Across the Aisle

“E pluribus unum” or, “out of the many, one”.  This is not only the motto for our country but a prescription for our current political woes.  Many Democrats, and some others, were shocked by the results of the November election, and it has been—at least for me—a great temptation to lash out at those on the opposite side.

To do this would not be only a lapse of neighborly civility, but would foster the very divisiveness that led to the electoral upheaval, and make it much, much worse.  In short, if we do not make it our sincere pledge to hear our opponents’ voices, to make their views welcome and respected, then we exacerbate the societal divisions that left them feeling ignored and left out.

Further, a divided and unstable United States is a boon to our enemies abroad. This was made abundantly clear when it was discovered that Russia had promoted Twitter feeds on both sides of the NFL debate:  #boycottNFL and #takeaknee.  American (and European) discord takes our attention off of what the Russians and others are really doing.

We can do better.  We must do better, for practical reasons as well as ideological concerns.  Here’s why:

  • Democrats are in the governing minority, so they ALONE can neither move legislation forward nor stop unwanted laws or nominations from happening. For ANY of our goals to be reached, we need bipartisan votes. The more we demonize the other side, the less chance there is for that crossover to happen—and everything we want depends on that.
  • Many who voted Republican may be having second thoughts. Indeed, the president’s approval rating is historically low.  Let us make it feel safe for those neighbors and friends to admit their disappointment.
  • It’s good karma.

But how can we do this while still fighting for what we believe in?  As Evelyn Beatrice Hall, (English author) wrote in 1906: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Here are a few concrete suggestions for everyday civility (without giving up your soul):

  • Ask open ended questions about the long view. For example, “How do you feel about how divided things are in the US today?  How do you think we might go about repairing the divisive environment?”
  • Look for areas of mutual interest and agree on something. For example, talk about local air or water pollution, the difficulty getting anything done in Congress, or the need to improve national infrastructure (bridges, roads, etc.)
  • Listen, actively. Pay close attention to what is being said. Restate what you heard to be sure you have it right.  Probe (calmly) into areas of interest – based on what the person actually said – not just what’s on your agenda.

In other words, listen respectfully, disagree respectfully, and (if nothing else) agree to disagree.  If we lose our common identity as Americans, we’ve lost much more than an election.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IN invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.

Opinion: Fighting Violence with Non-Violence

Most of us can only imagine the terror of being shot at by a deranged gunman. But sadly, we know all too well the shock and horror that come with hearing about yet another shooting at a school, theater, nightclub, church, workplace, or shopping mall.

This Wednesday, it was an attack at a ballfield that targeted some of our duly elected members of Congress. As I write this article, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana remains hospitalized from a gunshot wound to the hip. Also wounded were Capitol Police officers David Bailey and Crystal Griner, congressional staffer Zachary Barth, and Matt Mika, a former congressional staffer who now works at the Washington office of Tyson Foods.

We may not have been the ones staring down the barrel of a gun on Wednesday morning but make no mistake, this was an attack on the integrity of our government, and was therefore an attack on all of us.

Let me say that again.

No matter the political party of the victims, no matter the contents of the gunman’s Facebook or Twitter feed, no matter whose campaign he volunteered with, no matter what media outlets he got his news from, no matter which organizations he belonged to, no matter why he targeted the people he targeted, this attack was an attack on all of us.

When we are attacked, it’s natural to want to fight back. But how? And against whom?

In the wake of this barbaric act, some have tried to cast blame on political opponents, allegedly biased members of the media, a comedian who posed with a severed head, the producers of a Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, and scores of other convenient targets.

But after the 2011 shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords outside an Arizona supermarket, I recall similar criticisms pointed in the opposite direction, and none of it was helpful in bringing our country together in a desperately needed spirit of healing.

I propose instead that we fight back against the normalization of violence itself, and the threats of violence that seek to silence our collective voices.

Against misinformation and propaganda, we fight back with facts.

Against overheated rhetoric, we fight back with reasoned arguments.

Against fake news, we fight back with fact checking.

