The upside of a crisis

It took a natural disaster to do what no movement could, in a few days.

Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast of Texas and hit Houston particularly hard over the past several days, claiming lives and destroying homes and properties beyond counting at this point. Because at this point, it’s not over.

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Administrator Brock Long said. “Texas has never seen an event like this.”

That’s what my guests on radio said Monday, after three days of Harvey’s battering set new records with torrential downpours measured in feet, not inches and caused catastrophic, life-threatening flooding ‘of biblical proportions’ according to ongoing accounts and projections for the near and even long term future.

Long said earlier that FEMA will likely be in Texas for years, and that Harvey will require one of the largest recovery housing efforts the nation has ever seen.

 

Harvey will likely surpass 2008’s Hurricane Ike and 2001’s Tropical Storm Allison, two of the most destructive storms to hit the Gulf Coast in recent memory, he said. Millions of people from Corpus Christi to New Orleans were under flood watches and warnings Monday as Harvey’s storm bands repeatedly pummeled the same areas.

 

“The word catastrophic does not appropriately describe what we’re facing,” said US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. “We just don’t know when it’s going to end.”

 

Early Monday, Harvey was barely clinging to tropical storm status, but the danger is far from over. The storm is forecast to head southeast toward the Matagorda Bay and Gulf of Mexico, where it will pick up additional moisture before sliding back over Galveston and Houston, cities it has already hammered…

 

Even when the rain is gone, dangers will persist, said National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini, because “the flooding will be very slow to recede.”

 

The Pentagon is also identifying resources, including trucks, aircraft and troops, that can be dispatched for hurricane relief if the request comes, defense officials said, and Gov. Greg Abbott has activated the entire Texas National Guard, roughly 12,000 Guardsmen, he said Monday.

Throughout Tuesday, the crisis grew. The slow moving storm had shattered records for rainfall and heights of floodwaters, and sheer numbers of desperate citizens in need of relief. And that was before Hurricane Harvey was expected to swing back for a second landfall on the same battered Texas region by Wednesday.

People are battered along with the land. They have crisis fatigue, they’re frightened and have lost personal property, possibly everything they had, have stood on roofs or tops of cars or waded through waist high water with all sorts of hazards underneath, just to survive. Life has taken on new meaning. And so has the sense of what is important.

This comes when the country has crisis fatigue. We’ve had months of politically charged partisan and ideological battles not only without common sense or common ground, but with people focused distinctly on not ceding ground to political or ideological opponents. It has been bitter, divisive, toxic and noxious.

In the first few days of a natural disaster that threatens more harm to people in its path, Americans of all sorts have raced from their homes and towns to help fellow Americans suffering from the wrath not of political, social or cultural storms of hatred or discrimination or intolerance but of the sheer force of a raging storm of nature. The ‘Us’ grew to all people in harm’s way, and the ‘Other’ was the relentless invading Hurricane Harvey.

With news crews planted and traversing the storm ravaged areas to update reporting on latest damage estimates and newest surge of floodwater and worst areas hit by relentless rain, horrified viewers couldn’t miss the battalions of relief workers also pouring in, and average citizens racing private boats and trucks to the scene to rescue people and deliver supplies and bring relief.

In a flash one particular moment, I remembered a comment from my sons’ childhood when Fred Rogers of ‘Mister Rogers Neighborhood‘ fame told an interviewer this:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

That has been a saving grace in these scary days, the countless people helping countless people, without a clue to their identities or politics, ethnicity or religion.

This is the way it should be. And the way it is. Read that, all of it. And it’s only a glimpse of a much larger presence of helpers.

There’s the ‘Cajun Navy‘, among so many other relief workers.

The Cajun Navy is part of an armada of private boats that have descended on the Houston area after authorities asked for help from those who could potentially navigate the treacherous floodwaters across a massive swath of southeast Texas in search of residents. Many boaters from east Texas and west Louisiana streamed to the outskirts of the disaster until they could drive no more, switching over to boats to go door to door seeking out the stranded.

 

Painful and haunting memories of Hurricane Katrina run deep in what’s informally known as the “Cajun corridor,” between Texas and Louisiana. During Katrina, hundreds of Texans did just what Bloodsworth did, crossed the border and even the Sabine River to help rescue teams in New Orleans…

 

“I vividly remember that many Texans came to Louisiana’s aid, which was incredible to me,” said Taylor Aucoin, who is in Baton Rouge working with an app, called Zello, that allows her and her husband to radio in rescue requests to volunteers on the ground in Texas. “I can’t really describe the heartbreak that I feel now for Texans. It’s a very small thing we can do from here to kind of repay the favor for the help we received last year and countless other times.”

