Portrait of a Nation

EF300A3E-99DF-4CBC-B948-86485D633AF6.jpegBarack Obama’s public appearance at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery today pained me in a way most of his post-presidential cameos has yet to. I’ve grown accustomed to those disconsolate heart tugs that come with seeing Citizen Obama periodically surface here and there. It’s similar to that wistful longing you get when you see you ex-lover turn up at the same art exhibit, clearly doing better off — without you.

Today, however, was different. The melancholy this time, as The Smithsonian unveiled Kehinde Wiley’s official likeness of President Obama, was more than a simple things-ain’t-like-they-used-to-be. Observing Obama at this formal event, hearing him speak and seeing Wiley’s stunning portrayal of the president fixed against chrysanthemums, jasmine and African blue lillies was the most vivid illustration of how unlike our current leader Obama was and is. It’s a clear portrait of the depths our nation’s public image and demeanor has plunged.

54EE6C5F-B192-4004-9A5C-A31466F3F6ADBy comparison, see that mock Time cover of Trump that’s been circulating lately. See how menacing and vile the artist imagines 45. Obama’s painting, by contrast, reflects a man who is at once lovely, graceful and intelligent — characteristics Trump never could aspire to.

The nation’s eventual appetite for the likes of Obama’s replacement paints the grimmest picture of where we are and dreadfully are heading.

(C) Copyright 2018, Jonathan Clarke All Rights Reserved



We are here to love one another’s souls, to connect with and tend to one another — at the soul level. When you meet someone in that place, you’ve experienced the true blessing of God. Give and be given to. Be kind to others, but foremost, be kind to yourself.
-Jonathan Clarke

© Copyright 2017, Jonathan Clarke, All Rights Reserved


The Death of Discourse: Assassination Talk and Siding with White Supremacists in Trump’s New America

Missouri Democratic State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal had to know she was in trouble the moment she clicked the arrow to post her incendiary comment to a public discussion on her personal Facebook timeline Thursday.  She couldn’t delete it quickly enough before someone captured and shared what she wrote: “I hope Trump is assassinated!”

trump assassinated comment - nadalPredictably, Chappelle-Nadal now finds herself isolated on the Isle of Humiliation and Shame, targeted by no less than the US Secret Service, which will investigate the matter. The senator’s political career hangs in the balance amid calls for her resignation from members of her own party, including US Senator Claire McCaskill. Chappelle-Nadal has since admitted posting that comment was a mistake but says she will not step down.

So, we’ve come to this place: Our American President is siding with Nazis and Klansmen, while our elected officials are wishing him dead – assassinated. How did we get here? How much further will we sink?

The low-hanging fruit would be to join the pile-on and declare Chappelle-Nadal stupid for throwing flames and exercising poor judgment. However, we might reap a more bountiful harvest by looking beyond her dreadful lack of restraint to the spirit that enlivened her words and momentarily emboldened her — or, depending upon your view, triggered her insanity.

To be sure, publicly professing that you wish physical harm – no less death by assassin – would come to the President of the United States is shameful, indefensible and, for an elected official, woefully irresponsible. Yeah, posting that is classically dumb and potentially criminal.

Still, ours is a grave error if we allow the narrative to end there. Failure to place this in context shortchanges the more considerable discussion about the current collapse of peaceable public dialogue, often egged on by the White House’s present occupant himself. The moment demands that we account for the overwhelming frustration she expresses and so many of us feel regarding our existing presidential situation. However brutal, distasteful and – yes – hateful the senator’s remark was it reveals a situational ugly edge where daily so many trod, a precipice to where 45 routinely nudges us.

Even I can’t pretend 45 doesn’t make me want to cuss daily and drink brown liquor. He makes me want to act and think out of character – like go off and pound my head against a desk, which would only bring me, not him, harm. Indeed, increasing numbers of Americans are feeling hopeless facing another three years of this presidency and no impending signs of impeachment in sight. Perhaps that’s what happened here, perhaps Chappelle-Nadal edged this time too close to the brink.

Chappelle-Nadal told The Kansas City Star she didn’t mean what she wrote. The senator explained that she was “frustrated” at how she said, “The president is causing damage. He’s causing hate.”

That doesn’t grant Chappelle-Nadal clear passage to wish someone goes all Grassy Knoll on the nation’s chief executive. That much still is reprehensible. But in this remarkably unhinged place where the president himself conducts his own extreme brand of political bidding, shouldn’t he bear any responsibility in ratcheting up the nastiness? Isn’t this the guy, who as a candidate, boasted he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue, murder people and get away with it?

Does Chappelle-Nadal’s outrage look any differently given the president’s own outrageousness, his own blistering rhetoric and, this week, his unabashed racism? Should we be surprised how far civil discourse has fallen when the president himself is so patently uncivilized? And where does this dangerous game of rhetorical Putin-less Russian Roulette end?

No one can or should defend Senator Chappelle-Nadal, who is no stranger to controversy and has a reputation for making what many would consider over-the-top pronouncements. If she didn’t foresee her remark’s gravity – for heaven’s sake, a gunman already shot lawmakers this year, wounding cops and a Republican Congressman while aiming to massacre a whole lot of them – she most certainly must now. She likely will pay a political price, which absolutely will be greater than the consequences faced by other public figures who made similar overtures regarding our previous president.

On multiple occasions through President Obama’s terms, certain politicians and clergy – without provocation – openly wished for his death virtually without penalty.  If hate mongers would target a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, wouldn’t it stand to reason a bombastic president of far less moral repute might be much more vulnerable to such verbal assaults?

If Donald Trump’s bedtime tweets are our national nightmare, how do we keep from falling out of bed ’round midnight? How do we make sense of it all, maintain our collective cool and not be driven to say, or worse, do stupid things? What lesson can we learn from this teachable moment?

How do we avoid getting caught up in the moment’s madness?

Meanwhile, one senator is about to learn a major lesson in how far is going too far. In hoping aloud for the president’s assassination, she ultimately may have turned the gun on herself and brought about her own political career’s death.

© Copyright 2017, Jonathan Clarke, All Rights Reserved