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Tragedy, Obituaries, and the Public Relations Fallout

Life itself is ultimately tragic, as our jaded souls know all too well, but the news from the past few weeks have brought more than usual amount of tragedy.
Two historic hurricanes brought death and devastation to densely populated parts of Texas and Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands and pretty much wiped out a few Caribbean countries you probably couldn’t name, two successive earthquakes killed hundreds in Mexico and therefore went largely unnoticed in America, a third deadly hurricane left Puerto Rico flooded and without power or potable water, and a severely troubled soul in Nevada killed at least 59 of his fellow human beings and wounded more than 500 others. Not to mention the sudden plausibility of a nuclear exchange with a nutcase dictatorship in North Korea, the normal and quotidian slaughter on America’s streets, and the names you can’t help noticing for some personal reason in the always full obituary page.
That’s an awful lot of tragedy to comment on, especially if you want to do so with the requisite respect and dignity and humility, and we’d never be so boastful as to claim being up to the job. Therefore the job instead falls on President Donald Trump, who is not known for being respectful or dignified or humble, and as much as we hate to cast stones we think he could have handled it better.
The historic hurricanes went about as well as can be expected in Texas and Florida, with the long and arduous rebuilding process and the requisite federal assistance coming along so far and so good despite all the legislative rigmarole, and except for the usual unpersuasive carping about climate change there was no way to blame Trump for the storms. Trump seemed to be taking a bit too much credit for things going as well as can be expected, with not enough credit given to the state and county and civic officials and plain old citizens who were pulling one another out of the water, but other than that he did well enough.
After that hurricane in Puerto Rico, however, Trump gave his critics plenty to work with. Trump “tweeted” boasts about how the governor of Puerto Rico had praised the federal response, but his Homeland Security secretary described the federal response as a “good news story,” so when the mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital and most populous went viral with her answer that its a “people-are-dying” Trump wound up in another bad news cycle. Trump “tweeted” his criticism of her leadership abilities, but the unfriendly media had footage of her wading in chest deep water while Trump was hosting a fancy golf tournament, and the three-star general who turned around President George W. Bush’s Hurricane Katrina disaster was on the ground in Puerto Rico and noting the difference, and Trump continued to “tweet” about Puerto Rico’s debt and effect on the American budget and an insinuation that Puerto Ricans are too lazy to save themselves from nature’s fury.
As bad as the public relations disaster was for Trump, he was temporarily rescued by all the media attention paid to that troubled soul who killed at least 59 people in Las Vegas and the wounding of at least 500 others. Trump offered a a very respectful and dignified and humble statement about the victims, lowered all the nation’s flags to half-staff in honor of the victims, and handled the tragedy as well as can be expected. He put off the inevitable debates about gun control to another day, which is probably the best that can be expected, and until that inevitable debate happens we think he did well enough.
Trump was in Puerto Rico on Monday to convey his sympathy to the quasi-Americans on the island, though, and that gave all his critics even more work to with. He once against boasted about how the governor had praised the great federal response, this time with looking rather embarrassed as he sat beside him, and made a joke about how much Puerto Rico was costing America that left everyone looking pretty darned embarrassed, and boastfully compared the death toll of 35 — which he understated at 16 — to the thousands of deaths of deaths that resulted from a “real catastrophe” such as fellow Republican President George W. Bush’s Hurricane Katrina, which actually resulted in slightly fewer than a thousand deaths. He was overheard offering praise to a ran Puerto Rican for the mayor of the island’s capital and most populous city, and had an awkward handshake with her, but we doubt it played well with anyone in Puerto Rico and Americans other than Trump’s most loyal supporters.
Puerto Rico has in fact racked up an irresponsible debt, neglected to maintain up-to-date electrical grids and plumbing systems and other crucial infrastructure, and that plucky and telegenic if crazily leftist mayor does bear some responsibility for that, but with the island still largely without power or potable water this seems an inappropriate time to bring that up. The Puerto Ricans and the rest of the Democrats can also plausibly argue that past American laws that made them a temporary tax haven for foreign investment enticed them to rack up all that debt, that a later American law denying them the same bankruptcy protections afforded to other American jurisdictions and certain Trump casinos had made the debt unsustainable, so it’s a complicated debate that’s best left to less emotional times.
When Trump touches down in tragic Las Vegas the inevitable debates about gun control will still be best left to less emotional times, and we hold out hope he’ll strike the right note with a respectful and dignified and humble tone in a scripted and stuck-to speech. The victims were all country music fans, even the mainstream media has found that all of them were sympathetic no matter what you think of country music fans, so we count on Trump being appropriately respectful and dignified and humble. That inevitable debate about gun control will hang over the event, but Trump should be able to delay that for at least a respectful interval, but there’s going to be some serious arguments about the commercially-available ways to convert to semi-automatic to more-or-less automatic weapons that will be hard to win.
Despite all the tragedy we note that many of our Facebook friends are also focused on the death of Tom Petty, who was a rock ‘n’ roll star of some note, so we’ll take a moment out of these past few dreary months to note his passing. We were never such ardent fans as so many of our dear friends, but Tom Petty and His Heartbreakers did cut more than a few true blue rock ‘n’ roll tracks we remember well, and along with everyone else we mourn his passing.
Not so long ago we were at a local dive and ran into an old friend with excellent musical taste, and she recommended we check out an obscure guy named Charles Bradley, who turned out to sing sweet soul music the way remembered it from the glorious but tragic late ’60s and early ’70s. Looking up this valuable information we also discovered that Bradley had died last months after 68 tragic years of life, just a couple of years of slight recognition for his musical talent, and we also mourn his passing. Before he died he sang a song called “Why Is It So hard,” and for now we’re finding it more comforting than anything Trump or any of his critics might say.

