A wounded animal

There are moments when you have little that you want to say. Then there are moments where you have too much that you want to say. Yesterday, news came down that put us in the latter category. Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death has sent many of us reeling. There will be numerous moving pieces that will celebrate her life and her long and distinguished career. Part of me wanted to do that.

Others will strike out in anger and make big claims. Part of me wanted to do that. Yet, I wanted to touch on the emotion that is overwhelmingly driving all of that: fear. Fear often leads to anger and can lead to aggression. So, I thought I would introduce a personal story to illustrate the point.

Last week, our daughter accidentally closed the door on our cat’s paw. It was an accident. Our two cats were fighting and she was trying to prevent it. The cat broke two bones in his paw. He was understandably frightened and hurt. We managed to get him into a carrier and get him to one of those late night emergency clinics. He now has a splint on the paw. We must keep him confined and medicated for nearly two months.

Seeing the response to a wounded animal is an interesting study in human nature. My wife is not a huge fan of the cat. He is chronically lazy even when healthy and sometimes does not relieve himself where he should. However, she has been very comforting to him because she generally loves animals. Even the dog has been comforting to him as they share space downstairs.

At this point, you might be asking what this has to do with Ginsberg. Simply put, the liberal wing of the country is like the wounded animal. We have retreated to our corner and are looking to regroup. It’s not a fatal injury at this point, but we are certainly in a weakened position. The GOP and the president are in a position of being the observer in all of this.

You could imagine that the wounded animal in the corner is not your pet, but instead a wild animal you never wanted on your property. You have three simple options when dealing with such a wounded animal. You can leave it alone and hope it leaves on its own eventually. You can attempt to put it out of its misery and kill it. You can also try to help it.

I would say the president holds the cards, but I don’t know if he would have any compassion for a real wounded animal mich less a metaphorical one. This is where Mitch McConnel needs to step up. I know hearing those words is enough to put a chill down anyone’s spine, but this is where we’re at. Give McConnel credit, he is a master of political calculation even if the humanity isn’t necessarily there.

If he moves to fill the seat it would be akin to attacking the wounded animal. Liberals and progressives aren’t merely an injured raccoon. We make up roughly a third of the country. If you come after us you better kill us quick. Otherwise, such a move would backfire horribly. In terms of reality, if you move to fill the seat you better make sure you win the next election. That kind of move could be the spark that mobilizes people to vote against you. He is himself on the ballot after all.

His best option is to pledge not to fill the seat until after the election. If Trump loses then the next president appoints the next justice. If Trump wins then he gets to appoint one in November. That would be similar to the home owner leaving the wounded animal to heal itself and move along. Dealing with wild animals is unpredictable, but I can tell you how our cat has reacted. He has become more lovable after the care he has gotten. He trusts us more.

The third option only gets done in fiction on shows like the West Wing. That would involve putting Merrick Garland on the bench. Some of you may recall that was the judge that never got a hearing from McConnell in Obama’s last year in office. It was the so-called Biden rule. That would be a master stroke just because it would be a move that would create reconciliation and engender a level of trust from the left that the right has never enjoyed.

I think we know that’s not happening. So, the realistic choices are to go for the kill and appoint a right-wing judge now or to practice mercy and hold off until after the election. No one is quite sure how November turns out and each of these major events puts the issue more in doubt. I don’t think Trump voters are changing their tune, but with each blow comes the realization to everyone else that we are in this together. If you manage to unite them it could be game over.

The 1776 Commission

Yesterday, the president revealed a new commission that would be used to teach patriotism in the classroom. The 1776 commission’s mission seems to be to counteract the 1619 project that some schools are adopting. He said there is an emerging classroom narrative that “America is a wicked and racist country.” The commission’s goals would be to reemphasize patriotism and what has become known as American exceptionalism.

Admittedly, I am a historian in the strictest sense of the word. History was officially my minor for my undergraduate degree, but the state of Texas requires at least 24 hours in two teaching fields, so according to my degree plan I was practically a double major. All that being said, most of my course work was on the World History side and I spent far more time teaching World History than U.S. History.

In the show “The Newsroom” Jeff Daniels (as Will McAvoy) makes a famous speech when a student asks what makes America the greatest country in the world. The short version of his answer is that we aren’t the greatest country in the world. The long version lists a litany of reasons that we aren’t and outlines factual evidence that we aren’t.

The education business is dominated by the rubric. We use rubrics to grade student work. The district uses rubrics to assess teacher performance. The state uses rubrics to grade school and district performance. A rubric is just a fancy word for developing a systematic way to assess performance. Ideally, the student, teacher, campus, or district knows exactly what they will be graded on before the final grade comes out. Therefore, I can tailor my performance accordingly.

