Tuesday, August 9, 2016

256. What ‘resetting reality’ has wrought

While watching a presentation of CSPAN Book television, the author quoted George Washington as saying, “People don’t act until they feel.”

I have always agreed with this. Right or wrong, it’s about self-interest. People care when things affect their communities — such as “not in my backyard.” They care about a disease or illness when they or a family member become afflicted. And financially people who have suffered misfortune are more in tune with, and more vocal about, economic disparity than those who are getting by comfortably.

For example, the nation felt Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorist attack did exactly what it was supposed to do — create fear. Fear is one of our strongest emotions and in the moment there is a release of adrenaline to guide our fight or flight instinct. The country reacted with fear and anger and in a sense has never been the same. Terrorism was real, on American soil, and it led to war, government attacks on individual privacy, and discrimination.

I had to juxtapose this, which I have always believed, with something Tony Schwartz, ghostwriter of Donald Trump’s “Art of the Deal,” said in an interview with Bill Maher. Schwartz said the impact on politics made by Fox News was based on “resetting reality.”

The winning formula is to take the things that scare and anger Americans, those things that they feel, and convince them that it is real. Fox News, which is notorious for its inaccuracies, works to fuel its viewers with fear and anger. Ranging from simple misinterpretations to mild exaggerations to complete falsehoods, Fox News has created a country that doesn’t really exist. It has successfully reset reality with its viewers, and that reality has stimulated racial and religious discrimination, attacked the poor and the government programs that aid them, falsely portrayed immigrants in terms of number and impact, convinced people that the government is going to take their guns away, vilified the “liberal” media, and even prompted lies such as death panels and President Obama’s travel costing taxpayers $200 million per day.

No wonder people want to take their country back. No wonder they want to make America great again. In a disturbing way, this resetting of reality created Donald Trump. He is just “telling it like it is,” or at least how people feel it is.

Trump has seized this fear and anger to create a presidential bid that, though flabbergasting to many, actually has a chance to be successful. Trump has lit a fire among the fearful and angry. He has combined popular discontent with his apparent charisma and the idea that he represents American capitalism. To some, he is both a savior and an idol. For them, America is about being successful, showing off your wealth, and acting brashly.

It’s the perfect storm.

Poignantly, there are real issues to be angry about in this country. It is not quite as rosy as the Democrats portrayed in their convention. Things like wealth inequality, money in politics, global warming, and health care are just a few important issues dramatically affecting this county. Bernie Sanders touched voters on these issues and created a revolution that many have vowed to continue.

But, of course, Fox News has its own perspective of reality on these issues, too. In their alternate universe, corporate money is free speech, global warming is a hoax, taxes should be lowered even more on the wealthy, and Obamacare should be overturned (and not in favor of universal health care).

Recently Trump, taking the arrogance around his nomination too far, has gotten himself in trouble with a slew of comments that have been challenged. He claims that his remarks are misunderstood, or that he was being sarcastic, or he got his information from a “source.” His lying and crude attacks have him spending a lot of time backtracking and playing damage control. Resetting reality only works when people are naive. With the race for the White House now a two-person race, in which half the country disagrees with Trump’s view of reality, it’s getting more difficult to the pull the wool over people’s eyes.

For Trump, the blame falls on the media for having the nerve to point out his minefield of inconsistencies, contradictions, and untruthfulness. Trump likes to alternate between being a bully and playing the victim, between being a tough guy and a whiny child.

Since the convention, Trump seems to have become confused and bewildered. Perhaps it’s because, as it turns out, he realized that Fox News is not the only channel people watch.

255. Unconditional political support in dangerous

One of the most remarkable comments I have ever heard from a political candidate was what Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said about the loyalty of his voters.

He said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

There are two things that stand out to me about this statement: First, he is right, his fan base is such that he could do nearly anything and it would still support him, and two, that he completely recognizes this unconditional support to the point that he would feeling comfortable saying that out loud.

