Category Archives: Paul DeMarco

DeMarco: The Night I Was Jewish

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

My experience with injustice has, fortunately, never been personal. I’m a white, married, straight man who attends a Protestant church, so no one has ever denied me a seat at any table because of who I was. I was born in New York, but when I was 7 years old, my family moved to Charleston, where I entered second grade. It didn’t take me long to understand that not everyone was accepted as readily or treated as well as I was. Racism was easy for even a child to spot. When I was taken shopping at Belk, I saw a cross-section of the community that was missing in my neighborhood, school, and church.

I’m not sure when I first became aware of anti-Semitism. I would guess I learned about it in middle school when we studied the Holocaust. I had the advantage of attending a private school during the 1970s that had a substantial population of Jewish students. I was impressed by the discipline of some of my Jewish friends, who after a full day of regular school then attended Hebrew school. One Orthodox classmate once showed up late for an extracurricular meeting on a Saturday morning. “Sorry, I’m late,” he said sheepishly, “But I had to walk.” (Orthodox Jews are not permitted to drive or ride in cars on the Sabbath). I do remember occasionally hearing my classmates make comments disparaging Jews, but these were few and far between. I think it’s fair to say that my Jewish friends felt safe and respected at our school, although not necessarily celebrated. I graduated from high school feeling that Jews my age would have essentially the same opportunities I had.

In December of 1982, during my second year in college, that belief was challenged. I attended a debutante ball at a South Carolina country club with the woman who would eventually become my wife. I didn’t know most of the other guests, so I made many introductions. When curious partygoers asked from whence I came, I proudly told them “Brooklyn.” Some of the members of the club left our conversations worried that this loud kid from Brooklyn with the big nose and olive skin might be Jewish (I’m actually Sicilian). Jews, of course, were prohibited from being members.

The next day, my future mother-in-law told me that questions about my origin had gotten back to her. She had assured all those worried that a Jew might have polluted the WASP-y ballroom atmosphere that, no, I wasn’t Jewish. However, since then, I generally respond to the question “Where are you from?” (which in the South means “Where were you born?”) with a dodge. I tell people I was raised in Charleston, which is better received from those who might harbor misgivings about Yankees or Jews.

Jews (and, of course, blacks) were not welcome at many Southern private clubs until recently. For example, Forest Lake Country Club in Columbia, which was founded in 1923 and counts Governor Henry McMaster as one of its members, did not admit its first black member until 2017.

I’ve been revisiting my debutante experience as anti-Semitism has resurfaced around the war in Gaza. My naïve sense prior to October 7th was that the anti-Semitism that I encountered in 1982 had gradually atrophied to the point where it would continue to decline and die. But sadly, anti-Semitism seems impervious – it’s like the fungal spores that can lie dormant in the earth for years only to spring to life as a carpet of mushrooms in favorable conditions.

My one night as a Jew has helped me form my current opinion of the conflict in Gaza. First, Israel must continue to exist. Second, Palestinians must also have their own state and the right of self-determination.

I fully support the rights of those who protest peacefully in support of the Palestinians and against the war which is killing so many civilians. Before the war there was already growing opposition to the Netanyahu government. Netanyahu’s provocative policies such as settlement expansion, the killing of Palestinian demonstrators, and restrictions on Palestinian trade and freedom of movement were staunchly opposed by many in Israel and the United States.

But what hasn’t come across in any protests I have seen is any sense of shame or regret for Hamas’ brutality on October 7th, not to mention years of suicide bombings, indiscriminate rocket fire, or their grotesque tactic of using their own people as human shields.

Despite our hope for peace and justice for the Palestinians, most Americans rightly find it impossible to be sympathetic toward Hamas. The attack on October 7th will surely be one of the most evil acts of my lifetime. The barbarity of invading homes, of meticulously killing entire families, and of raping and mutilating the victims, is some of the most base behavior of which humans are capable. No one should cheer for this.

The key to many successful protest movements is their ability to find and elevate principled, sacrificial leaders. The Bible provides examples in Moses and Jesus. More recent examples include Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. Neither Netanyahu nor the Hamas leader, Yahya Sinwar, fit this mold. The current conflict cannot be resolved until both the Palestinians and the Israelis elect new and better leaders. That is a rallying cry that would unite campus protesters from both sides and point toward a solution.

A version of this column appeared in the May 16th, 2024, edition of the Post and Courier-Pee Dee.

My Broken United Methodist Heart

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

I was driving towards Johnsonville from Marion on a recent Sunday to make a home visit and had to make a detour because of a wreck on the Highway 378 bridge. The glory of the early spring afternoon mitigated the inconvenience and took me to parts of the Pee Dee I had never travelled. As I passed Good Hope United Methodist Church in Hemingway, an irregularity in the large marble sign in front caught my eye. I circled back and parked to investigate. The word “United” had been covered over with duct tape. (See image below.)

This, sadly, was not the work of a prankster. It was an indication of the schism that is dividing the United Methodist Church (UMC). Like many denominations, we have struggled with the role of the LGBTQ community in the church. After years of discussion by our leadership and in local congregations, the break has finally come. Those churches who are unwilling to see LGBTQ people as full human beings, able to be ordained and to marry each other, are leaving. Many are joining a new conservative denomination, the Global Methodist Church. Others will remain independent or join older denominations with similar views about homosexuality. But whatever road they choose, they have given up on the United Methodist experiment that began in 1968.

I passed two other small, formerly United Methodist Churches on my detour back to Johnsonville, Ebenezer and Old Johnsonville, both of which are disaffiliating from the UMC. They had both removed the “United” from their premises, the former by pulling metal letters out of its brick sign, the latter by painting over the offending adjective.

Disaffiliating pastors and members commonly cite the half-dozen biblical verses that pertain to homosexuality as their reason for leaving. But we in the UMC have for decades routinely ignored biblical teachings about the role of women, adultery, and slavery, among other topics. Our Southern Baptist brethren interpret the Bible such that it excludes women from the pulpit. We in the UMC treat women as equals and allow them full access to roles as ministers and bishops. Disregard of verses such as those that condemn adulterers to death (e.g., Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22) and verses that condone slavery (e.g., Exodus 21:20-21) is standard practice in the UMC.

The Bible is a big, complicated book which is often contradictory. Every denomination and all Christians must use their best judgment when interpreting scripture. It is therefore disheartening and surprising that so many churches would use such scant scriptural logic to split the church. But an astounding number have. Nationwide, the UMC is losing about 25% of its churches (roughly 7,500 out of 30,000). Most heartbreaking to me is the trapping of good friends of mine in unwelcoming churches. I’ve been shocked by the good people I know who have voted to leave, including a friend I greatly admire.

She is a beautiful human being, one of those people who treats everyone with genuine respect no matter who they are. I have seen her work with the very poorest and the very richest, and with people of all races, religions, and sexual orientations. She treats them all with the dignity they deserve.

I knew she had worked with many LGBTQ patients with full acceptance, so I asked her if she would be willing to talk with me about her decision to leave. She agreed, as I knew she would.

It was a quiet, deep conversation between a Christian brother and sister struggling to discern God’s will. She told me that she was deeply ambivalent about the decision, and that it had moved her to tears. She has gay members of her extended family that she loves. Her congregation includes a family with adult gay siblings. The vote to leave the church was unanimous except for the siblings and their mother. She knew that she would likely never see them again in church, which was upsetting to her.

When I asked her why she voted to leave, she expressed some fears. She mentioned a fear of extremists in the UMC leadership moving the church in a direction that was counter to her understanding of the Bible. She raised the possibility of a cross-dressing or transgender minister as something she could not tolerate.

She mentioned her teenage son and conversations they had had about LGBTQ people. He was accepting of his gay friends and relatives. My friend said without hesitation that if her son turned out to be gay, she would be unconditionally supportive of him. “I know that’s true,” I responded. She is such an open, loving mother that a gay child would be blessed to have her as a parent. “But,” I said, “now you have guaranteed that you will not be able to show that love to a gay member of your church.” We were silent for a few moments. I thanked her, and our conversation ended.

There will be some shuffling of congregations over the next few years as Methodists sort through how they want to express their values. In my church, which remains a United Methodist Church, we have seen some new faces that have come from disaffiliating churches. Perhaps we will lose some of our more conservative members.

My friend will likely stay in her disaffiliating church because of all the ties she has to it, even if it doesn’t represent who she is in her life outside the church. In her work, she lives out the parable of the Good Samaritan. But she has voted to be part of a congregation that, if you are gay, passes by on the other side.

A version of this column appeared in the April 18th edition of the Post and Courier-Pee Dee.

DeMarco: Want to learn what Biden and Trump are really about? Watch their speeches.

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

By some estimates, there are still about a quarter of Americans who haven’t settled on a presidential candidate. I had a recent conversation with one of them. He’s a smart, middle-aged, college-educated man who is somewhat more conservative than me. But he has unplugged from politics for his mental health. When our conversation turned to the election, he parroted the conservative media narrative about Biden being senile.

I admitted to him that I to had been stunned by Special Counsel Hur’s report describing Biden as a “sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” I spend some time with conservative media, which for months had been peddling inaccurate descriptions of Biden as a doddering senior ready for the nursing home. But then I watched the entire State of the Union address and was reassured.

So I asked my friend to watch 15 minutes of the SOTU. I knew he wouldn’t agree with some of Biden’s policies, and conceded that he is not as animated as Trump. But I expected he would come away from the viewing confident that Biden was not cognitively impaired. As a general internist, I have seen hundreds of patients with dementia of all varieties in my career, and it would be impossible for someone with dementia to have given that speech or handled the heckling as he did.

I also encouraged him to give Trump 15 minutes of equal time. After I watched Biden’s SOTU, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen more than snippets of either man for months. So I watched Trump’s Super Tuesday victory rally in Rome, Georgia, from two days after the SOTU.

Our enhanced ability to watch people speak for themselves is one of the major advances of modern politics. I enjoy political theatre and try to see as many competitors as I can in person (whether I will vote for them or not) when they come within striking distance. In 2016, I saw Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Carson, Kasich, and Clinton (Bill, who was stumping for Hillary) when they came to Florence. I’d recommend everyone visit the Gallivants Ferry Stump, the longest running stump meeting in the country. There’s no substitute to being in the same location as the candidates. Sometimes you learn as much about them by the crowds they attract as by the speeches they make.

