decision doesn’t matter much. The lock down was scheduled to end on May 26th anyway. The state’s highest court made a completely partisan ruling. The Republicans running the Wisconsin legislature filed a lawsuit against the Democratic governor, and our very conservative Supreme Court voted in favor of the Republicans. The decision was not at all surprising, and perhaps it was even the right thing to do.

However, there is a problem.

The Supreme Court wiped out nearly all of the directives set up by the governor for the containment of the COVID-19 pandemic. These edicts have been replaced with…nothing. Basically, the court told the residents of Wisconsin, “There are no rules! You are on your own!”

Welcome to Lord of the Flies. All of a sudden, with regards to the pandemic, we no longer live in the State of Wisconsin. Now we live in a state of anarchy.

It can be argued that I am exaggerating. That may be true. However, if anybody would take the time to look at some of the photos of the people gathered in the newly-opened taverns in Wisconsin, the person would notice that these places are packed. There is no social distancing. There are no masks. People are getting sloppy drunk in crowded, unsanitary environments just like they did back in February. It seems likely that some of these folks will be infected by the virus and get really sick, but that’s okay, because now they have regained their God-given right to hold down a bar stool and drink a cold beer.

The government of the State of Wisconsin, all three branches, have failed to cooperate in order to protect the health of the state’s residents. Nobody, not the governor, not the legislature, not the courts, could find the moral integrity to put aside politics for even a little while. The powers in our state capitol have completely abdicated their responsibilities. They have shoved the burden on to the local municipalities, the cities and the counties. So now, instead of having a coherent statewide policy about the pandemic, we will have a crazy quilt of various rules and regulations. Ye gods…

One thing that I learned when I was in the Army was that, although the rules may be unfair and inane, people need to know what the rules are. People want to understand what they are expected to do in certain situations. These individuals may decide not to follow the rules, but they still need to know them. People get very edgy when they don’t know what is going on. They get especially nervous when they suspect that nobody knows what is happening.

That’s where we are now in Wisconsin. We have no consistent rules for containing the virus. We have nobody in authority to enforce rules, even if they existed. It’s every community for itself. Every man and woman for his or herself. Law of the jungle.

It is probable that, at some point in the future, this mess will get worked out. In the mean time, as Governor Evers stated, it will be chaos.

What a goat screw.

 

 

 

Frail

May 14th, 2020

I made soup yesterday. In particular, I made an organic, vegetarian bean soup. I am not a vegetarian by any means, but the recipient of the soup definitely is. I cooked the soup for a friend of ours who has been sick for quite a while. She’s been really sick. Cancer kind of sick.

Karin and I have known this woman for probably over twenty years. I’m not sure any more. That’s the odd thing with friendships: it is hard to remember how they begin. I do remember that we met the woman at a Lutheran service that was being held at Germanfest in Milwaukee on a sunny Sunday morning. Germanfest is a massive outdoor festival that is annually held on the Milwaukee lakefront in July. If a person comes on Sunday morning with a donation for a food bank, they get in for free. We came on that Sunday morning with a cans of food in our hands.

Karin and the woman are both from Germany, so they hit it off. They are both from  wine-growing regions. The woman is from the Mosel area, and Karin grew up in the Taubertal. The young woman had a small daughter. Our kids were little then too. We exchanged contact information (using pen and paper: old school). I think that Karin met up with the woman once or twice after that. Then we lost track of each other.

Sometime in 2001 our friend from Germanfest contacted us. She wanted to know if we were interested in joining a German-language Bible study group. Karin and I agreed to come. I was leery about this at first. I had good reason to be. With the exception of one feisty Catholic nun, Sister Diane, everyone else we met was some sort of Baptist/Evangelical. Seeing as Karin and I were part of a tiny Catholic minority (Karin had just converted to Catholicism a couple months before we started going to the Bible study), there were often strong differences of opinion in the group about the meaning of Holy Scripture. We had many spirited discussions. We spent six months just talking about the Beatitudes.

We met with the Bible study folks nearly every weekend for almost a decade. We got to know the other members of the group intimately, and we grew to love them. We got to know their families. We began to understand their struggles, and they sympathized with ours. At some point, the members of the group drifted apart. That’s just how things happen. We all tried to keep in some kind of contact, but our lives moved in different directions.

Our kids grew up. Our eldest son, Hans, went to war in Iraq. The woman’s daughter got into heroin. The girl gave birth a baby boy. The daughter ran off with her boyfriend, and our friend from Germanfest was left to raise her kindergarten-age grandson.

Then the woman got cancer. It was in her neck and on her tongue. She tried to natural remedies and a strict organic diet, hoping against hope that the tumor would shrink.

It didn’t.

The woman went to the Mayo Clinic for surgery a couple weeks ago. The operation went well. She is at home now. I texted her to find out if she wanted me to bring her something to eat. She called me back, which surprised me, considering she had surgery on her tongue. She said that I could stop over whenever I wanted.

I drove to her condo yesterday afternoon. I took the soup along with me. It was a taco bean soup, but I didn’t know if the woman could handle spicy foods, so I left taco seasoning in the package. She could add it if she want.

I rang the buzzer to her home. I saw the woman’s husband looking at me from their  doorway. He unlocked the gate to let me inside the courtyard. I saw a little boy standing next to the man. It was the grandson.

I walked to their front door. The husband said “hi”, and another Bible study friend greeted me. She was there to watch young boy.

The grandson looked up at me and asked,

“Who are you?”

“I’m Frank.”

“Are you here to see Oma?”

“I nodded, “Yes.”

The youngster gave me a hard stare. “I’ve seen you before. Was it at Oma’s birthday?”

“I don’t remember. It was a long time ago.”

The boy thought, and then he asked me, “Are you going to walk in the woods with us?”

I paused to think. I didn’t know the situation at their home, and I wasn’t comfortable with inviting myself in.

Our other Bible study friend told the grandson cheerily, “Frank isn’t wearing his hiking shoes today. He probably won’t be walking in the woods with us.”

The boy looked at me and said, “Oh.”

I walked through the threshold of the house. It was dark inside. The curtains were all drawn shut. I handed the container of soup to the husband. I watched him place it on the kitchen counter.

I turned around and I saw the woman. She looked much smaller and much thinner I had ever seen her before. She was in a bathrobe, standing in the dimly lit hallway.

She said in her German accent, “Frank, how are you?”

“I’m alright. Just tired. And you?”

She shook her head. “I just woke up from a nap.”

She walked slowly toward me and gave me a hug.

I hugged her back as gently as I could. She was so frail. I worried that she might break.

She stepped back a pace. I looked at her throat. She had a ragged red scar on her neck. It was shaped like a giant fish hook. It hurt just to see it there.

I gathered my thoughts. “Karin has got a cold, so she didn’t come. She wants you to know that she is praying for you. She put you on our church’s prayer list. Okay. I remembered what she wanted me to tell you.”

The woman gave me a wan smile, and said “Are you going to stay?” She was struggling to get the words out of her mouth.

“Uh no. I’ll just head back home.”

She looked at me more closely, “Are you sure? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m tired. Just tired.”

I said goodbye to her, and walked out.

I felt exhausted.