When Did it Happen?

History is filled the tipping points, or watershed moments, that we can point to as moments in time when everything changed. It can be an event, a place, a person, or even an invention: it really doesn’t matter. That is why I loved history so much as a kid and still teach it today. Using the evidence we have, historians look back and say this is the moment when everything changed. It is often followed with a statement that goes something like “without __________ happening, there would have been no _____________.”

Watershed moments can be tricky, because oftentimes we don’t know they are watershed moments until much after the fact. When we do realize it, though, the evidence is overwhelming. For example, we can now look at Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and the Battle of Waterloo as two different Watershed moments that led to his two different downfalls. The invention of the printing press changed literacy as we know it, and Martin Luther nailing the 95 Thesis to his local Catholic Church door in Wittenberg changed religion as we know it. Finally, the Stonewall Rebellion is now seen by historians as the watershed moment that started the LGBT Rights movement around the world.

In all of the examples above, you can see the exact moment when history is changed (can you tell I am geeking out right now?). The world is invariably better today because of those examples, but a historians job is never done. We are constantly looking at recent history to see if any more of these watershed moments have occurred and what is the result if they have. There is no question we have experienced a watershed moment in our nation’s history in regards to politics and the political parties many of us follow. Well, actually one party: the Republican Party.

The Republican Party, for better or worse, is one of the two parties are nation is stuck following. Over the years, they have had good ideas and bad ideas (for the record, I think the exact same thing about the democratic party. However, Something happened with the Republican Party. We are living in a time when I no longer understand the party of Lincoln and Reagan: two of the greatest Presidents this nation has ever seen. It seems like the Republican Party has sold its very soul and turned into something so grotesque that I am looking at friends and family members and I am left wondering how any decent human being could be ok with any of this.

I have racked my brain as to what we will end up considering the watershed moment of this change when we are 50 years removed from the present. You might think, as I did at first, that the Election of Donald Trump would be the Watershed Moment, but this is bigger than one racist misogynist winning an election (after all plenty of those have won before). Half the nation did not wake up on November 10, 2016 and started belting out the hateful and cheap rhetoric or silently acquiescing their approval of said rhetoric. All of that had to have been there before Trump.

Going forward, I just have one question for Trump Supporters, but more importantly, I have the same question for the many friends, family members, colleagues, and acquaintances that have come to know, love, and respect: When Did it Happen?

When did you start to agree and go along with things that the rest of us consider to unconscionable? When did you become supporters of tactics seen in police states and dictatorships? When did you decide to stop denouncing racism and extremism and thereby giving it your stamp of approval? When did it happen?

When did people with torches and nooses become “fine people?”

When did it become ok to rip families apart and shove them in cages? When did it become ok to deny those people in cages toothbrushes, showers, and basic human dignity products like feminine hygiene products? When was it decided we were now going to allow so many human beings to be shoved into one cage that had they been the actual dogs you consider them to be, ICE agents would be arrested for animal cruelty. When did it happen?

When did this become ok? When did this become what America does?

When did you decide you were no longer bothered by vandalized mosques and synagogues? When did it become ok to intimidate and belittle the Muslim faith? When did a scarf warn around the head as a symbol of deference to God become a symbol of oppression? When did you first start to believe that an entire religion was deemed unworthy of entrance to this nation of immigrants? When did it happen?

When did you start to believe only some houses of worship are worth protecting?

When was it decided that a football player, an alpine ski, a snowboarder, a figure skater, a championship basketball team, and a 4 time world championship female soccer team should be met with shouts of “I hope they lose!” or worse “I hope they break a leg!” for exercising their constitutional right to free speech? When did you start to believe they are getting paid millions of dollars to play ball so they should shut the hell up and dribble? When did you believe that professional athletes should not use the platforms and publicity that have to advocate for a better America for all people? When did it happen?

When did you decide that any family that does not look like your family is a threat? When did you decide that the family my brother and his fiancé are getting ready to start once they are married is less worthy of federal protection and recognition? When did start saying with anger “The only reason they are allowed to get married in the first place is because of one liberal justice?” When did you decide to support a party that is still actively trying to take away my brother’s right to marry the person of his choosing? When did it happen?

When did you decide to support a party that has catered itself on defending white nationalists and neo-nazis? When did you allow the Republican Party to go from the party of Lincoln and Reagan to the party of lies and racism? When did you decide to vote for old crusty white men who believe they know what is best for women and their bodies than the actual women and their doctors do? When did you become the party that gives free passes to rapists, misogynists, homophobes, and straight up assholes? When did it happen?

When did it happen that you moved away from what it means to be a true republican?

