Portraits of Courage

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I mentioned the other week that I had pre-ordered President George W. Bush’s new book, Portraits of Courage, and now that I’ve finally devoted some time to it I can wholeheartedly endorse it. This compilation of more than ninety Wounded Warriors painted by their former Commander in Chief is very touching and well done. You will be inspired by their stories and you will gain a greater understanding of the painter/author through this work.

Most of the men and women in the book befriended Bush at one of the annual golf tournaments or mountain biking events he hosts for service personnel and it is clear that he is humbled and honored by their friendship. The more I look at the paintings he has done, the more I can see the time and effort Bush put into capturing each individual’s unique character, and the more I admire this greatly maligned and casually dismissed world leader.

The title, Portraits of Courage, is clearly a play on, or an homage to, Profiles in Courage, the 1957 Pulitzer Prize winning book by then Senator John Kennedy, which tells the stories of past senators who made unpopular decisions they believed to be right and suffered for it. I think it’s safe to suppose that Bush sees himself in the same vein as the politicians Kenney admired; as a man who will be vindicated by history. It is often said that history depends on who writes it but it is equally important who reads it and what they choose to focus on in the records.

For example, when assessing Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, will future generations recall comedian Bill Maher ridiculing the President for comparing Saddam to Hitler? “Saddam Hussein is Hitler like Oasis was The Beatles.” Or will they look to Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Elie Wiesel, who also compared Saddam’s brutality to the genocide of the Nazi’s and directly told Bush, “Mr. President, you have a moral obligation to act against evil.”

When parsing out blame for the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, will people fifty or a hundred years from now place more weight on the photo of Bush looking down on the disaster from Air Force One, allegedly detached and unsympathetic to the sorrow below:

Bush Katrina airforce one

Or will they find the sea of unused school buses to be more telling about the failure of local officials to act in the first place?

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No one can be certain how these interpretations will play out but it does appear that Bush’s post-presidential years will play a large role in any final assessments. Only the most cynical and unrealistic critics can discount the level of commitment that Bush has demonstrated to the troops who sacrificed so much for his decisions. One does not spend hours, weeks, months, and years, getting to know people and painting their portraits as a PR stunt or a passing fancy. Clearly, Bush believes in the choices he made, yet he cares deeply about those who paid the price for them. And, unlike JFK, who merely supervised the writing of his book on courage – leaving the bulk of the text to be penned by his speechwriter, Ted Sorensen – W. has put his heart into every brush stroke and word of the courage he depicts.

Negative reviews of Bush’s book, or more so, complaints about his public, “rehabilitation,” thanks to the book and recent positive press, keep popping up in my Google newsfeed. For many left-leaning pundits the temptation to slip into the same old mantras (e.g. “Bush lied,” “Bush is stupid”) is simply too great. Thankfully, we need not follow their emotional lead.

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America First is unAmerican

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It seems like most people are already sick of the inauguration and the protests and the never ending battle of politics and spin machines. They have chosen their side, or they have chosen no side, and they have constructed a comfortable narrative around themselves to reinforce their position. President Trump is going to, “Drain the swamp,” and finally, “Get things done.” Or, “Not my President Trump” is going to, “Roll back our rights,” and create a, “Fascist America.” Or, “Politicians are all the same and Trump is no different, so who cares what they do?”

Still, I can’t stop offering my two cents for those willing to listen. One thing I have been thinking about a lot is Trumps declaration that he/we will, “Put America First.” I know this resonates with many who feel like they have gotten the shaft from globalism but I see it in far more ominous terms and can’t stop thinking again of President Kennedy’s Inaugural, in which he said:

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Obviously, JFK’s rhetoric was a bit over the top. No nation has infinite capacity in terms of manpower, wealth, or will to endlessly bear any and all burdens. Nevertheless, the point he was making is a very important one, one which was, “tempered by war,” and greatly informed by the times in which he lived. As a young man, he saw the first incarnation of the America First Movement and, under his father’s isolationist influence, he too became a supporter of the movement for a time. This radically anti-war, anti-foreign entanglements philosophy, grew out of The Great War (aka World War I), and the feeling that America had won a pointless victory at a very high price (more than 116,000 military deaths). While most Americans did not join any formal America First organizations, they did share the general sentiment, and they were willing to stand by as Hitler ravaged Europe and Imperial Japan laid waste to Asia. Not until we were directly attacked at Pearl Harbor did we wake up to the fact that we could not and should not withdraw from the world.