But if you can’t attend in person, you have the next best option – YouTube. With that ability, why not transfer some of the time you are spending being told about the candidates to time listening directly to them? I hadn’t listened to Trump at length but a handful of times since I saw him in person in 2016. That speech is still ringing in my ears. The moment he shouted, “And who’s going to pay for it?!” and the crowd shouted “Mexico!!” was the most frightening example of demagoguery I’ve ever witnessed.

Trump has always been bombastic and vulgar, but watching the Rome speech right after the SOTU highlighted the contrast with normal political speechmaking. Although Biden made many references to “my predecessor,” his allusions to Trump were based on differences in their positions and accomplishments. Right out of the gate in his Rome speech, Trump launched a fusillade of personal attacks. He dismissed Biden’s speech as “The worst president in history making the worst State of the Union in history.” He imitated Biden’s stutter; he mocked his cough.

Although I felt my friend could watch any 15-minute segment of the SOTU and come away with an accurate assessment of Biden, I asked him to watch the last 15 minutes of the Rome rally. If not for the American flags in the background, it would be easy to image Trump’s concluding monologue being delivered from the canvas of a WWE ring.

As foreboding music played in the background, Trump presented the U.S. as a sulfurous wasteland. He intoned “We are a nation in decline, we are a failing nation… we are a nation where free speech is no longer allowed and where crime is rampant like never ever before… and now Russia and China are holding summits to carve up the world… we are a nation that is hostile to liberty, freedom, faith and even to God… we are a nation whose economy is collapsing into a cesspool of ruin… where fentanyl… is easier to get than groceries to feed our beautiful families… we have become a horrible and unfair nation.”

Biden’s SOTU is anchored in reality. I’m not sure what nation Trump is describing, but it’s not America. The surreal and disconnected nature of Trump’s speech can’t be adequately conveyed by my words. It must be seen to be believed. Spend fifteen minutes with each man before you make a decision.

A version of this column appeared in the March 21st edition of the Post and Courier-Pee Dee.

Paul DeMarco at the Gallivants Ferry Stump Meeting in 2006.

DeMarco: Why I’m voting for Haley, then Biden

The Op-Ed Page

12/20/10 Columbia, SC: Gov. Nikki Haley official portrait.
Photos by Renee Ittner-McManus/

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Nikki Haley faces stiff head winds as she tries to become the Republican nominee for president. If only the Republican base participates in state Republican primaries, Trump wins going away. Her only path to the nomination is for independents and centrist Democrats to back her.

The majority of Americans recognize the unique threat Trump poses to democracy. Even his supporters are known to call him a “disrupter” or a “wrecking ball.” For them, his positives outweigh his innumerable negatives. They are willing to roll the dice on a second Trump presidency. I am not so sanguine. Trump is too unpredictable, too big a risk.

Our crucial national task in the primaries is to ensure that Trump is defeated. Almost anyone alive would be a better option than Trump. Surrounded with intelligent, capable advisors, any thoughtful, humble American would be superior. I know some teenagers to whom I would gladly hand over the reins of this country if it were them or Trump.

Biden is old and fails to excite. He has numerous policy positions that can be legitimately opposed. But he will not wreck the ship of state. If he loses in 2024, he will not spend his lame duck period trying to subvert the will of the people and remain in office, nor when he leaves office use the next four years to lie about the result.

The risk in my strategy is that Haley becomes the Republican nominee and beats Biden in the general. According to polls about a head-to-head contest with Biden, she is a stronger candidate than Trump. But I am willing to accept a Biden loss to ensure that Trump has no chance to be president again.

Haley, of course, has her own set of drawbacks about which I will write if she is the nominee. But she was a capable governor and has expressed dismay over January 6th, calling it a “terrible day.” She is willing to state the obvious truth that Trump lost in 2020, which leads me to believe that she would not engage in Trump’s corrosive brand of election denialism if she loses.

Here’s my plan. The SC Democratic presidential primary is February 3rd. The only candidates on the ballot beside Joe Biden are Dean Phillips, a congressman from Minnesota, and Marianne Williamson, neither of whom have a chance. Although I usually vote for the Democrat and voted for Biden in 2020, I will sit this primary out. Instead, I will wait until February 24 and vote in the Republican primary for Haley (remember a voter can only vote in one party’s primary).

Partisans on both sides will object to this. I employed the same approach in the 2022 US House 7th District Republican primary between incumbent Tom Rice and several challengers, including the eventually winner, Russell Fry. Since there were no pivotal races on the Democratic side, I voted in the Republican primary for Rice. Despite having major philosophical differences with Rice, I felt he had served my district well. He was one of the few Republicans brave enough to vote to impeach Trump for his part in January 6th.

I wrote a column titled, “Democrats, Let’s Elect Tom Rice,” to which Drew McKissick, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party wrote a rebuttal, arguing that people like me shouldn’t be allowed to meddle in the Republican primary and renewing the call that the Legislature pass a law forcing voters to register as Republicans or Democrats and be confined to that primary.

Folks like Mr. McKissick seem to view party affiliation as a deeply imprinted, immutable characteristic. One must be fully baptized into Republicanism and conform religiously to every tenet. If you fail to do so, you are consigned to the purgatory of RINOism. There are, of course, mirror images of McKissick on the Democratic side.

This strict ideological view defies the shifting moods and desires of the body politic. First of all, most voters hold their party affiliation loosely and are willing to vote for an inspirational candidate of their second-choice party – the Reagan Democrats were a prime example of this.

Second, the modern political parties have shifted seismically in the last 75 years. The Democrats were the party of white segregationists until the 1960s when Strom Thurmond and Richard Nixon attracted them to the Republicans. For decades after FDR’s New Deal, the Democrats were considered the party of the worker. Until recently, Republicans were hawks and Democrats were doves. But all that has been scrambled. Many now see the Democrats as the party of the rich, dominated by economic, academic, and cultural elites who are blind to the everyday reality of working people. Meanwhile, it’s the Democrats who support the war in Ukraine while a significant fraction of Republicans have retreated into isolationism.

So I invite you to consider voting for your country rather than your party. Whether Haley or Biden wins in 2024 is less important than Trump never being allowed to wield again the enormous power of the presidency. Neither Haley or Biden will threaten the democratic foundation on which our country rests. Trump’s most enduring legacy will be the lesson that our system is fragile and must be guarded from politicians who care more about their own power than honoring democratic principles. We don’t need a second kick from that mule.

A version of this column appeared in the January 17tt edition of the Post and Courier-Pee Dee.

DeMarco: Can There Be Peace for the Jews and Palestinians?

The Op-Ed Page

Over the decades, the very few hopeful-seeming moments have been pathetically far between.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

The war in Gaza has galvanized the American public more than any international conflict in decades. To try to educate myself on this faraway conflict, I have spent many hours listening to the voices, both written and spoken, of Jews and Palestinians. Many of them express mistrust, disdain, and even hatred of the other, none of which I feel.

What I feel is profound sorrow that two peoples who believe in a loving God have let it come to this. The barbarous Oct. 7 attack on innocent Israeli civilians was as cruel as it was shocking. There is no way to justify it. It must be condemned as heinous and self-defeating. Hamas knew it would provoke the overwhelming Israeli response that is unfolding. Many more Palestinians will die than Israelis who were killed in the initial attack. It was desperate and senseless.

But if one puts the attack in context, one can see how a young Palestinian man could be radicalized to feel that this kind of vengeance was his only remaining option. I’ve never been to Gaza, but I think I can understand on a basic human level what it might be like. That young Palestinian man could have grandparents who were driven off their land in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, could have parents who have lived their entire lives as refugees, and could himself be unable to find work because of the economic and travel restrictions Israel has placed on Gaza. It’s possible for me to understand how such a person could have his mind warped into killing for revenge, particularly if surrounded by a circle of jihadist contemporaries.

I can also understand what it might be like to be a Jewish man of that same age whose great-grandparents were Holocaust survivors, whose grandparents grew up in the new, precarious Jewish state in the 1950 and ’60s and fought in the 1967 war, whose parents fought in the second intifada, and who himself has had to live his entire life fearing suicide bombings and missile strikes. I can understand his wholesale lack of trust in the Palestinians, a simmering anger with the Palestinian Authority’s unwillingness to compromise to achieve a two-state solution, his horror at Gaza being run by Hamas, which advocates for Israel’s dissolution, and his fury over the Oct. 7 attacks.

So where do we look for hope? America’s history provides a glimmer. Our nation knows something about forcibly removing a people from their land, as we did with the Native Americans. In addition to Native Americans, we have historically denied many other groups their full citizenship rights. But America has gradually welcomed those it previously sought to exclude or marginalize. The process has been slow, often begrudging, and it is not yet complete. But America’s direction is clear. Israel has the same duty. It drove Palestinians off their land in order to create a Jewish state and has denied them the right of self-determination. It must find a way, as America has, to right those wrongs.

The Palestinians, for their part, must renounce violence. Every group that was treated unjustly in America has won its rights over the past century by mostly peaceful means. It is essential that the Palestinians do the same. As long as they indiscriminantly fire rockets, detonate suicide bombs, and commit unspeakable atrocities as they did on Oct. 7, Israel is within its rights to fight back.

Imagine if after breaching the border wall on Oct. 7, tens of thousands of Palestinians had marched peacefully into Israel in a demonstration similar to the American March on Washington in 1963. They would have been embraced by the international community. People like me, and I believe there are many, who recognize that both Israelis and Palestinians have a legitimate claim to the land and that both a Jewish and Palestinian state deserve to exist side by side, would have been moved by that display. We know that our nation provides substantial aid to both Israel and the Palestinians and therefore has leverage. We are willing to add a candidate’s position on Middle East peace to our electoral calculus. But we will not support violence from either side.

As a starting point, the two sides have an important commonality – a language of peace. In Hebrew the word is shalom. In Arabic it is salaam. It means more than a sterile absence of war. It means completeness, wholeness, a state in which God’s people treat each other as he intended.

These two words can be the cornerstone of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. I had an elderly Jewish patient who would greet me with a resonant “Shalom” when I walked into the exam room. It was so much more powerful than my generic “Hello.” It was tangible, a verbal embrace. Similarly, on a medical mission to Tanzania in 2020, I was sometimes greeted with “Salaam Alaikum” (“Peace be upon you”) by Muslim passersby. One evening, our group was invited to a Christian Bible study by some local missionaries. As we sang a hymn, the Muslim call to prayer could be heard from a nearby mosque, symbolic of the harmony that can exist between the religions.

