Politics today can just sap the joy out of life

You know those header images at the top of my blog pages, which generate randomly? This morning I saw the one you see below, featuring Kathryn Fenner — and James Smith, too (and his Dad, Jim) — at a Rotary meeting a long time ago. More than 10 years, I’m thinking.

And that caused me to reflect how long it had been since we’d heard from Kathryn. Two or three years at least, I’m thinking. I need to send a note and see how she’s doing.

But she isn’t the only longtime member of the fellowship who has been missing in recent days. We haven’t heard from Bryan Caskey since July 16.

Today, I got an email from him explaining why:

I read news, see comments, see how people tear each other apart, and I feel resigned to living in a country of perpetual anger, resentment, and it causes me to despair. We’re at such a toxic place that I just want nothing to do with politics, policy, or even talking about it. Mostly, when I do talk about it, it’s just gallows humor to cope. No one really convinces anyone of anything anymore. Maybe we never did. No one ever compromises anymore.Bryan cropped

We used to do that. Americans used to compromise and reach deals that gave each side something they wanted, each giving up something. That’s a relic of the past, as much as Lincoln or Washington, or Jefferson. America used to be a melting pot of people who shared common ideals and beliefs. That’s a relic, too.

Lately, I’ve tried to just focus on building my law practice, coaching baseball, spending time with my kids, and being a good husband. I’m doing pretty well at all those, and I’m happier for it. I used to be so excited to talk about politics, but it’s all so pointless now. Why argue with people who hate my point of view, who I’ll never convince? How is that a productive use of my time?

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m tired of trying to figure it out. I think I’ve given up trying to figure it out, actually.

I’m reading a good biography/history book right now called The Long Gray Line, by Rick Atkinson. It’s the true story that follows the lives of a dozen or so boys who enroll in West Point in 1962, and are the class of ’66. They are the boys who are commissioned as 2Lts and deploy to Vietnam as the war peaks. Casualties are high. The war is awful, death is random, and the Army isn’t run the way the West Pointers are taught it would. Disillusionment is the main effect. The “First Captain” is the title given to the senior ranking cadet at West Point. It’s the cadet who is highest in academics, military proficiency, and otherwise is the ideal cadet. The best of the best.

The First Captain usually goes on to great success in the Army. For the class of ’66, the First Captain does his time in Vietnam, and immediately resigns his commission in the Army as soon as his commitment time runs. It’s unprecedented for a First Captain to do that. It sent shockwaves through the Army when he resigned

That’s how I feel, not that I was a First Captain in anything, by any measurement. The boys who went to West Point in 1962 did so for the same reasons that other boys went into the Peace Corps. They wanted to make America better, and they wanted to serve. They wanted to serve in a way that had honor. The country let them down. Our leaders, our people at home, everyone let them down. Everyone’s letting me down today with our awful divisiveness.

In any event, I miss our talks. I can’t bring myself to comment on the blog. It’s so pointless. Hope you’re doing well.

You know, I just don’t blame him a bit. I’m feeling much the same, which is why I so seldom post these days. It’s just all so depressing. Also, I devoted so much intense energy to the campaign last year, and now merely commenting from the sidelines seems particularly pointless.

Besides, no one is ever persuaded of anything. What are we doing sharing our thoughts if we don’t achieve greater understanding of one another as a result?

Hence this ennui…

Kathryn and James

82 thoughts on “Politics today can just sap the joy out of life

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      A post like this is hard for me. I’ve devoted my life to the idea that if people share information about what’s going on in the world and offer thoughts about it, and a forum where thoughts can be exchanged, something better can come out of it. That people can agree on what facts are, and reason with each other for the betterment of all.

      Faith in that is why we have the First Amendment.

      But everywhere we turn now, we find slammed doors.

      A large part of it is technology, of course. We have these wonderful, enjoyable tools that enable people to communicate instantly with as many people as they wish. But what that means is that the biggest, most delusional idiot on the planet now has as bully a pulpit as the wisest. And this has led to a situation in which we can no longer even agree on what facts are.

      And when you can’t do that, you have no basis for reaching any sort of synthesis with people who see things differently from you. And you have chaos…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Last night, I watched the first episode of the fourth season of “Madam Secretary,” titled “News Cycle.”

        Near as I can tell by Wikipedia, this would have been the first episode produced after Trump became president — thereby making a drama about serious, intelligent people conducting public policy for the benefit of the country and the world, to the best of their ability somewhat anachronistic.

        In this episode, the Secretary is confronted with a Kafkaesque situation in which, after a foreign official dies while in a private meeting with her, Fake News sites spread the idea that she murdered him, and legitimate news organizations elevate the madness by asking her about it on camera — because, you know, the fact that the insane lie is out there makes it news.

        At one point, amid all this buzz, a poll shows that 22 percent of the public believe she murdered the guy — which is entirely believable in a country in which Donald Trump could be elected president, and he always has at least a 30 percent approval rating no matter what he does.

        For a rational person, the plot of the episode is a nightmare, in which truth and reason are useless against rumor and lies in a world where the biggest fool can reach the entire planet instantly.

        It was very creepy, and didn’t really offer a lot of hope for coping with such things….

  1. Bart

    Well said Bryan! And he stated with more elegance and clarity than I could for the reasons I no longer post but decided to reply to this one. I still read the blog every day to see if anyone has changed their minds or views on anything but sadly, it seems as if the ones who tend to drift left have drifted even further and vice versa for the seldom ones who tend to drift to the right.

