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Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’


It’s the night before November 3–voting day. I live in Oregon, where we’ve been voting by mail for years, so my ballot has been safe in the bosom of whoever holds onto votes until they get counted.

The choice of who to vote for is not complicated this time around for any of us. I live in a “red” part of a “blue” state. There have been Trump rallies in my town. A significant portion of my family support Trump. I’ve been reading essays and articles about how all of us are equally to blame for our shattered family relationships, and how if we would just learn to see beyond political divisions we could all, in the words of Rodney King, “just get along.”

But here’s the thing–this campaign is not about politics for many of us. Authors Tim Reid, Gabriella Borter, Michael Martina quote professor of psychology and neural science at New York University John J. Bavel in their article “‘You are no longer my mother’: How the election is dividing American families.” “This ‘political sectarianism’ has become not only tribal, but moral.”

For many of us, this election has become a litmus test. For me, it’s forced me to ask myself a question. I read a question on a Gallup poll a few months ago: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” I thought about that, sitting in my house, isolated to flatten the curve. I thought about the loss of one of my primary sources of income to the depredations of the virus. It was hard to say I was better off–but then again, I’ve always flirted with bankruptcy.

It just seemed like the wrong question to me. How did it happen that finances became the sole criteria of how one was doing in life? What about love? What about raising happy kids? What about doing a good and worthwhile job that simply didn’t pay as well as, oh say a political consulting job? What about having time to develop as a person? What about having time and energy to give back? In short, what about all those good, worthy, and fulfilling things that we do when we can step off the wage slave treadmill for a few minutes? What about looking who I have become in the last four years?

I realized that the question, for me, isn’t, “Am I better off?” but, “Am I better?” And that’s where this becomes a simple calculation for me. Eight years ago I missed Barack Obama’s inauguration. I missed it because I had listened to him speak during the campaign. He spoke about how we are better together, how together we can change things, how there is still hope that our better angels will prevail–but that it would take all of us, working together.

And so when a predatory lending company called me and insisted I go across the street and tell my little old neighbor lady that she needed to call them about a debt I didn’t just hang up and ignore the situation. I went across the street. I talked to my ninety-year-old neighbor lady and learned that she had been trying for months to convince the company that the debt was not hers. The calls had gotten so bad that this lady, would couldn’t walk to a car, had stopped answering her telephone.

I went back to my house. I called the Better Business Bureau. I called the state Attorney General’s office. And then I called the company. It took hours. I talked my way up the organization ladder to the vice president for customer relations. And at last–at last–I found the person who could correct the record and set my neighbor lady free to answer her phone again, and to go out into the neighborhood without the knowledge that all of her neighbors had been informed that she was a cheat.

I did that because Candidate Obama had reminded me that I could be Better. I could make a difference. Yes, I missed the inauguration, but I felt–and still feel–pretty amazing about that. I missed the inauguration, but I stepped into my neighbor lady’s corner and started swinging, and together, we prevailed.

I’m not perfect, but because of the Obama candidacy I am Better. And now I ask myself the same question about the Trump candidacy. This is his second term, so I am very clear on what he inspires his followers to do. So are you. I think we’d both agree that if we are inspired by Trump we might be many things, but we won’t be better neighbors, better husbands, better wives, better parents, better children, better parents…Better.

This election is about more than politics. It’s about who we each aspire to be. I don’t just want to be better off. I want to be Better. Joe Biden wasn’t my first choice, or my second. But here’s the thing, there is room in his world for the decent, the honorable, the generous. There is room to be Better. And that’s how I’m voting.

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The last post here was about Joe Biden as the Democratic candidate. It is perhaps a measure of our times that I can’t even remember posting that. This is what happens when crises multiply. We had the impeachment trial, and watched an entire party with one–count’em, one–exception, vote to shield a President who clearly should have been tried. We had the Democratic primaries, which to my sorrow seemed to proceed much as Democratic primaries often proceed–the candidates who seem the strongest, who offer the best ideas, and who give many of us the feeling that we finally have the opportunity to vote for something offering the hope of change, rather than just against something vile, are maneuvered out of the race, leaving only the preferred party candidate standing. So we were stuck with Biden, who had gone silent and was hiding in his basement.