We in America have a role to play. As voters we should demand that aid for both sides become contingent on seeing real progress toward the two-state solution.

A version of this column appeared in the Dec. 21 edition of the Post and Courier-Pee Dee.

DeMarco: Mike Johnson: a brilliant new speaker – for the 20th century

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Scene: A distant galaxy, year 2834, in the Tardis.

Dr. Who: What’s on the schedule today?

Ruby (the doctor’s companion): Looks like we have the day off. Not an alien in sight.

Who: Smashing! I’ve really wanted to brush up on my American history. The 1920’s seemed like an eventful time-jazz music, speakeasies, flappers, the Depression. I came across this name I had never heard of (flipping pages on a touch screen). Let’s see here… yes, there he is, Michael Johnson. Came out of nowhere it seems. Only six years’ experience and pop! – he’s the speaker of the House. Seems perfect for the job for someone of that era though. Rock-ribbed conservative Christian, literally interprets the Bible, believes in Noah’s Ark and the world being about 10,000 years old. A man for his time! Ha, but there’s a typo in his bio. It says he was elected in 2023. They must mean 1923 (pauses to adjust the Tardis’ time-travel settings). OK, course set for Michael Johnson as speaker of the House. Here we go!

Ruby (shouting over the roaring of the Tardis): Actually, Doctor, there is no mistake!! Johnson was elected in 2023!!!

Who: (also shouting): Sorry, I can’t hear you!!

(The Tardis makes a rough landing. Unbeknownst to the Doctor, Ruby is knocked unconscious).

Who: Blimey! That was more of a shake than I expected. Let’s see what other history we can glean before we start exploring. Righto, I see here that the Scopes Monkey Trial will happen in just a couple years. Well, that’s advantageous for Mike. He’s a constitutional lawyer whom I’m sure can argue a cracking case against evolution. He’s got a strong voice and a great stage presence. Ruby, don’t the creationists win at trial?

(Ruby awakens but is too groggy to respond. The Doctor is oblivious.)

Who: (continues reading) But there’s no mention of Mike at the Scopes trial… Hmm… I guess they needed a more experienced lawyer… (swiping)… so they picked Williams Jennings Bryan. Too bad for Mike.

Who: Ooh, I wonder if Mike ran for President in 1924. With that winning smile and such a nice head of hair. Surely he would have grasped for the brass ring. (Swipes touch screen) What! Calvin Coolidge?! Silent Cal? Surely Mike would have been more exciting. And he hated welfare just as much as Coolidge did.

Ruby (finally fully regaining consciousness): Where are we?

Who: 1923, weren’t you paying attention?

Ruby (now clear-headed): Doctor, we’re in 2023.

Who: Ruby, you are one sandwich short of a picnic! I mean a man like Mike Johnson makes perfect sense for 1923, when creationism and evolution were seen as competitors in the marketplace of ideas. But a hundred years does a lot to disabuse people of the notion that humans kept pet dinosaurs. And look at his ideas on sexual orientation. Back in 1923 every state had a sodomy law. Views like Mike’s prevailed and most gay people lived closeted and afraid. You expect me to believe that Mike Johnson was elected speaker of the United States House of Representatives, second in the line of presidential succession after the vice-president… in the year 2023! Not a snowball’s chance! It’s a foul-up in the blasted Tardis!

Ruby: Doctor, It’s not the Tardis.

Who: And then there’s his wife. Also ideal for early 20th-century America. What a role model for women who had just won the right to vote! Look at her – she’s running her own business. But, as would be expected in 1923, biblically submissive to her husband. What a power couple for the Roaring Twenties. She’s so much more magnetic than Mrs. Coolidge. Wow, they really missed an opportunity by not running in 1924.

Ruby (coming over to the doctor’s computer station and manipulating the touch screen fiercely): Doctor! There is nothing wrong with the Tardis!

Who: (reviewing what Ruby is showing him, stunned): Crikey… We are in 2023. It’s been 100 years since the Scopes trial, there’s now incontrovertible evidence that the earth is billions of years old, it’s been over 50 years since Stonewall, and gay marriage is legal. Isn’t that right Ruby? Gay marriage has been legalized by this time in the US?

Ruby: Yes sir, Obergefell was decided in 2015. (Swiping a touchscreen). Here’s some more about him. He made no secret that his interpretation of the Bible was at the base of his political views. He wrote columns in his local paper about it. Here’s one from 2003 in which he responded to the U.S. Supreme Court’s striking down of a Texas sodomy law. He said it was a “devastating blow to fundamental American values and millennia of moral teaching.”

Who: But surely he and his wife’s views moderated once he was elected Speaker…

Ruby: Well, his wife’s counseling service did take down their website in which they call homosexuality “sinful and offensive to God.”

Who: Well that’s something…

Ruby: But when asked what his views were a couple days after being elected, he said if you want to know what he thinks “About any issue under the sun… Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.”

Who: Any issue? Climate change? Nuclear arms? The next pandemic? I am gobsmacked. But I have to know. Does America become a theocracy? Set a course to November 2024 (TO BE CONTINUED).

A version of this column appeared in the November 15th edition of the Post and Courier-Pee Dee.

“Bigger on the inside…”

DeMarco: Why I Live in a Small Town

The Op-Ed Page

The Main Street of Marion, S.C., via Google Maps Street View.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Jason Aldean’s song, “Try That in a Small Town” has become yet another cultural battleground. Rather than talk rationally about what makes small-town living satisfying or depressing, each side has set up a caricature for the purpose of slamming it. I’ve read a number of commentaries, most by writers who have either never lived in small towns or have left them with nothing but harsh memories.

Here’s what I know about small towns: I’m glad I live in one. I came to Marion (population approximately 6,300, about 20 miles east of Florence) because I was obliged to; the state paid my medical tuition for three years of service in a health workforce shortage area. But I stayed because I wished to.

Jason Aldean via Wikipedia.

I realize this gives me a uniquely optimistic vantage of my small town. I came as a new doctor into a community that needed one. I was welcomed when I arrived, and have, for the most part, felt welcome here.

I think we can agree that small towns and big cities have their own particular attractions. If you want an easy commute, come to Marion, where mine is traffic-free and downright therapeutic, offering back roads where deer, ducks, herons, and bald eagles are not uncommon. If, on the other hand, you frequently crave late-night home delivery of premium-grade sushi, Marion will disappoint.

Most of the furor over the song derives from its ability to slide easily into each side’s narrative. For liberals, the song is a Lost Cause anthem. The fact that Aldean is a conservative who has not made a secret of his support for Donald Trump has fueled that assessment.

For conservatives, CMT’s pulling of the video is a perfect example of “wokeness” and cancel culture. The left, they would argue, is running out of actual examples of racism, so they invent them.

What some dislike, including myself, is the misplaced bravado in the song, the Hestonian “out of my cold, dead hands” vibe. But I think we need to give Aldean the same poetic license that we give hip-hop artists, who often purposely provoke with their lyrics (and then are rightly criticized). My other criticism would be that while the video shows people of all colors behaving badly, there are no black or brown people in the scenes showing the richness of small-town life.

Aldean is expressing an attitude more than a threat. He’s not planning to murder you if you cause trouble in his town, as some pearl-clutching liberals would have you believe. He’s pointing to a legitimate difference between small towns, not only in the South but in any region of the country, and larger cities.

Paul sent this view of Main Street, taken from almost the same vantage point as the one above.

Aldean’s song is built upon this truth: the structure of a small town makes it impervious to riots and mass violence. Almost everyone who lives in Marion has some connection to Main Street. We shop there regularly and know or are related to the business owners and employees, both black and white (Marion’s population is 70% African-American). We’ve watched them struggle and mostly survive the pandemic. It would be inconceivable for Marion’s citizens to burn down Main Street in protest of anything. Our connections to one another would douse our anger. It’s hard to throw a rock through a window when you know who is on the other side

Aldean’s song asks us to imagine what might have been accomplished if the George Floyd protests had been completely peaceful. BLM’s strength as a voice for the black community would have been immeasurably enhanced. In the aftermath of a year of well-organized, nonviolent marches against racial injustice, those who supported the January 6th Capitol riot would have had no cover. But instead, they have been able to successfully point to the lives lost and the billions in damage caused in the BLM protests as a defense, arguing that violence is an inevitable and necessary part of advocating for societal change.

The South will be forever stained by our history of racial hatred. Small towns in the South, were, and can still be, oppressive and racist. But my sense is that in 2023, the racial barriers that remain in this country do not vary significantly by zip code.

Small towns are, in some ways, better than they have ever been. Although many are poorer than they once were, they have never been more inclusive. My neighborhood, once completely white, is browning. I now have a retired black woman as my neighbor who has become a good friend for my wife and me. Many small towns are redefining their identities after the offshoring of their major manufacturing plants. I would counsel any young person, particularly an entrepreneur, to consider small town life. The internet has done much to ameliorate the isolation of rural places, and has given rural-based businesses a way forward.

So y’all come and visit. If, like me, you end up staying, you will be glad you did.

A version of this column appeared in the Sept. 1h edition of The Post and Courier, Pee Dee.

DeMarco: Pop Quiz! For Whom Did They Vote?

Hawkeye and Trapper John would have had trouble with that riddle, too. So would Hot Lips, for that matter…

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Guess how the two friends I’m about to describe voted in the 2020 presidential election.

The first is an older white male. One of his vehicles is a 1999 Ford F-150 pick-up whose radio is tuned to a country station. His gun safe contains a 12-gauge shotgun, a 20-gauge shotgun, and a pistol. He attends church almost every week and believes Jesus Christ is his Savior. He has the Fox News app on his phone. He favors robust border security. He thinks it unfair for transgender women to compete in collegiate and professional sports against cis-gender women.

The second is also an older white male, roughly the same age as the first. He drives a Ford Escape in which he generally listens to podcasts like NPRs “Fresh Air.” He has the Washington Post app on his phone. He believes in reasonable gun regulation, including registration of firearms with state governments. He comes from a family of immigrants – his grandfather emigrated from Sicily after World War I. He supports diversity, equity, and inclusion in all phases of society.

