Trolls Under the Bridge

Carla Congress

If you’ve ever have the opportunity to visit your Congressman, or Congresswoman, you definitely should take it.  Not just at your local congressional office, but in their offices in Washington, D.C.  We often forget the kind of privilege we have as Americans, to have this kind of direct access to the people who represent us and make our laws.  The physical manifestation of being able to literally walk the Halls of Congress can be awe-inspiring and daunting but at the same time has the ability to fill you with power, pride and purpose that each of us have as citizens in our democracy.

However, for those that do physically walk those halls, in a certain hall, one is noticeably different than the rest of them.  Every member of Congress, and their staff work in one of several office buildings that are directly adjacent to the U.S. Capitol building.  When members of Congress leave their office to go to the Capitol to conduct the business of the government, there’s a subterranean tunnel system that members use to go from their offices to the Capitol.  They’re not your typical tunnels.  They’re well lit, well traveled.  They’re fairly long and even shuttling is available.  However, when members, their staff, tourist and constituents walk down one such tunnel to the Capitol, they’ll notice hundreds of pieces of art hung on display.  As pedestrians walk down the hall, you can easily forget you are beneath Capitol Hill and think you’re in a museum.  The pieces on display are as beautiful as they are slightly out of place.  You’re in such a majestic and elegant place, but set apart from the granite columns and marble statues are these abstract, colorful, artistic expressions that surely must have been masterpieces made by the best artist in history.

Well, not really.  Because you see, every congressional office sponsors a competition, which has each member’s office contacting students from high schools in their districts for submissions.  These submissions are judged and a winner is chosen, one per congressional district and the winning piece is put on display in the underground tunnel on Capitol Hill.  The offices do not ask whether or not these students like the member.  Don’t ask whether they are Republican or Democratic students.  They don’t know if they’re rich or poor, contributors or if they can do anything for the member.  The Congressional Art Competition is what the office does for it’s district.  It’s one of the many services and functions provided by a congressional office.  They work for the people.  As members of Congress, that’s what they do.

Well, down here in Virginia Beach, Virginia, one such Congressman, Scott Rigell, Republican who served from 2011 to 2017, held a symposium for women.  The symposium, which was sponsored by a multitude of businesses and government organizations, had attendees from across the region including the particular woman in the picture above, Carla Hesseltine.  The Chair of the Virginia Beach Democratic Committee.

Last month, a Twitter account was uncovered from a @GOPJoeInVB that sent out a tweet, one of three tweets from an account barely a month old.  The tweet featured several pictures of Virginia Beach’s Democratic Committee’s elected chair attending several events with prominent Republicans and suggesting that the Democrats elected a Republican to be their chair.  The tweet was then picked up by a post written on progressive site, Daily Kos.  The post, was from a user who admittedly created the account on Daily Kos specifically to write the post about the tweet, further damning the VBDC chair and her connection to Republican politicians.  Particularly noting the picture above where the user “BeachProgressive” slams her for attending a fundraiser for Republican Congressman Scott Rigell.

Well, as noted above, the event depicted in the picture was an event sponsored by the Congressional Office for the office and for the benefit of the district and not for the benefit of the Congressman.  But, silly me, what do facts matter to some people?

Now, it’s very possible that “BeachProgressive” is fully ignorant of how congressional offices, or any elected official office actually works and just ignorantly goes about doing the dirty work of Republican troublemakers by wrongfully stating that the event was a fundraiser.  But thankfully, this information was revealed to be false and purposely misleading.

Unfortunately, this revelation did NOT stop individuals within Virginia Beach’s Democratic Committee from taking the ball and running with their own agenda.  Which is a little comical, considering the accusation that Carla Hesseltine has her own.

Armed with this information and the intent to rightfully ask of the situation at the committee’s monthly meeting, it was clear things were to come to a head.  And so the meeting started off not unlike most local committee meetings; dreadfully boring and painfully process-oriented via Roberts Rules of Order.  However, it didn’t take long for the questions to arise and the accusations to fly.  They were sprinkled throughout, but sourced from one individual.  She seemed upfront, honest and sincere with her intentions.  She said she wanted to move the party forward, united, one would say Indivisible. And yet during the course of the meeting, she began to unpromptedly disseminate flyers with the above picture attached.  Now, I allowed for the possibility that two random and bogus internet nobodies being fully unaware of the lies they were spreading.  But not her.  Particularly when I specifically and directly told her, under no uncertain terms, that the picture was purposely a lie.  Why?  Because she asked me.  So she knew the truth.  But she still came to the meeting with the picture in hand and passed it out to members KNOWING it was NOT TRUE.  She did it in the middle of the meeting, without invitation.  Now, not everyone who attends those meetings have time for internet squabbles.  They come to see how they can get more Democrats elected and progress a Democratic agenda.  Even if they knew about the allegations against Carla Hesseltine, it’s very possible they did not care.  But to purposely pass out unsolicited false information, that you know is false, then there’s no doubt you’re doing it to purposely mislead others and lie to them about your motives.  Your goal is not to elicit a honest dialogue with someone.  It’s to impugn their character.  That’s it.  Especially when it was further revealed she did it after denying Carla the opportunity to address it the way she requested.  It’s one thing to ask questions, which we definitely should do, but it’s something else entirely to duplicitously spread untrue information when you know it’s bullshit.  Even if I wanted to believe a unverified Republican twitter bot, even if I wanted to heed the word of a biased blog post, even if I really wanted to question whether Carla Hesseltine’s agenda matches my own, how could anyone possibly believe anything that is a product of a series of provable lies, fabrications and exaggerations?

