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Ageism ... or common sense

03 WhiteHouseFlagNot much is certain about the 2020 presidential race except one cold hard fact.

No matter who is elected—Joe Biden or Donald Trump, he will be the oldest man ever sent to the United States White House by American voters. At 77 and 74 respectively, neither Biden nor Trump is anywhere near spring chicken status, and that triggers more than a few thoughts about the aging of our nation’s leadership.

Are some of our leaders simply too old to serve—or as Trump sometimes put it, “losing it?”—or are we being ageist even to suggest that? Ronald Reagan was 77 when he left the White House, and more than one observer hinted that he had cognitive issues even then.

Here are the facts. We have age floors to run for political office—25 for the U.S. House, 30 for the U.S. Senate, and 35 for President.

We have no ceilings, however, and here are the ages of some of our other decision makers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 80. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is 78. The oldest House member is Don Young of Alaska, 87, and seeking his 25th term in Congress. Senator Diane Feinstein is also 87 and has 3 years left in her current term. Senator Strom Thurman died at 100 and was by many accounts well into la-la land when he met his maker.

State and local officials around the nation skew a bit younger. Governor Roy Cooper is a spritely 63, and Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin practically a teenager at 47.

Leaders of other nations are generally younger than ours as well. France’s President is 42; Austria’s 34; North Korea 36; and New
Zealand 40.

To what do we attribute our aging leadership, our gerontocracy, defined as a state, society, or group governed by old people?

Writing in Politico, Timothy Noah pictures a 3-legged stool.

Our leaders age in place. Many factors contribute to this. The power of incumbency keeps them in their jobs. The seniority system in Congress and state legislators guarantee that the longer one stays in office, the more powerful he/she is likely to become. And, over the last decade, extreme gerrymandering—North Carolina is ground zero of this phenomenon—makes the vast majority of seats in both Congress and state legislatures the absolute property of one party or the other. A small percentage of seats are actually partisanly competitive.

American voters are old. Pundits expound on the youth vote, which is certainly important, but reality is that Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, love to vote and do so reliably. This gives them clout that other demographics can only envy until they start voting in similar numbers.

And, finally, our nation itself is old. We like to think of ourselves as a youthful nation on the world stage, but in truth we are the world’s oldest existing democracy. According to Noah, no nation in the world has an older written Constitution than ours, and ours has become a tad creaky. In this election season, our Electoral College is front and center as a Constitutional relic that needs attention unless we want to continue seating Presidents who do not prevail in the popular vote. Other provisions, enacted by white property-owning men in the late 1700s, could stand another look as well.

So, do we establish mandatory retirement ages for our electeds? North Carolina has set 72 for our state judges, and we have lost many capable people and retained some we should not. The same could be true for Presidents, members of Congress, state legislators and others. There is a lot to be said for the wisdom that comes with age and the institutional memory that comes with service.

Once we install the next elderly white man into the White House, national, state, and local efforts to decrease gerontocracy should focus on the structures and processes that have allowed it to develop and take hold, not on the individuals blessed with longevity.

Returning to E Pluribus Unum

05 diverse group circleE Pluribus Unum or “Out of many, one” is the United States’ traditional motto. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world that such a slogan would even be proposed, let alone embraced. It has produced a society that is unique in human experience. Our national personality has morphed through the years as different cultures have been adopted and embraced the American experience.

I see this in our cuisine. What shall we have tonight, Asian, Italian, Greek, Sushi, barbecue? All these are similar yet somewhat different from what you would get in the places of origin. Each is influenced by the different cultures that make up the American personality. I think they are better than the originals, and the same can be said about Americans. As a nation, I genuinely believe that we are the most accepting, generous and engaged people on earth.

So how did we get to the point where we now find ourselves? A place where friends, families and portions of society are against one another. How do we get back to E Pluribus Unum? We could start with our Constitution. In the beginning, the Preamble lays out for us the intent of this steadfast document. “We, the people of the United States of America, in order to form a more perfect union...”

Notice it says “a more perfect union,” not a perfect union. The Framers thought we should work towards perfection. They knew we had flaws, some of them severe. The challenge was to strive towards perfection, something they knew was unattainable but still worthy of the effort.

Maybe the most important word is “union.” Defined, a union is an act of joining or being joined. It’s “a club, society, or association formed by people with a common interest.”

