Monday, August 14, 2017

The Protégé of an American Evildoer

I happened across an article in Vanity Fair over the weekend that is stunning in its insights regarding the formation of Donald Trump. For modern readers with sound bite attention spans, it will seem long. But if you want to understand the seemingly inexplicable pathologies of Trumpland, this article is must reading.

It is not my practice to sum people up as evil. It’s far too easy to divide the world into us and them based on any number of arbitrary bases and identify evil in the other while ignoring it in oneself. In so doing, we inevitably project our own evil onto the other, seeing it clearly in their behavior while denying its presence in our own lives. As my own mentor, Franciscan Richard Rohr, often says, “That which we do not transcend we inevitably project.”  

The list of people to whom I would point as having led patently evil lives is very short, indeed. Because I am prone to draw my conclusions based upon my own experience rather than relying upon others' interpretations of historical figures, that list primarily includes people from the 20th CE like Stalin, Idi Amin and the architects of the Final Solution.

Roy Cohn, the legal assistant to Joseph McCarthy, the architect of the paranoiac Red Scare campaign of the 1950s, is definitely on that list. His self-serving agenda saw no limits in terms of the sleazy, dishonest tactics he was willing to employ. And his obsessive fear of and hatred toward most of the world was deep, vitriolic and lasting. 

Sadly, that loathing began with himself.

Cohn was a self-hating Jew and a self-hating closeted gay man. In projecting that self-loathing outwardly, his actions destroyed hundreds of innocent lives during the course of his hate-filled career including the state killing of an innocent Ethel Rosenberg based on a case of treason of which she was never a part in the days just prior to my birth in 1953.

In the end, Cohn died alone in agony from HIV-related symptoms, a disease he not-surprisingly denied ever having. To the end, Cohn was angry, fearful and patently dishonest. A gut-wrenching depiction of that miserable end can be seen in Tony Kushner’s powerful play, Angels in America.  

To say he was a pitiable character is a decided understatement. But knowing that Roy Cohn was essentially Donald Trump’s mentor causes a lot of pieces to fall into place in understanding the seemingly inexplicable behaviors of the latter. To wit:

For author Sam Roberts, the essence of Cohn’s influence on Trump was the triad: “Roy was a master of situational immorality . . . . He worked with a three-dimensional strategy, which was: 1. Never settle, never surrender. 2. Counter-attack, counter-sue immediately. 3. No matter what happens, no matter how deeply into the muck you get, claim victory and never admit defeat.” As columnist Liz Smith once observed, “Donald lost his moral compass when he made an alliance with Roy Cohn.”

Sound familiar?

It would be far too easy to simply hate Mr. Trump, the protégé of one of the most pathological figures in American history, dismissing him as patently evil. 
But like Cohn, Donald Trump remains a fellow human being, a pitiable figure whose skin I would guess most of us would not want to inhabit for even one hour. 

Like his mentor, Trump is an angry, hate-filled man with access to major power and no moral compass to restrain its use. And, even more than Cohn, he has the ability to cause incredible damage to everything he touches and everyone his malevolent career affects.

While I absolutely refuse to default to a mindless hating of the CEO of Trumpland, dismissing him as patently evil, thus becoming the very thing I abhor, I do recognize the need to resist his destructive behavior in any and every way possible. That begins with the insistent recalling that as the popular voter loser in the 2016 election, he is not the president of the American people. Indeed, the people of America explicitly rejected his bid to become their president by a three million vote margin even as an archaic electoral process - ironically designed by our Framers to prevent populist tyrants like Trump from ever becoming president - provided the means for his electoral victory.

Holding office on the basis of an electoral fluke, from the very beginning, Donald Trump has lacked even a semblance of legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of the American people, particularly among younger voters. And the polling data consistently reflects that. All the more reason to resist the tyranny of a moral monster.

