What Was Lost Today

ND-West Rose Window

The tragic fire that gutted Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris today destroyed magnificent treasures of Christianity. Begun in the 12th century and completed in the 13th, Notre Dame predates the Protestant Reformation and thus belongs to all Christians. I seek in this post to give you a poor representation of the beauty of Notre Dame. Please excuse the very poor images here–they are purchased slides from my trip to Paris in 1980. Now much faded and distorted, they were never very good.

As you no doubt learned in an art history course at some point, the structure of Notre Dame made a striking advance in architecture at the time. Early Christian cathedrals were modified from Roman style basilicas, with circular arches. A modern example of this style is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. This style of construction leads to a more ponderous feel. What designers of Notre Dame wanted to achieve was a much more soaring effect, with lots of windows and light. This demanded a new architectural design, the gothic arch. With the greater strength the gothic arch provided they could raise the ceiling, insert side windows, and support massive rose windows. Those who have visited Notre Dame never fail to be impressed by these colorful masterpieces. To support the walls of the cathedral architects required the use of flying buttresses, impressive in their own right.

UPDATE: As of this morning, April 16, reports are that the structure is not deemed secure, but the organ and west rose window are OK.

The images in this gallery give you some slight hint of this magnificent edifice, meant both to inspire and to instruct.

New Additions to Providence College Campus

PC Science Complex

This new building, the Science Complex, opened with the Fall 2018 semester. Shown here in its night-time illumination, the building contains the administrative offices for the science departments, as well as new, state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories. One room that I use occasionally houses the confocal microscope, about which you will hear in a later post.

PC Torch

This torch sculpture reflects the significant character of the Dominican Order’s founding of Providence College. While pregnant, Blessed Joan of Aza, Saint Dominic’s mother, had a dream of a dog holding a torch. She understood this to signify that her child would light a fire across Europe with his preaching. Early saints in the Dominican Order include, of course, Saint Dominic, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Saint Albert the Great. Albert, for whom the Albertus Magnus science building is named, would have appreciated the following image of the torch and the waxing crescent moon.

PC Torch With Moon

Ruane Center for the Humanities

Ruane Window

This magnificent window graces the Great Room in the Ruane Center for the Humanities at Providence College. The window was designed by artist Sylvia Nicholas, a stained glass master who lives in New Hampshire. Sylvia Nicholas also designed the stained glass windows in the St. Dominic Chapel, as well as several sculptures located throughout the campus. This masterful display of major figures in philosophy, history, science, and other areas of the humanities, was installed in the Fall 2017 semester, following the building’s dedication four years earlier. To see details of the individual panes, simply explore the galleries for each row, below. How wonderful to see Darwin next to Gandhi and Shakespeare next to Galileo! These are the sorts of juxtapositions one has the liberty to explore in a liberal arts education.

Row 1 (Top)


Row 2 (Second from top)


Row 3 (Second from bottom)


Row 4 (Bottom)

Women’s Rally In Rhode Island

Crowd Pano #1

January 21, 2017 marked the gathering of more than two million people in over 670 sites in the US and 63 countries around the world. Here in Rhode Island I joined an estimated 7,000 men, women and children in front of the Rhode Island State House, gathered in solidarity with the Women’s March in Washington, DC. The crowd here, as estimated by Providence Police Chief Hugh T. Clements, Jr., was larger than any he could recall seeing on the state house lawn.

State House Setting

People were there to make their voices heard in support of women’s rights, men’s rights, LGBTQ rights, Earth’s protection, immigrant rights, union rights, and the many other causes and concerns that are potentially threatened by the presidency of Donald Trump.  The Donald himself was present, in mock form. Shanna Wells, the event organizer, introduced a variety of speakers and performers, intermixed with chants of “Rise Up!”

