How much longer can we sugarcoat our racist attitudes?

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At $27,000, the antique desk was so laughably beyond my budget I gave up and made for the door, but the quick-thinking saleswoman scuttled my escape. “If you’re looking for something simpler,” she said, “we have a storage shop down the street with some rougher items. I’d be happy to walk you down if you’d like to take a look.”

I tried to say no, but I’d driven all the way to Bloomfield and my back was killing me from working long hours on my couch. Would it hurt to take a look?

The storage shop was, indeed, rougher but still way too pricey, so I gave up on desks and gravitated toward an old table I thought might work. Eager to make a sale, the woman rattled off a potential discount, a description, and a civics lesson. “That piece was built around 1870, right after the Civil War. You can see one of the legs has been replaced and a corner was broken off. It’s had a rough go,” she chuckled, “kind of like The South.” While I looked the table over more closely she filled the quiet with talk of southern pride, how the war was all about states’ rights, and how her own ancestors had fought and died for our values.

I recall this story whenever someone explains why, despite his many flaws and moral failings, they voted for Donald Trump. We suffered 8 years under Obama, they often say. Or, I got tired of being politically correct. Or, we need to keep foreigners from coming here and our taking jobs. Or, a favorite of late, the Democrats want to take away our 2nd Amendment rights.

Like the antique saleswoman with her version of the Civil War, we tell the story that makes us feel best. Because surely we did not vote for Donald Trump because he is a powerful, wealthy white man with a history of racial discrimination (see: the Central Park Five) , or because he questioned the legitimacy of our first black president (see: birtherism) , or because he promised to ban all Muslims, stem the tide of hispanics at our border, return jobs to rural white America, or protect white gun owners.

Or did we?

In a recent interview, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu explained that southerners need to stop glossing over, stop sugarcoating. We need to “quit saying that the Civil War was not about slavery. Quit saying that the Civil War was some kind of noble cause. It wasn’t. The Civil War was fought to destroy the United States of America, not to put it back together. It was fought over the cause of slavery. And for some reason we have a difficult time dealing with that issue.”

On April 6, during a South Carolina town hall, Congressman Ralph Norman laid a loaded gun on a restaurant table. Norman has a conceal carry permit. He insisted laws are already on the books and it was all okay. He smiled and said, “I pulled it out to make a point that guns don’t shoot. People shoot.”

But what if Ralph Norman wasn’t white? Could a black man walk into a crowded restaurant, lay a loaded gun on the table, smile and say, it’s okay folks, I have a permit and that’s the law, I’m just making a point that guns don’t kill people?

Of course not. Not without getting himself killed.

Mayor Landrieu is right. We southerners have a difficult time with unpleasant facts. Six months post-Hurricane Maria, 60,000 Puerto Rican Americans remain without power. In Flint, Michigan, more than 1,400 days have passed since residents have had clean, safe water. The women and children dying from chemical attacks in Syria are the very refugees, the Muslims, the Trump administration has insisted are not welcome here. The president is deploying the National Guard to the Mexican border to keep a few hundred Honduran refugees from finding asylum (and low-skilled jobs) here.

Would we tolerate 1,400 days without clean water in a white Lexington suburb? Imagine the uproar if we treated post-hurricane Houston like we have Puerto Rico? What kind of military response would we deploy to save Christian white women and children from a chemical weapons attack? Does the president’s protection of our beloved 2nd Amendment apply equally to black and white Americans?

Like with the $27,000 desk, we have to think about what is too costly for our comfort. The Civil War was not fought over states’ rights; it was fought over slavery. We did not elect Donald Trump because we despised Hillary Clinton; we elected him because, after 8 years with a black president, he was a powerful, wealthy white man who promised to make white America comfortable again.

What price are we willing to pay to keep sugarcoating it?

______

Donald J. Trump has been president 14 months. I’m curious — how’s he doing, what are your thoughts?

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Christian women are standing by their man. Boy, does that familiar.

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We’ve all seen the flyer, the one distributed by Chaplain Lee Watts, Bible study leader at the Kentucky State Capitol, advertising his March 9 prayer breakfast.

I recalled this flyer, the one Chaplain Watts insisted was misunderstood, as I watched a group of self-described Christian women in Dallas defend the president while dismissing Stormy Daniels during her 60 Minutes interview. “This is a porn star,” one woman sneered. “Why are we giving it any credibility? And the fact that she now wants to come out with a story because she’s afraid for her children? My goodness! What did you tell the kiddos about your full-time job?!” Another woman adding, “Should we believe the President of the United States or a strippper/porn star?”