Then the coronavirus hit, and with it the ever-increasing realization that Trump had no plan, had actually dismantled the plan left in place by the Obama administration, and gave not one feck about the deaths as long as the Stock Market stayed strong. So we retreated into our homes. The pittance provided to help us through the shutdown disappeared into the maw of mortgage companies, rent, groceries, and utilities. And still the death numbers rose.

And then there was another death, not from coronavirus but from a policeman’s knee on a Black man’s neck, an all too literal image of what has all too often been the state of affairs in the U.S. And suddenly all the festering anger about far too many cases of police violence against people of color, far too many bills and no way to pay them, far too many deaths with no vaccine or real treatment plan in place, and far too many presidential speeches about how we were doing great when any idiot with a window could see we were not doing great, came roaring out into the streets.

And that’s when things got crazy. Suddenly we had protestors who had hit the streets because they wanted haircuts furious at protesters who had hit the streets because they were tired of being victimized by the system that is supposed to protect all of us. We had a president whose racist views have been an open secret scheduling his return to the campaign trail on Juneteenth, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, site of one of the worst incidences of racial violence in America’s history. (He rescheduled, but the only after public outcry.)

Mortgage and rental companies are gearing up to start evictions. For many of us, work is still hard to come by (I’m one of the lucky few–I’ve actually managed to develop a couple new income streams during the shutdown–but my experience is not typical). Coronavirus infections and deaths are on the rise again–maybe due to premature opening, maybe because that’s the nature of the disease. And we’ve still got the presidential election, and with it its handmaidens of voter suppression, partisanship, poll manipulation, and what used to be called “spin,” but now can be called nothing but “lying.”

And in the midst of all this, I find myself in my quiet office, in my quiet house, teaching classes and leading retreats via Zoom, working on city projects for a lovely woman, planning to start work on a project I’ve been doing for something like fifteen years, and still working with authors who have stories to tell. My son and I have finally incorporated–we are now true business partners.

There’s a huge disconnect between the national and global scene and my quiet life. Sure, I’m worried about the mortgage. I’ve got a call pending with the bank. but so far we’re here. We’re healthy, and above all, we actually do have some people in Washington who seem to “get it.” Bernie Sanders, of course, has been working tirelessly, fighting for economic relief for millions of us. Thank you, Bernie–I wish you were still a candidate, but I respect and love you for continuing the fight for us, even though you’ve been denied the opportunity to lead from behind the Resolute desk.

I’m also grateful to my senators, Wyden and Merkely, and my governor, Kate Brown, who have also been fighting for our safety and prosperity. And finally–and most unexpectedly, I find myself grateful for Mitt Romney. I didn’t vote for him in 2012. Had he run for the presidency the way he seems to have governed Massachusetts things might have been different, but I watched him disavowing some really good things he’d done, and, well, I just couldn’t see it. But then I watched him, alone in his party, vote to try President Trump.

That impressed me. I really disliked his business practices and financial policies, but clearly he had drawn a line in the sand. I respected that. And then I saw some pictures of him, masked, hot and sweaty, perfect hair mussed, eyes smiling, marching with the “Black Lives Matter” protesters.

I can’t tell you what that means to me. I still am disgusted and furious at the GOP capitulation to Trump and trumpism. I am still nauseated by the misogyny, the racism, and the support and elevation of white supremacy and white supremacist ideas. But in all that roiling dark, I sit here in my quiet office and look at Mitt Romney, rich dude, investment banker, sometimes tone-deaf bastion of the Establishment. I see him smiling behind his mask, on the streets to say with his presence that Black Lives Matter, and I realize that in this person I had previously dismissed as a Suit, there is integrity. There is courage. And for me, that means there is hope.

 

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wiseasserpentsAnybody who visits my Facebook page knows that I tend to lean toward progressive ideals. For those who ask me why (as opposed to those who just tell me I’m unrealistic and walk away), here’s the reason: I tend to lean progressive because, as Stephen Colbert once put it, “…reality has a well-known liberal bias.

For a long time I subscribed to the easy, common canard that “all politicians are dirty,” and that “you can’t get into high office without having made too many compromises to be able to do anything good.” I couched my apathy as a principled stand. Really it was laziness. It took 9/11 to shock me out of that.