— Bud Norman

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A Prayer for the Dead and the Rest of Us

We first learned of the past weekend’s mass murders in Florida while at our Sunday morning worship services. The very fine fellow who leads our congregation’s singing and offers its closing prayer is the sort of early-riser who eats a full breakfast and drinks a cup of coffee and looks over the day’s song list and catches up with the latest news before arriving resplendent at worship, whereas we’re the more nocturnal types who stumble more or less directly and somewhat shabbily out of bed and into our usual spot in the last row of pews at some point during the opening hymn, so it was news to us when he prayed for the redemption of those souls that had been taken in yet another of those all-too-common tragedies, and for the quick recovery of those who had been gravely injured, and for comfort to all those who know and love them.
Constant scanning of the local radio stations on the short drive home turned up nothing but ads and awful country music, so when we arrived at home we re-heated the coffee we’d earlier brewed but didn’t have time to drink and went to the internet for further details on the latest atrocity. Even the earliest dispatches we found reported that the attack had occurred at an Orlando nightspot that catered to homosexuals, and by the time that very fellow fine who leads our singing had left for the all-too-early morning Bible classes he had probably also heard about the murderer’s all-too-common Islamic beliefs, so we were pleased he had humbly admitted none of us yet knew all the facts and addressed our prayers only to the more pressing matter of the lost souls and the gravely wounded and the suffering of those who know and love them. Now that the all-too-predictably dreary facts of the matter are better established and the inevitable necessary dreary political debates are following, we appreciate that fine fellow’s priorities all the more.
Over on the secular left there’s the all-too-familiar clamor about America’s gun culture and the anti-homosexual stance of America’s conservative Christian culture and even some talk about how the latest carnage occurred because so much of America’s common sense culture has resisted the new rules about men using the women’s rooms and hanging around their public showers. The President of the United States acknowledged that the murders were terrorism but once again wouldn’t go so far as to describe its motivation, the presumptive Democratic nominee at long last called it “radical Islamic terrorism,” but everyone else on the secular left was trying to deny the plain fact that one member of its designated-for-protection minority groups had perpetrated such a horrible mass murder against one of its other designated-for-protection minority groups. None of it, of course, is likely to make any sense to the common sense majority of the voting public.
As usual nothing on offer by the gun-grabbing left would have prevented the murderer from obtaining the mundane weapons he used for his carnage, and he not only passed all the background checks for ownership even after two federal investigations but also passed muster to work for a security company often hired by the federal government, with his outspoken Islamism apparently being more a shield than a signal to investigators, and we’re sure if he’d tried his plot in a gay bar in the more gun-friendly jurisdiction of Wichita, Kansas, even such church-going types as ourselves have some dear and rather formidable homosexual friends who would have been armed and ready to lower the resulting death toll. The idea that western Christianity’s rigidly traditional yet ultimately forgiving belief in procreative sexuality as a social and spiritual ideal is responsible for Islam’s more stern and frequently murderous stance against the alternatives is laughable, and the notion that the ridiculous recent flap over men using the women’s restrooms and showers is more laughable yet.
These days the once-feared looming “Handmaiden’s Tale” theocracy of the “Religious Right” is reduced to defending its right not to bake a same-sex wedding cake or have nuns or Baptist entrepreneurs pay for contraception coverage, and with a presumptive Republican nominee who’s a thrice-married and boastfully adulterous and four-times bankrupt casino and strip joint owner who says he’s good with God because he “eats his little cracker” and “drinks his little wine” on infrequent Sundays there’s nowadays a certain unmistakeable secularism to the rest of the right. That presumptive Republican nominee has little to say about same-sex marriage or the right of people to not be involved in it, and has been utterly worthless on the matter of creepy men hanging around women’s restrooms and public showers on the federal government’s say-so, but he’s bound to gain some ground in the lately unfavorable polls by his full-throated denunciation of the secular left’s obvious nonsense.
Regular readers of this publication already know that we don’t place much hope in the presumptive Republican nominee’s ever-shifting yet always cocksure proposed solutions, either, so for now we’re left with that fine fellow’s prayer. The congregation we worship with is affiliated with one of those “politically incorrect” evangelical denominations that is invariably and and more or less accurately described as politically and theologically conservative, and despite those old-fashioned views we pray the same prayer as that fine fellow we know for the recently deceased no matter what their private lives, and no matter how vigorously we disagree with the religious beliefs of their killer we will pause to pray for their souls and those who were gravely injured and all those who know and love them, not matter what they say on the secular left and the secular right. There seems to be a battle between good and evil looming, and at this point we’re not looking to politics for redemption.

