I Don’t Care If You’re Partisan. I Do Care If You Perpetrate Lies.

When I was a kid, there was a common schoolyard taunt—“It’s a free country!”—usually uttered when one had been caught out doing something that was wrong, bad, stupid, not done, beyond the pale, going to get one in trouble. It was meant to be a defense, a staving-off of criticism.

Last week I read a comment on a New York Times story. Seems there is a right-wing meme going around that Obama’s mother-in-law gets an enormous pension because she watched the girls while he was in the White House.1 When the commenter informed his poorly informed social media friend that this myth had been debunked, the friend replied, “This is America and you can believe what you want.”

Um.

Actually … that’s not a good idea, but it is, in fact, what seems to be happening. Americans who haven’t had to exercise their brains since they left high school have lost their ability to think critically. And then when confronted with all this evidence of their poor choices (All. This. News.) they cry, “This is America and you can believe what you want!”

Or “fake news.” Or, simply … “I disagree.”

One reads that polls are showing our *president’s approval ratings dropping. But not among his hardcore base of supporters. About Donald Jr.’s release of incriminating email, the Washington Post reported,

The Gallup Poll’s tracker has found Trump’s approval among Republicans steady, since February, at 85 percent. Last week, before the new email was revealed, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found 73 percent of Republicans unwilling to believe that the president had colluded with Russia; just 4 percent said he might have done so illegally. …

For many conservatives, the rumble of scandal news on CNN, MSNBC and national newspapers is easily dismissed. On conservative media, from Reddit to Fox News, the story has largely been covered as a conspiracy theory. Monday night’s prime time shows on Fox, which ran after the contents of the email had been reported by the New York Times, largely covered the story as a sideshow.

It’s astonishing to me, but otherwise intelligent people—people known to me personally!—are desperate, it seems, to believe this is all nothing, while my bullshit detector has been going off like our NOAA weather radio during tornado season—loudly and often.

I’ve got an old friend who used to like me until he realized I was a Democrat. He disagrees with my point of view, of course, even though I’m careful to stick to the facts. But a few days ago I realized the basis of our entire problem in seven words. He posted, on Facebook, an opinion piece from a far-right website. (I’m not going to link to it.) And I commented:

“This article is devoid of facts.”

To which he replied, “I disagree.” Ah. The It’s a Free Country Defense.

This article—which could best be described as hate-filled vitriol—was full of lies, kernels of truth twisted to impugn “libtards,” and only looked back in time (Obama, Clinton) to place blame for All This [Current, Bad] News, rather than looking at the source of it.

Your facts are suspect, my friend told me, because he knows I’m a Democrat and thus—because he believes what websites like Breitbart, Right Wing News, Daily Wire2 and uncountable others say about people like me—I am anti-American, Not Good People, and so on.

It’s OK to have differing opinions, I told him, but your facts still need to be, you know, facts. (The devil on my right shoulder reminds me: this is America, and he can believe what he wants. The angel on my left says if we reason together like sane humans, perhaps he will listen.)

I suggest a thought experiment: substitute “trump” for “Obama” in this opinion piece; would he still believe it as truth? Or would he then call it fake or biased? He’s drawn to articles like this because they confirm his bias and because he doesn’t like the actual news he’s hearing right now. He’s admitted as much: All This News about Russian hackers and spies is making him nervous. He’s been “researching” it, but only within his own bubble.

But when I tell him he should trust the American press—the press that hires actual, college-trained journalists3—he stops me. These are my facts.

At this point I realized I’m an idiot to continue to respond but I did anyway. I’m an editor; he knows this. As a professional editor, I told him,

I would never let you cite this article to prove a point in your manuscript about the American press because it’s so clearly slanted and uses inflammatory language. And, again, because it is an opinion piece, not reportage, though it leaves that distinction up to the reader.4 And I’m not saying that because of my politics. For twenty-five years I’ve worked in the Christian industry, twenty of them in the Christian book-publishing industry, which tends to be deeply conservative, so the nonfiction books I have worked on have been deeply conservative (look at my website and you’ll understand this; I have a portfolio). And yet these publishers hire me over and over and over. Why? Because I am a professional, ethical editor who does not allow her politics to interfere with her work. Because I use my professional knowledge and understanding of the way words work to protect their authors from leaving themselves open to the sort of criticism I am leveling here, while still saying in their books things I often disagree with. Because I make sure the publisher is not going to have to remove already-printed books from circulation because of something stupid and potentially subject to litigation discovered inside them. It is possible for a person to be ethical and still know her business. So when I say this article is absent facts, it isn’t because of politics, it’s because I’ve done my research.

