By Chad Nance, Photos by Carissa Joines
“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”
― Henry David Thoreau
“I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”
― President George Washington
Anger at Donald Trump and the people who have enabled his rising to a position he should never have had has now simply turned to sadness. This is my last 3rd Shift column and I have no intention of wasting too many words on the Republican nominee. His vile hatred and twisted rhetoric have no real place in a campaign to be President of the greatest nation ever to grace the planet Earth. We are simply better than this. By this point we have already seen Trump’s raw and putrid id on full and frantic display. His attacks on women, Muslims, Latinos, African Americans, a free press, traditional American values, and his blinding narcissism were well known before his sexually criminal attitudes toward women were put on full display on Friday, October 7th. This is clearly a weird political/historical moment when the Winston-Salem Journal, who have long supported Republican candidates, endorsed for President a guy I’ve been stoned with.
What makes me sad are the people, the Americans, who support this repugnant human being. Many of them are our neighbors, our friends, and our relatives. What slashes the heart with sadness is that a blind and unreasonable hatred of Hillary Clinton, nurtured by some of the most craven and skilled liars on the planet (including Vladimir Putin), has led our fellow Americans to betray every single value and tradition they once held dear. The real mental whiplash to this election cycle has been seeing folks who brought us up to believe in America, believe in ourselves, and to put a measure of faith in our ability to overcome all challenges, have completely rejected everything they taught us. From respect for American leaders (even respect for their fellow Republicans,) American institutions, and American values, we are seeing a group of people willing to watch it all burn simply because they haven’t gotten their way on every issue in public life and politics. They don’t even seem to respect themselves anymore. Folks who have lived honorable and prosperous lives have willfully chosen to wallow in the most sour and regressive of conspiracy theories and dour, fact-less predictions. Successful people in the most economically successful nation willfully choosing to turn away from this triumphant if challenging reality and hide themselves away in a manufactured darkness.
It’s as if Johnny Rotten decided to run for President of the United States and everyone’s mom and dad got on the bandwagon while the kids sat back, told their folks to turn down their stereo and marvel at how we came to this reversal. That is what saddens me most about this election cycle. People who should know better- people who raised us to be better- have completely given up on the American experiment and have decided that if it can’t be their way then it all must burn and all must suffer. We’ve lost something as a people in 2016. Dignity- and now the bull is in the China shop, black is white, and the rules have been thrown out the window. It is heartbreaking and I, for one, hope that after November 8th a real healing can begin.
“You don’t have to be a husband or a father to say that’s not right. You just have to be a decent human being.”
President Barack Obama
And Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program
In the last days of January 2017, America will say goodbye to President Barack Obama and his beautiful family after eight years. Years where political forces in this country did the best they could to marginalize, demonize (literally), and make sure that America’s first African American President would be an abject failure. The good news it that they failed and the man has served two terms, accomplished a great deal in spite of blindly angry opposition and obstruction and will leave the office with more dignity than anyone who will enter it. In the case of Hillary Clinton it will be because of a combination of her own poor decisions and the withering attacks from the angry narcissist (see above). President Obama, however, will make that last ride on Marine One a man justified. The rest of America should be happy for him while mourning the fact that his Presidency will be also be a great lost opportunity at American greatness because of partisan politics and racial hatred. It is that simple and sad.
Make no mistake, however, President Obama is not a sad man and I, for one, look forward to seeing what great things he accomplishes out of office. Tuesday night in Greensboro, NC our President was energized, charming, funny, and wise- exactly what we all long for in a leader.
My first experience with our President was in 2006 at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Richmond, Virginia. He was then a United States Senator from Illinois with a buzz around him following an amazing speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention where he had the kind of moment that signals greater things in the future. The dinner was the usual collection of political hacks, party faithful, and personal injury attorneys that one sees at those kind of party functions. Mayor of Richmond and the first African American Governor Douglas Wilder headlined the event, but it was Senator Obama that stole the show. Then he was young, still had hair that wasn’t mostly gray, and gave off an aura of cool and thoughtful professionalism. There was a hunger as well. A sense of destiny and ambition permeated the man and bled over into a crowd eager for some sunshine following the dark days of the Bush 43 administration. The economy had already started to show signs of the coming collapse and jobs had already become difficult to come by. A half decade of war and destruction had taken its toll and the American people, along with this fairly cynical political reporter, were looking for a real change. We were looking for some sign of hope in the relative darkness and Senator Obama clearly had the goods.
