Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Eligible, But Unable To Vote

 Voting is essentially a simple concept. Yet in the evolutionary journey of human civilization, it is one of the overriding reason America came into being. It is also a relatively new concept in the timeline of human civilization. In its basic form, there is a decision to be made that affects a Community of impacted people. It may be a decision regarding future direction, problem-solving, or ground rules of social order. Or it may be the selection of an individual(s) to take on a responsibility, or an ongoing job, on behalf of that Community. In either case, the mechanism is to bring the Community together en masse; discuss the background and pros/cons/options pertinent to the issue or selectee; then ask each person what they want to do about it (i.e. “vote”) – each person having an equal say with one another. The decision is determined by who gets the most affirmative votes. Done. Move on.

It is a straight forward basis for group decision-making, albeit not always an efficient one. Dictatorial decision-making, where one person decides for all, is certainly a far quicker process. In the right hands, at the right moment, in the right circumstance, it can actually be preferable. (E.g. in a foxhole while bombs are enveloping you is not a good time for voting.) But in the everyday management of or lives, group-think leading to group-decide usually works out best over time.

In a world history dominated by the rule of kings (and occasional queens), voting had a few trial runs. The Senates of ancient Greece and Rome gave a start at voting. They were somewhat successful, but the voters were limited to just a few wealthy men. A thousand-plus years later, the English took another step towards voting, adopting a Magna Charter which for the first time limited the absolute authority of the King, out of which gradually emerged a “Parliament.” Parliament consisted of a self-appointed rich Nobles class, and the King was still the unambiguous authority-in-charge, but Parliamentary consensus gradually grew in importance for the general governance of the realm.

Ultimately, it would take the fledgling new nation of America, drawing predominately from that English heritage, to make a “voting public” into a reality. Building on its precedence of colonial legislatures, voting in a decision-making body, and voting to select the members of that body, became the basis of American governance. Though not everyone in the Community was initially allowed to vote, the range of the population that was allowed – including everyday workers and tradespeople side-by-side with the rich landed gentry – was remarkable (and unprecedented  across the globe) for its time.

In the ensuing 232 years since our Constitutional founding, the right to vote has been enshrined as a fundamental definition, privilege and responsibility of American citizenship. It is the right to have an equal say in the decisions that affect us and the individuals who will carry out those decisions. In these same 232 years we have gradually moved to include those who were initially denied that right of citizenship, i.e. African-American former slaves, women, Native Americans, naturalized citizens. That correction has been long and painfully difficult. It took a civil war to free Black Americans from slavery and then Constitutional amendments expressly giving them citizenship and eligibility to vote. Yet it took another 100 years to pass the Voting Rights Act to remove the twisted legalistic and violent actions that served as barriers that continued to deny that vote. Barriers that included threats, murders and lynching of would-be voters; poll taxes, requiring one to pay for voting; literacy tests to keep supposedly “uneducated” voters (i.e. Blacks) off the roles. It took another Constitutional amendment 132 years after our founding to give women the right to vote; it would take another 50 years for women to actually run for elective office in substantial numbers.

Notwithstanding the long and too-often painful road to voter equality, the idea of the right of citizens to vote on the decisions that govern them, and to have proven the case for that idea by 232 years of experiential example, have been America’s gift to world civilization. Which is why current threats to that Noble Principle is all the more alarming: the overt attempt not to deny citizens their RIGHT to vote (as was our previous history), but an insidious surreptitious effort to deny citizens the ABILITY to vote that right.

In 2018, we saw numerous “dirty tricks” carried out to deny citizens’ access to voting. (See “Barricades Blocking the Ballot Box,” November 11, 2018, on this blog.) For example, we saw last-minute rule changes for voter registrations; moving of polling locations; redefining precinct boundaries to split voter turnout. Already in 2020 – complicated by the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic – we are seeing major reductions in the number of poll sites; attempted restrictions on access to mail-in ballots; deliberate acts by the President and USPS leadership to slow down and undermine mail-in ballot processing; interfering with people’s attempts to register to vote.

