Tag Archives: history

Monday Musings: Hate Has No Place In Thanksgiving

I had fully intended to write a fairly typical Thanksgiving week post — things I’m thankful for, what the holiday means to me, etc.

I can’t now. Because once again, America is killing its own. This weekend, a quick perusal of any news site (at least any news site that publishes real news) turned up a shooting on the campus of the University of New Mexico, a continuing investigation into the shootings at the University of Virginia, and, of course, the horrific mass shooting at Club Q, a nightclub in Colorado Springs that was a gathering place for that city’s LGBTQ community.

I have written before about the mind-numbing frequency of shootings in this country. For today, I’ll refrain from doing so again. Guns are part of the American psychosis. They plague our society and, I am afraid, always will. The Second Amendment to our Constitution, a relic of a different time, which should long ago have gone the way of the document’s limits on enfranchisement to white men, has somehow become more sacrosanct than protections of free speech and the prohibition against state-established religion. It is a vestigial amendment, as useless as T-Rex’s forearms. And yet it remains.

The massacre at Club Q raises different, deeper concerns. This was (another) hate crime aimed at the gay-queer-trans community. Such crimes have been on the rise this year as demagogues on the right have aimed poisonous rhetoric and destructive policy initiatives at all in the community, but especially trans youth, their parents, and their doctors. Too many politicians — among them Ron DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and the entire Tennessee Republican party— are trying to make a name for themselves in conservative circles by banning books that deal with LBGTQ themes, passing “Don’t-Say-Gay” laws, filling the political airwaves with falsehoods and ugly accusations, making it seem that any who are different, who live their lives outside the heteronormative assumptions of a bygone era, are enemies of our republic and a danger to our children.

The attacks are sick. They are founded on lies and inaccurate stereotypes. And make no mistake, they are directly responsible for the rise in violence aimed at the queer community, including this weekend’s shooting.

How do we reconcile this sort of tragedy with a national day devoted to giving thanks for our blessings? How do we look beyond the carnage, the grief, the fear, the devastating psychological toll this sort of terrorism has on entire communities, so that we can find our way to gratitude and compassion and love? I’m asking, truly. Because I don’t see it.

I’m thankful my children and other loved ones are safe? Of course I am. But that feels thin, self-serving, a bar set so low as to be meaningless. I’m thankful to live in a free country, a land that often trumpets its exceptionalism, its boundless virtues, its capacity for charity and resilience? Again, yes, I suppose I would rather live here than anywhere else. But the calculus gets harder with each shooting, with each act of brutal intolerance. What good is liberty if huge swaths of our populace live with constant, oppressive fear? What has happened to the promise of America when nearly two hundred and fifty years after the Declaration of Independence, so many of our citizens are still subject to physical violence and psychological brutality simply because they don’t conform to what a few narrow-minded fools consider “normal?”

Thanksgiving at its best — and it has long been my favorite holiday — is about taking stock, slowing down to acknowledge, in private or publicly, those people and things for which we are most grateful. It is a time for family and friendship, for sharing and giving. And, yes, for good food and laughter around the dining room table.

Murder, bloodshed, terror, hate, bigotry — these have no place in our celebrations. Today, I don’t feel thankful. It doesn’t feel right to catalogue all the ways in which I am so very fortunate, though I know I ought to do so. Everything I eat tastes like dust and ash.

In days to come, we will hear more about the man who did this. He’ll be called “troubled” and his actions will be condemned. We’ll hear the inevitable pablum from the right — “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”

But few will speak the obvious hard truths. This man may be sick, but so is our society. His actions may be those of a madman, but they are the natural outgrowth not only of mental illness, but also of cold, cruel political calculation. And today’s thoughts and prayers will be rendered meaningless by tomorrow’s soundbites.

Take care of one another. Stay safe.

Professional Wednesday: What I Learned During a Recent Visit With Claude Monet

Last week, Nancy and I were traveling for her work, and we had the opportunity to spend a day and a half in New York City. We had dinners with our older daughter, we attended some university functions, Nancy had finance meetings, and I had part of a day to myself.

As I have mentioned here recently, I am trying to figure out where to go with my writing. (And allow me to take this opportunity to thank those of you who weighed in with opinions about what project I should take on next. Many of you want to see continuations of existing series — Thieftaker was the most popular request, followed by Fearsson and Radiants. Not surprisingly, the new project I mentioned as a possible choice received little love. The unknown is bound to attract less notice. But the most heartening element of the responses I received was the repeated assurance that you would welcome and read whatever I choose to tackle going forward. And for that, I am grateful beyond words.)

As I continue to grapple with this decision, I thought I might find inspiration in art, and so, on a bright, crisp Monday morning in New York City, I walked north along Fifth Avenue to 83rd Street and the grand entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I didn’t know precisely what I sought in the museum, but I trusted the instinct that drove me there. Much the way our bodies sometime crave certain types of food — salty snacks, or protein rich foods — so I believe our brains can crave input of a specific type. I felt a strong need to look at the beauty of creative endeavor.

Specifically, I wanted to see the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Degas, Manet, Morisot, Cezanne, Pissarro, Cassatt, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and my favorite, Claude Monet. As a historian (and a camera bug), I find the development of Impressionism (in the latter third of the nineteenth century) fascinating. It coincided with the invention and popularization of photography. Suddenly, artists were freed from the need to create images that were accurate and lifelike. A photograph could do that. Instead, artists could begin to experiment with color, with light and shadow, with texture, with the self-conscious use of brushstroke and palette knife.

