The lack of capacity for critical thinking among some of the American electorate is nothing new. The French traveler Alexis de Tocqueville famously noted it in the late 1830s in the two volumes of his book, Democracy in America. Almost 130 years later, the American historian Richard Hofstadter remarked upon it in two of his works from the early 1960s, Anti-intellectualism in American Life, and The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Both of Hofstadter’s works still apply today in complementary fashion as the 2020 election nears and Clueless Leader and his cult followers on the far right drop in greater and greater numbers off the edge of reality into the realm of psychotic fever dreams.
Mike Caulfield’s “Four Moves and a Habit” method for the detection of Fake News online. Infographic created by Shonnmharen.
The great difference between now and the early 1960s, when Hofstadter wrote about the propensity of some people for ignoring facts that didn’t fit their world view, is that those people now have access to the internet and to social media, where they can spread their diseased notions like a contagion. Rumors that once took days or weeks to spread, and in the process may have fizzled out when confronted by facts, now spread in minutes and hours in a continuous onslaught that drowns outs facts. For those too intellectually lazy to engage in critical thinking, there has never been a better time for finding spurious rumors to prop up their dangerously bonkers ideas.
Most of the rumor mongering conspiracy theorists with dangerously bonkers ideas are now, and have always been, on the far right of the American political spectrum. It’s an ongoing feature of American life that the ruling class demonizes the far left because they rightly suspect the far left would overturn the cushy lifestyle of the ruling class if they could, and to help them turn the focus of hatred and suspicion upon the far left the ruling class has always had willing allies, or rather dupes, among the far right. Useful idiots.
These are the kind of people who adhere to QAnon conspiracy theories about the evil character of Democrats and Antifa partly out of credulity since they want to believe the stories, and partly because it titillates them that most reasonable adults, and particularly liberals, are outraged and appalled by the stories. For a third of the American electorate, an incapacity for critical thinking is displayed as a badge of honor, not of shame.
Too many right wing delusionists are willing, even eager, to use violence when they don’t get their way. In this they are aided and abetted by the ruling class, who use them as a cudgel against the far left and anyone else who questions the established capitalist order. Terrorism in this country has almost always come from the far right, not the far left, and for nearly four years now the current president has winked and nodded at right wing terrorists in this country. He has filled a powder keg with dangerous fantasies and then recently lit the fuse with his call out to right wing terrorists ahead of the election.
A sketch from a January 1979 episode of Second City Television, starring Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, and Dave Thomas. In 2016, 52% of white women voted for the Republican presidential candidate, someone who would be incapable of understanding this SCTV sketch as satire.
For Richard Hofstadter in his examination of American history there have been breakdowns in what may be considered the consensus of political views reconciling economic and cultural differences (though he himself chafed at being lumped with the post World War II era “consensus” historians), but only one failure of consensus, and that led to the Civil War. Perhaps hope can be found in the realization that the truly dangerous right wing terrorists in this country are fewer in number than they would have everyone else believe. If the current president somehow gains four more years in power, however, that glimmer of hope may go dark because more violent reactionaries will become ever more emboldened, growing their numbers to become a visceral threat, sinister and close.
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
It’s been 154 years since the Civil War ended and still Southern white supremacists expect everyone else in the country to walk on eggshells around them so as not to upset their mythology or the chips on their shoulders. Yesterday, July 13, was Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee, a holiday there since 1931, when it seemed like a good idea to commemorate a Confederate general who murdered captive black Union soldiers during the war, and after it became the first national leader of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Now it’s 2019, and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee‘s lame excuse for continuing the practice is that it is what’s expected of him under the law, even though he could push to have the law changed if he had the political will and courage.
All this hiding behind the disingenuous mantra of “heritage, not hate” is for the purpose of upholding monuments to and celebrations of Confederate leaders whose actions and beliefs, however much they deluded themselves and others in their own times into feeling were noble and righteous, have in the past 154 years proven to be in the service of one overriding principle – white supremacy. Dress up evil however you want, turn somersaults in logic if you like – in the end it’s still evil. Once state and local governments withdraw their sponsorship of these Confederate monuments and celebrations, individuals are still free to honor them in private if they are so inclined. No one is infringing their First Amendment free speech rights in speaking out on behalf of their Confederate idols in the public square; it’s just that everyone else no longer has to be subject to the constant looming presence of publicly sponsored monuments and celebrations reminding them to know their place, particularly if they are the descendants of slaves.