Like everybody, I was terrified. But as the days went on I started listening to what people were saying–the anger, the hatred, the racism, and the religious bigotry being expressed in the name of patriotism. And inside me, something woke up. “This is as dangerous as those hijacked planes,” it said. I watched liberties being eroded in the name of national security. I watched politicians posturing about protecting America when what they were actually advocating seemed to be something that would not keep us safer. And that little part of me got a shot of espresso and started yelling.

And then came the 2008 election, and everybody was talking about “narratives.” Which candidate had the better story? John McCain was a war hero and a prisoner of war who had undergone torture for principles he held dear. Sarah Palin was a no-nonsense soccer mom/governer from a part of America that seems remote and unknowable to many of us. She had a special needs son. She had “stood up to Big Oil.” There was talk of her knowing how to shoot and field dress a deer. There was Joe Biden, who had lost his young family years before, who came from a working-class family, and who was prone to speaking his mind at inconvenient moments. And then there was Barack Obama.

Suddenly stories were everywhere. He was born in Hawaii. He was born in Kenya. He was a Muslim. He went to a Christian church. He was a secret addict. He disrespected the flag. He was talking not about the ugliness of politics, but about hope, and about how, if we all worked together, we could change the things that plagued us.

I don’t remember how I first happened across his campaign website. What I do remember is seeing the “fact-checker” tab. I clicked, and a scan of a Hawaiian birth certificate opened up. I think that was the moment I first considered registering to vote. I had found a candidate who not only trusted me with a narrative as his team presented them, but with the documents from which I could write his narrative for myself.

Of course, I realized that a “fact-checker” associated with a campaign website was far from an unbiased source–if nothing else, “facts” obtained that way needed to be verified. So I started digging, and I discovered a whole world of information-verification sites. The ones I returned to time and again were the sites that not only discussed facts and “proved” or “disproved” them, but the sites that showed their work–the ones that linked back to original documents and clips. I started clicking. And clicking. And clicking.

I started listening to political events, news, and commentary with my critic’s ear. I learned to evaluate what I was hearing based on the information I had gleaned. What I found was that, while all politicians occasionally gave out false information, some tended to hew far more closely to facts than others. I could look at the source documents, discover the truth. I could even chart it if I wanted.  It was–and is–possible to distinguish fact from spin.

I ended up voting not for a party, but for the candidate who had changed the way I saw politics–who had challenged me to not just dismiss the whole process, but to do the hard, important work of digging for facts. I voted for him because through following his campaign I had become a better, more informed person.

What I learned in that election was discernment–the skill of listening with an open mind, then seeking out information from a wide variety of sources–and then evaluating that information based on original information. I listened. I researched. And then I wrote my own narrative. I became a more discerning, active citizen. I also became someone with whom many in my family felt acutely uncomfortable.

For reasons that will be obvious to anyone who knows us, Sarah Palin’s “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” “commonsense,” rhetoric was very attractive to many of them. “She’s the real deal,” one sister told me excitedly. I had just finished reading a piece about the time she had spent in Wasilla city government. The piece raised some serious questions about her qualifications for me. “Are you sure?” I asked. My sister was sure. Gun-toting, smart-mouth, “my common sense is as good as your education,” boot-strapping Sarah Palin was “the real deal.”

And then came the interviews, and the news stories, and the revelation that no matter how “real” Ms. Palin might be, and how no matter how good she might be at dog-whistle politics, she was woefully unprepared to run a nation. Perhaps naively, I expected my family’s opinion about her to shift a bit. I was wrong.

And that was when I learned a new and terrifying thing–far too many people had adopted Sarah Palin’s attitude toward basing opinions on verifiable fact. Part of it, of course, was that Sarah Palin was very, very good at whipping up a crowd with a grievance–or who might, after listening to her for a bit, discover that they had a grievance. A whole new party sprang up–the Tea Party, who all too often regarded facts as not just unnecessary, but positively anti-American.

My family and I never really bounced back from that. The lure of believing that we all get what we deserve if we work hard enough for it was too powerful. For me, believing that was impossible not because I was somehow immune to the lure of that belief, but because I had bitten by the research bug. I simply could no longer take political spin at face value. There was simply too much evidence showing that the playing field in America was slanted in favor of the wealthy, white, and male–and had been for a very long time.