Claude Monet,  Rouen Cathedral: The Portal (Sunlight) 1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral: The Portal (Sunlight) 1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.

Monet was fascinated in particular with the way light and color changed from hour to hour, day to day, season to season. He painted series after series, experimenting with images of the same subject matter painted at dawn and dusk and midday. Haystacks on farms, poplar trees in the French countryside, water lilies, the Houses of Parliament and Charing Cross Bridge in London, and two of my favorite series: the façade of the Cathedral at Rouen, and the Japanese footbridge and pond at his home in Giverny.

Claude Monet,  Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies 1899, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
Claude Monet, Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies 1899, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.

Seeing these paintings last week filled me with joy, with a sense of calm and contentment. It was glorious. I lingered in the museum for hours longer than I had intended to.

But what does this have to do with writing? Why would it warrant discussion in a Professional Wednesday post?

Honestly, I am still trying to figure out the answers to those questions. But I think it comes down to this: Creativity demands that we reexamine those things we have taken for granted, the things we have accepted as routine. The daily dance of light across the front to a building, the shape and forms we see each day. But creativity also asks that, on occasion, we rethink everything about our art. Imagine having been trained as a classical artist in the mid-nineteenth century, only to have every assumption about visual art overturned by the invention of a light-capturing box.

In the course of my lifetime (and I’m not THAT old . . .), we have sent spacecraft beyond the pull of earth’s gravity and out to the edges of our solar system. We have created lenses capable of peering through space and time to the very beginnings of our universe. We have replaced the rotary phones that were wired into our homes with untethered devices that take pictures, monitor our finances, store our music, and handle computational tasks that used to challenge machines so big they needed to be housed in warehouse-sized spaces.

We have seen the impossible become consumer-ready, the fantastical turned mundane. And as storytellers, we have had to stretch to come up with ideas that will surprise and captivate and satisfy. That stretch doesn’t necessarily imply pursuit of the increasingly outlandish. Rather, I would argue, it has forced us to reconsider simplicity, to infuse the familiar with qualities that make us marvel or recoil.

And as I search for my next spark of inspiration, I find myself wondering what will be for me the literary equivalent of watching color and shadow transform a garden pond and the reflections of a footbridge. Once upon a time, I worried that I would run out of ideas for stories, that I would complete a series, only to discover that it was the last one, that my creative well had run dry. Now, as I approach the big Six-Oh, my fear is that I will run out of time before I have completed all the tales I wish to write. I’m don’t worry about failing to find a new idea; I worry about choosing the wrong one and wasting time on something I don’t love.

Late in his life, Monet began to lose his sight. And still he worked, learning to create images of power and beauty and drama despite seeing color and form with less clarity. Creativity finds a way. Inspiration carries us past obstacles both physical and emotional.

Maybe, ultimately, that was the reminder I needed when I stepped into the Met. I still don’t know what I’ll be writing next. I do know that the challenges in my life have not gone away and won’t anytime soon. But I am a creator, and I still crave inspiration. So, I will consider, and I will settle on a project, and I will share with you the stories that stir my passions.

And I wish you the same.

Keep writing, keep creating.

Monday Musings: Midterms Round-up — Orange is the New Blech!

This time last week, I was lamenting the what I saw as inevitable advances by anti-democratic forces in this year’s midterm elections. Yes, I was worried my party would take a drubbing, but more, I feared elections in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere might put in power election deniers, people more wedded to party and certain personalities than to the founding principles of our republic.

What a difference one week can make.

Incredibly, miraculously, astoundingly, this year’s midterms turned out to be a reaffirmation of America’s commitment to democracy and those aforementioned founding principles. Yes, Democrats are poised to lose control of the House of Representatives, though only by five seats or fewer. Republicans might — might — get to 221 seats (leaving Democrats with 214). But I think it’s more likely they’ll have 220 or 219, which would constitute a razor thin majority, one of the smallest in the last century. Actually, I just looked it up. It would be the smallest majority since the 65th Congress of 1917-1919. It would likely be a recipe for infighting, and for repeated failures and embarrassments for new Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his buddies.

The Senate remains in Democratic hands. Remarkably, incredibly, astoundingly, miraculously. By the time the Georgia runoff is done, Democrats might well have 51 seats, a PICKUP of one. Now this assumes that Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and/or Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) won’t jump ship and switch parties to swing the majority to the Republicans. But I don’t believe either is likely to do so. Certainly Manchin won’t do that before the Georgia runoff. If the Democrats win in Georgia, he won’t switch at all. And Sinema has to be looking at fellow Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly’s reelection victory, at the Arizona Governor’s race, which Democrat Katie Hobbs currently leads, and also at other down-ballot races. Being a true Democrat in today’s Arizona has proven to be a pretty good thing electorally speaking. Moreover, as a Republican she would absolutely face a right-wing primary challenge. She would likely lose her seat months before the general election. I believe it’s more likely that over the next two years, her Senate voting will trend leftward — slowly, cautiously, but inexorably.

The most important results from Tuesday night, though, had far less to do with Congress, and far more to do with the sanctity of America elections. ALL the MAGA loonies who were running for Secretary of State positions in key battleground states lost. Every one. Including the biggest loony of all, Jim Marchant in Nevada. And with the temporary exception of Kari “Wackadoodle” Lake in Arizona, all the election deniers running for governor in key battleground states also lost. And Lake is trailing and may be on the verge of being declared the loser in her race.

