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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 8/3/20


I was all set with a Musing for today when the news forced me to do an about-face and instead address the latest in a long line of absurdities. Shockingly, this recent stupidity doesn’t come from our Supreme Leader, but from the self-appointed arbiter of truth and goodness, first term Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (also known as “AOC”).



First, a little context… As you may know, I am a staunch supporter of ridding our landscape of all vestiges of veneration of Confederates, racists, and other “intolerables” (thanks, Hillary, for bringing back this word…!). That said, our “presentism” of viewing all historic figures as flawed under our current value system and eradicating their accomplishments and/or choosing to delete them from the canon is wrong. There is a difference between Robert E. Lee, a traitor to our country, and Thomas Jefferson, born 64 years earlier in a different world, who nonetheless penned the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was terribly flawed and his malfeasance should be studied, but in concert with his accomplishments.

Importantly, not only do I think this cancelation agenda to be wrong substantively, but taking it to the extreme undermines the real and important objectives of the movement to address historic racial inequities. It is important to differentiate between the truly evil and the simply white, male and flawed. There are important issues to address—and we should pick and choose the battles in which we are willing to engage. In the words of the Pete Seeger song, “keep your eye on the prize,” and differentiate between what is really important and what is simply desirable.



But I digress. This week the cancelation culture expanded to include Father Damien, the Catholic cleric who ministered during the last 16 years of his life to the lepers on Molokai in Hawaii in the late 19th century. He died after he contracted leprosy himself. Each State has two statues in the United States Capitol Building, determined by the State legislature. Father Damien is is one of the two Hawaiians chosen. The other is King Kamehameha, who unified the Hawaiian kingdom in the early 19th century.

AOC said that Father Damien is an example of “white supremacist culture.” Here is what else AOC had to say about his presence:

“It’s not Queen Lili’uokalani…the only Queen Regnant of Hawaii, who is immortalized and whose story is told. It is Father Damien,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in a Facebook story in which she lamented the absence of statues of female figures in the Capitol. “This is what patriarchy and white supremacist culture looks like!”

From Yahoo News: “While still a princess, Lili’uokalani visited Father Damien at the colony to present him with honors from the Hawaiian royal government. In 2009, then-governor of Hawaii Linda Lingle proclaimed October 11 Saint Damien Day.”

“In Hawai‘i, Damien remains a spiritual hero and an icon of love, compassion, courage, humility and humanitarian service,” said Lingle.

Mahatma Gandhi said:

"The political and journalistic world can boast of very few heroes who compare with Father Damien of Molokai.

By nearly all accounts I can unearth, he was as he has been taught to have been—a man of faith who dedicated himself to the service of others. Choosing to honor him is not a decision to not tell the story of Queen Lili’uokalani.


FROM THE ARCHITECT OF THE CAPITOL (curiously, often abbreviated, “AOC”)

Here is a brief summary of Father Damien’s work, from the AOC website:

While in Kohala [nb: Honolulu], Father Damien wrote to the Father General that many of his parishioners had been shipped to a leper colony on Molokai and that he had "an undeniable feeling that soon I shall join them." On May 10, 1873, Father Damien traveled with Bishop Maigret and a shipload of lepers to Molokai. After two days Damien was willing to devote the rest of his life to the leper settlement. The bishop replied that he could stay as long as his devotion dictated. Father Damien accomplished amazing feats while residing on Molokai. Six chapels were built by 1875. He constructed a home for boys and later a home for girls. He bandaged wounds, made coffins, dug graves, heard confessions, and said Mass every morning. In December 1884, Father Damien noticed severe blisters on his feet without the presence of pain. As he suspected, the disease was leprosy.

Father Damien died peacefully on April 15, 1889, on Molokai after 16 years of undaunted dedication.

On October 11, 2009, Father Damien was canonized (i.e., elevated to sainthood) by Pope Benedict XVI in a ceremony at the Vatican, thus becoming Saint Damien.



“Fr. Damien has also earned a special place in the hearts of Hawaiians. I recall many stories from my youth about his tireless work there to care for those suffering from leprosy who had been cast out. Following in the steps of Jesus’ ministry to the lepers, Fr. Damien challenged the stigmatizing effects of disease, giving voice to the voiceless and ultimately sacrificing his own life to bring dignity to so many.”—Barack Obama



I am truly dumbfounded by AOC’s actions (the Congresswoman, not the Architect…!). Why?

1. As we approach election season, this sort of pronouncement does little to advance the Democrats’ electoral chances and, in fact, fuels the narrative that Joe Biden has somehow been abducted by the left.

2. Her attack on Father Damien, besides betraying a lack of knowledge of his history, serves to misdirect people from the important work of addressing historical racism, instead focusing on lesser issues.

3. We are in an era where we are all being asked to be particularly sensitive to cultural appropriation or attempting to speak for, in support of, or with the voice of, other ethnicities. A White, female author of a bestseller is being vilified for writing American Dirt, in the voice of a Latina. White voice actors cannot voice Black characters. Yet, in a remarkable display of hypocrisy, AOC purports to tell the Hawaiian people, an indigenous culture with a unique history, how they should choose to honor their history.

I don’t get it. Other than her infatuation with attention-grabbing headlines, sometimes bordering on controversy just for controversy’s sake, how does AOC’s war against the good Father Damien help any legitimate cause?



From Mark Greenfield, a sportswriter’s reflections on the first week of the baseball season: Quarantine! Vigilante Justice! Baseball Rumbles Through Opening Week



Thank you, Julie Platt, for this remarkable rendition of the traditional seventh inning classic, including MLB players and a symphony, all from participants’ homes: Hopefully the season will continue…

Wishing you a great week,


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