    Losing my wife after close to 54 years has changed my perspective on life and what is really important. She was my anchor, my rudder, the wind in my sails, and the stabilizer in my life. Caring for her 24/7 for over 2 years taught me many things and the most valuable lesson is the importance of shelving hatred whether it is coming from the left or right, it has no place in our world but unfortunately, it exists along with the evil that only humans are capable of inflicting on other human beings and living creatures.

    The hubris of a hard core ideology displayed consistently on this blog is mind boggling when one stops to think about it when it is evident they believe their way is the only right way. When our laws are flaunted for political gain and when the attempt is made to enforce the laws, the enforcers are demonized and ignored. When hate groups like the KKK, White Supremists, Antifa, SPLC, and numerous others proliferate and applauded by their supporters, it only provides more and more fuel on the bonfire of hatred threatening this country.

    I won’t get into anything else, it is too tedious and no longer enjoyable to try to debate points with anyone. If reasonable and sensible debate on points we disagree with cannot be held, like so many others who are disconnecting, I ask myself, “why bother anymore?” The ignorant and insensitive comment by one individual on this blog finally did it for me. This was once a great place to visit and engage in exchanges with intelligent people who didn’t come across as elitist or immoveable ideologues but no longer or at least in my estimation.

    I apologize for breaking my word and posting again but Bryan’s comments hit home with an impact. I intend to enjoy what remains of my life and be the best person I can be to everyone no matter what their socio economic or political position may be. If anyone doesn’t want to return the same consideration, I don’t want them in my life.

  2. Mr. Smith

    The SPLC is not a hate group. Sure, they may have overshot the mark with some of their listings. But that does not delegitimize the organization’s work as a whole. Criticize individual designations where appropriate. But don’t cast blanket accusations. That is a disservice to truth and balance.

    Instead, I would direct our attention, and ire, at those who promote and profit from distrust of government. Look around the world, Greece and Italy, for example, and you will find that the more widespread the distrust of government is, the less functional and effective government is.

  3. Scout

    Well this is depressing. Come’on y’all there’s got to be an answer. I’m sorry if I’ve contributed to the divisiveness sometimes. I know my buttons get pushed.

    I’ve been spending time with my niece and nephew, my animals, and in my yard in nature. These things are good.

    But there’s got to be a way to talk to each other.

    1. Mr. Smith

      Communication is well and good. But don’t expect to always get fully open and honest answers. People want to present themselves in the best light, which means they will cut corners on frankness – either consciously or, more often, unconsciously. So it’s important to listen for what’s not said, what gets glossed over. Plus, it’s undeniable that many people don’t think very deeply about a lot of things that don’t touch on them personally, and not always then either. For a certain set of voters, the fact that Trump was “not a politician” was enough to gain their support. So communication with them isn’t likely to lead to very satisfying answers.

  4. bud

    I guess we’re all guilty of inappropriate rants. Yes, my buttons get pushed like anyone else. Brad calling one of my heroes a weirdo a case in point. But really we shouldn’t have such thin skin that we can’t see past the inappropriate comments and listen to those of substance which I find are in abundance here.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Since you’ve mentioned it twice… I didn’t use the word, “weirdo.” Someone else did, and I just made a joke about it.

      I’m sorry, but Bernie does kind of crack me up. I don’t know how to explain it to you. Maybe you’d see it if you turn down the sound on him — so you can’t hear the policy proposals you like — and watch his body language and facial expressions. He looks like a character actor pantomiming “angry old coot” — a character type that, until now, the television age had pretty much banished from politics…

      1. bud

        Yeh I see it. He has an eccentric quality about him. But he really does have many ideas that I agree with so I don’t find the weirdo label appropriate.

  5. Scout

    There’s a guy in my neighborhood with a big Trump flag on his house. It kind of seems like you are inviting comment if you advertise like that or at least ought to be willing to acknowledge that comments may come if you choose to put it out there.

    I’ve been considering writing him postcards with short clear messages. I don’t want to do anything divisive or harsh. I don’t want to berate but actually communicate. Maybe that’s not possible anymore but all our old ways seem to be broken. We need some new ways to pierce each other’s bubbles and actually hear each other.

    Do y’all think this is a ridiculous or inappropriate idea?

    1. Doug Ross

      Yes, it is inappropriate, especially if you do it anonymously. What would you attempt to communicate? That he is supporting a racist? Do you think HE thinks that? I know it’s difficult for some people to understand but there are literally millions of people in this country who support Trump AND are not racists. I know plenty of them. Decent, hard working people who have an opinion, who do not spew hate or bias… they don’t view Trump as evil.

      I’m just wondering what you would say that wouldn’t come across as accusatory of the person’s character.

      You have other options:

      – Put up your own flag supporting the candidate of your choice.
      – Engage directly, personally with him face-to-face. Ask him to explain his support of Trump before trying to convince him he’s wrong.
      – Donate to and work on the campaigns of candidates who you support

      I don’t support Trump. But I don’t confront people about their support for him. I have donated to the Gabbard, Buttigieg, Sanders, and Yang campaigns because I would prefer them to be President in 2020. I tell people the good things about Gabbard whenever the opportunity arises. I don’t call Trump supporters racists, white supremacists, and misogyinsts… that just increases the likelihood of anger and doubling down on their beliefs.

      1. Scout

        No I wasn’t planning on calling him a racist or anything else divisive or combative. I agree that doesn’t help communicate, which as I said would be the point. Honestly, I want to understand the point of view because I seriously don’t get it. I want a real conversation. I have thought about and am considering all the things you list as my options and have already done some of them. I told you I’m seriously looking for new ways to communicate. The old ways aren’t working.

