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Sandy Kress and Camille Kress complete their “Summer Celebration of Emily Dickinson” with a look at the great poet’s “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” What does she mean by a “nobody?” What does she find objectionable about being a “somebody?” In this very short poem, what is Dickinson teaching us about how and what to be?
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
SANDY KRESS –
With this poem, we must define terms right away.
I don’t for a minute think Emily Dickinson is a Nobody. I have never known of anyone more a “somebody” than this great poet. With the exception of Shakespeare and a few other extraordinary literary figures, she has as much depth of understanding of life and the world (and taught us of it) as anyone who’s written in the English language.
A “nobody” is traditionally considered a person of no importance, influence, or power, that is, a no one. Emily Dickinson is hardly a nobody, as defined; nor does she think anyone who will ultimately find, read, and appreciate this poem is a nobody.
We can get to her real meaning, I think, only by following her clues about the meaning she ascribes to “Somebody,” the opposite of “Nobody.”
“Somebody” is defined as someone who “like a Frog” tells his “name – the livelong June” in “public” to “an admiring Bog!”
We know these somebodies in our own times. As with Dickinson’s “Somebody,” there is nothing to be said about them as to real work of quality, or the difficulty or private pain it takes to do it. There is no mention there of anything truly beautiful that’s been created by them. There is no mention of animus directed their way for having the courage to go it alone, especially in the pursuit of doing the right thing that opposes the popular will.
Rather the “Somebody” she pictures is like a frog doing nothing but croaking his name – and for an entire month – to an admiring crowd.
Wow, did Dickinson write this 150 years ago, or yesterday? Can you picture certain celebrities, “journalists,” politicians, “novelists,” “actors,” donors in “the world of charity,” clergy men and women, and so many other such “Somebodies” in our own time?
It’s the self-worship of the ego she’s decrying, I think. It’s the bloated ego that is all about the ego, not the stuff of living – truth, creation, sacrifice in furtherance of beauty and life, contribution and giving to others.
In religious terms, the question is: do we do what we do for the sake of Heaven or the sake of ourselves? Dickinson says the self-effacing path of the “Nobody” is the one taken for the sake of Heaven.
God bless the memory of Emily Dickinson!
CAMILLE KRESS –
What he said.
Really. I’m not sure I can top Sandy’s excellent analysis here at the end of our Summer Dickinson Festival. But at the risk of being a nobody, I will add some of my own insights, maybe even a few that counter Sandy’s understanding of, not so much the poem, but, of the poet who wrote it.
I, too, don’t think for a minute that Emily Dickinson thought she was a Nobody, but unlike Sandy, I wonder about her self-confidence, especially when it came to revealing her writing to the public. She was thought by some to be a recluse later in life, rarely leaving her parents’ home, and very few of her poems were published in her lifetime. Nearly 1800 were discovered after her death. Although she had close relatonships and shared some of her poems with friends, family and editors, this is hardly a woman who felt comfortable being fully known. I’ve always sensed both wisdom and uncertainty in her.
It would be a mistake, however, to think she did not struggle with the idea of being a Somebody.
It is evident through several of her poems that the subject of fame, for its own sake, was on her mind: “Fame is the one that does not stay;” “Fame is a fickle food;” and “Fame is a Bee.” She even critizes her profession: “Publication – is the Auction.”
And, yet, in a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, author of an article that ran in the Atlantic Monthy in 1862, she wrote, “Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?” Perhaps she had some concern about what was thought in the Bog.
In the end, I think Dickinson found peace in knowing that the good work we do will endure and make a name for itself.
In the next-to-last blog of their “Summer Celebration of Emily Dickinson,” Camille and Sandy Kress explore the poet’s extraordinary “Luck is Not Chance.” What is luck? What is the cause of our good fortune? Do we value what truly creates value? These are some of the profound questions Dickinson asks and discusses, thus making them ripe for our consideration.
