manners

Contempt for Trump Undermining European Civility

Deal W. Hudson
October 11, 2017

When was the last time you told a visitor from another country that their head of state was a “fool” or a “disgrace”? When is the last time you visited a country and lectured those you met on the “horrors” of their elected national leader?

The perpetrators of mass slaughter come to mind when such remarks would have been appropriate.

But after hearing President Trump excoriated each day on a 9-day trip to Germany and the U.K., I am left wondering if my manners need updating. Rudeness has become the accepted norm of behavior on the other side of the Atlantic when it comes to our president. This rudeness reveals an astonishing level of ignorance about the history of the United States and the deep division and repressed fury created by the Obama presidency.

President Trump has become objectified, stripped of any humanity, and made the target of any remark no matter how offensive to visiting Americans. Attempts to explain his election, or cast him in a positive light, are met with scornful astonishment rather than a listening ear.

Yes, there were exceptions — an Irish bookstore owner in Rye, a French businessman, a German entrepreneur, a British hotel clerk. All of them had one thing in common — a distaste for media groupthink.

This was a golf trip for me, three hickory tournaments in three different locations — South of Munich in Bavaria, the northeast coast of Edinburgh, and the historic town of Rye on the coast in Sussex. I liked everyone I met, without exception, even those who bashed my president around. I don’t require my friends to hold my political or religious beliefs.

But why do these comments arise at all? Part of the problem is that people commonly “google” those they meet and this would have led associating me with support for President Trump and, before that, President W. When these hooks are thrown towards me, I don’t bite which surprises them. They’ve become accustomed, evidently, to provoking Pavlovian political outbursts.

Did I defend my president? Of course, but in a very measured way, correcting some basic errors about his tweeting, the “popular vote,” and, sadly, his wife, Melania.

What kept me so detached? As I said, I don’t require friends to share my political convictions, that seems simple, doesn’t it? Second, I was on vacation from the world of Washington politics, in search of golfing euphoria, which I captured for a few moments along the way. Third, these accusers read and hear media that contains nothing but vituperative attacks on the president and his family, so I can understand what feeds their mindset.

What I cannot understand is their evident lack of self-awareness that their treating of an elected American president as if he was evil incarnate. Wouldn’t a moment of self-scrutiny raise questions about why Donald Trump won the election when absolutely no one, except the candidate and his inner circle, though he could win? Surely such a man and his achievement is deserving of a more understanding than condescending dismissal.

And, surely, the American visitor need not endure the implication that his own political judgment is foolish.

In my lifetime, I have watched as the social habits of meeting people and making friends has been misshaped by the intrusion of politics. As dearly held moral views became less and less a matter of faith, tradition, or, even, reason, a person’s political stances, or mere affiliation, became sole standard of judgment about whether he was worthy of a relationship or not. There was no longer a higher vantage point from which to judge a person’s character than his or her politics, no ground for toleration of opposing views.

Now all the pastimes where people of diverse opinions used to mingle freely have been affected. Communities once formed by faith, education, sports, hobbies, the arts, and neighborhoods have allowed politics to intervene — need I mention the recent mess in the NFL over “taking the knee”?

I recall my Shakespeare teacher at the University of Texas in the late 60s. He was an Englishman whose constant wit kept me on the edge of my seat. I forget the context, but I once asked him what he thought of Americans. “They lack urbanity,” he said. Once I looked up the word, meaning detachment, I understood what he meant because our Austin campus was constantly riven by protests over Vietnam and the Nixon presidency. Shouting protesters deliberately provoke police and intimidating passers-by had become culture heroes. The detachment had been replaced by existential engagement.

It was the issue of engagement that famously destroyed the friendship between Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. When Sartre pressed Camus to support Communism and its “necessary” use of violence, Camus demurred. The detachment required by friendship was sacrificed by Sartre for the sake of “the cause.”

Closer to home, we watched the always urbane William F. Buckley completely lose his composure during a near-violent exchange with novelist Gore Vidal at the 1968 Democratic Convention. The Buckley who often shared charming banter with liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith subsequently became embroiled in more acidic exchanges and subsequent libel suits. The Buckley-Vidal episode, like that between Sartre and Camus a decade earlier, showed that cultural currents were flowing which could test the detachment of our most-schooled public intellectuals.