Make no mistake, this election was a repudiation of a soiled Republican brand. It was a rejection of election denying. It was an endorsement of free and fair elections. And, by the way, it was also an expression of outrage at the overturning of Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling that for nearly fifty years provided national legal protection for women’s reproductive freedom. Constitutional bans on abortion were defeated at the polls in the ruby-red states of Kentucky and Montana. Constitutional guarantees of abortion rights passed in California, Michigan, and Vermont. Opponents of the right to choose had a very, very bad night. Indeed, early evidence suggests that young voters, especially young women, were motivated to vote this year to an extent rarely seen in midterm elections, their activism fueled by outrage over the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe as well as by opposition to anti-democratic candidates.

Most of all, last week’s election serves as a reminder that a certain former President is NOT the most powerful force in American politics. He is the loudest certainly, the most dangerous beyond any doubt. But he is weak, driven by ego and pique more than by any true political skill or insight. He is a drag on the Republican party. He is a has-been.

Already he is tearing his party apart from within, attacking both Florida Governor RonDeSantis and Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin, who have emerged as his chief rivals for the 2024 Republican nomination. (He said Youngkin’s name “sounds Chinese” — a quote. I swear to God. And he claimed he sent the FBI to Florida in 2018 to save DeSantis’s flagging gubernatorial campaign, which, if true, would be something worth investigating, to say the least.) The former guy intends to go ahead with an announcement of his 2024 Presidential bid, but now it will be welcomed only by his most rabid supporters.

Across the country, again and again in high profile races, his hand-picked candidates lost. More than anything else, this election was a repudiation of Trumpism. Twice now he has lost the popular vote while running for President, and now twice in midterm elections that were in large part all about him, the Republican party has underperformed. In 2018, the GOP suffered historic losses. And this time, in a midterm that should have provided his party with a bonanza, the country instead gave its votes to the party of an unpopular President who has (through no fault of his own, I should add) presided over high inflation and rising gas prices. The Republicans should have kicked butt this year. They didn’t, and it is largely because of the orange has-been. Everyone knows it. Even Rupert Murdoch is rethinking his support of the man. When a Republican leader has lost Fox News, he has lost everything.

I don’t know what will happen in two years. None of us knows. Two years in politics is like ten lifetimes. But I do know this: Donald Trump’s attempt to elect a state-level MAGA infrastructure that would steal the 2024 election for him has failed utterly.

Am I gloating? Yeah, a little bit. Where Trump is concerned, more than a little bit. But the fucker deserves it.

God bless America.

Have a great week.

Monday Musings: Elections, John Adams, and the Future of Our Republic

Back in September 2020, as we lurched toward the Presidential election, I wrote a piece for this blog on the peaceful transfer of power. In it, I warned of the dangerous path followed by the former inhabitant of the White House, who was already sowing doubts about the integrity of the vote and laying the groundwork for his unsuccessful coup attempt in January 2021.

My warnings were well-founded, of course, but I fear I was terribly naïve about how to combat the threat our former president posed. When I wrote the piece, I believed that once he was defeated and removed from office, his pernicious influence on American politics would fade. I was wrong.

Tomorrow is Election Day, and as of this date, a staggering number of Republican candidates at all levels of government have, like the former guy in 2020 (and 2016), refused to promise that they will honor the voting results in their races. To draw upon a turn of phrase used by President Biden in a speech last week, they have decided that they only love this country and its founding principles when they win.

If you will allow me to slip on my historian’s cap for a moment . . . . The most important date in the history of our republic is not July 4, 1776 or October 19, 1781 (the effective end of the War for Independence) or March 9, 1779 (the date on which our new nation started operating under the authority of the Constitution). To my mind, the most important date in our history is March 4, 1801. That was the day on which President John Adams relinquished power to his political rival, Thomas Jefferson, who had defeated him in the election of 1800.

Here is what I wrote in 2020 about that moment in our history:

This acquiescence to the people’s will, this statement of belief in the greater good, turned the ideal of a democratic republic into reality.

Over the past 220 years, our nation has repeated this ritual literally dozens of times. Democratic-Republicans have given way to Whigs, who have given way to Democrats, who have given way to Republicans, who, in turn, have given way once more to Democrats. And so on. The peaceful transfer of power lies at the very heart of our system of government. Declaring and winning independence was important. Creating a foundational document, flawed though it was, that spelled out how our government would work was crucial.

None of it would have meant a thing, however, if in actual practice America’s election losers refused to accept defeat, to acknowledge the legitimate claim to power of America’s election winners.

It was bad enough that a defeated President, driven by ego and pique and an insatiable appetite for affirmation and power, should imperil this foundational imperative of our system of government. But it is truly chilling to see one of our two major parties mimicking his behavior, adopting his model of petulance and self-interest as an across-the-board election strategy. Make no mistake: The future of our nation is under threat.

Our republic has endured for as long as it has because, with very few exceptions (Rutherford B. Hayes, Richard Nixon, and now Donald Trump), our leaders on both sides of the aisle have chosen to abide by the rules as laid out in the Constitution. Yes, politicians cheat. They wage dirty campaigns. They look for every advantage. This has been true for as long as our nation has existed. In the end, though, they have accepted voters as the final arbiters of their electoral fates. As soon as candidates refuse to do this, they expose the fragility and brittleness of our system. If enough politicians on either end of the political spectrum decide the only legitimate outcome of a race is their own victory, the entire system will collapse. Outcomes matter, of course. But the integrity of the process itself is what preserves democratic institutions. Take away that integrity, leave election outcomes to be determined by who can scream “fraud” loudest and longest, and we are doomed.

