A Letter to Some of My Recently Smug Conservative Friends

Dear Recently Smug Conservative Friends,

I get it. You’re feeling pretty satisfied. After eight years under the reign of progressive terror that defined the Obama era your time has come. The progressive agenda, what with its political correctness, high taxation, misguided health care reform and redistribution of wealth to the seemingly lazy and undeserving is finally being confronted by reality. Almost as importantly, those friends and family who for almost a decade have smugly derided your conservative values as antiquated and out of touch now have to face the reality that there are a LOT of people out there who think like you do. Together you’ve elected the most improbable candidate ever, Donald Trump, to the office of the President of the United States, and on top of that have returned a Republican House and Senate and an almost unbelievable number of state legislatures and governors office to the red side of the aisle. Yep, your side has spoken and loudly proclaimed that conservatism is thriving in these United States.

You’re elated and, yes, feeling a little smug. After suffering through ten years of liberal policies and holier-than-thou attitude, the place you call home suddenly feels more like your own neighborhood. And honestly how can the liberals seem so surprised that Trump would win after putting forward a candidate who lies, deceives and acts so,so, so pompous? Yes, I get it. In fact I’m more than sympathetic because I too got tired of being told by progressives that they knew better than me, that their policies were the One Way to make our country great. I can only imagine how tempting it must be to turn up your nose at them and declare that this country has spoken and it’s gonna be run your way and they can just stick their ideas where the sun don’t shine.

But here’s the problem. Many of you are making a grievous mistake by thinking that the election of a highly flawed, and I would argue dangerous, candidate is a free pass to completely dismiss the more liberal citizens in our midst. I’m not talking about your Facebook posts deriding liberals for backing “Killary” (which by the way is pretty juvenile), or your insistence that liberals just accept Clinton’s loss and stop whining about it after you spent eight years whining about Obama, or your calls to put protesters in jail. Those displays of public disagreement are as American as apple pie and a cherished right we should always defend.

What I’m talking about is your knee jerk reaction to those who voted for Clinton. You call them socialists, free loaders, hippies and idiots. You seem to think they all belong to some monochromatic blob of citizens incapable of critical thought or having nuanced belief systems. That argument would hold much more water if it weren’t for the fact that so many people DID vote for Clinton. There’s just no way that many people can hold the same worldviews; there just aren’t that many people who are card-carrying members of the ACLU or other rights groups, attend the same community organizations or read the same magazines. But, it’s safe to say that all of those people had one thing in common  and that is that they felt that, for whatever reason, electing Donald Trump was the worst choice they could make to better our country.

And there lies the rub for you, my smug conservative friends. You can’t come to terms with the fact that so many people probably voted for Clinton not because they liked her, but because they really thought Trump would be the ruin of this country. You can’t seem to understand that they truly believe his rhetoric is inflaming already tense relations between people of different races and creeds, that his stated policy positions could assault our civil rights in previously unimaginable ways and that his temperament could threaten our international relations, and that for those reasons and more he is not the change agent we need in Washington. And, tragically, you fail to empathize with those people and instead judge them in a way that you rightfully reject when liberals judge and label your and your fellow conservatives.

So my request of you, my conservative friends, is this. Please harness your smugness and glee and use that energy to work towards effecting change that truly helps our society. Rather than sitting and passing judgment on those who voted for Clinton, in part because they weren’t offered a better choice by your side, try to understand why they voted for her and how you can work with them to find ways to address those issues. Please note that I’m not talking about the fringe elements who aren’t interested in dialogue, but rather the group of people who likely live right next door or are related to you.

So why am I writing to your my conservative friends, and not my liberal friends? I have a whole other set of arguments for them which I will make in a separate letter. So feel free to enjoy your win at the polls, but please be the bigger person by refraining from sitting in judgment and find a way to bridge the divide with the liberals in your life. That will be the first step in curing what ails us.

Best regards,
Jon

A Letter to Some of My Pissed Off Liberal Friends

Dear Pissed Off Liberal Friend,

I get it. You can’t believe your fellow citizens have somehow managed to elect Donald Trump to the office of President of the United States. Sure, you’ve been disappointed by their misguided decisions and beliefs in the past, but nothing on this scale. How could they do it? How could they not see what a morally depraved, narcissistic and dangerous man he is? How could they possibly think it’s a good idea to elect him to the most powerful office in the world? Put simply, how could they be so wrong?