Because this is what it is.

We live in the day and age where internet activity is extremely pervasive.  However, there are those that use the internet to purposely sow discord and incite others to abandon their goals and intentions for another’s amusement or ends.  This has been compared to the fable of the three billy goats crossing a bridge and being waylaid by a troll beneath the bridge.  The goal of the goats is to get across the bridge for greener pastures.  The troll, doesn’t care about the bridge.  Doesn’t care about the grass.  It just cares about stopping progress.  This is dictionary-definition of internet trolling.  So when someone creates a twitter account named “GOPJoe” to send out a tweet, they’re the troll under the bridge.  When someone creates a user account to only write about that tweet, they’re the troll under the bridge.  And when you purposely spread lies without regard to order or the truth you have been given YOU ARE THE TROLL UNDER THE BRIDGE.

Don’t feed the trolls.

Thank you.
Regards,

 

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“O”… Really?

President Oprah

In just a few short weeks, it will officially be one full year since the 45th President of the United States has taken office and last Sunday night, the 2020 Presidential Election was effectively kicked off during the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards.  Oprah Winfrey, who is not just the richest self-made female billionaire in America, but also the first and richest black multi-billionaire in the world, while accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award during the Golden Globes, gave a speech that immediately caught fire across social media.  Given her profile, what she talked about and the thirst this nation has had to quickly turn the page away the colossal mistake we’ve made in 2016, the uproar for her to run for President has been nothing short of monumental.

Everyone has pitched in their opinion of whether Oprah Winfrey should or should not run for president.  And it’s been a fun idea to think about.  Particularly since our current president has made his entire career out of being at the forefront of American television for years.  If there’s anyone that could match him in terms of wealth and name identification, it’s Oprah Winfrey.  But that is where any and all comparisons between the two cease.  Where he has been crass and appalling, she has been warm and comforting.  Where he has been abhorrent and deplorable, she has been delightful and encouraging.  Where has the president’s been an offensive blight in American media, Oprah Winfrey has made her career and the careers of others being one of most positive influences on the planet.  She has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, given away nearly half a billion dollars for educational pursuits and other humanitarian efforts and has gone from rural Mississippi to being the de-facto “Queen of Media” and has been adored by millions.

And this is the problem.

Back in 2007, for the first time in her career, Oprah Winfrey had publicly threw her considerable support and influence in a political campaign behind Barack Obama.  But it was also during this time that she too was asked about running for president someday and she realized then, what I’m certain she’s fully considering now that the current president is experiencing at this very moment, that in order for her to run and for her to win, it would come at the expense of so much that has given her the kind of impact she has today.

Oprah is not a politician.  Even while endorsing Barack Obama, Oprah had to never actively get into politics.  That just doesn’t mean endorsing any particular candidate.  That means giving candidates money, lots of it.  That means taking a lead and defining yourself and your entire media profile on extremely partisan issues.  Issues that have and will define how and what people think about you.  She has spent her life uplifting thousands and building bridges literally and figuratively.  However, as a candidate she WILL have to burn bridges she never thought she had to burn.  And if she were to win and become president, she’ll realize quick how impossible it will to build actual roads and bridges when she has a congress that will oppose anything she wants to do because she also wants to make sure businesses treat women fairly by paying them what they pay men.  As a private citizen, she doesn’t need to worry about these things.  She could pay women who worked for her what she thought was just and fair.  She did not have define to millions of fans and viewers how she feels about abortion and welfare, health care, gun control and such issues that will turn people away from her no matter how she’s made them feel talking to us from couch to couch through a television screen.  It is not fun having to be subjected to what people will invariably put you through.  It is not easy having to put yourself out there and to try to convince people you can help make their lives better and acutely explain to them how.  It’s petty, grueling, ugly and demoralizing, particularly when you know you have every intent to do the best but are handcuffed by a myriad of factors that you have absolutely no control over at all that would have never stopped you before.

