Presidential Politics and the Crises Shaping American Life

I am writing this blog post in a fairly low energy state in my own life to borrow a phrase from Donald Trump’s discussion of JEB (or Jeb Bush).  I have a certain amount of accumulated wear and tear that is getting me down just now.  In my blog and in other writing I have done I have dealt with and discussed issues that are troubling and involve the serious troubles of the world. I have been careful never to evoke specific acts of violence or to encourage people to take violent means to address their problems. I have argued for armed vigilance, for scrutiny and support for the military and law enforcement and I have told the tales of violence in the past. I live an often fairly solitary personal life now. However, I have lived among many people who were  prone to say things like “we ought to kill those bastards until the rest of them get the message”, others who said “the only good (fill in enemy here) is probably still a dead (repeat descriptor)” and many people have as far as words go threatened to kill me. I have also seen a lot of real violence but I could always believe that I could usually tell the difference between, on the one hand, someone warning that eventually the current course would leader to bloody conflict with me or some other specific group or person and on the other hand someone advocating homicide. That has been one of the luxuries of Americanism and American life. We remember Reagan’s joke on the microphone about abolishing the Soviet Union. We also know that not everyone around the world who screams “Death to America!” really means it in the worst way. Yet we are sure that none of them mean it in a way we could possible call good. Today as a clerk sits in jail for not issuing marriage license to same sex couples, the feds sue the Governor of Louisiana for defunding Planned Parenthood and there are other signs of American cultural transformation we know that  people are feeling aware that while they really feel threatened it may be riskier than ever to have ever tried to oppose or threaten in return any of the forces rolling across American society. This is a set of feelings related to evidence and fact but it remains a matter mostly of feelings. A lot of Americans are feeling both pressured and depressed.  I certainly feel some of the those feelings myself. Like a lot of Americans and other people I feel that every year for a long time my life has gotten worse, a little or a lot worse. Year ago among other things I led a worldwide discussion on what it would take to colonize the Moon and Mars. It was a serious and patient discussion and it is hard to imagine leading that kind of discussion today.

Today the Moon is a remote place I merely photograph with my phone at home...

Today the Moon is a remote place I merely photograph with my phone at home…

There no doubt are people who are doing a lot better than before but many feel alienated and stressed about the place things are and the place they will be.  Little seems certain except that they do not fit in to the world emerging around them and their plans and dreams are not relevant to what is actually happening. Obama’s Dreamers are the children of migrants who have not been born here but have grown up in this country and have human needs and aspirations. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” has struck different chords with the audiences over the decades and hardworking Americans believe still in the lure of the American dream that is a little better than any life they have actually known but is related to it as an ideal is related to a decent approximation. I recently discussed how there is a luxury in coolly discussing political ideas. You can see that post here. The environment on the campaign trail has not really gotten all that hostile so far and yet there are signs that many sources of stress are turning the dreams that frame our national dialog into a framing set of wake-up calls, nightmares and sleepless nights.  I certainly feel close to that state of mind.

The popular mass street politics of the left may yet be telling ...

The popular mass street politics of the left may yet be telling …

There are lots of little factors in creating my case of the blues that I will not include in this post. I do believe that we are in a complex situation as a society, as the United States of America. Catholics in the United States see the Pope coming to the United States, they wonder about the collision of Hispanic Catholics  and the movement to control migration which is finding a voice in Donald Trump and they worry about what the fallout from the Gay Marriage laws will be. You can see some of the commentary about migration here. But this is in the context not so much of a great trial for American Catholicism but a time which tries many American souls and consciences in a variety of ways.  Jewish Americans have less of a unified voice or even organized quarrel than Catholic Americans but they are troubled by disagreements in their ranks over moral issues, new and transforming threats to Israel, potential threats in the growing Christian Identity aspect of the Conservative movement and political spectrum in this country and a number of other issues that seem to affect them deeply. Law enforcement officers and their friends and families are troubled by the framing of organized deadly assaults on police officers across the nation. There does seem to be a diverse and widespread response of people, groups and governments getting together to show support for the police as well. One example of that is right here.   But there is a St. Martin Parish Friends of Law Enforcement rally going on as well  near me and many other things.  This is all to the good but does not change the fact that there are real problems with policing in this country and that some of the chaos and violence stems in large part from real fears, frustration and chaos for which various parts of our law enforcement institutions share some responsibility.  When I was younger I both supported the police in various ways in some of the hotspots where they lived and supported the inmates and their families. What has happened to the idealism, charity and energy that could do both things? Perhaps it is just one more example of how I like many others have grown tired. The police get tired as well and there is plenty to tire us all.

