Yearning for the next Great Awakening

Methodist Camp Meeting  1819


The Christian world is anticipating the most important days on the calendar.  From Palm Sunday,celebrating the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, through the events leading to the Last Supper, the solemnity of Good Friday reflecting the Passion of Christ culminating in the crucifixion, and the subsequent Resurrection on Easter Sunday,  the believer reflects upon the immense events in reflection towards their own life in faith.  The hunger for meaning in life, once served to overwhelm any situational material deficits or abject circumstance.  We in the West, however, live in an ever more post Christian world, where belief systems and faith are considered archaic vestiges of an earlier age, when science and progress were not available to rationalize one’s life and provide a secure safety net.  The post Christian world makes a virtuous life obsolete, and the countries of Europe now celebrate a world without boundary or differentiating belief system.

America in many ways, however, was uniquely formed on the foundational rocks of  such religious belief.  The desire to find a land unfettered by preconceived notions of rule and open to individual expression of religion was the original driving force of the fragile colonial settlements and their eventual diverse belief systems.  The land was so large that close proximity with an alternative belief system was dealt with simply by moving to another part of the wilderness, then, taking root.  The founding of the country as a country driven to achieve independence and freedom through revolution was an outgrowth of this intense view that Providence had led the immigrants as pilgrims to a chosen place, where they would build their “city on a hill”.   Each man built himself a kingdom of faith and virtue, and looked to his leaders to preserve his right to do so.

This tendency towards individual spirituality set the new America apart from the trends of the larger western world.  Obviously influenced by the great movements in Europe of scientific method, rational thought, and humanism,  the founders nevertheless imbued their new constitution with the very first article of its constitution assuring no interference or bias of the state with religion, to vaccinate the new country against the orthodoxy of an overbearing state apparatus.    Europe, however, caught on the same wave of the Enlightenment, had no individually driven core faith  to suppress its inevitable excess.  The French Revolution surged into post belief rationalism, its Declaration of the Rights of Man devolving into a Reign of State Terror, destroying elements of faith as shackles of orthodoxy, establishing the State as the new authority, the Citizen as its soldier, and even the old calendar eliminated for its reference to a belief system antithetical to the regime.  A year Zero was proclaimed, with its implication of a force greater than the human intellect, and the negation of all past belief systems.   A post Christian world was thus born in Europe and the rattled concept of faith has been under attack ever since.  Over time the churches have emptied.  Anti-individual movements such as communism and its less threatening but equally demanding cousin globalism have installed their new religions, the war on values and virtuous behavior, the elevation of Nature as a God in Climate Change, and the denigration of any path that does not achieve equality of outcome.

Each time America looked into the world of a post Christian Europe, it resolved to restore itself.  These cleansing movements, known as the Great Awakenings, are laid out beautifully in Paul Johnson’s epic one volume history A History of the American People .  The most significant renewals, occurring in the first and last portions of the nineteenth century, were  reactions to the progressive oppression of “science” and “progress” on the concept of individual belief.   Common people spontaneously gathered to hear and experience the word and power of faith and virtue in an ever more secular and faithless modern world.   As a larger civilized post christian world threw off the restraints of virtue, Americans restored it time and time again as a core foundation of who they were, and what they wanted to be.  Through the epic battles to expunge slavery and achieve civil rights, the mantle of a greater belief system then practical reality drove a continuous improvement process.  Virtue as cleansing faith stoked the painful purifications, the central core of American spirituality was emoted in Julia Ward Howe’s Battle Hymn of the Republic:

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free
While God is marching on.

The Great Awakenings occurred spontaneously and from below, requiring no organized  religion to drive the yearning for a life restored to fullness through faith.  Our current time, so fully immersed in the material wants and needs of generations never before so free from want and need, has left us vulnerable to those who still hold value in a belief system, no matter how tainted the belief system is with violence and prejudice.  The Islamist looks with disdain upon the lack of core belief of the west, with empty cathedrals, absent morals, paucity of virtues,  and lack of willingness to defend their civilization.  The migrant Islamists wall themselves off from such rudderless lives and demand the dispassionate state support them,  while they await the inevitable collapse of the cratered society that no longer respects itself.

With the strange events of the past year in Western society, perhaps a Great Awakening is again beginning to form and a sense of individual dignity and purpose will surface.  A society that can not define a greater good, can not survive a progressive bad.  To believe in something more than oneself, and to see one’s self as redeemable, is the essence of the Easter miracle.  It requires no regulation or doctrine for guidance, only faith in the message of redemption in a virtuous life.  As the philosopher C.S. Lewis proclaimed:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen:        not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

Happy Easter.

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Democracy Makes a Little Comeback

Joint Session of Congress

Don’t look now, but the democratic process is making a little comeback.  On March 6, 2017, the Speaker of the House of Representatives proposed a structural bill to re-imagine health care in the United States.  Almost immediately and uniformly, everybody found something wrong with it.  And Ramparts couldn’t be happier.

The difficult, but ultimately elevating process of real legislative action under the influences of a functioning democracy is a wonder to behold.  The United States Congress, that had abdicated its responsibilities over the last several decades in leaving bill philosophy and structure  to the mercy of “experts” and regulators, and adjudicated budgets to the dustbin of history, suddenly finds itself awakening from a Van Winkle like sleep to find the country shocked by the November outcome in a much different place.