You’re angry and scared, and understandably so. You feel like your country has been taken from you, that the place you call home has become dangerous and no longer reflects your values. Yes, I get it. In fact I’m more than sympathetic because I too believe we’ve elected the most unqualified and dangerous man for the office in my lifetime and probably the history of the country, but since I’m not a historian I can’t say that confidently.

But here’s the problem. Many of you are actually making the problem worse by not exhibiting any understanding for the views of those who voted for Trump. I’m not talking about protesting outside of Trump’s buildings, or booing our VP-elect at a play, or shining a “F*&k Trump” display on the side of a building (although I do think that’s sophomoric and counterproductive). Those displays of public disagreement are as American as apple pie and a cherished right we should always defend.

What I’m talking about is your knee jerk reaction to those who voted for Trump. You call them racist, misogynistic, homophobic and idiotic. You seem to think they all belong to some monochromatic blob of citizens incapable of critical thought or having nuanced belief systems. That argument would hold much more water if it weren’t for the fact that so many people DID vote for Trump.There’s just no way that many people can hold the exact same worldviews; there just aren’t that many people who are card-carrying members of the KKK or other hate groups, attend the same churches, or read the same magazines. But, it’s safe to say that all of those people had one thing in common and that is that they felt that, for whatever reason, electing Donald Trump was the best choice they could make to better our country.

And there lies the rub for you, my pissed off liberal friends. You can’t come to terms with the fact that so many people probably voted for Trump not because they liked him, but because they felt that despite his deplorable behavior he still offered the best chance to change a system they see as not addressing their needs. You can’t seem to understand that they believe he, a nasty, thin-skinned purported billionaire, is the closest thing we have to a populist candidate who can begin addressing the needs of the middle class. You refuse to accept that someone who voted for Trump isn’t a knuckle-dragging-white-supremacist-wife-beater, but is actually someone who wants to shake up the powers-that-be enough that they might do something to help them. And, tragically, you fail to empathize with those people and instead judge them in a way that you rightfully reject when conservatives judge and label you and your fellow liberals/progressives.

So my request of you, my liberal friends, is this. Please harness your anger and use that energy to work towards effecting change that truly helps our society. Rather than sitting and passing judgment on those who voted for Trump, in part because they weren’t offered a better choice by your side, try to understand why they voted for him and how you can work with them to find ways to address those issues. Please note that I’m not talking about the deplorables who are certainly part of his base – the racists, fascists, anti-Semites who have latched onto his campaign – but rather the very large group of people who likely live right next door or are related to you.

So why am I writing to you my liberal friends, and not my conservative friends? Well, for one I have a whole other set of arguments for them which I will make in a separate letter. For another I have listened to you preach acceptance, open mindedness and civility and so I implore you to practice that preaching. Feel free to be angry, but be the bigger person by refraining from sitting in judgment and find a way to begin to bridge the divide with the conservatives in your life. That will be the first step in curing what ails us.

Best regards,
Jon

 

Winston-Salem as a Case Study

Since moving here in 2004 I’ve found Winston-Salem to be a fascinating study in how to revive a city that had been hit by multiple economic tsunamis in recent decades. It seems that others have taken notice, including a writer who penned a piece for the Christian Science Monitor about how a few US cities can teach the country a little something about democracy (h/t to my Mom for sending me the article). You can find the full article here (second story down), but here’s the segment focused on Camel City:

Winston-Salem, N.C., lost 10,000 jobs in 18 months after R.J. Reynolds moved its headquarters to Atlanta and several other homegrown companies failed in the late 1980s. It was the first of several waves of job losses as the city’s manufacturing base collapsed. Civic leaders chipped in to create a $40 million fund to loan start-up capital to entrepreneurs, hire staff for a local development corporation, and fund signature projects. One of them was the renovation of a 1920s Art Deco office tower into downtown apartments.

This activity helped spur Wake Forest University’s medical school to undertake an ambitious project to create a research park in former R.J. Reynolds manufacturing buildings next to downtown. The school has filled 2 million square feet of empty factories with high-tech companies and world-class biomedical researchers. An adjacent African-American church has turned 15 acres in the area into lofts, senior housing, and businesses. Downtown has attracted $1.6 billion in investment since 2002.

Now people gather to sip coffee, attend concerts, or take yoga classes in a new park in the shadow of the looming chimneys of a former Reynolds power plant. The plant itself is being repurposed into a $40 million hub of restaurants, stores, laboratories, and office space. Students, researchers, and entrepreneurs mingle in the halls and atria of all the former factory buildings, creating the kind of synergetic environment the innovation industry now craves.

