The Partisan Divide

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At another time in history, I think it’s safe to say most Americans would have reacted with horror to a black celebrity reporting that he had been the victim of a hate crime, one in which he was beaten, taunted, and had a noose put around his neck. I think it’s also safe to say most Americans would then have been outraged to discover that the celebrity had faked the incident to help his stature in Hollywood. At another time in history, all Americans would have been horrified to discover that a member of the U.S. Coast Guard had been planning to massacre scores of civilians.

In both of these recent instances, partisanship took the place of common sense and a common humanity. On the one hand, liberals were all too ready to pounce upon the strange tale told by Jussie Smollett, a cast member on the TV series Empire. Incensed by a rise in hate crimes that is only too real, they assumed that this was another case of Trump supporters run amok. In the case of Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson, President Trump and his fellow conservatives have been strangely loath to condemn this instance of domestic terrorism. Why? The supposed targets of Hasson’s rage were Democrats and members of the media.

It has come to a pretty pass when everything that happens in our country falls on one side or other of the giant partisan divide that makes Trump’s proposed “big, beautiful wall” on the Texas/Mexico border look like a puny Lego structure. Mind you, this partisanship has been around for a long time. Republicans resisted when the Nixon Administration was investigated and ultimately disgraced by the Watergate scandal. Similarly, Democrats bristled at the charges against Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

But our knee jerk reactions just seem to be worse these days. Maybe it’s the influence of social media and the widespread dissemination of stories online that is responsible for cycles of outrage and partisanship. It takes just a few clicks on a keyboard for any average Joe to become an instant pundit on Facebook or Twitter. Twitter in particular is like a loose handgun sitting around waiting for someone with a hair trigger temper to pick it up and start shooting.

What is it going to take to bring our country together? I pray that it won’t be something devastating like the 9/11 attacks. In the wake of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in our history, we were mostly just Americans, not Democrats or Republicans. Sure, there were disagreements about the incursion into Iraq that grew out of that terrorist attack. But overall, Americans of both parties came together to protect our country against further attacks.

The actions of Jussie Smollett and Lt. Hasson are alleged. Both have been charged with crimes, but in our justice system they are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law. That does not stop anyone from speculating, pontificating, or generally being a know-it-all about their motives, character, and guilt.

It would behoove all of us to get off our high horses and take the time to listen, learn and try to appreciate the nuances of an issue, to pause and get all the facts before jumping to conclusions. Yes, it’s important to speak out against injustice. But we need to view ourselves as human beings first, Americans second, and partisans dead last. Otherwise our fractured country will continue to break apart in a massive case of partisan continental drift.

The Soundtrack of Our Lives

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The other day I heard “Shallow,” a Grammy-award winning song from the movie A Star Is Born. I must confess to having been underwhelmed. Maybe that’s because I haven’t yet seen the film and thus have no context for appreciating the song.

It has often been true for me that the associations I make with a particular song affect how much I enjoy it. For example, I had always found John Lennon’s “Imagine” to be a bit of a dirge. Then I heard it played at the very end of the excellent, devastating Cambodian war film The Killing Fields. As the hero walks across a field to the safety of a Red Cross refugee camp, Lennon’s words took on new poignance for me: “Imagine there’s no country. … Nothing to kill or die for. … Imagine all the people living life in peace.”

A similar example is the 80s song “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds. Like many tunes of that time period, it sounded to me as if the lead singer were under water. But when the song closed out the popular John Hughes film The Breakfast Club, it felt more like an anthem for the youth of America.

In that era, MTV was extremely influential in the wedding of the visual with the auditory. The station began as a platform for music videos with VJs instead of DJs introducing and commenting on the current hits. Many actresses and models got their breaks after being featured in these popular videos. And once you’d seen the music video, it was impossible not to think of the images when you heard the song on the radio.

