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.

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© Copyright, David G. Pace, 2016

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

 

Interstate 80: A Serialized Travelogue: Part 21

Part 21



There is a frontiersman of sorts by the name of Wayne Baker who actually lives not far from where we are now, speeding towards Laramie. He’s one of the “Greatest Generation,” we’re told. In fact he’s happy to tell you that in so many words in a 275-page, self-published paperback book with so many color photos (160) that it probably cost him forty bucks to print each one. Above the Clouds: The Story of an American Entrepreneur is a first-person account of a guy who flew bombing missions over Germany during World War II, got wealthy scrapping metal out of abandoned mines and bush piloted for decades, ferrying his customers and large family back and forth over the prairies and mountains of the expansive West. In his current home in Star Valley, Wyoming he has built eleven bridges alone across the Salt River, usually, he explains, with just himself and an unnamed assistant.

But of late, Baker is most famous for founding Freedom Arms and the 454 Casull revolver, considered for many years the most powerful handgun in the world. The gun is indeed a work of art with an optional ivory micarta grip and specialty, limited editions with medallions and engraved octagonal barrels. The guns come in a walnut case along with a Freedom Arms gold-and-silver plated belt buckle. Baker’s jingoistic concept of freedom which permeates his self-talk, stems from a unique blend of American individualism, Western defiance and fringe Mormon ideology that animates much of the tea party movement in the intermountain West. Reading through his book, or watching him at age eighty-four hold court which I had to endure one afternoon in 2008 as a co-guest in the house of my just-older sister, one is struck with Baker’s self-serving notion of freedom. The word seems defined by him as doing whatever the hell he wants. “Freedom” is little more than a buzz word to justify his calcified way of life…and to sell guns in the process.

Despite this self-promotion, it is hard not to take pleasure in following the adventures of Wayne Baker set out in his autobiographical narrative with about as much self-reflection as a hero in a Louis L’Amour novel. There is the hardscrabble “Great American Childhood” (title of Chapter 2) growing up in wind-swept Wyoming with a father who lost everything in the Depression. There is his time in the military during World War II over Munich when he and his team accidently dropped a bomb prematurely and ended up, by chance, destroying a hidden Nazi munitions center. This propelled them into hero-dom. His time in the military is obviously the apex of his admittedly raucous adventures because it is the opening salvo in his book which sports his baby-faced, uniformed portrait on the cover backed by an American flag. Yes, freedom all around.

This is a man who at about 5” 6” is sent back from the war on the GI Bill, marries a softball-playing beauty of Swiss descent and swaggers about the West facing down Union “thugs” in his coal mining business, mavericking around the dry, nascent airfields of the Mountain West, routinely landing on highways, heroically fixing stuck landing gear mid-flight in his Cessna 210 and generally making friends with other Freedom-loving Americans like Slim Pickins, Roy Rogers and Art Linkletter, the latter of whom has a cameo in the book, and blurbs it on the back cover as the story of “one of the most exciting adventures in my personal life.”

And so it came to pass that shortly after the 2008 presidential election which ended the nightmare of the conjoined Cowboy Bush/Cheney, that C. and I were invited down to my sister Karolla’s place two days after Christmas. We didn’t know that Thom, her husband, had a cousin, Wayne, who with his wife Mariam would be trailing in after us, to join us for a post-holiday lunch. But there they were, blowing in sideways from Tin Cup, Wyoming, Wayne rather pumped up with the “publication” of his autobiography, the latest catalogue of guns from Freedom Arms, and a huge chip on his shoulder that had to do with our nation’s first black president.

There we were, sitting in Spanish Fork, Utah, knee-to-knee with Wayne and the second sentence out of his mouth to two people he’d never before met (us) was something about the collapse of all things decent in our Country what with that “nigger President in the White House.” This was shocking, unprovoked, or so I thought at the time, and I had a visceral reaction to the “N” word.

“Hey there! Whoa! You can’t use that word!” I declaimed. But Wayne—one must hand it to the little squirt—was a worthy opponent that day to my objections. He said “Nigger President” again while his wife, in desperate need of a little make up, nodded in firm-lipped agreement. C. grabbed my knee. “You don’t know anything about me,” I said. “You can’t say that to me.” Then I rose and walked to the kitchen where my sister’s mouth remained open in equal surprise.

My heart was pounding. Where did this hostility come from? On election night I had watched on television in abject wonder and relief when Barack and Michelle walked out on the platform in Lincoln Park, Chicago for his acceptance speech, Oprah herself on the front row of the masses, looking up, beaming, and I thought to myself, “Oh my God. Someone’s going to shoot him.” That was the real America—black or bi-racial men with sudden power—perceived or real—get lynched—shot through the heart. How soon I’d forgotten, believing that now that Obama was ensconced in the White House, my fellow Americans from sea-to-shining-sea, would, if not breathe a sigh of relief, would perhaps grumble, yes, but they would accept it, and the great ship that is America would go steaming forward through the night, righted. Secured. Onward! I was very, very wrong.