Luck is not chance—
Fortune’s expensive smile
The Father of the Mine
Is that old-fashioned Coin
Camille Kress –
The fact that the first four lines of this poem appear on posters and refrigerator magnets tells you a lot. We need to be reminded, perhaps daily, that hard work, not luck, brings success.
Bottom line: We make our luck. We earn it. We, not fate, increase the odds.
Something tells me that Emily would not have liked cute refrigerator magnets and predictable posters. On closer look, we see her embed a jarring idea in the first four lines.
She chooses to personify Fortune, by giving her an expensive smile. Given Dickinson’s classical education, she would have known of Fortuna, the Latin goddess of fortune and the personification of luck in Roman religion. The irony here is that the goddess came to represent life’s capriciousness. One never knew if Fortuna was going to bring good or bad luck. Effort had nothing to do with it. Life was left to fate. A whim.
Dickinson cautions against this. Right away, our poet pits human will against chance. She stages a duel: Fortuna vs. Toil. A daily unpredictable fight between Lady Luck and You!
Fear not…Emily tells us how to resist: She wants us to recognize that traces of ancient superstition are still embedded in the modern mind. She abhors the idea that we see our lives as built on capriciousness.
No. You earn it, she says. Toil is not easy. Our future takes work.
The last lines, I’m afraid, remind me of all the times I’ve lost the fight, wasting time blaming circumstances instead of shaping my own goals. But this is the way Emily fights. She provokes through poetry.
“The Father of the Mine
Is that old-fashioned Coin
Dickinson seems to want us to respect the “Father of the Mine.” But, who is this person? Cherish the Coin, she says – those “old-fashioned” values of daily work that add up to production.
Said another way – the Father is a metaphor for disciplinarian, the one in charge of the Mine, that place (or pronoun: me “mine”) where rich resources are extracted.
In a poem that seems to begin with a simple maxim, Dickinson leaves us with a more challenging task. She makes us ask ourselves: What would it take for me to be the Father, the disciplinarian, of my own life?
Sandy Kress –
I love this poem!
For one thing, it’s a bit simple, relative to so many others in Dickinson’s oeuvre. Further, it has a wise, proverbial message. But, third, and most important, there’s a touch of complexity in it that prevents us from ever taking the great poet for granted.
We make our “luck,” Dickinson seems to be saying at the start. We work hard at the things that matter. The success of such work is reflected in fortune’s smile. But that smile doesn’t come easily. It’s expensive. By saying so, Dickinson makes clear that she’s not talking about mere toil, but rather a special sort of excellent, productive toil.
Dickinson’s poems are surely illustrative of the toil that earns “fortune’s expensive smile.” I bet you’ve done certain work in your life that makes you particularly proud. Think about the finest thing you have ever created.
I believe Dickinson tells us in the most difficult verse in the poem what essentially is responsible for our best creation.
“The Father of the Mine is that old-fashioned Coin we spurned -“
Who’s the Father of the Mine? The poem suggests it’s the old-fashioned Coin. Well – then – who or what is that? Let’s break it down.
The Coin is capitalized, thus important. It’s old-fashioned, as if to say it’s valued, traditional, of lasting importance. Perhaps the poet wants us to think of an enduring currency of great worth, such as deep principles, ideas of great beauty, or proven values, such as those that push us to do extraordinary work.
Another possible notion of “Coin” is that it represents the reward of work, the material fruit of work, which, in turn, drives us to work.
Whichever of these views we hold, let’s explore how this Coin can be the Father of the Mine.
First, it is what fathers our wellbeing, whether material or otherwise, which is so wonderfully expressed in the use of the word, mine, as in a mine of gold or other substances of great value.
Or, it could be that this Coin is the Father of Mine, in that it is what begets me! It is the father of the true me, the best me, the most productive me. All the things that constitute the old-fashioned Coin – the virtues, the beauty, the push to live in the best ways – are what guide me, as a good father does, to the toil that earns fortune’s expensive smile.
