Category Archives: Paul DeMarco

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 pvdemarco@bellsouth.net. 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.

DeMarco: McKissick Puts Party Over Country

The Op-Ed Page

Drew McKissick

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

I appreciate Drew McKissick, the Chair of the South Carolina Republican Party, responding to my Florence Morning News column of May 25thDemocrats, Let’s Elect Tom Rice” with one in the June 3rd edition entitled “Democrats, stay out of GOP primary.”

I’ve been writing monthly columns for not quite a year now. After they are published I email them out to a small group of friends under the heading “Civil Discourse.” Here’s my first chance to practice what I preach with a prominent Republican.

Before we get to what is contained in McKissick’s response, let’s discuss what’s not there: no insinuation that I’m evil, crazy, deluded, or that I hate America and want to destroy it. He provides reasonable arguments why his position is better than mine. The tone is a little snarky here and there, but in my book, McKissick gets an “A” for the form of his rebuttal.

Now to the substance, which I wholeheartedly dispute. The core of his argument is “Why should a lifelong and current Democrat have the opportunity to meddle in another party’s candidate selection process and encourage others to do so as well? In short, he shouldn’t.”

First of all, I would never describe myself as a “lifelong Democrat.” I have always been suspicious of political parties (as were some of the Founding Fathers) and more today than ever. Since I doubt parties will disappear, my solution is to encourage more of them. Third parties have had a rough go in American politics, but I am following Andrew Yang’s latest attempt, the Freedom Party, with some interest.

Second, he assumes that party affiliation is like binary computer coding, 0 = Republican, 1 = Democrat. In his view, voters are either with you or against you and should be completely impervious to the ideas of the other party. While that may work in the virtual world, in the real world, few people agree completely with either party’s platform. Most of us have some beliefs that align with each party and vote based on which of those beliefs are most important to us at the time of the election. A gun owner who believes assault weapons should be banned might support Biden; a pro-choice voter who wants stricter border controls might support Trump.

McKissick assumes that because I generally vote for Democrats I must wish his party ill. He is mistaken. I want both parties to be strong. I reject the extremism of both sides, as do most of my fellow countrymen and women. That McKissick can’t fathom the idea that I might want what’s best for his party is revealing.

It is, of course, true that some voters play politics as a team sport. These voters choose a candidate simply because of the “R” or “D” behind the name. But there are many independent-minded voters who reject that way of thinking.

My goal is to highlight to my Republican friends that Trump is dangerous and anti-democratic. His advocacy of overturning an election involving 155 million votes by subterfuge and violence is the closest America has ever come to authoritarian rule. Trump is exactly the kind of demagogue of whom our Founding Fathers were afraid. In George Washington’s Farewell Address, he warned against the rise of “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men” who “subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards” democracy itself.

Another disturbing part of McKissick’s argument is that he is so willing to reject my participation in the primary. What makes someone a Republican? Fealty to Trump? Devotion to the platform? How does he know that any of the voters on June 14th meet his litmus test? Republicans have struggled for decades to expand the tent. They have no luxury to pick and choose.

His desire to have a closed primary has some historical precedent. Up until 1948, the Democratic party, then the party of white conservatives, had an all-white primary. After the US Supreme Court struck down segregated primaries in 1944, the South Carolina Legislature revolted. Rather than accept the ruling, it abolished all state statutes related to the party in an effort to claim it was a “private club,” a gambit that was also rejected by the courts. McKissick seems interested in a return to those days when only certain people were allowed to vote in a primary.

McKissick is paid to be a partisan. Therefore, he advocates for party over country. I don’t get a paycheck from either political party. My highest obligation as a citizen is to vote, one I never shirk. This election I am heeding Washington’s admonition, also from his Farewell Address, that political parties “gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.”

Tom Rice understands history and the threat Trump and his ilk pose. He recognizes that sometimes parties can be antithetical to democracy and was not afraid to vote for his country over his party. We must keep men and women like him in Congress.

McKissick is a savvy professional political operative. But he lets his guard down in his concluding remark “So, to our liberal friends we say, “Keep out.”

Telling people they are forbidden to do something they have every right to do only increases the chance they will do it. So thank you, Mr. McKissick. Your southern inhospitality may be the thing that gets Tom Rice elected.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, SC. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net.

DeMarco: Democrats, Let’s Elect Tom Rice

The Op-Ed Page

Tom Rice

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Tom Rice and I have different political philosophies. On many controversial issues, we disagree. Yet, I have never felt more strongly about voting for a candidate than I do about voting for him.

This election cycle, rather than focusing on individual races, my goal is to do my part to repair American democracy. After being rammed broadside by Donald Trump and his acolytes, our ship of state is listing. What can I, as a single voter, do to repair the breach?

My answer is to elect Tom Rice. In South Carolina, voters can participate in whichever primary election they choose. I generally, although not always, vote in the Democratic primary since the traditional goals of the party, such as expanding access to health care and education, protecting the planet, and supporting the advancement of previously marginalized people, align with my values as a citizen and a Christian.

This election, there is no greater good than to stymie Trump-endorsed candidates. This is not because they have the same policy positions as Trump. The conservative agenda that Trump advocated during his presidency must be part of the American debate. Many of Trump’s policies, such as lower taxes, less regulation, gun rights, restricting abortion and immigration, and renegotiating trade deals, can be robustly defended. But Donald Trump the man is a threat to our country. He came within a whisker of upending our nearly 250-year-old tradition of orderly transfers of power. If Mike Pence had capitulated to his demands and failed to certify the electoral votes on January 6th, we would have faced a constitutional crisis unlike any this country has seen.

Rice’s strongest opponent, Russell Fry, a state legislator from Horry County, is a Trump lackey. He dutifully recites the lie that Trump won the 2020 election and if a similar circumstance were to arise in 2024, he would undoubtedly choose to overturn a fair election in order to seat his party’s candidate.

While many politicians on both sides lack spine, the invertebrate nature of Republican officeholders and candidates since Trump was elected has been noteworthy. Even more extraordinary, rather than being celebrated for upholding the Constitution, Rice and others who voted to impeach Donald Trump are being drummed out of the party.

I have been politically active for more than 40 years. Until recently, I had confidence that the vast majority of our elected leaders, regardless of party, had an unwavering commitment to democracy. It was a given that the will of the people would be respected, that presidential candidates who had lost even the closest of elections, as Al Gore did in 2000, would, once their legal challenges had concluded, encourage their countrymen and women to put aside their divisions and come together behind the victor. After the Supreme Court had rendered its decision in Bush v. Gore, Gore said “partisan rancor must now be put aside…for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”

That centuries-old understanding of presidential decorum changed with Trump. After his legal challenges had been exhausted, Trump encouraged his supporters to rally on January 6th, hoping the crowd would do for him what the courts would not. He waited in silence for three hours as a mob attempted violently to overturn the election. When he finally sent out a video asking them to disperse, he said, “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it… We love you. You’re very special.” Trump’s behavior that day was mendacious, despicable, and impeachable. Tom Rice recognized that.

If you are a Democrat, you may worry about not participating in your usual primary. However, this June 14, the pickings are slim on the Democratic side. No Democrat opted to challenge Rice. In the statewide races on the ballot that day, Democrats fielded candidates for only three of six positions: governor, state superintendent of education, and U.S. Senate. Odds are that none of the Democratic primary victors will win in November. Please check your local city and county races (you may have to call your voter registration office about these). Fortunately for me, there are no local Democrats that I support up for re-election. But even if there were, there is nothing more important to me than voting for Rice. Almost certainly Rice will make a runoff, most likely against Fry. Having voted in the Republican primary, I will be eligible to vote in the runoff. Remember, if you vote in the Democratic primary, you cannot vote in a Republican runoff.

It’s easy to take votes that are both popular and good for the country. But the true measure of officeholders is what they do when forced to choose between the two. Rice, Pence and a few of their Republican colleagues showed courage in the aftermath of the January 6 attack, for which we should all be grateful. Republicans, Democrats, and independents, I urge you to re-elect Tom Rice.

A version of this column appeared in the Florence Morning News on 5/25/22. I have no affiliation with the Rice campaign and had no communication with it before the column was published.

DeMarco: Lindsey Graham, the weathervane of the New Republican Party

The man who was: 26 March 2013

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

In September 2009, I attended a town hall meeting in the gymnasium of Francis Marion University featuring Lindsey Graham. It was about six weeks after the confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Graham was the only Republican senator on the Judiciary Committee to vote for her and one of nine Republicans to vote in favor in the full Senate. When he took questions from the audience, an older man sitting behind me in the bleachers stood and grimly asked, “Why did you vote for that judge,” and here he paused to derisively enunciate each syllable, “SOH-TOH-MAAY-ORR”

Rather than try to placate his disappointed supporter, Graham forcefully rebutted him. “Elections have consequences,” he shot back. “If you don’t want liberal judges on the court, then elect a Republican president. I don’t agree with Justice Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy, but my job as a senator is to determine whether she is qualified. She is qualified, so I voted for her.”

Of the many conversations I have heard and participated in with my elected representatives, this exchange stands out as one of the best. Graham had a chance to dodge or pander; instead he was truthful and forthright.

Back then Graham was keeping company with another maverick senator, John McCain, and although they are both more conservative than I, I admired their respect for their office and their roles as guardians of our democracy.

I was also heartened by Graham’s eviscerations of Donald Trump during his short-lived presidential campaign in 2015. Back when he was speaking his mind he said things like, “You know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell,” and “He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.” He also tweeted “I also cannot in good conscience support Donald Trump because I do not believe he is a reliable Republican conservative nor has he displayed the judgment and temperament to serve as Commander in Chief.” That statement strikes me as remarkable for two reasons. First, for its eerie prescience in light of the January 6th attack. Second, for Graham’s complete abandonment of his own good advice: after Trump’s election, he became one of the president’s closest allies.

