Righteous Dominion

I Believe In A Conflicted America - July 4, 2020

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Upon celebrating the founding of our nation, and contemplating the intense debates and emotions that rage on to this day, I'm trying to reconcile my deep love for and belief in this great nation and its sacred founding principles of freedom with the many ways we still fall so far short. These are my thoughts on both the connection and conflict of countless people, backgrounds, and experiences that make up America and being an American. Most of all, this is my plea joined with the plea of so many others to find the decency in humanity and to truly achieve the ideals of freedom for all people that the Founders set out to achieve 244 years ago. These are stories about my jazz heroes, American heroes, I've heard before. But, I heard them anew these last few months as the streets of America erupted in riots and as the national dialog continues to melt down into a more and more broken and caustic mess. Yeah, there's stuff we need to talk about and fix. So, let's do. This is my attempt in all that to seek the hope for transformation and redemption that we as a people can achieve on the other side of all this. Regarding all those big, audacious ideas about liberty we declared all those years ago, we aren't there yet. But, we're working on it, and I believe we'll get there...for EVERYONE!

MilesCheck out these Facebook posts about Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and other Jazz Legends to get a good look at the conflicted America I love so much. The arbitrary government regulatory hammer of the cabaret card was used to beat down and push out Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. The abusive baton of New York cop literally beat Miles Davis's head bloody.


These stories about Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, and Miles Davis that (along with so many other stories) speak to the sacred thing we celebrate on July 4th: freedom, equality, and dignity for all. They are among the greatest artists America has offered to the human story, yet they were held down and pushed out by that very same nation they gave so much to. How can I love a nation that is capable of so many countless similar injustices, such contradictory defiance of the principles we are supposed to be founded on? This is me trying to sort that out.

I love and believe in this nation for what it aspires to be. I know it has betrayed its noble aspiration countless times. But, it has also stepped up and stepped toward toward those ideals countless times as well. With all our hypocrisy, cruelty, corruption, and apathy in tow, we’ve done perhaps more than any other nation in advancing our core principles of liberty, equality, and human dignity in the world. I love and believe in the hope and promise of liberty for all people this nation strives to stand for. I love it in spite of its frequent failure to keep that promise. I love and believe in the Constitution that was created to become a foundation and protector of these sacred ideals. That means protection against both cruel and tyrannical fellow man as well as cruel and tyrannical government. Gone wrong, government is a legalized and institutionalized extension of cruel and tyrannical fellow man. The Constitution is designed to protect us against that. I love and honor the endless list of brave souls that have paid an unbelievable price to protect all this. I thank the soldiers who died at Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Normandy, and every other sacred place our freedom was paid for with life and blood. I stood at Normandy and sobbed with gratitude and reverence for the sacrifice made there and shuddered at the thought of the terror that would have been without that sacrifice. While condemning the corrupt and abusive, I thank the countless decent and noble police, fire, and so many other public servants who choose again and again each day a life of service and giving to all the rest of us. Incidentally, some literally saved my whole neighborhood, my home, from burning to the ground just a week ago.

PoliceThat is the beauty and genius of our inspired Constitution, to build a free society of flawed and corruptible people with all the right checks and balances to protect us from the worst of ourselves, freeing us to choose to become the best of ourselves. A government can protect and serve. It can also oppress and destroy. This nation was built on the dream of a government that can purge, or at the very least protect itself against the endless human desire to control and abuse others. We clearly have a very long way to go. We’re still purging. Monk, Bird, and Mingus in this story were fighting back against one of the oldest and ugliest truths of human nature, something people are obviously still fighting back against to this day. They were held down, pushed out, and beat up because their race and their music were different, misunderstood, and despised by those in power. That ridiculous cabaret card was nothing more than a facade to use the regulatory hammer of government to control and oppress. If we must have a "license" or a proverbial "cabaret card" for every last little activity in our lives, then we have arrived at a dark place where we can do nothing without the explicit permission of the government. That's not freedom. That is a surrender of our free will. That is empowering the government to use that hammer whenever it wants to shut down and push out whatever and whoever it doesn't like. Just like they did to Bird, Monk, and Mingus. Miles Davis getting beat up by a cop between shows at Birdland in 1959 and thrown in jail with a bleeding head is yet another of the countless revolting examples of those in power abusing that power in order to reinforce their power by putting others "in their place." Appalling.