Today we have people, agencies and organizations pitted against one another with what appears to be an all-or-nothing mentality. We seem to have lost our ability to empathize or compromise with opposing views. Worse is the willingness to vilify and demonize anyone who disagrees with us. The lack of civility in public discourse is stunning—the use of deception and falsehoods to silence someone who dares to think differently borders on being immoral. Is the willingness to resort to violence for the same purpose dangerous to individuals and the larger society? This will lead to catastrophe if we don’t get it under control. So how do we stop this level of intolerance?

First, we must accept the fact that no one is the center of the universe. While we all have value, no one is inherently more valuable than anyone else. At the same time, as the Declaration of Independence states, “We are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We should be steadfast in defending those rights as much for others as we do for ourselves.

Secondly, we should not just be willing to listen to other opinions; we must make an effort to truly understand them. This is tricky because we often mistake opinions for facts — especially our own. It is essential sometimes to let go of your views and listen to the other person's concerns. Emotions have to be vented before moving on to an honest discussion.

If you can bring yourself to consider the other person's point of view with an open mind and heart, you will begin to develop understanding. You may conclude that some things you thought were real and genuine are not. You may convince the other person that they were not 100% correct. You may even conclude that the things that have divided us are more about misunderstanding than they are about cross-purposes. At this point, we may even begin to drift back to E Pluribus Unum.

This is why I am running for Cumberland County’s District 43rd Seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives. Communication is crucial, and if we talk with one another and treat each other with respect and fairness, there is no situation or problem we cannot collectively overcome. I have decades of public service experience and a verifiable record of working and communicating with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to solve problems and find workable solutions for my constituents. I will continue to do so as your representative in District 43 of the NC House.

We have lots of work to do for Cumberland County and North Carolina. Recovering the economy, providing affordable health care, educating our children, protecting the environment, expanding broadband to rural areas, protecting our citizens and providing for our needy and vulnerable. These are my priorities, and they are all within our grasp. E Pluribus Unum. May God make it so.

Rage rules

03 we the people gavel constitutionIn less than 2 weeks, the U.S. presidential election and down-ballot races will be history. While it might take a while to sort out the top race, at some point either Joe Biden or Donald Trump will be declared the victor, and the United States will move forward just as we have done every year since 1792. Supporters of the winner will be elated and vindicated, and supporters of the losing candidate will be sad. There is a possibility, some observers say a probability, of violence in some parts of the nation no matter which candidate prevails.

At some point, though, there will be acceptance. The president and other newly-electeds will take up the business of governance, and the rest of us will return to our lives, such as they are during COVID.

America is going to have a monumental hangover, however, not from substances but from our own anger. Somehow politics in our country has gone from wanting the best for America, even though we might differ about how to achieve that, to anger, even rage, at each other. Both sides now call names and demean the other, although it has to be said that Donald Trump has turned rage driven name calling into a new and despicable art form. So intense is our national anger that political scholars have taken to studying and writing about it, as does Steven W. Webster in “American Rage: How Anger Shapes Our Politics.”
In his book, Webster posits that “identity politics,” mixing partisan feelings with ethnic, cultural and ideological leanings are pitting “us” against “them,” with very little concept of “we.” He also addresses the rise of “niche” media, which allow us to listen only to positions we agree with in our own little echo chambers. Ditto for the development of the internet and other technologies that allow for little policing of fact and facilitate the spread of not only false but wacky and dangerous ideas, like QAnon.

Anger operates within and motivates both Democrats and Republicans. Writing for University of Virginia Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball,

Webster says that in 2008, 43% of Democrats and 46% of Republicans reported anger toward the other party’s candidate (Barack Obama and John McCain respectively). By 2016, those numbers had zoomed to 89% of Democrats reporting anger at Donald Trump and 90% of Republicans expressing anger at Hillary Clinton. God only knows what those numbers are now with election day 2020 looming.

The question becomes, at least for me, is anger any way to choose the leader of our nation who also remains the leader of the free world?
Politicians, of course, stoke anger because it drives out turnout of their bases, and Donald Trump is the undisputed master. But we all pay the cost for that. The price is trust in government, down from 73% in 1958 to a woeful 17% in 2019, according to Webster. Government at any level is far from perfect, but it does act, at least theoretically, on behalf of the “we.” If “we” do not trust it even 20%, how can we ever keep support for programs like Medicare and Social Security that benefit millions of Americans? How can we hold our nation and our democracy together if we regularly hurl metaphorical—and sometimes actual—stones at each other?

Both Trump and Biden can contribute to the problem, but neither of them can solve it. We, the American people, have got to want our democracy enough to work for it. We have to quit allowing ourselves to be played by anger and to think not just of “me and mine” but “we and ours.”

