Author Archives: Teri

Republicans are afraid of a Jan. 6 commission and their own violent supporters

** My column, in print this Sunday, May 30 **

January 6, 2021 – Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone is pulled outside the U.S. Capitol, thrown to the ground, and beaten unconscious by Trump supporters.

What does the Republican party stand for?

This is the question I would have asked Sen. Rand Paul if I’d had the chance. But I did not get the chance.

Sen. Paul came to Lawrenceburg a few weeks ago to meet with local leaders, and let me tell you it is a great big giant deal for a U.S. Senator to stop by a little town like mine. Unfortunately, I discovered this would be a closed, invitation-only meeting. A Republican friend told me they were holding the meeting off Hwy. 127 and the Bluegrass Parkway (to keep away protestors) and on private property (to keep away the general public, aka “constituents”), and then sent me the seemingly top secret link to apply for entry.

I wanted to ask my one question—What does the Republican party stand for?—so I filled out my name, address, phone and email. I was honest about being a writer and a columnist. And I never heard back.

We hear a constant drumbeat of the what the Republican party is against. They are against “cancel culture.” They are against “the elites.” They are against increasing the minimum wage. After more than a decade, they still have not shown us their mysterious, better-than-Obamacare healthcare plan. They are against immigration. They are against people kneeling and marching in peaceful protest. They are against common sense gun laws, even as we continue to have mass shooting after mass shooting and men with long guns march in and around our state capitols screaming about freedom.

They are against admitting how long and often they told the Big Lie, choosing instead to poison the minds of their voters and, in turn, democracy itself.

They recoil from stating emphatically that the election was free and fair and was not stolen from Donald Trump, even as Trump continues lying, telling Newmax as recently as May 26, “The election was a fraud. It was a rigged election.”

What does the Republican party stand for if not the investigation of thousands who stormed the U.S. Capitol at the behest of President Trump to stop the certification of an American election?

What does the Republican party stand for if not to acknowledge their own supporters (based on their clothing and their flags) violently beat police officers with sticks and batons and flag poles, sprayed them with noxious chemicals, and built a gallows on the Capitol grounds while chanting “Hang Mike Pence!”

And there’s the rub. The Republican party is terrified of both the former president and the voters who elected them.

The Republican party stands for fear.

After all their leader, the former president, refused to call off the insurrectionists who hunted them for more than two hours on January 6, and then released a video telling the rioters to go home, that he loved them, they were special.

As my once-Trump-voting relative said the next day, “If they’d hung Mike Pence on live TV, Trump would have fundraised off it.”

On May 23, conservative columnist George Will said the quiet part out loud. The singular reason the GOP, including our own Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen. Paul, will not support a bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection on Jan. 6 is because “we have a political party defined by the terror it feels for its own voters. That’s the Republican Party right now,” and elected Republicans are “afraid that a vote for this would be seen as an insult to the 45th president.”

Is this what Republicans stand for, not investigating the brutal beating of law enforcement officers—officers who desperately fought to protect them and their colleagues from potentially the same beatings, or worse—by their own violent supporters, supporters who were chanting they wanted to hang the Vice President?

I would have liked to ask Sen. Paul that question.

The Great (Reading) Escape

Last week, while eating that vicious, calculating, world renowned tooth-cracker called overcooked bowtie pasta (oh yes!) I broke the cap off one of my front teeth. Or so I thought.

My dentist was out of town (of course she was) and her entire office was closed (of course it was) because they had not had a vacation since the beginning of the pandemic, so they shuffled me over to their sister office (is that like a sister wife?) for the repair. Which would be quick (hahaha) and minor (bwahahahaha).

Three hours, a pulled tooth, the drilling in of an implant, the attaching of a fragile temporary front tooth, a bazillion trillion dollars, three prescriptions, and a whole lotta nitrous (which was not nearly enough drugs!!!) later, here’s what I read and am reading to relax. Highly recommend ALL of the following:

If you think you don’t want to read a story about foster care, you are mistaken. Sarah writes beautifully and poetically about what it feels like to enter the foster care system by choice, as foster parents who intend to adopt. One of the best memoirs I’ve read this year.