Theater poster for the 1915 D.W. Griffith filmThe Birth of a Nation. The movie glorified the KKK and set the stage for the organization’s resurgence shortly afterward.
In the past two and a half years, because of the tone set by the White Supremacist-in-Chief occupying the Oval Office (proving not all white supremacists are Southerners, by any means), more awful people have crept from the shadows into the light than many decent people were aware existed. As the specter of awful behavior grows, it is not enough for decent people to shun it and the awful people who afflict society with their malevolent derangement; decent people need to confront it, preferably without violence, but by speaking out forcefully and often in public, because otherwise a bully will always take silence to mean assent, even approval.
A clip from an August 2017 episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert which aired shortly after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
After a generation has passed, will we erect monuments to the malignant culture that has grown within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Border Patrol? Will we celebrate the concentration camps for brown-skinned immigrants at “detention sites” from Texas to California and elsewhere around the country? Stopping the cancerous growth of white supremacy will require more decent white people standing up to it and saying “enough already”, an outspoken attitude of noble and righteous indignation that is long past overdue, as evidenced by a state still celebrating in 2019 the hateful heritage of Nathan Bedford Forrest.
“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;”
— excerpt from Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States.
Southerners called the 1828 tariff which had the effect of raising prices on imported manufactured goods while decreasing income from exported agricultural products the “Tariff of Abominations” because it hit hardest in the South. When President John Quincy Adams signed the bill into law, he assured his defeat by Andrew Jackson in the 1828 election. The 1828 tariff prompted South Carolina to propose the principle of nullification of federal law by the states, and the friction it set up between North and South was instrumental in leading to the Civil War more than 30 years later.
This color version of a John Tenniel illustration is from The Nursery “Alice” (1890), with text adapted for nursery readers by Lewis Carroll from his Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. From the collection of the British Library. Carroll created in the Queen of Hearts, pictured at left, a model of imperious, irrational behavior.
The current president’s tariffs have exacerbated economic tensions within the country as well, this time not between North and South, but between rural, agricultural areas and urban, technological and industrial areas. They are his tariffs because over the past century Congress has ceded more and more authority to impose them to the executive branch as a matter of pursuing foreign policy, an authority which the current president, with his autocratic nature, is happy to exercise. He likes nothing better than to pronounce decrees, particularly ones that appear to punish Others, particularly foreign Others, and most especially darker skinned foreign Others.
He and his followersmay not fully understand the possible ramifications and unwelcome reverberations of tariffs throughout the United States and world economy. It doesn’t matter to him or to them. What matters is the feeling of appearing to punish the Other for sins real and imagined against Our Kind, and of feeding off negative energy generated by acting on impulse rather than putting in the grinding, hard work necessary to build positively toward equitable trade agreements. It’s a lot of stick, and very little carrot.
Tariffs have always been used to further domestic political aims and foreign policy objectives as much as they have been used to generate revenue, which makes them somewhat more loaded than other taxes. The latest tariffs are no different, and their implementation echoes the 1828 tariff, an irony no doubt lost on the current president despite his exaltation of Andrew Jackson over all other American presidents. Jackson and his supporters opposed the 1828 tariff. Jackson nonetheless drew the line at allowing South Carolina to flout federal authority by proposing nullification. Jackson contemplated sending federal troops into South Carolina to uphold the law. Free trade advocates and protectionists reached a compromise with an 1833 tariff soon after the South Carolina legislature enacted nullification, averting a crisis and imposing an uneasy peace for the next 28 years.
From the 1951 film Quo Vadis, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring in this scene Peter Ustinov as Nero and Leo Genn as Petronius. Nero probably thought of himself as a stable genius, and had Twitter existed in his time, he no doubt would have used it as a political tool to share his addled observations with the world.
