A message for graduates 

No one’s asked me to speak at graduation, but I’ve prepared a message for seniors anyway. 

Theme: Values you’ve been taught in school—forget them. 

1)     Play fair. In sports and group projects you’ve been taught to work cooperatively, follow the rules, and lose gracefully. Forget it. Look out for Number One, remake the rules to guarantee your success, and never admit defeat. 

2)     Always tell the truth. Forget it. Presenting supporting evidence and documenting sources apply only to student research papers. Adults know that the truth is whatever they want it to be. 

3)     Don’t resort to name calling. Forget it. Go with “socialist elitists,” “Pocahontas,” “Sleepy Joe.” Name calling is a very effective way to create negative associations that stick. 

4)   Respect and uphold the Constitution. Forget it. Hug the flag and interpret the Constitution to suit your purposes. 

5)   Value the scientific method, which includes knowing the difference between theories and hypotheses. Forget it. If you benefit, declare that human behavior has nothing to do with global warming.

6)    Understand and value our nation’s history. Forget it—especially if you’re white and have children. You don’t want them feeling guilty about injustices of the past. 

7)  Respect those from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Forget it. Close the borders. Real Americans (i.e., white) should be winning our national spelling bees, representing us at the Olympics, and be the ones honored for their scientific and technological contributions. 

8)    Share what you have. Forget it. What’s yours is yours. Accumulate all you can.

Graduates, in case you haven’t noticed, the education you’ve received has little relationship to the culture you’re stepping out into. You can, of course, adjust to the real world. Or you can envision a better way, put what you’ve learned in school into practice, and work for change.

Is it left or right?

I’m confused. I no longer know left from right. 

Vladimir Putin was a member of the KGB of the Soviet Union, a communist confederation. Communists are considered to be on the Far Left of the political spectrum. But there is no longer a Soviet Union, hence no longer a communist state. Property that once belonged to the state now belongs to oligarchs, Putin among them, so he’s no longer Far-Left. China is a communist country, which makes it Far Left. Xi and Putin have declared their friendship. Hmm.

What about the Far Right? We know that Putin’s values are extreme. Now that he’s no longer Far Left, is he Far Right? He’s a Nationalist, isn’t he? Nationalism as an ideology is Far Right. In 2018 Donald Trump said, “I’m a nationalist.” He admires Putin. In the Spanish civil war, the Nationalists were aided by Germany, a Fascist country. Fascist Germans were called Nazis. White nationalists in the U.S. are considered Far-Right. Throngs that stormed the Capitol on January 6thwere Far-Right, weren’t they?

Putin says he sent forces into Ukraine to rid it of Nazis. Nazis are Far Right, no? Does that mean that Putin is Far Left again?

Bernie Sanders is a Socialist, which makes him pretty Far Left. The Republican Party warns American voters of The Left, referring, I guess, to socialists and communists and Bernie Sanders. 

It’s all so confusing.

Dare Americans tune out?

The Rachel Maddow Show may contribute to Alzheimer’s. Her investigative discoveries right before bedtime upset my circadian rhythms, and studies point to a connection between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s. Mornings, when I watch “New Day” on CNN, I’m reminded that our democracy eroded even more overnight.

A lot of my friends are saying, “I’m to the point where I avoid the news. It’s too upsetting.”

I’ve also heard—this from both liberals and Trump supporters—“All the Russia stuff is too hard to keep track of.” There are all those -oviches, -akovs, and other foreign sounding names. Even the Americans—Manafort, Flynn, Gates, Papadopoulos, Pinedo, Cohen—seem indistinguishable after a while. Hearing who’s been accused, who’s pleaded guilty—so much input can overload the brain.

Meanwhile our president rants against “fake news.” At a recent Trump rally, the crowd’s profanity and obscene gestures at TV cameras had to be bleeped. I fear for our democracy’s survival when a large segment of the population believes professional journalists are not truthful.

What kind of news do Americans want? Entertaining news. Hence stories on TV networks often cover animal rescues and freak accidents. News conveyed simply, in a few sound bytes. I’m as bad as anyone when it comes to having a lazy brain. I look at a science article for non-scientists and quickly decide I don’t want to concentrate that much. Understanding complicated issues such as immigration, climate change, and world trade requires too much effort. Besides, with our traditional American optimism we want to believe that somebody will solve the problems.