Ramparts railed against the damage being done to democratic vitality by the abdication of the legislative branch in 2011:

Madison recognized the legislative process as coming closest to mirroring the will of the people. As designed, representatives would review and vet the merits of the law in committee, debate and adjust it, assess its effects on the general good and its expenses to the general treasure, then representatively vote, so that a record would be available to the voting population to assure compliance with the will of the people in the next election, or adjust the legislature accordingly. The entire process commands that the people have a will, and that the will of the people is respected. Legislative branch has suffered most under the modern corruptions of lack of civics understanding, money of special interests, and general disinterest in the common good and importance of governmental restraint. In the past few decades, laws have achieved epic status, thousands of pages in depth, so that no serious vetting of their effect is feasible. Committees have given themselves up to poor attendance and lobbyist influence with legislators forming their opinion before reviewing a law’s consequences. The massive influx of money has made legislators progressively immune to the ballot box, and more willing to do the bidding of the interest that is supplying them with their re-election funding than for the voter citizen. The citizen has become ignorant of the importance of informed voting, and has accepted lax standards as to the sanctity of the vote, the propagation of numerous “democratic” votes to preserve non-democratic and self serving governmental mechanisms, and dis-interest in the outcome regardless of its effect on the society that has protected his rights for over 234 years.           Ramparts – Can Our Democracy Survive Without A Legislative Branch?  March 27, 2011 

The so called American Health Care Act and following close behind it, a proposed Budget by the Executive that actually outlines priorities in a budget that balances the effect of the priorities, are like an enormous breath of fresh air to the process of democracy.  For too long, the United States had simply functioned without a budget, operating on reconciliation bills, because no one had the courage to both list the nation’s priorities and attempt to fund them in relation to each other.  The draconian sequester process forced ceilings on spendings regardless of priorities because there was simply no courage to do the hard work of arguing over relative value in a world of limited resources and determining that some might need pruning in order to invest in others more urgent.  Committees met to determine the speed of growth of programs, not whether their existence any longer fit the current priorities of the nation.  In the end, the every other year process of electing officials to do this work became only a relative break on the speed of governmental dominion, not the direction or value.

In similar fashion, the so called Affordable Care Act of 2010 was passed with members of the legislative branch voting for something they had never seen, recommended by leadership to vote for it so they could learn what was in it.  ‘What was in it’ was a mechanism for the total re-write of American health care by bureaucratic regulators that would assure no interference with the inevitable investment of the government to assure  every health decision be codified in an extra-legislative fashion.  The bureaucracy grew 25%  to assure this path became immutable.  Within 6 years, the ‘expert’ bill fashioned by the elite, crashed upon the shoals of this very lack of vetting and revision the legislative process was designed to achieve through hard fought compromise.  Some achievement.  Some legacy.

Nobody likes the American Health Care Act, because this time its been proposed and immediately peppered with the many shades of interest a nation’s various constituencies empower in its elected officials.  It will be diced, sliced and remodeled by these competing forces, and when it is done, it will be available for round after round of revision.  Just the way its supposed to work.  The budget and taxes will follow close behind, and in the end, the legislature will have realized that the founders wanted just this kind of discourse and national conversation, the kind that underlies a vibrant and healthy democracy.

It’s a shame that the Democrat Party stubbornly insists to remain on the sidelines, and only throw rocks at whatever is proposed and what ultimately passed.  Rocks that are going to bounce off the ramparts of real democracy, ultimately to strike those who don’t participate in strengthening our future through real give and take.

Van Winkle. Our nation is starting to awaken.

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Asking For Trouble

What Could Go Wrong?

There was a time where a new administration was given a little room to maneuver, assess the lay of the land, and propose their version of the future.  It was euphemistically called the ‘honeymoon’ period.  With the tensions of the political battle settled by the democratic vote, all sides took a breath and allowed the usual mild chaos of coming and going administrations as a typical price for the democratic tradition of peaceful transition.

So much for past munificence.  We are in a time of open wounds and feeding frenzies, and the careful accords of a functioning democracy are teetering on the brink of real trouble. Yet, the leaders of this society, pushed by the most fragmenting and anarchic of their base, continue to push blithely toward the edge of no return and project a smug happiness about their actions.  The carefully balanced blocks of our civility could come tumbling down and woe to those who pretended that their actions were independent of the calamity.

The President gave a speech to a joint session of Congress the other night and asked for the focus and attention of all on the nation’s values and societal challenges. He presented the following radical notions.

  • the nation should stand united against all hatred and prejudice.
  • the nation should set an agenda of improvement that will be in keeping with the appropriate 250th anniversary celebration of the founding of the nation
  • we need to marshall our strengths to defend our borders, defeat the epidemic of drug addiction, restore our neglected inner cities, and keep our promises to the American people
  • we will reduce stifling regulations that stand in the way of entrepreneurial advancement of the society
  • we will restore our defense capability to prevent threats to our nation’s security from gaining traction
  • we will restart the engine of the American economy to help those who have been left behind
  • we will ask for all parties to work together to fashion an immigration process that supports stability and the rule of law
  • we will ask all parties to work together to restore health care access and affordability
  • we will ask for support for education reform that provides opportunity for disadvantaged youth
  • we will ask that our international partners play a meaningful role in operations to preserve free societies, and pay their fair share of the burden to defend themselves.
  • we are one people, with one destiny, with shared values of freedom and civic duty

Half of the audience, and half of the country behind them, could not see a sliver of commonality in any of these vision statements of our shared challenges.  They could not see the value in rising to their feet to salute the sacrifice of one of their own brethren in a fair off land who sacrificed his life for their freedom.  They could not hear any hope, any desire to improve the country, any recognition of the means to restore the nation’s pride, stability, prosperity, or leadership in the world, delivered by an individual that they have determined is illegitimate, because he won an election they assumed was theirs.