      2. Scout

        “I know it’s difficult for some people to understand but there are literally millions of people in this country who support Trump AND are not racists. I know plenty of them. Decent, hard working people who have an opinion, who do not spew hate or bias… they don’t view Trump as evil.”

        Honestly, that is hard to understand. The part that is hard to understand is that if they truly are not hateful people themselves and they still choose to support him – is it because they somehow don’t perceive that what he is doing is hateful, or is it that even though they are not hateful, they still are ok with promoting hate through their choices. Or something else?

        The former makes me seriously question their ability to perceive reality and the latter is disturbing.

        I just don’t see how hate is not a deal breaker.

        You are always asking people what they are personally doing about their convictions. Here you are saying these people have convictions to not hate, and yet with their actions, they support hate. This seems like something you’d be on them about.

        I’m not saying they don’t exist – I know they do. I see them. I don’t understand how they live with the contradiction.

        I’m not attacking you. I’m trying to understand.

        1. Scout

          Maybe Hate not being a deal breaker is a meyers briggs T-F split. But I know some Ts, who are equally bothered by it. So I’m not sure.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          There’s no explaining it, Scout. That’s the thing. And that’s why there’d be no point in confronting that guy, however nonconfrontationally.

          And again, what I’m saying betrays the faith in rational dialogue that I’ve had all my life.

          But I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve listened and I’ve listened, and I have yet to hear a reason to vote for Trump that isn’t stupid, or evil, or at least grossly irresponsible (like voting for him purely as a protest against Hillary, ASSUMING she’d win anyway)…

          I’ve tried making it easier to understand, for instance by examining the motives of people who have values in common with me — such as the many Catholics who voted for Trump.

          I can offer an “explanation” for why they did it — they were making a deal with the devil to save unborn children — but it’s not a satisfactory explanation. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t hold up.

          And maybe that’s an N vs. S thing. I generally look at the totality, not this or that issue. I try to perceive the forest rather than this or that tree. I don’t vote on one issue. Nor do I add up the number of issues on which each candidate agrees with me and go with the one with the most points. I try to look at the whole person, and decide whether this is someone I trust to be in charge — not only “trust” in this sense of judging character, but trusting his or her competence as well.

          In large part, this is why I’m Catholic. For that matter, it’s why I can subscribe to ANY religious faith.

          Other people seize upon this or that reason to reject the church, or an entire religion. For instance, there are many people who have fallen away from the Catholic Church because of the abuse scandal. This makes no sense to me, as painful a time as this is for the church. That’s because I look at the whole thing — the 2,000 years of belief and study and prayer and works, from the first pope (St. Peter) to the present day. I look at the 90-something percent of clergy who are not implicated in sex abuse or coverup, the people sacrificing every day to serve. I see the whole thing, and when I go up for the Eucharist I’m in communion not only with the people in that building, but with every believer on the planet, and with every Catholic who has ever lived or ever will live.

          And because I see my faith that way, because that is what binds me to my faith, it absolutely blows my mind that people can rationalize voting for this abominable man who daily exhibits an attitude toward humanity that violates essential Christian values, just because of the kinds of judges they expect him to nominate.

          So no, I can’t wrap my head around fellow Catholics voting for Trump. Or anyone else…

          1. bud

            People who support Trump have explained their vote many, many times and I will never get it. Trump is a racist and a sexual assaulter to boot. He just is. Unless he walks into the oval office wearing a KKK robe and carrying a confederate flag some folks still won’t see him as a racist. So trying to have a constructive dialogue with a Trump supporter is really, really hard. Especially when they attack my integrity.

            But to me supporting the Catholic Church is equally as irrational and it makes no sense to be a member of that organization. I’m sure Brad would find my religious views very irrational. And that’s OK. We don’t have to see things the same way. This is a free country where people are free to choose their political leaders, express their views, eat what they want, drink what they want and practice their religions as they choose. Not sure constant hand-wringing about those who we disagree with is constructive

          2. Scout

            I understand. I still would like to think there is some way to communicate. But I hear what you are saying. I wonder if the people who did vote for Trump because of Abortion are troubled at all by the plight of the traumatized migrant children. Do they have any regrets? Do they care about those children too? These are things I wonder.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              If they’re thoughtful people who believe in Catholic social justice, they are indeed concerned about the kids on the border.

              But here’s the problem: They’re not as aware of that as they are the abortion issue. And that’s partly because of things going on in the church, but much more because of what has happened in the country as whole ever since Roe.

              The battle lines over abortion are so hardened and clear, and the country so definitely divided over it, and it’s one of those few, sharp, black-or-white issues in society where the Church has a clear position that everyone understands.

              But I think you have to be a little more thoughtful than the average person to take it to the next level and apply the church’s teachings to immigration. And that’s because society hasn’t created hardened channels for political expression on that issue — at least, not on the side that has compassion for the migrant.

              When I lived in Kansas more than 30 years ago, the sanctuary movement to help and shelter immigrants was a huge thing in the Church. But we don’t hear as much about that since the ’80s. And my memories about it are fairly dim. This was before immigration was the issue it is now, and it wasn’t really on my radar screen back then…

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                If you’re an adherent of Cardinal Bernardin’s “Consistent Ethic of Life,” you are probably deeply concerned about the kids on the border — not because it’s specifically mentioned in that context, but because it arises from a broader ethic of caring about the dignity of human life.

