In this film I found the Rev. Fred Rogers' apparently sincere love and caring for people very touching. My eyes got a bit misty now and then. Nevertheless there's also something deeply disturbing about the support he enjoyed for so many years from a large segment of America's political and cultural elites though I can't quite put my finger on it.

For example, in the Clinton administration, Rogers was invited to open a White House conference on children and television (this is briefly shown in the film). Bill & Hillary Clinton, Al & Tipper Gore, Bill Cosby, the TV networks heads, and others cozied right up to Rogers on-camera and he to them. George W. Bush gave Rogers the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 and Barbara and George H. W. Bush lauded him when he died. I'd like to hope that these broken, destructive people were genuinely attracted by a person who gave himself non-judgmentally to loving others and that Rogers was consciously ministering to them. However, I find myself wondering if they didn't support him because they knew he could be trusted to never bring a prophetic message that truly exposed or called out the deep murderous, ethical rot in the America these elites presided over.

By contrast, I recently watched a documentary ("King in the Wilderness" 2018) about the Rev. Dr. Martin King, Jr. The dominant elite response was to try to manipulate and coopt King. He was for the most part held at arm's length, at best. J. Edgar Hoover personally had him surveilled and the FBI tried to destroy him. Evidently no one in power ever seriously tried to stop Hoover as they, too, had their reasons for wanting King monitored and harassed. Not without cause, the King family has long disbelieved that James Earl Ray acted alone. And in 1999, Coretta Scott King won a civil lawsuit when a Memphis jury agreed that Loyd Jowers and "others, including governmental agencies" conspired to have King assassinated. Whether Ray acted alone or not King was already in many ways a spent and broken man before he died. Yet, ultimately, he, like Fred Rogers, lived and preached a message of love. King was chewed up and spit out; Rogers was not.

To the extent King is honored today his work is typically simplified and homogenized to force it to fit conveniently in the progressive cutthroat "identitarian" bin or the conservative "glad-we-fixed-that-problem" bin. Could it be that Fred Rogers' message was already so tame and non-threatening that only a few isolated cranks on Fox could ever hate it after his death?

I don't want to say that Rogers' ministry was not good and important but only that this film left me feeling uneasy about it somehow. It's not exactly on point but I am reminded of the words of Daniel Berrigan and Thich Nhat Hanh: "It is part of the wisdom, I think, of the religious tradition always to be skeptical of what governments are doing .... One has to keep reminding oneself and other people that an exalted contempt for human life lies at the basis of diplomacy; and that one had better think of the unprotected and innocent, and be prepared for the bad news when the leaders meet." Source: "The Raft is Not the Shore: Conversations Toward a Buddhist/Christian Awareness," (Boston: Beacon Press, 1975) p. 69.

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