Fred Rogers and the Loveliness of the Little Good

The power is in Rogers’s radical kindness at a time when public kindness is scarce. It’s as if the pressure of living in a time such as ours gets released in that theater as we’re reminded that, oh yes, that’s how people can be.

Moral elevation gains strength when it is scarce.

.. Mister Rogers was a lifelong Republican and an ordained Presbyterian minister. His show was an expression of the mainline Protestantism that was once the dominating morality in American life.

.. Once, as Tom Junod described in a profile for Esquire, Rogers met a 14-year-old boy whose cerebral palsy left him sometimes unable to walk or talk. Rogers asked the boy to pray for him.

The boy was thunderstruck. He had been the object of prayers many times, but nobody had asked him to pray for another. He said he would try since Mister Rogers must be close to God and if Mister Rogers liked him he must be O.K.

Junod complimented Rogers on cleverly boosting the boy’s self-esteem, but Rogers didn’t look at the situation that way at all: “Oh, heavens no, Tom! I didn’t ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession.”

And here is the radicalism that infused that show: that

  • the child is closer to God than the adult;
  • that the sick are closer than the healthy;
  • that the poor are closer than the rich and
  • the marginalized closer than the celebrated.

Rogers often comforted children on the show and taught them in simple terms, but the documentary shows how he did so with a profound respect for the dignity of each child that almost rises to veneration. You see his visceral disgust for shows that don’t show respect — that dump slime on children, that try to entertain them with manic violence.

In the gospel of Fred Rogers, children are our superiors in the way

  • they trust each person they meet, the way
  • they lack guile,
  • the way a child can admit simple vulnerability.

Rogers was drawing on a long moral tradition, that the last shall be first. It wasn’t just Donald Trump who reversed that morality, though he does represent a cartoonish version of the idea that winners are better than losers, the successful are better than the weak. That morality got reversed long before Trump came on the scene, by an achievement-oriented success culture, by a culture that swung too far from humble and earnest caritas.

Rogers was singing from a song sheet now lost, a song sheet that once joined conservative evangelicals and secular progressives. The song sheet may be stacked somewhere in a drawer in the national attic, ready for reuse once again.

Kennedy Retires — It’s On!

Whoever accepts President Trump’s call for the nomination will be one of the bravest men or women in public life, because he or she is going to be attacked with unrelenting fury from the Left.

.. For a lot of white evangelicals, this moment was worth every migrant child forever traumatized, every refugee family denied safety, every sexual assault victim betrayed, every white nationalist emboldened, every lie told. These are the ends that justified the means.

.. Bears repeating: Had Clinton won, she’d likely have replaced Scalia, Kennedy, and eventually Ginsburg (85) and Breyer (79). -That’d make six relatively young liberal justices and a lasting majority. -Now, it’ll be five conservatives, all 70 and under.

.. (Chuck Schumer quite understandably called on McConnell to follow the same policy he did to deny Merrick Garland a hearing in an election year. McConnell, a hardballer if ever there was one, quite understandably didn’t take this seriously.)

.. If Trump is re-elected in 2020, and he still has a Republican Senate, there is a decent chance that he could leave office with a 7-2 conservative majority.

.. First, the hearings could well be a catalyst for real violence

..  Let’s revisit this January piece from National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty:

I’ve started to think that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy may be the one man preventing the United States from political breakdown.

.. both sides have reason to pity themselves as the losers of the [political] system. Partisan Democrats, with some justification, feel that the constitutional system favors dirt (geography), so it rewards Republicans with too many senators and even electoral votes than they would otherwise win. Many partisan Republicans also feel that their votes go for naught, and that elites in the media, donor class, and social scene of Washington, D.C., constantly make Republicans under-deliver on their promises.

.. Kennedy deals out victories and defeats to each side — giving slightly more defeats to social conservatives. In effect, he constrains what each side can do to the other. His mercurial jurisprudence replicates and even gives the savor of legitimacy to a closely divided country.

.. So I’ve started to worry that if the Court soon consolidates to the left or the right, partisans on the losing end of that bargain will swiftly lose faith in democracy itself. A non-swinging Supreme Court would give the impression of super-charging the ability of one party to act, and restraining its competitor. A consolidated Supreme Court could open up whole new fields of legislation for one side to act against the other. At that point, what would happen?

.. Overturning Roe would only mean that regulating abortion returns to the states. If you live in a socially liberal state now, you don’t have anything to worry about. That’s not going to make you happy, but it’s not Armageddon. And there is no realistic chance that Obergefell will be overturned. But even if it were, again, that only means that the gay marriage question devolves to the states. Gay marriage is overwhelmingly popular. There might be a handful of Southern states (plus Utah) that might vote against it, in a popular referendum. But even they would fall eventually. Same-sex marriage isn’t an issue for younger voters, who support it by a wide margin.

