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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 2/28/21

Happy weekend! HONORING THOSE WHO DESERVE HONOR With all the talk of those whose image or name is given prominence and who don’t deserve it (e.g., Confederate statues and the naming of forts), I was thinking about those who are honored and who truly deserve such honor. I figured I’d start with the statutory collection in the U.S. Capitol. Each state is entitled to designate two of its sons or daughters to be represented in the Capitol. Here are some of my favorites: Abraham Lincoln. Yes, I know he’s an obvious one but the statue and its sculptor are telling. This is not the towering Lincoln of Rushmore or the seated Greek God of the Lincoln Memorial. This is a standing Lincoln, admittedly draped in a robe that adds a bit of solemnity. But he is looking downward, almost humbly, clutching a document in his hand allegedly the Emancipation Proclamation. The statue was drawn from poses during Lincoln’s last five months of life. The sculptor was a teenage girl (only 18 when the statue was finished) and the first woman commissioned to do a statue for the Capitol. The garments he wears were rendered from the clothes Lincoln wore the night he died. For some reason this young woman resonated with me to the Amanda Gorman, the young woman who spoke so beautifully earlier this year at the inauguration. Occasionally genius, wisdom and perspective comes from the young. Philo T. Farnsworth. For better or worse (mostly the better), Philo was the inventor of the first electric television, something he dreamt about as a teenage student (prefiguring teenagers’ fascination with TV). He held over 100 patents in his life, including those important in radar, infrared nigh light, the electron microscope and the incubator. He represented Utah for nearly 30 years in the Capitol, but is leaving to make way for Martha Hughes Cannon. Martha was a physician, suffragist, women’s rights advocate and polygamous wife. Dwight D. Eisenhower. War hero. Brilliant strategist. Great president. Known for humility, kindness, and collaboration. Enough said. Helen Keller. Deaf, blind and mute. Yet she communicated by braille and a special typewriter and went on to support women’s suffrage and efforts to support the blind. Gerald R. Ford, Jr. “Our long national nightmare is over.” A man of grace, leadership, and collegiality. He bound the country together when it was desperately needed after Watergate. And he remembered my name. James Paul Clarke. Never knew who he was but he represents Arkansas in the Capitol. A Democrat who supported Teddy Roosevelt, favored Philippine independence, and supported employers’ liability and workmen’s compensation legislation. He also opposed literacy tests for immigrants. A product of the turn of the 20th century progressive era, his ideas were ahead of his time. And there are others, like John Swigert, astronaut on Apollo XIII, Will Rogers, the great American humorist and social commentator, Chief Standing Bear and many others. It is a travesty, however, that they stand alongside Jefferson Davis and other exemplars of a treasonous time in our nation’s history, when people fought to keep other people in chains. IS THERE NOT “TRUTH” ON BOTH SIDES OF MOST DEBATES? After writing about how we have to learn how to speak with each other. Earlier I was thinking about one of the great problems today is that people seem incapable of holding two seemingly conflicting ideas in one’s head simultaneously. Combining these two ideas, I began to consider areas where there is considerable tension but where a middle ground of understanding would seem feasible. Perhaps each side of these formulations can recognize the good faith and rational basis beyond the views of the other:

  • There is nothing inherently wrong with the ownership of certain guns that are safely stored and maintained. That said, the licensing and regulation of gun ownership is hardly unreasonable.

  • There are principled reasons to oppose abortion; there are principled reasons to support choice (frankly, I believe this may be the single issue that may offer the greatest unbreachable divide between sides)

  • Government performs valuable social good, yet can be ham-handed and inefficient and often is manipulated by various self-interested parties

  • Capitalism has caused great good in human history, bringing scientific, technological, health, and quality of life breakthroughs; yet its effects can leave people behind, leaving poverty, wage and wealth disparity and safety concerns that require government-based solutions and rules

  • America believes in the sanctity of the individual and equal opportunity

  • America strives for racial equality and equal opportunity, yet we are an unfinished product--not all people possess the same opportunities, often as the result of factors often beyond their control

  • America has made great strides in achieving greater equality and fairness, yet there remain systems that have perpetuated racism and conflict with America’s aspirations.

  • People make choices and must have agency and responsibility; but people cannot be beaten into positions of despair for wrong choices they may have made.

  • We need to address the unemployment and underemployment caused by globalization, technology, a declining manufacturing sector, and reduced reliance on fossil fuels. These costs must be born not by the unfortunate victims of these trends, but by society generally.

  • While incarceration may be necessary, it cannot be exclusive—public safety and rehabilitation should be the primary goals of the penal system.

These seeming paradoxical, conflicting "facts" nonetheless are ideas we can (even if reluctantly) acknowledge. Then the REAL work begins--in seeking solutions. Until we can acknowledge the basic good faith of those with whom we disagree (on matters supported by fact and reasoning), how will progress be achieved? Happy weekend, Glenn

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