Because of my evangelical and Appalachian background, when Trump escalated his battle with the NFL, my Facebook Wall lit up with memes supporting Trump’s revision of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest. Kaepernick began his protest to draw attention to police accountability after numerous unarmed black men were killed by white police officers.
But in our era of ‘politics is war by other means’ Trump danced past Kaepernick’s intent and reframed the protest to appease his base. As the president was campaigning for losing candidate Luther Strange in Alabama, he told a mostly white crowd on Friday, Sept. 22,
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”
In typical Trump fashion he doubled down on the rhetoric with a NFL-centric Tweet Storm — successfully diverting attention away from Roger Stone’s testimony and the White House’s cobbled approach to the Puerto Rico crisis.
Kneel Or Stand?
As memes with Trump’s new narrative, including I ‘kneel for the cross and stand for the flag’ populated my Wall, allegations surfaced that the Draft-Dodging president was hypocritically mocking veteran, and war hero, John McCain’s physical disability (caused when McCain was tortured by the Viet Cong). Missing from my Wall were posts of the soldiers that approved of Kaepernick’s act. Just like the country, soldiers are divided on the issue. Veteran, and former CIA director Michael Hayden, who admits he is not a fan of Kaepernick, wrote this in an op-ed piece for The Hill,
As a 39-year military veteran, I think I know something about the flag, the anthem, patriotism, and I think I know why we fight. It’s not to allow the president to divide us by wrapping himself in the national banner. I never imagined myself saying this before Friday, but if now forced to choose in this dispute, put me down with Kaepernick.
Understanding This Presidency
During Trump’s Tweet Storm, I attended a presentation by Katty Kay, Lead News Anchor for BBC. I was interested in her views as an ‘outsider.’ (The program was billed as The View From the Outside: Insights on American Politics.)
Kay has covered the White House since 1996, an era she described as more optimistic — a honeymoon stage since the United States was still seen as the winner of the Cold War. During her presentation, Kay described a conversation she had with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
According to Kay, Gates explained the four security risks the United States currently faces. As a student of history and politics, the first three did not surprise me: China, a declining Russia and the Middle East. The fourth one did. According to Kay, Gates explained
…the fourth national security issue is America’s political dysfunction. The fact that this country has become virtually ungovernable. There is so much division between the left and the right and so little ability to compromise — it’s hard to get things done.
Kay also said,
America is a system that was built on — and for — compromise, but compromise has become a dirty word. You’re a presidential system acting like a parliamentary system with the result that nothing can get done.
A day or so after the her speech, I learned that the Freedom Caucus was continuing its participation in the dysfunction. Warren Davidson, Congressman for Ohio’s 8th Congressional District where I live, introduced legislation attacking the Congressional Budget Office. The Freedom Caucus began its attack on the institution in a July op-ed piece after a GOP majority failed, for the umpteenth time, to ‘Repeal and Replace’ the Affordable Care Act.
Dismantling Is Rough On Low-Income Counties
Before the presentation, I finished reading a 80-page 1994 Heritage Foundation publication. It gave me additional clues to when this modern ungovernable debacle was conceived.
The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, issued a booklet titled Congress and Civil Society: How Legislators Can Champion Civic Renewal in Their Districts. It was written at the height of the Republican Revolution — after the Party won a majority in Congress for the first time in 40 years. The book champions the ideas of then House Speaker Newt Gingrich — the man who ushered in the No Compromise approach to politics.
This approach was pushed further to the Right by The Tea Party and The Freedom Caucus.
The booklet is a blueprint for dismantling the federal government by pushing governing responsibility down into local communities. The book cherry-picks successful community and faith-based organizations, mostly in large metropolitan areas, holding them up as proof that ‘what works here can work there’. The featured solutions suggest that most, if not all, problems are best solved at the local level.
However, the publication does caution the Party not to impose this on low-income communities that cannot rise to the challenge of self-efficiency. Apparently not everyone got the memo, because the dismantling began and low-income communities, like mine, paid the price.
Losing At The Local Level
As I research my county’s history, by the late 90s — five years or so after the booklet was published — meth was a significant problem in Preble County. We were, and are, ill-equipped to handle it. The drug entered our community despite a growing national economy — and locally strong unemployment rates. Eventually, as automation and not immigration, stole about 70 percent of manufacturing jobs, including many where Preble County residents worked, area wages fell and the job vacuum was filled with low-wage retail jobs.
By the 2000s, we lost the drug war.
Today, as in 2000 — and like many communities in the nation — we arrest users at a higher rate than drug manufacturers and distributors. The addicted are easier to snag. Of the 25 indictments handed down this month in my county, 20 were drug related. Out of those 20 cases, two cases were allegations of distribution or trafficking, 18 were indictments for drug use.
I’m old enough to remember when 10 indictments a month in Preble County was a lot.
Social Media And Our Loss Of Connectivity
We lost the drug war for the same reason social media blew up the NFL story. We have lost a connection with our community and each other. Social media has amplified the problem of talk radio by removing the discussion and reducing everything down to a one-liner — and generally an offensive one.
This year I attended four drug and/or heroin educational events, and at one of them a recovering addict, who credits Jesus with curing her addiction, stated the reason she was able to get clean was because someone treated her humanely. She said a woman helping her inside a clothing establishment connected with her and,
… for the first time, in a long time, the woman talked to me like I wasn’t a monster. And I wasn’t the lowest of the low. She treated me like anyone else.
In the ‘war on drugs’, Portugal, unlike us, found out more than a decade ago, that the key to solving an epidemic is to help people reconnect with their community — just like the Preble County woman did with the recovery addict. What does not work is treating the chemically-addicted like criminals — prey to be caught and trapped.
(Trapping political opponents in a snare on social media doesn’t work either as we are learning in the current chaos. Political parties, and their base, must reach across the aisle and talk.)
As the movement blaming the federal government for the country’s woes grew, our ability to govern declined. And, by turning the federal government into a dragon to be killed, communities like mine — ones that lacked the economic and political savvy to solve mounting problems — were left behind, unable to attract much-needed human and capital resources.