My dear friend Damhnait (which I pronounce “Downith” with her approval) has written such a joyful adventure — yes, with its serious moments, too — set in 1985 about a young teacher who leaves the big city for a teeny, teeny, tiny fishing village in Newfoundland. I loved this book in both hard copy AND as an audiobook for the sounds of the local dialect.

And here’s another dear friend, Suzy Vitello, with the story of what happens to a family with “issues” after a major earthquake in the pacific northwest. Nobody does sharp insight into characters and their motivations, and in crisp, gorgeous prose like Suzy. I loved every beautifully flawed person in this story, and as I live in a family where me and my adult siblings can go years without speaking, I nodded a lot in the reading. You’ll love this one.

It’s an understatement to say Ouita Michel is one of the prides of Kentucky. Big heart, big smile, incredible chef, compassionate business woman, and great sharer of family recipes so accessible I can make them! I could not wait to read Ouita’s memoir/cookbook, but it was so worth the wait.

I heard Morgan on a podcast talking about her book and ordered it immediately. Such sharp, personal observations about ancestry, race, heritage, family, etc. A great young writer. Morgan’s work made me question many of my long-held notions, and I thank her for that.

My red state is still arguing over masks. But it’s not about Covid-19 anymore.

A mask discarded on the side of a road in San Rafael, Calif. In some parts of the country, people are still fighting over masks even as they have stopped worrying about the pandemic. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

What can we do about vaccine hesitancy in rural America? I have some ideas, and I wrote about them for The Washington Post.

You can read it here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/05/05/masks-red-state-coronavirus/

The Purple Box

This week marks the 22nd anniversary of Columbine, America’s first mass school shooting.

Two senior boys shot twelve students and one teacher to death, injuring 21 more by gunfire before turning their guns on themselves.

On April 16, Reuters reported that since Columbine, 2,000 Americans have been killed in mass shootings and that we had more deaths from firearms in 2019 than car accidents. The column is titled “A timeline of mass shootings in the U.S.” because we have so many mass shootings we need a timeline.

In one of his many recent interviews to promote his new book, former Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) was reminded that 20 first graders were slaughtered by a gunman in Newtown, Connecticut while he was Speaker. “Back when Newtown happened,” he said, “we couldn’t find common ground with the other side. Hopefully there is some common ground to be found…. because frankly this is heartbreaking. I think it’s embarrassing our country to the rest of the world.”

Revisionist history. Headlines from Speaker Boehner’s tenure commonly read “Boehner Opposes New Gun Control Bill” (Jan. 2011) and “Speaker Boehner Won’t Commit To House Vote on Gun Control Bill” (Apr. 2013).

In the last month alone, eight Americans were shot to death at a FedX facility in Indiana; a retired NFL player shot and killed a doctor, his wife, two grandchildren, and two air-conditioning technicians working at the doctor’s home in South Carolina; four were shot to death at a real estate office in California, including a nine year-old boy; a man killed ten people, including a police officer, in a Colorado grocery store.

Aaron Smith, who covers the firearms industry for Forbes, reported in December 2020 that since Newtown “federal gun control laws have barely changed. The gun industry continues to produce assault weapons and high-capacity magazines without additional federal restrictions. Gun sales are on the rise. Mass shootings have also risen this year, even with much of the country under lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.”

There are so many places innocent Americans can go to get shot: grade school, middle school, high school, college, movie theatre, concert, nightclub, warehouse, office, high school football game, massage parlor, gas station, hair salon, Congressional baseball game, birthday party, airport baggage claim, amusement park, restaurant, shopping mall, grocery store, your own house.

To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five, so it goes, and so on.

To paraphrase John Boehner, Congressional Republicans’ political impotence is an international embarrassment.

