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We went to church last night, in a quiet spot amidst the glitz and noise of the New York theater district. Bruce Springsteen seems to have the same goals for a performance as I do for a worship service: remind people of what really matters and give them the spark and courage to act; add some beauty to the world, restore hope, and have fun together.

You set out to do that, but you don’t always bring it. He brought it last night, all right.

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Catsitter is in place, redeye is behind me, and I’m in New York, where the public radio stations play classical music and the taxi drivers play the public radio stations. This one does, anyway. I’m grateful. I slept some on the plane, but my brain can’t take 1010 WINS even at the best of times. I normally enjoy chatting with taxi drivers, and I’d like to hear this one’s story–he came here from Russia, I think–but maybe a little more sleep before Brooklyn would be good.

Joy and Indigo are out of town for spring break, but I won’t follow them until Monday night, since I have an all-day training to go to on Monday. So I enjoyed a quiet morning at home alone today (Saturday), then went to the San Francisco March for Our Lives to end gun violence. When I joined the March, it extended as far as I could see in both directions. When I got to the Embarcadero I turned and walked back up Market Street a ways, and still the other marchers streamed by, no end in sight.

Seeing people’s signs was a highlight, as always. I counted three Hamilton quotes: “This is not a moment, it’s a movement,” “Tomorrow there’ll be more of us,” and “History has its eyes on you.” Several students’ signs noted the irony of their schools’ dress codes (especially for girls) being more restrictive than gun laws. There were many pleas to give teachers more resources to do their jobs instead of guns. I liked this one from a girl about Indigo’s age.

One man walked by with the sign “Arming teachers is like arming priests and rabbis.” I wasn’t sure what that meant (still am not) but I came up alongside him to tell him that I’m a minister, and although I know the chances are almost nil that anything would happen during a service, since the massacre in Sutherland Springs, I always keep my cell phone in the pulpit when I preach: charged, and on, and right where I can get at it. He shook his head. “You shouldn’t have to think about that kind of thing.” Yeah.

As is so often the case, the media exaggerates the role of white students and implies that few Parkland students or organizers are African-American, just as, when African-American teenagers have organized responses to violence in their communities they’ve been ignored (“no one addresses ‘black-on-black crime'”), and when they have peacefully protested violence by police, they’ve too often been portrayed not as promising leaders, but as thugs.

Not that the Parkland students have been consistently lionized; the NRA seems to be accusing them of loving the attention, and the media responses are mixed. Still, the dominant response has been admiring, supportive, and grateful–as it should be. Now if we could respond to the young leaders of Black Lives Matter and other, people-of-color-led anti-violence activism the same way . . .

For my part, since I’m so frustrated by the deceptive and self-deceptive narrative about how “good guys with guns” (whether teachers, armed guards, or individuals in their homes) are a viable solution to gun violence, the connection between the deaths of Stephon Clark and others at the hands of police, and that of my aunt at the hands of her (professional, middle-class, white) husband, is evident. Both are cases of those widely perceived as “the right people,” the “good guys,” becoming a deadly risk to those they are supposed to protect. That comes about when a “good guy” is laden with fear, uncontrolled anger, and an attitude of entitlement, but these are far more likely to be fatal when combined with guns.

So one side of my sandwich board memorialized my aunt,

and the other evoked, along with her name, the names of some African-American victims of the “good guy” myth.

Rest in peace, because we will not stop fighting the greed and injustice that killed you.

I’ve been mentally collecting common political misconceptions, some of which I’ve held myself. Some have been debunked repeatedly, such as the myth that Al Gore claimed credit for inventing the internet (he clearly didn’t), though even as one crumbles, another takes shape before our eyes, such as the claim that Sarah Palin said “I can see Russia from my house!” (It was Tina Fey, playing Palin on Saturday Night Live. Millions of us heard her say it on live television, and her tone was clearly satirical, not one of literally quoting her target, and yet people still say Palin said it.) But other, more substantive misconceptions keep cropping up, so herewith a few posts taking a close look at them.

Up today: the idea that federalism, and the Federalist Party of the early United States, advocate a loose confederation of states with a weak federal government. Federalism’s modern version, in this thinking, is “states’ rights.” In fact, the opposite is true: federalism argues for a strong central government and, while not discarding states’ jurisdiction over many functions of government, tilts towards empowering the federal government to supersede the states’.

