Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

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  • Patriotism, Groupthink, and PINOs

    • Posted on Jul 06, 2014 by Scott Cawelti

    This appeared in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier this morning, July 6.   

    Early July brings out patriots, waving flags and proclaiming allegiance to their beloved country.  I love our patriotic parades, red-white-blue displays, picnics, and the night’s bombs bursting in air.

    Since childhood, they stand as highlights of summer. 

    Behind it all, that great 1776 July day in Philadelphia when our forefathers proclaimed we were free from British tyranny. Then came a war to win our independence, a victory, a long constitutional convention full of compromises, and finally a union of states.  Well worth celebrating.   

    For 238 years we’ve been a union, minus five years for a terrible civil war to resolve slavery.  Since then we’re united by shared beliefs in freedom, individualism, rights, and equality before the law.  Oh yes, and we’re eternal optimists—Americans remain optimistic about nearly everything.   At its core, the American Dream involves hope for a brighter future, given hard work and a bit of good luck.   

    OFIRE, I used to remind American Civilization students:  Optimism, Freedom, Individuality, Rights, Equality—five pillars of American ideology.

    Thomas Paine wrote in late 1776, six months after the Declaration of Independence:   

    “These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

    “Summer soldier” and “sunshine patriots” rings true still—those who love their country when it’s easy, when it requires little more than a pledge, a flag-wave or two, some fireworks and repeating talking points for your base choir.  Patriots in name only, or PINOs. 

    The real sacrifice today, however, doesn’t involve going to war against a tyrannical enemy.  Our age involves something that’s both more complex and almost as difficult:  Questioning your own party, its behavior and stance on major issues. 

    As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put it last January, “The gridlock in Washington is less about Democrats and Republicans. It’s more about extreme Republicans versus moderate Republicans.”

    The “wacko birds,” as John McCain calls them (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and others of their ilk) play well to their base but turn off most voters for being utterly out of touch.  

    Rabidly pro-gun and anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, anti-government spending on anything except the military, anti-immigration, and certainly anti-compromise, they don’t reflect the rest of the world or most of the country.  

    Yet GOP Moderates other than McCain seem to tolerate and even kowtow to them, especially since Eric Cantor’s loss to another wacko bird.              

    It’s going to take heroic effort to oppose them, since the radical right owns talk radio and the Fox News propaganda machine.   

    WE’RE A COUNTRY IN DECLINE!  They cry from their Fox News rafters.   Their evidence?   Cherry-picked issues and manufactured crises, including a lawsuit from John Boehner over Obama’s use of executive orders—and our President has used far fewer than any modern president, (168 total so far) including their beloved Ronald Reagan, who issued 381.  Check Snopes.com for the facts on this one, facts which the radical right ignores.

    They’re grasping at straws, and it’s both mean-spirited and unpatriotic.  Put another way, the entire GOP has become victims of “groupthink,” a psychological phenomenon in which the desire for harmony or conformity in a well-defined group results in terrible decisions that group members won’t criticize or even analyze. 

    These PINOs are un-American because they’re total pessimists, group thinkers who’ve lost their individuality and freedom to question, who pay little attention to the issue of rights when it comes to sexual orientation, and for whom equality gets lumped in with political correctness, which they also despise.

    As Tom Paine would put it, those who stand up to them deserve the love and thanks of man and woman.

    Moderate Republicans: Endangered species and true patriots.  

               

               

     



    Early July brings out patriots, waving flags and proclaiming allegiance to their beloved country.  I love our patriotic parades, red-white-blue displays, picnics, and the night’s bombs bursting in air.

                Since childhood, they stand as highlights of summer. 

                Behind it all, that great 1776 July day in Philadelphia when our forefathers proclaimed we were free from British tyranny. Then came a war to win our independence, a victory, a long constitutional convention full of compromises, and finally a union of states.  Well worth celebrating.   

    Early July brings out patriots, waving flags and proclaiming allegiance to their beloved country.  I love our patriotic parades, red-white-blue displays, picnics, and the night’s bombs bursting in air.