Donald Trump, like his mentor, Roy Cohn, may not be evil himself and I refuse to see him as such. I also refuse to allow him the privilege of shaping my response to him through a hatred that ultimately tends to consume the hater. But Trump has the potential to generate incredible evil through his fearful, self-focused exercise of power. 



I have nothing but pity for those whose greed and pathological love of power cause them to devolve into a Gollum. And that is surely what we see in Donald Trump. But we should never confuse love for a fellow child of G-d and the willingness to honor the divine image they bear - no matter how well disguised that image may be beneath layers of depravity - with a willingness to indulge them in destructive attitudes, rhetoric and behavior that have the potential to harm the world. As Cohn’s example so readily shows, that is precisely how tragedy unfolds. 

We must take that lesson from history very seriously.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Harry Scott Coverston
Orlando, Florida



If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)

 © Harry Coverston 2017
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Finding “Normal” in Trumpland


A friend of mine posted a thoughtful column from the Chicago Tribune on her Facebook page Friday. Entitled “Donald Trump’s Behavior is Not Normal,” it is one of many such commentaries lamenting the tsunami of adolescent behaviors that swept out of the capital and across the land this past week. Like the columnist, even I was shocked at some of the antics we endured.

But it was this line in the columnist’s analysis that stopped me in my tracks:

“[I]t's weird to hear a president using that kind of language. It's not normal.”

Actually it’s not weird at all. This is part and parcel of the Trumpland that enough American voters chose to allow the popular loser to become an electoral president. These are the values the head of Trumpland evidenced consistently throughout the campaign. 

They are the values about which white voters - and white evangelicals in particular - lied to themselves as they held their noses and voted for a moral monster reassuring themselves  “He really doesn’t mean that.”

But he did. And he does. And now he is showing us exactly what he meant. Ironically, while the CEO of Trumpland is a pathological liar, patently untrustworthy and willing to instantly turn on his closest allies when he perceives it benefits him, he has never made any pretenses about who he was and what he was about.

On that score, he was perhaps the only honest one who showed up on election day.

Normal in Trumpland

Contrary to the protestations of this columnist and many like him, the behaviors we have witnessed this past week are quite normal for this new reality called Trumpland. While it bears passing resemblance to the America which died on Nov. 7, 2016, its values - and thus its acceptable behaviors - are very different.

Many of us living in Trumpland are desperately trying to convince ourselves that this is still our country. We tell ourselves that we’re going to take it back in the mid-term election and, if not, certainly in the 2020 presidential election.


But the reality is this is a stacked system. It’s a system of Koch Brothers gerrymandered congressional and state legislative districts. Its elections have devolved into a Citizens United auction to the highest bidder for campaign funding. And between the strong possibility of Russian election tampering procured by the reigning political party of Trumpland and the persistent efforts to suppress voting at the state and federal levels, the results of its elections lack legitimacy.


We may be appalled by this love child we spawned through our willingness to let corporate and vested moneyed interests have their way with us over the last 40 years of neoliberalism, and we should be. But the truth is we acquiesced to this stacking of our system every step of the way. Now like the frog who relaxed in the gradually heating pan of water on the stove, the water is beginning to boil and we are far too relaxed to jump out. 

A Context to Call Forth Our Better Angels

Though I have always been highly critical of socially constructed realities and ideological patterns of thinking all my life, I am hardly a pessimist by nature. For me, critique is always a tool in service to the calling to live into our better angels. I am a hopeful human being and, truth be told, I work very hard at seeing the image of G-d on every human face including those I find most disagreeable.

Especially those I find most disagreeable.



But over the years any optimism I might have clung to has become highly attenuated by the avoidable suffering I have observed in places all over the world from the bloody fields of Central America to the shuttered houses of Flint, MI to the sprawling outdoor prison that is the West Bank. Even in light of those atrocities, I have never found the dark determinist caricatures of human nature articulated by men of privilege from Augustine to Calvin to Machiavelli to be particularly compelling.

