Notre Dame on fire ...
In the climax of Witness (1985), a corrupt police chief holds a gun on Harrison Ford’s character amid a group of innocent Amish bystanders. Ford asks, “What are you going to do, Paul? Kill me? Him? The woman?”
I suspect a lot of us want to ask such questions as the accusations flit around Washington and almost everyone is potentially under fire. The dramatic movie scene ends with Ford saying, “It’s over. Enough.” If only D.C. hearings would end with that declaration! Sadly, it looks like we’re in for a raucous year—and the “Help the Intel Community Whistleblowers” campaign at GoFundMe was up to $217,480 on Oct. 9.
The battles in Washington were not nearly as severe as those of the 1850s, which you can read about in Joanne Freeman’s The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War (2018). Then, congressmen drew pistols and waved bowie knives at opponents. They punctuated orations by flipping their desks. The most infamous incident: South Carolina Rep. Preston Brooks used his gold-headed cane to beat Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner over the head, inflicting more than a dozen bloody blows before the cane shattered.
These days, only the words “civil war”—not sticks and stones—are becoming part of right and left threats, so far. President Donald Trump tweeted what Pastor Robert Jeffress proclaimed on Fox News: “‘If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.’” New York’s Union Seminary, a stronghold of theological liberals, tweeted back: “Jeffress’ threats of civil war … represent disturbing abuse of spiritual authority. … This preaching is fundamentally anti-Christ.”
As Elizabeth Warren became the Democratic presidential front-runner, voters faced the possibility of a campaign next year pitting our most rhetorically unusual president ever against our most politically radical major party candidate ever. Warren at the political gaming tables doubled down by endorsing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s welfare-for-all (including immigrants in the United States illegally) and national rent control proposals, which at the local level have repeatedly led to less housing for the poor.
Nonpolitical individuals and organizations also found themselves under fire. One example: Des Moines Register reporter Aaron Calvin obeyed editors’ requests that he check out the background of Carson King, a 24-year-old enjoying days of fame after he held up a sign soliciting beer money on ESPN. When the dollars became thousands, King said he’d donate the money to a children’s hospital. The thousands then become more than $1 million, helped by the Anheuser-Busch beer company.
Reporter Calvin found King at age 16 had tweeted bad jokes with racial themes. When the news came out, King maturely asked forgiveness for his immaturity eight years before, but Anheuser-Busch said, “We will have no further association with him.” Next, a search for reporter Calvin’s younger messages dug up some rotten writing of his own—and the Register fired him. Then came blog headlines like “Anheuser-Busch getting crushed for cutting ties” with King. (One online poll showed 91 percent of respondents criticizing the beer barons.)
Shoot me? Shoot him? Early in October Nonprofit Quarterly reported, “2019 will be the last year for Susan G. Komen’s annual three-day breast cancer walk in Philadelphia.” That’s one indication of declining support. A decade ago Komen was in the pink, bringing in $367 million in fiscal year 2011. In 2012, Komen first announced it would no longer fund Planned Parenthood, then reversed itself. Both sides were angry, and Komen’s 2013 income declined to $270 million. By 2018 it was only $82 million.
Some scientists and journalists are also firing away. After the prestigious journal Science reported a big decline in North America’s bird population, a front-page New York Times headline read, “Birds Are Vanishing From North America.” The lead was equally apocalyptic: “The skies are emptying out.”
WORLD noted the study two weeks ago under the nonhysterical header, “REDUCED.” Now we can point out that some researchers are saying Science’s shot missed. Slate quoted Todd Arnold, a University of Minnesota conservation biologist who noted how species by species “the increases outweigh the declines.” Arnold said he “could do a really cool and sophisticated analysis based on 500-plus species, [but] that would never get past the editor’s eye. It would have ended up somewhere. But certainly not in Science.”
So we have a divided nation—but some agreements are still possible. The federal government’s latest ask, a spending bill to stave off possible shutdown until Nov. 21, passed the Senate with 82 votes. Legislators regularly “reach across the aisle” to increase the national debt: Congress has already approved the federal government’s nearly $5 trillion Go-Fund-Me request. The remaining arguments concern Mexican border wall-building and taxpayer funding of abortions. We’ll learn who has the most White House clout: pro-lifers or anti-immigrationists.
For Christians, despair is never in season. As baseball’s postseason games continue, let’s pray for an attitude like that of Jonny Gomes, who played for the World Series–winning Boston Red Sox in 2013. That year, whenever teammates or fans asked him how he was doing, Gomes responded, “Just one day closer to the parade.”