DETROIT AND PROGRESSIVES

How do you lose a presidential election? By harnessing Newton’s Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. A recent hubbub in Detroit offers Democrats an important lesson.

Several weeks ago, the promoters of Detroit’s AfroFuture Fest announced they would charge people of color an early-bird price of $10, whites $20. Discrimination? The $10 fee, said promoters, would make the festival affordable to people of color. Whites have money.

Are people of color really less well off than whites? Overall, yes. But the people color I know don’t need a discount from AfroFuture Fest any more than I and my codger friends need senior discounts at movies theaters or restaurants. Being over 60 or 65 does not automatically place someone at or near the poverty line. I’m an individual, not a stereotype.

One of the festival’s featured performers, the rap artist Tiny Jag (Jillian Graham), threatened to withdraw. She’s bi-racial. Maybe she’d be allowed in for the lower fee, but why should some of her relatives pay more? The festival backed off. Everyone would pay $10.

As to the campaign, defining people—and voters—in ethnic terms is nothing new. Donald Trump again spewed white nationalist rhetoric when he said that four Democratic Congresswomen—Alexandria Octavio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib—could go back where they came from. They came, respectively, from New York, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Michigan. Trump’s ugly comments aroused pushback from people not embedded in his base. That’s good.

Not good: Progressives using Trump’s horrific comments to push the Democratic party to the far left—just where Trump, on the far right, wants voters to see it. This will distance the Democratic party from many who will decide the election—white liberals, middle-of-the-roaders and moderate conservatives in swing states. Of course, it’s not that simple.

The Times’Jamelle Bouie points out (7/18) that “African-Americans are the most heavily Democratic group in the country, with a large presence in many of the most competitive states. Small increases in their participation would have an outsize effect on the electoral landscape.” Democrats could falter by catering only to whites expressing doubts about Trump. I agree—with a caveat.

Many black, brown, yellow, red and other liberals and centrists remain wary of the progressive stance on eliminating private healthcare insurance (rather than making it optional alongside government coverage), refusing to discuss limits on abortion (I’m pro-choice; some limits may be reasonable) and responding to Trump’s “we’re full” immigration policies by advocating for virtual open borders (I love immigrants—my father was one; bad idea).

Could progressive politics cost Democrats the 2020 election? New York Times columnist David Brooks (7/17) notes that “… many of today’s young leaders, and their older allies, don’t want to work within the liberal system. They want to blow it up.”

Detroit demonstrates that we can’t fight injustice with injustice. “I want it all and I want it right now” may represent a moral position, but it can become immoral by undermining Democrats’ White House chances.

I hope progressives will think hard about the realities of this campaign and, while maintaining the moral high ground, convert self-righteousness into humility. Then we can send Donald Trump back under one of the gold-plated rocks from which he crawled.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories, is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

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OVERHAUL THE FLAG

After 243 years of American independence, I’ve discovered that it’s time to do away with deceptive symbols representing our nation’s history. The starting point? Overhaul the flag. I have that on good authority.

Ten days ago, Nike withdraw a special July 4th shoe featuring the 13-star Betsy Ross flag after Colin Kaepernick, former 49ers quarterback and current Nike marketing/cultural advisor, called the company out. It seems that white power groups have adopted the Betsy Ross flag, the stars representing the 13 original colonies, all of which permitted slavery.

That got me thinking. Giving up a classic symbol of our struggle for independence represents a small sacrifice to stand against racism (and hopefully, anti-Semitism). Still, I’m puzzled.

Who owns a symbol—or a word? Whites used the N-word do denigrate blacks. Blacks threw it back in their faces—or ears—by appropriating it. “We’ll take the sting out of it by using it ourselves.” The LGBTQ community transformed “queer” from a word expressing deviation and sin into a state of less usual but normal sexual preference. Can’t non-racist Americans take back the Betsy Ross flag?

Some people think not. And I’d hate for anyone to think me insensitive. So I propose we give our flag a makeover.

For starters, we’ll dump those 13 red and white stripes. Like the 13 stars on the Betsy Ross flag, they symbolize the original colonies, which celebrated freedom in 1776 while tolerating—and promoting—slavery. I suggest five stripes. The number’s basic, like the fingers on a hand. But we’ll replace the red—this nation has shed much blood—with green, representing our commitment to the earth. The white stripes? (If you have to ask, no need to finish reading this.) Let’s do purple for purple mountains majesty.