But like della Mirandola, Locke and Mencius, whose positive humanist visions I tend to share, I recognize that without providing the proper social context for virtue to be cultivated, the vices of greed, privilege and power lust will sprout like weeds and overcome any garden plot. Our best and highest angels simply cannot come to the fore in an adolescent consumerist culture whose Prime Directive is “What’s in it for me?”

Building a New Beloved Country

“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that's the 
inheritor of our fear…” Alan Patton, Cry the Beloved Country

In the end, I believe it is inevitable that Trumpland will ultimately implode upon itself. Regimes built of fear and loathing always do but often with great harm to life and destructiveness in the process.

Let me emphasize, I absolutely do NOT wish to be proven right here. Like the Hebrew prophets, I take no pleasure in articulating the visions I see even as I feel compelled to proclaim them. And I continue to hope disaster can be averted, that it will be cultural evolution which prevails in my once beloved country and not the angry devolution – if not armed revolution - that increasingly appears more and more likely.

But it’s columns like this one – plaintive calls to simply return to a normal which no longer exists - that alarm me more than the content of the daily offerings from Trumpland’s Twitter-in-Chief. There is a sense in this column that if we simply insist that this moral monster and all his immoral minions will just behave themselves, everything will be OK.

But it won’t. And it is this avoidant approach, rooted in denial of the reality we face, that suggests to me that the trainwreck that is Trumpland will continue to barrel toward that cliff with no signs of slowing down.

In the wake of failed states, it is always incumbent upon those who survive to build a new land. That will be the task of the New America that will be forced to raise itself from the ashes of Trumpland. This is where hope comes into the picture without which the current reality would drive anyone to despair.

But there will be no quick fixes. There will be no room for instant gratification. If this process shall prove successful, it will require at least the patient, deliberate consideration that the original America required. And it will require the angry, fearful  denizens of Trumpland to learn how to once again listen to, care for and ultimately trust one another.

I pray every day for the coming of that New America. And I hope that if I survive, I can play my own role in the building of a new beloved country.



“The great valley of Umzimkulu is still in darkness, but the light will come there. Ndotsheni is still in darkness, bu the light will come there also. For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing.”                 
Alan Patton, Cry the Beloved Country

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Harry Scott Coverston
Orlando, Florida



If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)

 © Harry Coverston 2017
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





The Home I Begrudgingly Love


I can feel my sanity beginning to return to me about a half hour outside of the city, just about the time I hit the Snowbird Road turn-off from US 27. Finally away from the crowded expressways and traffic choked surface streets of Orlando, I glide first through the rolling hills of Lake County, newly festooned with a flock of Confederate battle flags since the rise of Trumpland last November, then past the hard scrabble mobile homes and cow pastures of Sumter County into what is left of the small town of Center Hill.

There is a familiar comfort about all this that wears like an old shoe.

The words of Neil Diamond’s “I am, I said” often come back to me as I make this journey:

LA’s fine but it ain’t home, New York’s home, but it ain’t mine no more.

That’s how I feel visiting this place of my childhood, this place where I grew into my late teens, this place I fled immediately upon graduation from high school leaving my family and 11 years of my life behind, this place that taught me much about who I am and how I see the world, this place in which I could never live again but have always begrudgingly loved.


As I near town, I see a field dotted with rolled up hay, ready to be cut into bales and sold to farmers with hungry cows this winter. It’s one of many such scenes along the way that touch my soul, where I hear whispering of “Deep down, this is who you really are” in my ears.


There is a profound beauty in the simplicity of this place.

I’ve come this day to continue in my duties as the personal representative of my Dad’s estate. Today that includes depositing the check for the deposit on his power bill into his savings account. It will be part of the rest, residue and remainder that my siblings and I split three ways once the probate is complete in the next couple of months.



I also need to pay for the yard service that continues to keep the yard with its hundreds of azaleas that my Dad and I worked so hard to create looking beautiful. The Sumter County Adult Retarded Citizens crew does a good job of mowing and picking up limbs that fall in the storms. SCARC now occupies the stone building at the site of the old high school my Dad, my siblings and I all attended. I spent two years in vocational agriculture classes in this building. 