Within hours of the speech, the talk has returned to undermining the new leadership at every turn.  The ‘dark state,’ the permanent bureaucracy tied to the agenda of statist philosophers,  demands investigations, leaks confidential information, calls for resignations, declares chaos, shrieks invectives, and obstructs in a developing meme they refer to as the #resistance.  The President, a pugilist at his core, lashes out with a nefarious  eye for an eye mentality, darkly suggesting the previous President dictatorially used the enormous powers of the dark state to directly spy on him as a candidate.

Each contributor to the madness positions themselves for posterity rather than focus on the nation’s needs.   The left violently disrupts free speech and the exchange of ideas on campus, disrupts town halls with organized chaos, form fit news into pre-baked descriptions that bias any objectivity.  The right stands back and picks apart every idea that is not ideologically pure, and waits for the President to fail so they can be proved right that he was not philosophically worthy.  The middle loses any faith in the democratic model to address the societal issues , as every issue is  assigned as a win or a loss in the epic war for a singular society in which the outcome is predetermined and only one version of the truth exists.

We are asking for trouble, and trouble will find us.  If real threats arise, will we be paralyzed by our differences and unable to respond in a concerted way?  If there has been real malfeasance, have we lost the capacity to stand up for equal justice and the rule of law?  If any of the President’s visions bring a form of success, will we be incapable of recognizing it and investing in the momentum?  Would we throw 250 years of human progress away, out of spite that progress must be in keeping with the principles only we recognize?

President Reagan recognized the frailty of our society and the role each generation must play in recognizing their responsibility in preserving the experiment in freedom:

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.

Every day we cannot be at war with each other, or we will be unable to recognize when real conflict begins.  Building greatness is not about being great.  It’s about structuring the society so that each at least has the chance to be great, in their way, and in their time.  We can argue about the means to attain the idealization of our values, but if we are arguing our very values, then the American experiment is truly done.

Let’s get off each other’s backs. Let’s point toward what we can get done, and get to work.  You don’t have to be comfortable with every version of success, to recognize that success is a desirable outcome.  To everyone who wants to simply sit on their hands and wait for the ship to finally tip over,  find another occupation. We simply can’t hold up winning any longer to make you feel better about yourself.

Dr. Larry Arnn is the President of Hillsdale College, an institution of learning that is dedicated to the idea that values still matter, and learning is a journey of discovery that should build on all of our accumulated wisdom.  He’s afraid for the future of this free society. Take some time to listen, and start your healing.

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From Russia With Love

Sean Connery teaches the bad guy a lesson in… From Russia With Love    1963

After 8 years of resetting relations to a much more mature realpolitik level under the careful direction of Barrack Obama, the world has awoken to the realization that  suddenly the Russians with willing accomplices are undermining democracies.  As if.

The nefarious Russians are apparently under every anti-liberal rock and a massive conspiracy at the level of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 is under way and must be ruthlessly expunged.  We are at one of those wonderful hypocritical crossroads where liberal thought can’t maintain a single intelligence stream of logic, when it comes to America and its place in the world.

There was a time when liberals considered the efforts to identify and  eliminate Russian influence as hatespeak.  As told in mythic form in movies and coffee houses all over America,  the fascist and drunken buffoon Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin initiated a witch-hunt in the 1950s to expose Russian communist influence in the American government, and created a holocaust upon American values in which liberal individuals with supposed communist ideals were accused of being influenced and influencing America at a time of great threat to our liberal notions of a free people.  Now the left is asking for a witch-hunt to expose Russian influence in the American government, in which conservative individuals with supposed fascist ideals are accused of being influenced and influencing America at a time of great threat to our liberal notions of a free people.  Light the Torches!

The first Russian mole in the government has been rousted out by the torch carriers, General Michael Flynn.  President Trump, when he was just Donald Trump, found a soulmate in General Flynn that gave the candidate-to-be some gravitas.  The general was no slouch.  Flynn, who had rose to the illustrious  three star rank of Lieutenant General in the United States Army, was considered a star in intelligence circles and had been named head of the Defense Intelligence Agency by President Obama in 2011.  Opinionated and brusk, he did not easily mesh with the Obama Administration who saw only one strategic thinker, Obama, and retired in 2014.  Post government, he continued to speak his mind and was unsettlingly comfortable at times with non-traditional relationships with foreign governments that spoke to his poor political antenna.

The disgraced, brief National Security Advisor
General Michael Flynn

A former democrat like Trump, he saw in Trump a compelling figure who might be capable of injecting Flynn’s anti-Iran Great Power World order philosophy to American foreign policy.  When the upset of upsets occurred on November 8th, 2016, Trump loyally looked to Flynn to be his National Security Advisor, placing him at his career pinnacle of power and influence.  And thus, the first piñata to be broken in the Trump Administration was nicely positioned.   In just three weeks, Flynn’s questionable contacts and difficulties in working with others, particularly Vice President Pence, the designated adult in the room, did him in, and he was asked to resign.

Unlike President Obama’s administration, it appears the Trump Administration understands the concept of resignation when the individual places the administration or country at dissonance with the stated values.  General Flynn, a non-consensus character type, inappropriately positioned by President Trump  in a job that is designed to achieve consensus opinion, did the right thing and resigned.  The inarticulate President, who continues to attempt his own Russian reset, while mangling his outreach in lousy analogies and lousy syntax, allowed the myth of Russian ‘control’ of American democracy  to rise from the position of Democrat Party excuse for its own brutal incompetence, to a story that implies the new found liberal Russia haters are evangelists for protecting American  freedom and security.  Again…As If.