This is the future today’s GOP is embracing. They have chosen to place themselves and their party over the will of the people, and if they are rewarded for doing so, the American Experiment is over.

Let me be clear: When elections are close, there are going to be recounts. That is part of the process as well. No one disputes that. (It is worth remembering that in 2020 the Trump Campaign demanded and was granted multiple recounts in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And while a handful of votes shifted one way or another, not one of these recounts altered the final result.) One can demand a recount and then honor the decision of voters once the process is complete

What we are seeing this year is not the expression of legitimate concerns about close election results. The elections haven’t been held yet. Rather, this is a systematic attempt to sow doubts about the elections ahead of time and thus justify whatever shenanigans they intend to try next. It’s disgusting. It’s immoral and corrupt and corrosive.

There are other issues on voters’ minds this year, obviously. I would argue that the preservation of our republic outweighs all of them. Vote like democracy itself is at stake. Because it is.

Have a good week.

Monday Musings: Politics, Likability, and Beer

The other night in a Senate debate held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Republican Senator, Ron Johnson, faced off against his challenger, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes. At the end of the debate, which was, by all accounts, a brutally hostile affair, one of the moderators asked the candidates what, if anything, they found admirable about their opponent. Barnes answered by saying that Johnson was a devoted family man and he respected that. When Johnson had his turn he said that Barnes was raised well by his parents. “What puzzles me,” he went on, “is why did he turn against America?”

To their credit, the audience in the theater booed lustily.

Autumn has arrived in Tennessee, bringing azure skies, cool breezes, and crystal clear nights, and coaxing yellows and reds and oranges from our foliage. This time of year, my thoughts turn to bird migration, to baseball’s postseason, and, yes, to politics. I am reluctant to go there in a post, and yet I also feel I can hardly avoid it. We are living in such a fraught, dangerous time. In our current climate, I honestly believe the fate of our republic, not to mention our planet, is on the line each time Americans go to the polls.

I am old enough to remember when, during the 1980s, pundits speculated that part of Ronald Reagan’s incredible popularity was attributable to his down-to-earth demeanor. He was a candidate, analysts said, who people, regardless of ideology or party affiliation, would like to have a beer with. (One can only assume the poor grammar in this analysis was meant to reinforce the idea that people drinking beer with friendly politicians pay no attention to syntax.)

In contrast to the dispassionate, moralizing Jimmy Carter and the slightly dweeb-ish Walter Mondale, Reagan was cool, charming, charismatic, and other things that start with “c.” (Although, surprisingly, not “competent” or “coherent” or “compassionate.” But that’s a subject for some other post.) People liked Reagan, even if they didn’t always agree with his policies.

This likability, the “let’s have a beer with him” explanation for political success, came up again in 1988, not because anyone really liked George H.W. Bush, but because no one could imagine Democratic nominee Mike Dukakis even drinking a beer. And also, to be fair, because of the picture of Dukakis riding in a tank, wearing a helmet that made him look like Rick Moranis from that scene in Ghostbusters where he’s wearing a colander on his head.

Bill Clinton was seen as more likable than his Republican opponents: the elder Bush, and then, in 1996, the irascible Bob Dole. But nearly everyone in the country agreed that the candidate they really wanted to have a beer with was Ross Perot, the third-party gadfly who mounted insurgency campaigns in both ’92 and ’96. To be clear, it wasn’t that people really liked Perot, but given the crazy shit he said when sober, folks were eager to see what they could get him to say if they plied him with a few brews.

George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns fully revived the “who would you like to drink with?” conversation, in part because old George was a party boy in his younger days and likely would have known the best bars, and in part because his two Democratic opponents, Al Gore and John Kerry, were blue-blood scions of privilege and wealth, who came across as self-righteous, all-knowing prigs. (Understand, please, that I supported and voted for both of them. I say this from a place of love. Really.)

Barack Obama, with his effortless cool and star power, was the obvious choice in both 2008 and 2012. John McCain, his first opponent was a war hero, but he had nearly as little charm as Bob Dole. And Mitt Romney was and is Mormon, meaning he doesn’t drink at all, rendering moot the question of who was likely to be the better bar mate.

Finally, we come to the election of 2016. Trump against Hillary. Both candidates were deeply unpopular. Neither candidate engendered much enthusiasm in the “who would you like to have a beer with?” measure. And in 2020, the idea that anyone not ideologically aligned with one of the candidates might deign to have a beer with him . . . well, that was pretty much unthinkable. Which kind of brings me to the end of my joking and to my actually-rather-serious point.

Politics have long divided Americans from one another. A glance at popular vote margins through our history show a nation that is more often than not split fairly evenly between (or among) Presidential candidates. Yet today’s America feels particularly tribal. It’s hard to imagine any MAGA Republican setting aside partisanship to say, “Yeah, I’d love to have a beer with Joe Biden.” And no Democrat I know would willingly sit at a bar with Donald Trump.

I will admit that I have always thought the so-called “have a beer” test a foolish way to choose a President (or a Senator, Governor, or Representative). I vote on the issues, and I look for candidates who have gravitas, who are thoughtful, erudite, and analytical. I really couldn’t care less if they seem like a fun drinking companion. Sure, it might be a bonus, but that’s all.