If you guessed the first voted for Trump and the second voted for Biden, you would be… wrong. Those two paragraphs both describe me. I drive the Escape most days but have the pick-up, a gift from my father-in-law, for hauling. Like most of America, I have nuanced views on guns, immigration, the transgender community, and the role of faith. I listen to many different types of music and get my news from multiple sites.

As to whom I voted for – it’s Biden. Trump is an inveterate liar and a danger to the country.

But the subject of this column is not Trump or Biden. It’s our tendency to pigeonhole. Let’s try another example in the form of a decades-old riddle I first heard in medical school: A father and son have a car accident and are both badly hurt. They are both taken to separate hospitals where they are immediately prepped for surgery. When the boy is wheeled into the OR, the surgeon looks down at him and says, “I can’t operate on him. This is my son.” How is this possible?

The answer is that the surgeon is the boy’s mother. Don’t worry if you missed it. I did too when I first heard it almost forty years ago. Over the past couple months, I have been retelling it to groups of young people to see if their answers are any more astute than mine was. I have queried a group of nurses, a group of medical students, and a group of teenagers, perhaps fifty young people in all. All the groups were primarily female and the vast majority were stumped. I was surprised that our collective mental image of a surgeon is still so strongly masculine, even among young women, some of whom are destined to become surgeons themselves.

Eventually, I hope, no one will be fooled by this riddle, as the idea of a female surgeon will be top of mind. Indeed, the way that women are outpacing men in many academic fields, including medicine, we may eventually reach the point where we can tell the riddle in reverse about a mother and a son.

But when it comes to politics, rather than harmful stereotypes being slowly eroded, our media environment depends on shoring them up and exaggerating them in a relentless drive for clicks. Each side reduces the other to a humiliating caricature, shown in the worst possible light. Because social media’s hyperpartisan atmosphere vastly overstates the extremism of both the right and the left, our worldview becomes more and more skewed.

This is why I write. I know better than anyone that there are more knowledgeable and more skilled columnists out there. But because so few of them speak to the middle ground, I feel obligated to plant a flag there. My big advantage is that I write for free, so I have no incentive to overstate to stoke anger.

I’ll end with the words of Martin Buber, who unsurprisingly, is rarely invoked in today’s political commentary. Buber was a Jewish philosopher who framed relationships as “I-Thou,” in which a person opens himself fully to another to achieve a connection, or “I-It,” in which a person encounters another as an object or instrument to be used and discarded. Almost without exception, when we meet people different from ourselves, we adopt an I-It posture.

Buber encourages us to instead choose the I-Thou posture, which he believed could occur instantaneously, in any circumstance, even between strangers. One easy place to practice is the grocery store. As you wait in line, imagine the cashier as a complete human being, who has a home, family, hopes and anxieties just like you. Try it with as many people as you can, especially those with whom you disagree.

This can be hard with a vicious somebody on social media. A couple of remedies are available. First, spend less time on social media. Second, wish your antagonist well and move on. There are too many thoughtful, interesting people out there to waste your time with someone who treats you like an “It” rather than a “Thou.”

A version of this column appeared in the August 8th edition of the Florence Morning News.

DeMarco: Who owns the rainbow?

The Op-Ed Page

Found this on Wikipedia. It’s by someone named Eric Rolph, at English Wikipedia…

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hey, remember the other day when I posted Paul’s abortion post, I said I had another one from him that I hadn’t even looked at, but would post soon? After which I didn’t have time for several days to think about posting on the blog? Well, this is it, and Paul just texted me to tell me it had to do with “Pride Month,” which he said was ending today. Sorry, Paul. Here you go…

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Remember when a rainbow was just a rainbow – happy surprise after a downpour? I sometimes long for the simplicity of those pot-o-gold days.

But we live in a complicated and changing world. Which means we sometimes we have to share symbols that our tribe has felt we owned. Christians are struggling with the appropriation of the rainbow, which for us evoked the story of Noah’s Ark. Every child that has ever attended Sunday School has been taught this story, often with images of happy animals strolling symmetrically up the gangplank.

I wrote a column in April in response to one of those Christians, the Rev. Michael Goings. Rev. Goings, whom I’ve not met, is a fellow citizen columnist for the Florence Morning News. He wrote a piece in March (“The Sacred Sign of the Rainbow”) in which he objected to the “thievery” of the rainbow by the LGBTQ community. He castigated its use as a symbol of gay pride as a “blatant act of defiance and desecration” claiming that it is “almost unpardonable, abominable, and dishonoring to the Almighty.”

I can understand some mild annoyance at the muddling of the rainbow imagery for young Christian Sunday School students. Kids can ask the darnedest questions, and a Sunday School room can be a dicey place to answer. But for me, that annoyance is overwhelmed by the enormous pride that the LGBTQ community is now able to express through the rainbow flag. Over the past decade, the ubiquity if the flag has paralleled their acceptance into the fabric of American life.

For Rev. Goings and others, rainbow imagery that supports LGBTQ people induces fear, rage, or the sense that apocalypse is nigh. Many Christians cannot accept that gay people are worthy in the sight of God. Some, like Lauren Boebert, have seats in Congress. When the Air Force recently tweeted support of Pride Month with an image of an airman saluting against a rainbow background, Boebert responded, “We salute one flag and one flag only in the United States of America. It isn’t the ‘Pride’ flag.”

I think it’s fair to describe Boebert as a Christian nationalist. At a Christian conference in Woodland Park, Colorado in September of last year, Boebert said, “It’s time for us to position ourselves and rise up and take our place in Christ and influence this nation as we were called to do.” Later she spoke of the end times: “We know that we are in the last of the last days. This is a time to know that you were called to be part of these last days. You get to have a role in ushering in the second coming of Jesus.”

Of LGBTQ people, she said they are “spitting in God’s face.”

Goings and Boebert read the Bible one way, a literal interpretation to which they are entitled. They believe that God sent a great flood that wiped out all of humanity except for Noah’s clan. Once the waters receded, God sent a rainbow as a sign of a new covenant with His people.

I read the Bible as literature, much of which I believe is divinely inspired. But it is filtered through flawed, limited human authors. Some of the Bible is confusing and some of it is simply wrong. Of many examples, I will give one – Ephesians 6:5: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.”

So here is this layman’s take on the story of Noah and the rainbow. There was no great flood (almost every geologist backs me up on this point). This story falls in line with flood myths that had been written and told for centuries before the Noah story. It is a way of trying to understand how a divine being or beings interact with their creation.

Like many Bible stories, this one is full of contradictions. Noah’s family, the best God could find on Earth, immediately shows God just what He has wrought in his second attempt at civilization. In Genesis 9:17, the ark account ends with God saying to Noah about the rainbow, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” Four verses later, Noah “became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.” It is reassuring that God would choose someone as imperfect as Noah as the father of his new creation. He’s barely off the ark when he is found by his sons completely blitzed and naked. It tells me that God has a keen understanding of human frailty, an unending tolerance for our mistakes, and a bodacious sense of humor.

If you believe that men who love men or women who love women are reprobates warped by their sin and a danger to society, you have a right to your opinion. From that position, you have a couple of options. One is to try to completely shield yourself from the corrupting influence of gay people. Don’t listen to any music or consume any news, TV, movies, or social media produced by them. Don’t buy any products designed or services offered by them. I wish you luck. Or, more profitably, get to know a gay couple. Actively recruit gay people to your church so you can see who they really are. See if your opinion doesn’t change.

In my reading of Noah’s story, the rainbow is a sign of God’s new approach to humanity. This is the God of Love. Yes, there is still the God of Wrath who makes his presence known through the Old Testament (see, for example, Psalm 137). But here is our first glimpse of the God of Love who will later be personified in the New Testament in his Son, Jesus. In that light, the rainbow makes perfect sense as a symbol for gay and queer people.

If you like, you can cling to the few verses about homosexuality being an “abomination.” But, remember, God had much more to say about adultery than homosexuality – including that adulterers be put to death. Consider the possibility that these warnings come from a different time and were written by men who had little understanding of psychology and human relations. If, like Rev. Goings and Rep. Boebert, you are so willing to denigrate homosexuals, why not adulterers, who receive much more Biblical condemnation?

I have a brand new decal on my car’s back glass with a version of the rainbow flag. It advertises a new LGBTQIA+ advocacy group in our region called Pee Dee Equality. I’m hoping it will flourish. Our corner of the state could use a place that advocates for the dignity of every person.

This column is based on one that appeared in the April 26th edition of The Florence Morning News.

DeMarco: The Boys’ Club takes on abortion

The Op-Ed Page

EDITOR’S NOTE: Paul sent me this with an apology, calling it “a somewhat dated column.” And it was when he send it, on June 11. So I now offer my own apology, since I’ve hardly touched the blog since then, and now it is a REALLY dated column. I’ve been really, really busy lately, a condition that I think is now lessening, slightly. Anyway, here you go. He actually sent me another right after this, which I will do my best to post today or tomorrow…

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Most Americans are rightly conflicted about abortion. Those who favor more restrictions prioritize the welfare of the fetus. Those who favor less restriction, including most physicians, prioritize the welfare of the mother. As King Solomon knew, when he was confronted by two women who both claimed to be mothers of a newborn, there is no splitting the baby.

There is also no avoiding a decision. The irony for South Carolinians is that we had it about right. Our previous law, a 20-week ban that passed in 2016 during Nikki Haley’s tenure, successfully balanced the competing values of mother and fetus. Our current Legislature, which is more than 85% male, felt the law was too generous to women. It passed a 6-week ban which Governor McMaster signed on May 25th.

The 27 to 19 vote to pass the bill in the senate was accomplished without a single female senator’s vote. This wasn’t especially challenging, given there are only five female voices in the chamber. It’s not hard to believe that some of the supporters of the bill are striving to put women back in, what they consider, their rightful place. I don’t know what was in these men’s hearts, but I have some questions. By opting for an elective abortion, a woman is often saying, “I don’t believe I can successfully raise a child right now.” If the ban was to protect these children, why wasn’t it accompanied by a strengthening of our social safety net to ensure they are not raised in poverty?

How many of our male senators know women who have chosen to have an abortion? Let’s imagine, gentleman, that the woman in question is your daughter, whom we will call Elizabeth. Let’s drop your income to the poverty line so you have little ability to help Elizabeth. Surely if with one hand you have the power to force Elizabeth to have your grandchild, with the other you could strengthen her safety net by expanding Medicaid, providing affordable child care and preschool programs, and funding public schools equitably.