This is why vigilance will be required of all of us in Election 2020, regardless of our differing political views. Voting should be a non-partisan function of government; the rules governing our voting should not be made up as we go along to fit political party ambitions. We must be prepared to respond with lawsuits in the courts, protests on the ground, and showing up to vote in spite of the hurdles presented. And when we vote, we need to vote out those who seek to take away this most precious of our Constitutional Rights. We vote to affirm and protect our Constitution that so many have given so much to bequeath to us. VOTE.

6 weeks to Election Day, November 3.

©   2020   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com

 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Headlines, Not Conversation

This first week of election activity proved to be a series of individual headline stories:

At a rally in North Carolina, Trump asked his voters to do a mail-in ballot AND then go vote at the polls. It is illegal in NC to vote twice. It is also illegal in NC to induce others to vote twice. He repeated the request at subsequent venues.

The latest addition to Trump’s Covid health team is a Fox News commentator who is a radiologist with no immunotherapy experience whatsoever. He is recommending that we stop testing everyone who is not in a “vulnerable group” (who isn’t in a vulnerable group?), so that “everyone else gets it and thereby becomes immune.” Trump has endorsed the idea. Pandemic solved?

Trump claimed that “94% of the deaths reported from Covid were actually caused by “other reasons.” Not true – per Dr. Anthony Fauci and the CDC.

Two public relations officials were fired from their positions at the Food and Drug Administration following Commissioner Stephen Hahn’s decision to walk back his recent claims about convalescent plasma being a treatment for Covid-19. The statement is medically unproven, per the vast opposing outcry from the national health community.

The CDC announced a change in their position on Covid testing. They said that healthy and asymptomatic people “can choose” whether to be tested after Covid exposure, but it is not necessary. After outrage from the national health community, the CDC walked it back.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, weren’t included on sample ballots provided by South Carolina’s Election Commission. The sample ballots were intended to “prepare voters for the coming November election.” An online version of the ballot has since been corrected.

Last March, Trump made an unpublicized visit to Walter Reed military hospital, explained as a “delayed part of his annual physical exam.” It was recently revealed that Vice President Mike Pence was told to be on standby to assume presidential powers if Trump underwent anesthesia. Anesthesia is rarely given during routine physicals.  In reaction to questions about this, Trump tweeted he “did NOT have a series of mini-strokes.” Who said anything about mini-strokes until Trump himself brought it up?

Trump has directed the Office of Management and Budget to crack down on federal agencies' anti-racism training sessions, calling them “divisive, anti-American propaganda.”

The Justice Department is preparing to charge Trump 2016 inaugural Vice Chair Elliot Broidy with illegal foreign lobbying. As an inaugural fundraiser, he sold to foreign clients his supposed influence with future presidential decisions. Broidy is already under investigation for payoffs he had made to silence his former Playboy mistress. Another portrait added to the burgeoning rogue’s gallery of ne’er-do-wells.

Evangelical Christian leader Jerry Falwell Jr., a strong vocal supporter of Trump on the Religious Right, resigned as President of Liberty University due to 3-way sex scandal including his wife and her lover.

Donald Trump paid a visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, scene of street protests due to a Black American being shot seven times in the back at point-blank range, now in the hospital paralyzed from the waist down. The Governor and Mayor both asked Trump not to come – “like pouring gas on a fire.” Trump came anyway, posed for a photo op in front of a burned-out store, denounced street violence, and pledged to support “law and order.” The current owner of the store refused to appear in the photo op. Joe Biden subsequently visited Kenosha, visited with the victim’s family, and spoke to the victim on the phone. He subsequently publicly denounced the street violence, while also making the case for racial justice and police reform.

A litany of schools (K-12 and college) began opening for the fall in response to political pressure. Just as quickly, they began shutting down again due to rapid outbreaks of the Covid virus due to campus gatherings (colleges), or the lack of planning and adequate resources to keep teachers, staff and students safe (K-12). Parents are caught in the middle.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden began to come out of his Delaware basement to criticize Trump on the street violence (“This is Trump’s America, happening on his watch”), try to move conversation away from Trump’s “law and order” theme and back to the pandemic failures, and link the failing economy to Trump’s failure to first contain the Covid virus.

