Trump: Republicans’ “Prince Alarming”

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glass_slipperIn the fairy tale “Cinderella,” every maiden in the kingdom wishes to marry the prince. But a lowly maid who sits in ashes and waits on her evil stepsisters hand and foot captures the prince’s heart. Determined to find the perfect mate, the prince searches the kingdom to find the girl whose foot will fit into the glass slipper she had left behind. The ugly stepsisters, grimly determined to fit into the shoe, cut off their toes and heels in a desperate effort to make it fit.

This story puts me in mind of the Republican Party, which has squirmed and squeezed and cut off its own principles to make Donald Trump an acceptable president. Early in the primaries, the Republican establishment roundly denounced Donald Trump as unfit to be president. Then slowly and inexorably, one by one, the same Republicans started to endorse a man who had not only uttered racist and sexist statements, but had mocked and vilified the very individuals now holding their noses and serving up the excrement for their party to swallow.(You know who you are, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio et al.)

Accepting Donald Trump’s presidency has truly forced Republicans to repudiate their own values. A perfect example is free trade. While conservatives always champion the sanctity of the marketplace, Donald Trump has denounced recent treaties like NAFTA as job stealers and promised to put a stranglehold on free trade. The only reason NAFTA passed is that it enjoyed bipartisan support. Are Republicans retreating from their long-standing principles here?

Donald Trump has also attacked the big banks, despite the fact that he has named numerous Wall Street insiders to his administration. Once again, his campaign platform flew in the face of conservative objections to  overregulation. Trump promises to punish companies that send jobs overseas. But what about allowing the hallowed marketplace to thrive without government interference? I guess Republicans are going to have to hold their breaths and swallow.

During his campaign, Donald Trump attacked the military, which is the entity closest to godliness in the Republican psyche. He vilified the parents of a war hero and claimed that he knew more than the generals. And speaking of godliness, how do conservative evangelicals defend their support of a man who disregards the sanctity of marriage and talks openly about sexually assaulting women? The fact that Trump may name a Supreme Court justice that will be harsher on abortion is not a sufficient excuse. “The end justifies the means” comes from Machiavelli, not the Bible.

Republicans are apparently banking on the idea that since Donald Trump ran as a Republican, he will rubber stamp all the conservative policies they are so hell-bent on instituting. Trump, however, has already proven himself to be inconsistent, contradictory, and petulant. If you get on his bad side, he will not only send out a mean tweet about you,  his minions will threaten and intimidate you.

Republicans may soon find themselves hobbling along on their bloodied feet with little to show for their efforts and an angry populace betrayed by empty promises. If so, I’ll chip in for their wheelchairs when the voters force them into an unwanted retirement.

 

 

 

 

Love, Actually

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Last night my daughters and I watched the movie Love, Actually. This 2003 film has fast become a Christmas classic for many viewers, with its humor and light romantic touch and its climax occurring on Christmas Eve. But the movie is about so much more than romantic love. It is about the enduring bonds of friendship and family, about loss, about bridging gaps between cultures, and about the triumph of love in the midst of life.

The first time I saw Love Actually, I’ll admit I was mostly focused on the couples, or the would-be couples, in the movie. Hugh Grant’s charming turn as a single British prime minister in love with an employee; cuckolded Colin Firth finding romance with his Portuguese maid; a little boy bereft of his mother falling in love with a classmate; wonderful Emma Thompson getting short shrift from her long-time husband, played by the late Alan Rickman. I felt the young man’s pain as he endured the love of his life marrying his own best friend, and the angst of a young woman in love from afar with a coworker but burdened with responsibility for her mentally ill brother.

What I like about the movie is that it is not all “happily ever after” for each romantic pair. And that is because other kinds of love often trump romance. For instance, when the woman and her colleague finally get together, the woman gets a call from her brother, and that familial love continually forces her to sacrifice her own happiness. Likewise, the forlorn member of the love triangle struggles to keep his feelings to himself so as not to harm the friendship he has with her husband. The young boy may be in love with a young girl, but it is the story of him and his stepdad and their growing relationship in the absence of a wife and mother that really takes center stage. And the Emma Thompson character stays with her unfaithful husband (for shame, Alan!) for the sake of their family.