I’m not arguing that it is wrong for the senators to oppose abortion. Belief that life begins at conception and that God has known us since before we were born is beautiful idea that is scripturally based. However, that religious belief cannot be imposed on women who don’t share it. A Christian woman who supports abortion could ask, for example, “If God knows us from before we enter the womb, why are there almost as many miscarriages as there are abortions in the US?” She also could reasonably object to the belief (held by 35% of Republican voters in a 2022 Winthrop poll) that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape, presumably because God created that child.

Her conception of God and childbirth might be shaped by a different view of God, one that recognizes the difference between a fetus and a child and one that would never force a woman to endure a rape and then a pregnancy. As a Christian abortion opponent, you have every right to advocate for what you believe to be a life that God ordained before the beginning of the world. You have a right, and according to your faith, perhaps a duty, to preach about it, to publish your message on social media, to build crisis pregnancy centers-to do whatever you legally can to convince women not to have abortions. But, in America, you don’t have the right to impose your religious belief on women who don’t see the world as you do.

In your opposition to abortion, I would suggest you let women do most of the talking. I’m sure there are men who come to this issue with a pure heart. However, I have been with men in locker rooms and many of them talk, well, like Donald Trump says they talk. I also know Christian couples who believe the man is the head of the family and his wife has a scripturally enforced subservience, an arrangement to which they both happily adhere. Both of these approaches to women, as prey to be hunted or as servants to be dominated, are undoubtedly present in our state senate.

In an interview with The New York Times, Republican Katrina Shealy, one of the bipartisan group of five female senators who voted against the 6-week ban, recalled that during her tenure one of her male senate colleagues, Tom Corbin, had made derogatory comments to her like “women should be home barefoot and pregnant” and that women are a “a lesser cut of meat.”

Men like Senator Corbin, who remains in the Senate and who on his website describes himself as “a Christian, a conservative, (and) a family man” are threatened by the rise of women in every sector of society. They remember a time when almost every important political or business decision made in the state was made by a man. They may still worship in churches where women are barred from the pulpit. It’s not a big stretch for them to gather together in a male-only effort to control and diminish the lives of women.

Here’s what I would ask the good senators. If you, like your daughter Elizabeth, could get pregnant, would you have voted this way? If your birth control failed or your self-restraint failed or you were temporarily impervious to the reality of pregnancy because you were young, or intoxicated, or heedless, would you force yourself to live with the consequences of that decision for the rest of your life?

A version of this column appeared in the May 31 edition of The Florence Morning News.

Jimmy Carter is going to die. So are we all.

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

In a scene from the television series Doc Martin, a scathingly curmudgeonly English surgeon turned primary care doctor, he is visited by an anxious preadolescent girl and her mother for the daughter’s minor complaint. After being given a cursory exam, the girl asks, “Am I going to die?” Doc Martin stares at her incredulously and retorts in hilariously untherapeutic but unassailably truthful fashion, “Yes, we all die.” The girl begins to cry as Doc Martin moves on to his next patient.

There are essentially three ways to approach Doc Martin’s response: full denial, full acceptance, and a usually unhappy middle ground. As a physician who spends part of his days seeing hospice patients, I have seen all three up close. This has led me to the conclusion that one of the most important decisions we can make in life is how we are going to conceive of our deaths. The meaning of life, said Kafka, is that it ends. So it is profitable that each of us have a reliable concept of where we are going.

When I talk about this subject with medical students, I don’t recommend a particular path (although, if asked, I tell them my Christianity frames my approach to death). Instead, I stress to them that they must find a path, through organized religion or some other framework, that provides them a way of understanding life and death. It is much easier for physicians to engage with patients and families about life-threatening illnesses if we have decided what happens to us when we die.

Over my thirty years of practice, I have seen hundreds of patients die. Each death is a blow, especially the unexpected ones. But when there is time to prepare, death can be beautiful. Such deaths require planning and support. That support is often in the form of hospice. That’s why I am so glad that Jimmy Carter chose to make public his decision to enter hospice care. Although his presidency was turbulent and his leadership uneven, his post-presidency has been remarkable, easily one of the best presidential second acts in American history. His choice of hospice will be his last exemplary act.

Hospice provides patients and families a much-needed embrace. We surround the patient with a team of experts who understand how human beings die. Dying can be hard work, as can watching a loved one succumb. It can be overwhelming without enough help. Having hospice team members to nurture and guide you can be shelter in the storm.

No other medical discipline is more rigorous in their team approach than hospice. Every patient is seen in their home by a nurse at least once a week, often more. Each team has a social worker and a chaplain who visit monthly or more if the patient wishes. The team member that is most appreciated is often the hospice aide who bathes, dresses, and provides other personal care to our patients. Their intimate, loving care of patients as they wash and reposition a frail human body is a balm for both the patient and the caregiver. Hospice volunteers are available to sit with, talk with, and read to patients, providing caregivers a brief respite. The team is led by a physician who provides oversight and visits patients when needed.

Choosing hospice is a recognition that death is near, which for some is a difficult bridge to cross. Those patients and families who approach death with fear and denial may, in so doing, deprive themselves of a rich and sustaining hospice experience. If you visit your primary care provider and think hospice might be appropriate for yourself or your family member, please ask (the criteria is a prognosis of six months or less). Some providers are hesitant to make a referral without a signal from the family.

Sometimes death comes quickly and hospice is not feasible. But in most cases, death can be anticipated and hospice can be called months in advance. This is the setting in which hospice works best. When the team members visit and call week after week, they become members of the family.

One of the ironic things about working in hospice is the disposition of my fellow team members. You might assume that people who work with dying patients all day would be in a permanent state of melancholy. However, the opposite is true. Perhaps there are some cynical hospice workers out there, but I don’t know any. Understanding death, it turns out, is key to enjoying life. At our weekly meeting there are often tears, but there is also laughter as we relate stories of funny things that team members, family members, or patients have said and done.

I grew up thinking that a deathbed was a place for hushed tones and whispering. But my team, my patients, and my families have taught me that the end of life is a profound experience to be savored and which can hold every emotion from intense sadness to side-splitting amusement. One of life’s sweetest moments is hearing a family member tell an amusing story about a dying patient which ends with the gathered doubled over. That kind of laughter is precious, for we know that our loved ones won’t be around to hear that story being told on them again.

So I encourage you, figure out what you believe about death. It will help you live better. And at the end, choose hospice.

A version of this article appeared in the March 8th edition of the Florence Morning News. Dr. DeMarco’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of McLeod Hospice.

DeMarco: Worried About MTG? Don’t Be.

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Those of you who are avid readers of this column (yes, all three of you) may remember my writing a column with a similar headline about QAnon back in October. QAnon has pretty much run its course. MTG will be a little harder to get rid of, but please don’t worry about her.

For many, listening to Marjorie Taylor Greene is exasperating. She is often wrongheaded, facile, bombastic, and defensive. I don’t have enough space to recount all the ways Greene is unsuitable. They are well laid out on her Wikipedia page. Perhaps the most famous are her belief in QAnon and various other conspiracy theories, including that space lasers started California wildfires. She has been a vociferous champion of the lie that Trump won in 2020. Most disturbing was her statement opposing a peaceful transfer of power two days before the attack on the Capitol. She says on video “You can’t allow it to just transfer power ‘peacefully’ like Joe Biden wants, and allow him to become our president. Because he did not win this election. It’s being stolen and the evidence is there.”

She routinely calls journalists and opposing politicians “liars” and has mastered the simplistic, us-versus-them trash talk that has worked so well for Trump. In doing so, she has become the darling of the extreme right. In an inevitable response governed by Newton’s third law of social media, many Democrats are amplifying her as well, hoping to delude voters into thinking that she represents most Republicans.

In trying to understand Greene, I watched multiple interviews including one between her and CNN’s Jim Acosta in April 2022. It is an ambush sidewalk interview. Acosta questions Greene as she walks down a D.C. street about a tweet to Mark Meadows in the aftermath of January 6th. In the tweet, she raises the idea of Trump declaring martial law to avoid leaving office.

She defends herself vigorously. Her willingness to push back against those she and her supporters see as enemies has earned her a loyal following. Going toe-to-toe with a “fake news” reporter, calling him a liar to his face, is the MTG brand. She has a feisty, take-no-prisoners attitude that has replaced well-chosen words and sober deliberation as the currency of our nation’s politics. She feels Acosta has misrepresented the text and at one point says, “Why don’t you be honest for once?” But she doesn’t finish strongly. After some back and forth, she refuses to answer any more questions and walks away saying, “We’re done, we’re done, stop harassing me… leave me alone.”

The exchange left me feeling sad for Greene. She seems like a lonely, angry person whose career will mirror Sarah Palin’s – each has opted for transient political notoriety at profound personal cost. Palin and her husband divorced in 2020 after 31 years of marriage. Greene and her husband divorced in 2022 after 27 years.

So I would urge you, if you disagree with Greene, to recognize that she is unlikely to change and that you already know enough about her to predict most of her policy positions. Recognize that she is a second-term House member, a position with very little power. Yes, she was helpful to Speaker McCarthy but only because the Republican margin in the House is so small. With a larger majority, she would have been irrelevant. Remember that she’s well-liked by voters in Georgia’s 14th district. Her Democratic challenger in 2022 raised more than $15 million (a gigantic sum for a house race), much of it from out-of-state donors, and lost by more than 30 points. It was foolish for people outside the state of Georgia, most of whom knew nothing about her opponent, Marcus Flowers, to give him money. There was not a single clear-eyed person in the state of Georgia who felt that Flowers could win.

So I say to those donors, don’t waste your money until a credible candidate opposes Greene. And I say to all those of you outside of Georgia, don’t waste your mental energy on her. She has turned Teddy Roosevelt’s advice of “Speak softly and carry a big stick” on its head. She shouts “Liar!” at the president during his State of the Union, but she has no clout. Spend your precious mental resources elsewhere.

A version of this column appeared in the February 22nd edition of the Florence Morning News.

DeMarco: What Christians Can Learn from Humanists

The Op-Ed Page

Bart Campolo

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

The first time I heard the term “secular humanism” many decades ago, it was in a negative context. I translated it as “angry atheist” and stored it in my mental junk drawer along with other assorted concepts I wasn’t sure merited further investigation.

