By Charlie Johnston
Some years back I was visiting my son when the local Bishop celebrated Mass at his Parish and then stayed for a rather lengthy reception. My son was standing by the punch bowls when the Bishop took a short break to come get a drink. Young Charlie looked at him with a grin and said, “That’s a cool pink beanie you’re wearing.” The Bishop looked at him coolly and said, “It’s magenta.” With his big boyish grin, Charlie said, “It could be the hot, new fashion. Where can I get me one like it?” The Bishop started to respond harshly, but then broke into a grin as he realized my son was being affectionately playful. With his own easy grin, he told Chaz he had to get back to the line, but not to go anywhere. He’d be back.
When he left, I asked my son what he thought he was doing. He told me he was doing the same thing we always did when he was younger and we hung around with so many high officials. “These guys in the public eye are desperate to be treated like real people, it is a soothing balm to them.” That was true. Prominent officials in public are generally treated with either saccharine obsequiousness or unmerited, hostile aggression. To be treated as real people, whether in public or private, IS a deeply soothing balm to them.
Charlie’s point was proven when, for the rest of the evening, the Bishop stole away to laugh and joke with him at every possible opportunity.
We have a nice mix of people here at this site. We actually have more prominent people commenting occasionally than anyone knows. Most use a pseudonym – and some quietly let me know who they are. One of the virtues at this site is that, despite going off on the occasional tangents, we treat each other as real people. At our best, when we argue, we do so as an affectionate family would, not as shrieking harpies seeking to score points on some talking heads television show. May it always be so.
On the other hand, Chaz had a shrewdness that he learned early on to use to his sly advantage. Once, we spent the day on a Sunday visiting with some friends at a big barbecue at their home. At about nine that evening, I figured it was time to head out. But my son and our host had been engaged in an intense back-and-forth videogame football tournament. Both begged me to stay a little longer – and my host reminded me that the next day was Lincoln’s Birthday, so the kids wouldn’t have school. I relented and said they could play one more game (which eventually turned into three). When we arrived home, past midnight, I was horrified to discover the kids DID have school the next day. The great Illinois holiday of Lincoln’s Birthday had been subsumed into an ubiquitous “President’s Day.”
Sure enough, early the next afternoon I got a call from Charlie’s teacher telling me he had fallen asleep in class. I started to apologize and explain, when she said that really was not why she was calling – that Charlie was a good kid and this was unusual, not a regular problem. When I asked what the call was for, she said, “Charlie said the reason he was so tired was because he was up late playing Nintendo with his Congressman. Is that true?” I confessed that was pretty much the case. With delight, she said she just wanted to confirm it for the book she intended to write someday.
The worst thing about our modern elite classes is not their invincible ignorance, but their condescending arrogance towards those who do not share that ignorance. They never think to question or examine their own false predicates. The establishment media is an astonishing example of this hubris. Have you ever read a news story about a subject you have some real expertise in? If you have, you have undoubtably been irritated to find the writer knows next to nothing about the issues and facts involved but opines with supreme confidence anyway. It is not just your expertise they do it with; it is in all areas of genuine expertise.
A few quick examples that jarred me…
1) In 2008 I was watching a TV talk show that included a prominent national columnist and a lesser-known blond anchor babe. They played a clip of Sarah Palin speaking of Talibani in Iraq. They both shook their heads sadly and said it was pathetic she did not know that the Taliban was not in Iraq. I was frothing at the mouth with rage. She was speaking of Iraqi President Jalal Talibani – and what was pathetic was that THEY didn’t know that the Iraqi President is not the same as the Iraqi Prime Minister – and they did not even have the wit to check to see what she was talking about and if, maybe, she knew something they didn’t.
2) In March of 2010, California Senate Candidate Carly Fiorina saluted the Jewish celebration of Passover by noting it was a time when observant Jews “break bread together.” Because she was a Republican, the news media exploded with accusations that she lacked cultural sensitivity, because observant Jews don’t eat bread at all during Passover. To the contrary, Jews do not eat leavened bread (which is chewed, not broken) during Passover. They replace it with unleavened bread, which must be broken. In fact, the very phrase, “breaking bread,” comes from the tradition of breaking unleavened bread at Seder meals. She had it literally and precisely correct; her critics had it literally and precisely wrong – and they were too invincibly ignorant to check their own error – out of sheer arrogance and, probably, worry that checking it would get in the way of the media sliming another Republican woman who worried them.
