Dear Mr. President

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I fully expect you are unaware of the origin of the title of this post, or that you will ever actually read it. You don’t read much of anything, and we are all poorer as a result. Reading is for eggheads, or to use your language, for “elites.” So I’m writing for myself, more than anything else. So here goes:

The title for this post comes from a song by an artist named P!nk, and she tore into President George W. Bush a number of years ago. He got re-elected anyway, as you probably already know. But assuming any knowledge on your part is a sucker’s bet, I would imagine.

You don’t know me, and don’t want to know me, either. But you’ll demonize me, in an abstract sense, as a “radical” and a “leftist” and whatever words you’re told will resonate with your base. So long as you get the Electoral College vote you need, you’ll tell any falsehood you can. The culture war paves your road to re-election and the validation that you so desperately seek. The reputations of myself and all of the other anti-Trumpers in this nation are just collateral damage, in your view.

I know, like every other American does, that you have a real complex about Abraham Lincoln. Your strategy appears to be that if you can convince enough of your party that you are in fact Lincoln’s superior as a president, you’ll win a second term. But you couldn’t be more wrong in this assessment.

Today, on the Fourth of July, I went to the tomb where Abraham Lincoln is buried. I placed a penny, as a sign of respect, on a large bust of Lincoln, where popular legend holds that rubbing Lincoln’s nose brings good luck. Imagine that, Mr. President. Will anyone ever seek out your tomb, a century and a half after your death, and seek to get any form of good luck from touching a representation of you in any way? Or will they leave a coin with your likeness on it as a sign of respect?

You can comfort yourself, if you want, with the knowledge that you’ll be dead, and who cares what an elite loser like me would do in 150 years, anyway? Go ahead and think that if it helps your brittle ego, but I can assure you that the answer to both questions will be a resounding “No.”

At best, you’ll be viewed as an error, or a mistake in national judgment that America had to spend decades digging out of. And at worst, well, the name Donald Trump will be forgotten in the way that so many others have been before. Call me a loser if you want to, but I’m guessing that’s what will happen. And, hopefully, my rubbing of Lincoln’s nose today will help to make that happen, too. I very much doubt that Lincoln would want you occupying the bedroom that carries his name for another four years.

May the next Fourth of July find you anywhere but in the Oval Office.

 

Sharing my concerns about a Confederate statue in Chicago (Updated)

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Image source: TheGlitteringEye.com

Dignity Memorial operates more than 2,000 burial sites, including one not far from where I live. But a site that they operate on the South side of Chicago, Oak Woods Cemetery, is notable for being the final resting place of more than 4,000 Confederate troops who were captured on the battlefield and sent Up North for the remainder of their lives. This action closed off a source of fighting men for the Confederate cause, and helped the Union to prevail in a what became a costly war of attrition.

As Confederate statues are being toppled throughout the South, it seems odd to me that such a monument exists within a city that remained loyal to the Union cause, and in the state that gave rise to Abraham Lincoln, the president who ultimately brought down the Confederacy.

I had known about this site for many years, since I first came upon it back in 2013. However, for some reason I considered it as a Union soldier atop the site or, at the very least, a sufficiently defeated Confederate soldier that bows his head in reget for having fought the war in the first place.

But today I learned that the staute was not as I had imagined it to be. Yes, the soldier in the painting which inspired the statue is dejected in his appearance. However, the artist who created this painting, John Adams Elder, seems to have made a cottage industry after the war of painting Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and other images from the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy. According to a curatorial assistant for a display of Elder’s works in Virginia, “Elder’s work played a significant role in postwar America, helping to perpetuate the idea of the glorious Old South and the ‘Southern mystique’…”

With this in mind, I sent the following message on today’s date to Dignity Memorial, via their website:

“As the ongoing protests over the death of George Floyd have forced a long-overdue examination of race relations in this country, I am writing to call your attention to a most incongruous monument to the Confederacy within the walls of Oak Woods Cemetery: namely, the statue which is modeled on the painting “Appomattox” by John A. Elder, which now stands at the site commonly known as “The Confederate Mound.” (see https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/national_cemeteries/Illinois/Confederate_Mound_Oak_Woods_Cemetery.html)

As a life-long resident of Illinois I am concerned that, at a time when Confederate statues are being toppled in Virginia, Alabama, and Tennessee, (see https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/6/7/21283003/protesters-tore-down-confederate-statue-virginia-monuments-alabama-new-orleans) a visible reminder of the Confederacy remains standing here in the Land of Lincoln.

I have read about the history of the statue and of the site itself, and understand that it has stood in its current location for more than a century. However, the cause for which thousands of Confederate troops lost their lives in a far-away prison camp was wrong in 1861, and it remains wrong today.

By continuing to leave this statue in place, Chicago—and the state that Abraham Lincoln called home—risks missing this historic opportunity to right a very old wrong.

I have been given to understand, from a September 2017 article in Chicago Magazine (see https://www.chicagomag.com/city-life/September-2017/Chicago-South-Side-Confederate-Mound/) that the statue itself is under the control of the National Cemetery Administration, within the auspices of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Please forward this concern along to them, as I believe that they will have the final jurisdiction over what is to be done with this statue. However, as the operator of the cemetery which houses this monument, I cannot imagine that a comment originating from your office would not draw a reply of some sort.

The legacy of slavery, and the bloody conflict that was fought to end this terrible practice, remains with us to this day. If the former states of the Confederacy can take action to address how this legacy is presented to the public today, surely the city that nominated Abraham Lincoln for the presidency in 1860 can take a positive step in this direction, as well.

I appreciate your consideration of this request.”

Whether Dignity Memorial will respond to this message, I have no idea. I hope that they will, but I’m just one man with an opinion about something that can be done, and should be done, as the national focus on the injustices of the past continues to evolve. But I’m also sharing my request here, to create a record that I did speak out on this issue, in an attempt to redress a symbol that few are aware of, in the first place.

While I can’t do much more than this, I can take this step, and so I will. Updates will follow, if and when they become available.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, June 9 I received a phone call from a representative of Dignity Memorial. I’m not disclosing any names, but we had a substantive conversation, and I was told that my request was being passed along to the National Parks Service (NPS) for their review. So that’s certainly a positive first step. Hopefully there will be more to come later.

UPDATE 2: On today’s date I spoke with the representative from the company that manages the cemetery, who indicated that there has been no response from the National Park Service on the matter. I did learn, however, of an interesting detail which I won’t comment on any further until I can confirm it for myself.

Having researched the acting Director of the NPS—because there hasn’t been a Senate-confirmed Director of the agency since Barack Obama left office—I’m not real hopeful that any positive response is forthcoming. He was the director of the Southeast district of the NPS for the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter and the start of the Civil War, and let’s say he seemed pretty comfortable with allowing the Confederates to celebrate as they wanted to. This doesn’t bode well for the type of change I’m looking for here.

Here’s what I want for my birthday this year

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One of the best things about joining Facebook is that once a year, on your birthday, you hear from dozens of people, from just about every stage in your life. And all of them want to celebrate the day you were born, in one way or another.

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Facebook makes it easy, too. Not only do they ask you to provide your birthday in the first place, but they also put a little gray reminder box in the top of your feed each day. It’s enough to make you feel like a jerk for not wishing someone that your friends with a happy birthday. It’s somewhat akin saying “No, I didn’t forget about your birthday. I just didn’t feel like doing anything about it.”