None of that should have happened. So much of what happens today shouldn’t happen. George Floyd shouldn’t have happened along with a long history of like abuses and needless deaths. Joe McCarthy shouldn’t have happened. The holocaust shouldn’t have happened. The countless lynching’s and race biased, unjustified incarcerations should never have happened. The systematic and institutional oppression and suppression of any people either because of race or any other label should never have happened. The persecution and driving out of my Mormon ancestors from Missouri and Illinois should never have happened. The abuse of Native Americans should never have happened. The racism that exists in the history of my Mormon culture, just as the racism of the rest of the country should never have happened. This nation was born in revolution against abuse of power that should never have happened. Yet, even in our birth, even in our sacred Constitution, we allowed slavery, one of the most appalling crimes against humanity, to survive. That should never have happened. Ironically, and yes, hypocritically, it did. There is no end to this list of stuff that should never have happened. So much atrocity throughout history should never have happened. But, it did, it does, and until we stop it, it will continue. The human capacity to treat fellow man with cruelty and oppression seems endless and is endlessly abhorrent to me. The drive to abuse power, position, authority, race, social status, or wealth to push others down is beyond repulsive.

Yes, all that sadly still exists. Yes, this nation has far to go. Yet, with total respect for, acknowledgement of, and demand for change for the endless grave injustices of our day, I’m grateful for how far we have come. More importantly, I’m deeply hopeful for where we can go from here, and how we can transcend what we are today. We ought to feel outrage and disgust toward any form of man’s inhumanity to man. Turning a blind eye to oppression of any kind is a disease. But, outrage and disgust without hope and vision for transformation and progress is in itself a disease that will consume, cripple, and crush us. We will only change for the better if we believe we can then act on that belief.

As flawed as it is, this nation is built on a foundation of the principles of human decency and liberty that should be held up as the greatest hope for a world and a nation struggling to be better. As we face up to what’s wrong and ugly with us, let's continue with a brightness of hope in the very messy process of raising up a nation to decency and liberty. And, let's see to it that that decency and liberty is available to all, just as the Founders intended. Yes, the Founders were flawed and contradictory. As a nation, we’ve been often toxically hypocritical in spite of our cry for liberty, justice, and equality from that day in 1776 when we were born. But, the Founders, with all their flaws and contradictions, saw something better of themselves and this new nation and laid the foundation for it. Liberty was not achieved on July 4, 1776, but the audacious call to begin the centuries long pursuit of it was. I believe in the Founder’s dream of us becoming the noble thing we often say we are, but obviously are not yet. The outcry against racism and call for change today is built on the back of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. The great steps forward in the 1960’s were built on the back of the endless blood spilt in the Civil War of the 1860’s. That war was fought on the back of the gauntlet thrown down by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution the century prior. Each phase on that progression fell far short of abolishing the evils of human cruelty. Each was fraught with contradiction, double standards, and hypocrisy on ALL sides of the debate. But, each phase advanced us as a people many more steps forward to the better, kinder, more decent people we should be and that the Founders believed we could be.

This is not brushing off hard stuff or not dealing with our many failings. It is dealing with hard stuff head on with stark honesty but not letting our failings hold us down to our worst selves, preventing us from becoming our best selves. Outrage alone against a thing, idea, person, or group that you think is wrong will not bring the goodness of change. Lasting, meaningful change comes when hearts are changed. Hearts are changed when people understand and respect each other and differing perspectives. If all we do is seek to prove the "absolute evil" of the "other" side, there will be no change. Change will happen when we seek to understand when the "other" side is right, and inspire transformation and redemption when they are wrong. Seeking mutual unforgiving condemnation and obliteration just digs us all into a deeper hole of hate, misunderstanding, and tribalism. This struggle will continue forward past this moment just as it has struggled forward past countless like moments since the beginning of humanity. Let’s just make sure we each individually find ourselves on the right and righteous side of our moment in the struggle.