Our very own Jeff Smith, of Smitty’s Notes, provides the money quote:

“It wasn’t one person or thing that made it all happen; it was everyone from the grass roots to the corporate leaders coming together,” says Jeffrey Smith, who runs Smitty’s Notes, an influential community news site. “We realized it would take all of us to get this hog out of the ditch.”

Much of the foundation for this renewal had been laid by the time I moved here with my family in 2004, but community leaders have continued to do what’s necessary to keep building upon it. For my job I get to spend a significant amount of time in neighboring Greensboro, a city that is slightly larger but quite comparable to Winston-Salem, and it’s been interesting to see how the two cities have proceeded from their respective economic crises. Winston-Salem has a lot of momentum, and it’s redevelopment seems to be benefiting from consistent collaboration among its community leaders, including elected officials as well as corporate and civic leaders. Greensboro, on the other hand, is making progress but it seems to be in more fits and starts; its progress seems to occur in spite of local leaders’ lack of cooperation and collaboration.

Sure, Winston-Salem has its problems and leaders sometimes disagree on how to proceed, but for the most part its leaders have shown how to lead a community out of the ditch and back on the road. Hopefully we keep it going for decades to come.

It’s Time for Some Extreme Ownership

Thanks to the nuttiness that is the 2016 campaign for President the citizens of the United States have entered a zone of extreme divisiveness. We’ve always had disagreements and ideological divides, but over the past 2o-ish years it’s gotten progressively worse and what we’re experiencing now feels, to me, like the apex (or nadir) of our division. Our discourse is largely toxic, our rhetoric biting and our empathy almost non-existent. When the topic turns to politics people look like they could literally spit on each other’s shoes. It’s really bad.

By now we’ve all heard the arguments and justifications for each of the candidates, and we’ve either largely accepted them or dismissed them. Now that we’re in the final stages of the campaign we’re starting with the, “Well if my guy/gal loses then whatever bad happens is all the other side’s fault. I didn’t vote for that a-hole so you can’t hold me responsible for the result.” Of course that’s bullshit, and here’s why.

If you’re a supporter of Hillary Clinton and she loses to Donald Trump then you can’t just wash your hands of it. Your side lost because your candidate wasn’t strong enough to beat Trump. He ran a dirty and contemptible campaign you say? So what? If she were a good enough candidate she’d have overcome it. Of course the reverse is true too. The long and the short of it is this: no matter who gets elected we are all partly responsible for the result.

If you want to understand why this is so I highly recommend listening to this interview of former Navy Seal Jocko Willink. He is a proponent of something he calls “extreme ownership” which could also be called “quit whining and pointing fingers, and accept responsibility.” I truly believe that our biggest problem right now is not that we disagree, it’s that all-too-often we don’t accept responsibility for our role. It is our resistance to accepting our responsibility and choosing instead to point our fingers at those who disagree with us to say it’s their fault. We have to stop that.

So, to put it simply let me say this: no matter who gets elected I accept that I’m partly responsible for it, and I also accept that as a citizen of this country I’m also responsible for figuring out how to improve it no matter who gets elected. I hope you’ll do the same.

He Made Me Hit Him!

When I was a kid I had a terrible habit of slugging my younger brother. Granted it usually followed him tormenting me and me warning him that if he didn’t stop I was going to hit him. Despite my warnings he would continue to needle and annoy me until I passed the boiling point and slugged him; then he’d crumble to the ground in agony and scream for my mother. Sometimes I knew I’d truly hurt him, but many times he definitely hit the emote button to maximize the punishment he knew I was going to get.

When my Mom arrived on the scene a couple of things happened. First she’d ask, “What happened.” Then, as soon as I started explaining with, “I hit him, but he started it…” she’d cut me off and say something to the effect of, “I don’t care what he said or did, there’s no excuse for hitting him. You’re older and bigger than he is, so there’s just no excuse.” Later, after doling out my punishment, she’d ask me why I continued to let him sucker me in like that and why I couldn’t learn to just ignore him? I didn’t have an easy answer, but deep down I knew she was right.

Why this trip down memory lane? Well, I was reading about the NC’s republican leadership saying they’d entertain the idea of repealing HB2 if Charlotte would repeal it’s bathroom ordinance, and it reminded me of me and my brother. They’re claiming that Charlotte passing its bathroom ordinance forced them to pass a law that not only negated the ordinance, but also removed the ability for municipalities to enact employment bias protections more stringent than the state’s, or for employees to sue employers in state court for wrongful termination. In other words the legislature, and governor, did the equivalent of beating the snot out of Charlotte because the city council stuck its tongue out at them.