Against blind partisanship, we fight back with tolerance.

Against inflammatory memes, we fight back with restraint.

Against personal attacks, we fight back with respect.

And against violence, we must rededicate ourselves to the principle of non-violence.

In our polarized society, in our overcharged environment, in our age where shocking news is delivered instantly to devices in the palms of our hands, fighting violence with reason, facts, tolerance, restraint, respect, and, most of all, non-violence, has never been more important.

By staying informed, by providing feedback to our members of Congress, by engaging in civil dialogue and peaceful demonstrations, by registering to vote, and by turning out on Election Day, we can have a positive effect on the direction of state and national leadership, all without anybody getting shot by anybody else.

Thoughts and prayers go out to Representative Scalise, Officers Bailey and Griner, Mr. Barth, Mr. Mika, and their families, and much gratitude to all of the law enforcement officers who prevented this incident from becoming an even greater tragedy.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IGA invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.

Opinion: Anti-Semitism in the Era of Trump – A Jewish Perspective

Since Donald Trump started his campaign for the presidency–and continuing throughout his short administration–there have been continuing incidents of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial from within his administration and in the country at large.

Jews are acutely attuned to anti-Semitic rhetoric, due to their long history of oppression. Despite living in relative comfort in the U.S., Jews have a personal history where we have experienced anti-Semitism or know friends and relatives who have been its victims or who have been victims of the Holocaust.

I am typical of someone who grew up Jewish in America. In many ways, it was easy for me. I grew up in New York City where there are many Jews. Many of my friends were Jewish. Schools in NYC closed on Jewish holidays. Yet I have memories of several incidents in my life that made me, as a Jew, become acutely aware of the horrors of the Holocaust as well as to become highly sensitive to anti-Semitic comments.

My grandmother, grandfather, my mother, my aunt, and my two uncles came over from Warsaw, Poland in 1929. This was around 15 years before all their remaining relatives were rounded up, either before or shortly after the Warsaw uprising, by the Nazis and their collaborators and sent to concentration camps to be exterminated.

I never had a bar mitzvah. This is the Jewish ceremony which a boy undergoes at the age of 13 to show that he is now accountable for his actions. In other words, he becomes a man.   I once asked my mother why my grandmother (my nana) did not get upset that I never had a bar mitzvah (nor did my sister have a bat mitzvah).  Her reply to paraphrase her: “Nana gave up caring about religion after all of her family back in Warsaw was killed during the Holocaust.”  I never forgot that answer.

My father once showed me horrific pictures of the thousands of bodies piled on top of each other at a concentration camp that he helped to liberate as a soldier during WW II. He said they had to bulldoze the bodies into lime pits because there were too many bodies to bury properly. Here is a link to similar pictures: Please be warned that these pictures are very graphic.

My father gave away those pictures to a relative who wanted to prove to a disbelieving neighbor that the Holocaust was real.

Anti-Semitism has followed me into the present day as well. One day while working in my new job as a software engineer, a co-worker and I were talking and she said that she had been “jewed”.  I had never heard this term used before but it certainly rubbed me the wrong way. I asked her what it meant. She told me that it meant cheated, and I asked her if she understood what I found offensive about that word. She did not.

After I explained that I was Jewish and that term reinforced a Jewish stereotype, she was quite embarrassed and apologized. The point here is that the term was so part of her vernacular (and I presume other people’s vernacular) that she did not realize the stereotype that she was perpetuating by using that word.

Many Jews have memories like mine that have made them keenly aware of anti-Semitic rhetoric. Luckily for those of us living in the U.S., we are not experiencing the explosive rise in anti-Semitism as in some countries in Europe. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the rising incidents of anti-Semitism in the U.S.

What I find so discouraging is that the Trump administration itself has not only empowered anti-Semites, but has actually made several anti-Semitic remarks that are quite troubling.

On April 11, while talking about the chemical weapons that the Syrian government dropped on its own people, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary said, “We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II.  You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

He made his situation worse when he followed up by saying: “I think when you come to sarin gas, he”, referring to Hitler, “was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Ashad  [sic]is doing.” What Mr. Spicer said is classic Holocaust denial. He may not have realized what he was saying, but he played right into the hands of Holocaust deniers.