My friend said he’s not interested in research, particularly. The This Is America And You Can Believe What You Want Defense.

I have spent hours and hours over the last months responding patiently to my friend on Facebook. Sometimes he asks me to tell him why I believe what I believe. Sometimes he leaves a snarky (or fact-free) comment about something I’ve posted, and I respond with as much sanity as I can muster while resisting the urge to do otherwise. Now I feel as if he is simply disgusted by me and has been trying to trip me up or reveal me as misguided and/or stupid.

So I told him,

If you can’t or won’t trust the institution of the established American press (the ethical kind that labels some pieces “opinion” and keeps the op-ed pieces separate from articles that report current events) … if you can’t or won’t trust the institutions of the American legal system (when both the unfettered press and the rule of law are specifically provided for in our Constitution!); if you can’t or won’t trust the institution of the American intelligence community (which has been diligently tracking the events of the current situation for some years, even when it didn’t know enough to connect the dots), then I think we have nothing left to say. I’m truly sorry.

We leave it there, aside from my parting shot: I don’t care if you’re partisan.5 I do care if you’re repeating lies.

The current *president has declared in many tweets that the so-called mainstream media (those institutions I’ve mentioned) is the enemy of the American people. But aside from the fact that this is how fascists get their start (discrediting the press, then declaring it the enemy, then taking it over so there is only one message, and so on), American patriots—those of us who were raised to respect this country and still believe in its ideals—should know that the Founding Fathers felt the press was so important they called it out in the First Amendment. No, the press is not an enemy of the American people.

What is the enemy of the American people is fake news, pseudo news, heavily slanted news like InfoWars, Breitbart, and on and on. Fox Not-News. It’s created a subgroup of people who are uninformed, brainwashed, intellectually lazy and uncurious … and like my friend, they actually believe the mainstream media are lying to them, when in fact it is “their own people” who are keeping the truth from them.

I know I’m repeating myself here, but it’s true: it’s fine to have differing opinions but facts are facts. It would behoove the electorate to learn how to discern them.

Well, it’s a free country, right? At least for a little longer.

• • •

The Constitution specifically selected the press, which includes not only newspapers, books, and magazines, but also humble leaflets and circulars, to play an important role in the discussion of public affairs. Thus the press serves and was designed to serve as a powerful antidote to any abuses of power by governmental officials and as a constitutionally chosen means for keeping officials elected by the people responsible to all the people whom they were selected to serve. Suppression of the right of the press to praise or criticize governmental agents and to clamor and contend for or against change, which is all that this editorial did, muzzles one of the very agencies the Framers of our Constitution thoughtfully and deliberately selected to improve our society and keep it free.
—Justice Hugo L. Black, in Mills v. Alabama, 384 U.S. 214 (1966)

• • •

1 Sometimes the people who make this stupid stuff up don’t really think it through. If she’d actually been put on the government payroll, there would have been universal outrage among the wingnuts long ago. But then even as I was writing this, I was introduced to another wingnut theory that claims the Obamas borrowed children from another couple in order to get elected. Because Michelle is a man, apparently. Because there are no photos of her pregnant. (Um, there are no extant photos of me pregnant either.) That I have not seen this stuff up till now is an indication of the sheltered life I lead. 🙂

2 It’s actually Daily Wire whose op-ed pieces he was posting. They are truly astonishing to someone like me who only reads establishment press—hate-filled and vitriolic, with lots of “they do this, they do that” meant to be divisive, to push the reader into outrage against “them,” who happens to be me. My friend is mild-mannered but I suspect this anger is how he actually feels. And not just my friend! Lots of people. It’s kind of scary.