Now the stars. We have 50, one for each current state. But many once were slave states and others also legalized slavery. Those stars are out. Still, racism—and this isn’t just an issue for African Americans—has been endemic in all states. So let’s just display a single star.

But it can’t be five-pointed. That’s what the old stars looked like. Six points? The far right will bellow that it looks like the Star of David symbolizing hated Jews while the far left will associate six points with the flag of hated Israel. (Funny that it works for many police and sheriff’s departments). So, we’ll do a starburst. Gold? Nope. Promotes capitalism. It’ll appear in black, brown, yellow and red representing people of color. Add white? Get real.

Last, the field. Presently, it’s blue. But thinking about America’s near-quarter-millennium of existence makes any virtuous person blue. We’ll go gray. Depressing? Maybe. But gray expresses how so many Americans feel about the U.S.A.—except when our women’s soccer team wins the World Cup.

Let justice reign! Our new flag will boast five stripes—green and purple—plus a gray field with a single starburst representing the ethnicity of what soon will represent half of America’s population.

Then let’s blow up everything else associated with the nation’s history—the Statue of Liberty has to go—and obliterate every shred of its past, because micro-aggressions have no place in our present.

As to the future, damned if I know whether it’ll last another 25 years let alone 250.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories,  is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

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IRAN AND INCOMPETENCE

Usually, Donald Trump creates distractions from critical issues facing the United States. This week, the Democratic presidential debates performed that function, if not with the same intent. But let’s keep our eye on the ball—a specific one (of many) ignored at our own peril.

In September 2012, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the United Nations that Iran was close to developing a nuclear weapon and urged a military strike. Barack Obama disagreed. In July 2015, six nations, led by the U.S., plus the European Union signed an agreement with Iran. In return for relief from economic sanctions, Iran would halt its uranium enrichment process. This would postpone—though not permanently eliminate—its development of nuclear weapons.

In May 2018, Donald Trump, again expressing his hate-Obama fetish, withdrew America from the agreement. He imposed more American sanctions on Iran to further choke its oil exports and make life miserable for the Iranian people.

I detest the theocratic-kleptomaniacal rule of Iran’s ayatollahs and Republican Guard, who profit quite nicely despite the sanctions. But Tehran kept to the agreement. Iran still doesn’t have a nuclear weapon. Yet.

Pushed into a corner and proud of its ancient Persian culture, Iran struck back. Tehran’s Houthi proxies continued making Yemen a hellhole. Iran-backed militias have been active in Iraq and Syria, and support Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria.

Recently, Iran started blowing holes in Persian Gulf tankers—not to sink ships but to raise insurance rates and thus oil prices. Then Iran shot down an American drone. Did it fly over Iranian or international waters? We don’t know. We may never know. Trump sought to respond. He screwed up—and dangerously so.

Trump approved a military strike on several Iranian missile/radar sites. At the last minute, he called off the attack because 150 Iranians would be killed. America’s response would be disproportionate. Sounds statesmanlike?

Indeed, killing 150 Iranians would have been foolish, escalating tensions. The issue? Trump and his team’s gross negligence. Reports are sketchy—misleading might be more accurate—but here’s what we have:

Either Trump never evaluated the consequences of an attack when considering his options—he said he learned about the estimated deaths from a general ten minutes before the release of warheads/bombs. Or, according to some reports, he knew of the prospective deaths at the outset and approved the attack anyway. Then, perhaps at someone’s rational urging, he ordered the strike force to stand down.

Trump demonstrated that he is in no way capable of handling the role of America’s commander-in-chief in addressing complex geopolitical challenges. Strategy and tactics are always subject to debate, although perhaps not Tuesday’s threat to obliterate Iran (dumb). But what’s damning is any president’s failure to do due-diligence—evaluate proposed actions, consider their consequences and role play the other side’s responses then yours to them. Only long-term thinking can prevent short- and long-term disaster.

