Sunday, November 11, 2018

Dear Veterans

Maybe you were part of a group of farmers and blacksmiths who fought against the most powerful and best trained military in the world because you knew that taxation without representation was not right. Maybe you wanted to preserve a union that had been fractured due to slavery and changing economies. Perhaps you fought in trenches in the war that was meant to end all others, as mustard gas swarmed around you and the British and French allies standing beside you. It could be that you were a scared teenager sent to fight in a jungle only to return home to a country that didn't appreciate you or maybe even disdained you. Maybe you were charged with providing desperately needed food to a starving nation while warlords violently attacked your every effort. 

Did you decide to enlist because serving in the military is part of a proud family tradition and you were honored to wear the uniform as your father and grandfather had done before you? Did you walk to the nearest recruitment center after you turned on the radio and heard FDR telling the nation about a day that will live in infamy? Did you sign a contract to serve the day after you watched those towers fall on your television screen? Did you join the military out of economic necessity? Or perhaps to choose a life different from the one offered by a family or neighborhood that was steering you down the wrong path? Maybe you didn't want to join at all but your number got called and you answered for duty.

Maybe you look forward to the opportunity to be a guest speaker at Veterans Day programs held at your local elementary school every year so that you can share your important experiences with the youngest generation among us. Maybe you don't like to talk about your service with anyone. At all.

Did you have a large family waiting for you at the base when you returned from your latest deployment? Perhaps even a baby you were meeting for the first time? Or, did you walk off that plane and scan the crowd not to find a single familiar face excited to welcome you home?

Did you walk through the liberated concentration camps and stare at the gaunt faces with the skeletal bodies and understand the full weight of the atrocities you had been fighting? Were you were one of the Marines who survived when your barracks in Beirut were bombed while hundreds of brothers around you died? Did an IED in Iraq claim your leg or arm or eye?

Maybe you fought a Communist regime that starved and massacred its own people or fought with Mexico over the correct southern border for our expanding country. Did you stand opposite your cousin on a bloody field in Gettysburg? Did you fight in the snow or the desert or on beaches or through the streets of a city?

Some of you were sent on a mission that had a clear purpose and with intentions that were noble. For others, perhaps the orders you received sometimes left you wondering why you even were there in the first place. You have served under presidents who knew what it was like to face war and approached sending you into battle or hostile territories with the solemnness that such a decision deserves and other leaders who perhaps were reckless with your lives. But still you went.

The experiences of our veterans are diverse and each story is one that deserves to be known with rapt attention. But despite all of the differences in experiences and geography and outcome, there are few things that are true no matter what.

First, you are brave. So brave. You stand in the line of fire to defend millions of people you do not know. You believe this country and its ideals are worth giving your life, if necessary. Not only that, but you offer your life to build schools and wells for fresh water. You offer protection for the most vulnerable around the globe. You leave your own children behind in an effort to ensure that I can continue to live in a free and safe land where I can hold my own kids closely whenever I want. Many of you were just a few years older than my daughter when you went to Antietam or the Spring Offensive or Omaha Beach or the Korean Peninsula or Saigon or Baghdad or Kandahar. That's stunning.

Second, I don't think about you enough. It's true. I talk about your courage and sacrifice with my children on days like today. When I see you in uniform, I try to remember to thank you for your service. But when I'm sitting down to a Thanksgiving meal with my kids later this month, will I take time to think about the many holidays you missed with your families while serving overseas? When I see the homeless gentleman who stands in the same spot every day on my commute to work with a sign that reads "Veteran. Please help," am I doing all I can to fulfill his request?

Third, I am thankful for you. Just reflecting on the sacrifices that you make and your subscription to the notion of a purpose bigger than self is amazing. And to think about the contributions you continued to make to this country through pursuing your education or raising your families or caring for others who served alongside you and keeping alive the memories of those who did not return . . . my awe and respect grows. Thank you.

In humble gratitude,

Friday, November 9, 2018

Meet Me in the Middle - My Next Steps Thanks to Leslie Knope

The morning after the midterm elections, my wise daughter said to me, "I know you are upset today. You need to listen to some good music and stay away from social media."