But given the state of our body politic, I’m wondering if I have been too quick to dismiss the value of this other approach. Not because it’s a great way to choose our leaders, but rather because just being able to think in such terms suggests a healthier state of politics than the one we’re in now. Maybe if all of us could once again imagine clinking glasses with a politician from “the other side,” our country might be better off.

Sadly, I don’t see that happening soon.

And so, I would very much like to sit down and have a beer with Ron Johnson. Not because I think he’d be a fun drinking buddy, but because when he’s not looking, I’d very much like to spit in his glass.

Have a great week.

Monday Musings: Taming My Inner Eeyore

The hard part of getting back into posting isn’t the first post. It’s the second, and the ones after that. In part, I retreated from social media six or seven weeks back because I couldn’t imagine carrying the emotional load I had shouldered while simultaneously producing essays about things that mattered less to me, which was pretty much everything else. At the same time, I also knew that I didn’t want to post every Monday about our family problems or my mental health issues. Nobody wants to read that guy week after week after week.

I touched on this a bit back in May, at a time when I was also struggling to come up with essay ideas for these Monday Musing entries.

So, what to do this time around . . . .

In truth, right now there is lots to write about. And the world is a far more promising place today than it was in May. Which makes this blogging thing a little easier. Consider:

Our former Felon-In-Chief is twisting slowly, slowly in the wind (that’s a Watergate reference, for those of you too young to remember), and I will admit that I’ve enjoyed watching him flop about like a hooked fish on a pier (yeah, I know, I’m mixing metaphors — deal with it), searching for any defense that might save his sorry ass. “The documents were planted! It’s a hoax.” “I declassified the documents ages ago.” (Quite a neat trick — knowing to declassify documents that would be planted on his property without his knowledge years later . . . .) “This is all legal under the Presidential Records Act.” (Spoiler alert: It’s not.)

At the same time, our current President (legally and fairly elected) is having a summer to remember. Tumbling gas prices, inflation starting to come under control, continued historic strength in the job market, Democratic voters motivated and mobilized by the SCOTUS decision overturning Roe v. Wade, voters in ruby red Kansas rejecting an abortion ban, one piece of major legislation after another passed and signed into law, rising poll numbers, surprisingly strong Democratic performances in special elections. It all adds up to a changing political landscape, and the realization that November might not turn out the way most pundits were predicting only a few months ago.

On the other hand, drought and floods and fires serve as constant reminders that despite the passage of the climate change bill — a significant and laudable achievement for the Administration and Congress — our planet remains gravely at risk. With that in mind, I believe when historians look back on 2022 decades from now, they will identify as the most significant moment of the year this week’s decision by the California Air Resources Board to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered motor vehicles after 2035.

Yes, it’s only one state. Don’t let that fool you. If California were a sovereign nation, its economy would be the fifth largest in the world, behind only the U.S., China, Japan, and Germany. Alone it accounts for more than 1/7 of our country’s GDP, and its citizens own far more cars than do the residents of any other state. Where California goes, the automobile industry will have little choice but to follow.

At long last, someone in this country has stepped forward and said, “This way to climate sanity. Follow me.” I expect Gavin Newsom, California’s governor and a Democratic Presidential hopeful for 2024 or 2028, sees this as good politics, which is also telling.

Look, anyone who knows me well will tell you I have a lot more in common with Eeyore than I do with Pollyanna. I am all too aware of the threat Trumpism poses to our republic, of the damage the Supreme Court has done to our society and the further damage it could very well do in its next term, of the precarious state of our planet and the limited reach of even California’s dramatic actions this week.

I am also aware of the tough road that lies ahead for my family, for my older daughter in particular.

As a part-time essayist, I can choose to dwell on the negative, or, as the song goes, I can accentuate the positive. For now, I prefer to do the latter. My hope may prove audacious, fantastical even. But I embrace it anyway. I can also promise you I won’t always be able to do this. My inner Eeyore is strong and persistent. For now, though, he is quiescent, and I’m glad.

I wish you a week of hope, good health, and good tidings.

Monday Musings: We Are Broken

On Friday, I grieved.

Today I’m just ticked off.

Every approach to the subject I attempt feels inadequate. Our nation is broken and I despair of seeing it repaired in my lifetime or even that of my children.

When six deeply flawed human beings, driven by their religious beliefs and their disregard for the plights of anyone other than themselves, can set back the cause of human rights with such ease, we are broken. When legislators in two dozen states, the overwhelming majority of them white men, can deny adequate health care to forty-five million women, we are broken. When a U.S. President elected by a minority of the voting public, and a U.S. Senator elected by voters of one state, can twist the Supreme Court nomination process to place three ideologues on the bench in four years, we are broken.

When voters on the left can become so obsessed with a single candidate that they reject the party’s eventual nominee out of pique, thus enabling the election of a man who should NEVER have been President, we are broken. When two naïve, foolish, or perhaps just deeply dishonest “centrist” Senators can be duped by Supreme Court nominees into believing said nominees will “respect precedent,” and that’s enough to put those nominees on the bench, we are broken. When, after a four-year reign of corruption, white-supremacy, and wanton cruelty, ending in a violent insurrection and conspiracy aimed at undermining the very foundations of our Republic, people still need to be convinced that yes, there really are substantive differences between the two parties, we are broken.

When our nation’s political system can be manipulated to enable one-party rule in states that are evenly split between the parties, we are broken. When one party can win the national popular vote for the Presidency in five of six elections, but be declared the loser in three of those elections, we are broken.

