We are sick. America is sick. Not just fanatical extremists, but all of us. Every nook and cranny of our socio-political universe has been infected with the coronavirus to rationality; an invasion of cells that replicate within our innate decency and suffocate the ability to breathe reason.
Strong words? Not strong enough. We have become tribalists in politics, religion and social grace. Oppositional views are not only in opposite corners, but they are also evil incarnate, and every manifestation of their effort is an extension of everything the other side is against.
Strong words? Not strong enough.
The horror of the national stage has filtered down to state races, local races, even competitors for internet service. Or maybe….the horror from down below filtered UP and that is why we now have a person without a moral barometer in the White House.
Either way, or both, we are now stereophonic hyperbole that gives no quarter to allow compromise, change, or cooperation. We demand “change” but don’t allow for it. It’s “all or nothing, for us or against us” modus operandi.
That does not mean that changes we demand are not necessary, and it does not mean that strict evaluation of the agents of change is less necessary, but if we leave no room for people to navigate so that genuine understanding is reached….then what is accomplished? How is moral disease cured?
Yesterday I posted support for a man who is running for Sheriff in Black Hawk County. For doing so I have been called a “traitor,” an “ass,” “stupid” and even a “bigot.” By friends.
I will admit to having spent a restless night because of this, but not the kind of anxiety that leads to “I shouldn’t have posted anything! I should have let everyone believe what they apparently thought before.” No. My consternation lies in the fact that there are principles in play and at stake for which my political views would be compromised if I had remained quiet. My restless thoughts centered around articulating a preeminent principle of moral examination: Truth.
I’ve known Dan Trelka for 10 years, since he first became the Waterloo Chief of Police. I don’t recall how we instantly knew we were on different sides of the political fence, but we had an exchange that said “I’ll listen to you if you listen to me.” I found that to be a refreshing perspective.
There weren’t too many encounters over the years that followed, but at the time I was running for the Iowa House in 2016, Dan was taking some flak for police procedures and aggressive actions that targeted high incident areas. Some fell across racial divides and I joined the chorus that condemned any gradation of profiling or excessive force. Dan heard us and with Waterloo’s Mayor Hart, outreach programs were initiated between the department and citizens. I thanked Dan for having the courage to admit to shortcomings from his approach and to address systemic issues.
Was it perfect? No. Sincere? I believe so. Days later Dan called me and asked if he could publicly endorse my candidacy. He said (I am paraphrasing from memory only): Gary, I know we see a lot of things differently but the most important qualities in a candidate to me are sincerity, honor and having the courage to be honest.”
Needless to say that meant a lot to me. I lost and in the years that followed my increasingly vocal progressive views lost Dan more often than connected with him. But we still found ourselves working together. Whether for Court Appointed Special Advocates for abused and neglected children, Habitat for Humanity fundraisers, or to acquire funding for a Warming Center to benefit our homeless population, we always knew we had our hearts in the same place: to build a stronger community.
For the record- Sheriff Tony Thompson is at most of these functions, as well. My views here are not views to contradict Sheriff Thompson or to criticize him in any way. I have supported him for 12 years. My view of public service, however, is that we must resist the temptation to make any position a career position. I believe that the confluence of change with emerging issues demands that the baton be passed after a period of time. How long? Who knows? But when a viable candidate emerges to challenge the status quo, it is fair to look.
Sheriff Thompson’s campaign contacted me a few months ago asking if they could put a yard sign on my very visible property. I said, “No. Dan is a good friend and I think that would be a slap in his face. Don’t worry my support is still with Tony.” They understood.
Clearly, having changed my mind and voiced support for Dan, that must have been a slap in Tony’s face, and I’d be lying if I said that doesn’t bother me. But this is where an essential point is to be made. We are allowed to change our minds. A pledge to vote for someone in May is not a blood bond by October that can’t be changed. Otherwise, why campaign? Don’t we campaign to possibly….God forbid…alter some views?
The “noble” thing, it was said to me, would have been to keep my change to myself, to have remained silent so as not to offend Tony and disgrace my earlier pledge. But is that really noble? Is it more noble to have a different view; to have developed confidence in someone, but then keep it to oneself?
This is a local election. It shouldn’t be a political party election. We are neighbors looking at neighbors to improve our neighborhoods. Sheriff Thompson didn’t lose my confidence, but Dan Trelka earned my vote. He actively engaged me with serious concerns about party politics and how to better understand issues from a different perspective. He took a lot of heat from local Republicans when he endorsed me, and recently challenged his own party for being too “extreme.”
I wrestled with the ramifications of going public, but my central issue goes back to what Dan saw in me 4 years ago when he put his reputation on the line. When those values come under fire is that the time to cower or to have the courage to withstand the slings and arrows from discordant bows?
Our society now lives under a fallacy that perfection is absolute compliance. We demand change, but don’t allow for it.
Authentic change is not the result of having taken no prisoners, but from allowing human beings the space in which change can take place. It means that people are the real agents of any change.
This post will surely be met with opposition and “evidence” that one person is better than the other, and testimonies from people who vehemently disagree. It was said that I have betrayed the “Blue Wave.” Someone even said that I “may as well vote for Trump.”
Folks…that jump is the sickness, not the cure.