Michael Cohen’s book is being released, joining the recent parade of insider tell-all books including one on Melania by her once-best-friend, and niece Mary Trump’s insider family stories. There is at least full employment these days for lawyers and book publishers.

Perhaps most significantly, a news article in Atlantic Magazine quoted multiple unnamed sources accusing Trump on numerous occasions calling military personnel, and specifically those who have died or been wounded in service to this country, “losers” and “suckers”. Trump and the White House strongly denied saying that. The story, however, has been corroborated by multiple witnesses and news organizations.

What is wrong with this essay’s narrative? It is 90% about Donald Trump and his cohorts. And what is the theme that emerges from this litany of news headlines? That this is, and will be, the reality of the 2020 campaign. It will be a series of events, not a competition of ideas. The focus of the events will be driven by Trump; Joe Biden, whether he wants it or not, will be put into reactive mode, not proactive mode. Because that is the way Trump wants it. Good publicity; bad publicity; it is all about PUBLICITY. (“I don’t care what people say about me as long as they say something.” P.T. Barnum.) It is about being the center of attention, illuminated by the spotlights of the headlines, dominating the news cycle in any way possible. Grab a headline, good or bad, and the next day move on to a new headline so nothing sticks. It is all about controlling the narrative.

This analysis is not about political partisanship, it is about campaign strategy. A strategy by which 15+ Republican opponents were steamrolled by Trump in 2016. The question is whether it will work again, whether it will last with the American public, in 2020.

These are the times that we  live in. All these headlines happened in one week. A month of news in one week. And it was only just the first week of the campaign’s home stretch.

8 weeks until Election Day, Nov 3.

©   2020   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain@blogspot.com

  

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Election 2020 Begins

 The two major political conventions have ended. The candidates and their running mates have been selected. The Party platforms have been adopted. (Well, at least for the Democratic Party. The Republican platform literally consists of three paragraphs, and says “RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.” Fealty to the man, versus ideas and specifics for the benefit of the people.) Now is the time for the Election 2020 campaign to begin in earnest.

In spite of our ridiculous four year election season in America, in the end it all boils down to the final two months of electioneering. Goals, promises and ideas will emerge to cover the political landscape like wildflowers blooming in the spring. Charges, insults, and out-of-context – if not absolute – falsehoods will travel high speed over the various communication highways like the moonshiner driver predecessors of the NASCAR circuit.

The one truth that stands out? Notwithstanding the seeming hyperbole, this truly will be one of the most consequential and critical presidential elections in modern memory. In Donald Trump and Joe Biden, we have two radically different candidates for the office. One came into the job as the only historical candidate with no governmental, military, or non-profit experience; his only business experience was (is?) running a small family business. The other aspires to the job after over 30 years of government experience, including being the proverbial heartbeat away from actually holding the position. In Trump, we have four years of actual observation in how he views the Presidency, and his manner of executing that job. In Biden, we have his record as a U.S. senator and his performance as Vice President as the basis for imagining how he would perform. Donald Trump brings his lifetime background as a one-man “decider” and a self-proclaimed “fighter” into his version of the job, with little concern for American law, history, or governmental norms. Joe Biden was steeped in the old-school politics of collegiality in political debate – a collegiality seemingly long gone out of fashion – and respect for the traditions of government service, ceremony, and collective decision-making. We have seen the personal character of each man, character meaning “those things that we do when no one is watching.” Character is those things we choose to say about others; those ways we treat others; those ways we are truth tellers whose word is our bond; those ways we practice the human values and principles we have been taught for centuries.

There is much that could be said about these men, their goals, ideas and ideals over these next weeks of Election 2020. There is much that could be said about the kind of country America aspires to be. There is much that could be said about the world in which we will live our future. But as I have thought about all the potential topics for upcoming essays for this blog, and look at the multiple drafts-in-process essays sitting uncompleted (atypical), I wonder – does it really matter? At this point in our bitterly divided country, is anyone still listening to one another? Does anyone have even a minimum of genuine understanding what “the other side” thinks (“what is the matter with those people?”)?  Are we even capable of explaining WHY we believe what we do, versus just echoing the popular headlines and bumper stickers of our time? Are we only capable of arguing about which one of us is “right” versus which way we – and our country – will move forward?