This feels like the 11th hour.

Nothing has happened in 2020

In the “Game of Thrones” when a character wanted to scare people he would say “Winter is coming.” But before the Night King shows up in 2020, Halloween is coming. This column will grace the streets and bird cage bottoms the week before Halloween. As this year has been an abyss of boredom, it is only fitting to ponder what the endgame of 2020 might be able to bring us in the way of excitement and constitutional crisis. So far 2020 has been a mundane and forgettable experience. Nothing new has happened. Everyone has gotten along swimmingly.

The lions have lain down with the lambs without tufts of bloody wool or even rancor in the air. As our old French pal Voltaire’s character Candide said: “This is the best of all possible worlds.” Voltaire may have been funning us just a little bit with this philosophy, but he wrote in French so who knows? The French also think that Jerry Lewis was the world’s greatest comic genius and that snails are good to eat. You might want to take French philosophy with a grain of salt. If you have some salt left over you can spread it on the snails in your back yard, fry them up in garlic and wine and have them for supper. But I digress.

Back to Halloween, which next to Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for anyone who is keeping score. Mr. Google opines that Halloween began once upon a long time ago as a Celtic festival called Samhain. Samhain is many centuries old, coming to us courtesy of the Druids. Samhain was the event horizon between the end of summer and beginning of the winter. Fun time was over and survival time was about to begin. The living and the dead bumped up against each other on Samhain. Ghosts came back to mess with the living. In order to prevent the ghosts from harming the living, the Celts turned to their priests, the Druids. Like Jerry Falwell Jr. and other religious leaders, the Druids were in charge of telling the common folks what they should do to stay on the good side of the Gods.

It turned out the best way to keep ghosts at bay was to have a party. The Druids built bonfires to offer sacrifices to the Gods. The common folks dressed up in animal skins and costumes to boogie down around the sacred bonfires. They partied like it was 100 B.C. As smart as the Druids were, they weren’t smart enough to keep the Romans out. Around 43 A.D. the Romans ruled the Celts. No one ever accused Romans of missing the opportunity to have a party. The Romans combined Samhain with a couple of their festivals: Feralia which honored dead Romans and Pomona which honored apples and fruit trees. Mr. Google says Pomona is the source of the custom of bobbing for apples at Halloween.

The Catholic church in 1000 A.D. declared November 1 and 2 as All Saint’s Day and All Souls’ Day to remember the dead. The proximity of the date of All Souls’ Day with Samhain was a means of getting rid of the Celt’s holiday but replacing it with a Vatican approved holiday doing about the same thing. The Medieval peasants partied down dressing as angels, saints and devils hanging out around bonfires. The night before All Saint’s day was called All-Hallows which eventually became our old friend Halloween. As you sit at home socially distancing this Halloween without trick or treaters or COVID-19 knocking at your door, kindly give a thought to the Druids who made this all possible.

Now back to the premise of this written waste of your time. What comes at the end of 2020 that might wake us from our stupor of this most bland of years? There is an election coming up shortly that might be somewhat interesting. Recently our Dear Leader had a rally on the South Lawn of the White House with about 400 of his friends, the good people of BLEXIT. The BLEXIT fans may have had some of their travel expenses paid to attend the rally. Nothing says we are behind you like paid supporters. The White House rally was a striking super spreader festival of red hats and turquoise shirts. It appears as a result of this rally, that Dear Leader has wrapped up the Garden Gnome vote as the attendees all dressed like Garden Gnomes. In a close Presidential election, the Garden Gnome vote could be decisive. Like Hillary Clinton ignoring the voters of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in 2016, Joe Biden’s failure to court Garden Gnomes could prove fatal to his Presidential ambitions. There is no known Gnomes for Joe PAC supporting the Biden campaign. Biden has given short shrift to the Gnome vote.

The Garden Gnomes are a mysterious cohort of voters. No one knows why there is a G in their tribal name of Gnomes. Wouldn’t a Garden Nome without a G smell as sweet? Our favorite antelope the Gnu also has a silent G. A gnat without its G would still be as irritating as a Nat. If The Rona is causing you to gnash your teeth at night from stress, wouldn’t your teeth wear down at the same rate if you dropped the G and just nashed your teeth? What’s up with that? Why does the English language waste all these G’s? Ponder this Mr. English Professor: Nome, Alaska has gotten along perfectly well without a G in its name since it was founded in 1901.