Her advice was excellent and much needed. I kept a safe distance from my Facebook account and I made sure 90s R & B was coming through my speakers at work, in the car, and at home. I also added my surefire healing activities of watching a ridiculous number of episodes of Parks and Recreation and finding any words coming out of Tina Fey's mouth on YouTube and pressing play on those. Because I love her so much.

I was having a hard time this week not because every candidate for whom I voted on Tuesday lost. That part is OK. It's certainly not the first time I've chosen candidates who were not victorious. But I really struggled to understand how so many in my state could stand witness to the man who has lived in the White House for the past two years and decide, "Hey, I want to double down on that!" with the election of Marsha Blackburn to the United State Senate by a wider margin than most anticipated. Her most widely circulated ad featured her hugging Trump on a stage at the end of a rally during which he mocked her opponent and called him names. That's sweet. Still, she won 93 of our 95 counties.

I wrote on the morning of the election, before I knew the results that would test my resolve, that we must choose to love our neighbors because that is a bipartisan act that surely will make for a better America.  And I believe that with all of my heart. So, I took a few days to regroup. I wanted to let the initial disappointment move through me before I typed any words with emotion that I would regret.

So, I listened to Blackstreet and Dru Hill and Ginuwine.

Then one of my co-workers came into my office and said that Trump had called a CNN reporter a horrible person and an enemy of the state and then told another reporter she should be ashamed for asking a racist question.

I turned up Jodeci and Silk and Boyz II Men.

That same co-worker of mine later informed me that the CNN reporter had lost his White House access and Trump had used that same press conference to call out fellow Republicans by name who had lost their elections and mocked them as being losers because they didn't support him enough. Oh, and Trump just fired ("asked to resign") Jeff Sessions! Actually, he didn't do it. He asked Kelly Conaway to do it. Way to step up there, Mr. President.

My efforts to block out the news were failing! I made SWV and Joe and Keith Sweat even louder but my mind started to spin. Shouldn't we be concerned with these continued attacks on a free press? I mean, I like the First Amendment to the Constitution . . . am I the only one? And, isn't it odd that Trump fired the attorney general the same day that he realized that Democrats would control the House next session and therefore likely would start investigations? Trump now wants a loyalist in that office who will protect him at all costs.

Then, I woke up on Thursday morning to hear that twelve people who just wanted to have an evening of drinking and dancing with friends had been killed by gunfire at a bar in California. And some of them had survived the mass shooting in Las Vegas just a year ago. And I was disgusted that I was not more shocked that this happened. And not surprised when it quickly moved away from having "top story" status on major news outlets because it's just another instance of many innocent people being killed by guns in America . . . nothing unique to report here.

As Mark Morrison and R. Kelly played in the background, I knew I could not remain in my R & B bubble much longer.

And it's not that my frustration is limited to the dangerous antics of the Trump administration. I think Jim Acosta is obnoxious and grandstanding and clearly has an agenda every time he asks Trump a question. The way he was treated by the president is awful and he did not deserve to lose his White House access, but let's not pretend he is a completely innocuous journalist just trying to report the news objectively.

I also did not like the repeated pronouncements regarding how many women and LBGT and minority candidates had won office for the first time. It's not because I don't believe we need diverse representation in our elected bodies - I hold strongly to the idea that we need a variety of experiences and philosophies injected in the political process and that people, especially children, need to see others who look like them or share some of their struggles being active participants in the halls of power. It's just these "electoral firsts" only were celebrated if the winning candidate fit a certain agenda.

I didn't see too many celebrities or media outlets excited to share the news that Republican Marsha Blackburn is the first ever female senator from the state of Tennessee or Republican Young Kim of California is the first Korean American woman in Congress. Because those women do not fit the narrative.

Let's certainly encourage people of all backgrounds to run for office and become more involved with campaigns. We do this amazing, multicultural country no favors when everyone working in the Capitol looks like Mitch McConnell. But here's the deal - there are some fairly awful gays and Muslims and females - I don't want to elect them just because they aren't white dudes. Let's be careful with our identity politics.

And, I have a few questions for the voters who inhabit the far left part of the political spectrum. Why did some of you have hang out and protest in front of Tucker Carlson's home, where his wife and children live? Why give out Sean Hannity's home address and promise the same there? Why do you default to cries of "Nazi" and "fascist"? Why do you insist on asking when "the stupid people are going to stop voting against their own interests"? Why scream at Ted Cruz when he is just trying to eat dinner? You look obnoxious and you aren't going to win over the heart and minds of your fellow Americans with such tactics.