Yet, how often we spurn the Coin.
Camille and I tackle a short, brilliant Dickinson poem this week. What is truth? How can it best be told? How do we learn and understand it? These are the questions on the poet’s mind, and she has answers.
The poem is conventionally understood one way. Camille takes that path, though I believe far more creatively than most. I come at the poem from a very unconventional angle.
How do you see it?
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
Sandy Kress –
I must push back – in certain ways – on the conventional understanding of this poem.
Many read Dickinson to be suggesting that all the truth should be told, but not necessarily at once, and certainly very carefully. This is so, these commentators say, because the truth is too hard to take straight.
They point for support to the verses that suggest that truth is “too bright” and that it requires, as does teaching lightning to children, to be “eased” and delivered with “explanation kind.” If truth dazzles too suddenly, it will “blind.”
I do not want to argue altogether with this explanation – at least at the surface level. But I think the poet has a deeper intention in mind.
She is saying, I think, that truth is complex, profound, and incapable of expression in its fullest “truth” in simple and easy motions. It comes at its best with “superb surprise,” and especially from many directions. It comes at “a slant.” It comes mostly from round and round; “success in Circuit lies.”
Our fragile capacity to be enlightened requires that truth often be revealed through indirection and in a spectrum of colors, not because we can’t handle it “too bright.” Rather we get it better and truer that way. I have no better evidence for my view than Dickinson’s poetry itself. Unlike many other poets, she tells “all the truth,” but tells it “slant.”
The world often seems to us “as Lightning to children.” It’s not that we can’t take the truth or need it watered down. It’s just more felicitous to know what it really is, not just what it appears to be on first impression. Our sense of truth, for example, can be “eased” when a “kind” poet cares enough to share her hard earned understanding so that we get that understanding, too.
Truths, such as those Dickinson tells, do indeed “dazzle gradually.” This is not because they would blind us if we tried to get them straight or quickly. Rather she is saying we may remain blind to Truth if we do not get it as It best comes.
Camille Kress –
Like lighting, four words strike me in the first line. Let’s deal with them in a flash.
Tell: We are charged with a bold instruction.
all: not some, not mine, but all.
truth: it’s not capitalized, something to watch for when reading Emily Dickinson.
slant: Knowing that Dickinson often equates truth with light, the poet’s choice of the word “slant” evokes, for me, a prism in which refracting surfaces at an acute angle separate white light into a spectrum of colors.
It should be noted that poetry that does not perfectly rhyme is called slant rhyme, or approximate rhyme. Perhaps the poet is asking us to remember that truth begins as approximate. But, in that it emanates from something Whole, it can become more fully known.
We sense this trajectory in the next line when we see classic Emily capitalization – “Success in Circuit lies.” Success, here, suggests accomplishment, the creation of a Circle, a full circumference containing, not approximate, but “all the truth” – the Truth.
Can you imagine Light hitting you from such completeness? The shear bolt would, indeed, be “Too bright for our infirm Delight.”
“As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind”
When children are afraid of lightning, we admit to them its startling and frightening side, but we also tell the truth through the rest of the story – its likely distance, its beauty, its science.
So, how is Truth told?
It “dazzles gradually,” she says. If it did not, “every man be blind,” as if struck by unrefracted Light.
Looking through the prism of this poem, I see all kinds of ways we tell truth with slant: poetry, parables, myths, proverbs, folktales, nature, and the like.
It is in the best of them that we find our Delight through Truth’s “superb surprise.”
This week Camille Kress and I look at, and write about, Emily Dickinson’s provocative poem, The Brain.
The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—
The Brain is deeper than the sea—
For—hold them—Blue to Blue—
The one the other will absorb—
The Brain is just the weight of God—
For—Heft them—Pound for Pound—
And they will differ—if they do—
As Syllable from Sound—
The little brain is wider than the whole, great sky?
