Ending the Year

The year ended in an unexpected fashion. Initially, my ex had indicated I was invited to her house to share in the traditional Christmas Eve gift exchange. I was excited about at least kinda feeling like a family again for the first time in a couple of years. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Several days before Christmas, my older daughter(S) called me as I was nearing the end of my work day. She asked if I could come pick her up. She explained that she had just been kicked out by her mom and was standing outside. I explained that it would take me at least an hour to get there but I was willing. Part way there, I get a message from my younger daughter(A) that she had picked up her older sister. My ex was trying to call me but I didn’t want to talk to her until I had a better idea what was going on. I met my daughters at my house and learned that S had been kicked out for not being helpful enough to her mom. Ex had recently broken her wrist while walking to work and was now feeling pretty helpless as well as on pain Rx. My daughter had been obediently helping her but this evening, Ex had asked S to take out garbage and do dishes. S replied that she would do one that night and the other the next day. That was apparently too much and ex complained how ungrateful she was for all that had been done for her and that she should give back her car keys and get out of the house. She obediently complied. She has now been living with me for a couple of weeks and I’m generally ok with that though I am a bit anxious about the add’l expenses of another person under the roof and potential school expenses. The big concern is that Ex is going to hold school hostage for help. If daughter wants to ex financial support for school, she needs to return home as obedient servant. After consulting with some friends, the suggestion was made that a friend of my ex should act as an intermediary to a discussion between ex and S. I’m having a hard time keeping my nose out of it because I know my addition would make the mix too volatile. Another one of those examples where I have let go and trust.

Christmas actually ended up going very well though. All the kids and my older brother contributed a day of food and games. I was incredibly pleased that we enjoyed one another from approx 9am to 1130p. My kids are so cool.

An Interesting Article

It is a truism that America has become a more diverse country. It is also a beautiful thing to watch. Visitors from other countries, particularly those having trouble incorporating different ethnic groups and faiths, are amazed that we manage to pull it off. Not perfectly, of course, but certainly better than any European or Asian nation today. It’s an extraordinary success story.

But how should this diversity shape our politics? The standard liberal answer for nearly a generation now has been that we should become aware of and “celebrate” our differences. Which is a splendid principle of moral pedagogy — but disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age. In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.

One of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end. Hillary Clinton was at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they relate to our understanding of democracy. But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals.

The moral energy surrounding identity has, of course, had many good effects. Affirmative action has reshaped and improved corporate life. Black Lives Matter has delivered a wake-up call to every American with a conscience. Hollywood’s efforts to normalize homosexuality in our popular culture helped to normalize it in American families and public life.

But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life. At a very young age our children are being encouraged to talk about their individual identities, even before they have them. By the time they reach college many assume that diversity discourse exhausts political discourse, and have shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good. In large part this is because of high school history curriculums, which anachronistically project the identity politics of today back onto the past, creating a distorted picture of the major forces and individuals that shaped our country. (The achievements of women’s rights movements, for instance, were real and important, but you cannot understand them if you do not first understand the founding fathers’ achievement in establishing a system of government based on the guarantee of rights.

This campus-diversity consciousness has over the years filtered into the liberal media, and not subtly. Affirmative action for women and minorities at America’s newspapers and broadcasters has been an extraordinary social achievement — and has even changed, quite literally, the face of right-wing media, as journalists like Megyn Kelly and Laura Ingraham have gained prominence. But it also appears to have encouraged the assumption, especially among younger journalists and editors, that simply by focusing on identity they have done their jobs.

Recently I performed a little experiment during a sabbatical in France: For a full year I read only European publications, not American ones. My thought was to try seeing the world as European readers did. But it was far more instructive to return home and realize how the lens of identity has transformed American reporting in recent years. How often, for example, the laziest story in American journalism — about the “first X to do Y” — is told and retold. Fascination with the identity drama has even affected foreign reporting, which is in distressingly short supply. However interesting it may be to read, say, about the fate of transgender people in Egypt, it contributes nothing to educating Americans about the powerful political and religious currents that will determine Egypt’s future, and indirectly, our own. No major news outlet in Europe would think of adopting such a focus.

