Monthly Archives: September 2016

The Defiant One

bushobamaYou know why I like this photo? Because when I think of America, when I really try to put a visual image to my thoughts on America, this is what I see. It encapsulates so much.

To the public at large, you have two people with nothing in common. They disagree on everything. They are polar opposites who are the ultimate embodiment of the great impasse at which our country finds itself.

And yet…there’s that picture.

So what could it possibly mean. Well, to me it means that out of the 300+ million Americans, maybe 50 REALLY know George W. Bush. And the same is true of Michelle Obama. So for the vast majority of us, we don’t know if they in actuality have anything in common or not. Maybe they share a love of classical jazz music. Or maybe they both harbor a secret desire to paint like the masters of old. Heck, maybe they had a secret family date to watch the Chicago Bears play the Dallas Cowboys this last weekend complete with Romo and Cutler jerseys and an edible stadium vegetable platter. I mean really, who knows what shared interests these two unique individuals have outside of their political beliefs-beliefs I believe make up such a small part of who we as human beings actually are, or at least they should?

However, there is at least one thing we do know. We know they both possess a shared experience of understanding what it’s like to have every single word, expression and gesture seized upon by a soulless media who know nothing about the true measure of their heart and having those words, expressions and gestures parsed and analyzed into their worst possible outcomes. That alone would provide enough of a common ground to engender feelings of mutual admiration and respect even if those feelings don’t necessarily rise to the level of actual friendship.

And that is why I love this picture. Because I believe it represents who we really are as Americans so much better than…well, you know.

So, switching gears (I apologize up front, I’m gonna be a little all over the board today) I didn’t watch the debate last night. And the reason? I just don’t care. I cared much more about spending time with my family and then obsessing about my fantasy football team that ALMOST pulled out a win last night than I did about whatever zinger landed in a pointless barrage of meaningless words. But something I did watch this weekend helped me put in perspective my strong feelings about this election. And it’s probably going to seem like it is coming out of left field.

I watched several segments on Sports Center dedicated to Jose Fernandez, the Florida Marlins ace pitcher who lost his life at the tragic age of 24 over the weekend. One of those segments was an interview with Pedro Gomez, an ESPN baseball analyst who is Cuban American. When asked what Fernandez’s passing means to the Cuban community (Fernandez was Cuban as well) Gomez talked about how much that one man had meant to an entire community. He said, “When he (Fernandez) succeeded, it felt as if we were all succeeding just a little bit as well.”

It was a sentiment I could totally relate to and helped clarify for me what is so devastating about this election. I have touched on this before on this blog, but for me, the 2012 presidential election was very personal. One of our own, a Mormon, had garnered the Republican nomination. And as the weeks drew close for the general election, he was leading in the polls. After a 150 year history that had included persecution, slander, jokes and slights of varying levels, it was suddenly very possible that we as a culture were about to validated.

And then he lost.

It was crushing. I knew losing was possible, but this wasn’t like 2008 when everyone knew going into election night what the outcome was going to be. This was supposed to be anyone’s election. A race so close it might be Bush v. Gore all over again. Fox News had told us the enthusiasm at campaign events for Mr. Romney was so much higher when compared to those of President Obama’s. On that first Tuesday in November, I really thought he was going to win.

But in the end it wasn’t that close. It was closer than 2008, but with the popular vote coming in at 50% to 48% it still wasn’t that close.

Then in the coming days it started to trickle out that while the percentages of those Republicans who had voted was in line with previous elections, the raw numbers showed that upwards of 4 to 6 million Republican voters who had voted for Mr. Bush in 2004 had decided to sit out 2012. Mr. Romney had actually won the Independent vote, but had bled Republican voters. What stung even worse was that the data suggested a large percentage of those Republicans were Evangelical Christians from swing states.

To me, that news felt like a kick in the gut. I knew in my heart that Mitt Romney was a good man. Perfect? No. But definitely a good man. Despite the media’s best effort to paint him as a monster for those in the lower and middle classes, the best they could do to smear him was a couple of context quotes about the 47% and that he liked to fire people. There were no major character flaws. There were no skeletons. There just seemed to be one major flaw that was significant for that voting block. He was a Mormon.

