Gravity’s pull: Returning to assess a world on fire

Credit: "world on fire"
by DeviantArt user orangebuttCredit: "world on fire" by DeviantArt user orangebutt

… And I’m back.

This may have been the longest stretch I have taken away from this site since I started it eight years ago. Recent national and global events have put me in kind of a general malaise about writing on here lately. I have still kept up with columns for work and have been following current events — obviously, or else I might not have been in this funk in the first place — but even at the office, I honestly haven’t been terribly inspired to sit down and pick apart or analyze much of anything in the form of op-ed work.

As a result, columns that I did manage to produce in the last couple months largely felt forced, although their content and spirit were genuine. Of course, I hope that they didn’t read like they were obligatory, but that’s kind of how I have felt trying to fill a 1,000 word news hole at a time when the muse was a bit lost in exile. Hopefully it will be returning with more regularity.

giant meteor2

With that said, here is a rundown of some of the things that have happened since my last blog and some not-so-brief commentary:

  • Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became the presumptive nominee and Sen. Bernie Sanders, to the chagrin of many of his supporters, finally embraced Clinton as the nominee. So much for Sanders’ claim that Clinton was “unqualified” to be president and lacked the character and leadership acumen for the job. So much for Sanders’ strategy of winning over all those superdelegates at the convention, although a handful of people are still suggesting that Sanders still has an outside chance of winning. One writer went so far as to say Sanders’ “strategy” of endorsing Clinton could have been a “tactical master stroke” of political maneuvering. I don’t think there’s a chance in hell at this point. In any case, while I always chafe whenever candidates run down each other on the campaign trail and then do a complete about-face when it’s time get down to brass tacks in the general election (See: Chris Christie‘s shameful self), but the sad reality is that hatchet politics has always been part of democracy in America. The difference is that 150 years ago, if two politicians attacked each other, they really meant whatever unflattering things they said about the other. At least that was honest. Politics in the 21st century is just an intellectually dishonest game of smoke and mirrors, in which the most trustworthy, genuine people rarely, and indeed in many cases can’t, win. Sanders is just the latest example. I have more to say on what I think Sanders supporters should do on election day (Hint: Do not stay home and do not vote for Trump), but I will save that for another day.
  • Trump is still the nominee and could still become president, and despite a popular meme floating around that gave us all hope that Earth would be shattered by an oncoming meteor before that nightmarish reality could ensue, members of the GOP appear to be rallying behind him, presumably because they think Trump, who has, at one time or another, uttered opinions that could be described as racist, bigoted, homophobic, xenophobic and ableist, would make a better leader of the free world than Clinton, who would, I think it’s safe to say, never hurl so much hate at so many people.
  • While I was in the process of writing this, I learned that Trump named Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, apparently silencing speculation that the pick was going to be Newt Gingrich. In addition to turning off black people, women, Hispanics and everyone else with half a brain, Trump, in his brash, off-the-cuff style, has also run afoul of the the evangelical Christian bloc of the GOP, so Pence will probably attempt to woo some of those folks back into the fold. Here is how the Indiana Star assessed Trump’s pick: “In Pence, Trump adds a social conservative whom GOP strategists say will reassure rank-and-file Republicans that Trump can be trusted to pursue their interests. Veteran political observers say Pence, a former U.S. House member and chairman of the House Republican Conference, will provide a disciplined counter to Trump’s improvisational campaign style. Pence also brings fundraising power and credibility on a wide range of policy issues that are important to conservatives.” And here is a decidedly less charitable analysis. Personally, if Trump was going to go with another old, white guy, Gingrich would have been a smarter and more seasoned choice. But I guess Gingrich, in his recent comments about black people in America, was starting to sound a little too sympathetic and a little too, you know, human, for Trump’s tastes.
  • The tragedy in Orlando. Of all the terrible things that have happened the last few months nationwide, this is, perhaps, the one that frustrated and disappointed me the most and largely contributed to me wanting to take some time off from blogging. As per our column schedule at the office, I was supposed to turn in a column on the Tuesday after the shooting — and Orlando certainly would have been the obvious choice on which to provide my thoughts since it was so clearly on everyone’s mind — but I didn’t have the stomach for it just a couple days after it happened. As the deadline loomed, I told my boss that I attempted to sit down and gather my thoughts, but I literally didn’t know what to say. In any case, details were still coming in, and I just had the sense that any words that I possibly could have strewn together would have been so inconsequential to what was happening in the lives of our brothers and sisters and their families that week that radio silence was the only adequate response. The shooting was supremely frustrating because, before that time, uplifted by the Supreme Court ruling last year that denying gay and lesbian people the right to marry was unconstitutional, it really felt like that the nation had turned a corner on accepting the LGBT community. And maybe it has in the population at large, and I certainly hope so. But in that moment, all I could think was that the shooting was at least one of, if not the, deadliest shooting in American history, which took place against a group of people who have been vilified and discriminated against for generations in a country that touts freedom and equality as some of our most cherished principles when, in fact, these have really only applied to certain people. In any case, I eventually opined on Orlando and gun control the following week in this column: “No longer if, but when.”
  • Speaking of gun control, at least two more unarmed black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, have been killed by the police, meanwhile Eric Garner’s family and many other relatives of shooting victims are still waiting for their long-overdue justice. I wonder how many years the families of Sterling and Castile will now have to wait before they get an answer on whether someone will be held accountable for their deaths?
  • Brexit happened. Other than to say the unfettered wave of populism that began, or at least grew to infamy, in the election of 2008 in America and has seemingly leapt the pond, is a bit concerning — here’s why — I don’t have much of an opinion on England’s decision to leave the European Union. I will simply say that the more modern European nations and America move toward the far-right, the more cherished principles I mentioned above will be put into jeopardy. If we had learned anything from the early 20th century, we would know that the far-right program and the set of ideologies that govern it are, at bottom, antithetical to democracy and liberty. Its terminus is fascism.
  • All of that, and then finally, there’s this horrific shit. Predictably, the jihadist in Nice, France, was said to have screamed “Allahu Akbar”

    Religion is nothing more than bad concepts held in place of good ones for all time. It is the denial—at once full of hope and full of fear—of the vastitude of human ignorance. — Sam Harris, “The End of Faith”

    (God is [the] greatest) before getting killed and swept to away to his non-existent 72-virgin-adorned paradise. I have already said most of what I think about Abrahamic religion and radical brands of Islam elsewhere on this site. Suffice it to say that so long as revealed religion exists in all its forms and so long as people can convince themselves to believe things on bad evidence or on no evidence, faith, whether it is fanatical or more subdued, will continue to smash against modernity and stunt the progress that we could and should be making toward a peaceful and just society. Whereas the far-right endgame is merely fascism, religion terminates in a darkness that threatens to unmake our world. ISIS is only the most recent iteration of violent religious extremism that has caused untold human misery in previous centuries, and we, as a species, had better wake up to these realities sooner than later.

[Cover image credit: “world on fire” by DeviantArt user orangebutt]

About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

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