Archive for the ‘AMERICAN LIFE’ Category

SQUEEGEE MAN

I have a confession. While it’s hard to reveal the truth about ourselves, holding things in just builds pressure and invites a self-defeating explosion. So, I’m going to lay myself bare.

I have a thing for shower squeegees.

Please, don’t let your imagination run wild. There’s nothing unwholesome here. It’s just that San Francisco’s water leaves mineral deposits on tile and glass. I need a squeegee to wipe down—the tile and glass, not me. (Disclosure: It takes me longer to clean the shower than myself.)

Okay, I could ignore my standards and view shower squeegees as merely utilitarian implements. But I want my shower clean. For that, you need the right squeegee. And here’s something that may defy political correctness: not all squeegees are created equal.

I’ve had great squeegees. I’ve had lame ones. The great ones, which are hard to find, share a few common traits. The unit is wide but not too wide, so you can clear water from those narrower areas of tile or glass while your progress remains swift. The blade—don’t overlook the corners—is firm but not too firm, so water flows right down the wall or door with a single wipe. Too firm? You can’t get a good seal. Too loose? Although you squeegee the same area over and over, water remains to taunt you.

My first squeegee, purchased after our bathroom was redone years ago, might have been the best. I think I bought it at Bed Bath & Beyond. Naturally, the model was discontinued. In fact, all good squeegee models get discontinued. It seems that manufacturers and retailers just can’t leave a good thing alone. New models always seem to be inferior. When you’re fortunate to discover a squeegee that does a reasonable job, you rush back to the store to stock up. You find them discontinued, too. Shop online? You need a squeegee in your hands to make that important a purchase.

Sometimes, a bad squeegee turns out to be a good one if in a completely unexpected way. A few years back, I bought one with a curved, supple blade figuring it would get a good grip on those shower walls. It didn’t. Then I had a thought. Maybe it would do a better job on my car’s windows than traditional automotive squeegees. It did! Whenever I need to clear my car’s windows before driving off, this squeegee makes the task virtually effort-free. I liked it so much, I bought one for Carolyn. Would I let someone borrow it? Fuhgeddaboudit.

We all have our foibles. Some, like the constant tweeting of a president of a major nation, can be foolish if not injurious to the commonweal. Fortunately, others—like mine—are quite innocuous. I rarely find myself in a store that sells bath products, but when I do I always check out the squeegees. If one looks like it will do the job, I buy it and eventually put it to the test. If it performs up to my demanding expectations, I go back for more. But of course, the store will have sold out, and I’ll be lucky to find a new model worth the investment.

Wow, I feel so much better for having shared this!

Now for another foible: I write fiction. Read the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration on Sunday, April 30, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t be there? Go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

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RACISM REVERSED

The recent presidential campaign and Donald Trump’s victory spurred new conversations about racism. Ironically, while America has made great progress, unexpected forms of racism have been cropping up.

White racism, of course, hasn’t disappeared. A week ago, Rep. Steve King (R.-Iowa) represented it by tweeting in support of far-right Dutch prime ministerial candidate Geert Wilders: “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” (Wilders’ party finished second on Wednesday with 20 of 120 parliamentary seats.) King believes non-whites can make no contribution to Holland. This isn’t new for King. In July 2016, he asked on MSNBC, “Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?” Last Tuesday, King predicted, “Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other” before white Christians become a minority in America in about thirty years.

Western European and American civilizations have accomplished much. We can be proud of this heritage. But humanity being what it is, they also gave the world the Inquisition, colonialism, Hitler and nuclear weapons. Slavery formed a backbone of American economics for centuries. Jim Crow followed for another hundred years. Meanwhile, major civilizations flourished elsewhere. They, too, committed atrocities.

Our faults acknowledged, a great many Americans believe that anyone of any genetic or cultural background can share our nation’s values and enrich our society. So many native-born people and immigrants have. Yet a new group is under attacked.