Many commentators have rightly criticized Graham for his lack of integrity. But, if you agree with the premise that we get the leaders we deserve, then Graham is not the only one at fault. Elections, as Graham once frequently reminded us, do have consequences. We could have elected Graham as president. A Graham-Clinton match-up in 2016 would have been an interesting and difficult choice for me. But our enthusiasms and our votes buoyed other candidates in the 2016 Republican primary. Graham never polled above 1% and dropped out in December 2015. I saw most of the remaining front-runners as they came through Florence in early 2016 including Kasich, Carson, Rubio, Cruz and Trump. Trump’s crowd almost filled Florence Center, holding as many supporters as all his rivals combined and more.

Graham got the message: he could no longer speak his mind about Trump and remain a senator. The Republican Party had moved far enough from him, especially from his conciliatory and bipartisan approach on immigration, that he risked a successful challenge by a conservative Trump supporter in the 2020 primary if he didn’t move with the party.

If you are a Democrat, you should take this as a lesson. In 2016, Democrats flirted with an extremely progressive candidate in Bernie Sanders, a man who described himself as a democratic socialist. The farther to the edge your standard bearers are, the harder it is for idiosyncratic politicians like Graham to remain true to themselves.

Do we want our parties to be cults of personality in which the thing that trumps (ironic that that’s the right word here) all is one’s allegiance to the party leader? How have we come to the place that acquiescing to Trump’s lie that he won the 2020 election is the current Republican litmus test?

The wholesale transformation of the Republican party is summed up in Graham’s suppression of his better instincts by voting against the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson. It’s worth noting that just last year, Graham voted to confirm Jackson as a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. Circuit. That was an under-the-radar vote that he knew few of his base would notice. But with the voters watching, he renounced the principle that had guided him for more than two decades and voted against her.

If you are a Republican, understand how I offer this assessment. My hope is for both parties to be strong. My desire is that Republicans will right the ship and recognize their mistake in supporting a president who is actively threatening the fabric of our democracy (which, I fear, is more delicate than I learned in school).

Our country is more secure and more likely to thrive when the two parties allow representatives to vote their consciences. Demanding ideological purity creates parties for which compromise is impossible and intransigence is perversely celebrated. Since absolute victory is rare in policy debates, stymieing the opposition has become the accepted substitute for legislating. Democrats are not immune. Both parties have succumbed to such a rigid dichotomy on the issue of abortion that pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans, once fairly common in Congress, are virtually extinct.

We cannot be party robots. Our future lies with men and women like Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney who put country over party. The Graham of old demonstrated similar laudable conviction. His recent choice to elevate his party over country has indelibly stained his legacy.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, S.C. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net. A version of this column appeared in the April 27th, 2022, edition of the Florence Morning News.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Something about this made me think of this old clip, from May 15, 2007. It’s John McCain at an event in the Vista, calling Lindsey “that little jerk,” which was the way he frequently referred to friends and allies. But it’s the question that made me think of it: Where, indeed, is that little jerk? What happened to him?

DeMarco: Salkehatchie Summer Service and the hope for a new Church

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

I wrote in a previous column about my disappointment over the decline of my denomination, the United Methodists. We are not alone. Our shrinking membership is paralleled by the majority of other church groups in America.

Longtime church members tend to blame external forces – the banning of prayer in schools, ever-loosening morality, competition from sports and other entertainment, and the evaporation of Sunday as the Sabbath day.

But I lay the burden squarely at our own feet. It’s not Jesus’ fault; his life and teachings remain perfectly relevant. We Christians, like the original disciples, have failed to understand who He was.

Teenagers, which is the group one must convince for a church to survive, have an intense need to belong. The church seems like a natural fit for them. It offers a family of usually well-meaning people who hold up a suffering servant as their Lord. “Come to Me,” He says, “all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” This is a compelling invitation to teens, whose lives are often a tumultuous search for identity.

But we have bollixed up our evangelism so badly as to obscure the profound love that Christ offers. Ask young people what they think of Christians and many will tell you we are hypocritical and judgmental, especially towards LGBTQ people. Unfortunately, their criticisms are too often accurate.

The “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach has failed miserably. Too many of us cannot hide our palpable distaste for people that Jesus asked us to love the most – the different, the despised, the immigrant, the homeless.

Those of us who wish the church to endure have essentially two options. The first is to keep doing what we are doing, claiming that we have been right all along and that any deviation from traditional Scriptural views (from a Bible that endorses polygamy, the death penalty for adultery and homosexuality, second-class status for women, and implies that the earth is roughly 6,000 years old) is the work of a permissive, Satan-infused culture. Good luck attracting young people to that view of the world.

The second is exemplified by Salkehatchie Summer Service. “Salk” as it is known to participants, was started in 1978 by John Culp, a United Methodist minister. Rev. Culp was led to gather adults and teenagers to renovate substandard homes in Hampton County as a way for participants to live out their faith. It has grown from that single camp to more than forty camps in every region of South Carolina.

Salk allows young women and men 14 or older to test-drive their faith in a potent and beautiful way. The rhythm of the week is both invigorating and exhausting. We awaken in darkness, pray, eat, work, eat, work, eat, worship and fellowship, sleep, and awaken to do it again.

Young people of every generation, but this one more than ever, are not content to accept and obey. They are adept at seeking information and opinion through the web and social media. They have many skeptical questions about traditional beliefs and scriptural inerrancy.

The focus of Salk is not words on the page but people in their homes. Poverty does not need to be believed in. It can be observed and wrestled with. Most Salk campers have never been confronted by the kind of poverty they experience at Salk. They are invited into homes with buckets arrayed to catch rain through leaky roofs, rotten floors, gaping windows, and unsafe porches. Conversations about poverty that they have heard from us adults are often superficial and tend to the extremes of “lazy and shiftless” or “industrious but oppressed.“

At Salk, campers often spend hours with the homeowners, sometimes working side by side. This can result in a reversal of the description of a “poor person” to a “person who is poor.” Campers can no longer talk about poverty without acknowledging its humanity.

Differences are accepted at Salk in a way they might not be back at the teen’s high school. Gay and transgender youth participate in Salk and are embraced-literally. It’s impossible to make it through the week without being hugged dozens if not hundreds of times. Every year, I look forward to my first embrace from a towering young adult who renews our friendship by bear-hugging me and lifting me off the floor.

That said, Salk has a diversity problem. Its leaders and campers are primarily white. The lack of diversity is a symptom of the churchwide racial divide. My challenge to Salk would be to make real John Culp’s founding vision in which teams of black and white Christians working together were to be the rule, not the exception.

If young people are going to choose faith, to respond to that desire for meaning that Methodists believe has been planted in all our hearts, the places they will gather to worship and serve will likely look like Salk. The new church will be a community that reflects the fullness of God’s creation, seeks out those who have been made to feel unworthy, and makes the building of God’s kingdom on this Earth its core mission.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, S.C. He is a layperson who has been participating in Salk since 2008. His comments are his own and do not reflect an official position of the United Methodist Church or Salkehatchie Summer Service. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net For more information about Salk, go to https://www.umcsc.org/salkehatchie/.

DeMarco: A prescription for treating mental obesity

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

The root cause of America’s obesity epidemic and the rise of political polarization are linked. The former is due to unhealthy food choices, the latter to unhealthy media ones. A side effect of living in a developed country where food and media are inexpensive and widely available is that we consume too much of the insalubrious types of both.

Our news and opinion diet is often filled with transiently satisfying but non-nutritive calories, producing a mental obesity. We pick up our phones and succumb to the same temptation that a bakery case provides.

Certain habits put you at risk for physical obesity. If someone eats fast food frequently, regularly consumes high-calorie snacks, and rarely exercises, he or she is at high risk for being obese. Similarly, if someone watches long periods of cable news that offer a liberal or conservative bias, solidifies that bias by viewing social media with that same slant, and does not expend the mental energy to challenge himself or herself with other viewpoints, mental obesity is likely.

One unique difficulty in combatting mental obesity is that it is hard to recognize in ourselves. There is no scale for this type of obesity. Try this as a diagnostic tool: Pick any common policy disagreement and cogently argue it from the other side. If you are pro-life, explain why someone might rationally choose abortion. If you are pro-choice, explain why someone might rationally oppose it. The inability (or lack of desire) to accept that people with whom you disagree are not universally evil, crazy, stupid or un-American is a cardinal symptom.

Most importantly, what do we do about it? The treatment of physical and mental obesity is similar.

Portion Control

For most of our history, Americans received our news in aliquots: newspapers, radio news at the top of the hour, TV evening news. In my early adulthood in the 1980s, before cable news was ubiquitous, a common pattern was to read the morning paper, go the whole day without any interruption by current events, come home and read the evening paper and/or watch the evening news. We weren’t hounded by “breaking news” that was neither, or sent unsolicited push notifications. The wonder of finding the latest score or stock price comes with an invisible threat to our mental health if we aren’t conscientious internet consumers. We become angrier, less tolerant, and more partisan, the chronic diseases associated with wanton media overconsumption.

Consume the Rainbow

Healthy plates are often filled with color. The wholesome green of vegetables and the many colors of a fruit salad are indications of their goodness. If your information diet is monochrome, take heed.

When I give patients medical advice, it is often based on what I try to apply (albeit imperfectly) in my own life. My advice here will be the same. I still get the newsprint edition of the Florence Morning News (I’m going to pause for a moment to let my younger readers’ laughter quiet). It’s a nice way to ease into the daily news. The articles are usually right down the middle, written by local reporters or the Associated Press. Then, properly nourished, I will often listen to the conservative talk radio show, “Wake Up Carolina,” on the drive to work. The show’s host, former lieutenant governor Ken Ard, and I have many things in common. We are both are husbands and fathers, we love our families, and we care deeply about our neighbors in the Pee Dee. We occasionally text about the issues of the day and share a mutual respect. Our political opinions are often at odds. For example, we disagree completely about Anthony Fauci, whom I admire and whom Ken wants to fire.

Our disagreements are not always so stark. Sometimes we find common ground, as when he talks about the plight of America’s blue-collar workers. Do I slap my head in frustration some mornings? Yes, but that’s the point. Ken is an opinion commentator, who is not bound to journalistic standards. The fact that he has many faithful listeners who trust him makes him someone I want to hear. If you listen to someone with whom you agree completely, you have accomplished nothing by having your already formed opinion buttressed. It’s the mental equivalent of mindlessly eating a bag of chips.