More than Trump’s covering up during the Mueller investigation into the 2016 election (Mueller appears before two House committees on July 17), his response to the drone incident demonstrates a level of incompetence that should send a clear message: Donald Trump should be removed from office via the 2020 electionat the latest. At stake are the lives of Americans and a great many others.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories, is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

The post will take off next Friday and return July 12.

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THE VIEW FROM NORWAY

Eighteen months ago, Donald Trump called for more immigrants from Norway (aka white people). Norwegians seem content to stay home. Derek B. Miller, a Massachusetts native and author who lives in Norway’s capital, Oslo, offers some perspective.

Miller wrote the best-selling novel Norwegian by Night. He provides a sharp take on the country of his birth in a follow-up, American by Day. It’s as didactic (unfortunately) as it is witty (very) but worth examining.

A female Norwegian police chief, Sigrid Ødegård, travels to northern New York State to search for her missing older brother. Speaking with a younger American policewoman, Sigrid declares that American culture is all about individualism. “The way you perform individualism is through self-reliance. But acting self-reliant usually means acting alone.” That, says Sigrid, weakens America as a community. “You worry that working together undermines your myth of self-reliance, so you hyperexaggerate its value to mask the fear.” America, Sigrid warns, is “basically doomed.”

Yesterday’s cowboy movies and today’s superhero films establish the rugged individual—often a rogue—as a prized figure in American culture. The Hollywood icon John Wayne played those types to the hilt and was himself deemed an American hero. (For the record, he was acting).

Many Americans in rural areas and their relatives in red-state urban and suburban areas sized from Waco to Houston (I lived in Texas long ago) still cling to the myth of the rugged individual and reject the role of broad community. This while the carpool has replaced the roundup, the gas grill the campfire. Yet Montana author Ivan Doig, in novels like Dancing at the Rascal Fair, shows how important community was in settling the West.

Still, the rugged individual remains the conservative ideal. The mountain man went off on his own to trap, hunt and scrounge off the land with little or no connection to the new towns growing around him and certainly not today’s shopping malls to which conservatives flock. Self-reliance—forget Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—means everything. Failure warrants censure. Can’t find a job or one that pays a living wage? Can’t afford health insurance or medications? Can’t pay for college? Your fault. Me pay taxes—if I have a job—to help alleviate your problems? My right to say “Hell, no.”

Liberals often thrive in older urban environments, which historically drew large numbers of immigrants and retain many of their descendants. These Americans survived—and thrived—by organizing ethnic and religious communities, as well as supporting labor unions. Unlike many conservative communities (yes, they exist), these groups often formed coalitions with others unlike them but also looking to government, the broadest form of community, for solutions to difficult problems.

Individualism, Sigrid advises, is “why you all buy guns rather than build institutions. None of it makes you safer, but it does make you more American.”

Given the 40,000 annual gun deaths in the U.S. (2016, CNN) and a homicide rate seven times greater that Norway’s (2010-12, nationmaster.com,) plus many other grave problems, Derek Miller, through Sigrid, makes us think.

Perhaps Mr. Trump might have someone read the novel for him. Then he might understand why Norwegians no longer flock to our shores, and why instead we attract so many desperate people from other countries whose governments represent not the solution but the problem.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories,is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

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15 MINUTES OF FAME

In 1968, the artist Andy Warhol wrote, “In the future, everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” Until last Sunday, I found myself fourteen minutes short. So I added a few seconds to my meager sum.

I held a launch party for Big Truth: New and Collected Stories. My guests gathered at Lokma Turkish restaurant in my neighborhood. They found parking! I enjoyed treating them to Turkish appetizers, selling some books and, most of all, reading two very short stories and the beginning of a third. Hear for yourself on YouTube.

Yes, I’d love to top Warhol’s 15 minutes. My book Solo Success: 100 Tips for Becoming a $100,00-a-Year Freelancer sold about 3,300 copies, and I was interviewed for radio and print. I relished the whole process, but as I stood in the national spotlight, it barely flickered.

In truth—a big truth—life owes us nothing. Most of us live in anonymity, although I’m delighted to say that I’ve had a very nice life. So when you have the chance to celebrate something special—something that means a lot to you—you jump on it.