We live in a time when we dare not avoid information just because it depresses us, bores us, or taxes our brain. Russian interference in the 2016 election, migrant children and parents separated at the border, the opening of Alaskan wilderness to oil producers, lifetime appointments of conservative federal judges—all of these demand our informed consideration.

Many highly trained journalists are putting the information out there if we but bother to read or watch. They write for The New York Timesand Washington Postand can be heard on PBS and CNN. And of course there’s Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. (For the sake of a good night’s sleep, my husband and I record her and watch during the day.)

The times call for vigilance. A sentry doesn’t have the luxury of averting his/her eyes. A sentry must concentrate and be hyper-aware. For Americans vigilance demands that we be well informed. We need to stay tuned in so we can turn out.

Nancy Werking Poling, of Black Mountain, is author of Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987).

Mr. Trump, meet Aunt Helen

Gulp! I’m going to confess. No, it’s too embarrassing. Yes, I’m going to.

I’m of Donald Trump’s generation.

It’s like admitting to Europeans that I’m from the country that elected Trump. Until he became president, I was not ashamed of being an American or of being a septuagenarian.

Contrary to the fact that we old people (and I deliberately use the word “old”) defy stereotypes, they persist. Grandpa, who dominates the conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table with harangues against gay marriage and immigrants. Aunt Helen, who can’t follow a train of thought and free associates her way through every conversation. Media often portray us as narrow-minded and critical. We’ve lost our mental acuity and wouldn’t know how to run a lemonade stand.

Donald Trump perpetuates such stereotypes.

Most of the people I know, who are my age, are thoughtful. They read books with multi-syllabic words and complex sentences. The books cover topics like climate change and history and politics. Retirees I know take classes at area universities; they don’t let their minds become stagnant. If pensions and mobility allow, they travel with Road Scholar and return home knowledgeable about distant countries. They do not mock other people and cultures. They do not abandon peers forced to live solely on Social Security or on minimum wage, but volunteer for Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, and the local food bank.

Trump’s presidency, on the other hand, contributes to negative images of aging.

And I resent it.

 

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987) and Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman.

After Election 2016, getting my life back–sort of

I’ve long wanted to blog about the challenge of selecting toilet paper—two ply, always, but do I get the extra strong or the extra soft? And how much should I take cost into consideration? I’ve wanted to use my blog to grumble about young people. I’m not sure what exactly I’ve wanted to grumble about, but aren’t old ladies supposed to complain about the younger generation? And what exactly is this mesothelioma that handsome older men in TV commercials have found relief from? Might it explain the pain in my lower back?

But political realities keep interfering with my light-hearted urges, and for several years now my attention has been on wanting Americans to take notice: notice the environment, the working poor, women’s reproductive rights, equal pay for women, to name a few concerns.

During the 2016 election I put my energy into helping Hillary Clinton get elected. I took a break from my personal blog to maintain a site for a group of “mature” women. When the election is over, I told myself, and Hillary is our President, then I’ll blog about toilet paper and the younger generation.

But that, as you know, did not happen, and I find myself at odds with a state government (North Carolina) and a federal government that feels oppressive and, frankly, ignorant.

So here I go again. Back to my old wordpress site. Back to what I believe really are life-and-death issues for our country.

I invite you to enter the dialog.

For those who have been Feeling the Bern

If you’ve been Feeling the Bern, I share your heartache over not winning. For I have memories.

1968. Images still clear in my mind: the film clip of a South Vietnamese officer putting a gun to the head of a young Viet Cong and pulling the trigger; a sign saying, “The Vietnamese didn’t fight in our Civil War.” President Lyndon Johnson had escalated a war in southeast Asia that many Americans, especially young people, demonstrated against. In opposition to the war, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota had the courage to challenge the incumbent Johnson for the presidential nomination. Male students cut their long hair and shaved so they could go door to door rallying support for McCarthy. Largely because of young people’s passion, Johnson announced he would not seek reelection.

Who knows what might have happened had not the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., been assassinated four days after Johnson’s announcement? Or had Robert Kennedy, who had entered the Democratic race, not been shot and killed in San Francisco?

Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic candidate. Many young people felt so disillusioned they refused to vote. Richard Nixon was elected, and we all know how that turned out.

What did I learn from this period of disillusionment? That Americans will elect a crook before they’ll elect anyone veering far to the left.

