Many of us, if we were lucky, had people in our lives when we were young who shaped us, molded us – important, vitally influential characters without whom we would be less than we are. Teachers, coaches, perhaps church leaders, family friends or relatives – we learn values from these figures that we never unlearn, and we can feel their presence, if we concentrate, decades later, in both our most pivotal and banal moments.
Can you name the five most influential people in the history of your life? I can, sort of. There’s about a ten-way tie for fifth, but the first four are my grandparents, my former teacher and now S&R colleague Jim Booth, and a junior high coach and teacher I’ll call Mr. C. This post is about him, and it’s one I have dreaded writing because I really have no idea what to do with my feelings.
It’s about tribalism. You cannot work with Trumpists. Period. You must defeat them and then fix the problems that handed them control.
It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into. – Jonathan Swift
Since the moment of Campaign 2016 when it became clear that Donald Trump actually had a chance, a lot of people have done a lot of thinking and pontificating and punditofying and writing and hand-wringing about the reasons for his viability. On one end of the spectrum: Donald gave the drooling, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, ignorant, anti-intellectual, hillbillies a cynical, smirking, dog-whistling charlatan they could line up behind. On the other, we’ve had all manner of thoughtful, complex analyses about how economic anxiety (and utter despair) fueled the rise of a non-partisan populist backlash against a political establishment that has spent decades betraying those it represents.
We need a new American consensus driven by a commitment to knowledge, reason and good faith engagement with those whose views differ from our own.
For decades I have toyed with the idea that we could use a civic forum for popular debate, an organization that would make it possible for communities to discuss the issues of the day in ways that would spark thought and reflection, perhaps enabling better decision-making come Election Day. This idea has grown stronger over the past 20 years, as the combined corrosive mechanisms of partisan tribalism, cable media and, worst of all, the Internet and social media seemed to find new and better ways of tearing society apart, making us dumber and more hateful in the process.
The only thing worse than the willfully ignorant is the legion of apologists enabling them.
Since the election – before, really – we’ve heard a lot of talk about how all those urban liberal elites need to stop being so arrogant and start listening to very real concerns of real Americans in rural flyover values America.
We have more recently begun to see some informed pushback against this silliness self-serving rhetorical engineering masquerading as good-faith socio-political analysis. Now we’ve hit the daily double, though.
The trending case of a Suffolk University student accused of cheating in front of her class raises more questions than her manipulative story answers…
On Thursday, a Suffolk University student named Tiffany Martínez posted a blog in which she described how her professor had attacked her in front of a class for using language that was “not her own.”
This morning, my professor handed me back a paper (a literature review) in front of my entire class and exclaimed “this is not your language.” On the top of the page they wrote in blue ink: “Please go back and indicate where you cut and paste.” The period was included. They assumed that the work I turned in was not my own. My professor did not ask me if it was my language, instead they immediately blamed me in front of peers. On the second page the professor circled the word “hence” and wrote in between the typed lines “This is not your word.” The word “not” was underlined. Twice. My professor assumed someone like me would never use language like that. As I stood in the front of the class while a professor challenged my intelligence I could just imagine them reading my paper in their home thinking could someone like her write something like this?
Partisan discourse can’t sink much lower. Now is the time to resurrect a format that was made for political debates.
The third and final “debate” between presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is now mercifully in the rearview mirror, but like a direct hit from an aggrieved skunk, it might take weeks for the stink to fully die down. This trifecta of vitriolic spew has held a mirror up before the face of the American system of political discourse, and what we’re seeing is utterly wretched.
And for what? What have we learned? Did the debates make us smarter? Did it leave us more capable of rendering an informed decision? Did it shed light on the election and the best interests of the Republic?
It’s World Teachers Day. And I’m a little distressed by how little mention I have seen of it flying around on my Facebook feed. But then, what do I expect?
Once upon a time we celebrated teachers for their wisdom and commitment to making their communities better places. Now, in addition, we celebrate them for their superhuman perseverance in the face of utterly overwhelming odds. Some of the stories I’ve heard from teachers border on the harrowing. And I’m just talking about what they’re expected to do in the classroom. Never mind what those who work in de facto war zones face.
It’s now clear that democracy, as practiced in an anti-intellectual society like ours, doesn’t work. Let’s give elitism (properly understood) a try.
Many of you probably read Andrew Sullivan’s New York Magazine piece back in April. If not, you should do so as soon as possible – it’s among the most important and insightful political essays we have seen in a generation and will reward your time. I won’t even try to summarize his message, because no paraphrase I could provide would do it justice. Short version: the US is in trouble, and democracy is perhaps the reason.
April 20, 1999. I remember exactly where I was, exactly what I was doing. My co-worker at US West, Joe Lopez, turned to me and said “hey Sammy, there’s been a shooting at a school down in Littleton.”
“Find out everything you can,” I said. I’ll go tell Marti. Marti was Marti Smith, our VP, and thus began some of the hardest days those of us in Colorado have ever had to confront.
It was also the moment when I realized that North Carolina, the state I grew up in, was no longer home.
This piece – “Columbine and the Power of Symbols” – chronicles my reaction to the events of 4/20/99 as well as the days that followed, as we all tried to make sense of utter senselessness. It’s still one of the three or four best things I have ever written. And it’s still so very hard to read, even after all these years.