What rubric do you use to grade a nation? How do we decide who is the greatest? Some folks don’t even bother to ask the question. They just naturally assume we are the greatest. This is usually what historians and political scientists refer to as nationalism. Nationalism is the overwhelming belief that you live in the greatest country in the world. Germans think Germany is the best. The French think France is the best. The Chinese think China is the best. We can literally do this until the end of the post.

There certainly is no harm in loving your country. There certainly is no harm in being proud of your country. The United States has done plenty of good here at home and throughout the world. However, a number of folks would point out that we’ve done some bad things too. Pointing out the good and the bad is not a leftist agenda or liberal propaganda. It’s what good history teachers do. They give you as complete a picture as possible.

The best analogy I can give as a history teacher is comparing history to being the fan of a team. No one really argues about whether their team is the greatest team in the league. The standings and playoffs do that just fine for us. A few people have the belief that you never say anything bad about your team, but most people think that’s just silly. We yell at the television when they make a mistake. We call in to call in shows and complain about the coach/manager when they make a decision we disagree with. Sports history buffs often go back and debate what the best and worst trades were in franchise history. We obsess over decisions made 20, 30, or 50 years ago. There are far too many parallels between regular history and sports history.

The temptation is to treat this latest presidential decree like the announcement for space force. Most of the people in the space industry are laughing at space force and most observers seem to think it will go away as soon as he goes away. Certainly, he wouldn’t be the first president to make an announcement that is self-serving and backed by nothing. This is what presidents do.

I can’t do that with the 1776 commission because I know there are legions of politicians and influential people that buy into this idea. Essentially, you teach kids that America is great, has always been great, and always will be great. Anyone saying anything to the contrary wants to destroy America and has to be stopped at all costs. Any history teacher that looks at a negative event or an event where a decision was made that had a negative impact on people is teaching anti-American propaganda. They are just a nasty liberal.

So, imagine the sports analogy again. Imagine you are a Texans fan. Obviously, they are the best team in the league. Why did they lose all of those games? Well, they were cheated by the league and by the officials. If it had been a fair fight then they would have gone 16-0 and waltzed all the way to a Super Bowl title. Remember those trades everyone said were stupid? Fake News. They were brilliant. You just don’t understand why. Anyone saying anything bad about Bill O’Brien or any of the Texans are just Cowboys fans in disguise. If you don’t support everything the Texans do then move to Dallas you filthy carpetbagger.

I think you get the idea. When you remove critical thinking from the equation you never grow. If the Texans don’t figure out that management is making mistakes they will never get better management. If we as historians never talk about the negative aspects of our history, those negative aspects never quite go away. If we deny the presence of racism then we never do the work to rid ourselves of racism. If we deny that we have treated people unfairly then we don’t correct those mistakes and we continue to treat people unfairly. It’s really that simple. It’s okay to love your country and to be proud of your heritage. In fact, that’s a good thing. It’s not okay to gloss over those negative things because people are afraid you might not love your country as much as you once did. A truer and deeper love requires that we love everything. We own everything. We accept everything. What we choose to ignore will continue to fester.

Of Karens, Kens, and Snowflakes

You can tell how old people are by the language they use. I’m certain no one under the age of 50 uses the word “groovy” with any regularity. For awhile in the late 1990s and early 2000s things were “krunk.” I’m still not exactly sure what that meant, but it sounded good and you were cool for a few minutes if you were able to fit it into a sentence successfully. Speaking of “cool”, there’s another one. I digress.

The newest monikers this year seem to be calling people Karens and Kens. The great fountain of Wikipedia defines Karen as “a pejorative term used in the United States and other English-speaking countries for a woman perceived as entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is appropriate or necessary.” Ken seems to be the same for men, but there have been other names thrown out as examples, so you might have heard something different.

I’ve never been a big fan of labels. Labels often take on their own meaning and so they don’t accurately describe the behavior. Everyone pictures someone in their head and that mental picture is different for everyone. We saw this a few years ago with the renewed emphasis on bullying. As a former counselor and as someone interested in mental health, I generally applaud anything that empowers people, but we quickly descended into calling everything bullying until it ceased to have any real meaning.

It finally came to a head for me when my daughter came home from school on consecutive days and said someone was bullying her. On both occasions we asked her to tell us what actually happened. What she described wasn’t bullying. I had to do the same thing when I worked as a counselor. Describe the behavior without attaching the label. Often times I don’t think the word means what people seem to think it means.

We fast forward to the Karens. Karen was originally a term meant to simplify a description of a woman (almost exclusively white) that would loudly complain about things that no one else really complains about. The implication is that they had so much privilege that they had extra time on their hands for the complaint.¬†As you might suspect, this was done as a way to own (another relatively new term) the opposition in quick fashion. Don’t waste time describing bad behavior. Just come up with a name that encompasses the behavior.

