PROPHETS AND KINGS

“Unable to love themselves, violent reactionaries fall in love with something they call America. But they don’t want to share her with blacks and Jews and bureaucrats. They want freedom in terms they can understand, not in all its wild unpredictability. They want to erase what can’t be erased; the messiness and contradictions of a democratic society, the unruliness of their own lives. They love America the way wife beaters love marriage.”

Sy Safransky, publisher of The Sun, wrote the above, and it was the last sentence that grabbed my attention. Men who perpetrate domestic violence on their wives want marriage and life on certain terms (usually with themselves at the center), and are unable to live with the subtleties of relationship, its crazy dark and light, ups and downs, all the mystery and lack of control you usher in when you live with another human being.

Safransky drew a parallel between that and violent reactionaries (mostly white supremacists), and their lack of tolerance for diversity and the large measure of chaos and unpredictability built into a society like ours. Even Europeans often shake their heads at the chaotic nature of American politics, the seeming lack of continuity and the many upheavals.

Now many  Americans shake their heads at the same thing, too, as if the end of times is upon us. Maybe it is. And maybe it is the death that precedes awakening, the fading that precedes renewal. I think the Buddhist equivalent to other traditions’ faith is our trust in impermanence. Not impermanence as in: I know I know, everything changes (groan groan!), but impermanence as in: Wow! What I thought was this isn’t exactly this at all. It’s this and it’s also something else at the same time, fluid and changing, a stream with an unknown destination. Well, isn’t that interesting!

It’s that flavor of curiosity that I carry with me into this political landscape. Yes, I see what’s now, and I’d like to do my part in the course correction we need. At the same time, I wonder what’s around the corner.

Massachusetts will have its primaries next Tuesday. The lawns here have many Bernie signs, but I’m pretty sure I won’t vote for Bernie Sanders. For me, he’s a prophet.

In Biblical times, Jews had their prophets and they had their kings. Each had his (it was usually, but not always, his) function. The prophet knew the truth because he spoke to God. He would tell this truth to the king, warn him that God’s wrath was upon him, that he would lose his throne, maybe even his life. For this reason the prophet often had to hide, but he would take any risk because that was his job; he was a prophet. He never changed his mind, he never compromised.

The king had to make it all work. He had to appeal not just to God but also to the people, he had to fight, to build, to lead, slay giants. He made lots of mistakes, promised one thing and often delivered another. He was all too human.

I think of Bernie Sanders as our prophet; I don’t think of him as president. “Truth is truth!” he asserted, waving his arms up and down in talking of his admiration for Castro’s Cuba. That’s the talk of a prophet.

Like so many people, I’m torn between idealism and pragmatism (knowing that the former may well be the most pragmatic of all in the long run). I will probably vote for Elizabeth Warren, our highly intelligent, fearless senator.

I continue to be deeply disturbed by the different standards women candidates are subjected to in comparison to men. They’re allowed to be passionate but not raise their voice. Nobody likes them when they interrupt to get more debate time, as do their male peers. The New York Review of Books referred to an article that noted, among other things, that “early broadcast mikes were designed for male voices and distorted the female voice so profoundly that women learned to alter their speech by lowering the tone, something Margaret Thatcher apparently did to project authority.”

If broadcast mikes have changed, the minds of many have not. Don’t be loud, don’t get technical, don’t dominate. What does it matter if you’re more intelligent than most, have put in the time to work out some good solutions to our problems, and feel ready to take on the world? That’s fine, just don’t show it, know what I mean? Don’t show off your intelligence. Be girlish rather than professorial, lighthearted rather than grave. Show how relational you can be. Learn from Bill Clinton (never from Hillary).

Above all, never be angry. Never raise your voice. Never grow indignant.

“Why are you angry?” my husband, Bernie, used to say to me in the middle of an argument.

For years I took that as a serious rebuke. I was aware of my tendencies to quickly get upset and impatient, to not listen. I was aware of the energy that anger brings up, the feeling of relief when this energy courses through your body and you feel in charge. And I was aware of the harm that can be done when we unleash that anger.

But in later years I’d pause and ask myself: Am I really angry? I care about what I’m saying, maybe even passionate. Am I remonstrating? Expostulating? Arguing? I must have heard Bernie remonstrate, expostulate, and argue many, many times over the 33 years that I knew him. No one ever said to him, Why are you angry?