Orbiting Dicta

Category Archives: Politics

Political Patience: The View from Here

Dear Mr. Pence (and those who sent you),

I realize that you do not have much time or perhaps inclination to read books, but you might find it instructive to note that the noted author G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” [What’s Wrong with the World (1900)]  Because something has not yet succeeded does not mean it has failed.  Patience remains a virtue.  Rashness and impetuosity (one might add “especially in foreign relations”) do not. In a similar vein, another noteworthy figure claimed, “In your patience possess ye your souls.” [Luke 21:19 (KJV)]  Or, in the more distant past, we hear “A man’s wisdom yields patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” [Proverbs 19:11, (New International Version)]

There are plenty of examples of how patience rather than  bluster pays off in the long run.  It took Thomas Edison over 3,000 experiments to settle on a filament for use in his improved incandescent bulb, and even then it was imperfect. It took years of further, difficult research and experiment to produce the tungsten light bulb.

Examples of successful patience in the face of difficulty could be multiplied indefinitely. For impulsiveness, not so much.  The North Korean policy has not failed, it has not yet succeeded. But,  like the Christian ideal, it can. “A high hope for a low heaven: God grant us patience!” [Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act I, scene 1]

Falls the remorseful day: The View from Here

Today the United Kingdom opened a new chapter in its long history in the midst of widespread uncertainty, apprehension, and sporadic jubilation.  Prime Minister Theresa May formally inaugurated the process of withdrawal from the European Union – the news of the day.  For the time being, the political antics of Donald J. Trump have been swept from the daily news reports.

It was a day few actually anticipated outside the now-faltering Ukip party, a political faction resembling the US Tea Party – nationalistic, populist, and based on an antipathy toward “foreigners,” whether refugees, immigrants, or simply people somehow not British enough.

Called in a moment of political miscalculation by former prime minister David Cameron to preserve the support of the far right wing of the Conservative Party, the referendum of last June delivered a shocking result, surprising even to many who voted in favor of the “Brexit.” The “yes” vote prevailed by a slender margin – 52 to 48 percent, hardly a landslide, but accepted as decisive despite significant opposition in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Other member EU states have expressed regret and even dread, perhaps none so much as Ireland, although similar movements have surfaced in Greece, Italy, and Spain – countries at the lower end of the economic pyramid but which have in many instances benefited greatly by bank bailouts and infusions of credit in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008. Ireland, which has much more to lose than other EU countries because of its close economic and political ties with the UK, largely opposed Brexit, not least because Ireland is the only EU state with a land border with the UK, one having a long and tragically bloody history.  No one wants to see a return to a “hard border” with the watch towers, armed guards, and barbed wire of “the Troubles.” Theresa May and Ireland’s Enda Kenny have pledged that there will be no return to that distressful situation.  Whether they can deliver on the promise is another matter.  If they can’t, the social and economic fallout will be disastrous.

The creation of the European Union sixty years ago this week was undeniably one of the greatest achievements of the post-World War II era, second only to the creation of the United Nations. Sacrificing the promise of a truly unified Europe on the altar of political expedience by a weakened political party desperate to hold on to power could well be the greatest catastrophe of the present century.  Time, as the adage goes, will tell.  The capacity for catastrophe seems inexhaustible. Let it be said that optimism is currently in short supply.

European unity will undoubtedly survive in some form without Britain, but it will be a diminished union. Whether or not Brexit proves to be a disaster or merely a setback, there is now no turning back.

Foxes and the Henhouse

As the new President slowly and painfully fills the slots in his cabinet and administrative staff (apparently numbered around 700), it has become unmistakably clear who’s now in charge. Between ex-Wall Street bankers, vulture funders and hedgers, not to say former “employees” of Goldman Sachs (so instrumental in engineering the Great Recession of 2008), the most avaricious plutocrats in recent times have all but taken over the US government at the highest level.

What the struggling, white, middle-class voters of the hinterland and rust-belt will make of this is anybody’s guess.  It takes a while for folks to realize that in a shell game, the small fry never win.  Just try to keep your eye on the cup with the bean underneath it…  Yes, friends, you have been bamboozled.  Big time.

P.S. It wasn’t the immigrants who “stole” those jobs.  It was automation. And those jobs are not coming back, despite what the President said.

The Road to Perdition (Part One)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s expression said it all.  That followed the excruciating ordeal of being manhandled by one of Donald Trump’s infamous handshakes during his weekend visit to Washington to mend fences (as opposed to building walls). What Trump failed to realize is that public physical contact is not felt as a positive experience in ordinary Japanese culture, Sumo wrestling notwithstanding.  Even married couples refrain from holding hands when walking side-by-side on city streets.  Shaking hands is at best tolerated.

When I visited Japan some years ago, I was told the story of how one Japanese explained this exquisite sensitivity.  “Do you not flinch when someone touches your eyelid?”  he asked.  When assured that was normal in the west, he went on, “Japanese all eyelid.”

At mass in the Jesuit church at Sophia University in Tokyo for the first time, I wondered how the Japanese Catholics would deal with the Kiss of Peace, which in the somewhat puritanical west has been reduced to a diffident handshake. When time came for the ritual greeting, the congregation turned to one another, pressed their hands together as if praying, lowered their gaze, and bowed deeply. I did likewise.

Profound human respect and great courtesy is a beautiful and essential aspect of Japanese culture.  This was not lost on President Obama in his visit to Japan, when he bowed deeply before his honorable hosts, but of course received stern criticism for his culturally sensitive gesture by many of his countrymen back in the US.

