Tag Archives: Presidential Politics

The Burden of Being “America’s Choir”

I feel for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir today. I really do!

I mean I feel for their members, I feel for the organists and conductors and I feel for the leaders of my church who have to make tough decisions. Because the decision each of those individuals had to make in these last couple of weeks have been rough. And regardless of what they chose, it was always a no-win situation.

Now before anyone gets upset thinking this is going to be an anti-Trump post, hear me out. I’m not so much speaking about Donald Trump specifically as I am the situation the choir finds itself in.

I’m quite certain that when The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (we’re just going to refer to them as MoTab from here on out for clarity’s sake) accepted the invitation to sing at Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration in 1964, it was done so with much joy and appreciation. It undoubtedly represented an opportunity for the LDS church to be recognized and accepted, by the President of the United States at least, as mainstream. It was recognition that had been long, long overdue and I can only imagine the pride those choir members must have felt, as well as church members worldwide, as they sang in Washington D.C. those many years ago.

Unfortunately, they had no idea of the precedent they were setting that would come back to bite them so 50 years later.

You see, since that inauguration, MoTab has sung at four additional inaugurations. When they are called, they answer. It’s a very “Mormon” thing to do. It’s the same attribute I believe Mitt Romney was exhibiting, despite his obvious misgivings about our current president-elect, when he accepted the invitation to Trump Tower (and a high profile dinner in front of the cameras so that Mr. Trump could parade his defeated foe on display) to discuss the job of Secretary of State. If you call a Mormon to serve, more often than not, they are going to show up. It just is.

The problem now is that since LBJ, only Republicans have called. Richard Nixon called, Ronald Reagan called, George H.W. Bush called and his son George W. Bush called. Who didn’t call? Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Does anyone else see a problematic trend developing?

The LDS church has long maintained a stance of political neutrality. Yes, church leaders have weighed in from time to time on specific issues they believe directly relate to Church standards or teachings, but overall, they do not support a party, a candidate or an ideology. But when one adds this string of Republican inauguration appearances to the overwhelming support Republicans enjoy on a national level among latter-day saints, especially in the state of Utah, outsiders might be prone to take away the wrong message. Or even insiders for that matter who might be Democrats…I suppose.

Which brings me back to my feelings of sympathy for choir members and church leaders who had to make the decision on whether or not to sing at the inauguration of Donald Trump. For them, not good options existed. Had they refused, word would have gotten out and I am quite certain backlash from inside the church would have been fierce and ugly. But accepting has been anything but a cakewalk either.

Throughout the final days of the campaign, social media battles were erupting all over the LDS landscape regarding Mr. Trump. Members were arguiung right and left amongst themselves on whether it was right or wrong to vote for someone who personally had exhibited such great disdain for many things LDS members hold dear. It was not an easy decision and although it would appear the majority of LDS Republicans opted to vote for Mr. Trump in the end, for many, it was not an easy decision.

So now we are coming up to the inauguration. Should the choir travel to D.C. and sing? I personally think they should not. I believe that as the church becomes more diverse and more of a world-wide institution, taking part in any activity that might be construed as supporting one candidate or party over another should probably be avoided. And that view has little to do with whether or not the candidate might be considered moral or not.

It’s about trying to be non-partisan or non-political in 2016’s hyper-political environment. I mean, c’mon, let’s be very real with ourselves for just a moment. Do we honestly believe that social media wouldn’t have exploded with negative backlash within LDS circles if Hillary Clinton had won and the choir had been invited and accepted said invitation to sing at her inauguration? Maybe the majority of members wouldn’t have taken to Facebook or Twitter to express their outrage, but a very vocal group would have undoubtedly been infuriated that the church would send its most visible ambassadors to support “that criminal.”

Unfortunately, the opportunity to make the right decision regarding a performance at Mr. Trump’s inauguration was taken away from today’s choir 50 years ago. Despite all the positive press received by the choir (and by extension the church) due to their presence at inaugurations over the years, MoTab probably should have politely declined LBJ’s offer in the name of their political neutrality. It might have led to some negative backlash at the time, but I guarantee that having the opportunity to politely decline today would have been totally worth it.

Having said that, I hope they do well. I hope they sound as good as they do every Sunday morning during The Spoken Word.

But I do have to add, there was some great humor to be found in the situation as evidenced by the hashtag that trended on Twitter following the choir’s announcement. And if you can’t laugh at some of the offerings found under #motabsetlist, then you simply need to get a sense of humor. Some of the best examples were as follows:

  • I Tweet Thee Every Hour
  • Oh Say What Is Truth (No title alteration needed)
  • Let Us Not Speak Kind Words
  • I Thank Thee Oh God For A Profit
  • Or the Primary song, “I Have Two Little Hands”

But my personal favorite was definitely:

  • Because I Have Been Given Much, I Need A Massive Tax Cut

C’mon, go ahead and laugh. You know it’s funny. And in the meantime, I believe I speak for church members everywhere when I say, Good Luck Choir! We love you and feel blessed that you represent us so wonderfully regardless of where you perform.

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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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