This is one of the places where I learned to grow jungles.

I observe that the some of the azaleas that line the road coming into our place from the nearby highway have already begun to creep out into the road. Nature has a mind of her own. Time marches on.

A few feet away, on the state road out front of our property that connects Lake Panasoffkee to Bushnell, a steady stream of traffic roars by, many times the volume of when I was a boy. It’s one of the many reminders that this is no longer the little town I grew up in.



I suppose it is silly but I just can’t help myself. I know my Dad is gone. But my heart involuntarily leaps each time I get to the end of the driveway and spot my Dad’s car sitting in the carport. “Daddy!” I exclaim, losing my breath. And then just as suddenly my heart plunges back to earth, the acknowledgement of his death now six months ago once more painfully forced upon me.

The tears come without warning.

In our yard, a set of pagoda plants are in full bloom, slightly withered in the blazing sun (it will be 94 degrees this day, no doubt a bit hotter in the full sun). Daddy got these plants from the yard of his sister, our Aunt Delphine, in Tallahassee. He brought them home to plant for Momma because the butterflies love them so much. There is no shortage of butterflies this day.

Mother had a great fondness for butterflies. At the end of her graveside service at the National Cemetery 9 years ago, a flock of butterflies suddenly appeared. I figured they were there to take their new playmate home. To this day, when I see a butterfly, I always say, “Hi, Momma!”

I have begun to take a journal with me on my visits home to scribble down notes about my time growing up in that rural county on the distant edge of two metropolitan areas that have since grown out to meet it. I think my first real writing project may be a book to talk about what it was like growing up in a place where I never fit - and the residents never failed to let me know that - yet I learned so much about the good Earth, about human nature and about the Spirit that has always been vibrantly present in my life. Much as I begrudgingly love this place, I also begrudgingly recognize the debt I owe to those 11 years spent in Bushnell.

As I turn to go into the house, where the presence of my Father and Mother both still loom so powerfully, I see my journal has attracted a visitor. It’ll be a neat trick to pick up that book and dislodge the spider. He’s a big one, not sure what kind, but not willing to take any chances. One quick movement retrieves the book and the spider goes flying onto the hood of the car and scurries off.

Now, to the ongoing business at hand.




+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Harry Scott Coverston
Orlando, Florida



If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)

© Harry Coverston 2017
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Down the Trumpland Rabbit-Hole



“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).”
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Increasingly these days I find myself wondering what planet I am living on and how I got here. I look around myself and see few of the familiar landmarks I am expecting. The ones I do recognize have become garish, caricatures of themselves which in many cases represent a complete reversal of the roles they played in orienting my childhood.

Like Alice, I appear to have fallen down a rabbit hole into a new world. And daily, life in Trumpland seems curiouser and curiouser.

When Leaders Were Still Responsible 

My childhood was marked by strong leaders in our White House. John Kennedy stared down the Russians intent on creating a nuclear silo in Cuba just 90 miles off our coast coming within a breath of an all-out nuclear exchange. His successor pounded out a whole series of civil rights acts even at the cost of his own personal and his party’s political future. Johnson’s successor, Richard Nixon, was a consummate foe of communism even as his administration opened the door to thawed relations with Mao’s China and held his nose as the Clean Air Act and Head Start went into effect

They were flawed men, to be certain. Johnson’s obsession with Vietnam would cost thousands of people their lives and damage the lives of many who would survive the war there. Nixon’s obsession with domination of the political process would lead to a administration corrupted to its very core that ultimately imploded in the face of a likely impeachment and removal from office.

But even as the voters held LBJ responsible for his blunders in Southeast Asia and a once-responsible Congress held Nixon accountable for his paranoiac criminal activities, there was still a sense that the American system of government was reliable and the people we chose to lead it were ultimately capable of responding to reason.

Such cannot can be presumed in Trumpland.  

