Love In the Time of Corona: Rush to Judgment

In times past, on days when evil people died, I’d whip out what I thought was one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes: “I have never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” The only problem is it is not only misattributed but also misquoted. The actual quote came from Clarence Darrow, the fabled attorney made famous by duking it out in court with William Jennings Bryan (counsel for the prosecution) in his defense of John Thomas Scopes in the “Scopes Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. Scopes was a teacher accused and ultimately convicted of teaching evolution in a state sponsored school.  It was all staged to draw attention to the issue and to use the American South (once again) as a demonstration of how ignorant people can be about a thing. It’s an old Progressive strategy. George Wallace and Bull Conner did much for the cause of garnering national attention and outrage over all the events going on in the racist South. 
Anyway, the quote’s Darrow and not Twain which I sort of hate because one of the things I liked the most about it was its Twainesque-ness which isn’t even a word and I don’t know enough about Darrow to know what Darrowesque might be if I heard it. I guess we just did. Actually, as I mentioned, it’s also misquoted. The real quote by Darrow is longer and begins with some anthropological observation that if we really, really, dislike someone it might be considered natural to wish to see them dead (damn!) and then went on to say “I have never killed anyone but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” 

As I said, in the past, when someone who was consummately evil, without redeeming qualities, who did great harm during the time they spent on earth, would die, I’d trot out what I thought was the Twain quote on social media so I could get a couple hundred of those little white thumbs-ups that validate my existence and celebrate with the rest of the algorithm the death of a villain. But since Snopes and Scopes has ruined all this, I’ll just paraphrase Bette Davis upon hearing of Joan Crawford’s death:

“One should always say something good about the dead. [Rush Limbaugh] is dead. Good.” 

Of all the honors and decorations bestowed on members of the United States Military, the highest among them is The Medal of Honor. It’s often called The Congressional Medal of Honor because the President bestows it on behalf of the Congress. It is the highest honor to which a servicemember can aspire. It essentially says, “Do as these have done; be selfless, be brave.” “The Crucible” is an extremely challenging 4-day trial-by-fire that wraps up boot camp and culminates in the recruits being handed the Eagle Globe and Anchor and conferred with the title “Marine” for the first time. There’s no sleep, little food, a lot of obstacles and challenges set up along the way. Liken perhaps think about those corporate “team building” adventure-based experiences that big companies send their employees on to make them more productive—but on steroids and dipped in fiery shit. And chased by bees. Fat bees. One of the hardest parts of doing the obstacles was to stand back and let these young soon-to-be-Marines develop a mission strategy on their own with my help, about how we were going to take our bodies and whatever materials provided and accomplish the task as described. The reason I had to stand back and keep quiet was the Drill Instructor had ordered me to. For the three months of boot camp, I had been “The Guide,” the one recruit who is put in charge of receiving punishment when any recruit does anything wrong. Kidding. Sort of. You’re actually tasked with helping to ensure that these sixty-nine nasties whom I had come to love as brothers and, because of our age difference, as sons, (I was 34 when I went to boot camp) did not get dead in some future war because I didn’t do my job of kicking his ass when he needed it and lifting him up when he was down. For all of boot camp up that point, when the Drill Instructor tasked me with doing something with the platoon, I simply went to the platoon and told them how I wanted it done (which was to do it like the Drill Instructor wanted it done) or meet with my Squad Leaders and task them with leading their Marines in the mission. Now in The Crucible, attempting (in our sleepy, hungry, sorry state by that point) to accomplish the task at each obstacle, I listened to the plans my young brothers came up with and gave it my all. Sometimes, when it wasn’t going well, I’d just be dying to give my input but the DI was watching me and  would shut that shit down if he even thought I was about to open my mouth. We’d eventually accomplish the task and move on to the next obstacle. I was super proud of my boys. I was even, for one of the few times in my life up to that point, proud of myself.  Each obstacle on The Crucible is named for a Medal of Honor or Navy Cross recipient. The DI would have one of the recruits read what was written on a sign there, a tribute and details of how these brave Marines had given “the last full measure of devotion.” Boot camp was now 20 years ago for me yet when I think back, I can still hear the voice of these young men reading in the dark night at Camp Pendleton; prickly tears make the screen blurry as I type. My God, I hope they’re all alive. 