3 Regardless of what you think about the mainstream press and its college-educated journalists, I believe it is genuinely trying to do a fair job of reporting the news, unlike the partisan press (Breitbart et al), which calls its output “news,” but which is actually propaganda. Although my friend has a college degree himself, he’s been brainwashed by this right-wing media to think colleges are bastions of liberal professors who are out to brainwash the innocent children of good Republicans and turn them into (shriek) liberals. (Yeah, but it’s a liberal arts school, right?) No, I tell him, they’re just trying to teach kids critical thinking, logic and reasoning, to be intellectually well-rounded, and so on.

4 The Post, the NYT, and other reputable news sources clearly label opinion as such.

5 I was raised to believe two heads are better than one, that we need a conservative opinion at the negotiating table alongside the progressive opinion.

#StudyHistory #ReadABook #FactsIsFactsSir

UPDATE: On the afternoon I posted this (23 July 2017), Jim Wright—a political analyst and top-notch bullshit detector, posted on Facebook: “New White House Communication director Tony Scaramucci said neither he nor Donald Trump accept the US Intelligence Community’s assessment that Russia attempted to interfere in the presidential election. The President of the United States of America, rejects the assessment of the United States Intelligence Community.” This is precisely the This Is America And You Can Believe What You Want Defense I cited earlier. Trump doesn’t like the assessment of his intelligence sector, so he’s going to disagree, and then try to discredit it.

UPDATE 2: It’s still interesting, even if Scaramucci only lasted ten days in the job. Ha.

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“I Got Mine”

Twice I’ve read this phrase just today [as I was writing: 22 June 2017]. I’ve got mine. It’s in reference to the Senate health care plan, the one Republican senators mean to pass to replace the Affordable Care Act.

What interests me about this phrase—I’ve got mine—is it’s something I used to say about some of the people I once worked with, back in the days when I worked in a corporate environment. In a Christian corporate environment, I should say. I was one of very few Democrats who worked at this company, and I came in for a lot of good-natured teasing.

(How did they know? You might well ask. I didn’t actually discuss my politics in the workplace. But people tend to make assumptions, and at this place, the assumption being made by most of these folks was that everyone working there thought like they did. Many Christians are conservative; I worked at a Christian company; ergo, I must be a conservative. But they knew I wasn’t because when someone made an assumption about me, I’d correct him: “Actually, not everyone thinks … [insert conservative belief here].” Something along those lines.)

As I say, though, those were different times than these, and I came in for a lot of good-natured teasing. (Although this was also the place a person younger than I shook a finger at me and said I couldn’t possibly be a Democrat and a Christian. It shocked me then and it shocks me now.) So I call it good-natured, I guess, because they did actually voice their opinions in my presence, and laughed (perhaps arrogantly) at mine.

But they felt very comfortable saying things about the poor and the disenfranchised—the less fortunate—that privately I found dismaying. I would listen to some of the things that came out of their mouths and just shake my head. I said nothing, of course. But to my friends I expressed shock, and for years I described it as the “I-got-mine attitude.”

I don’t like that attitude. It’s selfish, and it seems like it’s a tenet of the conservative world view. Author John Scalzi expresses it like this:

The motto of the United States is not, in fact, “[Screw] you, I got mine.” It was, and should have remained, “E Pluribus Unum”—out of many, one. We’re all Americans. We all deserve the blessings this country can provide. This one is willing to pay his taxes for the benefit of the many.

Scalzi expresses another idea that I have remarked upon for 40+ years, ever since the time Bill Brock was running for reelection to the U.S. Senate from Tennessee. His opponent was Jim Sasser, and about that campaign Wikipedia says:

Sasser[’s] … most effective campaign strategy was to emphasize how the affluent Brock, through skillful use of the tax code by his accountants, had been able to pay less than $2,000 in income taxes the previous year; an amount considerably less than that paid by many Tennesseans of far more modest means.

My then-husband and I were among that group of less-affluent Tennesseans; we had also paid about $2K in taxes that previous year. That campaign opened my eyes. It changed me (which brings me back to Scalzi’s comment). To wit: I don’t mind paying my fair share. Honestly, I don’t mind it at all. I don’t even think about it. I have a skillful accountant, too, but she’s a straight-arrow type, and neither of us is interested in gaming the tax code.

This attitude does not come from my beliefs as a Democrat; it comes from my beliefs as a human being. My taxes pay for infrastructure and schools and teachers, first-responders and the military, the clean air I breath (and on and on). I see these as good things, don’t you? And yet my evangelical Christian boss at this company used to give me such a hard time about this very thing. “You want to pay more taxes?” he’d say, in a dramatic tone of voice.