When guns kill more than 40,000 Americans a year, we are broken.

When unarmed people of color are murdered in the streets by police again and again and again and again and again and again and again, while armed white suspects are routinely subdued and taken into custody, alive and well, we are broken.

When one’s skin color is a primary determining factor in one’s chances of finding and keeping a job, being able to buy a house, having access to health care, enjoying a comfortable retirement, living to our country’s average life expectancy, we are broken. And when one’s skin color is also a primary determining factor in one’s risk of contracting a disease, of being a victim of crime, of being poor, of being unemployed, of being homeless, of being incarcerated, of being pulled over by police, of being beaten by police, of being killed by police, we are broken.

When things we thought were settled law, like marriage equality and abortion rights and legal protections for suspects and availability of contraception and the freedom to love who and how we wish in the privacy of our homes, are all suddenly at risk again from a judicial system that responds not to legal doctrine, but to the vicissitudes of partisan politics, we are broken.

When elected officials treat educators and librarians and trans children like they’re criminals, and work harder at banning books from our schools and libraries than they do at banning weapons of war from our streets and classrooms, we are broken.

When global climate change is convincingly linked to exploding incidences of catastrophic floods, devastating storms, historic droughts, and hellish, record-setting fires, and still our body politic consistently proves itself incapable of doing anything to save our planet, we are broken.

When economic inequality in our country continues to grow, building on a forty-year trend, with no end in sight, and no true remedial steps under serious consideration, we are broken.

When our problems are so very easy to list, and our progress so very hard to maintain, we are broken.

I resist the urge to leave this post at that. I am weary and angry and despondent. But I am also a father, and someday I expect to be a grandfather. Which means I cannot and will not give up. Barack Obama famously said to an enthusiastic campaign crowd booing a certain 2016 Presidential candidate, “Don’t boo! Vote!” He also famously said, “Elections have consequences.”

Some look at the problems facing our country and say “Burn it all down.” As if that is a solution. As if that isn’t what the other side wants. As if with all their guns and their survivalist shit, the other side isn’t better prepared for such a scenario than we are.

No, the answer isn’t to boo or to burn. It’s to work and to vote and to never forget the anger so many of us feel right now.

Have a good week. Keep fighting.

Professional Wednesday: Roger Angell, 1920-2022

If you are not a baseball fan, and not a reader of The New Yorker, chances are the news of Roger Angell’s passing, at the age of 101, had little significance for you. But if you are familiar with his work, then you know we have lost a brilliant essayist, a keen observer of the human condition, and the greatest chronicler of baseball in the game’s history.

Angell’s achievements are legion, and others writing tributes to him can do a better job than I in summarizing his magnificent career. It is worth noting that he was the stepson of E.B. White, that he published articles and stories in the The New Yorker for a span of 76 years (that’s not a typo), and was for more than two decades the fiction editor at that august magazine. He was a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame AND the American Academy of Arts of Letters. No other writer — no other person — can claim membership in both.

He was, in short, far, far more than a baseball writer.

And yet, for me, his legacy will always be tied firmly to the game.

The Summer Game, by Roger AngellBeginning in 1962, and continuing through most of the next sixty years, Angell wrote about baseball, contributing articles to The New Yorker a couple of times each season, usually once during spring training, and once at the end of the World Series. Some seasons he added a mid-season essay. His articles were later collected in volumes — The Summer Game (1972), Five Seasons (1977), Late Innings (1982), Season Ticket (1988), and Once More Around the Park (1991). I own all of them, and have read them multiple times.

My mother was a dedicated subscriber to The New Yorker, and always had piles of them on her night table, because she could never quite keep up with all the reading. But whenever she received an issue containing a Roger Angell article, she would read it immediately so she could send it on to me, to my oldest brother, and to our sister. My father usually stole the magazine long enough to read the article as well. The appearance of an Angell piece was a family affair.

It wasn’t just that he wrote about a game we all loved. It was that he did so with poetry, with humor, and with the giddy appreciation of baseball’s unique grace only a fan can harbor and no writer, no matter how talented, can fake.

Writing in 1962, as the brand-new New York Mets franchise stumbled to one of the worst seasons in baseball history, he ruminated about their die-hard, stadium-filling fans:

It seemed statistically unlikely that there could be, even in New York, a forty- or fifty-thousand-man [sic] audience made up exclusively of born losers — leftover Landon voters, collectors of mongrel puppies, owners of stock in played-out gold mines — who had been waiting years for a suitably hopeless cause…
…This was the losing cheer, the gallant yell for a good try — antimatter to the sounds of Yankee Stadium. This was a new recognition that perfection is admirable but a trifle inhuman, and that a stumbling kind of semi-success can be much more warming. Most of all, perhaps, these exultant yells for the Mets were also yells for ourselves, and came from a wry, half-understood recognition that there is more Met than Yankee in every one of us.

He described the daring base-running of the wonderful Willie Mays (“the best ballplayer anywhere”) this way:

He runs low to the ground, his shoulders swinging to his huge strides, his spikes digging up great chunks of infield dirt; the cap flies off at second, he cuts the base like a racing car, looking back over his shoulder at the ball, and lopes grandly into third, and everyone who has watched him finds himself laughing with excitement and shared delight.

