Marianne Williamson is Right. We Have a Gun Problem AND a Culture Problem

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I am getting tired of the way the gun debate plays out in the wake of mass shootings.  Everyone tries to score political points or use the deaths of innocent lives to advance their own agendas.

For example, here is court evangelical Tony Perkins claiming that the problem is not guns, but evolution and the “driving of God from the public square.”

Others naively believe that mass shootings will stop if we just ban certain weapons.

Why can’t it be both?

Do we live in a violent culture?  Yes.  In one sense, the United States has always been a violent culture.  In another sense, there are clearly things going in our culture right now that were not present fifty years ago. It is thus worth thinking about changes over time when we try to explain why we have so many mass shootings.

Are guns a problem?  Yes.  If Tony Perkins is correct, and we do have a moral problem in the country, then why wouldn’t he support bans on assault weapons that can kill large numbers of people in short periods of time?  If Perkins believes that human beings are sinners, then I think he would be the first person to want to take these weapons out of the hands of sinful people who will use them to kill people.

I think Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson gets it mostly right.  Here is a taste of her recent op-ed in The Washington Post:

America does not just have a gun crisis; it has a cultural crisis. America will not stop experiencing the effects of gun violence until we’re ready to face the many ways that our culture is riddled with violence.

Our environmental policies are violent toward the Earth. Our criminal justice system is violent toward people of color. Our economic system is violent toward the poor. Our entertainment media is violent toward women. Our video games are violent in their effect on the minds of children. Our military is violent in ways and places where it doesn’t have to be. Our media is violent in its knee-jerk shaming and blaming for the sake of a better click rate. Our hearts are violent as we abandon each other constantly, breeding desperation and insanity. And our government is indirectly and directly violent in the countless ways it uses its power to help those who do not need help and to withhold support from those who do.

The darker truth that Americans must face now is this: Our society is not just steeped in violence; we are hooked on violence. And in area after area, there are those who make billions of dollars on deepening the hook. Until we see that, we will just have more violence. Our minds must awaken so we can see all this. Our hearts must awaken so we can change all this. And our politics must change so we can discuss all this.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Richard Kagan

the spanish crazeRichard Kagan is Academy Professor and Arthur O. Lovejoy Professor Emeritus of History at Johns Hopkins University. This interview is based on his new book, The Spanish Craze: America’s Fascination with the Hispanic World, 1779-1939 (University of Nebraska Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Spanish Craze?

RK: My interest in US attitudes towards Spain, and more broadly, Hispanic culture in general, dates to the early 1990s, and what I felt was the failure of the AHR, in keeping with the celebration of its centenary, to address the trajectory of US scholarship on Spain. The journal had commissioned articles on US historical scholarship on France, Italy, and other European countries, but not Spain. That lacuna led initially to my “Prescott’s Paradigm: American Historical Writing and the Decline of Spain,” published in the AHR in 1996, and later to other essays and articles on such related issues as the changing image of Spain in the US along the history of collecting of both Spanish and Spanish Colonial art. By 2009, after having explored the history of Spanish-themed architecture in the US, I decided a book that addressed these topics along with the often stormy political relationship between Spain and the US, the history of Spanish language instruction in the country, Spanish-themed movies, music, as well as literature demanded comprehensive treatment as well. The Spanish Craze is the result.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Spanish Craze?

RK: Key to the book is “forgive and forget,” an idea which surfaced in the immediate aftermath of the Spanish-American War of 1898, a conflict that ended an imperial rivalry that lasted for a well over a century. With Spain no longer to threat US interests, Americans, starting with Theodore Roosevelt, demonstrated a new fascination with Spanish culture–art, architecture, language, music and more –, essentially embracing much of that culture as their own.

JF: Why should we read The Spanish Craze?

RK: I believe that it enriches our understanding the composite character of American culture. It also brings new attention to what Walt Whitman once termed “ The Spanish Element in our Nationality.”

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

RK: For most of my career, I have been a historian of Spain and its overseas empire. American history is a relatively new subject for me, and I still have much to learn. However, I have long been interested in the complex links between Spain, Spanish America, and the US. The Spanish Craze explores some of these links, but there is more, much more, to be done on the subject.

JF: What is your next project?

RK: A biography of Henry Charles Lea, the 19th Century Philadelphia publisher-cum-historian and author of the first comprehensive history of the Spanish Inquisition. Lea’s papers are mainly located in Philadelphia, which, following my retirement from Johns Hopkins in 2013, is where I now live.

JF: Thanks, Richard!

Joe Biden Weighs-In on the Kelly Sadler “he’s dying anyway” Comment

By this point you have heard about White House aide Kelly Sadler’s comment about John McCain. Sadler said that John McCain’s opposition to Donald Trump’s CIA nominee “doesn’t matter” because “he’s dying anyway.”  The remarks are awful, but I have two additional questions:

  1. What kind of culture has Trump created in the White House that would make it OK for someone to say something like this?
  2. Did anyone in the meeting rebuke Sadler after she said this?  Did the remark get laughs?  Did anyone tell Sadler that this was inappropriate.

Here’s Joe Biden:

Biden

 

Trump is Dragging the “Entire American Experience Down the Toilet”

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As I write this I am listening to CNN.  Don Lemon is talking about man who was just arrested for claiming that he was coming to CNN studios to “kill” the “fake news.”