                But even the next-best-known element in the “Seamless Garment” — capital punishment — isn’t as consistently embraced among the Catholic rank-and-file, despite the current Pope having elevated it to an official teaching. I could be wrong, but I’m not sure that has sunk in as completely as opposition to abortion.

                Again, I think it has as much to do with the larger society Catholic live in than the Church’s teachings. Roe really did a number on this country. The idea that the nomination of Supreme Court justices would be a thing that would determine how people vote for president remains a shocking one to me, given the full range of presidential responsibilities. But that has been the case, on both sides, since 1973.

                It totally warped our country’s politics…

        3. Doug Ross

          ” is it because they somehow don’t perceive that what he is doing is hateful”

          Yes. And I fall into that group as well. There’s the disconnect that exists. If you begin with the premise that Trump is evil/hateful/encouraging racism, then what else can be done to change YOUR mind? I think Trump is a boor, a loudmouth, a person who is very typical of a lot of New Yorkers — if you haven’t experienced them on a daily basis, he could appear to be much worse than he really is.

          But while everyone is saying he’s a racist and misogynist, I try to look at the reality. He (exceedingly) promotes the low levels of black and Hispanic unemployment… would a racist even BEGIN to want to do that? He promotes women to high ranking positions in his administration (including local attorney Sherri Lydon who he appointed to a federal attorney position and has done a fantastic job). Would a misogynist do that? Would a woman of high character like Ms. Lydon accept a job from him if she thought he was hateful?

          Yes, Trump has some biases. We all do. But every time I hear someone try to position him as the devil incarnate, I think it goes way too far — and that makes the situation worse. Yes, Trump loves to go back and forth with people if he thinks he has been slighted. He’s got a big ego. The hugest. But, as an example, he’s had numerous public battles with Rep. Jerry Nadler… but when Nadler fell ill recently, Trump called him and offered whatever assistance he could give.

          Think about the environment Trump stepped into. From the moment he was elected, the left wing media has blasted daily dire warnings about Trump starting wars, Trump being mentally ill, Trump being under Putin’s control. None of that has proven to be true. Trump is what he is: an egotistical boor who has big ideas centered around a philosophy of America first but lacking the oratory skills of a smooth operator like Obama.

          The way you feel about Trump voters is how I feel about people who would vote for Elizabeth Warren. I would question the mental capacity of anyone who couldn’t recognize that she is full of b.s. with her grandiose “plans”… and her demeanor is as off putting to me as Trump might be to others. But if she somehow becomes President, I’m not going to live in a state of outrage for four years.

          1. bud

            Well Doug you just tried to explain Trump again. I’ve heard these same arguments (crafted in different ways) many, many times. But then I watch the man in action and that description just doesn’t fit. It’s not as simple as saying his demeanor is off-putting or that he’s boorish. I’ve met plenty of those types of people, Rand Paul comes to mind. Trump goes beyond that. Just go watch the Access Hollywood tape again. That wasn’t a boorish man that was a sexual predator bragging about his exploits. Go watch the news reports of children locked in cages. That’s not the policy of an off-putting man that’s the policy of a racist. Consequently I strongly reject your characterization of the man.

            1. Doug Ross

              The cages were built in the Obama administration. Whatever was said on Access Hollywood was dumb, not misogynist. Was there a crime that was reported?

              1. Barry

                What was said on the tape was worse than dumb. What he said he did on the tape was what almost 20 women have accused him of doing to them.

                If someone did that to a woman you or I know know, you would just say it was dumb.

                1. Doug Ross

                  Right. And I didn’t vote for Trump and would never vote for Trump (unless he’s against Warren).

                  I assume you have the same feelings about Bill Clinton? He’s likely done everything Trump has done but had the unique accomplishment of doing it while he was actually President. And then lied directly to the American public about it.

                2. Barry

                  I didn’t vote for Bill Clinton for many reasons, including his immorality.

                  I felt the same way about his his buddy Trump.

          2. Scout

            Thank you for explaining. I don’t see it that way but I respect that you do. Maybe this really is an N – S difference. N to me feels like pattern sensing. I’ve known New Yorkers and the sense I get from Trump as a whole that is concerning is different. I can see that he has some of those characteristics when I think about them individually but the pattern of him as a whole adds up to something different for me. I can’t explain it beyond that.

            I’m not sure that some of those things you list haven’t proven to be true, particularly the mental illness part. But we can disagree about that.

            What I get from Elizabeth Warren is a sense of sincerity and intelligence. But I know that that is off putting to a lot of people. And I think her ideas are probably too extreme for most people even if I think they may be good ideas (which I think some of them are).

          3. Mr. Smith

            If he’s a “New York type,” it seems odd that New Yorkers dislike him but southerners, who’ve never had any great love of New York types, love him.

            1. Mark Stewart

              Trump is what the hinterlands of the country imagine a brash New Yorker to be. Trump never fit in in NYC. He doesn’t fit in anywhere, frankly.

              1. Barry

                I’ve been laughing the last few days at some Trumpers mad at Chris Cuomo for cursing when confronted by a right winger in public.

                These are the same people who loved it when Trump dropped F Bombs in a speech in front of thousands.

      3. Scout

        “I don’t support Trump. But I don’t confront people about their support for him. ”

        I haven’t either. I’m very non-confrontational actually. But things are feeling desperate and maybe we should be discussing it instead of avoiding it with people we disagree with. But we need new ways and non-confrontational ways to do it. Ways that lead to communication rather than doubling down.

        I don’t know. Never mind. There is no answer.

        Sorry for all the posts. I’m done now.