He later tried to clarify his remarks and said, “I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.”

Spicer equates any attacks on innocent people with the Holocaust, and his statement minimizes the uniqueness of the evil of the Holocaust in history and is typical of Holocaust denial. As horrific as it is to drop chemical weapons on one’s own population and killing close to 100 people, including babies, it is an altogether different order of magnitude to the Nazis’ attempt to wipe out an entire race of people.

Unfortunately, this so-called gaffe by Spicer was not the only time that members of the Trump administration have made anti-Semitic comments.

During the summer of 2016, during Trump’s campaign, Trump re-tweeted an image of Hillary Clinton with a Star of David and the phrase, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” This image originally came from a white supremacist site.

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, with Trump as President, the White House issued a statement as follows:

“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, and [sic] heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.

“Yet, we know that in the darkest hours of humanity, light shines the brightest. ‎ As we remember those who died, we are deeply grateful to those who risked their lives to save the innocent.

“In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good,” he concluded. “Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.”

What I find very troubling about this statement is that Trump has substituted the term “innocent people” for “Jews” just as Sean Spicer would do in a few months. This statement minimizes the uniqueness of the Holocaust, which was an attempt to wipe out not just innocent people, but an entire race of a people.

The language of Holocaust denial is to minimize or actually deny the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their collaborators in many European countries. Sometimes they deny millions of people died or they may deny that gas chambers (not “Holocaust centers” as Spicer called them) existed. Sometimes they just try to leave Jews out of the equation altogether, as Trump did in his Holocaust Remembrance Day statement.

This kind of Holocaust denial rhetoric strikes Jews right at their core. While many non-Jews might not pick up the nuances of Holocaust denial, Jews are very attuned to it.   I do not believe that Trump is necessarily anti-Semitic. What I do believe is that this administration is actively catering to the alt-right, which has large elements that are racist, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic.

Since Donald Trump became President there has been an increase in hate crimes against Blacks, Muslims, gays, and Jews due in part, I believe, to his giving legitimacy to the worst elements of the alt-right movement.  This is why the rise of Trump has become so dangerous to Jews and other minorities in the U.S. and overseas.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) noticed a dramatic jump in hate and violence–and incidents of harassment and intimidation–around the country immediately after Trump’s inauguration. In the first 10 days after his election, the SPLC reported incidents in every state, including 100 anti-Semitic ones.

Just this past week, the Anti-Defamation League released data which indicated that anti-Semitic incidents in Massachusetts jumped dramatically from 2015 to 2016.

I believe this should come as no surprise given Trump’s blatant appeals to the alt-right with their racist and anti-Semitic leanings.

Interestingly, Trump’s theme of “America First” was originally used by the America First Committee, which was formed to keep the U.S. out of World War II and had many members with anti-Semitic leanings. I have to wonder if the use of this term with its anti-Semitic roots is a coincidence.

One of Trump’s chief advisors has been Steve Bannon who was the editor of Breitbart, which is a champion of the alt-right and has promoted anti-Semitic views.

To me, Trump’s weak attempts at speaking out against anti-Semitism, like his recent remarks at the National Museum of African-American History, were too little too late*.  Meanwhile, his campaign drew support from racist and anti-Semitic groups such as the Ku Klux Klan while Trump remained mainly silent. I wish he had the same visceral reaction to anti-Semitic incidents as he recently had to the images of babies killed by the Syrian regime’s use of poison gas.

Anti-Semitism should not be tolerated. Neither should intolerance for any religion or ethnic group.

It makes me proud to be a Jew when I read that after a fire destroyed the Victoria Islamic Center in Texas, the leaders of the local Jewish congregation allowed them to use their synagogue for worship.

This is how we must all act. We must reach out to the communities that are the subject of hateful attacks. We must express outrage when there is a hate crime, whether it is against the LGBTQ community, the Muslim community, the Jewish community, or any other community.