In some circles, it’s fashionable to condemn white Americans as racist. Not some whites. All. “Progressive” quarters speak of “white privilege.” Yes, whites often have it easier in a society not yet free of racism, overt or subtle. But the concept of “white privilege” is mean-spirited and distorting. It makes “white” or “Caucasian” an epithet in the way anti-Semites make an epithet of “Jew.”

This week, I discovered another variation of anti-white sentiment on a Facebook post. It’s called “white fragility.” In a 2015 article, a (white) woman named Robin DiAngelo, who holds a Ph.D. in multicultural education, told Michigan Radio, “Racism comes out of our pores as white people. It’s the way that we are.” Given that condition, DiAngelo coined the term “white fragility”—whites simply can’t handle the fact that they are racists.

Must genetics or upbringing condemn every white American? In reality, white Americans hold varying views about race and “the other.” So too, individuals in all racial groups hold varying beliefs—including racist attitudes—about people who are different. The problem: If all whites can be tarred with the same brush, white racists and anti-Semites logically can continue spewing foul stereotypes of all other groups.

Racial progress isn’t swift as we’d like, but America will move forward despite those on the far left who, like many on the far right, see genetics as all. In fact, a recent Gallup poll showed that 84 percent of whites approve of white-black marriage. That strikes me not as white fragility but as white flexibility.

It also gives me hope that we might—eventually—realize Martin Luther King’s dream that people will be judged on the content of their character rather than on the color of their skin. That is, if the politics of some Americans’ doesn’t devolve into yet another form of racism.

Now for a purely self-serving word: Read the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration at the end of April, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t be there? Go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

MUNCH’S “SCREAM” AND SARAH SILVERMAN

Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” is an icon of modern art. A genderless person resembling a space alien with round eyes and hands on cheeks projects a scream from a gaping mouth. Many see angst. I see something else.

You may have witnessed the same expression at a comedy show. Great humor move us because it comes from the truth about ourselves, families and fantasies we usually keep bottled up. Pop the cork, and we laugh. Howl. Scream.

The anonymous character in “The Scream” isn’t walking on a bridge harboring suicidal thoughts triggered by life’s meaningless. Rather, the Screamer has come from a set by the comedian Sarah Silverman. Munch’s character is screaming and laughing at the same time.

Have you ever laughed when you “shouldn’t?” We all have! Take this Silverman joke that appeared in CNN’s series, “The History of Comedy.” And be forewarned. This is adult stuff.

Silverman mentions the time she was licking jelly off her boyfriend’s penis. Yes, that’s what she says. The punchline? As she’s scarfing up jelly, she thinks, “I can’t believe I’m turning into my mother.”

The audience howls. I howl. And for good reason. From the get-go, our brains make important connections. Silverman reminds us that we’re adults. We do “dirty” things and have “dirty” fantasies. That goes for everyone. Why? Because we’re all normal. In fact, we’re so normal that our parents probably do/did similar things. This leaves us shocked. Uncomfortable. But it presents the truth: at some time in adulthood, we realize that our parents are/were also adults like us. We can’t help turning into our parents, ultimately recognizing that our likes, dislikes and foibles are simply human—as are theirs.

Silverman’s joke is deadly serious. In reminding us that we become just like our parents, she destroys the naïve image we hold of ourselves as better than them, their generation and all humanity who preceded us. Looking squarely into the mirror, we can no longer lie. With a measure of pain and possibly relief, we shed self-deception and acknowledge that, like our parents and everyone else, we’re fragile and flawed.

Discovery of our blemished humanity then presents us with a choice. We can scream, as Munch’s subject does—or appears to do. Or we can laugh, which on canvas may be taken for a scream. We can embrace humor to find our balance in a world as brittle as we are. Granted, laughter may not solve all our problems. But by throwing light on dark places, laughter offers us healthy release to cope and keep our balance.

I recently spoke with a friend who is an oncologist. He often takes a humorous approach with patients confronting their imminent mortality. He knows he can’t always help them avoid onrushing death, but he can help them face it with more courage, perspective and grace. I used that approach in my novel The Boy Walker.