At the end of the movie, to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” we see love in all its many permutations as loved ones are reunited at Heathrow Airport. Parents and children, lovers, friends – all embrace in the comfort of their love for each other. Each snapshot is strung together on the screen until there is a “wall of love.”

Love, Actually is a cute, clever, but also surprisingly realistic depiction of the ties that bind. What better way to finish out Christmas Day with the family?*

 

*The movie is rated R for nudity, subject matter, and language. So save it for when your little ones are mature enough.

 

 

Christmas Memories

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242AB00E00000578-2881290-image-a-28_1419262681192.jpgAlthough I am mostly a forward-looking person, at Christmas I enjoy indulging in a bit of nostalgia. As a writer, I have always appreciated the Christmas vignettes of well-known authors, such as Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” and the poet Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” In that spirit, I’d like to reminisce about my own childhood Christmases in a family of 13.

Christmas Eve seemed to take forever to arrive. After weeks of thumbing through the dog-eared pages of the Sears Roebuck & Company Christmas wish book, we kids were beside ourselves anticipating Santa’s visit and the toys we were dreaming of being placed magically under our Christmas tree.

Just a few days earlier, my father had bought a real balsam fir from the local tree lot and set it up in our basement. He’d wound the colored lights around the tree with the patience of Job. Then began our painstaking job of hanging the tinsel. Strand by strand, we hung each piece just so on the branches until the tree shimmered. Finally, we were allowed to hang the ornaments, many of them homemade by us and Dad, who loved art projects, paint by numbers, model airplanes and the like. I still have a couple of the sorry looking satin ball ornaments I decorated years ago with the bare minimum of flourishes. Art was never my strong suit.

But baking was. My favorite Christmas activity was baking cookies with my mother and sisters. Our table was covered with cookie pans, colored decorations, flour and the cookie press, which made adorable and delicious little spritz cookies that looked like trees and stars. My mother would color some of the dough green and red for an added festive touch. While we rolled and decorated and baked, we listened to Christmas songs on the hi-fi and sang along, attempting harmonies we’d learned in chorus class.

In school we cut out snowflakes and made cards with a lot of glitter and thick white paste from a jar with a plastic stick. We visited the Nativity scene at church and noticed that the manger was empty, awaiting the baby Jesus’ birth on Christmas. We sang the traditional carols of the season and lit the Advent candles each week – first one, then two, then the pink one, and finally all four in a circle, the four Sundays of waiting for Emmanuel.

In our big Catholic family, religion was central to our identity and to Christmas. Before we were even allowed to peek at what Santa had brought us on Christmas morning, we would bundle off to Christmas Mass. It was so hard to sit through an hour of prayers and songs, kneeling, standing, and sitting. All I could think about was my present under the tree. Even the arrival of baby Jesus in the manger couldn’t distract me.

The night before, Christmas Eve, I had found it so hard to sleep. I lay snug in my bed near the hissing radiator and strained to hear reindeer hoofbeats on our roof. I was sure I’d never fall asleep until, all at once, a filtered light shone through the curtains and onto the snow-ladened yard, and I knew Christmas had come at last.

All eleven of us kids sat at the long table in our breakfast room and choked down food, scarcely noticing what it was. We dressed in our red velvet jumpers, each of them painstakingly sewn by Mom. Our hair was brushed, and our patent leather shoes shone, and we passed the closed basement door longingly, knowing that Santa had come last night and deposited the mother lode down there under our tree. Into our galoshes, our coats, and our mittens, which were attached by a clip to our coats so that they wouldn’t get lost, we ventured into the cold and piled into our station wagon.

After Mass and the riot of 13 people removing all their winter outerwear (and, of course, hanging it up neatly), it was finally time. We lined up in the kitchen from youngest to oldest. My dad opened the door and went down the basement stairs with his camera so that he could film us coming down. Then pandemonium. We galloped down the stairs with shrieks of glee and ran to our spots around the tree.

The mountain of gifts seemed enormous. In reality, we each received two or three things. Our excited chatter filled the room, and my parents wearily watched us from a couple of easy chairs. Dolls, toy cars, games, soft and cozy pajamas. One year my younger sister and I received a joint gift – a beautiful dollhouse with tiny furniture and a little family. I still remember my favorite piece from that dollhouse: a red velvet chaise longue. It seemed so elegant, as if a rich family resided in that toy mansion. After sufficient oohing and ahhing over our gifts, we checked the socks we had hung by the fireplace. Invariably, there would be plenty of hard candy stuffed inside and, at the bottom, a perfectly round tangerine.