I balance “Wake Up Carolina” with NPR. I check the Fox News app and then the CNN app, recognizing the biases of both those outlets. I have digital subscriptions to the Washington Post and The New York Times. My next purchase will be the Wall Street Journal. I’m only hesitating because it gets expensive after the first year and I’m not sure I’ll have time to read it. I listen to podcasts of all stripes, and enjoy the depth and nuance that can be conveyed in that format. And of course, when I want scintillating opinion pieces and erudite commentary, I come here.

If you were my obese patient, I’d have some gentle advice and encouragement for you. As your columnist, I also have some instruction. If you agree with me most of the time, I prescribe regular exposure to a more conservative columnist. If you read my column every month and our stances often differ, I’m pleased. Consider me informational broccoli. Now, treat yourself (briefly) to a news source with which you agree.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, S.C. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net. A version of this column (sadly without the reference to this blog) appeared in the Florence Morning News on 3/2/22.

DeMarco: Why Not Pence?

The Op-Ed Page

Vice President Micheal Pence poses for his official portrait at The White House, in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, October 24, 2017. (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

It’s a question I pose seriously to my fellow citizens who plan to vote for Donald Trump if he runs again.

Let’s ignore the personalities for a moment and compare two theoretical candidates. We will stipulate that our two candidate’s policy positions are indistinguishable. Candidate A is a handsome, trim, 62-year-old former governor who has led a virtuous life. He has been married to a Midwestern schoolteacher for 36 years. He is so faithful that he will not dine alone with another woman to avoid the appearance of impropriety. He is a devout, Bible-believing Christian. He’s measured in his responses and disagrees agreeably. He has pets, including dogs, cats, and rabbits.

Candidate B is a 75-year-old businessman who is not handsome or trim. Even his most ardent supporters acknowledge he can be mean-spirited and crass. He has been thrice married and is alleged to have had several affairs. He has been recorded making profoundly misogynistic remarks. His business record is checkered. A number of his enterprises – including an airline, a private university, a mortgage company, and multiple casinos – have gone bankrupt. He’s one of only a few men ever to be featured on the cover of Playboy magazine. He has no pets.

Without attaching names to the candidates described, it seems that Candidate A would be the overwhelming favorite of most Republicans, especially evangelical Christians, who since the 1980s have been trying to persuade America that they represent the Moral Majority. Every Sunday School teacher or parent could hold Candidate A up as a role model. Not so Candidate B, who doesn’t attend church regularly and who when asked during the campaign, “Have you ever had to ask God for forgiveness?” responded “That’s a tough question… I’m not sure I have.”

Moving out of the theoretical realm back to reality, there’s also the small matter that Mike Pence saved our democracy from Donald Trump’s attempts to subvert it.

This is the part that voters like me have the hardest time understanding. Pence gives you everything you say you want. He’s a smart, likeable man. He has a wholesome family without a hint of scandal. He holds all of Trump’s policy positions: voter integrity, Second Amendment rights, strong borders, pro-life, low taxes, anti-globalism, an aggressive anti-China posture, America first.

I can understand how Republican voters were taken with Trump during the 2016 campaign. I heard these sorts of accolades about Trump back then: “He talks tough;” “He says what he thinks;” “He’s a businessman;” “He’ll drain the swamp;” “He’s a disrupter.”

You didn’t know exactly what you were getting, but you wanted someone different. Then we heard: “He’ll become more presidential once in office;” “He’ll moderate his tweets.” But that didn’t happen. He was just as bombastic and hyperbolic after being inaugurated. Despite demanding loyalty from his Cabinet, he showed them none and dismissed several via Twitter. Through it all, Pence stood by Trump, gamely defending him.

If you voted for Trump as a disrupter, you got what you wanted, but at the peril of our country. Trump’s temperament – his intuitive, freewheeling approach, and his tendency to make self-interest the focal point of every decision – made him interesting and attractive to many voters, but it also made him dangerous. Presidential candidates spend most of their time talking about their policy positions. We are wise to remember that presidents only implement a fraction of what they propose. But they always face unforeseen crises. When Trump lost the election, the fullness of his narcissism was exposed. His fragile ego couldn’t process his loss, so he now can’t get a minute into a speech or interview without disputing the outcome, despite the fact that more than 60 courts have ruled against his legal challenges, and no evidence of significant fraud has been uncovered.

In his rage, he tried to bully Pence into delivering a body blow to American democracy. He publicly and privately goaded him to “do the right thing.” As the Capitol rioters stormed the Senate chambers searching for his Vice-President, Trump did nothing, hoping the certification would be derailed. Adding to the virtue of Pence’s actions is that in opposing Trump’s self-interest, he was opposing his own. Had the election been overturned, Pence would have remained vice president and been the front runner in 2024.

But Pence is a statesman and a patriot who cares more for his country than himself. That chaotic day, his principled stand averted a crippling constitutional crisis. The images beamed across the globe showing our Capitol under attack did damage enough to America’s place as the world’s premier democracy. How much greater would have been the damage if Pence had capitulated? He stood in the gap, saving our electoral process from veering off a high cliff.

Let me be clear: I say this as someone who would likely vote against Pence if he were nominated. I disagree with his positions on health care, climate change, immigration, racial justice, and LGBTQ rights among others. But the goal of our primary process is to nominate two people who both have the temperament to lead the country through whatever crises befall them during their term, not to create them.

I wouldn’t prefer Pence to a centrist Democrat. I would be part of his loyal opposition if he were elected. But I would be glad to have a Republican nominee who respected the office and traditions of the presidency, and articulated his policy positions well. And we would all sleep better, Republicans and Democrats, knowing that if he won, our democracy would be secure.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, S.C. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net. A version of this column appeared in the 2/2/22 edition of the Florence Morning News.

DeMarco: Revelatory People

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Have you ever met individual people who gave you a sudden, precious insight into who they were and in doing so helped you understand the world better?

I remember the first Latter Day Saint I ever met. She and I were part of a group of high school students from all over the country participating in a program in Washington, DC. My LDS colleague was brilliant and, at 18, engaged to be married. She had specific college and career plans about which she talked evocatively. When I inquired what her response would be if her future husband asked her to stay home to raise their children, she answered without hesitation in the affirmative. “What about your plans?” I asked. “My husband will be the head of the household,” she answered matter-of-factly. Even in 1981, I was surprised at her acceptance of male dominance, having been raised by a strong, independent woman whose husband was a co-equal partner.

In that moment, she opened a window to LDS life for me. Of course, not every LDS woman felt that way in 1981, and much has changed in 40 years, but it was a valuable, revelatory experience.

I was reminded of these sort of revelatory folk when two of them intersected recently: Sydney Poitier and Amy Schneider.

We all know the first name and were reminded of his impact when he died on January 6th. Unless you’re a “Jeopardy!” fan, you may not recognize the second. Schneider is the first transgender person to be a bigtime “Jeopardy!” winner.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not comparing their historical impact or their service to their cause or their life’s work, on which fronts, Poitier stands alone. Nor am I comparing the Civil Rights Movement to the movement for transgender acceptance.

But I was struck that Poitier and Schneider may play similar roles in introducing us to people that we might consider very different from ourselves.

Obviously, where you start determines who is missing from your consciousness. In the summer of 1982, after my first year at UVa, I worked for the Charleston County Park system. Almost all the children at the parks were black. I had several elementary age black girls ask if they could touch the hair on my forearms which was long and straight, like none they had seen before. It is likely the only time I will ever be considered a revelation.

Around that same time, I was doing volunteer carpentry work at UVa with a group that repaired homes for poor residents in the environs of Charlottesville, many of whom lived in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. It was there I met a man who gave me an important window into the lives of black people.

We were working on the home of a black family in which the husband was a lanky, gregarious man. He was a skilled carpenter and worked alongside us. Getting to know Randolph was an epiphany. He was in his 60s and still agile. But it was clear he had not gotten far in school. We didn’t specifically talk about his education, but it’s likely that the segregated schools he attended in the 1920s and 30s did not prepare him or encourage him to pursue a college degree. So he became a laborer. I remember being struck by the wasted opportunity he might have represented. Perhaps better opportunity would not have affected him. Perhaps carpentry was truly Randolph’s calling. But it bothered me that his calling might have been as a lawyer or doctor or engineer or schoolteacher, and that those opportunities might have been denied him.

I wondered if he was one of the many men and women of his generation who might have become professionals if society had recognized their worth. Of course, I knew enough about history to know that millions of black people his age had been discriminated against, but to work beside one of them, to see in the flesh someone whose fortitude and intelligence may have been wasted, was revelatory.

Poitier served as the counter example, a black man who was allowed to fulfill his potential. I suspect for many whites in the 1950s and ’60s, he was an example of black masculinity unlike many had ever encountered – self-assured, assertive, dignified, stylish, and rich – qualities previously associated almost exclusively with whiteness.

I grew up in the ’70s in that kind of world. I lived in a blue-collar neighborhood but had no black friends. I went to a private school and was not close to my three black classmates (out of 60-some). I had no black authority figure in my life – no teacher, coach, or neighbor. The only black people I encountered regularly were the cafeteria staff at my school, who greeted every student with a cheerful “Serve you?” Randolph was the first black man I had ever worked closely with or had the chance to admire. And when I came off the Blue Ridge and back to class, I did not have a single black professor my entire career at UVa.

Which brings me to Amy Schneider. As I write this, she continues on a 38-day winning streak in which she has won more than $1.3 million, placing her 4th on the list of all-time highest earners. She has had a similar revelatory impact on me. I was confused when she was first introduced in the November 17th episode. She was dressed as a woman but I thought I detected a shadow under her make-up, and as soon as my wife heard her voice she recognized she was a trans female.