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My birthday is coming around the corner, in a week and a half. And rather than having everyone—or anyone at all, really—take 30 seconds out of their day to wish me well, I have a specific request, instead. It would mean far more to me than any short greeting ever would.

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You see, my birthday falls on June 14, also known as Flag Day. It’s also the birthday of the U.S. Army, which I never served in but have a great amount of respect for. So find someone who served in the Army and wish them a happy birthday on June 14, instead of me. They will most likely appreciate the gesture.

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But I went through most of my life, blissfully unaware that I also share a birthday with Donald Trump. I can’t think of a single person, living or dead, that I want less to do with than him. And yet, there it is. So if anyone presents him with a cake and sings “Happy Birthday” I don’t want to think about it, especially not on my own birthday.

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There’s no round number being celebrating this year, and the recent death of an old classmate of mine is a reminder that every single birthday from here on out is an accomplishment unto itself, and the start of still another trip around the sun, aboard this crazy blue marble that I call home.

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So this year, here’s what I want from everyone, from my brothers and sister to the students that I once taught in the classroom, and everyone else in between (and don’t worry, all of you mean a whole lot to me! I just had to put the fenceposts down somewhere.)

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Find a picture of Barack Obama. I have offered a few here, but any picture or image of him will do. Share that image on Facebook or any other social media platform, and say that you either miss his presidency or that you look forward to seeing him on the campaign trail this fall, and in Washington, DC next year for the Biden Inauguration. Twitter users trolled Trump in this fashion back in 2019, so why not do it again, on the final birthday that he will spend in the White House? A going away reminder, I guess you could call it.

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Nothing gets under Trump’s skin more than Barack Obama, as he’s proven time and again. And nothing would make me feel better on my own birthday than to provoke Donald Trump on his. So thanks in advance, my Facebook friends. This is your ten-day notice.

Trump will never be another Lincoln

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The photo op at the White House yesterday was perhaps the most absurd and unsettling moment I can imagine.

Peaceful citizens standing in front of the White House, doing nothing more than peacefully assembling as the First Amendment allows, were tear gassed and shot at with projectiles, so that the national disgrace that is Donald Trump could hold up a bible and try to project whatever strength he thought that moment provided him with.

By now, it must be obvious to all that Trump is a small, weak, and cowardly man. For all of his bluster and Alpha male instincts, he’s just an emotionally bereft child who never made the difficult (but necessary) adjustments to adult life. And this nation is paying a severe price for having elected him as president.

As Abraham Lincoln was about to board a Washington-bound train in my hometown of Springfield, Illinois on a winter’s day in 1861, he stopped to say a few words to the assembled people at the scene. There were no cameras, no microphones, and no way for his words to be shared with anyone who wasn’t within earshot at the time. He had no prepared words at the ready, but he spoke from his heart. The version of his words may or may not be his exact words at the time, since he wrote them down while on the train.

Here’s what he said:

My friends — No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe every thing. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you and be every where for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

Beginning the remarks with “My friends” tells me a lot. Has Donald Trump ever called anyone a friend? If he has, I’ve never heard it. Friends are a rare and precious commodity, and Lincoln no doubt had many of them. His well-known line that “Do I not destroy my enemy when I make him my friend?” is something that everyone could learn from.

Donald Trump does not have real friends, that I can see. And if he does, he probably treats them in horrific ways. But Abraham Lincoln had many, many friends. Carl Sandburg even referred to him as “the friend of Man.”

Getting to the heart of what Lincoln was saying (the nub, as he would call it), he says that he would need the assistance of “the Divine Being” in order to succeed as president. He returned to this theme in his second Inaugural address, a few weeks before he was killed in 1865. There’s a higher power, Lincoln said—without naming it in a way that any specific faith could claim as their own—and that power alone will determine what things lie ahead.

I’m not religious in any conventional sense. As Thomas Paine once wrote, my own mind is my own church. But the higher power concept carries enormous weight with me. There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, as Shakespeare pointed out in Hamlet and Lincoln himself was fond of saying. Just yesterday, I closed out an insurance claim for a car accident where I could have died, but walked away without a scratch. It wasn’t my time yet, fortunately. But that decision was not mine to make.

An act of faith, of any sort, would have been very meaningful yesterday in front of the church that Donald Trump used as a backdrop. The tear gas and the flash bangs were awful in their own right, but an act of faith in a higher power at the end of it could arguably have been a redeeming act on some level. But no, that’s not what happened. In Trump’s diseased mind, there is no power higher than his own. So he held up a bible and glared at the cameras, instead.

If Lincoln has not wept for America in the Age of Trump—as I’m sure he has, many times over—he must have done so yesterday.  We all should. There truly are some dark days ahead, and we need a light more than ever before. But that isn’t going to come from Donald Trump.

 

The American giant, and a pathetic little man

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The “town hall” meeting that Donald Trump filmed for Fox News (because who else would think this up?) yielded a hilariously bad image for a president who cares about little else besides that. He claimed the setting was Fox News’ idea, but a smarter and less vainglorious man than Trump would have nixed the idea. But Trump went along with it–and in fact he suggested it in the first place–because he’s just foolish enough to believe himself to be Lincoln’s superior. In his diseased mind, he’s everyone’s superior.

The Lincoln Memorial is a fitting tribute to the greatest American president–and perhaps the most consequential American–who ever lived. You really can’t appreciate the magnitude of it until you set eyes on it yourself. It’s always crowded, as it should be, and everyone wants to have their picture taken with the Great Emancipator. The sight of Lincoln rendered in such a resolute pose, and at such a massive physical scale, is truly an experience nobody should ever miss when they find themselves in the nation’s capital.

Trump is always the victor in his version of reality. He’s the smartest, the richest, the most powerful, and whatever other superlatives you want to think up. They all apply to him, and him alone. And yet, he’ll never command the kind of admiration and respect that Lincoln still enjoys, to this day. But Trump will tell us all, with a straight face and the bravado we’ve seen so many times before, that he’s the best president there’s ever been. And it’s because he knows there’s some segment of the population that accepts his every utterance as fact.

Trump should know better than to compare himself with Abraham Lincoln in any meaningful way, but he goes ahead and does it anyway. And in the process, he reveals a smallness–in both a literal and a figurative sense–that he’ll never be able to overcome.

April is National Poetry Month, and it just ended but I wanted to close by sharing a poem about Lincoln that was penned by Berton Bellis. And as you read it, ask yourself if any of this could ever apply to Donald John Trump.

Down thru endless ages,
Came a soul from others apart-
Incased in a body of awkward appearance;
But in a true heavenly made heart.
He was born in a hewed log cabin,
Grew up simple and plain;
This life-on earth a sacrifice,
To remove from liberty a stain.

No pen can give him due credit-
No words the good of his mind;
But his love is forever burning,
In the hearts of all human kind.
The world now bows to his honor,
And hail this emancipator’ name;
Columbia is proud of his memory,
He lives in everlasting fame.

His life of bitter sorrow,
Hard work and saddened tears,
Has made happy millions of humans,
And will for the future years.
O, Father, hear us in heaven!
May his reward increase ten-fold!
To repay for the great good he did us,
While his clay on earth lies cold.

