On Trump and Confederate Statues

I haven’t had the urge to write much in a while. I write a lot for work and my drive to write in my spare time ebbs and flows. That said, the events of the past few days shook me back into action and this morning’s tweet storm was the icing on the cake.

In the event you missed it, Trump tweeted the following out this morning, seemingly doubling (maybe tripling?) down on his stance about civil war statues.

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Phew, there’s a lot to digest here.

Let’s start with the first tweet:

“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You…..”

There are so many problems with Trump’s overall view of these monuments. The first of which is the imagery that by removing them from town centers and public parks we’re essentially erasing our history. That’s not at all true. Just because a statue of Robert E. Lee isn’t adorning the center of a public park doesn’t omit a person from being able to read about the Civil War in a history book. It doesn’t erase the years of violence and stories of families being torn apart. It doesn’t undo what’s been done.

What it does do, is acknowledge that these statues and monuments represent a very dark and divisive time in our history. It acknowledges that the Confederacy was an affront to democracy. It acknowledges that memorializing Confederate generals in public places creates an uncomfortable and unwelcoming feeling towards those whose ancestors were bought and sold as commodities. Removing these statues and monuments shows that you understand those sentiments and that you want to help a country continue to heal. It shows you want to try and bridge an ever-growing divide.

While I support the removal of these statues from public places, I do believe there is a place for them in certain circumstances. I’ve visited Gettysburg and Antietam. I’ve seen the statues and memorials and think they deserve a place on those hallowed grounds where hundreds and thousands died. I’ve toured museums where they are used to educate us on the past. In these cases, I do believe that statues should remain, as stark reminders of what can become of our nation when we prioritize our differences over the many wonderful things that can bring us together.

As New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said back in May, “there is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it.”

“…can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! Also…”

In this statement, Trump is partially right. You cannot change history. But for that very reason, he is also wrong. If you can’t change history, then removing statues idolizing those who took up arms against our nation will not undo what’s already been done. Our Civil War is forever engrained in our past. It serves as a lesson, a reminder of where we’ve come from, what we died for, and what our country means.

Again, Trump is right. You can learn from history. Use Germany as an example. There are no statues of Hitler, Göring, or Himmler in city centers or public parks casting their shadows down upon ancestors of the men and women they murdered. There are memorials to the victims. There are reminders of what can happen when nationalist rhetoric is taken too far; when power lies unchecked.

Now, it is a fair assessment to acknowledge that many of our American heroes were slave owners. These men, who fought for freedom and democracy, were so very flawed. They fought for self-evident truths and the belief that all men are created equal, but those very notions only extended so far. Washington and Jefferson, who have monuments and colleges, and statues to their names were not perfect men. They may not be shining examples of everything good in America, but they deserve a distinction because they sacrificed to birth America. They are not perfect men, but they are not secessionists who raised armies and fought for their right to enslave an entire race. They may not have stood up against it during their time, but they didn’t tear this country apart trying to protect one of the worst atrocities of our time.

“the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

Of all Trump’s arguments, this one is by far the most idiotic. The vast majority of these statues and monuments are not particularly eye-catching. They are statues of old men on horses, worn down by time and weather. Many are forgettable and plain. But in their place could be works of wonder. There could be new, exciting artwork designed to inspire creativity and imagination. Or, a new era of monuments could emerge, celebrating individuals that represent what America stands for. In their place could be monuments to astronauts, scientists, fallen soldiers, and community activists. In their place could be statues of Sally Ride, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Pat Tillman, Carl Sagan, and more!

Out of darkness and sorrow, we can showcase the best we have to offer. We can simultaneously continue the process of healing and inspire the next generation of doers. It’s time to show future generations that we acknowledged our mistakes, and that we accepted the blame. It’s time to show them America isn’t perfect and that our past is dark and exclusive, but we learned from it. It’s time to show future generations that we did not stand idly by when change swept through. We embraced it, we welcomed it, and our country was made stronger because of it.

 

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End of the Line

Allow me a moment to wax nostalgic.

Four years ago, Maylie, Sacca, and I moved into an apartment under Rt. 1 in East Falls. Literally under Rt. 1. We were underpass people. The roof leaked. The pipes didn’t work. The hallway was so crooked you could roll a bottle from the front of the apartment to the back. The neighbors dog would randomly walk into our kitchen if we left the back door ajar. One day, the kitchen ceiling collapsed.