Now, I’m not going to tell anyone whether they should or shouldn’t support Oprah Winfrey to be our next president.  She’s obviously talented, has the ability to reach millions with ease.  But there’s way much more to this than people want to realize.  And we see the consequence of those not realizing this right now.  While most elections, thematically come down to “change” vs “experience”, we’ve typically voted for politicians that actually are politicians.  And there’s a reason for that.  It lets us know that they are able to work with a system that by its very nature often complex and chaotic.  It’s that electoral resume that assures us that we can trust these individuals to make these critical decisions and do it deliberately and righteously.  Oprah doesn’t have that, but yet, she makes it really easy to trust her still.  Ultimately, those who are asking her to run for president have to open their eyes.  You don’t how where she stands on international hotspots like Syria, North Korea or Russia or if she will respond any differently than the currently president has.  You don’t know how she feels about immigration reform, tax reform or entitlement reform.  You might think she’s right where you want her to be but then again, she may not be.  But beyond how you may feel about her, she also has to consider everything that she will have to sacrifice and surrender to do something that she has absolutely no control over whether it will go well or not.  And while we might think it’s a great idea for Oprah Winfrey to run for president, we also have to accept that it’s entirely possible that she may not think she should the our next President of the United States.

But, if she does run… Well, it’s fun to dream.

Diary of a Friendly Neighborhood Public Servant

folded flag

17 years ago, I had my first exposure to how political decisions can have an effect on the lives of Americans.  My brother served in the U.S. Navy on board the U.S.S. Cole.  While in port, off the coast of Yemen, a smaller vessel sped towards the hull of the ship and detonated an explosive in an attack that claimed my brother’s life as well as the lives of 16 others.  Naturally, I was devastated, as was my family.  We’ve never lost anyone this close this suddenly or violently.  At that time in American history, such a terrorist attack was unheard of and the attention of the nation was focused on our family, as was most of our political leaders.  My family received calls of condolences from senators, congressmen, former, current and future candidates for President, and most notably the President of the United States at the time, Bill Clinton.

Wanting to meet with our families and those injured during the attack, President Clinton had all of us gathered at one location prior to our memorial service.  It was an interesting feeling, knowing we were going to be meeting and speaking with the President of the United States of America.  On one hand, we were angry and wanted desperately to have an outlet for that anger and he was a convenient target coming to us.    We were certain to give him an earful for the decisions he made that lead to my brother’s death.  However, he was still the President of the United States of America, the Leader of the Free World, effectively the most powerful and most important person on Earth.  And that was Bill Clinton.  It’s one thing to be an influential, charismatically-gifted man, but to be that AND President of the United States of America was awe-inspiring to say the least.  Yet, STILL responsible for the depth of sorrow my mother, father and brothers and I were feeling then.  These were two divergent emotions going on in my head as he made his way through the building where we were.  There were many of us gathered in attendance, nearly 40 injured and family members of 17 sailors along with other naval personnel, so I had time to gather myself and focus on what I had to tell him, what I wanted him to hear.  But the longer we waited, the more we begin to realize there was a LOT of time passing by as the President made his way through.  We begin to wonder what was taking him so long to get through a room, to shake hands and nod and do what politicians do.  When he finally made his way to our family we found out why.  President Clinton’s eyes were red, welled up with tears.  He had been crying the entire time.  He forced himself to apologize to each and every one of us, to hear each and every one of us and to own what his own actions caused.  Needless to say, it was the last thing we expected.  Afterall, it was MY brother that had died.  Yes, my emotions were frayed and all over the place.  I was excited to meet the President but wanted to tell him about the impact that his decision to have my brother’s ship dock at an unsafe port had on my life, but it was clear he felt it as well.  Not just the impact it had on my life, but what it did to all of our lives.  And to see us all at once, one after one, of the lives he was responsible for shattering, it was understandably overwhelming.  At a time where I expected the leader of our nation to comfort me in my time of mourning, as it turned out I almost felt it incumbent upon me to actually comfort him instead.

That was where human empathy meets political implications.

It wasn’t long after (and to a large part because of) my brother’s death, I began a career in politics.  Not as a prototypical politician.  But working in the field of politics and government, most people have very little conception of the “bells and whistles” that goes on within any elected body.  That’s where I found my niche.  Since it was the decision-making of our elected leadership that lead to tragedies like the one I experienced, I felt a responsibility to not just to make sure we have the right leaders to make the right decisions, but to also hold them accountable to those decisions.  I filled the role as a legislative staffer and political campaign organizer.  In each of these roles, I assisted those in office and those seeking to be elected in a variety of capacities.  And if in case you cannot conceive, let me scope it out.  Any elected official has the duty to represent thousands, if not millions of people.  It is near-impossible for any one person, no matter how talented to know the individual desires and hopes of each person they represent.  This is where the machinery behind the scenes come in.  Information about the constituencies are funneled in, ordered and addressed as prioritized.

I explain this because as a staffer of such an elected official, there is an expectation to have the elected official fully informed and briefed about every detail of what they are being asked to do.  They are briefed on laws they’re voting on.  They’re briefed on events that affect their constituents.  They are also briefed on what they do on a day-to-day basis and who they meet with.  They know who they’re meeting.  Why they are meeting this person.  What this person wants.  What they may need to obtain from this person.  They are given background information about the person or persons they meet.  This is all in an effort to give the idea that they are as fully informed and of the utility we expect them to be to hold such positions of power.