Humanism reemerged as something to consider when I came across the story of Bart Campolo. Bart is the son of Tony Campolo, a progressive Baptist preacher and former spiritual advisor to Bill Clinton. Bart entered the family business as a spellbinding evangelist and founder of Mission Year, an urban ministry focused on improving the lives of young people. Through his twenties and thirties his faith eroded and he now rejects anything supernatural. In 2016, he started a podcast called Humanize Me. I’ve listened to dozens of episodes and, despite the trauma of his public deconversion, he remains a charismatic, insightful, and loving human being.

The trouble with humanism, Bart admits, is that it’s hard to gather a community around a belief system grounded in this world and not in the next. He has been able to generate a faithful online following but the idea of a humanist church has not been a galvanizing one. Bart attempted to start an in-person community in Cincinnati called Caravan, which, based on the website, appears defunct. But the four founding principles of Caravan are profound: building loving relationships, making things better for others, cultivating awe and wonder, and worldview humility.

Christians are familiar with the first three precepts but not the last. Most Christian churches, though not all, practice the opposite, what might be called worldview hubris. We are sure we have found the way to heaven and we’re doubly sure it’s the only way.

A couple thoughts about our certainty. First, the math of our proposition doesn’t seem compatible with a loving God. I suspect, when creating the universe, God knew that many of us would not be Christian (currently Christians make up about a third of the world’s population). Would God knowingly create a world in which so many of his children would miss the mark? Many Christians say they believe this, pointing to verses like John 14:6 in which Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” However, few are moved to invest time or money evangelizing the lost. According to the missionary organization The Traveling Team, for every $100,000 that Christians make, we give $1.70 to the unreached.

I respect those who believe Jesus is the only way. If you interpret the scriptures literally, you have a strong case. My view is that the Bible is authoritative but not inerrant. In John 14, Jesus also says “The Father is greater than me” (verse 28) and “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (verse 11). The message I get from the whole of John 14 is that belief in the Father is the critical piece. If you define God as Love, as almost all religious people do, then loving God by loving others is our highest obligation. If love is at the center of Christianity rather than belief in Jesus, we no longer are forced to be exclusive.

Again, I realize this is not the standard interpretation of the Bible preached from most pulpits. Nor am I a theologian. However, decades of Bible study and worship have shown me the hazards of an exclusive Jesus.

First, it instills an oppositional mentality. It’s us (the saved) among them (the lost). It’s virtually impossible not to pity or fell superior to people whom you believe have made a choice that will haunt them for all eternity.

Second, it can make us solipsistic. Why waste time dealing with people who are different from us and are dammed to hell anyway? Most churches are demographically homogenous – far more so than our cities, towns, or workplaces. The temptation to retreat into the cocoon of one’s comfortable church circle is strong.

Third, it makes us afraid. We worry that there is something wrong with “those people” who either worship differently or don’t worship at all. We fear becoming close lest their foreign ways lead us astray.

Last, it makes us incurious. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and peoples of the world’s many other faiths (and no faith) have traditions that can add to our understanding of the world. Many years ago while visiting Tucson, Arizona, I came upon a group of Buddhist monks meticulously crafting a sand mandala. These flat, intricate sand sculptures take groups of monks days or sometimes weeks to construct. Once completed, they are carefully dismantled, symbolizing the impermanence of the material world. The monks’ egoless devotion to their task, which they complete in silence, and their willing acceptance of the mandala’s destruction has no parallel Christian ritual but has been a lifelong inspiration to me.

I had a Jewish patient who taught me a deeper understanding of the concept of shalom. I had a Muslim student who taught me the discipline of Ramadan. We Christians have our own array of deeply meaningful traditions, but we must allow the possibility that we don’t have a lock on the Truth.

The Caravan website reminds us how most of us come to our world view: “(M)ost of our ideas and convictions are inherited from other people and/or conditioned by circumstances beyond our control. In other words, we are well aware that if our lives or brains were different, then our worldview would be different too, and we’d be using different arguments to defend it.”

When we meet someone of a different faith, our choices include conversion, consternation, or curiosity. Choose wisely.

A version of this column appeared in the February 3rd edition of the Florence Morning News.


DeMarco: From Palermo to Buc-ees

The Op-Ed Page

The lady who squeezed the pomegranates.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

I haven’t traveled widely, but the two times I have travelled internationally as an adult, I have been aware of what a privilege it is. Approximately 40% of Americans have never left the country, and 10% have never been outside their home state.

Looking back at America from across an ocean or a border grants an important, perhaps even essential, perspective. Sometimes the American way gains standing from a faraway vantage. In February 2020, just before COVID, I spent two weeks working in a hospital in Tanzania with a half-dozen students from USC School of Medicine. The hospital, one of the largest in Tanzania, was decades behind those in the U.S. The wards were open (approximately thirty to a room), and the ICU was miniscule and outdated. The radiology department had installed its first CT scanner just a couple years before. Of the deaths that occurred during our time there, several could have been prevented in the U.S. Returning to McLeod Hospital, the local Florence facility where I do part of my practice, I was grateful for the technology and expertise that I had heretofore taken for granted.

The cheese-maker.

My most recent trip, in November 2022, was to Sicily, the land of my ancestors. Returning home was a more ambivalent experience. Our small, expertly-led tour group spent 10 days travelling the length of the island and sampling its bounty. We met a family of fishers and ate tuna they had caught in their restaurant, we met a family of olive famers and watched as one poured freshly pressed oil into small bottles for us to take home, and we met a family that made sausage, pasta and cheese. We saw the patriarch make ricotta in the morning and then ate it for lunch. When I returned, my first meal in the U.S. was at Buc-ees. It was culinary whiplash.

Please don’t misunderstand. There is fast food in Sicily. I bet my brother, who travelled with me, that we would not see a McDonald’s in Sicily, and lost. There are families in America who produce food with the same sense of tradition and passion as those I saw in Italy. We have a farmers’ market in Marion where a woman, whose ancestors have been here since the town was founded in the mid-nineteenth century, sells glorious cookies and pound cakes from recipes honed through the generations. And it is of course true that many people in both countries would eat better if they could afford it.

That said, the food cultures of the two countries are different. It shows in our waistlines. Italy’s adult obesity rate is about 12%. America’s has topped 40%. Speed and work are valued in different ways by the two nations. Eating as part of multitasking is deeply ingrained here. We take out. We eat food in our cars or at our desks. Family members in the same house don’t always eat together.

In Sicily, food is more often an event. Some businesses still close in the middle of the day so that pranzo (lunch) can be savored and followed by a nap. Fresh ingredients are more available and sought after. In Sicily we shopped in two sprawling outdoor markets, one in Palermo and the second in Catania. Both brimmed with riotous displays of fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. In the Ballaro market in Palermo, I watched in awe as a woman at least in her 60s deftly and powerfully squeezed pomegranates with a manual press. With effortless squeeze after squeeze, rivers of juice flowed into the cups of her delighted customers (of which I was one). The juice of the grape is also coveted in Italy. We met a vintner whose vineyard is on the slopes of Mt. Etna. He described how just a few dozen kilometers of distance or altitude between vineyards can produce markedly different wines.

The culinary spirit I’m trying to describe was best exhibited as we dined at the restaurant Tritalo Mediterraneo in Palermo. We ate there twice, sitting outside, and laughed as we tried to communicate across the language barrier. On our second visit, we were welcomed like returning family. When I asked for the check, the owner instead brought out a bottle of Punagro (an orange liqueur) with four glasses and poured each of us a complimentary drink. That gift typified Sicilians approach to the table – as a place of refuge and rejuvenation, where time slows, and from which no sane person would hurry away.

It’s easy to believe that America has the best of everything. It is not wrong to think of our country as the shining city on a hill, as Reagan put it. But there are many different ways of living. The American way, sad to say, is not always the best. It was humbling, but necessary, for me to be reminded of that.

A version of this column appeared in the 1/11/23 issue of the Florence Morning News.

Paul, on the far right, with family members.

Stroke Guys of the World, Unite!

What are yinz lookin’ at?

Paul DeMarco didn’t specifically mention John Fetterman in his piece posted earlier, but he alluded to him when he mentioned what happened in Pennsylvania last month.

And that reminded me of a selfie I snapped a couple of weeks ago. I had just stepped into the bathroom, and happened to glance in the mirror, and… something looked familiar.

No, I’m not saying you can’t tell us apart or something. I just mean I saw something in the mirror that reminded me of John Fetterman. Yeah, to some extent the effect had to do certain sartorial choices. I wouldn’t have been reminded of him back when I went around looking like this. Oh, and if you want to see the senator-elect in a hoodie, there are plenty of such images.

But there was more to it. I now feel more of a commonality with this guy than I did back when he first emerged on the national scene, going around with his eccentric chin spinach saying strange things such as “yinz.”

But then, when people started picking on him because of a minor cognitive symptom following his stroke — when he was obviously still an intelligent and discerning man — I got all defensive on his behalf. How dare they?

Y’all know how opposed I am to Identity Politics, but don’t go picking on my special group — guys who have minor bits of damage after a stroke (in my case, the “nap attacks” I think I’ve mentioned before), but are pretty danged hale and hearty otherwise, dagnabbit!

Yeah, I know I’ve kind of mentioned all this before, but that recent glimpse in the mirror got me going again. And mentioning it now, after the election, I can also take a moment to celebrate the fact that Fetterman is going to the Senate, instead of that yahoo carpetbagger from TV — the guy Paul did mention by name.

Stroke Guys Unite!

DeMarco: Trump is Done

The Op-Ed Page

At first, Trump brought attention and renewed dignity to working people who felt exploited by business, media, and tech elites.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Our long national nightmare is over. Donald Trump has overplayed his hand and (boy it sounds good to say this) is headed to the dustbin of history.

In 2016, Trump benefitted from the trifecta of a crowded Republican primary field, a weak challenger, and an angry electorate. I was in the audience when Trump came to the Florence Center in February of that year (not as a supporter but to see the show). I’ve been to many political rallies, including a national convention, and I’ve seen whipped-up crowds, but this was different. It was a quasi-religious fervor. The catharsis came when Trump shouted, “We’re going to build a wall” to ecstatic cheers. Then, gleefully, he asked “And who is going to pay for it!?” The crowd roared “Mexico!”