— Bud Norman

Move Along, Nothing to See Here

A Kuwaiti-born immigrant named Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez shot and killed four servicemen on Thursday at a recruiting center and another military site in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but don’t jump to any conclusions that it might have anything to with Islam. There’s always a chance it was caused by some Confederate battle flag emblazoned on a passing pick-up, or something that some Republican presidential candidate might have said about immigration, and in any case it couldn’t have had anything to do with what everyone knows is a religion of peace.
By now the ritual is all too familiar. Someone named Muhammad commits mass murder at a military installation or some other obviously symbolic target, has announced to his friends and the internet and anyone who will listen that everything he does is motivated by his understanding of Islam, millions of Muslims with a similar understanding of the faith “tweet” their congratulations or celebrate in the streets or otherwise express their approval of the slaughter, and polite opinion and the official pronouncements insist that it has nothing to do with Islam. By now the far more impolite average American’s instinctive opinion is that it must have something to with Islam, somehow or another, but the official record and the most massive of the mass-media will somehow veer around this increasingly inescapable conclusion.
This particular Muhammad died during his mass-murder spree, which will absolve the authorities of the unpleasant necessity of charging him with terrorism rather than the mere mass-murder charges that might be more conveniently brought against someone motivated by a Confederate battle flag or a Sarah Palin graphic or some other domestic provocation that doesn’t require apologetics, and although the investigation will likely be forced to concede that Islam did have something to do with it  somehow or another the carefully-worded report won’t require widespread news coverage. In the meantime the four Americans who were gunned down while serving their country in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will be easily forgotten as the four Americans who were gunned down while serving their country in Benghazi, Libya, and there will be stories about how America hasn’t suffered 9/11-style attack during the current administration, just the occasional pesky cases of “work place violence” at Fort Hood and shootings at a recruiting center in Arkansas and this one in Tennessee and cars being driven into pedestrians in a couple of towns and a beheading in Oklahoma and unspeakable carnage all across areas of Iraq that had once been pacified and almost civilized by American military might, and much celebration that the Iranian theocracy and its very bellicose understanding of Islam has promised the Great Satan that it won’t get a nuclear weapon for at the least the ten years or so that it will take them to acquire the ballistic missile systems that America’s politely indulgent understanding of Islam has now allowed to buy from their newly-acquired Russian and Chinese friends.
There are no doubt many Muslims who do subscribe to that Religion of Peace of version of Islam that we keep hearing about, every time some some self-proclaimed Muslim commits mass murder, and we wish them well. The best possible outcome would be that they somehow convince their co-religionists to reach a similarly placid understanding of Islam, and persuade them to live in peace with a western world that is anathema to their generations-old understanding of right and wrong, and are able to point to America’s capitulation to a Shiite Iranian nuclear bomb and the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood’s legitimacy in Egypt and elsewhere as proof of its good intention, but barring that unlikely possibility some frankness will be required among the both the officials and their mass-media accomplices. A widely-held understanding of Islam is utterly incompatible with the values that both the left and the right of western civilization, is causing the all-too-frequent deaths of Americans and far more massive bloodshed throughout the rest of the world, and cannot be peacefully be resolved without capitulations to a medieval theology that goes way beyond repealing same-sex marriage and women’s suffrage and is offended even by the more old-fashioned morality of the Christian right, and some resistance must be offered.
We can’t say where to begin the bombings, as the threat is by now far too diffuse and well-armed in the deserts and well-hidden in the suburbs and too politely ignored by official pronouncements and mass-media commentary, but at a frank acknowledgement that this has something to do with Islam, somehow or another, would be a good start.

