What I’ve Learned Over the Years About Flags and Anthems

Here is a recent inquiry to a law firm about an incident in Indiana:

I work for a prominent company in a small city here in the Hoosier State, and we are very involved in our local community. We sponsor a corporate softball team, and last night one of our team members “took a knee” during the national anthem before a game. His supervisor asked if the player can be disciplined for this conduct or at least transferred out of the supervisor’s department.

This comes on the heels of President Trump making political hay over the demonstrations by some NFL players (taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem to draw attention to racial injustice and police brutality).

The current stink over athletes’ nonviolence demonstrations caused me to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned over the years about flags and anthems.

Flags

They’re an object. A piece of cloth or other material. They have no inherent value or meaning. Yet people love to rally around them. I’ve done it myself.

Sometimes, the rally is for good (maybe). Sometimes, it’s innocuous (neutral). Often, it’s for bad purposes.

The mighty Roman Empire employed flags in its pageantry and celebrations of war victories. And to lead their troops into battle. Flags are useful in getting young men to charge into situations from which they might not exit whole or alive. The elite (rich, powerful people who pull the strings of war and government) are very good at using flags to manipulate the emotions of others. Consequently, many flags are stained with blood.

The Romans weren’t lone, of course. Examples are replete throughout history, including the Pope as he extended the military reach of the “Holy” Roman Catholic Church beyond Rome, the king of England as he marched troops to the “Holy Land” to kill heretics, Hitler as he mustered support among the youth and other impressionable people to establish and expand his Third Reich, modern-day neo-Nazis who march in Charlottesville, and now Donald Trump, with his red MAGA cap as he uses bigotry, fear and hate to solidify and expand his political base even at the expense of driving a stake through the heart of America.

The president rails against those who supposedly disrespect the flag, while intentionally distorting and misrepresenting the motives and actions of the demonstrators and while assaulting the very Constitution he professes to respect (e.g., his blatant attacks on the First Amendment). Obviously, he’s doing this for purely selfish political purposes. Yet his tactics are effective.

If some people think anyone is disrespecting the Stars and Stripes, they get angry. And angry people are highly manipulatable. They become unthinking and unreflective people, the kind of people whom demagogues want and need to claim and retain power.

So here’s my take on flags — impressions more than 60 years in the making:

  • Flags are things. That’s all. One cannot respect or disrespect a piece of cloth or plastic. It’s what flags represent that matter. They can represent good things. And really bad things, too. Some flags represent both. But, in the end, it’s just a thing.
  • I don’t pledge allegiance to any flag. Allegiance means you’ll do whatever you’re told to do by your country — i.e., by its political leaders (who typically do the bidding of the wealthy powerful class). I won’t. I’ve seen too much. I know that some of those leaders have led us into immoral wars. Have engaged in torture. Have overthrown democratically elected governments. Have slaughtered — or, more often, have directed others to slaughter — defenseless native Americans and even entire cities of women and children, and, today, by its drones and other instruments of death, to kill countless innocent people, including children and babies. Some have run medical experiments on Americans without their consent. Imprisoned people without due process. I’m not about to blindly promise my allegiance to such people. (As an aside, I never understood how a Christian could pledge allegiance to a flag or nation. It’s so obviously antithetical to the life of discipleship.)
  • Despite what I just wrote, the American flag does represent something I value. Specifically, it represents the ideals and principles on which the country was founded and under which it has grown and thrived. It’s true we have not fully realized those ideals, and we never will. That’s what makes them ideals. We’re a work in progress. Yet I thoroughly embrace and adore the principles of freedom and individual liberty, and the right to choose for oneself and not be bound by the mandates of a king or president. The freedom of press, of expression, of religion, of dissent — these are ideals that the flag represents to me and which would cause me never to deface the flag. Yet I’m not so blind as not to see what the same flag may represent to others — to those who have been oppressed by people who pledged allegiance to the flag and claim to respect it so much.

Anthems

Much of what I wrote about flags apply equally to our national anthem. I have and will sing it. To me, the words “Land of the free” are the most important words in the Star Spangled Banner.

I don’t much care for the genesis of the lyrics or its glorification of war. There are better songs. But it’s what we got. To be honest, I don’t spend anytime thinking about it.

