Posts by David G. Pace

David Pace is an fiction and narrative nonfiction writer and arts administrator who lives in the Mountain West, USA. His debut novel was published in 2015.

OPEN LETTER TO SECRETARY ZINKE: BEARS EARS & WHITE MORMON MALE POLITICIANS

May 12, 2017

Dear Secretary Zinke,

Thank you for coming to Utah which I hope was an informing experience regarding the review you are doing of national monuments, including of the newly-proclaimed Bears Ears. At the same moment that you were meeting with stakeholders at the BLM Offices in Salt Lake City, there was another gathering, just two blocks away, a panel of Native American elders and others. The gathering was the launch to develop a new concert dance titled “Sacred Lands/Sacred Waters.”

The reports that I’m hearing back from your visit do not bode well for my Native American brothers and sisters here in the Southwest. So I wanted to share with you what I experienced that night to hopefully countermand what I believe was a tour dominated by opposition to keeping the Monument intact.

The opposition that I’m referring to–your white-shirted, short-haired politician hosts–are all White, Male and Mormon.

By the way, as a Utah native, I consider myself all three. In contrast to the meeting up the street, what I saw on the panel were three Navajo (Diné) elders who were telling their stories through word and, at one point, even song, to a small public gathering which included dance artists from New York City and Utah’s own Repertory Dance Theatre. One of those discussants, Mary Benally from Butler Wash (between Blanding and Bluff), had missed her flight from Moab, so her son left the town where he lives, south of Farmington, New Mexico, and drove over four hours to Moab, picked up his mother and drove the almost four hours from Moab to Salt Lake City, then turned around and drove all the way home.

Mary talked about the Bears Ears as being a sacred land to her, her people and the Tribal Coalition that in an unprecedented way has brought together tribes, putting aside ages-old differences, to advocate for the Monument.

Mary Benally (Dine)

My concern is that during your Utah visit your itinerary and most of your interactions were commandeered by White, Male Mormon Politicians (WMMPs). This is a piece to the puzzle that your hosts—Governor Gary Herbert, State Senator Mike Noel, and most especially, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch—are not willing to “unpack” for you. There is a long history in this state and region of WMMPs’ getting their way while marginalizing others. It goes back to The Book of Mormon, a tome of purported tales of ancient America that we consider scripture but that also posits that Indians (called “Lamanites”) were actually relocated Hebrews, cursed with a dark skin because of disobedience to God–a tortured, 19th Century notion driven by the prevailing question at the time of the origins of Native Americans.

When the Latter-day Saints (Mormons) began relocating to the Great Basin in 1847, this myth mixed with a strenuous brand of patriarchy and policy which has since devastated American tribes. You likely heard from the WMMP Juggernaut that Brigham Young, took no umbrage at the local Indians. This is only part of the story about a fiercely competitive territorial leader whose disciples, following his lead, blamed Natives for the biggest white-on-white massacre in the country’s history (actually perpetrated by some of my ancestors) and whose sentiments and behaviors eventually precipitated massive cooperation among Mormons to relocate thousands of Native children to boarding schools, robbing them of their identity, their language and their dignity.

Jonah Yellowman (Dine)

Another panelist last Sunday, Jonah Yellowman (Diné), is a spiritual advisor to the Utah Dine Bikeyah and resident of the Monument Valley made famous in cinema by director John Ford, among others. Jonah told me over lunch what it was like to be sent to a white school in New Mexico, beaten when he didn’t speak a language he didn’t know (and had never been taught), and finally given an Anglo name manufactured through the colonizing logic of the local population. Fortunately for him and for the rest of us, frankly, he has parlayed his trauma into a spiritual discipline that has blessed his people and is now blessing others. The next day the dancers and choreographer left with both Mary and Jonah as guides to seek inspiration for their work at a place that I hope you also came to believe while here is a sacred land that needs to be preserved and co-managed by Native tribes.

Sen. Hatch, of course, is tone deaf do this vision of the land. I believe that the reason he went on record saying that Indians are “manipulated sometimes by people,” is because he and his ilk have been trying to manipulate them (at best the WMMPs call it “managing them”) through, arguably, their sense of white entitlement and their intractable impulse to convert Natives not only to the “true religion” but to their way of thinking about public lands.

Gavin Noyes (Utah Dine Bikeyah) (left) and his opponent, Utah Sen. MIke Noel, doing the WMMP gesture of self-righteous disgust. at a hearing (Photo credit: Salt Lake Tribune)

Then there’s the condescending, patriarchal, and privileged jargon he and his cronies, including the Disinformation King himself, Congressman Rob Bishop, use to even talk about a people whose spirituality and sense of community are a strong contrast to the Latter-day Saints’ and our industrial religion of dogma and hope for global dominion. Many, too many WMMPs, Hatch included, continue to savage a people who have relied on the sacred lands of Bears Ears from time immemorial, a land that doesn’t have a Mormon ward house on every street corner, or beholden to a people whose impulse sometimes seems to elevate late-stage capitalism to one of their Articles of Faith.

Senator Orrin Hatch (left) and Secretary Zinke in Salt Lake City at a press conference, May 2017 (Photo credit: Salt Lake Tribune)

Sen. Hatch knows, as I suspect you do, that there is no future in this land for extractive industries, and that the denuding nature of unbridled ranching is destroying this arid region, even for white settlers. But what he, the Governor, Bishop and State Senator Noel are not saying is that “the Lamanites” are a threat to the control of WMMPs, channeled as it is through the prevailing narrative that the Feds are doing a “land grab.” How can that be when these lands have never been in the hands of the state of Utah, the Mormons or white settlers?