I’ve never been taken with recurring calendar dates. They strike me as artificial. In this regard, I confess to not caring about my approaching birthday. It’s for family and friends to say, “Glad you were born.” The accomplishment belongs to my parents, Morris and Blanche. Another big truth: My mother did the heavy lifting. It’s doing something yourself that calls for a little back patting, even if you risk dislocating your shoulder.

I admit to being picky about celebrations. High school graduation? No biggie. A diploma was an expectation and never in doubt. College? The same, although I confess that my four years as an undergraduate were the worst in my life. The fault was not the school’s—Alfred University in western New York is wonderful—but my own. I had no idea why I was so often miserable and detached. Only later did I understand that I was a fairly extreme—if functional—introvert. It took decades for me to come to grips with, although not perfect, myself. I get by reasonably well now, but I avoid situations I know I’ll find uncomfortable.

Then there was graduation from the Army’s Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1967. OCS was a challenge and thus something to celebrate. Getting my M.A. from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio? I worked for an ad agency days and went to school on the G.I. Bill nights—three courses per semester for two years. No free time. But Carolyn encouraged me. That was worth a little applause.

But I’ll always revel in bringing out a new book. Readers often have no idea about how much effort and psychic pain is involved along with the joy of creating a story. If I flog my books—and ask people to read them—you know why.

Now, I’ll back away from another date with celebrity until my newest novel, almost completed, comes out. I hope it will bring my minutes of fame—among family and friends at least—up to two or even three. I also hope you’ll celebrate yourachievements and the few minutes of fame they’ve earned you.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories,is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy.

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DEATH OF THE DINER

My father Morris would have been 116 today. He’s been gone 36 years. I miss him every day. Now, I’m coping with the loss of something near and dear to both of us. New York’s diners are disappearing.

The New York Times reported (May 24) on “New York’s Vanishing Diners.” Since 2014, fifteen diners have been sold, those who owned their buildings profiting from developers’ visions for their land. Many more lost their leases. This included the Shalimar (I’m near tears as I write) on 63rd Drive in Rego Park (Queens), which closed late last fall. My parents enjoyed several thousand meals and evening desserts there, and my mother Blanche alone many, many more until she died in 1999.

The loss followed the June 2018 closing of Ben’s Best delicatessen on Queens Boulevard, possibly Queens’ last kosher deli. Carolyn and I visited there a year earlier. I used to bring Ben’s knishes home from my solo visits to my mother. We had a family-related connection.

The Shalimar opened in 1974, the year Carolyn and I moved from San Antonio to San Francisco. We and the kids ate there on our visits. After my mother died, we still strolled the old neighborhood (I had to stop just now; I cried), always with brunch/lunch at the Shalimar. Of late, the place was going downhill, but we went for the vibes. The Shalimar often served as a meeting spot for family and friends.

This hurts even more, because I love diners for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, a late-night snack. They’re are for big fressers(eaters). The Shalimar’s menu was vast, the portions huge. The entry showcased Danishes on steroids. As someone who eats kosher-style, I struggle in most restaurants obsessed with drenching every dish in butter, cheese, bacon and/or ham. I thrilled to the Shalimar’s variety of choices.

Being in Rego Park, the Shalimar served lots of Jewish dishes although, like most diners, it was owned by Greeks. In its heyday, you started off with a basket of challah plus pickles and green tomatoes. For brunch, I ordered eggs, onions and lox. A bagel, of course. My mother and I often went for dinner, as well. I had Romanian steak.

Foodies may turn up their noses, but here’s another thing I love about diners—casual democracy. Diners are affordable and without pretense. Everyone’s welcome. You can come in jeans or shorts, sit in a booth—I love booths—and relax. Okay, there’s better food out there, but I’ve never enjoyed any meal more than one I’ve had at a diner.

You can still find “diner-like” places. My favorite is San Francisco’s Town’s End on the Embarcadero, open for breakfast and lunch. The food is far better than the Shalimar’s, and I love going there, but where’s all the neon and chrome? The juke boxes? The waitresses (Denise looked after my mother for years—I’m tearing up again) who ask you about your family and tell you about theirs?

I’ll be 75 in a month. My time is limited. I accept loss. In Manhattan, we’ll stop by the Brooklyn Diner on West 57th. If it remains. Of course, Carolyn and I will go back to Rego Park, but it won’t be the same.

The price for living is mortality. Memories, at least, defy time.