Later on, we would have an early Christmas dinner in our dining room and then visit relatives. After a long, full day, we would go to bed and sleep heavily, our days of waiting and longing finally fulfilled. And in the morning, if we were lucky, there would be snow to play in. And I could start dreaming – of my January birthday!

 

 

Aid for Syria

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image-adapt-990-high-3-syrias-war-refugee_crisis-960x600-1415861631430Last week I wrote about the horrific situation that faces innocent men, women, and children in Aleppo and across war-ravaged Syria – as well as the dire conditions of the millions of refugees displaced by the conflict. But my “Tears for Aleppo” begged the question: What can we do?

I have done some research with the help of Charity Navigator and have found some organizations that are working to alleviate suffering.  All five of these groups have received a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and use 90% or more of their funding directly on aid. All five groups are currently doing work to alleviate suffering due to the war in Syria.

  1. The American Refugee Committee states, “Helping displaced people is our only mission.” The committee provides a wide range of services and is currently responding to the crisis in Syria by helping provide “water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure,” as well as food assistance to Syrian refugees. (arcrelief.org)
  2. Helping Hand for Relief and Development provides emergency relief to people in crisis situations all over the world. Helping Hand also works on long-term relief and development to rebuild communities after disaster strikes. (hhrd.org)
  3. The International Rescue Committee was founded in 1933 and also responds with humanitarian assistance to countries in crisis around the world. If you have Facebook, you have probably seen their appeals for help in your news feed. (rescue.org)
  4. Mercy-USA for Aid and Development works primarily within the US with the philosophy of “helping people help themselves.” However, they currently have a Syrian relief effort going on as well. (mercyusa.org)
  5. Save the Children is a well-known national charity that focuses on help for impoverished children around the world by means of monthly sponsorships. They are currently working within Syria and in refugee camps with direct food and medical aid. (savethechildren.org)

These are by no means all of the reputable organizations who are providing humanitarian assistance in the current Syrian crisis. The work of Texas-based Preemptive Love Coalition has been promoted by nationally-known Christian writer and speaker Jen Hatmaker on her Facebook page. Preemptive Love Coalition has been given a gold rating by Guidestar. Its stated philosophy is, “We pursue peace one heart at a time, engaging the world’s most polarizing conflicts by confronting fear with acts of love.” (preemptivelove.org)

I urge anyone who can to donate to one of the many worthy groups who are assisting the desperate people of Syria.

 

Mixed Marriage

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The other day while I was putzing around in the kitchen, my husband tuned in to Donald Trump making one of his self-congratulatory speeches at a rally in Florida. Given that the mere sound of Trump’s voice, much less the content of his speech, makes my blood pressure shoot up, I decided to hum a tune quietly to drown out the sound.

What popped into my head was an old disco-era song, “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees. I had to laugh at the aptness of the tune. How deep indeed must my love be to have abided my hubby’s right wing conservative politics all these years.

Since we met back in the 80s, my husband and I have had many an argument about politics. I liked to call him a right wing nut job while he would tell our friends that I was sad about the fall of the Soviet Union. We were quite a pair. Back then, we compared ourselves to James Carville and Mary Matalin, a high-profile married couple with diametrically opposed political views. Carville managed Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign while Matalin headed up George H.W. Bush’s run for the White House. The two would appear on Sunday morning news shows and argue politics.

As my husband often likes to point out, one would think that our irreconcilable political differences would make us shy away from conversations about politics. However, we are both strongly opinionated, and neither of us likes to back down from an argument. So if a political gauntlet is thrown down between us, a battle is sure to ensue.

The effect of all this arguing about politics over the years is that our children are somewhat a-political. They have seen first hand the pointlessness of our disagreements and noticed that neither of us has ever budged even an inch in the political direction of the other.

Luckily, my husband and I have always found common ground in the important things in life: our children and our personal values, which inform our relationship with each other and extend to our family and friends.

We may be in a politically “mixed marriage,” but we have found that in most other ways, we blend well together. And with the Trump presidency and Republican dominance over government looming head, at least things will never get boring here. Meanwhile, I’ll be expanding my repertoire of corny old disco songs to get me through.