That said, there are obvious issues in underestimating the malevolence of Putin or any other previous totalitarian Russian leader’s desire to influence, undermine, and confuse American resolve.  The track record is there now, just like it was in the 1950s, when it was ‘laughed off’ by those who did not want to see the very real penetrations into the government in the form of Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, or the Hollywood Writers Guild.  Free societies can protect free speech, without subverting itself to the darker forces, and Garry Kasparov deserves to be heard when the enemies of freedom extend their reach malevolently.  At the same time, the slop that passed for internet security first when Hillary Clinton determined to engage in felonious behavior by utilizing an unprotected private server to expose confidential American information to any high school level hacker, then, the ridiculous sloppiness of the Democratic National Committee through John Podesta, who looked to confuse a grade school level hacker with the password to his account, Password, were no challenge to the first class hackers employed by our enemies.  None of this was Trump’s or Flynn’s doing, and none of it required special Russian desire to infiltrate American politics.  The losers of November 8th, 2016 set themselves up for their loss, all by their lonesome.

The real scandal is not that foreign governments will take advantage of our own sloppiness  as we would take advantage of theirs, but that the means for the destruction of the National Security Advisor of the United States, was promulgated by the ‘hacking’ of confidential information by leakers within our own government, and released to the willing press hoping to take the new leader down a few notches.  Putin doesn’t have to do anything to undermine a society that is willing to undermine its own values for political gain.   The General is gone, but those who were willing to undermine him stay behind and are better moles than any Putin could hope to pay for.  When the bureaucracy feels it is more important than the American experiment in governance by the People , it won’t take a Russian Czar to threaten our future. We will accomplish it all by ourselves.






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A Thinking Man Peers Into the Chaos

A new President gets his honeymoon period              (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)

The left has always had two emotions. Anger and Outrage.  It was hard enough to listen to their arguments when they were just angry.  When they are outraged, Katey bar the door.  We are witness lately to the seething outrage.  A gay right wing provocateur scheduled to give a lecture at Berkeley incites a full blown riot to stop the event.  The new Secretary of Education is barred by protestors from entering a public school.  Cinematic and music  award shows are blown apart by long screeds of anti-right hatred.  Businesses broadcast they want only “correct thinking” customers purchasing their goods.

The President has been President three weeks.

Victim status has been the calling card for the left since time immemorial.  The aggrieved and the oppressed, however ill defined in today’s world, at one time had legitimacy as a political expression.  There has always been a ruling elite, and there has always been an underclass that served them, from ancient days, through feudal times, to the unconstrained capitalism of the industrial revolution.  The American experiment was something altogether different.  The codified rights and freedoms offered every citizen provided an alternative promise unrestrained by that citizen’s current circumstance.  The one dark blot on that promise, the preservation of slavery after a declaration that all men are created equal, was expunged by a righteous, brutal conflict of one class of men fighting and dying for the promise of restoring rights to another, denied class of men.  A million deaths in four brutal years, and the greater truth that no man would have victim status imposed in a free society was painfully restored.  The progressives recognized importantly however that their work was not done.  Positive societal gains creating suffrage, safety in the workplace, access to hygiene and healthcare, and eventually removal of overt discrimination immeasurably improved society.

Such principled successes have led unfortunately to principle devolution and ever greater anger over ever smaller classes of victims, and obtuse oppressors.   A potential mother is oppressed by her unborn fetus.  A person confused by gender is oppressed by bathroom confusion.  A student is oppressed by an alternative argument or philosophy of life.  A carbon molecule or an animal protein obstructs a person’s security that they are living a cleansed existence from harmful influence.

When anger is insufficient for discourse, it must be replaced by outrage.  Politics, or what passes for politics, must infest every interaction.  Political correctness has become the tool of liberal fascism.  Believe what I believe, or face a punch in the mouth.   See the world my way, or face obstruction, boycott,  and chaos.

Whatever valuable concepts are left remaining in progressive thought, they are swallowed up by inane demands and petty outrage that prevents any structured logic that might advance their aims.  The left is most offended that the President comes from their world, and occasionally retorts with similar heat inflected rhetoric — they recognize a mirror when they see it.  They are offended that they are no longer able to have the exclusive privilege of having everybody have to react to them, and that now they must react and adjust.

The modern left lives in a world where their value set of individual infinite victimhood is absurdly comfortable with a world where a muslim woman can be punished for publicly humiliating her rapist, or where an entire country like Venezuela must starve to preserve a left elite that promotes socialist equality of suffering for all, except themselves.  The constant hypocrisy is a comfort, because the left owns its own facts,is comfortable with only those facts,  and doesn’t let reality get in the way of a meme.

President Trump wont be going anywhere anytime soon.  We are all getting used to his impulsive personality and thought process.  But he seems to hire good people, who are measured in their approaches, and he clearly listens and absorbs their comments — something the last guy found impossible to do.  The fire on the left is likely to burn as bright as their outrage, but like all superheated conflagrations, the fuel eventually is subsumed, and all that is left is the smoking embers.

The job of the rest of the world is to build an appropriate fire wall, and get on with the task of living life.  Our efforts should be pointed toward a better world for those who want it, and keeping the left from doing what their outrage drives them to do — burn it all down.





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Paying Attention

President Trump signs executive order in Oval Office – photo /Houston Chronicle

One of my best friends has a life story the new President of the United States has been adamant we should be on guard against.  Born in Mexico, early in life my friend had to cross the border in what might be charitably described  as less than documented.  Now legally and successfully a permanent resident, he has become Americanized as well, and is studying the underpinnings of American civics as he is seeking to be a citizen of the United States. At the very moment he is about to secure the rights of citizenship, he is faced with a leader dually elected who would prefer he not have gotten here the way he did.  Needless to say he’s not exactly thrilled about a President Trump.  Yet the very requirement of familiarity with the nation’s foundational documents as part of the his pathway to attain citizenship has brought him to a significantly more prescient understanding regarding the recent elevation of Trump compared to many Americans. The civic  lesson of this election he states, is that “in a successful democracy, a citizen must be a participant and better pay attention.”