I’m admittedly old and don’t pay too much attention to cultural trends. The first time I remember hearing the term was when a white woman hadn’t leashed her dog. A black man asked her to leash the dog and she angrily threatened to call the police on him. That happened over the summer. I’m almost certain the term is older than that, but like I said. I’m barely paying attention.

The term snowflake has been around for awhile. It was originally a term conservatives used to poke fun at liberals that got offended at something that was racist, sexist, or generally culturally insensitive. It has become so pejorative that it almost always has the word “liberal” preceding it. Again, the online dictionary defines snowflake as “an overly sensitive or easily offended person, or one who believes they are entitled to special treatment on account of their supposedly unique characteristics.

So, what is the point of all this? Simply put, a number of people have perfected what some would lovingly call the “self-own.” Again, I love these new terms. The self-own happens when someone throws around one of these terms all the while exhibiting the very behavior they are prescribing to someone else. This is when we coined the phrase, “it takes one to know one” as kids. Sadly, that phrase has gone out of style.

We see this everyday from people that complain about politically correct behavior. They complain when they are asked to take a diversity sensitivity training. They complain when anyone brings up the idea of systemic racism. They complain when someone points out that there is a thing called “white privilege.” They complain and they are angry. So, who is exactly being the snowflake here?

The same thing happened yesterday on social media. Someone was describing something that had happened to them. They were so offended. Someone else chimed in and called it a battle between that person and a Karen. Somehow, I think they missed the point of what a Karen actually was. I’d go into specifics, but I think all of us can imagine such a situation. Heck, there are moments when we might exhibit those same behaviors without realizing it.

This is why labels like Karen, snowflake, and bully have so little meaning these days. Everyone immediately pictures someone in their head for all three. The fun part comes when we imagine someone that exhibits those characteristics simultaneously. We have to admit that there is a lot of overlap there. Yet, we have all been a Karen (or Ken), a snowflake, and many of us even a bully at some point in our lives. Yet, use any of those terms and most of us will immediately become defensive. If you call out the actual behavior we might be more receptive.

Science is on the ballot

There are things I never thought I would have to say or talk about. However, people seem to like it when I get personal, so I thought I would talk about my childhood yet again. When I was in school I seemed to enjoy science. It wasn’t my favorite subject. I think if you have read my blog for any period of time you would guess what my favorite subjects were.

However, I still remember vividly that the cheerleaders would change seats and sit behind me for some reason on test day. That was until I took Chemistry. I won’t reveal my teacher’s name because that would be rude, but she managed to suck any joy I may have had for science completely out of me. I got exactly two detentions during my high school career and she gave me one of them. It was for having my book wrapped incorrectly. That’s right. It wasn’t for not having it wrapped. It wasn’t for not having my book. It was for it being wrapped incorrectly. I could see the students of today saying, “tell me more about this book wrapping of which you speak.”

Shortly before Christmas we were taking a test. I wasn’t feeling well. In fact, I had already planned on going home early following the test. I could feel myself getting really sick, but she never let anyone go to the restroom. I didn’t make it through the test. I ended up throwing up on the test, myself, the girl in front of me, and anyone else within a five foot radius. I stayed home for two days (more out of embarrassment than anything else). As my wife said after hearing that story, “there went your chance of dating that girl in front of you.” As if I ever had a chance anyway.

Those stories are important for two reasons. First, they helped shape me as a teacher. That teacher’s nickname was “Satan”. Nobody liked her and that included the staff. When you are a teacher, you know who that teacher is on your campus. Everyone knows that teacher. The last thing I ever wanted to be was that teacher. No one wants to be responsible for students hating school or hating a subject. I could be called boring. I could be called hard. I could be called easy. I never wanted to be called cruel.

Secondly, science became my least favorite subject. I don’t like math either, but I have always been good at mental math and I have a fairly developed interest in statistics. So, we will have to call that good in terms of interest. Yet, even though I have little interest in science, I still think it’s important and something we should pay attention to.

If you are plugged into politics, you saw the president talking with some scientists in California. They were concerned about climate change and the effects it is having on the wild fires in California. They urged the president to pay more attention to climate science and to work with climate scientists to prevent more disasters from happening. He responded by saying it would get cooler eventually. Don’t worry.

It’s one thing to disagree about the implications of science. It is one thing to disagree that what we are noticing in science is something to change national policy about. It is another thing to deny science itself. “It will get cooler” is both dismissive and overwhelmingly stupid at the same time. It’s like the congressman that brought in a snowball to “prove” that global warming didn’t exist. When did this happen to us?

When we were kids, they told us that global warming would eventually destroy us. No, the world did not turn into a disaster movie, but I don’t know if people have been paying enough attention. We seemingly have wild fires all year around on the west coast. We have five tropical storms in the Atlantic ocean at the same time. In 1983, Hurricane Alicia (that’s an A meaning it was the first storm of the year) hit Galveston in September. It is September. if all of those storms reach tropical storm status we will be moving into the Greek alphabet.

