Because I write so often on politics and culture, people who know me often bring questions or something they’d like to discuss. The thing I keep hearing lately, especially from folks who aren’t big political partisans, is a question about why Trump’s comments regarding Charlottesville are such a big deal. I want to try and address that.
Let’s begin with an admission. Much of what the president said about events in Charlottesville was factually accurate. There were people in the counter-demonstration who were ready to use violence and who were provocative. If the question has to do with simple law and order, it is entirely possible that the counter-demonstrators were the spark that lit the fuse. The problem is that to see events in this light lacks substantial context. And in this case, context is everything.
It would be one thing if the Charlottesville protesters were your standard Southern men who collect Civil War (or the War between the States as many would have it) memorabilia and who cherish the gentlemanly reputation of Robert E. Lee. Whether you agree with them or not, that’s a debate that can be had without necessarily entailing a strongly racist view. After all, the defenders of Lee typically see him as something of a tragic figure. He was arguably the best military man in the nation, but his sympathies were with his native Virginia. Had Virginia been a Union state, Lee might well have ended up as president of the United States. I’ve never heard these folks promote Lee as some kind of champion of the slavery cause.
But the reality seems different. It appears that the Charlottesville protesters did, indeed, embrace something like white nationalism. If we put the best possible face on it (which takes some work), then we can see them as people who believe that the European culture promoted the highest level of civilization. Unfortunately, they believe that to continue enjoying western civilization artificial or political means must be employed to keep minorities out or limited to marginal numbers. That’s where we get away from the best possible face (which still has problems) and move toward the marred side of the Janus profile where white supremacy lurks. They are not really defending Lee so much as they are cynically using Lee to promote an ugly form of racial superiority.
When President Trump entered the picture, which was made necessary by the ultimately fatal consequence of the clash of protesters, he spoke almost as if addressing two gangs of kids who had mixed it up and needed to be dressed down and sent home. To paraphrase, “Hey, now, you kids are better than this. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Clean yourselves up and go home.”
The problem is that this is the wrong frame. Even if both sets of protesters were bad in certain ways, the simple fact is still that one set is setting forth a form of white supremacy (white nationalism can’t get away from that charge) and the other is opposing (unfortunately, violently) the first group’s speech. Yes, it’s bad to start swinging clubs at white nationalists holding a demonstration. But there is nothing good about the particular demonstration in the first place. Like I said, they aren’t the good-hearted apologists for Lee. They are promoting the idea that western civilization has to be protected from many non-European races.
In addition, the President didn’t speak to the situation with American history adequately in mind. In all my 47 years I have hated carrying around the legacy of slavery, segregation, and racism. It seemed like some unjust tax I have always had to pay. But the simple fact is that I do live in this particular world with the history that we have and it can’t be escaped. I would never dream of speaking about a protest like the one in Charlottesville without fully recognizing that this is not a conflict conducted in a vacuum. The history is fresh enough that white supremacy connects to a time when it had a lot more power behind it. To fail to adequately describe that reality as a president is to fail in the spiritual and emotional sense of leading.
These are the reasons why President Trump’s comments caused so much distress. He isn’t living in the cutthroat world of New York real estate any more. Neither is he any longer the type of celebrity who benefits from any story so long as his name is correctly spelled. He’s the leader of a country with both a tragic and a great history that still wields more power than almost all the others combined. Shooting from the hip is just not an option.
- I’m just gonna say it at the outset: I greatly prefer the Sam Raimi Spider-Man, which is much more true to the source material.
- This Spider-Man is the first one who actually IS the menace J. Jonah Jameson repeatedly claimed him to be. His reckless incompetence is part of the story here, but it bothers me. The Peter Parker I knew was deeply responsible after failing to stop the death of his Uncle Ben (now a missing figure). Now, his destructiveness sets the stage for a new origin of sorts.
- I like Zendaya and enjoy seeing her liberated from those Disney shows.
- The film is effective at bringing multi-culturalism to the cast. Makes perfect sense in New York. MJ is half-black. Flash is Indian-American. Pete’s sidekick (previously a non-factor because his secret always made him a loner) is an Asian kid.