Pay attention indeed.

The smug assumption that Mr.Trump had during the campaign promoted raw ideas simply to stir sufficient emotional response necessary to win, and would, upon gaining the job, revert to the usual model of backtracking on promises to gain “acceptance” of the establishment, has been obliterated in one week.  Executive orders to reverse Obamacare? Check. Extreme vetting of immigrants from the unstable Middle East?  Check.  Forge ahead with “building the wall”?  Check. Restore the “special relationship” with Great Britain? Check. Withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership? Check.  Restore the approval of the Keystone and Dakota Pipelines? Check. Prepare to restore the conservative majority on the nation’s Supreme Court?


If you were not paying attention, you are paying attention now.  Like the antimatter superhero from the alternative universe, President Trump, using the exact same tactics of his predecessor Obama,  has slashed deep gashes into the supposed fundamental transformation the previous chief executive crowed about.  The bureaucrats of the EU in Brussels, the President of Mexico, the stunned establishment media, and the angry victimhood clingers that make up the majority of the Democrat Party are all on their heels, and are surely paying attention now.  It seems to be that the ‘conviction-less’ candidate assumed by establishment observers, has more convictions then you can shake a stick at.

The larger question is not whether President Trump learned from his successor’s success in using the executive order to effect change, but rather whether he learned from Obama’s failure in his willful discarding of  the democratic institutions of the country, and the compromise necessary in a democracy to turn transient executive actions into permanent law.  Obama achieved only one legislative triumph, the Accountable Care Act of 2010, which rose out of the legislature through sleight of hand and a complete lack of engagement of the opposition,  then never again returned to the concept of enacting laws for fear he would have to negotiate his vision of the world with representatives of the deplorable caste.  President Trump will have to face the exact same challenges if he is determined to see his vision come to full fruition, and there will have to be compromises galore. There is no indication yet that the ‘fun’ of being President and simply declaring actions, will be set aside for the gritty sweat and tough hours of negotiations and compromises with others necessary to effect real change. We shall see.

The beauty of this version of democracy, as Ramparts has trumpeted since its inception, is the ingenious set of checks and balances envisioned by the founders, that prevents any one power group or transient notion from being immune to the influences and adjustments required by all  other competing opinions.  James Madison described this in Federalist #10:

“…the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens[.]” (No. 10)

We have lost the appreciation of this careful structure as citizens.  The ever growing government that sought to determine through regulation every facet of our lives and represent a singular “truth”, managed to sever the average person’s conviction that they could effect change in their own lives, and they grew increasingly detached from holding the monster bureaucracy accountable.  Like a thunderclap from an approaching storm, the November election of Trump asserted the original framers intentions are not yet dead, and Trump’s first week has restore the sense that elections do matter after all.

The key issue that will determine the future of representative democracy in the limited government ideal put forth by our founders, is not whether the new president will govern from the middle.  He is under no obligation to do so.  No, the key will be if this president will allow the middle to govern, in the way this whole magnificent experiment of freedom was built to function.  A President Trump who achieves his election mandate through the prism of careful democratic vetting and review, will have restored this country back on to the stable footing of personal freedom and civic responsibility  that is the envy of every other land.

Like him or not, we are all paying attention again.  On that alone, President Trump has succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations.


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The Obama Presidency
photo — national review

Every election of a new President of the United States brings a quirky American tradition to the forefront — the need to rate or rank the President about to leave office against his predecessors in some hastily assessed scale of accomplishment and gravitas.  The academicians and faux historians love doing it, because it implies they themselves alone have sufficient stature and authority to summarily adjudicate recent history and immediately weigh it against distant history.  Additionally, they can make sure their version of success or failure, their definition of consequential, will set the standard by which their favorites are judged. The current President Obama, as he prepares to leave office, is already being rated “highly,” as if they would possibly let objective insight get in the way of their feelings for the man of hope and change.

History of course is its own best guide, as distance and events begin to provide better perspective to the actions and inactions of the President, that determine if the country and the world were left a better place and important arcs of history were affected downstream.

President Obama is doing his utmost to try to self define his Presidency as transcendent, because that was standard he set for himself at the moment of his election in 2008.

Transcendent Presidents are few, as their capabilities and depth of awareness of the forces of history, and the collective and progressive openness of the people to their message must additionally be transcendent.   President Obama’s message, for good or ill, was transcendent, the transformation of the United States as a world leader and defendant of individual freedom, into a more passive collaborator in globalist ideas, and a country that needed constant and consuming racial and societal reflection at home to achieve a society “worthy” of its out of proportion bounty.  This was a President that wanted to be transcendent, consequential, and to the elites that righteously demand a world they alone can admire, he was the perfect talent for the job of societal transcendence.

Some Presidents have left quietly and allowed others to reflect on their time in office, others have suggested their own sense in a few chosen words, the challenges of their time and their hope for the country.  President Obama felt the need to restate his place in history through an hour long, rambling speech that tried to stay ahead of the sickening feeling in his political gut, that the country did not see his consequentialness consistent with his own opinion.  If you have been told over and over again by the fawning elite and your own ego, that you are the unique answer to the nation’s yearnings, it is, I’m sure, a very uncomfortable feeling to see the country rapidly averting its eyes to your vision.