It’s a fundamental selfishness that I just don’t get:

Why can’t everybody be like me? I worked hard. I got mine; now you go get yours.

I just don’t know how to explain to another human being why he should care about other people. For Christians, in particular, it’s biblical; we are instructed to care for the poor, the widows and orphans. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,” Paul says in his letter to the Philippians (2:4 ESV). Jesus tells his followers that there will come a time when God rejects those who did not look to the interests of the less fortunate, saying,

For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. … Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. (Matthew 25:42–43, 45 NIV, emphasis mine.)

So I remain puzzled. It seems there’s a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, in a community. My Irish husband tells me he has never once heard anyone in Ireland complain about that portion of their taxes which goes to pay for the basic health care for their fellow citizens. They don’t tuck their good fortune under their arms, while looking over their shoulders saying “I got mine, you get away from me.” That some folks would deny the social safety net for so many people … it demonstrates such a lack of empathy that it feels un-Christian and un-American to me. But what do I know?

The Next Step On the Road to Immigration

Oh, and you thought we were done! Nope. Not yet.

When the United States’ xenophobe-in-chief first started jerking around immigrants, I spoke up in my social media network. After all, we’ve been through the first of several steps in the process; I know it’s long and arduous, and that people who are trying to move here to escape war (or simply for a better life) but who aren’t married to a US citizen have even more paperwork and longer waits that we did/do.

But a few people I know gave me the “extreme vetting” speech. These people think that some people—primarily nonwhite people—should be subject to extreme vetting. We already know that the process is taking years even for refugees, the neediest, most endangered type of immigrants. But these people in my social media network had plenty to say about what refugees and other immigrants should be subject to, even though they—nice white people born in this country—have no actual experience with immigration.

So let’s talk about that, shall we?

Just this week we spent an hour with our immigration attorney. We have another appointment set with her on 27 July 2017. In between now and then, I have a long list of documentation I have to pull together for Uncle Sam, documents with both our names on them that show we have and live a life together. Things like:

  • Tax documents (returns, schedules W-9s, etc.) for 2015, 2016
  • Bank statements showing activity in the account, 4–6 each year, each account
  • Credit card activity
  • Health insurance activity
  • Mortgage and property taxes
  • More photos
  • Any travel itineraries (places we went together)

Remember that binder of information I put together in 2014? You may have seen it it at our wedding celebration party last April. That was not A Scrapbook Documenting Fun Times, friends—it was actual documentation for the federal government, and it took me hours and hours of work* to pull it together. It was proof of our relationship, proof that we’d flown back and forth, proof that we communicated with each other on email, proof that we owned a home together, proof that we had married legally. Proof … i.e., vetting.

Now I have to do another one.

We’ll have to pay $680 to file all this information. And we’ll have to pay our attorney even more. (She is worth it.)** We’ll have to have yet another interview. (Currently that interview happens in Memphis. We’re told that perhaps they are going to open an office in Nashville sometimes next year. But you’ve had a good look at this current government by now; do you think it’s capable of sticking to a timeline? I don’t.) We’ll have to pay more money to keep the process moving, step by step by step. (Remember? And this?)

It will take at least a year to convert Gerry’s temporary Permanent Residency Card (you probably call it a green card) to a permanent Permanent Residency Card. We can’t even file for it (that’s the $680) until we’re ninety days from its expiration (expiration date is 24 October 2017), but the process—which used to take about ninety days—now takes at least a year, sometimes longer.

Um … so … “Don’t worry,” our attorney says, “once you’re in the system [i.e., once our case has been accepted, assigned a number, and entered into the computer], they’ll extend your temporary green card. They’ll send you a letter. You’ll travel with the temp green card and the letter.”

Here’s another interesting wrinkle: having entered the country legally, Gerry can actually apply for citizenship after he’s been here three years. In other words, he will probably be eligible to begin the citizenship process before he has a finalized green card. That’s not how it’s supposed to work but it’s a nice little world-gone-mad irony. Or something.