Today’s America finds itself in difficult, even terrifying political circumstances. Activism is called for. But I propose that comedy also plays a key role in our response. If we fail to see the humor in a president with hair rivaling that of the three clowns on “The Simpsons”—Krusty, Sideshow Bob and Sideshow Mel—we won’t take him seriously enough. And put him in his place.

You can take very seriously my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht. I’ll host a launch party at the end of April, selling and autographing softcover books. Stay tuned for details.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

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THE PERILS OF BELIEF

A famous dictum, espoused by Aeschylus and repeated by former U.S. senator Hiram Johnson (California), states that the first casualty of war is truth. In our time, social media, faux news organizations and politicians have rendered truth a severe casualty. They’ve bombarded it—even shredded it—with belief. Even basketball stars have joined their ranks.

Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers stated that the earth is flat. “This is not even a conspiracy theory,” he said, although an unknown “they” want us to believe that the earth is round. The Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green gave his own take, surmising that the earth could be flat. “I don’t know,” he said, desiring to appear reasonable. “I haven’t done enough research.”

Research? Gazing out the window of an airplane at 35,000 feet on a clear day—NBA players don’t always fly at night—reveals the earth’s curvature. Or does that mean the earth is merely bent?

Don’t look just to some athletes, though. Donald Trump claimed his inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. Photographs and other evidence disproved that. White House press secretary Sean Spicer replied, “That’s what the president believes.” Will presidential beliefs—heedless of fact—commit the United States to domestic and international policies ranging from reckless to disastrous?

Often, truth is a click or two away. Many people refuse to go there. A widely circulating email purportedly by Warren Buffet claims that members of Congress receive their salary for life. FactCheck.org reviewed these claims two years ago. Its conclusion: false. Members of the House and Senate qualify for retirement benefits after five years and only for a portion of their salaries, which max out at 80 percent after virtually a lifetime in Washington.

Belief has a cousin called deception. Making the rounds of Facebook is a video from NumbersUSA demonstrating that U.S. immigration policy cannot solve global poverty. Roy Beck, the organization’s founder/president, uses gumballs in glass containers to colorfully demonstrate that America’s taking in one million of the poorest of the poor each year will not put a dent in the problem.

Beck is right. Poverty must be solved locally. However, the video represents a political shell game. U.S. immigration policy has never been about alleviating global poverty. We accept people who can contribute to our economy along with refugees. We limit their numbers, which is our right and obligation. But this video imitates a magician drawing attention to one hand while the other prepares to pull a coin from your ear. It can lead many Americans to want to shut off immigration entirely or support draconian measures for reasons having nothing to do with the reality of American immigration policy.

I have no problem with belief in the religious sense. I demonstrate that each Friday night in synagogue. Faith enables individuals and communities to discover and reinforce meaning in their lives and connect to something greater if not entirely knowable, even as science dramatically increases our knowledge base.

Still, faith must co-exist with reason, not replace it. In secular matters, belief offers a poor substitute for rational analysis based on facts. And facts do exist. I pray that we demonstrate the wisdom to know when each approach is appropriate, particularly when individuals explore cyberspace and Washington makes decisions involving the economy, human rights and geopolitical policy.

Want to take something on faith alone? Believe that you’ll enjoy my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht, available soon.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.  

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NORMAL VS. USUAL

Recently, I asked a doctor if a small matter was normal. He answered, “You mean, is it usual?” Regrettable remarks by a multi-class boxing champion bring that comment into focus.

I reference Monday’s comment by Manny Pacquiao, also a senator in the Philippines. He spoke against proposed legislation protecting transgender Filipinos: “Even in the Bible, we read that the woman should wear women’s [clothing]; and the man, for men’s wear. That’s what I believe.” One year ago, Nike ended its relationship with Pacquiao after he called gays “worse than animals.” He apologized.

Pacquiao’s quoting the Torah puzzles me. Christian conservatives habitually cite such commandments as, “A woman must not put on man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear women’s clothing” (Deuteronomy 22:5). Yet this is not one of the Ten Commandments, which Christians revere. It’s one of 603 other mitzvot given the Israelites at Sinai. Christians believe them obsolete because Jesus established a new covenant with humanity.