His life is a lesson for the living,
Shows democracy is strength and sand,
That a good mind no matter how humble,
Can spread peace and love o’er the land.
“In God we trust”-our nation all-
Our reward was grand and kind,
For we’ll always live and never fall!
By following this wonderful mind

Those who love and respect Lincoln must not allow this present-day charlatan to usurp anything more than he already has.

 

Farewell, my sweet boy

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In these COVID-19 days, there’s so much loss and disruption going on that it feels overwhelming. Much of this comes from the virus, of course, but the things that happened before the virus took hold continue happening, too. Such was the case today when I said goodbye to my beloved schnoodle, Dooney.

My family brought Dooney home from a rescue shelter in the summer of 2009. For the entire decade of the 2010s (or whatever we’re going to call them) we all lived together, under the same roof and at one address. I don’t doubt that it will be the happiest uninterrupted stretch that I’ll ever know in my lifetime. And Dooney was the oil that made our family unit run the way it did. Whatever disagreements or hardships we encountered, all of us agreed that our dog was what we called “the best boy in Illinois.”

One of the reasons I have enjoyed writing a blog so much is that it allows me to capture moments and feelings that are otherwise terribly fleeting. I recently came upon a passage written by Nathaniel Hawthorne about the “transitoriness of all things.” It’s a bit of a clunky phrase, but it’s also unalterably true.

As much as we might like to, none of us can stop time and freeze things just as they are. The worst situations in life, along with the very best ones, will eventually give way to something else. The planet keeps on spinning, either way.

I went through my media files as I began writing this post, knowing very well that images of my dog Dooney lay hidden away inside. And I’m sharing the ones I found here, to appreciate and remember the years we shared together.

I recommend that anyone who has never read “Eulogy of the Dog” before click on the link, to see if their own experiences line up with what George Vest once told a Missouri jury. It captures my thoughts in this moment perfectly.

Goodbye and thanks for everything, boy. I won’t ever forget all the happiness you brought to me and the ones I love.

FU Coronavirus (Part 2)

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I’ve been thinking about the Michael Jordan Era in Chicago a lot lately. It technically started when the Bulls drafted him out of college in 1984, but for many years it didn’t happen because, well, the team just wasn’t any good. But the team slowly got better over time, and the hated Bad Boys of the Detroit Pistons finally moved aside and then it was time to rock and roll.

Gary Glitter’s song Rock and Roll Part 2 was undeniably a part of the experience inside the Chicago Stadium during the Jordan Era. Nobody went there to hear that song, of course, but when it would come over the loudspeakers during a timeout, everybody knew the melody, and everybody shouted out “HEY!” when the time came. And the crowd inside the Stadium rocked along with the music and enjoyed being alive.

I was a part of that thriving, singing mass of humanity just one time, in February of 1993. The Chicago Bulls were the two-time defending NBA champions on that date, still a few months away from the epic showdown with the New York Knicks which cleared the way for what was, in my mind, the most satisfying of the six NBA titles they ultimately won.

Bulls tickets, in those days, were impossible to get. The official stated capacity for a basketball game at the Chicago Stadium at the time was 18,676, with the vast majority of those being season tickets in the hands of people who could afford to have them. The Bulls were the best show in town back then, maybe even the best show anywhere.

The man at the center of it all, of course, was Michael Jordan. If I live long enough to have grandkids (which is still a few years away, I hope) I will tell them at every opportunity that I saw Michael Jordan play basketball at the old Chicago Stadium. They will roll their eyes, of course, but I’ll tell the story anyway.

I somehow got my hands on a standing room ticket which cost (appropriately enough) $23. I stood in the highest reaches of the Stadium for hours on end and had an experience that I can’t quite think of a parallel for. Personal experiences like marriage and childbirth, as incredible as they are, happen on an individual level. There are a few people around, but not a lot. And outdoor experiences like concerts and a Cubs victory rally are also great, but having the open sky above tamps down some of the vibe.

Put 18,676 people together in an indoor space, and get them rocking along to Michael Jordan’s basketball artistry and Gary Glitter’s music, and you’ve really got something special. I’ve spent 27 more years on this earth, hoping to find something that electric, and I haven’t yet done it. I don’t know if I ever will, either.

The Madhouse on Madison wasn’t big enough for the Bulls’ party, so it was torn down in 1994 and the United Center was built across the street. It seats upwards of 20,000 for basketball games, and a few thousand more for concerts. I’ve been to both at the UC, and while the extra capacity is good for the bottom line, the intimacy of the old Stadium just isn’t there anymore.

There’s a generation of people who never had the chance to experience what I did at the Chicago Stadium on a February night back in 1993. And the ones who were in their prime years at the time are getting older now, and some have undoubtedly died off. As Journey once sang, the wheel in the sky keeps on turning.

In the NBA, Kobe and Shaq and Lebron and all the rest have come on the scene, creating whatever magic and memories they can for their fans and the teams they play for. But anyone who ever packed into the old Chicago Stadium to watch Michael Jordan play in the 1980s and early 1990s knows what a unique experience that was.

The news that the United States has just passed 18,676 deaths due to COVID-19, as of the day I’m typing this out in April of 2020, gave me pause. Many people, unless they’ve been inside a concert hall or professional sports arena or maybe a megachurch, have never been part of a throng of humanity that large. And I’m exempting outdoor arenas from this category because, as I’ve said, the open sky changes the experience.

A throng of 18,676 souls, from all walks of life and from every conceivable group that humanity divides itself into, has been taken away by a virus that we can’t see. And there’s no end in sight either, since more than 2,000 Americans, in all but a small handful of states, left us just yesterday.

Donald Trump, who bears more responsibility for these deaths than anyone else, drew a line in the sand at 100,000 deaths, or maybe even more than that. Any death toll under that amount, in his eyes, is a testament to his great leadership. But, as always, he’s full of shit for saying that.

I’ve been in a crowd of almost 19,000 people before, and I know the enormous personal scale that a crowd that size has. To lose that many people in less than two months time is a severe blow, not only for the families of the afflicted, but to all of us as a society. It’s a national catastrophe, and most certainly not a testament to whatever leadership Trump thinks he is providing.

I mourn for those we have lost, and for all those we still will lose in this moment of great national (and global) peril. And a final death toll of under 100,000 Americans will not entitle Donald Trump to crow about anything, although he most certainly will do that. He goes wherever he wants to go, and dares anyone to stop him. And so far, no one has.

I’m not a religious person in any conventional sense (more of a Thomas Paine-styled freethinker, actually), but I am praying that America gets it right in November of this year. The alternative is simply too much to contemplate.

Some People Ain’t Kind

RIP to John Prine. I’m only now discovering his music, and that’s certainly my loss for waiting so long. But those who were in the know about these things are mourning his loss today. It’s such a tragedy that a virus that was officially written off long ago was what finally did him in.

His music stands as his legacy, and we must keep it alive. I nominate the above song, as a microcosm of the thinking that got us to where we are today. Maybe John Prine mentions “some cowboy from Texas” at the end of this song, but “some jerk from New York” would work just as well.

Thank you for the songs, and the insights into who we are.

Baseball is Life (and Happy Birthday Dina)

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The Coronavirus has taken the game of baseball from us in 2020, perhaps for as long as the entire season. And, truth be told, the game had been dwindling in interest to me, at least since November 3, 2016. When you spend practically your whole life waiting for something, and then it happens, well, where do you go from there?