The political calculations behind the current president’s tariffs go beyond punishment of the Other which enthuse his base of followers to improving his prospects for the 2020 election in key Rust Belt states he narrowly won in 2016. Tariffs on steel, aluminum, and other industrial products appeal to manufacturing centers in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the states that tipped the Electoral College vote balance for him in 2016. Since the United States is a big exporter of agricultural products, it is no surprise that retaliatory tariffs imposed by other countries in the trade war have hit farmers hardest. Many of those farmers live in Great Plains states with relatively few electoral votes, and at any rate the current president has a cushion of support there to absorb losses of the disaffected. To make sure disaffection doesn’t become widespread, the current president has bought off farmers with subsidies so that he can continue to pursue his trade wars as personal vendettas, rather than as maturely considered policies leading to equitable prosperity for all. To borrow a phrase from the late novelist Kurt Vonnegut, “And so it goes.”
On Monday, five Georgia state legislators introduced a bill that would require all men over the age of 55 to report to law enforcement every time they ejaculate sperm. The bill obviously has no chance of passing, and is meant to make a statement about a bill that did recently pass which makes abortion illegal in Georgia after about six weeks of pregnancy, when doctors can detect a heartbeat from the fetus, but also more generally about how men, particularly older, white men, use legislation to exercise control over women’s bodies.
The nation’s abortion laws are constantly under attack, predominantly from groups on the religious right. They seem to think they are the only ones concerned with the ethical issues surrounding abortion, as if the women facing that choice have little or no concern about ethics. There are women as well as men in the anti-abortion groups. The women should know better than the men the difficult nature of the decision to abort a pregnancy, yet they still favor taking the decision away from the person most concerned with making it.
Micrograph by scanning electron microscope of human sperm cells magnified 3140 times. Pore size of the polycarbonate filter in the background is 1µm, or 1 micrometer.
Since the ethical questions will likely never be sorted out to the satisfaction of all parties, we can only resort to legal answers. There is in this country something called the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Since it was adopted shortly after the Civil War, it was initially intended to apply to recently freed slaves, to ensure they received equal protection as citizens under the law regardless of their former status. The Equal Protection Clause has been invoked on behalf of many other causes in the past 150 years, and it seems it should apply to the abortion debate regarding how one class of citizens – women – are subject to laws that do not apply to another class of citizens – men.
Of course there are many physiological differences between men and women, perhaps the most important being that men do not carry an egg, fertilized or not. Men do contribute their sperm toward fertilizing women’s eggs. It seems that if men are not willing to cede legal control of their sperm to make sure it does not contribute to unwanted fertilization of eggs, then they should be willing to relinquish all legal oversight of fertilized eggs in women’s bodies. The eggs reside in women; that’s just the way it is.
Michael Palin sings “Every Sperm Is Sacred” in the 1983 film Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. It’s not only Catholics who espouse this philosophy, but religious people generally.
Until such time as legal, medical, and ethical considerations are sorted out regarding whether men can have fertilized eggs or fetuses implanted within them, it seems they should have very little to say about women’s unwanted pregnancies. That a woman is contemplating aborting her fetus suggests a man has already expressed himself inappropriately. Men should leave women in peace to make the hard decision to abort or not to abort. It’s in the complications following the latter decision, after all, that men and all of society can contribute positive energy to the new mother and her baby to make life better for them instead of continuing to add to their troubles.
“11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
— The Apostle Paul in a letter to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 13:11-13, from the King James Version of the Bible.
DNA kits are very popular now, both for people ordering them for themselves and for those giving them as gifts. Sales of kits doubled in 2017 over all previous years, and have increased again in 2018 over 2017. Interest appears to derive mostly from curiosity about immediate ancestors, on which the kits do a good job of enlightening people, and secondarily about genetic health risks, on which the kits dealing with the subject deliver mixed results, needing confirmation from a medical professional.
One area of controversy with the results, at least for Americans, has come from links to African ancestry for European-Americans, and links to European ancestry for African-Americans. Most European-Americans, or white folks, get results that include some ancestry going back to Africa two hundred years or more, usually less than 10 percent of their total genetic makeup. Most African-Americans, or black folks, get results that include around 25 percent European ancestry.