It wasn’t long after that I found myself standing in a courtyard in front of the former Confederate White House and watched then Governor of Virginia Tim Kaine be the first major figure in the Democratic Party to get behind the man. That was also the day that I got a glimpse of just how gifted a leader Barack Obama could be when another journalist asked him if he realized that he was standing on the steps of the former Confederate White House. The moment was not lost on America’s first viable African American candidate. Senator Obama stood there next to his regal wife and launched in twenty impromptu minutes on the relevance of the moment along with a sobering acknowledgement that there remains much work to do. Perhaps he foresaw the ugly explosion of base racism that would follow his election. An election that stirred up many of the grossest impulses in the American character including the bizarre defense of racists that somehow calling them out for their racism was bigoted in and of itself. In pointing out their ugliness somehow racial division itself was created. It is utter nonsense, but then many despicable things people have accepted as some sort of moron gospel are complete and ridiculous horseshit.
President Obama has always seem to coast above this kind of noxious and self-defeating garbage. Perhaps that is another reason some folks hate the President (and themselves and our country) so much. Even Tuesday when his speech was interrupted by petulant white trash punks he rose above telling the crowd, “Don’t boo- vote.”
I spent time during the 2008 primary following the President around. Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Illinois, and then the DNC Convention in Denver. Truth be told, however, the entire scene in Colorado was too much for my fragile melon. (I may have been “enhanced” by some tea lousy with mushrooms put in there by an old Yippie. Another story for another time.) I ended up watching Senator Obama accept the nomination sitting in the bar of the Jerome Hotel in Aspen nursing a Guinness and prune juice with a Wild Turkey back. What followed was a trip through the canyons of Colorado and the deserts of New Mexico down into a little Mexican town where I interviewed a doctor who ran a clandestine Ibogaine clinic for American drug addicts. There were combat vehicles parked in the desert along the border and Mexican vigilantes prowling the streets crammed into pick-up trucks and armed for Armageddon. I didn’t catch back up to the campaign until October and by then Senator McCain had betrayed his own, formerly solid principles and nominated a VP candidate who was the dopey John the Baptist to today’s Republican nightmare.
Back to sanity and President Obama’s first inauguration. I took two of my sons so they could see how power gets handed off in America… without violence or false claims of “rigged elections”. Of course that cool, clear day in the Washington, DC sunshine full of hope and possibility was plunged into a national nightmare of false accusations, overt racism, and the kind of madness that leads people to accuse their President of being a secret, Muslim, communist, Nazi, anti-colonialist who was born in Kenya and is actually a demon from the flaming depths of Hell. Yeah… that is exactly what much of the dufus set was putting out there. America had a President that we could be proud of. A whip smart, thoughtful, and reasonable leader and we crapped all over the guy in a mad scramble to the bottom. Meanwhile- through the outright racism of 2009 and the hard fought, but dignified Presidential election of 2012, the President stayed with us. He didn’t waiver. The man had to make compromises that did not always fit my way of looking at the world, but that is what true leadership is. Not dictating to the people and petulantly demanding a single path, but finding ways for the people to bring all of their talents, passions, and gumption to the table. Unfortunately, America bricked at this great moment of national opportunity. A whole segment of the electorate decided that it was their narrow way or screw everyone else. An economic recovery that should have been far more dynamic was hamstrung by an opposition party in the legislature who openly stated that they intended to make President Obama’s time in office an abject failure. A party who literally rooted for and planned the failure of their own country in a misguided attempt to swoop in later and clean up the mess thus ensuring a grip on power that would last into the next generation. There are still people who desperately want us to fail as a nation because their vision for America is not the current reality of the great country. I’m preaching again. Back to the Greensboro rally.
Wait. One more thing before I turn our attentions: It is important to remember that while there have been some real missteps in foreign policy, privacy, and American criminal justice, the Obama Administration did pull of us back from a terrible brink brought on by eight years of befuddled buffoonery that nearly tanked us. Bin Laden remains dead as a stump, the American automobile industry was saved, employment numbers are better than before the recession, and it does appear that it will only be a few months before a fork is driven into the heart of ISIS provided the Russians and their pal Assaad get out of the way long enough to allow that to happen. Millions of Americans who had no kind of health coverage now can go to the doctor when they need to and dignity was returned to the White House no matter how hard some people worked to make sure that the black guy sitting in the Oval was reviled and despised. Like or not, President Obama is a winner and it may be a long time before anything resembling the cool dignity of the President and his family walk those hallowed halls again. Watching the President in Greensboro just hammered that fact home time and again. The days of cool are over.