Bird Monk MingusIf you are cruel, stop it. If you hate, stop it. If you oppress anyone, stop it. If you are racist, stop it. If you abuse your authority or position to harm anyone, stop it. If you set yourself above any person, race, religion, or creed, stop it. If you disregard or trample on anyone’s rights, liberty, or dignity, stop it. If you embrace your greed over love for fellow man, stop it. If you ignore those in need and your ability to help, stop it. If you build yourself up on the back of someone else’s suffering, stop it. If you tear people down instead of seeking to understand, stop it. If you ridicule and contend with hate and anger instead of seeking honest, constructive dialog, stop it. If you think you are smarter or more righteous than "the other side" and aren’t willing to imagine or respect another perspective, stop it. If you think "the other side" is a bunch of mindless idiots who couldn’t possibly have a reasonable reason for how they think, stop it. If you are latching onto false information or outright lies to advance an argument, stop it. If you are name calling or using personal attacks to advance your views, stop it. Every last one of us is something or does something flawed, hypocritical, cruel, or destructive to the joy and goodness that should define the world. We must each find that thing in ourselves that harms the brotherhood of mankind and we must stop it. These flaws don’t make us evil and they don’t make us the devil people want to think we are. It is the essence of the human struggle to have weaknesses and overcome them. People with good hearts can be anything on that toxic list yet overcome it, and become better, more decent people. THAT IS CALLED TRANSFORMATION AND REDEMPTION. We all need it. We all can have it. The Founder’s believed in it. I believe in it. If we as a people are together transformed and redeemed, there are no "bad guys" or "evil others." We are all brothers and sisters, family. We have a sacred obligation to lift each other and hope for the transformation not just of ourselves, but for the entire human family.

There are harsh accusations from all sides of the political spectrum these days denouncing with rage the evil of the so-called "horrible people" on the so-called "other side." There truly are evil people in this world and we must all be united in fighting against that. Normandy had to happen because Hitler happened and others were willing to follow and support his pure evil. But, most people aren’t pure evil. There are some things where we will fundamentally disagree. But, far more often than not, we have far more common ground than the noise of our day would imply. We see things differently, we emphasize different sides of the same argument, and although we often disagree adamantly on the best path forward, we want so many of the same things. Most of us want a better world for our families and our future generations. Most of us want prosperity to be available to all. Most of us sorrow deeply at poverty of all kinds: economic, emotional, spiritual, knowledge, and we want to eradicate it. Most of us want our young people to have a great education so their minds can burst open with their endless potential. Most of us want our natural world to be treated with decency and ensure that its goodness is preserved from the harm we can cause. Most of us don’t want our air nasty, our rivers polluted, our oceans thrashed, or our wilderness decimated. Most of us want violence, abuse, cruelty, apathy, and greed to be crushed. Most of us want human dignity to prevail. Most of us want freedom for all, access for all, inclusion for all, and to break down all barriers to each of as individuals and us a people to achieve our greatest potential.

So yes, much of our heated debate is not around the desired outcome of a better world. It is around the best means to achieve that. Some people are far too extreme and myopic in their chosen issue and demand rash and irrational solutions that bring dire new damage and consequences to other values, considerations, and overall quality of human life. I'm sure it would do wonders for the environment for all of us to give up all modern technology and energy use and go back to living in caves. But, I actually don't think there are enough caves or enough wild antelope on our respective savanna's to house and feed us all. That's an extreme and ridiculous example. But that's the point, extremism, of any kind, is ridiculous. On the one hand, some really extreme and irrational ideas are being taken serious at an alarming level these days. Some of them sound bizarrely like sending us all back to the cave. On the other hand, some people want government so limited so as to make it ineffective in its proper role. The Constitution was created to protect us from government getting to big or harmful. But, it was also created to make sure government has just enough authority to govern in a proper, reasonable, and balanced way. It is worth noting that our first attempt of self governance was the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution was born out of that document not giving government enough authority. So, the great American dream of self governance does not mean "no governance." Unfortunately, as time has progressed, we have come way too far the other direction to where the social hunger and inertia for more and more government threatens to destroy the original dream of a free people.