Portraits of six generations of the Sternberg family in Jiří Sternberg’s study, Český Šternberk Castle, Czech Republic. Photo by takato marui. Tracing ancestry is easier in the pure bred lines and close quarters of Old Europe than in the melange of ethnicities and transcontinental migrations of the New World.
Compared to the ethnic homogeneity of most Old World countries, Americans are mutts, and the melting pot was particularly active in the years of heavy immigration from Europe from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. Africans brought into the country as slaves until the Civil War eventually made up a larger proportion of the total population through that period than they have since, averaging close to 20 percent of the total for the first hundred years of the republic, and settling to a range of 11 to 13 percent of the total population afterward. It shouldn’t therefore surprise white people taking DNA tests to discover they have at least a small percentage of relatively recent African ancestry.
It is interesting, however, that DNA test results for black people yield an average of 25 percent European ancestry. It is not surprising there has been mixing of the races, despite laws against miscegenation going back centuries, but that black people have a much higher percentage of European ancestry than white people have a percentage of African ancestry, and yet black people are still and always considered black. This is Pudd’nhead Wilson territory, in which even a tiny percentage of African blood is tantamount to an entirely African genetic heritage. In America, once a person has been accepted into white society, it requires a considerable amount of African genetic input, along with other factors involving economics and relationships, for a person to fall from grace, as it were, from whiteness to blackness.
In this 1896 illustration by Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), “Man” is precariously at the top of a tree encompassing all life on earth.
The grade has always been uphill, on the other hand, for black people to be accepted into American society, always predominantly white, no matter how much they were genetically European. Initial branding of blackness meant staying black in the eyes of white society until extraordinary circumstances or subterfuge intervened. In all this, what the majority of people, black and white, seemed to have missed was that racial differences were minuscule, along the lines of one half of one percent of the genetics every human being shares. Race itself is an artificial concept, a social construct, rather than a real biological divider.
It’s all in the mind, and those who would reinforce race as a divider of the human species have to perform mental and ethical gymnastics to justify their beliefs since science won’t do it for them. The idea that DNA test results with some percentage of African ancestry are showing merely what goes back millions of years for all of humanity also does not hold up. Yes, everyone on earth does have common ancestors in Africa, but that is not what the makers of DNA home test kits design them to illustrate, since they typically only research genetic relations going back several centuries, that being within the time frame for which they have reliably detailed information on background in their databases.
The immigration scene of young Vito Corleone, played by Oreste Baldini, in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film The Godfather: Part II. Unlike Vito Corleone when he matured, the majority of immigrants, then as now, do not end up engaged in dangerous and unlawful activities, despite what rabble rousing politicians want everyone to believe.
There also appears to be an assumption among even open-minded white people that since Africa is the cradle of all humanity, then Africans themselves must be genetically closer to that cradle than the rest who emigrated to far continents. African ancestry noted in the DNA test results must, they reason, be hearkening back to long ago ancestors white people share with everyone on earth. No. The test results show genetic input from recent African ancestors. And those recent African ancestors have evolved along with everyone else on earth, including Europeans, triggered by similar environmental and social changes pushing them to adapt. The European discoverers should not be so quick to flatter themselves with ideas of inherent superiority that they lose sight of how other societies have adapted quite well under unique circumstances without prizing discovery and conquest above all else as the sine qua non of human existence.
Regardless of the outcome of today’s runoff election in Mississippi between incumbent Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democratic challenger Mike Espy, Senator Hyde-Smith will have exposed herself at the very least as an insensitive idiot through her recent remarks, and more likely as someone whose cossetted upbringing among conservative white people in Mississippi never gave her an idea how offensively her remarks would be received by those outside that bubble.
John C. Stennis takes his seat in the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1928, the same year he received his law degree from the University of Virginia. Between 1928, when Mr. Stennis started his career in government as a Democrat, and 1988, his last year as a senator from Mississippi, the major political parties realigned, with the major shift coming in reaction to Civil Rights legislation passed during the Lyndon Johnson presidential administration.