        1. Doug Ross

          You might not believe it but if you ever came out to have a beer/etc. with Brad and me, we could probably have a very cordial, non-confrontational conversation. I’m harmless. As much as Brad and I exist on polar extremes of the political spectrum. we’ve met and talked several times without fisticuffs… thankfully due to his boxing background and fitness level.

            1. Doug Ross

              Jerkiness is in the eye of the beholder. I put my name on my posts because I believe what I say.

  6. Phillip

    It’s generally these large, national/international issues, where it seems that the divide across cultures is just so vast. I share Bryan’s feeling about the futility of discussing politics at that level. But there is a lot of news out there pertaining to our state in particular, or to our Midlands area specifically, where the big cultural/political lines may be blurred somewhat. For example, things like offshore drilling off the coast of SC. Or the mismanagement of the Penny Tax funds. Maybe we’ll find that we can have a more fruitful exchange of ideas on these more localized topics. Perhaps doesn’t draw as many clicks as discussing Trump’s latest outrage or controversial comments by the “Squad,” but as Doug has pointed out a number of times, these regional/local issues are the things that can affect our daily existence to a greater degree than some of the national issues (except for the national economy which does of course ripple out to affect us to various degrees).

    1. Doug Ross

      I agree. I’d much rather we all were more informed/outraged about the Penny Tax and its terrible implementation than trying to dissect whether Trump is actually responsible for the shooting in El Paso. That many people locally have no idea that they have seen their tax dollars wasted and mismanaged for seven years with ZERO accountability is more depressing to me than someone who cares what Trump tweeted today.

      Or how about DOT Commissioner John Hardee getting convicted not for the bribery he likely committed in his cushy job that he happened to get as the son in law of Hugh Leatherman but for obstruction of justice for getting caught with texts telling a witness to delete all the evidence? His criminal behavior went on for years… was there nobody in the DOT who could see what was going on? In the greatest of all ironies though… Hardee. after getting sentenced yesterday, today had this bit of bad luck:

      A former state transportation official who pleaded guilty this week on federal evidence tampering was picked up Thursday by the Richland County Sheriff‘s Department on a prostitution charge. John Norton Hardee, 72, was booked into the Alvin S Glenn Detention Center at 7:47 p.m. after deputies charged him with solicitation of prostitution. Hardee was a South Carolina Department of Transportation commissioner from 1998 to 2007 and 2014 to 2018. A road is named after him — the John N. Hardee Expressway at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. Hardee was in court Wednesday for sentencing on a federal felony charge of deleting emails connected to a investigation. Judge Terry Wooten punished Hardee with house arrest, community service and a $1,000 fine. Near the end of the 90-minute hearing, Hardee apologized to God, his family, his church, the government and his pastor. The judgement against Hardee was entered Thursday, federal court documents show. “I haven’t even gotten a traffic stop in 45 years,” Hardee told the judge Wednesday. “I always obey the law.” Later Thursday, deputies arrested Hardee and booked him with the solicitation charge, according to court records. Judge Patience Orbriel Van Ellis let Hardee out of jail on a $465 bond.

      I know Brad thinks it’s terrible that I revel in these types of stories because of the harm it might cause the families of the perpetrator. But in this case, I don’t care. I think karma is wonderful. Hypocritical unethical people deserve everything that get.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        You see them as the “other,” as caricatures of humans, symbols of things you despise.

        I see people as people — sinners, like me.

        If Donald Trump himself went to prison tomorrow, I would take no pleasure in it. I’d just be glad he was no longer president of the United States. And I’d still be concerned about the larger problem — that he is a symptom of a disease in our body politic, not the cause.

        By the way, the way you view these people — as abstractions representing what you despise — in no way makes you a bad person. I just think of it as the Copy Editor Fallacy.

        My first two years in the newspaper business, I was a copy editor — reading everything that went into the paper, writing the headlines, passing judgment on the news AS news because I was deciding where it went in the paper, how big the headline would be, etc.

        I developed a working knowledge of all the newsmakers in West Tennessee. And I saw them in two-dimensional, abstract terms. There’s the embezzler. Oh, that guy? He’s the county commissioner with the DUI. There’s the judge who made that boneheaded ruling…

        I was startled somewhat when I became a reporter and got to know some of those same newsmakers. I learned they were people. That may sound stupid, but I saw them three-dimensionally, in all their good and evil, and I had not done that before.

        I still believed the law was the law, and those who broke it needed to be punished for it. But I didn’t take the kind of satisfaction in it that you seem to…

        1. bud

          I knew Hardee casually when I worked at DOT. He was one of the nicest, most affable men you’d ever want to meet. Soliciting prostitution is a crime but in the overall scheme of things seems pretty minor. He made a mistake and should suffer the consequences but still he is a pretty good guy.

          1. Doug Ross

            How about all the bribes he took but was able to destroy the evidence for? Still a good guy? It happened for years — years while you were there. Is he still getting a pension?

            A guy who stands in front of a judge one day apologizing to God and his family for his CRIMES and then gets caught soliciting a prostitute the next day is worthy of all the ridicule and shame he gets. He’s a liar and a thief… and a product of the nepotism that exists because we don’t term limit people like his father in law.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Of course, it’s hard to discuss the local things, too, even with my good friend Doug.

      To Doug, it’s not a story about the county falling down on the job. It’s PROOF that HE was right in opposing the penny tax while those of us who supported it were WRONG.

      Of course, the two things have nothing to do with each other — whether we should have instituted such a tax, and how it has been administered.

