When these two men, Pope Francis and Donald Trump, epitomize our world today, it seems we live in an era that calls for song lyrics and literary quotes to adequately describe.
At 68, having seen what I've seen, I think "so true" when I hear the Grateful Dead sing - "what a long, strange trip it's been". I've watched my country go through so many cycles, I'm dizzy from swinging left and right.
Charles Dickens described our time perfectly in A Tale of Two Cities - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."
I'm not a Catholic and never will be again but I cherish Pope Francis' message of compassion and peace and inclusion, that's where my hope comes from. By contrast, Donald Trump's message of narrow-minded harshness and greed is the source of my despair.
I am old enough to have seen everything - cold wars and hot wars and silly wars (Grenada comes to mind). I've seen us when we had faith in science and trust in our government and the wonders they could perform together - moon landings and space capsules and cameras to Mars, eradicating diseases, technology that makes a cell phone more powerful than what used to be contained in a whole room of computers, surgery so precise it allows us to separate conjoined babies (here's to you Dr. Carson, I disagree with your politics but I totally respect your incredible medical skills), Of course, I could go on forever with the achievements we have accomplished in my lifetime.
I've seen us rise up against war. I've seen us march for equality - civil rights and women's rights and migrant worker's rights. I remember when corporations that profited immensely in the U.S. felt a sense of responsibility to their country and their community - often helped along by the unions. I remember when, collectively, we felt compassion for the poor and discriminated against. I remember when we valued education above all else. I remember when we respected our earth and supported wetlands and endangered species and wilderness areas.
And then the pendulum swung to the far side. We are now fine with being embroiled in endless war even though we scorn our government and believe it is worthless. How can that be? Do we trust them or not? Well, we don't protest about war anymore. I wonder why that is? Maybe because we have no draft so only one percent of our population fights our battles for us.
We pooh-pooh science. The politicians know better than the professionals, don't you know? No such thing as climate change, moron! Ignore those melting ice caps and mega-storms.
We're sick of whiners complaining about their civil rights being violated. Obey the law and the police won't be forced to shoot you. You bring it on yourself! And we're damn sick of the poor too. The majority of them are lazy deadbeats who want "free stuff", even the little kids and wounded soldiers and 95-year-olds and the severely disabled. And we're double-damned sick of immigrants risking their lives to come here for a better one.
We've lost our respect for education and our teachers (you know most of them are unionized, don't you?) We're letting our public schools deteriorate in favor of for-profit institutions from which politicians make big bucks. Every state can choose its own curriculum. If its more superstition than fact, well, that's okay. I think I got an excellent education when I graduated from Wabash High School in 1964 but I think many kids today are getting shortchanged.
We've decided the earth is here for our use and if we ruin it for future generations, too bad so sad. We need the fracking and the oil spills and the bomb trains that travel through our towns to maintain our way of life. We need to drill the Arctic and to sell the Apache Holy Land to the mining company and to slice the tops off our mountains and to despoil our water sources.
And guns, we must have more guns. We'll tolerate anything for our guns. A whole class of small children killed? Collateral damage. We just have to deal with it because....the Second Amendment. It probably doesn't matter about laws now anyway. We are awash in guns and they aren't going away.
While all this is going on, one of our major political parties has lost its mind. They compete with one another to see who can be the meanest. Who can say the nastiest things about minorities and women and immigrants and poor children and gays. They compete to see who can start more wars. They'll go to Iran on Day One and shoot the Ayatollah. They'll take on Putin bare-handed. They'll personally lead the charge against ISIS. Of course, when any of them had the chance to go to war themselves and actually face the enemy, they all declined.
So, in America today, we are roughly divided between the Pope Francis outlook on life and the Donald Trump outlook - love versus hate, knowledge versus ignorance, peace versus war, respect for others versus contempt for others. Cherishing our earth versus abusing our earth.
Your choice, America.