At this point, I do not know if there are many truly “undecided” voters left. What remains to be said or seen in order to make up our minds? After being bombarded with all the words, mailings, TV ads, and social media histrionics to come, will that many minds be changed over the next two months? There will certainly be nothing pretty to see, little informative learning from the upcoming non-discussions. So the sooner it ends will perhaps be for the better. Perhaps the only real remaining unknown will be the question of engagement: how many, and who, will show up to make the judgment, the decision, about our collective future? And what will they ask for that future to be? We may choose to tune out the noise. But we still need to show up. Vote.

9 weeks to Election Day, November 3.

©   2020   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com

 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

From Riggee To Rigger

 They said it could never happen in America …

 In 2016, Donald trump claimed that the republican primary campaign was “rigged” against him by the Party establishment.  (The first in a long line of claims unsubstantiated by any proof.) Yet he won that Party’s nomination. The charge of rigging suddenly disappeared. It “just went away, like a miracle.”

 In the general election of 2016, Trump was expected to guaranteed lose to Hillary Clinton. So once again Trump pulled out the “rigged election” card to provide a face-saving way to buffer himself from that loss. Except that he once again won. And with that, the charge of rigging suddenly disappeared once again.

 It would be later that the FBI, the Mueller investigation, and the Senate Intelligence Committee would each conclude that Trump had more than a little help from the Russians to achieve his victory (“Russia, if you are listening …”). The cry of “rigged” then moved to the never-ending mantra of “hoax,” with four continual years of Trump attempting to justify the legitimacy of his election in spite of losing the popular vote of the country.

 Now we come to Election 2020, with the full power of the presidency to support a “no holds barred/no tools unutilized” campaign for reelection. This effort is happening on two fronts: 1) foreign interference once again, and 2) domestic voting. Trump revealed his openness to foreign assistance in his well-documented attempt to solicit Ukraine’s negative involvement in Joe Biden’s campaign, along with his public call in a White House lawn press briefing encouraging China to do the same, plus his interview with George Stephanopoulos which he declared he would welcome negative campaign information from foreign powers (despite the illegality of such an action). And by using Russian operators from his buddy Vladimir Putin to once again spread misinformation through U.S. social media outlets.

Meanwhile, domestically Trump is pushing the election levers to try to prevent voters from voting – specifically targeting likely Democratic voters. At the moment, this is predominately focused on blocking increased turnout through the expanded use of mail-in voting during this critical pandemic period, turnout which is expected to work against Trump and Republican candidates in general.

First, Trump mounted a propaganda campaign that expanded voting by mail would expand the likelihood of voter fraud – once again without offering any proof whatsoever and disputed by bi-partisan state Secretaries of State who conduct these elections. In fact, sates have been using voting-by-mail for years – for military personnel, U.S. citizens living abroad, and ill and disabled voters – without significant (non-existent) fraud issues. Even Trump, and several of his White House team, have voted by mail, and Trump has already requested a mail-in ballot for his Florida residency. Nevertheless, his “fraud” campaign continues on unrelentingly.

All of this propaganda campaign is on the front end of the mail-in voting battlefield. On the back end is an insidious effort to disrupt the mailing process itself, and thereby raise doubt about the reliability of the United States Postal Service to potentially deliver the ballots. Toward this end, Trump installed yet another unqualified loyalist minion and mega-donor named Louis DeJoy to be the new Postmaster General. Among DeJoy’s first executive acts – under the guide of cost-cutting needs – was to cut the USPS budget, overtime scheduling, and staffing levels, which immediately began to slow down delivery service. This was followed by the “Friday night dismissal” of nearly two dozen senior USPS executives and department heads, with no replacements made, thereby leaving himself in one-man charge. Next has come the unannounced removal of public mail drops, the dismantling and removal (and destruction) of million-dollar mail sorting machines, and new scheduling procedures which has mail trucks departing while unsorted mail is left behind. Then the announcement that all political mail, including ballot mailings, would henceforth be reclassified from automatic “1st class mail” (a priority) to “bulk mail” (low priority). Ultimately, in his usual arrogance that he can get away with anything he does, Trump declared publicly that this scenario is in fact intended to block expanded mail-in voting.