The headline of that news story said they’re ‘paying it forward’.

“It’s just what we do for each other.”

Said one member of the Cajun Navy.

“Just the way we were brought up,” he said. “You help your neighbor.”

And keep the effort going.

Toxic identity politics ‘in these tribal times’

Is what unites us still stronger than what divides us?

Where and how America is divided is far more evident these days than where and how we’re united, given the still growing public tensions over symbols, words, gestures and fundamental identities. And media coverage amplifying the worst of it all.

The ‘poison of identity politics‘ is not new.

The politics of white supremacy was a poison on the right for many decades, but the civil-rights movement rose to overcome it, and it finally did so in the mid-1960s with Martin Luther King Jr. ’s language of equal opportunity and color-blind justice.

 

That principle has since been abandoned, however, in favor of a new identity politics that again seeks to divide Americans by race, ethnicity, gender and even religion. “Diversity” is now the all-purpose justification for these divisions, and the irony is that America is more diverse and tolerant than ever.

 

The problem is that the identity obsessives want to boil down everything in American life to these categories. In practice this means allocating political power, contracts, jobs and now even salaries in the private economy based on the politics of skin color or gender rather than merit or performance. Down this road lies crude political tribalism, and James Damore’s recent Google dissent is best understood as a cri de coeur that we should aspire to something better. Yet he lost his job merely for raising the issue.

 

A politics fixated on indelible differences will inevitably lead to resentments that extremists can exploit in ugly ways on the right and left. The extremists were on the right in Charlottesville, but there have been examples on the left in Berkeley, Oakland and numerous college campuses. When Democratic politicians can’t even say “all lives matter” without being denounced as bigots, American politics has a problem.

Rod Dreher addressed this in a sobering look at opposing evils.

Looking and and listening to the neo-Nazis and right-wing radicals at the march is not the same as reading about them. Evil has a face, and a voice, and it is chilling….

 

But let’s not “excuse or diminish the real threat to our politics from the violent left-wing agitators of antifa (anti-fascists). You may be tempted to sympathize with them because they punch neo-Nazis…”

But not so fast, or reactionary, Dreher cautions

For a while, antifa has remained on the fringes of the Left, smashing up storefronts to protest globalism, and things like that…

And then, the money quote:

The legitimization by mainstream people of violent political action is a Rubicon. Mark my words, it will be followed by the same thing on the Right.

 

So here we are. And Dreher asks the big question core:

Where are the restraining forces against radicalization on both the Left and the Right?

Exactly. Lately, on radio and elsewhere in conversations, I’ve been calling for voices of authority on both center-left and center-right (or whoever could be a moderating force) to call out the fringes on both sides. But they aren’t on the same side, and conservatives have asked media to stop calling white supremacists and neo-Nazis ‘far right conservatives’, since they don’t share conservative values and principles.

Who speaks for America right now? With the ability to amplify one’s own voice through social media platforms and unprecedented access to the arena of ideas, the people have to speak up and speak out.

Dreher says:

The media should talk about every instance of people on the Left and the Right, especially authority figures (pastors, politicians, academics, and so on) legitimizing violence as a way to solve political disputes. And the rest of us should fight hard to make it taboo, to establish it as a line we as a society will not cross. We have to stop with whataboutism, the habit of responding to revolting things your own side does with “but the other side does it too!”

That’s a point for an examination of conscience for all the people who take recourse to that explanation for the ‘slingshot’ effect of unrest from devolving into 1968 type of riots and demonstrations, says Dreher,

…it is time for people in authority — whatever authority they have — to speak out forcefully and repeatedly. Not just people on the Right, but people on the Left. If we are going to stop this spiral into political violence, we have to start somewhere. It doesn’t matter who’s worse, antifa or the neo-Nazis. Both are capable of doing severe damage to our democracy, because they both hate the political order, and they both love violence.

Denounce it, all of it, civilly and with the counter love of people, community, the common good, human rights and dignity, freedom and justice for all.

Which sounds a lot like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s rousing talk ‘Our God Is Marching On!’ in 1965.

 

If the worst in American life lurked in its dark streets, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it. There never was a moment in American history more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger…

For fellow countrymen.

The confrontation of good and evil compressed in the tiny community of Selma generated the massive power to turn the whole nation on a new course.

We need to redirect ourselves there now.