As I struggled to reconcile Schneider’s image on my TV screen with my mental catalogue of gender identities, I had a revelation: Why, I wondered for the first time, should her biological sex or her gender identity matter to me? And I couldn’t think of a reason. It took a few minutes for that to sink in. I spend my days identifying my patients by their age and sex. If I call a consultant about a patient I begin, “I’m caring for a 72-year-old female who…” Identifying people by their biological sex is ingrained in me, and I suspect in many people. It was shocking to realize that in many human interactions, it’s irrelevant. As your doctor, I need to know. If you are a trans male and you still have a cervix, you need regular Pap tests, for example. If you are a cis-gender female swimmer and you have a trans female competitor, you can rightly claim that she has an unfair advantage. If you are looking for a romantic partner, it is probably essential.

But I’m happily married. Schneider is a “Jeopardy!” contestant whom I will never meet. Her biological sex has no relevance for me; I can be perfectly content not knowing it. Whatever gender she or any other person wishes to portray to the world is their choice. My opinion of that choice has no bearing.

As it happens, being trans may be an advantage in many fields, including “Jeopardy!” contestantship. Being able to experience maleness and femaleness appears to have given Schneider an exceptionally expansive world view.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, SC. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net.

DeMarco: “Dos” and “Don’ts” for next year’s Christmas greetings

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Actually, it will be all “don’ts.”

It seems that 99.9% of Americans understand what Christmas best wishes, be they traditional hold-in-your hand cards or digital missives, should involve. Unfortunately, two of our nation’s highest elected officials, who represent us to the nation and the world, have not a clue.

It started with Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky) posting a virtual Yuletide greeting on Twitter. The photo showed him, his wife, and their four children posing in front of a Christmas tree all armed with assault rifles. The caption read “Merry Christmas! ps. Santa, please bring ammo.” An analysis published in Forbes estimated the arsenal on display to be worth at least $20,000. It should surprise no one that his fellow representative, Lauren Boebert (R-Co), responded with an image of her and her four children, the youngest of whom appears to be 9 or 10 years old, bearing similar weapons captioned “The Boeberts have your six, @RepThomasMassie! (No spare ammo for you, though).”

It will be difficult with the words I have left to count all the ways these images violate sanity, logic, dignity, propriety and Christian ethics.

First, as a gun owner, I am embarrassed for Massie and Boebert. I came relatively late to gun ownership, being introduced to hunting in my early thirties, soon after moving to Marion. What I quickly learned about hunters is that they are very careful with and respectful of their weapons. The only time I have my shotgun in my living room is when I am transporting it from my gun safe to my vehicle to hunt or shoot clays. Only a reckless pretender would pose with a firearm indoors. Massie and Boebert’s photos should anger all responsible gun owners.

Second, the use of children in this way is abominable. When I gave my son a shotgun at age twelve, I taught him the cardinal safety rules: Always assume a gun is loaded and never point it at anything you don’t want to kill. As I handed him the gun, I praised him for maturing into a young man who could be trusted with it. Then I reminded him that he could kill me if he were careless. He started to cry, which reassured me even further. It was clear that he understood the seriousness that owning guns should invoke. Think of what lessons Boebert’s youngest child is learning from her stunt: that guns can be treated like toys; that they are props, to be brought out for show; that they are political swag, to be used to drum up support.

Third, their desecration of Christmas is disgraceful. Massie is a United Methodist, as am I. Wikipedia describes Boebert as a born-again Christian. While on earth, Jesus said a few things about violence including “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9) and “Do not resist the evildoer… if anyone strikes you on the right cheek turn the other also.” (Matthew 5:39). When Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested, Peter defended him by cutting off a servant’s ear. Jesus says, “No more of this!” and touched the ear to heal him. Because of Jesus’ teachings some Christians, such as Quakers and Seventh-day Adventists, feel that violence in any form is incompatible with the faith. The vast majority of others recognize Jesus as a gentle healer who accepted crucifixion without resistance. It would be hard to find a Christian who could make a connection between the Jesus of the Bible and Massie’s and Boebert’s version of him.

Fourth, Christmas is traditionally a time when we call a truce on our disagreements and focus on what unites us. According to the Gun Violence Archive, more than 44,000 people died in 2021 from gun violence, more than 23,000 of those by suicide. No one, no matter his or her view of the Second Amendment, can be satisfied with those figures. Both sides recognize the need for change, and could be induced to work together on measures to save lives.

America needs rational gun owners to come together with reasonable gun-control advocates. But this can only happen if we have political leaders on each side of the debate who exemplify a fair-minded approach. I have a foot in each camp and know people on both sides of the divide. The extreme positions – that gun owners will not accept any kind of new restrictions, and that gun control advocates want to repeal the Second Amendment – are too often used by politicians to stoke fear and anger. But most Americans are open to commonsense approaches such as universal background checks. Massie’s and Boebert’s Christmas display of guns is counterproductive, widening the divide between the opposing sides.

Similarly, at a time when Christianity is losing its appeal, especially among young adults, these images will only accelerate that trend. One of the major reasons nonChristians cite for rejecting Christianity is hypocrisy. When congressmen and women who identify as Christian post guns in their Christmas cards, it gives more young people an excuse the turn away from the faith. It’s impossible to reconcile Isaiah’s foretelling of the coming Messiah – “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” – and Massie’s and Boebert’s Christmas photos.

For Christmas 2019, Rep. Massie posted a more traditional picture of his family (outdoors and unarmed) with the caption “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14), proving that it’s easier to promote good will toward your fellow American when you’re not brandishing a rifle.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, SC. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net. This post first ran as a column in the Florence Morning News.

DeMarco: A Requiem for the United Methodist Church

The Op-Ed Page

EDITOR’S NOTE: I publish this with an apology to Paul. He sent it to me on Nov. 11. I just saw it yesterday. This is how backed up I was over the last couple of months, with my father’s rapid decline and death. It looked like it still had some shelf life, so here it is.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

The founding vision of the UMC, of which I have been a member for more than thirty years, made perfect theological sense. The power of the parable of the Good Samaritan is not that the Samaritan was good but that he was a Samaritan, a group despised by the Jews. When they created it in 1968, the UMC’s founders were convinced that its members would make real the transformation toward which the parable points us, redefining whom we see as our neighbor.

The UMC was born into an inflection point in the nation’s racial dynamic. Landmark civil rights legislation was providing blacks legal access to a range of previously forbidden opportunities. The UMC was poised to build upon the changes that were reshaping secular society and accelerate them. United Methodists had a power greater than any human statute. We had God’s Law and the inexorable power of Jesus. Our faith could move mountains. Our integrated congregations would lead the nation into a more just future.

The trouble was, 1968 was too late to reverse centuries of Methodist segregation. White and black Methodist churches had long histories and traditions of which they were protective. Many UMC members found the idea of integration to be much more appealing than the reality.

As the decades passed, it became clear that black and white churches wanted little to do with one another. They were rarely successful in recruiting new members of the other race. In recognition of the racial petrification of local congregations, the UMC tried in 2001 to rebrand itself with the tagline “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.” The campaign had no impact: more people moved out of our open doors than into them.

Next year, without a miracle, our faltering church will divide itself.

You would be forgiven if you assumed the split would be over race: it is, after all, our founding vision and our most obvious failure.

Instead the schism, at least publicly, will be over gay marriage and gay clergy. But we are arguing over gay people simply because it’s easier to talk about than the real issue.

There is scant scriptural imperative to divide millions of United Methodists over homosexuality, which is mentioned explicitly only seven times in the Bible. Two verses in Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) are the most well-known. In these verses to “lie with a man” is to commit an “abomination.” The latter verse requires that two men engaged in homosexual activity “shall be put to death.” In the third verse (Romans 1:26–27), Paul condemns “men (who) abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.” The other four are perfunctory (1 Corinthians 6:9–10 and 1 Timothy 1:10), oblique (Genesis 9:20–27), and bizarre (Genesis 19:1–11). Theologians (which I recognize I am not) debate the meaning of these passages on many levels, including whether they are primarily about the sin of lust rather than loving, committed gay relationships.

I often hear the argument, “Hate the sins, love the sinners.” But that’s not what Leviticus 20:13 demands. It wants us to hate the sinners so much that we kill them. Thankfully, even the most zealous Christians don’t act on this command. They accept that the Bible reflects first-century mores, some of which are today seen as harmful and unjust.

The UMC has from its beginning admitted the cultural bias of some scripture relating to women. To give just one of many examples, in 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul specifically enjoins women from being ministers, saying “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” Again, I’m not a theologian; this and other verses about women are hotly debated in those circles. But to a layman, this seems a direct, unambiguous injunction which the UMC commendably ignores. The UMC affirms the equality of woman and their ability to preach and lead in every realm of ecclesiastical life, including as bishops, the highest position in the church. If we can reject a plethora of Biblical teaching on women as outmoded, why are we fighting so intensely over the meager teachings about gays?

The heart of the matter is the reach of God’s grace. Who is included in his love, and more practically, who do I want sitting next to me in the pew?

One side doesn’t see inclusion as a virtue or a moral obligation. They are comfortable in a church focused on individual salvation composed of people who look and think like them.

The other side wants all of God’s people in the sanctuary. They are disappointed that the UMC has given up on its original vision of racial reconciliation and, in its present form, appears to lack the ability to bring God’s grace to the gay or any other marginalized community.

I love people on both sides. I’ve worshipped with my current church family weekly for almost thirty years. We have shared the stories of our lives with each other. We have broken bread together, laughed together, and mourned together.

But soon I will be forced to choose. Here’s how I will make my choice: One of the most remarkable aspects of Jesus’ ministry was his willingness to go where he should not have gone, to associate with people shunned by polite society. In his day these were tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, sinners and outcasts of every kind. We still have outcasts in 2021 – the queer, the trans, the brown-skinned, the immigrant, the HIV-infected. The church I will chose will welcome them all, bless their marriages, and invite them to serve their Lord both as followers and leaders.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, S.C. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net. This first ran as a column in the Florence Morning News.

In the ‘before’ time, we just would not have known

The Op-Ed Page

Her Twitter profile image.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

One of the benefits of growing older is that you remember when things were different. We now have adults who were born after 9/11. There is no “before” time for them, no frozen moment when they realized we were being attacked.