(Citizenship application brings its own set of costs and fees, of course. But we have to start the process for the permanent Permanent Residency Card simply so that he stays “legal” during this time of process limbo. For those of you who like to use the word illegals to refer to noncitizens, does this give you an alternate way of thinking about the vagaries of legal and illegal? Gosh, I hope so. You could really use some empathy lessons.)

This was good times, a small slice of a larger photograph. It was a gathering at our home of people who were in town for a professional conference, people I work with. That photograph—the larger one with all the people—will be in the new ICE scrapbook.

Again, Gerry and I speak the language, we are together (many immigrants aren’t actually living with their loved ones here), and we have the resources to hire legal help. (“Everything from this point on,” she tells us, “has to be litigated.” In court.) And I am white and my husband is Irish. Imagine the vetting that goes on for brown-skinned folks from non-English-speaking countries. So don’t bring your extreme vetting talk to me, because you have no idea what you’re talking about—and I’ve heard as much of it as I want to hear anyway.

* Some of which was lost when my computer hard drive crashed … which also was not fun times.

** Remember this? Remember the initial Muslim ban, and the hundreds of immigration attorneys that fanned out across the country and camped out in international airports to help stranded immigrants? It’s the International Refugee Assistance Project, and our attorney is one of them, for which we admire her even more.

Strawberry Therapy

A while back I (stupidly, stupidly, stupidly!) got into a heated Facebook discussion with a relative of two good friends. This was a the-current-state-of-healthcare discussion, and this person was lecturing one of my friends—the dear-to-me daughter of a dear friend—in a way that just (as we say here in the South) made me lose my religion.

It wasn’t opinion, what this person was spouting; it was factually incorrect.

And even when I pointed that out,* it didn’t stop her.

I quickly (and privately) said “I’m sorry” to my friends. Then I got up from the computer and went downstairs to engage in strawberry therapy (i.e., I had a gallon of strawberries that needed to be cleaned and sliced) because I was so utterly angry.

Strawberry therapy.

And as I stood there in the kitchen, slicing, slicing, slicing, but embarrassed, too, I thought that sometimes it’s difficult for the person who “owns” the Facebook page where the discussion is happening to speak up. Especially to a relative. So as I calmed down, I decided I was glad I’d said my piece. I was able to go to bed, even, and sleep instead of fretting.

The next morning both of my friends contacted me and thanked me for correcting the person who had been mouthing off.

Trust me when I say I could have written quite a screed. I have strong opinions, but I am trying to behave like the sixtysomething woman I am physically, as opposed to the impassioned twenty-five-year-old I still am inside. But I am still her. I am still that woman.

* I knew better, of course. I’ve read about confirmation bias, which points out that “when your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.”

I Am Still Speechless, But—

“Video of Police Killing of Philando Castile Is Publicly Released”
New York Times, 20 June 2017

Last week the video made from the dash cam of the cruiser belonging to the police officer who killed Philando Castile was made public by Minnesota state investigators. I’ve seen the video shot by Diamond Reynolds. I am deeply troubled by the acquittal. I don’t even know where to start.

Thank goodness Kimberly Hammers, a smart and thoughtful friend of a friend of mine, did know where to start. I have her permission to to reproduce her comments.

If this is not one of the most troubling things you have ever seen, try to remember a few things:

  1. This was a man with no violent criminal history.
  2. This was a man who was loved by his community, and reportedly took the time to remember the names of all 500 children he served in an elementary school cafeteria, and their food allergies.
  3. He was described as an ideal employee and role model for others.

While all of that is the more personal side of this travesty, and the one that I find myself responding to the most, here’s food for thought for all of the Second Amendment fans out there (and I’m friends with a bunch of you; I know because any time I mention stricter gun control laws I hear from you):

  1. This was man who was exercising his Second Amendment rights, with a legally bought weapon that he had a license to carry.
  2. This man had already complied with police officers by pulling over in a timely manner and providing his proof of insurance. He had been told to reach for his wallet, which contained his license and proof of registration.
  3. This man did exactly what he was supposed to do, which was inform the officer in a calm, clear voice “I need to let you know that I do have a firearm on me.”
  4. This officer was acquitted of all charges this week.