Hope and change in the end did not feel consequential to the country’s needs and yearnings, and in many ways the fall from grace has been stark and total.  In the period of the President’s ‘transcendent’ leadership, the party reflecting his views has gone from a position of dominance, to the loss of majority in the state legislatures, governorships, house of representatives, senate, the presidency, and soon, supreme court.   The President’s personal charm did not translate into an aura of leadership that anyone was willing to follow.  He achieved essentially one legislative victory, the Accountable Care Act, that took on his persona and became extricably linked as Obamacare, a veneer of “progress” in healthcare that rapidly collapsed under the weight of its poor depth of structure and lack of alignment with the average person’s needs.  Its overwhelming inconsequentiality will be forever defined by the law being overturned literally as its namesake is replaced.  This inconsequential President, unwilling to seek consensus with others on so consequential a concept as overhaul of the nation’s health delivery system, will be consigned to leave office with his singular achievement leaving the stage alongside him.

President Obama, elected as the literal answer to the prayers of millions who believed in Martin Luther King’s dream of a society based not on the color of one’s skin but the content of one’s character, had an incredible opportunity to bring this message to final transcendence.  Maybe more than any other President, his unique characteristics offered the ultimate bully pulpit to cement a new racially advanced society, to the benefit of all.  It was most disappointingly in this arena, where his talents and leadership proved  most difficient and ham handed.  The eight years of Obama showed a steady deterioration in inter-race relations, with ‘victories’ claimed through the championing of victimhood and political correctness, and the profound indifference to urban violence, police relationships, and cycles of family demise and neighborhood opportunity.  The final twin daggers to the President’s tone deaf, failed recognition of his own role to educate and to lead were both stark, and frustratingly familiar to previous events.  The first was the awful reverse racist event of four black youths torturing a mentally disabled white youth and proudly broadcasting it on Facebook, and the President unable to articulate any principle of race that would speak to the universal concepts of civilized decency and respect whatever the direction of racial ignorance.  The second was the President removing the protection of Cubans escaping the totalitarian, oppressive government of Cuba and requiring return to Cuba of those without appropriate documents.  This move is a fit  of pique to hamstring the next administration, and  to support a legacy event of restoring relations with communist Cuba. The ruling pretends to support legitimate immigration processes, when for eight years administration has allowed porous borders and sanctuary cities to shield many individuals who sought to do America and its citizens great harm, yet treat them as equals of Cuba’s oppressed and desperate escapees.

Finally, Obama’s  foreign policy of retrenchment from a perceived American expansionism left the country far more vulnerable, and the world infinitely more unstable.  A radical transformation of the nation’s focus from international human adversaries, to an attempted quixotic war on the world’s core temperature, left America and the world  progressively detached from the President’s effort to be a transcendent world leader.  The superficiality of the vision without the hard work of philosophical development and the backbone to assure adversary respect led leaders to ignore “redlines” and “sanctions” when they realized Obama’s reaction would be inconsequential, his attention easily diverted to personal rather than national goals.  Pathetic attempts to use his supposed personal and rhetorical gifts to re-direct Russia, mollify the Muslim world, and influence elections in Britain and Israel collapsed upon the emptiness of his leadership.  The unfortunate result for all the planet is that the country that must lead for a stable world to exist, has been led by the most inconsequential of leaders on the foreign stage.  It is not clear if the wake of such inconsequence will be the darker consequence of upheaval, but history would suggest the outcomes of such failures are determined in the eventual collapse of rational actions by aggressor nations.

The many other examples, the regulatory waterboarding of American enterprise, the weakening of the military, the enormous deficit spending and ballooning of debt assure the need for consequential actions of subsequent Presidents to address the distracted dithering of the current one.  Consequential Presidents set in to place forces that assure decades of shared purpose regardless of politics due to the overwhelming reality of the positive impact of those consequential decisions on society.  There are no examples of consequential leaders where the very lack of their presence on the stage led to a rapid and complete overhaul of everything they had directed, and a society satisfied to see it happen. For consequential presidents, the historical consensus can often turn to epic recognition.  For this President for whom so much was felt possible, it looks like his inconsequence will result in the legacy of  –  15 minutes of fame.


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A Good Bye to Good Morning

Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly – “Singing in the Rain” 1952

2017 is upon us, and it will be a year of some momentously momentous moments requiring serious introspection that will likely fill the Ramparts blog with much of interest to the defenders of civilization.  For those of you who like that sort of thing, stay tuned – we love you checking in.   Ramparts can not say goodbye to 2016, however, without a brief and wistful homage to the memory of Debbie Reynolds, who passed away a mere day after her own daughter Carrie Fischer died of the sequelae of a cardiac arrest.

Ms. Reynolds death was not the tragic part, nor its proximity to her daughter’s death –  certainly sad, but not tragedy. Debbie Reynolds lived a long, eventful and fulfilling life, and though any passing is sad, it is not the pinnacle reason for homage.  It is with Debbie Reynolds passing that a particularly glorious form of American culture, the golden age of the movie musical, passes into memory as well.  Debbie Reynolds, at the very initiation of her adult life, managed somehow to find herself participating in a central role on what has become one of the enduring classics of the American Musical, 1952’s “Singing in the Rain”.   The stars that connected us to the great American Songbook through song and dance, in a larger than life projection on the movie screen from 1930 to 1960 – Astaire, Kelly, O’Connor, Sinatra, Crosby, Mary Martin, and …briefly, Debbie Reynolds-  are now all gone. The very unique cinematic expression of American can do spirit, essential goodness, vitality and optimism that these musicals projected, is seemingly old and jaded to our modern society.  Debbie Reynolds was perhaps the last living link to that different America, that looked up on the silver screen, saw themselves, and felt nothing but good vibes.