The final member of the panel was Evelyn Nelson (Diné), also from Monument Valley who afterwards had to hurry home—an eight-hour drive—to see her grandchild receive a master’s degree. This is the other part of the story that I fear you did not hear last week: that young Native Americans are returning to their homes armed with academic degrees and the market-driven experience that my people have been swimming in as “super-Americans” since we threw over the practice of polygamy and began desperately assimilating into the broader white American culture. If allowed to stand, Bears Ears will be managed by the five tribes that came together in a healing way to establish the Monument. This threatens the WMMP establishment in Utah. We have only seen the tip of the self-righteous rage that can stem from a group that feels entitled to this level of arbitrary and damaging control over, Surprise!, their “holy land.”

White folks and Native Americans can work through this divide which has been dug and then occupied by myopic men like Sen. Hatch and, now, the authoritarian swipe of a President’s pen. Since the disaster of relocating Native youth to Anglo homes in Utah for the school year, the State has been forced, wisely in my view, to adopt-out Native children only to parents who have a certain percentage of Native blood. Our next-door neighbors, a full Navajo Woman (and yes, also, coincidentally, at least a 2nd generation Latter-day Saint) and her lapsed Catholic husband from Pennsylvania have adopted three Diné children who are siblings and are doing their best to honor the Navajo traditions of their children here in the state’s capital city, far from their home outside of Blanding in southeastern Utah.

Along with these children, Mary, Jonah and Evelyn need not only be heard, they need to be respected, and they need to have sovereignty over their lives and over their ancestral lands upon which, to date, they’ve been merely visitors–lands like the Bears Ears. Native Americans out here in the “Mormon Corridor” don’t need to be “managed” by the government and especially not by White Male Mormon Politicians; they need to be invited to lead their own nations.

Last night, after you left Utah, there was a gathering in Bluff, very near the Monument, called “Healing Through Motion.” More than one hundred Native Americans and others came from as far as 200 miles away across desert lands with little or no inhabitants–a distance that may not seem very far to me, or to a Montanan, like you, but may wow! someone who lives on the Eastern Seaboard where Washington DC sits. They came to meet with the artists and the choreographer who were there to listen, and to watch. There was food, there was song . . . and there was dance. But most importantly there were stories told.

I wish you could have stayed just one more day and met with them.

I invite you to take this review of National Monuments as an opportunity to heal this area. But healing requires justice, and justice takes courage.

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Repertory Dance Theatre’s new commission, Sacred Lands/Sacred Waters will premiere in Salt Lake City Oct. 5-7, 2017 at The Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune
Bears Ears buttes sit high over the surrounding canyon country in San Juan County. The formations are at the heart of the proposed Bears Ears National Monument.

Dave’s Literary Invention: A Play in 4 Acts & an Epilogue

I

The Establishment Scene:

“Dave! Long time no see! What you been up to?”

“Oh you, know just spending my days trying to bring down the president of the United States. You?”

 

II.

Rising Conflict #1:

“Spending your days doing what?”

“Bringing down the presidency. Did you vote for him?”

“Yes, but I regret it.”

“Great. What are doing today to bring down the President of the United States and his administration?”

“Nothing.”

“I guess we’ll see you when it’s over then. Can’t waste my time with you. Ciao.”

 

 

III.

Rising Conflict #2:

“Spending your days doing what?”

“Bringing down the presidency. Did you vote for him?”

“Of course. And I’m glad I did. ‘Make America Great Again!'”

“We’ll see you later . . . when it’s all over.”

“What?”

“I’m looking for allies at this point. Not converts. Ciao.”

 

IV.

Climax

“45’s gone! He’s outta here. Thank, God!”

“Well, of course he is. You libertards drove him out. Shameful.”

“You are entitled to your opinion. But we will never, ever let you get away with threatening The Republic again. Move out of the way!”

 

Epilogue

“We didn’t choose this moment. The moment chose us. I rose. I fought. I lost friends and family. I almost lost my country. I would do it again. Now that the crisis is over, it is a time for healing . . . but we will never, ever forget.”

 

The End

(But not the end . . . )

American Moment: Invitation from President-Elect Obama Nov. 2008

In 2008 the President-Elect invited supporters from his prodigious social media community to reflect on this “American Moment” and to submit it to his organization. Here below is my little response to the soon-to-be commander-in-chief.
 
I campaigned many long hours, donated money, and engaged in myriad conversations with friends, family and strangers to get Barack Obama elected. While I never agreed with all of his policies and decisions, and while I think his learning curve in dealing with a hostile Congress was a decided handicap, I have never regretted voting for him–twice.
 
Now, eight years later, this short personal essay informs me as to how I might move forward–as an American, as an activist, as a human being in a world that I don’t seem to recognize . . . again.


Perhaps I’ve never looked for an invitation from my government to share my story, or maybe the government has never asked.  But I am grateful for the invitation now.

Sometimes people get involved in activism and advocacy because of something so terrible that is happening that they can’t not do something.  Such is the case with me.  I don’t want to dwell on the past 8 years and the reasons why I first joined organized efforts to understand and change the direction of our country.  What I want to say is that doing so has been personally rewarding even as it has challenged my perceptions of what is right, good and possible.

Now that change is in the air, and a new optimism seems to be sweeping the country, I have to ask myself, what next?  For too long I was content as an American to let forces seemingly too great for me to impact to direct my life and to direct those I claimed as fellow Americans and others.  My story is that what changed in this nation in the four-to- eight years is me.  I’ve changed.