Temperatures are getting hotter and hotter every year. Glaciers and ice caps are melting. The ozone layer has holes in it. These are all facts. We can certainly disagree on what policies we need to adopt to address these facts, but denying the facts won’t get us anywhere. Now, the sophistication of the denial depends on the relative intelligence of the person doing the denying.

The village idiot in chief says short quips like, “don’t worry, it will get cooler.” Others use the presence of snow as an example of the absence of global warming. Compelling. Others are a little more thoughtful. For instance, they point out that temperatures have only been routinely documented for a little more than 100 years, so how do we know about warming patterns over hundreds or thousands of years? Like I said, that’s a little more thoughtful, but ultimately the scientific community has reached a consensus. Global warming exists and we are involved.

I could wax poetic about the need for scientists and experts, but I will simply say this. One of the things that separates human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom is specialization. We each have become experts in something. Our society functions when we allow experts to use their expertise for our entire benefit. When we deny what those experts tell us or attend Facebook University to get our own “facts” then we threaten the very fabric of society.

Now, I can choose to listen or not listen to those experts. My doctor can tell me that sugar is bad for me and that I need to adhere to a certain diet. I can choose to ignore those warnings every now and then. I can choose to follow or not follow the advice of other experts in my life. However, I do that at my own peril. I also don’t deny their expertise. I don’t suggest that some kook in a Youtube video has got it right and hundreds of real scientists have gotten it wrong.

Yet, that seems to be a real theme in this election cycle. Wearing a mask and social distancing have become political issues. I don’t need to see a bumper sticker on your car to know who you are voting for. I just need to see if you are wearing a mask and social distancing. I listen for your opinions on vaccinations and flu shots. I listen for your opinion on whether global warming is a hoax. Obviously, this isn’t 100 percent full proof. Yet, increasingly the advice of doctors and scientists has become a political issue. When did we slip down this rabbit hole?

The Big Mistake

1980 was a revolutionary election in many ways. It marked the end of a major period in American politics and ushered in a new era of conservatism. It would be wrong to say the last 40 years have been dominated by conservative politics. We had Clinton for eight years and Obama for eight years. Contrary to popular belief, neither really governed from the left.

All that being said, the miracle of the 1980 election wasn’t the fact that trickle down economics was actually bought and sold. The miracle was that the Christian Right became a thing. It became a thing with a candidate that had been divorced and was a Hollywood insider. He took on a candidate that was quite literally a Sunday school teacher. Jimmy Carter might not have been a great president, but he is undoubtedly a great man. He still builds homes for Habitat for Humanity. The man is past 90.

The entry of the Christian Coalition into politics itself was something. Most ardent Evangelicals shunned politics and for good reason. American politics is a mine field for dedicated followers of Jesus. Everyone focuses on abortion, but if you believe in sanctity of life it’s hard to argue for the death penalty. Then, when it comes to social justice you have a virtual quagmire of different policy options and debates to consider.

The big mistake was when the liberal wing of the Democratic party began to seem anti-Christian. Every political party wants a big tent. You want to attract all kinds of people and the Democratic party wanted to appeal to those that weren’t Christian and were concerned about religious freedom (or freedom from religion).

A whole generation or two later and it seems impossible for some to understand that someone could be a Christian and a liberal at the same time. The concept seems foreign to them. Wait, you must not be reading the Bible right. Maybe you need to pray on this and talk to your pastor about where you might be confused. You can’t be a liberal and a Christian at the same time.

What they might not understand is that I’m not a liberal in spite of being a Christian. I’m not a Christian in spite of being a liberal. I’m a liberal becausee I am a Christian. I’m a Christian because I am a liberal. My beliefs definitely motivate my politics. It’s impossible to separate the two. Of course, this is the way it works for conservatives as well. The idea is what you choose to focus on.

The Democrats in 1980 had the ultimate candidate on this front. Carter was always considered a good man. Many disagreed with his politics, but the party began running away from Christianity. All of the presidents have been Christians and most were regular church goers, but they really couldn’t run on that. That’s because the Democratic party bought into the battle that the Christian Coalition laid out. They set up abortion as the number one issue in Christian politics.

If Christ is supposed to be the center of Christianity then it would make sense that we should focus on what Christ focused on. Go back and read the Gospels. Read them again. Show me where Christ talks directly about abortion. Yes, he talks about the law and he talks about sin, but he never mentions abortion specifically. This is because the whole concept of abortion is a modern construct. I’m sure it happened, but this is a fairly modern phenomenon.