Of course this is not always the case.

Earlier this month, 12 soldiers from the United States 3rd Special Forces Group were ambushed by a group of insurgents linked to the Islamic State(ISIS). Four of those soldiers were killed in the attack, which initially went unnoticed by the American public for several days. However, once brought to the nation’s attention, the President of the United States was encouraged to give a call and offer condolences to the families of those who were killed in the attack. Very similarly to what President Clinton did with my family. But upon placing a call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, it was leaked by a family friend and member of Congress that the President’s call to Mrs. Johnson was extremely unpleasant, off-putting and disturbing. The President of course combated these assertions. I don’t know exactly how he can tell how someone else feels about something he said, but according to him, he and Mrs. Johnson had a pleasant conversation and that the Congresswoman was flat-out wrong and that she lied to the press. The President’s Chief of Staff backed up his claim.

There’s a truth within this matter. And although that truth really should have been kept between the President and Mrs. Johnson, it hasn’t. Mrs. Johnson firmly believes that not only the President wrongly pronounced her husband’s name, but was dismissive of what she was going through. That was confirmed by the congresswoman who was there. Of course the President’s version of events differs. But there is no doubt about a couple of things. The President of the United States, like President Clinton before him, is a public servant. He serves the public that elected him. The President’s Chief of Staff claims that he, like I, fully briefed the elected official that he serves, about who he was speaking with, telling him the correct pronunciation of Sgt. Johnson’s name, perhaps some additional details about his life and career in service. Whether the President was correctly briefed, as his Chief of Staff claims remains to be seen. He should have been, but given a consistent pattern of disregard of information and counsel of greater judgement, it’s likely immaterial whether he was properly briefed or not. The president has proven to not be the most attentive to detail. However, what should take over from there is human emotion and reaction to the pain another is experiencing. Human empathy would tell most of us to not exacerbate the pain another is feeling. And if you unintentionally do, you take responsibility for that mistake as to not cause more pain. Getting into a VERY public disagreement with a widow of a man that was just killed that you were responsible for absolutely qualifies as exacerbating the pain of another, intentionally or otherwise. And if you are insisting of exacerbating that pain or negligent of what they are going through and more concerned about your own public perception, then it’s fully probable that you lack the ability to empathize with another. And as an elected leader, if you lack the ability to connect with the human emotions of another in any way, particular one as essential and intrinsic as empathy then how could you possibly be expected to be the public servant they need?

 

 

Those Who Can Do, Those Who Can’t Run

john adams

This is John Adams.  Not Founding Father and second President of the United States, John Adams, but Richmond, Virginia lawyer and 2017 Republican candidate for Attorney General, John Adams.  John Adams is not a politician, as his ads will repeatedly tell you.  He’s never held political office.  Never sought a political office.  He is running as a outsider.  And he’s not alone.  Two years ago, Donald Trump began his campaign for president with a similar theme.  A non-politician that will “drain the swamp” and run government “like a business”, pointing to all the actual politicians and blaming them for the ills of the state of government.  This is a common theme with Republicans running for office, to tote their inexperience in and with politics and governing as a good thing.  And it doesn’t just stop with candidates.  It extends to those in office, appointed or otherwise.  The President has filled his cabinet with those who not just lack experience with government but insist that it makes them more capable for their job.  Earlier this month, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson was confronted with a news story of some “criticism” of the president that he was to have reportedly said.  Of course when one administration official verbally insults another, that’s definitely newsworthy.  Particularly when it’s a president who has made “insult” synonymous with “presidential”.  Yet, when asked about it, Tillerson dodged, saying he “doesn’t understand Washington” and “not from here” as if his being an outsider inoculates himself from the inside politics that they all are subjected to.  Betsy DeVos, Steve Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross and Ben Carson, along with Tillerson, have no significant experience in government and that isn’t just okay, but it was a positive quality of benefit to being selected as cabinet offiicials.

But in what Bizzaroworld Back Assward Universe is this ever a good thing?

When has not having experience or familiarity with what you’re dealing with not a bright red flag?  This weekend millions of Americans will watch football and there have been some pretty significant injuries on field.  Try to imagine a back up quarterback coming in the game and say “I’m not a football player, so I’m not tainted by all the back-breaking, body-aching running and hitting the football players do.”  Or one day, you or a loved one is hurt, you go to the E.R. and doctor tells you “I’m not really a doctor, but I know better than all of those nurses and orderlies and I’ll just get rid of them.”  Does this sound reasonable?  How about this; We’re still pretty early in the school year, so it isn’t hard to imagine going to school for your kid’s parent-teacher conference and you walk in the classroom and you hear the teacher say “I’m not a teacher but my experience putting up the dry wall at the new Arby’s qualifies me to get your child to pay attention, while managing an entire classroom.”

That is not how the real world works.  In no sector or institution of life or society where your well-being is dependent on another would you ever be, not only okay with their ignorance of the institution you need them to be knowledgeable about, but you prefer their inexperience over someone that actually KNOWS their profession and what they’re doing.  But for some reason Republicans think this is a badge of honor.

