Turning Point

Turning Point

Many years ago when I was in college, I took a theology course on Spirituality. The professor, Fr. Gibbons, was also a columnist for a Catholic magazine called Sign. It is a magazine that my parents subscribed to so I was familiar with his work. Fr. Gibbons assigned a few papers to his students on “Turning Points.” Those moments, events or set of circumstances that took us from a direction, a trajectory, and served as a paradigm shift, that is, adjusted our course to some degree. Naturally some turning points were dramatic, say if a parent or sibling died and the family was thrown into some level of chaos, or, the more subtle events that, over time, re-calibrate a direction we might have assumed we were on.

Dramatic or subtle, turning points are change.

I vaguely recall what I wrote about for my paper, but what I do remember is what the course taught me. Fr. Gibbons told this class of college students that it often takes the distance of twenty years for us to recognize our turning points, and, since I was probably about 19 at the time, I didn’t have the full benefit of reflecting what changes were turning points for me, other than my birth. My point is, Fr. Gibbons was not only teaching us as his current students, he was giving us the gift of a way of looking at life to take us into the future.

I mentioned that my parents subscribed to the magazine in which my professor was a regular columnist. Along those lines, I share that the family I grew up in subscribed to many publications, many Catholic magazines, many secular, like Time Magazine and The New York Times. In fact, it was an article in Time magazine where I first encountered the term’ ‘banality of evil’, coined by Hannah Arendt.

She was writing on the rise of Nazism in Germany leading up to and culminating in World War II.

Pardon me, I misspoke. Culminating is the wrong word. If we thought Hannah Arendt was speaking only of long dead history, we would be wrong. Her term “banality of evil” was a warning that evil, such as fascism, sneaks up on us. When we let a racial/ethnic/sexual orientation slur go, for example, we are sliding into the mindset that it is okay to disparage those we consider “less than.”

There are a million little ways we can let fascism grow and then one day a maniac loudly spouting hatred gets elected President. And people who should have known better, people who studied history and the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and the Civil War; people whose fathers and grandfathers fought in WWII somehow twist their little minds enough to vote for him.


“…it was an article in Time magazine where I first encountered the term’ ‘banality of evil’..”

And, wow!!, now many of those same people who are too smart to deny that they knew what they were doing and voted, not once, but twice, for a wannabe dictator, still, somehow, absurdly, defend him and defend his literal, violent and deadly attack on The Capitol.

So, here I am. At a turning point. I watched in horror, as many did around the world, on January 6th— Feast of the Epiphany no less—when all the hatred that had been shouted for more than four years from the biggest bully pulpit in the world was made manifest in the incitement and in the deadly rioting played out in full costume by a mob.

Anyone who read James Madison knew one of his biggest fears was that this new country, this experiment in democracy, would devolve into mob rule. And here, in living color, the head of the mob is an orange coward who didn’t even risk muddying his own shoes in the shit storm he unleashed, gleefully dancing with delight in the safety of the White House, watching from a television. What a hero this mob bowed down to! What a prize to sell your soul for!

As far as having at least twenty years to process all the many turning points in my own history, well, I have the benefit of three sets of twenty and a continuous education in history, theology, philosophy and living to allow me to realize that I cannot associate with Nazis. A deep and wide line was crossed not only on November 3, 2020 when the orange clown lost the election yet the noise and lies continued, echoed and abetted by many fools and cunning power grabbers, but the events of January 6, 2021 opened an abyss.

To those on the side of the abyss who support fascism and a wannabe dictator, I must bid you adieu. This may be impolite of me, since I have been friendly with many of you for years, and some, to my heartbreak, I happen to be related to. It is difficult. But if you were brandishing a swastika on an armband, it would make this break easier.

The Long Con and Donald Trump

The Long Con and Donald Trump

On a morning in November 2016, I woke to discover America had elected the most noxious, abhorrent, psychopathic individual ever to enter American politics. I was incredulous, and scared. We had just elected a person without values who flaunted his lack of them, but with infinite cynicism, he also claimed to have them. We’d put a known evil doer in charge of the country. It was like your mom got a divorce, went out to a bar, picked up a drunk, scam artist, and brought him home, saying, “Look kids, here’s your new daddy.”

Trump was working a “long con”–it starts with setting up the mark, which is an offer to enrich him at the expense of someone else, in this case, the Chinese, the Mexicans, NATO, Black Americans, poor people trying for a better life, and whoever else was on voters’ hate lists. Trump drew a bullseye on the larceny and hate coiled in American hearts and gave it benediction, mocking disabled people at “‘rallies,” chanting “lock her up,” and claiming that he alone could make America great again.

He hooked the mark. While looting the government (the People) and committing nepotism on a grand and breathtaking scale, he propagated the belief that he was “working hard for America,” and they believed it.

How could so many be taken?

He made it OK to hate again. Some heard their single issue addressed and pretended not to notice who was talking. Anti -abortion/ “pro-lifers,” gun-rights advocates, nationalists, xenophobes, those on the radical Right, the Qanon-conspiracy kooks, and evangelicals (I’ll never understand the twisted logic that led them to see Trump as their man), he took them all in, offering something for nothing if only they’d buy “the Con.”
His economics were the equivalent of you and me withdrawing all savings, checking, investments, home equity, and credit card advances, and then calling ourselves rich. His tariff “war” with China did nothing but lose our exporters’ profits and raise the price of imports. He insulted and demeaned our oldest, best allies and made us a laughing stock abroad. And then…there’s the travesty of COVID….

Recall this has happened before, and we fought a war to stamp it out. Give the people someone to hate, and you hook them every time. But Hitler committed suicide in a concrete bunker; Mussolini was dragged through the plaza and hanged upside down until dead. Dictators always come to a bad end, but not before wreaking havoc on their people.

Yet there still is something in the human heart that longs for a dictator to bless the dark thing within it. Have we learned our lesson? I doubt it. Hate never dies; it lives on in each of us. Trump, and all that he represents, will only recede from view for a while, only to return when our vigilance has slipped.

But for now…you know that feeling of joy when a headache fades? I am feeling that joy. A four-year headache is fading.

I am going to bask in that for a while.