But be that as it may, I have a friend on Facebook who’s even a bigger fan of the game than I am. And so, on the occasion of her birthday today, I went through the images in my draft folder on WordPress and selected some ones that she might like.

Happy birthday, Dina. May we once again hear the sounds and enjoy the sights of the best game ever invented by humanity.

Republicans are no longer the Party of Lincoln

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The nomination of Corey Stewart for a U.S. Senate seat in Virginia, and the president’s embrace of him, means that the Republicans can no longer call themselves the Party of Lincoln. It’s just that simple.

Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president, and the entirety of his time in office was dedicated to settling the question of whether states could leave the Union. He killed the Confederacy, and a Confederate sympathizer then killed him. It’s still the worst episode in American history, but its lessons have apparently been lost on far too many people.

To repeat: Abraham Lincoln killed the Confederacy. He was their kryptonite. The reason they are historical relics is because of him.

By embracing the Confederacy in any way, shape, or form, the modern Republican party effectively spits on the memory of the man who gave them their greatest accomplishment. If the Confederates had their way in the 19th century, we wouldn’t have a United States of America in the 21st.

So embrace Corey Stewart if you want to, Republicans, but understand that you can never again consider yourself the Party of Lincoln. This Lincoln won’t allow you to do it.

A letter to the president concerning Confederate “heritage”

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“You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.”

–Donald Trump, August 17, 2017

Mr. President,

Your sentiment about history and our collective ability to learn from it could be the truest thing you’ve ever said. Since you’ve opened the door to history’s teachable qualities, this former U.S. History teacher from Chicago is delivering a lesson from the past that you need to hear.

In 1860–on November 6, to be exact–a presidential election was held. The victorious candidate was Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, and he received less than 40% of the popular votes that were cast. Like you, Lincoln did not win a majority of the popular vote but, as you well know, a majority of votes in the Electoral College is what the successful candidate needs to acquire. I’m absolutely certain that you would not quibble with the validity of a presidency based upon an Electoral College majority. Indeed, without that provision of the Constitution nobody would be addressing you as “Mr. President” today.

The Confederacy was born from the unwillingness of many Southern states to accept the 1860 election as legitimate. South Carolina was the first to leave ihe Union in December of 1860, and Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas all followed suit, before Lincoln was even sworn in as president. Four more states followed after Lincoln was inagurated in March of 1861.

I’m sure it isn’t lost on you that each of these states (with the exception of Virginia) were also won by you in last November’s election. The script from 1860 was completely flipped on its head in 2016. The reasons why that happened are a discussion for another day. All that matters here is that the states which couldn’t abide the election of Lincoln contributed to your own election, 156 years later.

By advancing the preservation of statues honoring Confederate generals as part of your “heritage” (which makes no sense, given that your home state of New York was instrumental in the Union’s defeat of the Confederacy), you dishonor those who gave their lives fighting to preserve the nation that you are now privileged to lead. But even more than that, you send the message that states should be able to disregard election results they do not agree with.

To put it another way, did California, or New York, or my home state of Illinois secede from the Union following the 2016 election? Of course not. The Civil War settled that issue, once and for all. That “heritage” benefits you, every single day of your presidency.

By siding with those who chose to fight rather than accept the results of a presidential election,  you are undermining the legitimacy of the institution upon which your presidency rests. Can you not see the inherent contradiction in this position? And are you willing to learn from the events of the past, as you stated we all could do just two months ago?

I urge you to take this message to heart, before going any further with your racially coded appeals to Southern “heritage.” The legitimacy of your own claim to the presidency depends upon it.

Time to give a history lesson to Donald Trump

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The man seems to be unaware of what the reason for the Civil War was, so here goes:

In 1860, there was a presidential election held. In that election, there were four main candidates: Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, John Bell, and John C. Breckinridge. Here’s a primer on Breckinridge, in case anyone hasn’t heard the name before.

Lincoln got a majority of the electoral votes, so he was declared the winner. I’m certain Trump knows all about that. Lincoln won 59.4 percent of the electoral vote, a landslide in comparison to Trump’s 56.5% in 2016. But 50% plus one is really all a candidate needs, Trump’s braggadocio aside.

Presidential inaugurations didn’t happen until early March in those days, so some Southern states–slaveholders all–decided they were not going to wait around until Lincoln took the oath of office. By the time Lincoln arrived in Washington,  seven states had already gone ahead and left the Union. They believed they could do it, and so they did. Election results be damned.

When Lincoln came into office and said that he was not going to interfere with slavery where it already existed, the die had already been cast for those seven states. How Andrew Jackson could have prevented this is unclear, because he had already been dead for over ten years, but Trump isn’t one to give any details, is he?

Lincoln never considered secession to be a legitimate course of action, because there is no mechanism for it spelled out in the Constitution. He always considered South Carolina and the others as part of the Union, even as they had soldiers in arms trying to destroy it.

Virginia and three other states left the Union after the Confederacy opened fire on federal troops at Fort Sumter, in South Carolina. Lincoln said there would be no armed conflict without the South being the aggressors, and he was right about that.

Flash forward 156 years, to the election of 2016. Trump got a majority of the electoral college votes, and he took office as president as the result. I really don’t like typing out those words, but that’s what happened. The issue of whether California or New York or my home state of Illinois would be allowed to disregard the election results and just walk away was definitively and forever settled by the 600,000 soldiers who died on the battlefields of the Civil War. States like mine would just have to live with the results.

The fact that this country is still united today, in the face of such overwhelming opposition to the policies of Donald Trump, is a testament to the finality of the Civil War’s outcome. But how many of those seven states who didn’t even give Lincoln a chance to take office first did Trump win in 2016? All seven. And how many of the other four states that seceded did Trump win? All except Virginia. Maybe it’s no accident that the man who won 92% of the old Confedercy’s electoral votes is ignorant about why the Civil War broke out.

The electoral college–the sole reason why Trump holds office today–was Lincoln’s key to the White House in 1860. The rash and impulsive decision by eleven Southern states to withdraw from the Union–absent any Constitutional authority for doing so–was the reason for the war’s outbreak, not any failing by Lincoln or anyone on the Northern side of the conflict. The backhanded suggestion that Lincoln should have tried to negotiate away an election that he won fair and square is outrageous, and needs to be labeled as such.

Elections have consequences, as Trump supporters are quick to remind us. If the Southern states had acted upon this conviction back in 1860, perhaps the war could have been avoided. But the Southern states are the ones that started the war, and any responsibility for the conflict and the suffering it caused lies squarely on their shoulders. Or, to put it another way, with the states that form his 21st century base.

Here endeth the lesson.

 

It’s her moment now

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Photo credit: TheAtlantic.com

As Hillary Clinton gets ready to accept her party’s nomination for the presidency tonight, I think back to the Spring of 1987 and a moment that opened my eyes to gender matters like nothing else ever has.

Freshmen students at Northwestern–I don’t remember now whether it was only the Arts and Sciences students or everyone in the class–had to take two Freshman seminars. In the spring, I registered for a course that had something to do with gender and science. Perhaps it fit into my schedule, or perhaps I thought there would be a lot of girls in the course. Either or both reasons sound legitimate to me.

On the first day of class, which was held in a conference room in the library, I walked in and grabbed a chair. The room filled up, and the hour for starting the class came and went.

