Our Summer of Dissonance

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary online, dissonance is defined as:

1 a: lack of agreement, the dissonance between the truth and what people want to believe; especially : inconsistency between the beliefs one holds or between one’s actions and one’s beliefs;
b: an instance of such inconsistency or disagreement; “the mingling of bitter comedy and stark tragedy produces sharp dissonances”— F. B. Millett

2: a mingling of sounds that strike the ear harshly : a mingling of discordant sounds; especially, music : a clashing or unresolved musical interval or chord.

Synonyms of dissonance include: conflict, disaccord, discord, discordance, discordancy, disharmony, dissension (also dissention), dissent, dissidence, disunion, disunity, division, friction, infighting, inharmony, schism, strife, variance, war, warfare.
(Citation: “Dissonance.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dissonance. )

As any skimming of news websites clearly shows, Dissonance is now the buzzword of our current times. Those of us living in the United States are immersed in our collective dissonance 24/7, with no relief save for turning off all devices, airplane mode or taking an off-grid getaway.

Case in point: President Trump travelled to Mount Rushmore National Monument on Friday, July 3, to hold a political rally for the Independence Day weekend. I guess one could argue it was a savvy marketing campaign—the backdrop for his barely veiled, White Supremist propaganda was the faces of four American presidents carved into the granite rocks of the monument. The link to the NYTimes article is here.

As America’s POTUS denounced “dangerous left-wing fascists” who are defacing “national heroes” by toppling many statues of White Supremists (including confederate heroes) across the country, he conveniently neglected to mention that the Coronavirus infection rate increased by 90% over the past couple of weeks. Dissonance. As the Trump administration continues its deliberate denial, fact twisting and blatant lying about the pandemic’s effects on all aspects of American life, the tones and cadences of dissonance reverberate ever louder throughout our collective souls.

Then there’s America’s national shame about racism that continues to lay bare the core wound of its founding and accumulation of wealth through the slavery of and violence against Black people. Since the George Floyd murder by police at the end of May, a tidal wave of protests, opinion pieces, journalists, political voices, writers, and scholars have clamored to amplify this collective moment of dissonance in the hopes that finally, finally, White people will get it. Systemic racism is everyone’s problem, perpetuated by White silence and complacency to the status quo. One of these voices, Marvin Blakely, a civil trial lawyer, in this weekend’s NYTimes opinion section, writes,

And how could I calmly describe how people of color are penalized for not knowing and adhering to the culture of white America, while no value is placed on our culture, which they so freely appropriate for profit? How do I help these friends understand that the solution to the race problem lies with them? Ultimately a conversation is just more talk. What about taking action, no matter how small?

If they truly wanted to be of help and have meaningful conversations, with me or anyone else, I decided to tell them, they should begin by acknowledging that the problem lies in the hearts and minds of them, their brothers, sisters, parents, and in-laws.

I told them that a conversation in which you acknowledged years of undeniable oppression and then suggested Black people “move on” was as offensive as taking no action and remaining silently complicit. After the acknowledgment, I would ask that they educate themselves (and others) and, before engaging in those conversations that white America suddenly finds necessary, listen. After completing Steps 1, 2 and 3, you are ready not just to talk, but to act in a manner consistent with our mutual humanity.

Dissonance. Discord. Disharmony. Dissolution. Disrespect. Disregard. Disease. Dis. The prefix is defined as: negation, reversal. It is undeniable to the vast majority of us by now that we are smack in the middle of a collective Dark Night of the Soul. Our collective soul is being forced to face its shadow. In Jungian terms, the shadow of the soul is made up of all the unresolved, denied, repressed, hidden and shamed elements of our ego. Until the shadow is exposed to the light of acknowledgment, clearly seen and somehow forgiven, it remains as a force of negation, a receptacle of humanity’s sewage. We are in the midst of shining the strongest, most piercing light yet on our collective, core wound and its devastating consequences on entire sections of the human race. This is the most important work we must collectively do now. No matter how frustrating, horrifying, nauseating, disgusting, or dirty, facing our collective shadow is imperative for healing the unspeakable wound we must all heal.

Dear Readers, the moment we are living through now defies description. Though many (including me) attempt to describe what we are facing, ultimately we are rendered speechless. The dissonance runs so deeply through the core of our humanity, that it is tearing us apart, quite literally. What can we do, how can we hold the dissonance without breaking into a million pieces?