Freedom: The Thread That Supposedly Hold the Stars and Stripes Together

Observing the anthem/flag controversy in the NFL today reminds me of the dangers of being sucked into the hysteria of nationalists — the very kind of people who are prone to wrap themselves in flags. We ignore such people at our peril. Scared, angry people with power — especially those with strong nationalistic and militaristic tendencies — are capable of doing really bad things. We’ve seen it too often throughout history to take it lightly.

What all of this does, for me, is to highlight a truth that has been present for most or all of our country’s existence: many Americans don’t actually like freedom and some of the principles embedded in our constitution. Actually, they feel threatened by it.

Again, this isn’t new. The majority didn’t much care for Martin Luther King, Jr. and his nonviolent resistance to institutionalized racism, and they don’t much care for resistance today, especially when it’s delivered by people with dark skin.

Moreover, those in society’s dominant position (principally, white men) try to impose discipline — that is, penalties — to ensure dissent doesn’t spread or become accepted. Fire the employee! Transfer him (see opening request of the Indiana supervisor)! Kill the troublemaker’s prospects for promotion. Refuse to sign the athlete. Boycott them and hit them where it hurts: in the pocketbook. Erect statutes of white supremacists (known affectionately as Southern heroes) and fly the Confederate flag to remind them who’s really in charge! Scare them by shooting some defiant college students (Kent State). Try to intimidate them by carrying guns in the public square.

The underlying tactic is always the same: impose discipline through fear and preserve the existing power structure at any cost.

That’s what the NFL controversy is really about. It has nothing to do with a piece of cloth or song. It has everything to do with quelling dissent and keeping black folk in their rightful place — with reclaiming the white European culture and power structure that predated Brown vs. Education, the integration of our Armed Forces by President Truman and the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s. It has everything to do with reclaiming the world that President Trump has promised will return. It has everything to do with fear. And insecurity.

Does that mean I think everyone who objects to the football players’ demonstration is a racist? Of course not. And it doesn’t mean I think the players’ tactics are effective or the best means of advancing the cause of justice and equality.

Personally, I have no opinion on the matter. I’m not black. I haven’t been the subject of racial discrimination and police brutality. I haven’t lived in a society that thinks I’m inferior because of the color of my skin.

It would be presumptuous of me to question the methods discriminated people choose to improve their lot, especially when their methods are nonviolent.

It’s their call, not mine. But I will respect them and support all people who strive for freedom, justice and equality. I will support anyone who yearns for the best of what the flag represents to me. And I will not defer to hatred and bigotry and the forces that seek to divide us even if such forces are wrapped in the flag. I can see through their disguise.

History shows in stark terms that such hatred and bigotry often hides behind flags and anthems. And it’s hiding behind our flag and anthem today. And under a red cap as well.

Well, perhaps it’s not hiding so much. Perhaps it’s come out and revealed itself in all its despicable forms.

The people who are taking a knee are merely trying to promote awareness and foster justice and equality. They’re not rejecting America or its flags and anthems. They are simply calling on America to live up to its ideals. They are pleading with the country to become more American.

On the other hand, those who are distorting the demonstrators’ motives and choosing to ignore the injustice that is rooted in our society are using the flag and anthem as a club. And as an instrument to reclaim and perpetuate a cruel and unjust social structure.

I do not and will not pledge allegiance to a flag if it stands for oppression. I will stand for a flag that represents the ideals of a just, fair and compassionate people.

But even then, one must ask why? Why the need for flags? Why not instead focus on the people — our actions, our values, our choices, our humanity?

In the final analysis, flags and anthems don’t matter much. But values and principles matter a lot.

I pledge allegiance to compassion, justice, equality and the inalienable rights of people for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And I oppose any person or method that seeks to deny those rights to others.

And I couldn’t care less whether anyone attends or watches an NFL game this weekend.

At the Mercy of Other People’s Judgment

Sunday, Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, claimed President Trump (a member of his own political party) was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”

The Senator said he was alarmed about a president who acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something.” “He concerns me,” the senator added. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”

None of this is surprising. I knew it was a risk, which is why I thought the election of Donald Trump to the presidency was the most reckless act undertaken by the U.S. electorate in our history — by far.