3) On April 18, after attending a White House Press Briefing where the song, “Edelweiss,” was played before it began, New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman tweeted later, “Does…anyone at the White House understand the significance of that song?” Presumably Haberman thinks it is a pro-Nazi song because a sinister version of it is played as intro to the TV series, “Man in the High Castle,” which is about what would have happened if the Nazis had won. But for anyone whose knowledge runs deeper than a recent television series, the song has an entirely different significance than Haberman thinks. After the Anschluss, the forcible German annexation of Austria, some patriotic anti-Nazi resistance groups sprung up in Austria, almost always under the banner of the Edelweiss (a delicate flower common to the mountain regions of Austria). The song was developed for the musical, “The Sound of Music,” to underscore Captain von Trapp’s patriotic opposition to Nazism. Haberman does not understand the significance of the song – so rather than check her predicates, she just condescendingly assumes that anyone who isn’t as arrogantly stupid as she is must be ignorant.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan (with whom I often get irritated) once deliciously said, in response to this sort of thing, that it gets wearisome to be so constantly condescended to by your inferiors. The good thing is that, the more “elite” mediocrities do this, the more people are figuring out that the elite are largely, the inferiors of honest, ordinary people. As a columnist recently said, it turns out that the “best and brightest” are actually the worst and dumbest.
May we all, when confronted with an assertion that contradicts our existing assumptions, first check our facts before entering the fray. Otherwise, we risk having our credibility go the way of that of establishment journalists – into the tank.
Another historical cultural icon is being torn down. Apparently, among the thousands of songs that Kate Smith performed in her memorable career, two in the 1930s contained lyrics that are racist (I don’t know, I haven’t seen the songs, just going by what is being reported – which is a dubious practice in this time of bizarro journalism). I will presume it is true. The Philadelphia Flyers Hockey team is tearing down her statue and banning all performances of her iconic “God Bless America” at its venue. It is not the only organization to give that great, patriotic song the stink-eye.
Of course, we have already treated the memory of all confederate soldiers with a harsh vindictiveness that neither Abraham Lincoln nor Ulysses Grant approved of – and we didn’t actually have to suffer in battle as they did to signal our virtue.
The reality is that every age has its moral failings. Every person has his moral failings. If any achievement must be banned if it does not comport with modern sensibilities, if any hero must be denounced entirely for particular failings, it is actually a wholesale assault on truth and memory, itself. It is particularly dangerous for the self-righteous social justice mob when we are barely a decade away from recognizing that legalized abortion was one of the greatest, most evil holocausts in human history.
Christianity recognizes that we are born into and prone to sin. It is the human condition. But it is not the last word on the subject. We can go deeper into sin, or grow and receive redemption. Our path on this earth is ever a broken one. We will fail sometimes – often because that is the nature of life and all too often of our own fault. The truest mark of a Christian is not that he never falls, but how resolute he is at getting up and starting again. How badly we are all in need of mercy. Thank heavens God is so generous in giving it to us when we ask. But, oh, how terrible it will be for those who are miserly in giving the mercy to others that they have received in such abundance themselves.
How I long for the day when we can look to those who have helped build our common culture with gratitude for their achievements and charity for their flaws. To do otherwise is self-immolation. But we live in a time bent on self-annihilation. May the social justice mob repent and may we be more merciful to them if they do than they were to…anyone.