This doesn’t mean we should disengage from politics. It means we need to find new ways to bring about change. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Work for progressive candidates down list. Even school boards are political entities. In North Carolina, where I live, our state representatives have enacted legislation abhorrent to anyone concerned about justice issues. A Democratic president and democratic governors need legislators who will work with them, not obstruct them as Republicans in Congress have done.
  2. Get informed on issues you care about and work for the candidates who share your concerns.
  3. By working I mean contact candidates through their staffs, ask what needs to be done.

In 1968 many of my generation lost our innocence. But we came out of the tragedies and disappointments wiser. And of course, older.

Is Hillary so dishonest?

Mom was the nurturer, greeting us when we came home from school, preparing our meals. Dad was the boss, the enforcer of rules, often with the palm of his hand. This clarity of roles gave us a sense of security.

Nowadays Mom goes to work and Dad has relinquished much of his authority. The old order has shifted in other ways. If we’re white or heterosexual we’ve lost assurance of our superiority. Black and white intermarry; homosexuals marry. On the global stage the clear issues of the Cold War have vanished, replaced with a militant Muslim enemy that strikes unexpectedly. Our lifestyle of big cars and unlimited use of electricity is affecting Earth’s climate, a science beyond our comprehension.

We older folks yearn for Mom and Dad—as they once were. Enter Donald Trump, the authority figure who’ll return our country to how it used to be.

But Hillary—she doesn’t behave the way a mother’s supposed to. She’s not a national nurturer but a trained lawyer who as a senator voted on complex issues; who as Secretary of State negotiated with leaders of other countries. She’s been hardened by battle.

Anyone who’s seen TV commercials, even if they’re muted, recognizes the little green creature advertising Geiko and associates the Statue of Liberty with Liberty Mutual. The purpose of repetition in advertising is to keep a product in the viewer’s mind, to repeat an idea so often that it’s finally accepted as truth

So it has been with Hillary’s reputation. Since 2008 Republicans have anticipated her candidacy in this election and committed themselves to eroding the perception of her character. They exploited the Benghazi attack, sponsoring multiple investigations and repeating the message that she couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth. They exploited her using a private email server, though other government officials have done the same. All the while the press allowed itself to be manipulated into continuously analyzing opinions about her integrity—until her dishonesty was taken as fact.

I’m not suggesting Clinton is beyond reproach. Her experience is so broad there’s something in her voting record or foreign policy actions to offend anyone. I am convinced, though, that public perceptions of her dishonesty are the result of a non-stop propaganda campaign.

Our job as voters in this election isn’t to choose the most nurturing mother or the most intimidating father. It’s to select an individual who understands and supports the Constitution, who appreciates the complex web of international relationships, whose knowledge is respected worldwide.

A person who firmly believes in “liberty and justice for all.”

A restroom war in North Carolina

So North Carolinians are arguing over restrooms again—what might happen if a certain segment of the population used the wrong one. Didn’t we go through this back in the sixties, when white folks fought to keep separate facilities for “colored” and “white?” Now the North Carolina House is distraught over the city of Charlotte’s ordinance expanding anti-discrimination laws for public accommodations. It’s the transgendered population our representatives would have us fear, how their choosing which bathroom they want to use “poses an imminent threat to public safety, ” (Speaker Tim Moore). The issue is worth the $42,000-a-day expense of meeting in special session, he says.

(I’ll avoid references to these elected officials who so boldly favor local control—except, it seems, when a city does something they disapprove of. )

A special session to make Charlotte’s ordinance illegal would supposedly contribute to the safety and well being of women and children. While I certainly appreciate Mr. Moore’s and his colleagues’ concern, let me remind him there are other issues more threatening to our safety. Granted none of them as scintillating as imagined drag queens such as what we see in movies pulling down their pants in front of innocent children and women.

Strengthening gun laws would do more to protect women and children, but would draw far less support. In 2015 there were 53 domestic violence homicides in our state (http://www.nccadv.org/homicides-20150. While mass shootings make headlines, suicides and accidental shootings in homes where there are guns take far more lives.

And what if our representatives announced a commitment to protecting women and children from air and water pollution? Yawns. Which has allowed elected officials to gut the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) http://www.indyweek.com/news/archives/2015/04/23/bill-that-would-gut-state-environmental-policy-passes-nc-house-committee.

Keep in mind these are the same people who try to control women’s reproductive rights, who reject climate science, who undermine the quality of our state’s educational system, who voted to allow magistrates to refuse to perform gay marriages if their religious beliefs opposed it.