This isn’t to say that he wouldn’t have been opposed to it. This isn’t to say that it isn’t wrong in the vast majorirty of instances. This is simply to say that abortion really wasn’t the core message of his ministry. So, if it wasn’t the core message of his ministry then why are we making it the core issue in American politics? Even if you follow religious teachings from today, they would consider abortion to be a sin. A mortal sin, but still a sin. Is avoiding sin or calling out sinners really at the core of his ministry? Are we simply reduced to our sin? Wasn’t the whole Easter miracle about overcoming that?

So, if abortion really isn’t the most important issue then what is the most important issue? I go back to the two main commandments he talked about. Loving God with all our heart, mind, and strength and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. What does that love look like? Well, this is well worth the debate and it is something that people on the left and right can debate about. Ceding the argument to the right was never the right answer. We have a whole lot we can offer on the subject.

Adventures in politics

I couldn’t think of anything pressing to write today, but I am in the habit of writing daily and it’s something I want to continue. So, I decided to write about a memory and see where it takes me. In this case, the memory was January of 1993. My father was one of the first teachers in Pasadena to take his students to a program called “Close Up”. So, when I became a senior in high school I wanted to go.

Close Up is a program where high school students go to Washington D.C. for a week to meet with different members of the government. Maxine Waters spoke to our nationwide group and our high school contingent got to meet Sandra Day O’Connor. Of course, the crown jewel of the whole week was the inauguration of Bill Clinton. Like any normal teenager, some of us decided to skip it. We had special spots about three miles away and the prospect of standing for over an hour and listening to a speech didn’t seem fun. So, we went wandering around the mall.

Suddenly, we came to a busy street. On one side came a group of Pro-Life protesters. On the other side came a group of Pro-Choice protesters. We ducked inside the National Art Museum instead. I’ve been to Washington five times and that’s the only time I’ve been in that museum. It was well worth the visit. It also kept us from getting involved in a potentially dangerous situation.

Every time I think of that story I think of the term “silent majority.” It seems that term has been appropriated by conservatives, but really the result is neutral until they actually vote. After all, who can possibly know exactly what they are thinking. They are silent after all. On that particular day, the entire group (maybe four or five of us) were the silent majority. We didn’t want any part of a two-headed protest. I’m reasonably certain all of us would come to different conclusions on that particular issue. None of us talked about it and nobody really wanted to ask.

We know only two things about the silent majority. They are silent and they represent the majority of Americans. A majority of Americans do not protest racial injustice. A majority of Americans do not protest mandatory mask rules. A majority of Americans don’t protest at all. They go to work. They return home. They spend time with their friends and family. They generally don’t care about politics.

So, what motivates the silent majority? Well, a lot of people that get paid a lot more than we do are paid to know just that. They practice an art we call “issue framing.” The general idea of issue framing is that both parties have two competing stories of America. Whichever party is the most successful at telling their story usually wins. Those stories have been cultivated for generations. In the end, the issue that ends up being considered the most important dictates the winner.

One party is framing itself as the party that will protect the economy, protect you from dangerous rioters, and protect our religious values. The other party will protect you from the virus, protect the rights of marginalized Americans, and now protect the rule of law. It is that last one that is the biggest bone of contention. The parties often compete for the same issue. Sometimes it’s the economy. Sometimes it’s foreign policy. This time around it’s the rule of law.

What exactly does that mean? What exactly does that look like? One side is attempting to get you to be afraid of others. The other side is trying to get you to be morally outraged. Everyone wants to pretend they know the silent majortity. We can’t know until election day. When we see two groups with diametrically opposing views about the collide, most people don’t want to be a part of it They will pick a side though before the election. What’s at stake this time around isn’t a tax plan, it’s not a budget debate, and it isn’t what policy we should have when dealing with our foes. It’s about who we want to be. Do we want to be free and what exactly does that look like? We don’t know the answers. The silent majority is silent because they don’t want to talk about this. We will find out the answers in November.

A wave of emotions…

A friend who I used to volunteer with posted a video from a priest that asserted the if you vote Democratic you aren’t really Catholic. I went through a wave of emotions when looking at this post. Mind you, I didn’t watch the video. I didn’t have to. I know exactly what the priest said. Essentially, it is the same thing that some Catholics have been saying for years. Democrats are pro-choice. Catholics cannot be pro-choice. Therefore, if you are pro-choice you are not really Catholic.

Our church even handed out pamphlets when I was a kid that told us who to vote for. I remember one of the volunteers accosting my mother after mass. My mother is not Catholic, but has graciously attended mass every Sunday with my father for over 50 years. She rarely ever says anything political to anyone. She told that person that as soon as they plan on caring for the children after they enter the world then she’ll donate to the cause. It was one of the few times I had ever seen her get angry with strangers.

I remember feeling a seething anger even back then when our church tried to tell us who to vote for. Even back then I remember questioning why they would boil everything down to a single issue. We care about so many things as Catholics. Yes, we care about life, but we care about life at every stage. We care about social justice. We care about the plight of the poor, healing the sick, and clothing the naked. We care about the natural environment. We care about immigrants and refugees. It is fair to have disagreements on all of these issues and to think one party represents the majority. Boiling it down to one single issue is short-sighted.