My family and I weren’t the only people who faced that conflict. Watching the Kavanaugh hearings and the GOP position on the impeachment provided proof, if any more was needed, that an entire political party seems to have decided that facts are indeed a liberal plot, and that the fewer of them we have to deal with the better off we will all be. Listening to President Trump declare himself “exonerated” when the Mueller report said no such thing was like Sarah Palin declaring herself “exonerated” when the investigation in Alaska regarding her improper use of influence resulted in no such finding.

Both Palin and Trump have had the distinction–if we can call it that–of being credited with Politifact’s “Lie of the Year.” In the past eleven years (2009-2019), the honor has gone to the conservative, often-GOP end of the spectrum nine of eleven times, and to Donald Trump himself three times. We live in a world where demanding facts to back up assertions has come to be seen as a tool of the “liberal elite.” Being wrong about something–even disastrously wrong–has become irrelevant, if not an actual badge of honor. How did we get here? It’s not really hard to see.

There is a faction of America that, when faced with difficult questions, seeks not to dig for answers, but brushes those questions off with, “Well, I guess that’s just where faith comes in.” It’s a belief system that relies heavily on avoiding the responsibility of taking action by talking about “forgiving,” and “not judging,” and “turning the other cheek.”

Those are all real quotes. What’s missing from that philosophy, though, is a whole other set of quotes about the importance of discernment–the responsibility we have to do the hard work of equipping ourselves to make responsible, ethical, informed decisions. In the spirit of finding a starting point, I googled, “What does the Bible say about discernment?” and went to the open-source online Bible for a list of quotes.  Full disclosure here–I don’t believe that reading the Bible literally is always a great guide to behavior, but many people do. If you do, I’m speaking your language here.

The sheer number of quotes is impressive, but this is just a starting point. If you believe in the Bible as a guide to right action, it might be interesting to search out these references as well as those from other indexing sources,  look at each situation’s historical and social contexts, and then devote a little time to examining how discernment factors into your own life.

A bit back I referenced verses about forgiveness, turning the other cheek, and accepting things on faith. I don’t mean to downplay the importance of such things. I would only suggest that those things only really have value in the light of discernment. Forgiveness only has meaning if we understand that a wrong has been done. Accepting things on faith only has meaning if we have taken the time to use our big, beautiful brains to push the boundaries of our knowledge to their limits. Discernment means that we never, ever, use forgiveness and love and faith as a substitute for doing the hard, necessary work of seeking out good information from reputable sources–and that we require the people making decisions on our behalf to provide us with the facts and information we need to do that.

We can’t fool Mother Nature. Reality doesn’t care what you believe. The only real question for each of us is, “How can I write the truest narrative?” In the end, the truth is what sets us free.

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kidsincages

I first wrote about 9/11 and the lessons we were learning right after the World Trade Center fell. At the time, I found myself worrying that in our fear, our grief, and our rage we Americans would do what no external force could ever have done: we would destroy ourselves from within.

Nearly two decades have passed since that terrible day, and I’ve seen that post proven true over and over again. On a national scale I’ve seen the the divisions in our society grow wider and wider as everyone struggles to get his or her “fair share”–something that always seems to involve seizing the right to physical, moral, or financial superiority over someone else. Conservative fundamentalists assert their religious superiority, while their men assert their right to total control over our reproductive rights as a species.

Light-skinned people assert their rights over darker-skinned people. English-speakers assert their rights over non-English-speakers. The educated assert their rights over the uneducated–and the uneducated assert their moral superiority over the educated. And the list goes on and on. We have become like too many rats in too small a cage, tearing each other apart in what we have come to believe is a fight for survival.

Even at a time when we are assured that the U.S. economy is doing very, very well, millions of us experience daily need, and millions more of us experience daily want. Somewhere, a giant drain has opened in our financial system, siphoning off the prosperity for far too few, at the expense of far too many. We are not a nation of lazy, greedy sluggards–we have been robbed. And we know who has done it–a quick look at income shares since 1980 shows us exactly where all that money has gone. While the percentage of American children living in poverty fell to record lows in the last year of the Obama administration, experts warn that Trump policies threaten to reverse that trend. And this in a time when the U.S. ranked near the top of the list of OECD countries in 2015.

And now we have the racism and xenophobia being publicly enacted against babies, children, and families seeking asylum and jobs in our name. Meanwhile, crops are rotting in the fields, while the people who have harvested them for generations sit in improvised jails.