Similarly, the fact that Nicky Minaj’s tweet about – and if you haven’t heard about this, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you – her cousin’s friend’s testicles will not strike people younger than a certain age as unusual. They don’t remember a time when it would have been impossible to know about said testicles.

But in the before time, say the mid-seventies when I was a teenager and began to be interested in the wider world, we received our news in aliquots. Like many of my contemporaries, I started reading the morning paper and watching the evening news. There was often a lag time between big news stories and when they were reported. This cuts both ways. In a hurricane, up-to-date news can be life-saving. But sometimes having hours to get a story straight before the presses started rolling provided readers a much clearer picture the morning after than could have been given the day of the event.

I have also experienced the sweet anticipation that is no more. If there was a ball game I had missed, I had three choices. Call a friend, stay up for the 11 o’clock news and hope it was mentioned, or wait for tomorrow morning’s paper (which is what I usually did). Then there was the reading of the box score trying to piece together the ebb and flow of the game.

I’m not suggesting we go back. I like my immediate highlights as much as the next man. But I know it wasn’t always so, and have a sense of the wonder of instant results – as well as a twinge of sadness for what we have lost.

I recently was given a new laptop for my medical record at work. The toolbar was set so that when I hovered over a certain icon in the bottom right corner, a news feed would appear. I found this infinitely distracting and disabled it. I can’t ponder the issues of the day while I’m caring for patients – my brain’s not big enough.

For me, the time for current events is while I’m getting ready for and commuting to work – and when I’m commuting back home.

For those that missed it, let’s review Nicky’s tweet from 9/13. In response to questions about why she did not attend the Met Gala, she reported that she had not been vaccinated. Then she tweeted the reason: “My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied.”

What I know, because I remember the before time, is that this third-hand, difficult-to-believe anecdote of questionable provenance should have only been shared by Minaj to her inner circle, i.e., people she actually knows and talks to. In the before time, the only way for her to publically disseminate such a dubious claim would have been during a live radio or television interview. My sense is that any editor or producer of a taped interview would have cut this story since it is so flimsy – and also possibly harmful. It may encourage some of her “stans” to eschew the vaccine.

In the seventies, the only print publication that might have carried this tidbit would have been the National Enquirer – along with rumors of celebrity breakups and the latest alien abduction.

Minaj did get plenty of pushback on Twitter (would that be “Tweetback”?), including “’My cousin’s friend’ is the start to a story that totally happened” and my personal favorite “when u get an STI and don’t want ur girl to know.”

But, to my young friends: None of us should know anything about this. Imagine you are a cub reporter, presenting this story idea to your news editor, Brad Warthen. Think of the many questions he might have for you: Have you talked to an infectious disease doctor to see if this has been a reported side effect? (Answer: If this ever happens, it’s exceedingly rare); Have you talked with the person in question? (Answer: No one, including the health ministry of Trinidad and Tobago, has been able to find him); How about a story on Beyonce? I’m more Beyhive than Barbz.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, SC. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net.

DeMarco: What Trump Could Have Learned From 9/11

The Op-Ed Page

Photo by Andrea Booher/ FEMA News Photo

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

We’ve just marked the 20th anniversary of one of the worst days in American history. We remember the horror and heroism of that day and all those we lost. We also recall the strong sense of unity that Americans showed in the aftermath of the attack: the countless Americans who gave blood, held vigils, and supported the grieving. Over the next several months, our national mood gradually returned to a bickering normality as the divisions that we had put aside resurfaced. But many of us recollect with pride how we as a nation responded to that dark day.

In the winter of 2020, Americans became aware of another assault, not as sudden, but one we quickly realized would dwarf the number of casualties from Sept. 11. COVID was a second attack on the homeland. It could have been framed as such by our President Trump and used to galvanize the nation.

To be fair, George Bush had it easier than Trump. All of us over a certain age can tell you where we were on 9/11. Few of us can remember where we were when we first heard the word “COVID.” But the difference between the men is that Bush responded quickly to solidify the national moment. The image of him with a bullhorn exhorting weary first-responders as they sifted grimly through the rubble at Ground Zero is iconic. “I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you!” he told them.

The COVID pandemic, of course, did bring us together in many ways. The images of medical teams clapping for COVID survivors being wheeled out of the hospital, neighbors banging pots and pans to celebrate healthcare workers, and nurses with tears in their eyes after losing COVID patients have created a sense of shared struggle. Too many of us have a mental scrapbook of the family and friends we have lost. Mine includes three of my patients. For more than a year and a half, we have been arranging our lives around the virus, caring for one another, and grieving together.

But the unity we have shown during COVID has been despite Trump, not because of him. He had several opportunities for an “I can hear you” moment, but he missed them all. He initially tried to wave away the pandemic and then downplayed its seriousness. Despite the bubble in which he exists, he managed to contract COVID. And because he spent years denigrating the mainstream media, many of his supporters ignored medical experts’ advice to wear masks and get vaccinated.

When he was hospitalized, the nation held its breath. Fortunately, he recovered quickly and returned to the White House after only three days. He released a video that evening in which he could have changed course and brought us together. Here was a moment to trumpet American exceptionalism. What if he had said “I’ve been too cavalier about the coronavirus and I paid for it. I might have died like so many other of my fellow Americans. If a president can end up in the hospital, so can you. Even if you are young and at low risk, take precautions for the elders in your life. Let’s demonstrate American greatness by ending the pandemic quickly.”

But instead he rambled. He minimized. He talked about what a good leader he was. The line that made the headlines was “One thing that’s for certain: don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it.”

In the subsequent 11 months, approximately 400,000 Americans have died.

Another misstep in Trump’s messaging was his failure to publicize his own vaccination. Many high-profile politicians including Mike Pence, Joe Biden, and Kamala Harris widely distributed images of their vaccinations, as did a host of athletes, musicians, and other celebrities.

Donald and Melania Trump were vaccinated sometime in January prior to leaving the White House, and released no photos. This is surprising since Trump’s Operation Warp Speed was a spectacular success. It was the Manhattan Project of public health, something about which Trump and all of America can be proud. Our nation’s ability to simultaneously develop and produce a vaccine saved precious time and countless lives.

But Trump has undercut the success of Operation Warp Speed by his half-hearted endorsement of the vaccine. Since losing the White House, he has continued to send mixed messages. At a rally on August 21 in Cullman, Alabama, he was booed when he suggested that the crowd get vaccinated. He quickly backpedaled. “You’ve got your freedoms, but I happened to take the vaccine.” In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Sept. 3, he said he “probably won’t” get a booster shot.

We will never know how much better it could have been. A different approach by Trump, or a different president, could have prevented much suffering. In an interview with Bob Woodward on Feb. 7, 2020, Trump indicated that he knew early on how deadly the virus was but didn’t want to stoke panic. That was a grave miscalculation. Unlike Bush, he underestimated the American people, and for his lack of confidence, we have paid dearly.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, SC. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net. A version of this item previously appeared in the Florence Morning News.

DeMarco: If there was a vaccine for cancer that was 99% effective, would you take it?

Covid vaccine TheState 2021 8 21

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The vaccinated among you who read this will rightly wonder why, as a doctor, I don’t make a stronger case for vaccines. First, plenty of frontal assaults on the unvaccinated have already been published. Second, it’s one thing to talk theoretically about vaccine hesitancy and another to have a one-to-one conversation about the vaccine with someone for whom you are providing medical care. Although I am frustrated and confused by the widespread resistance to vaccines, unleashing that frustration on my patients would do no good. If the piece leaves you wanting a more direct, robust argument, I sympathize. But I’m not writing for you. I’m hoping to address readers who can be convinced to join your ranks.

When I hear stories about illness, I often imagine that I am the physician for the sick person being described. So when I read about people who decline the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19, I envision them sitting with me in one of my exam rooms. By now I’ve had hundreds of conversations about the vaccine.

In the winter, many of them were about where patients could get the vaccine most quickly.

Over the past several months, the discussions have evolved; now it’s mostly coaxing the unvaccinated to overcome their hesitation. Hard-won experience has taught me that as I attempt to persuade a reluctant patient to accept a therapy, the harder I push, the less I succeed.

I begin by asking whether my patients have been vaccinated. If they say yes, I exhort them to encourage everyone they know to follow suit. I have several vaccinated ministers who tell me that every week they implore the disinclined among their flocks to get the vaccine.

There are very few patients (myself included) who do everything their doctor recommends. Countless patients of mine have refused my offer of a flu shot because “I got the flu from the flu shot.” Despite my gentle rebuttal that it is impossible to get the flu from the flu shot (although you can get flu-like symptoms from the vaccine), I rarely win the argument. I recognize that my advice is only part of my patients’ decision processes: Personal experiences, advice from other people they trust, and information from media also inform their decisions.

With the COVID-19 vaccine, I have had more success with ambivalent patients, although the majority still decline. Since I have an office practice, I spend much of my time trying to prevent illness rather than saving lives. But during a pandemic, convincing a patient to get vaccinated can be lifesaving, and therefore has been a source of intense focus for me. Most of my patients are over 50 and have chronic diseases that put them at higher risk. Thus far, I’ve lost two patients to COVID-19. Several more of my patients have lost family members. One patient lost a brother, a sister-in-law, and a niece in the space of just a few days.

If patients says they have not been vaccinated, I ask “Do you want to talk about it?” Most do, and express legitimate concerns – it was created and tested quickly; it’s still under emergency authorization or it had been when I wrote this); there have been side effects (blood clots and heart inflammation, to name two); they are not in high-risk groups; they don’t go out much; and they social-distance. A number can’t articulate a reason except that they are afraid of the vaccine.

My response goes like this: I acknowledge their fears. I admit that I can’t guarantee that they will not have a rare side effect from the vaccine. For those who express fear of dying from the vaccine, I acknowledge that the risk of death is currently unknown. All I can say is that it appears to be exceedingly rare.

My argument for the vaccine is based on what we do know. The latest data I can find from the CDC (for the calendar year 2020) shows the COVID-19 death rate in South Carolina was 78 per 100,000, making it the third leading cause of death in our state behind heart disease and cancer. Since the beginning of the pandemic, approximately 10,000 South Carolinians have died. The vaccine is approximately 99% effective in preventing death from COVID-19. If there was a vaccine that had a 99% efficacy in preventing death from heart disease or cancer, I ask, would you take it?