The Constitutionally-mandated USPS is a critical component of our economic, communications, product delivery, financial transaction infrastructure and way of life which Trump is willing to ignore in his self-focused drive to be reelected. The specter of a diminished USPS, during this Election 2020 is blatantly visible. And who is standing up to defend us against these near-criminal acts? Lawsuits from coalitions of state Attorneys General and/or Secretaries of State? Do we need to request that the Carter Center, which specializes in monitoring elections in 3rd-world countries, gear up to do the same here?  Certainly not our ineffectual Congress, who just left town on recess.

We have open, full-scale visible attempts by Donald Trump to rig the election. Incapable of articulating a persuasive political argument; a disastrous absence of leadership in defending America against a pandemic; an approval poll rating falling each week – the man who claimed to have been “rigged” has now become “the rigger.” We must therefore be prepared for more Trump maneuvers to come. When they do, we must be prepared to resist such challenges, be flexible in our personal responses, and find our own creative ways to ensure that our ballots are received and our votes counted. Regardless of our political party affiliation, our passion for any particular candidate or policy, this action by Trump is a substantive threat to the ideas and principles of democracy itself who should be resisted by all Americans.

They said it could never happen in America … But it is happening. Here. Now. In America.

11 weeks to Election Day, November 3rd.

©   2020   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com

 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Constitutional Right To Covid-19


“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Judaism

I am getting really tired of those people that are protesting against wearing facemasks, social distancing, and avoiding large gatherings. They make inane statements  such as, “I trust my immune system to protect me,” or “this whole Covid thing is an overblown hoax,” or “this virus won’t affect me / my age group” (actual quotes!). Then, in a moment of ignorant defiance, they say some version of, “It is my choice to decide what to do, and my Constitutional Right to decide  what risk level I am willing to take.”

I will most certainly concede that it is every adult American’s freedom of choice to determine how they will respond to a potential danger – as long as the consequences of that risk decision stay only with that individual. That said, one does not have a right to such a unilateral decision if that risk also becomes my risk without my permission. In reality, all Constitutional Rights are granted with the obligation of Constitutional Responsibility. (We have a right to drive a car, but not when we Drive Under the Influence that puts other innocent drivers and pedestrians at risk. We have a right to possess a firearm, but not after we have committed a violent crime.)

“A man obtains a proper rule of action by looking on his neighbor as himself.” Hinduism

With Covid-19, if one contracts the disease, it is virtually guaranteed that s/he will infect numerous others, who will in turn infect more others, ad infinitum, regardless of whether symptoms are apparent or not. One’s voluntary risk decision thereby becomes the involuntary and unknowing risk decision for family members, friends, and strangers. As well, one is adversely impacting the efforts of numerous inadequately-supported health care professionals and emergency responders trying desperately to keep alive an overwhelming number of seriously ill people.

“… practicing virtue in order to benefit others, this man alone is  happy.” —Buddhism

So you can choose to rock climb with no rope; hang glide with no parachute; canoe over Niagara Falls with no helmet or life preserver; or do a solitary hike across the war-torn Syrian desert. Exercise your Right to choose your own risk. I may have a concern about your well-being, but you are free to be as stupid or smart about your life as you see fit. But when your claim of a Right of Risk attempts to negate my Right to Life and Liberty, you are required to surrender your Right of choice to a Responsibility to the Community that nurtures and sustains you.

No one is a believer until he loves for his neighbor, and for his brother,
what he loves for himself.” —Islam

Wear the mask. Keep your distance. If not for you, then for your parents, grandparents, siblings, spouse and children. Even in this independent-minded Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, it is not always about just us. It is also about our responsibility to others. Maybe, just maybe, in meeting that responsibility, we might even inadvertently benefit ourselves, and thereby avoid becoming yet another one of the very real statistics with “I Showed Them” or “I Should Have Listened To Them After All” carved on their tombstone.

Caring for one another. It is the challenge given to us that is shared by every major religion. It is such a simple challenge that we inexplicably continue to make so difficult to achieve.