So yeah, the initial reaction was to be pissed off. How dare you tell me I’m not Catholic. I went through all of those years of CCE. I was baptised and confirmed in the church. Up until the pandemic, we attended weekly. I have volunteered with youth ministry for nearly thirty years, served on two different pastoral councils, and the rest of my family serves too. This doesn’t mean I’m better than anyone else, but gosh darn it, nobody gets to tell me I’m not a Catholic.

Yet, the anger didn’t last long. The overwhelming emotion was one of sadness. This was a post from someone I have known for years. We volunteered together for years in youth ministry. We worked on retreats together. I felt like I knew him. I felt like we saw the world more or less the same way. I was certain he was compassionate and was teaching our teenagers to be compassionate. Either I was wrong or something had happened to change him.

He has had other posts that have been against black lives matter and against antifa. Some of the posts have been pro-police. Of course, that by itself is not alarming, but when you add it all up it just feeds into an incredible sadness. It adds up to a picture of a faith where our love and our charity is conditional. It is conditional on whether others believe as we do. We love you if you agree. You are only a good Catholic if you agree. Beyond that, our minds can only go to a very dark place.

Naturally, this brought me to my last emotional response: immense fear. Maybe he wasn’t the one who had changed. Maybe I’m the one who has changed. Maybe I’m the one who has gone astray. Seeing people who you respect go in such a different direction is an emotionally jarring experience. If one is to have any humility whatsoever they would have to admit that there is a seed of doubt in there somewhere. If I respected him and if they are so sure that they are right then am I? Could I be the one that’s wrong?

Mind you, my values have largely not changed going back to that story with my mother. I’m confident in those values. So, that’s not what I’m talking about. This is more about how we treat people. Being on the recieving end of something so judgmental and dismissive was an illuminating experience. Have I been doing that to others? It made me go back and re-read some of these posts to make sure.

Politics and religion are sometimes incompatible. In American politics, there are no political parties thet adopt an entirely Catholic perspective. So, every Catholic must decide which values they hold most dear. I don’t get to judge anyone on which values they choose. The flip side is that they don’t get to judge me. Judgment is not ours anyway. We do the best we can. We pray. We study. We reflect. We ask the opinion of others who we respect. Ultimately, that is all we can do. When we feel these feelings of rage, sadness, and fear it can be really unsettling. Maybe we can all grow from those feelings.

Feeding the Outrage Machine

Outrage can be an addictive drug. It seems to inflict people of all political persuasions. Social media seems to have brought this on, but it started before that. CNN was the first to use 24 hour news. Then came Fox and MSNBC. There are countless others now that we have stream our entertainment and news. All of these things put together have created a monster.

The root question usually starts off with “how can you possible support _____ when _____” It’s like political/social/religious Mad Libs. Of course, I’m dating myself with that reference. Those of us of a certain age remember coming up with random nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs to create a hilarious story. In this case we can usually insert political party A into the first blank with whatever outrageous thing we want to throw into the second blank.

So, before we move on let’s ask ourselves some important questions. What purpose is the outrage serving? Who is it serving? Does it help get us anywhere we actually want to go? Usually, this is when someone correctly points out that we should follow the money. Who is profiting from the outrage? It certainly isn’t you or me.

There are 350 million Americans. So, if you write a book that one percent get excited about, you just sold 3.5 million copies. I haven’t sold one percent of that total with a combined five books. Why? Is it because I’m a horrible writer. Perhaps that’s true, but I tend to believe it’s because I’ve never said anything outrageous. Just looking behind the scenes at my statistics for this blog is very revealing. The most popular articles seem to be the most controversial. The most popular one is the one that included the most personal information in it. I’m not the final arbiter on what my best work is. You put stuff out on the public sphere so the public gets to decide what’s good and what’s crap. That’s the way the world works.

So, if i say something outrageous, I actually get rewarded. It doesn’t matter if 99 percent of the world thinks it’s crazy, stupid, or inane. If the one percent is excited enough then you become a millionaire. So, it isn’t hard to see why people throw bombs from their extreme perch on the left or right. Extremism sells.

The social media and internet revolution have given rise to the troll. The troll is the guy (usually guys but girls can be trolls too) that doesn’t contribute anything constructive to the conversation. They just say something outlandish and take a step back. If they are really successful then they cause a fight between two groups of people that were originally all united behind how stupid the troll is. The cardinals rule of trolls is to not feed the troll. Outrage only makes them stronger.

In that vain, the president might be the most successful troll in history. People have their reasons for supporting him. We’ve talked about it before. This isn’t about that. This is about what he gains when we feed the outrage machine. Numerous pundits have noted that the national numbers really haven’t changed all that much since June. Sure, there were a few points up and few points down after each convention. The net result is zero.