But it is at the level of electoral politics that identity liberalism has failed most spectacularly, as we have just seen. National politics in healthy periods is not about “difference,” it is about commonality. And it will be dominated by whoever best captures Americans’ imaginations about our shared destiny. Ronald Reagan did that very skillfully, whatever one may think of his vision. So did Bill Clinton, who took a page from Reagan’s playbook. He seized the Democratic Party away from its identity-conscious wing, concentrated his energies on domestic programs that would benefit everyone (like national health insurance) and defined America’s role in the post-1989 world. By remaining in office for two terms, he was then able to accomplish much for different groups in the Democratic coalition. Identity politics, by contrast, is largely expressive, not persuasive. Which is why it never wins elections — but can lose them.

The media’s newfound, almost anthropological, interest in the angry white male reveals as much about the state of our liberalism as it does about this much maligned, and previously ignored, figure. A convenient liberal interpretation of the recent presidential election would have it that Mr. Trump won in large part because he managed to transform economic disadvantage into racial rage — the “whitelash” thesis. This is convenient because it sanctions a conviction of moral superiority and allows liberals to ignore what those voters said were their overriding concerns. It also encourages the fantasy that the Republican right is doomed to demographic extinction in the long run — which means liberals have only to wait for the country to fall into their laps. The surprisingly high percentage of the Latino vote that went to Mr. Trump should remind us that the longer ethnic groups are here in this country, the more politically diverse they become.

Finally, the whitelash thesis is convenient because it absolves liberals of not recognizing how their own obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored. Such people are not actually reacting against the reality of our diverse America (they tend, after all, to live in homogeneous areas of the country). But they are reacting against the omnipresent rhetoric of identity, which is what they mean by “political correctness.” Liberals should bear in mind that the first identity movement in American politics was the Ku Klux Klan, which still exists. Those who play the identity game should be prepared to lose it.

We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism. Such a liberalism would concentrate on widening its base by appealing to Americans as Americans and emphasizing the issues that affect a vast majority of them. It would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another. As for narrower issues that are highly charged symbolically and can drive potential allies away, especially those touching on sexuality and religion, such a liberalism would work quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale. (To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, America is sick and tired of hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms.)

Teachers committed to such a liberalism would refocus attention on their main political responsibility in a democracy: to form committed citizens aware of their system of government and the major forces and events in our history. A post-identity liberalism would also emphasize that democracy is not only about rights; it also confers duties on its citizens, such as the duties to keep informed and vote. A post-identity liberal press would begin educating itself about parts of the country that have been ignored, and about what matters there, especially religion. And it would take seriously its responsibility to educate Americans about the major forces shaping world politics, especially their historical dimension.

Some years ago I was invited to a union convention in Florida to speak on a panel about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous Four Freedoms speech of 1941. The hall was full of representatives from local chapters — men, women, blacks, whites, Latinos. We began by singing the national anthem, and then sat down to listen to a recording of Roosevelt’s speech. As I looked out into the crowd, and saw the array of different faces, I was struck by how focused they were on what they shared. And listening to Roosevelt’s stirring voice as he invoked the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear — freedoms that Roosevelt demanded for “everyone in the world” — I was reminded of what the real foundations of modern American liberalism are.

Trusting

When my ex asked me to move out a little over a year ago, we were working together in the same place. As a result of how I hurt her, she indulged a desire to “bring my sins to light”. She posted a list of my transgressions to my coworkers” facebook private page. I’ve never actually seen what she wrote, I was only told about it and I had a few people share with me that it struck them as very inappropriate.  I continued to work there until a department reorganization resulted in everyone being laid off and having to reapply for their jobs (partially a union-busting move). I wasn’t rehired, largely I suspect, due to what my ex had posted on Facebook. I moved on with my life, got another job, found another church and starting life over somewhat. I recently attended a new members class at church and a coworker of my me and my ex was there. She’s always been one of my favorite people and I thought/hope we have a good relationship. After the class she asked to talk with me. She then expressed her concern that before I accepted any positions of responsibility, church leadership needed to know about my struggle w/pornography. I replied that I understood her concern and had already decided I would address that issue, before accepting such a position. I also explained that it was out of such fears that I would never allow myself to be alone with children for exactly this reason, I’ve never been inappropriate toward a child but don’t want to allow for even the possibility of such an allegation. She replied that she was reassured by that, a bit.

After talking with a couple of friends, I decided that I just needed to address this head on and have contacted our pastor to share my struggle and have asked my former coworker and now fellow church member, to share my ex’s FB message or at least her version of it with the pastor and then meet with him to answer his concerns.