Wayne finally quieted down, his Freedom Arms belt buckle tucked under his belly like a pie tin. For the sake of my sister and her husband and everyone else in the room—not to mention the memory of C.’s firm grip to my knee—I conversationally moved on. The only way out of this was through it, I realized. That was when Wayne handed me a copy of his book which I pretended to look at, and he continued promoting himself with his secret weapon—Mariam, the smiling softball player-turned-Wyoming-wife to a megalomaniac—nodding obliquely and in agreement with everything her husband said. I learned in that painful moment waiting for lunch to be served that he was a self-taught mining and bridge engineer. That he was a pilot, flying by the seat of his pants. That he was still pissed off with the home of the brave “sticking its nose into another country’s business” (e.g., Apartheid South Africa) and that he purposefully moved his business out of Idaho where he lived for much of his adult life and across the border into Freedom, Wyoming because of “the socialist, if not communistic” climate of the potato state, represented in the U.S. Senate by Frank Church. Egad. Was this guy for real?

Baker was real, in the flesh, sitting across from me all aglow in the backwash of the Greatest Generation, and C. and I were stuck, Derek fortunately lost downstairs with my nephew Chris and playing the guitar. Later, I remembered that Baker’s relocation hissy fit from Idaho to Wyoming was the way many of our mutual ancestors handled things when they felt that their “freedom” was being impinged on. Brother Baker’s and my own polygamous grandparents commonly “Lied for the Lord” by disavowing the practice of celestial marriage–a.k.a. polygamy–especially to the Feds. One way to keep ahead of the enemy was to run across state lines. Freedom, Wyoming was one of those polygamous settlements established in the 18th Century to keep law enforcement scrambling. When agents showed up in Freedom, Idaho our persecuted ancestors walked across the street to Freedom, Wyoming—and vice versa. This little maneuver lived on, apparently, for Baker and his Freedom Arms. The fact that Wyoming is considered by the State Business Tax Climate Index as “the most business-friendly tax system of any state,” with plenty of corporate welfare, was probably also a lure for our entrepreneurial Wayne Baker.

After the blessing on the food we lunched together. Baker now seemed a bit chastened by his earlier bombastic behavior. I actually found myself listening to him, with a kind of perverse curiosity if not sympathy. But ego of this kind seems to know no bounds, and as soon as the table was cleared he was presenting me with the latest catalogue of his…guns. Everyone knows that after Obama’s election to the Presidency, firearm sales and concealed weapons permits exploded throughout the country (no pun intended). It seems that Obama is the anti-2nd Amendment President, even though more restrictive gun laws were never high on his platform.

Let’s see. We have a newly-elected African-American president. Gun sales are booming. And Wayne Baker, founder of a company that created and markets a finely-turned handgun more powerful than the 44 Magnum, has just referred to Obama as a “Nigger President.” Oh, and now this pipsqueak is hawking his guns to anyone who will listen.

Oh my.

C., Derek and I leave. We kiss my sister goodbye. We civilly nod at Wayne and his Secret Weapon. I am carrying his glossy catalogue of guns along with a few late-delivered Christmas gifts from the family. Out we go and into the driveway. It’s bad enough, I suppose, that the car we are driving, and which now sits side-by-side with Baker’s gas guzzler is a hybrid, but it also sports, I’m reminded…an Obama/Biden bumper sticker.

I had forgotten about that. It seems that Mr. Baker in his shit-kickers and with his wife had rolled up, turned off their eight cylinders, only to be stared down by evidence of Dave and C.’s political proclivities.

On the way home, I am pissing and moaning which may surprise you, dear reader. Finally, C., her Yankee practicality finally emerging, says impatiently, “You want to get even with a jerk like that? You hit him in his wallet.”

“What do you mean?”

“Make sure his gun sales suffer.”

“Yeah, but he’s retired. He’s not the CEO or president anymore. That doesn’t seem fair.” Yet again, piss-and-vinegar Dave, stung by his powerlessness has gone to his wife to get her to fix it. No. Not just fix it, but make a decision about what to do so that I don’t have to take responsibility for it if it goes south.

“Fair?” she says with some mockery. Already my feelings are starting to get hurt. This is a game with which we are infinitely familiar. Her late father’s sensibility roars forth. Frank Daley, the man who always said, follow the money trail if you want to make things happen.

“Write his son,” she says. “Tell him what happened today with his father. Tell him you’re a writer. Tell him you’ll go to the press.”

Hmmm. This gets me thinking all the way back to Salt Lake, limping along in our Obama-imprinted Hybrid, the liberal media of NPR playing as background. The glory days of Obama’s win of the White House ends here. The enemy of our hope is the face of Wayne Baker, the cowboy constitutionalist of Star Valley, Wyoming.