What does this mean? It’s pretty simple. Making this race about him really doesn’t move the needle. A large part of him probably enjoys the negative attention. He called veterans suckers and losers. People were outraged. He lied about COVID. People were outraged. Yet, it’s the same thing every time. It’s the same people every time.

They then flip the script. They get their own folks to be outraged about something. So, everyone becomes more and more outraged. No one really changes their mind and we never end up discussing stuff that actually matters. We revert back to the “I don’t understand how you can support _____ when _____.” The end result is that we politicize everything.

On a day to day basis, government isn’t about the big stuff. It’s about the small stuff. It;s about the stuff we’ve either never heard of or really don’t have any disagreements about. The small stuff ends up becoming big stuff to those impacted. It is about helping clean up and rebuild following a major storm. It’s about putting out a fire before it damages more homes and lives. It’s about sniffing out a terrorist plot before it happens. It’s about building safe roads, teaching our children, delivering the mail, and providing dozens of other everyday services every day. Who are the people that will do those jobs best? Those are the questions we usually ask ourselves every other November. It’s time to ask them again.

The Three Stages of Crisis

Psychologists have spoken at length about the stages of grief. There are numerous books written about the stages themselves, how to navigate through the stages, and how to identify where your friend or loved one might be on the grief journey. We don’t talk as much about the stages of crisis. As you might expect, the internet is full of observations on the 19th anniversary of 9/11. It would seem like there is not much to add, but I’m going to try to tell my own story and tie it into current events if I can.

I was doing the same thing in 2001 that I’m doing today. Well, that’s not literally true. Today, I’m home from work for reasons I will elaborate on later. Then, I was teaching and coaching volleyball at Pasadena High School. The planes hit the towers during our athletic period, so I did not see either event live. We had televisions in all of our classrooms, so we watched as much coverage as we could. Needless to say, no one was getting any work done that day.

Throughout the day, parents were coming to the school to pick up their child. The school is located across the freeway from a series of refineries and plants. Some of you may recall the numerous rumors of where planes were targeting. One rumor was that a school in Los Angeles was targeted. It didn’t take much to imagine a plane crashing into a plant and causing all kinds of damage.

The aftermath at the school bordered between scary and hilarity. Many demanded we develop an evacuation plan. What ended up transpiring is that we allowed students to carry cellphones for the first time. I’ll bet many of you thought we could blame school shootings for that. Interestingly enough, the rapid fire descriptions above actually depict much of the three stages of crisis.

The first stage of crisis is the pre-stage. As I said in a previous piece, presidents deal with crises all the time. We don’t hear about most of them because they get advanced information that they are coming and we’ve dealt with them before so we have an idea of what to do. 9/11 and the pandemic are really no different. George. W. Bush got numerous warnings that Osama Bin Laden was going to try an attack. The fact that 9/11 occurred represents some level of failure.

Of course, no one will ever be certain where that failure lies. Maybe the intelligence community couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was going to happen. Maybe Bush didn’t take the warnings seriously enough. Maybe the terrorists were just too clever. You could certainly go in any number or directions here.

The point is not to re-litigate 9/11, but to show the parallels between 9/11 and the current pandemic. Whatever the case, there was a breakdown in both situations. We could spend hours and even days arguing back and forth about exactly who is at fault. Sometimes you can do everything humanly possible and disaster still hits. This brings us to the second stage.

Stage two is where we see a sharp separation between Bush and Trump. The second stage is how we deal with tragedy in the immediate aftermath. This is arguably where Bush was at his best throughout his entire presidency. No one worries about blame in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy. Those that do are usually shunned by people on both sides of the political spectrum.

The two main considerations of the second stage is to immediately limit the damage and to begin the healing process. We see this following natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, and earthquakes. We see this following economic strife like recessions, depressions, and stock market crashes. We see this after human tragedy like assassinations, mass killing events, and high profile tragedies like the space shuttle disasters.

We want to see two things from our leaders in these moments. We want to see an acknowledgment of the pain people are feeling. We want to know that our leaders at least understand that some of us are in immense pain even if they themselves are not. The second thing we want is an assurance that they will do everything in their power to stop the pain. Admittedly, this is often an empty gesture depending on the situation. Sometimes there is little a president, senator, or governor can do to immediately stop whatever is happening. The fact that they are trying their best is enough.

Bush passed this test with flying colors. Trump has failed miserably. I could speculate as to why in both situations, but that would be rehashing some old arguments. It would be hard to argue with that statement. Some would argue that it isn’t important for a president to fulfill the role of consoler in chief. They are free to make that argument. I think most people on a human level would agree that it helps to have a leader understand the pain that his or her people are going through.

