Month: June 2020

Less noise is better

The first warning sign came five hours after his inauguration, when President Donald Trump filed for reelection. It soon became apparent that he much prefers to campaign before large, adoring crowds rather than the tedious work of governing. He’ll be back in his element tonight in Tulsa.

Once upon a time, before presidential elections were non-stop, the campaign for a party’s nomination began after New Year’s Day on the year of the election. After party conventions, a two-month general election campaign was launched on Labor Day.

Mr. Trump has invited me to become a Charter Member of his Republican Presidential Task Force to defeat Big Government Socialist Democrats. He said, “it is difficult to get the real facts about our agenda out to Americans all across the country.” Maybe he’s told us too much rather than not enough.

Tulsa will be Mr. Trump’s 97th rally since his election. He has posted over 2,350 tweets on Twitter so far in 2020. He makes good use of Facebook, Fox News and the One America News Network. Stephen Bannon protégé Michael Pack, new overseer of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, cleaned house at the Voice of America and four other agency networks this week.

I miss those eight-week campaigns. Less noise is better.

My pyramid pilgrimage

During a 1998 trip to Israel, some of our pilgrims to decided to take the “add on” trip to Egypt. One stop was on the outskirts of Cairo–the Great Pyramids of Giza. Our bus parked within walking distance of the base of the Great Pyramid, the tomb for king Khufu (2589-2566 BCE).

This would be my one time to visit the pyramids and I wanted to spend a few moments at the base, pondering the wonder and majesty of this monument. I climbed on top of one of the huge stones at the base, trying to imagine the effort and time it took to build it.

Before I could do that, I encountered a young entrepreneur. He was one of many vendors at the pyramid. He was a walking chest of drawers, pulling out every imaginable souvenir. He couldn’t comprehend that I just wanted a minute or two of silence. He was convinced that my “woman” back home needed some of these treasures, even if I was too dense to appreciate them.

He was very skilled in the art of the deal and he was exasperated by my continuous “no, thank you” responses. Finally, he said, “Would you like an Egyptian woman?” I decided to de-escalate (and end) this exercise in free enterprise, so I said, “I’ll buy that photograph of the pyramid.”

Verbs > Nouns

I’ve been to battlefields at Gettysburg, Shiloh, and Lookout Mountain. I’ve seen Civil War memorials from Key West, Florida to Camden, Maine.

It’s important to remember our past so we can learn from it. The best monuments teach timeless, universal principles, When a monument becomes a net negative, let’s retire it with dignity, as Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) accepted the surrender of Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) at Appomattox.

The great religions and philosophies value verbs over nouns. Monuments are inanimate objects, or nouns. People are alive and dynamic–verbs, not objects. Nouns such as monuments can be helpful memory aids, though what is remembered may differ from the builders’ intent.

Monuments draw out memories and feelings, such as the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, or the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. As we the living (we action verbs) talk about our diverse emotions, we learn more about ourselves and each other.

Retiring a symbol

Five years ago, the murder of nine persons at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina sparked a conversation about the Confederate flag that flew over the state capitol building in Columbia.

My attitude toward the Confederate flag (the second national flag of the C.S.A.) has evolved. The Civil War fascinated me as a child because of the war’s centennial and because I had ancestors on both sides of the war.

As a teenager I bought a Confederate flag towel for a trip with friends to Panama City Beach. My mother was not amused. My attitude changed after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968). I realized that what had been for me a novelty was for black Americans a very different symbol.

After the 2015 murders in Charleston, then Governor Nikki Haley decided it was time to no longer fly the Confederate flag over the capitol building. She later reflected on that decision in a 2019 Washington Post opinion column.

Some who opposed removing the flag lamented a loss of heritage. Governor Haley pointed out that the flag didn’t fly over the capitol until 1961, during the Civil War centennial. The flag became a symbol for whites who opposed the growing momentum of the Civil Rights movement.

The Confederate battle flag became for me exclusively a symbol of sadness. The world has plenty of those already, so in 1968 I decided to retire this one.

What’s the message?

What are your favorite monuments or memorials? Two come to my mind immediately: (1) the Statue of Liberty; and (2) the Lincoln Memorial.

The Statue of Liberty was a joint project of two republics founded in historic proximity, each seeking a principle that is universally sought.

Abraham Lincoln, hated by many (including my great-grandfather), has grown in stature over time. He represents values much larger than himself.

Here are some questions for any monument: What’s its message or purpose? What do its symbols or words convey? What does a monument say about its erectors? Its contemporary admirers? Those who seek to remove it?

Today’s conversation about Confederate monuments raises three important questions: (1) Does the monument reflect universal, timeless values? (2) Does the monument mean one thing to one group and something entirely different to another group? (3) Can we learn from monuments with conflicting values?

In remembrance

After a significant event, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, this is a great moment! Let’s build three memorials: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He blurted this out without thinking.

Peter may have had in mind a rock cairn, perhaps inspired by the story of Joshua’s 12-stone memorial of the Israelites crossing the Jordan River.