Singing in the Rain sits at the pinnacle of the American musical not because of a brilliant story line, perfect lyrics, original songs, or magical acting.  It was actually a story laid upon a series of songs by composer Arthur Freed that had seen performance in other musicals.  The basic plot was a Hollywood inside joke.  With the advent of talkies in Hollywood, it was discovered, not every star actor or actress – could talk.  At least not in a compelling way that made those watching believe in the illusion projected on the screen.  Gary Lockwood, played by Gene Kelly, is a silent movie star, who realizes that the time of long stares into the screen are over, and he will have to change, or say good bye to his career.  He is unfortunately saddled with his silent screen leading lady, Lina Lamont, played by Jean Hagan, who as it turns out, has the voice of a parakeet crossed with a New York cabbie.  The audience that loves Lockwood and Lamont are not going to buy anyone being romantic on the screen with the dialogue sounding like an argument at a fish market.  And so, as you might imagine in typical Hollywood fashion, Gene Kelly is rescued from the brink of star disaster from a complete unknown everygirl, played by 19 year old Debbie Reynolds.

It turns out 19 year old Debbie Reynolds was exactly who she played, a very young effervescent all American spirit who came from absolutely nowhere to hold her own with two of the greatest dancer showman in history, Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly.  She was real live nobody, with a story you couldn’t make up, if you tried to make it up.  She was born and raised in El Paso Texas into the poorest of circumstances, to a ditch digger father and a mother who did other people’s laundry to make ends meet.  Poor but decent and virtuous, straight out of Horatio Alger, Debbie moved with her family to try their luck in paradise –  California.  She was fortuitously plucked out of obscurity in a local beauty contest when she, still in high school,  won the title of Ms. Burbank, and was “discovered” by talent scouts from Warner Brothers and MGM, who were looking for an everyday girl who might be able to emote that special American perkiness.  No kidding.  That’s really how it happened.

A year and a half later, she was selected by the MGM studio to bring that “perky” American  can do spirit to the screen and was positioned to work with Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly, two huge stars and professional dancer/performers.  The problem was Debbie Reynolds, all of 19 years old, was not trained to sing or dance. Gene Kelly, a workaholic perfectionist,  one of cinema’s biggest stars having performed in Pal Joey, On the Town, and his oscar winning performance in American in Paris, was not amused.  He was the director of the movie and not at all comfortable with the studio forcing this young girl with no training onto his movie set, much less plunking her in the lead role.  He was very severe toward her, and looked to break her down and get her to leave.  But that wouldn’t be a very good end to our story, would it?  It turns out that a more sympathetic soul, Fred Astaire, who remembered people had been harsh to him when he started, saw something in Debbie Reynolds and helped her learn the complicated routines, persuading Kelly to give her a second chance. And with that, a better Hollywood ending to our story.

The trained up 19 year old Debbie Reynolds – not the most beautiful or graceful girl in movies- but with a special, unique, and magical ‘perky American’ screen presence that made those talent scouts look like geniuses — helped Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly pull off maybe the best 4 minutes  in cinematic musical history.  Singing in the Rain will always be remembered for Gene Kelly’s magnetic solo performance on the streets performing the title number in a downpour, but the central ensemble brilliance of the American musical is encapsulated in Debbie Reynolds star turn with the two men in “Good Morning”.

Debbie Reynolds was a star of stars thereafter, but like so many who found early perfection, never quite did anything so wonderful and so perfect, again.  Then again, the American movie musical, though it didn’t know it at the time, was coming into its waning moments, under the audiences’ inevitable turn toward the smaller screen of television for its entertainment.

Debbie Reynolds’s death closes the book on a long ago time, but the composition of her American story, from humble roots to the heights of personal accomplishment, based on her on energy, willingness to work, and concentration and confidence on her individual talents to see her through the difficult times, is a story we could certainly benefit from today. Good Bye Debbie Reynolds.  Thanks for reminding us, we can do great things when we believe in ourselves and don’t dwell on our circumstances.  Maybe our Good Morning may yet be in our future, if we remember how just good it can feel — to live out a dream.

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George Frideric’s Masterpiece


George Frideric Handel
                                                      1685 – 1759       photo wikipedia commons

Every composer from Bach to Berlin has likely faced it.  After a significant period of adulation related to a reputation for “hits” that speak to your generation’s audience, you begin to become predictable and have your reputation tied to a form of music that later audiences find old hat and “yesterday’s news”.  The adulation becomes an echo, the audiences smaller, the crowds move to other, fresher talents.  The truly great ones find their muse in the midst of a down phase and come back with acknowledged genius.  Sometimes, the genius re-orients into a masterpiece that is as peerless as it is timeless.  George Frideric Handel in 1741 at age 56 reached down into his magnificent talent and inspiration,  and in a mere 21 days in August -September of 1741 created the oratorio Messiah.  The world  has wanted to hear to hear it again and again in the intervening 275 years.

Born in Halle, Germany, Handel is for the most part remembered as a British composer.  He initiated his musical training in Germany, but became entranced with the musical theater revolution that was sweeping Europe in the early eighteenth century, that of Italian opera, and discovered he had a real gift for linking a prodigious musical talent to the stage.  He received an invitation to work and study in Florence, and subsequently Rome, where it became progressively apparent that the student Handel was more appropriately the master of the Italian form.  The music young Handel was creating was immediately known for immense depth and grand scope, that made his reputation skyrocket.  Returning to Germany in 1710, he became Kapellmeister  under the patronage of Prince George, the Elector of Hanover, who as a consequence of the Hanoverian line of succession became King George the First of Great Britain and Ireland.   Handel followed his prince and moved permanently to London in 1712.  Magisterial works poured out of Handel that resonate today including the 1717 Water Music and 1727 Zadok the Priest, but it was his forty some operas that captured the permanent attention of the public.  In the Italian style, Handel placed solemn music into massive set pieces that reflected mythic or historical events.  His hit parade out of Xerxes, Serce, Solomon, Rinaldo, Scipio and Tamerlano resonated across Europe.