Even now, I know my reaction was irrational. But it was still my reaction none the less. I harbored frustrated feelings of anger against Evangelical Christians, who despite their massive opposition to President Obama, couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a Mormon. It’s fine that we Mormons were supposed to get in line and support one of theirs in the form of GW (who I do respect and admire as a person and would vote for again in a heartbeat) but expect the same in return? Oh Hades No!!!

So let’s shoot forward to the 2016 GOP primary contest and who is one of the groups propelling Donald Trump to victory? Evangelical Christians.

Now in the logical part of my brain I know that there are many Evangelicals, a majority in fact, who are not Trump supporters, who are as disgusted by the man as I am, but yet I can’t help it. I feel betrayed. Despite having a complete lack of empirical data to prove it, I know in my heart that there are a good number of Evangelical Trump supporters who expect every Republican to get in line behind their guy, but who hedged in 2012. They want me to do what they were unwilling to do in 2012. And frankly, it makes me mad.

And so I’ve needed to repent.

Thus, I have returned to my rationale and asked myself if my inability to vote for Trump is based entirely in this faulty thinking. Part of it definitely was, but the truth is, whatever part that anger may have played, it doesn’t register any longer. It may have helped put me in this state of thought, but the reality is, once I felt betrayed, I started examining a lot of things more closely and my sense of betrayal only grew.

Everything about this process from the media to the political party system is designed to separate us. The entire system NEEDS us mad. Anger brings eyeballs to televisions and ears to radios. Anger gets voters out on a rainy or snowy day. For an elite few, anger equals dollars and when dollars becomes what matters most, people become desperate to keep those dollars rolling in.

Finally, I feel betrayed by those who would expect me to lower my standards to the level of Donald Trump. I don’t care about all the reasons Mrs. Clinton must be stopped. I don’t care about all the things people hope and believe Mr. Trump will do without any empirical evidence to suggest that he actually will. I don’t care about any of it.

And why don’t I care? In part because of the message conveyed in the picture at the top of this post. That picture is anti-anger and it is anti-fear.

So of course, there are already those who are suggesting the photo isn’t what it appears to be. That if you watch the video of the same event, the hug is very quick and the look on Michelle Obama’s face can possibly be construed as a grimace instead of a smile. That everything about that picture is false.

But I choose to believe differently. Maybe I’m naive, but what I see is a woman who was never required to embrace the man in front of her, but did it anyway. Because we as human beings can be better than our politics. And that’s just it. I know in my heart we can do better than our two choices for president. Much better! And to my way of thinking, we won’t get a candidate worthy of our support if we give in now and compromise our principles. In my mind, that would be the ultimate betrayal. So I’ll wait. And when a presidential candidate comes along that inspires and lifts instead of playing to lowest common denominator of fear, I’ll return to the top of the ballot and exercise my constitutional right to vote. Until then, I’ll keep believing in my fellow man and exercise my constitutional right not to.

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Maybe I Was Wrong

Let me say up front that it is never my intent to offend anyone…with the exception of Donald Trump. Would that I could offend Donald Trump. But beyond him, I share my thoughts and observations because I like to think. And if through my thinking I can help someone else think, then that thought makes me happy as well. I hold no illusion that I am smarter or more “right” than anyone else. I’m just me, sharing things from a viewpoint that is my own. Having said that, I hope that what I write today doesn’t offend anyone. My life experience is my own and it is difficult to try and make observations about others whose life I have never lived. But this past week has been eye-opening to me and I feel compelled to share. If I say something that is out of line, I hope someone will point it out to me. Because as I said, I know I am not perfect.

I am not a fan of the recent trend occurring in sports of kneeling for the national anthem. I think  the ideas behind it are flawed on many levels. But the truth is, I’m not black. And maybe that’s where I miss the point.

You see, when it was Kaepernick only, it was easy to dismiss as a stunt by a quarterback who is losing relevance. But when defensive star Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos joined him, and was willing to lose two endorsement deals because of it, suddenly I felt I needed to consider this a little more carefully. I still don’t like the mode of protest, but maybe I should get past that and listen to the message.

