Trump and the Lord of the Rings

I finally understand Donald Trump.  We decided to watch the first part of The Lord of the Rings again last week, and at the very end—do you remember?—when Frodo has brought the One Ring safely to the elf-home in Rivendell and everyone has gathered to decide what to do about it, there’s that scene where the ring is sitting on a pedestal and they all begin to argue about what to do next:  Use it to fight Mordor! Destroy it! Lose it in the ocean!    These are all good people from the different races of Middle Earth, and they all want to do the right thing, but the power of the ring is so great and so sinister that the argument becomes super-heated. Suddenly we see a close up of the ring itself and reflected in it are the angry faces of the elves, dwarves, hobbits and men, shouting at each other, growing red in the face, about to come to blows—a perfect image of the ring’s power to bend them to its will.

That’s what Trump does. He is the ring, making everybody crazy around him. Every time he opens his mouth or hits twitter there’s another round of media attention and everyone goes berserk.  At rallies, on talk-radio, on NPR, on TV good people get mad and start yelling at other good people. No one listens to anyone else, they just holler and scream and mock and tweet and sometimes even lash out, punching whoever is closest.  We’re all in its thrall, and by “its” I mean the power of anger.

Where does this analogy take us?   Where is our Mt. Doom, that place where we can un-make this power?   Is it in a protest march? A prayer for a speedy impeachment?   Or what?

Protests are fine –we need them too to send messages to our leaders–but what we also need  is  to recognize how reactive we’ve become and do something about it.   Limiting the time we spend with the media would help.  This 24-hour news cycle is making us all nutty.      Of course we have to keep up with events, but so many of us have become news junkies, that’s all we think about.    It’s eating away at us, devouring our very beings. Before you know it we’ll all be like Tolkien’s Nazgul, those black riders, the ring-wraiths, who were once men but are now the mere shadows of human beings, their bodies and spirits destroyed by the power of the Dark.

Let’s stop providing the fertile soil for the chaos the ring sows. Let’s turn off the radio and the screens and go play with our kids or  go to a community supper.   Perhaps instead of reacting to tweets, we could turn directly to our fellow citizens and try to understand what they’re telling us. Let’s get better at listening, and go into conversations willing to learn something we didn’t know before, and let’s hope our interlocutors are willing to do the same thing. Let’s be the change we want to see, as the old saying goes, and model the kinds of behaviors we wish to see take root.




Argentina Attacks Sexual Harassment

Three cheers for Buenos Aires!

This week the city council  decided to do something about the harassment of women.   Those obnoxious cat-callers who think it’s fun to yell out comments about women’s bodies are now subject to a $60 fine. The mentality of these idiots is hard to fathom.  The goal is apparently to get the woman’s attention, maybe see her blush, or yell something back in anger.  It’s fun! It’s a game!  But what’s the woman’s role in the game?  If it were basketball, she’d be the backboard, constantly struck by the players on the court as they try to score.   And it’s not just the words that make this cat-calling so frightening, it’s the real danger that women face from aggressive, domineering men who think women owe them something.

Argentina is not that different than many other places in the world.   Women walking down the streets are harassed all the time. Men make lewd remarks about their bodies, they follow them through the streets, they touch them, they grab at them, assault them, and even kill them. This would include husbands and wives.  One estimate  in Argentina is that a woman is killed every 30 hours simply because she is a woman.

A $60 fine isn’t much perhaps, but it sends a message and will get a lot of news coverage.   You can just imagine the men who like to engage in this sort of puerile activity laughing at this statute, which will be difficult to enforce.  Nevertheless it’s a step in the right direction. But only a step. If we were to ask ourselves what would it take to really end the kind of culture that makes women the target of so much unwanted attention, what would we want to do?

1) Pass some laws that criminalize the kinds of behavior we don’t want (that’s been done to some extent)

2) Begin a massive education campaign to make the adult population aware of the problem. Many clearly don’t see anything wrong with yelling a few words at a passing woman and don’t realize how frightening it can be.

3) Begin a massive education campaign for children to stigmatize the kinds of behaviors we don’t want. This is the key.   If we want a sea change in the culture, we have to fight the tides that come from the home and the neighborhood.   This is only possible in the schools. That’s the one place where children have to go—not churches, not community centers, though any institution can play a part in this campaign. It has to be the schools, and it has to start early and be revisited consistently.  This is much more important than factoring polynomials or memorizing Avogadro’s number.   Until we step up to the plate and attack this problem full on, our daughters, sisters, and mothers will continue to walk the streets in fear.

Sacrilege in Köln (Cologne)

There is a song I’ve always liked by Georges Brassens, the unofficial poet laureate of France, called “Le Grand Pan”  (“Pan, the Great”). In the second verse he tells us how in the old days, the gods would rush to the aid of two lovers as soon as they heard a single “I love you,” and with their aid….

La plus humble amourette était alors bénie

Sacrée par Aphrodite, Eros, et compagnie.

L’amour donnait un lustre au pire des minus,

Et la moindre amoureuse avait tout de Vénus.


Even the most humble romance was blessed

Made sacred by Aphrodite, Eros and company.

Love gave a lustre to even the worst of losers,

And the least of women in love had all the qualities of Venus.

This is the sacrament of sexual union.   To sense those mutual feelings of attraction swirling, forming, taking over two “imbéciles heureux” as Brassens says, is to know what the Divine is all about.  And it’s there for everyone to experience, even the most humble of us.

But the important word here is “mutual.”   Those supernal energies that send us to the farthest reaches of happiness only operate when love is requited. Failing that, love withers and dies, or leaves only lust, and lust can lead to the Dark Side.  Men are programmed by their DNA to look aggressively for partners, and in the not-too-distant past, they took them by force if necessary. Civilization gave us romance and a moral compass, empowering women by diverting the genetic drive of the male to reproduce.  (I know, I know–women have this drive too, but the danger comes primarily from men).

The veneer of civilization washes off quickly, especially when lubricated by alcohol, and especially when people turn into packs. The horrific events in Cologne, Germany on New Year’s Eve illustrate yet again how frightening life can be for women, even in the most civilized of countries. We don’t know all the details yet, but what we do know is bad enough: hundreds of drunken men encircling women, groping them, assaulting them, making them fear for their lives. It calls to mind events in our own country in 2000 when at the Puerto Rican parade in New York City the same thing happened, or the so called “Eve teasing” in India that can lead to the most terrifying sexual assaults imaginable.

What do we do about this?   Mothers and fathers! Your first duty to your sons is to teach them that sexual union is sacred to whatever gods you serve, or if you have no gods, sacred to what it means to be human, sacred to all that life on this planet means, sacred period.  Women are reflections of the goddesses and in motherhood they are heroes, bringing new life to the world at the risk of their own.   We owe women so much. They need our respect.  Teach your boys!