Does Pacquiao’s defending one of those 603 other mitzvot give his position credence? Leviticus 11:7-8 forbids eating swine. Other passages forbid eating shellfish. (For the record, I don’t eat pork or shellfish.) These commandments are addressed to Jews. Does Pacquiao follow them? Is he a closet Jew?

I’m not writing to beat up (figuratively) Manny Pacquiao. Rather, I want to emphasize that many mitzvot emphasize separation. This includes keeping the seventh day, Shabbat (I do but not to Orthodox standards) and forbidding the wearing of clothing made of both wool and flax—animal and vegetable fibers (easy to follow). Often, the mitzvot don’t mesh with twenty-first century modernity.

For example, many people believe that gender identity comes in only two types, male and female. And that sexual preference consists of only one type, heterosexual. They see this as normal. But science and observation—I’m the father of a transgender son (born a female), a gay son and a straight son—demonstrate that gender identity and sexual preference flow along a spectrum.

My trans son isn’t acting out or deliberately flaunting society’s norms. He has long identified as male and felt uncomfortable as a female. I wish Carolyn and I picked up the cues earlier in his life, but the issue was unexpected and public knowledge scarce. Over the years, I’ve learned that society inflicts considerable and unjustifiable pain when it dictates how people must identify their gender and sexual preference—demands that nullify the very soul of an individual.

Reality is, straight male and straight female identities aren’t normal. They’re usual. The majority is straight—or seems so. To what degree is an individual matter. Still, the world contains a sizable LGBTQI community. Its members may not be usual, but they’re normal. Moreover, they are all human beings who deserve respect.

If Manny Pacquiao wants to quote Torah, he might study Genesis 1:27. “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” The Sages of the Talmud propose that Adam was a hermaphrodite. Separation provided Eve. The discussion is complicated but fascinating.

Whatever position you take on this Torah verse, it makes clear one critical idea: all human beings are created in the image of God.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And if you feel it’s more appropriate, remember Jesus’ words: “Do unto others…”

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LIFE IN THE BUBBLE

After Donald Trump won the presidency, many San Franciscans declared, “We should have seen this coming. But we live in a bubble. We didn’t know what people out there were thinking.” They were right. And they were wrong.

A bubble around San Francisco? Not all San Franciscans live in mansions and luxury condos, dine at expensive restaurants, drink fine wines and vacation overseas. San Francisco consists of many bubbles. The rich? We have them. The struggling middle and working class? The poor? They’re San Franciscans, too.

Yes, political and social attitudes in San Francisco are overwhelmingly liberal while many parts of the nation are equally conservative. As Robert Leonard wrote in the New York Times (1-5-16), people in rural areas have a different worldview than those who live in big cities and wealthy suburbs. He quotes Baptist minister and former U.S. congressman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, “The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good.”

Different ways of seeing the world, often formed by the Christian belief in original sin, can be found in what coastal Americans often term “flyover country.” Those of us who’ve gotten to know conservative parts of America—for me: Western New York, Georgia a bit and Texas a lot—understand that Americans live under a variety of conditions and hold a variety of views, often complex. California coastal “elites” tend not to relate to the desolation (and rays of hope) I’ve seen in Detroit and the desolation (without apparent hope) I’ve seen in Gary, Indiana and much of Baltimore. But here is where those beating themselves up for living in a bubble go wrong.

Out-of-work coal miners in West Virginia, struggling farmers in Iowa and low-paid service workers in Arizona all live in their own bubbles. They see life through the lenses of their upbringing, religion, cultural background, education and economic condition. Life is real there. Life is real here. How good or bad remains subject to individual interpretation.

In his farewell address, Barack Obama asked Americans to get out of their bubbles. If he meant that we should no longer live in communities with those whose backgrounds and interests we share, he got it wrong. People often feel most comfortable with others like themselves. But I don’t think that was Obama’s intention. I believe he asked Americans to expand our horizons, talk to each other across red and blue lines, and listen.