I find myself, oddly, feeling a bit sorry for Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. About a month ago, I had come to suspect she was a Republican plant doing performance art to boost GOP odds for 2020. I have worked with a lot of federal officials, both in the House and Senate and other high levels. It was almost 30 years ago when I realized the great majority of them had only the most tenuous grasp of history and civics and that only one in 20 had even a hint of understanding of basic economic principles. Cortez took the ignorance to a whole new level, though. Everything she puts out is brimming with critical factual errors and utterly unhinged analysis. What really raised my suspicions was when she tweeted, in jubilation, after chasing Amazon and its 25,000 jobs out of New York, that now they would be able to use the $3 billion in tax breaks it was promised for other worthy purposes. It just defied belief that she did not know that the money was not sitting around in New York coffers, but was money that Amazon would not have to pay under normal rates in exchange for bringing a lot of money into New York and its tax coffers. She has an economics degree from Boston University. It is not that her economic illiteracy is something covered in my first week of introductory economics in college, but that she is completely ignorant of things I knew before even beginning that course. Surely someone that ignorant of basic principles and facts, yet constantly asserting her intelligence accompanied by epic daily pratfalls could not be for real.
I have come to think, though, that she is representative of that segment of millennials who have spent their whole lives being assured that they are special little wonders, given self-esteem without cost or effort, who come to believe their own fact-free, unexamined assertions of excellence without study. Her plaintive cries seem increasingly desperate and defensive. I now think she is coming to suspect how terribly over her head she is, even in the culture of mediocrity that the modern U.S. Congress is. She is a woman who has been robbed in some very important ways. The mindless culture of unearned self-esteem so prominent in our modern educational system and textbook parental theories have robbed her of awareness of the critical nexus between effort, discipline, knowledge and achievement. She is a poor waif adrift in a sea beyond her capabilities. She will either retreat into a bitter decline, ultimately becoming a convenient punchline even for leftists, or will struggle to attain competency at all the things she was taught she didn’t need in her life as a special little wonder.
While her friend, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (the anti-Semite from Minnesota) is a loathesome bigot and Jihadi apologist, I did take some heart at seeing Cortez rising to the defense of this terrible woman. Poor judgment in choosing her friends, but admirable loyalty in defending them.
Contrary to the way the media portrays them, most millennials are not this lost. Oh, there is a sizable and very loud segment who are, but I am convinced there is a real renaissance of traditional values and Christian faith growing amongst millennials. I have seen startling conversions among them. Perhaps you could spare a prayer for Cortez. I started by thinking her an ignorant, but arrogant dunce, and then perhaps a Republican plant, and now just a little girl lost.
I have a friend who has spent a lot of time in Europe, who told me the collapse of Christianity there is exaggerated by the media. He said there are very strong enclaves of deep and astonishing Christian faith in the midst of the condescending elitist secularism there. I thought about it and realized that I have found the most amazingly strong communities of faith in some of the most blighted areas of this country – San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Albany, even Washington, D.C. In such climates, the Christians have to grow very hardy and strong, indeed.
A few years ago, when I spoke of the coming conversion of Muslims, en masse, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., who has spent a lot of time in the Middle East, told me that it had already begun. He said that, though it was unreported in the establishment media, the number of Muslims converting to Christianity there had reached over a million per year. It is one of the reasons for the savagery of some of the militant Jihadi groups. They are bleeding adherents – and so get more savage, as their founder taught them, to try to staunch the bleeding. In the process, they are martyring many Christians and Jews – and also persuading many sincere Muslims that they need to look elsewhere to find true faith. The horror in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday will ultimately provoke more Muslim conversions to Christianity than it will persuade Muslims on the bubble to submit to a permanent state of submission under threat of violent retribution.
I was deeply moved to see a mass crowd outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris at the beginning of Holy Week, gathered to say a heartfelt Rosary in the midst of the conflagration there. It did not escape my notice that, overwhelmingly, the crowd was composed of millennials.
The establishment media is determined to treat Christianity as the benighted superstition of a dead culture. It is their narrative…and just like the Russian collusion hoax, their modus operandi is to highlight all they can glom onto to support that narrative, no matter how tenuous, and completely ignore everything that contradicts their desired outcome. My friend was right. Don’t let the liars on television and in newspapers cause you to lose heart.
