“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in us”

by James M. Wall

The Merriam-Webster dictionary has just announced that more than one thousand new words have been added to its latest edition.bill-olearythe-washington-post

One of those new words–snollygoster–arrives just in time to apply to Republican members of Congress, who shut down Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) as she was reading a letter from Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor.

According to Merriam-Webster, a snollygoster is “a shrewd, unprincipled person”. The word has a history in American English as far back as 1846.

The dictionary cites one use by former President Harry Truman who “lamented that Dwight Eisenhower had given in to congressional ‘snollygosters’—unprincipled politicians”.

One of the darker moments in this one-sided cabinet battle in a Republican-controlled Senate, came when Senator Warren was not allowed to participate further in the Senate debate over Senator Jeff Sessions, to become Attorney General.

Following a second straight all-night session, Warren’s Democratic colleagues came to her support. Several male senators took to the floor to read the letter. They were not shut down for “breaking Rule 19”.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in a floor speech Wednesday, “I think Leader McConnell owes Senator Warren an apology”. He joined other Democrats who “were particularly chagrined that a Senate rule could be invoked to prevent a member from criticizing someone who is up for confirmation before the body”.

National Public Radio covered the story Wednesday:

A day after Senate Republicans invoked a conduct rule to end Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s speech against the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general, a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King urging the Senate to reject Sessions’ nomination as a federal judge is gaining new prominence.

coretta-scott-king-mark-wilson-gettyWarren was reading aloud from the letter by King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when she was interrupted by the presiding chair of the Senate, who warned her of breaking Rule 19, which forbids members from imputing to a colleague “any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”

The warning mentioned Warren’s earlier quote of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who had called Sessions, then a U.S. attorney, a disgrace. But it was King’s letter that — more than 10 minutes after Warren finished reading it aloud Tuesday night — prompted Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call her out of order. That resulted in Warren being silenced on the Senate floor.

King’s letter was posted online by The Washington Post.

When Senator Sessions was confirmed Wednesday night 53-47, in a party-line vote, his confirmation was the second narrow confirmation. The only Democrat who supported him was Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a state that voted 67.9% for Trump and 26.2% for Hillary Clinton. 

Betsy DeVos, an anti-public school, billionaire fund-raiser, from Michigan, who has never attended a public school nor sent her children to a public school, became Secretary of Education by an unprecedented single vote (for a cabinet member) cast by Vice President Mike Pence.

DeVos comes from a deeply-conservative religious family. Her husband, Dick DeVos, was a CEO of the beauty and nutrition giant Amway, and her brother is Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial private security company Blackwater.

Much to their credit, two Republican senators voted against the clearly unqualified Betsy DeVos for that job, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska. One additional Republican senator could have sent her back to her religious private-school advocacy. 

Fox News reported:

By this time in 2001, then-President George W. Bush had his entire Cabinet confirmed. Then-President Barack Obama was just three short of a full Cabinet on Feb. 8, 2009.

Senate Republican leaders asserted this week that — based on numbers provided by the Partnership for Public Service, Plum Book, and Congress.gov — Trump has the fewest Cabinet secretaries confirmed at this point in the presidency of any incoming president since George Washington. 

These cabinet confirmation votes lead to a stark reality. This nation is sharply divided along rigid ideological lines. This division was clear during the campaign. It is certain to continue this way through the remaining votes on cabinet members, all of whom are expected to be confirmed, largely along party lines.

How did this happen? As Cassius says in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. . . “

It is “ourselves” who are so easily distracted by the “blood and circuses” of our modern culture, that as a nation we remain almost oblivious to the deeper implications of politics and governing.

One such display of an empire’s “blood and circuses”, described this way in the Roman Empire’s declining decades, is the marriage of violence and commerce in the game of football. 

To understand how violent this game is, see Will Smith in his 2015 movie, Concussion.

This year’s professional football season closed with the 51st Super Bowl, played between the Atlanta Falcons and the Boston Patriots. Over one hundred million spectators watched that game on television, a contest which ended in a 34-28 Patriots victory.

Commercial advertisers have made this annual event a money-maker for television, team owners, corporate advertisers, and the players.

It is also a diversion for Americans who revel in the spectacle of the game. To fully grasp the significance of the Super Bowl and its deep involvement in sanctioned violence and commercial exploitation, consider the Super Bowl ads that aired during the game.

The New Yorker reminded its readers that the commercials that run during the game are controlled by Fox, which airs the game, and the National Football League, who together hold veto power over “ads that they decide make controversial or overt political statements”.

One little-known advertiser, 84 Lumber, a Pittsburgh-based building-supply company, almost slipped through the tight net Fox and the NFL wrapped around what was shown on the air.

An ad for 84 Lumber, The New Yorker reported, originally showed a mother and daughter “traveling through Mexico only to be met by a border wall”, in a narrative which was censored by either Fox or the NFL, or both.

What finally ran as viewers sipped their beverages and poked into their cheese and onion dips, was a shortened, softer ad ending before the mother and daughter reached that awful wall which Donald Trump has pledged to create across the entire U.S.-Mexico border.

The full ad, available below, was released on 84 Lumber’s web site.

A much safer immigrant story, in the wisdom of the NFL and Fox, showed a largely fictional version of a German immigrant who made it to St. Louis where he unexpectedly found a partner.

Thus it was, in this advertising fairy tale, that Anheuser and Busch merged their passions for making beer.

Immigrants are safe topics for the NFL and Fox, so long as they come from Europe in an earlier century. 

We conclude this Brutus and Cassius visit with this stern reminder from Benjamin Franklin:

The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. The answer was provided immediately. A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” 

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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5 Responses to “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in us”

  1. Philip Lee says:

    Snollygoster – what a wonderful word, although it sounds like it ought to mean something better than it does! The kind of word Edward Lear might have liked. I shall be writing about the “if you can keep it” bit in my blog this next Tuesday. Thanks, Jim.

  2. Pauline Coffman says:

    I wonder if the Anglo looking man who is portrayed as the builder of the wall is accurate. It is often an immigrant or someone who is desperate for work that does the construction. Thanks, Jim, for airing the complete ad.

  3. We are going to have to fight for our republic. We should not think about this in terms of “left” or “right” but rather what kind of America we all want to live in together. I personally have never seen such a sense of civic engagement among Americans as the one in evidence right now. I am hoping it can be sustained until 2018. If so, maybe the 2018 midterm elections will go down in history as “The Great Defeat of the Snollygosters”. Let’s make it so.

  4. Charlton Price says:

    We will prove that we can be the admirable, responsible, and conscientious nation that we want to be and can be.

  5. Patricia says:

    Elizabeth a Warren is a ZIONIST with no compassion for the PALESTINIANS. She was a strong supporter of Zionist HILLARY.

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