Despite our differences, our “civil religion”—the idea that every American should play by the rules and get a fair shake in return—can unite us. It has in the past when we’ve faced major challenges. Yes, religion and ethnicity often divide us. Only the naïve think that this nation is perfect. But we often find common ground in not just in the tenets of our Constitution but in ordinary things: sports teams, music, Mother’s Day flowers, July Fourth barbecues, Thanksgiving dinner, and visits to national parks and urban tourist attractions.

America is a nation of numerous bubbles. We’re not all the same. We never have been. We shouldn’t be. But if we can peer through our bubbles, respect legitimate differences and open ourselves to all that binds us, the United States will do just fine.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And may we respond to another challenging time with hope rather than fear, truth rather than falsehood, love rather than hate.

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THE MORAL IMPERATIVE

Last week, I wrote about the military trial of Israeli Sgt. Elor Azaria, convicted of manslaughter in killing a wounded Palestinian knife wielder. The response by Lt. General Gadi Eisenkot, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force (IDF), reminded me of an experience I had fifty years ago.

Many Israelis opposed to Sgt. Azaria’s conviction pleaded that he should be exonerated as a child of Israel—“everybody’s child.” Eisenkot replied, “An 18-year-old in the Israeli Army is not ‘everybody’s child’. He is a fighter, a soldier who must dedicate his life to carry out the tasks we give him. We cannot be confused about this.”

The IDF’s code of conduct states that military personnel must respond to a high moral standard that empowers them to refuse orders by their superiors. Jews are all too familiar with “good Germans” who, during World War Two, insisted that they were only following orders when they worked at death camps and took part in or enabled atrocities.

This brings me to Lt. Colonel Bert Bishop, commanding officer of the 97th Student Battalion at the U.S. Army’s Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. In May 1967, shortly before my class was to graduate, Col. Bishop informally gave us a glimpse of some of the situations we might confront in Vietnam. (The Army sent me to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and left me there.)

A combat veteran of World War Two and Korea—later a battalion commander in Vietnam, where he was promoted to full colonel—Col. Bishop covered a variety of practical matters, including relationships with our non-commissioned officers on whom we would depend. He informed the Jewish candidates—three of us in a class of 194—that we would have to assume some of the duties of a chaplain for Jewish soldiers wounded or troubled throughout the region where we served. There weren’t enough Jewish chaplains to cover all of Vietnam.

Most important, Col. Bishop told us that we should refuse to carry out immoral orders. How unexpected and extraordinary that was. Our battalion commander, who’d been on the battlefield and whose task was preparing us to close with the enemy and kill him, reminded us that as officers we were responsible to uphold the Army’s code of conduct. Regardless of risk to our careers or legal action some quarters might take, we were not to emulate the Germans who carried out the Holocaust.

We know that in Vietnam—a war we never should have fought—some American troops went awry. We remember the massacre at My Lai in 1968 that stained the Army’s reputation. But I will never forget Col. Bishop’s urging that no situation could allow us to be anything but professional and moral.

Gen. Eisenkot has made the same statement. And while some Israelis will plead that IDF troops face complex challenges—which they do—I believe the majority will agree with the chief of staff. True, we Jews are held to a higher standard. But that’s the standard we set for ourselves. Morality in combat or anti-insurgency situations does not represent weakness. By keeping the Israeli military and society grounded and disciplined in law and Torah, it creates ongoing strength.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And may the New Year bring a more peaceful world so that soldiers everywhere can disengage and no longer face these universal moral dilemmas.

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FAKE NEWS

One of my favorite comic strips is “The Knight Life” by Keith Knight. Tuesday’s included a schoolteacher’s statement: “Facts are overrated!! All you need is a loud mouth & some Macedonian teenagers!!” Websites with fake news created by kids in Europe abound—fake news many Americans give credence.