With national primary races for President so entertaining, few are paying attention to state politics. Which could explain why Tim Moore and his cohorts are talking about transgendered individuals using public restrooms. His efforts though should remind us that statewide elections are as important, if not more important than national ones. Candidates who deserve our support need financial backing and a team of workers. Otherwise restrooms will be the big campaign issue.

 

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman and Out of the Pumpkin Shell.

 

 

 

The Christian Agenda

The 2016 primaries have come to the Bible Belt. Already politicians are competing for the evangelical vote.

For too long we progressive Christians have allowed evangelicals to be spokespersons for the Gospel. In fact, in the minds of many outside the Christian faith, “Christian” and “conservative” are synonymous. Evangelicals tend to preach against homosexuality and gay marriage, abortion, the evils of banning prayers in public schools, the war on Christmas. As a result, their followers block entrances to Planned Parenthood, write letters to the editor of local newspapers, run for office, refuse to marry gay couples.

Most importantly, they vote.

As a Christian, but—for lack of a better label—a liberal Christian, I’ve had the privilege to listen to the sermons of outstanding progressive/liberal clergy. At election time I’ve noticed they tend to be quiet, as if they don’t want to offend or use their position of influence to sway decisions. As usual they assure us of God’s love. We’re to help the poor and needy. We’re to confess ours sins. We’re to act with courage. We’re to speak out against injustice. All as if an election is not approaching.

In a political advertisement, Marco Rubio says voters will decide” what kind of country America is going to be in the twenty-first century.” On CNN Franklin Graham encouraged evangelicals to vote and to “stand for biblical principles.”

No doubt my list of biblical principles won’t correspond with Graham’s. Yet as a progressive/liberal Christian, I am one whose faith influences my voting. I will be looking for candidates who in their words and past actions have demonstrated the following: 1) a compassion for the poor, the refugee, the marginalized; 2) a concern for God’s creation, that is environmental issues; and 3) a commitment to justice—racial, gender, economic, criminal.

I’m not suggesting that liberal clergy tell us who to vote for. But we need to hear them apply ancient truths to current events. Together we need a more public struggle about what God requires of us as American citizens, what kind of country we’re going to be. Whether or not we liberals speak boldly about biblical principles, we can be sure our evangelical sisters and brothers will be promoting an agenda we do not share.

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman (Wipf & Stock, 2010), a collection of short stories in which the author imagines heroes of Hebrew Scripture as women; and Out of the Pumpkin Shell (Spinsters Ink, 2009), a laugh/cry novel about women’s friendship and family secrets.

Donald Trump, the Republicans’ idea of a strong leader

In the final assembly of ninth grade I received a leadership award. The recognition was probably based on my saying hi to everyone I passed in school hallways. After that, at each educational level, my understanding of effective leadership evolved. During my senior year of college the student government president was an intelligent young man of gentle spirit who had earned the trust of his peers. He didn’t thrust himself into the limelight but quietly carried out each task his role required. Later he was awarded a scholarship to Harvard for graduate studies and eventually became a superintendent of schools, a leader in his community. A strong leader, no doubt.

The New York Times (12/11/15) has reported, “More than four in 10 Republican primary voters say the quality most important to them in a candidate is strong leadership, and those voters heavily favor Mr. Trump.”

Which leaves me wondering about the qualities of leadership. Here’s my list: An effective leader is one who 1) serves a higher cause than self; 2) is trusted by the majority of the group to whom s/he is responsible; 3) has a deep understanding of the constituencies s/he serves; 4) doesn’t exert power over the group but empowers others; 5) demonstrates an openness to those of opposing viewpoints, with repeated efforts to draw them into the sphere of influence; 6) appeals to and calls upon the higher instincts of the group; and 7) can successfully navigate relationships with other groups/nations.

In recent months, as the country has faced one crisis after another, I’ve watched President Obama speak to the American public. His posture erect, with no grandiose swinging of the arms, he has shown his respect for the office of President, a cause, a position, greater than himself. His speeches, calming in tone, have not been self-serving; rather they have demonstrated his understanding of his responsibility to keep the country safe. He has chosen words carefully, not from a sense of “political correctness” but from a respect for the country’s various constituencies, including Muslims.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump tosses out words as if they are confetti, labeling an opponent as “weak,” intended to make Trump appear strong by contrast. His reactions are reflexive, rather than reflective. Bomb ‘em, keep ‘em out, execute ‘em.

May the American people choose women and men who will lead us with strength grounded in wisdom rather than fear.