Window over Washington:

A reader objects to my headline, the masculine hard line becomes the feminine circle, and karma meets science

vol. 2 issue 48


Thank you to my reader in Minneapolis who bothered to email me an impassioned but not abusive response to my having titled the last issue the way I did. My post originally read “Defunding the police is dumb…” I have since changed the headline to read that defunding the police “goes too far”, and noted the update at the bottom of the page. I do regret that the original was gimmicky, something I also believe is true of “defund the police” as a bumper sticker slogan.

While the commentary’s headline is different, the sentiments expressed in the piece remain in place, and they are strong: to not have an active and armed police force willing to protect and serve is far too dangerous for me to comfortably imagine. However, my reader also sent me links to some information that she hopes will persuade me to think differently, and I am considering the larger context right now in this piece. Consider it an act of thought performance.

One reason I favor strong law enforcement is that I am scared, it is the president and his base who has only recently frightened me, and these two factors make me angry.

The whole time Trump and his crime syndicate circus has been installed the White House, I might have had a range of outsized emotions, most of them inflamed, but until his obvious signaling to the violent right wing and very armed Proud Boys the night of the debate, I had not feared for my physical safety nor that of my loved ones and neighbors.

My safety never worried me previously, despite the fact that from my home, I have an expansive view of the skies over Washington, and have watched (and sometimes documented) an inexplicable, and exceedingly loud and annoying, increase in helicopter and other military aircraft traffic since the Trump show took over the White House. Even when I once witnessed the Trump motorcade’s personal protection detail hanging out of a car window with a semi-automatic, something I never saw when Obama’s motorcade passed by, I just thought it was more machismo than threat. And, even during looting at the end of my street at the time of the George Floyd protests I wasn’t scared because I knew that was not anything but opportunism and a grab for goods, not bloodlust.

But last week, before the debate, while working in a garden in a peaceful street in Bethesda, Maryland, I did witness something chilling, and it tied right in with Trump’s call to “Stand back and stand by.”

I heard a puppy squeal as though in pain. My view was obstructed by a hedge, but I heard it again, followed by a string of poorly pronounced German commands. Worried, I emerged from the hedge to see a skin-headed young man who appeared very American to me, tugging severely on a German shepherd puppy in a choke-hold collar, hissing German words at the dog through clenched teeth.

Because my high school offered excellent instruction in foreign languages, a passionate interest of mine, to this day I can still speak or understand several of them, including German. And so, in German, I asked the young man what the problem was, and why he was speaking to the dog in German. His response was to look startled, pull on the dog even harder and cross the street away from me.

Not only was this young man hurting the defenseless puppy, he was doing so in a language he so clearly didn’t speak natively, didn’t really know beyond the dog commands to sic and harm, a language I strongly suspected was part of some Nazi cosplay-cum-reality show that he is just waiting to unfold, one where he is the master of some attack dog that can only be called off in German, which most people in the streets of America don’t happen to speak.

Except language geeks like me, and that threw him off.

I got a knot in my stomach as I watched the young man and his helpless puppy rapidly disappear into the park.

Whether to go to the authorities that day was something I contemplated, but in the end, did not. One reason was because speaking to one’s pet in a foreign language is not illegal, and I couldn’t truthfully claim animal cruelty, actually not having seen any.

But the other reason is that recently, my own family and I had a bizarre encounter with the local police that indicated to me just how on the defensive local law enforcement has become, and how ambivalent about their ambivalence I have become.

It was a routine traffic violation stop on account of our ignorance, that got weird when a passer by started to film the officer who had pulled us over, prompting the officer to unload his invective to us — the ignorant but nonviolent people to whom he was issuing a citation — about vigilante citizens trying to capture the cops acting badly. Was he about to act badly? Should we be worried? Why was he telling us? And who was this person with the phone camera making it clear he was filming the incident – a whack job with an axe to grind or a helpful citizen?

