Untitled, Oil on Panel, 23.5" x 31.5", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
We elect and re-elect the people who place personal and political ambition over oaths and country. They tell and repeat lies meant to undermine democracy. They seek to retain power by disenfranchising millions of Americans on pretense and pretext.
As a country we are reaping exactly what we’ve sewn. Yes, of course we saw this coming, watched it build, starting with birther, then Charlottesville, confederate monuments and military bases, white supremacists, Proud Boys, dog whistles from start to finish, an endless stream of African Americans killed by police, attempts to disenfranchise millions of voters in predominantly Black counties, demonstrably false narratives and repeated lies before and after their leader lost an election that, by all legitimate accounts, was the most secure in our history. Racial animus is at the core. America’s tangible decline, or maybe that decline’s exposure, and hypocrisy are on full display. This IS who we are. America is NOT better than this. We own this.
Among its most urgent priorities, the next administration must address the racial divide and domestic terror fomented by people who refuse to accept the changing demographics and the country’s growing diversity, those who are unable to face the reality that their status and advantages from their accidents of birth render no one inferior to them, have no relationship to the quality of their character, and give them no more rights under the law.
For America to restore even a scintilla of credibility before its citizens and the world, the House must take immediate, decisive action to remove this stain, regardless of the timeline; every Senator must be required to go on record for or against a seditionist president who led a violent coup attempt against the United States; every seditionist must be identified, charged, arrested and tried; and Trump must be charged, arrested and tried for every crime he has committed against the United States. The next Department of Justice must challenge pardons granted for corrupt purposes and any attempt at self-pardon. This was not protest or dissent. Absent full accountability for those who led and participated in this brutal attack on the core of self-government, the rule of law under the constitution will be rendered meaningless and much of what the country projects and purports to represent illegitimate.
Which brings me to a moment of self-reflection.
Over the past four years, I have stepped on many of the ethical landmines strewn throughout the political landscape. During that period, I have participated in the rancor endemic in this increasingly divisive terrain. As the rhetoric and disruption escalate, I have tried without success not to compromise certain of my values — not to define myself over-against others (I am good because they are bad; I am smart because they are stupid; I am moral because they are immoral, etc.), not to engage in whataboutism to shift away responsibility from myself and others whose behavior warrants closer scrutiny, not to dumb down the values I espouse in response or reaction to what others say or do.
With this writing I reinforce at least one of my mores. Others behaving in ways I find abhorrent in no way justifies my sinking to that level by thinking or behaving in like ways. I do not blame others for bringing out the worst in me. I am fully capable of doing that on my own. Shifting accountability to others for my personal comportment is unseemly in the extreme. Regrettably, I have thought and behaved at a level beneath what I expect of myself. I acknowledge my personal toxicity is all mine.
In all honesty, I sometimes find it difficult to resist wishing misfortune on those whom I see wreaking havoc on the Constitution and institutions of government, those I deem responsible for America’s decline — even before, but especially after, this week’s events. Likewise, I find myself wanting misadventure to visit those who disastrously mishandled the pandemic, who reject science and place others at risk, those I credit with killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. When people attend so-called super-spreader events, I find myself hoping for their comeuppance. When anti-maskers contract COVID-19, karma is the first thing that comes to mind. Herman Cain? He got what was coming to him, I thought. When Mr. Giuliani contracted the novel coronavirus, serves the stupid, arrogant f#ck right, came to mind. When the worst person in the United States contracted COVID-19, the person I thoroughly despise for many things including the massive destruction and devastation he has caused, I rationalized my wishes for his incapacitation (not to be confused with decapitation) and macabre suffering (along the lines of the Sloth character in the movie Seven) on the utilitarian, albeit flawed, argument that, were he out of commission (and suffering), fewer people would die.
I am also inconsistent in my commentary and criticism, giving those with whom I generally agree a pass even though their words or conduct may be equally divisive as those of the people with whom I generally disagree. I see that blind spot and am working on reducing its opacity.
How do I ethically negotiate my way in this divisive climate, advance the causes and policies in which I firmly believe, advocate with credibility, disagree and agree to disagree without demonizing others and compromising myself, without becoming what I so despise in others? The line can be fine and nuanced. I recognize the problem and am sorting through it.
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com. Rob’s second novel, a beautifully written suspense drama that takes place in Utah, Wyoming and Norway, dropped on November17, 2020 fall. Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple Bookstore and your favorite local bookshop, this novel, The Contortionists, which Rob himself narrates for the audio version, is a psychological page-turner about a missing child in a predominantly Mormon community. I have read the novel and listened to the audio version twice. It is a literary masterpiece. The Contortionists, however, is not for the faint of heart.
**Richard J Van Wagoner is my father. His list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in a number of traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com are hers