“We have met the enemy, and…”

This sentence has an original source in its full form “and they are ours,” but the more familiar iteration was parodic. In the War of 1812, an American naval officer, Oliver Hazard Perry, sent his superior, William Henry Harrison, later our 9th president, this message after defeating a British squadron on Lake Erie. Because I cannot seem to avoid rabbit holes, I will add that Oliver is my husband’s 5th cousin, 6 times removed. William is my 10th cousin, 3 times removed, and my husband’s 7th cousin. This will matter later.

Walt Kelly was a cartoonist and political satirist. His strip Pogo featured a possum by that name who had some sense. The strip ran from 1948-75. For Earth Day 1970, Kelly gave the world “We have met the enemy, and he is us” on a poster with a sad Pogo picking up trash. As sometimes happens, this version is the one familiar to us now rather than the source.

After Saturday’s assassination attempt, lots of people are saying lots of things. One theme is the miraculous escape or divine intervention, both possibilities in quotation marks. That seems reasonable. Millions have seen the video; no one can declare the reason the shot wasn’t fatal.

Another theme is the former president’s response. What does that raised fist mean? Defiance? Determination? Bravery? Fool-hearted recklessness? (No links—too many to count.)

The former first lady’s response on X contains several phrases that bear exploration. When she writes “The monster who recognized my husband as an inhuman political machine attempted to ring out Donald’s passion,” I don’t think she means what this seems to say. The word “recognized” doesn’t fit the rest of the description. The definition we use has to do with acknowledging or perceiving clearly.  The And the “ring” should be “wring.” That’s just an incorrect use. Unless, of course, this is a coded message and her relative absence from the campaign is no accident.

As for cousins, yes, that’s what we all are whether you believe in Adam and Eve or Darwin and Dawkins. And for all the pleading to “return” to decency and avoid violence, well, good luck with that. See Cain and Abel, whether you believe in them or not. Currently in the world, there are 4.3 billion people who belong to the three Abrahamic faiths that purport to believe that murder is wrong, that life is sacred.

So what is new? Nothing. Or everything. Idiom # 247 (not a real list): Only time will tell. Dating from possibly the 15th century…

The La Dee Da Theory: Politics Explained

After attending a July 4th extravaganza by the Dallas Winds at the Meyerson, I went with three others to a restaurant named Toulouse on Knox just north of uptown. (Seven prepositions! Too many?) It offers “French-inspired Belgian cuisine” at upscale prices. For example, their salmon or saumon with two sides is $36, but $16.99 at La Madeleine. Obviously, the upscale sorts don’t use that .99 thing. The croques madame are closer–$21 vs $13.58; that fried egg on a croque monsieur doesn’t seem appetizing to me so the $11.59 means $1.99 for that egg.

The conversation turned to the fact that Toulouse is not a “la-dee-da” restaurant. Pricey but not pretentious, friendly and not pompous. The best French restaurant in Dallas may be The French Room at The Adolphus Hotel. I’ve never been. The question of what the phrase meant was answered first with descriptions—white tablecloths, china, impeccable service. Here is a virtual tour of The French Room. No menus posted on their site that I can find. Perhaps an example of “If you have to ask the price…” but here is one from Foursquare. Salmon with one side is $46. A filet is $65 with two sides, one of which is pomme purée. Technically, that’s a puzzle. A pomme is an apple; potatoes are pommes de terre. I’m taking the dish to be mashed potatoes (a la pomme frites) rather applesauce. Toulouse misspelled haricots verts as hericot vert, but I digress.