 

Tears for Aleppo

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27978862870_896d247198_bThe news from Syria is distressing. As autocratic president Bashar al-Assad’s army, along with Iranian and Russian forces, closes in on east Aleppo, the people are trapped. Reports are coming out of summary executions, rapes, and other atrocities. The scene in Aleppo is reminiscent of the battle for Stalingrad in World War II, as war-weary Syrians grapple with  daily bombings, food shortages, and displacement from their homes.

The Syrian civil war, now in its fifth year, has left millions of refugees homeless. Most of them have fled to countries in Europe, where they have met with no small measure of resentment from a fearful populace. Others are stuck in refugee camps, fighting to survive. And these are the lucky ones. In Aleppo, all that innocent civilians want is to be allowed to leave.

Meanwhile, South Sudan is “‘on the brink of an all-out ethnic civil war which could destabilize the entire region,'” according U.N. investigators (Chicago Tribune, Dec. 15, 2016). Ethnic cleansing on a mass scale in Darfur used to grab front page headlines, but the ongoing crisis has been pushed aside by ever more instances of war, terrorism, and horrific violence.

Here at home, we struggle with “lone wolf” terrorism, out of control gun violence, hate crimes, hunger, and poverty. While our situation pales in comparison with what is happening in the war-torn countries mentioned above, it is still upsetting to see so much strife in a land that should be a beacon of freedom and hope for the rest of the world.

Yesterday I read a Washington Post article about the lives of some Sandy Hook parents whose children were ruthlessly gunned down four years ago by a disturbed young man with a semi-automatic rifle. Instead of preparing for the joy of Christmas, they had to prepare for the burial of their young children. Today their lives feel hollow and meaningless despite their tireless efforts to change gun laws across the country. Each day for them is a terrible struggle to get out of bed and face the day, to help their surviving children cope with the tragedy that afflicts their family. Peace on Earth, for them, is a fairy tale

Photos of the rubble that used to be Syria’s “New York City” are devastating. Video images of Aleppo residents trying to escape, tweets from Syrians certain they are about to face their deaths – these images bring tears. My tears for Aleppo are my tears for all human misery and suffering.

Yesterday I also saw a beautiful video of an infant being fitted for a hearing aid. As he heard his parents’ voices for the first time, he smiled. The tears I shed after seeing this were tears of joy. The coexistence of joy and despair is a reality I can’t pretend to understand. But as Christmas approaches, the tiny infant in the manger calls on me to choose joy and love. His kingdom is “not of this world,” but with his light perhaps we can bring more hope to ours.

 

Bleak Midwinter

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The poem/carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” is an homage to the lowly circumstances of Christ’s birth. Like the setting in everyone’s favorite fantasy gore-fest, Game of Thrones, the cold and humble stable where God’s son entered the world serves as a metaphor for a world of pain and bleakness.

This year, winter has come early and with a vengeance here in the Midwest. Only a couple of weeks into meteorological winter, Chicago already has about 10 inches of snow on the ground. In the next few days, temperatures are expected to plunge below zero. I’d say it’s more like a bleak early winter.

Already feeling a bit blue over the results of the presidential election and the horrid slew of Cabinet appointments by Donald Trump, I am in no mood to slog through the snow or face the bitter cold. Despite the twinkly Christmas lights that adorn houses and commercial buildings, I just can’t get my merry on.

Christmas is a difficult time for many people. The poor, the sick, the lonely, and the homeless all suffer from want in the midst of plenty. Those who recently lost a loved one can’t help but compare this year’s emptiness with last year’s cheer. Depression hits many at this time of year, and some of us are emotionally affected by the lack of daylight.

As I see it, the only way to shake the melancholy is to take the focus off myself and give it to others. Making the effort to smile and be kind to harried shopkeepers and other service personnel; placing an extra dollar or two into the tip jars of those who help us all year; participating in toy, clothing, and food drives; staying in touch with friends and family: All are good ways to banish the cold that creeps into our winter hearts.

The last stanza of Christina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter” goes:

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him –
Give my heart.

No matter what our circumstances this Christmas season, our love for others is a gift that keeps on giving. And it’s the one gift that we feel lucky when it’s returned.