With that in mind, I decided reporting the dog incident wasn’t worth the trouble to possibly be viewed as the whack job, even if my inclination still was there to alert them to a potential threat in plain sight.

In discussing what had just happened with my partner there in the garden, a former State Department official who still keeps a keen eye on national and domestic security, agreed it was aberrant and of concern. Then she told me of a recent similar incident just across the river in Fairfax, Virginia.

The point is, the so-called Proud Boys and others like them are as threatening as the coronavirus – seemingly invisible, but apparently preparing to attack us in the places and ways we least expect, and perhaps without our having reliable recourse or protection.

And the president has let them know that is just fine with him.

And this makes me angry.

Putting it together: people such as myself, who have taken for granted in this country that we can expect the police to protect us from harm are now becoming aware that not only is that expectation not shared across all demographics, sometimes those encounters turn deadly. And yet, now more than ever, our own president is making the need for a reliable and measured police response paramount while at the same time exhibiting behavior that makes it less likely.

So, while my outrageous and gimmicky headline was offensive, I hope it doesn’t preclude a real discussion about how to keep the peace, not wantonly kill black men, not evince strange impromptu filming of uneventful traffic stops that throws cops off kilter, and that reduces the need for police officers to feel like they aren’t appreciated for all that they do, on the whole, for us.

There’s more to this, I realize.

First of all, that this docu-mental reader bothered to share her upset with me is a great reminder of the importance of letting people in whom we have placed trust know they have disappointed us. That was what was hardest of all to read in her email: she let me know she was a faithful reader and I’d let her down. I don’t mind being wrong about things, provided no one gets hurt, but I really don’t like to disappoint people who trust I will do right by them. It does happen, but it’s no fun when I do it, and I would far rather be given the chance to acquit myself if possible than to not know and let the wound remain untreated. I am grateful to this reader for her willingness to be vulnerable enough to interact with me, a stranger whom she has entrusted with her time and resources, in a personal way.

It is this sort of exchange I hope my audience and the police officers on the upcoming video can achieve.

I also appreciated that this reader respected herself enough to let me know where she stood on the issue, which among her points about their being alternatives to policing, included her view, supported by this document, that racism is in the ascendant more than classism. Her view contravenes mine, and I am re-thinking it all.

Widening this out, in contacting me with her reasoned thoughts, D. in Minneapolis demonstrated why voting matters so much. It’s not just us about holding our elected officials accountable to us, it’s also about each of us being accountable to ourselves. We need to always be comfortable evaluating our emotions against our thoughts, and our thoughts against our emotions, so that we can be clear on where we stand and defend and protect that stance. When we can do so with words and calm dialogue, we don’t need to race to arms and violence.

By the same logic, until we don’t need armed police officers to protect us against the violent thugs who have abandoned, or perhaps never sought, reasoned speech, I want them to not be ambivalent about their role as peacekeepers. I want them to be a formidable enough threat to would-be terrorists of any kind that interfering with my right to vote isn’t something they want to bother with. And yet, ambivalent about protecting and serving us is increasingly how our law officers feel, as was my original point in my previous piece.

But the follow-on to that is why are things tipping so far toward violence anyway?

That question points to the other reason I saw fit to change the headline.

Declaring defunding the police to be “dumb” was so definitive a statement as to be absolute, and that is precisely what I was objecting to in the first place: the sloganeering of a nuanced issue into a sophomoric gimmick. This kind of all or nothing thinking is symptomatic of the very hierarchical, ham-fisted approach to so much of current American thought and policymaking that I have been hoping to shed light upon and think differently about. I can hardly believe I was that dumb about it all myself, but I was.

That’s really what I want to get at ultimately: how pervasive this sort of uber masculine, patriarchal thinking is in our country, how easy it is to succumb to it, and how detrimental it is.

Rigid, linear thinking makes it harder to retrace our steps. It keeps us always marching in the same line, like infantry. I imagine it’s possible there are Republicans who would like to backtrack on their refusal to wear masks to prevent against covid-19, for example.