These women still respect the president they voted for. Like the cartoon woman on Chaplain Watts’s flyer, they think negative stories about Trump are nothing but fake news. Why? Because they believe God ordained Trump to be president. And they are standing by their man.

They are not alone. Tony Perkins, prominent Evangelical and president of the Family Research Council, recently said about the president, “We kind of gave him, all right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here,” adding that Evangelicals are “tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists.”

But what if President Obama had behaved like Trump. Would Evangelicals, or anyone, have given him a mulligan?

Imagine if a porn star and a Playboy model insisted Obama had had unprotected sex with them, saying they reminded him of his daughter. What if it had been Obama on the radio as Howard Stern called his daughter a piece of ass, responding, “Yeah, she’s really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, her father…”

Imagine if it was Obama who had denigrated a Gold Star family or mocked a handicapped reporter during the campaign. What if Obama had stood on a debate stage and defended the size of his … hands … saying, “[Marco Rubio] referred to my hands if they’re small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee you.”

Imagine if Obama had gone to Puerto Rico after an historically horrific hurricane and shot paper towels into the crowd like he was playing basketball. Imagine further that, even after months of American citizens on that island being without power and hundreds of deaths, he never mentioned Puerto Rico again.

Imagine if Obama, after a mass school shooting, had not spent a considerable amount of time with families and the community before leading a prayer vigil. Imagine, instead, that he’d flown in late and unannounced on a Friday night, snapped a few press photos, and then spent the rest of his weekend holed up a few miles down the road at a posh country club.

Imagine if Obama had called Mexicans rapists then insisted Mexico pay for a border wall they never wanted nor supported. Then imagine, knowing all the while that Mexico would not pay, he tried to bilk billions from our military budget to cover his promises.

Imagine, if you will, an Obama-supporting Bible study leader at the Kentucky State Capitol distributing a flyer for his prayer breakfast with the words, “why the president is righteous and those against him are wicked.”

Remember when Trump said, prophetically it now seems, during the campaign, “The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible.”

As one Christian woman in that Dallas group said after watching Stormy Daniels on 60 Minutes, “I know that when I voted for him, I wasn’t voting for a choirboy.”

Don’t look now, but these women sound eerily like another woman in a 60 Minutes interview from 1992, when she said about then-president Clinton, “I’m not sitting here like some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I’m sitting here because I love him and I respect him.”

I guess God ordained Clinton to be president, too. Does he get a mulligan?

Collateral Damage

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Photo credit: NPR

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“American farmers are collateral damage in Trump’s trade war.” This was the March 23 headline in Mother Jones magazine, in stark contrast to the president’s words just three days earlier. “Our Nation was founded by farmers,” he tweeted. “Our independence was won by farmers. And our continent was tamed by farmers. Our farmers always lead the way — we are PROUD of them, and we are DELIVERING for them!”

But according to Mother Jones, Missouri’s farm bureau members are sick with worry. “China’s threat to limit its purchases of US soybeans and pork sent a chill through the grain belt. In its announcement on Friday [in response to President Trump’s threat of a trade war], China threatened a 25 percent tariff on US pork, imperiling a $1.16 billion market.”

Consequential headlines like these tend to get lost under the heavy pile of chaos this president buries us under on a daily basis.

Consider the last couple of weeks.

He fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Not in person; not on the phone; but on Twitter. No matter your opinion of Tillerson, he was an honorable man who served his country and was deserving of respect. What kind of president humiliates his own senior staff in this manner?

He congratulated Russia’s Vladimir Putin on winning what John McCain called a “sham” election, even after his own staff wrote DO NOT CONGRATULATE in all caps on his briefing materials.

He stated his intent to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jung Un, then fired his National Security Advisor. Lest you think this is no big deal, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, retired Admiral James Stavridis, had this terrifying response: “You look for the national security apparatus as guardrails around the presidency because of the immense power that’s invested in the executive branch. I feel like those guardrails are drifting. God help us if we lose Jim Mattis.”

A key member of the president’s legal team resigned. (Note: Obama did not need, nor have, a legal team.)

He fired Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe just 26 hours before he was to receive his pension after 20 years of service protecting this country. How did McCabe learn he’d been fired? A friend saw it on TV and called him at home, after 10 pm, on a Friday night.