The Joshua story was about re-entering land believed sacred. Jesus had a universal, non-geographical mission. The gospel writer indicated Peter’s suggestion was thoughtless. This invites us to ask Peter, “Why a memorial?”

“Why?” is an appropriate question whenever a monument, memorial or statue is proposed. I’ve been aware of the Emma Sansom statue (see Saturday’s post) all my life, but I just recently learned its official purpose was to memorialize those who died in World War I. The monument’s enduring effect has been to memorialize the Confederacy. Last week, a Gadsden City Council member proposed moving it to Forrest Cemetery.

Tomorrow: What does a monument say about those who erect (or move) it?

Lot Flannery’s 1868 statue, the first monument honoring President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), from The New Hampshire Union Leader, August 11, 2019 (photo Library of Congress)

Odd statues

The Emma Sansom statue (in yesterday’s post) has me thinking about why we erect statues. I’ll share more reflections about statues in the next several posts, beginning today on a light-hearted note.

The Jewish tradition is anti-statue, based on the commandment against making idols, or graven images. On a 1998 trip to Israel, I was surprised to see a statue of Elijah on Mount Carmel, slaying a prophet of Baal. My first (and enduring) thought: Elijah wouldn’t like that.

A non-organic Kentucky Wonder is Jocelyn Russell’s bigger than life statue of Secretariat (1970-1989). “Big Red” was the 1973 Triple Crown winner. He took the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths–a legendary exclamation point!

A bronze statue of a bird dog (an English Pointer) presides over downtown Union Springs, Alabama, noting Bullock County’s fame among bird doggers.

In Enterprise, Alabama, a 50-pound replica of a boll weevil is proudly held by a statue of a Greek woman, an odd way to celebrate crop diversity.

Yoda Black Lives Matter Photographer Never Expected it to Go Viral,” by Eric Francisco, Inverse, June 9, 2020

Nice site for a Peace Park

Next April marks the 160th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. I was in 3rd grade during the 100th anniversary. I had a gray Confederate soldier’s cap from a department store in my Alabama home town. My dad grew a Lincolnesque beard and wore a top hat. That’s all I remember. The next year, Alabama elected a governor named George Wallace.

I never asked whether I should wear a gray cap or a blue cap. I went to an all-white (and all-gray) school, thus avoiding the conversation the nation is now having. My first awareness of a Civil Rights conversation was later that school year, in May. Our teacher, Miss Evelyn Davis (1921-2012), explained that the bus-burning in nearby Anniston was not a good thing.

I only remember one Confederate-related monument in my home town. It was erected in 1927 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to honor locals who died in World War I. Atop the monument is a statue of Emma Sansom (1847-1900). She showed Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821-1877) where to ford a creek in pursuit of Union troops.

On the corner of First and Broad Streets, Gadsden, Alabama

I never paid attention to the statue. I had no feelings pro or con. I was more aware of the local schools named for Sansom and Forrest.

A short walk from the Sansom statue is a historical marker noting the lynching of Bunk Richardson (c. 1878-1906). Between those two sites on the bank of the Coosa River is a small building housing the University of Alabama Gadsden Center. Perhaps this area could become a venue for reflection and learning, a Peace Park.

On the corner of First and Locust Streets, Gadsden, Alabama

Duty: a sign of hope

All institutions are imperfect and need continuous reform. This should be no surprise since every institution is comprised of humans. If we can accept this reality without apology or rancor, we can avoid a great deal of angst.

It’s important to express gratitude for jobs well done and for acts of sacrifice and heroism. We have many to celebrate in the first half of 2020. I’ll start with a few. You can name others.

The U.S. military has a long tradition of submitting to civilian control while avoiding political manipulation. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair, Army General Mark Milley apologized for having “created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

Police officers saluted as George Floyd’s casket passed in front of them. The nation is having a healthy, though difficult conversation about reimagining the way we police ourselves.

We reaffirm the meaning of duty when civilians wear masks to protect neighbors from a virus, hospital personnel risk infection to save others, and soldiers or peace officers risk life and limb for the common good. This healthy national soul-searching about the meaning of duty is a sign of hope.

Newport News police officers now have ‘duty to intervene,'” by Josh Reyes, Daily Press, June 10, 2020

Generations: a sign of hope

President Donald Trump is a Baby Boomer, born on June 14, 1946. I see in him some characteristics I most dislike about myself. Hi. My name is Ted. I’m a Baby Boomer (1946-1964). Joe Biden, born before 1946, is in the Silent Generation. It looks like we’ll have two old guys from which to choose.

But, the big story this year is neither Trump nor Biden, nor Trump vs. Biden. The big story is the transfer of energy from us old codgers to those in Generation X (1965-1980), the Millennials (1981-1994) and Generation Z (1995 and later). I celebrate this as a sign of hope.

Energy (i.e., Stoneman Douglas students) leads to political power. Have you noticed the age of those protesting the death of George Floyd? With some notable exceptions (i.e., Martin Gugino), many are the children of us Baby Boomers. We’re witnessing the passing of the torch to the next generations.

From “What We Know About Gen Z So Far,” by Kim Parker and Ruth Igielnik, Pew Research Center, May 14, 2020