When did your views on America and what she represents to the world change? When did stop believing that America should be the shining city on a hill and start believing that the only way for America to succeed is for the rest of the world to fail? When did you decide that people from one of the largest and oldest continents on earth were nothing more than unworthy people from “shit hole countries? When did white people from Sweden become more worthy of existence than black people from Haiti? When did you decide that actual Americans were less worthy of federal disaster assistance because they speak Spanish and have brown skin? When did a desperate father willing to die trying to give his daughter a better life become a something we do not care about instead of a heartbreaking tragedy? When did it happen?

When did you give in to the fear mongering, the war mongering, environment raping, science denying, and branding news you do not like as fake or wrong? When did religion become something that was used to rationalize and defend family separations or marriages only between people of the opposite sex? When did the world become a world that only allowed science or religion, but not both? When did it happen?

When did you give into fear and stop believing in love? When did it happen?

If I were to ask each of you these questions face to face it would end in a couple of ways. Angry shouts about how I am wrong or misrepresenting your beliefs and positions. Many of you would try to flip the script and paint my beliefs and positions in a negative light. Usually, though, they all end the same way: loud and indignant protests of “that is not what I believe!”

My response to that is always the same: Then why are you not shouting that from the mountaintops? Why are you not calling and writing your elected officials and telling them that no of this is normal or ok? Why are going along with any of this? Why are you not being the people that I know and love and respect and standing up and rocking the boat? Why are you letting your silence help the oppressors and not the oppressed? When did it happen?

I humbly beg you to consider the following question and honestly think about it and try to answer it, because the future of the party you support and the future of this nation as a whole depends on it. When did racism, hatred, misogyny, homophobia, islamophobia, xenophobia, and bigotry become things we oppose or only when someone calls us out and forces us to give our opinions? When did it happen?

-WB

The Death of Decency: A Maverick’s Mark on America

I had the good fortune of turning 18 in a presidential election year, and I was more excited to register to vote than I was to buy cigarettes and lottery tickets. I was that kid. To this day I remember standing in a massive line to vote in the 2008 Presidential Election. I asked my mother if you usually have to wait this long and she quickly replied no. John Sidney McCain III is the reason that many turned out to vote on November 4, 2008. Had John McCain run against just about anybody else, he would have received my vote. I respected him. I trusted him. I believed in him. I bought into his vision of what America was and how she should move forward. Sadly, John McCain had the misfortune of running against Barack Obama; and as Obama has done for millions, his belief in the audacity of hope spoke to me. I bought what he was selling more than what John McCain was selling. But not by much.

I was honored to be a part of history and cast my vote for Barack Obama. Looking back on it all, I would not change my vote if I got the chance to vote again, but I am left incredibly sad for John McCain. He would have made a stellar president. He deserved to be president more than the disrespectful louse who currently occupies the White House. What I remember about election night, however, other than the excitement over the historic outcome, is the candidate speeches. If you were to ask me about both speeches, I will tell you that the speech winner that night was not the man who was known throughout the world as a Kennedy-worthy orator. The winner that night was the Arizona maverick who swallowed his pain and pride and did his best to unite a divided nation.

I do not remember one word of Former President Obama’s speech, but I remember every word of McCain’s speech. John McCain lost a bitter primary to George W. Bush in 2000. He did not give up the fight for what he thought was right. He lost again in 2008 after fighting even harder than he had the first time. At a time when many other people would have lashed out or given up completely, John McCain stood on that stage and said loudly for all to hear “Barack Obama is my president and I will do my best to help him succeed.” John McCain grieved for 30 seconds, then held his head up high and continued to fight for American ideals in his way. I remember turning to my college roommate (and friend since the sixth grade) David with tears in my eyes saying that was a damn good speech. And to this day I still think it was the best speech of his career.

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As the days have passed, I have cried more tears for John McCain than I thought I would. I have been slightly surprised by this and I have spent time trying to figure out why I have been so saddened by the Maverick’s passing. I have been saddened by the images of the beautifully stoic Cindy McCain and the distraught tears of Meghan McCain. Watching Meghan McCain, someone I have followed for years as the future of the republican party, brought up feelings of my grandfather’s passing and that brought the tears with it. I was heartbroken by the pictures of the 106 year old Roberta McCain being pushed in her wheelchair to the casket of the late senator – it is absolutely wrong for a parent to have to bury their child. It is not natural, not right, and not fair. I have been saddened by the images and the stories of McCain’s time at the Hanoi Hilton as a P.O.W. as well. After spending several days thinking it was a combination of these things making me sad, I had a realization last night as I lay in bed.