In the midst of this introspection, I traveled to Chicago for a business convention. You know, the Chicago we all like to reference when it comes to gun violence and everything else bad about race issues and politics. And what I saw, truly saw, for the first time was more than startling. It was unsettling.

Around 85 to 90% of the people attending my conference for professionals in healthcare marketing were white. Conversely, well over 90% of those serving us food, parking our cars, handling our luggage, or checking us out at the local pharmacy around the corner were all black. Easily, another five to six percent of those individuals doing what would be considered menial tasks for the benefit of the hotel guests were minorities of a different persuasion.

I’ve been to Chicago before, and I’m fairly certain it was the same then as well. But I didn’t notice it then. And if I did, it certainly didn’t affect me very much. However, when I started thinking back on other places I have visited, I realized the same dynamic was on display in Atlanta and New Orleans. Change the percentages of blacks and Hispanics and then you could throw in Las Vegas and Los Angeles as well, but let’s focus on Chicago for the time being.

Recently, someone I respect a great deal made a comment that I think has relevance here. In relation to what I will now refer to as the Kaepernick protests, she said that there is no longer systemic oppression of the black community in this country. But as I looked around in Chicago, her words seemed to be contradicted at every turn. Almost.

While my conference was overwhelmingly white, the numbers started to change when I walked the streets of downtown Chicago. The number of professional black men and women was significantly higher. I wouldn’t say more than 25%, but definitely higher than in the lobbies and conference rooms of my hotel. Which led me to this epiphany.

I can agree with her statement to a degree, but with an asterisk. It is true, black Americans are now more free than ever to pursue all the advantages white Americans are. But systemic oppression? Oh it exists. It’s just taken a new form. I believe systemic oppression has shifted from existing along racial lines to one that now more solidly exists along socioeconomic lines. Which, by the way, would affect a vastly higher percentage of Black Americans than White.

Disagree? Okay. But may I offer some examples.

I graduated from Arizona State University in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree. I spent a total of seven semesters at ASU and spent an approximate total of $7,400 on tuition. Today, if my daughter were to go to ASU, that $7,400 would not cover more than one semester of tuition. In 2008, when gas prices more than doubled to a rate of $4.00 a gallon and more, we saw prices for virtually everything increase exponentially to cover those transportation costs. Yet, as gas prices have come back down to roughly $2.00 a gallon in the last couple of years, have prices of goods and services returned to their previous levels? Not hardly. In fact, we see the annual cost of living continue to rise year after year while wages remain stagnant.

So now, let’s put that into perspective with regard to my observations above. My father worked his entire adult life as a copper miner for the Phelps Dodge Corporation. He did so because he knew he needed to provide for his family, not out of any love for the mining industry. Yet, throughout my youth, I remember my dad pushing both my brother and me to get good grades. Not just good grades, but the best grades we were capable of. We were expected to get straight A’s. And I still remember his reasoning. We needed those grades to go to college because he was not going to stand by and watch us end up working for the mine in the capacity he had. In other words, he saw the value of an education. He understood what long-term benefits existed for those who invested in themselves and in a college degree.

But what if he hadn’t.

What if my parents had come from a long line of manual laborers who didn’t believe in the value of college? What if I had been pressured to go to work immediately after High School graduation because money in the hand now was worth more than some imaginary fortune that could be made after wasting several years at rich man’s institution that had little to offer but debt? Wouldn’t my life be different today?

And therein lies our societal problem. I believe a large portion of the Black community doesn’t believe in the American dream. And based on the history of Black people in America, why should they? If you are White, please don’t answer that question as a White person. Try and put yourself in the shoes of a Black American. Imagine generations of your family being forcefully cast to the winds under the legal institution of slavery. Imagine living in a country whose founding document includes the statement that all men are created equal, but you are considered only 3/5 of a human being. Then imagine even more generations living through the horrors of segregation. Being told that Blacks and Whites should be Separate but Equal, but watching as Whites reserve all the equality for themselves. Think of all that and then answer the question. Less than 50 years removed from such atrocities, why should they?

