A fellow author and blogger I follow has written and posted numerous insightful essays regarding the purpose, the function, and the interaction and intersection of the mysterious processes of the human brain, the ‘mind’ if you will.
I have found that these essays often evoke a frenzy of emotions, thoughts, decision-making and re-evaluations of decision-making moments and times in my life. Another very revealing reaction to his writings is the deluge of memories that flood my own mind, cascading and flowing in a furious river of thought. These memories often have literally nothing to do with the focus of the particular essay I am reading, but rather are the offspring of a broader, more fundamental realization triggered by the words in the essay itself.
To a lesser degree, I have experienced floating down this same river of memories when I re-read my own writings and view the photographs and contemplate the thoughts expressed in what I have tried to convey in my words.
I am no psychologist or expert on the workings of the human mind, but I do share the ability in all of us to ‘remember’. What puzzles me is the extremely fragile nature of the memories that are evoked. At times, the memory is exact and has a clarity that does not diminish, even when the moments remembered occurred half a century ago or more. Far more often though, the memory is fuzzy, incomplete, and sometimes even contains parts that I must conclude are imagined, since they cannot be corroborated to my satisfaction. I tend to consider those particular memories as ‘threads’, a tenuous fiber of connection to something that happened, someone I knew, something I did, or perhaps should have done. Despite their fragility and almost ephemeral nature, I KNOW that they are just as real as any unclouded memory or thought.
The fragility of memory also intrigues me since, in many instances the SAME memory, or sequence of memories I experience, are triggered by DIFFERENT sources, different events, different people, and even different moments in time. For me personally, there has been a fair amount of time of life thus far, so my trove of memories spans multiple decades. This is one of the more satisfying aspects of aging.
I find that I enjoy remembering.
I have found a great deal of happiness looking at photographs, re-reading books, listening to a wide variety of music and even making some of my own. Music has its’ own fantastical and mysterious ability to generate a torrent of memories. Such memories are often sweetening and tainted simultaneously. They evoke their own level of fragility and transience.
There have been, of course, certain events in my life that simply cannot be labeled as having provided ‘happy’ memories. This is true for all of us. Over the course of time however, I have uncovered a latent ability to take advantage of the fragility of the threads of memory and, without discarding the sadness, to strengthen and clarify the invaluable shards of memories shared with those we love in the here and now, and even more so with those we have known and loved in our own fragile lives. These human threads of memory will always be ‘remembered’.
Not long after the November 2016 national election, in which Donald Trump won the Presidency of the United States over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, my 13-year old granddaughter asked me how I cast my vote for President. Before I could answer her, she somewhat sarcastically added: Probably Trump, right? She was old enough, and had seen and heard enough during the long campaign season, to have come to the conclusion that, well, I MUST have voted for Mr. Trump since I was an older man and therefore I was probably not going to vote for a woman for President.
She was surprised to learn that in fact I had voted for Secretary Clinton. I explained that I had my concerns about Secretary Clinton, but those concerns had zero to do with her gender. I further explained that, although she was highly qualified and capable, my concerns were influenced by her policy stands, and with my retirement days growing near, I really preferred a different philosophy, one more in line with improving my economic situation that I felt would be more successfully addressed by a conservative President.
So, my inquisitive granddaughter then asked me: So why did you vote for Sec. Clinton? I told her that, quite simply, I really did not care for how Mr. Trump treated people. Whatever my political and economic views, it was wrong for someone who aspires to lead our nation and our citizenry to approach that crucial role with a cavalier belligerence and arrogance toward well-meaning people. It is not possible to truly succeed as the leader of the free world by building up our nation by tearing down our people and our institutions.
After nearly two years of the Trump Presidency, my perceptions in 2016 have modulated and evolved in some ways, and been disappointingly confirmed in others. Some very good things have happened in our economy. I do think that there has been a re-evaluation of the United States of America throughout the world, and that other nations realize that it is no longer business as usual. There is no doubt that we are regaining our footing in many ways.
There has, however, been a price to pay.