My new book, Big Truth: New and Collected Stories, is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy.

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ROBERT MUELLER AND BIG TRUTH

What do the Mueller Report and David Perlstein’s latest book, Big Truth: New and Collected Stories, have in common? A great deal.

Mueller, looking into a possible Moscow-Donald Trump connection, searched for “big truth”—something that might shed light on what happened. Although he didn’t find a smoking gun, he discovered many “small truths” to which attention must be paid.

David, too, finds big truth elusive. So his new volume of 25 stories, substantially shorter than the Mueller Report, puts a spotlight on small truths—some reassuring, many painful.

As to Robert Mueller, he spoke last Wednesday when he announced his retirement from the Department of Justice. Mueller repeated what he wrote in his painstaking if heavily redacted report. Hearing it from his mouth amplified the message: Mueller’s team did not recommend an indictment against Trump because DOJ’s long-standing policy prohibits that. Likewise, if he could have cleared Trump of wrongdoing, he would have. But he could not.

Here, one of David’s small truths comes into play: Read between the lines (although the space between these is large enough for big truth to peak out). Mueller’s task was not to get Trump but to gather facts. This led him to indict many Russian military operatives along with Americans, including Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.

Not-so-small truth: DOJ policy gave Trump a free get-out-of-jail card. Indicting a sitting president was off limits, so Mueller never considered doing so. Kind-of-obvious truth: If Trump is to be brought to justice for ties to Russia and/or obstructing Mueller’s investigation, that authority rests with Congress. More in a moment.

What about Attorney General William Barr? Mueller’s message conflicts with Barr’s, who stated that the special prosecutor informed him that the DOJ guideline had nothing to do with Mueller not charging Trump. That seems to be news to Mueller. Good-size truth: Barr has dissembled from day one.

A Russia hoax and witch hunt? On Thursday, Trump tweeted: “And now Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected.” So Russia did interfere in the election, according to Trump. Yet he’s denied that from the outset. Damn-close-to-big truth: the Mueller investigation, as Mueller reiterated, was legitimate and of great national concern.

Back to Congress. Many Democrats want to impeach. Democratic leadership is hesitant. For Senate Republicans, nothing short of Trump’s shooting someone on Fifth Avenue—Trump once bragged he could get away with that—would produce a guilty plea.

Small (humble) truths from David: Impeachment may be nearing. But why rush? Information gathered and aired by Congress can sway enough public opinion to make a broad case for impeachment even if conviction defies the odds. New York State made it easier for Congress to obtain Trump’s state tax returns. If financial ties with Russia are found, some Americans who voted for Trump may wake up and smell the coffee. Democrats who sat out the 2016 election and third-party voters may see how important it is to step up and vote for the Democratic candidate.

Life’s complicated, so Big Truth asks questions instead of providing answers. You’ll find funny stories and serious ones and maybe enough small truths to keep you going through the 2020 election. Get it at Amazon or other print and digital sources.

You’re invited to my party launching Big Truth: New and Collected Stories—Sunday, June 9, 3:30–5 pm at Lokma Turkish restaurant, 1801 Clement Street at 19th Avenue, San Francisco. Yes, you can buy a copy, which I’ll sign. RSVP with number in party: dhperl@yahoo.com.

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GAME OF THRONES 2020

It’s done—and it’s just beginning. HBO’s “Game of Thrones” concluded last Sunday night after a decade enthralling a worldwide audience. Based on J.R.R. Martin’s novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, “Thrones” presented a riveting struggle for power in a fantasy world. The real world’s no different.

Beyond all the conflicts we’ve learned about, experienced and keep pace with now—or try to ignore—the United States is enduring a long, spite-laden political war between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, progressives, libertarians and independents. With Donald Trump likely the Republican candidate for the presidency, Democrats have begun waging their own game of thrones. If previous primary campaigns have revealed anything, “Game of Thrones 2020” won’t be pretty.

Nearly two dozen Democratic candidates have thrown their hats into the ring to seek crowns. As of this writing—or at least what I can keep up with—New York mayor Bill de Blasio is the latest. The group numbers serious contenders and many pretenders—men and women expending energy and resources less to win than to build public recognition leading to a higher rung on the career ladder. Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, for example, has wonderful things to say. Still, he’s young and inexperienced on the national and international stage. However, Mayor Pete is becoming perfectly positioned to run for governor or the U.S. Senate—or receive a cabinet appointment in a Democratic administration.