Granted, the entire idea of a Democracy is a government of the people.  It is not an aristocracy or a monarchy, where there’s a specific class or sect of persons that are groomed to lead or expected to govern.  We select our representatives and leaders of those among us.  That’s why this strategy is so appealing to their party.  They are supposed to be everyday people that share the same hopes and fears as the rest of us, which gives them the knowledge to be better stewards of our lives.  Of course that’s the idea in theory.  In practice, almost EVERYONE have had some elected or political experience with government in some fashion.  All but one of our Presidents have had at least some direct or indirect relationship with government.  That one is our current one. (Yes, four others have not held political office, but those four also just won wars in which they served and answered directly to the governing bodies.)  Moreover, for anyone attempting to achieve higher office whether it be governor or senator or even congressman, more often than not, they’ve held office before on a lower state or city level.

However, what’s more important than holding elected office is the institutional knowledge that comes with that office.  The knowledge of what works, who to work with, how it works, why does it work.  A lot of that comes with time, but it also comes with those around you.  If a teacher needs help in a classroom, they can ask another teacher.  If a doctor needs help with a patient, the doctor has a nurse.  A quarterback as a whole team that helps win the game.  If you do not have the experience, you bank on those that do.  Aaron Rogers didn’t win the Super Bowl, the Green Bay Packers did.  When I had my surgery, the O.R. doctor wasn’t alone.  I know because there was an anesthesiologist that put me under.  I was not educated by just my 2nd grade teacher.  I am a product of an entire school system of over 50 teachers and a half dozen schools.

And it is here is where the Republican “But I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night” Philosophy falls apart.  Attorney General Candidate John Adams isn’t the neophyte he claims to be.  He’s been involved in Republican politics, donating to Republican candidates for years.  He’s hired a campaign staff that has run not just a capable and credible statewide campaign, but are political veterans of multiple Virginia campaigns.  His ads attacking Attorney General Mark Herring are your standard “liberal” attacks, blaming him for not doing his job or using his job for political gain.  If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it definitely did not stay in the Holiday Inn Express.

Likewise, the president is no different either.  Quite frankly he’s taken it to a pathetic new level.  Despite the belief that he’s the everyman that is beyond petty politics, he’s the worst kind.  In a institution where money interest often dominate the narrative, he has been the literal “Middle Man” between both Democrats and Republicans and the interest of those that are not of the people.  That is beyond his insistence on inserting his unrelenting ignorance on foreign matters, social and domestic matters and his predecessor’s every decision.  Which doesn’t even begin to describe his association with the movement he lead with every authority on questioning the right, ability and education of President Barack Obama.  Yet, I’m supposed to believe he’s not a politician.

And this is a the cycle repeats itself.  And the people are duped into believing this bullshit.  In a vain attempt to pretend they’re something new and different, they’re actually just another cog in the political machine.  But if you choose to believe them, do.  Just realize you would never want a player that’s never played the game before.  Or a doctor that’s never practiced.  Or a teacher who has never taught.  So why would you want one to govern who’s never governed?  Who takes pride in his unfamiliarity with governing?  You do because you know it’s bullshit just as well as they do.  And with that, you can call yourself blind or you can call yourself dumb.  Not really a middle ground.

You know who they are.

So when you hear them say “I’m not a politician,” ignore them.  They are.  What they’re really telling you is that they’re shit at being one.

 

Re-Fighting History

trump monument

You know there is a very specific reason why you will never see any monuments to Adolf Hitler in Germany.

No monuments to Hitler.  No monuments to Heinrich Himmler, Rudolf Hess, Erwin Rommel or any leader or prominent member of the Third Reich.  That said, earlier this week a drunken American tourist was beaten and is currently being investigated for raising his arm in a Nazi salute in Dresden, Germany.  The week before, two Chinese tourist were arrested for doing similar, while taking photographs of each other in Berlin.  Their crime: “Using Symbols of Illegal Organization.”    To honor or memorialize that part of Germany history is not only illegal, but will undoubtedly get you fucked up by your typical German.  And despite this absence of reverence, every child learns in vivid and personal detail of the Third Reich.  They learn of it’s horrors, the racism, the anti-semitism and intolerance so that it is never repeated.

Over here in the United States of America, we have our own sorted history that our children learn about in school.  Even though our Declaration of Independence was written with the words “All men are created equal,” we found that truth not to as “self-evident” as it was written.  From our Declaration to the formation of our government and beyond, not only were Black Americans unequal in the eyes of the law, they weren’t even American.  They were property.  Slaves.  And despite the efforts or inefforts of our Founding Fathers to redress the issue, slavery was an immoral American institution for America’s first 90 years.  And for those first four and a half score, debate raged on the legality and morality of slavery.  That debate was quietest in the Southern States of America.  So when America elected a Northern politician, as President of the United States, with the promise to end slavery, the southern states decided succession was their only option.  In forming the Confederate States of America, the south took up arms against the United States, they fought to defend slavery, a practice that was endemic to the core of what the Confederacy was about.  In no uncertain terms, the Confederacy brutalized and subjugated a race of human beings, promoting white supremacy and fought and killed Americans by the thousands, which is exactly what the Hitler and Nazi Germany did 80 years later.  And last week, tragically enough they both have found a partner and defender in the President of the United States of America.