“… that you love one another, even as I have loved you.” —Christian

©   2020   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com


Friday, June 26, 2020

The Burden Of Our Heritage


Heritage. A small word packed with the breadth and depth of many meanings. It represents multiple ancestral lives, people with many backgrounds and experiences melding into one resultant individual. It includes stories from times past, often with little regard for accuracy. It is a hand-me-down litany of beliefs, conclusions, and “truths.” It nourishes, if not inflames, old wounds, unresolved grudges, bitter animosities. It glorifies that which has been ennobled – from the vantage point of the ennobler. It evolves from legacy into the cornerstone of one’s culture.

“Our Heritage” provides a bulwark against attempts to tell an old story through contemporary eyes. When difficult questions are asked of us about our view and understanding of past times, or how those past times reemerge in our current life, “It’s Our Heritage” neatly obviates a need to answer rationally or from one’s own fresh critical self-analysis. The past simply remains frozen in time, unmoving, unchanging, unassailable. As a result, WE remain frozen in time, unmoving, unchanging, our perceptions unassailable.

Nowhere is this idea of heritage more visible than with Southern Culture. It is an idea, an institution, currently under great scrutiny during this latest struggle over racial equality and justice, particularly as regards the African-American community. While virtually every ethnic group in America (except for the English) can point to a legacy of discrimination and intolerance in their American heritage, African-American heritage holds a special distinction in their story. Unlike other immigrants, African-Americans came here involuntarily – by kidnapping and thereafter into the bondage of slavery. 245 years of the structural buying and selling of them as merely “property” was followed by 155 years (so far) of de facto continued enslavement and 2nd-class citizenship. This is a current reality that needs to be, must be, changed. But “It’s Our Heritage” is one of the biggest obstacles to making that change.

A pause for full disclosure. I am a white Southerner by birth and my first two decades of upbringing. (I am now finishing off my last decades relocated back in the South.) I was born into a family and culture steeped in the Old South, including the Daughters and Children of the Confederacy organizations. It was a culture that operated within the “legal” Jim Crow restrictions and separation pervasive in those times. All the while, I was virtually oblivious to the racial segregation which surrounded me; “it was just the way things are.” I asked no questions, while my eyes (and mind) were shielded from what was standing right in front of me.

I was a voracious student of Civil War history in my youth. Like any good Southerner, I came to idolize the names and places and artifacts of that War – “the heroic war to defend the right of our state and its (white) people to live without outside interference (i.e. ‘Northerners’).” The destruction of that way of life by that war, combined with the forced redefinition of the South’s legal, political and economic structures, was a bitter pill to swallow. So when the hated ten years of Reconstruction ended, and the opportunity then presented itself, everything was moved back to the way it had been. Slavery was effectively reinstituted by disguised legal barriers, social isolation, educational disadvantage, and economic exploitation. To make this restoration of ante-bellum Southern life truly work, though, required “justifying” – i.e.  ennobling – the War. And the way to do that was to ennoble not the War, but the men who fought in it: “the patriots” – the husbands, sons and brothers of Southern families – who gave of themselves in service to their state and family. And so the statues and shrines went up across the South to honor “the men,” rather than slavery and the slaves, emblazoned with the adornment “Lest We Forget.” The statues served to cover over the continuing horror and maltreatment of Jim Crow domination of the “freed” slaves.

My great-great-grandfather was one of those ennobled heroes. As a teenager from Tennessee, a non-owner of slaves, he likely enlisted more out of peer pressure than a real conviction on his part. Nevertheless, he saw the War to its end, and I have no doubt that he fought valiantly and served honorably. After the War, he became owner of a general store, raised a large family, and ultimately wound up in California – a normal, unremarkable life far away from the War and its legacy. Samuel Carroll Lee is part of my personal and Southern heritage, and I honor his legacy as part of the family ancestry that created me. But that does not require me to honor the Cause that he fought for. It was the wrong Cause to fight. It is today the wrong heritage to honor and celebrate.

The South lost the Civil War. As it should have, as it was destined to do. Yes, there was a legal and philosophical argument about the rights of the States versus the Federal government. But men do not go to war over philosophical arguments. They go to war over power and wealth. Slavery represented Southern wealth. The South lost the war due to Northern over-powering manpower and armaments, and the lack of the right side of a moral and patriotic justification. Human slavery is a reprehensible concept, and the fact that it existed in world history for thousands of years did not justify it in America in 1860. It is an institution that cried out for redressing in the evolution of human civilization, and America was unforgivably one of the last to let it go.