The Greensboro Rally will be my last spin around the merry-go-round. I’m retiring from journalism to pursue art once more. It’s been twelve, straight years of slugging it out and the gas in the tank is getting fairly low. This rally was the way to go, though. My beautiful and smarter than me partner Carissa and I sat in our mini-van and giggled while what looked like twelve year-old Secret Service agents took a bomb sniffing dog around the car and another guy poked around under our hood. “Do you remember what’s back there?” Carissa asked when she popped the trunk. “I have no clue,” I said, but the beers we’d brought were safe in a lunch box between the captains chairs in the back. She gave a furtive look back at the beers. “Don’t worry, sweetie,” I said. “They’re looking for something that starts with a ‘B’ and it ain’t beer.”
We pre-gamed in the press parking for a little while- tailgating for democracy and looking at poll numbers on our cell phones. For a moment I had a flashback to sitting all alone in a downtown coffee shop in Harrisburg Pennsylvania waiting to meet Senator Obama’s local field co-ordinator. It is a lonely, vagabond business covering a Presidential campaign. You’re always surrounded by a roiling throng, yet it is easy to feel as isolated as a man in the middle of a desert. No one talks to one another, they talk in each other’s direction and despair always seems to be a breath away.
Greensboro was not like this at all. These days I am in a stable, loving relationship. I’ve given up most of my worst vices (while holding on to the fun ones) and really leaned into being a father and a business owner. The Obama days are winding down and I’m at the end of this particular path. It’s a good feeling. Feels like winning.
The crowd at the amphitheater seemed to have a similar idea. What I saw was not a focused display of political viciousness. Not at all. The mood in Greensboro was celebratory. The mood was joy. No anger, no resentment- simply joy. Even before the speakers took the stage the people were dancing, laughing, and the kids from the local colleges were showing their youth through occasional outbursts of legitimate school spirit. UNCG, A&T, and of course, the Bennett Belles (Bennett Belles vote!) Smiles from ear to ear, children playing, and diverse groups of folks taking selfies together. That is what it supposed to be in America. People of all stripes, shapes, and outlooks getting together to celebrate our own uniqueness. A uniqueness that is only bolstered by our diversity.
By the time the President hit the stage the amphitheater was his. In fact, I was surprised that the moment he took the stage and the crowd responded I felt on the verge of tears. I don’t care who you are, what god you serve, or political party you identify with- if you don’t get a charge out of seeing the President of the United States step on stage to thunderous applause you don’t really understand what it means to be an American. I got the same charge seeing George W. Bush as I do watching President Obama take the stage. Like it or not, for good or ill this is our President. Maybe I’ve just spent too much time studying history and watching “West Wing”, but I am proud of how we do our thing . How power is transferred in a peaceful, orderly way and how we (until recently) have always managed to conduct our public business like something resembling adults.
President Obama took the house. Outside of the bustling press pit it was like being at a small town picnic with the mayor talking to a constituency he knows personally and intimately. Rather than tear into Donald Trump, the President seemed genuinely disturbed and amused. As he ticked off fact after fact regarding Trump’s bizarre and ugly positions and statements about minorities, women, and his opponent, former Sec State Hillary Clinton, the man seemed a little sad and darkly amused. “Come on people,” he kept saying, referring to the ridiculous accusations of the Birther set. The President talked with genuine admiration and affection about Secretary Clinton from her work for his administration, arguing for the raid to take out Bin Laden to a memo he received from her after putting out an administration wide call for economic policy suggestions. “I mean, it was twelve pages single spaced,” the President said. “With footnotes!”
“Sounds like Leslie Knope is running,” Carissa whispered into my ear.
When the President wrapped it up, the crowd surged forward to meet the man. To shake the President’s hand. Moments were created for individual Americans that they will dine out on and repeat for years to come. We had all just seen what a President of the United States should look like. Some of our own people, with dark and pessimistic intentions will spend the next few years trying to tear down this country and our next President. They will continue to try to convince us that we are a nation in decline on every front, even as we grow stronger. My last message as a columnist and a journalist is this- don’t let them. Please do all you can to resist this darkness and remember who we are. America, like all nations, has a complicated and turbulent history. We have sinned for sure, but we have also risen to moments of epic greatness and, as of yet, we’ve never collapsed, only faltered. Don’t let the bastards get you down. We’ve got this.
Now that’s it. That’s how I go out. I appreciate and love all of you who have taken the time over the years to listen to me rage, ruminate, and find the occasional measure of justice and magic in my rhetorical flights of fancy and occasional brutal attack. Thank you for your time and attention. Thank you for loving this country, our state, and our city as much I do. You’ll see me around. Don’t be afraid to say hello.
Time for this monkey man to sign off. Just hold this truth to be self evident. America is already great. No one but you can change that. We’ll meet again. So long for now.