It is the search for the smart and rational middle where the great and necessary debate lies. It is the search for solutions of moderation and balance that is the toughest but most necessary. Is the answer to George Floyd and Miles Davis to get rid of cops? That's insanity. But, do we go to the other extreme and let our police morph into gestapo cops? Also insanity. I see people in local and national elected office screaming (literally) to blow up capitalism and the Constitution, and demand socialism even if it takes violence to get it. That's unhinged, that's dangerous, that's extremism. Those aren't the thoughtful, rational people I'm talking about finding common ground with. Besides, what do they really think they are going to get as a replacement? History is littered with the mayhem of nations that already tried that. See my thoughts on the fallacy of socialism and communism and the notion that the only thing worse that capitalism is pretty much everything else.

There is a massively difficult but hugely necessary debate about the proper role of government in all this. Some say that more and more government is the answer to all human problems. I adamantly disagree. Some say government has no role in any of this. That is also wrong. While I believe in the utmost restraint and caution in applying the heavy hand of government to "solve our problems," I believe there is a proper role. I just believe that government should not "solve stuff" at the expense of individual liberty or accountability. I believe that protection of individual liberties was core and essential to the Founder's intent. That protection of our liberties requires just enough government to be effective, but not so much so as to be oppressive or to rob of us our liberties.

But, to my point about common ground, the debate in there is not so much about the desired outcomes, it is about the right path to those outcomes. The caustic tone of our world today is much more focused on castigating and entire other half the country as mindless idiots because they are on the "wrong side" of this ridiculous false barrier we’ve built between ourselves. To my friends on "the left," I’ll dialogue passionately and with conviction all day long about the need to restrain the hand of government in our lives. But, in so doing, I will also respect the goodness you hope for in the world in spite our disagreement on how to achieve that and the degree government should play a role in it. As for the unhinged radicals, I'm not sure what conversation there is to be had there. But, most of my friends on the left aren't unhinged radicals. They're just good people wanting a better world and they have a different view than me about the amount of government it should take to get there.

The key is for we as a people to transform, to be better, more kind, more humane. Yes, government plays role in this. But, the greatest message and the greatest caution of July 4, 1776, and the Constitution that would follow is this: Government too big and government unchecked can become by far the greatest purveyor of cruelty, oppression, inequality, apathy, abuse of power, favoritism, and the destruction of human dignity and liberty. The historical examples of "more government" becoming "endless suffering" are endless. The Soviet Union. Nazi Germany. North Korea. Iran. Venezuela. Cuba. Greece. China. And sadly, all too often, too much government, or government unrestrained here in our very own "land of the free, home of the brave" has brought suffering instead of the liberty and human joy it is supposed to have brought. A bad cop’s knee on the neck of George Floyd is just one extreme and tragically fatal manifestation of way too much government without moral and righteous restraint. Whether it is widespread institutional government overreach and abuse, or the rouge actions of one person armed with the authority of government but unrestrained by proper moral and Constitutional bounds, too much government does harm, sometimes grave and catastrophic harm.

We need cops and we need to show the greatest respect and gratitude for the essential service the vast majority of them provide. They literally risk their lives for us. But, we also need cops, and anyone else we give government authority over our lives, to have that ethical grounding to do their job and to know the proper and moral bounds of their role and authority. Anyone with any kind of government authority needs to be held accountable when they exceed those proper and moral bounds. So, while demanding change of society and of government, use the utmost caution in the power we give government in bringing about the much-needed change. History has proven that too much or too powerful government becomes the greatest cause of human suffering. That danger of "too much government" is exactly what this nation, its Declaration of Liberty, and its Constitution was put forth to protect against. If we knew that all people who are given government authority could be absolutely pure and perfectly wise and all knowing in the use of their power, then maybe there wouldn't be so much to worry about with more government. But, the truth is, when given power, all people are prone to Unrighteous Dominion. Even if hearts stay pure, there is nobody with enough wisdom to fairly wield all that power without doing harm. Because government is people, and because people are flawed and corruptible, government must remain limited.

