“Make the pie higher.” So said our illustrious 41st president George Bush. The line resurfaced in my head this week when thinking of two recent exchanges: the flash fiction prompt of “pie” from Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch, and a conversation I had with my conservative sister-the-sister.
These days of course, so many of us political lefties look back fondly on “W.” Ten years ago, we thought the right could do no worse damage than it had under the Bush-Cheney regime—the phony war in Iraq; the torture memos that justified waterboarding; the no-bid contracts with Halliburton and Blackwater; the assaults against the separation of Church and State and the pandering to the detestable Tea Party; the false commitment to “family values”; and the highly dubious oil ties with Saudi Arabia, to name just a few crimes.
And though Bush may have mangled our language, his idiomatic sins were far less sinister than those committed by our current Obfuscator-in-Chief, with his accusations of “fake news,” his protestations of “witch hunts,” his propensity to defame anyone who crosses him with his crass labels (Crooked Hillary, Lying Ted, Little Marco) and his obscene pronouncements regarding women. My gorge rises as I type.
Being thus consumed by my abhorrence of the man now degrading the highest office of our land, I cannot take off my political “pussy hat,” when sitting down to write or when talking to those of my dear ones who voted for the cad.
Religion and Politics in America
I have written here before of my twin sister, the Franciscan nun, and her (to my eye) confoundingly conservative views. “Yeah, yeah, she’s a one-issue voter,” an acquaintance reminded me last week. “It’s all about abortion.” Okay, yes, I understand the social issues over the last twenty years or so that have led my sister to take as her political guide either the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh or the Catholic journals she reads. And though neither Republican nor religious, I too resonate with the bootstrapping values of individual endeavor, responsibility, and hard work that the Republicans have laid claim too. I too agree there should be limits to government control of individual lives. But such fallback justifications for the current administration’s efforts to, for example, axe healthcare for millions and cut Medicare and Medicaid, are just scum on the surface of a very deep pond.
Certainly the GOP with its merciless promotion of free-market capitalism, its climate-change deniers, its trickle-down economy enthusiasts and deregulation champions (except when it comes to women’s bodies) embody as a group the very antithesis of the Christian message they so publicly embrace. So when it comes to understanding my sister, to maintaining the closeness we have always felt, I am abjectly lost. For I can’t help but feel that the actions and values my sister now defends couldn’t be farther from the teachings of the founder of her order, Saint Francis. Here was an intentionally impoverished man, a man now named the patron saint of ecology, a man who “really believed what Jesus said: ‘Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff’ (Luke 9:1-3).”
A Bigger Piece of the Pie for Some
The sister and I spoke over the weekend. Though we try to stay away from the political, it is nearly impossible not to drift in that direction. She bluntly stated that she believed capitalism was good. That, although she finds our swaggering, mendacious leader detestable, he is moving our country in the right direction. After all, she pointed out, the stock markets are way up. When I objected that not all people benefited from the bull market (and that at any rate bull markets have a dismaying habit of falling), she fell back on the old sad premise that “the poor will always be with us.” By that measure, those who get a bigger piece of the pie leave just a few crumbs for the rest.
As we “speak,” my sister is settling into a three-week visit with her German counterparts for a big council meeting. I wish her well in Germany. She admitted feeling a tad anxious. Our rather virulent strain of capitalism does not apparently go down well with her German sisters. Nor has our president endeared himself to their people. One of these sisters apparently slapped a nun visiting from my sister’s convent some years back. But I do relish the idea of my sister’s exposure to a fresh, European perspective. And I wonder how she will defend her American heartland politics in the face of what may well be a passionate call to support the American left in its struggle against those very positions.
And now, the flash:
“Nothing more American than apple pie,” she said.
“Oh, I don’t know. There’s lots of things.”
“Okay, sure, there’s baseball and Mom, too.”
“That’s not what I was thinking about.”
“Oh, oppression of the poor, Wall Street fat cats, imperialism, misogyny, institutionalized sexism and racism, homelessness, addiction, environmental destruction…”
“God, you’re so negative.”
“No, just realistic.”
“I still think it’s a land of opportunity for all.”
“No, you think it’s a zero-sum game. Not enough pie for everyone; some must go without.”
“I never said that.”
“No? Then what’s with ‘the poor will always be with us’?”