I now believe that having the conversation with myself about what I can do in any situation, large or small, is its own reward.  I found that at a certain point I had too stop anticipating the outcomes of activism and advocacy and start acting in a self-defining way–for my own edification.  The way I see it, what started out as necessity—individual actions that told me who I was—ended up coalescing with the consciousness of others who were having the same probing conversation with themselves.  I am glad that the grandson my wife and I are raising lived to see his “Poppa” figure this out.  Maybe I have been an example to him.

I don’t believe that America’s problems are going to be easy to solve.  Some, perhaps most, will never be solved.  But there is something purifying and redemptive, something enervating and soulful about engaging authentically and honestly and passionately in the conversation, a conversation that is now, thankfully, in high relief and national in scope. Real conversation isn’t “just talk” or “mere rhetoric.”  It breeds action, focus and understanding.

President-elect Barack Obama was right when he said that this was “our” victory.  He and his administration are on the crest of something that happened out of mass intention and good will.  People had to work through their uncertainties and even pain.  But I am already much more interested in what we do tomorrow then what we did yesterday.  Let the historians figure out what happened in November 2008.  I want to be a part of what’s happening now.  For this reason, I don’t make it a point to make sure people know who I voted and campaigned for.  Instead, I try to listen to others and figure out how to join them, and for them to join me.  I am interested in keeping the conversation going.

Mr. Obama, thank you for asking me what I think and how I feel about things.  And thank you for respecting the process.  Politics is messy and compromised and has its own wild vector of unpredictability, but principled, active and hopeful intention always pays off because it builds character and spirit.  I am proud to be an American today because I’ve made an investment in America.  That, perhaps, is the genius of democracy—the great potential. I hope that I can help fulfill that potential by making my own, personal contribution today and tomorrow.

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The Manifesto of Trump Supporters

It’s hard to know where this post originated, but I got it from my niece (who will remain nameless) who shared it on Facebook from a Lydia Lyon.

I call this post the “Manifesto of Trump Supporters,” and it was generated shortly after the election in response to the bafflement that the writer observed in Clinton supporters.

I voted for Clinton. My responses are interspersed within the document.

Dear Democrats and Liberals,

I’m noticing that a lot of you aren’t graciously accepting the fact that your candidate lost. In fact you seem to be posting even more hateful things about those of us who voted for Trump.

I was very disappointed that my candidate did not win the election.

At age 55 I know what it’s like to have my presidential candidate both win and lose, and to be invested in someone’s vision for the country. I’ve never felt this much apprehension about our nation’s future, and I have never feared for a candidate’s supporters as much as I have for you.

Some of you are apparently “triggered”. Because you are posting how “sick” you feel about the results.

Every morning since Nov. 8, 2016, when I wake up, the first thought that enters my head is that your candidate is headed for the White House. I didn’t think it was possible, and I’m convinced that what he seemed to be during the campaign is what he still is today, and that he’s not what his supporters imagine him to be. Yes. I have felt disbelief and sometimes even felt sick. A man who is the least qualified candidate of all of them has won.

How did this happen you ask.

Good question.

You created “us” when you attacked our freedom of speech.

Everyone has the freedom to speak their mind. But we all have to be accountable for what we say. I called Trump supporters out when I thought that their speech was intended to hurt others who I respect and even love. I don’t think I was being “politically correct” to say “ouch!” when I heard you say some of the things that you did at Mr. Trump’s rallies and on social media. I was saying “ouch!” because I believe that all of us should try to treat each other with respect and not seem to go out of our way to hurt one another’s feelings.

But, to repeat, I never thought that you didn’t have the right to say what you think in this great country of ours. I often responded to what you had to say with my own ideas and feelings. I always tried to be respectful, but I wasn’t always successful at that which I regret. Election years can be very tense, even a “blood sport” like an ultimate fighting match. That’s because there’s a lot at stake. For the record, I also felt disrespected by supporters of your candidate.

You created “us” when you attacked our right to bear arms.

I’ve never attacked Americans’ right to bear arms.

I hope that you’re just as concerned about gun violence as I am. I suspect we have that in common. Our difference arises in what to do about it. I don’t believe the answer to gun violence in America is more guns. But I don’t expect to be the one to figure out how to keep my children and friends from being murdered by people with guns in public places. I expect you to do that, since you are passionate about firearms. I rely on moderate gun owners who are concerned about gun violence to come up with real solutions to the problem of gun violence which I have been devastated by, whether it’s at Sandy Hook Elementary, or Columbine, or San Bernardino.

People like me rely on people like you to help the country solve the problem of gun violence. We will all have blood on our hands if we don’t, not just the gunmen who kill our children.

You created “us” when you attacked our Christian beliefs.

It is a terrible thing to be persecuted for one’s faith. I admit to at times dismissing religious folk, including some Christians, who I don’t understand and am even afraid of sometimes because of their zeal. Do you have the right to take your values into the voting booth to vote your conscience? Absolutely.

In my experience, most Liberals and Democrats are generally glad to see how people become their better selves through their faith. Many of us, perhaps unlike you, don’t want to live in a country that is linked to only one faith. And so we ask for room to believe a different way or not to believe at all.

Even if I don’t believe in a particular faith, I believe in the right for people to practice what they believe. But like all of our freedoms, if your beliefs step on the rights of others, then, even as a believer myself, I feel it’s important to come to their defense. Christianity is one of many religions in America for which I’m glad. When I left my childhood religion I am so glad there was another Christian faith that for a time I could identify with and enjoy. By all means, practice your religion as you see fit.

Sometimes I get nervous about public displays of religion at the expense of those who are not believers. And I live in a state where religion and government are largely fused. Americans are smart enough and “Christian” enough to figure out how to keep government and religion separate. I hope you’ll join me in that quest.

You created “us” when you constantly referred to us as racists.