That doesn’t mean the worst case scenario will unfold. Rather, it means the risks are higher than they need be and we’ve put other people’s lives and welfare at risk unnecessarily (as well as our own).

That’s on a grand scale (casualties could exceed those of WW II). Everyday, of course, others make decisions that harm or threaten others (physically or financially) without most of us giving much thought about the matter.

Policy makers make decisions about trade, spending and other matters that could (and often do) have a material effect on our futures.

CEOs and boards make decisions about investments that could affect our livelihood.

Plant managers and railroad personnel make decisions that could make the difference between life and death for many people within range of their plants or tracks.

Drivers make decisions (or fail to make decisions) that can forever alter the lives of fellow drivers and their families.

I could go on. The list is endless. The point is simple: we are at the mercy of other people’s judgment in countless ways. And some of them may be at the mercy of ours.

So what is one to do about it?

I don’t claim to know what anyone else should do about it — that’s their decision. But here are some guiding principles I have acquired for myself over the years.

First, I try no to fret about it; rather, I try to focus on that over which I have some control.

So if my fellow citizens decide electing someone like Mr. Trump is in our best interest, so be it. My lot is part of theirs. I shall benefit or be hurt with the broader community we call country. Some call it fate. Call it what you want. I simply say, “It is what it is.” I’m not going to allow it to destroy my happiness.

Part of this is trying to avoid any sense of entitlement. And nurturing a sense of gratitude. I may not have complete control over such feelings and emotions. But I can influence them for the better. It’s most certainly preferable to fretting and worrying about things over which I have no control.

Second, I try to limit my reliance and dependence upon other people’s judgment as best I can. Stated differently, I try to avoid servitude.

One way of doing this is to acquire financial independence as soon as possible. If I got to live life over, this would be a major early goal of mine. The sooner, the better. Retirement age is much too late.

Third, I endeavor to associate with people of sound judgment and good character. This isn’t always easy because often there is misalignment between economic opportunity and virtue. Again, if I got to live life over, I’d try to spend more time and deal more with virtuous people and try harder to keep distance between myself and the other kind of people.

Last but not least, I endeavor to improve my own decision-making processes and, by extension, the quality of my own decisions.

I’ve made some really poor decisions in my life. I wish I’d spent more time reflecting on my mistakes and endeavoring to instill the rigorous discipline to reduce the number of mistakes going forward. And I really wish I had involved more people in the process and been less dependent upon my own perspectives and biases. 

I also wish I’d been more rational and less emotional. More practical and less idealistic.

I’ve made some good decisions of course. But decision making is a lot like investing: the key is to eliminate or reduce the size of your losses. Avoiding big mistakes is a key to a good life.

Charlie Munger is right: he and Warren Buffett got tremendous advantage from simply trying not to be consistently stupid instead of trying to be very intelligent.

I used to tell students that my primary objective in teaching was to help them become better decision makers, that is, to hone their judgment. Schools don’t talk about judgment. They should. It’s far more important than most of the other stuff that commands their attention.

I don’t know if the country will escape the Trump years without a major disaster. I do know we’re playing with fire and, when that happens, someone often gets burned.

In any case, don’t ever allow yourself to be overwhelmed by that which you can’t control, Vera. There is much you can control, including, to an extent, your thoughts and outlook.

Choose wisely. Become the very best decision-maker you can possibly become. Nothing will serve you as well as sound judgment.

Liberalism At Its Worst

Some time ago I wrote about Conservatism At Its Worst. It’s now time for me to share my brief critique of liberalism. To be more precise, I’m talking about liberalism in the present era, in America.

My mind immediately returns to 2009-10 when I was serving as Pennsylvania’s Secretary for Community and Economic Development. The worst of the financial crash and what is commonly referred to as the Great Recession was upon us. Unemployment was high, asset values had plunged and economic activity was anemic at best.

To my mind, the first priority for government was obvious: jobs. People need work, for both financial and psychological reasons. Yet it didn’t seem to me like the Obama Administration and Democratic-controlled Congress shared this view.