One of the cherished rules at Northwestern was the “ten minute rule,” which stated that if a professor had not arrived within ten minutes of the class’s scheduled start time, everyone could leave. So we all started watching the clock, hoping that 2:10, or whatever the magic moment was, would arrive soon.

At eight or nine minutes past the hour, the teacher spoke up. She had been seated around the table with the rest of us, and we didn’t know she was in our midst. She pointed out, to the 15 or so students seated around the table, that the seats at the ends of the table were being occupied by the only two male students in the class, because we had been raised to assume that we were entitled to have them.

I shot a frantic look at the guy at the other end of the table, as if to say “What have we gotten ourselves into?” For the rest of the course, I was convinced that everything I turned in started at a “C” and became either a C+ or a C-, depending on whether it made any sense or not. It was a long course, and not a particularly enjoyable one, but I remember it more clearly than any other college course I ever took.

I remember it because it made me realize the effects of gender-specific language. For someone who grew up in a less-than-progressive time (the 1980s) and a less-than-progressive place (Springfield, Illinois), the idea that calling a doctor “he” and a nurse “she” helped to perpetuate gender norms was a revelation to me.

It’s now three decades later,  and I rarely see much of this anymore. Ironically enough, it happens a lot in education, where teachers are routinely referred to as “she.” As a male who taught in the classroom many years ago, this rankled me a bit. Even though teaching is, and probably always will be, a field with many more females than males in it, I realized that sending a message that an unnamed teacher would likely be a woman isn’t good. Men can be teachers too, and the language used to describe teachers should reflect this fact.

Scientists were once overwhelmingly thought of as “he,” but the course taught us of the contributions of Barbara McClintock.  We read a biography about her, and I remember coming away with the idea that telling young girls that scientists were supposed to be men was not helpful to them, or to science itself. Even though I found the class uniquely discomforting as a male, as a person I walked away with an understanding that I didn’t have before.

I say all this because the text of the U.S. Constitution, and specifically Article II, refers to the president as “he” on several occasions. For example, Article II, Section 1 states “He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years,” I’m sure that the Founders, as enlightened and as forward-thinking as they may have been at the time, were still a product of their 18th century upbringing, which wasn’t so dissimilar to my late 20th century upbringing. Boys got to sit at the head of the table, and girls didn’t.

I’m not thrilled with Hillary Clinton as a candidate, and I toyed with the idea of not voting for anyone in this presidential election. I would never vote for Trump, nor would I vote for a third-party candidate if it helped Trump to win. But even with these misgivings, I’m very glad that Hillary Clinton is being nominated for president tonight.

Girls should see themselves as entitled to those seats at the head of the table, just as much as boys already do. And if tonight’s events, and the election that is coming up in November, helps to move that needle then I’m all for it, in the name of my two daughters, my wife, my sister, my mother, and every female classmate and colleague I’ve ever had or ever will have. New possibilities have been opened up, and we’re all better for it.

Unleashing my inner History teacher

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The room where it happened, 1860 style

I was a history teacher in a previous life, as I like to think of it. It was all during the same life I have now, of course, but it feels like I’m not that person anymore. Will I ever teach again? Who knows? But yesterday I presented something of a lesson to a small section of the internet. The results have been pretty gratifying, too.

On Friday, I was paging through a book by Dale Carnegie titled “Lincoln the Unknown.” I bought it at an estate sale some time ago and, like many of the books I have acquired that way, I didn’t read it right away. My thinking is you can always read a book later, but you have to first acquire them whenever you can.

On the pages of the Carnegie book, which was published in 1932, I found a story about Lincoln’s nomination at the Wigwam in Chicago, shown above, in 1860. I knew that it was the first “western” nominating convention, and Lincoln’s supporters used this to wrest the Republican nomination away from William Seward. I knew that fake tickets had been printed up, and used to pack the house with Lincoln supporters. But every story has details that can add a new wrinkle to what is already known, and this was no exception.

What I learned I tucked away in my brain, and when I saw a post on a Facebook wall from the Bernie Sanders campaign for president, I decided it provided a parallel that could apply to the present. That’s why history matters so much, after all. Patrick Henry said he knew of no way to judge the future but by the events of the past. And here was a moment to put this philosophy to work.

In reply to a post suggesting that Senator Sanders’ wide lead over Donald Trump in public opinion polls makes him a better candidate to face Trump than Hillary Clinton, I wrote the following blurb:

There once was a senator from New York who went to a party convention expecting to win the nomination. But a challenger was able to successfully make the case that he would be a stronger candidate against the nominee from the other party. The year was 1860, the party was the Republicans, the presumptive nominee was William Seward, and the eventual nominee was Abraham Lincoln. I don’t think anyone would have rather had Seward prevail, simply because that was the expected result. Fight on, Senator Sanders. You have millions behind you.

I am a Sanders supporter, and I know that his uphill climb has been sandbagged by a media and a party establishment that has opposed him at every turn. The Clintons are a known quantity, and they are the establishment of the Democratic party in every way. But Senator Sanders has tapped into a wide vein of resentment for this establishment, and has come very far to get to the point, like the Cheers theme song says, where everybody knows his name. He’s won more states, and earned more votes, than anyone imagined he would. But the headwinds against him have reached a gale force recently, and I wanted to help out.

Carnegie’s book pointed out that dissatisfaction with Seward–who was well-known and had the kind of political advantages that Lincoln never did–came from the idea that Stephen A. Douglas was a formidable opponent in the fall election. Lincoln had already run against Douglas in 1858, and was better suited to defeat Douglas than Seward. The persuasion paid off, and Lincoln won the nomination on the third ballot in Chicago. And we all know what happened after that.

My post seems to have resonated pretty well, gathering over 1,700 Facebook likes in the 20 hours or so since I posted it. There have been hundreds of replies as well, both pro and con,  and the notifications of all this activity have exploded my email inbox. Let’s say I now understand why many posts don’t allow for comments. They can get messy.

And, in response to someone’s suggestion that my post seemed like a Limerick, I came up with this beauty:

There once was a Senator Will

Who thought a convention was chill

But Abe came along

And proved Will was wrong

Just like Bernie will do unto Hill

That bit of online freestylin’ got another 50 likes, and I’m preserving it here because I’m happy with how it turned out. I’m not Lin-Manuel Miranda or anything, but a rhyme written to inform about the past came to me, and I like the way that feels.

There’s a ton of pressure on Bernie Sanders to drop out, based on the idea that he’s hurting Hillary Clinton’s chances by staying in the race. Seward, back in 1860, rented a cannon and brought it to his estate in New York. The idea was to announce his nomination to the world by firing off the cannon, but he never had the chance to do it. And would the Civil War have happened, and slavery been brought to its much-needed end if Seward had fired off that cannon? We can’t know that, but we can say that Lincoln’s election changed the course of history in a very profound way.

I don’t want Hillary Clinton to fire off her proverbial cannon this summer. I’m convinced that her vote for the Iraq war, and her bellicose actions and language, reveal her to be far too hawkish for my comfort. She’ll speak the language of the Republicans in Congress by leading us into a foreign entanglement somewhere, which will require weapons being used and soldiers being killed. A cannon is a perfect metaphor for her candidacy, actually. Trump, on the other hand, is a horrible danger to life on this planet, and I realize that he must be stopped. But Hillary Clinton is not the way to do that.

