Category Archives: American Character
Just when the partisan spin garbage left me feeling totally disgusted, GWB comes through with the message we all should take to heart:
After the past few days of Trump-crazy spin, from both sides, blaring across American media, I spent some time thinking about a sad Conrad Richter novel, A Country of Strangers, written in 1966, which I read last month.
The Richter novel was set in the American colonial period, at the time an agreement between colonials and the Ohio Tribes, consisting of several related Algonquin peoples, required the return of all white captives. Richter’s story was written from the viewpoint of a young Lenni Lenape woman, Stone Girl (Mary Staunton), who was a white child captured by a Lenni Lenape (Delaware Indians) tribe when she was very young. She has only a few memories of her white family and a few bits of information an older white woman captive kept repeating, reminding her of her English name and parents. Stone Girl’s belief system and identity is completely Lenape. To compound her alienation from her white heritage, she does not speak English.
Stone Girl married a warrior in the tribe and has a young child, so when the return of captives agreement becomes known, her husband takes her and their child further into Indian territory, hoping that will keep her safe from being forcibly returned to a white family she doesn’t even remember. Stone Girl and her child are forcibly returned. While Richter’s story disappointed me a bit, overall it left me feeling, not only sad for Stone Girl and her child, but sad about how so often political decisions made with the best of intentions, end up causing immense anguish for powerless individuals caught in the middle.
My father’s German ancestors settled into northeast PA, moving north of the Blue Mountain, in 1762. That area had been an ancient Lenni Lenape (Delaware Indian) village, called Meniolagomeka. Moravian missionaries had spent a few years in the 1750s erecting a mission in the area to attempt to convert the Lenni Lenape villagers to Christianity, before the Delaware were pushed out and white settlers moved in. The French and Indian War, from 1754-1763, took a very heavy toll on the Lenni Lenape, from repeated forced relocations, disease and the ravages of this war.
The plight of Native Americans in the European settlement of America still haunts our American conscience, but so often we try to see these troubling situations in black and white, trying to choose a side, when in very personal terms, the larger political decisions, even well-meaning ones, sometimes inflicted enormous personal suffering on many individual people, on both sides, caught up in them.
I found an interesting 2001 article, Redeeming the Captives: Pennsylvania Captives Among the Ohio Indians, 1755-1765, by Matthew C. Ward, at JSTOR. This article was originally published in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 125, No. 3 (Jul., 2001). Ward writes that in this 10 year period in the mid-1700s, the French and Indian War had left the frontier border, especially in Pennsylvania, dangerously unprotected and exposed.
Ward explains that during that short decade, the Ohio Tribes waged an escalated campaign of taking white captives as a political and strategic effort, resulting in the capture of nearly two thousand white settlers – men, women and children. Many of these captives fully-integrated into the Ohio tribal societies and despite the forced return of white captives at the end of the French and Indian War, many of these captives fled back to their Indian tribes or refused to leave their tribe. In the Conrad Richter novel, Stone Girl finds out her Indian warrior husband has died in a battle and then her young son is killed, so the spoiler alert is she flees back to the Indians with a former captive, white man she has met, who, like her, had completely acculturated into Indian tribal life.
This phenomenon of white captives voluntarily returning to live with the tribe has been well-documented in early American historical accounts and was very common. The European settlers, who considered the Native Americans uncivilized savages, were mystified by the frequency with which white captives chose to “go native” and stay with the Indian tribe. The Delaware tribes adopted white captive children into their families and fully-integrated white captives, even adults, into their tribal social structure.
And that brings us to our modern politics and the frequent warnings of the dangers of tribalism, where sadly America, in a real sense, often truly feels like a country of strangers.
Interestingly, Jonah Goldberg’s latest book, Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics Is Destroying American Democracy, Goldberg mentions this very situation in our early American experience:
“In his book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger recounts how the English colonies in North America were vexed by a bizarre problem: Thousands of white Europeans colonists desperately wanted to be Indians, but virtually no Indians wanted to be Europeans. “When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs,” Benjamin Franklin explained in a letter to a friend in 1753, “if he goes to see his relations and make one Indian ramble with them, there is no persuading him ever to return.” However, Franklin added, when whites were taken prisoner by the Indians, they’d go native and want to stay Indians, even after being returned to their families. “Tho’ ransomed by their friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a short time they become disgusted with our manner of life… and take the first good opportunity of escaping again into the woods.”