Rather, they pushed their policy agenda as though unemployment wasn’t sky high. Their stimulus bill was woefully inadequate and misdirected. They used the opportunity to advance the causes of special interests that had co-opted the party, and seemed oblivious to fostering conditions for job-creating economic activity. They pushed through a deeply flawed health care bill designed more to placate drug companies, insurance companies and shareholders than to address the basic problem. And the Administration did nothing to hold accountable the white-collar elites (criminals who long ago learned the benefits of campaign contributions) who had brought the financial system to its knees through their fraudulent and deceitful practices. In short, the party that is supposed to be the party of the working class proved it had become captive to Wall Street and progressive special interest groups — i.e., to money.

The Republicans were even worse, favoring, as they always seem to, fat cats and the top 1 percent. But I don’t expect party leaders on the Right to care about the working class. I do expect progressives or liberals to care. Suffice it to say they came up short.

I wasn’t totally surprised by any of this. For quite some time, I realized national politics had become a money game, and that those without the money to play didn’t have much of a say in the matter. And that Congress was filled with many very small people — people devoid of vision and ideas but skilled at getting elected and reelected by artful manipulation of the electorate and rampant gerrymandering.

My other grips about liberalism concern its simplistic solutions. Too often, they think the solution to every problem is to increase taxes and redistribute money (not that there isn’t a role for redistribution mechanisms). Too often liberals seem blind to the insidious effects of handouts and oblivious to the role of incentives. And seem delusional about the basic character of humans. In that vein, they seem to think (or pretend, I’m not sure) that people are better than we are. Liberals’ solutions often seem premised on the integrity and good character of all (sans fat-cats, of course). It’s fantasy. At its worst, it’s simply vote buying. And paternalistic and condescending.

The Left also went all in with coastal urbanites and largely abandoned rural, Southern and Rust Belt voters, as well as those who didn’t embrace the party’s social agenda. Again, liberalism lost sight of the centrality of meaningful work and respect for all people, even the ones who might hold views the elite (rich, highly educated people) or social liberals deem deplorable.

Finally, liberalism embraced globalism and militarism as if it were puppets of multinational corporations and the defense establishment. Again, no one seemed to care about the workers. Or the growing inequities of proportions unseen for 100 years.

None of this is to suggest a progressive’s task is an easy one. The world is a harsh and unjust place. Unfairness and injustice permeate our systems, structures, institutions and laws. Protectionism and redistribution mechanism reward the privileged.

I share the progressive’s desire to foster a more just world and not to allow people’s lust for more wealth and power to dominate the public square unopposed. And I share liberals’ realization that unconstrained capitalism yields much injustice and sows the seeds for civil strife. But I don’t share the view that the solution is simplistic redistribution, or solved by identity politics.

Justice work is a complicated task, one fraught with unintended consequences for well-intended solutions. Which is fine, for the degree of difficulty is but a challenge not an impenetrable barrier. Yet too often the progressive’s solution is geared not to the best outcome; rather, too often it is geared to the “solution” that will ensure the uninterrupted flow of financial support to the party or reelection of the incumbent, or to solutions that merely supplant one problem for another. In short, today progressives suffer from that which also afflicts the Right: lack of character, vision and compassion.

At its core, the election of the mean-spirited megalomaniac who presently occupies the White House was, in part, the consequence of liberalism’s abandonment of the working class and their inability to advance solutions that appealed to the working class as opposed to only the special interest groups that lined the party’s coffers. People could sense the political leaders cared more about raising money to ensure their own reelection than the people. Reacting by electing a charlatan was foolish, yet it was predictable.

In the world of capitalism, there is capital (ownership) and labor. The Right, despite its artful and successful strategy to convince workers that its policies are pro-labor, are all about capital. If liberalism is to reclaim the mantel of labor, it must stop demonizing capital and recognize the crucial and important role it plays in advancing the general welfare. And it must advance solutions that don’t do more harm than good and that aren’t designed simply to move money from one hand to another.

In short, liberalism must represent a path forward grounded in a bold, practical vision grounded in respect and dignity for all, including those born without privilege and who simply want to be treated fairly and not be forgotten or constantly beaten down by the hammer of wealth and privilege.

I’m not holding my breath.