Governor Gina Raimondo spoke, as did her husband, Rhode Island’s First Gentlemen, Andy Moffitt. They were accompanied by their daughter. The Governor urged vigilance and pledged support for protection of civil rights in Rhode Island, a state that has welcomed immigrants for decades. People of all ages were there, women and men, too. Banners declaring “No Limits for Women” were joined by the rainbow banner of the LGBTQ community. People’s concern is illustrated by changes made to the White House web site at noon on inauguration day, January 20. Purged from the site were all references to civil rights, LGBT rights, and climate change. In addition, Trump signed an action requesting delay in the Justice Department’s case against Texas for its deliberately racist voter registration law. What will our country be like for this little guy?

Very Young Protester

The Extraordinary Rendition Band

Entertainment included Actress Rose Weaver and The Extraordinary Rendition Band, which led the enthusiastic crowd in singing “We don’t want your tiny hands anywhere near our underpants!” Signs with various messages were everywhere. At one point people were asked to turn to their neighbor and declare they were not working alone, but together. All in all, the event was positive and without any violence. One protester chanting “Trump is my president” was quietly led away. I have a feeling this will not be the last such gathering during the next four years.

Rise Up Chant


Sunday, January 15, 2017 on NBCs “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd asked Rep. John Lewis (R-GA) if he would be attending the inauguration this coming Friday, January 20.  The civil rights hero and moral voice of the Congress responded that he would not.  Asked why, Congressman Lewis replied that he did not consider the President Elect to be a legitimate President.  He explained that the Russian influences and intrusions in the recent election cycle were the basis for his assertion.  Not surprisingly, Donald Trump spit out a tweet denigrating Mr. Lewis, and a flurry of reactions from all directions continues.

So, who’s correct?  Is Donald Trump going to start out as an illegitimate President?

Last evening I enjoyed a delightful dinner and conversation with some friends.  The topic of Rep. Lewis’s remark and Mr. Trump’s pending inauguration came up.  One friend worried that the institutions that define America and hold us together may become severely eroded over the next four years.  Let’s start there, with our institutions.

Over my teaching career I frequently used this example to illustrate the strength of our American institutions, since for most students these events were history.  In the 1972 presidential election Richard Nixon was elected President and Spiro Agnew Vice President.  The election, however, was the occasion of the Watergate scandal, and Nixon’s impeachment seemed all but inevitable once that scandal broke into clear view.  Spiro Agnew resigned the Vice Presidency under a cloud of corruption.  This presented a Constitutional crisis, for the Founding Fathers, despite their many wise moves, had not provided for replacing the Vice President.  Were Nixon to be removed from office by impeachment, Agnew’s resignation would leave the nation leaderless.

The Constitution provides that, should the President be impeached or die, the Vice President shall take over that office.  But what if there is no Vice President?  A Constitutional amendment, in this case the 25th, was needed to provide a process for filling a vacancy in the office of Vice President.  The process is that the President nominates someone, who must then be approved by a majority in both the House of Representative and the Senate.  Amending the Constitution, however, is a hugely larger task.  It requires a 2/3 majority vote in each house of Congress, followed by ratification by 3/4 of the states.  I can’t imagine how anything, however grave the content, could pass such a process today.  Yet, the 25th Amendment was approved and ratified, and Sen. Gerald Ford (R-MI) soon became Vice President.  That cleared the way for President Nixon to resign, thus avoiding removal by the impeachment process.  Gerald Ford subsequently became President.  He ran for re-election in 1976, but lost to Jimmy Carter.  Gerald Ford is the only person to serve as US President without ever being elected to that office or to the Vice Presidency.

I detail this example to illustrate the strength of the institutions enshrined in our Constitutional system.  These institutions hold us together as Americans and define, in part, the world view that unites us as a nation of laws.  The Nixon-Ford transition was a proud moment in American history, from an institutional point of view if not from a moral one.  We had another institutional electoral crisis with the 2000 presidential election, when the Supreme Court stopped the recount of ballots in Florida, resulting in George W. Bush becoming President.  Neither a Constitutional Amendment nor a decision by the Supreme Court were necessary in 2016, even though Donald Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, the most ever by a President Elect.  Our Constitutionally enshrined electoral process played out as designated, and Donald J. Trump will assume office at noon on January 20.  From an institutional perspective, he will be the legitimate President of the United States.