My whole life, I’ve heard that one of the biggest problems facing the Black community is their laziness. Sometimes it has been stated directly and other times it has been implied, but that has consistently been an underlying theme. But what I saw in Chicago didn’t line up with that at all. All of these individuals serving a class of people who seemed to take almost no notice of them were working harder than I and most everybody I know do on a daily basis. So I was left with no other alternative than, maybe the issue isn’t laziness. Maybe it’s hopelessness. Hopelessness based in a belief that life can’t improve. Hopelessness bred out of group think that says there is no escape. Hopelessness rooted in a history that gives them no reason to expect more. And worst of all, no parental figure present to tell them otherwise.

Here’s the thing about hopelessness. It means there’s no hope. And when there’s no hope, why care anymore? People without hope act differently, think differently and most importantly, REact differently. And that disconnect between those who see the world from a perspective of hope and those that don’t can ultimately lead to vastly different views on why there is blood in the streets.

So what do we do to fix this problem? What on earth can we do to overcome this massive problem that is multiple centuries in the making? Well…I don’t know. I mean I, like everyone else, have suggestions, but I don’t know if they’ll work. What would I know?

Nevertheless, I’m not going to let something as ridiculous as no first hand knowledge or experience keep me from voicing just one idea. Not a full solution, just one idea that I believe would be a huge start. And that idea starts and ends with education.

First of all, we need to find a way to lower the costs associated with college. I know I’m beginning to sound like Bernie Sanders, but wait. I don’t think college should be free. It would truly have no value then. We just need to find a way to once again make it possible to “work your way” through college. You know, that crazy idea where someone gets a job that can support them AND provide just enough to pay tuition each semester. Some loans might be necessary, but not so many that it buries a person.

Secondly, we need to give education value in the minds of those who don’t see any. And I’m not just referring to Black Americans. I’m referring to Black, White, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian, and everyone else. We need to help those who don’t see college as a viable option for what it is…a viable option. Now, this doesn’t happen at high school graduation. It happens from the first day of Kindergarten. We need a massive restructuring of our education system. In states like Arizona we need to provide enough money to the system so that we can pay our teachers a respectable, no…competitive wage. Not competitive with other teachers, but competitive with the workforce in general. We need to then consolidate school districts tie administrative salaries to teacher salaries. A Superintendent’s income does not exceed a certain percentage of a teacher’s so that more money is available for classrooms and talented teachers are not incentivized to leave the classroom. In unionized states, we need to keep salaries high, but get rid of tenure. Finally, we need to give control of the classroom back to the teachers. Yes, there are always bad examples, but at the end of the day, teachers need to be able to instill discipline in their classrooms without fear of reprisal. I would also advocate for school uniforms in every public school, but that’s a different discussion.

Finally, there has to be some effort made to fix the familial structure in poverty stricken neighborhoods. This entails so much that I cannot even begin to cover it all, but in short, we need to be sending in armies of properly funded social workers instead of armies of cops. We need to open up federal dollars to religious charities that are willing to go and work with families in the inner cities…and in economically depressed rural communities as well. Again, there is so much more to this, but I will leave it at that.

In short, we need to be providing hope. That’s the only thing that is going to save people, lift people, drive people. People need to believe they can do better. They may choose not to, but they need to know they can. They need to know for themselves that Black Lives Matter. Their Black life matters. And so does that life on the reservation, and the one in the barrio and the one in that crumbling trailer park outside of Small Town, U.S.A.

So those are the thoughts that stuck with me throughout my entire three days in Chicago. We as a nation can do better. We need to do better. It’s a conversation we should be having at the highest levels. Unfortunately, we won’t. We won’t hear word one about any of this at next week’s presidential debate or in any debate for that matter. Because issues like this don’t break easily along party lines. We need ideas from both sides and it needs to be apolitical. Which is exactly the problem; nothing is apolitical anymore. And as a nation, we’ve reduced ourselves to nominating the two worst people ever to run for president. It’s depressing.

And it also makes you want to do something crazy. Anything that might turn the tide against this insanity that never seems to end. Even something as nuts as refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

I hate that he does it. I cringe at the idea of citizens not respecting the one country that allows us to even have these types of conversations. That has given so much to so many. But then…had he not knelt, would I have even noticed what has repeatedly been right in front of my face? That realization was the most unsettling development of all.

 

 

 

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