On August 12th, a driver attending a Alt-Right protest against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, took his car and viciously ran through a crowd of people, killing one and severely injuring nearly two dozen more.  Meanwhile the President of the United States issued a statement lamenting violence on both side.  He would later back up that statement insisting that those protesting the removal of the statue were “very fine people” and that removing a statue honoring a Confederate general would lead to a desire to remove commemorations to the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson because they too were slave owners.  This was his cause to defend the actions of those who went to Charolottesville with the specific intent to spread hate, intolerance and fear.

In Germany, there is no doubt about the evils of the Nazi regime.  However, inexplicably, despite how much we know of the brutality of slavery, we continue to honor and memorialize those who fought to defend it.  Actually, it’s even worse.  Because, as horrible as Nazi Germany was, it was the actual government of Germany.  The Confederacy betrayed and took up arms against the United States.  They wanted to leave.  They fought to killed Americans for the right to leave.  Not to mention, there’s also that part about them fighting to defend their right to enslave human beings too.  Yet we continue honor the likes of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, their names emblazoned on our schools and roadways.  Their visages etched into stone and metal of monuments.

Now, here in 2017, these memorials are protected by those who the President of the United States described as “very fine people.”  These “very fine people” wave Confederate flags.  They brandish Nazi paraphernalia and recited hateful demagoguery.  Anyone who saw that wretched display of humanity and did not IMMEDIATELY resist or shun it are NOT “very fine people” at all.   But this is what the President saw, and his stated desire to protect not only the legacy of the Confederacy, but the a desire to protect the legacy of America’s Founding Slave Owners such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.  And while fierce and vibrant debate will continue of the duality of those individuals(and should), there’s no doubt they fought FOR the United States of America, not against.  George Washington fought to make America, while Robert E. Lee abandoned and fought to kill Americans.  That, by definition, is treason.  There is NO. WAY. that should be honored.  The fact that they did such to preserve the enslavement and inhumane brutalization of an race doubles their shame.  There is no doubt that what the President did, by any credible metric, was reprehensible, embarrassing and atrociously pathetic for anyone, let alone the leader of a nation with the history we have.  Try to imagine if a German Chancellor would dare say some Nazi’s were “very fine people.”  Do you really think the entire would would react kindly?  Do you think the world would not be appalled if Angela Merkel stated a defense of a statue memorializing Adolf Hitler?  That’s exactly what happened in America.

What Germans do honor and remember is the victims of the Third Reich.  Memorials have been built or are on display across Germany to be a vivid reminder of what the Third Reich did.  In January of every year, Germany has a federal holiday, Holocaust Memorial Day to further commemorate the victims of Nazism.  Less than two weeks before, over here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we continue to commemorate Lee-Jackson Day, a day where state offices are closed in remembrance of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Confederates that betrayed their country.  Virginia does not have a Booker T. Washington Day or a Nat Turner Day.  Germans have forcefully purged any and all references to the Third Reich.  However, they will never forget what they did because they CHOOSE to remember their victims.  Yet, what has been rejected in Germany is acceptable in America.  And it isn’t enough to simply memorialize the Confederacy, according to the events unfolding in this day and age, Americans are STILL fighting for the Confederacy.

A Tale of Two Countries

trump marcon

This weekend, the French celebrated their national holiday, la Fête nationale or “Bastille Day” as it is known in the English-speaking world.  Bastille Day is the commemoration of the culmination of events that lead to the storming of the medieval fortress and prison, the Bastille Saint-Antoine by what would later be the French Revolution’s National Guard.  As providence would have it, the events that lead to the storming of the Bastille has it’s origins within the American Colonies and what would become the United States of America.

Back in the early 1750s, France controlled much of territory in North America from the Ohio Valley to the Mississippi River and beyond.  When Native American traders refused to respect French sovereignty and traded with the English, it lead to military enforcement by the French, which caused Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie to send a regiment, led by 22-year old Major George Washington, to attack a French scouting party.  This was the first battle of what is known nationally as the French and Indian War and internationally as the Seven Years’ War.  Several skirmishes later and a French response lead to a series of alliances in Europe that caused the out-break of a full scale war with all world powers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Eventually, the French lost the war and much of it’s territory east of the Mississippi to the British.  However, the French would exact its revenge upon the British over a decade later when their American Colonies declared their independence.  The new French King, Louis XVI formally recognized American independence and aligned with the United States against Great Britain.  However, due to the losses of land and heavy military expenditures, the French was deeply in debt.  And while King Louis XVI originally sought to be a good king by abolishing serfdom and removing a land tax on the peasantry and non-nobles, this did not go over well with French nobility that resisted these changes causing French problems to persist.