There are many reasons not to like her, and my point here isn’t to go through those reasons. For me, she’s a hawk who will lead us to war, which will have disastrous consequences. And I can’t vote for her for that reason alone.

How will this all play out, over the summer and into the fall? I don’t know. But the idea that a candidate should give up when they are behind, in the name of “party unity,” is not an idea that Lincoln went along with in 1860. There’s an election that must be won in the fall, but there’s still a fight to be waged over the summer months. Or, to put it in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s HamiltonWhen you got skin in the game, you stay in the game But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game. So why not keep on playing?

 

A Freudian Slip

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It’s fitting, in some way, that the trial I served as a juror for ended on Tax Day. I realize that taxes aren’t due until the 18th of April this year, but everyone knows April 15 is the day that we’re supposed to settle up with the IRS by filing our tax returns. Money changes hands on that day, generally in the form of a tax refund that people use for whatever they need some extra money for.

That didn’t happen for me this year. Instead of a healthy refund, I owed something to Uncle Sam, and not a trivial amount, either. But I paid that amount because, well, that’s just what you do. It keeps the National parks open, and pays for social programs and military defense and all the other places our tax dollars go to. Living in America is a privilege that I can’t fully appreciate because I haven’t lived anyplace else. But that privilege comes with a price, and the IRS is there to extract part of it from us all, whether we want to pay it or not.

Another price of citizenship in this country is jury service. In my many years of living, I had never served on a jury, of any kind, until this past week. The right to a trial by jury is an enormous gift, and that entails giving up your time when called by the courts to do so.

The trial I served as a juror on wrapped up yesterday, and I made a point to ask the judge if I was allowed to write about the case online. Writing is a form of free, self-induced therapy for me, and I needed to put a few things out into cyberspace, before the experience fades away into memory. I expect jury service to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and after this trial, I very much hope that’s the case.

Part of me wants to get into the specific facts of the case, but that’s not really going to help anything. Painting in broad strokes about what happened is probably good enough, at least for my purposes. I could write a long treatise about the case I was charged with deciding, but the end result wouldn’t change, not even the tiniest bit.

The case had to do with a fraud, pure and simple. The federal government rooted out the defendant’s misdeeds, which were filing tax returns in the name of people who had no idea they were having returns filed on their behalf. Their names and social security numbers, and access to online tax filing software, are apparently all it took to set these wheels into motion.

So prisoner A (We learned his real name and saw him testify in court, but his first name began with A so I’ll call him that here) is doing time. I learned what it was for, but it really didn’t matter that much. He’s serving time, and not receiving any Social Security benefits from the government. But a tax return was sent to the IRS, indicating that not only was he receiving these benefits, but he had a portion of those benefits withheld by the IRS, and he wanted the withheld portion back. It’s a classic case of turning nothing (as in the Social security benefits which were never paid in the first place) into something (as in a few hundred dollars that wound up in the tax preparer’s pocket.

This happened for hundreds of prisoners, and the IRS paid off like a slot machine by depositing the money in waves. There were hundreds of prisoners, and thousands upon thousands of dollars being shoveled out for this scam. The legal term is “scheme,” which sounds a hair more respectable than a “scam,” but this was the scammiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. And it makes a mockery out of those who pay taxes and wouldn’t think to  run a fraud like this.

At the close of the trial, on Thursday afternoon, the jury received instructions from the judge about what the relevant law is. We were told to follow those instructions, whether we agreed with them or not. One juror failed to do so, and that vote was enough to result in a hung jury. Our romantic notions of “Twelve Angry Men” and the noble juror who spares a defendant from being wrongly convicted by standing up to, and ultimately persuading, his fellow jurors didn’t apply in this case. Life didn’t imitate art, at least not in this instance.

But the two sides had to give closing arguments before we could begin deliberating, and the otherwise masterful defense attorney nearly gave away the game with one small, practically imperceptible slip. I may have been the only one that noticed it, but it was very telling. It didn’t make a difference, in the end, but I wanted to preserve it here, anyway.

A Freudian slip, also called a parapraxis, is when someone gives away their inner feelings by accident. As the defense attorney was summing up the defects in the government’s case–since they have the burden of proof, his job was to point out the ways they haven’t done so, regardless of whether any such defects actually existed–he said “They have fooled–failed–to show….”

The “fooling” that the defense attorney referred to, in his moment of unintended candor, wasn’t the government’s doing, but his own. He was there to fool the jury into believing that his client had been wrongly accused of defrauding the government–and by extension the taxpayers on the jury and all over the United States–out of withholding proceeds from prisoners who had not receive any Social Security benefits while they were behind bars. All he had to do was fool one juror, and the week’s worth of trial would have gone for naught. And that’s exactly how it played out, too.

I put a picture of Frederick Douglass in this post, because the holdout juror bears a strong resemblance to him. I even thought of him as Fred, though his real name was something else. Frederick Douglass became friends with Abraham Lincoln, and their unlikely rise from the circumstances they were each born into has always inspired me. I will always admire Frederick Douglass, but I’ll probably see pictures of him now and think about the juror who wouldn’t agree with the rest of us on the jury. Life takes some strange twists sometimes.

On my way home from the courthouse, after the verdict had been read and my fellow jurors and I were excused with the thanks of the court, I took a train to a bus in order to get home. The transfer point from train to bus led me to a statue of Abraham Lincoln, which I’ve written about before in this space. I looked up at Lincoln, who is depicted not as the bearded president we all know, but as a clean-shaven Illinois attorney, which he was for many years before he was elected president.

As I looked up at Lincoln’s representation, I tried putting my frustrations with the case into some type of order. And I realized that our legal system, for all of its imperfections, is still something to be proud of. The defendant wasn’t set free by my jury, and he still has to face the prospect of perhaps another trial in the weeks and months ahead. We as jury did what we had been charged with doing. I didn’t like the final result, but it was far from the first time where something I was involved with didn’t end up the way I wanted it to. Those are the breaks, whether in the courthouse or anyplace else in life.

The Lincoln statute reminded me that our legal system is worth preserving and supporting, even if it isn’t perfect. It won’t ever be perfect, but it will always seek to do justice. The truth is  that I’d rather live in such a place than anywhere else.

Everybody wants to rule the World

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A song by Tears for Fears encapsulates the 80s for me like few others do. And the irony now, all these years laters, is that it was probably in the air when a high school teacher and coach named Hastert was doing some terrible things to trusting young kids.

He went from Yorkville High to third in line to the presidency. He literally did help to rule the world, at least in theory, and made millions in the process. Some of those millions would later be funneled to those who he abused when nobody knew his name. That’s punishment enough for what he did, right? If only if were that simple.

I never knew any of the people involved in this tale, so perhaps it’s not my place to say anything about this. But the good teachers and coaches who want the best for the kids they work with will bear the brunt of Hastert’s actions, far more than he ever will. And that is beyond unfortunate.

High school sucked for me, and I’m not the only one who felt that way. When adults in position of authority and trust use the circumstances of this difficult age of transition for their own benefit, in order to sexually prey on those who are still trying to figure out their own place in the world, all of us suffer, in ways that we may never realize. I’m grateful that nothing like this ever happened to me, but I can easily understand why others were not so fortunate.