Upon first impression, it sounds preposterous, which makes us pay attention, and it gives the beginning of the poem a nice kick forward. Yet, when we think about it deeply, we understand the assertion to be true. The brain is wider than the Sky in that it can comprehend it…and much, much more.
This insight must have been a source of joy for the brainy poet who understood the scope and power of nature so brilliantly.
Is the “You” in the poem, God? If so, the brain can comprehend both the natural and the Divine. I like that and agree.
If, instead, by “You,” she means any possible “you,” including all readers of the poem, I like that, too. This “my brain-You” relationship, also, makes me think of Martin Buber’s I-Thou formulation. My brain can understand and help me live properly with You.
The brain is deeper than the sea. The brain can absorb of the sea, as can a sponge or a bucket. The seawater in a sponge or bucket is representative of the whole of the sea, as is my brain’s grasp of it.
The last stanza powers up, as did the first. There is little actual “weight” to the brain, as there is none to God. Yet, we understand the underlying truth. Both are among the heftiest “things” that exist in the world. Not sure the Brain and God differ really (perhaps since one knows the Other and the Other knows the one intimately), the poet leaves us with an astounding metaphorical comparison.
God is the Sound for which our brain can understand and form but a syllable, a fragment of human language, which gives a bit of verse to the song. But it is our syllable, and it is a syllable that beautifully and aptly fits the Tune. Our brain, thus, brings us right into the flow of the great Sound.
Let’s start with what we know – the tangibles:
Dickinson has led us to concepts of measurement. She compares the small human brain to the vastness of the sky, the depth of the brain to a plunging sea, and the weight of the brain to the weight of God. Absurd, is it not?
No. I see what you’re doing here, Emily. You use tangibles but intend something very much beyond. Human thought is limitless, reaching beyond the sky. A thinking mass, just 140 mm wide, has the power to grow and change, not in size, but in the immeasurably expansive “You.”
In the next stanza, we are to compare – “Blue to Blue” – the brain and the sea. Our “Brain” is not only deeper than the sea; it can “absorb” it.
It’s about here that I begin to see a pattern in the words Dickinson chooses to capitalize, as if she is using Letter scales, measure for measure. She’s also got me wondering why other poets often select the loftier word “Mind” to express human thought, but she goes with “Brain.” And then there are “Sponges” and “Buckets.”
Again, we have tangible things that express the Intangible. Look down. You’re knee deep in Dickinson now.
“The Brain is just the weight of God—
For—Heft them—Pound for Pound—”
How does she expect us to equate a 3-pound organ with God?
“And they will differ—if they do—As Syllable from Sound—”
That third stanza is a hard one, so let’s tackle it with tangible things:
These are what give sound human understanding. We hear the rush of wind blowing through sky, the crashing waves of the sea, and our gray matter gives sound meaning. She seems to be saying, Syllable and Sound may differ, but they carry the same weight, they share an agreement – a covenant – to make sense of life.
But how can the Brain weigh the same as God?
Some scholars note Emily Dickinson’s rejection of conventional religion, speculating that the brain is equal to God because humans have created the idea of God. But Emily does not strike me as a lazy rejecter. She may have lost patience with convention, but her poems pulsate with an urge for the Divine.
Here’s my twist on an insight of Professor Evan Thompson. The Hebrew word, kavod, means “honor” or “glory.” Interestingly, it also means, “heavy” or a difficult burden to carry.
I know the heavy weight of God in my own brain. Like Emily Dickinson’s, my spiritual journey has not always been full of light metaphors and poetry that rhymes. My cortex carries conflicting signals of faith and doubt. Thoughts have substance. If “honor” and “weight” are interchangeable, perhaps my burden is, as was hers, a glory.
My wife, Camille Ware Kress, and I are big fans of the great American poet, Emily Dickinson. Frequently, we’ll put life aside and devote an hour to the wonderful work of reading, discussing, and coming to an understanding of one of her poems.