Political passion can run deep and influence even the most objective and reasonable among us. An attack on a candidate we support can feel like an attack on us, which often fosters a defensive posture, even “digging in” beyond reason. The discussion should be about policies, experience, and integrity but emotion often rules the moment. This emotion triggers unreasonable justifications, nonsensical arguments and silly conspiracy theories — often more for your peace of mind than to win the disagreement.

For example, it was nearly flabbergasting to hear the excuses, justifications, and pure denial that came out of the Trump camp after Melania Trump plagiarized Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech. And if you don’t like Clinton and feel Trump would be a better president, that’s fine but don’t embarrass yourself by trying to defend such an obvious case of plagiarism.

It’s that kind of stuff, and politicians on both sides do it, that causes reasonable people to lose faith in politics. We ask, “do they really think we are that stupid?” Rather than come up with some ridiculous excuse, just admit your mistake, apologize, and move on. This dedication to spin every negative aspect of a campaign only matters to the disciples anyway, those who dare not see their candidate ever make a mistake.

Unconditional support, or lack thereof in this case, was the topic of discussion after Ted Cruz gave his convention speech. Stopping short of endorsing Trump, despite pledging to support the Republican candidate if he lost, Cruz made a bold statement himself to the party. Cruz said he couldn’t support Trump because of the comments Trump made about his father and wife. Cruz said his support is not a “blanket commitment.”

There is a difference between being a good loser (which we all should be) and supporting someone just because he or she is a member of your political party. Support and loyalty should go to those who deserve it, not to those who demand it.

Furthermore, unconditional support is dangerous. Everyone, and particularly the president of the United States, should be objectively held to the consequences, or potential consequences, of his or her actions. When we lose objectiveness, we hand power — dictatorial-type power — to the individual in charge.

As most know, I was a supporter of Bernie Sanders. When he lost to Hillary Clinton in the primary, many expected that I would just fall in line and support Clinton. While given the choice between Clinton and Trump in November, I will probably choose Clinton but I feel no sense of commitment, loyalty, or reason to endorse her.

For me, the concerns I had about her when she battled Sanders still exist. I thought she should have been more responsible in handling her email, I don’t support her close ties to Wall Street — to the extent she was paid hundreds of thousands to give speeches — and I don’t feel she is particularly principled. I am not going to pretend these things don’t matter just because she represents the party I am most affiliated with.

So my support is such that, “despite my several concerns about Clinton, I still feel that she is more sophisticated and more experienced to serve as president than her opponent.”

While I don’t share many ideologies with Ted Cruz, I respect him for standing by his principles. He is not willing to forgive someone who ridiculed his family just because that person is now at the head of his party. For him, it was a deal-breaker.

Many others, like Chris Christie and Scott Walker, have embarrassed themselves and those things they stand for as they now gush over Trump. Cruz stood tall and firm, and I respect him for that.

254. Remember our place in the natural order

In another miserable story about animals, a mama black bear was euthanized for protecting her cubs in the Valles Caldera National Preserve when a marathon runner came across her and frightened a cub.

According to reports, there is a state law that requires authorities to euthanize any wild animal that attacks a human being. Sadly, the orphaned cubs, if found, will grow up in a nearby wildlife center.

As horrible an experience as this was for the runner — and I imagine it was quite terrifying — it is a growing trend that we have created a natural environment that for every event or incident, no matter how rare or natural, there needs to be swift and often deadly action.

Human beings might be surprised to know we don’t live in a bubble. The natural world, what’s left of it, deserves the opportunity to live and exist according to evolution. There is probably not a stronger instinct, from the lowest animals to human beings, than that of a mother to protect her young. After all, that is the purpose of life — live, reproduce, and protect.

Can’t we just accept that sometimes things happen? The fortunate part of the story is that the runner survived; the rest of the story is human arrogance. When a human being ventures into areas where animals live, there is a chance that you are going to come across a bird, a snake, a wolf, or even a bear.

What purpose did it serve killing the bear (I know they have to test for rabies, blah, blah, blah)?

The mama bear was doing exactly what almost any mammal would do. It is not like this bear exhibited a propensity to attack human beings. The bear protected her family, with her life as it turns out, as most would. Why is that a death sentence? Why does a human being have more of a right to run along a trail in the wilderness than a bear has to protect her cubs?