As Junger observes, this phenomenon seemed to run against all of the assumptions of civilizational advance. And yet it kept happening thousands of times over? Why? Because there is something deeply seductive about the tribal life. The Western way takes a lot of work.”
The Western way, indeed, does take a lot of work to keep our diverse and complex society united for any common purposes and with the rise of populist and nationalist sentiments, and the deepening factionalization (tribalism), often fueled by obscene identity politics, America seems more and more like a nation of screeching tribes, on a 24/7, media-fueled verbal warpath, rather than a nation united by any common beliefs or bonds.
So, where does America go from here? How do we begin to heal the divides and unite our nation under even a few common beliefs? How do we begin to neutralize the damage inflicted on American unity, by this malignant, 24/7 scorched earth spin information war, that only works to fuel outrage and mass hysteria? Is there hope for our rabid American partisan to find some calmer middle ground and begin to work together to unite Americans around a few common beliefs and causes?
America began as an unique experiment – a project – that requires commitment from each generation of Americans to thrive and succeed.
There’s been another Trump-incited debate in recent days about what American immigrants owe America and JK posted a link to the National Review podcast, where Charles Cooke and David French debate whether American citizens, who immigrated here, owe America more gratitude than native-born American citizens
My personal belief is it’s not so much about showing “gratitude”; it’s that our republic needs more individuals making the personal choice to commit to the American project’s most important civic belief – treating our fellow citizens, regardless of which “tribal group in our diversity soup” they identify with, with respect.
I agreed with some points on both sides of the French/Cooke debate, but for me, debating who owes more “gratitude” misses the most important point. It’s not about picking a group who owes more to America, it’s about ALL American citizens should decide whether they want to put in their oars and row, in working toward some common goals.
I believe the first core belief America needs, to even form an American team, that can function, is demanding, not “gratitude”, but demanding we all commit to treating each other with respect. Focusing on judging other Americans, based on their displays of “gratitude” or how they show respect for America, which President Trump will surely hype in his 2020 campaign, as he wraps himself in the American flag and works to polarize and incite more divisions, gets us nowhere. I say this, even though, I am struggling with negative feelings toward Omar’s anti-Semitic remarks and her comments that I perceive as anti-American. Still, working hard to treat other people with respect, here we go from the PA girl, is our keystone belief. It’s our American central principle, if you will. Pennsylvania is the Keystone State, just had to throw that in.
Our political leaders spend more time fueling divides and anger, with too many orchestrating and participating in personal smear campaigns.
A few weeks ago, I listened to the audiobook Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Country, a book written by Senator Tim Scott and former Congressman, Trey Gowdy. The book explains their friendship, but in the process, both offer many examples of how to build a relationship between two people from very different backgrounds. They both talk about how they worked hard to build trust in their relationship and that required being willing to, not only listen to each other’s differing perspectives, it meant trying to understand them. Their friendship took commitment, like all trusting relationships do. On a larger scale America needs leaders committed to building trust across partisan lines and leaders who will put the national interest above their personal or partisan interests.
In his book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other — And How To Heal, Senator Ben Sasse, relates this very point:
“Over the last year, I’ve had occasion to meet with a number of senior Chinese officials, and they’ve always been quick to point out — a kind of diplomatic trash talk — how young the United States is compared to China’s forty-five centuries of history.
Fair enough. We’re babes, historically. But (as long as we’re trash talking) age is not always what it’s cracked up to be. And, besides: doesn’t this discussion miss the point? China is a nation in the classic sense. It is blood and soil. It’s great wall, a fascinating people, an extraordinary long-lived culture.
But America is something different. America is an idea — it is a creed.
The American idea is a commitment to the universal dignity of persons everywhere.”
Them: Why We Hate Each Other — And How To Heal, written by Ben Sasse, page 134.
I agree with Sasse about “universal dignity of persons everywhere”, but being a homemaker, I believe we should work to clean up our own house, first, starting in our daily lives and hopefully our elected leaders and those with a public platform will commit to cleaning up our own political house, instead of just talking about which side is worse.