I recently stood in the parking lot at Kroger in Lawrenceburg talking to a friend’s husband, a gun owner, about the good guy vs. bad guy argument. “What a joke,” he said, pointing at the store. “If I walked in there hellbent on shooting a bunch of people, you know what I’d do? I’d pick out the good guy with a gun and shoot him first. Now I’ve got two guns and everybody’s running and calling 911. The chance of some yahoo, with all that adrenaline pumping through him, shooting me before I can kill at least a dozen people is cowboy fantasy.”

Yes, open carry is legal in Kentucky. This is the law. “It’s my God-given right!” the 2nd Amendment junkies scream. And according to Everytown for Gun Safety, gun suicides and suicide attempts cost Kentucky an estimated $2.8 billion each year. Kentucky ranks 15th in the nation for the highest rate of gun suicide. Sixty-six percent of Kentucky gun deaths are suicides.

Is gun suicide our God-given right, too? How very Christian of us.

Twenty-two years later, on this horrifying and all-American anniversary, when I Google the word “Columbine” the first three suggestions are Columbine shooting, Columbine flower, Columbine shooters.

My daughter graduated high school six weeks after Columbine. My daughter just turned 40.

A year ago this week, Newtown mother Nelba Marquez-Greene tweeted the photo below, writing, “There is a purple box, in a rarely opened closet in my house, of my daughter’s clothes. The clothes with the bullet holes she was wearing the last day she breathed. It’s tiny, b/c she was only 6.”

When women are hunted

I wrote a column for The Post today after seeing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram video recounting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

As always, thanks for reading.

“Do you know what it feels like to be hunted? She’s only 31, but Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) does. In an astonishing Instagram Live broadcast on Monday night, she described in detail the scene on Jan. 6 — the feeling of being hunted by the mob from the Trump rally that began at the Ellipse before descending by the thousands on the U.S. Capitol. She frantically opened cabinets and closets looking for places to hide. She regretted wearing high heels, because how could she run?”

Link to continue reading.

What’s next

Diana goddess of the hunt, by Friedrich Stur

While I don’t know anyone who traveled to Washington D.C. after the president tweeted, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” it has been sickening, disturbing, heartbreaking, infuriating, and frankly dystopian these last months watching the on-line, social media brainwashing of some of my oldest friends.

Here is the story of one of those friends. I’ll call her Diana.

Diana is in her 50s, big smile, a do-gooder, healthy eater, extremely fit, white, religious, conservative, a grandmother. And until 2020, seemingly apolitical. We have not spoken much this last decade, keeping up with each other’s lives, as many of us do these days, on Facebook.

Last summer, seemingly out of nowhere, Diana started showing up on my Facebook page to debate politics. She wanted to know why people in my comment section, people she did not know, believed the “liberal agenda.” She sometimes became argumentative to the point I would just delete my original post altogether in lieu of letting the arguing continue.

I then noticed she’d started posting political content on her own page, which was unusual, posts about how Covid-19 was nothing more than the flu and how being made to wear masks infringed on her freedom. No, she wrote, she would NOT be taking any vaccine.

Come September, she shared a tweet from the president that read: The Democrats never even mentioned the words LAW & ORDER at their National Convention. That’s where they are coming from. If I don’t’ win, America’s suburbs will be OVERRUN with Low Income Projects, Anarchists, Agitators, Looters and, of course, “Friendly Protestors.”

Then came the stream of posts about child sex trafficking with photos of Ivanka Trump, thanking Ms. Trump for “saving the children!” and writing about how it was time she and the “silent majority” made themselves heard.

After the November 3 election, Diana deactivated her Facebook account—a place that, prior to Summer 2020, had consisted entirely of family portraits, vacation montages, pictures of her dogs and her grandchildren—as well as her Twitter and Instagram accounts, and made a big pronouncement about moving to Parler.

I, too, opened a Parler account to keep track not only of Diana, but of other friends and vocal Kentucky Republicans who’d made a big show of ditching Facebook for Parler where they could be “free” and be “heard” and where they could follow President Trump’s biggest megaphones like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Jenna Ellis, Sydney Powell, Linn Wood, etc…. without “MSM censorship” as they tried to “stop the steal.”