A year later, the three of us added Jerry and Feehery, and moved into a twin in Manayunk. We spent a year there before Maylie got married and we replaced him with Gov. We had a rule that if one pharmacist leaves, another must take his place. The house was perpetually dirty, even after we aggressively cleaned it. The walls crumbled. The floorboards were uneven. The pipes shook and banged. Our neighbor called the police on us because our cars were parked the wrong way while we were moving in. One morning we woke to find that the hot water heater had flooded our basement.

After two years, Feehery, Gov, Sacca and I moved four blocks to the West. Unlike the previous places, the house was immaculate. It was well insulated, structurally sound, and visually appealing in every sense. The place was great.

Now, one year later, tonight marks the end of the line. Tomorrow, we all go our separate ways.

It’s been a wild four years. Even with all the leaky pipes, crumbling walls, and collapsing ceilings, I know I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks to everyone who drunkenly crashed at our place, puked in our kitchen, spilled beer all over our living room, climbed and subsequently fell out of our backyard tree, took part in our Halloween Costume and Ugly Christmas Sweater competitions, bike race parties, and more.

It’s been a hell of a ride. Thanks for all the memories.

On Service

I’ve been thinking a lot about service lately.

As a result of the Women’s March, I took part in a postcard writing campaign with a few coworkers. Though the room was mostly filled with women (I was one of three guys), it was a group of like-minded people who came together as citizens, writing to our senators to enlighten them about what we care about most.

It was an exciting time, and I enjoyed reaching out about important issues; but, what struck me the most was what happened after the meeting. I was speaking to my co-worker, Rich, who had also joined me in the advocacy group when another female coworker (also involved in our advocacy group) walked by. She went past, stopped for a moment, and then came back. She hesitated for a moment before saying how cool it was that we were involved, and she thanked us.

It took a moment, but that struck me. I would argue I should thank them. My coworkers, the strong, independent firebrands, who, like so many kickass women in my life, aren’t backing down. It was inspiring to sit with them and join their cause.

A day later, I boarded a flight to Norfolk for a short business trip. I was lucky enough to be seated next to a young black kid, wearing his Navy dress, on his way to his first deployment on the USS Eisenhower. The kid, and I say kid because he couldn’t have been more than 19 years old, was nervous and excited. We exchanged pleasantries, and I wished him luck.

Sitting on the flight made me think, for the second time this week, about service to our country. Service can take many forms. It can be serving for jury duty or voting. It can be making your voice heard through marches or letter writing campaigns. It can be volunteering or serving our country in the Armed Forces.

Serving can take many forms, but the end result is generally the same: making our country a better place for ourselves and others.

I hold military service in high regard. I am surrounded by men and women who have served our country. My grandfather was a marine who fought at Guadalcanal. My father was a Navy man. And there are others. Army, Coast Guard, Air Force, you name it. For a while, and even occasionally to this day, I think about serving our country. My father, though, always encouraged me to look elsewhere. To seek a different life. He missed a lot of important moments and didn’t want me to do the same. But he and my mother have always encouraged me to serve in other ways. I joined the Boy Scouts, attaining the rank of Eagle Scout, where I was taught to do the most good, be a standout citizen and help others.

At some point along the way, I fell in love with politics. While many people hate everything about politics, I idealize all the good that can come from productive and responsible government. I have seen firsthand the things that we can accomplish when we work together. And I want to do that work.

For a long time, I thought I wanted to be the man behind a candidate, drafting speeches, creating messages, running campaigns. But that’s not the case anymore. Now, as I look at the state of our political systems, I see an opportunity for action. I want to follow the example of my family, friends, and mentors, and serve my country. I won’t wear a uniform, but I want to serve my neighborhood, my state and my country through productive and responsible representation.

I don’t know where this will go. I’m not sure what path I am on or where it will take me. But I know the time for sitting on the sidelines is over. Service takes many forms. I encourage you to stand up for what you believe in, call your senators, vote in elections, help the poor, provide a voice for the voiceless.

Democrat, Republican, Independent, Green Party or whatever else you might be, our country is a better place when we’re out there fighting for what we believe in.

It’s Morning in America, Again.

It’s morning in America, and I know that many of you, like me, were hoping for a different result. That’s just the way it goes I guess. I’ve been lucky in the sense that the first two presidential elections I voted in turned out the way I had hoped. It’s pretty rare to bat .1000. I am sure that I’ll suffer many more political heartaches over the next few decades. I’ve always loved politics, and part of that love is accepting the good and the bad aspects of how our system works.

