It occurs to me that “vulgarity” is the antonym of “nobility.”
Nobility, when found in a human being, is a sublime state. Nobility inspires. It has to do with character, goodness, virtue, magnanimity, honor, decency and integrity. It is a rare quality advanced not merely to friends, but also to our detractors, critics, and antagonists. Noble warriors even hold nobility for their enemies.
The ultimate test of nobility, of course, is precisely when it is confronted by vulgarity.
Nobility is sorely missed by me, in large part because Americans increasingly don’t seem to notice that it’s gone. It is not merely that we have replaced nobility with vulgarity; we more and more laud vulgarity as “strength” … “a straight talker” … “a strong leader.”
Vulgarity won’t make America great again. It will only make America … vulgar.
Hillary Clinton refers, out loud, to (at least a core of) Donald Trump supporters as “a basket of deplorables.” Eric Trump says he doesn’t even consider Democrats “people.” Democrats stand in chamber and taunt Republicans with “Na-na-na-na, hey-hey-hey, good bye,” like 1st graders saying “neener neener” to a playground classmate. My president says, out loud and without shame, that he could walk into Central Park and shoot someone, and still his base support would not waver.
I don’t know that he is incorrect.
The respective followers of the once noble two-party system in America have followed eagerly after our ignoble leaders. Like kids at a cafeteria food fight.
Guy sits next to me at a bar. He’s wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap. What follows is an actual, verbatim exchange …
Guy: What do you think of Trump?
Me: On a good day, I think he is absent nobility.
Guy: F— you.
Me: Thank you for making my point.
These are vulgar, ugly times. And the next person who says to me with a shrug, “Steven, that’s just politics,” risks tipping me over into my own ready capacity for vulgarity.
No. It’s so much more serious than “just politics.” The wholesale surrender to vulgarity has consequences. It has an echo effect. It sets loose dark energies, ping-ponging a Siren seduction of fear and anger, two lovers whose passionate consummation must inevitably give birth to violence – interpersonal or actual.
Even if you don’t have a religious bone in your body, I submit that wise people walking authentic spiritual paths sometimes tell universal truths. Ontic truths. Here’s one of those truths:
You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. — Jesus
Now, hear that same idea said another way …
We. Are all. Connected. The ugly, ‘murderous’ invective we hold in our hearts and advance with our mouths is not nothing. It is an energy that, once set free, tends to gather, ferment, congeal and find a life of its own. A nuclear fusion.
In 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Two days later, The Rev. William Holmes stepped to the pulpit of Northaven United Methodist Church to preach the sermon “One Thing Worse Than This.”
One thing worse? Yes, Holmes said. The one thing worse would be that [Dallas] would “wash our hands” of the event, as the infamous governor of Judea had done, actually and repeatedly, during the Gospel accounts of the trial of Jesus.
While he didn’t blame Dallas for the crime itself, Holmes unflinchingly described the city as an incubator for political extremism and incivility, the kind of place where many worried an assassination might occur. The sermon made the CBS News anchored by Walter Cronkite and brought the young Methodist pastor death threats, forcing him and his family to go into hiding under police protection. Good people of Dallas had for too long, he said, stood by silently, giving free reign to political extremists. — UMC.org
You can read the sermon here: http://wheneftalks2.blogspot.com/2013/11/one-thing-worse-than-this.html
I began this column a few short hours after James Hodgkinson murderously assaulted a Republican baseball practice. Thought I’d take a shot at a much condensed version of the preacher’s words:
We are all non-innocents.
It matters very much how we treat people. It matters especially if we don’t like them.
(Steven Kalas is an author, a therapist and an Episcopal Priest. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)