Anger, bad conduct mimic permission giver

stick

Our president waved the permission stick over his crowds, freeing them to replicate his insults.

In the wake of angry, racist boils bursting on the face of our public persona, those charged with keeping social order urge restraint in response.

“This is not America,” they say, implying that if we will just calm down and come to our senses, we can again paint a veneer of societal peace over our burbling disruptions and return to our true national sensitive nature.

It’s hard for me to admit the ugly truth, but this IS America. We are a nation in which racial, ethnic and class tensions have bubbled beneath the surface of our society for generations – maybe since our first days when dreamers who couldn’t afford the price of passage traded several years of their lives as indentured servants in exchange for a lottery ticket on a ship to the New World.

But our diverse human hive found ways to co-exist by mutually agreeing to a set of unwritten standards of conduct. Among the many learned behaviors that govern our daily lives, we agreed that racial identity should neither hinder nor promote opportunity; that personal space should not be infringed without permission; that insults do not promote peaceful co-existence; that those who enforce the law are not above the law; that private conduct between consenting adults be kept private; that you don’t stiff the waiter.

Within these basic, mutual agreements we generally live day to day in harmony. Outbreaks against these societal mores make news precisely because they grate against the norm. Highlighting them says, in effect, “this is NOT acceptable conduct and our fragile social construct will break down if it continues.” Perpetrators of the most egregious insults are judged verboten and spend time isolated from the rest of us behind steel bars.

This “acceptable conduct” is ingrained in us through the sometimes exasperating efforts of instructive parents, teachers, bosses, friends, colleagues and strangers and instills in us subconsciously the behaviors that keep our society humming with minimal disruption.

Although basketball pro Charles Barkley declared he “is not a role model,” the conduct of high profile public figures often affirms or dissolves commitment to these behaviors.

My wife is still mad at Bill Clinton for interjecting “oral sex” into the common vernacular of our kids. On the other hand, “born again Christian” didn’t become a commonly understood term until Jimmy Carter spoke it in an interview and people scrambled to figure out what he meant.

Now the fabric seems torn. The fragile cloth of our peace frays like the edges of a flag flapping for too many miles on a car antenna.

Agitated people who for years have tamped down their personal rage in reluctant agreement to abide by social expectations suddenly feel free to vent, scream and insult and claim privilege earned by their race, age, education, position or size of their truck.

What sharp knife sliced the fabric? Apparently those who have felt left behind, even abandoned, in a world of shrinking opportunity needed only a permission giver to release their frustrations, someone to say it’s OK to act out in public the rage and prejudices they’ve kept bottled. It seems that our permission giver walked into the national consciousness with a grandiose ride down an escalator to announce his candidacy for the presidency of the United States.

As a candidate Donald Trump employed crass language to invoke brazen images of the “little guy” prevailing, riding their airboats through “the swamp” in Washington DC, shooting alligators from the gun whale. He applauded harsh treatment of protestors, mimicked disability, bragged about his peccadilloes, scape goated immigrants, denigrated leaders of the international order and encouraged caustic behavior.

He waved the permission stick over his rallies and gave the crowds freedom to act out their rage. Of course, everyone is personally responsible for his or her own conduct. But in a society where rage, fear and prejudice have been building pressure like air in a balloon, a single prick in the surface brings an explosive result.

My friend Jim was a high school principal and school superintendent for many years. He told me he would not hire our current president for any position in any school he supervised – from teacher to janitor – because most of the problems he dealt with among students and their parents had to do with breaks in the common social contract that Mr. Trump so easily disregards.

In the course of a single day a friend of mine had a friend called a “faggot,” another’s son was told to go back to “where he came from” and another friend was called a “nigger” by someone hollering out the window as he drove past his house.

Did that kind of thing happen before? Yes, but not with the freedom and frequency it’s happened since our president has cast “the other” as the source of our nation’s ills. The incidents of hate crimes, hazings, defacements and ostracizing are rampant since people feel they’ve been given permission to talk and act this way – since the president has drawn moral equivalence between Nazis and those who oppose them.

We each are responsible for our own behavior. But when someone in authority – whether a parent, teacher, school crossing guard or president – says by word and deed that it’s OK to treat “the other” with disrespect, our social fabric will quickly unravel.

 

 

 

When can 9/11 pass without ceremony?

It’s coming. The sun’s daily rising and setting prompts the inexorable turn of calendar pages and guarantees it.

This Sept. 11 marked 16 years since the day the world stood still as 19 terrorists commandeered four huge jets and flew them into New York City’s World Trade Center towers, into the Pentagon and into the ground.

More than 3,000 people died, and a nation took to its sick bed.

Those whose hurt hasn’t healed, and media who excavate a trove of emotional stories from pain cannot allow an anniversary of such magnitude to pass without notice.

Alan Sherouse, a pastor in Greensboro, NC, was pastor of Metro Baptist Church in New York City on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. He said it is often outsiders and media who manufacture the pageant of pain around such anniversaries. New Yorkers are too busy in their daily lives to give it much notice until the din of forced recall becomes so loud they all must pause – and remember.

Sometimes we are too self-absorbed in our own hurts to realize the enormous pains endured by other occupants of our shared planet.

Not to diminish either event but for the sake of some perspective I remind us that Nazi Germans exterminated an average of 3,618 persons every day from Dec. 7, 1941 when Chelmno became operable until the armistice was signed May 7, 1945. It was a 9/11 every single day for 1,247 days.

The blow America absorbed on Sept. 11, 2001 was mighty. But twice as many Americans died in the first 10 years after the event while executing our military response. We briefly enjoyed the world’s empathy, expressed by the French headline Sept. 12, 2001 that said, “We are all Americans today.” But we spent that currency in a shockingly frivolous manner.

The hazard of the pending national remembrance day for 9/11 victims and their families is that rhetoric and fervor will increase anti-Muslim sentiment. Politicians, fear mongers and television evangelists have used the event to raise alarm – and money. Politicians and war material manufacturers use reference and remembrance to justify our misguided involvement in wars to which there is no end and for which there is no tangible goal.

Since 9/11 is the sole reference point of some in regard to Islam, they use the event to claim we are in danger as a nation of becoming subject to sharia law. Do you really think Muslims in America want to be ruled by the strict Islamic sharia law they fled in other countries?

Islam did not create the disaster. Terrorists flew the planes – misguided, evil men who happened to claim Muslim identity. In the same way misguided and evil Anders Breivik claimed a Christian identity when he killed 77 people in Norway in 2012. Who doesn’t recoil to hear Breivik referred to as a “right wing, Christian fundamentalist?”

Will we use the anniversary day to extend a hand across the religious and cultural chasm between whatever we claim as our own identity and the person on the other side who describes himself or herself with other terms?

New York City pastor, author and stand up comic Susan Sparks was volunteering with the Red Cross the day after 9/11 taking inbound search calls. A woman called looking for her husband, and described what he wore when he left for work in one of the towers.

The woman started to laugh and said, “Oh, he left with the worst tie on.” Sparks didn’t know how to respond.

Then the woman said, “I’m sorry if humor seems inappropriate, but it’s all my family and I have left now.”

Laughter is always a lifeboat in the rough sea of grief and loss. As we face each anniversary of this tidal wave, we’ll know we are healed when the next anniversaries simply come and go, and our tears are dried by smiles.