Godless Communists


My memories of my childhood are marked by ongoing expressions of an obsessive animus toward the Soviet Union and its Stalinist vision of communism. Under a foreign policy whose acronym MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) said everything you needed to know about it, I spent my childhood perpetually on guard for the sirens that might mark the genesis of a world war studded with nuclear mushroom clouds. In such a tense era, anyone who dared to say anything remotely positive about the USSR or any of its so-called “satellite states” was roundly scourged for such impolitic behaviors. They were at best seen as unpatriotic and at worst as outright treasonous.

Few Americans were more scathing in their denunciation of what they called “godless communism” and more dogged in their paranoia regarding anything Russian than America’s white evangelicals. Often conflating “God and country” as if these commodities were somehow interchangeable, they seemed oblivious to the obvious idolatrous implications of such understandings. Evangelical preachers routinely used their bully pulpits to demonize the Russians as pawns of Satan just awaiting a chance to infiltrate American society and cause its internal rot from moral decay.

America had to be constantly vigilant, they told us.

The paranoia about the Russians was hardly limited to government leadership and conservative religion. By the time I reached high school, seniors were required to take a course called Americanism v. Communism in order to graduate.

Less an educational endeavor than a ham-fisted attempt to indoctrinate children whose minds were routinely described in those days as “impressionable,” the course was animated by a great fear that the Communists would weaken us from the inside through the insidious work of “pointy headed liberals” in the academy and the media. The supposed inclinations of this liberal elite toward the Red Tide of communism had rendered them a little red, thus they were called “pinkos.” According to the unquestioned Cold War dogma, the Russians had only to wait until we were sufficiently softened up internally to conquer us through military action externally.

This ongoing Red Scare was rooted in the belief that the Russians ultimately sought to enslave us. Ironically, as we would later find out, that was exactly the same fear Russians had of us.

Before the Cold War was over, it would end up bankrupting the Soviet bloc whose nation-states finally had had enough by the late 1980s. Ironically, the outspending and outlasting of our dreaded adversaries would also bankrupt America. Enormous deficits arose from inordinate spending on costly military toys like a Star Wars system that never worked while cutting the social safety net including mental health services. One of the many pathological results of that approach was the rise of a quasi-permanently homeless population that continues to plague our cities to this day. 
Even as America wallowed in self-congratulatory celebrations of “the end of history,” its social institutions from its once envied public education system to its once vaunted interstate highway system began to decline. A once vibrant middle class withered away under policies which favored the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. An income inequality which has marked unstable social systems historically approached and then exceeded the levels preceding the Crash and Great Depression of my parents’ generation.



In the end, those most seriously damaged by this neo-liberal post-cold war orgy which came at their expense would respond by voting Trumpland into being.  Thus they insured that the very corporate cronies who already dominated their lives would now have absolutely no checks on their power. 

How in the hell did we get here?

Souls for Sale

Today I find myself at the bottom of a rabbit hole in which the world I encounter is decidedly different from the one in which I came to adulthood. Our White House is occupied by the second popular loser in a presidential election in 20 years. We were taught in the American history courses of my youth that such a phenomenon was a fluke and unlikely to ever occur again in our lifetimes. Yet, it has now occurred twice within six elections to the benefit of the same political party.

Our airwaves are daily consumed by the rantings of this popular loser. His regular abuse of social media reveals him to be a pathological narcissist who appears to be suffering from a case of arrested development - if not serious mental instability. His thin-skinned adolescent responses to the media and the members of his own administration are reminiscent of the Red Queen of Carroll’s classic who routinely shouts “Off with their heads!” at those who fail to please her. 

I also find myself worrying about those pesky nuclear mushroom clouds again, something I had once thought was relegated to a closed chapter of my life history. Yet, with people around the world I watch this l'enfant terrible in horror wondering how in the hell this man ever got within a White House tour of the access codes to the nuclear football.