Surprisingly, a few of my patients, when I ask whether they want to talk about being unvaccinated, say “No thanks.” If that is the response I leave it be, but I wonder what they are reading or watching to make them unwilling to hear from the person in whom they have entrusted their medical care.

I suspect their unwillingness is driven by cable news or internet media. One of the worst things that has happened during the pandemic is the unwarranted attachment of political and philosophical meaning to the virus. Recently, I heard a caller to a radio talk show describe people who wear masks as “our enemies.”

COVID-19 is no respecter of political party or religion. It’s a simple virus with no brain. All it knows how to do is reproduce itself in our cells. The longer it has susceptible hosts, the longer it will continue to infect us, and the more efficient it will become. The delta variant is the latest example of this. The longer it takes for us all to be vaccinated, the more likely another, even more infectious and more deadly, variant will arise.

You may not be my patient, but as a doctor I care about people’s health whether I know them or not. Please get vaccinated.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, SC. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net. This was first published as a column in the Florence Morning News on Aug. 18.

Covid vaccine DHEC 2021 8 21

Paul DeMarco: The Meaning of a Life

The Op-Ed Page

AG Park 2021 7 31 Wide view

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

July 30 was a remarkable day for Marion County. We dedicated the Amazing Grace Park, built to honor former state senator and minister Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in 2015 in the Emmanuel Nine massacre. Although Clementa (pronounced “Clemen-tay”) was not born in Marion County, his mother was raised here and he is buried in the family plot near the eastern edge of the county.

Our local state senator, Kent Williams, is Clementa’s cousin, and it has been a labor of love for him to shepherd the park into being.

The dedication gave full voice to the multiple facets of Clementa’s life – husband, father, citizen, politician, and as he described himself, “itinerant preacher.” To accommodate all those who came to pay tribute, including Governor McMaster, it was necessarily long (over 90 minutes) and South Carolina hot – the kind of heat that soaks the knot of your necktie. I came late and missed out on a seat in the shade; it took four bottles of water to sustain me.

The best speech was by his daughter, Eliana, who will soon matriculate at Temple University. She reminded us of the meaning of legacy with a quote from the musical Hamilton – “planting seeds in a garden you will never see” – and asked that when we visit the park, we shoulder her father’s legacy and “live and love as he would.”

Eliana’s framework makes the park an extension of her father’s life. I can’t think of a better way to remember him. Few of us are immune to the effects of memorials, monuments and symbols. We feel their power, we are uplifted (or sometimes offended) by their messages. My former favorite is the Lincoln Memorial, at once awe-inspiring and intimate.

But, for me, the park will leap ahead of Lincoln because it is personal and accessible. Although I never knew Clem, as his family calls him, his park will become a new part of my identity as a Marion resident. It is a pretty mile-long walk from my home, one that I expect to travel on a regular basis.

In 1993, when my wife and I moved to Marion, the county seat of Marion County, the economic base of the region – textiles and tobacco – was unraveling. The next two decades saw much stagnation and loss: plants closed like falling dominoes, tobacco warehouses were abandoned to slowly crumble, and long-time businesses were shuttered. It’s depressing to look at photos of the Main Streets of Marion and Mullins from mid-century, when shops were bustling, and compare them to today. But over the last five years or so, powered mostly by young entrepreneurs, our Main Streets are reviving. The park, which is two blocks off Marion’s Main Street and adjacent to the Marion County Museum, will be an important step in our city’s recovery.

As important as the economic boost will be the spiritual one, which can be appreciated whether or not one claims a faith. Rev. Johnny Coe, a presiding elder in the AME denomination of which Clem was a part, reminded us of the verses in Luke describing Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. As the crowd chanted hosannas, some of the Pharisees urged Jesus to quiet them down. “’I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’”

Rev. Coe urged all the visitors to the park to keep Clem’s memory alive, to tell his story, so that the stones and the trees that surrounded us wouldn’t have to cry out instead.

Building a park is a risk, particularly in a county like Marion, whose future is in question. Locals hope that the charm of our shops, neighborhoods and countryside, the warmth of our people, and our proximity to the beach will produce a renaissance. Online shopping and remote work make rural living easier than ever. But most of the growth in our corner of the state has been in neighboring Horry County. The pull of urban amenities and schools may overwhelm the attractions that we offer.

Having lived the first thirty of my years in bigger places (Brooklyn, Wiesbaden, Charleston, Charlottesville and Columbia) I’m an ardent believer in small-town living. My 20-minute commute into Florence is the most relaxing I’ve ever had. The cost of living, especially home prices, is low. There is no night life to speak of, but I moved here with two young children and have never missed it. It’s been a lovely place to raise them.

The most inviting aspect of the park is its openness. There are no walls, no gate. We come to the park as vulnerable as Clem did the evening he welcomed Dylan Roof into his church. We come to enjoy the light and the grass and the flowers despite the knowledge that evil exists in the world and that, if we live our lives as openly and generously as Clem did, we could share his fate.

If we walk through the park in his shoes, we recognize the long line of martyrs he has joined, and we take up the baton of creating the beloved community. The park reminds us that there is more light in the world than darkness, and that no amount of hatred or violence can overcome it.

The park gets its name from Clem’s eulogy, delivered by President Obama at Mother Emmanuel, which he closed by singing a verse of the hymn. It was fitting that the dedication was closed with a version of “Amazing Grace” and a benediction by Bishop Michael Blue, a native son and dynamic preacher. He reminded us that the name “Clementa” is derived from a Latin root meaning “merciful.” “Let us go from this place,” he declared, “A park named ‘Grace’ for a man named ‘Mercy.’”

Dr. DeMarco is a physician who lives in Marion, and a long-time reader of this blog.

AG Park 2021 7 30 Bust with Wings

DeMarco: Reconsidering Thomas Jefferson

The Op-Ed Page

nickel

A version of this column appeared in the July 21st edition of the Florence Morning News.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Reconsidering learned history is difficult. As we are educated, most of us create a world view that portrays the tribe with which we identify in a positive light. For most of America’s existence, schoolchildren have been taught a story favorable to whites. This narrative persists and tends to harden in adulthood.

As I wrote about in a previous post, I continue to learn that my formal and informal education about my country’s and world’s history has been skewed in my favor. This relearning has been particularly difficult with one of my heroes, Thomas Jefferson.

I am a proud class of 1985 graduate of the University of Virginia. More than most universities, UVa reflects the personality of its founder. As I walked the Lawn, I had a window into Jefferson’s expansive mind. I saw him at the drawing board at Monticello, poring over competing designs for his “academical village.”  I was grateful to be one of thousands of students he had inspired. I spent four years at the university in awe of Jefferson’s creativity, intellect, and eloquence.Jefferson

Although I knew he owned enslaved people, I never grappled with the awful reality of what that meant. Despite my four-year sojourn at UVa, I emerged with a child’s understanding of Jefferson. He was an icon, as near to a perfect American as there would ever be. This is partly my own fault; somehow I managed to graduate from UVa without taking any history courses.

One of the things I did learn about Jefferson while at his university was his epitaph. His gravestone is engraved with the following: “Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.” He was so accomplished that his two terms of president of the United States did not make the cut.

After I graduated, when rumors of Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman whom he owned, gradually bubbled into the press, I was skeptical. This information did not fit with the nearly faultless image I had fashioned for him. I was of the same mind as Dumas Malone who wrote an exhaustive six-volume biography, Jefferson and His Time. Malone opined in the fourth volume that the accusations related to Hemings were “distinctly out of character, being virtually unthinkable in a man of Jefferson’s moral standards and habitual conduct,” and I agreed.

However, in 1998 DNA evidence revealed that Jefferson could have been the father of one or more of Hemings’ six children. To be clear, the evidence is not definitive and there remains a group of scholars who argue strongly that it was another Jefferson relative (his younger brother, Randolph, seems the most likely candidate).

What is known is that Sally Hemings (who was 30 years younger than Thomas Jefferson) was herself the child of Jefferson’s father-in-law and an enslaved woman, Elizabeth Hemings. This made Sally Hemings half-sister to Jefferson’s wife, Martha.

I struggled with the fact that the possibility Jefferson could have been like many of the slave masters of his era who fathered children by their enslaved workers had never occurred to me (or was communicated to me) during my years at UVA. Despite seeing statues of Jefferson on the grounds almost every day, multiple visits to Monticello, and hours of reading, I had not fully reckoned with who Jefferson was. I saw what I wanted to see.

Irrespective of whether Jefferson was the father of Hemings’ children, my subsequent reading forced a deeper examination of the sharp contrast between Jefferson’s exalted words and his actions. Although he did make strong statements condemning slavery throughout his life, he was closely involved in the management and disciplining of the enslaved workers at Monticello. He, like many planters, would have been destitute without them. A nailery at Monticello, which ran mainly on the labors of 10- to 16-year-old boys, was critical to the economic stability of the plantation. The overseers occasionally whipped the children to ensure a sufficient output of nails, a practice about which Jefferson was fully aware. He also recognized the investment potential of enslaved people and calculated that “he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children.”

It was unsettling to have my comfortable images of Jefferson transformed in such a disfiguring way. It highlighted for me the fact that when Jefferson wrote the words “All men are created equal,” he was writing about people like himself, white male landowners: not women, not people of color, nor even white men who did not own property. Certainly not Hemings.

I’ve been included in Jefferson’s vision since he penned it over two centuries ago. I have had to fight for none of my rights. My freedom, my ability to live where I wanted, to be educated where I chose, to compete for any job, to expect only respectful deference from the police or any other representatives of government has been guaranteed since the founding of the republic. Not so for so many others.

Seeing our nation for what it really is – both great and deeply flawed, like Jefferson himself – will allow us to better understand and support those for whom the American dream remains unrealized.

Dr. DeMarco is a physician who lives in Marion, and a long-time reader of this blog.