That is where the national reaction to the passing of President George H.W. Bush becomes understandable. We all, of course, mourn the loss, and pay respect to any person who has been our President, our leader, and who has sacrificed so much to bear the stress, the difficulty, the demands and the sometimes virulent criticism that is integral to serving as the President of the Unites States. President Trump is no exception
But you must be literally thunderstruck by the deluge of gratitude, homage, respect, admiration, wistfulness and love shown by not just the broad political class, but even more so by our fellow, everyday citizens, towards our 41st President. Those emotions, the spontaneous outpouring of grief and gratefulness, the tens of thousands of people at the nation’s Capital who want to spend a moment or two to say Thank You, the mothers and fathers who bring their children to pay respect to President Bush, and quietly and somberly explain to their own children and granddaughters and grandsons who this man was and why it’s so important to honor him in this way.
This kind of reaction is no accident. I think that most people in this country have been so inundated by the tone and tenor of our elected leaders, by the viciousness of many in ALL segments of the press, that we have forgotten how to recognize the signs of class, of concern for our fellow Americans, of the benefits of bipartisanship, of forgiveness, and of the willingness to listen.
I mourn the loss of President Bush, particularly for his family and friends. But it has unleashed something in our nation, and in all of us, that I almost believed was totally gone and unrecoverable. It is the newly resurrected realization that one truly kinder, gentler man or woman has the power and the impact to bring all of the great citizens of the United States of America together again, as one, in saying Thank You and God Bless You Mr. President. I pray that our leaders honestly and truly recognize the signs President Bush has left behind, and embrace them fully to preserve our precious nation.
Hello everyone! I really wanted to check in with you all on this sad, happy, mournful as well as celebratory day when we honor the lives of thousands of our fellow Americans who perished on September 11, 2001. We celebrate their lives as well as re-affirm our grief at their loss.
It truly is a day, among the remembrances and commemorations, to reflect upon our lives today as well. In this time of reflection, I also include the life of our nation and where we stand as a people.
It is gratifying to witness the true and sincere acts of courage and determination and homage to our heroes of this day, and to all of our friends and family members whose lives were lost. It has been estimated that one in four citizens in our country knew someone who was either killed or wounded on 9/11/01. I personally knew two men who were killed. Both were co-workers in Manhattan and, in honesty, were acquaintances with whom I occasionally interacted at business meetings. It does not lesson the impact of their loss on me. I also had the opportunity on July 4, 2000 to stand outside at the top of one of the twin towers (the one without the radio tower) and witness the Independence Day celebration in New York Harbor. This included seeing F-15 and F-18 fighter jets flying BELOW us, as well as seeing the Stealth Bomber, the secret black winged aircraft, scream over our heads at hundreds of miles per hour.
So, in today’s reflections, I was drawn back to a story I read a short while ago about two American citizens who were deliberately murdered by the same evil, cold-blooded people and twisted beliefs that wreaked such horror on our friends and families on this day in 2001.
I have included a link to the full story in the New York Times August 7, 2018. It is well worth reading, as are some of the links in the article to a blog maintained by one of the Americans that more fully describes these intriguing people.
The Americans who were killed were Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan, both 29 years old. They were close friends who shared a passion for cycling, meeting people and exploring the world up close. They reached the point in their lives and in their shared interests where they decided to give up, at least for a time, what they considered the mundane, humdrum, partially scripted lives as office dwellers, cubicle inhabitants who attended meetings and gave Powerpoint demonstrations, tracking working hours, spreadsheets, participating in teleconferences, attending to all of the day-to-day tedium that can creep into any job.
In July of 2017, they embarked on a cycling journey which involved, among many other places, part of the country of Tajikistan, which is a central Asian country close to China and Afghanistan. During their journey, they had encountered many, many happy moments that re-affirmed in their minds the essential goodness and kindness in people throughout the world. They also, of course, ran into those who did not display these same values, as well as an occasionally uncooperative Mother Nature and other unavoidable unpleasantries.