Just Mr. Castile saying those words, “I need to let you know that I do have a firearm on me”—that triggered this officer to grab for his weapon. You can see it clearly on the video. Note that the other officer, who reportedly couldn’t hear what was said, didn’t react until the first officer began shooting—because he didn’t hear that Mr. Castile had a weapon, nor did he see it.*

Also, you can literally hear Mr. Castile, with his dying breath, respond to the officer’s “I told you not to reach for it!” with “I wasn’t reaching for it …” Not to mention (also on video) the officer states, “I didn’t see the gun. He looked like he was reaching for something larger than a wallet.”

If you want to have your Second Amendment rights, fine. I don’t agree with the scope of it all, but fine. But—that is everyone’s right, not just the right of white people. Make no mistake that this man was killed because he was a black man exercising his legal right to carry a firearm. So theoretically you, gun-rights supporters, should be making the most noise right now. Your silence is deafening.

As I write this article, the Washington Post reports that the NRA issued only a halfhearted statement following the shooting last July, and has had no comment whatsoever about the acquittal. Slate’s headline speaks volumes: “Philando Castile Should Be the NRA’s Perfect Cause Célèbre. There’s Just One Problem.” You guessed it: “If Castile had been white instead of black, the NRA would have been rallying behind him and his family since the moment of his death and fundraising off his memory for the rest of time.” (To their credit, and in spite of Ms. Hammers’s—and my—personal experience, some NRA members have spoken out in defense of Philando Castile. Some have even resigned their memberships.)

I’ll be frank: I don’t like guns. I have personal friends who are responsible gun owners, but I believe we need more restrictions, not fewer. My father, though a military veteran, hated firearms. And I see no reason for people to be walking around my small town with a gun on their person. Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is not the Wild West. Take that gun to the shooting range, take it out to the country, but don’t take it to Kroger.

* In fact, the gun was found in Castile’s pocket by paramedics when they were loading him into an ambulance.

I’m the Person I Always Was—Only Now I Say What I Think Out Loud

Yes. You’ve probably noticed. I’ve been speaking my mind. 🙂

When I got divorced in 1990, I became a very busy single mom working two and three jobs. Life continued apace, and the country had lots of interesting things going on, but I kept my thoughts to myself because I didn’t feel qualified to speak up. I’m a facts gal. I always have been. And if I’m not in possession of the facts, I’d rather be silent than be stupid.

Back in those days some male members of my family had a lot to say about politics—even knowing that I didn’t agree with them*—but I let it roll off because I didn’t feel like I was up on all the facts, so I couldn’t have an intelligent conversation about it. During that time, I prided myself on keeping the peace, and I’ve since prided myself on keeping things light. On the blog I talk about travel and my fortunate life. On Facebook I talked about my kid, my pets, my now-husband, the yard, my work … all the things I love and care about.

And as long as I did that, I was OK.

Oh, I watched all the ugly, partisan memes that twisted the truth (or often lied). I saw lots of them on my brother’s Facebook feed. I watched that angry, mean stuff from Alex Jones, Mark Levin, and Fox News (and so, so many others) posted by people I thought I knew. I heard the disgust in certain voices when the word liberal was spoken or written. It hurt when people I know used the word libtard in my presence. I didn’t like it, but I said nothing. I was “a good girl,” it seems.

But on 25 November 2015 in South Carolina, Donald Trump publicly mocked a disabled man, and I’ve not been able to move past that.

There’s a lot more than that, of course. Trump lies. He’s selfish and greedy. He’s a racist, a xenophobe, and a hater of the worst sort. He’s a science denier. He is a serial sexual assaulter. He’s also not particularly bright, which is something that really bothers me.

I kept silent a little longer. But now I just can’t. Staying silent destroyed my personal serenity and played havoc with my mental and physical health. “I cannot and I will not retract anything,” Martin Luther said at the Diet of Worms in 1521, “since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.” That’s where I’m at, y’all. There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.

Interestingly, because I’ve spoken up now, because I’ve stepped out of my good-girl role, because I have dared to criticize the man they voted for, some people I know have called me a hater.

To those people I say: clearly you don’t know me at all. I have always had these opinions you don’t like. I’m just talking back now because I have my facts in hand. Oh, I’m a smartass, all right. Sure, I’m angry. And yes, I have a very low tolerance for bullshit (and always have). But I’m no hater. There’s a difference.

