A deeply disturbing week

I know, from my conversations with others, that these are trying times for our country. I’m not able to judge how these times rank with other periods in our country’s history. I just finished reading Jon Meacham’s “The Soul of America: the Battle for Our Better Angels.” There have been some other periods in our history when tensions have risen, when democracy has come under fire, when leaders have lost trust and when divisions have threatened. Former US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice recently insisted that America in the 1960’s was a far worse place - three political assassinations, the Vietnam War, cities burning and bitter racial division. that eclipsed anything being seen today, she said. I lived through the 1960’s. There were some terrible things that occurred. But I don’t know that I can agree with secretary Rice. At least my experience of the 1960’s wasn’t like my experience today. I spend a fair amount of each week counseling and consoling people who are distraught. I hear deep fears for the future of our country. I see people who are upset not just at what their leaders are saying and doing, but also at what their friends and neighbors are doing and saying. There are deep and painful divisions in our country. These may not be the worst of times, but neither are they the best of times.

I’d like to be writing about the World Series. The Red Sox won again. Unlike my favorite Chicago Cubs, after they broke the curse and won a world series, they have continued to produce winning teams. And the series losers managed to set a world record in the process. The Dodgers only won one game in the series, but it was the longest game in the history of the series.

Sadly, that isn’t the big news of the week just past. So much happened that it is hard to take it in.

A 51-year-old white man tried to enter a predominantly black church in Jeffersontown, Kentucky. When he couldn’t get in he went to a nearby supermarket and shot dead two elderly black people. It is being treated as a hate crime. The man, who has been arrested had a history of mental illness and should not have been able to have a gun. That wasn’t weeks ago. It was Thursday. The news media has almost forgotten this story in the light of what happened the rest of the week.

Then there is the slightly longer story of a pipe bomber who mailed devices to prominent critics of Donald Trump and Democratic political figures. The first was sent to George Soros. Then others to the most senior Democrats in the country. Luckily no one was hurt. While the politicians are shielded by security guards and sorting procedures, the risk to postal workers and others was real. The maker of the bombs left enough evidence in the packages that law enforcement agents were able to figure out who he was and arrest him. Before the arrest there was plenty of speculation about who was responsible. There were even some who theorized that the attacks were fakes, created by Democrats for publicity just before the mid-term elections. The bumper stickers on the man’s van tend to play down that particular theory.

And, on Friday, as the members of Tree of Life Synagogue were celebrating a new birth, the peace of the tiny community was shattered. 11 people were killed. The gunman was heavily armed, and had a long track record of peddling anti-Semitic bile.

I know that even in these dark times, we are immensely fortunate to live where we do and in the times that we do. I have walked on the gravel of Dachau Concentration Camp and peered into the ovens that were used to cremate human beings. I have stood on the parade grounds where thousands of Jews, Roma, dissidents and homosexuals were forced to stand for hour after hour in the depths of winter in their striped pajamas as their Nazi guards looked on with indifference. I have seen the crude wooden bunks where they lay, too starved to move, too sick to resist. I know that we must never forget. I know that we cannot afford to be complacent when acts of hatred and violence are fueled by careless political rhetoric.

I have visited Hiroshima Peace Park, walked among the memorials, and visited the museum. I have glimpsed the results of the destruction of which humans are capable. I know that it is the obligation of every witness to the violence and inhumanity of the 20th Century to work towards a better and more peaceful future for all humans.

Maybe it is because I have visited these places that the events of the past week are so disturbing. It can feel like we are on a one-way spiral towards nihilism. Deep fissures in society fueled by venomous spitting on social media can make it seem like we are losing our sense of the common good and our ability to treat one another with decency.

When we condemn the violence and terrible acts, we quickly slide into blaming those withe whom we disagree. We fall prey to conspiracy theories or blaming when what is most needed is compassion and solidarity. Even the words that are used to console the victims can sound like campaign slogans instead of empathy.

While it is true that we have become more polarized and there are many warning signs that all is not well in our nation, it is also true that our nation is home to many caring and compassionate people. We have good neighbors who truly care about one another. We have a political system that is resilient and not destroyed when individuals make bad decisions. We have a system of participatory government where “We the people” have more power than the individuals at the top of the system. There are signs of warning, to be sure. We need to be vigilant and careful. But there are also signs of hope. Not every week has to unfold like the last one. Not every week will. Perhaps the week is the wake up call that we all need to reach out across the divides and bridge the gaps and remind ourselves that we are all in this together.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!