After a long and financially rewarding stretch in the halls of power, Coach Hastert’s past finally caught up with him. He paid off his prey, but money alone can’t make everything OK, either for those he molested or the rest of us, as well. He’s old and going to die soon, so perhaps he’ll get what’s coming to him when that happens. But here on earth, his request for probation is an affront to anyone who’s paying attention.

His “family values” and likely unstated opposition to the very behaviors he engaged in as a wrestling coach makes him an outsized hypocrite. Sending him to prison won’t make him any different, but the idea that he can do this and slink off with nothing more than his own shame and humiliation seems wrong, on some level.

I have no doubt he feels bad about what he did, but this is only because it came up again. The abuser can forget his actions however he wants to, but the abused cannot. And to protect those who need it, neither should the rest of us.

Spending an afternoon with my mom

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There’s a scene from Good Will Hunting that has stayed with me, more so than the remainder of the movie. In the scene, the Minnie Driver character says that she would trade all of the money she has to spend another day with her dead father. And the reason she would is because once somebody is gone, there’s no way of bringing them back. So enjoy your loved ones while you still can.

My mom was 21 years old when I was born. At an age when I was still finishing up college and enjoying the carefree (as in, child-free) days of my early 20s, my mom didn’t have that. She had me and my sister and two brothers to contend with. Not that it was an actual competition, but she had demands on her time and resources that I can’t imagine. And she did a great job of raising us, I have to say.

I’m very pleased to report that she’s still with us today. I get to enjoy spending time with her while she’s still young enough to get around without a wheelchair or a walker. And we did exactly that a week ago, for the funeral reenactment of Abraham Lincoln. It was six hours in the car to spend four or five hours with the woman who did so much for me back when I was unable–and sometimes unwilling–to appreciate what that meant. It was a trade that I was glad to make.

I know that my mom reads my blog. So in a sense, I’m writing to her knowing that she will see it and probably get emotional. I’m getting emotional writing it, myself. But on the off chance that anybody else ever finds this online, here’s a picture and a story about my mom. She, like all mothers, loved her children and didn’t get nearly enough in return for her emotional and financial investments through the years. This is a humble attempt to repay a debt that can never be fully squared. And I’m very pleased to still have the opportunity to make payments on this account.

A day to honor Lincoln

image150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln’s body lay in state in Chicago. For those who waited in long lines, there was a chance to move past the president’s body and make the tragedy seem real. I’m sure nobody who made this wait ever regretted doing it.

I hoped there would be some kind of acknowledgement of this fact today, but if there was, I completely missed it. Instead, everything was about the NFL draft, which brings tourism and attention to this city. I understand this, but feel as though a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was missed. Lincoln deserved better than to be ignored.

I’ll write up everything I did someday, but for now here’s a sample image. I call it “two Lincolns” and there are others where this came from. I even cobbled together a few readings and posted it to my Facebook page. My Lincoln tribute was something I’ll always remember, in part because it came from my own actions. Since nobody seemed to be interested in commemorating Lincoln, I stepped up and did it myself. We cannot do enough to honor his memory.

Remembering the fallen

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Yesterday was the 150th anniversary of the heaviest fighting at the battle of Spotsylvania in the Civil War. A century and a half ago, the Civil War was grinding on and on, with no end in sight. A presidential election was coming up in the fall, and the staggering losses were dimming Lincoln’s reelection chances. We know how it turned out now, but the spring of 1864 must have been a very tense and heartwrenching time for the Union side.

Although Lincoln himself is never too far away here in Chicago, the lack of a battlefield from that conflict can make the war seem remote sometimes. The Confederate mound is on the South side, and I’ve written about it here before, but it seems like a well-kept secret sometimes. And thousands of dead Confederates evidenced the war’s human toll for me, but they were also fighting to preserve a government that was built upon human bondage. It was hard to feel any love for them.

I wanted to take a moment to honor the fallen, not necessarily from Spotsyvania itself, but from the totality of the war that shaped this nation that my family calls home. So I drove to Rosehill cemetery, which I’ve also written about before, and stood among the rows of fallen Union soldiers.

There were hundreds of them in all, and they represented untold numbers of widows, parents, children, brothers and sisters, cousins and nephews who had to carry on with their lives after they fell. The lives that were lost were in evidence, but the lives that were forever altered as a result could only be surmised.

I read the names and the dates and the company designations, and wondered how many of these fallen soldiers had someone come to pay their respects. Two men named Stewart from separate companies in Vermont, for example, found their earthly rest a very long way from home. Perhaps they were biologically related, and perhaps they were not. But there they are, 150 years later, lying not too far from each other in a Chicago cemetery. And there I was, wondering about what their stories were, and paying my respects to them and all of their comrades in arms.

I wouldn’t know how to behave in the presence of a slave, or a person who considered himself worthy of owning another human as his property. I want to believe that I would comfort the slave and afflict the slaveholder in any way that I could, but the law would be on the slaveholder’s side, and not mine.

Whether the men who lie buried in Rosehill cemetery opposed slavery or not–and I have no illusions that all of them did oppose it–their sacrifice spared all of us from having to witness the debasing nature of slavery.

Confederates had their principles too, I suppose, but I cannot–and will not–honor their sacrifices. If Davis and Lee and the other Confederates had prevailed, the world today would be so ugly that I can hardly imagine it. It’s a great and glorious thing that what some consider the “lost cause” was, indeed, lost.

The surrender at Appomattox is the symbolic end of the Civil War, but in many ways the war still continues today. Those who had their families torn apart, or who spent the rest of their lives carrying the physical and mental scars from the fighting, have all left us now. Their sacrifices are often lost, amid the sacrifices made in more recent American wars. Those wounds are still fresh, after all. But appreciating the Civil War, with its permanent reordering of American society–both North and South–must also be done.

This piece was written with love and gratitude for the sacrifices they made.

Changing college sports as we know them

NCAA Football: Illinois at Northwestern

Today–March 26, 2014– is the 35th anniversary of the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird title game in the NCAA tournament. I remember watching that game as a ten year-old kid in Springfield, Illinois. It was broadcast on NBC, instead of on CBS. There was no three point stripe, no shot clock, and no possession arrow. The NCAA logo was some silly interlocking letters arranged inside a circle. The game followed a third-place game, where the two teams that lost in the Final Four still had one last chance to salvage something. In short, there were still five men on a side and the team that scored the most points won the game, but otherwise the modern sports fan would hardly recognize it.

And on the anniversary of that game, which arguably changed basketball itself for the next decade, the NLRB handed down a ruling that Northwestern’s football players can vote to form a union. There are many writers and fans bemoaning the ruling, saying that it will “change college sports as we know them.” To which I reply, change happens all the time in life. The NCAA championship game from 1979 (which is within my living memory) is all the proof anyone needs that change is inevitable, in sports and in life itself.

To those who would bemoan the loss of something in college athletics, I would invite them to consider that the athletes on the floor in the basketball tournament, and on the field during the bowl games and in the regular season, are generating millions of dollars for their schools, yet they aren’t allowed to share in any of it. The schools do award scholarships and provide room and board, but they keep the money and in turn make their professional coaches into wealthy men. They give the chattering heads of CBS, ESPN, and a thousand other places something to talk about and write about and take pictures of. They allow the advertisers to reach a captive audience and sell more product. And what do these athletes get in return? Not what they should, if you ask me.