Some of us use the term “racist” too easily and too quickly. It’s hard to be called a racist or a sexist because there’s not a snappy comeback to that. (I know because sometimes I’ve been called sexist.) Is it fair to say, however, that we can all be bigoted from time to time, and that often our collective bigotry is where terrible things have stemmed in the past and even today?

I think it’s better to say that certain policies are racist, or bigoted, or sexist. But it’s easier (and perversely more satisfying) to call someone a “racist.” Just as Trump supporters say things that are misunderstood or downright provocative or mean, so progressives do as well. It’s probably because we are all afraid of being discounted by some other group.

All of us should matter to each other. That’s not only the American thing, but the religious thing. It’s also just the “right” thing to do to our fellow human beings. There are racists among us. But there is bigotry in all of us. When I am at my best, I believe that tolerance is a discipline that we all need to cultivate every day. Name-calling just makes it all worse. Which is why I object to your candidate: even though many of his supporters are not racist, you voted for someone who has demonstrated that he is. And that naturally concerns a lot of us.

You created “us” when you constantly called us xenophobic.

It’s natural to be afraid of outsiders or “xenophobic” to a degree. I’m xenophobic. It’s biological. But when it turns into a policy progressives like me start to worry, as should all of us. It’s a very short skip and a hop between being suspicious of people not like us and targeting them as a scapegoat–someone to blame for our troubles.

As with me, I suspect that you are very kind and understanding of someone who comes into your family through marriage, even if they are different. Would you agree with me that America is largely built on the idea that we are all outsiders who came together to form a “more perfect union”? We sort of constructed our own “family” of outsiders; we constructed our “own” United States.

Our better selves, which are inspired by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, humanist and other spiritual values, teach us that the impulse to exclude others to protect our “way of life” might be necessary at times. But these spiritual values also teach us that if we aren’t examining what our “way of life” is and what its faults may be, then we will seek someone to blame, to drive out, to maybe even kill.

Even Christianity teaches that we are all “strangers in a strange land,” so we should make sure our government doesn’t make policies that exclude others just because they are different from us, whether because of race, sex, economic class, creed, or sexual orientation.

You created “us” when you told us to get on board or get out of the way.

It’s never okay to discount our fellow citizens, and if you have felt this way, I’m sorry for that. These past 10 years have been especially difficult for all of us. Many of us lost our homes in the Great Recession. We lost our jobs to . . . we don’t even know where they went, really.

Drug abuse and alcoholism and teen suicide are real problems that tear at the fabric of our lives. Organized religion, including most Christian sects, are losing members, and it doesn’t appear that there’s any civilizing force to replace it. It’s sometimes hard to feel like you’re a member of a community anymore, especially if you’re introverted or shy.

Here’s something that I hope you will consider: In a democracy you not only have the right to speak your mind . . . you have the obligation to do it. The Republic we live in relies on your input. A union of separate individuals is stronger and smarter than just one person, or one political party going at it alone. You are a part of that national conversation, and I hope you never let anyone tell you otherwise.

You created “us” when you forced us to buy health care and then financially penalized us for not participating.

You’re probably not going to like my response to this claim.

The Obama Administration made a choice to press the country into a new healthcare system because healthcare costs were exploding and access to healthcare was disappearing. The Republicans didn’t like “Obamacare” (The Affordable Care Act or “ACA”), but they didn’t offer a new plan either. They seemed to prefer the status quo, even though it wasn’t working.

But the country we all claim to love, including, the party that was in power at the time (Democrats, led by Barack Obama) and the Supreme Court of the land, determined together that, for the good of the country, everyone needed to be covered by medical insurance. To make this happen–arguably the only way to make this happen–was for the government to fine its citizens if they chose to become a burden on the state by not being covered.

I’m sorry if you feel burdened by the fines. But dismantling “Obamacare” isn’t the answer. And we are finding out that at least in Kentucky, where there’s been a survey, most Trump supporters did not vote for your candidate so that he could suspend the initiative they now rely on for medical care. Perhaps you still do want to see the ACA repealed as Trump promised (and which he since has changed his mind about.) My question is, what will you replace it with? I’m open to your suggestions. Talking it out with Liberals and Democrats is better for you and your children, and your grandchildren . . . better, I think, than burning something down before you have something realistic to replace it.

You created “us” when you allowed our jobs to continue to leave our country.

Agreed. It’s a terrible thing when a country’s government, supported by the wealthy who are overly enthusiastic for “free trade,” allow jobs, especially manufacturing jobs, to go overseas. But this is the fault of both Conservatives / Republicans and Liberals / Democrats. It’s the fault of all of us, even those of us, like me, who lost our jobs. How is it OUR fault, you ask? Because none of us had the foresight that this was happening, or what the consequences would be long-term. America has been caught with its pants down. And we are suffering now for it. What is the answer to losing jobs? I want to know what you think, because I genuinely don’t have a firm answer to solve the problem.

You created “us” when you attacked our flag.

It’s my flag too, not just yours. I hate seeing our flag desecrated by those overseas or by my fellow Americans. If you remember, though, in your very first claim above, you said that I “attacked your freedom of speech.” No one should have their freedom of speech attacked. It is an American right.

We may agree that desecrating the flag is not a good thing, that it angers and saddens us. But we don’t have the right in America to tell someone they can’t desecrate the flag, or the Cross, or to display the swastika. It’s a right we all have, and we should honor it–not the bad behavior, but the right of our fellow citizens to behave that way.

You created “us” when you confused women’s rights with feminism.