So, here I am. A moderate who is frustrated by the behavior of both of our increasingly polarized parties. And, I KNOW I am not alone. There are so many of us across the country who believe that Republicans AND Democrats have ideas worthy of consideration and debate. We believe that America is better when we work together instead of declaring those of a differing political opinion the enemy or traitors. We want to vote for a person based on the ideas and the enthusiasm that he or she brings to a campaign, not blindly based on a R or a D next to their names on a ballot. We find Trump's behavior and maneuvers mildly troubling and silly at best and antithetical to our freedoms and the Constitution at worst.

What is the moderate majority to do these days, when candidates are forced to steer hard right or left to gain approval of the party faithful? How do we champion bipartisanship once again as being essential to American progress instead of a word that is reviled? Because I will tell you the truth - I shared with more than person this week that a growing part of me doesn't want to vote anymore. Elections are being pushed so far to the extremes that I feel lost. (And this was a moment of temporary insanity on my part. Of course I will vote. Election day is like Christmas to me.)

In a episode of the sixth season of Parks and Recreation, an episode that I watched for the fourth or fifth time just this week, Lesli Knope loses in a recall election. At first, Knope is resigned to sit on the couch and watch television and just not care anymore. She is frustrated by politics and the people around her. But then Ann Perkins, the "poetic, noble land-mermaid," reminds Knope of who she is and how much she cares about her community. And Leslie Knope resolves to keep working and caring. Side bar - if you never have watched Parks and Recreation or you have watched it and you don't think it's brilliant, I don't understand your life.

I turned off my 90s R & B that I had been using a crutch to distract from news swirling all around me (but only for a little while because 90s R & B is the best ever) and resolved to be like Knope. To that end, here are the four goals I have moving forward, at least politically speaking:

1. Advocate for moderate politicians who value working across the aisle and who have track records of success in doing so. Who out there knows Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland? I love him. He is a Republican who just won re-election in a very blue state. That's unheard of. He also consistently holds one of the highest approval ratings in the country. His personal story is compelling. He is a strong leader and a great listener. I very much want him to run for president. It's voices like his that need more attention in America.

2. I've just started a rough outline for a book, working title Meet Me in the Middle. I've wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old. I have a couple of other book ideas swirling around in my brain, but this one now takes precedence. I want to speak to the longing that I know so many of us have to find our common political ground. I'm totally not kidding about this and plan to work diligently on this project in 2019 (I need to graduate with my paralegal certificate and get through the holidays first).

3. I want to run for office someday. Not now. I'm a single parent with sole custody of my kids. There is no extra time to devote to campaigning or serving. But I want to run. So, look for me on a local ballot sometime after 2027 when the boy moves out of my house.

(For full disclosure - I ran for office once before. It was a seriously ill-advised Metro Council run in 2003, when I had lived here less than a year after moving from Maryland. In retrospect, I wouldn't have voted for me then. I came in third out of three, with victory going to a crooked good old boy. In going door to door, prospective voters told me that had to vote for him because they grew up with him. He did nothing for his constituents once elected. I did work diligently against his re-election four years later and he became the only incumbent not to win a second term that year. I know when I run again, I will be ready. I will have 25 years of living in a state that I've grown to love surrounded by people who I want to serve.)

4. Love my neighbors. I fall short every day. I get frustrated when people think differently than me. I'm guessing many of us are guilty of that. But, I really want to start every day with the intention of love and kindness. Because that helps us see each other as unique humans with emotions and struggles and triumphs and not Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives. It's harder to lump a neighbor (and I use "neighbor" here to refer to everyone because we all are neighbors) in a category as being "one of them" if we know her children and her fears. And to that end, I wish no harm to Donald Trump. I don't call him silly names and scream personal insults. I would be content for him to live his golden years in a way that brings him peace and happiness. I just really don't want him to be president anymore.

So, thank you, Leslie Knope, for being the catalyst that pulled me out of my post-election slump. And thank you to Shai for being there for me as therapy until I was ready to read the news again.