We buy all sorts of editions of her work. We travel to other cities to see exhibits about her. And, of course, when a film such as “A Quiet Passion,” comes out, we’ll rush out to see it.
As you might expect from zealots such as ourselves, we are embarking on a little summer project to highlight this extraordinary poet. Every week or so, we will pick a poem, study it, write a short blog on our take of its meaning, publish it in various social media, and invite study and further comments from our friends.
Here’s the first.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers
By Emily Dickinson
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
C. Kress: According to the Emily Dickinson Lexicon, the poet uses the word “thing” 115 times and with seven different meanings in her poems. She also often employs birds, land, and sea as metaphor, turning nature into human-nature.
So what sort of thing is Hope?
In the first stanza, we learn it is a winged thing, a feathered thing, a thing that “perches in the soul.” Dickinson could have named Hope in these beginning lines, simply calling it a bird. She does not. Rather, she hints of something that dwells within us capable of flight.
This thing “sings the tune without the words.” Perhaps, this is the poet’s way of saying that there is a greater mystery in melody, rather than defined lyrics – and where there is mystery, there is humility. Isn’t it true that our deepest hopes can’t be expressed or described in words? At times of both joy and pain, the thing renders us speechless. Hope is ineffable.
The last line of the first stanza is Dickinson’s most optimistic. She seems to assure us that hope is everlasting. “And never stops – at all” It appears we are a spiritual species with a direct flightpath to the Eternal!
Not so fast…Leave it to Emily Dickinson to show hope contested by howling winds. She is not fond of over-confidence and tidy plans. In stanza two, we are left to wonder if this thing within us will survive. There may be a “sore” storm that could “abash” it.
Here, Dickinson uses the name Bird for the first time. In her strange style, she capitalizes certain words, putting the reader on notice: Pay attention.
Will the thing with feathers fall to its death? Are there some hopes that simply can’t survive?
Maybe. But she has told us that it “never stops – at all.” Further, it’s heard “in the Gale” and is its “sweetest” there.
“I’ve heard it in the chillest land – And on the strangest Sea.” Dickinson knew the death of loved ones up close and personal – “the chillest land.” Rarely leaving her parents home as an adult, she was thought by some to be an odd recluse. Perhaps, but she probably dealt with the isolation – “the strangest sea” – that comes with a persistent melancholy, what we often call depression today. “Hope” may, for her, have been a Bird, forever threatened, but always singing a sustaining song.
“Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.”
In a life in which our wise and sensitive poet felt that much was asked of her, it’s lovely to see that that which served her best asked nothing of her at all.
In closing, she leaves us, not with certainty, but with a sense of gratitude for the mystery of Hope. Even when we call out in desperation – “in Extremity” – it seems to be there, perched in the soul, singing without words…waiting to take flight.
S. Kress: I believe this is one of the most purely optimistic, “happy” of Emily Dickinson’s poems.
I love the thought of a songbird and its beautiful melody as the metaphor for hope. A songbird perched in the soul, and one that never stops – at all – is a very strong hope!
Even more, a hope that still lives in the midst of storm, well, that’s real hope. How true it is that the storms of our lives – and all that bring them on – have as a first aim the destruction of hope. Yet, in the midst of real hope, how “sore” it and they must be that they can’t abash the Little Bird. (By the way, do the capital letters for little bird connote the idea that God is there in the hope, too?)
What a lovely ending. And how true: hope is there, with its warming song, even in the most difficult times, and it never asks anything in return from us.
Amidst many thrilling sports stories this year, we now have a stunning competition for the NBA MVP. Watching several future Hall of Famers duke it out – how cool!
I suspect this is not the year for reigning champ, Stephen Curry. Nor will it be for Chris Paul or Kevin Durant, two extraordinary players who’ve been injured for a good part of the year.