The Confederacy Is Dying

Lately, we’ve been hearing and reading a lot about the Confederacy, white supremacists and Civil War heroes. Growing up, the Civil War didn’t have a prominent place in our lives. Sure, we visited the Gettysburg Battlefield and learned about the war in school. But it was an historical artifact of sorts — something that occurred but had long past.

And then I moved to Virginia. It was there I experienced first hand that the war wasn’t over — at least not in certain people’s minds. It also was there I frequently heard it referred to as the “War of Northern Aggression.” And saw the flag of the Confederacy fly from porches and pickup trucks. It was there that some people called me a Yankee, with the disdain the term implies in the Deep South.

More recently, just over the mountain from where we lived in Virginia, white supremacists marched and engaged in violence to promote their cause. Some people interpret this as a sign the principles underlying the Confederacy are alive and well.

I disagree. I think it’s a sign of the Confederacy’s dying gasp.

Racism will live on, of course. But the Confederacy was about so much more. It was about preserving an economic and social system rooted in slavery. That clock isn’t about to be turned back.

That’s not to say there isn’t involuntary servitude today. There is. And even among the free, true freedom isn’t as pervasive as commonly thought.

It also isn’t to say there is equal opportunity for all. There isn’t. But it’s getting better.

It is to say that what we’re witnessing now — with the white marches and election of Donald Trump — is the last gasp of a dying power structure. The days of racists, white men are coming to an end.

The country is changing. It’s getting less white. And it’s getting less male — not in general; rather, in the halls of power.

Moreover, the distance between the War (whatever name you want to ascribe to it) and the present is increasing with each and every passing day. There is no one alive who lived then, and no one alive whose parent fought in the War. Our national memory is fading.

Economic mobility has hastened the fade. Yankees now live throughout the South, and Rebs are dispersed throughout the North. The terms themselves now seem absurd to the vast majority of Americans (I always thought they were).

Some people hate to see our country change. They fight to keep women at home and out of our board rooms, legislatures and executive officers. They go out of their way to avoid people of color. They bestow privilege on the old white families that shower their institutions with money (i.e., their character is for sale).

But most people don’t. Most people have come to believe it’s wrong to judge and treat people based on their sex or the color of their skin.

We don’t always live up to our beliefs, but with time our beliefs strengthen and help narrow the gap between rhetoric and action. With time, we’re learning how to be better people.

The War has been over for more than a century and a half. Now, we’re witnessing the end of the Confederacy and the blossoming of the principle of freedom and justice for all.

The War is over indeed. But the fight continues.

The Truth About Monuments

I’m not a fan of monuments, of any kind. And I think much of the debate about monuments today threatens to distract people from the larger, more important issues, and play into the hands of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, racists and the president.

But I am a fan of knowledge. And I loath propaganda, especially the kind that is designed to spread division and hatred. Hence, I’m sharing this much needed brief history lesson from a Republican U.S. senator from Nebraska, Ben Sasse, which he shared on his Facebook page late last night:

I wish more folks understood how many of the monuments now being debated are not really from the post-Civil War period as a way to remember war dead. Rather, contrary to popular understanding, many of these statues were explicitly erected as Segregation Monuments in the twentieth century, during Jim Crow, as a way of shouting – against the American Idea – that public spaces were to be whites-only spaces. Tragically, many of these monuments were erected exactly when lynchings of black Americans were being celebrated in those communities – and the timing overlap here was not accidental. (It’s also worth noting that Gen. Robert E. Lee had opposed erecting Confederate Memorials because he worried, wisely, that they would become scabs of bitterness to be endlessly picked at.)

People are entitled to their own opinions and beliefs. But no one is entitled to their own facts.

Freedom of Expression Isn’t Absolute But Some Is Essential

I’ve always been amazed by the number of people who think they’re totally free to do and say whatever they want, without repercussion. Permit me to be blunt on this point, Vera: don’t be an idiot when it comes to your understanding of freedom.

There are constraints on the freedom that all of us enjoy. Sometimes, those constraints are rooted in laws or regulations. Often, they’re rooted in social norms.

This issue came to the fore again as some of the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville last weekend are finding out they’re now unemployed. Their employers don’t want such people on the payroll.

It’s possible, although I have no way of knowing, that some of the counter-protestors have lost their jobs, too.

This comes on the heels of an employee of Google being fired for expressing views that were out of step with the company’s policies and values.