Sometimes we might notice some stereotypes in our own attitudes towards certain groups of people. We all have some inherent stereotypes that come to the surface when we least expect it. When this happens, it is important to be aware of them, to examine them, to understand where they come from, and to do our utmost to eradicate them.

It is incumbent upon us to call out people who are spreading this kind of hatred, even in the subtlest of ways. Whether it is a member of our family, friends, acquaintances, or the President of the United States, we must stand up for the American values which have made America a shining light for the world.

* Update: On April 25, President Trump made his most forceful remarks yet regarding the Holocaust. This is a step in the right direction and hopefully will help reduce the growing anti-Semitism in this country.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IGA invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.

Opinion: Brutally Dishonest

I heard some Trump supporters being interviewed on NPR recently. To a person, they extolled him for being a “straight shooter” who “doesn’t beat around the bush” and “tells it like it is.”

This reinforced something curious I’ve noticed recently: Trump is perceived as a no-nonsense guy, despite the fact that he’s been proven time and again to be a chronic and habitual liar (e.g., crowd size at his inauguration, millions of illegal voters, accusing Obama of wiretapping, etc.)

Why is this? Clearly, Trump’s supporters find his abrasiveness and lack of polish refreshing. But I’m afraid they’re also falsely equating these attributes with honesty. George W. Bush received similar praise from his supporters, despite the fact that he, too, was frequently less than truthful (e.g., claims about WMDs prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion).

I think people in many pockets of this country instinctively confuse ineloquence with candor. These folks are inclined to trust people who speak in a manner that makes them seem “common” and “like one of us.”

Conversely, they seem to mistrust people who are articulate, well-spoken, and sound like “elites.” This would explain the common misperception during the election that Hillary Clinton was conniving and disingenuous, despite the fact that fact checks of their respective statements have consistently shown her to be more truthful by far than Trump.

Unfortunately, American history is littered with examples of anti-intellectualism. In the 1630’s, Puritans ostracized those who did not conform to their dogmatic religious views. In the 1880s, the “Know Nothing” party gained prominence as an anti-Catholic, anti-immigration movement. The mindless violence of the KKK in the 1920s was followed by the more subtle, anti-intellectual racism of George Wallace in the late 1960s. It still persists to this day when those who question an authoritarian populist like Trump are denigrated as treasonous and unpatriotic.

Americans’ tendency to trust anti-intellectuals is self-destructive and dangerous. We need to continue to call Mr. Trump out on his blatant lies, and to fight his pernicious agenda with every ounce of energy we can muster.

Andy Sullivan is a yoga instructor, fitness guru, writer, and musician. He grew up in Stow, and has been living in Shirley with his wife, Cathy, since 2001.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IGA invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.

Opinion: It Starts with a Seal

Cities and towns across America are struggling to define themselves in an increasingly polarized national landscape. With our 24-hour news cycles and social media bubbles, we often focus on what separates us from each other, rather than the identity we share through local history and community spirit.

Efforts to heal our divisions must start on the local level. The symbols and icons that define us must include, acknowledge, and represent all members of our communities.

Here in Groton, our town’s identity is symbolically represented by a divisive and long-controversial 1898 Town Seal.

Although Groton was founded in 1655, it had no official town seal until the 19th century had very nearly clicked over into the 20th. And a seal was only adopted then because 1898 was the last year in which the cities and towns of Massachusetts could issue vital documents without one.1

To meet this statutory deadline, the Town of Groton appointed a three-member Committee of the Town Seal, which only ever held two meetings of any consequence.2

At the first meeting, the committeemen outsourced their design duties to the Honorable Samuel A. Green, a Groton-born medical doctor turned historian, turned politician, turned author, turned man who was eager to try his hand at graphic design, from thirty-plus miles away in his then-current hometown of Boston.3

At the second meeting, the committeemen received their first-time designer’s first-draft submission–the now-familiar “Faith and Labor” design–and passed it along to Town Meeting for approval.4

For the work product of an expert in Groton’s history and culture, the “Faith and Labor” design is oddly generic. Dr. Green could easily have referenced Groton’s unique drumlin swarm geography, its contributions to the American Revolution, or any of the storied names, structures, and institutions that shaped the town’s identity from 1655 until his own time. And yet, his submission included none of the elements that might have helped tell Groton’s unique story.