On December 9th, Yahoo News (real) reported that Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, considered by President-elect Trump for Secretary of Agriculture, posts unsubstantiated stories on Facebook, such as the U.S. Communist Party endorsing Hillary Clinton and the FBI restrained from acting after discovering a jihadi training compound in Texas. Said Miller: “I’m not a news source. I shouldn’t be held to that standard…. I’ll put it up there and let the readers decide.” Reasonable?

Ten days ago, Edgar Welch, 28, of Salisbury, N.C., fired a shot in a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. Welch went there to investigate online “news reports” of a child sex slave ring linked to Hillary Clinton. He told the New York Times (12-7-16), “I just wanted to do some good and went about it the wrong way.” He added, “The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent.” Welch refused to dismiss the online claims.

Around the same time, President-elect Donald Trump selected retired army general Michael Flynn as his national security advisor. CNN Politics (12-7-16) reported that Flynn has “spread false stories and re-tweeted anti-Semitic threats.” He also refused to disavow the “Pizzagate” story, which led Welch to fire a semi-automatic weapon at Comet Ping Pong. Flynn’s son, Michael Flynn Jr., also promoted the “Pizzagate” story. Flynn Jr. was dropped from his father’s transition team. General Flynn remains Trump’s selection.

So how do we respond to real news? The Central Intelligence Agency believes with “high confidence” that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee. The rest of the U.S. intelligence community does, too. (The FBI takes a neutral stance.) Russia’s purpose may have been to embarrass Hillary Clinton and swing the election to Donald Trump. Mrs. Clinton believes Vladimir Putin was out to get her. Republican Congressional leaders have expressed concern. Mitch McConnell (Senate majority leader), Paul Ryan (House speaker) and Senator John McCain all support an investigation.

President Obama says that the U.S. will act against Russia. He likely knows details unavailable to the American public. What will he do? Stay tuned.

As to the broader issue, knowing the truth remains a requisite for democracy to thrive. The real media play a critical role by reporting what’s happening in our world, as well as questioning authorities at the highest level. Sometimes, leading news purveyors get it wrong. But America’s mainstream media deserves high grades and serious attention from the public.

Sadly, the digital age has polluted what we call news. Yes, there are websites offering serious, professional reporting. But as Keith Knight points out, anyone can post a “news story,” which many Americans will accept at face value and pass on via social media. Witness “Pizzagate.” That’s why our political leaders must embrace truth to keep themselves grounded and help us do the same.

Donald Trump’s response to broad concerns about Russian hacking? “I think it’s ridiculous,” he told Fox News. “I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it.” It’s possible to live in an alternate reality, believing or disbelieving anything and creating your own truth—if facts don’t get in your way.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And follow the sound advice to think before you speak—and read (legitimate media) before you think.

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AMERICA FOR WHO?

A young man I know in another state has a very different political outlook from mine. Like many people, he re-posts memes on Facebook to support his positions. He’s a good person, but the sources he cites often exhibit poor taste and lack credibility. I checked out one source—a Twitter account. I was disturbed. Moreover, the attitude it represents is more widespread than you might think.

This particular Twitter account posts on Facebook very aggressive pro-Donald Trump, anti-Hillary Clinton material. Freedom of speech? Sure. Support Trump? Their right. But pay heed. The account’s primary theme is “Keep America American.” Its secondary theme: “Peace Through Superior Firepower.” Its graphics include a skull and skeleton hands holding a knife and a gun. I hear echoes of “Keep Germany German” and see the similar symbols of the Nazi Waffen-SS.

We often associate this thinking with rednecks, white supremacists and gun nuts—those people “out there.” But many small-town and rural people are wonderful and all-too-often falsely maligned. The fact is, prejudice exists everywhere.

In last Tuesday’s New York Times, Michael Luo, deputy Metro editor, wrote of a “minor confrontation” with a well-dressed woman on Manhattan’s expensive Upper East Side. Luo and his family were waiting outside a restaurant and apparently in the woman’s way. She passed by then from down the block yelled at them, “Go back to China.” Luo was born in Pittsburgh.