I thought federalism equalled states’ rights for years, for the simple reason that the Federalist Society, the conservative legal organization, strongly advocates states’ rights and weak federal powers. And if one looks to the authors of the Federalist Papers, there are mixed messages; one was James Madison, a founding member of the Democratic-Republican (also known as the Republican) Party, which decisively took leave of the Federalist Party. However, during the writing of the Federalist Papers, Madison was a Federalist, or perhaps federalist is a better way to put it: he thought the Articles of Confederation were too weak (the Federalist Papers were written with the express object of getting the Constitution ratified to replace the Articles of Confederation) and that a stronger central government was needed to bind the states together.

The Federalist Society, according to Wikipedia, is primarily concerned with the concept of judicial restraint, which is outlined in Federalist Paper No. 78. That was indeed written by someone who remained a Federalist all his life, Alexander Hamilton. But in many (most?) of its stances, the Federalist Society sides not with Hamilton but with the later Madison, who parted from the principle of a strong central government, and in doing so, shed the name Federalist and began a new party–the first political party and the beginning of party factionalism in the United States.

I’m sure my understanding of these parties’ positions is far from complete, and probably anachronistic; who knows where Hamilton, Madison, and other early Federalists and Anti-Federalists would stand on the issues of 2018? But it’s undoubtedly true that the term “federalism” is repeatedly used to mean its opposite.

The Federalist website, for example, though not connected to The Federalist Society, shares its general worldview, and like it, is an inheritor not of the Federalists’ political philosophy, but their opponents’.

And just last week, the Washington Post used the term “federalism” to describe pushback by the nations’ governors against Trump’s teacher-arming plan (“Trump gets a seminar on federalism as governors push back on arming teachers,” February 27). “The session quickly became a seminar on federalism — and a reminder that states really remain the laboratories of democracy,” the author, James Hohman wrote, but that is far more a Democratic-Republican article of faith than a Federalist one.

Political philosophers, government majors, members of the Federalist Society, Ron Chernow, David McCullough (biographers of Federalists Hamilton and Adams, respectively): if you have light to shed on this issue, please do.

Next post: 3/5.

Answer: The number of days after InfoWars host Alex Jones published his “final statement” asserting that the killings at Sandy Hook were a hoax (11/18/16) that Donald Trump appeared on Jones’s show to praise his “amazing reputation” and promise him, “I will not let you down” (12/2/16).

My friend Dan Schatz teased me about my tiny little strike against procrastination, but darn it, it works. I have stuck with it and gradually added two other habits. One is taking something downstairs whenever I go, since most of our living space is upstairs and there’s always something: compost for the bin, a jacket to hang in the closet by the front door, books we’ve finished reading. I adopted this from the nurses’ rule, related by Ian McEwan in Atonement, of never walking down the ward empty-handed; there’s always something to dispose of or deliver.

The other is putting away my clothes and shoes, even my pajamas, whenever I change. I don’t always keep up 100%, but I haven’t had a great big accumulated pile of shed clothes to put away for a year or two now.

Next post: my version of bullet journaling. If I don’t watch out, this is going to turn into a Personal Organization blog, which would be a joke of cosmic proportions.

Colored pencil on paper, 18×22 cm (c) Amy Zucker Morgenstern 2018

You know what scares me most about Trump’s latest outrage? It’s not that he described other nations as “shitholes.” It’s not that he said we shouldn’t allow immigration from such countries. It’s not even the deep, toxic racism of his policies.

Those are all plenty frightening, but what’s got me most in a sweat is the evidence that no one, least of all Trump himself, has control over what Trump says and does.

There are those on the left and right who say he’s being strategic: shoring up his base with the occasional blatantly racist comment. But the people who love this comment don’t need shoring up, so if it is a strategy, it’s a bad one. Again: he is not in control of himself.

Yes, yes, condolence calls don’t bear much scrutiny and it’s time to stop analyzing what each of these poor people had to endure, or what they appreciated, about a call from our 45th (in chronology and rank) president. In a way this is a minor blip. Though of course it is not minor for the families, no one will die from a bad phone call, which is more than we can say for some of his other decisions. But it’s deeply significant for our country, the other countries of the world, and all of the billions of us who are affected by this man’s holding so much power.

1. Trump is the worst person in the world to deliver condolences. He has no capacity for empathy, he is completely clumsy with words (see: inability to distinguish between “He was willing to die for his country” and “He knew what he signed up for”) and has zero sense of what is appropriate to say when (see: same).

2. Trump, when criticized, immediately attacks others. Even if they are grieving Gold Star families.

3. Trump is a pathological liar: he lies constantly and in situations where his lies are easily exposed.

4. One of the many things he habitually lies about is his own generosity. He promises money, or claims to have given it, and then little of the money ever materializes. His charitable “foundation” is a scam.