Now nastiness is the norm on both sides of the Atlantic, though nastiness is easier to accept when it comes from Americans about America. There was a time when Americans looked to Europe and the UK for its civilizing norms of education and manners. That time is long past, and Americans should access the deeper wells of our own cultural legacy to recover the spirit of tolerance that made the Founding possible.

As de Tocqueville wrote, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

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Will America Last? — The 2016 Election

By Deal W. Hudson

It’s tempting to say that the coming presidential election of 2016 is the most important in American history. What gives me pause is the number of times this has been said before, including by myself. But this time, I cannot help but believe it’s true. Why?

Terrorism: A storm is gathering in the Middle East that threatens to spread throughout the world, but its perpetrators hate America above all. In a nuclear age, a single person supported by sophisticated, committed network of terrorists can kill millions at a single stroke. ISIS must be eliminated militarily before it can grow any larger. If you need convincing, read the history of Germany of National Socialism in the 30s.

Character: America is losing the unity of its national character. This began when immigrants no longer felt the necessity of being assimilated, starting with the learning of English. It’s one thing for the Hispanic population to reach 106 million by 2015, quite another if the majority of them don’t speak English. Rival languages have, and will, produce divided communities and cultures. Assimilation is not a nasty word demanding obedience, it’s the reasonable request of a nation whose character has attracted immigrants from around the world since its founding. That character must be preserved with care.

Family: When attitudes toward LGBTs becomes the moral standard by which we are all judged, something has gone terribly wrong in American culture. Here I distinguish between charitable acceptance of differences, and socially, and legally, enforced approval. Nothing is more fundamental to the well-being of human society than the health of families, created by the marriage of men and women. Of course, many marriages turn into train wrecks, and worse, but that’s no reason to give up on the norm. Just as it’s nonsense for a drunk to give up on sobriety because he can’t live up to it.

Life: America keeps killing its children at a rate of between 700,000 and a million each year, and its citizens are paying for half of those deaths through public funding of Planned Parenthood. America became the most admired country in the world following its decisive entry into both world wars and was handed the torch of freedom from a decayed, battered Europe. America took the lead in rebuilding both Europe and Japan, but at home began building a culture of death to “celebrate” its new affluence and prestige. Since 1973, the year of Roe, America has killed more children than any one of the genocides committed by Hitler, Stalin, or Mao — 57,762,169 dead.

Manners: There’s a mystery in manners, as the Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor often talked about. One aspect of this mystery is the way manners both produce and express 0ur true values — manners bear values into the ordinary, everyday world of social conduct. Today it has become accepted that millionaire film stars will use the coarsest profanity on a public, televised stage while presenting and accepting awards for excellence. They use the privilege of their celebrity to show contempt for their audience, while indulging their egos with the equivalent of teenage flatulence. I can’t imagine Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda, et al publicly shaming themselves in such a fashion.

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Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor (1924-1964) at the time she published Wise Blood.

Faith: Barack Obama is the first American president to scowl and wag his finger at America’s Christian citizens. Hillary Clinton would become the second. Obama has fought, and shown disdain towards, the orthodox people of faith from his first day in office when he repealed the Mexico City Policy. Religious institutions have had to seek relief in court from the federal laws that would require them sin against their God. Religious beliefs that won’t bend to accommodate the LGBT standard of morality are being fashionably scorned, while law and policy being shaped to bring those beliefs under the enforcement power of the state. Religious liberty is no longer celebrated but looked upon as the unconscionable excuse of a bigoted minority to “embrace diversity.”

The year after the end of WWI, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote “The Second Coming” (1919). In this poem he describes the fracture of Western civilization, its break with the certainties of the past, the values and vision upon which the West was built over 3000 years. The first few lines suffice to explain:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

 

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William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Perhaps the reader, like myself, read this poem in high school or college decades ago, and were told it reflected the confusion following the senseless slaughter in the trenches of WWI. In other words, just a period piece. Yeats’ words in “The Second Coming” have taken on a prophetic intensity as we near the 100th anniversary of its writing. Indeed, the “widening gyre” has widened to the point that all that I described above has come to pass, all of which are a consequence of a nation losing its “centre” and inviting “anarchy.”

The election of 2016 will have a direct impact on the direction of our nation, the fate of the national character, its families, the defense of innocent life, the people of faith, and our collective protection against ISIS terror. This is why I will do all I can do to ensure the message goes out to those who love America “under God” to vote against another eight years of war on the foundation of our country.

Published at The Christian Review, January 11, 2016