None of those things I had thought are what brought my sadness. What brought my sadness was what McCain’s death truly represented. On August 25, 2018, John Sidney McCain III died and he took a piece of America that she desperately needed. With the death of John McCain we saw the death of decency in American politics; and although I grieve for John McCain, I grieve for the last bastion of decency in our political system. Everything I respect about John McCain has to do not with politics, but the fact that John McCain was a decent human being who loved his country and loved fighting for what he thought was best for his county. Everything I respect about John McCain is gone because there is not another like John McCain in our political system right now.

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John McCain got the nickname Maverick because he did not always follow the party line. John McCain voted against repealing Obamacare last year because it was not in the best interest of the nation (and received a phone call of appreciation from former President Obama). John McCain in his long political career only once put getting votes ahead of the right thing and he immediately regretted it. He had this to say about the confederate flag flying over the state capital here in South Carolina:

“I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth. And I would like to apologize to South Carolinians and to Americans everywhere who believe racism has no place in our American values.”

John McCain refused to go negative during the 2000 presidential campaign. When operatives of the Bush campaign were saying terrible things about McCain’s wife Cindy who openly admitted to struggling with prescription drug abuse, and his adopted daughter Brigette (who was originally born in Bangladesh), McCain refused to go negative. Even when told these rumors would cost him the nomination from the Republican party John McCain refused to bend the knee. He knew the party was better than that. He knew America was better than that. And when he lost that campaign he was able to sleep at night and hold his head high. And America is better for it. And we are worse off because we didn’t believe in it at the time.

My personal favorite moment from McCain’s distinguished lifetime of public service is the fact that when meeting with a woman in his own state while running for president took an opportunity to defend his political opponent Barack Obama. When that women called Barack Obama an Arab Muslim, John McCain took that time to stop her and tell her that was not true. He called Barack Obama a good man. A decent man. A family man. How many other politicians did that while running for the presidency from the republican party? Ted Cruz certainly did not. Marco Rubio certainly did not. Ben Carson did not. Chris Christie did not. Jeb Bush did not. and we all know good and well that Donald J. Trump sure as hell did not. When John McCain defended his opponent that day, he did more to cement his maverick’s mark on this nation than any other day. That is the day this self-proclaimed liberal democrat elevated John McCain to a pedestal above almost all other politicians. That is the day that I knew John McCain was something special. And that is the day that I know that John McCain was a politician that this nation did not deserve.

On a more cynical note, I am saddened by the death of this maverick giant because I sadly believe the death of John McCain is going to be the beginning of the death of the republican party as we know it. And that is when my sadness turns to anger. I love this nation and I know that my democrats do not have all the answers. That is why I believe so firmly in the two-party system. I believe firmly in compromise. So did John McCain. But the republican party has rejected compromise. They have rejected decency. They have rejected niceties and instead they embraced a cancer on our political system who would and should be a pariah of politics if we lived in an America that was made by McCain.

fd1602a8-936e-4426-9d08-f155a33b72d4-ax006_571e_9John McCain served this nation with honor in the Navy and was a P.O.W. during a war that our current leader evaded with a “diagnosis” of bone spurs. John McCain refused to be released early when given the chance because there were P.O.W.s who had been imprisoned longer than he had. IF I had been given the chance of early freedom I would have sung like a canary and god knows our current leader would have (before finding a cheesy way to write a book about the “art of the P.O.W. release deal”). When given the chance to let his supporters demean and insult his Opponent, John McCain went high and defended their integrity. Our current leader not only took time time to demean and insult his opponent he advocated violence in his name on the behalf of his trucker hat wearing supporters who still don’t see that America was and is already great. When given the chance to lie and steal and defraud the American people John McCain would have none of it.

After thinking about all of those things, my anger turns back to sadness. John Sidney McCain should have been president over the monstrosity that we currently have in the oval office. That is why I am sad. That is why I cry. But then the crying stops. Because I think about John McCain and his last statement that was released by his widow Cindy and his daughter Meghan after his death. In that letter McCain wrote

We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world. We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. We have acquired great wealth and power in the process. …

Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.

Farewell, fellow Americans. God bless you, and God bless America.

I weep as I read that letter every time. But they are tears of joy. John McCain knew all too well that myself and many Americans are saddened and are full of despair at our present difficulties. But John McCain does not despair in America and he never has. John Sidney McCain III believed in America in life and he still believes in America in death. And because I believed in and still believe in John Sidney McCain III I still believe in America – and I hope you do to.

Farewell John. On behalf of a grateful American, please know we are a better people, a better nation, and a better world because of you. God Bless you and your family. And may God bless the United States of America that you fought for. May we live up to your vision of her. Always.

-WB