I hate to break it to modern society, but we are animals! We are not the fastest or the strongest animal; we are the most intelligent. But we are still just animals, made up of cells with DNA, almost exactly like other animals. Just because we have the ability to run roughshod over the planet and amuse ourselves for hours with our cell phones doesn’t mean we don’t have similar instincts, relationships, and basic life necessities as those who share our ecosystem.

Animals deserve respect for the lives that human beings have largely outgrown. Animals can’t order fast food when they are hungry. They can’t lock their doors at night. Animals live their lives as we used to, spending large portions of their days looking for food and water, building homes, searching for reproductive partners, and raising their offspring under the constant threat of danger.

Nature and animals in particular have become human ornaments. Communities decide which animals, and how many will live. If a community decides that too many deer are eating flowers, their populations will be reduced. Zoos put animals in prison and kill them when human beings are negligent enough to enter their cells. We have created parks and wildlife preserves but act too much like an animal — kill for food or to protect your family — and the animal will be quickly euthanized.

It’s arrogant, heartbreaking, unjust, and cowardly. Can we get over ourselves long enough to accept that we are just part of this beautiful planet? Unfortunately, as beautiful as nature is, it is also treacherous and dangerous sometimes. The existence of all living objects on this planet requires the transfer of energy and nutrients, and for carnivores that means killing other animals. Survival of all living objects of this planet revolves around reproducing and protecting offspring, and that sometimes means fighting predators.

Of course, we’re so smart that the most dangerous human predators are not black bears, they are other human beings. But when we are not killing each other, we are still part of nature — and that means sometimes nature wins. Sometimes the bear kills us, sometimes we are victims of hurricanes, sometimes we fall to a virus.

Sometimes things just happen.

253. Does flag boycott hurt more than it helps?

So the question is, what part of the mission of the Lorain County Board of Mental Health or the Community Foundation of Lorain County is dedicated to telling the Lorain County Fair Board which vendors may participate in their event?

Before tackling that question, perhaps we need to start at the beginning. The Confederate flag, at the heart of the issue, historically symbolized the South’s efforts to break away from the union and create their own country. While slavery was at the heart of the issue, there is controversially much more to the war — such as states’ rights. Inherent in the repugnant institute of slavery is the profitability of free labor and neither southerners nor northerners were immune to exploiting that, which created maximum earnings. The most recognized Confederate flag came to unofficially represent the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, where thousands died in America’s bloodiest war.

Unfortunately, the flag now means different things to different people. However, especially in context, it is now regarded as both a symbol of slavery, oppression, hate, and white supremacy, and a source of southern pride. In fact, in a 2015 CNN poll, a slight majority of Americans (57 percent) saw the flag as a source of southern pride rather than racism. I appreciate the historic and cultural context but admit that I see it as more as an instrument of racism.

But back to the fair. As it has been reported, the mental health board and Community Foundation are boycotting the fair because it accepted vendors that plan to sell the Confederate flag.

I have to admit that I am having trouble reconciling why a government social welfare entity and community foundation are engaged in a political protest. Their missions are to help people and their involvement in the fair does just that. The fair regularly brings in more than 100,000 participants from all across the county and outside areas. It is a great opportunity to reach an incredible amount of people in a short period of time.

That the mental health board, in particular, would turn down that sort of outreach to make a political statement seems outside of its social responsibility. Now more than ever, with the increase in mental health issues, including those that lead to mass shootings such as the one in Charleston, S.C., it seems we need to make more mental health services available. In other words, if the Charleston incident triggered this boycott, doesn’t it seem like people may need mental health services more than ever?

The argument that by permitting these vendors the fair board is “endorsing” them or “approving” of them is quite disingenuous. In addition, the fair board makes a good point: Why wasn’t the flag so offensive last year or the 30 years before it? This seems much more like a political opportunity than a moral stance.