Many songs bring back memories that make them more special than they might otherwise have been to us. I will never forget cruising around aimlessly with my high school friends as “The Boys Are Back in Town” blared from the car stereo. Similarly, songs like “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Evil Woman,” and anything by Boston take me back to my freshman year in college when I was just learning to be on my own. The song “Brick House” always conjures a smile as I picture myself with my good friend Barb out on the dance floor showing off our moves. And I will always be grateful to the Eagles for picking me up with the song “Already Gone” as I was coming to terms with a romantic breakup.

Moving forward musically in time, I have found a satellite radio station called PopRocks that brings me back to the early 2000s when my kids were just starting to get into popular music. One day back then I was driving my daughter and a couple of her friends somewhere when the Eminem song “Without Me” came on the radio. To my total surprise, the girls started belting out all the words to Slim Shady’s popular rap song. I knew then that the days of Disney-themed pop were behind us.

Music will always offer a backdrop to the times of our lives, good and bad. Our associations based on movies, television, and our own life experiences form a powerful connection to particular songs and even sometimes entire albums. I’ll have to give “Shallow” another shot after I see the movie from which it originates. It just may become one of my favorites.

 

 

The Dreaded “S” Word

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ss_socialistI can tell the Republican Party is a bit desperate when they start raising the specter of their favorite bugaboo: Socialism. Ever since the midterm elections ushered in a new crop of legislators, many of them Democratic women and minorities, the GOP has characterized their ideas as socialist and pointed to Venezuela as their supposed governmental model.

It doesn’t help that Donald Trump has persisted with his wall folly despite the refusal of Congress to approve it. Or that Robert Mueller keeps getting closer and closer to the president in his investigation of collusion with the Russians in the 2016 election. Trump even has other Republicans challenging him for the nomination in 2020, something almost unheard of for a sitting president. The GOP needs a distraction.

So it’s time to start bashing Democrats for their sappy ideals of fair wages, health care for all, and saving the planet from the effects of climate change.

The problem is that Americans want a certain amount of government intervention to counter the effects of unbridled capitalism. Even my right wing husband, for instance, is in favor of anti-trust legislation. The New Deal gave Americans security after the Great Depression, and nowadays we take for granted that in our old age we will be able to rely on Medicare and Social Security to get us through. These may be “socialist” programs, but they are recognized by pretty much everyone to be necessary safety nets for our citizens.

Even Donald Trump ran for office promising to rein in prescription drug prices, a laudable goal but one that hardly smacks of free market capitalism. Yet common sense tells us that it’s not okay for Mylan to jack up the price of an EpiPen to $500. Lately the price of insulin, a common life-saving drug for diabetics, has shot up, jeopardizing people’s savings and even lives. Do we really not want the government to step in?

Another Democratic proposal that is being skewered by Republicans is the Green New Deal, which conservatives hate not only because it is “socialist” but because it is being touted by a fiery Millennial woman who is so not one of them. The Green New Deal is really a policy statement more than a proposed law. It acknowledges that without drastic reductions in carbon emissions in the next decade, our world is in for major destruction and upheaval.

As for health care, well, Republicans have been trying to take “Obamacare” away from people for the past 9 years, but the American public is not having it. Like the New Deal programs of Social Security and Medicare, health care coverage for all Americans is seen as a right, not a privilege. It’s worth some government intervention to establish a system wherein all Americans have access to affordable health care. We can debate whether the best way to go about that is Medicare for all or some private/public combination. But there is little doubt among Americans that health care should be affordable and accessible.

We are not heading in the direction of a socialist Venezuelan-style dictatorship. Ironically, Donald Trump, with his disdain for the Constitution and the free press, his propensity for befriending despots, and his need for unquestioning loyalty and adulation, veers dangerously close to a would-be dictator himself.

The role of government in a democracy will always be a subject for debate and compromise. Our freedoms are constantly being balanced against our needs for safety and well-being. Democrats and Republicans will not always agree about how best t o maintain that balance. But hurling the “S” word at Democrats is not a particularly productive way to have the necessary debates.