- Pete has a side-kick. I don’t like it because it interferes with the tragic nature of Spider-Man. He can’t be known because of what will happen to Aunt May.
- Aunt May is Marissa Tomei. I miss the Aunt May who was Pete’s one solid source of love in his life and who needed him, too. She was old and frail, which made her all the more compelling as someone he had to protect.
- What is up with the crazy 70’s outfits Marissa Tomei is wearing?
- Spider-Man wears a suit that is basically a Stark creation with its own “Jarvis.” While it provides comic relief and drives the story in certain ways, I can’t stand it. Please, please let this Iron Spider concept go away. In the 1980’s we saw Spider-Man develop in ways (see his battle with Titania in Secret Wars) that showed he was one of the most formidable characters in the Marvel Universe. He doesn’t need Tony Stark’s technology to get there.
- The Vulture of long-standing comic fame was a lawyer. Spider-Man Homecoming presents us with a Vulture who is basically a Trump voter. The uncaring elites come and take away his honest work, thus earning his lasting enmity and convincing him to do things he would never have otherwise done (like voting Trump?). But pay attention, the Vulture has gone from being a member of the elite (by implication who feasts on carcasses) to being a working class type guy tired of being oppressed. What’s wrong with this guy? Couldn’t he just take unemployment or go on disability??? I hope my sarcasm comes through. The Vulture has effectively been transformed from a parasite lawyer to a working class criminal.
- Is the spider sense gone? I think the spider sense is gone. This Spider-Man gets taken by surprise in combat. Unthinkable.
- How long is this vacation, anyway? There’s time for a tremendous amount of drama and an awful lot of dance training. Do people stay at resorts in the Catskills for a month at a time?
- Why is Patrick Swayze putting so much effort into a dead-end dance career?
- Parents during this time clearly have different expectations regarding knowledge of their teen’s whereabouts than most of us do today.
- Isn’t Jennifer Grey headed for the same kind of unexpected pregnancy that landed Swayze’s dance partner in trouble?
- What’s all this business with training barefoot on an elevated log? Is Patrick Swayze training to be a ninja? Will Jennifer Grey become a ninja, too?
- Are they training to become ninjas of dance?
- Or is it something deeper they seek? Is dance merely a pretext for something else?
- Are they becoming — dare I say it? — ninjas of love?
- Is the film really about Marxism? The owner of the resort is clearly an oppressor. Grey’s parents are obviously members of the uncaring, corrupt bourgeoisie. Dance is setting the proletariat free from the drudgery of labor. Jennifer Grey is an intellectual from the bourgeoisie who recognizes the real potential of the proletariat in the form of beautiful, chiseled Patrick Swayze. She clearly thinks that revolution never looked so good.
Being conservative and having Donald Trump for your president is pretty much the opposite of having Ronald Reagan. Where Reagan was full of class and fought back well when he had to, Donald Trump is on the wrong side of the sticks and stones debate. He thinks that words are the weapon of choice and frequently wields them with the intent to wound. When it comes to presidential rhetoric, Donald Trump is a boor. That’s just a fact. It’s silly to argue otherwise.
It’s even sillier to have a presidential spokesperson standing on a podium defending the president in a situation like this one. What’s the point? The only one who can defend the comments is him. Why would a reporter even bother to ask a spokesperson about it? And why would the spokesperson bother to answer?
How should we go about discussing it? Should I post that I disapprove of his comments? Should others? Isn’t it basically obvious? If anyone defends his remarks with regard to a television host’s purported facelift, then they expose their own lack of class. Look, we’ve hit upon a self-evident truth!
These days we sometimes talk about signal versus noise. We’ve gotten the signal. It’s not the first time. Donald Trump lacks class and restraint. That’s known. I’m not sure why we need belabor the point. If we choose to have a national freak-out every time the president tweets badly, I contend we’ll just waste our time and satisfy a lot of emotional needs. We’re endlessly thrashing about in an ocean of noise.