I don't like labels. But, for lack of a better label, I think it is obvious that I lean pretty conservative. I believe in limited government, limited regulation, and I hold individual liberty as sacred. I adamantly oppose anything that trades our individual freedom, agency, and accountability for government control such as socialism and communism. For me, taken too far, common good can become common bondage. See www.ChainsThatBind.org. I respect the proper role of government. As I keep saying, not enough government can be dangerous. But, I believe too much government can be even more dangerous. I grew up studying the Constitution as a sacred and inspired foundation meant to ensure freedom for all, especially freedom from the oppression that inevitably comes from too much government. So yes, I come at this from a "conservative" point of view. But, I am genuinely interested in both understanding AND respecting other points of view in directions both "left" and "right" of me. I think labels like "left/right" or "liberal/conservative" are severely flawed. There are too many issues with too much complexity to reduce us all to such simple binary buckets. I can’t stand the "us versus them" world those buckets have created. I can’t stand the polarization caused by a two party political system with each seeming to seek mutual annihilation. Those labels exist as a means to herd us all into one side of a ballot versus another. But, they are severely lacking in describing the soul of a nation. I’d much rather be having an in depth conversation about each issue with a respectful debate about the pros and cons of both sides. But, apparently that doesn’t work so well for binary politics.

That disclaimer about labels aside, I lean right. Yet, I listen to a lot of NPR. That is a news and media source that wants very much to believe it sits squarely in the unbiased middle. It doesn’t. It leans left and some of its edgier shows lean pretty far left. So, I certainly don’t always agree with the perspective I hear on NPR. But, I do genuinely want to hear what they say. I genuinely admire the professionalism and the deep coverage of many topics and issues that other media just doesn’t cover. I very much enjoy their coverage of music and the arts. Some moments I find myself rattling off a list of reasons I disagree with what I just heard. In more weak and flawed moments, I’ll even scream "Noooo!!!" at my radio. Other moments I find myself feeling a deep sense of empathy and respect for people with very different life experiences and very different perspectives. And, in some moments, I find myself in deep unity and solidarity with what I’m hearing, connecting very powerfully from both an intellectual and emotional place. NPR calls them driveway moments and I’ve had countless of them. Statistically, the "conservative" voices on NPR are far outnumbered. I sometimes hear extreme, contradictory, and hypocritical thought. There tends to be a fair amount of deeply educated, academic background that also brings a condescending "I’m so smart I can’t be wrong" kind of tone. But, taking all that as an "is what it is" factor, I also see that so many of the people, reporters, hosts, and interviewees I hear are decent, moral people, seeking for goodness, truth, and a better world. They get it wrong a lot. They get it right a lot. But, they are not sinister, they are not idiots, and they are not the devil. And, yes, I pay my monthly pledge!

I also listen to Rush, Hannity, and Glenn Beck. Glenn is a personal friend. I’ve produced several music projects for his show and his stadium events. I have sat in his home, he has sat in my recording studio. He invited me to kneel in prayer with his family in his home. I know his heart and what he believes away from the microphone. He loves America, he loves truth, and he is sincere. Yes, I’ve heard him go off on a tangent on the radio I thought was too much for me. I’ve gone off on plenty myself. NPR sure as heck has. But, I’ve also heard Glenn say things about where we as a nation came from and where we as a nation can go that ring powerfully true to both my heart and mind. I’ve heard him struggle and thrash around for truth. I’ve heard him pick a hill to die on only to realize he’s on the wrong hill. That’s called searching, learning, growing. True seekers of truth are always in motion, putting behind the stuff they get wrong, and moving forward to find what’s true. Just like NPR, he’s gets it wrong, he gets it right, but he is a decent, moral person seeking truth, not evil, not sinister, and not the devil. Voices and media sources from the right also produce all kinds of extreme, contradictory, and hypocritical thought, just like NPR can on the left. There is plenty of that on the more extreme right that I just flat out reject every bit as much as I reject extreme stuff on the left. If you are seeking truth, human connection, understanding, respect, and the belief that humanity can be better than it is, I’m with you. If you are seeking toxic contention, confusion, misdirection, resentment, divisiveness, to tear down freedom, to undermine the Constitution, to advance communism or any other form of trading individual liberty for government control, then I resist you.