Agreed. Women’s rights are not the same as feminism. One of my greatest complaints of some feminists is that they moved away from winning equal rights for women and seemed to make the women’s movement a war between the sexes. Some of them also appeared to denigrate the choices some women made to live traditional lives. This has wrecked some havoc, especially as both men and women, in a contest of wills, have sometimes abandoned children without anyone to care for them. I know of what I speak, because I’ve raised a grandchild for his entire life,  and he’s now 23 years old. Some people use the language of feminism to justify bad behaviors.

I still honor women, and I still claim to be a feminist. It is a hard thing to see my ten sisters (yep, ten!) and daughter, my nieces and mother–and even the candidate of my choice this year–be discounted, condescended to and obstructed in reaching their full potential as leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, soldiers, athletes and equal citizens under the law. That kind of bigotry should not be tolerated, especially in a public setting and not in our leaders. It should not be tolerated in a presidential candidate, such as you have tolerated and sometimes even celebrated in the now president-elect.

We should all fight for the rights of all Americans to make their own choices. It’s a lie that there isn’t enough for all of us, both genders, to have a rich and rewarding life. Women’s roles must change because women have for too long been second class citizens. Men are there to help women achieve their potential, and so are women there to help men achieve their’s while caring for their children together. We need each other, both sexes, to make America great and new as we move forward.

You created “us” when you began to emasculate men.

I actually believe that men don’t have it easy these days. Maybe I believe this only because I’m male, or because I’m middle-aged, or because I’m white. But I also believe that men make it harder on themselves when they have a preconceived notion about what a “man” is: either an asshole or a coward.

I’ll bet you can think of male role models who are something else other than these two extremes, men whose behavior and character are elevating and transforming. Perhaps these role models are your minister or pastor. Perhaps they are political leaders who are strong but kind. Perhaps you’re thinking that Jesus is this kind of role model.

Too many women hold to the same asshole-coward lie about manhood just as many men do. There is a place for men in the great and new America that we see on the horizon and that we are speeding towards. The world only spins forward. There’s no going back. And in my experience, masculinity is just as fluid and diverse and amazing as femininity is.

You created “us” when you decided to make our children soft.

We all cringe when someone, especially someone we don’t know, disciplines their child in public in a way that offends us. In extreme cases, we are all required to step in and even involve the law (which is the last resort, in my view), to protect children from harm.

That is a tough decision to make. And I agree that the laws are not clear and getting involved in the “system” can be harrowing, and not always the right choice. There is a risk that all of us will make our children “soft” when we fail to properly parent with what is commonly known as “tough love.”

It seems that many if not most of us aren’t raising our children anymore. But that isn’t just a Liberal / Democratic flaw. We’re all in the same boat. We distract our children with televisions and smart phones, movies and play dates. And then we drop them off at school and get mad at their teachers for not socializing them. Why should they? We can’t even socialize our own children anymore. Why do we expect their teachers to be able to?

Okay. You’ve identified the problem, or at best a symptom of a problem, but what’s the solution? Really . . . what is a real solution to that problem? Who makes a child “soft”?

You created “us” when you decided to vote for progressive ideals.

I make no apology for my progressive ideals. (And thank you for calling them “ideals” and not something else that makes them sound less worthy.) The same could be said for “conservative” ideals. When I’m thinking clearly and generously, I believe we need both progressive and conservative ideals in order for the country to work. It’s called dialogue. And compromise. It means checking one set of ideals with the other so that one doesn’t become a runaway train.

I have a Conservative in me, and I’ll bet you have a Liberal in you. It just depends on what the issue happens to be. No one “created” you but yourself, but you make a good point that one side of the conversation in extreme is not good for the nation. It takes two to tango. And it’s also true that two heads are better than one. Progressive ideals and conservative ideals are both valuable and needed. They keep the country moving forward towards greatness and provide a new vision of the way things can be. Either side can become radical or reactionary–extremes of something good. Let’s not do that!

You created “us” when you attacked our way of life.

Maybe the divisions between someone like you and someone like me isn’t about values, most of which I suspect as Americans we share. Maybe the lifestyle that you feel is being attacked has more do do with our differing entitlements. We all have them, on both sides of the political divide.

What do I mean by entitlements?

  • that we get retirement at age 65
  • that we have unfettered gun ownership
  • that we get socialized medicine
  • that our children “turn out” without parenting them
  • that when we get a toothache we can go to the ER
  • that a volunter military will fight our wars so that we don’t have to have a draft
  • that public schools be free
  • that we can have vouchers so that we don’t have to pay for public schools
  • that we can drive big ass trucks and cars off the job that guzzle gas
  • that our work NOT interfere with our time off
  • that we get tax deductions for our mortgage payments
  • that ranchers and farmers get government subsidies

We even feel entitled not to have to wait in line . . . anywhere. But mostly we all feel entitled to have everything we want, when we want it.

Lately, especially since 9/11 and the Great Recession, we haven’t gotten what we thought we deserved and we are pretty darn mad about it. Because we still felt entitled to these things, we started to look for someone to blame for our misery. We are having a national temper tantrum. Many of us spent ourselves into oblivion. We didn’t pay our bills. Visa off the charts! We lost our “lifestyle.” We can’t blame our parents since our parents are continually bailing us out financially (and making us “soft,” as you put it), but we can blame someone else who we don’t really know but who exists somewhere out there in Americaland without a face or an actual name. They’re just part of a group that unwise leaders and commentators on cable TV and even some of those in our Christian churches start pointing fingers at.

Your candidate shamelessly exploited these entitlements that we all have and made promises that he would make it all “great again.”

But great again for whom? Certainly not for the scapegoats that he keeps pointing to unfairly. And this is the real bummer: he’s not going to make it great for you either.