      But we still have to have these arguments rooted in worldviews…

      1. bud

        You’re right, I don’t think making the discussion local will reduce the animus markedly. Seems like when we’ve had discussions about health care it usually stayed reasonably civil. Immigration, guns and abortion on the other hand bring out the rancor in the best of people.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yeah, you’re right, Bud! We HAVE had some meetings of the mind on healthcare, sometimes in ways that have surprised me. And that’s not something everyone can do. So our little community can take some pride in that

      2. Doug Ross

        It would help if you admit you were wrong, wouldn’t it? And maybe learn from this lesson that all the pipe dreams of politicians rarely work out as expected. I was right about Innovista and right about the penny tax. Check my comments from seven years ago on your blog post. I predicted EXACTLY what would happen.

        Or you could call out Leon Lott and Mayor Benjamin for being 100% wrong… anything that would suggest you learned from the experience. Isn’t that what this is supposed to be about? Learning and growing as adults? But, I think you’ll just tell me you don’t care as much about the execution as you do about the big ideas.

        Leon Lott said that not paving dirt roads would cost lives. Do his words matter? Steve Benjamin said 16,500 jobs would be created and billions would be invested. Did his words matter?

            1. David T

              Doug it’s a good thing you didn’t bring up the nanocenter that was supposed to revolutionize USC into a leader in nanotechnology.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          But, you see, I wasn’t wrong. As to the broader point, we need better roads, and they cost money.

          But if you go back and look, you’ll see I didn’t endorse it for the road money. I endorsed it for the bus system. I think you’ll find I wished it could ALL go to public transit, but I knew that was politically impossible.

          To say you were “right” would mean agreeing that we don’t ever need to pay more in taxes to have better transportation infrastructure. Because, unless I’m remembering wrong, that was your point.

          The only way you could have been right about something I was wrong about would be if you had said that normally, you’d be all for such a small tax increase in order to improve our community’s infrastructure, and provided examples of when you had advocated for such, but that in THIS case you had specific reasons to believe that Richland County was an exception to the rule, and would botch it.

          Because I didn’t imagine they could botch it as much as they have. THAT’S where I was wrong. But I don’t recall having any information in hand that would have indicated that.

          You were only “right” in the way a stopped clock is right twice a day. You ALWAYS believe elected officials are a bunch of lying, incompetent crooks. And they when individual officials screw up, you believe it is confirmation of your universal belief.

          But it isn’t….

          1. bud

            Seems like the COMET buses are everywhere. I’d call that a positive development from the penny tax.

            1. David T

              The buses “are everywhere”, is there anyone riding them? I remember the days of the old trolley buses, they’d drive around all day and maybe transport a handful of people. $3.00 in fares and burned $40 in diesel.

  7. Dave Crockett

    I’ve been out of town most of the week and just now catching up. I just wanted to say, and I hope Bryan hears it, that while he and I have had some disagreements (primarily on gun control issues), I VERY MUCH respect his opinions on that particular topic (and others, of course) and his statements have caused me to review carefully my feelings on the issue. In some cases, my position has shifted a bit. While I still don’t accept some of his contentions, his comments have been invaluable in helping me evaluate my and others’ positions on this critical topic.

    I don’t want Bryan to take away any more of his time from his job and family…I just want him to know that his comments have been important to me and I appreciate everything he’s contributed to this group! I’ve also missed Kathryn, who went out of her way to welcome me to the blog when I first chimed in nearly eight years ago. And Doug and I are oceans apart on most issues but he, too, has been of great service to me and the group! Hats off to all who take the time to contribute here!

  8. Norm Ivey

    Bryan’s right. Why argue with people who hate my point of view, who I’ll never convince? How is that a productive use of my time?

    When you started this blog and chose your tagline, I thought it was funny. Now it’s just real.

    I can’t say anything even remotely political around some of my friends. If I mention an issue, the room instantly divides into Us and Them. You’re either for Trump, or you’re against him. Even discussions with friends who share similar views on issues often degenerate into how can people not see what he’s doing? sessions.

    I watch the News Hour a couple times a week. I visit here a couple times a week, but seldom post. That’s all I can stand any more. (Although I’m binge watching The Good Fight. But even that pisses me off sometimes.)

    I’ve made a concentrated effort to read more non-issue books (just finished a Hank Williams biography), watch fewer topical documentaries, and listen to more positive music. Give Promise of the Real’s Turn off the News a listen.

    1. Barry

      I’m against Trump and if that means less I have friends, I’m perfectly ok with that. In fact, I prefer it.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      “When you started this blog and chose your tagline, I thought it was funny. Now it’s just real.”

      Remember my other tagline I had before that (and still might revert to)? “You’re either on the blog or you’re off the blog.”

      I liked it, although it was a bit esoteric. If you’re weren’t into Tom Wolfe and Ken Kesey, it wouldn’t mean much to you.

      With the current one, of course, it helps to be aware of Rolling Stone‘s play on the original New York Times tagline.

      But it’s not necessary; it still can make some sense to you…

    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      By the way, just to show how irrational we can be in our prejudices, I hate that phrase, “Turn Off the News.”

      I hate it because of the American idiom “the news,” by which so many people mean to say, “television.”

      Which offends me because news, real news, the kind that edifies and helps us understand our world, comes to us by the written word — however that is delivered. I prefer to get it via my iPad, but whether you get it through a browser or on your phone or via a dead-tree newspaper (or even a magazine), it’s best absorbed in writing or in a pinch, by radio (which is basically people reading written words aloud).

      So I hate the phrase “the news” because when people say it, they don’t mean what I consider to be THE news.