Even curiouser, it is the white evangelical “God and country” folks who once demonized the Russian horde who seem most likely to give this moral monster - and his Russian hackers - a pass. In virtually every way imaginable, the Red Queen of Trumpland is the absolute antithesis of who evangelicals have said they were historically.


From his condescension toward women to his demonization of immigrants to his ridiculing of the very disabled human beings Jesus spent his life healing, Donald Trump is the antithesis of the Jesus these evangelicals claim to worship. And yet, they are his most fervent group of supporters.

When one looks closely at them, however, it is hardly Jesus upon whom their worship focuses these days. The recent anthem created for use at First Baptist in Dallas contains lyrics such as “Lift the torch of freedom all across the land. Step into the future joining hand in hand.” These lyrics are talking about a misanthrope who has steadily demeaned and sought to repress the free press and whose hands – when not occupied with female genitalia - would scarcely clasp those of the Mexicans and migrants rebuilding America that he routinely denigrates.

The athem’s title? “Make America Great Again,” Trumpland's campaign slogan.


This rather thoughtless conflation of the deity and the nation-state is reminiscent of many examples in history in which leaders from pharaohs to fuhrers were deified. In each case, the presumption that G-d favored “the people” – always defined in self-serving terms - lasted only so long as the next conquest by those presumed to be outside the pale of divine favor. One cannot help but conjure up images of the prophet Jeremiah pleading with his fellow Judeans to recognize the danger they were in, danger they denied with self-reassurances of divine favor even as the Babylonians who would take them into captivity were pounding at the gates of Jerusalem.

In the second century of the developing Christian tradition, the leaders of Christian communities often described those whose values ran completely counter to the Way of Jesus as “antichrists.” Verily, I tell you as I look around me in Trumpland, if the popular loser in the White House is the antithesis of democracy, his white evangelical supporters are certainly the antitheses of the Way of Jesus. There is no small irony in observing the people who have most fervently kept watch across the horizons for the advent of the AntiChrist so oblivious to the antichrists who have risen among their own ranks.

Failed Lessons

If all of this were not curious enough, it is the peers of my generation -  those of us who completed that AVC course warning us against tyrannical government – who most seem to have lost sight of its lessons. Had anyone even attempted anything during my childhood remotely close to what the Trump boys did in colluding with Russia in this past election, they would have been enroute to federal prison for treason if not facing a lynch mob bearing torches, pitchforks and the flag, all the while mindlessly changing “USA! USA!”. Today, it’s those same fellow Boomers who are willing to give this boy king a pass and explain away his sins as lies and false news.

In the 1950s and 1960s, many Americans obsessed over the possibility that America would become subject to authoritarian rule. We read Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World and told ourselves that it was unthinkable that something so severe could happen in a country which lauded itself as the beacon of freedom and democracy in the world. But in Trumpland 2017, the possibilities that authoritarian rule defending oligarchic privilege at the expense of the vast majority of Americans daily becomes not only possible but perhaps even likely.



Ironically, just our AVC texts had predicted, authoritarian rule won't have to be imposed from without. It is happening exactly as the authors of that well-intended but obviously ineffective AVC course feared it would, rising from within.  

And our dreaded tyrant has not come from eastern Europe or China. He comes from a television “reality show” wearing a red baseball cap (made in China, to be sure) reading Make America Great Again. He stands in the shadows of the flags of a vanquished Confederate army borne by self-proclaimed "patriots" and rides a tide of electronic espionage to an electoral victory generated by the very Russia that we were once taught was our greatest enemy.


In 1956, Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev warned a roomful of western diplomats of their impending doom: “We will bury you from within!” he shouted.  Here, at the bottom of the rabbit hole in Trumpland,  61 years later, it appears Kruschchev may have been right.

But the Russians won’t have to bury us. Sadly, we have proven more than willing to bury ourselves.




