Look, not going to begin to defend the president’s reported utterances. To borrow from another president, “wouldn’t be prudent.” Jim Geraghty made the point best:
The message from the president — and the subsequent refusal to deny, retract, or disavow the comments — is clear: People from these places have no value.
However, two things to keep in mind. The president’s words and actions are often at odds with each other, and even when they are not, they can be taking quite different paths. My father was prone to horrifically bigoted statements; cringe-inducing, deny him like Peter-at-the-cross bigoted statements. But that being said I can say quite confidently that I never saw my father treat another human being as if they were of little or no value, talked about them like they were, but never, ever treated them that way. Does that excuse the words? Nope, not even close – but it does put them into perspective.
The second thing to keep in mind is this extraordinarily great piece yesterday from David French. David writes about the opiod epidemic in this nation and notes that for two consecutive years, and probably three based on 2017 preliminaries, that life expectancy in this nation has declined – yes declined – and that the decline can largely be laid at the feet of opiod overdoses. He quotes a Washington Post story:
The 2016 data shows that just three major causes of death are responsible: unintentional injuries, Alzheimer’s disease and suicides, with the bulk of the difference attributable to the 63,632 people who died of overdoses. That total was an increase of more than 11,000 over the 52,404 who died of the same cause in 2015.
He then goes on to discuss how, despite some great writing on the subject, the issue gets little general interest. Later in the piece French says, “Addiction is life-destroying, yes, but it’s also soul-destroying,” which is true, but I think becoming addicted to begin with represents a soul already severely damaged.
Put these three things together, 1) a clearly uncompassionate, imprudent and indefensible presidential utterance, 2) an extraordinary national health crisis based almost solely in behavior, and 3) the under-reporting of item 2), and a picture of a nation with a pretty damaged soul comes clearly into focus. I have always contended that national elections are mirrors into the soul of the nation. The president’s ugly utterance does in fact mirror the relative lack of concern over the opiod crisis.
This is not a pretty picture.
French also notes:
Politicians, pundits, and reporters can do things that help. They can do things that hurt. They cannot, however, solve the crisis that is breaking the American heart.
About that he is absolutely and undeniably correct. So how do we solve this crisis of the heart and the soul of the nation?
The short answer is “God’s grace.” That grace is the only thing up to the task. But said grace, while supernatural in nature, is distributed quite naturally through God’s people – those that are already under its umbrella. We clearly have not been getting the job done. I’d like to suggest three things we can do right now.
One, let’s start facing the state of things square on. Everybody says they want to go to church to be uplifted so our church services end up all happy, clappy. But it is clear the world is not in a happy, clappy place. Church is not a place to escape reality, save that for the movies. Church is the place to fix reality. Reality can only be fixed when properly diagnosed. Can’t diagnose the problem unless we look at it square on.
Two, look to your own soul. Far too many people called the show this morning to defend the president’s statement. One call sticks out in my mind horribly. The individual that called claimed to do relief work in the places the president was talking about and said something along the lines of “We all think it, he just said it.” I will not deny the truth of the callers comment; I will in fact admit to similar sentiments in other settings. But that admission does not in any way change the fact that such sentiments are indicative of a problem in my own soul and anyone else that can own up to the truth. If we want better from our president or our press we have to start by expecting better of ourselves.
Finally, in every action in every moment in every situation we must be mindful of the fact that we are as in need of the grace we seek to distribute as those to who we seek to distribute it. But notice I started with “action.” Do something to help, just remember that even though you are offering the help does not mean you do not need a lot of help of your own.
There is a crisis in this nation and it is much deeper than any of us care to imagine. But it is time to care, and we do not need to imagine. We have divine guidance.