Most terribly for both Mr. Austin and Ms. Geoghegan, on July 29, 2018, as they cycled with a group of like-minded cyclists in a particularly scenic part of Tajikistan, a car passed by the group on the road, stopped and turned around. The driver of the car then sped up and deliberately ran into the cyclists and drove the car over them, killing Mr. Austin, Ms. Geoghegan, and two other cyclists from Switzerland and the Netherlands. The driver and passengers in the car were later identified in a video released by the Islamic State as members of that organization who were carrying out their ‘mission’ against disbelievers.
On this day, September 11, 2018, I find myself thinking of the unrecoverable loss our nation and the world suffered in 2001 at the hands of people who perpetrated the same kind of pointless, useless and mindless violence against these two Americans.
I recently have eased into retirement from my own career as an office dweller and cubicle inhabitant, who labored through some of the same mundane and tedious moments as those experienced, and rejected, by Ms. Geoghegan and Mr. Austin. In fairness, I enjoyed a very satisfying career in the information technology business, however, there was far too much of what these two Americans jettisoned from their lives.
I was particularly struck by a highly impactful insight Mr. Austin posted in his blog, accessible via the link to the NY Times article. As I adjust to new life routines, and have far more time to contemplate my life and the lives of those closest to me, I found Mr. Austin’s perspective quite profound, and particularly appropriate today, when we mourn the huge loss of lives, vow to make positive changes in our lives, and pledge to take the time to appreciate the sweet and beautiful moments of life, including not allowing too many gentle breezes to go unnoticed….
This is Mr. Austin’s blog reply to the questions he was asked concerning WHY he decided to give up a good job in a steady, predictable life, WHY he decided not to follow the traditional path of his peers, and WHY he so strongly felt that he had to change his life’s path to what his heart told him to do. May Mr. Austin and Ms. Geoghegan rest in peace, along with all our friends and families who lost their own lives on September 11, 2001.
I’m grateful for the opportunity, and I’m anxious to turn my back on what was really a good thing. But getting too cozy is dangerous. Inertia is a stealthy predator. I’ve learned a lot from these seven years, and I enjoyed plenty, but with each passing year I feel I learned a little less. The days have blended into weeks, the weeks into months, the months into years. I’ve grown tired of meetings, of teleconferences, of timesheets and password changes and Monday morning elevator commiseration. I’ve grown tired of spending the best hours of my day in front of a glowing rectangle, of coloring the best years of my life in swaths of grey and beige. I’ve missed too many sunsets while my back was turned. Too many thunderstorms went unwatched, too many gentle breezes unnoticed. There’s magic out there, in this great big beautiful world, and I’ve long since scooped up the last of the scraps to be found in my cubicle.
Hello again to all my readers! Been a while! Although I haven’t posted for a while, it doesn’t mean that I have not been reading, watching, thinking, researching and writing :). In fact, all of these enriching, mentally demanding but enjoyable tasks are also quite time-consuming, as I am sure you all well know.
One of the more challenging patterns I have discerned, at least for me, is that the sheer volume of information and the barrage of daily events, both minor and major, often serve to distract my mind from the particular task at hand. My primary goal in maintaining this blog remains as I describe on my main page: To define and discuss how the founding of our nation, and its’ subsequent journey to survive, came so perilously close to failure and destruction in the 18th century, and how the incredible men and women of those days dealt with all of the insurmountable odds against success.
Those distractions I mentioned are not necessarily always a bad thing. I have often found inspiration for this blog’s topics and examples from current events. In fact, they tie in to my thesis very nicely and help me to illustrate what I contend in my words. Despite the constant barrage of events and information that relate to who and what we are as a people and a nation, the discouraging heartbreak we all have recently been subjected to, the incessant whining of the news media, the schoolyard recess in our nation’s Capital and on and on ad nauseam, in the 18th century our nation faced obliteration and non-existence from the troubles of those times!
That’s precisely why it’s so important to really learn about the founding of the United States of America. It gives not only a perspective on the troubles of our own time, but also gives us all the awareness that we CAN and WILL do whatever is necessary to resolve the sources of our national divide. And let’s face it, there are many.