      Anyway, if you want to express the sentiment via song, I prefer “Spanish Pipe Dream,” better known as “Blow up your TV”

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        … just skim over the part where it says, “throw away your paper…”

        Of course, in reality, that’s what America has done. Not intentionally, just by changing its buying habits so that that part of the advertising sector disappeared…

      2. David T

        How many people get their news from the newspaper these days? I stopped my subscription over 10 years ago and I don’t know if anyone in my neighborhood still receives a newspaper, most have taken down the newspaper box from their mailbox post. About the only time I read a newspaper is when I’m sitting in the waiting room of my dentist’s office. So I guess I read a newspaper about twice a year. I will read the front page of The State, but since I don’t subscribe I’m good for about one article a week.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Just as long as you’re reading your news somewhere — rather than watching the boob tube.

          Which is my point, in case anyone missed it…

  9. Bob Amundson

    Politics can sap the joy out of us if we forget the history of politics, the raison d’etre of politics. Ideally, politics replaces physical violence (war), allowing confrontation without murder, rape, pillaging.

    Wife Joan and I are spending the summer in rural southwestern New York State, in the beautiful foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. We are the hillbillies JD Vance describes in his book “Hillbilly Elegy.” Mr. Vance is investing in the rural areas where he was raised, coal country, and we are reinvesting in our “home” by purchasing a RV Park/Campground. My Dad was the plant manager of the local manufacturing facility that was once so common in rural America; Joan’s Dad was a small dairy farmer. Small town manufacturing and the traditional family farm are gone, and in retrospect, we both left a sinking ship.

    Not everyone left that sinking ship, and in many ways, they struggled; not always economically, but by seeing the way of life they chose to live dissolve around them. They have worked hard to save that ship my wife and I “abandoned.” We are not discussing politics with our old friends and classmates, we are talking economic development, ecotourism, rails to trails, historic revitalization. We are not alone; I do believe the movement to “come home” and reinvest is nascent, hence a great opportunity.

    We discuss politics carefully, and there are plenty of people with whom we can vent about the current state of national politics. However, most of the people we must work with to succeed in our new adventure support President Trump, and that’s ok. We’ll change their minds by showing how we respect them; how we appreciate everything they have done to “save” rural America.

    I ask anyone not raised in rural America to stop gloating about the fact that GDP is so much higher in urban areas than in rural areas; that elitist thinking is not helping, and I believe it is a root cause of the political division in our country. And if there are any other “hillbillies” reading this blog, consider investing in your hometown. It is a joy to have old friends and classmates welcome you with open arms, even if they are strong supporters of President Trump.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I wish I could just shrug at the knowledge that someone is a “strong supporter of President Trump.” I can’t. It matters too much. And there’s such a complete lack of any sort of excuse for being that.

      I’ve read all the “reasons” for it. Unfortunately, if you’ll excuse me, none of them are REASONable.

      But I appreciate your comment nonetheless, Bob…

      1. Doug Ross

        Supporters of Trump could list any one of these REASONS for doing so:

        – Stronger borders
        – Happy with the economy as it is now and want to see it continue
        – Pro-life
        – Opposed to the Democratic alternatives that would lead to more social programs
        – Pro military
        – Want to see foreign countries pay their fair share for American military support
        – Want to see Supreme Court justices that are not liberal
        – Don’t want to see more controls on guns

        So basically things that pretty much any Republican would expect his supporters to agree with. It’s just that you don’t like the messenger’s words and his tweets… his supporters apparently like what he is doing from a policy and direction standpoint. I personally am fine with just a couple of the above items but I know plenty of intelligent, fair minded people who check all those boxes above and set aside Trump’s bluster and boorishness because they believe the alternative is much worse.

        1. Doug Ross

          Is it really difficult to fathom that there are people out there who think Warren, Sanders, and Biden would be worse for America? I know you think Joe Biden is the cure-all for Trump, but he can’t even get 50% of his own party to believe that. And after his terrible weekend of senior moments in Iowa (the Parkland shooting mix up was the worst yet), it’s not going to get better. He’s not going to make it to the podium next summer. So Warren or Sanders versus Trump. The middle ground on that choice is non-existent.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          None of those are adequate reason to want to have a thorough scumball as president of the United States.

          Don’t say it’s his “tweets.” It’s HIM. It’s everything about WHAT HE IS.

          You don’t hand someone like that such power. Not in a billion years. It’s insane.

          Anyone who thinks those are REASONS that cancel out the reality of what Trump is … well, that’s the ultimate indictment of the “box-checking” mode of making decisions.

          And here’s what an actual CONSERVATIVE has to say to such reasoning. When he wrote this back at the end of 2017, I thought it absurd that anyone would have to EXPLAIN why he’s a never-trumper. But he was answering the kind of “check-the-box” thinking that you cite…

        3. Mr. Smith

          I don’t expect this will have any impact – counter-arguments seldom do. But in brief:

          – the borders are no “stronger” than they were; it’s just that certain (largely ineffective) policies have been made more vindictive to feed xenophobia

          – no previous administration was anti-military

          – I suppose being happy with the economy and wanting to see it continue means: keep those deficits and the debt growing. Normally they shrink in good economic times. Just not this time – due to irresponsible tax cuts

          – and then there’s this business about making other countries pay their “fair share.” This one really annoys me. Greece, for example, spends the share of its GDP that this Administration demands, so does Poland. But have either Greece or Poland had a significant presence in, say, Afghanistan, the Eastern Med. or Africa? Nope. But Germany and/or France have, despite not meeting military spending targets. So, to put it in as simple terms as I can: paying more does not equate with sharing security burdens equally. Not everything can be reduced to dollars (or euros) and cents.