Republicans are trying to scare Americans in order to regain their stranglehold on power in Congress. Despite his glaring shortcomings, they continue to stand by Donald Trump and his politics of division. But today’s Democrats are not that easily cowed. Their vision for a better, more fair America is one to be proud of, not to retreat from. So call them Socialists all you want. I predict those so-called socialists are poised to do great things for our country.

 

A Day For Love

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All the complaints about the commercialization of Valentine’s Day may be true. It’s overhyped, a “Hallmark holiday,” and an excuse to sell overpriced flowers, chocolates, and jewelry. Still, there’s something sweet about a red and pink holiday celebrated smack dab in the middle of the winter doldrums – and a celebration of love, no less!

Valentine’s Day helps remind couples of the romantic feelings that brought them together. It’s a day to break the cycle of taking our significant other for granted and do something nice for him or her. Going out for a nice dinner together, cracking open that bottle of champagne you’d been saving, surprising him or her with fresh flowers. All these actions can signify our appreciation for the one we love.

And these forms of appreciation need not be costly. Offering a back rub, taking a long walk, or watching a favorite movie on TV together can be just as romantic as an expensive night out or a piece of jewelry. Cooking her favorite dinner or whipping up a special dessert for him are wonderful ways to say you care. Just putting down those phones and really talking to each other. There’s an idea!

I’m a sucker for greeting cards. I can spend hours in the aisles at a store perusing the selections for just the right message for the ones I love. Yes, commercial greeting cards have gotten ridiculously expensive, and many people don’t want to waste upwards of $5.00 on a piece of card stock. But exchanging valentines is still a sweet and romantic gesture. You can always swipe a card from the sets your kids are using for their classmates and pen a message of love to your loved one.

Kids have the right idea about celebrating Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day should be heavy on candy, cardboard hearts, stickers, paste and glitter. I have fond memories of addressing valentines to all of my grammar school classmates and bringing them to school in the tissue box “mailbox” I’d decorated with hearts and flowers. I made sure to choose just the right greeting for each child (nothing too mushy or romantic for the boys!).

Love in all its forms should be the focus of today. After all, it’s really a saint’s feast day. St. Valentine was known not only for bringing young lovers together but for helping the poor and downtrodden of society. So let your Valentine’s Day spirit overflow with hearts and joy and love for the people in your life. I guarantee that love will come back to you many times over.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

Decisions, Decisions

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1-56“I’m just saying that any decision made, big or small, has an impact around the world.” This statement by Marty Byrde, the main character in the Netflix series Ozark, encapsulates the main theme of the show. Marty is an ordinary accountant whose one decision has serious repercussions for his family and for just about everyone with whom he comes into contact. Like Lake Ozark, the moody locale of the series, a placid existence can experience the ripple effects of that first pebble dropped into it.

Every day we make decisions: what to eat, what to wear, which roads to take to work. Will I exercise or sit around? Should I give a dollar to the homeless man on the corner? Sometime our decisions are momentous: Should I ask the woman I love to marry me? Should I take the job in California? Sometimes we don’t even realize we are making a life-changing choice: What will it hurt if we skip using the condom this once?

Most of us, though, go about our ordinary lives without considering that each little action  can have far-reaching consequences. Every smile, every kind word we speak to another person can influence someone’s mood and possibly affect the rest of their day. The accumulation of good habits and actions has an even greater effect on our lives, our health, and our relationships.

Of course, the reverse is also true. Small lies or cutting corners in our business dealings can add up. It’s a truism that someone who can be trusted in small things can also be trusted with the big things. The way we treat our loved ones and others in our lives also can become an accumulation of small hurts, small digs at another’s self-esteem. I think people underestimate the effects of their words on others, especially cruel or denigrating words.