Like you, I have my own opinions about some of the more wrenching and difficult sources of division in our country. I have my own political leanings and religious beliefs. I have my own opinions about the stands that other people take on a variety of issues. But one thing that seems like simple, basic logic to me is the fact that, in order for our nation and our way of life to survive and continue to thrive, we MUST be willing to first acknowledge the differences among us. Next, we MUST learn to tolerate the existence of those differences. We must then be willing to listen to those earnest and sincere people who hold those differences. And finally, we MUST make our cogent and fact-based arguments to each other without impugning the integrity or motive of those who disagree with us.
To be clear, I am well aware that not EVERY person we encounter, or institution we interact with, is going to be so level-headed and embrace this philosophy. We certainly do have to accept the fact that there are just some people who are simply not willing or perhaps capable of taking this approach. When you do encounter that, it is probably best to limit your conversation to the weather!
I am also well aware that, if you are a news-junkie like me, you may get the impression from the breathless, non-stop media reporting frenzy, that my recommendations are naive or impossible to achieve. That is the culture of our national divide. The truth is that our nation is full of caring, thoughtful, passionate citizens who love this country and ARE willing to solve problems together, even with those with whom we disagree.
That was the spirit of the founding men and women of 18th century America. They built a grand and wonderful country through far more divisive and dangerous times. Now it’s OUR turn. Our task is to preserve this incredible nation!!!
In future posts, I will discuss how we can do that, and present some very wise words and descriptions of events from those dangerous times that we can use in the 21st century!
Today I am taking a break from the concerns of the political world, and the trajectory of our nation, as I celebrate my big brother, Mike. Today, February 26, 2017 is my big brother’s 66th birthday. This is a personal celebration of what Mike has meant to me in my own life as I reflect on his memory. Mike, or Tike, as I and others often called him,has passed on from life on earth. He became yet another victim of cancer in 2012. His passing was devastating to me and all my brothers and sisters, his wife Patrice as well as my Mom, who survived him for a year. Mom lost both her youngest and eldest sons in her lifetime, extending the pain of loss even more. (Tike third from left with the white shirt)
Despite the loss, which every one of us on earth have or will experience, this post today is to celebrate the fun and happiness and love I gained throughout my entire life with Tike as my big brother and best friend.The four amigos..Den, Tike, Joe and John.
His nickname Tike was given to him by a teenage friend who recognized the little kid in him (a little tyke!) in his jokes and antics while growing up. Mike never lost those peculiar qualities about him, even as a senior citizen when he faced the most serious circumstances one can face in life. Mike suffered from a malignant glioblastoma which is a cancerous brain tumor. He had surgery to remove the tumor which was extraordinarily successful to the extent that it removed over 90% of the cancer. On the day of his surgery, I was with him as well as his wife Patrice all day at the hospital, awaiting word of how things had gone and what his prognosis was. (Mike and Patrice)
After hours of waiting and wondering and worrying, the surgeon finally came out and told us we could actually go see him and talk to him in the recovery room. When we entered the room, we were almost overwhelmed to see about a dozen patients in the room all recently out of major surgery for one reason or another. And we could not find Mike! We began to walk up to each person to see if we were at the right bedside. Then we saw him and we literally did NOT recognize him. He was a ghost of himself, a face drained by enormous trauma. Or so we thought. As we approached him, his eyes fluttered open and, when he saw Patrice, a slow, big and broad smile grew on his face. Then he turned and saw me. He extended both of his arms out to us. We sat down on either side of him and put our heads on his shoulders as he embraced both of us. It was incredibly moving and no words were spoken for a moment. Then Tike appeared…his first words to us were.. “I finally had my head examined and they found nothing”. Patrice and I, and a couple of the staff members, burst out in an uproarious laugh. THAT was Tike. (Den and Tike)
All during my time growing up, especially as we became teenagers, Mike was the guy I looked up to, wanted to be like, wanted to hang out with. As often happens with brothers, and I have two younger brothers as well, we did not always get along. Sometimes he was annoyed that his kid brother was around because I wasn’t really all that cool, or I wasn’t old enough to hang out with his buddies even though we were born only 16 months apart.