John Wall and Isaiah Thomas have been outstanding, but I don’t see them making it to the top tier. Nor will the young stud, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
LeBron James is the best player of the era, no doubt. And, in his 14th season, he has great numbers (26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 8.7 assists). But the Cavs have not impressed recently, and others have surpassed the King in both performance and leadership.
I love San Antonio and am thrilled at the continuing development of the remarkable Kawhi Leonard. A strong case can be made on his behalf. He’s, without question and by far, the best defender of the bunch, and that should count a lot. His shooting has improved dramatically, and he continues to be exceedingly careful with the ball, with very few turnovers.
But, though they have had a strong and winning season, the Spurs have flagged in important recent games. I simply don’t see Leonard making the difference an MVP should make, at least not this year.
For me, as for most, it comes down to James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Their achievements on the court have made for one of the best MVP competitions in NBA history.
Look at Harden, my oh my. Ask those who have to defend against the Rockets. What do you do when Harden comes at you? The Rockets’ offensive firepower owes most credit to Harden’s rare shooting, passing, and moving skills. He has 29.3 points per game, with 8.1 rebounds and an eye-popping 11.3 assists.
Harden’s shooting efficiency is off the charts. Further, his proponents make a good argument that the Rockets have outperformed expectations in wins, more so than the Thunder. All this makes the case for Harden very strong.
Yet, I think Russell Westbrook – on a close call – deserves the honor.
I put some weight, but not all, on his extraordinary achievement of being the first player to average a triple double during a season since Oscar Robertson did it in 1961-62. Also, I do marvel at his setting the record for triple double games in a season. But that – alone – doesn’t drive my opinion.
Emotionally, I confess to being turned a bit by Westbrook’s scoring 50 points, with a buzzer beater, to win the game in which he set the triple double record. Why? It spoke volumes about the special passion and competitiveness he brings to his play, on behalf of his team, and as the key to Thunder wins.
Has he done more for the Durant-less Thunder than Harden has done for the Rockets? I understand the case here for Harden and the Rockets, but I hold to the opinion that Westbrook has been the greater difference-maker. His contribution has meant more to Thunder wins than Harden’s has to Rockets’ wins (though both are totally off the charts in this respect).
Indeed I feel strongly enough in this respect to believe the Thunder would take down the Rockets, if the two meet in the playoffs. And, part of that calculus is based on the fact that I would take Westbrook against Harden in a face-off of the two great players/leaders.
So, I’m for Westbrook. But I won’t be disappointed if Harden wins.
What I celebrate above all else is that we’ve been blessed with a truly epic competition this year involving a good number of the best players who have ever played the game.
I am increasingly reluctant to write about political matters these days. Though politics used to be both my avocation and vocation, I’ve turned my attention and passion elsewhere in recent years. Further, as divided as we are, I resist contributing to that division.
So, when I blog on politics, I tend to do so as a political observer, scratching my head one day at the crazy waywardness of one side and then doing so with the other the next day.
Today I’m scratching my head over Chuck Schumer.
Now, I understand the Democrats’ upset at the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider President Obama’s nomination of Judge Garland. They had a point, though the strength of that point was diminished by comments from leading Democrats in the past that Republican nominations near the end of a presidential term should not be considered.
Further, I recognize that Democrats are very disappointed that the Clinton loss left them unable to fill this seat or any other that might open soon. Clearly, too, they don’t like the orientation of Judge Gorsuch.
Having noted all that, however, Schumer’s stated approach to the nomination is concerning and, ultimately, precedent setting in several damaging respects.
Schumer says the Democrats, for a variety of reasons, will filibuster the nomination of Judge Gorsuch. He argues – illogically – that a Supreme Court nominee should have to garner at least 60 votes, though, in this case, virtually none of them will come from Democrats.
This is a specious argument. Nominees in the past have been confirmed generally, but not always, with 60 votes because numerous Senators from the opposing party have tended to vote for nominees who, though of differing political philosophy, were qualified to serve on the Court.
