Saturday, June 24, 2017

“Me, Me, Me” Is the Mantra of the Trump Administration


This essay was first published by the History News Network on June 11, 2017.  It was also published by Yubanet.com on June 13, 2017.


While Trump and his circus of chaos continues to both entertain and terrify the world, providing fascinating talking points for political pundits, talk show hosts and late-night comics, it is also distracting us from some of the more significant changes that are taking place behind the scenes, changes that are distorting both our national persona and our global image. 

For almost 400 years America has seen itself as a “city on a hill,” an example of goodness and virtue for the rest of the world.  (Ronald Reagan added the adjective to the phrase, "shining city on the hill.")  It is an vision chiseled into the American ethos, seemingly as indestructible as the presidential faces carved into Mount Rushmore.

America first imagined itself as a shining city more than a century before the founding fathers gathered in Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence. The vision comes from John Winthrop’s sermon “A Model of Christian Charity” given to a group of Puritan colonists aboard the Arbella, the flagship of a fleet of eleven ships in route to the newly created Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. 

In his sermon, Winthrop provided a simple and inclusive message of love, explaining that in the struggle ahead, the colonists “must love one another with a pure heart fervently. We must bear one another’s burdens.” The origin of Winthrop’s words can be traced to the Sermon on the Mount, part of the bedrock of Christianity, where Jesus told his followers, “You are the light of the world.  A city on the hill cannot be hidden.”

Those who believe this country is unique among the nations of the world have long pointed to Winthrop’s sermon as a foundation for the principle of American exceptionalism.

Over the years some of our most famous Presidents have also drawn upon Winthrop’s words, speaking of the responsibility of this nation to set a positive example for the rest of the world.
Days before his inauguration as President, John F. Kennedy addressed the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Quoting Winthrop, JFK spoke of historic qualities such as courage, judgement, integrity and dedication.

“Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us – and our governments in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill – constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities,” Kennedy said.

Ronald Reagan, in his Farewell Address to the Nation, explained his own perception of the role of this nation on the global stage.

“I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.”

Any serious student of American History understands that the shining city has yet to be achieved, rather it is a ring for which the nation has continually grasped.

For more than half a century, since the end of the World War II, the world has looked to America for guidance.  We have been the leader of the Free World.  During those years we expanded our definition of diversity, we sought to build a better world for all, not just the rich and powerful, not just those inside our own country.  We shared our wealth with the rest of the world, knowing that by doing so we were making it a better place for all.  We believed in Winthrop’s model of charity and we tried to live up to his expectations.

Today the eyes of the world remain fixed upon this nation, but in this new Trumpian Era what they see in no way reflects the shining city that Presidents Reagan and Kennedy described.  The old image of a nation “open to anyone,” inhabited by individuals “aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities” is rapidly crumbling away. 

At the White House they abandon old alliances, they talk about building walls, closing doors, turning America into an armed camp, hostile to the rest of the world.  They rattle their nuclear sabers, abandoning concern for civil liberties, human rights, and the environment, as they shout down those who question their actions.  They unabashedly incite the mob, dividing Americans with lies designed to spread fear and hostility, all so that they can fill their own greedy pockets.

It is not just the President who is changing the image of America.  Congress is filled with equally greedy politicians who publicly parade their Christianity at every opportunity, but ignore one of its primary tenets – simple charity.   Instead, they would have the nation abandon the poor and needy, not just beyond our borders, but within our country as well.

Many of the individuals in positions of power have begun to resemble the infamous moneychangers Jesus is said to have driven from the temple.  

Unfortunately, driving out these greedy individuals is no simple task, especially since their corruption is supported by the hypocrisy of millions who pretend they are setting a morally upright example for others.  They talk about freedom and democracy as they promote their own selfish agenda, ultimately facilitating the destruction of one of the pillars of the America Dream. 

Where America once took great pride in being the best hope for the world, our shining city on the hill has become nothing more than a quagmire overflowing with greed, a dark and dingy ghetto teeming with hate.  “Me, me, me” seems to be the new national motto.


And unfortunately this dog-eat-dog example is being watched and replicated around the world. 