In high school Mike was a year ahead of me. As we got to be in our junior and senior years Mike started giving me some tips about particular teachers or classes to look out for or prepare better for. When he went to college, and I told him I wasn’t going to go to college the following year, he convinced me that I should because I might meet some really awesome chic that I could study with…I didn’t want to miss out on that, did I ?? Well, no.
When ever I had life troubles, Mike was the guy I always turned to. Even though he wasn’t that much older than me, he always seemed to have a confidence and wisdom about him that was hard to define, but far more often than not, his ideas and suggestions were good ones. He was a bit of a trailblazer for me, particularly when it came to dealing with Dad. Our Dad was strict and sometimes pretty tough on us, particularly Mike. He was the oldest son. He had a responsibility. He should know better. But Mike being Tike, he often clashed with Dad and they were at odds all throughout those formative years before turning 21. My turn came for dealing with Dad too and Mike’s suggestions (and warnings!) really helped ease that path for me.
As we grew into adults, Mike and I really and truly became friends….best friends really. We went on vacations together with our spouses. We went to rock concerts together, baseball games, family picnics. Mike became the Godfather of my daughter Kate. Years later I was Mike’s best man as he married Patrice. Then he was my best man as I married Denise. He was the commissioner of our yearly fantasy football leagues, and obtained an official NFL football that served as the trophy for the winner. I was the first one to win it and he had me sign it and pass it on the the next years’ winner. That tradition continued for several years. There are so many good memories I fall back on whenever I feel that sadness come over me.
Even at the end, Mike was an astonishingly courageous and re-assuring presence for me and my family. I have never known anyone with such courage and determination, as he faced the extremely difficult reality of what he knew was going to happen.
I think for me, the thing that is really missing, even stolen, from my life is what you might call a ‘state of mind’. It is that knowledge in the back of my mind that no matter what problem or question or mystery or solution I have or need, I just have to call up Tike and see what he thinks. I know he’ll have something I can use. I experienced this feeling and the loss of that state of mind on the day that Mike passed away. I was on my way to his house, travelling a route I knew by heart from continually driving back and forth to his house during his two-plus years of life after surgery. I made a wrong turn by mistake and promptly got lost and not sure how to get back on the main road. After some initial panic, I thought..don’t worry…just call up Tike…he knows this area up and down and back and forth. But Mike could no longer help me. So I remembered something he told me and just calmed down and found my way. (Tike and Mom)
So today, I CELEBRATE you Tike. Happy Birthday in heaven. I love and miss you. We all do.
Whatever you may think or make of the political jolts roiling America since the new presidential administration took power in 2017, you must concede that it has, at the very least, unleashed a furious storm of ACTION!
Those actions involve not only the new administration’s deluge of executive actions and orders. but also, even more importantly, it also involves an incredible and reassuring increase in the examples of our democracy in action.
I wanted to cite one extraordinary example of real American democracy in action because it really did reassure and confirm to me that we are no nation of sheep to be led blind and numb to a bleak and frightening future. As I declared in my intentions for this blog and website, and in some of my first few posts, the American people have demonstrated over and over throughout out entire history as a nation that we do not shrink from confrontation or meekly allow any one person or party or organization to steal what has been earned at such a devastating cost. It is the same persistence, determination and courage that has motivated our incredible men and women of the military, now and at all times in the past, to physically defend our democracy from destruction by outside forces.
The example I cite involves the order released on January 25, 2017 by the President that is named: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements. If you have never actually read or even looked at not just this particular executive order, but almost any officially released executive order, you may be astonished by doing so. This is not just some 140-character 6:00 a.m. Twitter post. It is a highly detailed, specific and wide-ranging declaration of the purpose, definition, and directives compelling multiple civil servants of the administration to take specific actions and to do so immediately. I urge you to take some time and review it, if for no other reason than to make certain you understand it and therefore become able to factually support or reject it.
Of course, in our currently supercharged political atmosphere, doing so may not have been undertaken by large percentages of either critics or supporters. Also, quite frankly, the manner in which it was created and reviewed before publishing failed to anticipate how much confusion and consternation it would cause. Even more damaging has been the inconsistent implementation of the executive order, leading to judicial involvement to settle disputes and halt further implementations until a more detailed assessment can be made to assure legality and fairness.