Yesterday a newsman spoke of the children in the camps creating art, presumably as an example of how the children are being given a creative outlet, and therefore being treated well. I found myself thinking of  the art created by children in Theresienstadt. Just because children are drawing doesn’t mean that they aren’t being treated monstrously.

When I first wrote the post below about 9/11 I wrote and posted it because I was seeing a nation that, in its efforts to restore a fantastical version of America, where everyone was white and Protestant and living in neat little houses with white picket fences, had managed instead to create a monstrous system that was becoming increasingly dangerous not just to itself, but to the world.

That’s us on a national scale. We have become what we have always claimed to abhor.

On a personal level, though, I find reason for hope. As a college instructor I meet a lot of students, many of them from conservative Christian homes. And I find them overwhelmingly thoughtful, considerate, and far less quick to condemn. I live in a small town in a “flyover” part of a largely rural state, and while my fellow townsfolk and I tend to vote very differently, we manage to treat each other reasonably well. Yes, we have divisions among us, and they trouble me, but while we don’t all agree, we to manage to resolve our differences short of bloodletting most of the time.

I have to believe that while we, in our microcosm, contribute to that terrible overall picture of the U.S. as a nation, it has not yet become an accurate picture of many of us as individuals.

So the question is, how can those of us who are increasingly finding what our government is doing in Washington D.C. and often in our State Houses appalling find a lever to move us as a nation? How can we end the increasingly regressive and abusive practices that we, as a collective, are committing?

Opinions on this vary, but here are mine:

  1. Reform our voting system. Ensure that voting places are equally accessible to all, and that all campaigns receive a part of a single fund. Disallow disproportionate donations from individuals, and disallow corporate donations altogether.
  2. Enact stricter banking regulations that protect our national economy and smaller-income entities.
  3. Enact a single-payer healthcare system. Healthcare should not be a profit center; it should be a right.
  4. Prioritize the future. Enact laws that foster child health and early childhood education, college education, move us away from fossil fuels, and restore and preserve the environment.
  5. Reform the tax code and minimum wage scale to ensure that the poorest can be assured of a basic income, and that the richest no longer receive a disproportionate level of the income and tax rewards.
  6. Foster cultural diversity. We learn from each other. The more diverse we are, the more we learn. Rather than enacting “one-language” rules, why not promote multi-lingualism? Back in the day of William the Bastard, England found itself in a similar situation. A new, small, Norman French-speaking ruling minority found itself unable to communicate with the vast majority of the people they ruled: People who they were relying upon for financial support, and who spoke Old English. What happened?The Anglo-Saxon mothers immediately began encouraging their children to learn to speak Norman French. And the noblemen, who in many cases had been married to Anglo-Saxon heiresses as a way of promoting a comparatively peaceful transference of power, first relied on their wives to translate–and then learned Old English. That’s not quite right, because what really happened was that the two populations, who both understood that safety and success lay in understanding each other, ended up creating a new language: Middle English, which became the English we speak today. By the time English again became the lingua franca in England it had added many thousands of Norman French words. Englisn has continued that tradition ever since, and that’s why it is such a rich, complex, amazing language. As we accepted immigrants, we added the pieces of their languages, and in so doing, we added pieces of their culture. We are not a nation with a monolithic history. Instead of declaring that everyone who comes to America must accept all aspects of our culture, including our language, why not continue what has made us so very successful in the past–adopting cultural and linguistic elements that we find useful, while retaining what’s best in us?

We learned lessons from 9/11, but the years are increasingly proving that we learned the wrong lessons, and we have forgotten the single most important lesson history has taught us: Our safety and success lie not in dividing ourselves into ever-increasing splinter groups, but in opening our minds and hearts to each other, and seeing our diversity as an opportunity learn new skills, languages, and customs. It’s time to set those lessons we learned in fear and anger aside, and learn some new ones–or relearn the old ones, the ones that made us great. The world is a dangerous place, but we do not make it less dangerous by locking ourselves away and destroying ourselves from within. Paradoxically, I believe our best chance for a future lies not in closing ourselves off from the world, but in opening our minds and our hearts to each other.

