East Oregonian : E.O. (Pendleton, OR) 1888-current, June 22, 2019, WEEKEND EDITION, Page A5, Image 5

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Saturday, June 22, 2019
East Oregonian
All stories are about
coming home
oday is my father’s birth-
day. He’s been gone for three
decades — if he were alive he
would be 104.
He was still very much with us
when we gathered at the home place
above Idaho’s Clearwater River on
Father’s Day. Our mother was there,
too, in the memories we shared, in our
expressions, in our voices. All five of
us told the same stories we always tell.
Of course we already know these sto-
ries, sometimes even filling in each
other’s words.
In fact, that’s why we gather every
summer, I found myself thinking.
True, we catch each other up on the
events of our lives, but what we’re
really there for is to touch each other.
To say this is us. This is what we
remember, this is how the air smells,
how the light comes through the pine
over by the cabin, how syringa lights
the hill above the house in June.
Our children are grown now, so
there were new stories, too. Strong
voices, deeper laughs. One of the
smart young women teased us about
not listening as well as we talked. If
you can imagine.
But we were all ears when the
banjo and guitar came out of their
cases. Those guys are good. And my
brother’s fiancé — a gentle, thought-
ful therapist — was amazed as every-
one joined in on Waiting for a Train, a
depression-era Jimmie Rodgers song
about a hobo trying to get home. “You
all know the words?” Well, we all had
the same father, we told her.
Stories shape the very idea of fam-
ily. Of community, of country, of the
world. For better or worse, of course.
And stories shape our own lives. For-
tunately, we can change the story,
interpret what we see in the world
around us in new ways.
Sounds simple. As you and I both
know, it isn’t.
The poet Anorak Huey has a poem
about a man who comes home that
brings tears to my eyes every time I
read it. “We Were All Odysseus in
Those Days” tells the story of a young
man who “learns to shoot / & dies in
the mud / an ocean away from home,
/ a rifle in his fingers / & the sky drip-
ping / from his heart.” But the poem
is really about the young man’s friend,
who “watches his final breath / slip
ragged into a ditch,” a thing the friend
carries (“wound, souvenir, backstory”)
back to America. It’s a poem about the
one who lives. The one who makes it
In that life, he will teach stories to
young people for 40 years. Coach his
daughters’ softball teams. Root for
the Red Wings and Lions and Tigers.
Dance well. Love generously. Be quick
with a joke and firm with handshakes.
If asked about the war, he’ll tell you
instead his favorite story — Odys-
seus escaping from the Cyclops with
a bad pun (Nobody, that’s my name,
Odysseus tells the one-eyed giant)
and good wine and a sharp stick. “It’s
about buying time / & making do …
It’s about doing what it takes / to get
At last, Huey says, you see he has
been talking about the war all along.
“We all want the same thing / from
this world: / Call me nobody. Let me
I suppose you could argue that all
stories are about coming home, about
finding home. A favorite title in my
shelf of Ursula K. Le Guin’s books is
Always Coming Home. Joseph Camp-
bells’s hero’s journey is about leaving
the known and familiar world, yes, but
also about returning, having learned.
Having changed. “There and back
again,” as Frodo puts it.
Next month, First Draft Writers’
Series will feature Apricot Anderson
Irving, whose memoir The Gospel of
Trees won this year’s Oregon Book
Award in creative nonfiction. Her book
is about growing up in a missionary
family in Haiti, where Irving’s father,
B ette H usted
a Pacific Northwest horticulturalist,
thought he could save Haiti by plant-
ing trees. Was this a good guiding
story? she asks. And where and what
is home?
The series is at 7 p.m. Thursday,
July 18, at Pendleton Center for the
Arts. There’s no admission. I hope you
can come. Bring your stories.
Bette Husted is a writer and a stu-
dent of T’ai Chi and the natural world.
She lives in Pendleton.
Your daily dose of optimism
omeone recently gave me a book
of photos taken on the Lower East
Side of Manhattan in the 1890s.
The conditions were horrible: home-
less, malnourished children sleeping in a
clump, barefoot in a doorway. There was
a block, on Bayard Street, with 39 tene-
ment houses, and 2,781 people squeezed
into them. There were only 264 toilets on
that entire block and no showers or baths.