*Because I’ve had the same fundamental beliefs about life, and the goodness of it, and the notion that in the end we as humans and as a nation will be judged by how we treat the least among us since I was about ten years old, arguing politics at the dinner table with my daddy, who encouraged me in all things, even my renegade allegiance to the Democratic party.

“Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence. We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.”
Robert F. Kennedy, speech, “On the Mindless Menace of Violence,” in Cleveland, Ohio, 5 April 1968

Not the Right Stuff: Winning At All Costs

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I was raised by an American patriot, a U.S. Air Force pilot who did, in fact, have the Right Stuff in every fiber of his being.

You know that phrase, right? Brought to national consciousness by the Tom Wolfe book about astronauts (The Right Stuff, 1979), this phrase has come to mean, in the very best sense, someone who embodies the qualities of courage, confidence, dependability, toughness, and daring. Someone who always chooses the high road, who always does the right thing, the fair, honest, trustworthy thing. Someone who doesn’t lie or make excuses.

I am just old enough to remember a time when just being American gave you the assumption of having the Right Stuff. You might say I drank the Kool-Aid of the American Myth. But I was raised by members of the Greatest Generation, people who worked hard, sacrificed for their country (and their kids), who believed in the nation and its founding principles, and who not only believed that American myth, they embodied everything good about the myth.

But they’re gone now, and I don’t believe the myth any more.

The reason I don’t believe it is the behavior of Republican Party. The party of Lincoln, they like to remind us, but don’t you believe that for a minute. As this article notes, Lincoln would be horrified by today’s GOP; he would identify much more with Democrats. (In fact, the Republicans and Democrats have essentially swapped platforms. So enough with the the false equivalencies, meme makers.) As recently as the 1950s and ’60s, Republicans in our nation’s capital played an important role in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (shepherded by a Democratic president), righting—or beginning the process of righting—so many wrongs caused by the Civil War. (Read about this here. And here.)

But something happened.

I started noticing it—the fraying of the fabric of the Right Stuff—in 2000, with those hanging chads in Florida. It was astonishing to see the GOP send a hoard of lawyers and PR people down to Florida to meddle, to control (to take over!), to shape the story rather than to just keep an eye on it, to win at all costs—and to ultimately steal the election from the rightful winner, Al Gore Jr., a Democrat. In a recount of all undervotes and overvotes conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, Gore emerged the victor under all standards. In his account of the election (Too Close to Call, which is on my bookshelves as I write), Jeffrey Toobin observed, “[I]t is a crime against democracy that [Gore] did not win the state and thus the presidency. …The wrong man was inaugurated on January 20, 2001.”

That wrong man, George W. Bush, ushered in an era of strongly partisan politics that continues today. (I won’t even get into his many inadequacies, but I’ll say this: I believe in my heart that my father, a lifelong Republican who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, would have been so disgusted by Bush’s failure to fulfill the requirements of his military service contract that he would not have voted for him. Daddy believed in being a person of your word. Don’t get me started on those awful Swift Boat Vets, who are as far away from the Right Stuff as you can get. Shame on them. Seriously: shame on them for the lies they told.)

It was clear to me, in 2001, that the Republican party had cheated to obtain power. It was clear to me that there was, in fact, a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” and its intentions were to win at any cost.

And if they didn’t win, they would obstruct government. We now know that while Barack Obama was celebrating his first inauguration, there was a secret meeting of Republican party leadership—who planned to obstruct his every move. This is a fact, not fake news, for those of you inclined to that sort of naysaying. Journalist Robert Draper’s book Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives, reports that the GOP began plotting Obama’s defeat on the night of his first inauguration. This is not governance, people. This is not the Right Stuff.

It’s shameful, really.

And it was obvious, even before it was verified by our strong free press. “Nevermind the nation was falling off the fiscal cliff. Nevermind the global economic system was hanging in the balance. Nevermind we were on the verge of another Great Depression,” the Washington Post says. “When the nation needed single-minded focus, the Republican political establishment put power over the national interest” (emphasis mine). It wasn’t just in Washington. All over the country, Republican-controlled statehouses passed voter suppression laws, to remove voters from the rolls, to make it difficult for minority voters to be heard. This is more of that winning-at-all-costs thing, and it disgusts me. When we needed the Right Stuff, we got, instead, Republicans.