After that devastating, nearly Apocalyptic time, Americans became the driving force that charted a new course for the world, creating the United Nations, the World Bank, and so many other institutions and agreements that promoted international cooperation and the much vilified, “globalization,” of today. When President Kennedy, the first member of World War II generation to become President, took the Oath of Office, he wanted to reaffirm America’s commitment to this future and to make it clear that we would put American Values before any short-sighted ideas of, “America First.” He saw America as a moral leader, with an obligation and duty to lead, and prevent further world conflicts, even if this proved to be a burden for us. For the most part, all Presidents that have followed him have shared this sentiment. They may have disagreed on when and how American military might, foriegn aid, or diplomacy should be used, but they have not shirked from the idea that these things can and should be used when appropriate, nor have they taken an isolationist, let’s pull away from the world to, “Make America Great Again,” attitude.

The Trump Administration marks a titanic shift in many ways but not enough attention has yet been paid to his Fortress America mentality. Like his personal behavior – throughout his career in real estate, casinos, Reality TV, and numerous failed endeavors and scams –  Trump sees the world of global politics the way he seems to view business, as a zero sum gain. I need to look after mine (and maybe screw you over) so that I “win” and someone else “loses.” The idea that we can all win, that we are all in this together, or that sometime there are values and ideals greater than getting the biggest piece of the pie or passing the finish line first, does not appear to cross his mind. His America First rhetoric is a call for us to be like him on the world stage. To, “get ours,” and let others attempt to get theirs, so long as they don’t get in our way. He wants to make this a more selfish, more “me” obsessed society, as if we don’t have enough of that, and the spin his puts on it is that he is doing this, “for us;” as if the promotion of isolationism and greed is really some kind of communitarianism.

I know, Trump Supporters will complain about this or that trade deal, international effort, or organization; and on an individual level they may have a point. Certainly there are improvements that can be made to everything and some things are just wrong. But the idea that America is a vital part of the world and must play a crucial role in it – that we must not fall into the simplistic, “America First,” mentality – is something we cannot afford to lose sight of. I realize that many people object to us being the, “Policeman of the world,” but I think that is an unfortunate phase for our role as a global leader. We are more like the World’s Fireman. Like it or not, we need to be there to help fight the small fires, lest they become an all encompassing blaze. And we need to do what we can to pull others from the flames. We cannot police the other 95% of the world’s population, but we must not jerk our knees and reflexively, “Put America First.” The best we can hope for in that scenario is to be the last house on fire.

One other interesting note about slogans that recently come to my attention. After Trump chose, “Make America Great Again,” for his campaign, the Purge film franchise chose a variation on this as a tagline for their third movie, The Purge: Election Year (2016), “Keep America Great.”

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It’s a rather cheeses, formulaic dystopian story about a horrid future in which America’s get one night each year to commit any crimes they please, even murder. The New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA), the political party who rule in Washington created this system to remove the homeless and other people they see as draining our resources. One thing that is spot on about the film is they way they portray the corruption of our values, including the doctrine of Christianity, through the clever use of language. The NFFA justify Purge Night by saying that just as Jesus sacrificed himself for our sins, we must sacrifice others for the betterment of society. Given the fact that many self-professed Christians have convinced themselves that President Trump is somehow, “one of us,” and the fact the Klu Klux Klan pretends to be a Christian Organization, and the fact that even the Nazis were defended in Germany by many clergymen and laymen alike, I don’t see The Purge’s take on killing people for Christ as all that out there. It is a sad reflection on the fact that people can convince themselves of anything, if they want to. In a funny twist of irony, Trump has already said that he is considering the use of the slogan, “Keep America Great!” in 2020. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what meaning and significance we should see in this.