There were 441 rooms on that block with
no ventilation, where people lived in
the shadows, catching tuberculosis and
My grandfather, Bernard Levy, grew
up there, off Bayard Street, a few years
later. He went to a public high school and
a public college and rose to become a law-
yer. He spent his evenings writing let-
ters to the editor that he hoped would be
printed in The New York Times. He didn’t
live to see me get a job here, but I am liv-
ing out his dream. Our family life, from
the Lower East Side upward, is a social
mobility miracle.
When you grow up with this back-
ground, you have a deep sense of the
goodness and purpose of America. Amer-
ica is the land of milk and honey. Lin-
coln could go from a log cabin to the
White House. A Jewish boy from the
Bronx named Ralph Lifshitz could grow
up to become Ralph Lauren and redefine
American preppy. You could be born on
the fringes and assimilate into this new
thing called an American.
and the Jews were cast into exile, the
I used to think we could revive that
prophet Jeremiah had a surprising mes-
story for the 21st century, but we proba-
sage: Go to new lands. Build houses. Plant
bly can’t. Too many people feel left out of
gardens. Seek the peace and
it. Plus, there is no longer a single Ameri-
prosperity of the cities in which you settle.
can mainstream to serve as the structural
Jeremiah was saying you don’t need
spine of the nation. Mainline Protestant-
ism is no longer the dominant religion
to assimilate into the new place. Nor do
and cultural force. The WASP establish-
you need to withdraw into a culturally
ment no longer rules the roost. There is no
pure enclave. Instead, don’t be afraid to
white majority in our
be a distinct, orthodox version
kindergartens, and soon there
of yourself within a larger soci-
ety. Build a rich moral commu-
will be no white majority in our
nity. Just don’t try to universal-
ize your faith or even become a
The big three TV networks
dominant minority.
no longer dominate the culture
Interact with the world
the way they did. There is no one
around you, confident in your
dominant musical genre. The
own particularity, but real-
national ruling class has lost legit-
ize that every time you seek to
imacy. Social trust is strongest
D aviD
dominate others, you will wind
at the local levels, which grow
B rooKs
up dominated.
more polarized from one another.
This stance — aggressive
Politically, we’re in an age of
interaction without an attempt
to be hegemonic — made the Jews cre-
The reality and challenge is that Amer-
ative in three ways, Sacks argues.
ica has become radically pluralistic. We
First, the encounter with other cul-
used to be unipolar — one dominant
tures led to great flowerings of Jew-
majority culture and a lot of minority
ish thought. Jews wrestled with the
groups that defined themselves against it.
best ideas they encountered from out-
Now we’re multipolar. We’re all minori-
side. Second, Jews were often bridges
ties now.
between different civilizations. Through
That could blow us to smithereens.
But who knows? We could learn to be
trade, they linked China and the West
minorities together, to be what Rabbi Jon-
during the Middle Ages. Third, Jews
athan Sacks calls creative minorities. In
emerged from their secure base and
a brilliant 2013 lecture, Sacks noted that
made great contributions to the wider
when Solomon’s temple was destroyed
world: Spinoza, Freud, Einstein, etc.
In a world of radical pluralism, we are
all Jews. We have no choice but to build
a mass multicultural democracy, a soci-
ety that has no dominant center but is a
collection of creative minorities.
Nearly 200 years ago, Tocqueville
wrote that democracy was creating a
new sort of man. Pluralism today is cre-
ating a new sort of person, especially
among the young. They don’t just rel-
ish diversity; they embody it. Many have
mixed roots — say, half-French/half-Do-
minican. Many are border stalkers; they
live between cultures, switch back and
forth, and work hard to build a multiplic-
ity of influences into a single coherent
life. They’re Whitmanesque, contain-
ing multitudes, holding opposite ideas in
their minds at the same time.
Radical pluralism also necessitates
retelling the nation’s history. We’ve
always been a universal nation, a cross-
roads nation, a nation whose very iden-
tity is defined by the fact that it is a hub
for a dense network of minorities and
subgroups, and the distinct way of life
they fashion to interact and flourish
I used to think that America had
to find a new unifying national narra-
tive. Now I wonder if not having a sin-
gle national narrative will become our
national narrative.
David Brooks is a columnist for the
New York Times.
Trumpifying the Federal Reserve
n late 2015 then-candidate Donald
Trump accused Janet Yellen, chair of
the Federal Reserve, of being part of
a political conspiracy.