Mr. Trump is not going to tell us that we have to sacrifice for the good of the country. He’s going to tell us that we can have it all back, and that it wasn’t our fault that we overspent and didn’t pay our bills, that America is a mess, right now. He’s going to tell us what a very dark part of all us wants to believe. Because we’re afraid of what the alternative is: we will have to question what we are really entitled to in this country.

Donald Trump has lied to you. He’s lied to all of us. That’s just what he does. He even lies about things that he doesn’t have to lie about. He isn’t going to give you what you want. He can’t even remember now what he promised to do because he’s now changing his mind as fast as it takes for him to send a Tweet.

You created “us” when you decided to let our government get out of control.

Where were you when the government was getting “out of control”? You were there too. You were voting (or not voting) for government officials who were getting us into bogus wars, bailing out the banks, not bailing you out adequately from your debts and on and on and . . . on.

Since we live in a nation where people get to vote, we all get the government we deserve. The government that “got out of hand,” as you put it was a government chosen by you and me and exploited by you and me when we declared bankruptcy, collected Social Security, or couldn’t pay our bill at the emergency room because we chose not to have health insurance. But, keep in mind it’s also the “out of control government” that kept us safe from terrorist attacks, paved the roads so that we could safely get to grandmother’s house for Christmas day, paid for our children’s education, and tried to tamp down spiraling health care costs.

“You” created “us” the silent majority. And we became fed up and we pushed back and spoke up.

It’s a terrible thing to feel as though your voice doesn’t count. To feel as though you’ve been silenced. I feel your pain. I live in a very red state, the reddest of the red by some measures, and every time I feel like I am going to be represented in Congress by someone who shares my values (and perhaps more important, my entitlements), the Republican party changes the boundaries of my congressional district to exclude what I call “progressives” like me–what you are calling Liberals / Democrats.

See, my vote didn’t seem to count. I felt silenced, just as you do. It’s a terrible thing.

I’m glad you’ve finally spoken up and voted. But the reasons you’ve given for coming out and voting as a group for Trump are based on what you think I did to you. I made you do this. I made you do that. I created you. Really? You didn’t create yourself? You didn’t have any choices? Certainly you have more self-worth than to believe that you are my victim.

When I feel “fed up,” as you put it, I can usually only identify the force that I’m pushing against. I can’t see through my rage. When I am only reacting I make some major blunders, blunders that I can’t see because I’m too busy trying to make sure that everyone knows that it’s not my fault. None of it is my fault. I was “created” by forces over which I had no control. So . . . I lash out.

Big mistake. I have injured many of my family members by being reactionary to forces real but most often imagined while making sure I appear blameless and a victim of others. I have also injured my community and my country when I have lashed out with anger, self-righteousness and a stubborn refusal to see how I am implicated in the problems of my own life.

. . . And we did it with ballots, not bullets.

So this is your last comment, and it is one that horrifies me because I never thought I would say this to a fellow American:

“Thank you for voting instead of picking up one of your guns and shooting me to death. I am grateful that you aren’t roaming the streets with firearms, pointing them at my children and at my place of work, at schools and policemen, churches and hospitals. Thank you.”

If I thought that Donald Trump could take away your pain, could make America great again–whatever that may mean to you–I would probably quietly sign off here and go about my little life as one whose candidate just didn’t win, darn it!

But I don’t believe the president-elect even hears you let alone will be able to help you. He isn’t what you think he is. He has deceived you; he has deceived all of us, and even now, more than a month after election night he is already backtracking on the promises he made.

Why? Because he doesn’t see you. He doesn’t hear you. He sees only a reflection of himself in the crowds and crowds of people reacting to their own and each other’s anger, to their rage . . . and, I will admit here, to their grief.

He doesn’t hear or see you, friend. But you know what? I hear you, and I see you. You’re my co-workers, my doctor, the guy that grows my food, the unemployed factory worker, the student trying to pay of her student loans. And I want the best part of you to be a part of the America I love and hope for. Just as, I think, you would like the best part of me to be a part of the America you love and hope for.

There is a place for the blood sport of an election year; each of us will fight hard to see our candidate win. But the election is now over. I concede: Hillary Clinton will not be our next president.

Now we need to look into each other’s eyes and smile (or sometimes grumble) at each other, and find common solutions to all of our problems. We need to give up our entitlements whether they be unlimited access to firearms, or unlimited reproductive rights, or unlimited right to destroy the air and the land, or unearned respect just because we have more education, more money or more religion. We don’t get our cookies and milk from the government, or from a single man or woman who holds the office of President of the United States. We get our cookies and milk, our friendship and our love, our self-worth and our voice from each other.

We have much more in common than either of us think. For one thing we both now feel discounted thoroughly by the other. Where do we go from here? What do our values tell us we should do? Is America at its end because its citizens couldn’t look longingly and compassionately into the eyes of each other?

I hear you, and I see you.

I hope you can hear and see me as well.

#

© Copyright, David G. Pace, 2016

Fred George, Ash Wednesday, Dusk, 9/12/01, New-York Historical Society, Gift of Here is New York

 

Keep in Check your Cherished Opinions, then . . .

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Check Your Cherished Opinions

Stand Up and Be Counted

Compromise for the Benefit of the Collective

On the eve of the 2016 election, I am at rest. No more campaigning. No more snappy rejoinders on Facebook. No more snark. And while I believe there is a time to play the game of electoral politics–as bloody as it can get–it’s time now to put down the sword.

I’m not proud of all of my public communications–and by that I mean my expressions in newspapers, conversations and social media. I am guilty of baiting at times. I am too-easily triggered: flooded with emotions that touch on my cherished opinions.