It’s morning in America and 43 men have served as President, including Obama. They’ve been tall, short, skinny, fat, old, young, good and bad. We’ve survived them, and we’ll survive whoever comes next.

It’s morning in America, and we’re going to be okay. I mean it. I promise. Some of us may struggle to understand what happened last night. But we’re going to get through it because that’s what we do. This country has picked itself off the mat plenty of times, and we’re not going to stop now. Presidential elections are a double-edged sword. They’re a shining example of a peaceful power transition, but they inevitably leave many people disheartened at the future.

It’s morning in America, and it’s about how we face that future that makes us great. It’s about joining together, creating a coalition of people willing to forgo our differences and look ahead to our shared future. It’s about developing ways to guide our country along the right path. I can’t say what it will mean for you, but I can tell you what that means for me.

It’s morning again in America, and I’m going to make the most out of it. I’m going to try and be the best person that I can. I’m going to be active in my community. I’m going to donate money and time where it’s needed. I’m going to try and be the best son, boyfriend, brother, uncle, godfather, and friend that I possibly can. I am going to work really hard at understanding why people felt disenfranchised. I’m going to work at understanding differences and finding ways to work with people who I disagree with. I’m going to work at judging less and caring more.

I’m going to continue supporting those who need it. I’m going to use my words and actions to unite, not divide. I’m not going to change the world, but I’m going to work at changing my world.

It’s morning in America, and it might not be the outcome I wanted, but I’m not going to let that dishearten me from striving to create the world that I want to see.

Running: A Slow Man’s Tale of Falling in Love

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Now, this may come as a shock to many of you, but I’m not a natural athlete. Although I was gifted with very sleek and athletic frame (sarcasm), I don’t have the speed, coordination, or fluidity for most sports. I’m clunky and quite slow. Were someone to look at me playing slow pitch softball, or the occasional game of Thanksgiving football, the phrase “poetry in motion” uttered with a sarcastic overtone might come to mind.

With all that said, I’ve been toying with this idea to write about a physical activity that I’ve unexpectedly come to love: distance running.

Now before you start conjuring images of Roger Bannister or Steve Prefontaine, it’s important to note that what I consider “distance” many consider a pre-distance warm up. But almost 15 years ago, when I joined the track team (after quitting football during the first 10 minutes of my very first practice) I began as a sprinter. So anything more than about 30 seconds of cardio could equate to a marathon for yours truly.

I don’t generally end up writing about most of the things I come up with initially. Sometimes I come up with a topic that I want to write about and I sit down, ready to write, and nothing comes out. Other times, I’ll be minding my own business and an idea just presents itself to me.

That’s what happened a few weeks ago while I was out for a run on Forbidden Drive, a beautiful path that’s part of the Wissahickon Trail system. (One of the reasons I enjoy Forbidden Drive so much is that there are tons of people. Most of them have dogs, and generally, the only thing keeping me moving forward is the thought that if I keep going, I have a better shot and seeing more dogs.)

So there I was, racing along the path like a gazelle, or cheetah, or another graceful and speedy animal that I so obviously resemble, listening to The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”, trying to get through my 4-mile run. Passing me from the opposite direction was a middle-aged, bald man, sweat glistening on his dome, his shirt soaked, chugging along. Generally, if I’m not winded too much, or zoned out, I like to try and give everyone I pass a smile or a head nod. As I passed this guy, a kindred spirit trying to get through his run, I gave him brief smile and he responded with a raised fist, a sign of solidarity with my cause.

At that very moment, I knew I wanted to write about running and I how I fell so insanely and unexpectedly in love with it.

My first distance race was a half marathon. Go big or go home right? I had never run anything longer than 400 meters and there I was registering for 13.1 miles. I’m an idiot, but I’m a stubborn idiot, so when I get something in my head I stick with it, regardless of whether it makes any sense or not. I spent 3 months training for that race. It was the toughest physical challenge I’ve ever put myself through but when I finally crossed the finish line (way later than my roommates) I was more proud of myself than I had ever been.

I’ve run a few races since then. I’ve done Broad Street a few times, the Media 5 Miler twice, and in a little over a week from now, I’ll be running the Rocky Balboa 10 Miler.

I don’t know when it actually happened, but at some point, my view of running completely changed from being a functional (albeit annoying) form of exercise to something more. My entire mindset of the sport and the camaraderie that comes with it has shifted completely.