Bernie Sanders leads the polls, but the election is more than 17 months off. If you’ve followed primary/caucus campaigns over the past decades—the mechanism that’s starting to make the party-boss system and smoke-filled convention rooms attractive—you know that his lead means nothing. Good numbers this early often sound a candidate’s death knell. The primary fights are just that—knock-down-drag-outs. Seeking the presidency is as much a blood-sport as vying for the Iron Throne. Political bodies will fall with social media replacing Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons as weapons of reputational mass destruction.

When the debates begin, weaker candidates will quickly be flushed out of the system. Democrats—as did Republicans leading to the 2016 election—will savage each other. (Donald Trump did most of the Republican savaging; the losers then kissed his backside.)

We’ll check out a debate or maybe next-day coverage and conclude that no Democrat deserves the nomination based on rival candidates’ comments. Yet most of the losing candidates will rally behind the winner, dismissing their negative statements as “just politics.” So why should we believe anything they ever say?

Those who don’t toe the party line? If Bernie or any other candidate on the left fails to get the nomination, will his or her supporters sit out the election? Cast third-party votes in self-righteous anger? Give Trump another victory with less than half the popular vote?

“Game of Thrones” ended on what seemed a peaceful note following incredible bloodshed and destruction. Whatever happens in the 2020 election, America will still be standing. Or tottering if the Mad King remains in the Oval Office because Democrats ignored the TV show’s great lesson: Faced by a lethal threat (in “Thrones,” the Night King), unite and fight. Failure to do so could result in American democracy’s dying a slow, painful yet preventable death.

You’re invited to my party launching Big Truth: New and Collected Stories—Sunday, June 9, 3:30–5 pm at Lokma Turkish restaurant, 1801 Clement Street at 19th Avenue, San Francisco. Yes, you can buy a copy, which I’ll autograph. RSVP with number in party: dhperl@yahoo.com.

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415 MEETS 225

Carolyn, our kids and I spent last weekend in Baton Rouge. Our oldest son, Seth, received his M.S. in Digital Media Art & Engineering from Louisiana State University. A conversation with Seth got me thinking about America’s political divide.

I’ve enjoyed many visits to Louisiana—New Orleans when Yosi lived and performed there (Aaron danced there) and Baton Rouge. Of course, Baton Rouge, area code 225, is quite different from San Francisco, area code 415. 

Baton Rouge gets swampy hot. San Francisco stays foggy cool. Our Mediterranean climate delivers only 23 inches of rain a year. Baton Rouge, drenched by Gulf of Mexico storms, piles up 63 inches. Storms rerouted our Baton Rouge-bound flights to New Orleans.

There are people differences. Folks in Baton Rouge are publicly friendlier. I experienced this southern trait when I lived in not-southern Texas. I offer two reasons: Baton Rouge’s laid-back, small-town/suburban lifestyle contrasts with San Francisco’s urban hustle and bustle (which still falls far short of New York’s). Also, politeness is critical to a society where, historically, small affronts often garnered violent reactions based on a culture valuing honor and taking umbrage at insult. Oh yes, food and music preferences also vary a bit.

State histories certainly diverge. Louisiana was a slave state, part of the Confederacy. Californian, a free state, remained in the Union. Louisiana maintained Jim Crow segregation until federal legislation brought changes. California hid—though not always—much of its racism. And yes, racism remains in both states.

Politically, Louisiana is far more conservative. Donald Trump won 58 percent of Louisiana’s 2016 presidential vote. Hillary Clinton won California with almost 62 percent. For many San Franciscans, a wall exists between the City by the Bay and the Louisiana capital on the banks of Ol’ Man River. I imagine many people in Baton Rouge see the same wall—but from the other side.

Still, I’ve met lots of nice people in Baton Rouge. Some might be more distant in less-public situations but hardly all. The warmth—I’m not talking weather—is human. Last Saturday morning, almost a thousand families gathered for the Engineering College’s graduation at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (named for the LSU basketball great). They came together as we did when Aaron received his B.A. from St. Mary’s College in Moraga across San Francisco Bay. Carolyn and the mom next to her discussed “Game of Thrones.”