As I heard the details of what lead up to the recipient receiving the medal, in this unique and sacred ceremony I thought, “That. That is what each Marine should aspire to. Do this, and that will be enough.” I prayed then and there that I ever remain ready to give my life to save the life of another Marine and always mindful that my oath was to The Constitution and that it must be preserved at all costs. The Medal of Honor is an emblematic and glowing beacon calling from higher ideals to each Marine to sacrifice without pause if called to. 

There is a civilian equivalent to the Medal of Honor; it’s called the Medal of Freedom. Similarly, it says “this is the highest to which you can aspire” as human being. As the individual Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Coastie looks to the Medal of Honor as that highest standard for a member of the Armed Forces, so should the individual hold themselves to the standards worthy of receiving the Medal of Freedom. And perhaps look to previous recipients for examples of what that might look like. 

On February 4, 2020, during the State of the Union Address, Donald John Trump, the purported 45th President of these United States of America, bestowed this highest civilian honor on a man who once told a Black, female reporter, “Take that bone out of your nose and get back to me,” a man who denigrated and objectified women like it was an Olympic sport, a man who leaves behind a list of racist quotes that would make George Wallace’s look amateurish, a man who had a segment on his radio show called “AIDS Update” in which he laughed at and ridiculed the gay men who were dying of AIDS. This? This is the highest to which we should aspire?! Dear Republican, think of this when you own your support of Donald Trump when you say you love me, or my Sailor husband and “appreciate our service.”

If I somehow knew nothing at all about Donald John Trump until that night, it still would have told me everything I needed to know about him. And if I knew nothing about you before that night but having learned who Trump was as a person and a supposed leader, it would tell me everything I need to know about you that you supported him. Rush Limbaugh was worth $500 million. A million dollars five hundred times over off of peddling hate and cruelty. That’s what we’re supposed to try to be?! Fuck. You. 

One of the weirdest things about all this is that five years ago, Trump was not an unknown quantity. I mean we know a lot more now but even then, we could see who he was and had always been. Beyond all that, I’d had a friend who was on the original production team for The Apprentice so I had inside scoop on what a shitbag he was. After he announced and joined (do you remember?) that cast of clowns, twelve or so, who all wanted the Republican nod. I was living between here and Australia during all that and my Aussie friends would ask regarding Trump, “You don’t think he might actually have a shot at—” “Nooooooo,” I assured them. “Americans are stupid but we’re not that stupid.” Apparently we are. 

From the beginning, I just became more and more amazed at each new revelation about Donald Trump, when he’d say the next horrific thing or make fun of the disabled. Thing about it all was that I grew up among Donald Trump’s base and I sat (at least three times a week on that pine pew at Hatt Church of Christ having to hear the hypothetical person, “the sinner,” described and also hear described the fate that awaited him on the other side of death, a never-ending punishment more horrible than the human mind can imagine and the things that would get him there, as described in those sermons and Bible School classes were exactly what Donald Trump stands for in every way. When I was a boy, just the fact that a man would brag so unabashedly about how rich he was would make him reviled by the other working class and poor folk of Walker County, Alabama. In the end they made of him their Golden Calf.  

Just as the Office of the Presidency has been forever cheapened by the last four years, so has the Medal of Freedom been cheapened by its most recent recipient. Nevertheless, I’m glad that Donald Trump chose to hold up this now-cold-and-dead man as his bright and shining example. It will be one more thing that will inform future Americans about who these two men were and about the kind of people who supported them. I’m just grateful he’s out of our misery, in the flesh anyway. May the legacy of his Hate decompose faster than his body and may God mete out to him the same kindness and mercy he showed others on Earth. 

You may say it is in poor taste to show so little respect for someone who has just died. I would say I hope a thousand Nazis throw a party on the night I die but I hope by the time I die there aren’t a hundred Nazis left We’d better get busy.

About this entry