I love the days when I get to run after work, or on a weekend morning. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy the days I DON’T have a run scheduled, but there’s something fantastic about the feeling of just going out and putting in the miles. It’s a generally a good chunk of time for me, as I’m a very slow and steady runner, but my hope is that as I continue to train (and ideally live a healthier life than I have been) my pace quickens.

I love the fear of actually going out and running (especially on my longer runs) and the anticipation of the runners high I’ll get as wind down and stretch out. I love the sense of accomplishment when I hit a pace that I didn’t think I could hit (which is, again, very slow), or a distance that I was leery of ever reaching without taking a break to catch my breath.

I love the excitement of buying new running shoes, just to see them get worn down. I love the anticipation of a hot shower after a run in the cold. I love the subtle head nods, the raised fists, the smiles from other people out running on the Wissahickon Trail or Kelly Drive.

I love that feeling right before crossing the starting line of a race. I love running through city streets lined with people, there just to cheer us on. I love those crazy, random people who yell out my name when they see it on my bib, giving me just a little extra motivation to kick it into high gear (a relative term in my case). I love that final push and the amazing feeling of accomplishment when I finish a race.

Oh, and the beer. My goodness do I love a post-race beer.

I don’t think I’ll ever become particularly fast, but there’s something so accessible about running. Regardless of your time, you can always race against yourself. I’m my toughest enemy. I don’t race to beat other people (they’d essentially have to be walking at a brisk pace to give me a run for my money), but I can always challenge myself to improve on my own time. Beat my own PR. Do better than I did before. I love that feeling.

But most of all, I think I love that I found something I love.

Why ‘Star Trek’ Matters

Spoiler Alert: This isn’t a unique or new thought. But on the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, I thought it was appropriate to reiterate exactly why Star Trek is important (at least in my eyes).

Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica (pretty much anything with a “star” in the title) are generally identified as stuff nerdy people enjoy. But I’ve always enjoyed watching them. I think it’s safe to say I identify as a bit of a nerd, but nerds are cool now, so that paid off.

Beyond the normal “good vs. evil” storylines that I always enjoyed (even though as a kid I tended to like the bad guys more than the good, which, if you know me isn’t all that surprising), there is something else that makes Star Trek so significant.

You can read all about how Star Trek inspired many of the technological advances we frequently rely on today, but beyond the physical, Star Trek is so much more important.

Set hundreds and thousands of years in the future, Star Trek is a vision of promise and inclusion. It’s a dream that one day individuals of all races, religions, species, and colors can not only live together peacefully but explore distant worlds together as well. It’s about more than the things that divide us. It’s a progressive and significant look at a future where we aren’t keeping tabs on our differences to divide us but instead finding ways to incorporate those differences into the fabric that makes us stronger as a whole.

Star Trek is an ideal future where our collective need to learn and explore never dwindles, but leads us headstrong into the greatest scientific and exploratory phase of our existence, taking us to unimaginable new worlds.

When I go back and watch Star Trek today, I can’t help but think of our current political climate and how Star Date 2264 (or whenever Star Trek is set) is something we should be striving for.

Star Trek is set in a time where science is applauded and encouraged, not degraded and disregarded (Climate Change). It’s a time where species that look and act differently than we do are happily brought into the fold so that we as a collective group can better ourselves (There are no border walls being built). Instead of sealing our doors to groups who need our help, there are directives to always help when help is needed (refugees are supported, not shunned).

Now of course Star Trek is not set in a utopian galaxy. There is strife, chaos, evil. But it’s how the heroes respond to that evil, that strife, that chaos, that makes Star Trek what it is. With headstrong optimism, Captain Kirk and his crew stand up and do what is right, always. That’s a lesson that needs to be reiterated today. Always do what is right, even in the face of insurmountable odds.

Star Trek is a lot of things, but more than anything else, it’s a vision of hope. The heroes of Star Trek are doctors, scientists, linguists and engineers. Their mission is to explore “strange new worlds,” meet new citizens, help those in need, and stop evil-doers where they can.

It’s a bold vision of future, but one we should absolutely be striving for.

It’s Morning Again in America

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In 1984, the Reagan campaign released a television spot titled “Prouder, Stronger, Better”. The commercial, widely regarded as an overwhelming success, highlighted the many ways that life was significantly better for Americans under the leadership of Ronald Reagan.

As someone who’s spent years studying political communication, I’ve always been drawn to the success of this spot. Where other political advertisements have effectively used fear as a motivator (Bush’s Willie Horton, and Johnson’s Daisy), the Reagan campaign found significant success using optimism as an appeal to the American people.