I should call them, probably, Tea Party Republicans—which is not the old-school Republican party of my parents (nor a few of my friends). This Republican party has declared war on people like me, to its detriment and to its great loss. I was raised (by my Republican daddy) on Right Stuff thinking, the thinking that says we need all voices and viewpoints at the table. Two heads are better than one and all that. Or, as they say, e pluribus unum (from many, one):

This shared foundation has been our motto from the earliest days. It’s an incredibly unique goal for governing, rarely successful throughout human history. It’s built around the simple truth that there is strength in unity, so we should seek it. Unity does not require agreement in all things. That is impossible. Unity is strongest, in fact, when it is diverse. Real unity is a setting aside of some disagreements and distinctions to rally around a central vision. This is the hard work of democracy.

Sadly, my daddy’s Right Stuff thinking apparently was lost on my Republican brother, about whom I’ve written previously. And he and his ilk, the Tea Party, brought us Trump, who is, it’s painfully obvious, the opposite of the Right Stuff.

He is, not to put too fine a point on it, mentally and morally deficient. I’m not going to bother to back up that statement with links because at this point you know it as well as I do. There were the lies, the rallies, the speaking to his supporters’ basest instincts. Lying. Ridiculing the disabled. Lock her up, throw them out. People of color being beat up. Pussy grabbing. Lying and more lying. And registered Republicans standing by, holding their noses, perhaps, but not speaking out against any of this.*

Even now, I have friends who continue to mouth the let’s-give-him-a-chance mantra, in spite of the mounting evidence that the 2016 election was manipulated by Russia—Russia! A hostile foreign power, for heaven’s sake! If this doesn’t enrage and unsettle you, it may be that you have placed ideology above preservation of the American way (as in “truth, justice, and …”). Or, as I say, lack of the Right Stuff.

Not long ago, someone I once worked with (he is a Tea Party Republican, lives here in my town) called me, on Facebook, “the enemy.” Not in a general sense. He called me by name, and told me that—because I’d just expressed my opinon—at least now he knew I was the enemy. About this warlike language, the author of the article I’ve quoted above says, “It is this sort of tribal thinking that we have seen wreck civilizations throughout history. The great American experiment is unique in so many ways but one of the most unique attributes is this voluntary setting aside of certain tribal priorities and desires for a shared greater good. We dare not dismiss these strong tribal divisions. They are deepening, not healing.” (Emphasis mine.)

The enemy. I gotta tell ya, that gave me a chill.

Some years ago I was told to my face I couldn’t possibly be a Democrat and a Christian. No, really. I’ve been called a hater by an old friend. Every few days my brother posts something on Facebook about haters (by which he means, I think, Democrats) or libtards (by which he means, I think, Democrats). Right after he unfriended me, he posted this: “Someone unfriending you because of your anti-liberal post is kind of like the garbage taking out itself.” Now, aside from the fact that, again, he unfriended me, how was I supposed to interpret that? I’ll tell you: that I—Democrat that I am from that day in 1971 when I first registered to vote—am garbage. And you know what? I’m at peace with that. I can look myself in the mirror.

And, strangely, I feel more like the hated than a hater.

I was raised to be fair, tell the truth, to treat others the way I would want to be treated (with kindness and respect, among other things). These are Right Stuff qualities, and though I know I sometimes fail, I do strive for them. I was raised to be competitive, to go after the things I wanted, but that winning in and of itself was not the goal. “Winning at all costs” is not the sort of human being I was raised to be. Winning at all costs is not a Right Stuff characteristic.

And failing to speak up when there is clearly something seriously wrong here is not a trait of those with the Right Stuff either. (The Washington Post says, “It remains unclear whether Republicans will ever act ‘as if larger principles are at stake,’” as they did during the Watergate investigation.) As I write, with new revelations daily about Trump and his associates’ Russian connections, there is just barely an inquiry, nothing that could really be called an investigation. Some Republicans, in fact, continue to obstruct calls for such an investigation.**

We’ve lost the narrative of the Right Stuff, y’all. And the longer we go with one party placing power and winning above country and people, we will continue to be lost.

* Well, at least two I know of—George Will and Max Boot—have spoken out and publicly left the party.

** Before I finished this piece, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to oversee an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. It’s a start.