Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Given the events of the Republican Convention, I’m going to drop Mark Johnson’s embodiment thought for the day and go to a blog called “Delancyplace” that I’ve subscribed to for a few years.    The editors say:  “Delanceyplace is very simply a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context.  There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.”  (

On their website there is an archive of past quotes but I end up saving some of them on my own computer for months.  I’m afraid that if I went back looking for relevant quotes to a party nominating a clown or madman or charlatan for President of the United States, I would find altogether too many of them.  At least they help to put things in perspective and support confidence that we will survive because we’ve survived worse.  Except sometimes with major damage.

When I was little I was aware that my paternal grandparents, who lived in Canada for years, thought highly of politics and were open to socialism, co-ops, and progressive elements of culture — almost to the level of prairie humanism being a religion.  I asked my mother what party we were and since Eisenhower was the respected president and a Republican, I was reassured to hear that we were also Republicans in the terms of the times.

In later decades my parents became confused about what party they belonged to.  I’ve always stuck to the idea of Independent, voting for the person rather than the party.  When the UUA began to be synonymous with the Democratic Party (Adlai Stevenson was a UU.), it weakened my denominational allegiance.

Politics in Valier are up close and personal.  We had our own “Mini-Trump” a few years ago when a man used attacks on the town council and unproven gossip against individuals to get elected mayor.  He lasted a few weeks, until the first council meeting where it became clear he knew neither the Pledge of Allegiance nor Robert’s Rules of Order and was so insulted by the audience’s failure to admire him that he quit.

That pattern has repeated in nearby communities.  People run for office on a platform of scandal and accusation and then turn out to be flatly unqualified.  It is fertile ground for racism, sexism, and old family feuds.  (I’m glad I’m not having breakfast with the Bush family this morning.)

In fairness, efforts to make society nicer by imposing political correctness have turned out to be simply enabling because they suppressed the fever but not the disease which fulminated along until it was intense enough to break through again.

One of my more useful realizations is that when a person becomes very powerful and well-known, he or she cannot operate without staff and soon the staff has become an institution whose primary goal is self-perpetuation rather than effective instruments.  Donald Trump may like us to think that he’s the one who is throwing the levers, pushing the buttons, and making the decisions, but the fact is that his staff is telling him what to do.  Every big shot needs a show-runner.  Even Oprah’s staff tells her what to do.)  

Staff are not accountable to Trump because he doesn’t have time to manage all the things he’s invested in.  No wonder he seems erratic and shallow:  he’s a committee, but not even as unified as shareholders in a conglomerate.  The staff hands him what to read as a speech about his platform.  When it’s late at night, they’re exhausted, they look for inspiration and . . .  you already know.  He doesn't even read it himself.

Not that Clinton is so much different except that she has decades of argument about the relevant issues under her belt, not issues of wealth and popularity.  Her staff was not hired to make her look good, though some suspect a few are purposed with keeping her husband out of the room.

Today the most interesting reflection on the mess comes from “Religion Dispatches”, another blog I follow which is mostly about the institutions of churches, denominations, and the machinery that supports and defines them.  Today’s post including a piece by Elijah Siegler, “Associate Professor and Chair of Religious Studies at The College of Charleston. He is editor of the forthcoming book “Coen: Framing Religion in Amoral Order.

Siegler calls on Frazer’s “Golden Bough” for enlightenment.”

“According to Frazer’s anthropological history, magicians appear to have often developed into chiefs and kings because of their ability to deceive and manipulate the masses.

“But Frazer’s theory comes with a warning. Magicians, he argues, gain power by playing on people’s superstitions. When “the magician rises into a position of much influence and repute, and may readily acquire the rank and authority of a chief or king,” he wrote in The Golden Bough, the best of them “perceive how easy it is to dupe their weaker brother and to play on his superstition for their own advantage. Not that the sorcerer is always a knave and impostor; he is often sincerely convinced that he really possesses those wonderful powers which the credulity of his fellows ascribes to him.”

“The savviest magician-king, in other words, tells the people what they want to hear, and truly believes that he is the best, the greatest, fantastic, unbelievable.

“We should beware magicians, Frazer argued, because they subvert democracy. “So far as the public profession of magic affected the constitution of savage society,” he wrote, “it tended to place the control of affairs in the hands of the ablest man: it shifted the balance of power from the many to the one: it substituted a monarchy for a democracy.”

I would put it far more pejoratively — it substitutes childhood for maturity, so that citizenship is abandoned for the sake of comfortable dependency.  Which might be okay if it didn’t mean vulnerability and the abandonment of all control.  There’s more to it.  I wonder if Trump can make trains run on time.

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