The fascinating aspect of a series like Ozark is the depiction of someone not all that different from ourselves who digs himself deeper and deeper into a life he had never imagined or wanted for himself. And even though Marty Byrde acts a bit cold-blooded as he explains his philosophy about decision-making, he is descending into a moral and psychological abyss as his actions threaten to destroy the very thing he seeks to protect: his family.

 

 

Under the Weather

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chiberia-7-1050x700-7244You’d have thought the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were riding into town the way weather reports heralded the arrival of a devastating Ice Storm that was projected to halt life as we know it. In what is becoming all too frequent an occurrence, the schools put out a message that early morning activities would be canceled and school possibly opened a couple of hours late to avoid the treachery of streets and sidewalks coated in ice. It did rain last night, but the predicted life-threatening conditions never arrived. My daughter disappointedly headed to school at her usual time, and life went on.

The drama of this late winter season has gotten to me. Last week’s dumping of snow followed by record low temperatures across the Midwest – a situation that meant 3 days of school closures – made an ordinary week an ordeal. Then an unseasonable thaw gives way to a new storm with potentially dangerous icy conditions. I am so over Winter 2019.

Each time we dig out and take the time for a sip of hot cocoa, another storm system starts heading our way. Or the polar vortex comes swooping down and forces us to wrap ourselves up in cocoons. Last week I kept seeing that Chicago was colder than Siberia, Antarctica, and probably Uranus. (Cue the sophomoric jokes.)

It does not help that meteorologists have taken to giving these storms names. Back in the day, only hurricanes were named, and in less enlightened times, those names were all female. Nowadays, though, we need high drama with everything, including our weather reports. I appreciate being apprised of conditions that might affect travel and safety. But either weather prognosticators need to get better at their predictions or reporters need to become more measured in their response to potential weather events. This “The sky is falling” approach to weather reporting has got to end. We have enough drama with our politics these days. And the doomsday scenarios only give my kid false hope for another canceled school day. With the way this winter is going, she will be making up snow days in July!

Meanwhile that famous rodent Punxsutawney Phil has supposedly predicted an early spring. If only, Phil. If only.

 

Feeding the Soul

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Although I don’t really like to cook, I love to feed people. There’s nothing more gratifying to me than to set out a meal and have my friends or family members enjoy it. And while I myself have a tendency to pick at my food, I love hosting a person with a hearty appetite, one who cleans his or her plate and asks for seconds.

There’s something fundamental about meeting a human being’s need for food. Mothers the world over begin the process with their infants almost from the first moment they are born. I loved the close bonding of nursing my biological children, but I also loved bottle feeding my adopted child. In fact, one of the most frustrating parts of having young children is how difficult they can be about mealtime at certain phases of their lives. They thwart their parents need to nurture them with food.

Communal meals have been a feature of every human society from time immemorial. Families and clans have always gathered around campfires and tables to share food and companionship, to bond and feel safe and nourished. Every celebration involves food, and food is the focal point of holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover, and even the Fourth of July. At my parish Bible Study, we always have a table full of treats. If someone forgets to bring them, we get downright cranky.

The joy of feeding people can extend outward to those in need. Most communities have thriving food pantries, and many have soup kitchens, places where the homeless, the underemployed, and the struggling of our society can go to receive sustenance. Of all the charitable acts I can think of, nothing comes close to the fundamental gift of nourishment through feeding people.

During the recent government shutdown, business owners and ordinary Americans opened their hearts, their wallets and their doors to furloughed workers in order to provide them groceries and hot meals. Say what you will about the divided state of our nation. When push comes to shove, Americans will step up and help each other fill our most basic human needs.

If you come to my house, chances are good that I will try to foist some kind of food on you. It gives me such pleasure to watch people enjoy the food I’ve made – or even just bought and unwrapped. As Elizabeth Berg writes in her wonderful novel The Story of Arthur Truluv, “It’s something to feed somebody who is so in need of eating. It’s something to feed somebody, period.”