5. He is desperate to be the unique, the best, the first. Other presidents didn’t make calls, he claims (of course they did). No other president writes a check for $25,000–or maybe what he means is, no previous president would have promised such a check and not send it until compelled by public exposure, which may be true. This narcissistic neediness causes harm to other people, such as the grieving father he strung along. What might be even worse is that Trump seems not to perceive that a promise is not actually meaningful unless fulfilled; words are not enough. No wonder he stiffs creditors, reneges on contractors and now, as president, blithely breaks treaties.

6. When caught in a lie, it’s also part of his m.o. to pass the buck like it’s a hot coal. In this case, he immediately blamed the fabrication on “his” generals. “I was told,” he said. He lacks the most elementary courage needed for leadership.
7. A president does not need to call each family that has lost a servicemember; a letter, crafted by a staffer, is fine. Likewise, some people will appreciate the call, some will be angry and bitter, and many will not remember a word. They’re in shock and grief, damn it. There is no perfect, right thing to say–but there are many wrong things to say. There’s a “first, do no harm” principle to such things that he does not grasp.

8.  In no circumstances is it acceptable to complain about this duty. Again: if you don’t know that “this is one of the hardest things a president has to do” is not a complaint, whereas “Now, it gets to a point where, you know, you make four or five of them in one day. It’s a very, very tough day” is a complaint, then it’s best to just keep your mouth shut.

9. People who have lost a child are not “politicizing” the incident by talking about it in a political context. You can’t politicize what is already political, and what could be more political than asking someone to die for his country’s aims? They are not tarnishing the sacredness of their sacrifice by pointing out its connections to policies, parties, or politicians. I lost my last scrap of respect for John Kelly yesterday when he implied the Khans had done so.

When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life, the dignity of life, is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well. Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer.

If there’s something or someone else he could have meant by this reference to Gold Star families, please enlighten me.

10. Don’t even get me started on a so-called leader who keeps trotting out “the dog ate my homework”-level excuses. Again: leadership skills 101.

11. And the whole thing blew up because Trump didn’t want us to hear about Niger. So: what are we doing in Niger? And why was it such a secret? I was hoping the silence was only because he couldn’t bear to report a failure, but it’s become apparent that this is a secret mission. So what’s going on there? Did Congress know about it?

Here’s the very first exchange between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, as conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda:

Hamilton: Pardon me, are you Aaron Burr, sir?
Burr: That depends.

That’s Burr in a nutshell: unwilling to commit, even to the point of admitting his name. Oh, sure, it’s framed as a gentle rebuke to Hamilton’s manners, which he accepts: “Who’s asking?,” Burr goes on to say, a reasonable enough rejoinder when a stranger demands to know one’s name, and Hamilton catches his faux pas and introduces himself. But it is also an epitome of the defining difference between Burr and Hamilton in Miranda’s interpretation; Burr is guarded, “waiting to see which way the wind will blow” (“Non-Stop”), and Hamilton impetuous, always giving his opinion whether anyone wants to hear it or not–just as, at the end of this song, a newbie, he jumps in to the tavern debate: “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?”

Each will drive the other up a wall, learn from the other, and adopt the other’s ways to his own advantage. This meeting is the first step along the way to Hamilton’s becoming diplomatic enough, Burr style, to gain influence (“The Room Where It Happens”), and to Burr’s acquiring enough of Hamilton’s bulldozer drive to seek power (“The Election of 1800”) and as a result, end up fatally opposed. The reality was probably muddier, but that’s one of the thoughtful simplifications Miranda chooses, stringing a thread from each man’s earliest experiences, through their career decisions, to their final confrontation.

And then, of course, there’s the foreshadowing in the warning, “Fools who run their mouths off wind up dead,” which would be too theatrically ominous if not immediately humorously claimed, and thus undercut, by John Laurens’ shouting “What time is it? Showtime!”

Anachronistic humor is another tricky balance the play strikes well. What kind of beer does Laurens drink? Sam Adams, of course. In the gangsta-rap style introductions, Laurens speaks defiantly about the Redcoat “cops,” which prompts thought about ways in which the British and colonists were, and were not, analagous to today’s police and African Americans. Do government forces within the 21st century US perpetuate colonialism vis a vis the citizens? The play stays firmly rooted in the 18th century, but it doesn’t shy away from planting these ideas.

The foreshadowing is in the music as well as the words. Those chords of “Aaron Burr, Sir,” the second song? We will hear them again in the second-to-last song (“The World Was Wide Enough”), just after Burr shoots Hamilton and becomes “the villain in your history.”

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