As our fair-weather Republican friends and the occasional slick “man of God” remind us, human beings are a sorry lot: vanquishing our political enemies will not end all of life’s battles, and will probably end none of them.
First I planned to write a spirited response this week to Jeff Jacoby’s claim at Townhall.com last Monday (“Secure the Border? That’s What the U.S. Has Done”: 5/13/13) that our southern border is secure. I toyed with the idea of being caustic, even sarcastic: “Certainly. Mr. Jacoby, our having added so many government employees and increased funding so steeply over the past thirty years proves your case. Why, just look at how much our children’s education has improved, according to the same measurements! And certainly the rising volume of repatriated illegals shows that all is under control. We know that every such petty criminal is too mortified by the ‘bus trip of shame’ to wade back across the river or saunter back through the same brushy trail that afternoon. Most probably wait till the next day, or at least till sundown. And certainly the escalating violence along the Mexican border, whose casualties now approximately equal the Vietnam War’s (except that most are civilians), is wholly irrelevant to our ‘success’. And certainly the abundance of jobs in our thriving economy right now promises that no social tension will follow from admitting millions of new workers into the legal workforce; and certainly the struggle of people like me, who don’t harvest half of a six-figure annual income yet watch their property tax rise by leaps and bounds to pay for collapsing school and hospital systems, is no concern of yours and scarcely indicates, in any case, that the border isn’t secure. Certainly the greater danger, to people like you, is people like me—‘extremists’, you call us, who are incapable of compromise. Certainly, indeed, you will account the world a better place, all things considered, when the ‘extremists’ vanish beneath English-second voting blocs who listen like lords as Democrat and Republican candidates alike promise them more and more handouts with money that doesn’t exist. I should imagine that people like you, Mr. Jacoby, have their own yacht ready to launch when the Titanic starts to tilt. ‘Mid-deckers’, should we call you, perhaps? The luxury-class types poised to jump ship at the best spot when the tilt comes?”
But Mr. Jacoby’s piece seemed to have been pulled from the Townhall line-up by mid-morning. That was a good sign. Maybe, then, I should direct my rancor at professional mouthpieces like Bob Beckel, who are forever either spewing slanders or sighing, “There’s nothing to see here.” The Benghazi murders are of the latter category, according to Mr. Beckel’s commentaries on FOX’s five o’clock infotainment hour. Nothing in Benghazi but political theater—nothing but a Republican gambit, already overplayed, to slur Hillary… and I thought to myself, “How about a clever piece ‘benghazifying’ the explosion of the fertilizer plant outside of Waco? What if the boss were phoned in his palatial mansion and told that a small fire had started in the plant? And the boss says to his butler, ‘Call the foreman and tell him to deal with it. I’m off to bed.’ And the foreman gets the call but inexplicably does nothing, because… well, it’s inexplicable, but maybe he thinks, ‘What am I, a fireman? Tell them to use the extinguisher. And anyway, the whole thing will be over before a fire truck can get there… and anyway, if I call a fire truck, then they’ll file a report, and word gets around that we have crappy safety standards in the plant, and our insurance goes up while our stock goes down. And anyway… they can call me when it’s over, and we can go from there.’ So the plant blows up, people die, and the boss and the foreman go from there. Oh, and I should have mentioned that both boss and foreman are minorities, and also that they contribute heavily to progressive causes. Is that relevant? Probably not. Fires happen. It was a bad night for the people who died, and… but the foreman, after much emailing and conferring with factory officials (those who survived), sends them all on vacation to venues unknown and discloses that the fire broke out when a Tea Partier tossed a lit cigarette out of a passing car. ‘We’re going to find that Tea Partier,’ she consoles family members at the mass employee funeral. ‘He’, I should have said.”
Wouldn’t the foreman’s version of the story be good enough for you, Bob? I mean, if the fertilizer plant had in fact exploded in this hypothetical manner? Wouldn’t trust and acceptance be the proper journalistic response—the way you all handled it in the old days?
