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  • Reverend James Squire


We are at the height of division in our country particularly after Joe Biden’s important words last week and Donald Trump’s two hours rebuttal recently using his tired and angry words which we have come to expect. When I opened the July/August Edition of the Yale Alumni Magazine, I opened it to page 43 where pictured is the Yale Community in an end of the year celebration covered with confetti from the sky above them, falling on them and eventually making its way to the ground. The confetti was a symbol of the two worlds in which I have lived my life. It is found in that confetti in that picture. The confetti celebrated the elite world of education that was a major part of my personal development. The confetti also raised another question for me, as I am sure, that would be raised in the blue-collar world on this Labor Day. “Who is going to clean it up?”

Our division will always be about the ethics of justice, who has the power and who doesn’t and who has access and who doesn’t. It is fundamentally about who is the recipient of the confetti and who will clean it up. It is too easy to be humble when you have power as opposed to being humbled by the perceived power and perspective of others. According to Yale President Peter Salovey, John Kennedy pointed this out when he came to address the Yale community and the Class of 1962 in his historic commencement address. “Too often,” he told the graduates in a rousing appeal for intellectual humility, “we subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” History teaches us the grave hazard of certitude and the hubris from which it germinates.

Justice is a battle between thought and opinion. Currently we are suffering from a prefabricated set of interpretations of what is happening in our society. Neither side of the abyss has a plentiful amount of humility. You don’t need it if you have fixed thoughts or opinions.

I decided on this Labor Day that I would listen more to the followers of Trump who have such a cult like allegiance to him. They have much opinion laced with certitude. They like that he says what he believes which gets translated to honesty. He will be the person who brings justice to them which becomes an opinion that he is on our side where the elites are not. If something is repeated often enough to them, others can’t be wrong. The elites are after him and you which makes him an innocent victim, one of the most powerful roles a person can play. When confronted by the elites about his lies, they simply say that is not true. They see things as one dimensional which is the definition of one side of an issue. They are not interested in conversation because Trump is not interested in conversation. People forget that in the blue-collar world the dominant value is loyalty. To give an inch on your opinion to make it a thought requires you to be disloyal seen as joining the enemy.

The elite world’s attitude is that they know so much more than the blue-collar world that makes up a significant number of his followers at these rallies. You don’t see many conservative Brooks Brothers suits moving around in the crowd although they make up another important part of his base. In the world in which I grew up, labor was defined as something that you did with your hands not with your mind. In the elite world it is the opposite with the prefabricated thought that mind work is better than hand work. Trump’s followers don’t like people getting a “free lunch.” Elites don’t think about lunch. It is a given. Thinking in multiple dimensions and seeing different sides of an issue is praised in the elite world.

Blue collar kids usually attend state schools. Elites attend private institutions. The recent college tuition payback law has produced a set of data that has been made into a symbol by the Trump base as injustice. 2% of Harvard alumni graduate with debt where it is anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of state college or university students who have significant debt. A high proportion of that group are black or Hispanic. Elites consider that assistance to be a beautiful thing and as well as parents who are able to send their children to college to do mind work in life. If you are a working man or woman outside that system, you see that as an injustice and further proof that what you do is not as important as what a college graduate would do. They would say that you should try calling a brain surgeon at night when you need a plumber to repair a broken pipe. You have been told that your taxes will pay for that assistance, and in certain states the recipients will pay taxes as well.

In Trump’s world people say that unions are a good thing. (I don’t know where I would be today without union help when my father was out of work for a year with a stroke and had to retire early or that my education was paid for by working in a union steel mill.) However, in a recent issue of the Inquirer, it was revealed that only 2% of the current labor union population in Philadelphia is comprised of black members. Trump’s people would say that is the way it should be. The elites would say that is unjust. It was a 50/50 split in the steel mill where I worked simply because most of the work was not desirable to a good many white people.

We need to have humility and conversation and not dictums or preconceived notions of one group about the other, the recipient of the confetti and who will clean it up. To accomplish that we need to hear more from the followers of the elite and of Trump, what they think about their preconceived opinions and the elites’ ability to argue and know more of what is truth. What is it like to share in the sacred nature of picking someone else up who feels injustice has kept them down as well as the perception that the thinking people know it all and if others only thought like me, they would see the light.

On Labor Day we have to ask both groups, “What is it like to have confetti celebrate your work? What is in like for you to see the confetti and wonder how hard it would be to clean it up?”

On this Labor Day those two questions may be more important to ask than anything Trump or Biden has to say.

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