The London scene however, progressively became susceptible to the trend of seeing the majesty of the English language in both theatrical and sacred music, and Handel’s clinging to the ornate form of Italian Opera left him looking by the 1730s for scarcer and scarcer financial resources to produce his operas.  A more solemn form of music was forming from the opera structure, retaining the arias, choirs and orchestra, but eliminating the set pieces and theatrical ebullience.  It was referred to as the Oratorio.  The power was in the language, and no more powerful gift to the English language had been provided than the English translation of the Bible known as the King James Edition, completed in 1611, and harnessing along with Shakespeare, the complete flower of English prose and poetry.

Handel initially struggled to leave the theater of opera for the oratorio, but others saw Handel as the perfect muse for this form, when the wordsmith process could fully match the majesty of the music.  The sacred oratorio was something Bach not Handel, but a librettist named Charles Jennens had fashioned a sacred libretto fashioned on the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus cleaved from the majesty of King James, and implored Handel to set it to an oratorio.  Laid out in Three Acts conforming to Jennens’ structure, Handel created the music in three weeks, preparing to present it the following year in a theater performance.  Jennens was of the opinion first that Handel missed the mark, as he felt the performance of such works required a break from the vocal structures of the opera.  The first audience in Dublin of the oratorio, dubbed Messiah, tended to agree with Jennens.  But the soaring brilliance of the oratorio, the aching beauty of its most abject moments and the zeniths of euphoria created by the choirs soon led it to be acclaimed as the signature composition of Handel, performed again and again in every conceivable venue eventually the world over.  Late in his life, Handel had written a greatest hits in a single oratorio, that has become indivisibly associated with the celebration of Christmas.

There are so many wonderful moments in Handel’s epochal work that choosing a few seems somehow heretical.  I had the occasion to hear Messiah in one of the most beautiful churches in the world, Milwaukee’s own Basilica of St. Josaphat, and the spectacular surroundings brought special emphasis to the sacred in a performance that approached theater in its own perfect conception and strong soloists.

Not having access to this performance to share with you, there is always the crowd fascination with the Hallelujah chorus.  For me however of my many favorite moments, two always seem most poignant, the soul wrenching aria of the mezzo soprano relating the beautiful sorrow of Isaiah  in “He was Despised”,  and the choral joy and serenity of Luke in “For unto us, a Child is born.”   Among so many, these soar with the miracle of the Messiah, God made human for us, to suffer for us, and to redeem us.  The Messiah is Handel’s unintentional but perfect Christmas gift to us, that restores our deeper core and allows us to share communally the essence of this life.  Composer George Frideric Handel’s greatest hit turns out to express our greatest moment as well.


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The Season of Anticipation

Advent Calendar 2016

Advent calendars are special things.  The season of Advent is a season of anticipation of what is to come, with signs and events that suggest, the mysterious, far flung, but ultimately inevitable occurrence of something majestic and wonderful.  The calendar counts out, with the simple act of opening of each day’s window, the building sense of expectation and celebration that in the Christian tradition was brought to flesh in the moment of the Christ’s nativity.  Something majestic, something wonderful.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them; fear not.  for behold,  I bring you tidings of great joy, which will be to all people

for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,  which is Christ the Lord”                            the gospel of  St.Luke 2:8-11

With each passing day, hints of a better world.  We are living in the season of Advent now, and after what seems like years in the wilderness, we are beginning to see ourselves in a new light.  Following a protracted era of prostration, self absorption, and apology for our humanness, there seems to be momentum towards a new found truth.  Not that the world is perfect, or should be perfect, but that its acknowledged imperfections is an order of truth that brings some hope for a better world.  We are no longer viewing ourselves as problems, but bringing the problems themselves into the light of truth, and a potential road to solution.

The truths can be painful when first illuminated.  But just as Newton’s laws of physics imply an equal and opposite reaction for every action, so do I painful truths hold the kernels of salvation.  Helping oneself first positions others to be able to be helpful.  The world can be harsh and unjust, but there is the overwhelming call to love and justice that is core of our humanity.  Evil triumphs when good men do nothing, but evil only exists as a stimulant for good people to rise together and stamp out its existence.

With each passing day it seems the world is opening the windows to the truth again, being willing to say things that need to be said, to set the table to do things that need to be done. Thought leaders are being to debate the means for solutions for problems, not apologizing for problems. Recognizing the human dignity that comes with having a purpose in life.  Seeing the progress that comes with coalescing behind a challenge, rather than exploiting divisions.  Improving the real world, rather than holding  all accountable for a world that doesn’t exist.  With each window on the calendar, more insight, more clues, more anticipation of the opening of the next window.

At the end of the advent calendar, all the disparate events that led up to the final window come to fruition,  and joy becomes total.  And yet, there is always the recognition, that the work does not end in the realization of a dream, but only the continued hard work perpetually required in defeating the forces of chaos that seek to deinnervate the miracle.

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”                            Isaiah  53:3

There are glimmers of hope among the sorrows.  We need to hold our heads up, open each window, and bravely see through to the other side.

Enjoy this season of Advent.  Good things are coming.

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