Do you have a pension? Imagine losing your pension, your livelihood, your family’s security, this way.

And who can look past the veritable car wreck of credible allegations that the president had not one, but two, affairs in the months after his wife Melania gave birth. One long-term, with a Playboy model who says he offered to put her up in a New York City Apartment. One with a porn star. All as his wife nursed their infant boy.

This is, in a word, damaging.

Sure, President Trump put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and passed huge tax cuts for the wealthy. But he has also implemented ill-advised tariffs—causing Gary Cohn, his top economic advisor, to resign—that could severely damage American businesses and farmers. In the words of Blake Hurst, a corn and soybean farmer and president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, “Folks are getting pretty nervous.”

If you don’t want to listen to me, how about Peter Wehner, an Evangelical Christian who served in 3 Republican presidential administrations (Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush). In a recent interview with David Axelrod he said, “We think the Gorsuch nomination was a good thing, but on his treatment of women, his pathological lies, his denigration of the poor, and his attacks are something that are really troubling and problematic. And the hush money, the $130,000 for a porn star while your third wife was at home with your child” is just complete hypocrisy.

Mr. Wehner also wrote in The New York Times, “I hoped the Trump era would be seen as an aberration and made less ugly by those who might have influence over the president. That hasn’t happened. Rather than Republicans and people of faith checking his most unappealing sides, the president is dragging down virtually everyone within his orbit.”

Would we have tolerated this constant chaos, this instabilty, from a Hillary Clinton, or any other, president?

No. We would not.

Turns out most Americans will be the Trump presidency’s collateral damage. In the words of Adm. Stavridis, “God help us.”

Call Lt. Col. Amy McGrath

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On March 5, in a brightly lit, white-on-white cafeteria at the Anderson County senior center, folks gathered around plastic tables decorated with leprechauns and sparkling green St. Patrick’s Day confetti, anxious to hear from congressional Democrats vying for Andy Barr’s seat.

One candidate stood out: retired fighter pilot, U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Amy McGrath.

But there were questions, and locals whispered their concerns over pork sliders and mint cookies. Could a woman win the confidence of rural voters in Trump country? Could a person with less political pedigree than charming, long-time legislators like State Sen. Reggie Thomas or Mayor Jim Gray defeat Barr?

We got our answer on March 13 in Pennsylvania, in a congressional district like a twin sister to Kentucky’s 6th. After a rowdy, GOP rally for Rick Saccone three days before the special election, headlined by none other than President Trump, we witnessed the unlikely win by Democrat and former Marine Conor Lamb.

Contrary to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s fantasy that Lamb ran as a pro-life, pro-gun, anti-Nancy Pelosi, conservative, Lamb’s win has provided a virtual roadmap for how someone like McGrath—former military, mother of three small children who keeps guns in her home, supporter of women’s reproductive rights because it is the law, and aren’t we a nation of laws?—can win here.

Kentucky’s 6th District is both diverse and a place where politesse and basic kindness are fundamental, so it is no surprise that the constant political antics and scandals, both locally and nationally, are wearing us all threadbare. We are, in a word, exhausted.

At rallies like the one in Pennsylvania, the president tends to bloviate about his personal accomplishments, about winning. But here in Kentucky, Democrats and Republicans alike are clearly not winning, and we know it. We need infrastructure, healthcare, jobs, and a pension plan. We do not need people like Barr who back Governor Matt Bevin as he inexplicably calls teachers wanting the pensions they earned “selfish” and “ignorant,” comparing them to misers who hoarded rationed goods during World War II.

If Rep. Barr thinks he is safe come the November midterms, up against a potential candidate like McGrath, Kentucky Democrats say keep on thinking and talking. And get President Trump to come to Kentucky to talk with you, because what we witnessed in Pennsylvania makes it clear: the president’s rallies have little to do with galvanizing congressional races—like with Alabama’s Roy Moore, he barely mentioned Saccone—and everything to do with his addiction to the stage, the say-anything high he gets from stirring up a crowd.

Problem is, morning comes. The high wears off. The president blows up Twitter. And the same rally-goers who cheered by night are racked with questions. What decent person humiliates his own Secretary of State by firing him on Twitter? If a pension is promise, what kind of man punishes a government employee like Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe by firing him just 26 hours shy of getting his pension?