My great-great-great-grandfather David Baggerly, Jr. from North Carolina also fought in a war as a teenager – the American Revolution that created this great Nation. However one might try to dress it up, Samuel Carroll Lee fought to undo David’s work, and to split this country into two parts. There is a word for the action of a citizen who wages war against our Nation: Treason. However right he thought it to be at the time, whatever was the call from his community, if one takes up arms against these United States we would appropriately charge them with treason, and/or designate them as an internal terrorist. I may feel compassion towards my ancestor(s) for doing what he thought was right at the moment, but he was wrong. And the consequence of his wrong-ness is not to ennoble him for that wrong, but to de-glorify his decision. Which means de-glorifying the statues and memorabilia we have erected and perpetuated over the last 155 years.

As history has shown us, great things can happen when a defeated country separates from its wartime misadventure and begins its future anew (e.g.  post-WWII Japan and Germany), rather than stagnates in “what was.” It is long past due that we Southerners move on from the stranglehold that “It’s Our Heritage” has trapped us under. “It’s Our Heritage” freezes us into a time and circumstance that is long past. That freezing prevents us from seeing the Truth of the past, and embracing the legal, social and moral demands of the present. There is a reconciliation with some of our fellow citizens that is right to do, and long overdue to do. We need to consign the past to the museums and halls of study where it belongs, that we might learn from our past, but not relive it. Honor our heritage not by what we may have believed was right yesterday, but by doing what is right today. We do this because it is right for African-Americans to finally participate fully in the Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness to which they have long been entitled. We also do this for us, because it is right to finally free ourselves from our own self-imposed enslavement to the burden of “Our Heritage.” We would do so in order that we may move forward and achieve the best of who we are. This is how I choose to honor my ancestor, Samuel Carroll Lee, in the true reality of the year of 2020.

(If interested in an additional relevant reading, click on this link for my previous blog essay “Assessing A Life Lived,” November 12, 2017.)

©   2020   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com


Monday, May 25, 2020

The Challenge Of Covid-19


According to his official birth certificate, my Father was born in 1905 in a place called “Indian Territory.” Four years later, that Territory would become “Oklahoma,” the 46th American state, another chapter in the closing story of the Old West. Even at his earliest age, my father was cast into a lifetime of historical change that he could not have possibly predicted.

World War I (“The Great War”) broke out when he was 13. Too young to serve, he could only read about what was to date this most consuming war in world history. The death toll of a generation of young men the world over, occurring concurrently with the Spanish Flu pandemic, would combine to take millions of lives. Eleven years later at 24, the Great Depression hit America, an economic disaster the scope of which was unknown before and thereafter.  Around 25% (13 million) of the workforce were unemployed with no or limited income. Despite broad-ranging plans of response on various fronts, the Depression lasted over ten long years (versus our current 3-month shutdown from the Covid-19 pandemic). As a young professional CPA, my Father survived economic disaster, even as he personally lost his father to divorce and his youngest brother in a fatal automobile accident. Yet he could only watch as family and friends packed up and headed west to California, hoping for a better chance in life.

The Great Depression did ultimately end, but only due to, and replaced by, an even more deadly and altering World War II. Millions of military and civilian deaths ensued, with Europe and Asia left in devastated shambles. Too old for this war, my father fell in line with the new order of the day: rationing of food, gas, supplies, and services; wage and price controls; government mandated and directed manufacturing and economic controls. With the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945 to end the war, world civilization and American life were forever changed. At that point, my father was 40 years old, the normal midpoint of life.

I have often wondered how those great international events shaped the perceptions of my Father and his contemporaries. Age and events precluded our conversation about such. Change, loss, uncertainty all combined to mark the first half of his life. How did he react? How did his thinking change? What conclusions did he draw about life’s challenges and how to respond to them?