The responsibility of community organizations is to help people and by boycotting the fair, the mental health board and Community Foundation are only hurting the community and children that they have traditionally served. Furthermore, I wonder, does the mental health board plan to turn away services for individuals wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt? Is the Community Foundation going to subject all grant recipients to a moral test on an individual level?

I would not be upset if the fair board decided to ban Confederate flag sales in the future. However, I would prefer that those attending the fair would decide the issue for them by making the venture unprofitable for these vendors. It seems that we all love free markets and free speech until it interferes with our beliefs.

Believe me, there are plenty of things I find morally offensive at the fair. There are of course the animals, as I am not a supporter of the way most farm animals are raised and slaughtered. Chief Wahoo is certainly a symbol of racism and is seen by many to represent the atrocities that early Americans committed against Indians. The chocolate candy/fudge could have been derived from child labor in the Ivory Coast or maybe there are even some blood diamonds being sold by jewelry vendors. By not boycotting these issues, do the mental health board and Community Foundation support these moral tribulations?

Of course, both have the right to attend or not attend any event they wish — and that includes the fair. I fully support that right, it’s just that in this case it seems like the negative impact of their political stance is greater than the benefits it could provide to the community.

As a stubborn teenager, my mom used to tell me, “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.” It seems that the mental health board and Community Foundation could borrow some of her wisdom.

252. Thoughts on police escorts and HS hierarchies

Congratulations to the Amherst softball team on a very successful season. Reaching the state semifinals in Division I is a notable achievement.

I noticed on the Amherst News-Times Facebook page that a video was posted highlighting a police escort for the softball team. Having read thousands of social media comments, I knew there were going to be at least two complaints. One was going to be that the escort was a waste of taxpayer dollars. The other was going to be about another team or school organization that did not receive similar treatment.

I wasn’t disappointed, but I was pleasantly surprised to read that most comments were positive and supportive. The taxpayer money complaint is a tired argument; there is value in the police supporting the community. However, the equal treatment argument is worth considering.

Unfortunately, as unfair as it is, there is a hierarchy of public support — especially in sports and other organizations. The more people care about something, the more attention and support they receive. The chess club or bowling team is just not going to get the same support as the softball team. And the softball team is not going to get the same support as the football team. Could you imagine the amount of support the football team would receive if it reached the state playoffs? The city would have gone nuts!

We’ve all experienced this at some point in our lives — the feeling our achievements have been slighted in comparison to others. For me, it was my senior baseball season at Midview High School. One of only four seniors, we had a surprisingly successful season, winning the conference and a couple of tournament games. In every other season, and every school I have been a part of, the season concludes with a nice spring banquet where the season is remembered, seniors wished well, statistics compiled, and awards are handed out.

That season my coach at Midview was named the new football coach. He quickly lost his focus on baseball and the end of the baseball season sort of faded away. Then about halfway through the summer, I got a call that I should go to pick up my award at one of the players’ mom’s house. What award, I wondered?

It turns out that I was named Player of the Year, which still remains one of proudest moments. And while I was happy and surprised, I was disappointed that the traditional awards banquet did not take place. I just thought how proud my mom and dad, who supported me all those years — taking me to practice, buying me equipment, watching me play — might have been to see me win the award.

So I understand the feeling. Students are good at different things and I am sure it can be frustrating when a parent’s child is good at something that attracts less attention than more popular activities. The flutist in the band may work just as hard and make as much of a sacrifice as the high school quarterback, but most won’t remember his or her name.

There is also the issue of precedent, which can be troubling and paralyzing. Too often these days, things don’t happen because people worry, “If we do it for them, we have to do it for everybody.” Of course, I am a consistent advocate for fairness and equality but it is an impossible proposition for every sport, team, or organization — there is just not enough time, money, or interest. And people would complain anyway.

I think communities need to support each other more. There is too much self-absorption in society these days. There are too many people ready to complain about acts of kindness or support out of spite or jealously. And while I think talented students should receive the same public accolades as sports stars (or even more), it’s nice when a community comes together to promote each other, whatever the endeavor.

We could argue about perspective, and there are lots of very good arguments to be weighed and considered, but those are larger societal questions. Locally, I thought the police escort was pretty cool.