Public protests aren’t the only thing that can get you canned, of course. Employers and clients can refuse to hire you, or decide to fire you, pretty much for any reason or no reason at all. They can’t do it for illegal reasons — for instance, because of your race, sex or age — but, of course, that happens all the time. Doing something unlawful and being held accountable for it are different things entirely. Many employers unlawfully discriminate with impunity on a regular basis.

Expressing yourself through your appearance can have repercussions, too. Visible tattoos are a show stopper for many employers. Hair, dress, drug use, language, names and hygiene are biggies as well.

Employers routinely check Facebook and other social media sites for postings or photos they might consider offensive or objectionable. Colleges check, too. I’m amazed by the stuff some people post and then by their surprise when doors fail to open.

I suppose it would be nice to be able to say or do anything you wanted to say or do without repercussion, but that’s a fantasy of course. For better or for worse, that’s not how the real world works.

Some people decide to stay well clear of saying or doing anything that could elicit an adverse reaction. Others don’t seem to care and pretty much say and do what they want. They usually pay the price. Others take a more nuanced approach, venturing as much individuality as they deem safe. Sometimes they miscalculate.

Sometimes fear keeps people in place. You see that with corporate CEOs today. Some of them go along with our president because they fear his wrath. His immediate and harsh reaction to the three CEOs who resigned from his Manufacturing Council the past couple of days is illustrative. If only he reacted to Nazis as quickly and harshly.

If you’ve read my earlier posts, Vera, you know that I place a lot of value on financial independence. One of the reasons is the freedom it brings. Simply put, you don’t have to be as concerned with what other people think, and you don’t have to worry about kissing up to some boss, client or committee. You can choose to work only with people you respect and trust.

Without financial freedom, most of us have to be ever mindful of who butters our bread. We have to be careful not to bite the hand that feeds us. Alright, enough with the clichés! You get the point.

I can’t decide what approach might be best for you. I wouldn’t even try. But I would caution you to be careful not to allow yourself to get into a position where someone effectively owns you — that is, in a position where your values must be subservient to those of some company, congregation, board, boss or trustee.

Whether you exercise it or not, there’s a certain sense of freedom in being able to walk out the door (as I did once, albeit not abruptly or rudely). There’s a certain freedom that comes from not having to work for assholes.

Indeed, there’s a certain freedom — and joy — in being able to do the right thing, consequences be damned.

In certain times and places, doing the right thing can get you killed. We’re lucky: that’s not likely here, although it can and does happen sometimes.

Usually, however, it’s not a matter of losing your life. Rather, it’s a matter of losing your self-respect and soul. Or feeling trapped.

It’s fantasy to think our freedom is or need be unconstrained. Absolutes are not what the world is about.

However, it’s just as fanciful to think we’re free if we have become subservient with respect to the most important things in life. We may delude ourselves and think we’re free. But we’re not.

What To Make of Heroes Who Did Bad Things

In a press conference this afternoon, President Trump equated George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The first two were founders of our country. The last two led a revolt against our country to preserve an economic and social system that enslaved African Americans and were responsible for the deaths and maiming of hundreds of thousand of Americans.

These four men shared something in common of course. They owned slaves — that is, they held other human beings in captivity because of the color of their skin.

But there are differences. For starters, 100 years separated them. We’ll never know what either Washington or Jefferson would have done if presented with the possibility of succession — dissolution of the Union they fought so hard to establish.

There were other differences. Jefferson had conjugal relations with at least one of his slaves. More bluntly, he didn’t mind sleeping with his captives.

Washington, by last will and testament, granted his slaves freedom after the death of his widow.

Does any of this mean Washington and Jefferson were less immoral than Lee and Jackson?

What it does mean, of course, is that all four men cited by President Trump did bad things. Well, at least some of us think so. Obviously, some of us, apparently including the president, don’t think so, or at least aren’t so sure.

Nobody is perfect, as we know. Each of us transgress in some way or another. Yet few if any of us transgress to the extent of enslaving other human beings. And no one I know is willing to kill other people in order to preserve the institution of slavery.

Some will say the standards were different back then. They were, but it’s also true that many people, back then, thought slavery was immoral.