Wit, lyricism, and a fundamental understanding not just of how the game is played, but what it means to those of us who lack the talent to play at that level, but still identify with beloved teams and admired stars. Angell’s writing did more than reflect back at me my own passion for baseball. It deepened my understanding of the nuances of the sport.

More important in the long run, his work taught me about the craft to which I would devote the bulk of my life. His observations and descriptions challenged my preconceptions. I thought I knew baseball — I was a fanatic about the sport from an early age. But the game Angell described was more beautiful than the one I had seen up until that point. He made me look at it again, not as a fan, but as a storyteller. He inspired me to think like a writer, about baseball at first, but later about so much more. I read his first book when I was in junior high. His second when I was in high school. His third after I finished college. I grew up on his writing. The lessons I gleaned from his essays shaped my voice, even though I wasn’t writing about baseball at all.

Angell was born in 1920. He saw Ruth play, and Gehrig. He saw Mays and Aaron, Koufax and Gibson, Seaver and Jeter. He lived a long life filled with achievement and also with tragedy. And he wrote about it all. He continued to write pretty much to the end of his life, and I will miss his essays the way I miss watching Willie run. But his words remain, and if you are unfamiliar with his work, now is the perfect time to dive in.

Have a great week.

Monday Musings: Roe, Griswold, and the Danger of Getting What You Wish For

At the risk of wading into very dangerous political waters, I feel I must weigh in publicly on the recent leak of the Supreme Court’s draft decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Mississippi abortion case, which effectively seeks to overrule Roe v. Wade. Based on the text of the leaked draft, at least five of the Court’s six conservative justices are poised to put an end to Federal protection for reproductive freedom in this country, despite assurances several of them (Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett) gave during their confirmation hearings to the effect that they would respect precedent, that they viewed Roe as settled law, and that claims they intended to overturn the 1973 decision were based in groundless left-wing fears.

Yes, I support reproductive freedom for all women, regardless of what state they live in, what color their skin, and how big their bank accounts. Overturning Roe, it needs to be said, will not end abortion in this country. It will merely limit its availability to states with solid progressive majorities, and to those in conservative states with the means to circumvent their states’ laws. Put another way, abortion will remain available to wealthy white women everywhere. Women of color and poor and working class women, regardless of race, who live in red states, will be left with few options.

I should also add here that I have several friends who oppose abortion on religious grounds, and whose views on issues of “life” I find unimpeachable. They oppose the death penalty as well. They support commonsense gun control. They support increased funding for daycare, early education, family leave policies, and other initiatives that truly soften the effect of their stance against abortion. I respect their opinions and accept that well-meaning, sincere, and ideologically consistent advocates on both sides of this issue can legitimately disagree.

But I also have to say this to those who are pleased by what they saw in the Court’s draft opinion: Be very, very careful what you wish for.

Samuel Alito’s draft opinion essentially returns the Court to a stance that began to erode during the 1960s with the Court’s decision in 1965’s Griswold v. Connecticut. That case, brought by a married couple in Connecticut, overturned a state law that had rendered illegal the use of contraceptives by consenting adults. Read that sentence again. The Court overruled a state law that barred consulting adults, even if they were married, from using contraceptives. The Court, in a 7-2 decision written by William O. Douglas, held that there was in the Constitution an implied right to privacy upon which states and the Federal government could not infringe.

An implied right to privacy.

Here we see the power of precedent. Without Griswold, there is no Roe. Without Griswold, there also is no Eisenstadt v. Baird, a 1972 decision that extended to unmarried couples the unfettered right to purchase and use contraceptives. Without Griswold, there also is no Loving v. Virginia, a 1967 decision that struck down state prohibitions on interracial marriage. Without Griswold, there is no Lawrence v. Texas, a 1986 case in which the Court held that sexual intimacy among consulting adults, regardless of gender, is also protected from governmental interference and regulation. Without Griswold, there is no Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 ruling granting marriage equality to all couples, regardless of gender and sexual orientation.

The Griswold decision, and its establishment of that implied right to privacy, is fundamental to every decision since that has taken government oversight out of our bedrooms. Alito’s draft decision, while aimed at Roe, effectively calls back into question Griswold itself, and every case that drew upon its precedent.

Don’t believe me? Think I’m overreacting? In March of this year, perhaps anticipating where the Texas and Mississippi abortion bans would take this new conservative supermajority on the Court, Senator Mike Braun, a conservative Republican from Indiana, said he thought the Supreme Court should return to the states the power to regulate interracial marriage, the availability of contraceptives, and the notion of marriage equality. He is not the only Republican to make such a statement in recent months.

I am far from the first person to point out that the ideological Right is all for small government except when it comes to our most intimate relationships. At which point it very much wants government telling us what to do.

Connecticut, of course, is not about to start banning the sale of contraceptives. But Mississippi might. Alabama might. Utah and Wyoming and Idaho might. I live in Tennessee. I can see the Tennessee legislature being first in line to role back the clock to the 1950s.

Again, think I’m exaggerating the threat? Consider this: Brett Kavanaugh, during his Senate confirmation hearings, called contraceptives “abortion-inducing drugs.” (1)

Conservative observers assure us that while Roe may be in peril, these other decisions are not, because they are popular enough to survive challenges to them. The problem with that argument is that legal abortion is also quite popular in this country. More than two-thirds of Americans oppose overturning Roe. That hasn’t stopped the Court from stepping to the precipice of doing just that. (2)

I do believe that the Court’s impending decision, should it go as the leaked draft suggests it will, is likely to spark an overwhelming backlash from voters on the Left. Recent polls show Democratic voters lack enthusiasm about voting in November’s midterm elections, especially the young and those who identify as most progressive. Those are precisely the groups who are likely to react most passionately to the Court’s action. They will be energized by this. The political landscape, I believe, is about to shift dramatically.