Instead, Dr. Green used religious iconography common to all of the strict Puritan communities of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, paired with imagery representing the predominant occupation throughout all of New England. Because faith and labor were the common currency of the time, these symbols do nothing to distinguish Groton from any other place.

The explanatory letter included with the design gives us some hint as to why.5 Viewed through the Victorian-era prism of Dr. Green, as he stood 120 years behind us while peering back 240 years more distant from that, we can see his vision of a town seal as it might have been created in the town’s earliest days.

In the Groton of 1655, where church attendance was mandatory and heretics were banished, a religious symbol on an official seal would have made perfect sense. Religion and government were one and the same, the Church blended with the State, and Dr. Green’s design would have been entirely fitting if it had existed at the time.6

In the Groton of 1775, the town and its balance of religion and government had evolved. Town residents angrily dismissed their spiritual leader for failing to support a popular political cause of the day: the struggle to free the colonies from British rule.7 The Reverend Samuel Dana never returned to the ministry, instead becoming a lawyer, probate judge, and New Hampshire state senator.

In the Groton of 1898, as part of the free country that Groton residents had helped to create and whose Union they had recently fought to preserve, town government was constitutionally barred from endorsing any one religion or religion in general.8 The town had evolved again, and Dr. Green’s retro-1655 design was no longer an appropriate concept.

Nor does the 1898 Town Seal represent Dr. Green’s best work. As a worthy first attempt, rushed into service to meet a state-imposed deadline, it has always ever been a placeholder for the seal that Dr. Green might have given us if he’d had the time to explore multiple ideas, make multiple revisions, and incorporate feedback from residents with a diversity of viewpoints.

In the Groton of 2017, in which Dr. Green is no longer with us, we are the ones tasked with being the stewards of Groton’s past and the shepherds of its perpetually improving future. The long-overdue revisions to the 1898 Town Seal are our duty and obligation to undertake. In doing so, we must approach this task in the spirit of continuing Dr. Green’s work, taking inspiration from his service, and honoring his legacy in the context of our evolving community.

A new Town Seal Committee, this time meeting more than just twice and incorporating the ideas of more than just one man, is the proper entity to address these issues and finally give us a symbol that can represent Groton’s past, present, and future alike.

It’s just one seal in one small town but small efforts can add up to large results. One symbol or policy at a time, we can bridge the divisiveness in our communities and again become one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Article 35 at the upcoming Spring Town Meeting would create a Town Seal Committee charged with soliciting public input into the design for a new Town Seal; selecting from among the submissions received the design that best embodies Groton’s character, history, and aspirational values; and presenting that design to a future Town Meeting for approval. Please attend to voice your support.

As a member of the Groton Interfaith Council, Greg R. Fishbone supports its mission to foster understanding, respect, justice and peace among people of a variety of religious traditions through worship, fellowship, education, and service. As a former board member of the Groton Historical Society, he has worked to preserve Groton’s rich historical resources, promote its proud traditions, and recognize that its history includes the present and future as well. He and his wife are the parents of two proud young Grotonites.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IGA invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.

Opinion: Be Inclusive, Not Exclusive

Did the focus on identity politics–the constant focus on Latino, LGBTQ, African-American, and women’s rights–by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee cause Democrats to lose the last election? Is it possible that the Progressive movement, which is the backbone of the Democratic Party, will cause us to lose the next election?

Polling tells us that many people in the critical battleground states–even people who previously opted for Obama–voted for Trump because they felt that the Democrats did not address their problems.

True, quite a lot of people voted for Trump because they felt that they could not vote for Hillary Clinton for a variety of reasons. And perhaps many voters turned towards Trump because of FBI Director Comey’s public statements just days before the election regarding newly found emails on a server used by one of Clinton’s top aides.