It has begun

The night before President Kennedy’s Inaugural there was a snow storm (a nor’easter) that covered Washington DC in a blanket of white. Optimistic opinion at the time saw this as a good omen, a sign of a clean, fresh start. After JFK’s assassination that storm took on a more ominous meaning for many; a warning sign that something out of the ordinary and bad was coming and they had missed it. Today, at President Trump’s Inauguration, evangelist Franklin Graham did his best to put a positive spin on the gloomy weather in DC, saying that, “in the Bible, rain is a sign of God’s blessing.” Really? I find Graham’s divination skills to be severely lacking. Of course, I also do not understand how anyone who is purportedly evangelising for Christ can convince himself that The Donald shares Jesus’s values in the first place.

Trump’s Inaugural Speech may have struck the right chords with those who already supported him but I found it to be a very sad song. Sure, we all know he’s going to, “Make America Great Again,” transfer power from Washington, “back to you, the people,” and do all manner of wondrous things; including the complete “eradication” of Islamic Extremism from the face of the Earth. But his drumbeat of doom and gloom about the current state of America and his isolationist cure for our alleged terminal illness only reinforced my conviction that he does not have a healthy perspective on reality.

I keep hearing how we need to, “Give President Trump a chance,” and, “See what he can do.” These sentiments make me think of Monty Python’s advice at the end of, Life of Brian (1979), “Always look on the bright side of life” (even in death).

Despite everything I have previously said, I am willing to put aside my concern that this racist, sexist, willfully ill-prepared, charlatan of a businessman and possibly illegal Russian bedfellow is the worst thing to happen to America since it’s inception and consider for a moment the light that might come at the end of this tunnel:

  1. As I said last week, maybe Trump’s ultra poor behavior will spark a new era of civility.
  2. The final defeat of the Clinton Machine (cross your fingers) has raised a big question about where the Democratic Party will go next. I know the hard left, socialist, and sometime irrational wing looks poised to take over but cooler heads might prevail.
  3. The rise of the reactionary, alt right, and sometime irrational wing of the Republican Party seems to have prevailed for now but this too could give way to cooler heads.
  4. Trump’s election has disproved his own false belief, and the false belief of millions of his supporters that, “The System is rigged.” Our Founders established a stable but not rigid system, which is responsive to the people but does not act on every whim of the mob. Hopefully we will see how well this system continues to work in future court cases, Congressional battles, and the next round elections, where wrong turns can be course corrected before they become fatal.
  5. The Republican Party does have some good ideas and people, which I have long supported. Some good things may be accomplished and the President’s craziness may yet be reigned in by those around him, at least enough to prevent disaster.

Okay, that’s my best attempt to keep positive for now. We’ll see what the days ahead have in store for all of us soon enough and make our own, individual adjustments from there. God Bless America! Now, more than ever.

I’ll be on News Talk Nov 22

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I’ve been asked back on Twin Cities News Talk (aka KTLK) this Tuesday, November 22 at 8am CST. I made an appearance on there back in August, when Drew didn’t have a co-host, for the Up And At’ Em program, but now it’s the Justice & Drew show. You can listen in the Twin Cities on AM1130 or on the Internet from anywhere.

November 22 marks fifty three years since President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. I suspect we will mostly be talking about that tragic day and my documentary, Conspiracy Theorists Lie (2015), along with general conspiracy talk. It should be fun and I hope you will tune in.

UPDATED:

I will be going on the air at 7:30am CST.

UPDATE:

Here is the podcast version of of my appearance. I began in hour 2 and continued on into the first part of hour 3.

I’m on AM1130 Monday Morning

Up and At Em KTLK AM1130

You can catch me on the Up & At Em morning program on KTLK AM1130 in the Twin Cities, Monday, August 15 at 8am CST. We will be discussing the assassination of President Kennedy, my film, Conspiracy Theorists Lie (2015) and the dangers of conspiracy theories in general. If you can’t tune in live I’m sure they will post the podcast version after words on their site.

UPDATE:

My interview has been moved to a new Bat Time, 8:15am; same Bat Station.

UPDATE:

Here is the podcast of the hour I was on.