One suggestion is to simply surrender and let the pain of our collective wound open you. You may experience what feels like dying, a pressure so tremendous that it is unbearable. Yet, if you are willing to let the forces of dissonance break you open, what you find within the heart of that pain will astound you. Rumi once wrote of a field that exists beyond the pain of the world. And that field absolutely exists, waiting eternally for anyone curious and brave enough to find it. It is a place of utter calm, of peace beyond human understanding, and of constant love. It is not far from each one. Just as the composer understands the supreme importance of silence within a symphony, we too must learn to understand the importance of finding the depth of wisdom within the heart of pain. Dissonance leads to eventual harmony when one is willing to do the work.

The United States of Emergency

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Black America is screaming for justice now. (images via The New York Times)

The United States has ignited. The killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis by a white police officer was the match that lit the tinderbox of racial tension. Floyd’s death is the latest in a long line of atrocities committed against black people in America at the hands of police. America is in a state of emergency as The People are in the streets battling with police from coast to coast.

 

Former President Barak Obama was quoted in today’s NYTimes. “This is something that’s got to change,” Mr. Obama said, arguing the challenges of the last few weeks were the result of structural problems in the country. “They’re the result of a long history of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining and institutionalized racism that too often have been the plague of this original sin of our society.”

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(images via The New York Times)

Thomas Friedman, an opinion columnist for The NYTimes, laments,

What to do? Where can we find the leadership needed to calm this situation, deal with its underlying causes and at least get us through the 2020 election?

Three years ago, I might have hoped that Senate Republicans would step in and restrain Trump. But now we all know better. The Senate Republican caucus today is nothing but a political brothel. Mitch McConnell is the madame. And McConnell and his caucus rent themselves out by the night to whomever will energize the Republican base to keep them in power and secure the economic benefits for their wealthiest donors.  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/ 

A similar tone is found in this opinion piece from The Times’ Editorial Board:

The chaos unleashed by the death of Mr. Floyd defies simple prescriptions; it is a result of too many underlying conditions. Authorities are facing a stern test: It can be all but impossible to police the boundaries of legitimate protest, particularly on the ground. And it must be painful for many police officers who put their lives on the line to hear themselves criticized by their fellow citizens.

Yet the testimony of local journalism, eyewitnesses and videos posted online make clear that too many police officers have little interest in protecting legitimate protest. While some officers have joined protests or knelt in solidarity, others, often in the same cities, have acted savagely, inciting or exacerbating violence.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/opinion/george-floyd-protests-first-amendment

America is on fire with anger, rage and anguish. Two months of being locked down, confined to our homes (if one is fortunate enough to have one) combined with the loss of employment, income and freedom to move about freely, created the conditions for the powder keg that exploded with the murder of George Floyd by the police. Hundreds of thousands are in the streets in more than 140 cities across the country, carrying protest signs, chanting “I can’t breathe,” raising their fists in solidarity and kneeling to remind the authorities of the horrific abuse of power that police have used on black citizens for far too long. Yes, Black Lives Matter. Yes, White Privilege is real. The magnitude of the protests and riots cannot be overstated. This is the Tsunami of Change, right now. We can choose to collectively pivot towards a just and fair society as the old paradigm of control by force breaks apart and goes up in flames.

black power_sky
Black Lives Matter. (images via The New York Times)

Dear Readers, some of you won’t agree with me, but the truth is that no matter where you live in this world, systems of institutionalized oppression have been visited upon your people, whether currently or in the distant past. No one on Earth has been immune from the control mechanisms put in place by those who profit from human suffering. The current crisis in the United States has been a long time in the making. Now that it is upon us,  we can no longer ignore it or be complicit in this struggle. It is ALL of our responsibility to participate in this awesome moment of Revolution. The alarms are screaming everywhere for our collective awakening and it is up to each person to shine the spotlight first within their own heart and see what is there. No matter how painful, how wounded, how dark or how hideous what may be found, it is finally time to really see it, acknowledge it, and then begin the difficult work of forgiving it. Forgiveness is not denial. Forgiving oneself first is the key to being able to change, and then to reconciliation with all others. It is a courageous process and it takes time. The past couple of weeks are showing Americans that the time for fighting violence with yet more violence is over. We MUST go beyond fear of the Other. There is no other.

The NYTimes put up this incredible photo essay showing visceral images from across the United States over the past ten days. I hope you will take the time to gaze at this moment, and ponder what it means to you. Photo Essay-George Floyd protests

Here is a link to an essay posted by Barack Obama in Medium. Many of us are grateful for his calm wisdom right now. https://medium.com/@BarackObama/how-to-make-this-moment-the-turning-point-for-real-change-9fa209806067

reconciliation is possible
Peace and justice go hand in hand when we open our hearts and realize the truth of who we are. (images via The New York Times)

The Only One to Show Moral Courage

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The show continues, dear Readers. Those of you who follow politics know that this week brought a fiasco in Iowa with the first caucus to determine the Democratic presidential candidate. And today, as everyone already surmised, the Republican-majority senate acquitted the US president of the impeachment charges against him. The only moment of reckoning was when Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah, stood and gave a heartfelt speech explaining his reasons for voting with the Democrats, saying “the verdict is ours to render under our Constitution. The people will judge us for how well and faithfully we fulfill our duty. The grave question the Constitution tasked senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor. Yes, he did.” Senator Romney continued to explain his rationale for voting to remove the president, the leader of his own political party, thus:

“The president’s purpose was personal and political. Accordingly, the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.