There will never come a time when the NCAA, in its benevolence, decides to share the wealth with the players who do the work and assume the risks. There will never come a time when a school pays for the long-term medical bills of a player who gets hurt playing a game, while wearing their school’s colors. And there will never come a time when a player who can’t keep up with his academics and his team responsibilities is told that academics are why they are in school. Football comes first, or basketball comes first, and everyone understands this. But it’s wrong and it needs to stop.

It’s ironic that the very first Final Four, or the first time that NCAA schools competed on the same floor for a basketball championship, happened on Northwestern’s campus, all the way back in 1939. I know that that was basketball and today’s ruling applies to football, but that’s not the point I’m making here.

Northwestern–my alma mater–showed the NCAA the possibilities that a championship tournament offered. And 75 years later the Final Four, and the tournament leading up to it, is a money-making juggernaut. But what Northwestern giveth in basketball, it taketh away in football and–soon enough–in basketball, too.

If making money from the toil of players who don’t get to fully share in the pie they create seems fair, I will respectfully disagree with that premise. Million-dollar coaches don’t play the games; the players do. And the false hope of a professional payday–which the overwhelming majority of college athletes will never get to see–is shameful. It’s gone on for too long, and the sooner it comes to an end, the better.

Kudos to Kain Colter and the Northwestern football team, for sowing the seeds that will one day bring about some much-needed and long-overdue changes in college sports.

Link to an old memory

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Twenty years is a long time, no matter how you slice it. Twenty years ago I had no kids, no house, no car, and I was still in graduate school, getting a Masters degree in the hopes of becoming a teacher. So the guy who went to the baseball game described in this post bears little resemblance to the guy who wrote about it two decades later. But it’s a good story, I think, and I’m glad to still be around to tell it.

Opening day 2014 can’t get here soon enough for me.

 

Rebel, Rebel

Illinois Welcome Sign

I recently went on a long drive out west to see my in-laws at Christmas. A few pictures and stories from the trip were shared in this space, but the vast majority of it will live in brain’s memory, rather than in my computer’s memory. And that’s as it should be, I suppose.

But one moment from the long drive home stands out. We spent a night in Wichita, Kansas, and had to get back to Chicago the next day. After a drive through Kansas and into Missouri, and then across a long stretch of Iowa, we made it into Illinois. But even then, we still had to get from one end of the state to the other along Interstate 88, which has been named the Reagan expressway because it runs through Ronald Reagan’s birthplace of Dixon. But this story begins before we even made it that far.

We pulled off the highway to fill up, and I then went inside to use the restroom. My younger daughter came along too, and as I was waiting for her to come out I started to peruse the store. The first thing I noticed was one of the Calvin-type little boy stickers peeing on the word Obama. A disrespectful sticker to be selling in the president’s home state, certainly, but not terribly surprising because once you get more than five or ten miles away from Chicago, Illinois is not much different from Iowa or Missouri or even Kentucky, culturally speaking at least.

But just because I don’t like the message that a sticker sends, that doesn’t mean others can’t buy or sell it as they want to. This is America, after all, and the freedom to disrespect those in power, whoever they are, comes with the territory. I have no problems there.

But another sticker that I saw in the store had a much different effect on me. It carried the words “Kiss my rebel ass” wrapped around a confederate flag. That’s where where my tolerance ends, because the Confederacy killed off more Americans than the British, the Nazis, the Soviets, and Al-Queda ever will.

Why would anyone buy a symbol of disunion, sedition, and human bondage to attach to a car? Especially in Illinois, which never was a part of the Confederacy to begin with and–even more importantly–was home to the man who put the Confederacy out of business. Anyone who traffics in the Confederate flag in Illinois–even the western edges of it–only reveals their ignorance of the past.

But maybe that’s where the rebel part of this comes in. The bravado of the “kiss my ass” part of the sticker is designed to mask–or perhaps even to amplify–the ignorance of someone who would buy and display such a sticker. The Confederacy may have been able to run a weak president to the ground, but Abraham Lincoln proved to be their downfall. He kept the nation together, somehow, through the Civil War. And Reagan expressway or no Reagan expressway, and sitting president from Illinois or not, this is–and always will be–known as the Land of Lincoln. And hailing from such a place makes me exceedingly proud.

I wanted those stickers to be hidden from view somehow, so I turned them around and put them back in place on the rack. It was a small protest against an idea and a cause that was as un-American as anything ever has been. I’m sure it has been recognized by the gas station by now, and the stickers have since been put back into the proper position for some fool to consider buying one. But the rebel flag will always be an anathema to me, here in the state that did more than any other to shut the Confederacy down.

Long live the First Amendment and freedom of expression, but even longer may the memory of the terrible things that the Confederacy stood for be remembered.

The good that people can do

tornado_relief_donations_panorama

A few days ago, I read about an effort that the Chicago Cubs were making for tornado relief in Central Illinois. Rather than asking for money (although I’m sure they accepted that, too) the Cubs were gathering up supplies and then driving what they collected down to the Washington/Pekin areas where they are needed.

I grabbed a few paper goods from my basement, and dropped them off at Wrigley Field on Thursday morning. It wasn’t much, and I freely admitted that to the world. But at the same time, I felt good about doing it. Some donated more than I did, of course, but the vast majority of people gave nothing at all. Just to be included among those that gave made me feel very positive.

The thing about giving, like anything else, is that it’s completely voluntary. Some can give, but most can’t or don’t, for whatever reason. Inertia is probably the main culprit. I know that’s typically the case for me and disaster relief situations. I feel bad for people affected by the storms, but when it comes to doing anything more than that, I had never really have donated anything before. But the proximity of the tornadoes last Sunday to the Chicago area finally compelled me to do something. Illinois is my home, and damage done here means more to me than it would any place else.

I donated some paper goods, and challenged others to do the same. Many people did exactly that, as the above picture shows. Whatever I donated is somewhere in that shot, and by now it has all been delivered to those in need. Hats off to all of us who kicked in and gave something, no matter what it was.

Today was a colder than usual day here in Chicago, and in the areas that were affected by the storms, too. Clearing the damage that nature caused is going to take a long time, and the short, cold days will make the process that much more difficult. The calendar will say it’s the holiday season in parts of central Illinois, but it won’t look very much like Christmas this year.

People have stepped up to help, and that’s inspiring on so many levels. But the need will linger for some time, and I’ve read that relief donations usually dwindle over time. I hope that doesn’t happen here, because there’s plenty of short, cold days ahead.

All things Gettysburg

gettysburg

I started writing this blog two and a half years ago, and I’ve mentioned the Gettysburg Address thirteen times before today. Here’s a link to all of the previous references.

I love Abraham Lincoln, and I love the Gettysburg Address. I’m not apologetic about it, either. Slavery is the worst thing that ever happened in this country that I call home, and it took all of Lincoln’s genius to bring it to an end.

We should all revere Lincoln for what he did, and to the extent that present-oriented American culture ever looks towards its past, I think we do. I honor us all for not consigning Lincoln to the scrap heap of history, where you can find every president who followed him up until Teddy Roosevelt.

Today I plan to visit at least one of the various Lincoln statues in Chicago (there are six that I know of) and record myself reciting the Gettysburg Address for learntheaddress.org. When that happens, I’ll be sure to share it here, as well.