Meanwhile, back in the United States of America, it should be noted that for generations the British Crown allowed the American Colonies to operate rather independently due to it’s distance from the King and parliament.  This independence became what Americans came to expect from the British.  However, that changed due to the French and Indian War and an overbearance of authority and rule from London against the long learned American independence lead to the American Revolution.  And it is that very streak of independence, individual liberty and self-governing that has grounded our republic and every American within.  And the first American to feel the brunt of American independence is none other than the former Major from the French and Indian War, former Commander-in-Chief of the United States Army and our first President, George Washington.

George Washington was a military man, through and through.  Being use to a chain of command and structure, Washington favored a stronger centralized authority.  This is much do the the lack of authority and often chaotic control he had over the Continental Army in the Revolution, which was often dictated by the Continental Congress during the war.  For most of history, those who have assumed power have rather been born into it or have taken it with the full command of force.  This was not Washington.  That was not the America.  So when George Washington was elected President of the United States, he shaped America and what our presidency would be, however this was only possible due to how he, himself, was shaped by Colonial America.  George Washington served as President for two terms and left probably the most definitive stamp in American, if not world history, when he decided not to run for a third term.  In 1796, there was no 22nd Amendment limiting the length a president may serve.  Not before in history has a leader ceded power willingly.  Washington’s decision to do just that not only forced our nation to live to our principles of freedom and liberty by the people, but it also molded each successive leader to follow Washington’s example to not hold on to power, even if they craved it, which many famously did not.

This, however, was not the case across the Atlantic, with America’s first ally, France.  Within months of Washington assuming office, Louis XVI was going the opposite way.  The debts from the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution, along with their inability to pay it down put the King in a terrible position.  The French nobility, comfortable with lower taxes and exemptions, resisted any change and the French commoners bearing the brunt of taxes they could not pay poured their anger into the French Monarchy, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  When the Parlement of Paris refused to enact any reforms and the French government came to a standstill, the King tried to bypass Parlement with the “Estates General of 1789”.  An archaic national assembly of the three “estates” in France(Cleargy, Nobility and Commoners), which had not met in nearly 200 years, it was meant to force the reforms France needed to pay its debt, but it only empowered the “Third Estate”, the Commoners, to usurp power from the King.  The Third Estate, which had more delegates than both the First and Second Estates combined, named itself the National Assembly cutting power from the King for the duration of his reign.

On July 14th, 1789, the National Guard of the Third Estate, entered the Hôtel des Invalides with the intent on taking the muskets and cannons held within.  However, the gunpowder and ammunition for these arms were moved to the Bastille, which had been nearly empty save for a half dozen prisoners.  After the arms were liberated, the National Guard turned their attention to the Bastille, which had come to represent a symbol of royalty in France.  As a crowd gathered, representatives were sent in to negotiate a surrender.  Within hours, the crowd entered the courtyard, tore apart the drawbridge and the storming of the Bastille had begun.  When the King was informed of what happened the next morning, he asked if it was a revolt.  “No, sire,” he was told.  “It’s not a revolt.  It’s a revolution.”

The stark differences between France and the United States could not be made any clearer than seen in these few years.  A tale of our two nations, born out of two days in the month of July, separated by just ten days, is a tale of two separate revolutions that spun two separate destinies.  The United States of America and all of its people were not made to serve or construct a single autocratic authority.  And when we won our independence, all we knew was individual liberty and freedom of being ruled by the people.  After the French rebelled, deposed and executed the French Monarchy, the French Revolution produced their nation’s and one of the world’s most autocratic despots, Napoleon Bonaparte.  He was able to capitalize off the chaos and failure of both the monarchy and revolution.  And although he was different in name only from the autocratic rule of the Bourbon Dynasty, he was able to convince the people that he could restore the order they did not have.  But it was still an autocratic rule they knew.  They just wanted one that they were convinced was from the people.  Unlike the Americans who they helped liberate, they knew very little of the responsibility of liberty.  However, that was a responsibility the United States knew all too well.

Sixty years after the death of George Washington and the end of the French Revolution, Charles Dickens wrote the classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities.  The book, which begins the year of the American Revolution and last through the French Revolution, it tells the story of a French noble that was arrested, imprisoned and sentenced to death and his eventual extrication.  Throughout the novel, Dickens often drew comparisons of the social imbalance between the nobles of privilege and the poor who are often left at the whim of those in power.  It was a theme that existed in during the revolutions of 18th Century, in Dickens’ 19th Century and present throughout the 20th Century grounding the challenges we see in the 21st Century.  The social strife that existed in Colonial America and Revolutionary France all began with the will of the people and what they thought to be intolerable.  However, where the American Colonist were able to divorce themselves from tyranny and trend to a rule by the people in form of a republic, the French Revolution turned to a republic which ceded power to an tyrannical autocracy.  These stories and these two countries remind us of not just the power of the people, but their will to dictate their own destiny.  Only the people can empower the absolutism of autocracy. But they also hold the key to the freedom and liberty promised in a rule by the people.  The desire for self-rule is easy to have, but the responsibility of it often overlooked by the very people who crave it.  Abdicating that responsibility only helps those to take advantage, whether they are actually of the people or only pretend to be.  It is something that can’t be ignored or abdicated or taken for granted.  Because… with great power comes even greater responsibility.