Senator Hyde-Smith has of course attacked those attacking her for her idiotic remarks regarding public hanging and vote suppression because that is what plays best these days among emboldened white supremacist fascists in the Make America Great Again (MAGA) crowd which constitutes her major constituency. Retractions and sincere apologies are signs of weakness to those people, who would call for her lynching if she ever showed any human decency. Instead she has claimed her words were twisted by the media and by her political foes, even though she can be seen speaking those very words on video. As for suppressing the votes of liberals, she says she was only kidding.
Ha-ha, Senator Hyde-Smith, you are very funny with your joking about Jim Crow vote suppression of liberals, by which of course everyone in the 37 percent black state of Mississippi knows you mean suppressing the votes of black folks. That stuff is indeed side-splittingly funny! And your “good old gal” remark about how you like someone so much that you’d be at the front row of a public hanging if he invited you, by which everyone in the state of Mississippi, where public lynching of black folks over 100 years from the Civil War to the Civil Rights era was a well-known occurrence, why that’s a knee-slapper, and goodness knows little ol’ you meant no harm by it, did you, Sugar? Bless your heart!
It is likely that hundreds of thousands of Mississippianswill vote for Senator Hyde-Smith in the runoff election. Unless those voters were living under a rock, they had to have heard the Senator’s remarks or heard of them. They will vote for her anyway. For too many of them, most likely the MAGA fanatics among them, her recent remarks will be reason enough to vote for her. She is an awful person, and like the awful person currently occupying the Oval Office of the White House, she is a symptom of what’s wrong with the country, not the disease. The disease is carried by all those voters in Mississippi and elsewhere who are laughing with her, rather than being appalled not just by her remarks, but by the mindset that brought them out of her mouth in the first place, and then made her turn on everyone but herself to quiet the uproar over them. Look at your friends, neighbors, and family for those carrying the disease of not taking cruelty seriously, and laughing at the debasement of the Other.
Secretary of Defense designate Elliot Richardson, right, talks with Senator John C. Stennis, D-Miss., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, prior to his nomination hearing at the U.S. Capitol on January 10, 1973. By the 1970s, Republican conversion of conservative southern Democrats was nearly complete. Mr. Stennis would retain his Democratic Party affiliation through the remainder of his career, though in name only since he was aligned ideologically with conservative Republicans. In 1982, he was the last Democratic senator elected from Mississippi.
The title of this post is taken from the Ogden Nash poem “Reflections on Ice-Breaking”. Mr. Nash was writing about parties for adults, and he concluded the poem with the lines “But liquor/Is quicker.” For children at Halloween, the first lines about candy are the only ones that matter. After a bout of shepherding their children around the neighborhood for trick or treating, parents are more apt to grasp the last lines.
The association of candy with Halloween is relatively recent, and is wholly artificial in origin. Candy makers and sellers gravitated toward the holiday in the early twentieth century as a way to increase sales in the long lull between Easter and Christmas, and by the post World War II era modern Halloween traditions were pretty firmly in place. Children still might get some healthier treats like fruit in their treat bags or baskets, but after numerous tampering scares factory wrapped candies became the predominant treat, much to the relief of children everywhere.
Friandises, the French term for goodies. Photo from French Wikipedia by Ficelle.
Because of ongoing fears about tampering and because of related worries over children interacting with strangers, the Halloween trick or treat excursions of mid and late twentieth century America have most likely peaked and are now on the wane, probably to the relief of parents everywhere. People don’t know their neighbors as well as they used to, and the whole ritual has become an unnecessary risk. Children still enjoy dressing up in costumes, and of course the idea of an enormous haul of candy still exerts a sirens’ pull on them. Like Christmas and its excesses, Halloween has become a time for parents to set and teach limits, if they are inclined. It’s difficult to do when the greater society constantly tugs in the other direction.
While the children are celebrating with restraint, willingly or not, their parents might take a moment to remember the candies they enjoyed as children. One candy, Necco wafers, may be no more after this year. The company that made them and other treats shut down earlier in the year, and its unclear whether the new owners will continue production of any of them. The New England Confectionery Company (NECCO) had been in business since 1901, after consolidating the operations of two other candy companies. Its flagship candy, Necco wafers, had been in production since before the Civil War.