.. Kennedy retiring is where the Roy Moore own goal really, really hurts. We now only have 51 votes, but two of those are Murkowski and Susan Collins, who will likely be reluctant to support a 5th pro-life justice. Mitch will have to put the screws on to get to 50.

.. However, had Hillary Clinton won, conservatives would be in the same miserable position today as liberals are.

It is not at all healthy for the republic that the Supreme Court matters so much. But we are where we are.

You Can’t Be Pro-Life and Against Immigrant Children

What does “pro-life, pro-family” really mean?

.. being “pro-life, pro-family” is not a euphemism for opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. It acknowledges that protecting children, including ones not yet born, often requires protecting and supporting their mothers and families too.

.. He called the policies intrinsically evil. Because it regularly forces children into places where their lives are under threat, Bishop Flores argued, it is “not unlike driving someone to an abortion clinic.”

.. Where is the Susan B. Anthony List?

.. after his nomination, the group promoted him as someone its supporters should vote for. Going well beyond “the lesser of two evils” language, it even made Mr. Trump the keynote speaker at its annual gala last month.

.. This presents a real threat to the broader movement’s capacity to be taken seriously by young people and people of color.

.. If the traditional pro-life movement is to regain credibility as something other than a tool of the Trump administration, it must speak out clearly and forcefully against harming innocent children as a means of deterring undocumented immigration.

These groups have extraordinary access and influence in the White House. They have to use it.

 

A Welcoming Church No More

Now I’m no longer comfortable with the label of “evangelical” because I have become slack-jawed with disgust at friends who will defend Trump harder that they defend the gospel.

.. We cringe when pastors and church members have no qualms about praying for law enforcement and hear deafening silence when it comes to victims of police brutality — or pointed accusations that it was the victims’ fault.

.. It wasn’t “fair” policy criticism, and people — black people in particular — understood what he meant: Donald Trump was saying that a person of African origin was incapable of being president of the United States.

And for eight years Trump ran with that flag. He waved it around and beaned people over the head with it. He tweeted he had detectives in Hawaii combing through birth records and leaving no stone unturned. In his hands, the birther movement took life and grew.

.. I noticed the obvious token smatterings of black faces in the crowd.

.. I saw him talk at people who looked like me as opposed to talking with us. And most disturbingly, I saw bigots line up behind Trump. People who felt Obama was “other,” people who swallowed the birther foolishness, people who felt that it was the victim’s fault when they were shot by police, individuals who felt their skin color made them superior and somehow “oppressed” by social justice.

.. What we are now seeing is a break in the fragile alliance between black and white evangelical Christians, which was always fraught with historical baggage.

.. It has been observed that black men go into jails as “Christian” (i.e., raised in a Christian home and often identifying as Christian) but come out Muslim. In this transformation to Islam, they find a sense of self-worth and inner value. They develop a love for their communities, pride, and militancy for upliftment: factors the Christian church tends to miss, with its focus on the hereafter while the oppressors enjoyed a heaven here on earth.

These churches were on almost every corner in a community infested with squalor. Pastors were well dressed, decorated in jewelry, and escorted around in luxurious cars. But their parishioners were impoverished, fleeting lives surrounded by drugs, alcohol, and vice.

..  I came into my faith by way of the white evangelical church. The initial shock of seeing a pastor not dressed well, but in jeans and a T-shirt, gave way to a sense of peace. I enrolled at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, started leading Bible study, and worshipped next to people of all shades and hues. God helped me toward a broader definition of “brothers and sisters.”

.. church has two diametrically opposite meanings within black and white societies. For the black community in America, since the early 19th century, church came to personify a refuge, a place of spiritual sustenance and succor. It was a foundation of perseverance that allowed black men and women to face their days dealing with bigotry, discrimination, hatred, and injustice. The black church also cultivated a robust demand for social change, which even in my days of being an angry, young rebel, I could not deny.

.. For white America, church is seen differently. It is a place to celebrate the success of life. Church is a joyous reveling for the fortunate in what God has done for them. It seemed eager to embrace glib political jargon and to conflate the doctrines of Christianity with a vague Americanism.

.. Church isn’t about injustice, because the people raising their hands to thank God for Donald Trump probably never had to face it.

.. The white evangelical church today now seems to me like a cruise ship with a mad captain at the helm. The passengers are dancing and partying as the band plays, totally oblivious to an oncoming catastrophe

.. But they don’t see the holes in the ship. They miss the small ones naturally, but even the bigger holes strangely elicit no cause for concern.

.. The evangelicals who voted for Trump effectively discarded the chapters of the Bible that extolled patience, love, forgiveness, peace, care for the poor and suffering, and replaced them with pamphlets for guided tours of the Wall, white nationalist jargon, and juvenile vitriol. They have gained the uncanny ability to campaign against “snowflakes,” following up a heartless bigoted statement with a profession of faith or a selective Biblical verse.

.. Despite my absence and feelings of brokenheartedness, white evangelical churches across this country are gleeful with self-congratulated accomplishment as they thank God for Donald Trump

.. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”