Yellen, he insisted, was keeping
interest rates unjustifiably low in an
attempt to help Hillary Clinton win the
As it happens, there were very good
reasons for the Fed to keep rates low
at the time. Some measures of the job
market, notably prime-age employ-
ment, were still well below precrisis lev-
els, and business investment was going
through a significant slump — a sort of
Fast forward to the present. The
employment picture is much stronger
now than it was then. There are hints of
an economic slowdown, partly because
of the uncertainty created by Trump’s
trade war, but they’re considerably
fainter than those of 2015-16. And Trump
himself keeps boasting about the econo-
my’s strength.
Yet he is openly pressuring the Fed
to cut rates, and is reportedly looking
for ways to demote Jay Powell, the man
he himself chose to replace Yellen —
declining to reappoint Yellen, according
to some reports, because he didn’t think
she was tall enough.
But wait, there’s more. While there
are, as I said, hints of a slowdown here,
there are much stronger warning signs in
Europe, where manufacturing is slump-
ing and recession worries are on the rise.
icies mainly benefit people richer than
Yet even as he tries to bully the Fed into
cutting rates, Trump flew into a rage
So Trump is, in effect, demanding
over reports that the European Central
that the Fed bail him out of the conse-
Bank, Europe’s counterpart to the Fed,
quences of his own policy failures. And
is considering rate cuts of its own, which
if that were the whole story, the appropri-
would weaken the euro and make U.S.
ate response would be some polite, Fed-
industry less competitive.
speak version of “Go to hell.”
If these various positions
But as it happens, Trump and
sound inconsistent to you, you’re
his tantrums aren’t the whole
just not thinking about them in
story. There is, in fact, a strong
the right way. The common prin-
ciple is simple: Monetary policy
case that the Fed was too quick
should be whatever serves Don-
to raise interest rates from 2015
ald Trump’s interests. Nothing
to 2019 — that it underesti-
mated how much slack there
else matters.
still was in the U.S. economy
And Trump’s current rage at
P aul
and overestimated the econo-
the Fed should be understood
K rugman
my’s underlying strength (which
mainly as an expression of frus-
tration over the failure of his
it has done consistently over the
2017 tax cut.
past decade).
Yes, the tax cut gave the econ-
And there is correspond-
omy a boost, as you would expect from
ingly a case for partially reversing recent
policies that widened the annual full-em-
Fed rate hikes, and cutting rates now as
ployment budget deficit by about $400
insurance against a possible future slump
billion. (Imagine what the Obama econ-
— getting ahead of the curve. Donald
omy would have looked like if Congress
Trump is the worst possible person to be
had let him spend $400 billion a year on,
making this argument, but that doesn’t
say, infrastructure.) But it was a pretty
mean that the argument is wrong.
modest boost, considering, with much of
So what should the Fed do?
the tax cut being used just to buy back
Central bankers, like those running
corporate stock.
the Fed, try to portray themselves as apo-
litical and technocratic. This is never
More to the point, the tax cut was a
quite true in practice, but it’s an ideal
political bust: Trump isn’t getting much
toward which they strive. Thanks to
credit for good economic numbers, and
Trump, however, whatever the Fed does
a plurality of the white working-class
next will be seen as deeply political. If
voters on whom the tweeter in chief
it does cut rates despite low unemploy-
depends believe (correctly) that his pol-
ment, this will be seen as giving up its
independence and letting Trump dictate
policy. If it doesn’t, Trump will lash out
even harder.
And if I were Powell, I’d be worried
about an even worse scenario. Suppose
the Fed were to cut rates, and growth
and inflation end up being higher than
expected. Conventional policy would
then call for reversing the rate cut —
right on the eve of the 2020 election. The
political firestorm would be horrific.
And I’m sorry, but in Trump’s Amer-
ica no institution can ignore the politi-
cal ramifications of its actions, if only
because these ramifications will
affect its ability to do its job in the future.
What this means for monetary policy,
I think, is that while straight economics
says that the Fed should try to get ahead
of the curve, the political trap Trump
has created argues that it should hold
off — that it should insist that its policy
is “data-dependent,” and wait for clear
evidence of a serious slowdown before
Now, this might mean that if the Fed
does eventually cut rates, whatever boost
this gives the economy (which would
be limited in any case, since rates are
already quite low) will come too late to
help Trump in the 2020 election. But if
that’s what happens, Trump will have
only himself to blame.
Paul Krugman is a columnist for the
New York Times.