Here’s what’s being floated by the republicans:

North Carolina’s two top legislative leaders put their weight behind a proposed repeal of House Bill 2 Sunday night, but only if the Charlotte City Council repeals its own transgender nondiscrimination ordinance first…

The joint statement issued on behalf of House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger is both the clearest sign yet that the General Assembly could backtrack on the controversial law and an effort to pressure the Charlotte City Council in accepting at least some of the responsibility for a months-long fracas over the measure…

“If the Charlotte City Council had not passed its ordinance in the first place, the North Carolina General Assembly would not have called itself back into session to pass HB 2 in response,” the legislative leaders’ statement reads. “Consequently, although our respective caucuses have not met or taken an official position, we believe that, if the Charlotte City Council rescinds its ordinance, there would be support in our caucuses to return state law to where it was pre-HB 2.”

Simply put I think the Charlotte city council would be nuts to cave on this. First, because they don’t gain anything by conceding and second, because the legislature has yet to explain why they can’t repeal the parts of the bill that had nothing to do with the bathroom ordinance.

What the republicans don’t want anyone to pay attention to is Part IV of HB2. Here’s what it says:

PART IV. SEVERABILITY 31 SECTION 4. If any provision of this act or its application is held invalid, the invalidity does not affect other provisions or applications of this act that can be given effect without the invalid provisions or application, and to this end the provisions of this act are severable. If any provision of this act is temporarily or permanently restrained or enjoined by judicial order, this act shall be enforced as though such restrained or enjoined provisions had not been adopted, provided that whenever such temporary or permanent restraining order or injunction is stayed, dissolved, or otherwise ceases to have effect, such provisions shall have full force and effect.

So, if I’m Charlotte my reply is that at a minimum the legislature needs to repeal parts II and III of HB2 before we’ll discuss anything. Even then I think Charlotte’s city council would be dumb to even entertain the idea of repealing the ordinance – after all it’s the legislature and governor who are over a barrel right now – but at least the conversation would be about the specific bathroom bill and not the constraints on local municipalities to provide added employment protections for the LGBT community if they so desired.

How do the legislators and governor not get that to everyone else in the world who isn’t from their camp they look like how I did to my Mom way back when. Even if Charlotte passed the ordinance with the specific intention of provoking them, how could they be so stupid as to get suckered into overreacting and getting themselves sent into economic timeout?

My excuse is that I was 12, but what’s theirs?

A Big L On My Forehead

While the “L” on my forehead would normally mean “loser”, today it has a different meaning. It is the Roman numeral representing 50 which happens to be the birthday I’m celebrating today. Yep, it’s a landmark and I’m enjoying it – full confession, I LOVE all the “happy birthdays” I’m getting Facebook and LinkedIn, and the emails and texts from my brother, kids and other family members wishing me the same – beginning with some wonderfully thoughtful gifts from my (much) better half this morning and an edible basket she had delivered today at work.

I’m also very lucky in that I’m the son of a writer and as such I get my very own “origin story.” I haven’t asked her permission to share it, but I figure she sent it as a gift so I don’t really need to. Mom’s a helluva writer and this is something I’ll cherish forever.

It was Monday, still a bit warmer than is the norm in southern Germany in mid-September, but not so hot as it had been in August, when little droplets scurried down the sides of a belly that no longer fit inside the maternity blouses unless they were unbuttoned at the bottom.

This was day 21 – a full three weeks after the due date.  But then the due date was known to be less than dependable.  This child had been conceived after the last birth control pill and before the first menstrual cycle.  It was not supposed to happen that way, but if mothers have any sixth sense at all about such things, this mother had a pretty reliable read on what occurred.

They’d been in Garmisch, “skiing.”  When one owns no equipment and has no experience, one “rents” from the military.  In that, as in so many things, one size fits all – that is, all of the non-elite.  Boots came unstrapped, poles and skis were all the same no matter what height the supposed skiier.  He, of course, went right down the slope first time out.  She tried and fell, tried and fell, tried and fell.  Gave up.  There was no ski lift working, because there had been an avalanche.  The ski area is essentially a bowl on the top of the mountain, so they walked back, falling against the side of the mountain when they met anyone coming the other way.  One such traveler looked at her and said, “Ma’am, if you feel anything like you look, you should get back to the lodge NOW.”

A variety of effluents – tears, snot, saliva – created a small grotto on her face.  Her hands and feet had no feeling.  The thawing out that happened in the lodge was (though she had no way of knowing it) training for pain tolerance that would be needed in the Heidelberg hospital 10 months hence.  Later they got warm.  Nice and warm.

