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?

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