How do you feel after the midterm elections? Hopeful? Frustrated? Thrilled? Despondent? Do you agree with me that there is a moderate majority out there that feels left out by the extremes on both sides? Or, is that just wishful thinking on my part?

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Donald Trump is Not a Nationalist

I want my president to love America. I love this country! There are plenty of places around the world where I could not vote or decide who to marry (or later divorce if circumstances warrant that difficult decision) or get an education or work just because I'm a woman. There are countries in which violence and poverty are all a majority of its citizens have ever known.

We also have mountains and oceans and farms and swamps and snow and heat and deserts. That's amazing. We have people from all over the world who long to live within our borders for the freedoms and the opportunities we provide. That's really amazing. Oh, and the Constitution? Most people who have known me for a minute know how I feel about that document. ALL the warm and fuzzy feelings of love.

And we have football. Not the kind during which the athletes primarily use their feet and the rest of the world really enjoys, but the kind that involves nachos and an overzealous protection of the quarterback and the screen on my television every weekend in autumn. 

So, yes, I want the occupant of the White House to think this place is amazing (while also acknowledging that we always are striving to be a "more perfect Union" and we haven't hit the mark yet).

To that end, President Trump recently has proclaimed at rallies that he is a proud "nationalist," which is met with raucous approval from those in attendance. Merriam-Webster defines a nationalist as someone who subscribes to "nationalism," and nationalism is defined as "loyalty and devotion to a nation; exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests." Fair enough. It's a solid argument to say our leaders should be loyal to our nation and promote its interests above those of other countries.

Critics have derided Trump's embrace of this word, though, as it has come to be associated with notions of nativism and a sense of superiority over other cultures and nations. It eludes to the concept of walling our nation off and just looking out for ourselves. It pits us versus them and insinuates that we are better than our fellow men and women around the globe.

Here's the thing, though. I don't think people who are concerned about President Trump's stance as a nationalist in the worst possible sense of the word really should be upset. Why? Because I don't think Trump particularly cares about America all that much. I don't mean that to sound super negative . . . I don't at all think that he actively dislikes our country. He's not super and steadfastly into her, either. I don't think he knows that much about the United States or offers this nation much time of reflection or critical thought.

So why does Trump state he is a nationalist while speaking to his supporters at the ridiculous rallies he enjoys so much? Because Trump cares about Trump. That's it. His concerns (assuming his internal dialogue occurs in the third person) are "What is good for Donald Trump?" and "What will make Donald Trump happy?" So, he just says whatever will get people to cheer for him. He likes cheering. A lot. And saying "nationalist" at a Trump rally is a great way to hear some cheering. To that same end, Trump likes to throw out a few other proven phrases like "Hillary Clinton!" (to which all rally attendees are required to respond "Lock her up!") or "jobs, not mobs" or "anchor babies" and then just soak in the applause. These moments are ego strokers for him.

Does Trump really believe in the words that he says? Eh. Probably not really. He does not seem to have a consistent belief system, after all. He's adamantly pro-choice and then he wants women who have abortions to face criminal charges. He thinks the electoral college is ridiculous and then it's pretty awesome when it means he wins. He's a Democrat and votes as such and hangs in those circles for many years but now all that has changed. He pledges to repeal and replace Obamacare but then decides some of its components could stay . . . which gets him close to his previous stance in support of universal health care. He claims to be a born again Christian but also cannot think of a single thing for which he needs forgiveness. He's been known to flip flop on an issue multiple times in one day, from immigration to trade policy to who he should fire, based on the most recent person to have his ear.

Without consistent policy to guide him, it comes back to the need for applause and validation. If Trump felt like people would cheer for him, I think he would stand on a stage and proclaim that we need to ban all guns or that Colin Kaepernick is taking an important stance or Nancy Pelosi is an effective legislative leader or we should consider Spanish as our country's official language.

So, I don't believe that Donald Trump is a nationalist in the way that his detractors condemn. I also don't think he is really a racist, as many say. He doesn't put enough thought into his language or his opinions about anyone or anything to be a racist.  (Does he embolden people who are racist? Sure. Because they cheer for him when he says things they like and, as already noted, he likes that so he continues to do it.) He just likes Donald Trump. Very, very much. And he wants to stand in front of adoring people who loudly share how much they like the words that come out of his mouth, whether or not those words mean anything to him at all.