At the time, I discounted Trump. I was sure my fellow countrymen and women would see through what he was doing, playing to our fears, inflaming us with hyperbole, lies and innuendo. I was wrong. After he won, I thought back to two men sitting next to me at the rally. They had come straight from work and were still dressed in boots and Carhartt jeans. At one point, Trump said, “This country is going to hell.” The man sitting next to me said quietly to his friend, “In a hand basket.”

Whatever you think of Trump, he connected with those two construction workers in a way that no other politician in my lifetime has. Trump’s strength was that he brought attention and renewed dignity to working people who felt exploited by business, media, and tech elites. If you live where I do and have watched plant after plant close and your once thriving Main Street shrivel, it’s not hard to understand Trump’s appeal to folks Alan Jackson called “the little man.” No other candidate from either party could match Trump’s appeal to working-class voters, especially rural ones, whose jobs disappeared and wages were flat while economists told them how good it all was for the global economy. Trump acknowledged their loss and their pain and promised to advocate for them in Washington.

In 2016, most people who voted for Trump did not know what they were getting. They knew how they felt-angry, nostalgic, like the America they knew was slipping away. Not all their energy was generous – as demonstrated by the “Mexico” chant, but I will leave that for another column. For today, we can recognize that in 2020, the connection he forged with them in his first campaign outweighed the turbulence of his presidency, and they stuck with him the second time around.

Thankfully, for enough Americans, election denial is a bridge too far. Since the founding of the republic, we have demonstrated that we will accept colossal flaws in our candidates as long as they pledge to advance our policy positions. We will always argue about the size and role of government, the minimum wage, the regulation of guns, the best way to fund Social Security and Medicare, and the price of gas. But we know there needs to be an America in which we can argue. The tie that binds our fractious democracy together is our willingness to accept election results.

Trump strikes at the heart of this with his lies about election fraud. The midterms should have been a red tsunami. Joe Biden’s historically low approval ratings amidst the worst inflation in 40 years presaged disaster for the Democrats. Instead of reemploying his successful worker-centered strategy of 2016, Trump snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by harping incessantly about his loss in 2020.

The defeat of Blake Masters, a Trump-backed Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Arizona, will be remembered as the beginning of the end for Trump. Masters was poised to win a crucial Senate seat until he made election denial a pillar of his campaign. One of his television ads begins with a casually dressed Masters walking alone down a road in the Arizona desert. His first words are “I think Trump won in 2020.” A few seconds later, “The media – they’d tell any lie in order to hurt President Trump.”
That ad was a crucial test of how far Americans are willing to walk with Trump. An attack on the Capitol did not seem to be a deal-breaker for many Republicans. Would they overlook election denial as well? Fortunately not. Masters turned a winnable election into a five-point loss to the Democrat, former astronaut Mark Kelly.

Trump’s backing in a tight race is now the kiss of death – just ask Kari Lake (losing Arizona gubernatorial candidate), Mehmet Oz (losing Senate candidate in Pennsylvania), Adam Laxalt (losing Senate candidate in Nevada), Tudor Dixon (losing Michigan gubernatorial candidate), and most recently, Hershel Walker. Trump endorsed all of these candidates, and his super PAC spent heavily in their races.

Trump will not go quietly, but he will go. Ron DeSantis is the rising star in the Republican Party, as he should be after his blowout win over Charlie Crist. I’m no fan of DeSantis. I disagree with many of his policy positions and don’t like his governing style, exemplified by his duplicity in tricking almost fifty asylum seekers to board planes for Martha’s Vineyard to “own the libs.” But crucially, he won without resorting to election denialism. I am confident he will respect our electoral process and not defile it further if he loses. For that reason alone, Republicans should abandon Trump and embrace DeSantis. America will be more secure once Trump leaves the stage.

A version of this column appeared in the Nov. 30 edition of the Florence Morning News.

DeMarco: Worried About QAnon? Don’t Be.

The Op-Ed Page

Yeah, THAT guy: The so-called “QAnon shaman.”

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

In the early fall of 2012, I was part of group organizing free community health screenings. Out of the blue, a physician who was a stranger to me called and asked if he could volunteer for our weekly outings. I was glad for the help, and over the next year or so, he and I supervised several screenings together.

After a screening in the months before the 2012 general election, he came into my office looking concerned. He asked if I had seen a YouTube video made by a man claiming to have had cocaine-fueled sex in a limousine with President Obama. He knew that I was planning on voting for Obama and asked plaintively, “What are we going to do? This is going to ruin his chances for re-election.”

When I watched the video (which is still online and currently has fewer than 7,000 views) I was unmoved. Despite my reassurances, my colleague was convinced that the video would derail Obama’s campaign. This was my first brush with the conspiracy mindset. Here was a man both intelligent enough to practice medicine and generous enough to give away his time who lacked a needed skepticism. I found out later that he was a loner who was estranged from his family. He died of a preventable cancer, perhaps another manifestation of his inability to properly weigh information.

I’ve also had a younger co-worker who was a true conspiracy theorist. He sported a bumper sticker that said “9/11 was an inside job” and published multiple books, the titles of which I will not list to spare him the embarrassment – he has taken another job and has grown out of his conspiracy phase. He was socially adept, polite but formal with me and an enjoyable conversationalist for the staff in his generation. He kept his banter light; I never once heard him voice any of the ideas about which he wrote so fluently.

Which brings me to QAnon, the absurd theory that (and this next phrase pains me to write) Hilary Clinton is the leader of a Satan-worshipping cabal of pedophiles that has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, including government, Hollywood, and the media. QAnon has gotten more press than it deserves, in part due to Jake Angeli, the “QAnon shaman,” who became the face of the January 6th attack. He was one of the handful of rioters who penetrated the Senate chamber and left a note on Vice-President Pence’s desk that read “It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming.”

The most current polling on QAnon from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) produced this eye-popping New York Times headline: “41 million Americans are QAnon believers, survey finds.” I am going to venture that this is a vast overestimate of the true sway of QAnon. The PRRI polls of approximately 20,000 Americans showed that 16% “completely agree” or “mostly agree” with QAnon’s pedophilia claim (16% of the US adult population (258 million) equals 41 million).

However, looking at the numbers more closely, only 5% completely agree (about 13 million). Many fewer participate actively in QAnon activities and fewer still participated in the January 6th attack. My guess is that if most of the 5% who “completely agree” were asked on penalty of perjury if they truly believe the conspiracy theory they would say “no.” And if the answer was “yes,” when asked to produce any credible evidence, they would fail.

QAnon’s success can be attributed to its being allowed to fester for several years without much public notice on a racist and misogynistic website called 8-chan. Now that January 6th has subjected it to scrutiny, it will shrivel. All of Q’s major predictions have failed to come to pass and the shaman and his fellow rioters are in jail.

About the only people in power who are courting QAnon are folks like Marjorie Taylor Greene and, of course, Donald Trump, who recently introduced a Q-associated anthem as background music for one his rallies and posted an image of himself wearing a Q lapel pin. The fact that he must overtly court Q supporters can only be interpreted as a sign of Trump’s waning popularity.

The best approach to Q is not to engage. Don’t bicker with Q followers on social media and please don’t lose any sleep over the movement. Yes, a very few supporters have been violent. But most adherents are harmless. Based on my limited experience with conspiracy theorists, it is possible for them to harbor fantastic beliefs while being good at their jobs, funny, and kind.

It is undeniably taxing to engage a conspiracy theorist who is trying to prove he is right. I would recommend listening carefully and asking curious questions for as long as you can stand. You will probably walk away shaking your head. But what a conspiracy theorist most needs is to get out of his echo chamber. If you provide an alternative perspective offered in a respectful way that can be heard, you may help him back toward reality.

A version of this column appeared in the Oct. 5 edition of the Florence Morning News.

DeMarco: Trump 2024? Ask Your Grandchildren.

The Op-Ed Page

Sure, we all know I voted for Biden, but I thought I’d show a HANDSOME grandpa voting.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Scene: It’s the autumn of 2032. Jessie, an 8th-grader excited about her government project, stops by her grandparents’ house.

Jessie (big smile, kisses him on the cheek): Hi Grandpa! I’m doing a project about the 2024 presidential election. Would you help me?

Grandpa: Sure, honey. What would you like to know?

Jessie: OK, first, who did you vote for in 2024?

Grandpa (smiling broadly): Donald J. Trump!! I voted for him three times! Best president in the history of America!

Jessie (crestfallen): But Grandpa, he was a liar!

Grandpa (scoffing): Who told you that! What are they teaching you in that school?!

Jessie: No one from school had to tell me that. Literally everyone knows he lied about 2020. His own attorney general said so. There’s never been any credible evidence he won.

Grandpa: That’s why he said the media was the enemy of the people. Don’t believe everything you read, sweetheart.

Jessie (excited): Oh, I didn’t realize. So tell me the real scoop, Grandpa. What really happened? Where can I go to find the real truth?

Grandpa: Well, I can’t point you to a single place. I just know there were lots of irregularities and inconsistencies.

Jessie (disappointed): Oh… everything I’ve been able to find says he lost. No conspiracy was ever uncovered, he lost over 60 court cases challenging the result, and none of the recounts showed any fraud.

Grandpa: All I know is that he was winning when I went to bed and losing when I woke up the next morning. Who knows what the Democrats could have done while I was sleeping?

Jessie: Election experts expected that to happen. More Trump voters voted in person and more Biden voters voted by mail. It took longer to count the mail-in ballots

Grandpa: Well, there was something fishy about that election.

Jessie: But Grandpa, how could you have voted for him in the first place? The way he talks about women! You wouldn’t have stood him talking about Mama that way.

Grandpa: That was just locker-room talk.

Jessie: Is that the way you talked about Mama in your high school locker room?

Grandpa (embarrassed): Well, no…

Jessie: I just don’t understand, Grandpa. He acts so ugly. I’ve heard you say you want a Christian in the White House, and I do too. I know how much you love the church and the special things you do for people.

Grandpa: Trump is a Christian! He got Roe v. Wade overturned.

Jessie: Being a Christian and being opposed to abortion are two different things. This Sunday when Reverend Jessup talked about the fruits of the spirit – let’s see if I can name them all – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness – and there’s one more…

Grandpa: Self-control.

Jessie: Right, self-control. You and grandma have all of those, but Trump doesn’t have any. There were so many better choices in 2024. Why not Nikki Haley or Tim Scott? They’re both from South Carolina. Or what about Mike Pence? I was sure you were going to say you voted for him. He’s so much more like you than Trump.

