• Posted on Jan 03, 2017
    Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 

    My brother-in-law, his neighbor, and my 24-year-old nephew fell into an argy-bargy early evening of Christmas Day 2016.  Toward the end of it I flipped my brother-in-law the bird, for which I apologized. It was a moment of ill-timed physicality in an otherwise purely verbal mashup. 

    “Argy-bargy,” a Scottish term, pronounced with a hard “g,” refers to a heated argument punctuated by shouting, but not fist fighting or slapping.

    We were visiting my Trump supporting in-laws for Christmas, and late Christmas day we took in the neighbors’ gathering as guests.  That meant Southern hospitality, food, wine, laughs, televised football games, and an outdoor patio with a fireplace.  

    All good.  

    What could go wrong?  Especially since we were among family and friends with whom my wife and I have been reasonably affable for the past several years.  

    The gathering did go well for awhile. It was noisy, with cheerful laughter bursting through the chatter. 

    After an hour of conversational din, the women thought to gather the group into a game of charades. They invited the men to join them on the hosts’ patio, and I was tempted.  With a couple wines under my belt, I did feel like having a bit of non-threatening fun.   

    Thanks to Trump’s election loss/win, I was nursing a dark mood, feeling little enthusiasm for a party game. One of the charades women asked me to join the game. I mumbled “feeling too dark—that fuckin’ Trump.”  

    She backed off, and I felt my gorges rise, primed for an argy-bargy.  

    That fuckin’ Trump.    

    So I entered the TV room off the patio, far down-sound from charaders.  There sat soon-to-be shouting men, cheering the Christmas Day matchup of the Raiders and Steelers.  I plumped down next to a hale-fellow well-met neighbor, a construction contractor who’s made a good living building and selling houses in town. He’s the kind of guy you want around a party for his easy and prolific laugh.     

    I watched the game a few minutes, then turned to my couchmate and asked, “So how is the housing business these days?”  He readily replied, “Not like it used to be—no boom times. But I’m doing ok.” 

    He seemed mostly content, even complacent. So I asked,  “How do you think the Trump presidency will affect housing?”  

    Thus began the argy-bargy.

    He answered, “Well, our economy is just fair.  Not great, not bad, just ok.  It could be better. It SHOULD get better.  If Trump can get jobs back, that would help.”   My loud-talking brother in law, who wasn’t drinking, jumped in.  “He couldn’t do worse than Obama.  Obama hasn’t done anything with the economy.  Stagnant.” 

    I matched and one-upped his volume, tired of pro-Trump propaganda and especially tired of the mindless support he received.  I hollered, “If Obama hadn’t saved the economy in 2009, you’d all still be out of jobs.  Not to mention saving the auto industry, which you FUCKING CONS almost dumped too.”  Their eyes got wide at the shouted use of the “F-word” as they called it.  None of them cussed in mixed company, especially avoiding the King Curse. 

    I had also shortened “conservative” to “con,” since it perfectly fits Trump. 

    So “FUCKING CONS” it was.  

    That didn’t sit well, and they upped their volume further as they shouted multiple points, extrapolated below from a chaotic shouting match.  

    --They dislike Trump, but DESPISE Hillary, using all the Trumpian “crooked” rhetoric of Trump and Fox News.
    --Nothing would change politically under Hillary, they believe.  Gridlock would remain hopelessly in place under another Clinton administration. 
    --Obama has made race relations worse, not better.
    --ISIS would not exist without Obama and his policies. 
    --The country will improve under Trump—more jobs, more national pride, more clarity on terrorism, less political correctness.    

    Understand, these points were made with no rhetorical skill. Rather, they were tossed about in a roiling sea of comments and objections from me, with much retaliatory noise.   

    A full-on argy-bargy.  

    You’d think this was the Deep South in 1860, with abolition front and center.  Come to think of it, we were in South Carolina, where pre-Civil War argy-bargys were the order of the day.  Remember “Gone with the Wind” when Rhett Butler created a stir at a Charleston party in 1861 over the South’s war delusions? 

    The climax occurred when I hollered, “You’re all fucking Fox-Newsed!”—and up went my middle finger of its own volition, aimed squarely at my brother-in-law.  

    After his initial shock, he rose out of his chair and strode across the room, straight for me. His face came barely two feet away, and he shouted “If you ever flip me the bird again, you’re going to regret it the rest of your life,” or words to that effect.  

    For a moment I felt an impulse to immediately flip another bird, just to find out what he meant, but a better angel stepped in, and I went quiet. 

    Thus ended the argy-bargy. 

    After moments of silence, I spoke quietly, “I apologize for that—I lost it, and it won’t happen again.”  Both of which were true. 

    My brother-in-law replied, looking directly at me. “I accept your apology, and I know what happened. You’re passionate about your ideas—and you’ve had some wine.”  I had to agree.  My behavior was three-quarters passion, one-quarter wine.  

    “It takes a man to apologize,” he added, “I appreciate that.” 

    For the next few minutes, I carried on a real conversation with my formerly shouting couch-mate, whose mouth was wide open during the bird-flipping, but who then found his voice.  “You know, I really can’t stand Trump either.  He’s not a conservative, and he’s not a Christian. Yet how’s anything going to change?  At least now we have a chance.” 

    Sobered, I did reply.   “Yet you really have no idea how he’ll govern.  I see a disaster, since he’s an authoritarian egotist with no ability to listen or compromise, and no clear beliefs in anything but himself.”  

    He agreed again, but was willing to give a Trump a chance.  