DeMarco: What Gwen Berry does for America

The Op-Ed Page

This is a view of the giant American flag in the parking lot of Shuler’s BBQ.

This is a view of the giant American flag in the parking lot of Shuler’s BBQ.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Many people are rightly offended by hammer-thrower Gwen Berry’s disrespect of the American flag after her third-place finish in the U.S. Olympic Trials on June 26. The response from certain sectors was swift and predictable. Ted Cruz castigated Berry on Twitter, asking “Why does the Left hate America?” You’re shocked, I know.

But in addition to flame-throwing politicians, many fair-minded Americans expressed legitimate displeasure. In addition to scorning the flag, Berry was criticized for self-aggrandizement and for failure to understand her role as a member of the U.S. Olympic team and as an ambassador to the world.

I think all those criticisms are fair. It is reasonable to hold the flag as sacred and to be protective of what it represents to you and your fellow citizens. Many people see disrespect and desecration of the flag as unforgiveable sins. This is the same flag, they argue, that led soldiers into battle and represents the freedom for which so many have died.

I have a less rigid view of the flag, and one that has changed over the last decade or so. For me, the flag represents America, both its great strengths and its deep flaws. When I look at the flag I see both sides. One side represents our ideals, our desire to be Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.” On the other side are the many American mistakes and cruelties.

This two-sided view came naturally with the Confederate flag. From the moment I was old enough to be able to comprehend the realities of the Civil War, seeing that flag unsettled me. The bumper sticker defense of proponents was “Heritage not Hate.” But for me it was always “Heritage and Hate.” I understood what Confederate flag advocates were seeing on the front side of the flag – the bravery of Southerners who refused to capitulate to what they viewed as a tyrannical federal government. But I, along with many others, saw on the back side of the flag the horrors of slavery.

In contrast to my understanding of the Confederate flag, my current faceted view of the American flag was not immediate. For me and my family, America has been the land of opportunity promised by Lady Liberty, who greeted my paternal grandfather when he immigrated from Sicily. The flag, for most of my life, has been a symbol of unalloyed pride and devotion. Massive American flags that some businesses fly never fail to inspire (the closest one to me is in front of Shuler’s BBQ near Latta (worth the trip!)).

But over the past decade, I’ve become gradually aware that my wholesome view of Old Glory was not universally held. My first epiphany around my unexamined patriotism came with the Pledge of Allegiance. After repeating it for years, I finally thought about the last line from the perspective of someone whose family had not had the opportunities that my parents and grandparents did. If my ancestors had been born with exactly the same intellect and skills, but been Southern blacks, my view of America would be less sanguine, and “liberty and justice for all” might induce anger for America’s unfulfilled promises rather than pride. When I had that small but significant revelation, I had to do some soul-searching about my lazy self-satisfaction. Did it change my love for my country? Not one bit. But it has changed my understanding of what America has meant to people who don’t look like me.

Speaking of people who don’t look like me, let’s return to Gwen Berry. Berry is a powerful woman who is taller, stronger, and braver than I. She is an exhibitionist who wears lipstick like war paint. I admire her athletic ability as I do that of DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen (who finished first and second in the competition, respectively). I think Berry made an impulsive and self-destructive decision to turn her back on the flag. It was the wrong time and place. What bothers me most is that it was likely ineffective. Indeed, it may have hurt her cause more than it helped. But part of me is glad she did it. Here are my reasons:

First, her actions say to me that she believes in America’s capacity for change and improvement. You don’t take a stand like she did for a lost cause. But the pace of change in America is slow, and she is impatient. “America is the greatest country in the world,” she said. “We are capable of fixing these issues. I am tired of talking about them. I won’t do it anymore.” What do you do when you are tired of talking? You act.

Second, she made a sacrifice to promote her beliefs about America. She is not unique in this regard. America’s men and women in uniform do this daily. But few of us act on our beliefs in ways that put our reputation and careers at risk. Berry states her motivation was “to represent my communities and my people, and those that have died at the hands of police brutality, those that have died to this systemic racism.”

Third, the greatness of America lies not in our reverence for the flag, but our reverence for the freedom it represents. Some people are incensed by protesters who burn the American flag. And my first thought when I see images of the flag on fire is “Don’t do that. It’s disrespectful and not likely to help your cause.” But my second thought is, “I’m glad I live in country where that kind repulsive expression is allowed.” And to know if America is truly still that country, we must regularly be put to the test.

So I thank Berry for testing us, and for America once again passing the test. No one is calling for her to be jailed, although some have suggested, with some merit, that she be banned from the Olympic team. My hope for Berry is that she will represent America well in Tokyo. If she makes the medal stand, I would advise her not to use it as a protest venue. The name recognition she has gained through her gesture at home will allow her to promote anti-racism in more effective ways.

Dr. DeMarco is a physician who lives in Marion, and a long-time reader of this blog.

DeMarco: When Did You Learn About the Tulsa Race Massacre?

The Op-Ed Page

Tulsa, Oklahoma burns during the race massacre of 1921.

Tulsa, Oklahoma burns during the race massacre of 1921.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was supposed to run a couple of weeks ago, at the time of the anniversary of what happened in Tulsa, but it didn’t, and it’s entirely my fault. As y’all know, I’ve had a lot going on lately, day and night, and so certain routine activities — such as blogging, and checking my personal email — have fallen by the wayside. Well, yesterday, I managed to put up a post, and I’m getting close to catching up on email (maybe an hour or two of intense monotony left to do, whenever I can find an hour or two). Anyway, I still think we can have a useful conversation on this subject, so with my sincere apologies to Paul, I pass on his column, “When Did You Learn About the Tulsa Race Massacre?”

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

I am astonished and embarrassed that I learned about it so late in life. It’s particularly galling because the black freedom struggle is something I’m interested in and have read about. The March on Washington occurred the year of my birth, and I have always felt a connection to the Civil Rights Movement. The PBS documentary series Eyes on the Prize brought the movement to life for me and propelled me to read the first volume of Taylor Branch’s trilogy Parting the Waters: America in the King Years. My interest in the subject has recently been rekindled and I have resumed my reading about it, focusing on South Carolina’s role in the movement. I just finished Claudia Smith Brinson’s Stories of Struggle: The Clash over Civil Rights in South Carolina which tells of some of the unsung heroes and moments in our state.

I have no memory of hearing about the massacre until earlier this year while I was listening to the podcast Teaching Hard History, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. I learned that the massacre was a brutal decimation of the wealthiest black community in America by an organized white mob. Estimates vary but dozens to hundreds were killed and more than a thousand black homes and hundreds of black businesses were destroyed. After two days of annihilation, approximately a 35-block area had been burned to the ground. No one was ever prosecuted. The 100th anniversary of the massacre coincides with Memorial Day.

The reclamation of this suppressed history is part of the George Floyd effect. Many whites, myself included, had been lulled into believing that America was becoming a post-racial society. But over the past decade there has been a growing sense of incompletion, of too much left undone. This unease began to disturb the national conscience in 2013 with the death of Trayvon Martin, was inflamed by the election of Donald Trump, and reached a tipping point with Floyd’s death. Each name that made national headlines (Garner, Brown, Rice, Scott, Castille, Taylor, etc.) was a message: We are nowhere near finished with racial reconciliation in the U.S.

I’m glad that this part of history is finally being told. The title of the podcast Teaching Hard History is apt. We know the easy, comfortable parts. If you’re a Christian, you will recognize a parallel with our religious education. The story of Tulsa has been treated by whites in a way similar to the way Christians have treated the hard sayings of Jesus. All of us have our favorite comforting verses. But some of what Jesus spoke to his followers was searing. One of the most demanding of Jesus’ prescriptions is found in the gospel of Mark. When a rich young ruler asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life, Jesus replies, “One thing you lack: Go and sell all you possess and give it to the poor.” Only courageous preachers use this as a sermon text.

Mixed with my gratitude that these neglected stories are finally being told is a disappointment that I have been deliberately miseducated. In contrast to my ignorance of Tulsa, I have retained the name of Denmark Vesey, a free black man who planned a slave revolt in Charleston in 1822. The plot was discovered and he and about thirty of his followers were executed. I remember being taught several times about this. How could I know the name of a man who killed no one but simply scared the bejesus out of white Southerners and not know about Tulsa?

Reasonable people can disagree about what history is essential to teach our children. However, I would submit that not teaching me about the Tulsa massacre was a deliberate omission by a white society that didn’t want to spoil the narrative of its benignity and wholesomeness. In that same vein, in the late seventies when I took South Carolina history in middle school, I was taught the Lost Cause narrative, the crux of which is that the Civil War (usually referred to as “The War Between the States” and sometimes as “The War of Northern Aggression” in my classroom) was about states’ rights, not slavery. Even at that tender age, I remember being confused. Wasn’t the right that all the fighting was about the right to own slaves? I remember arguing this point after class with a friend whose family had lived for generations in the Charleston area. We did not reach consensus.

Some whites are not interested in any reappraisal of our history. Exposing our middle and high school students to this and other episodes of ruthless racially-motivated violence takes some of the shine off the narrative that we have always been the good guys. Conservative politicians and news outlets recognize whites’ fear of this long-overdue reexamination and their desire to change the subject. This desire is the motivation behind the focus on critical race theory (CRT). I suspect that most people who oppose CRT have a very shallow understanding of it. Since they can’t say they are against studying the truth of our racial past, they beat up on the straw man of CRT, which they portray as a shadowy Marxist plot to convince our children to hate America.

Some states, including Oklahoma, have banned CRT and others are trying (Note to legislators: the best way to stoke interest in a subject among young people is to ban it). But most of those who recognize the omissions in the history we teach have no interest in CRT. All we want is for the full, unvarnished story to be told. Hearing the truth of Tulsa and other history like it will be a painful. But it will also set us free.

Dr. DeMarco is a physician who lives in Marion, and a long-time reader of this blog.

The burned-out Greenwood District after the Tulsa Race Massacre.

The burned-out Greenwood District after the Tulsa Race Massacre.

DeMarco: Will Brad’s Unparty Dream Finally Be Realized?