Every four years, we welcome morning again in America. We have the wonderful opportunity to completely overhaul the leadership of this country for something better. While ideological divisiveness has significantly impacted how we see outcomes of elections, there is generally a time of optimism that the incoming leadership will improve upon the efforts of the predecessor.

But at this moment I do not look forward to November 8th, 2016 with a sense of excitement at the opportunities awaiting the American people. I look at it with fear and dread, knowing that we are a few million votes from electing the most dangerous man in the history of The United States of America. 

****This article, while a scathing indictment of Donald Trump, should not be viewed as a ringing endorsement of Hillary Clinton****

Many times throughout this miserable campaign, I’ve heard critics compare Donald Trump to that of a carnival barker more than a statesman. But that is an unfair indictment of carnival barkers.

Carnival barkers used their power of language and theatrics to sell passerbys into the wonders of traveling circuses. Donald Trump uses a less than impressive vocabulary to monger fear, bully opponents, and incite discord. The carnival barker deserves better.

Donald Trump is a man whose language and tact deem him unworthy to hold even the lowly position of carnival barker, and yet he’s one step away from the Presidency.

This is a man who uses language to divide and degrade, not include and inspire. This is a man who uses his soapbox to extoll his personal successes and the size of his penis, not fight for the welfare of those without a voice. This is a man who was born on third base and thought he hit a triple. He is a successful leader in the way I am a successful NBA player.

This is a man who, when upset at the way critics are talking about him, publically wishes he could physically harm them. This is a man who insults the physically disabled, belittles those who look differently than that of his grand vision of America, and expects women who are sexually harassed at work to simply find another job.

This is a man who doesn’t understand the implications of the Geneva Convention, or why we can’t just use our nuclear weapons when we feel like it. He’s a bully, a fraud, an egomaniacal madman, hell-bent on power. He is an uglier Emperor Palpatine with less political acumen.

This is a man who doesn’t want to focus on the daily responsibilities of the presidency, and would rather focus on how to “make America great again.” This is a man whose own campaign would rather perpetuate a lie than acknowledge plagiarism on a national stage. This is a man who degraded the discourse in American politics to an unrecognizable level.

This is a man who would destroy America.

Many Presidents and presidential candidates often expound on their first 100 days in office. Donald Trump wouldn’t need 100 days. He would undoubtedly destroy the foundation of America is much less time. This is a man who nearly imploded in a 10-day period where he:

  1. Insulted the family of a fallen American soldier
  2. Kicked a mother and baby out of his campaign rally
  3. Called his political opposition “the devil”
  4. Seemingly supported the challengers of both Paul Ryan and John McCain
  5. OH…and called on Russia to hack his opponents campaign (that’s casual espionage for those keeping track)

Donald Trump isn’t a great communicator or unifier. He won’t strengthen relationships at home or abroad. Way back when, before anyone was taking Donald Trump seriously, I was concerned at the notion Chris Christie would be seen as a bully by international leaders. Oh how foolish was I.

Chris Christie is like that annoying cousin who pokes fun at all the family members a little too much, but deep down you know he still loves you. Donald Trump is the rich, entitled high-schooler in every 90’s rom-com, except instead of driving a red sports car, he shows up in a tank with a “Build That Wall” sticker slapped on the side and his finger on the nukes.

America, this man cannot be President. He is as fit to be President as I am to coach the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics team.

Now I will stop short of criticizing the people who find Trump appealing. Every person is entitled to vote for whoever they want to. And if you find some sort of appeal in his platform/presentation, that’s entirely your right.

But it’s morning in America again. And we all have an opportunity to vote for candidates who will build upon the successes of the previous administration (whether they share the same beliefs or not) not destroy them to make a point. We can’t underestimate the lasting impacts of what this election will mean. The next president will likely have a chance to nominate 4 Supreme Court Justices. Those Justices will impact the Supreme Court decisions for the next few decades.

It’s morning in America again. It may not be our brightest morning. Our candidates may not inspire us in the ways others have done before. But it’s morning in America and we have a duty to make sure there are many more mornings to follow. We cannot let fear and aggression bully us into oblivion.

For generations, we’ve been a shining beacon of hope and prosperity seen throughout the world. We owe it to our ancestors and those who follow to uphold that torch of freedom. We owe it to everyone who has fought and sacrificed for our freedom and democracy to ensure that an idiot and a bully will never game the system to satisfy his personal lust for power.

It’s morning again in America. Let’s make it a good one.