Grandpa: Jesse, you’re young, you don’t understand. The president isn’t our minister. He’s got to be tough to protect America.

Jessie: I get that he’s not our minister, but in 2016 and 2024 there were candidates whose policies were just as conservative as Trump but so much more decent.

Grandpa: But they didn’t fight like Trump.

Jessie (red-faced): So you didn’t want a minister, you wanted an MMA fighter! Grandpa, the rioters he sent up to the Capitol on January 6th almost prevented an orderly transfer of power. That’s the bedrock of our democracy. Trump acted like a spoiled brat, not the president. And then he lied and lied and lied about it. Is that the way you wanted me to act when I lost the election for class president?

Grandpa (voice rising as Jessie turns away): Jessie, honey, we’re not talking about middle school. We’ve got to keep the left from ruining the country!

Jessie (slow turning back to face him, quietly): Grandpa, what if I am the left? I haven’t made up my mind on a lot of issues, but I’m OK with gay marriage and I’m comfortable talking about both the great and the terrible parts of American history. I respect your view that abortion is always wrong, but I’m not sure that I’m willing to support making it a crime.

Grandpa: You know I’m not going to change my mind about those things.

Jessie: I’m not asking you to. Just remember, most of the people who disagree with you are a lot like me. You don’t need to elect someone like Trump to protect the country from us.

Grandpa: I’ll never apologize for voting for him.

Jessie: I know. Just vote for someone less dangerous this time. Have you decided who you are supporting this year?

Grandpa (smiling): After what you just put me through, you think I’m going to tell YOU!?

Jessie (laughing); Chicken!!

DeMarco: A New Confederate Statue?

The Op-Ed Page

Florence County Museum.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Casting a likeness in bronze and setting it on public property establishes a long-term relationship between a community and the person being honored. Some communities, spurred by an awakened consciousness of the messages Confederate statues send, have chosen to remove them. Others have added markers to provide a broader historical context than the monument alone provides.

But few are placing new statues to honor Confederates. Enter Florence County Council, which has decided by a 5-4 vote that 2022 was finally the time for Florence to do so. “This guy (William Wallace Harllee) formed the reason the town is here,” Council member and statue supporter Kent Caudle told The Post and Courier. “I don’t think that has anything to do with racism.”

Placing a statue because it acknowledges a historical person or event is not rationale enough. Those who argue that statues teach us history misunderstand their purpose. There is not enough bronze in the world to properly convey a complete picture of Florence’s 150 years of history. Learning that history requires reading, walking the streets, visiting the museum, and talking with those whose families have lived there for generations.

Statues accomplish a different objective. The best statues are about our values and our future. They capture someone whose life embodies important and timeless principles, ones that can continue to guide us. The worst statues point only backwards, evincing nostalgia for a romanticized version of the past.

Weighing a person’s life is an uncomfortable but critical part of the process. The key is to determine the person’s primary legacy. Lincoln had disabling bouts of depression and, although he always opposed slavery, whether he truly believed blacks were the equals of whites is a question historians still debate. But summing up Lincoln’s life, these are just footnotes. He was the Great Emancipator and Commander-in-Chief in the war that preserved the Union.

The County Council should apply a similar rubric to their decision to place a statue of Harllee at the Florence County Museum. Here is how I would encapsulate his life: He was a lawyer, businessman, military officer, and legislator from the Pee Dee who was lieutenant governor from 1860-1862, during the time South Carolina seceded from the Union. The fact that Florence is named after his daughter is a footnote in his story.

It seems strange that the County Council would want to honor this man, even stranger that it would override the museum board’s unanimous vote rejecting displaying the statue on museum property.

Perhaps if Gen. Harllee had a strong connection to Florence or had been an important part of the city’s development, it might make more sense. Gen. Harllee did found the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad in 1852, which was first railroad to locate a depot near what would become Florence. However, Harllee resigned from the company in 1855. Florence was not established until 1872, and Harllee did not live there until 1889. Florence Harllee’s obituary from 1925 states that the railroad construction superintendent, Colonel Fleming, gave the depot the name Florence during its construction circa 1853.

The statue, which is titled “This Place Will Be Called In Your Name, Florence” and shows a larger-than-life Harllee standing beside a railroad track with his left hand on Florence’s shoulder, is deceiving. It invites us to believe we are seeing Gen. Harllee sharing with his daughter a vision of the great metropolis into which her namesake city will grow. However, it appears that Gen. Harllee had no such vision; it was someone else who suggested the name.

The lives of Gen. Harllee and Florence are well documented in the museum as well as online. The sculpture, in the vein of other Lost Cause memorials, attempts to rewrite and idealize the city’s history. Some cities are named after giants. Florence is named after the daughter of a secessionist who oversaw South Carolina’s decision to go to war for the right to continue to enslave. This is a history to be overcome, not to be celebrated.

I do not intend to besmirch the name of the daughter, Florence. She was a devout woman who was proud of her city. She lived more than three decades in Florence, and served the community as a teacher. At one point, Florence was her town’s librarian.

It’s doubtful that Florence would have enjoyed all the fuss we are currently making. According to an article in the Florence News Journal in 2015, she was “quiet and unassuming.” In 1923, when she was seventy-four, she was invited to an elaborate celebration marking the opening of a bridge spanning the Great Pee Dee River to connect Florence and Marion counties. Seats for her and several other family members were reserved, and she was to be publicly recognized. The article reports that Florence said “The very idea of being willing to make a spectacle of ourselves!” and wrote back to the planning committee to politely decline their invitation.

Harllee’s ancestors and other admirers had every right to commission this sculpture. But it is a private homage and up to them to find private property on which to display it (although I would urge them not to display it at all). No public funds should be spent on it nor should it be displayed on public property, because it doesn’t do what public sculpture must do: ignite a sense of shared purpose, reminding us of those in our past whose values can propel us into the future.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, SC. Reach him at A version of this article appeared in the Florence Morning News on 8/17/22.

Postscript: On 8/18, the members of the Florence County Council voted unanimously to reverse their decision after receiving a letter on 8/15 from the Harllee Memorial Statue Committee asking them to do so. The letter stated “It was never the intent of the Harllee Memorial Sculpture Committee to cause any division in this great and prosperous community where we live, work, play, learn and enjoy life.” The Florence branch of the NAACP deserves the credit for mobilizing the community. The council had already received the letter by the time my column was published, so it likely played no role in their decision. I’m just glad they came to their senses so quickly.

DeMarco: Randy, Please Write Back

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

After my June column, “Losing well is critical to democracy,” in which I praised Tom Rice for his grace in defeat and compared his response to Donald Trump’s incessant lying about his loss, I received an email from someone whom I will call “Randy” who is a Trump supporter. Randy told me he grew up in Florence and now lived out west. He was back home visiting and saw the column. He is a volunteer poll worker and has witnessed “serious problems with conducting fair elections” although the only example he cited was an error that involved 40 votes in a local election.

Given that Steven Wukela won the Florence mayoral Democratic primary by a single vote in 2008, I agree with Randy that election integrity is paramount: votes must be properly counted and only eligible voters should vote.

I was curious about his poll-working experience and wanted to know more. Did he believe that the 2020 election had been stolen? How did he think it had occurred?

But the most interesting statement in his email was “Trump gets his power from loyal voters like me. He is nothing without the huge support he enjoys from voters. Whenever you insult him, you actually insult voters like me which cost Tom Rice his job from fellow Trumpers!”

I found this very helpful. For someone like me who knows and respects many people who voted for Trump but sees Trump himself as reckless and solipsistic, I wanted to engage with Randy and find out why he is such a devoted follower.

I was also encouraged that he ended his missive with this benediction: “I enjoyed reading your column but could not disagree with you more.”

Randy’s sentiment, that he could both enjoy my column but totally disagree was refreshing and is largely missing from current political discourse. My intuition is that there are many Americans like Randy, who can disagree enjoyably and leave an argument respecting their opponent.

I quickly composed an answer. The first draft was civil but contained the accusation that due to his fealty to Trump “he had a ‘chip-on-the- shoulder’ attitude” and that he was “primed to be insulted.”

When I reread it, I realized that I was making the error that so many of us make – I assumed I understood his motives, that I could read his mind. It’s always better to allow people to tell you why they feel the way they feel. Of course, they may or may not reveal their true motivations, but it is worth hearing them out.

So I edited my draft. Here is what I sent:

“Randy, I really appreciate your responding to my column. Thank you for your service as a poll worker and the insights in your email. I would be happy to entertain evidence that there was significant fraud in 2020. I agree that elections are not perfect. But the fact that 40 voters voted twice in (your home state) is a far cry from what would be needed to overturn a presidential election… After almost two years and 60 court cases in which no evidence of fraud was found, I think your position that significant fraud existed is weak. Your position is also opposed by attorney general Bill Barr, countless election officials including the Republican Secretary of State who certified the result in Georgia, Brad Raffensperger (who recently beat the Trump-backed candidate in his primary reelection campaign), and the U.S. Congress. Again, I would be open to hearing the evidence and being swayed by it.

I’m interested in your statement ‘Whenever you insult him, you actually insult voters like me.’ I’m not out to insult Trump and certainly not people like you who support him. I’m stating what I believe to be a fact, that he knows he lost the election and is purposely pushing a lie about fraud because it is effective with many of his supporters. He has a unique and strong bond with you and many others. I would benefit from your telling me more about why he means so much to you.

I truly value your willingness to engage with me civilly. If you would, please write back. Thanks and best wishes, Paul”

I sent that over a week ago and as of this writing have not received a response. But for me the possibility that he might respond is energizing. So much of what I read and listen to makes me grit my teeth in despair. I sit between the two warring sides as they lob innuendo- and contempt-laden grenades at one another. It’s depressing and deeply boring. There are many of us in this no-man’s land. If what was said on Twitter was what most of us truly felt about our political opponents, fistfights should be breaking out daily in every grocery store in the country.

Truth is, only a small fraction of us participate in our media dialogues and fewer still enjoy it. Most of us would rather have honest discussions that include various points of view. I hope Randy writes back, or if not that someone else who disagrees with me will.

This column appeared in the Florence Morning News on 7/20/22. Still no response from Randy, but I plan on sending him the blog post. Maybe we can engage him that way.