At the Anderson County senior center, around tables littered with campaign bumper stickers and emerald green hats, Lt. Col. McGrath did not rally us like the president might. She gave no list of braggadocios accomplishments (though she has plenty), no self-congratulations, and no playground name-calling. “We are all Democrats here, but it’s not about us,” she said. “It’s about getting people outside of here to vote for somebody who is going to inspire a new generation in public service. That’s what this is about. It’s about building the Democratic party again,” and “as a Marine, one of the things about leadership I respected the most was that they didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, they told me the truth.”

Listening to McGrath talk about public service, the truth, and her values, I recalled the opening lines in Judith Guest’s famous 1976 novel, Ordinary People. “To have a reason to get up in the morning, it is necessary to possess a guiding principle. A belief of some kind. A bumper sticker, if you will…. Lying on his back in bed, he gazes around the walls of his room, musing about what has happened to his collection of statements.”

Where is GOP leadership’s collection of statements? What do men like Bevin and Barr value these days? Are the president’s petty tweets what get them up in the morning? What are their guiding principles, their beliefs, their bumper sticker slogans?

If they need help figuring it out, here’s a suggestion: call Lt. Col. McGrath.

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(Watch McGrath’s latest, one-minute ad here.)

Mass shootings are about guns. Period.

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My friend DC likes guns. DC is a good guy, a hard worker, a family man who spends a lot of time with his kids; he is calm and measured of character; he is that thoughtful neighbor you call with any kind of emergency, the guy who would do anything for you. DC is a responsible hunter, a good shot. I trust DC with guns.

But I do not like guns. I watched the men in my family terrorize their wives with guns; my step-grandfather shot himself shortly before my stepfather was born; my maternal grandfather liked to get drunk and threaten my grandmother with his shotgun; a boy in my first grade class accidentally shot his baby brother in the head, and when he came back to school he’d stopped talking and peed his pants everyday; a friend’s teenage nephew suffered from depression and shot himself in the chest in front of his mom.

I am, understandably I think, afraid of guns.

But do I want to ban guns? Of course not. The fact is, liking guns or not liking guns is irrelevant. What matters is what works.

In business, we look to other companies for best practices. And for best practices on guns, look no further than Japan.

Japan has a population of 127 million. Japan does not ban guns, yet Japan does not have mass shootings. In 2014, they had six gun deaths. Six, compared to 33,594 in the United States.

How? In Japan, you can own a shotgun or an air rifle. To become a gun owner, every three years you must attend class and pass a written test, attend shooting class and pass a test, pass a mental health exam, pass a drug test, and file your passing grades with the police along with where you will be storing your guns and ammo in your home, which the police will inspect once a year.

Here in the U.S., we will talk about anything but guns. There must be something else to blame.

Document the mentally ill. Are there no mentally ill people in Japan? What about anger and depression? Can being angry or depressed be adjudicated as a mental illness?

It’s the violent video games. Japan has some of the most horrifically violent video games out there.

It’s bad parenting. All of the parents in Japan are wonderful?

Raise the age limit to 21. The Vegas shooter was 64 years old. The Sutherland Springs, TX, church shooter was 26. The Emanuel AME Church shooter was 21.

Arm the teachers. Who will monitor their training and ability? Who will pay their liability insurance? What happens the first time a teacher shoots a child? Won’t school shooters — most of whom are current or previous students — know which teachers have guns? How does arming teachers prevent mass shootings like Vegas and Sutherland Springs?

Provide funding for active shooter drills. Again, school shooters tend to be students. They have been through the drills and will know how to circumvent the protocol, and where specific teachers and students are hiding.

Armed guards in schools. A good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. New York has 36,000 well-trained police officers. They report their officers only hit their targets one-third of the time.

Banning high velocity assault weapons won’t save lives. Dr. Heather Sher, the radiologist for the recent Parkland, FL shooting, argued in The Atlantic, “Routine handgun injuries leave entry and exit wounds and linear tracks.… If the bullet does not directly hit something crucial like the heart or the aorta, and the victim does not bleed to death before being transported to our care at the trauma center, chances are that we can save him.” But “an AR-15, a semiautomatic rifle that delivers a devastatingly lethal, high-velocity bullet to the victim, [leaves] nothing to repair.”

In math, we are taught to look for the common denominator. What is the common denominator in every mass shooting? Is it mental illness, video games, bad parents, age limits, or ‘gun free zones?’ No. It’s guns. Mass shootings are about guns.