What he did was not perfect. No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.

Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.  (video here) 

I’m aware that there are people in my party and in my state who will strenuously disapprove of my decision, and in some quarters I will be vehemently denounced. I’m sure to hear abuse from the president and his supporters. Does anyone seriously believe that I would consent to these consequences other than from an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it of me? (NYTimes, Feb 5, 2020)

Senator Romney made it clear in his speech that the main reason he voted against his party to remove President Trump stems from his deeply held belief in God and his moral duty to act in a way coherent with that divinity. He is well known as a Christian of the Mormon faith. Unlike many of his senate colleagues, however, Romney’s faith gave him the moral imperative and courage to LIVE his beliefs through his vote. In the Christian Bible, Jesus the Christ is famously quoted as saying, “By their acts will you know them.” To his credit, Senator Romney took those words seriously. He began his speech by stating,

“As a senator-juror, I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice. I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.

Romney ended his speech with these words,

“My vote will likely be in the minority in the Senate, but irrespective of these things, with my vote, I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability believing that my country expected it of me.

I will only be one name among many, no more, no less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the president did was wrong, grievously wrong. We are all footnotes at best in the annals of history, but in the most powerful nation on Earth, the nation conceived in liberty and justice, that distinction is enough for any citizen.” (find the transcript of his speech here https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/05/us/politics/mitt-romney-impeachment-speech-transcript.html

What strikes me the most about Mitt Romney’s speech, followed by his act of voting Trump guilty of article 1, Abuse of Power, is the fact that he is the lone Republican senator to display true moral courage, as Senator Adam Schiff spoke so eloquently of during his argument for convicting and removing President Trump last week.  Schiff implored every senator in the chamber to put their party aside and find their moral courage, which is more difficult to garner than courage in battle. Yet, when it came down to the impeachment vote, only Romney was able to dig deeply enough into his soul to discover that moral courage and then to act upon it. In his interview with the New York Times before the vote, he admitted he would “pay an enormous price” for choosing to vote the way he did and go against his political party.  Indeed, nearly the moment he uttered the word “guilty” people in Trump’s sphere began to vilify him and shout for his removal from the Republican party.

Yet, as many readers of today’s NYTimes commented, it is Mitt Romney who will be remembered in history as the majority senator who courageously stood up to Trump’s bitter bullying, humiliation and pressure to stand with party over country. In these extreme times of shredded democracy, surreal MAGA concert-like performances by the current presidential administration, and a type of civil war not seen since the American Civil War of the mid-19th century, it can be easy to forget just how many thoughtful, intelligent and compassionate people actually live in America. Yes, there are many who are blind, in denial, ignorant and just plain stupid, BUT there are also millions of us who deeply care about the ideals of democracy, liberty and freedom that the framers of the US Constitution intended. As Senator Schiff hammered home repeatedly during the trial, the implications of today’s acquittal will reverberate for decades to come. A blatant defiance of the system of checks and balance of power between the presidency, the Senate and the House is sure to deeply and negatively impact that balance, along with stacking the judiciary with far right-wing judges for many years to come.

Thomas Jefferson once stated, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves ; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.” Tonight, at the end of this grueling and arduous impeachment inquiry and trial, I wholeheartedly agree that Americans who paid close attention received a large education in the past few months as to how our system of government and trial works, and how deeply flawed it has become. We learned firsthand about what obstruction of justice is, what abuse of power is, what partisanship is and why exactly it is so harmful to a democratic system. And, we all got to see and hear from those whom We, The People, elected as they “did their jobs.” Now, dear Readers who have the great privilege of being able to vote in the 2020 primary and election this coming November, it is up to you.

Please take the time to read this excellent editorial by the NY Times editorial board concerning the impeachment vote and general malaise within the Democratic party at the moment. Here is the link: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/05/opinion/impeachment-vote-trump-acquitted.html

References:

https://everydaypower.com/thomas-jefferson-quotes/

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/05/us/politics/trump-acquitted-impeachment.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/05/us/politics/mitt-romney-impeachment-speech-transcript.html