The Op-Ed Page

The last third party to have success in American politics (it was a while back).

The last third party to have success in American politics (it was a while back).

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Back in November 2005, Brad argued for the creation of a non-partisan political party which he called the Unparty. In 2008, he suggested a similar party called the Grownup Party.

Whatever you called it, his party would be pragmatic rather than ideological. His first tenet: “Unwavering opposition to fundamental, nonnegotiable tenets.” It would accept liberal, conservative and other ideas, choosing the polices that were best for the country. It would seek compromise rather than holding out to score political points. Ask Brad put it “Every Unpartisan would have his or her own set of positions on issues, having worked them out independently.”

He was clear that he didn’t expect the Unparty to adopt his views. Many would hold opposite positions. He expected some very lively platform debates at party conventions. But what would bind Unpartisans together would be more about people and process than positions. We would be a rational, moderate, thoughtful group. Screaming, ad hominem attacks, all-caps texting, and adherence to falsities and conspiracy theories would be discouraged.

I signed on as a charter member of the Unparty because its existence as a viable force in America politics seemed so needed and salutary. Brad was so committed to this notion that he thought seriously of offering himself for a State House seat in 2016 as the Unparty candidate. Had I been in his district, I would have enthusiastically supported him.

Meanwhile, for those of us who see Donald Trump’s rise to power as an unparalleled disaster in modern American politics, there would be blessed irony in his most important legacy being the creation of a viable third party.

Liz Cheney’s ouster from the Republican House leadership could be the catalyst for something like Brad’s Unparty. A key component of Unparty membership is to evaluate a candidate’s gravitas and competence when voting. I rarely vote based on policy positions because it is unusual for a candidate to fully translate his or her promises into policy when elected. Cheney’s willingness to call out Trump’s lies and blast his Republican sycophants demonstrate to me that she has mettle.

Soon after Cheney’s ouster from her position of House Conference Chair, a group of more than 150 Republicans issued a “Call for American Renewal.” In their preamble, they state, “We…declare our intent to catalyze an American renewal, and to either reimagine a party dedicated to our founding ideals or else hasten the creation of such an alternative.”

Their website then lists thirteen principles that guide their call. They are so basic as to be almost meaningless (“Democracy,” “Truth,” and “Rule of Law” among them). By the time I had read half the list I was expecting “Baseball,” “Hot Dogs,” or “Apple Pie” to come up in the second half.

But the appeal is the same as Brad’s call for an Unparty 16 years ago.

There’s a group of Americans, which I think is growing, who are tired of the inanity and immaturity of our politics. We are tired of Fox vs. CNN and Trump vs. “The Squad” dominating our news feeds. We understand that Twitter and memes are no way to conduct political dialogue. We are hungry for serious, intelligent leaders. We disdain that scathing personal attacks that have replaced civil discourse.

Although I am fully behind Brad’s call for an Unparty, the realist in me is skeptical. Third parties have a tough go in U.S. politics. The last long-lived new party in America was the Republican Party, which was formed to oppose the expansion of slavery into the western states in the 1850s.

Could I throw in with a Grownup Party led by the those who signed the “Call for American Renewalstatement? The signers are mostly unrecognizable to me. They are listed alphabetically by first name so, jarringly, Anthony Scaramucci is near the top of the list. Not a great start. But it does include some Republican heavyweights like Tom Ridge, Christine Todd Whitman, Max Boot, and Michael Steele. South Carolinians Bob Inglis and Mark Sanford have signed. These would be strange bedfellows. But I would be open to voting for a Grownup Party member the majority of whose policies I could support. I’m even open to voting for Grownups the majority of whose policies I oppose if I think they are better leaders and will steer America more steadily once elected.

In my limited political circle, there does seem to be some interest in a third way. I had a conversation recently with a Republican friend. He said, “I’ll never vote for Trump or McMaster. And I’ll never vote for Graham or Scott again.” Strong words from a country-club Republican. Later that same day, I spoke with a physician colleague who leans left but told me he would welcome a third party.

My guess is that we will see stronger factions in our two current parties rather than a third party. The Biden moderates vs. the AOC progressives on one side and the Cheney Republicans vs. the Trump Republicans on the other. The moderate wings of each party will compete for my vote. For example, Tom Rice has staked a claim to the moderate wing of his party after his vote to impeach Trump. That increases the likelihood I will support him (although I am concerned he will not survive a challenge from the right in the primary). What about you? Are you ready for a third party? Do you think it could happen?

Dr. DeMarco is a physician who lives in Marion, and a long-time reader of this blog.

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DeMarco: Anderson, I’d Like Conservative Backlash for $1600

The Op-Ed Page

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Editor’s note: What, Paul again already! Well, yeah. He actually sent me this one before I’d actually posted the one on the statues. I didn’t read this one until after I’d done that. I should have posted this one first, because it’s more perishable. The statue one was pretty evergreen. Oh, well. I’m making up for it by going ahead and posting this now.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

And the answer is: the Daily Double! It was bound to happen; now even “Jeopardy!,” perhaps the least offensive television show on the market (in a tie with “Bubble Guppies”) is in the crosshairs of our ever-expanding culture wars.

At the beginning of the show that aired April 27, three-day champion Kelly Donohue did something heinous. He (get ready) held up three fingers and tapped his chest. Scandalous. In the usually awkward opening montage, most contestants stare directly into the camera with a stale smile as they are introduced. Donohue did a little business after each of his three wins, holding up one, then two, then three fingers on successive nights. (I know, can you believe this guy?)

The position of his hand (commonly known as the “OK” sign) has until recently had positive connotations. In 2017, some white supremacists began using the gesture as a white power symbol – the three extended fingers are the “W” and the middle finger plus the index finger/thumb circle are the “P.” It would be interesting to know how widely known the malevolent interpretation of the “OK” symbol is. I suspect it would be less than the majority. I first learned about it in December 2019, when several Naval Academy midshipmen and West Point cadets were falsely accused of flashing the sign during ESPN’s broadcast of the Army-Navy football game (turns out they were playing the circle game).

In response to Donohue’s gesture, a harshly critical letter was posted the next day (the next day!) on Medium that has now been signed by almost 600 former “Jeopardy!” contestants. I have reprinted parts of the letter with my comments in italics. It reads in part, “(His) gesture was not a clear-cut symbol for the number three (only if you wanted to see something different)… This, whether intentional or not (your intent, no matter how benign, matters less than my thin-skinned interpretation), resembled very closely a gesture that has been coopted by white power groups… People of color, religious minorities, and other marginalized groups already live in a United States and a Canada that have structural and institutional racism, sexism, antisemitism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia embedded into their history and function (you have mistaken his gesture for a white power symbol. But don’t miss a chance to connect him with multiple OTHER forms of discrimination)… These people deal with microaggressions nearly every day of their lives (So let’s fight a perceived microaggression with an 1,176-word macroaggression to make ourselves feel superior)… We cannot stand up for hate… Is the production team of Jeopardy! prepared for… the backlash and ramifications should one of those moments ever become tied to real-world violence? (I’m envisioning an army of white supremacists hitting the books so they too can qualify for “Jeopardy!” and influence the masses with coded symbols. And when you play the tape backwards, you can faintly hear the “14 Words.”)… We would like to know whether a sensitivity and diversity auditor is involved in the show’s writing (Sigh…).”

Listen my “Jeopardy!” friends, I’m on your team. America is engaging in a long-awaited racial reckoning. So much good is happening. Faces long ignored are being seen and celebrated; voices long silenced are being amplified and uplifted. Black women and men are finally coming to center stage, to full citizenship. It is, in my view, an unequivocally marvelous development. I am nothing but grateful for and supportive of honoring the achievements of people of color as well as an unflinching look at our history and the obligations that history engenders.

But many white Americans are not yet comfortable with this new consciousness. They want to marginalize the participants in this movement as a “woke leftist mob.” My sense as a white ally is that most people, black and white, who support the new Civil Rights movement are even-tempered and sensible. But the untethered assumptions, anger, and lack of charity conveyed in this letter do not reflect well on them and do not help our effort.

If you, “Jeopardy!” letter writers, were concerned about Donohue’s gesture, why not just reach out to him quietly and personally. His story is certainly believable. He was making the number “3” with his fingers after having made “1” and “2” on previous days. He has the zeitgeist on his side; the iPhone still includes an “OK” hand emoji. It takes a conspiratorial mind to assume that his motive for appearing on “Jeopardy!” was to win three games and flash a white power symbol.

We who want to advance racial justice should understand that it’s a hearts-and-minds effort. Think of how much more effective you would have been if you had reached out to Donohue and he had written a Facebook post beginning “It’s been pointed out to me that….” What if he didn’t say anything? Then you don’t say anything. You let this one go, because an objective observer would tell you he didn’t mean anything by it.

We would do well to exercise a little restraint. If you want to be a civil rights advocate, pattern yourself after the young John Lewis. He and other students underwent rigorous training in non-violence to prepare for lunch counter sit-ins. They knew they were right so they sat down and said nothing. That silence was more important than anything they could have spoken.

Remaining silent is, of course, not always the most effective option. We must speak when real injustice is being done. But you are playing a self-righteous game of “Gotcha,” and hurting our cause.

Your letter has convinced no one to come over to the movement. You have only given fodder to the conservative media outlets such as Fox and the Wall Street Journal to rightly lampoon you. The WSJ’s May 2 editorial defending Donohue and castigating your “manic search for racial guilt” is entitled “Jeopardy: Mass Hysteria for $2,000.” Hey, you say, you plagiarized your headline from them. Nope, as Brad is my witness, I titled my piece the day before the WSJ piece. The response to this kind of foolishness is deservedly predictable.

More dishearteningly, you have alienated some of those who were leaning our way. You have humiliated Donohue, who based on his Facebook post was an ally. Cudgeling Donohue has no effect on true racists. They are usually unreachable. Ignore them. Focus on the fair-minded who are feeling threatened but could be convinced that America still has much work to do before we reach the Promised Land.

Our fair-minded opponents must be respected and not treated as enemies. When they see you treating an ally in this manner, they have no reason to come over to our side.

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