Had they not taken such a hard line in order to emphasize their individual rights and, ironically, not be cast out of their Republican pack, they’d have more flexibility now in how they represent their views to constituents, and would be at less risk of infection now had they considered a wider range of options. But that requires less of the authoritarian Father talk that says things like, “Because I said so!”, and more collaborative Mothering tones of “What affects one affects us all, so what can we do that minimizes the damage to us all?”

And yet, we need our dads, right? We need law and order, little words, not LAW AND ORDER demented words. And, if we always ask the group what it wants, how will we know what we need as individuals?

It’s about finding the balance between the masculine and the feminine.

Which brings me to what might seem a non sequitur, but is the actual point I hope to demonstrate with this publication: everything is connected.

When I say, as I often do, that we must under-take a soul retrieval of sorts for our nation, I really am not saying it rhetorically. I mean it quite literally, even if the only way to go about it is by way of metaphor. To continue having faith in our extremely reductionist consumer capitalist economy that exhausts resources by seeing them in a linear, hierarchical way, and not an integrated, renewable one, is to denigrate the feminine and trash our national soul, but it also has killed our spirit. That’s why we have such high rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide.

Our soul is feminine, it is nurturing and kind; yet, what we’ve chosen to emphasize in this country is what is hard and unyielding. We call it the American Spirit! We’re indomitable! And we can be. That would be beautiful and more effective if it were in balance. But both have been riddled with so many holes because of the imbalance.

To my way of thinking, my Minneapolitan reader is right to suggest that there are ways to expand our peace and security that doesn’t require the “yang” energy of firearms. But I am also right to demand that a strong police presence is what keep violent numbskulls from disrupting the election.

For now, what serves us both is staying dedicated to bringing America’s soul and spirit into healed balance.

All weekend, I have been hearing variations on the theme of this, indicating to me we are more at ease with this blend of energies and manner of thinking than we might first suspect. Listen as so many pols and pundits extend their thoughts and prayers to the president and his now ill entourage, while in the same breath, go on to discuss the virtues of science – the hard line approach to the facts and figures of the coronavirus.

How easily they glide from faith to facts.

Or, as Jim Carrey, aka Joe Biden, put it: “When karma meets science.”

The two really can co-exist.

Thank you for reading what I consider to be a bit of a ramble, but it mattered to me to say it. If you’ve read this far, I will leave you with this…

This past Friday evening in the eastern sky, the full Harvest Moon rose into view outside our living room window, heavily pregnant with the bright white reflection of the Sun’s light, shining from the other side of the world. The light was so lovely and strong, we went to the window to have a better look.

There was so much more to see!

Rising next to the Moon, was retrograde planet Mars, named for the God of War, its fiery red glow glaring like the eye of Sauron slightly to the Moon’s lower left. Across the sky to the west, fat and happy Jupiter was traveling on, while gray and icy Saturn, named for the God of Time and Karma, followed in its wake.

Suddenly, between them all, there arose from many miles south on the Virginia coast line, a speeding orange burst of light, traveling in an impressively straight line, an unmanned star piercing through, and then disappearing into the night ; it was the Northrop Grumman cargo rocket Antares, headed with supplies for the International Space Station.

In myth, Antares is the rival of Mars, also known as Ares. And so, there is “anti-Ares”.

The tableaux of that night is then a metaphor: our current president and his ilk represent the extreme, martial side of what is masculine, our political universe’s Mars. His challenger, the anti-Mars, Joe Biden bursts onto center stage, surprising us. Looking on are Jupiter and Saturn representing the Old Boys network, perhaps neutral in their stance, yet hard to know for sure, so distant from the heart of the action they seem.

They were all gone by morning.

All but the steady Moon, receiving the light of the Sun, moderating it so that we could stare directly into it without harm, and so receive illumination from both at once.

It was the desire to witness that marriage of light that compelled us to look to the heavens in the first place.




Photos: Of Mars, Religion.wikia; of Harvest Moon, NASA.