I felt pretty crappy this came forth a week ago. I felt even worse yesterday and was on the verge of saying, “Fine. If she doesn’t want me in her church, I’ll go someplace else.” The thing is, I feel like this is where God called me. The first time I visited, I prayed that there would be someone there that I knew. Sure enough, there was my favorite coworker, welcoming me with open arms and I thought this is the place. Was I wrong to interpret God that way. I don’t think so. I think it’s another opportunity for me to ride the storm out with Him. He has proven Himself to me time and time again over the years. I don’t always like what He has to say but He is faithful. By the way, I haven’t looked at porn in over a year, since my ex first asked me to move out.

Disappointment

My first house concert. That was one of my goals when I bought this house. I’d already been to a couple of house concerts, really enjoyed them and have wanted to try it for years. My divorce seemed to expand that opportunity. A band that I enjoyed was doing a new tour and was looking for homes to fill their schedule. I started advertising on FB about six weeks before. I recently started to a new church and told my new home group about it the first week I went. I was uncertain about promoting it at work because I know that some employers frown on that sort of thing but I got permission and started advertising it but it was only a couple of weeks before the show.

About house concerts – the band gets paid from donations and selling merchandise, the host home doesn’t get anything. They’re usually a potluck so attendees there’s food/drink to ease meeting one another and the band before and after the show as well as during a break. The two that I’ve been to were a lot of fun. Very low key.

Early on, people were saying that because it was a holiday weekend, they were already committed but really liked the idea and would come to the next one. In the few days before the show, several people at work were expressing interest and said they’d come. A few people later said things didn’t work out to come and the others just didn’t show. The only people there were the band, four of their friends/family members from the area and me. For a person that already struggles with their worth, it hurts and I’m trying to not be bitter. I can’t blame anyone but myself and I don’t think I deserve much blame. It’s just what happened. I hope to try it one more time and then reassess. Another night like tonight and I don’t think I’ll have the emotional energy to try it again, at least not for awhile.

Stupid!

That’s what I’m feeling like. Car accident today. My fault. Not terrible – crunched a headlight and fender and nobody hurt. Was able to drive car to shop and they’re going to do basic fixes just to get it roadworthy again. But this commute home just irks me sometime and I get so impatient and so I try other routes and this intersection is problematic. I don’t lead a very relaxed life. I worry money, my daughter, my future. I’ve offered to host a house concert this Sun evening and have been advertising it for about 6 weeks. So far two people have committed to coming. Me and one of three band members. I’m trying to console myself that it’s a holiday weekend and the band has reassured me that they’ve played for as few as 6 people. I may set a record.

And I worry about the marriage that I don’t  have. We’ve been apart for over a year and divorced for over 6mo. We were together nearly 23 years. I don’t want to walk away from that without feeling like I’ve made my best effort to salvage or resurrect that. But trying to approach that conversation is SO intimidating. I’m afraid I’m just going to end up feeling like crap.

With all that said, I know what I need to do – pray. Through all the junk of the past year. I don’t feel like God has abandoned me but just the opposite. He’s often reassured me of His presence. I haven’t felt it much lately but I also haven’t gone out of my way to seek it. Not much time reading the Bible or praying, so is it any wonder that He feels more distant? That’s why it’s good to sit and pound out a few lines. It helps me to refocus. I hope you folks are having a better day.

Improvements

Wow. A fair amount has changed since my last post. I’ve bought a wonderful little house for my daughter and me. It’s in a nice cul de sac with mostly pleasant neighbors in a wonderful, relatively small town. The bicycle trail isn’t too far away. My new job isn’t too bad and I feel appreciated. I’ve recently found a new church and joined a home group. The home group sponsored a block party tonight just to help neighbors meet one another. It was a wonderful time. My daughter is job hunting. I feel like things are coming together and I want to acknowledge that I think God is part of that. He told me a year ago that he was going to take care of me and I’ve seen his hand on some some of the things that have transpired. I don’t know if my ex and I will reconcile but at least we can be pleasant toward one another. I have to count my blessings.

My Absence

It’s been a long time since I’ve been on here and I apologize. I think it’s a combination of feeling like I didn’t have much to say, nor the time (or will) to say something. I saw a movie tonight though that surprised me for how much I enjoyed it. A Song Is Born stars Danny Kaye and quite a variety of musical talent such as Louie Armstrong, Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. There are some wonderful performances. It’s also an entertaining love story. The movie has a lyric from an opera that’s especially meaningful to me:

O thou beloved, whom so long my heart desireth. When will the day ere yet be that my heart doth bless with a softly whispered yes.

Maybe that’s sappy but I like it.