Old post: September 11, 2001

The television footage says it all—and nothing. Over and over, I see the World Trade Center in New York, the top of the foreground tower swathed in pillows of dark gray smoke. And then another jet shoots behind it, and a fireball erupts from the background tower’s heart. The scene switches; soot and ash blanket the street, the blasted cars, the twisted girders, the piles of rubble. That’s all that’s left—rubble—of what used to be one of the tallest buildings in the world.

I am amazed at how bloodless the scene is. There are no bodies. From time to time EMS crews push a gurney to an ambulance. On the gurney are sealed bags. Is this all?  Just bits and pieces?  Perhaps. There are few people even visibly wounded. Perhaps that is most horrifying of all. The mayor of New York, the news commentators, keep talking about the thousands slain, the horrific loss, the body parts in the streets, emergency vehicles driving over bodies because they are buried in the ash and soot.

There is the crash in Pennsylvania—the news crews say that there’s nothing left bigger than a telephone book. When there is a crash, one expects there to be wreckage. And yet, there is nothing to look at, to say, “This is the cost, this is horror, these are the dead.” There is simply nothing.

There are stories of people jumping from the towers, rushing to meet their deaths, rather than waiting to be devoured by flames, or crushed in the collapse of steel, of concrete, of glass. This morning, there is a single shot of a man lying on the wind, his business suit correct, his tie whipping upward. As I watch him fall, he is already dead.

I feel nothing. Where is the pain, the grief, the anger, the anguish? I called my son’s grandmother and aunts in New York. They are working far away in Queens, near the airport, at the other end of Manhattan. A few streets can be a world. They are fine.

I feel nothing, but I am exhausted. I hold my son, and sleep. Then I wake, and try to work. I cannot concentrate. There is a pall over the day, a cloud of soot and ashes. Everything is gray, dim. I call my mother. She believes this is the beginning of Apocalypse, the birth of Armageddon. I hang up, wondering if she’s right.

Voices speak of thousands dead, but there are no visible bodies. They speak of terrorists, but there is no visible enemy. How can I comprehend a disaster so overwhelming that there is simply nothing left?

Normally news helicopters would circle the scenes like vultures, shooting endless vistas of disaster. I could see them, and understand. But the air is off limits. Ground crews shoot footage. It is bleak, gray, dead. This morning, I hear the roar of a jet. It fills the air, rumbling the house. I am across the country, in Oregon, and I know that, apart from our harbor, there is very little reason for terrorists to find us an attractive target—we are small-time, small-town. I have always believed that very smallness protects us.

But when I hear the jet, I realize that there is no safety in anonymity. The thousands of New Yorkers, the plane passengers, the Pentagon workers, were anonymous. They were simply going about their lives. There was nothing dramatic or attack-worthy about them. I begin to shake. I want to run outside, and scan the horizon for a column of black smoke. To the east, far away, near my mother’s house, lies Ordinance, an old army base. My son and I pass it when we go to visit her. Pronghorn antelope range the fields around the bunkers.

I try not to look at those bunkers. I know that they are used to store biological weapons. Today, when the plane roars overhead, part of me wants to look east, toward Ordinance, but I don’t. If Ordinance has been hit, it’s already too late. So I hide, and trust in the failed normalcy of the world, and in the failed smallness of my life. Probably Ordinance is fine. Probably. Later I turn on the television. The news is still all about the devastation in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. I am safe.

At least for now. I listen to the President’s remarks, and I find myself wondering how one can respond to such an attack without making it worse. To do nothing is to send a clear message to terrorists that there are no consequences for such an act. To respond militarily is to risk the world. How should such an act be answered?  I don’t know.

While no one seems to be sure exactly how this will change the world, everyone agrees that it has. Americans have traditionally been willing to risk their lives for freedom. We have been a nation of risk takers. Perhaps now we are willing to sacrifice freedom to preserve our lives. We are growing older. Perhaps we are going wiser; perhaps not. Perhaps we are only growing tired, cynical, fearful, and lazy.

I watch the news coverage, and I find myself thinking of shear bolts. My parents ran a custom harvesting service. Each summer, we faced shear bolts. Forage choppers work by pulling things into a box and chopping them up. A pair of toothed rollers spin behind a row of knives, pulling the forage into the box as it is mown. In the box is a revolving set of knives. While the system is powerful enough to kill a sheep, a deer, a man, it is also fragile. If the machine picks up a rock, or a sheep, or a person—anything over a certain size—the rollers push apart. They still spin, but if sufficient pressure is placed on them a shear bolt on the end of the roller snaps, and the rollers stop.