I checked Diana’s Parler page almost daily. She didn’t post much of her own content and certainly no photos, but she often echoed (Parler’s version of the Like button) posts about how the election was being stolen, freedom from the liberal agenda, how Joe Biden would retire for phony health reasons by Summer 2021 to make room for that radical socialist/communist Kamala Harris.

Around Christmas, she wrote something like, “Keep fighting! We love you President Trump!” followed by a red heart and an American flag emoji.

A couple of days into 2021, I’d had enough of Parler. I couldn’t watch anymore. In the span of about six months, I no longer recognized the friend I’ve known for half my life. I deleted my Parler account.

Why am I telling this story? Because after the unspeakable, horrifying events of January 6, after the terroristic fruits of radicalization, I’m wondering what’s next.

If you’re a fan of The West Wing, you’ll recognize “what’s next?” as President Bartlet’s signature line. Okay, the fictional president would say when it was time to move on, time to take on the next big problem at hand, what’s next?

In her book “Surviving Autocracy” Masha Gessen writes, “The country that elected Trump was a country … that had already begun to damage itself in the way that Trumpism exacerbated. He preyed on the fear, he weaponized the hatred, and he filled the void left by the lack of vision. To reverse Trump’s autocratic attempt, we will have to abandon the idea of returning to an imaginary pre-Trump normalcy when American institutions functioned as they should. Instead, we have to recall that what undergirds the Congress and the courts, the media and civil society, is the belief that this can be a country of all its people.”

Donald Trump may have lost the election, but 75 million Americans voted for him. Almost half the electorate watched this vile, hateful, ignorant man for 4 years and said yes, more please. Donald Trump is leaving the Oval Office, but his followers remain. Followers like those who stormed the capitol. Followers like my friend Diana.

So what’s next?

What’s next, with a Republican Congress who cowers in fear of him and his followers, afraid for their lives and the lives of their families?

What’s next, to get us through and past Covid-19 and the shambles left by this monster and his arrogantly incompetent administration?

What’s next, after our own president gleefully radicalized Americans to the point they traveled to Washington D.C. at his behest and violently stormed our nation’s capitol, intending to stop the certification of a free and fair election?

What’s next, in an America where a 50-something, normally apolitical, financially stable, privileged grandmother can be rendered unrecognizable, brainwashed on social media in less than a year?

What, in God’s name, is next?

On friendship, and healing

The first time Ragan and I met in person. Photo credit: Phyllis Theroux

(This essay will run in the Lexington Herald-Leader over the Christmas holidays.)

“‘Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.’ ― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness. Our president has zero compassion and, if he has any love at all, it is morally corrupt. John McCain was USNA 1958, a year ahead of me.”

Thus began an email I received after writing about President Trump’s disrespect of Senator McCain from Ragan Phillips—lifelong Republican, born 1936 in Anderson County, Kentucky, graduate of the Kentucky Military Institute and the U.S. Naval Academy—one of dozens of long, conversational emails we would exchange over the next three years.

“Dear Ms. Carter,” he first wrote in July 2017, “A friend of ours in California brought your work to my attention. There is an odd link between us. I grew up in Lawrenceburg and the Anderson News, in large part, influenced my career decisions. I now live in Ashland, Virginia, married to writer Phyllis Theroux. I think our political and social views have a strong positive correlation. You may find Edward Luce’s book ‘The Retreat of Western Liberalism’ to be of interest. I am quite fond of large dogs, small towns, ice cream and honest people. I think we link on at least three of the four. If Phyllis and I should make it back to Kentucky, we would be delighted to take you to dinner.”

My friendship with Ragan runs contrary to everything we see and read. As the divisiveness and even hatefulness of the Trump presidency comes to an end, Ragan and I are proof that liberals and conservatives, even those of different generations, can get along, can find common ground, can even become the closest of friends, not through avoiding political conversation—which I would argue is and always has been a mistake—but by being willing to have the hard conversations regularly and honestly.

