Hold onto that grudge
Don't be distracted by political liars who say this is the time to look away.
These times call for a steady gaze at those who want to deceive us. Don’t let them.
It’s unhealthy to hold a grudge, we’re always told — you know, better to let go of the past and move on. I’m here to blow the whistle on that idea. There are times, yes, when you need to fix your eyes on the horizon and lay aside whatever may be pestering you from behind. But there are other times — like now — when it’s better to remember the sage political advice of Ed Koch, who won three terms as New York City mayor after serving eight years in Congress. “Seldom forgive, never forget,” Koch said.
Mind you, I’m not talking about dealing with a relationship that went sour or a boss who didn’t treat you fairly. That stuff? Yeah, get over it. But Americans are being pushed these days to pretend that some simply unforgiveable offenses didn’t happen, or that what we actually saw and experienced wasn’t so bad. We’re being told that focusing on that old stuff means we won’t be able to contend with what really matters now.
I’m talking, of course, about the assault on democracy that is a very real part of this year’s political campaigns. With the House committee that has been investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection launching its public hearings, the pushback from those who think the findings might hurt their own standing is taking the form of insisting that what’s done is done, and that focusing on what happened a year and a half ago will distract us from fighting inflation or crime or supply chain disruptions — or whatever else you think is important. If we choose to look back, we’re told, we won’t be able to move forward.
Don’t believe it, folks. This time, hold onto that grudge.
Do not forgive Donald Trump for riling up the mostly misguided souls who attacked the U.S. Capitol in his name. Don’t forget the politicians who stand with him even now in the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. Do not tolerate officials who are changing laws to make it easier to throw out legitimate ballots in a closely contested race.
That is, do not allow lying to be normalized, and do not swerve from your commitment to our democracy. The consequences for our country and the world are too great. Do not look away.
Most people probably think this sort of warning is alarmist. You can understand why. After all, we’ve always had political disputes in America. Even George Washington had his enemies: He was so disliked at the end of his presidency that the House refused to recess for a half hour to wish him a happy birthday. So it might seem reasonable to suggest that we shouldn’t get too exercised about the current partisan divide.
And it might sound like hyperbole to claim that fellow Americans want to undermine our democracy, since such threats have always before come from foreign powers. We haven’t had an insurrection since the Civil War.
But it takes willful disregard of reality to not see that Donald Trump did, in fact, try to overturn the legitimate decision of voters in his furious bid to cling to the presidency — thus becoming the only American president ever to try to undermine the peaceful transfer of power.
It requires a cold lack of compassion to call the storming of the Capitol by thousands of Trump partisans, an event that injured 140 police officers and led to five deaths, “legitimate political discourse,” as the Republican National Committee did.
It’s only by intentionally distorting facts that anybody might conclude that the 2020 election wasn’t fairly won by Joe Biden, which is the standard talking point for most Republican congressional candidates this year.
And it is only with a callous disregard for the value of free elections, which have sustained the United States for seven generations and more, that anybody might support laws that will give partisans control over vote results — so that, say, a Republican-controlled state legislature could empower a slate of Republican electors even if a Democrat won a state’s popular vote.
So anybody who thinks our democracy is worth saving cannot consider 2022 to be the same as any other even-numbered year. It is not. The stakes that have been ratcheted up ever since Trump began winning primaries in 2016 are now higher than ever.
This is not, after all, only about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Those who urge us to turn away from the truth of that terrible day are trying to distract us from the fact that it was what in any other country we would call an attempted authoritarian takeover, instigated by a leader who is poised to again carry the standard of his movement.
Let’s recognize, though, that it’s not easy to speak truth to power when lies have been embraced by such authority. By and large, the politicians who either tacitly or overtly back up Trump’s Big Lie aren’t stupid, meaning that they know they’re lying. What are we to do about that, especially if we might find ourselves otherwise preferring to support those candidates?
Here’s the answer: Stand firm. Do not reward those who thwart truth-telling, and, in that, try to put a thumb on the scale of democratic decision-making. Do not vote for liars, even if they are liars who share your ideology.
And here’s another question that especially troubles me: What are journalists to do now? After working in journalism for almost a half-century, I’m especially sympathetic to the challenge that endemic lying presents to working political journalists. The effort to fairly present all points of view and betray no bias to the public is a cherished tenet of American journalism. But a bias to the truth is journalism’s highest calling, and reporting that doesn’t consistently call out lies is a distortion of the reality that journalists owe readers, viewers and listeners.
Yes, partisans will be alienated by journalism that repeatedly points out that a candidate is lying, and candidates will push back by claiming that it’s the truth-tellers who are the liars. But popularity isn’t an objective of journalism, and presenting a clear view of reality is. A failure to stand up for truth, commercial consequences be damned, risks making U.S. journalism only better by degrees than the distortion that’s practiced by the state-sponsored “journalists” in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
After all, giving in to those who demean democracy and flout the truth now will only smooth the path ahead for more prevaricators, fabricators, fibbers and fabulists. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who lied repeatedly from the White House podium as Trump’s spokeswoman, is the Republican nominee for governor of Arkansas; Jared Kushner, whose omitted at least 100 contacts with foreign nationals (including Russian agents) from his security clearance application, will be capitalizing on his political ties to build his wealth for decades to come; Donald Trump Jr. is certainly a future candidate.
But it’s those who are already in office, and who want to distract us now from the reality of what we saw and experienced, who should most concern us. Think of that when you hear officials saying that there are issues more important than the assault on our democracy, so we should ignore Jan 6 and its implications. Weigh their motivation for trying to distract us, and don’t break your gaze.