— Bud Norman

On the Connecticut Tragedy

There’s no avoiding the subject of last Friday’s horrible massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, as much as one might wish it.
All through Friday and Saturday our usual news sources were overflowing with reports about the shootings, and even when we took refuge in an old folks’ radio station the pop standards of Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra were frequently interrupted with further updates on the carnage. Local stations “localized” the shootings, all reluctantly admitting that it could happen here, and everywhere people were talking about how terrible it was. At the very traditional church where we worship a tough old veteran of the Vietnam War was choking back tears on Sunday as he led a prayer asking that the victims’ families be comforted, and during the after-service chit-chat we saw one of the congregation’s sagest biblical scholars offering him a gentle pat on the back while admitting that there’s really nothing to say.
What is there is to say, except to offer a prayer that the victims’ families be comforted? Nothing we can think of, and no one else seems to have come up with anything new since the last mass murder, but because there’s no avoiding the subject everyone apparently feels obliged to trot out all the usual responses. So far we have not encountered any attempt to link the perpetrator to the Tea Party or any other conservative political causes, which has lately become a press rite in the wake of a mass shooting, but otherwise all the obligatory clichés have been deployed.
The inevitable cries for draconian gun control laws immediately followed, and from all the predictable people and organizations. This obliges the people who value a right to self-defense to make their case, even though they’d prefer to wait until a more dispassionate discussion is possible, and thus all the old familiar arguments get shouted once again.
All the old familiar arguments about America’s mental health system are also being shouted, as always. At the Gawker.com web site a mother offered her jarringly frank account of living with a son who suffers a madness frighteningly similar to that of the Connecticut shooter, a thoughtful reminder of the complex dilemmas involved in the issue, but otherwise the criticisms do not seem constructive.
The comments section beneath the mother’s essay are full of typical internet vitriol, much of it explicitly expressing an anti-white prejudice, most of it a strictly personal animus against a mother who seems to be struggling to do her best in a difficult situation. This also seems to be part of the new post-mass-shooting tradition, along with the ghoulish behavior of the news media, the demands to turn schools into fortresses, the occasional allusions to the murders that go largely unremarked, and the scapegoating of the parents and the schools and the police.
Of course, there are also the routine calls for national soul-searching. It is never made clear, though, what the nation should be searching for in its collective soul. As much as Americans like to regard themselves as exceptional in every way, mass murder is by no means an exclusively American phenomenon. Traditionalists who blame some aspect of contemporary society should also note the mass murder is not unique to modern times. Individuals have succumbed to the madness in every society in every age, and like all evil it has always proved impossible to eradicate.
The president, who famously promised to end the rise of the oceans and health the planet, seems willing to get the perfection of human nature a shot as well. Speaking to an audience in the town where the shootings occurred, the president asked “Are we prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that violence visited on our children year after year is the price of our freedom?” Some reporters took this to mean that the president intends to pursue stricter gun laws, which seems a fair conclusion, but the hubris of the implied answers to these rhetorical questions is even more worrisome. Sometimes a nation must admit that it is powerless against the vicissitudes of life. If the politics are too hard, it is because people are naturally protective of their rights. The price of freedom can be dear, but it will never purchase the safety and security that is promised by those who will take it away.
These things need to be said, even at time of national mourning.

— Bud Norman

An Unspeakable Tragedy

There’s nothing to be said about the tragic murders that occurred in a Colorado movie theater last Friday except that which mourns the innocent people who lost their lives, offers condolence to those who knew and loved them, hopes that our justice system arrives at the fairest possible decisions, and acknowledges that we can never fully understand the human failings that lead to such senseless violence.

That doesn’t stop some people from using such terrible tragedies to further their political goals, however, and it’s become a routine feature of these all too common events that the same hackneyed arguments are once again revived in the ensuing “discussion.”

There’s the inevitable call for gun control, of course. Invariably the same people who insist that it is futile to outlaw recreational drugs or abortion will claim that it was possible to have prevented a madman from obtaining a deadly weapon. Press reports indicate that the suspect in this case had fashioned a number of explosives from readily available sources, and that a past rampage in the same town had nonetheless been thwarted by armed citizens defending themselves, but these facts matter less than the emotional response that a fresh tragedy might provoke.

Trying to try to somehow link any violent tragedy to the “tea party” movement has lately become a journalistic ritual, as if a belief in limited government and fiscal probity is somehow an indicator of a murderous rage. Every attempt has been an embarrassing failure, but the liberal media outlets are nonetheless more vigilant about the imagined violence of the tea party than with the actual violence of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In this case the most egregious offender was Brian Ross of the ABC network, who took the airwaves a short time after the massacre had occurred to announce that a person with the same name as the suspect had once identified himself on a tea party web site.

One can also expect the usual theories about the gratuitous violence of the popular culture, the stresses of modern life, the failures of the mental health system, and several other familiar themes. Some of these ideas even deserve consideration, but it should be careful and dispassionate consideration that cannot be achieved in the immediate aftermath of such horrifying bloodshed. Exploiting the emotions of tragedy is not only unseemly, even in the pursuit of a worthy cause, and is unlikely to yield a positive result.

— Bud Norman