They determined she was, indeed, pregnant the same day that he had hernia surgery in Heidelberg.  He had no real reaction to the news, but then he’d been shaved (The hair on his chest looked like the tree line on a mountaintop.) and cut open.  Reason enough.

The months that followed were full of new experiences.  All pregnant women went to the clinic on Thursday.  The waiting room had all the appeal of a cattle barn – no mooing, but there could have been, given the size, shape and gender of those assembled.  

There was no obstetrician in evidence.  She never really knew what the specialties were of the three who saw her on any given Thursday.  About all she learned was the baby seemed normal, she should eat correctly and take vitamins, and if she allowed her weight gain to exceed 20 pounds she would be put in the hospital and fed whatever way was necessary to take it back down to below 20 pounds.  That meant each visit was preceded by a half-hour or so in the bathroom trying on all possible combinations of ugly tent-sized garments to see which was the lightest.  Pre-electronic scales, in that bathroom and at the clinic, praise be.

Even with the restricted weight gain, she had to master the art of waddling.  Somewhere there is a Super 8 tape that is embarrassing testimony to just how inept she was.  It’s a video taken from behind as she stumbled more than strolled through the gardens near Lake Constanz.

All in all, though having no baseline to which to compare her experience she didn’t know it, the pregnancy was uneventful, even comparatively comfortable.  No morning sickness, no swollen ankles.  The only real issues were that many body parts seem to have ballooned in the most graphic sense of the word.  The bra size went from 34 A to 36 C. (No complaints from the prospective paternal corner.) All 18.5 pounds stuck straight out front.

When the due date passed, and then a week elapsed, they literally spent one Sunday driving the back roads, looking for bumps.  The second week, he as building captain was supposed to paint the fence out front.  He had issues at work, so she painted – belly facing parallel, shoulders turned, white paint on her elbows.   Lots of energy.  “Maybe, oh maybe,” she thought, “this is what Aunt May called ‘lightening,’ that surge of energy just before labor.”

At the beginning of the third week, the Stars and Stripes carried a story of a woman who delivered a child without waking up from her afternoon nap.  She got calls and more calls.  “That’s how you should do it!”

Then on Sunday she began bleeding.  They went to the clinic, where the doc on call insisted he could not examine her because there were no grey ladies (volunteer nurses’ aides) available.  She insisted that the father would suffice.  It became clear, then, that the doc didn’t know what he was looking for.  He was an ophthalmologist.  He said he thought she had twins – he heard two heartbeats.  Back home they went.

Monday brought a bridge game, and at the table the first slight pains began. By the time the about-to-be dad got home from work, the pains had become regular.  He showered, and they left, leaving behind the grilled steaks that should have been dinner.  She rode the 30 kilometers to the hospital in an ambulance, while he followed in he car.  The two medics in the ambulance had no experience with monitoring expectant mothers or delivering babies.  They pleaded, “Why not lie down?  That way, maybe the pains won’t be coming faster.”

Less than nine hours later, a healthy baby with a deep, deep voice made his appearance.  Clearly, he had attended a lecture in preparation.  The rules he knew and followed were:

You eat regularly, every four hours.

Before the first month is out, you learn to skip that feeding in the middle of the night.

You can decide what you like to eat, within limits.  Carrots are great.  Spinach is not.

Pooping is a wonderful instrument of revenge.  She will put a “poop pad” on her lap, so the drama may be limited there.  He will not, so you can make a real mess.  (Big enough, as it turned out, that he threw away his slacks, lest the dry cleaner think the mess had been his.)

She really knows absolutely nothing about breast-feeding, so you can take charge.  Be careful, though, because someone has taught her to put a safety pin on the bra strap on the side she starts with, to make sure she starts on the other side the next time.  The pin can scratch your nose.

Laugh a lot.  Chortling is even better.

He made an “A.”  Then and forever after.

Did Anyone Notice or Care?

A couple of noteworthy and related things happened this weekend:

  1. The Winston-Salem Journal endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson for President.
  2. No one really gave a s&*%.

Now the Winston-Salem Journal isn’t what you’d call a widely read newspaper, but it is the major daily for a city of about 230,000 and in the past this decision would have been notable. The muted reaction could be because the Richmond Times-Dispatch did it first, but honestly I don’t think anyone cares what the editorial boards of any of the papers think. If that’s not a sign of how little influence local dailies have these days I don’t know what is.