Land of the Feared. Home of the Terrorized.

Philando Castile shooting

It was July of 2016 when Jeronimo Yanez pulled over 32-year old Philando Castile, the 52nd time being pulled over as a licensed driver, along with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds and her child.  The infraction was a broken tail-light.  However, the sentence he received was death.  For Philando Castile had the audacity to voluntarily inform Yanez that he was (legally) carrying a firearm with him on his person.  Within five seconds of this notification, Yanez knew all he needed to know to diagnose Castile as a threat to his own life so his only option was to end Castile’s.

Almost a full year later, Jeronimo Yanez was put on trial for Manslaughter and after five days of deliberation, a jury of his peers(meaning 10 white and 2 black) found him not guilty.  How the decision was reached was due to a strict interpretation of the law.  How the jury can live with themselves and their decision, particularly after the police dash camera was released, is utterly baffling.  But it’s their ability to live with themselves and Jeronimo Yanez and others like Betty Shelby, Darren Wilson and Timothy Loehmann, law enforcement officers that have murdered black males over the last several years without facing justice, have done nothing but send a vivid message to the rest of us black men in America who have to live with lack of accountability for killing us.  Particularly for the rather benign and otherwise common actions which has brought about our death.  Timothy Loehmann shot Tamir Rice while he was playing.  Playing with a toy.  Others like Alton Sterling and John Crawford were shot to death for shopping.

However, in this particular case, the consequences are much more alarming.  Philando Castile was a legally licensed owner of a firearm with full rights and privileges to carry that firearm, a right that we’re often reminded of by the Gun Lobby and it’s allies like the National Rifle Association.  Of course these parties are fairly silent about Castile’s rights.  Now, despite my proclivities and aberration, Philando Castile should have the right to have a firearm and that right should be protected, in all pathetic irony, by the same law enforcement that took his life.  The sad fact of the matter is that Philando Castile would be alive today if he did not own a gun.  But we, as Americans, are allowed to own guns.  How can those two dualities exist in one singularity?

Trust me, I get it. I do.  I’ve been black for nearly 40 years.  And while I have been just as friendly for just as long, we are raised to learn lessons unique to who we are to better navigate society.  It’s like women being told to not dress a certain way or act a certain way to not incur any unwanted advances and attention.  Black men are also told to keep our distance, moderate our vocals, keep our hands visible, stand with our feet together(yeah, I know), etc.  All in an attempt to be less threatening.  Now, like with women, we are told to do these things for our own safety.  And fair or unfair, it’s what it is.  But this is not that.  Walking down a dark street or riding an elevator with a female are not CONSTITUTIONALLY guaranteed rights.  Philando Castile’s right to keep and bear arms absolutely is.  Which means, the consequences of allowing his murder to go without the justice it deserves doesn’t simply violate his rights, but when we continue to see instances like this take place, none of us can assume those same rights or assume those right will be protected.  Particularly when it’s being taken away by those who are supposed to protect those rights for us.  And no matter how much certain rights and freedoms are guaranteed, some of us are not able to take full advantage of them out of the vivid fear of losing our own lives for it.

The sad reality for black men in America is that this no longer shocking.  Not only are we killed for benign reasons, but our killers routinely go unpunished.  And that lack of punishment would cause any of us to question our very actions to avoid those same circumstances.  Philando Castile was not a criminal.  He worked with children at a school.  By all accounts, he was no more a threat to Jeronimo Yanez as he was to the kids around him on a daily basis.  That did not prevent him from losing his life.  Tamir Rice was a kid, playing outside.  Something we’ve ALL done.  John Crawford was shopping, while talking on a cellphone.  That is normal human behavior.  These men and dozens more like them were doing nothing more than any of us could be doing.  And if they can be shot and killed without consequence, doing anything I could be doing, what reason could I have to believe the same won’t happen to me?

This is not the America we were promised.  This is not how we should be judged.  I should not have to have in my mind that my actions can dictate whether I live or die when I am approached by law enforcement.  I should not have to fear for my life.  My mother and mothers of black children should not be afraid that their child’s next encounter with the police will be their last.  But that is what has become of being a black man in America.  And no matter how friendly or compliant I may be, at the end of the day I am still black.  Because even at my best, the worst will be assumed.  And while many Americans gloriously sing the virtues of being proud to be an American,  I do not have such a luxury.  Increasingly, I cannot be proud to be an American because I simply don’t know if I can be free.  However, what I actually am starting to accept is our new reality.

I am not proud to be an American, but I am afraid of be an American.