Whether or not you agree with this particular executive order, that element of government in the United States is a legitimate tool and can be legally utilized. There is no guarantee that it won’t be just as legally challenged, nor upheld if it is challenged. Many such orders have been successfully challenged and removed, as recently as in the previous administration and also in all those that preceded it . So you could say that the executive orders undertaken by any president are part of the American democracy.
The re-assurance I mentioned earlier came from an article found in the print edition of the New York Times on January 31, 2017 by Charlie Savage detailing the efforts made by a network of former and current students of the Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut to actively volunteer and participate in their OWN real life example of American Democracy in Action. You can read the article via the link, but it essentially describes how the average, everyday American, who is either happily supportive of a law or a cause, or is vehemently opposed to a law or a cause, can take helpful, positive actions to assist their fellow citizens, or in this case immigrants and others aspiring to work towards citizenship, to have their rights upheld and their voices heard.
These lawyers and law students began their team approach to helping those affected by this executive order by gathering information, filing law suits, sharing information and files with others across the country who also banded together to make sure that they had at least had some impact on mitigating the confusion and unnecessary agony of people who were legally allowed to come into the United States, but were subsequently detained and denied access and, in some cases, illegally deported. All of this totally avoidable confusion and chaos drove many to flock to the major airports across the country and participate in another element of American democracy in action: the peaceful protest of an action taken by the government. Many of the lawyers involved in this organized effort to stop what was happening also went to the airports, seeking out those in need of legal assistance, and offering their help. They succeeded in helping some and focusing critical attention on how the situation had gone so wrong, and helped compel judicial action to suspend the order and let cooler heads prevail.
So my re-assurance and confirmation of where we are in America today was bolstered in a very positive way. I do not attribute this feeling to agreeing or disagreeing with a particular executive action or law. I am re-assured by the fact that everyday citizens took it upon themselves to organize and take peaceful, legal actions to help counteract what THEY saw as a wrong to be righted. It may not ultimately eliminate what they oppose, but their efforts can inspire all of us to stand up and take action, not by throwing rocks and smashing windows and destruction of property, but rather by joining together and work within our laws to affect the outcomes we need to maintain our precious democracy.
Hello out there in America and the World today!! If you have taken a look at my very nascent web site and blog posts, then you may have a sense of what I hope to convey by my thoughts and the topics I chose to write about.
I would like to ask everyone today to really and seriously hit the pause button on the political music you have been listening to, voluntarily or not, over the past few weeks and months.
Pausing and standing back, taking stock of where you are, giving yourself some breathing room…these are all solid ways to help yourself take your own political temperature and allow realistic assessments of what things are truly important. These practices are not solely appropo of politics, but are useful in the conduct of most aspects of your life.
I totally appreciate the divide in our nation, exacerbated HUGELY by the 2016 Presidential campaigns and election. Much has been said, as it has been throughout the long history of our nation, of the peaceful transfer of power as the presidential administrations end and begin anew. The transition of 2017 is no exception. It does seem, however, that the transition that occurs today, January 20, 2017, is accompanied by unprecedented rancor, fear, elation, relief, foreboding, excitement and apprehension.
In fact, you don’t have to go back in time very far to discover that this is not the case at all! Think about the Presidential election of 2000. Perhaps you’d rather not! 🙂 But think about it for a moment. The democratic nominee was declared the winner prematurely by the professional media networks. The actual ‘certified’ results revealed that there was a HUGE problem with that declaration. Frankly, they were completely wrong. If you lived through this time as a politically aware politico-phile, you saw that there had NEVER been a more contentious and uncertain election between two nominees that couldn’t have been more different. The national popular vote was extremely close. A single state’s Electoral College votes determined the outcome but not before an incredible rollercoaster of recounts, lawsuits and finally a United States Supreme Court decision that brought the chaos to an end. The winning candidate was immediately and permanently hindered in his efforts to ‘Bring Us Together’. Literally, all of the political noise and ranting and raving surrounding the 2016 Presidential election was preceded in 2000 by what almost became a Constitutional crisis.