That’s Charlie Brown in the sheet with too many holes, and Lucy in the witch costume, in the 1966 television special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
Like a lot of candies,candy corn for instance, Necco wafers arouse strong feelings either for or against them. Perhaps it’s because our opinions about candies are mostly formed in childhood that we develop lifelong allegiances or antipathies to them. The parents who affectionately remember candies their children find revolting may be likewise turned off by all the gummies and other newly popular treats. Though he likely didn’t have Halloween in mind when he wrote “Reflections on Ice-Breaking”, Ogden Nash managed to put it all in perspective anyway, and in only seven words.
“troll – verb definition 2c: to harass, criticize, or antagonize (someone) especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings, or acts.”
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary
At a partisan political rally in Mississippi on Tuesday, the Troll-in-Chief entertained his audience of trolls with mockery of Christine Blasey Ford, who had testified before a Congressional committee the previous Thursday about an alleged sexual assault Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, had perpetrated against her in 1982. The crowd of trolls at the rally revived the “Lock her up” chant from the 2016 presidential election campaign, this time referring to Ms. Ford rather than to Hillary Clinton.
What did Ms. Ford have to gain by giving her testimony and subjecting herself to sneering from the Oval Office Oaf and his cadre of morally warped minions? What does Mr. Kavanaugh have to gain by avowing his innocence other than the crown jewel of his ambition, a seat on the Supreme Court? Encouraged by their Chief Manipulator, the trolls at the Mississippi rally laughed at Ms. Ford and her testimony while taking Mr. Kavanaugh seriously. It’s difficult to fathom the hardness of heart and smallness of spirit it must take to attend one of these rallies and show support for such a Cancerous Leader.
Before this political and social nightmare progresses to its foul end, there will be divisions within families and among friends and neighbors on a scale not seen in this country since the Civil War. If Cancerous Leader manages to consolidate his power in the elections of 2018 and 2020, then the divisions will be more like those in Nazi Germany, where a minority of sociopaths cowed the majority of decent people into silence about their casual cruelties and major abuses of power.
A compilation of clips from a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone, titled “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”, written by Rod Serling, and starring William Windom as the Major and Susan Harrison as the Ballerina.
There will be similarities, but not exact resemblances as the United States fashions its own brand of totalitarianism based on worship of the Almighty Dollar. People will have to ask themselves, as some no doubt already have done, how can I possibly remain on good terms with that family member, that friend, that neighbor, when they support such foul rhetoric and willingly follow such despicable and cruel policies? Why should I, and how could I, without abandoning my principles, my self-respect, and the defense of their victims, among whom I can eventually almost certainly number myself?
This Memorial Day marks the 150th anniversary of the holiday. When it was first formally celebrated, the holiday was a remembrance of Civil War dead and was called Decoration Day. Since 1868, Americans on Memorial Day have taken to visiting the graves of not just fallen soldiers, sailors, and marines, but those of their friends and relatives regardless of whether or not they died in military service to the country. Officially Memorial Day is for remembering and honoring the country’s war dead, but it has also become a day for remembering and honoring the near and dear, and most Americans usually do that by decorating the graves with flowers.
In western societies, placing flowers at grave sites goes back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and even before, to the stone age, as archaeologists discovered not long ago. Since then, as Jews and Muslims have asserted their own cultural and religious preferences for honoring the dead, the tradition of remembering with flowers has remained mostly a Christian one in the west. There is an entire symbolism of flowers dating from the ancient Greek and Roman mythologists and carried on by Christians, but it’s a safe bet to guess most people pay little attention to such subtleties when picking out a specific flower or an arrangement of flowers to place at the grave of their loved one. Most likely they pick out something they themselves enjoy, or that they know was a favorite of the departed.
Common poppies blooming in May 2015 in Guelma, a district in northeastern Algeria. Photo by Yaco24.
There is one flower symbol that remains widely understood, and it is the red poppy originating from the battlefields of Flanders in World War I, which has come to specifically memorialize military members dead from service in all wars since the so-called War to End All Wars. “In Flanders Fields”, a poem written by John McCrae, a Canadian who served in the war with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, noted the red poppies growing among the graves of soldiers buried after the Second Battle of Ypres. The fame of McCrae’s poem established the common red poppy, Papaver rhoeas, a tough plant long known in the region as a colonizer of disturbed ground, as the Remembrance Poppy thereafter.