Frankly, I am ashamed of our American scorched earth spin information war, even though I am just a homemaker, with no political power. The elected leaders in America represent all of us… and most of them, on both sides, are committed to this appalling spin war, where vicious, orchestrated smear campaigns and petty media spin games – to incite, belittle, disparage each other – have become their default form of politics. President Trump, AOC & her squad, and many other elected leaders, political operatives, and the media remain completely committed to waging this spin war.
This scorched earth spin information war is a national disgrace. We should all commit to end it.
Here’s my so simple 2015 plan, that even a 5 year-old would understand it:
Finally, here is a post on factions, that’s so simple even a 5 year-old can understand the problem. Adults might get stuck in their rigid ideological beliefs. All beliefs are not morally equal – some when carried to extremes have horrific consequences for millions of innocent people, while others can do remarkable good for the entire world. That is the TRUTH.
Let’s say you believe very strongly that a color is aquamarine and I believe equally as strongly that that color is turquoise. Being that we both believe a different thing, many avenues are there for us to choose. We could argue and get so angry that we end up hating each other and never speak to each other again. I could feel so strongly about my belief that I kill you. We might even kill each other fighting over who is right. I could even decide that it’s not enough to just kill you, but because you’ve convinced your whole town that the color is aquamarine, it’s necessary to kill all of them too.
Of course, on the less extreme side we might agree to consult an outside expert on color to settle the matter, perhaps, we could call the Crayola Company, after all they’ve been naming colors since 1885 in Easton, PA, near where I grew up.
We might argue, passionately and often, clinging to our beliefs (as President Obama accused those rural people in PA), but in the American tradition, we could agree to disagree and at some point, shake hands and say, “Let’s go have pizza!” Presented to most 5 year-olds, the vast majority will agree that it’s stupid to kill other people just because we disagree, on the other hand most adults refuse to even listen to differing opinions. Maya Angleou, renowned poet, expressed it exactly right:
“Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” –
So, in America, being a country forged together by a people committed to INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM, we have The Declaration of Independence to ensure our God-given, unalienable rights are not infringed upon:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Sadly, in America our political partisanship swirls dangerously to extremes – where hate has swelled to such a level that many Americans choose to receive all of their news from sources that align with their political views. The hate and extremism goes so far that even the President of the United States works to divide Americans into hostile camps. Distrust turns Americans into furtive enemies, partisans avoiding those who hold an opposing view, with ideological walls being girded to lock out all who dare to disagree. Even codes are enacted in our universities to silence opposition.
We must tear down these partisan walls! We must work to find common ground, or we can not face the threats beyond our borders. President George Washington warned about the dangers of extreme partisanship in his Farewell Address:
“I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
So, beyond my stating it is a parental duty in a civil society to train your children to respect the rule of law. George Washington tells you that it’s a duty to discourage extremist politics – the duties are required to be a good citizen. I wrote a post in 2013 titled, “The duty of a wise people”. on this subject.
There was a time, not so long ago, when American school children were routinely taught about this speech and American principles. Sadly, today I suspect many school children don’t even know who George Washington was. And mentioning The Constitution, too often and too loudly, will get your name on a Homeland Security watch list as a right-wing extremist…
In our media culture, often the worst things become the main story and the good things pass without notice. In the past days, the life of President George HW Bush has been remembered, analyzed and as is our present crazy political climate, both his public and private life have been constantly compared to President Donald J. Trump.
After the media canonization earlier this year of Saint John McCain, that was really more a shallow demonization of Trump media attack, which even McCain’s daughter participated in, it’s worth noting the Bush family, following the example of HW, kept to the higher ground. The entire family treaded this important state occasion of a presidential funeral with grace, dignity and with total respect for our country.
As I thought about President George HW Bush’s presidency, I remembered that we were living in Germany, where my husband was stationed in the Army, during all but the last months of his presidency. His steady leadership reached us and kept our spirits high through Desert Storm, which affected our family directly. My husband deployed with 3rd Armored Division to Desert Storm.
We had complete confidence in his presidential leadership and his ability to lead as CINC. That mattered, not only to the troops and military families; it mattered to all of America. Despite our family being in a foreign country, far from home, I never felt unsure about his steadfast leadership and commitment to the American military.