The third and final stage of crisis is the aftermath. How does tragedy or crisis define us? How does it change us? What exactly do we learn from it? Does it make us grow as people or do we somehow become a lesser person after going through it? This is where I fear that 9/11 and the pandemic will have the most in common. Many will argue that Katrina was Bush’s worst hour. That’s hard to argue with. It is also difficult to argue with the fact that the War on Terror and the Patriot Act might be the worst of his lasting legacy.

The tragedy of the aftermath of 9/11 is that he did the hard work of uniting the American people in the immediate aftermath. He squandered that unity. It would be impossible to fully define the aftermath of the pandemic because we are still in it. Yet, the fact that the administration seems to be so desperate to put it behind us is probably telling.

The fact that Trump has worked so hard to downplay it throughout the past six or seven months is probably telling. It demonstrates what’s really important. He chose to prioritize the economy over human lives. He continues to prioritize the economy in real time. It was really important that businesses reopen and schools reopen.

My district sent me home yesterday. I self-reported a sore throat and cold symptoms. These are the same cold symptoms I get every year in August and September when school starts. This time, they want to be safe. Thankfully, they are taking that step. Yet, you can’t help but notice breakouts throughout the country at schools. Heck, they even asked me if I had volunteered at another school in our district. I can only assume why.

In the backdrop is a cold, hard reality that is difficult to bear. I’m just a number. My immediate supervisor, building leader, and coworkers have all reached out and asked if I am okay. I’m not a number to them. That’s more comforting than you can know. However, it is hard to not look at what is going on and realize that on some level, someone has agreed on a number of people they deem to be acceptable losses. I’m just a number. Students are just a number.

In the book/movie “Fight Club”, the main character works for a major car manufacturer where he determines whether the cost of a recall will exceed the cost of lawsuits due to wrongful death or injury. There is an entire equation apparently. One can’t help but believe there is an equation somewhere in Washington. If COVID deaths stay below a certain level, it is okay as long as the stock market reaches a certain level, unemployment reaches a certain level, and the GDP reaches a certain level.

I suppose if there is an aftermath, it is that more of us learned exactly what our lives our worth. They are worth a lot to those we love and those we work with. They are worth little to the people making big decisions. Maybe your death or my death might be worth the unemployment rate dropping .1 percentage point. Maybe 100 deaths are worth .3 percentage points. How much are200,000 deaths worth?

Striking a balance

I came to grips with an important fact years ago. I write for me. There are a few people that read my writings on baseball and a few that read my posts on politics and social issues. Some have reached out and commented one way or another, but the whole concept of a blog got started as a way for people to write a diary in digital format.

America is morphing into a battleground politically, socially, and religiously. It gets really bad when we morph two of those together. For instance, I hear people say that you can’t be a good Catholic or a good Christian if you vote for Joe Biden. I hear others say that you are a racist if you support Donald Trump. I hear lots of things and have said lots of things. Some of them I might even believe partially, but now is not a time where I want to re-litigate any of those statements.

Of course, no sadder thing can happen then when politics, religion, or social issues divide and conquer families. This is as personal a reflection as it is an observation in general. We each play a role when we have family squabbles. As I am fond of telling my students, you always have a choice whether to escalate a situation or deescalate a situation. I’ve been on both ends of that.

This hit home during two different conversations this week. I won’t reveal the details of the conversations for the few that are reading this, but it became clear that politics and stupid conspiracy theories were threatening to destroy relationships. One surrounded what I can only assume stemmed from the QAnon conspiracy run amok. I’ve talked about it before. The other involved just a regret about fighting in public. I can’t be certain, but I think one of my posts was involved.

The QAnon conspiracy is a great example of cult-like behavior. One of the ways that cults begin to take over your life is that they convince you that everyone that believes a certain way is evil. Then even people that you know and love become evil. At that point, they can separate you from your family and bring you into the collective whatever. It’s at this point where you have to make a critical choice. Is the person who I’ve known and loved for years suddenly my enemy? Perhaps the person telling me that is really my enemy.

I called this striking a balance because there are times when we need to confront family and friends. The psychology world calls this an intervention. Maybe they have toxic beliefs or are participating in toxic behaviors. This is why it can be so hard to let go of that political debate or that debate over religion. We feel like we are right and we want to help our family member or friend from going down the wrong path.

This is when we have to ask ourselves whether they have changed the essence of who they really are. Would supporting them and loving them change the essence of who we really are? I’ve had to end toxic friendships before. It’s a difficult decision and there often is second guessing involved. Can we accept them for who they are? Can we maintain a relationship with them and still maintain the best parts of ourselves?

Pundits will tell us this is the most important election of our lifetimes. They will tell us that in 2024 and 2028 as well. Elections will come and go, but relationships with family and close friends hopefully won’t. They hopefully will stay with us. November will be here before you know it. For most of us, it can’t get here soon enough.