A New Hope – Episode IV

  • Posted: November 16, 2020
  • Category: Blog
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Memories are elusive, sometimes butterfly kisses, sometimes wind swept moors. Moments rich in fateful outcome slip without trace into the unreachable depths of an aging mind, yet others unbearably trite remain vividly unforgettable. One of my remembered moments, trite but enduring, happened at a drive-in. Remember those icons of American middle class entertainment long gone? Get your mind out of the gutter, this is not a “coming of age” story.

The time was late 1977, a drive-in movie theater in Altadena, CA. It was date night, the first since the birth of our daughter some few months before. In a well-practiced pre-kid routine, my wife had fried up some of her delicious chicken and popped a bagful of popcorn. We were here to catch a movie and begin our experience of life as a family rather than a couple. Did I forget to mention that our daughter came along, cradled in her Mom’s arms with blanketed back seat for bedtime?

Twilight darkened into night and the movie started – a few commercials, a few previews. Our daughter began to fuss, and we began to wonder. Our daughter was what was called a “colicky baby”, and once the fussing started, it seldom ended until a full measure of frustration was stamped “Paid”. And then the movie began and we were introduced to John William’s bid for cultural immortality. His unforgettable music swelled and lines of slowly receding text filled the screen. What is this?

Our baby daughter’s cries were momentarily forgotten, at least by me. And then it happened. The awe-inspiring vision of an Imperial Star Destroyer moved majestically onto the wide screen. Some two hours later I returned to reality. Of course my wife experienced the evening somewhat differently, but that is a story for another day.

The movie was “Star Wars”. Only later did it become known as “Star Wars – Episode IV – A New Hope”. A New Hope –the expression of a deep and fundamental human yearning. Even on our best days, we know there is something better. On our worst days, . . .  In the prose of a lawyer’s argument nonetheless reaching poetic heights, St. Paul gives voice to that yearning in his Letter to the Roman’s, “all creation groans in expectation of something better”.

The rest of Scripture has a lot to say about hope as well, for where else would we turn if we truly seek hope? On CNN? On Fox News?  Hope cannot co-exist with either anger or arrogance. In the darkest days of Israel’s existence, Baruch the Scribe took down the Prophet Jeremiah’s dictation in words that have not lost their power to kindle the candle of hope in the 2,500 years since:

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”

We lift our eyes on the morning after the 2020 election. That the morning after is two weeks later speaks to our sense of fatigue. Though we do not face the siege engines and advancing armies of Nebuchadnezzar like those hearing Jeremiah, we too are weary, weary of the emotional anger, the contentious mendacity, the hateful wrangling of the past four years.

We want to hear of plans to prosper us instead of to punish us, plans to give us hope and a future. We have a new President, Joe Biden. It is a time of new beginnings, a time to forgive and forget, a time to go forward into a new day, most importantly, a time to hope.

Of course America is fractured and divisive. America has always been fractured and divisive. We are now and have always been a land of urban sophistication and rural shrewdness, shysters and simpletons, settled prosperity and immigrant energy, saint and sinner, sheep and wolves.

There are times when our differences threaten to overwhelm us, but we have been able to come together repeatedly over 250 years. There are those on the extremes who will dig in and die on their hill. I believe these Dog Soldiers revel in martyrdom, their vision too pure for this world. But as the election has shown, most of us remain in the middle, seeking compromise and good will, expecting at least decorum in the absence of character from those presuming to speak on our behalf.

There is a sense that the past 16 years have been a time of missed opportunities. There is something about foreign wars, foreign wars without victory or the face of the enemy, foreign wars in search of a cause. Such wars bring the existing fault lines in a nation onto the surface, intensifying them, sharpening them. One might call them the wars of Empire, for that is what they are. One recalls the British Empire’s Boer War, Crimean War, Mahdist War. Or demonstrating the timeless nature of human folly and imperial emptiness, the Roman Empire’s Jewish War, Teutoburger Forest, the endless string of Parthian Wars, et. alia.

In 2004, George W. Bush won a ringing mandate and stood on the commanding heights. He might have declared victory, brought the troops home. He might have disciplined the appalling excess of the irresponsible spenders in his own party, the party of so-called financial responsibility drunk on power. He might have reached out in a spirit of compromise and reconciliation across the aisle, the easy victor secure in his power and magnanimous to the defeated opponent sprawled helplessly in the dirt.

Instead he “stayed the course”, ignoring the flatulent fiscal irresponsibility of his own party and becoming a recluse during the last years of his term, a broken President flailing helplessly at endless flocks of returning crows from Iraq, Afghanistan and the Lehman Bros.