    There was the “stasis”—the nub of our disagreement.  I wondered out loud who would give a delusional megalomaniac a chance? There were not two sides in this argument.  Trump will cause national and international chaos, guaranteed. My couchmate didn’t disagree, but couldn’t agree, either.  

    Silence.  That’s where we left it. 

    I left pondering what I had learned.  

    It was probably better to get our profound disagreement out.  The 800-pound gorilla in the room won’t go away by playing charades and watching football.  At least I felt relieved to know where the in-laws and their neighbors stand.   And now, where I stand, too.  But it came at the high cost of stress and a ruined good time.   

    I’ve taught rhetoric, meaning argument and persuasion at a university for decades.  I know how to establish one’s ethos, how to concede, how to refute, how to marshal factual evidence, how to use judicious emotional appeals to at least give the other side pause.  

    But rhetoric only works when you have common ground.  Athenians could argue with Athenians, being citizens of the same city-state, but they could not argue with Spartans, since they had nothing in common.   So too with abolitionists and pro-slavery forces before the Civil War—they had nothing in common, including being citizens of a United States.  Hence, secession and war.   

    Our shouting match revealed that at bottom we have little in common.  Hence serious rhetorical argument between people of good faith cannot occur.  Only argy-bargys.  One hopes we can avoid civil war. 

    We’ve now at the point where standard journalistic sources no long seem trustworthy to millions of Americans.  I trust my steady reliance on NPR, CBS Morning News, NBC Nightly News, Meet the Press, New York Times, Washington Post, Harpers, Atlantic, The American Scholar, Esquire—all news, TV, and magazine sources that I watch and read regularly, if not daily. 

    The argy-bargy folks don’t watch or read these sources, relying instead on 
    Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart’s alt-right Internet site, and any number of right-wing news outlets, including fake Internet news sites.  Or they don’t bother at all.   

    Hence we draw different conclusions because we begin with different premises from different sources.  They believe: 
    --Obama was a far-left Ideologue, driven by basically “socialist” impulses. 
    --Guns and religion were targets of Obama and his Democratic Party cronies; they would destroy both if they could.   
    --Hillary Clinton was a monster of corruption and incompetence that deserved political oblivion or jail. 
    --Obama was a weak President who damaged the economy and basically turned the country over to foreign leaders who played him like a puppet. 

    I find all of this utter nonsense, and cannot argue or abide those Americans who believe such assertions to the depths of their souls, thanks to their sources. 

    I should have played charades and gone home to prepare for civil strife.  

    Go comment!
  • Finding the Perfect Gift

    • Posted on Dec 25, 2016
    Christmas Day column in the Courier--fun for one and all, at least toward the end.

    Every year we give and get gifts large and small, expensive and simple, heartfelt and routine.  Every year we give or get only one or two—if we’re lucky—perfect gifts. 

    Some years we give or get none, though we might receive plenty of wonderful gifts. 

     Perfection eludes most gifting.     

     So what’s the perfect gift?  First, what it is not, then what it is. 

    The perfect gift has nothing to do with giving exactly what’s asked for.  That’s just fulfilling a wish, which gets appreciation and gratitude, but not the wonder and joy of a perfect gift. 

    The perfect gift is seldom merely money, though that’s easy—for those who have it—and usually appreciated.   But it’s hardly perfect.  Anyone with money can give some away and relieve the challenge of gift-finding.  

     The perfect gift is not a yearly package from a Christmas gift company—nuts, cookies, fruitcake, whatever.   Such predictable yearly gifts are appreciated, but hardly perfect.  Think homemade vs. store-bought. 

    Nor is the perfect handpicked gift predictable—the same ties or shirts or candy every December 25th. They’re often appreciated, but none dare call them perfect. 
    The vast majority of gifts, you see, fall far short of perfection.  They’re what we mostly give as gifts on Christmases and birthdays. 

    So it’s a major challenge to find and give a perfect gift.  Consider:  

    The giftee never thinks to buy the perfect gift for him/herself.  It’s either too extravagant, too unusual, or too outside expectations.  A gourmet catered dinner, say, for someone who loves food but seldom goes out. Damn the considerable expense—make it among the best meals ever.    

    The perfect gift reveals the giver’s understanding of the giftee’s desires and needs.  Rare and expensive season tickets for the concertgoer or sports fan; surprise long-distance train tickets for a rail travel lover; a special Sioux ceremonial healing stick for a devotee of Native Americans. (The latter was an actual perfect gift I saw given just a few days ago, and the giftee could hardly contain his delight.)

    Finally, the perfect gift amounts to a perfect storm of choices—about the giftee’s personality, the budget, the mix of beauty and usefulness, degree of surprise, and timing.    

    This year, I did receive the perfect gift, and I was so pleased that I shared it on Facebook, and exclaim about whenever I use it.   

     It has all the attributes of a perfect gift:  unusual, nothing I would have bought for myself, surprise, and shows that the giver (my daughter) understands my personality and needs.   It’s slightly crude, but that fits my personality too, so no problem. 

    The gift?  Three rolls of China-made toilet paper with all the sheets imprinted with the unmistakable mug of—well, you can guess.   

    I plan to use it all through the holidays and share with relatives, most of whom will be aghast.  I’m hoping for amused, though.   

    Happy Holidays, and here’s hoping for a sanitary New Year.  

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Holidays
    • Humor
    • Christmas
Cedar Valley Chronicles Photo

“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.


Contact Scott

Contact Scott Photo