Do not forget the instigators and the fomenters. Do not forgive the liars. Hold that grudge until you’ve worked it off — that is, until the threat is diminished by the exercise of voters’ will against those who would turn us aside from the truth.
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NEWSCLIPS FROM THE UPSTATES
Dispatches from our common ground *
Wherein each week we look around what we call the nation’s Upstates — those places just a bit removed from the center of things — to find illuminating news and intriguing viewpoints, which you might not otherwise see.
This week, we share reporting published here:
Louisville, Ky. (Courier Journal, courier-journal.com)
New Bedford, Mass. (Standard-Times, southcoasttoday.com)
Great Falls, Mont. (Great Falls Tribune, greatfallstribune.com)
Fayetteville, N.C. (Fayetteville Observer, fayobserver.com)
NOTE: The complete “Newsclips from the Upstates” section is available only to paid subscribers. Thanks for your support!
School board sues as legislature tries to strip its power
The Republican-led Kentucky state legislature acted this year to limit the authority of the state’s largest school district by blocking the school board from meeting more than monthly and shifting much of its authority to the county school superintendent, according to reporting in the Courier Journal by Olivia Krauth. Now the Jefferson County school board has sued to block portions of Senate Bill 1, which was initially vetoed by the Democratic governor, Andy Beshear. Among other provisions, the bill would allow the superintendent to approve contracts of up to $250,000, rather than the current limit of $20,000 — which, according to other news sources, is aimed at removing from the school board the authority to appoint principals.
More cops in schools, though some say it’s not the right approach
In the aftermath of the gun slaughter at the elementary school in Uvalde, additional police officers have been assigned to patrol schools on the South Coast of Massachusetts, according to an article in the Standard-Times of New Bedford by Matthew Ferreira. Now there are cops in elementary schools, as well as middle and high schools, and additional security cameras have been installed. "It just gives folks a sense of comfort to see police around, so visibility will be increased,” one local school superintendent said. But not everybody agrees that’s the right approach. The president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association called for federal action to reduce the number of guns in society, and added, “Our vision is one in which schools are not barricaded fortresses — but rather are welcoming, safe and joyful learning environments that are open to their communities.”
City sues Methodist church over its aid for homeless
As the price of housing in Great Falls has risen — with the median home price now $265,000 — so has the number of people who have no homes, according to reporting in the Great Falls Tribune by Nicole Girten. So the First United Methodist Church in Great Falls has been working to create a new local non-profit that could provide shelter, but in the meantime has welcomed tents and campers to its downtown property. That has led to citizen complaints and prompted the city to sue, claiming that the church has established an illegal campground. Supporters of the effort to help the unhoused note that in other cities, tax dollars are saved by investing them in “low-barrier” housing, rather than spending it on emergency services for the homeless. Meanwhile, the minister of the church has been assigned to a new pulpit.
Another legislature moves to limit teaching about LGBTQ+
North Carolina’s Republican-led State Senate has passed a bill to ban the inclusion of anything about “sexual orientation or gender identity” in school curriculum from kindergarten through third grade, according to reporting in the Fayetteville Observer by Akira Kyles, a move that drew criticism from the LGBTQ+ community in Fayetteville, and elsewhere. “When we have legislation like this, it's making it seem like these humans are separate, these humans are different. When at the end of the day, we're all humans,” said one activist. “You are not less than or more than me, we are all the same." It’s especially painful for gay teachers, opponents of the bill note. They’re hoping for a veto by the Democratic governor, Roy Cooper.
The joy of the garden in early summer
Out the window of my home study is a view of our fairly expansive garden, a lush landscape now packed with perennials, herbs, vegetables and flowers. It hasn’t been so hot as to bake the soil, nor so wet that plants are drowned. In fact, the season has so far been ideal for growing things in the Great Northeast.
I was lucky to have a dad who loved to plant and grow things, and who liked to work hard in the yard to make it more beautiful. He had some notable failures as a gardener — his fruit trees never seemed to bear anything beyond blossoms, and the rhubarb (I have come to understand now) was surely frustrated by his impatient, nearly annual transplanting — but he took joy in the work itself. As a little boy, I was detailed to haul heavy buckets of water for him, which struck me as the less fun part of the task. Still, I came to love the smell of the broken soil and the feeling of it in my fingers, and I watched intently as my dad, on his knees, scooped soil by hand into the wet holes we had created, giving life to the plants he had chosen.
I’m not a great gardener — thank goodness, my wife is — but I enjoy the work of hauling soil and water, pulling weeds, and watering on the dry days. And I love to sit at dusk amid the sweet greenery around our home, listening to the birds and thinking of how we have transformed this tiny corner of our community, as I imagine it years from now. I’m fond of what is supposedly a Greek proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
Thank you for reading my dispatch from our Upstate, and for joining me on this trip through our *common ground, this great country.
January 6 needs to become the new date we “never forget.” Elected officials who are outright lying for their personal gain must be held responsible for violating our society’s trust.
Not since "I. F. Stone's Weekly" have I seen such courageous and forthright progressive journalism. Thank you for doing this with your retirement, Rex. Not since Watergate, when all my thoughtful friends and relatives feared that President Nixon might declare a national emergency and impose martial law, have I been this anxious about the health of American democracy. You are right. We should continue to bear a grudge against Trump and all his cynical enablers. After all, they have dealt a serious blow to government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Here's hoping it doesn't turn into a fatal one. As you argue, it could if lovers of democracy don't fight back effectively enough.