It is also not common for Japanese men and women to indicate emotion by facial expression.  The depth of distress experienced by the Prime Minister could be read in his look of embarrassment and, let it be said, relief when released from the American president’s grip.  May his country do as well.

The View from Here: Irish Eyes are Wincing

The Swamp looks poised to win big this time.

Although hardly mesmerized by the political spectacle unfolding across the sea, Irish eyes are watching the accession of the Trump era with trepidation. A recent national poll revealed that only 12% of the population thinks that Trump’s presidency will be good for the Republic. The Irish one. And the American one, needless to say. (Trump does have some fans here, too: support is most notable in West Clare, where the Donald bought and renovated a multi-million dollar golf course and hotel. Both are far beyond the pay grade of most Clare men and women, but the project brought jobs and cash flow into the coastal area.)

Watching US developments from a distance as Trump began filling his cabinet positions with corporate raiders, ultra-wealthy bankers and financiers, assorted tycoons, white supremacists and retired generals, it was hard to escape the feeling that the angry middle-class white males from the rust belt and other depressed zones of the heartland who turned to Trump for “change” are in for a big surprise as the reins of power are increasingly turned over to the upper percent of the One Percent. They are now going to have to foot the bill for The Wall, as well. Tax breaks for the very wealthy will increase the burden on the middle class as the deficit rises and social services, the environment, and health care are driven into the ground. And as for those tax returns, well, it’s anyone’s guess if they will ever be released. At least his promise to prosecute Hillary Clinton has been forgotten. That’s just as well. Living in a glass house, even one with tinted windows and drawn curtains, is not the best vantage point for hurling stones.

Wall Street may love it, but the swamp just got a lot bigger and a lot deeper.

No sauce for the geese?

Donald Trump’s consideration of retired General David Petraeus for Secretary of State provides an ironic statement on gender issues, not say the game of thrones or at least cabinet chairs.  Having been fined and placed on probation for criminally sharing classified information with his paramour, Petraeus retains the confidence of Trump and many members of Congress (unlike his paramour, who was demoted and has received an official reprimand from the military, freezing her career).  The irony is that it was her inadvertent inclusion of classified information in private emails (never assigned illegal status after the FBI’s microscopic investigation) as Secretary of State that supposedly rendered Hillary Clinton unfit to serve as President in Trump’s view, even warranting jail time.  At least Petraeus can cite precedent. (Of course, Hillary did, too: Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice also used private email servers. No one seemed to mind then.)

Trump Tweet

The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.
Donald J. Trump, 6 Nov. 2012.

The times they are a-changin.’ Or perhaps not.

Day of Reckoning

Rarely has the American voting public had such a momentous choice to make from a roster of candidates for the highest office in the land, indeed as it has come to be called by many, the post of “leader of the free world.”  We have come almost to the end of a campaign season mired in innuendo, vituperation, scandal (whether real or fabricated), international interference, hacked emails, and what is arguably the most vicious and highly personal attacks regarding character, honesty, and fitness for office that the country has ever known.  And the centuries have seen some astonishing instances.  But in almost every respect, the present campaign is unprecedented.  Small wonder that so many people are dismayed, discouraged, and disgusted by the whole business.

But all that makes it even more imperative to vote.  Not only to exercise the noble privilege of participation in what is probably still the oldest surviving democratic process on the planet, but to assure for the coming years and even coming generations the assurance that the better angels of our nature will continue to guide that process.  Let us vote and vote well.

Trigger Happy

As this country begins national Domestic Violence Awareness month, we would all do well to reflect on the sources of violence in our homes, which are both the entry point and too often the exit wound of anger, intolerance, and eventually violence. Many factors contribute to the climate of violence – not least the increasing prevalence of firearms.  Mass shootings, drive-by shootings, hold-ups, assaults, and especially suicides (the major cause of death by shooting in this country) are enabled and facilitated by easy access to guns.  Oddly enough, until very recent times, violence was declining in this country as well as abroad. Homicides by gunfire were in decline and where gun control is most strict, still in decline.  What has arguably changed most is the relaxation of gun control laws and with that the flood of firearms than has penetrated even into our universities, markets, and workplaces.

Almost daily, Americans are apprised by social news networks of police shootings, as well. Too frequently, unarmed individuals are mistakenly shot and often killed by jumpy police personnel themselves at serious risk of being shot. In the West of my youth, and that of my parents and grandparents, those who shot first and asked questions later were called “trigger happy.” It might have been understandable, but it was always regrettable and often reprehensible.

One of my favorite Irish stories involves a wild young lawyer, by the name of Richard Martin, widely known in Galway as “Trigger Martin” and sometimes as “Hair-trigger Dick” because of his quick temper and deadly aim with a dueling pistol. In mid-life, he had a change of heart and, when elected to parliament, not only renounced violence but sponsored legislation to end the death penalty for certain crimes.  Like William Wilberforce, Martin became a leading proponent of animal welfare, successfully promoting the Prevention of Cruelty Act (“Martin’s Law”) in 1822. Eventually, the story goes, he was told by King George IV, that where he once been called “Hair-trigger Dick,” he would now be remembered as “Humanity Dick.”

By any means of comparison with other industrialized countries, the United States has clearly gone off the rails. It’s high time to get the train back on track.  Our humanity requires it.

P.S. to Hillary

Hey, Hillary… don’t do snarky any more.  You don’t do it well.  And then you won’t have to apologize.  Just sayin’…