It is worth noting that the opium poppy,Papaver somniferum, is native to the Mediterranean region and the Near East and yields opiates such as morphine, named for Morpheus, the god of dreams. Opium poppies were well known to the ancients for their anesthetic properties, a blessed relief for those wounded in battle or near death. It’s flower is not a symbolic reminder like the red poppy of those lost to the violence of war, but its value in easing suffering and bringing on the forgetfulness of sleep to those maimed and agonized by that violence makes it more important to those poor unfortunates, and certainly more useful. Rest in peace.
The evangelical Christianity we are familiar with today in the United States does not resemble what it was prior to the Civil War, when evangelical Protestants promoted social justice issues such as the end of slavery. Slavery was the primary issue that divided some Protestant denominations, the Baptists more than any others because of the strong presence of Baptists in the South. Rancor over the issue within the Baptist denomination eventually led to its division before the Civil War into Northern and Southern sects, a division which has continued to this day.
Le bon pasteur (The Good Shepherd), a painting from between 1886 and 1894 by the French artist James Tissot (1836-1902).
When people think of evangelical Christiansactive in modern political life, largely in conservative Republican circles, they are primarily thinking of Southern Baptists, because that is the denomination which has dominated politics and culture in the South since the Civil War, and it is from the South in the 1970s that arose the major political and cultural movement known first as the Moral Majority, and since then mostly known as the Christian Right. For over a hundred years, the dominance of Southern Baptists over life in the South was as close to a state sanctioned religion as we have gotten in this country, or at least in one part of it. Other Protestant denominations in the South, such as the Pentecostals, have been a part of modern evangelical Christianity, but the Southern Baptists have always been the major players.
As the de facto state religion of the South in the Jim Crow era and beyond, Southern Baptists were more interested in preserving white privilege and power than in promoting the kind of social justice Jesus advocated in His teachings. The Southern Baptists chose to ignore many of those ideas from the New Testament, lest they give black folks unsavory and rebellious ideas, and instead focused on the rewards waiting for the saved in the afterlife, where it wouldn’t cost the earthly white leaders anything in money or power. As the South remained rather isolated and more conservative than the rest of the country throughout the first two thirds of the twentieth century, there were further fractures within Protestant denominations, with the more liberal Northern sects increasingly considered the mainline portions of each denomination, and the Southern sects more and more lumped together as evangelical Christians, but with the twist that these evangelicals were largely white conservatives more vested in the status quo than in change for social justice.
President Jimmy Carter addresses the Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta, GA, in June 1978. Evangelical Christians were lukewarm at best regarding Mr. Carter, and in the 1980 election they turned him out in favor of the more conservative Ronald Reagan. Since then, Mr. Carter has devoted himself to humanitarian causes around the world, including Habitat for Humanity, all of which earned him the honor of a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
President George W. Bush meets with the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention in the Oval Office in October 2006. Pictured with the President are Dr. Morris Chapman, left, Dr. Frank Page, and his wife Dayle Page. Mr. Bush the Younger was more to the liking of evangelical Christians than any president of the past 40 years other than Ronald Reagan. White House photo by Paul Morse.
When the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the 1970s went after Bob Jones University, a private evangelical school in Greenville, South Carolina, to revoke its tax exempt status on account of not adhering to Civil Rights era desegregation laws, Southern Baptists, which by that time had become indistinguishable from evangelicals, were catalyzed into action, forming the Moral Majority in order to take an activist role in national politics. They added abortion later as a rallying cause and it also served to mask the initial, primary impetus for organizing politically, which was the affront by federal interference into their pocketbooks and their white supremacist fiefdom. From the 1970s until today evangelical Christians, the Christian Right, have been a force in national politics, and never has their participation been more perverse at first glance than their unwavering support for the current president with all his defiantly un-Christian character flaws, but with an understanding of their history it begins to make sense, though it doesn’t make it right.