© David Lee McMullen 2017

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Box Full of Memories

Also published at Medium.com on January 16, 2017





Almost 45 years have passed since the death of my father and yet memories still linger. They lurk in the back of my mind, stimulated by little things that make old connections.
One of those items is an old silver tie clip, one with an Art Deco design that dates back to the 1940’s or perhaps earlier, that was once his. Because it slides on, rather than clamps, I often use it as a money clip, especially when I travel in cities where I don’t want to always be reaching for my wallet.
Recently, on an evening with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at Usher Hall here in Edinburgh, I lost it. I’m not sure where, perhaps it was at a pub called Shakespeare’s next to the concert hall or when I was buying drinks at intermission. Regardless, when I returned home it was gone. I checked all my pockets several times, but it was nowhere to be found. I felt certain that it was gone forever.
While Dad’s old tie clip must be at least 75 years old, it has little monetary value. Its value is strictly sentimental, one of a few tangible items I still have that connect the two of us. As a result, my sense of loss was great.
We tried calling the places where it might have been dropped, but it was a holiday and no one answered the phone. Given that it was so small, there seemed little hope of recovering it because it was the kind of thing that could easily be vacuumed away by the cleaners without being noticed.
Mourning its loss, I began thinking about other mementos stored in my jewelry box, currently packed away in storage in the U.S. For most of us, the stuff we keep in such places is usually insignificant, at least with respect to its economic value. It’s the memories contained within them that are important. Mine, for example, is overflowing with things that retrace my life and make connects with departed individuals.
Although my old jewelry box is almost four thousand miles away, I can easily recall many of the items in it. There is a 1923 “Peace” Silver Dollar, minted the year my mother was born, and a little gold band that was my baby ring, a tradition that seems to have disappeared from our society. There is the miniature sergeant’s badge I was given for being on the Safety Patrol in junior high school, as well as an assortment of items from my service in the Marine Corps, including metal chevrons, marksmanship badges, a grenade pin and a good conduct metal.
Juxtaposed against the military items are the pin I got when I served in VISTA, the domestic Peace Corps, and a beaded roach clip from the 1960’s. There is a Lenin pin from my days with the American Bar Association, given to be me by a member of a visiting delegation of Soviet lawyers, and there are assorted lapel pins from various organizations to which I once belonged. There is even a Cub Scout pin earned for taking my oldest son to pack meetings.
Included among this assortment of mementoes are five other tie clips, including another silver one, very similar my father’s, that once belonged to his grandfather, a man who lived into his late eighties, dying when I was just ten. He was a tall stoic fellow, a Baptist deacon, who was born just five years after the end of the Civil War and served as Tallahassee’s police chief during World War I.
There are two gold tie clips, the hinged kind that bite like alligator jaws, that once belonged to uncles. One has a large Masonic seal on the face and belonged to my Uncle Milford, a giant of a man who stood more than six feet five inches tall. He was a crane operator who had a glass eye, walked with a limp and was never without a joke. The other belonged to my Uncle Fred and has his name in a raised script. Fred was the first person in the family to earn a graduate degree, and the man who introduced me to British literature and classical music. If it hadn’t been for World War II, he might have become a music professor because of his knowledge and intense love of music.
I also have two tie tacks, the kind that pierce the tie and hold it to the shirt with a little chain. One is black with a gold rampant lion, the royal symbol of Scotland. It is the only one that is just mine, dating back to my college days. The other is gold with a large letter M. It came with matching cufflinks, given to me by my first wife’s Aunt Irma because I was the only one in the family whose last name began with the same letter as her late husband, a flashy dressing salesman of the 1950’s named Malone.
All of these odd little relics provide connections with the past, bringing back fond memories of people I knew and loved. Thus, it is easy to understand why I felt so sad at having lost my father’s tie clip, one of the most important items in my collection.
Then, two days later, as I left our flat, I happened to look down at a break in the wet, black curb stone, just a few steps from the front door of the building. There I saw something shiny. As I reached down to examine it, I realized it was my father’s tie clip. I must have dropped it getting out of the taxi on our return from the concert. As I picked it up, it seemed a little shinier than I remembered and I put it back into the safety of my pocket knowing that this was one connection I would hold a little bit tighter in the future.
© 2017 David Lee McMullen