The initial results of those events in 2000 mirror the same excitement and apprehension I attribute to the results of what has taken place in 2016. I do not think they compare though in the same way.
As someone who loves this country and has deep respect and trust in our political institutions and in our long-lived traditions, I ask you to Pause, Stand Back, and Give Yourself Some Breathing Room! Give our nation the benefit of the doubt. As I have urged in earlier commentary, Be Involved, Be Vigilant….and follow the example and spirit of our founding citizens who learned to accommodate dissenting points of view in a respectful and inclusive manner, and ultimately make our nation and ourselves great for the FIRST time.
I know that millions of you have seen the fabulous 1962 John Ford movie called ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’. It is one of my top five films of all time. Among its’ stars are John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien and Vera Miles and several other well-recognized actors.
I have included a couple of stills from the movie and a link to a snippet of the film dealing specifically with the title of this post. You can also find links to the full movie from there if you decide to watch it. I hope you will as it is one of the few truly great films and its’ poignant and astonishing story contains all the crucial elements we are experiencing in our nation and in our politics in 2017.
The particular scene I highlight includes Dutton Peabody, Esq. (founder, owner, publisher and editor of newspaper The Shinbone Star..he also sweeps out the place!) played by Edmond O’Brien who has defiantly published a front page article accusing Liberty Valance (played superbly menacingly by Lee Marvin) of murder. Valance is the gun slinger hired by the cattlemen to intimidate the people of Shinbone and allow the open territorial region that Shinbone is part of to remain open versus the people’s desire to attain statehood in the United States and come under its’ laws and protection and opportunity for growth.
Valance and his henchmen confront Peabody about his accusation and Peabody utters his famous line that is the title to this post. You can view the scene here
All of this is intended to warm you up to the idea that, in our current political environment, we are experiencing yet another unfamiliar and unsettling aspect. That is the ‘liberties’ taken not only against the press, but quite frankly the press’ own incompetence and bungling, also attributable to taking ‘liberties’ .
We often hear the term ‘Main Stream Media’ (MSM) as well as, depending on your point of view, which media-based organizations comprise the MSM and which do not. The description of Main Stream Media contained in Wikipedia basically defines it as:
Mainstream media (MSM) is a term and abbreviation used to refer collectively to the various large mass news media that influence a large number of people, and both reflect and shape prevailing currents of thought. The term is used to contrast with alternative media which may contain content with more dissenting thought as they do not reflect prevailing opinion.
I don’t know about you, but I think the vast majority of all of the best-known or most recognized media organizations are ALL part of that grouping. Certainly the editorial ideologies and human personalities are quite different among these well-known sources of information and entertainment, however it seems to me that they are all trying to accomplish a very similar goal: Present the American people with the facts, add their own particular interpretations for editorial purposes, and convince majorities that their point of view is the most sensible and provable.
How have they been doing lately?
There is no doubt that the general ideological camps within the MSM come down to conservative vs liberal positions. (Defining these two terms is a whole other post!) Two or three major national newspapers on the liberal side tangle with two or three conservative major newpapers. The slow demise of the era of the printed newspaper is unfortunately shrinking its’ influence. Two or three conservative major television-based organizations tangle with a similar subset of liberal tv-based organizations. And, of course, there is the Internet. This particular platform has totally disrupted the old order and narrowly-focused audiences of TV, radio and newspapers. Now, even I can be a single, solitary voice of my own opinions and prejudices, my own focus on ‘facts’, and my own interpretation of what they mean and potentially be heard by billions all over the world!
Many of these Main Stream Media organizations have lost their focus on their real responsibilities. The media coverage of the political world over the last several years, and particularly since the era of Trump began a couple of years ago, has deteriorated and devolved into almost an elementary schoolyard scene during recess.
This is where the thought of Liberty Valance drifted into my mind. There is no single person, either in the political world or the world of the media, that compares to that fictional character. But I urge you to watch the movie and re-watch it if its been awhile. You may see what I believe I have seen…that the liberty of the press, the Freedom of the Press, enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, must be preserved and must not be undermined, not only by arrogant outside forces, but particularly by ‘liberties’ taken by its own partisan members.