Yet I couldn’t really hurl myself into this topic, either. I was being distracted by the IRS scandal. This spring for the first time, my own 501(c)3 return drew a very aggressive letter from someone in Utah wanting to know why I hadn’t submitted Part III of Schedule A. I dutifully wrote in a bunch of zeroes on Part III and submitted it with a letter explaining how Part II had cryptically commanded, “Stop Here,” when our public support came out well above 30%. No response yet to my response… but now I’m starting to wonder if our explicitly educational/religious mission spells “kick me” in IRS idiom.
And then, midway through the week, my wife showed me the obituary of a woman I used to know. She was a few years younger than I (more than I had realized), and a friend had once tried to “fix me up” with her when I was single. Jane, as I will call her, was quite plain, the more so after a car wreck had slightly rearranged her teeth; but her one terminal drawback to me was that she never had anything to say for herself. Though she possessed a degree from a prestigious college, she seemed to have no opinions on any subject. I put it down to a severely Southern Baptist upbringing; I wasn’t unsympathetic, but it didn’t seem like a war I needed to fight. The obit, however, cast things in an entirely different light. Jane was survived by four children and a “companion” with an unequivocally female name. In the space of about twenty years, this mild-mannered majorette of the Falwell-Criswell corps had decided that she was gay, had defied an entire Southern town (and a family that had produced a Baptist minister), and had topped it off with producing so many children so quickly by artificial means that all the hormone treatments had left her with ovarian cancer. I was numb. I still am. Was this plain, quiet girl really hiding such secrets when I knew her? Or did she only decide that she was of another persuasion after men like me had passed her by? What was the reason for the four children—had she wanted so badly to be a mother? Or were they some sort of placatory offering to enraged parents who expected grandchildren—or, on the contrary, some sort of passive-aggressive revenge on parents who had withdrawn support?
In an indefinable way, I felt that we must have betrayed her… but I also felt that she had betrayed us, and that our rotten times and rotten culture perhaps excelled at creating situations that churn out such betrayals daily as a tar pit full of bones churns up malodorous bubbles.
I continue to think, too, of the son I wrote about a couple of weeks ago—my own son, who won himself a baseball scholarship to college only to see his furious high school coach bench him for the season’s second half. This wreck of a man, himself an ordained minister in one of those putatively Christian denominations so prolific in the South, had groomed another boy to be The Chosen One (receiving generous handouts, both on and off the books, from the kid’s wealthy father to do so). Now—or as of yesterday—my son is officially a high school graduate. We can begin the process (longer for me than for him, since youth is miraculously resilient) of shaking this filthy dust from our heels. He’s going far, far away to college: about as far away from here as I could get him. I have already started weeping over his loss in private, like David, so that I can leave him with a smile when I must. He needs to go. He needs to find a new life in a better place than this.
But I ask you… what does it all mean? The men we imagine to be our exponents and representatives sell us out and call us extremists. The children of our neighbors are murdered abroad on missions undisclosed and unsupported by adequate firepower… and the “bulldogs of truth” groan in their sleep and roll over. The people who shared our youth turn up in the news as radicals who appear to have loathed everything we thought they stood for… and leave more children behind with less chance than they themselves enjoyed of building a coherent life. And then self-styled “men of God” wreak a petty vengeance on adolescents in their charge because of a bruised ego.
Do you see any easy answers here? Someone once said that life is the battle of the half-angels against the half-devils. Swift thought we were all apes in clothes. If so, then our wardrobe consists usually of the Emperor’s new clothes.
I have no pet plan for “turning the country around”. I don’t want to listen to any more charismatic types warbling, “Lord, Lord!” while they pass the plate. I know that the Democrats constantly lie about everything—and that the Republicans almost as constantly tell the whole truth about nothing. I’m sick of the news, but I also realize that the power-hungry want us all to grow sick of the news, that they may murder and pillage at their ease. I’m tired of being angry… but I’m too angry just to wipe the board clean and start a new game, like a simple-minded child.
Read. Think. Endure. Some time, somewhere, the accounts will all be balanced.