Like me, Ragan believed in the value of good journalism and local newspapers, and he could not understand the cult-like allegiance to Donald Trump, the rallies where crowds shouted inanities like “Lock her up!” and cheered when he called the press “enemy of the people.” This, he argued, had nothing to do with America or democracy or conservatism, and everything to do with the blind allegiance to and the worship of one cruel, wealthy, morally-bankrupt narcissist.

As one of Ragan’s emails stated, “Remember the old wisdom, “United We Stand. Divided We Fall?” Trump has turned that one on its ear to “United I Lose. Divided I Win.”

Which is exactly what we are seeing now as Trump continues to spread lies and conspiracy theories about an election he lost in order to keep us divided, in order to keeping bilking his followers for donations under the guise of needing money for “legal fees.”

Ragan and his wife, Phyllis, did make it back here to Kentucky. It was summer. I arranged for them to visit with the editor of The Anderson News, where Ragan had worked as a teenager, and we had dinner on our porch where we sat for hours after, in the dark, as he told stories about growing up here in Lawrenceburg and we talked politics. “I have a hard time thinking about $20B for a useless border wall,” I recall him saying, “when teachers in Kentucky, Virginia, and across the country are being so underpaid for doing the most important work in our economy.”

Sadly, it was also during this visit when Phyllis pulled me aside to tell me Ragan had a rare form of congestive heart failure. He died peacefully at home on March 26, 2020.

A couple years back, when his local newspaper went under, Ragan, in his early 80s and already ailing, started “The Ashland Hawk,” an online community newspaper, and we would often discuss his intentions and goals. He used every minute he had left to address inequity, school budgets, and racism.

I think about Ragan often. We were, as Phyllis called us, kindred spirits, a Republican man and a Democratic woman who crammed a lifetime of friendship into three short years. To paraphrase Forest Gump, I miss my great, good friend. And I am sad he did not live to see the end of the Trump presidency and the restoration of compassion, kindness, and decency to the Oval Office.

As we look ahead to 2021, may we learn from Ragan’s example in being willing to do the work, to have the hard conversations necessary to heal our divisions. Love and compassion—and friendship—are not luxuries. As the Dalai Lama said, we will not survive without them.

A 2020 kind of year-end book list

To say 2020 wreaked havoc on my reading habits would be an embarrassing understatement. From the week of March 10 on, I’ve whipsawed between can’t read a damn thing to reading obsessively to only ‘reading’ audiobooks to only memoir to re-reading old favorites like THE GREAT GATSBY, A THOUSAND ACRES, and OUTLANDER, etc.

I am all over the place. But you know what? I’m still here. And right now I’m reading this saga from 1977 because I somehow missed it back when I was the ripe old age of 12 and the town librarian wouldn’t let me check it out.

While in other years I’ve posted only books I’ve already read, this year I’m putting them all in the same stack: the books I absolutely loved and the ones I can’t wait to get to when I finish THE THORN BIRDS. There are so, so many great books out there right now.

I’m sending all of you love and light this Christmas season. Keep reading. Keep filling your time with art. And while I don’t know if I will be able to adhere to this, I plan to spend most of my 2021 reading a lot more books and scrolling a hell of a lot less ‘news.’ I even deactivated my Facebook page.

Here’s to the vaccine and Fall 2021. And books. Always, always books.

My Top 15 Audiobooks for 2020

I loved them all for very different reasons. But if I have to make a single choice? My #1 book of the year (audio or otherwise) is Lacy Crawford’s “Notes on a Silencing.” What a brave, enraging, heartbreaking, inspiring, beautifully written book. It has all the components that get me: stuffy private boarding school, institutional power vs. a teen student, the covering up of a crime, and most importantly the courage of a talented writer (decades later) choosing to tell her true story to, in Lacy’s words, finally “burn it all down.”