There are times in each our lives when we must step back and honestly reassess who and what we truly are. Often, the impetus for such assessments are involuntary. It may be an unexpected life event like a job layoff, a near-death experience, or the death of a friend or loved one. Something that jolts us out of our complacency and compels us to rethink every aspect of our lives. Such events are unavoidable and at least, in some circumstances, a positive development. What truly matters, and is critical to the potential benefit from the event, is the 100% honest and factual based effort to make that assessment. Why did this happen? What are the real reasons behind it and how should I proceed going forward?
I think that the United States of America, its’ government and citizens, are experiencing just such a life-changing jolt now! This has not been caused by the election or defeat of any particular person in a specific way or level. The Presidential election in 2016 was going to happen regardless of who was actually competing for it. The outcome of that election however, was a result of a major, nationwide reassessment of who and what we truly are, and perhaps more accurately, of who and what we hope to be. I’d like to examine that a bit further.
In the New York Times print newspaper from 01/04/17, there was an opinion piece written by Eduardo Porter under his Economic Scene segment that examines whether or not the American democracy is broken. You can read this article for yourself via the link, however my interpretation of the essay is that Mr. Porter seems to feel that the winning candidate in the 2016 Presidential election is basically an authoritarian strongman with the intention of serving the elite versus the ordinary working class Americans. He seems to believe that the millions of people who voted for him chose to ignore his resemblance to dictatorial strongmen, current and past, who started out as populist but ended up keeping their citizens down and made to buckle under their rule. Admittedly, there are millions who may agree with that, or at least be concerned that the door to that path has become slightly ajar. The article further defines and details the perceived reasons behind the dysfunction of our democracy in the United States. It’s that reassessment idea I spoke of earlier.
My main reason for citing this article is that, although Mr. Porter references many of the symptoms of democratic dysfunction in the US, he attributes the single greatest source of that dysfunction to the actual design and structure of our political institutions! The fundamental pillars of our republic! These institutions are described and established in the Constitution of the United States. They cannot be ignored, nor can they simply be overhauled or swept away because of the existence of inequality, a declining social safety net, stagnant incomes or any other difficult problem facing the United States in 2017. The Constitution of the United States has been in force since 1789, after a huge and difficult national debate, an effort on a scale not seen since that era. I urge you to undertake the reading of the Federalist Papers which will astound you and amaze you as you learn about the persistence and determination of three of the Founding Fathers to explain and masterfully defend the principles and justification for our incredible nation contained in the new Constitution. The clear and convincing ideas contained in those Papers served to convince a very skeptical and wary populace to ratify and accept the simplified and codified tenets of government contained in the extraordinary document called the Constitution of the United States. It should also be read and re-read by all Americans, particularly those who blame the political institutions conceived in the late 18th century that gave us our precious nation and continue to secure its’ existence, for our current ‘dysfunction’. In fact, it is those exact institutions that will PROTECT us from the authoritarian strongman who would subvert our citizens and undermine our nation.
As we hurtle towards a major shift in both the political and geo-political spheres that exist in both the United States and the entire world, we are reminded of the law of unintended consequences. It is both a very exciting time to live in as well as a deeply unsettling and uncertain time to live. I think there is great hope throughout our nation and the world, and perhaps that is somewhat driven by the calendar, as today is the first day of 2017. It goes beyond that, however. One of the greatest differences among nations and cultures, at least to a much larger degree here in the United States, is that despite legitimate worry and concern over a very different kind of government coming to power, our citizens today are as courageous, determined, resilient and capable as any generation that came before, even the Greatest Generation. There will no doubt be moments of great accomplishment and setback, great hope and bitter disappointment.
The key is to become and remain involved. To become and remain engaged. To become and remain vigilant. We must also display our understanding, our compassion, and our ability to see beyond ourselves and seriously and civilly speak and act towards one another. Those qualities are the ones that will sustain our nation and ourselves and limit the unintended consequences of the changes to come.