As so often the case in American politics, ignominious defeat sows the seeds of resurgent victory. In 2008, Barack Obama won overwhelming victory for the Democrats. He won the Nobel Peace Prize simply by being Barack Obama. America had a Black President, a ringing vindication of America’s basic goodness, its power to heal and to grow.

Secure in his party’s total control of every governmental branch, he could have reached across the aisle and been gracious to the dazed losers. He could have assumed a spirit of compromise, after all he had won. He had “floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee”, a player with all of the cards. He was not a man of accomplishment or experience, but a man who embodied the hopes and dreams of many yearning for that better world. A spirit of reconciliation and of accommodation coupled with humility would have meant much coming from him

Instead, he belittled and threatened. He went forth in arrogance and fearlessness, a Harvard professor given the opportunity to exercise his wisdom, bringing utopia to the ignorant masses. He could have declared victory and brought the troops home. Instead he developed a taste for targeting “with extreme prejudice”. He could have reined in the commissars and put millions back to work on “shovel ready projects”. Instead he indulged the “hall monitors” of the Deep State and succumbed to the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”.

And in their turn, the ignorant masses brought forth the Presidency of Donald Trump. It was a seismic shock that rocked the great and good. The Furies were unleashed, the Valkyries of Adorable America rode to Gotterdammerung. We endured 4 years of histrionics and mean spirited humor denigrating the racist ignorance of the ignorant masses.

Presiding over a roaring economy, historic levels of unemployment with prosperity returning to working people long forgotten and a new vigor in America’s overseas interests, Donald Trump could have taken a page from Abraham Lincoln, another awkward President besieged and hated by the great and good. He could have used a gentle humor to puncture the inflated balloons of hysteria, reached out to the reasonable and acted the part of the statesman.

Where Lincoln seduced, making allies and admirers of the contemptuous elite joining his administration, Trump belittled, interfered and fired. Instead of Abraham Lincoln, Donald Trump took a page from Yosemite Sam, rooted in the mud of the media wallow and indulged his narcistic bombastic ego.

And so now we have Joe Biden, Episode IV. Perhaps we might take comfort from the movie and the unlikely actors who returned peace to the Empire. Luke Skywalker and Joe Biden are unlikely heroes, but hope is not a child of reality’s logic. Those creatures living a life of unvarnished reality, engineers, seldom speak of hope.

President-Elect Biden has many advantages. Covid can now be an exercise in public health rather than an opportunity for virtue signaling. Thanks to the reforms of the past four years, our underlying economy is strong. Our troops are coming home and American foreign policy has achieved significant success while shedding its case of the messianic flu.

Joe brings to the office a sense of well-mannered civility, perhaps the persona of a corporate middle manager, ensuring his acceptance by American voters. For the past generation, America has shown that we will tolerate a sexual predator, a feckless legacy as well as a pompous speechifier as President, but we will not tolerate a narcissistic loud mouth.

But Joe walks into his new job on thin ice. Behind him waiting in the wings is a reasonable facsimile of Darth Vader, Kamala Harris. The stormtroopers would much prefer Mrs. Harris to wield the light saber and they can easily tumble Joe into the icy currents beneath his feet. While during the past campaign the complicit media whistled past the graveyard, studiously ignoring the Biden family finances, Joe’s past peccadilloes with females in groping range and his grasp on mental acuity. These fertile and well fertilized fields, though untilled, have not been forgotten. President Biden’s past is a target rich environment for those seeking levers to pressure a recalcitrant President.

America’s ignorant and racist Deplorables as well as her educated and sedated Adorables want peace between the tribes. But we are very angry at each other and we have no understanding of each other. We need a leader who will bring us together, someone who will bring new hope to the warring tribes.

But as we learned in the movie, the Emperor Palpatine as played by Nancy Pelosi, does not suffer either disloyalty or failure kindly. The frustrations of the Trump impeachment effort taught her many lessons. Can President Joe Biden be a healing hand – a new hope? A replay of the Bush stubborn somnolence, the Obama ignorant arrogance or the narcissistic pugnacity of Trump may well take America past the point of no return.

Humility does not play well in Washington, even less in a new administration. The lessons of this election are murky with virtually no evidence that a mandate has been delivered. This new administration might move slowly, building bridges rather than tearing them down. Perhaps they might encourage America’s journalists to report the news rather than make it.  Rather than starting fires, they, and we, might look to dampen the old ones.



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