Is John Lewis, a revered leader of our country who literally put his life on the line to secure voting rights for all citizens, wrong?  Is he questioning the very institutional structures for which he nearly died?  The reason he gave is Russian influence in this election cycle.  I have some hesitation in simply accepting this justification, for the reality of Russian hacking, while indisputable and intended to have influence, has not been proven to have determined the outcome.  Thus, Americans went to the polls and cast their votes as they saw fit; their votes were counted; the Electors voted as they saw fit; and the results of the Electoral College were accepted by the Congress.  Donald Trump was duly elected according to our legal processes, despite the highly troubling and disturbing intrusion by Russia.

I do not intend to question the integrity of John Lewis, nor even, basically, to disagree with him.  I simply wish to present a different reason for the same conclusion.  Institutions are important, as exemplified above.  They provide identity, continuity, and unity, especially important in a country that prides itself on welcoming diversity among its people.  Yet, in and of themselves, institutions are merely granite columns, rituals, and sheaves of paper.  Their vitality and efficacy derive from the character and actions of the individuals who inhabit them.  The legitimacy of Donald Trump’s presidency, therefore, depends on the character and actions of Donald Trump himself.  Let’s examine what he has said and done before concluding this discussion of legitimacy.

Mr. Trump responds with tweets to any criticism, real or perceived, and attacks the character and integrity of his critics, thus deflecting or distracting from the criticism.  He exhibits no capacity for self-examination.  For example, his spokespersons justified his Twitter denigration of John Lewis by saying “He [Lewis] started it.”  Really?  That’s the response of a pre-adolescent (with due apologies to pre-adolescents).  He mocked a disabled reporter and bragged about groping women.  The list of crude and rude words and behaviors is extensive and wearisome.  Nevertheless, however distasteful, this behavior is not sufficient to delegitimize his presidency.  The question is not resolved yet.

What do draw into question the legitimacy of his holding the highest office in the land are the policies he says he will implement.  He says that, should Russia cooperate in fighting terrorism, he will likely lift the sanctions on Russia, making no distinction between those recently imposed for hacking or those imposed for invading and taking hold of Crimea.  So far, Russia’s fight against terrorism–in Syria, at least–has resulted in massive bombing of civilians, including women and children, to secure the presidency of Assad, hardly an assault on terrorism.  Trump denigrates John Lewis, but has yet to utter a single critical word about Vladimir Putin.  In turn, Putin today denounced the Obama administration for trying to delegitimize the impending Trump presidency.  It seems the Russian president knows just how to stroke the narcissistic inclinations of the soon-to-be American president, and Trump does not seem to recognize how he is being manipulated, whether by Putin alone or Putin with the help of some people close to Trump.  This Putin-Trump relationship raises serious concerns for undue influence in our government by a foreign power.  This poses a direct threat to the very governmental institutions that assure our security.  The danger may lie less with Russia’s intrusion on the election than with Putin’s influence on Trump.  I do not mean to diminish the seriousness of the former; rather, I want to emphasize the peril presented by Putin’s proximity to the President Elect.  The independence of the Presidency from undue outside influence is foundational to our national security.

Another institution fundamental to American democracy is a free press.  Mr. Trump, throughout the campaign and after, dismisses and undercuts the press.  He calls them liars and, in some instances, refuses them access to rallies or to the microphone, as at his recent press conference.  Probing questions are either deflected or dismissed outright.  Reince Priebus, a senior advisor to Trump, recently said there are plans to move the White House Press Corps out of the White House.  The reporters whose day-to-day job it is to monitor and inquire into the activities of the White House so that the public can hold their elected officials to account may be removed from the very venue that enables them to do their job directly and responsibly.  This is a significant threat to our democracy and ought not to stand.  The press, on the other hand, has even greater responsibility to persist in deep, investigative reporting, and to recognize when they themselves are being trolled by tweets.

More might be said, and may be as time goes on, but these two examples are serious enough to illustrate the threat that a Donald Trump presidency poses to the very institutions that define and secure our nation in a dangerous world.  A morally bankrupt man is about to assume the power to destroy the very institutions that constitute this country.  Donald Trump, while legitimately elected, is truly an illegitimate President.