03–11–16 From Calm to Chaos

On a day when the event was the funeral of a First Lady from the 1980s — an excellently planned and beautifully presented funeral at that — you cannot be blamed for feeling a sense of calm and peace. Representatives of several administrations and First Families attended. There were prayers — we all prayed together. No matter how you felt about how the principals attending had played their cards on the domestic and international stage, you came away with a feeling of serenity.

Hillary Clinton sat between Laura Bush and Rosalynn Carter. Ron Reagan, an atheist, sat beside his praying sister and kept his personal beliefs under wraps. Maria Shriver sat beside Arnold Schwarzenegger, and we all felt the weight of the fleeting nature of life — of our time here — of the time we have to get good things done. No one there was all good or all bad. All had done good things and maybe a few unwise things. But we all left the experience feeling a sense of unity. It was a sad day, a quiet, inward kind of day. It’s the way you feel after a funeral.

Nothing could have prepared us for the way this very somber, introspective day was to end. This had begun as a “day off” from the frantic, escalating drama and fever of the primary season. But tensions remained beneath the surface as furious as an incoming tide beneath the deceptively glassy-looking surface of an estuary. It had been like watching a crystal wine glass vibrate while a soprano hits high C. Suddenly the glass can no longer sustain and shatters.

When I first heard of the disturbance and switched to CNN, the images had the look of Chicago in late August 1968. It was a Trump rally that had been canceled, and the immediate impulse was to blame his rhetoric that encouraged physical violence when protesters disrupted his events. On second thought it seemed that the protest had to have come from somewhere so I held back. Trump did bear responsibility, but also the angry massive protest had roots in political rhetoric. The rhetoric of revolution.

When people are angry, if you tell them it’s fine to assault the opposition, you have to accept some blame. When people are angry and you tell them to revolt, you also have to accept some responsibility.

Two angry men caused this face-off between opposing camps. The country’s very fragile center seam is threatened. Can the center hold?

William Butler Yeats (1865–1939)
 Turning and turning in the widening gyre
 The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
 Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
 Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
 The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
 The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
 The best lack all conviction, while the worst
 Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
 Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
 The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
 When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
 Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
 A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
 A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
 Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
 Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
 That twenty centuries of stony sleep
 Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
 And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
 Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

It is not one side that caused this rift, and that is a fact we must face. There has been inflammatory rhetoric on two extreme sides. Fomenting revolution is just as dangerous as encouraging an army of brown shirts or black shirts to assault protesters.

Whipping up and riding on popular anger is as old a vehicle to power as assassination. Neither is our democratic tradition. This is a good time for us to remember that we are a peaceful, productive, proud people who conduct our transitions of power bloodlessly. The Ides of March are right around the corner.