For example, Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, though liberal, were approved respectively by votes of 96-3 and 87-9, winning considerable numbers of Republican votes. Justice Roberts was approved on a vote of 78-22, winning many Democratic votes.
Partisanship began to rear its head with the nomination of Alito by President Bush, and Sotomayer and Kagan by President Obama. But – and this is crucial for our situation – though Sotomayer and Kagan were easily as liberal as Gorsuch is conservative, there were no filibusters over their nominations. Further, Sotomayer won 9 Republican votes, and Kagan won 5 Republican votes.
If we’ve finally reached a stage where the minority party insists on filibustering a highly qualified person nominated by a president of the other party AND provides no or very few votes for that nominee, the way the new world will work is clear and likely ugly.
First, the majority party will use the nuclear option to prevent the use of the filibuster in the case of votes on Supreme Court nominees. And, second, virtually all the members of the majority party in the Senate will refuse to vote for a nominee of a President of the other party when the nominee inclines ideologically in the opposite direction of theirs.
Could this nightmare somehow work out well by forcing presidents to pick true moderates to the Court, if any such animals exist any longer in the political arena? That might be appealing to some, but it is highly unlikely.
More likely, we will reach yet a new and very serious stage of political gridlock in our nation, with Supreme Court seats going unfilled for lengthy periods of time, perhaps even until both the president and a majority of the Senate are of the same party. And, the constraints on them to resist going further out to the ideological edge in nominations will be fewer and weaker.
Think about it, Senator Schumer.
I see the money, energy, and effort in education on both extremes. Do you?
The side that fights to the death to protect the status quo has tons of it and pours tons of it into play. So does the other side that wants to go purely to private school choice as if that will be a panacea.
But where’s the energy in the middle? Where are the people and the resources that need to be deployed to improve the schools and truly and vigorously hold them accountable to bringing students to high levels of proficiency?
I have been in the game for over 35 years, and, while there is commendable action in the middle still, I don’t see much any longer that is truly effective at pushing such accountability.
I see the money, energy, and effort in politics on both extremes. Do you?
The side that wants to fracture the world from the left has tons of it and pours tons of it into play. I had forgotten until recently the practice of paying people to engage in violent and disruptive protests.
And there’s the other side that spreads poison from the right, discouraging any moves to the middle as if seeking compromise is disloyal to the good and the right.
Where’s the energy in the middle? Where are the people and the resources urging mutual effort and compromise to achieve common sense solutions to today’s challenges, including immigration, health care, and economic growth?
I have been in the game for over 35 years, and I see little effective action from groups in the middle that drives consensus any longer.
I see the money, energy, and effort in the media on both extremes. Do you?
The side that pushes leftist ideology can be seen in many newspapers and magazines and abundantly on the networks. The same is true with the right, on its networks and blog sites.
But where’s the energy in the middle? Where are the people still committed to reporting the truth, whatever their ideology might be?
I have been in the game for over 35 years. There are some oases in the vast desert, but they are few and far between today.
I see the money, energy, and effort in the culture wars on both extremes. Do you?
The side that pushes the most awful, tawdry, and lewd programs, movies, and music in the history of the world operate without excuse or limits. And the other side is frequently horrified but tries mostly to escape into its own private world of resentment.
Where’s the energy in the middle? Where are the people who want to put the genie of indecency back in the bottle, encourage decent self-expression, and insist we be true to the values, largely from religion, that made us good and great in the first place?
I have been in the game for over 35 years. I don’t see much such movement in the middle.
This nation has been successful, for the most part, because the middle has held throughout most of our history, as the force that keeps us in balance. The middle has been the difference maker, the deciding factor.
This is because the majority has typically come from the middle and has been willing to assert itself when one side or the other or both extremes get carried away.
Where is the middle today? They don’t seem to be present, or play much any more.