In the midst of the tragedy and violence that marked both the beginning and end of Holy Week, a host of people are stirring, unseen and unsuspected by the depraved chattering class. These people, some horrified by the violence of their own cultures, others rejecting the emptiness and dysfunction of secular elite governance, are harbingers of a great resurrection.
Though the White Witch hisses and spits for all to see, Aslan is on the move.
Though I will not be surprised in the least to find that events completely upend my plans, I have begun making plans for going on the road and speaking this year. From late May until the end of July, I will head east and south. I plan to return home to attend the Thomas Aquinas annual conference in Colorado Springs. It has been put on for over two decades by a dear woman, Therese Lorentz, who has made it her special labor of love and offering. The conference is free. Though a middle-class woman of no great financial means, Lorentz manages to raise the money to put it on, bringing in marvelous speakers from across the world. In the last few years, she has become a dear friend of mine – and this year several of the Priests and musicians she is bringing in are friends, as well. I missed the conference last year – and don’t intend to do so this year. I will stay home for a month and a half, renewing my strength and resting, then head out west and southwest from mid-September through about Thanksgiving.
As the Storm is upon is and is likely to grow in intensity, my focus this year is to speak on how to build functional faith networks in a time of persecution and strife – clans, as I called it in a recent article. When darkness comes, our duty is to be sources of light rather than adding to the darkness, to uphold each other, while evangelizing a weary world that there IS a better way. What is most to be avoided is succumbing to vengeful motives OR cowering in the shadows while expecting God to do all the hard work without us.
Again, all arrangements will be made through my assistant, Mary Lapchak. She has set up a new email account dedicated just to this purpose. It is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to host a visit, I would be in your area for three days. On the night of my arrival, I would like a private get-together with the people who have organized the visit. I want to get to know them – and it will give us an opportunity to speak in some detail of practical plans. On the second day, I would like to visit one or two local areas where good work is being done in service to God and our neighbors. I have been delighted to get to know a lot of orders of Nuns these last few years – and pious Shrines. I also like to visit Crisis Pregnancy Centers. They are doing great work under difficult circumstances, helping to give families and women hope, all from private donations – even while the culture of death tries to shut them down. In the evening, I will do a formal presentation, whether in a hall, under a tent, or in a large home. I like these to begin with either a Rosary or a Divine Mercy Chaplet – and someone local should lead it. (I will talk quite enough in the presentation). I do not allow collections at these presentations. I live poverty and only want what is needed to sustain the work – and I do not want anyone feeling constrained from attending because they do not have the means to contribute to a collection. A few years back, at one venue, a man had gone to the organizer asking where the basket was so he could contribute to it. The organizer told him I did not allow collections. The man looked at the organizer funny for a moment – and then asked, “Are you sure this is Catholic?” One of my favorite stories from the road. For the visit, I would get a $350 stipend which the organizers must raise privately – and the organizers would provide my lodging. It can be a hotel or a detached area of a home. I need Internet access wherever it is – and some uninterrupted time alone each day. If you choose to put me at a hotel, please keep it simple. I don’t mind deep budget hotels if they have good Internet service. But please, not the fanciest hotel in town. I really don’t like high end hotels at all. They are vanity projects which charge exorbitantly for a cup of coffee or a coke – and are most inconvenient. My tastes are simple. Super 8, Comfort Inn, Econo Lodge…that is my speed. This is a little more than in prior years, but I underestimated costs then and had to rely on substantial subsidies. And don’t be exclusive in who you invite. As I have said on many occasions, during this time of trial, all faithful Christians and Jews are full and equal partners in the work before us. God, Himself, will se to the unity after the Storm has passed.
Once you initially talk to Mary, she will get the requests down and then put the puzzle together. She and her husband have provided a car I can use this year, so she needs to get things in a sequence for easy driving. And yes, I will be keeping my hiking equipment at the ready. Also, you should know that I will be practicing my trumpet (with a mute) for about a half hour each day. I’m not great, but I’m not terrible either – and I want to stay in shape. Finally, before the final prayer at each presentation (the St. Michael Prayer), we will sing together Kate Smith’s wonderful “God Bless America.” No assault on truth and memory here.