Mass shootings are about easy access to high-velocity firearms by people intent on killing the most human beings, causing the most carnage, with the least need for accuracy, in the shortest amount of time.

My opinion is irrelevant.

My friend DC’s opinion is irrelevant.

Liking or not liking guns is irrelevant.

Mass shootings are about guns. And we will continue to watch our children die until we stop picking sides and talk honestly about that.

32 years in Kentucky

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Protesters await Sen. McConnell outside the Lawrenceburg VFW, 2-21-2017

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Kentucky is dying. Black lung, COPD, emphysema. This month’s Journal of the American Medical Association reports “the largest cluster ever reported of advanced black lung, also known as progressive massive fibrosis, was confirmed in an area that includes southeastern Kentucky.”

Coal miners like Roger Cook worked for 32 years. He died at 61 of black lung.

Then there is our opioid crisis where 1,471 Kentuckians died in 2016 trying to tamp down their pain, with even higher numbers expected for 2017. A friend of ours got a call that his granddaughter was dead on her porch. Fentanyl. She left behind two little girls who will now go to live with their father, also an addict.

We aren’t even surprised anymore. This is Kentucky life, and death.

President Trump said we were going to win so much we would get tired of winning. But so far, the only winners here in the Bluegrass here are Morphine, Fentanyl, Oxycodone, Alprazolam, and Heroine.

Though Kentucky rates well for quality of life (#27 out of the 50 states), according to U.S. News and World Report we rank #49 for quality of healthcare, #38 in higher education, #45 in economic opportunity and #46 in fiscal stability.

Which begs the question: how does our senior senator, the man who has represented Kentucky for 32 years, explain numbers like these?

I met Senator McConnell a year ago, Feb. 21, 2017, at a small, ticketed town hall, a paper-plate buffet at the Lawrenceburg VFW. We said hello when I handed him the spoon for the potato salad, while outside a large group of angry, frustrated protesters chanted for change, held back by police and chainlink.

When it came time to talk, the senator threw the audience his tired, go-to bones—“elections have consequences, winners make policy and losers go home”— before scampering out the back door the minute questions turned tough. Too bad, as he missed the heavily pregnant young woman, a cancer survivor toting a toddler on her hip, trying to ask about healthcare before being screamed down by a retired local surgeon in a red MAGA hat.

“Make America Great Again!”

I know the senator is busy, dealing as he must with the White House scandale du jour, and main stream media is swept up with porn star payments and a president who can’t be bothered to denounce Nazis, fight for new gun laws, or read his daily intelligence brief.

But meanwhile, Kentucky is back here dying, desperate as we are to keep our kids from killing their classmates with easy-access guns, terrified of losing affordable healthcare, and trying to figure out exactly how black-lung coal miners like Roger Cook (see above, dead now) might go about fulfilling the new Medicaid work requirements while quite literally suffocating to death.

While our senior senator hides out in Washington D.C., Governor Bevin sends thoughts and prayers, focused as he is on cutting teacher pensions and getting our underfunded schools to consider Bible Literacy classes, but how much manpower and money will be needed to manage a Medicaid work requirement for people too sick to work?

This is not winning. This is lunacy.

In a couple of months, Kentucky’s unseemly problems will be swept aside for our annual, crowning spectacle: the Kentucky Derby. But will anyone in notice, amidst the fancy hats and mint juleps and million dollar thoroughbreds, that it’s the immigrants—the brown people Congress and the president are so keen on deporting—who keep this tradition going?

If he has a minute, maybe Senator McConnell could share this staple of the Bluegrass economy with the president.

Kentucky is dying, and we have so much need. We need healthcare, education, infrastructure, an addiction recovery plan, sensible gun reform, money for teachers, new economic opportunities, and paths to citizenship for the people doing the work.

The senator was right last year at the VFW, in his speech over the paper plates and potato salad. Elections have consequences. Losers go home. And the senator has squandered 32 years. I’d say his time is up.

Where no one sees guns as part of the problem

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This message was written on a wall Tuesday in a middle school bathroom, one of three shooting threats the district received.

This week our small, rural town received threats of gun violence at all 3 schools. Two little girls, ages 11 and 13, have been charged. People are taking about school discipline, blaming bad parenting, calling for regulations on violent video games and movies, demanding a return to corporal punishment, praying for more God in the schools.

Guess what no one is talking about?

____________

You’ll find my full story here, at The Washington Post.

As always, thanks so much for reading.