- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2008



What a strange and somehow discombobulated Christmas. Spiritually, the Christian faith tells believers that we are to celebrate the birth of the peaceable Christ child. But on the day-to-day level, we live in a world that is falling apart, beset by immorality.

What is one to do? Are we to celebrate or to mourn? To sing joyfully, primed for 42nd Street, or to chant in sorrow while Rome falls around us? To seek out the few moral men in the amoral melee we face and to herald them, to demand a hearing in the courts of time, or to wait for the virtual hangings a lot of us would like to see up and down Wall Street?

What makes me as jittery as the proverbial cat on a hot tin roof is that everything is so preternaturally quiet. Just too damned quiet! Worse, the men who have destroyed us financially have walked off not with millions this time, but with billions. And it is supposed to calm us that a few CEOs are actually “forgoing bonuses.” Now there’s a comfort for you.

Remember how, after Sept. 11, 2001, George W. Bush, that suddenly awakened “leader,” told people to go shopping? Well, this week, Pope Benedict XVI, no fool, that gentleman, told us not to go shopping. “Perhaps the world crisis that is affecting so many families and all of humanity could be the stimulus for rediscovering the warmth, simplicity, amity and solidarity which are the very values of Christmas,” he said during his weekly audience with the public. I’m confused.

Moreover, I seem to be surrounded by people belatedly touched by misplaced good humor. An odd number of friends are going about their lives without an inkling of anger, saying they’ll spend only $10 for each gift this year, that they’ll forgo the Christmas wrappings and even the Weihnacht tree, and that (of course) they’ll “pray for peace” (whatever that has to do with the problem at hand).

Being an odd sort myself, it occurred to me this might be a good time for the financial institutions that have, in their greediness and ill-management, given us our present and future misery to undercut some of their responsibility by at least trying to be polite to us so we might work through this thing together. But this is not happening.

My good friend, Harriet Wilson Ellis, longtime observer of justice-related issues in Chicago, commented to me this week of the strange mood in the country: “There’s not even a real outcry about what’s going on with the corruption in Illinois and elsewhere in government and big business. Maybe it’s because with the enormity of things going bad, people - and I mean the people who still have jobs - figure it’s too much to cope with and the attitude is, ‘I can’t do anything anyway to change things,’ so they go on with their lives as if everything will be OK.

“Every day on my way to work - even in this frigid weather here in Chicago - I come across people virtually lying on street corners. And yet, government budgets for agencies to deal with this problem are being drastically cut and being applied to bailouts for big corporations, many of whom were responsible for our economic crisis. So I think this kind of situation makes people very cynical and frustrated about what to do to help.”

Those are wise words. Implicit in them is the fact we Americans, suffering through the mess our “leaders” have bequeathed us, have no target. There is no charismatic leader who can be burned in effigy; there are no financiers whose depredations we can easily access; there are no marches and no protests and no great campaigns to join.

This is not unknown to American history. In fact, our beloved country goes through this sort of purposeless, destructive period after every era of great progress. Remember Reconstruction after the Civil War when, instead of serious rebuilding, we left a vulnerable South to the carpetbaggers and the scalawags. Remember World War I, when instead of the League of Nations, we left the doors open to the Great Depression and World War II. And now, remember the Cold War, whose formal end in 1991 immediately ushered us into this gluttonous Age of Greed.

In short, we deal well with great challenges, but we don’t deal well with complicated aftermaths, which require not Christian understanding but a veritable roar of public anger focused on our betrayers. This Christmas, therefore, we should forget all the kindly messages of Christmas and embrace Christ’s overthrow of the moneychangers in the temple. This Christmas, we need to find out who is to blame and relentlessly use our laws and our justice to clean them out once and for all.

How the American public can organize to do this is an open question. So far, our institutions and the vehicles at our disposal are not operating. But it must be done.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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