As Tiny Tim almost said, “A Merry Samhain to us all; may the Druids bless us, every one!”

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Pictured: The author postulates that POTUS may have secured the Garden Gnome vote since attendees at a recent rally were dressed as gnomes.

School Board candidates advocate for better communications and more money

02 open our schoolsThe first segment of the 2020 Virtual Candidates Forums has aired, and the second segment featuring Cumberland County Commissioner candidates concluded Oct. 20. We can only hope that the second Commissioner's Forum provides more insights and substance than the first. With very few exceptions, the six school board candidates that participated (two did not) for the Cumberland County Board of Education segment were extremely unimpressive, lacking substance and details.

The 2020 Virtual Candidate Forum introduces candidates to the community so voters can evaluate their talent, intelligence, desire and capabilities to be responsible public servants and successfully move our community forward. Regretfully, if you are a parent or guardian with children in the public school system, once you have viewed the candidates' forum, you will probably consider moving out of the county, advocating for school education vouchers, or scrambling to enroll your child in a private, Christian or charter school program.

My disappointments with the segment were many. However, there were two that struck me as most conspicuous and egregious. First, the emphasis many candidates placed on the need for more funding and financial resources from the state and county. It was like their sole solution to a more responsive and effective school system was "more money!"

More money seemed to be the answer and overall panacea for all the ills, woes and challenges facing the CCS. Crazy! I acknowledge the current school board had to spend a lot of their financial resources dealing with the COVID-19 situation. Yet, with approximately $13 million in reserve remaining, I hardly think anyone believes they can spend their way out of a steadily declining school system.

Secondly, and the most disturbing to me personally, Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Dr. Marvin Connelly was never mentioned by any of the candidates during their interviews. The word "superintendent" was never spoken or even referenced in any context. How could this be? For decades Cumberland County has prided itself on the talent and leadership qualities of our school system superintendent. With Dr. Marvin Connelly, we have one of the best administrators with over a quarter of a century of proven success in North Carolina public education. School Board candidates did not even mention his name or indicate their willingness to work with him to support the school system's successful management. Several years ago, Dr. Connelly came to Cumberland County from Wake County, one of the state's largest school systems. The school board hired Connelly for his experience and expertise in managing large school systems. It is disturbing that no candidate recognized his contributions, accomplishments, leadership abilities, or indicated their enthusiasm and willingness to work with him and other board members to produce and secure the best possible education for the children of Cumberland County. Extremely disappointing.

Yet, many of the candidates spoke openly of the importance and need for working together in harmony by having more productive and effective communications. Again, never mentioning the school superintendent. In my opinion, a very glaring omission for anyone serious about seeking a board position. You be the judge. Go directly to the 2020 Virtual Candidates Forum at https://vimeo.com/467489706 or log on 24/7 to any one of the websites hosted by the sponsors: Piedmont Natural Gas, The Fayetteville Observer, Longleaf Pine Association of Realtors, the Home Builders Association of Fayetteville, Greater Fayetteville Chamber, and Up & Coming Weekly community newspaper.

Do this today. It is vitally important. Open Our School signs are popping up all over the county. There is a critical message here. Parents and guardians want to know who the people are looking out for their children's best interests. They want competent and responsible leaders. They want people who will reopen the schools to minimize and avoid the risk of raising our next generation of children intellectually deficient and socially ill-prepared to meet real-world challenges.

Parents, guardians and teachers alike want intelligent nonpartisan education leaders who understand the consequences of humanity's harsh realities. These realities crush ignorant, uneducated and culturally disadvantaged children without empathy in as they are helpless while trying to survive in a competitive, ruthless environment. With fifty thousand Cumberland County student lives at stake, an unqualified, inept and politically charged board of education will be engaged in a high-risk gamble using our children and future generations' lives as table stakes. It's a sucker's bet we cannot afford to make. We must know beyond a shadow of doubt in whose capable hands we are entrusting our childrens' education.

The following week's forum will feature North Carolina legislative races, and the last segment will include statewide offices, according to Henry Tyson, chairman of the Greater Fayetteville Chamber's governmental affairs committee. Forum segments are currently online. The questions presented to the candidates during the forums were provided by the Government Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, the Legislative Committees of the Longleaf Pine Association of Realtors and Homebuilders Association of Fayetteville.

Get involved. Vote! Someone said, "…. the threat of losing our democracy and American freedoms is only one generation away." Well, folks, that generation is starting kindergarten in 2020. Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

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