+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Harry Scott Coverston
Orlando, Florida



If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)

© Harry Coverston 2017
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Observing the Limit, Waiting to Text: Lessons From NY




As I drove to Fed Ex office yesterday, I noticed that once again Orlando’s little blue boys with their techno toys were out on the speed trap that is North Crystal Lake Drive between Washington Street and the Expressway. The officers were standing just out of sight behind the buildings and trees off the northbound lanes just before Crystal Lake curves westward into the intersection at Washington.

Fortunately, I was doing the speed limit, as inappropriate as that limit might be for that stretch of highway. Truth be told, I usually do. Even when I instinctively slow down at the sight of the radar gun peeking out from behind the obstructions, I rarely need to.

But there were some who weren’t so lucky.

As I observed the officers, aiming their radar guns at oncoming motorists as if they were actual weapons  – a stance that communicates volumes in terms of the way these officers seem to see the public they ostensibly are serving -  I was suddenly taken back to my recent trip to visit friends in NY. 

On my journey across the state on the NY Thruway (I-90) I observed a number of highway patrolmen. But I didn’t have to look for them. They weren’t hiding behind bushes and trees with radar guns or just out of sight over the next bridge or hill. Over and over I spotted their cruisers idling in the median of the highway, in plain sight.

Not surprisingly, the traffic around them was all doing the speed limit. Indeed, I saw very few cars being pulled over in the entire stretch from Buffalo to Albany.

Wonder what cause and effect might be observable here?

What Prompted You to Do That?


The question about appropriate law enforcement practice often turns on what ultimate concern motivates that practice, recognizing that for all of us our actual motivations are often largely unconscious. Do we want to punish people? That’s always a good bet in a culture as strongly shaped by Calvinist anthropology as our own. Do we want to collect fines? That’s also a good bet in states like Florida that are socially irresponsible, making up for taxes not levied and tax breaks continually provided the wealthy through fines, fees, tolls, and regressive sales taxes that soak the working poor.



Do we want to trick people and then blame them for their misfortune to have been travelling down the road where law enforcement was engaging in deceptive practices that day? Check your control issues here. And be aware that at least in Florida, engaging in stealthy behaviors is seen as prima facie evidence of criminal intent. (Florida Statue 810.07) Why is it any different when law enforcement model the same?

Indeed, what example do we want our public servants to set for our populace here? Is it respect for the law which encourages its voluntary observance because the public recognizes its value or is it forced observance of a law through coercion with the resentment toward deceptive enforcement practices and contempt for those who engage in them that results?

What if we simply wanted people to slow down for safety reasons and took that seriously? Seems to me, the NYHP has figured out a sure-fire way to do that. I don’t know that NY officers don’t engage in sleazy practices elsewhere. If I’m to believe the television and movies I’ve seen, it would seem like a good bet. But at least the days I was travelling on their interstate highways, I was impressed by what struck me as thoughtful – and effective – law enforcement practices.

It Can Wait – Really, It Can

One other kudo to NY. It is illegal there to even hold any cellular device while driving. That means no talking or texting. First offense can cost up to $300. Repeated offenses begin to incur points against one’s driver’s license. 

Amazing!

Florida has no prohibition on driving while distracted by cell and only a secondary offense for texting while driving (driver must be stopped for something else to be charged). And we have the accident incidence to show for it. Indeed, a number of studies now suggest that cell phone/texting distracted drivers are ultimately more dangerous than those who are intoxicated.

Florida could learn a lot from NY beginning with the encouragement of drivers to wait until they reach designated pull-offs to engage in texting and talking. And we could learn a lot about how to generate respect for law enforcement from the examples of effective speed control practiced by the NYHP. 

In both cases,  the examples set by law enforcement are positive, the results encouraging and thus they offer Florida  valuable lessons: There is a value in following the law. And there are ways of enforcing it that are better than others. Finally, there is a time and place for everything. If you’re on the highway, you must remember that you’re driving an automobile, not a phone booth. Whatever it is, it can wait. Really, it can.  

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Harry Scott Coverston
Orlando, Florida



If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)

© Harry Coverston 2017

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++