The whole thing makes me think of my wife’s approach to behaviors she disapproves of from our kids (and sometimes even from me). She just refuses to acknowledge it. She calls it extinction. My suggestion is that we just extinguish the behavior from the president by refusing to acknowledge it. But that won’t happen because there are points that need to be scored. I get it.
Every second we spend fussing over a non-event like this Mika Brzezinski blow-up is still less time spent talking and thinking about real policy. The hotter the president runs, the cooler the rest of us need to be.
I think I’ve been on Facebook just about as long as it is possible to have been on the social media site without being a college student. (If you recall, that was once a requirement.) One of the questions that anyone has to ask themselves is why they choose to do the things they do. What types of activities are worth our time? I have invested significantly in Facebook and to a lesser extent in Twitter. To what end?
As I think about how to get down to the essence of what social media offers me, the simplest answer is that it provides me with access to other minds. The group of people I have collected and who have collected me make up a valuable resource that would be difficult for me to replicate in any other way. I have a ready-made cloud of various types of people — pastors, professors, politicians, corporate professionals, teachers, mothers, fathers, family members, fellow Christians, sometimes even the occasional celebrity, and many more — from whom I can learn and with whom I can seek to communicate and share.
Let’s start with how social media provides input to me. Before Facebook and Twitter, I had a morning routine. I visited about 5-10 different political, news, and religious websites. Then, I consulted another handful of blogs. It was a good routine. It worked for me. But it was inferior to what I have now. By merely scanning my Facebook and Twitter feeds, I get a sense of the stories many people I find intelligent and interesting recommend. These links take me to publications I may not have known exist and expose me to new writers and thinkers. Is there some chaff with the wheat? Certainly, but the overall effect is better. I know too many smart people not to benefit from the things they are reading and discussing.
The personal side is pretty obvious. Facebook is now the way we hear about so much of what is happening in people’s families, their professional lives, and sometimes their personal struggles. I absolutely understand the people who choose not to spend time on social media. There are definitely virtues to it, but staying out also brings a degree of isolation simply because so many people use it as a way of communicating about personal events.
Alright, so what about output? Some people are Facebook lurkers. They don’t have a desire to ever make a post and not even really to comment. They are satisfied to read, observe, and simply be in the know about what’s going on. And there is nothing wrong with that. But if you are reading this, then you probably know I’m the opposite. I am a professor, a writer, a former professional public policy combatant, a husband, and a father. All of these activities, for me, fall under the Lordship of Christ over my life. I am accountable to use what I have been given and to be a good steward. It has always seemed to me that I should enter the fray if I have something to offer and that I should share the things that I have that are good. It is perhaps not surprising that what people like the most about my Facebook activity are the interactions I share with my children. Unfortunately, those are spontaneous and I don’t have a great kid moment every day!
Again, though, this is a question of having access to minds. I feel that I should try to reach out and touch other minds when I have something I think is worth saying. For me, social media is not some little added activity. I consider it something like a personal ministry. I have to be accountable to Union University, to my church, and to others for what I do there, but that only makes sense. I want to be an integrated person with everything in my life relating to the other parts in a consistent way. The goal is to speak and write so as to give something that is of benefit to others. Sometimes that is funny or cute. Other times it has to do with matters that are urgent and serious.
There is something else, too. I have found that relationships on Facebook often turn into real relationships. I’m not sure I could produce an adequate inventory of the people I have met online and through social media and then had an opportunity to meet in person. Not only have these people very often become some of my closest friends, but they have also been incredibly helpful to me professionally. We form networks that lead to opportunities to speak, to write, or to put together projects.
If you are reading this, maybe you are asking yourself about your own social media use. My advice would be simply to use it intentionally and not just passively or reactively. Sure, it can be entertaining, but it can also be an opening into all kinds of new fellowship, cooperation, and shared influence. Have a strategy for how you use Facebook and then allow your sense of purpose to help you avoid the mistakes of mockery, unwarranted aggression, and allowing disagreement to too easily turn to disassociation.