Fields being what they are, shear bolts snap often. As the truck driver, it was my job to replace the broken shear bolt each time it snapped. One horrible day it seemed that I was replacing them every five minutes. My head throbbed. My nose ran. My neck ached. The wind blew and it was August, and the chopped forage and dust flew everywhere. I choked, and the dust stuck to my skin, and I itched. And the damned shear bolts kept snapping. By the end of the day I was ready to rip that machine apart with my bare hands, take a hammer to the windows, and a knife to the tires.

That night I asked my father if we couldn’t just weld the parts together or something—anything to keep the chopper running. He said, “No, we can’t. The shear bolts protect the system. They’re designed to be the weak point. By snapping they stop the rollers before something can be pulled into the knives that might break them, or destroy the gears.” It was the first time I had heard of a weakness being engineered into a system for the protection of the whole.

The next morning we stopped at the Hesston dealer and got some new shear bolts—apparently the box we had hadn’t been tempered enough or something. And then we went back to work, and the bolts still snapped, but not quite as often.

We are faced with a monumental broken shear bolt. And we have to fix it. Changes are necessary. The situation must be addressed. But perhaps we should think carefully before we start welding things together. I find myself hoping that in fixing this tragedy, we don’t fix it so well we destroy ourselves completely.

I watch the news. It’s still bewildering. I still don’t understand. We have been struck a terrible blow. But the death blow is in our own hands, to strike, or to avert. We can only be destroyed from within.

I don’t have answers. I don’t even know all the questions. I haven’t even begun to comprehend what is happening. But one thing I know: there is much that is good and precious in my life, and much of that is because of our system, flawed as it is. I don’t have the answers, but I hope that we can keep from picking up hammers and knives—that we can search for the properly tempered solution, and that we can hold onto our patience and courage, and in the end, save ourselves.

Then: September 8, 2010

I wrote those words in the days following September 11, 2001. We don’t often talk politics over here, but I look around at the irrationality that has come to pervade our national discourse. I listen to hate-filled talk go unrebuked–and indeed, being treated as comments worth addressing. I hear about good Christians who publicly plan to burn copies of the Koran.

I watch as my fellow Americans busily undermine what remain of our civil liberties in the wake of the Bush era, and I am afraid, not that we will be destroyed by Muslim Americans wishing to build a youth center in downtown New York or by ravening hordes of Mexicans yearning to pick apricots, or by some evil plot hatched by the President and Democratic leadership, but by the pettiness, prejudice, racism, bigotry, and self-serving small-mindedness that have grown so prevalent our national government is literally choking on them. Our government has become an obscenity.

The thing I feared even more than fiery destruction is coming to pass around me–there are those among us who have taken that dark day as an excuse to give in to their own darkest impulses, to retreat into the simple, false world of “Us” against “Them,” of “Saved” or “Lost,” of “Christian” or Muslim, Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Progressive, Good or Evil.

Rational discourse is dying. If we can’t find a way to talk to each other, work with each other, and respect each other we will, in the words of my long-ago blog post, have “fixed ourselves too well,” and brought about our own destruction.

Our true enemy is not a group radicals half a world away–or even just across our southern border–but our own bigotry, isolationism, and selfishness. We are being manipulated coldly and cynically. Our fear and anger is making us co-conspirators in our own destruction. And it’s all being done with words.

I am just one person. I live in a small town in a Red part of a Blue state. I worry about how I will buy milk a lot more than I worry about the migrant laborers who come to our town to pick the fruit. I don’t have power or influence. I don’t have the money to buy them–hell, I don’t have the money to get a physical right now.

But I have my words. And today I choose to use them not to rail against imagined outrages perpetrated in the name of making things a little better for all of us, but to protest against the criminal abuse of our wonderful, rich, nuanced language. I choose to use my words to ask–no, to demand–that we give our Mother Tongue a little respect. That we not manufacture horrors to scare the populace into a position that will benefit us, and harm them. That we learn to edit our national discourse, to remove the extraneous and distracting so that we can focus on the words that matter. And that we demand of ourselves the same integrity we demand in our national discourse.

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