However, what seems to be true is that the emphasis on identity politics by today’s progressives and the Democratic Party have left the white working class feeling isolated and without a champion: feeling they had no choice but to vote Republican. Enter Donald Trump!

I believe we in the Progressive movement, and in particular the Indivisible movement, should not fall into this trap of continuing to use identity politics. I believe that without including the needs of white working class males and other groups such as Evangelicals, Democrats–and by extension Progressives–made a crucial and ultimately fatal mistake during the last election cycle.

For example, unemployment and underemployment is a very real problem that white working class voters felt were not addressed by the Clinton campaign. The loss of manufacturing jobs, which is a very real concern for many people in the Rust Belt, has been ignored by the Progressive movement.

This is a big mistake.

The latest health care proposals by the Republicans that Trump has embraced presents an excellent opportunity to bring the white working class back into the fold. It is the very people who voted for Trump who will be hurt most by these proposals.

It is up to the Progressive movement to address these issues in a way that will enable everyone who is affected by these proposals to understand how they will be detrimentally affected.

We may be outraged at the travel ban, disheartened by the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, dismayed by the revocation of innumerable regulations, and incredulous at the rejection of climate change, but I believe we must reach out to all groups and explain why these moves by the Trump administration affect all Americans.

This needs to be an inclusive movement, as we are all Americans and we all have a stake in many of these issues. We must start emphasizing the issues that we all have in common.

This is not to say that the Progressive movement must disavow identity politics. I believe it does mean that we need to consider all Americans when talking about the aforementioned issues.

I believe if we don’t include those people in the middle of the country who are also hurting and if we don’t address their concerns or at least focus on them so they can understand that some of our fight is their fight, then we are not only exacerbating the growing schism in this country, but also sabotaging future elections.

I believe we in the Progressive movement must make sure that our representatives have a coherent strategy for winning future elections by reaching out to those who will be most economically hurt by Trump’s initiatives. This is a critical moment in American history and we cannot afford to lose again.

Mark Burkholz has been Director of Technology and a math and computer science teacher at Lawrence Academy since 1992. He lives in Groton with his wife Sheara Friend.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IGA invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.



Opinion: What Would President Julie Do?

Meet President Julie

My nine-year-old daughter and I have a game we play during car rides where we pretend to host a radio talk show. I do the voices of Frank and Joe and sometimes Wanda–don’t ask. My daughter does the voice of Julie.

During the last campaign season, Julie ran for president against Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and we had a lot of fun discussing various issues. After Election Day, Julie declared herself the winner and we’ve been rolling with it ever since.

One of President Julie’s first acts was to bury the Treasury Department underground and mark the spot with a giant X, because that’s what you do to keep your treasures safe.

Her most current infrastructure project is a subway system that will connect to every house in the country so that people can get to work or school without worrying about traffic.

President Julie has named Joe, her fellow talk show host, as her Ambassador to Mexico. To make sure Joe doesn’t mess up our foreign relations too badly, she’s built a structure called “White House Junior” next to the embassy so she can keep an eye on things. Julie is learning Spanish in school, so she not only has lots of good advice for Joe but can also help him with the lingo. In the interest of boosting morale among the embassy staff, President Julie recently moved both the embassy and White House Junior to a beach on the Mexican Riviera.

Julie’s administration is working out well so far, although Julie sometimes worries that being president of the United States will interfere with her other career as a rock star.

What Would President Julie Do?

As I listen to the political news from back in the real world, the question I find myself asking is, “What would President Julie do?”

To my ears, “Bury our most valuable building underground to keep it safe from pirates” makes about as much policy sense as “Build a wall to protect our proud nation of immigrants from the danger of…immigrants?” But then, as a spokesman for the Julie administration, I’m a little biased.

The second question I find myself asking is, “What does real politics have to do with the stories we share with our children?”

The answer I’ve come up with is a personal theory that politics is actually a genre of storytelling.

Politics as Story

Where many classic stories begin with “Once upon a time…” political stories begin with “Imagine a world…” This would make politics a sister genre to sci-fi, fantasy, alternate history, and horror, all under the banner of speculative fiction.