I have seen their absence blamed on everything under the sun. It’s because of rotten re-districting, too much money in politics, life’s too complicated or busy, etc., etc.
Are regular folks just burned out? Have they lost their commitment?
Well – it’s time for them to return. It’s their civic duty. Damage is being done in their absence. It’s not irreversible, but the condition gets more serious each day. A good reading of our founders’ thoughts teaches it’s essential, fellow citizens. The old US of A is counting on you.
Where’s the energy in the middle?
OK, OK – there’s no truth at all to that headline. One could even say it’s a “fake headline.”
Steve Bannon would never support anything George Soros does. And George Soros would never be associated with Steve Bannon.
But there’s a serious point I hope to make by it.
Before I do, I want to issue a few caveats. I admire people who engage in protest activity through legal and peaceful means. I was once an active protestor myself, and I support the exercise of First Amendment rights on behalf of deeply held beliefs. Further, I am not opining on the substantive merits of either side’s positions.
Rather, I merely want to explore the efficacy of certain strategies that are currently at play in American politics. The hypothesis of this short essay is grounded in the observation that we are an evenly and bitterly divided nation, in which the balance of power now resides with folks like the roughly 150,000 voters in the Midwest who swung the presidential election to Trump. Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are all states that have recently voted Democratic, yet, by narrow margins, voted Republican in this election.
Who were the voters who turned the tide? There has been some analysis of them, and there should be more. From what we know, they, essentially, appear to be today’s version of another era’s “Reagan Democrats.” They include independents and working class Democrats; people who believe they have been hurt by economic trends that have created difficulty and uncertainty for them; some who believe that cultural change has both gone too far, too fast and undermined their mores and values; and many who feel physically insecure in a world in which terrorism is ever-more threatening.
There clearly were “tremors” leading to the 2016 “earthquake” in elections during the past decade. The losses for Democrats in Congressional seats, governorships, and control of legislative chambers since 2010 have been unprecedented.
In the face of such massive defeats, the fundamental strategic question for Democrats must be: “what do we do now?”
Some suggest the party should go further to the left to excite the base. This approach was not the winning strategy in the late 1980s when the Democrats successfully responded to Reagan’s power by moving to the center, which helped bring Clinton to office. Indeed it’s not clear this strategy has ever worked anytime in the past for either party.
The principal tactic of choice for those who want to go left is the highly visible use of protests. Many such protests during the pre-election period turned violent. I think principally of Baltimore and Chicago. Since the election, there has been the Women’s March after the Inauguration, which had considerable support, but which featured the highly offensive comments of Madonna and Ashley Judd. And, after the ham-handed and poorly executed Trump Executive Order on immigration (which, by the way, was still supported 49-41% by the public, according to Reuters/Ipsos), there were more protests at airports and across the land.
As I mentioned, I once was an active protestor myself. As a student at Berkeley in the 1960s, I joined others in actively protesting Governor Reagan and the Vietnam War. My principal sense then and now about all that activity was that when the average “person on the street” saw the protests negatively, students lost ground politically. Indeed, it was a big win for Reagan when student protests were unappealing.
The only time students actually gained ground was when our means of opposition appealed to the middle, when the messaging spoke to the middle, and when the middle got exhausted by, and began to oppose, the Vietnam War.
What’s the lesson for today? Until the opposition to Trump appeals to the 150,000 voters who swayed the election and moves them away from Trump and to an alternative perspective, the left will make no progress, and, in fact, may even further alienate those who hold the balance of power. These voters most certainly didn’t care for the Alinsky-style tactics of many recent protests. The continuation of these tactics might feel good to the protestors but will work against the left’s interests.
My bet is that Steve Bannon is hoping George Soros continues to fund these tactics and that the left chooses to deploy them. He is likely counting on it to assure his man stays in power.
If Democrats are smart, they’ll turn instead to a current version of the Democratic Leadership Council to guide the opposition.