Posts Tagged ‘ Barbara Tuchman ’

Summer of horrors, or opportunity?

Some dream of high office, few ever attain it.  I can only imagine that one of the first things that anyone would do is sit in that chair behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office and just…smile.  If ever there was a time to say, “I’ve arrived,” I think that would be it.  Similarly, whatever desk and whatever office the pope occupies, I would think the man would smile like a Cheshire Cat.

Finally: the opportunity to actually make a difference, to change the world.  Surely, that aspiration would go hand in glove with the pinnacle of power.

So, while the Summer of ’08 would seem to be the summer of horrors for the White House, it is no less than the summer of horrors for the papal palace.  While one occupant is probably sincere, and the other one anything but, both are blowing their opportunity.

It has been debated whether or not we have “free will” – the ability to make truly independent choices.  I won’t discuss that here.  But whether we have unlimited choices, or very limited choices, we still have choices.  Someone in the White House obviously has choices that a coal miner doesn’t.  The Bishop of Rome has choices no one else has.  Windows of opportunity come in sizes.

Next, there would be the ability to act upon the choices we make.  If we can’t act, then they really aren’t choices – at least viable ones.  Without ability, all we have are fantasies.  Again, a topic for another day.  Yes, some do win the lottery, tho for the overwhelming majority of us, the answer to the question of “what would I do if I won the lottery?” is just a fantasy.

You need both: opportunity and ability.

I just don’t understand why it is that two people in the news every day these days are squandering their opportunity.  It is said in jest that promotion requires a lobotomy; that, somehow, while we all start off the same, elevation in power is predicated on becoming more and more forgetful of our roots.  That people at the pinnacle truly forget how they got where they are, and therefore do not truly know where they are.

It is fitting that history judges most harshly those that have forgotten it.

I just finished watching an episode of NCIS where Gibbs switches some evidence.  Gibbs is usually unfailingly honest.  Integrity his highest code.  But in this episode he demonstrates that honor is more important than integrity.  There are other opportunities in the series for him to put integrity first, and he chooses another path (almost always honor).  But he “never” loses sight of the “big picture.”  He knows what he does and why he does it.

Neither Trump nor Francis seem to have a clue why they are doing what they’re doing.  I keep coming back to a book that I read years ago: The March of Folly, by Barbara Tuchman.  In it, she picks a few examples of leaders that, had they chosen to do absolutely nothing at all, events would have turned out far different, and probably in their favor.  By being out to lunch, history would have been far kinder, maybe even salutatory.  But, no, they chose to be active in the situation, and all hell broke loose.  Three examples come to mind (it has been years since I read the book): Renaissance Popes, King George and the American Revolution, Vietnam (pick either the French or the Americans, it really doesn’t matter).

Fast forward to the Summer of 2018.  Trump did whatever he could to be elected; it worked.  Since gaining the Oval Office, he has been on a death spiral.  The only question now is whether his four years will end before he’s impeached.  After he’s out, America will breathe a sigh of relief and wonder if we have survived.  Bergoglio got elected pope and has been bouncing around like a pinball.  I don’t believe there is any mechanism to remove him from office, so we are stuck with him for awhile (as long as his health holds out, I suppose; Benedict’s resignation still doesn’t feel right, Francis’ resignation doesn’t seem possible).

Is this the era of the truly stupid leader?  Are these the times for head scratching decision making.  As in, leaders make decisions that the rest of us just wonder at.

My fantasy is that Trump will hit his head on something, rearrange all those megalomaniac brain cells, and move this country forward.  While I agree with Meghan McCain (this country has always been great), we definitely need some direction from that chair in the Oval Office.  My fantasy is that Francis will take responsibility for the predatory priests, instead of facilitating their fantasies.  I don’t know that Trump “must” resign; but I am convinced Bergoglio must.

The rest of us hoi polloi  must do more than tilt at windmills.  In politics, we must become more active and participate.  In the Church, well, we have no idea who the next pope will be, but at the local level, we owe it to the bishops to keep them on track (we don’t vote for them either; but we can close our checkbooks).

Truly, the Summer of ’08 is a summer of horrors.  But, what are we going to do with the opportunity to make this a better world for our children?  As painful as these times are now, to do nothing would be worse, for eternity is a long time.

(Thanks to Georg Weigel and his essay in First Things for “summer of horrors”)