        4. Barry

          – Stronger borders- the number of Immigrants crossing the border illegally has increased dramatically under Trump to a level not seen since Bush was president.

          – Happy with the economy as it is now and want to see it continue – the economy is doing decent, it was also doing decent the last several years under OBama.

          – Pro-life – Roe versus Wade is still the law of the land.

          – Opposed to the Democratic alternatives that would lead to more social programs – Trump is funneling hundreds of millions of taxpayer money to farmers to “repay” them for destroying their markets. Farmers are going bankrupt at a very fast pace.

          – Pro military – every president is pro military. Trump’s PR campaign, given his draft dodger background, is impressive even if it’s total garbage and fluff that his robots buy.

          – Want to see foreign countries pay their fair share for American military support. – no idea what this even means. The NATO agreement reached in 2014 for NATO countries to increase their own defense budgets is still in place. Trump has done an admirable job convincing his robots he’s responsible for it.

          – Want to see Supreme Court justices that are not liberal- not sure a true liberal has been appointed to the SCOTUS in a generation.

          – Don’t want to see more controls on guns. – Yet Trump is probably the most liberal on guns personally. A lifetime supporter of gun control, his unease with doing nothing on gun laws is obvious when you hear him talk about the issue, or like this past weekend when he had his daughter calling congressman asking what can be done to toughen background checks (in opposition to the NRA).

          1. Doug Ross

            Who are you trying to convince? I’m not voting for Trump unless he runs against the lunatic Warren. If you think we’re headed to nirvana with the Democrats, good luck. I hope they win and get everything they want so when the economy crashes we can finally stop with the nonsense. I’ll be fine no matter who is in the White House.

            1. Barry

              anyone that uses those line items you mentioned. That’s what I see hear from Fox News and blowhards like Limbaugh.

              As usual, the spin works both ways.

              I am under no illusion that a Democratic president will be much better. It’s been a long time since I voted for a Democrat for President. But that time has arrived.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            This comment is neither here nor there, I supposed, but I still have trouble with the ways people use “liberal” and “conservative.”

            The way Barry just used “liberal” is, in popular usage, perfectly correct.

            But it threw me for a second before I realized what he meant.

            When he said Trump was “probably the most liberal on guns personally,” I took it to mean “liberal” in the classic sense, in that he would be for fewer restrictions, not more. That caused me to get confused as I read the rest of the paragraph.

            Meanwhile a true conservative — someone who wants a quiet, orderly society with as little upset and upheaval as possible, would want to heavily restrict access to guns. For instance, my Dad is a very conservative guy. He’s someone who has used automatic weapons and even machine guns in combat (in Vietnam). He knows what they’re for. Consequently, any time I’m around my Dad and the subject comes up — on television or some other way — he expresses his firm opinion that NO civilian has any business owning an automatic weapon, or even an AR-15 that doesn’t go full auto. He says that because he’s conservative. And he’s right…

            Whereas having all those promiscuously-firing (yes, that’s a nod to the Raizuli) weapons in private hands is an invitation to chaos. It seems, as Huck Finn said about telling the truth, “most like setting down on a kag of powder and touching it off just to see where you’ll go to….

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              That’s one of my fave Twainisms. The full quote:

              I asked her to let me think a minute; and she set there, very impatient and excited and handsome, but looking kind of happy and eased-up, like a person that’s had a tooth pulled out. So I went to studying it out. I says to myself, I reckon a body that ups and tells the truth when he is in a tight place is taking considerable many resks, though I ain’t had no experience, and can’t say for certain; but it looks so to me, anyway; and yet here’s a case where I’m blest if it don’t look to me like the truth is better and actuly SAFER than a lie. I must lay it by in my mind, and think it over some time or other, it’s so kind of strange and unregular. I never see nothing like it. Well, I says to myself at last, I’m a-going to chance it; I’ll up and tell the truth this time, though it does seem most like setting down on a kag of powder and touching it off just to see where you’ll go to….

            2. Barry

              I’m similar in that I have my CWP, and I enjoy shooting my pistols and my shotgun. I have my pistols for home defense. My shotgun could be used for that purpose as well if needed. I live in a slightly more rural area.

              I do NOT believe everyone should have guns and I am for as strong a background check system as we can create, as well as meaningful waiting periods.

        5. Barry

          I remember when so called conservatives use to care about the deficit, but that’s only when a Democrat is president.

          Trump doesn’t care about the deficit, Conservatives don’t either. At least they are honest now. Let’s see if they keep it up.

      2. Bob Amundson

        If you truly want to change minds, you must understand why people whose opinions you like to change believe and act the way they do. Search “Nudge Theory” sometime …

        1. Mark Stewart

          I think the urban/rural divide is a serious issue confronting society. Or maybe it’s education and work opportunities. I’m not sure, but there is something at the core that’s in profound conflict – or is profoundly misunderstood.

          But then I think how the rest of the Western socieites seem to be in this same place of ennui. So it isn’t just regionalisms within the US.

          This distopian state is something more in alignment with the way most civilizations throughout history have viewed life. America caught a lucky break with our Constitution. And much of the world caught the same luck when we prevailed in WWII – especially Germany and Japan. The free world had a common sense of committment and purpose born of our ideals of liberty, economic opportunity, the rule of law and a general sense of fairness. It seems like those ideals have become tarnished. Like people have forgot how they glow under the accumulation of dirt, corrision and gunk. That we just need to all commit to some buffing and polishing.

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