But the real shock for conservatives is likely to come as emboldened legislatures in America’s red states turn their efforts to restricting more and more of our most precious private rights. Some yahoo in Tennessee or Idaho or elsewhere is bound to decide that contraception ought to be regulated, or that relationships between people of different races ought to be outlawed. And at that point, even their most conservative supporters in the electorate are going to wake up and decide they’ve had enough.

Conservative politicians who overreach in this way will get exactly what they deserve. All because Samuel Alito has given them exactly what they think they want.

Have a great week.

—-
1 Litman, Leah and Vladeck, Steve, “The Biggest Lie Conservative Defenders of Alito’s Leaked Decision Are Telling,” Slate, May 5, 2022.
2 Litman and Vladeck.

Monday Musings: Shutting Out the World

I have struggled some in recent weeks to come up with topics for my Monday Musings posts. One reason for this: I don’t want to overload readers with essays about family issues and mental health, though both are much in my thoughts these days. A second reason, I realized today, is that I have, in the interests of my own well-being, shut out current events from much of my thinking. If you look back through my posts in 2020 and early 2021, I wrote a lot about the state of the world and the state of our nation. This year, not so much.

It’s not that I have blocked out all news. I listen to NPR every morning. I check headlines daily. I have not stuck my head in the proverbial sand. But neither am I obsessing over world events right now.

And can you blame me?

Republicans are poised to take back both houses of Congress in this fall’s midterm elections. They have gerrymandered their way to disproportionate representation. They continue to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election. They attack the Administration and its progressive allies for rising energy and food prices, knowing full well that these are not the Administration’s fault. They exploit cultural conflicts over race and gender identity for their own cynical purposes, endangering the safety of Blacks, trans youth, educators, and medical professionals. And their tactics are working, so they have no incentive to stop.

Vladimir Putin is playing the most dangerous game of Russian Roulette since the Cuban Missile Crisis, moving the planet closer to global nuclear conflict than at any time since the end of the Cold War. He and his generals are responsible for heinous war crimes — genocide, some would argue — in Ukraine. And despite fighting valiantly for their freedom, their homes, their families, their very lives, the Ukrainian army likely cannot hold out indefinitely. The end game will be hideous and horrifying.

The planet is dying. There is no softening that reality. It’s dying. The wildfire season has already begun in the Western U.S. — months earlier than usual — and it promises to be historically bad. Again.

Prices are rising, thanks to Putin’s war. And the stock market is tanking. Each month, we receive our brokerage statements, the latest figures on our retirement savings, and we file them away without looking at them. There’s nothing we can do, and we have no intention of getting out of the market, so . . . It’ll rebound eventually, right? Right??

But by all means, let’s all get our panties in a twist over yet another egotistical billionaire buying yet another social media platform.

Yeah, so this is why I have been avoiding current affairs topics in my Monday Musings posts. I don’t have the energy. I would never say I don’t care. I do. I care passionately. But I feel like there is nothing I can do that will make a significant difference. I can give to international aid organizations. And I do. I can give to environmental groups and to progressive candidates. And I do. I can drive a Prius and use LED bulbs and set the house thermostats with energy conservation in mind. I do all those things.

But like so many people — perhaps like you — I am weary. I have too much on my personal plate right now. Family crises, work deadlines, things I have to get done, things I want to do. Last weekend, while at a convention, I might have been exposed to Covid. I’ve taken a couple of tests this week, the most recent today. Both negative. I’m probably fine, thank goodness. I will admit, though — and I’m not proud of this — that a tiny part of me hoped the test would be positive, giving me an excuse to just stop and rest and do nothing.

In a way, this post has wound up being about current affairs after all. Because the truth is, I am far from alone in feeling the way I do. We as a society are exhausted. And that exhaustion manifests as both apathy and irascibility. Many of us want to shut out the world. And when we can’t, many of us turn to contentiousness, to behavior that serves only to deepen divides that are already too deep.

Spring is here. Our little corner of the Cumberland Plateau is exploding with color right now: the myriad greens of young leaves, the whites of Dogwoods, the pinks of Wild Azaleas, the brilliant reds and yellows and blues of migrating tanagers, warblers, and buntings.

Covid is less of a threat that it was this winter, and warmer temperatures should mitigate the dangers even more. The housing market is beginning to normalize, which might help calm inflation in the months to come.

Maybe the fire season will prove less destructive than feared. Maybe Putin’s war effort will continue to fall short of his ambitions, leading him to settle for a partial victory rather than total conquest. Maybe the midterms won’t be quite the bloodbath some anticipate.

The fact is, as bad as things seem right now, they could be worse. They could always be worse. And in the meantime, there is beauty in the world. In the colors of spring, in the love of family and friends, in creativity, in work well done, in down-time enjoyed.

And this, in the end, is why I have chosen to avoid a certain kind of post this year. Life has been hard, but it also continues to be good. As I age, I find myself gaining a level of perspective I lacked as a younger man, when I was a sky-is-falling kind of guy. I don’t want to focus on the bad and the hard and the tragic. That stuff is always there for us, if that’s where we want our minds to go. These days, I choose a different emphasis.

Have a great week.