                Since childhood, they stand as highlights of summer. 

                Behind it all, that great 1776 July day in Philadelphia when our forefathers proclaimed we were free from British tyranny. Then came a war to win our independence, a victory, a long constitutional convention full of compromises, and finally a union of states.  Well worth celebrating.   

    Go comment!
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  • Santa Barbara Shootings: We Were There

    • Posted on Jun 08, 2014 by Scott Cawelti

    This column appeared in the Waterloo Courier today, Sunday, June 8.  My family was  eating a few miles from where Elliott Rodger began killing students and his roommates in Isla Vista, a small section of Santa Barbara.   We didn't know about it until the next morning, and then realized it could have been us.

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

     

    Friday night, May 23, I stayed in a Santa Barbara motel in a room next to my son and grandchildren.  

    We enjoyed several afternoon hours at the zoo and the motel pool, taking in the glorious California coastal weather. Walking two blocks around suppertime to an Outback steakhouse, we stayed blissfully unaware of the mass shootings four miles away.

    The next morning when we heard the news, we were shaken.  Horrific.  Senseless. Insane.  Within walking distance.

    Elliott Rodger could have driven by and shot us to pieces, making us part of his “Day of Retribution.”  

    Well, not quite.  Turns out Rodger wouldn’t have bothered with a strolling middle-aged family. He targeted women, specifically pretty blond women, the kind he desired but couldn’t attract.

    Because he thought they avoided him, he grew to hate them, madly and deeply.  He made plans to capture and torture a few, including their boyfriends.  Rodger created a 140-page manifesto, which he called “My Twisted World.” He emailed it just hours before his killing spree.  

    It’s a hard read, filled with angry rants against not just women, but also men who succeed in dating women—‘brutes,” he calls them.  In fact, Elliot Rodger hated the whole world, calling mankind “disgusting, depraved, and evil.”  

     He ends with, “All I ever wanted was to love women, and in turn to be loved by them back. Their behavior towards me has only earned my hatred, and rightfully so! I am the true victim in all of this.  I am the good guy.”  

    Deeply twisted. 

    Yet how many thousand teenage boys feel rejected, neglected, avoided, made fun of, by the women they desire most? How many of them long for long-term relationships but fail?  How many struggle with acceptance, unable to make friends?  

    In fact, that’s teenage life at times: Lonely, frustrating, self-pitying, lost.

    It’s the school of hard knocks, and most of us eventually grow up and find some of what we want—enough to feel happy most days.  

     That’s what reasonably healthy people do as they become adults.  But Rodgers suffered from serious mental illness. His reality was upside down and inside out; his roommates wanted him to move out.  He stabbed them all to death.     

    At what point do we intervene, putting such lost souls not just under surveillance but in hospitals?  Clearly, that’s where he belonged, and clearly, he should never have gotten anywhere near weapons, including knives.

    Given the warning signs, including threatening videos and that manifesto, he should have been picked up and kept for observation.  Yet police did interview him a few days before his rampage, and found him polite and “normal.”  Unfortunately, they didn’t read his rage-filled online rants or his video postings. 

    Even if they had, they couldn’t arrest him under current laws.  Freedom of speech protects all kinds of crazy talk, as it must.    

    In other words, nothing could be done until he broke the law. He was privileged, leisured, and behaved within legal boundaries.   That’s the most disturbing aspect of Rodger’s killing.  We’re helpless under current laws.  

    A new bill allowing police to impose a “Gun Violence Restraining Order” is now being put before the California legislature, and that might have worked if his parents and police had intervened and a judge had agreed.  

    Yet there are hundreds of Elliott Rodgers out there, and few do anything but rant.  How many can we lock up?  How many more police and investigators will it take? 

    Given the easy availability of guns and the pervasive desensitization of killing provided by “shooter” video games and blockbuster movies, we’ve created a culture where sick minds become dangerous.  

    It could have been me and my family.   It could be you and yours.  

    We keep repeating “Not One More!” at rallies.  

    Until next time.     

                 

    Go comment!
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