If some people think it’s critical to keep America for Americans, what does being an American mean? The Constitution states that anyone born in the United States—like me—is an American citizen. Our laws also enable people born elsewhere to become citizens if they fulfill residency requirements and pass a test. My grandparents became citizens 102 years ago and with them my father, who was 11. I have friends who became naturalized American citizens far more recently.

Yet some people scorn the Constitution they preach about upholding and place limitations on who they recognize as true Americans. White and Christian? You’re good. Black, brown, yellow or red? Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist? Forget the Constitution. Forget our laws. Some things, as Donald Trump reminds us, are only words. So should Mike Luo go back to Pittsburgh? Maybe—if Pennsylvania was never part of the United States. Or unless, as one of Luo’s readers responded, you’re blue-eyed and from Sweden like her.

The final weeks of the presidential campaign will be fascinating and disturbing. Neither candidate is sweeping Americans—recognized or not—off their feet. But one candidate retains an unwavering commitment that ethnicity and religion do not define who is or who isn’t an American. One doesn’t.

I’d like to believe that after the election, tempers will cool and we’ll all go back to normal. I can’t. We’re living with a new normal—an increasingly divided citizenry and, in some quarters, increasing racial hatred in what eight years ago was (falsely) termed a “post-racial” nation.

We’ll continue to hear “Keep America American.” New demagogues will shout about upholding the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for their own ethnic group and denying it to others. Doing so in the name of patriotism, they’ll mock the nation they claim to love and weaken the nation they seek to strengthen.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And let’s hope that all Americans are up for what comes next.

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VIN SCULLY AND CIVILITY

Last Sunday, Hall of Fame sportscaster Vin Scully retired. His 67 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers offered a model of civility too often missing in our nation. What made him, in addition to his upbeat and warm persona, a prototype for American political and societal behavior?

Certainly, you’ve got to be good to broadcast for one team over 67 seasons. Vin, a native New Yorker, came to Brooklyn Dodger baseball in 1950 at age 22. Harry Truman was president. I remember his broadcasts fondly. When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, Vin went west. Angelinos took to him immediately. So many fans at the ballpark listened to him on transistor radios that his voice carried across the Coliseum then, starting in 1962, Dodger Stadium.

Objectivity set Vin apart. Although paid by the Dodgers, Vin was never a “homer.” Yes, he wanted the Dodgers to win. But his broadcasting was impartial. He freely gave credit to opposing players and never covered over Dodger mistakes. Season after season, he remained gracious and respectful to everyone.

Interestingly, Vin worked alone long after “color men”—mainly former ballplayers—invaded the broadcast booth to root for the home team and tell fans what an announcer should know about the game. Vin knew a lot. Yet he never intimated or stated outright, as many color men do, that he knew things his audience didn’t.

The consummate professional, Vin kept listeners and TV viewers up to date on the game, avoiding the obvious for the TV audience while providing strategic insights as required. He never rambled on about extraneous matters as do so many announcers today. His stories always related to the players and baseball. Vin also understood when to remain silent and let the crowd paint the picture.

Consider his eloquent call on April 8, 1974 in Atlanta when Henry Aaron of the Braves broke Babe Ruth’s longstanding home run record. While Aaron, a black man, rounded the bases and the crowd roared, Vin said nothing. Then, after teammates mobbed Aaron: “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. This man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South while breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol… What a marvelous moment for Henry Aaron.”

Civility well describes Vin’s relationship with baseball fans and everyone around him. He never put down opposing players. He never complained about bad calls. And making an incredible gesture, he retired at the end of the regular season so that the Dodgers, not Vin Scully, would be the focus of the upcoming playoffs.

Stephen L. Carter, professor of law at Yale University, wrote a wonderful book, Civility, Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 1998). His thesis: People should treat each other with respect even when they have very real differences on serious issues. While civility—call it good manners—may sometimes seem contrived, it remains critical to maintaining democracy and extinguishing sparks that can flare into violence.

If our major presidential candidates—and I particularly cite Donald Trump—practiced the civility exhibited by Vin Scully, we’d likely feel much better about the upcoming election.

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