The bottom line is that the surroundings don’t make the la-dee-dah-ness. It’s how you’re treated. Once we were invited to an exclusive dining club in Las Colinas. There was a menu without prices because our hosts had to pay. Our friend said, “Of course, order what you want, but the shrimp cocktail is $100.” Which meant I couldn’t order that, but each of us had her or his own waiter. The food arrived on platters with domes. The correct term is cloche, which is French for “bell.” (If you must know, I didn’t know that word until just now.) So the four waiters arrive at our left sides, place the platters, and at the same instant, remove the cloches. It was stunning, and while the food was indeed delicious, I don’t remember what anyone had. That’s what drama will do. And no, the service was not pretentious. Because I’m firmly in the camp of small-r republicans (“of the people, by the people, for the people”), I think not of any of us of higher rank than another. The waiters went home, and so did we. Children of God, which sometimes I do have to repeat when dealing with some of those people.

Now to politics. All this “how they make you feel” made me think of politics. Could the same dynamics be in play? A quotation attributed to Maya Angelou on this topic is much older. Richard Evans included it in his 1971 Quote Book with the originator as Carl W. Buehner, originally from Stuttgart who moved to America and became a leader in my church. His version is easy: “They may forget what you say—they will never forget how you made them feel.” (Do you know about the Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine? These incredible resources let you find materials that have been digitized and uploaded—44 million for the former, 835 billion for the latter. You sign up and then “borrow” the book or whatever it is you need. I was able to read and search Evans’ book. Try it!)

It seems that people are more often than not followers, with this theory. They follow people with whom they agree, true, but more essentially with whom they feel understand them. Or at least appear to. In Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, a list of moral foundations forms the basis of his theory of human responses and interactions: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, and liberty/oppression.

The implications are his but see what you think. Liberals focus on care/harm and fairness/cheating almost exclusively. Conservatives don’t have a single focus but tend to address the first five equally. (Both share liberty/oppression.) The example given in the linked article involves kneeling for the national anthem. Liberals support the act as an expression recognizing the unfairness of prior treatment. Conservatives understand the reason but would be more concerned about both the missing loyalty and the lack of respect for the sanctity of the anthem.

Leaders, then, are preferred for how they reflect these concepts. If one believes that caring for others is central, that may make you feel you can support them if that is important to you. Haidt notes that it’s no accident that we have the Affordable Care Act. This term, four Republics cosponsored the COVID-19 Origin Act. Four Republicans, one Independent, and one Democrat  supported the Fiscal Accountability Through Transparency Act. Two Democrats sponsored the Wounded Warrior Access Act.

As the rhetoric continues to roil, pay attention to what trigger words candidates use that their adherents cheer. Test your reaction. The La Dee Dah Theory took some unnecessary diversions, as usual. One member of our party reminded us of the scene in Annie Hall (1977) when Diane Keaton uses the phrase. Here it’s 30 seconds in. Stay for the crazy drive uptown, squealing brakes and all. If you can’t bear to watch because of Woody Allen, then I’d suggest you are strongly invested in the Care/Harm foundation. If you don’t wince when President Thomas J. Whitmore uses the word “mankind” in Independence Day (1996) with its soaring instrumental background and the ideas of loyalty, liberty, and even sanctity come to mind, you are likely to respond to the allusions if his name.

Blessings and Prayers for America

The last episode of Sweet Tooth (2021-2024) includes openly the message that humankind is worthless, that Nature will prevail and replace people with hybrid human/animal children, and that the resulting transformation is an Edenic return to innocence, goodness, and rightness. That didn’t need a spoiler alert; the message is obvious from the first season, first episode. Although the series is rated for children, it is often dark and frightening—no gore but lots of death from many causes including suicide.

Suggesting humans aren’t worth saving is nothing new. A novel that I found unforgettable is The Bridge (1973) in which a date has been set for any remaining humans to kill themselves. The world has gone “back to nature,” so flora and fauna run rampant. Our hero (well, protagonist anyway) sees the light, seizes the reins, and restores us to our natural place in the pecking order. Forgive the string of cliches; the conclusion is rather too brutal to recount. D. Keith Mano had a twisted sense of humor.

Why these works? The tenor of the times, generally, is that humankind is a waste of time and effort, so why bother. Our country in particular is taken to be egregious in its warped response to almost everything. Our politics  reflect how low our standards have sunk. “Truth, justice, and the American way” was Superman’s original motto, but these days all the elements deserve exploration. In 2021, in fact, the mythical hero received a new motto: “Truth, justice and a better tomorrow.”

