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  • The Politics of Bullying

    I believe in the First Amendment, with freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I believe government should work for the people, not in spite of the people. I believe responsible citizens should have the right to bear arms if they so choose. And I believe in honest, forthright debate on platforms such as this one.

    I don’t believe in hate. And I’m exhausted by the vitriol.

    No more swastikas. No more torches. No more violence. No more trotting out the same old, same old statements about “the other side” who may be your neighbor, or God forbid, someone you call your friend. It’s not OK.

    Sadly, our leader thinks our fragile democracy is some kind of a schoolyard game, casting himself as chief bully in charge. He acts like a 2-year-old and screams at the top of his lungs (or fingertips) every time he doesn’t get what he wants, when he wants it.

    It’s what he knows how to do best. And a significant portion of the population, a portion that has been overlooked and ignored by politicians on both sides of the aisle for decades, is frothing at the mouth to join him.

    They rally behind him when he calls you:

    • “Damned dishonest” — the news media

    • “Obstructionists” — Democrats

    • “Weak” — the two GOP senators from Arizona, one of whom has brain cancer.

    • “Animals” — illegal immigrants

    All these quotes came occurred during a rally in Phoenix, when Trump went off script and on to a 75-minute rant that was all “us” (his base) vs. “them” (the rest of us). When the base was at its most boisterous, he used a familiar refrain to describe those in favor of removing Confederate monuments: “They are trying to take away our history and our heritage.”

    I get history and heritage. Members of my family have used language that would be considered racist or insensitive now.

    Were they products of their time? Yes.

    Should we overlook the fact that they had flaws, just like we all do? No.

    If they were living today, would the language they used 50 or 60 years ago be acceptable? Absolutely not.

    I have tried to teach my children about their history and their family heritage, both good and bad and always in context. I have tried to explain that the views of others are valid, even if you disagree with them.

    Hate is not valid.

    Does that level of sensitivity make me “politically correct”? Does the fact that I don’t want to go back to the days of coal, separate but equal schools, and the persecution of others simply because of their religion or skin color make me a “wimp,” an “obstructionist,” or “weak”?

    I don’t think so. You may think differently. And that’s what democracy is all about, even though the mess caused by the freedoms we have can show our worst sides.

    ••••••

    Two more thoughts from the ensuing discussion on Facebook:

    • Regarding Antifa (an alt-left group): I'm not in favor of political nihilism under any circumstances. My problem is that the elected leader of our country is failing to demonstrate leadership in any way, shape or form, and extremists are filling the void.

    • On the media’s reporting (or lack thereof) about Antifa: Extremists filling the void applies to news media as well. Fox News perfected that, and our country suffers for it because we can self select news according to our values and beliefs. (And BTW, my definition of a progressive is one who eschews violence.)

  • In the Wake of Charlottesville

    "Can't we all just get along?" 

    Rodney King made this infamous statement 25 years ago after he was beaten by the Los Angeles police. King was a troubled soul who lived an imperfect life.

    Who has lived a perfect life? Who has made statements about another person based purely on skin color, sexuality, or other physical/social attributes? If you have, whether it was yesterday or 35 years ago, do you regret it? I know I do.

    What the hell is going on in this world? And what the hell is going on in a place 2 to 3 hours from where I live? The taking down of a statue is such a threat that people resort to violence? Was I naive when I thought we had gotten past this?

    The answer to that last question is sadly, horrifyingly obvious.

    I get it. For many people I know, it's an embedded part of your heritage. It's part of mine. That doesn't make it right, no matter how bound we are to celebrating history.

    I have come to understand — by taking a minute and listening, by genuinely trying to look at things from the other side — why these symbols mean such different things to people based on the color of their skin and their experience in this world. And while I still have some of my same beliefs (and, to be honest, you could call them prejudices), I do my best to reconcile what I believe vs. what others know from direct experience and learn/evolve as a husband, parent, and human being.

    What is overwhelmingly evident is that we are doing a lousy job of "just getting along." Because if people truly believed and acted like "all lives matter," the world would be a much better place.

  • Haggard, Springsteen & Times of Change

    My grandfather liked to say he was an “Okie from Muskogee,” having lived in the Oklahoma town for a period before moving to East Texas with my grandmother. I remember him telling me this numerous times, especially when Merle Haggard’s signature song came on the radio.

    Haggard, who died last week at age 79, wrote “Okie from Muskogee” in 1969 after he became frustrated with anti-military, pro-sex and drugs protests that helped define the Vietnam era. The song, released three weeks after Woodstock, became a Number One hit as angry, proud conservatives embraced and latched on to its lyrics.

    I’m not a huge Haggard fan, although I greatly admire his body of work and his ability to write about a hard scrabble life that included a stint at San Quentin, five wives, alcohol, drugs, bad business decisions, and battles with the IRS. Reading the many tributes written in the wake of his death, what I find most interesting is how he constantly evolved in his stances while tapping into the frustration of conservative whites piqued by changing morals and values.

    Interestingly, Haggard’s death came just a couple of days before Bruce Springsteen decided to cancel a concert in Greensboro, N.C., to protest the state’s passage of HB2 – or the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act. The law, passed during a hastily scheduled legislative session by an increasingly conservative General Assembly, discriminates against transgender people and the LGBT community.

    "To my mind, it's an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress," Springsteen said in a statement announcing the cancellation. "No other group of North Carolinians faces such a burden."

    Driving through North Carolina earlier this week in a truck that had only AM radio, I heard “Okie from Muskogee” in tribute to Haggard and wondered what he would have thought of the state’s latest legal action. After all, U.S. politics are the most strident they’ve been since Vietnam, and Haggard already had come too close to the flames of controversy more than once.

    “I write from common knowledge, current knowledge, collective intelligence,” Haggard told author R.J. Smith about “Okie from Muskogee” in 2000. “At the time I wrote that song, I was just about as intelligent as the American public was. And they was about as dumb as a rock.”

    I wish everyone could evolve like that over time…

    The photos above are of my grandparents around the time "Okie from Muskogee" was released. The video below is of my favorite Haggard song, a duet with Willie Nelson on "Poncho & Lefty." (Seeing Townes Van Zandt, who wrote the song, in the video is a nice touch.)