Proud and excited, we cheered our graduates—and everyone else’s. These LSU grads represented a diverse student body coming from across the nation and 35 countries. Heavily white to be sure, they were also substantially African American, Latino, Asian and, particularly in petroleum engineering, Middle Eastern.

The tag to my commencement address: Cultural and political differences do exist in America. They always have. But we must never blind ourselves to our similarities. The bonds we share as Americans—as people—may be frayed, but they’re still valid and important. I suspect that among many people across regions, they’re still strong. 

What to do? We can yield to the pessimists—posing as realists—on both the right and left, and build ever-higher walls. Self-righteousness can separate our 415s from our 225s. But we’ll have to shoulder the blame when those walls topple and bury the American Dream to which we only paid lip service.

You’re invited to my party launching Big Truth: New and Collected Stories—Sunday, June 9, 3:30–5 pm at Lokma Turkish restaurant, 1801 Clement Street at 19th Avenue, San Francisco. Yes, you can buy a copy, which I’ll autograph. RSVP with number in party: dhperl@yahoo.com.

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POWAY AND MINDSET

Disturbing acts of violence have occurred in the United States over the past several years. Some may not have been preventable. Others might not have happened had the nation a different mindset.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the far-right Anne Coulter’s 2007 remark that Jews were imperfect and should be Christians. I commented that Christians had the right to their beliefs about who gets into heaven—but none to condemn Jews, Muslims and others to hell. This guideline—a delicate balance to be sure—establishes a mindset that people don’t seek to impose their views on others no matter how seriously those views are held.

Many Americans cross that line. Sadly—dangerously—this has become more permissible since Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and victory. To the chagrin of many conservatives who supported him despite his repulsive comments, those comments haven’t ceased.

A week ago, Trump defended his 2017 remarks about “fine people” on both sides of the Unite the Right white-power, anti-Semitic demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia. “I was talking about people who went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general.” 

Trump can’t understand—or refuses to acknowledge—that Confederate statues and symbols representing “the Southern way of life” aren’t about mint juleps and men removing their hats before ladies—or generalship. The Confederacy rebelled to maintain an economy dependent on slavery. Following the demise of Reconstruction, those symbols stood for denying African-Americans their civil rights.

Last weekend, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders stated that Trump had condemned all forms of racism and anti-Semitism, and would use his bully pulpit (a term coined by Theodore Roosevelt) to continue doing so. But Trump uses his “pulpit” only to bully. His campaign made dog whistlinga well-known term for sending subtle signals that racism is okay. Other signals were overt, denigrating Muslims, Mexicans and people from “shithole” countries.

The Supreme Court soon will render a decision on whether LGBTQ people can be discriminated against. Many conservatives cite the book of Leviticus forbidding men to have sex with men (it says nothing about women having sex together), and men not wearing women’s clothes and vice-versa. I revere the Torah. But I reject those verses in our 21st-century world. I have a trans son and a gay son in addition to a straight son. They’re all wonderful. It’s just plain wrong to deny two of my kids equal rights. Witness the Trump administration denying trans men and women the opportunity to serve in our military. Yet unlike Trump, many have.

A week ago, a Christian anti-Semite used a military-style weapon to kill one and injure three Passover worshippers at Chabad of Poway, northeast of San Diego. This, six months after eleven Jews were murdered at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. Recently, a young white man burned down three black churches in Louisiana. Note: Last Saturday, white nationalists—First Amendment supporters, I’m sure—disturbed a talk at a Washington, D.C. book store.   

Terrible events aren’t foreordained. The White House, however, encourages hateful individuals and groups by continuing to dog-whistle racist and anti-Muslim sentiments for political purposes. Mindset matters. It’s time Trump stretched his mind to understand the license he gives to haters and be held accountable if he doesn’t.

The post will take off next weekend and return on May 17.

You’re invited to my party launching Big Truth: New and Collected Stories—Sunday, June 9, 3:30–5 pm at Lokma Turkish restaurant, 1801 Clement Street at 19th Avenue, San Francisco. Yes, you can buy a copy, which I’ll autograph. RSVP with number in party: dhperl@yahoo.com.

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