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.