Fortunately, it’s not up to any of us to judge any historical figure, or contemporary figure for that matter. But it is up to us to judge conduct.

I never thought I’d hear a sitting president of the United States come to the aid of two generals who sought to dissolve the Union which Washington and Jefferson helped forge in Philadelphia. But there are a lot of things I’m hearing these days that seemed unimaginable not that long ago.

It’s one thing to refrain from judging another person’s soul. It’s quite another to defend their bad acts.

David Duke, the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, was thrilled with the president’s comments this afternoon. And why not? The Confederacy finally has an apologist in the White House. And so do the Nazis.

P.S. Lest an erroneous inference be drawn, none of the aforementioned men is a hero of mine.

The Dangers of False Equivalency

Political hacks have been pushing false equivalence in the recent past as a strategy. I heard it again on Sunday. Apologists for the president picked up on his theme to try to convince voters there was blame on both sides in Charlottesville and that neither side (the white supremacists or what they termed the “leftists”) was any worse than the other. It’s a logical fallacy yet one that has a superficial appeal to many.

If, when you grow up, Vera, the political landscape remains as toxic as it is today, you’ll hear a lot of false equivalence. It’s a way extremists try to camouflage the harshness or the flaws in their arguments. And, most importantly, it’s a tactic to change the subject and move the light off of them and their positions and onto something else. Politicians and their hacks are particularly adept at this tactic.

Don’t be fooled. And don’t be as easily sidetracked as many reporters and viewers seem to be.

Some ideas are worse than others. There is no equivalence.

The immoral cannot be rendered moral by the actions or inactions of another.

And don’t be a sucker for head fakes. Don’t allow bigots and others to divert your attention from the real issues. Be in control of your own thoughts and attention.

Address each idea independently, on its own merits. Never assume the choice is between this or that. Life isn’t as simple as that; it’s far more complex.

There is no need to acquiesce to another person’s characterization of a situation. Think for yourself.

We live in an era in which the manipulation of public opinion is an art form. People will do and say just about anything to get you to believe what they want you to believe, and to support their cause (usually by casting your vote a particular way).

Thoughtful, independent thinkers don’t allow themselves to be led down the path of despotism and destruction. Yet it has often happened that society has been led down such a path. It’s our duty to ensure it never happens again.

Think. Question. Reason. Subject the claims of others to intense scrutiny. Beware of the dangers and risks.

And, above all, don’t allow yourself to be pulled down by people of poor character and hate-filled values.

False equivalence is just that: false.

Justice Isn’t Free

Today, three people lost their lives in or near Charlottesville, Virginia, in connection with a white supremacists’ rally.

Since the beginning of our country, many of our citizens have believed in the superiority of whites and the inferiority of people of color. Indeed, today’s violence occurred near the site of one of our country’s preeminent universities, the University of Virginia, which was founded by a racist, Thomas Jefferson.

Today I have heard politicians react. Our president had what may have been his worst day in office. He ridicules many people. But today he declined to speak out strongly against white supremacists and Nazis.

I also heard a United Church of Christ pastor interviewed on television. He was eloquent and spoke clearly with a strong moral voice. He reminded us all that justice isn’t the default position, but that it comes slowly and only after much hard work and sacrifice. He reminded us that justice isn’t free. People who earnestly seek to follow Jesus and the Gospel understand that well.

Today is a reminder of the choice each of us must make. We can choose to stand with the oppressed or the oppressor.

We can choose to believe that all people are equal or they’re not.

We can choose to subjugate or liberate.

People have given their lives for both causes.

Nothing is free in life. But some things are worth the price.

Making America Less

Our president was speaking to police officers today. Mr. Trump endorsed police brutality. The officers laughed and cheered.

What can I say, Vera?

By now it’s abundantly clear that the concept of “greatness” means different things to different people.

I suppose it’s always been that way. But, at least in my lifetime, we’ve never seen anything like this.

I hope this will prove to be an aberration and that America will reclaim the values and principles that made this country great.

If not, then … . I don’t know.

In the meantime, we’ll do our part to help you grow up to be a truly great person, as opposed to the kind of person who’s leading our country today.

As best I can tell, our future rides on your generation and the generation of your parents. My generation has certainly failed us miserably.