Amidst the media’s HW feeding frenzy, much of it phony and little more than flimsy cover for attacks on Trump, I think it’s important to look higher.
Political lip service is cheap and plentiful, but the real deal of deep faith, honesty loyalty and dedication to serve to others is rare. HW lived this every day of his life. Many of his own family work to follow his example of public service, but I think all of us can work to embrace his example too.
As this American president goes to his final resting place today, perhaps his life should be remembered most for how he treated other people.
All of us, no matter how rich or poor, no matter our political beliefs, no matter our sex or race or religion, can strive to follow HW’s exemplary example of treating others with respect, putting serving others ahead of ourselves, and most of all facing each day, with a look to the skies, a determined smile resolutely on our face, as we step, confidently ahead with good cheer.
We should all remember that 20 year-old, WWII fighter pilot, bravely going off to fight in the Pacific. He was a part of an American generation confident in American values.
He flew high in his personal accomplishments, but through it all he remained happily grounded by his true faith and allegiance to his family and country.
My prayers are with his family for their loss; my gratitude is that he and his generation left a flicker of American “can do spirit” burning. We should honor and strive to keep it burning brightly in our hearts .
“We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a thousand points of light … we all have something to give.”President George H.W. Bush
When I learned that former president, George H.W. Bush, had died, a deep sadness touched my heart. Of course, it’s easier to accept the death of an ailing 94 year-old man, who had lived an incredible life and who had lost his wife of 73 years, earlier this year. Still, the passing of this president feels like the door closing tightly on a long ago era in American politics, where Americans both expected and valued personal character and dignified pubic decorum in their president.
Throughout Saturday, I noted the sincere and insincere public outpourings of condolences, the recounted remembrances, and the recitation of President Bush’s life story. No matter what else people say about his public life, both admirers and critics alike agree, he led a life dedicated to serving others.
After reading and listening to a steady media stream of his life, which invariably follows the death of famous people in America, I came away still convinced that it’s pretty hard to top a life dedicated to serving others as a eulogy.
America needs to remember not only this man’s life; they need to remember his message.
This year has been very difficult for me to get blog posts written, despite good intentions. My dearth of writing is a combination of my husband’s daily care takes up more of my time, leaving me emotionally drained many days. Also, the constant media/Trump hysteria disgust me to the point of total burnout on following the news. Added to all that, often lately my old problem of sitting down to write, then getting stuck on what to write about strikes, resulting in more time spent talking myself into defeat about my desire to write than I do actually writing. I keep wondering if anything I write makes even a drop of difference in the vast raging seas of political punditry and commentary.
The question that swirls in my mind lately is does what I write just throw more fuel on our extreme partisanship or does it offer anything informative, positive, or hopeful? It’s a challenge for me not to write Trump, Dem and media bashing invective
Ordinarily, I’d be totally on board writing about serious and currently popular cultural topics like civility and rebuilding some common ground, but often I think my cynical son probably has it right when he insists we have the society we deserve and he sees 2016, with two thoroughly corrupt candidates, as the fitting candidates for our “almost too stupid to exist” culture. Despite being a very Pollyanna-type person, lately I wonder if perhaps he’s right, then I dig in on my Libertybelle American cheerleader beliefs and refuse to surrender to the spreading cultural and political corruption, the disturbing escalating partisan hatred and the chaos resulting from leadership vacuums everywhere I turn.
Negativity aside, I’ve seen some good pieces written on civility and positive advice for our ailing spirit. Here are the links to a four-part series Carly Fiorina recently wrote. I had mentioned the first part in a previous blog post and all four are very positive and worth a read:
The thing I liked about Carly Fiorina as a presidential candidate, was something I consider a very important trait of a good leader – she invested a lot of time and energy into reading up on issues and policies. She showed up to debates very prepared to debate real issues and policies. When she gave interviews, she could speak articulately about serious matters and she had a lot of positive ideas. I will always prefer leaders who display the good character trait of investing a lot of time into studying and preparing when tackling complex issues or taking seriously their duty to any office or position they hold. During the GOP primary Trump attacked “that face”, but in my book, Carly Fiorina is a face worth respect and admiration.