Not that I agree with any of this. Rather the opposite. My belief system places particular importance on the American Constitution as divinely inspired, its creation essential to the restoration of principles of the gospel.

Now to a prayer and a blessing. They are alike yet different. A prayer is an ask; a blessing is an answer. We could use both today.

If you haven’t heard of the late Irish poet John O’Donohue, you’re not alone. He died in his sleep a few days after turning 52 in 2008. He served as a Catholic priest from 1979-2000, published three books of poetry before leaving the priesthood, and then became a writer and popular speaker. His last book, To Bless the Space Between Us (2008), doesn’t contain a poem by that name, oddly.

Here is a paragraph perhaps from an interview that resonates with our nation’s high ideals:

“Part of understanding the notion of Justice is to recognize the disproportions among which we live…it takes an awful lot of living with the powerless to really understand what it is like to be powerless, to have your voice, thoughts, ideas and concerns count for very little. We, who have been given much, whose voices can be heard, have a great duty and responsibility to make our voices heard with absolute integrity for those who are powerless.”

This is the conclusion of the introduction in To Bless:

“We enter the world as strangers who all at once become heirs to a harvest of memory, spirit, and dream that has long preceded us and will now enfold, nourish, and sustain us. The gift of the world is our first blessing.”

He can be much more pointed. Here are the opening stanzas of “On Citizenship.”

In these times when anger
Is turned into anxiety
And someone has stolen
The horizons and the mountains,

Our small emperors on parade
Never expect our indifference
To disturb their nakedness…

The blessing this poem ends with suggests that anxiety should be turned back into anger and that anger should prompt us to do better.

Unexpectedly, his blessing “For the One Who Holds Power” ends without that sharpness:

“May integrity of soul be your first ideal, /The source that will guide and bless your work.”

My favorite, easily, is “For a Leader.” The blessings here are really advice all the way down. While “integrity of soul” is lofty, this list seems grounded in practicality. I work on each one. (Yes, I first wrote “try” but dare not because I say there isn’t such a thing so often.)

May you have the grace and wisdom
To act kindly, learning
To distinguish between what is
Personal and what is not.

May you be hospitable to criticism.
May you never put yourself at the center of things.

May you act not from arrogance but out of service.

May you work on yourself
Building up and refining the ways of your mind.

May you learn to cultivate the art of presence
In order to engage with those who meet you.

When someone fails or disappoints you
May the graciousness with which you engage
Be their stairway to renewal and refinement.

May you treasure the gifts of the mind
Through reading and creative thinking
So that you continue to be a servant of the frontier
Where the new will draw its enrichment from the old,
And you never become a functionary.

May you know the wisdom of deep listening,
The healing of wholesome words,
The encouragement of the appreciative gaze,
The decorum of held dignity,
The springtime of the bleak question.

May you have a mind that loves frontiers
So that you can evoke the bright fields
That lie beyond the view of the regular eye.

May you have good friends
To mirror your blind spots.

May leadership be for you
A true adventure of growth.

So, yes, how great it would be to expect these attributes of our leaders. If they choose not to incorporate them—and it is their choice to be whatever they are—at least we can know what they should be doing.

If blessings often begin with “May,” then prayers begin with a multitude of verbs. In “America the Beautiful,” some of those are grant, mend, confirm. This is the story of the poem, with some commentary. It was written in Colorado Springs in 1893 at Colorado College, where I have just been. Here is a relevant prayer from the second stanza: “God mend thine every flaw, /Confirm thy soul in self-control, /Thy liberty in law!”

If you want to set aside “thoughts and prayers,” fine. That’s not the point. Rather, these sources say that action can be taken, not just empty platitudes. Read O’Donohue. See what some of those tasks might be. Better yet, read the Declaration of Independence so you’ll know for yourself what is there.