What do I mean by “cherished opinions”? They are opinions that are no longer scrutinized, examined, or re-evaluated. As with most if not all people, I have my fair share of cherished opinions. A brief sampling right now:

  • All Republicans are misinformed at best and dangerous at worst;
  • Religious fundamentalists should not be given any kind of public platform (or tax breaks);
  • Aspirin every day is going to keep me from having a heart attack.

Actually, that last item is a good example of how cherished opinions are formed. I don’t remember what article it was on the internet. I think it was multiple medical opinions over the course of several years. But at one point, I read one particular article that suggested that an aspirin a day was going to help me avoid heart trouble later.

To me, taking one pill a day as quick as you please was a no-brainer, especially consdering that it was going to help me by such and such a percentage. So forming that opinion was great, because it required a dang easy behavior. But what has happened since that notable time, other than the fact that I’ve bought and consumed a LOT of aspirin, is that I don’t think about the truth behind the claim anymore. I just do it.

Well, guess what? Nothing . . . nothing is so simple as a cherished opinion, including aspirin as a pancea for heart trouble. In fact, taking aspirin every day has its downside. And, more pernicious than that, I’m the kind of guy (lazy) that might very quickly use my quotidian dosage of aspirin as an excuse not to do anything else for my heart, even though statistically (and congenitally) I’m prone to suffer if not die from it.

Me: I don’t have to worry about my drinking and lack of exercise.

The Universe: Why is that?

Me: I take aspirin!

My call to action here at the end of the 2016 electoral cycle and all of the knuckleheadery that’s been going on is this:

Check your Cherished Opinions

Stand Up and Be Counted

Compromise for the Benefit of the Collective

About three weeks out from Nov. 8, 2016, when the fatigue from campaign anxiety was setting in (what David Plouffe calls “bed-wetting“), my wife Cheryl and I posted a blog on Medium to try to get people to talk, in a non-partisan way, about what it means to vote one’s conscience:  “how do we distinguish the inspired voice of conscience from the prejudicial voice of our cherished but perhaps unsupported opinions?”

We got very few responses. One in fact, as of Nov. 7, 2016 . . . a very thoughtful one, I might add. But most people seemed to be finished with all of the craziness of email scandals and Trump rallies. They didn’t want to think or comment on any of it. Not in an abstract, philosophical way. We were all too busy swinging our swords.

So, to suggest something about opinion-making and opinion-checking, morality is a philosophy of equality. Therefore, to vote one’s conscience is to cast a vote for the good of one’s self and everyone else. No one should tell you not to vote your conscience. It’s not only the right thing to do but, for moral individuals, it’s the only thing you can do when you enter the voting booth. That includes strategically voting (I’m going to vote for this guy, even though I despise him, so that that candidate over there has less of a chance of winning.)

That said, here’s another claim: Conscience evolves with greater understanding. Cheryl and I used the example of slavery in America and how, arguably, the consicence of Americans did indeed evolve, which led to emancipation. And we conclude with this: “The voice of cherished opinion is a smug one. But the voice of conscience is arguably a very uncomfortable one. Conscience at work has an overwhelming tendency, it seems, to undermine certainty and to require courage.”

That’s what I mean by keeping in check one’s cherished opinions.

 

Stand Up and Be Counted

I used to teach public speaking at Westminer College in Salt Lake City, and I taught it as a civics course for a couple of reasons: first, speeches (i.e., communications or presentations) that we are familiar with as a collective tend to be based on issues of political and social concern; and, second, it doesn’t seem that we even teach civics anymore in high school or college.

My agenda with my students was this: in a democracy, not only do you have the right to express your opinion, you have the obligation to express it. For the good of The Republic. We need everyone’s voice. But we also need conscientious warrants for the arguments we make, along with a sense of the ebb and flow, the dialectic, to reference Aristotle, the author of The Rhetoric, (“the art of persuasion”) and arguably the father of communication studies.

As an aside, with the raucous surge of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump voters this year, it has occurred to me that the election cycle has been especially turbulent because there are so many newcomers to the game. The learning curve of making democracy is hard-wired, I believe, but there is a learning curve. Not that everyone who supports either of these sample candidates are neophytes, or are “uninitiated,” but many, I posit, were / are. We need to welcome them, but we also need mentor what it means to form rather than adopt opinions, especially when there’s so much at stake, as in an election.

I don’t believe it is in our best interests to eliminate any of the voices of the American people, even when they are pointed and harsh. As a country, we have our laws. For example, “fighting words” are not allowed. And our free speech tradition will always err on the side of a big tent approach to public discourse. Rightly so.

To conclude this section: we need everyone’s voice to make democracy–as messy as it is–work.

So stand up . . . and be counted. Vote.

 

Compromise for the Benefit of the Collective

If we believe that we can be blinded by our own cherished opinions, and if we believe that we have (along with everyone else) not only the right but the obligation to speak our mind, then we are more likely to see compromise, not as a four-letter word, but as the way things actually work in our world . . . arguably, the only way that things work sustainably in our world.

Our expressions of opinion, the reasons and warrants we give for those opinions, the data or “facts” that we present to support why we have come to a conclusion–the candidate we endorse and campaign for–they become a moral act. And a moral act is a sustainable act, a communal act, and social act in the best sense of the word “social.”

In this scenario of forming opinions consicously, our conscience, as evolving as it is, remains intact. We may disagree with each other, but we understand again, using the dialectical model of Aristotle, that real world behaviors–behaviors that take place in commerce, in family arrangements, in law and in politics–they are a product and a glorification if you will, of communicative acts.

This back-and-forth dynamic is how a good conversation happens, if you think about it. You and your friend get together over coffee or drinks, or a small family group gathers over dinner, and you discuss, you explore, you laugh and you ponder. You express and you hold back. You counter. You add more information, hopefully truthful information, inflected by your good will for those with whom you are communicating.