The President of the United States can be a force for moral uplift or a force for moral degradation.  Thus far, Donald Trump has been a force for moral degradation.  His vulgarity contributes to the coarsening of American culture.  He empowers white supremacists.  His tweets diminish public discourse.

Conservative evangelicals have been fighting the moral decline of American life for decades.  Yet 81% of them went for Trump in 2016.

Over at The American Conservative, David Masciotra discusses “The Darker Implications of Trump’s Vulgarity.”

The ill effects of public vulgarity aren’t as evident as those of bad policy or failures of diplomacy, but they still degrade the American experience, making the general culture less habitable, less enjoyable, and even less beautiful.

Ralph Ellison wrote that one of his goals as an artist and novelist was to “endow inarticulate characters, scenes and social processes with eloquence.” The essentiality of eloquence is indisputable because the interests of art and democracy converge at the point of articulation. “The development of conscious, articulate citizens is an established goal of democracy,” Ellison explains, “and the creation of conscious, articulate characters is indispensable to the creation of resonant compositional centers through which an organic consistency can be achieved in the fashioning of fictional forms.” Literature is what Ellison calls a “symbolic action, a game of as if,” but, like politics at its best, it is also a “thrust toward the human ideal.” Eloquence expresses the ideal, while vulgarity violates it.

Most parents understand Ellison’s wisdom as part of their daily routine. I grew up in a middle class home in the suburbs. As a small child, I once called a classmate’s home on the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks” a “dump.” My mother and father came down on me with swift and severe punishment, making it clear that mockery of another person’s home was morally intolerable.

Now we have a president who talks that way, who not only speaks at the level of a fourth grader, as many linguists have claimed, but uses language that no good teacher would permit in a fourth grade classroom.

Eloquence was essential to the progression of American history, and, through various social and political crises, the maintenance of democracy. The Civil War had Abraham Lincoln. The Great Depression and World War II had Franklin Roosevelt. The civil rights movement had Martin Luther King. The Cold War had John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. All were superb speakers who used their words to rise to their respective moments, not to cuss out and demean those different from them.

Read the rest here.

Our Mortuary Conventions

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Seattle funeral home, 1900

Jill Lepore writes about them in the October issue of The New York.  As the subtitle of her piece notes, “Our mortuary conventions reveal a lot about our relation to the past.”

Here is a taste:

There are only so many ways to deal with the dead: remember or forget, put up statues or pull them down, bury or burn. Heth is an edge case, like a head on a pike, or a mass grave, or a man hanging from a gallows, a display of decay, a spectacular atrocity. But the edge is not so far from the viscera. Frederick Douglass called slavery a tomb. The way Americans still bury their dead is a consequence of the war that was fought to end it.

“We cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground,” Lincoln said at Gettysburg. But bodies could be embalmed and brought home, to be seen, one last time, beloved and mourned. A business grew. Before the war, families washed and shrouded and carried their own dead, burying them in boxes built of softwoods like pine and cedar. During the war, families hired undertakers to preserve their sons long enough to bring them home from distant battlefields on railway cars. “Night and day journeys a coffin,” Walt Whitman wrote. Gravestones filled the fields like poppies. There were fields of black and fields of white. 

Read the entire piece here.

What Happened to Boxing?

Last week I wondered what happened to American tennis. 

This week, thanks to this article by Paul Beston, I am wondering what happened to the sport of boxing.

Can you name the current heavyweight champion of  the world? (No search engines allowed!).  I can’t.  But if you asked me the same question in 1978 I would have known that it was Leon Spinks.

My father was a big boxing fan so I could not help but grow up following Ali, Frazier, Norton, Foreman (in his first manifestation), Holmes, Leonard, Duran, Hagler,and Hearns.  I have fond memories of the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal when five Americans–Sugar Ray Leonard, Michael Spinks, Leon Spinks, Leo Randolph and Howard Davis–won gold medals.  I also remember being heartbroken when “Big John” Tate was knocked out in the first round of the semifinal bout by Cuba’s Teofilo Stevenson (too bad Stevenson never had a chance to become a professional boxer).  Tate ended up winning the bronze medal and would have a decent professional career. He held the WBA heavyweight title for a brief period between 1979 and 1980..

One of my fondest boxing memories was the night my Dad took me to see Sugar Ray Leonard fight Thomas Hearns on “closed circuit” television at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey.  (This was the first Leonard-Hearns fight.  It was held on Sept. 16, 1981).  I won the tickets by being the 10th caller on a local radio station (WMTR in Morristown).  Not only did we see Leonard defeat Hearns that night, but we also stopped off at a diner (I think it may have been the Tic Tock Diner in Clifton) after the fight to get some ice-cream shakes.  Since we didn’t get home until very early the next morning, I was allowed to skip school that day.

But enough nostalgia.  Beston’s piece shows how the sport of boxing, until recently, has been central to American life.  Here is a taste:

But that happens rarely today; few Americans could name more than one or two current boxers, if that. Boxing has become a ghost sport, long since discredited but still hovering in the nation’s consciousness, refusing to go away and be silent entirely. There was a time when things were very different. For boxing once stood at the center of American life, and its history winds a thread through the broader history of the nation.