“How will we respond?” was the challenge given to my Father’s contemporaries, and respond they did quite decisively and successfully. But it was a series of long-term demands that required patience, commitment, and cooperation. Today, America and the world are going through a shared pandemic called Covid-19. An invisible threat to our physical life, causing great upheaval in our comfortable daily routines. With Covid-19, our contemporary world did not see this threat arising, and we have found ourselves ill-prepared to respond to it.

In my Father’s time, political, military and health leaders defined their respective threat clearly, created a well-thought out plan of reaction, and marshalled the resources needed to achieve the plan. Within that focused framework, the American people were able to unify their individual efforts, find his/her slot in which to contribute, and share the burden of making the plan work.

In today’s America, however, there is no overarching top-down plan of response, no organized division of labor integrated into an effective whole, and therefore no unity of action. State-by-state, we are fighting fifty desperate and different wars against this public health attack. Meanwhile, our national government lurches from one scattershot hot idea to the next on daily basis, while the “leader” continues to disavow the plans of his own advisors. Amid all of the structural confusion, our citizenry is fractured, emulating the fractured response of our government to its own oft-changing directives.

We see the images of empty streets as people cooperatively stay at home to avoid infecting themselves or others. Or we see protestors armed with military assault weapons threatening local officials, state legislators and governors over their right to get a haircut or drink a beer. Somehow, the right to sit on a crowded beach, or attend a dining establishment, is deemed some kind of “constitutional right,” a demonstration of hallowed American freedom. Somehow our 1st Amendment right of religious freedom is distorted by some arrogant religious leaders’ belief that this includes a right to congregate inside a church building and risk infecting parishioners, as well as those with whom they later come into contact. (I suspect that such dubious claims of hardship and sacrifice would be quite a shock to George Washington, who had to watch his troops suffer a bitterly cold and ill-equipped winter at Valley Forge to secure those freedoms.)

Over many years, my Father and his contemporaries made commitments, endured genuine sacrifices, and worked together to survive – indeed triumph over – true threats to the American way of life. Millions of Americans today are trying to do the same, and their success stories are exemplary. Nevertheless, all of their efforts are threatened by bands of renegades that believe their individual desires trump a far greater community need. Yet it is sustained commitment to sacrifice for others that is the only path to defeating this virus and preventing its recurrence.

Our local Mountain Express weekly newspaper has been running a series of articles about life in Asheville NC a hundred years ago, gleaned from newspaper articles of that time. An article entitled “The Selfish and Selfless” quoted Dr. Carl V. Reynolds, the city health officer in 1919, saying regarding the Spanish Flu pandemic: “I have no desire to frighten Asheville or to create any unnecessary alarm. But I do feel the public should get a warning of the danger of failing to take steps to prevent a return of influenza here. The man who ‘takes a chance’ now by permitting himself and the other members of his family to disregard the opportunity to secure immunization against pneumonia will be, in my opinion, directly responsible for any deaths that may occur among his family group from influenza’s complications … Reynolds also stressed that fighting influenza required every citizen to be selfless. Too often, he proclaimed, ‘individual forgetfulness of … fellowman [drove people to fulfill their wants] at any cost, even risking self [health] and endangering others [so] that a selfish desire may be obtained.”

100 years later, we seem to be revisiting a similar experience with Covid-19, having apparently learned little about serious versus trivial sacrifice, and the need for shared responsibility for each other as the key to our mutual survival. We need to feel great compassion for those small business owners, entertainment / hospitality workers, and manufacturing employees working without proper safeguards. They are trying to survive through this heath and economic crisis, and need our full assistance consistent with public health needs. We need feel no such compassion for people complaining about not getting a haircut, or being able to dine out, or play beach volleyball. Complaints such as these are purely the arrogance of self over respect and consideration for the health and wellbeing of family and neighbors. There are times when Life is properly about “me”; these are the times when Life is properly about “us.”

A recent Facebook posting observed, “The ‘Greatest Generation’ of World War II sacrificed their lives [storming the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima] to defend America. We are being asked to sit on the couch at home. We can do this.” On this Memorial Day of 2020, we remember and honor those many who gave the ultimate sacrifice to protect this country. Surely we can make our own commitment to respond – with far less sacrifice  – to what is now being asked of us. Yes we can.

© 2020   Randy Bell               https//:ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com