July the Fourth, the family and I were relaxing in the house when we heard a crack-crack-cracking noise, followed by a loud crash, followed by an even louder crash. I turned my head to catch the last moments of what we all knew had happened: one of the big trees fell in the backyard, taking a couple smaller ones with it. No one was hurt, no property damaged. But the event was unnerving because it happened without warning, and on a calm, dry afternoon at the end of a calm, dry weekend. One moment a giant tree was standing, the next moment it was crashing to the ground, and ever since it’s been splayed reproachfully across the lawn.
Some simple inspection revealed the cause. The base of the trunk was all rotted out. Weak and crumbly. The tree stood as long as it did, and then it fell.
If you are a veteran reader of my scribblings, you perchance have already interpreted the previous paragraphs as an analogy for recent politics, and have inferred the point that the author wishes to make. To spell it out, the tree represents American Democracy, while the rot is a mix of ignorance, neglect, greed, and unhealthy doses of fear and cowardice among certain leaders and the citizenry. But most of all, the rot is lies. The rot is the lies that nominees to the Supreme Court told us all about their commitment to precedent and to judicial restraint, the rot is the lies of the senators who promoted blatantly specious and contradictory arguments to install two of those nominees, the rot is the lie that the court’s vicious decisions arose from reasoned, unbiased analysis of legal doctrine in support of the Constitution and the common welfare instead of obvious rationalizations and outlandish jibberish designed to appease the rich and privileged or elate the self-righteous busybodies, and to grind a steel-toed heel into the rest of us. Not to mention the many lies upon lies upon even larger and more insidious lies of the former president who nominated three of those justices and who continues to be, seemingly, at the Rotten Heart of All Things.
One of my critics has offered the counterargument that all the politicians tell lies, regardless of their philosophy. I disagree with that claim, but I think the question is beside the point. The point is that democracy cannot withstand lies in the name of justice.
Many analysts have found it amazing that our democracy has lasted almost 250 years, and we should be grateful for that. We also should fight like hell to keep it going.
I recognize that’s a heavy analogy for one fallen tree.
One of the nicer moments of the July 4th holiday was when I read that some high school friends of mine, now married to each other, celebrate the day because it was the day they met. That is so sweet! Alas I can’t remember the exact date I met my wife—we knew each other for about a year before we started getting serious—so I’ll have to stick to our wedding anniversary, which is October 26th. Going on 25 years now, thank you very much.
The elder son, now a teenager, seemed to leap from Dr. Seuss straight into the Wizard of Oz and the like, skipping all sorts of children’s literature that I would have enjoyed reading to him. So it’s with mostly great delight that the younger boy, now age 5, has taken a liking to the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, part of our current bedtime ritual.
Pooh is wonderful for all sorts of reasons—the lovely premise, the simple plots, the careful pace and childlike reasonings. The stories are over 100 years old and that’s to their benefit, because at no time does Christopher Robin take out his cell phone or watch a YouTube video. He plays with his stuffed animals in the enchanted forest, and that’s it. The forest remains enchanted for reasons I expect A. A. Milne never imagined.
Of course, I read Pooh now in a different light than I remember him. I see basic changes in point-of-view and syntax that would never survive a copy edit today. Some of the stories have unspoken nativist overtones—ie, Rabbit plotting against newcomers Kanga and Roo—but they always end positively and with a quiet message of inclusiveness. As for Eeyore, he really could use an intervention for depression, followed by medical treatment. Of all the characters, I think Eeyore is the one most likely to be targeted for a severe make-over. There’s not much room for Eeyore’s today.
While Pooh and friends have become part of Nathen’s world, the dominant fictional character at the moment, for good or ill, is someone named Ryan. Ryan is a 6- or 7-year-old boy who is the star of a series of pleasingly low-budget online videos, produced and co-starring his parents. Each episode begins with Ryan looking at the camera and asking “Are you ready to play?” and then a cut to the parents, who together announce “We’re always ready to play!” Then they’ll begin “The Floor is Lava!” which is a living-room obstacle course where you can’t touch the carpet, or put Ryan in a cardboard box filled with buttons as the parents toss in gummy worms and other such amusements, or the whole family heads to Disneyland for the complete Star Wars experience. I say Disneyland, not World, because all signs point to the family living the good life somewhere in greater Los Angeles.
I look at Ryan’s Dad and I see a complete doofus, as well as someone who has made a lot of money in a very good job. I look at Ryan’s Mom and see a woman who knows her way around a financial spreadsheet. I’m guessing she’s the one who negotiated the ads and cobranding with Walmart.
In contrast to Ryan’s family, here is a typical verbal exchange at our house:
Me: Where is my power cord? Has anyone seen my power cord?
Nathen: I took it
Me: Then go get it now.
Nathen: No! I hid it! You’ll never find it.
Me: Nathen, go get that power cord right now or I will become even angrier, do you understand?
Nathen: No! You’ll never use your power cord again!
Mom: It’s plugged into the outlet by the sofa.
In other news, we have a small lemon tree that had lost all of its leaves and was seemingly dead. So seemingly dead that my wife put it out by the compost, preparing to uproot it from its pot. Yet, amazingly, new leaves and branches have begun growing, just like that. The tree lives again.
Hey, it’s something. For now, I’ll take it.