When a decision is required, you make that decision, but you do it together. You can’t do it alone. You can’t do it by edict. (I mean you can, but eventually those you’ve imposed your edict on are going to, rightly, rebel. Then we really do have a revolution, and another problem since people get hurt pretty badly in a revolution.)

So this is what I’ve been thinking of late, in between taking my aspirin every day; finding out that red wine is good for me . . . but wait . . . now it’s not; that free trade is essential to “lifting all boats” and being a bridge to the new century . . . but, wait a minute, not when it categorically risks decimating our work force; that war is always regrettable, but sometimes will happen, particularly in defense of the homeland (but not for the purposes of exploitative globalization, or getting more oil).

I’ve been thinking about this and I realize that after tomorrow–whoever wins the presidency, the Senate, the House . . . the school board, we have our work cut out for us. And you know what? It will actually be work that is gratifying. So that the next time the election season cycles back in, we’ll be more prepared for it. We’ll be more humane. We’ll be more helpful. And we will better thrive.

Check your Cherished Opinions

Stand Up and Be Counted

Compromise for the Benefit of the Collective

crisis

 

 

“Dream House” Returns to Provo as part of the Book Festival

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Pioneer Book and the Utah Humanities Book Festival present a reading and book signing in Provo of “Dream House on Golan Drive.”

I’ve given one reading in Provo. It was last winter at the Provo Public Library at Academy Square where I was flattered to have Library Director Gene Nelson show up along with so many of my friends and family.

I’m thrilled to be part of an independent bookstore on Center Street of the city I grew up in, and which is the setting for this novel.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Utah Humanities Book Festival, it is Utah’s signature literary event, currently celebrating its 19th year. As a program officer at Utah Humanities, I was the Director of the festival for two years in 2010 and 2011 and was able to help it make the statewide festival that it is today.

Check out all of the amazing authors, including one my favorites Jonathan Lethem, who will be in the Beehive State in September/October this year.

And please join us Oct. 6, 2016 at 5:30 pm at Pioneer Book, 450 West Center Street in Provo.
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DREAM HOUSE at the SLC Sunstone Symposium, July 27-30, 2016

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I’ve had a long history with the Sunstone Symposium where I’ve spoken often on everything from theater and Mormonism to temple marriages; and from self-hating Mormons to a reading of my play “Hydrogen Bond” with TheatreWorks West. (You can hear podcasts of some of these appearances here.)

I’ve also had some essays published in the magazine, on topics ranging from the persistence of polygamy to a personal essay about returning to my missionary stomping grounds in New England as a “post-Mormon.”

This year’s event is at the Olpin Union Center on the University of Utah campus, and I’m pleased to report that I’ve been invited to do a book signing with authors JUDITH FREEMAN, author of “Red Water” and (most recently) the memoir of growing up in Ogden, UT, “The Latter Days”; and author DUANE JENNINGS, (“Stumbling Blocks and Stepping-Stones: Including Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Children of God in the LDS Plan of Salvation”)

This year’s symposium theme is

Many Mormonisms and the Mormon Movement

“The restoration tradition is a large spectrum of complicated and diverse groups, theologies, cultures, and practices. We invite proposals exploring the different traditions within and around Mormonism, celebrating a rich history and a global church. What does Mormonism mean to you? How do you claim your Mormon roots?”

Join us outside the Symposium bookstore where Benchmark Books will be vending “Dream House on Golan Drive.” I would be happy to personalize your copy. 

Sunstone

 

 

“As you sit by the pool or under a shade tree this summer, why not pick up a book written by one of our own? These University of Utah grads and profs have written about everything from their personal experience with dating to the history of tequila.”

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Geez…maybe I should renew my membership to UofU Alumni.

Thanks to Continuum Magazine for listing DREAM HOUSE ON GOLAN DRIVE as a “good summer read.”

Proud to be a graduate of the University of Utah (Class of 94, MA) and to be listed along with Paul Ketzle and his debut novel THE LATE MATTHEW BROWN.

READ MORE here

 

“Dream House” Reading & Book Signing in Ogden, Apr. 19, 2016

weberWeber State University (WSU) in Ogden, Utah will host me at reading / book signing April 19 at 6:00 pm at the university library (Hetzel-Hoellein Room)

Peterson twoWeber State is where the godfather of Mormon Lit Levi S. Petersen worked for many years as a professor of English. Dream House on Golan Drive is not unlike Petersen’s magnum opus The Backslider, as one reviewer ofDream House, Eric Samuelsen, has noted: both are about two young Mormon men, one rural (in the case of Backslider) and one suburban/urban (in the case of Dream House). Both are pretty addled by the community and religion of their childhood, and both get a surprising visit by an otherworldly being at the end of both.

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The only creative writing class I ever took was at WSU (then known as Weber State College) from Petersen. I had already graduated from college, but took the drive up three times a week (or was it two?) from Provo to Ogden. Later, as editor of Dialogue magazine, he first accepted then declined my first short story “American Trinity,” the genesis of the narrator in Dream House on Golan Drive. I won’t go into the little drama around that flip flop (perhaps another time), but eventually, when the new editor Kristine Haglund came on board, “Trinity” saw the light of day and eventually won two awards, including one from Dialogue as their best short story of 2011.

In the now-defunct journal Irreantum, where I was a sections editor for 5 years, my byline appeared over a review of Peterson’s excellent autobiography published by the University of Utah Press. You can read that here (scroll down to page 233).

I feel privileged to visit as a guest reader at the same institution where Peterson lived and worked before retiring to Oregon. I would like to think Peterson, who is elderly now, would be proud.