Picture this:

A wandering storyteller comes to town. He takes to the stage. An audience gathers to listen. The storyteller smiles to form a connection with his audience. He waves his arms and hands for emphasis and speaks in a calculated cadence, repeating key phrases to punctuate his story. “Imagine a world where all the solar farms have been torn down and your children are working in a coal mine! It will be so amazing. So amazing. So amazing.”

Being an effective storyteller means knowing your audience. This particular town’s economy was built by the coal industry, and all the third-generation coal miners and their families applaud and nod approvingly. By telling the story they want to hear, the storyteller has earned the equivalent of a five-star Amazon rating. He has earned their vote.

Then the wandering storyteller packs up his wares and moves on to the next town, over in farm country, where he tells that audience to imagine a world where international trade is negotiated by a real estate mogul. It will be so great. So great. So great.

With the right stories, told to the right people, in states with the right number of electoral votes, a good storyteller can rise all the way to the top, becoming our Storyteller-in-Chief, a title we should totally be using to describe the awesome responsibilities of the presidency.

Story as Power

Politics is storytelling because raw story is a form of raw power.

A single story from our president can start a war or prevent it, plunge the economy into a recession or save it. 

One story can provide hope in a time of need and solace in a time of tragedy. Another can cultivate the hate and fear that make a bad situation a million times worse.

Nothing else has more power to reshape the world than a story. But politicians aren’t the only ones who can harness this power.

In the next town over from me is a boy, about the same age as President Julie, who is worried about his grandparents. The boy’s grandparents live in Iran, and the boy worries that he might never see them again, because a powerful storyteller has been telling a story in which people who share the same nationality and religion as the boy’s grandparents are scary and threatening.

So the boy tells his own story, true to life, in the honest voice of a child, based on his actual experience. In the boy’s story, his grandparents would only ever threaten to provide hugs, kisses, and home-baked cookies. 

I like the boy’s story better, and so does President Julie.

Adding the boy’s story to our shelf of political stories can provide context for the entire political genre.

The Genres of Politics

The “Imagine a world…” opening that defines a political story is shorthand for the original version, “Imagine a world, exactly like our own, but in a realistic future where some practical government policy has changed…”

If a purportedly political story starts with a world that differs from ours in an important way, that’s not politics–that’s either alternate history if it describes world based on events that never happened, or fantasy if it’s based on events that never could.

If the story’s proposed policy relies on counterfactual or speculative science rather than the overwhelming consensus of prominent experts in the field, that’s also not politics–that’s science fiction.

And if the story is a warning against some evil that could occur if an alternate policy were to prevail, and is unrealistic to the point of invoking the supernatural, that is the very definition of horror.

Against Crossing the Genres

I write books in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. I enjoy movies and TV shows in the genres of horror and alternate reality. These stories can be great fun, but I hope you will join me in resisting any effort to represent them as the new politics-as-usual.

In the true genre of political stories, the most positive change will always come from stories that start with the world as it is and lead us through a practical and pragmatic plotline to a better place that our world can become.

Filling the genre of politics with more voices and their true stories, especially the stories of young people, is our best way to make the genre of politics stronger and more impactful.

And if we give our children a better connection to the broader world of story, they won’t be so easily fooled when a duplicitous storyteller comes to town and tries to slip fantasy and science fiction into the political genre in order to con them out of their votes.

Until we’ve shored up the integrity of our political genre, I’ll keep asking what President Julie would do, and, hopefully someday she will.

Greg R. Fishbone is the Groton-based author of the Galaxy Games series of sporty sci-fi novels from Tu Books and Spellbound River Press. He and his wife are the proud parents of two potential future Storytellers-in-Chief.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IGA invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.

Opinion: American Exceptionalism and the Immigrant Experience

For many years, I have heard the term “American Exceptionalism,” and for a long time I just thought that it was arrogance on the part of those using it to express the superiority of the United States.