Grand  Theater Shooting police presence  days later

Grand Theater Shooting police presence days later

I provide a link in this paragraph to what is an article by a young man who has been my eldest niece’s boyfriend since they were in high school together. It seems to me to be the kind of thing a young man ought to be writing. He enthusiastically profiles the work of an academic in the university he attends. I wrote for my college paper too but didn’t have a piece like this there, but the writing reminds me of other pieces I wrote about 30 years ago.
I wrote and acted in pursuit of ideals similar to the set he espouses when I was young. I still care about torture. However, I am in a different place now. I can’t help questioning the results of the new professional standards but as I am now I remain very glad new young men find the pursuit of public decency as compelling now as I once did. You can see Aaron Credeur’s article here.

 

We presume that there will be a new President of the United States elected in 2016. The Constitution requires this and there seems to be no way that it can be amended in time for any other result. So if that is the case then it seems that the new President will be faced with a good number of serious challenges. These are unusual times with a high degree of uncertainty. It may well be that the forces behind groups like Black Lives Matter, Occupy Democrats, Black Block, The New Black Panther Party, and less obvious groups have not come behind a successor to Obama and do not have a plan for his succession.  They have come to believe in power on the streets and  may plan to really try to draft Obama directly for a third term. These group alone are a tiny sliver of the electorate but what would the impact be if they sparked a real crisis demanding that Obama stay in office?

This year is a crucial year for the United States in a number of ways. I believe that we will find more and more evidence of the dangers and opportunities of the current moment as the Presidential year unfolds. I am impressed already at the number of shakes and jolts our society is experiencing in all sorts of different directions. The number of protests, mass shooting, police shootings demonstrations of open carry organizations and calls for gun control have al reached heights that are impressive. The availability of two dollar gasoline at pumps in the nation’s cities and towns and the great state visit of the King of Saudi Arabia combine to cast an interesting light on things. The crisis in the Chinese stock markets and especially the Shanghai Stock Exchange form our perceptions of America’s situation in the world. The escape of El Chapo Guzman and the fact that he is still at large with billions of dollars and hundreds of armed men combines with the images of the refugees flooding into Europe to frame the questions related to borders and migration in a somewhat different context than would otherwise be true. The fact that so much has changed in the country and the fact that Biden is not yet running for President makes some people listen more attentively to those who have said that Obama intends to manipulate a crisis to seek an additional term in office under emergency powers.

Would that constitute that kind of lasting change Obama promised? Is that part of what he suggested as a possibility of lasting change all along? See his vision here.  I know that I am easily convinced we could face real emergencies and am really sure Americans are not unified around a love of constitutional legitimacy right now.

The Congress is deeply unpopular and it is hard to see how they could effectively oppose such a bid for unconstitutional power if it was properly initiated. The Republicans present what is arguably the most institutionally divided image in their party’s history. If Obama’s administration were to provoke and declare a state of emergency to  remain in power then who would stop such a thing from succeeding? I am not saying here that a third term crisis will in fact be the crisis that sweeps the nation. But I do expect more crises to come and soon enough. In my own life I feel the strain and threat of change and rising challenges from many directions.

This is a time when many of us turn to our faith, political ideals desperate need and fears and all of those are legitimate places to turn. But electing a President as we have done from the time of Washington comes from another place. It comes not from a sense of crises or unified crisis but from a sense of belief in constitutional process. I hope that the months remaining will not diminish that aspect of our nation very much. I am still writing and still not doing more than writing as the changes sweeping our country develop. There is a lot more that could be written. The refugees pouring into Europe and those not pouring in affect us. The heroes on the French train affect us. The crisis in understanding the merging geopolitical situation affects us. The question is whether any of these will lead to a stampeding crisis that will remake America and if that does happen how will America be remade?

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6 responses to “Presidential Politics and the Crises Shaping American Life

  1. Frank, I’ve been so pleased to read your insightful posts on the run-up to your new President and other US news; your personal pain has not gone unnoticed.

    So much of what happens in the world today is wrapped up in who (or which party) will win the 2016 US Presidential election. I don’t have a dog in the race although British coverage of Mr Trump portrays him as supremely under-qualified amongst fellow candidates. (In a much more modest way the UK has been similarly treated to a parade of hopeless individuals, billed as hustings for the next leader of the Labour party, our Official Opposition.)

    You are your countrymen are our eyes and ears; you seem to get it right most of the time.

    • Tizres,
      I’m responding by means of a device that has been losing my text lately and I am writing this response for the second time. It is a bit more succinct except for this explanation.
      It’s admirable that you take an interest in this early phase of our process. It’s a process where much is shaped and influenced early on but it’s hard to define exactly what the role of the very early process might be. Donald Trump has energized the very early phase a great deal this time around.

      Thanks for the kind words about the blog. I am glad to be a part of the informed conversation between our two societies.

  2. Frank, came across this yesterday, a 26pp offering on the customs and traditions of the Hol:
    http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/LLN-2015-0025/LLN-2015-0025.pdf

    It’s like catnip for us!

  3. Oh dear, here’s the original page which has the link near the bottom:
    http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/LLN-2015-0025

    Let me know if you still have problems and I’ll try to recreate it tomorrow (dashing out for a while!).

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