Now that we are in the time of Trump, and I see all that we can lose, I have come to believe that the US is exceptional. Not in a superior way, but in a fundamentally unique way.

American exceptionalism can mean many things to different people, but the immigrant experience in the United States may be the most unique aspect. Although we do not allow immigrants into the US in the same numbers as many countries do, during the past century we have created a climate of openness and assimilation for immigrants that is hard to compete with.

Partly as a result of this influx of new energy that immigrants bring with them the US has become the unparalleled leader of the free world.

My own family history, which is not unique, illustrates this process of assimilation.

My grandfather came to New York City from Poland in the mid-1920s and worked there for a few years before sending for his family. My grandmother, my mother, my aunt and my two uncles came over from Warsaw in 1929 speaking only Yiddish (a few years later all members of their family left behind would be dead caught up in Hitler’s Final Solution).

They came through Ellis Island with no idea of what to expect. My grandfather worked in the glove factory that my father’s family owned, eventually my father (whose own family came from Poland) met my mother, he went to war, he liberated a concentration camp, and after returning to the US he married her.

My uncle also went to war and later became the first member of the family to go to college, became an accountant, married and had a wonderful daughter. My other uncle after returning from WWII worked for the seafarer’s union, and my aunt eventually married, had two children and moved to California.

My mother gave birth to me and my sister. We both went to college. I now have two sons. And so it goes.

My purpose for telling you this is to illustrate the American experience that immigrants have experienced during the last hundred years. These immigrants are ordinary people who came with just their dreams and not much else.  They worked very hard so their children could become successful Americans.

These immigrants and their descendants became the backbone of what makes America great.

Europe has let in many immigrants, but the crisis they are facing today is due in part to their inability to assimilate them into their society. The United States, on the other hand, is known for assimilating its immigrants despite the ongoing endemic racism that seems to be part of every society. America has built into its core the openness to accept anyone and give them the freedom to fulfill their ambitions. This is what has attracted so many people from around the world to immigrate to the US.

In addition to being the right thing to do, allowing immigrants into our country has helped the US economy to be the most stable and robust in the world. In a recent report by the partnership for a New American Economy called “Open For Business: How Immigrants Are Driving Small Business Creation In The United States”, the key findings included:

  • Immigrants started 28% of all new U.S. businesses in 2011, despite accounting for just 12.9% of the U.S. population
  • Over the last 15 years, immigrants have increased the rate by which they start businesses by more than 50 percent, while the native-born have seen their business generation rate decline by 10 percent
  • Immigrants are now more than twice as likely to start a business as the native-born
  • Immigrants start more than 25% of all businesses in seven of the eight sectors of the economy that the U.S. government expects to grow the fastest over the next decade. These include health care and social assistance (28.7%), construction (31.8%), retail trade (29.1%) and leisure and hospitality (23.9%), among others

There is no question that our current immigration system is not working well and needs to be fixed. Millions more opportunity-seekers want to come to America than our current laws can accommodate.  There are many possible solutions we should be discussing, but what is not acceptable is the Trump administration blaming immigrants for violent crime when the crime rate for immigrants is well below that of native born American citizens. All this does is increase bigotry, discrimination, and fear among the US citizenry and  creates an environment where people are actively discouraged from coming here or staying here. That’s not what America is about and it runs counter to the long term image that the  Unite States has projected since its inception.

The Trump administration proposals for restricting immigration from seven countries and rumors that it will cut immigration by half and deport 11 million immigrants will not only hurt the US economically but hurt its image by taking away one of the key aspects of American exceptionalism. It is imperative that the Indivisible movement do all that we can to pressure our representatives to stop the Administration from pursuing this self-defeating policy.

Do you believe in American Exceptionalism? If so, what aspects of our society do you think contributes to it and how can the Indivisible movement contribute to preserving American exceptionalism?

Also,  check out this opinion piece from the Washington Post called “It’s time for Democrats to become the party of American exceptionalism”.

Mark Burkholz has been Director of Technology and a math and computer science teacher at Lawrence Academy since 1992. He lives in Groton with his wife Sheara Friend.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IGA invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.