That’s my attempt to size up my experience with the media. In my personal relationships, I have very close friends on all ends of the "left/right" spectrum whose friendships are priceless and whose views really matter to me. 10 minutes on my Facebook feed is a jarring whiplash and often disheartening. I have my "conservative" friends on one side and within that "bucket" is a whole range of flavors, extremes, and intensity. My heart’s passion is music and education. I went to school to be a band director. I still see that as the greatest and most noble of all professions. The people I watch who have dedicated their lives to music and the sacred act of teaching it are my highest heroes. Musicians, artists, and educators as a broad demographic tend to lean left. The "left leaning" friends I have tend to be extremely intelligent, very well read and well educated, articulate, passionate, and hold deep convictions for the "better world" they hope to see. Not only do I often see the virtue in what they say, I often agree. Well, my "right leaning" friends also tend to be extremely intelligent, very well read and well educated, articulate, passionate, and hold deep convictions for the "better world" they hope to see. Can they all be wrong? Can they all be right? Can they all be evil idiots? Can they all be righteous warriors of truth? No, they're all just good people trying to get to the truth of it all in a world heavily amped up on the noise of social media and non-stop screaming from endless media sources.

Here’s the big point I want to get to with all that. As I listen to both sides, EACH side has a clearly defined code of referring to the "other side" in a very condescending, disparaging way. I heard an NPR show a few weeks back with very intelligent, very well educated people talking with a self-righteous, condescending tone about the plight of "those poor, uneducated, ignorant, consumed by conspiracy theory" people on the right and their supposed moral obligation to save those poor little people from their ignorance. My response was, that’s me you’re talking about, and you’ve got it all wrong about me! Just because we want more freedom and less government doesn’t mean we’re stupid, don't care about poverty or those in need, don't care about education, don't care if millions of people don't have health care, don't care about civil rights and racial equality, don't care about everyone getting a fair shot at prosperity, don't care about corporate and political corruption, don't see that immigrants always have been and always will be the life blood of our nation, and don't care about the environment. We love our country, we love our freedoms, we love our families, just like you do. And, we have a legitimate concern that if we aren't pushing back, government will grow and grow and grow until those freedoms and that country we love are gone. We care every bit as much as you do about all that stuff and want to solve for it too. But, we want to be rational and realistic. When we do the math, there is no government magic wand big enough to solve for and pay for all that without crushing us all just like every other government in history that has grown far beyond its means or flagrantly trampled freedom of choice as a means to the end. That's what goes through my "conservative" mind when I hear radio shows like that. But these were intelligent people I believe entirely capable of empathy. If they really knew what we really believed, if they knew how much we cared about the same stuff, they would be appalled and embarrassed at how they sounded. The hardest for me is to listen to great artists, jazz musicians, teachers, and other people I admire deeply use their art to rail against what they often paint as a dangerous enemy of freedom and humanity. There are plenty of dangerous enemies that need to be railed at, and maybe I'm not who they are talking about. But, when I feel the railing is directed toward me just because I happen see it from a more conservative viewpoint, I ache inside and long to just sit and talk, like two lifelong best friends who just had a really bad argument, to really see where they are coming from, to let them see what I'm really all about. I know we would find vast common ground in wanting to solve for all that. I just don't want to be automatically assumed to be an idiot, a bigot, and a racist, with no concern for anything or anyone but my own immediate self interest.

The people on "the right" do the exact same thing. I’m "on the right," I’ve done it, and I’m sorry. I’ve heard people I love and admire "on the right" do it and I can see how counterproductive that is. We talk about the left like they are idiots who hate freedom, love government to control everything in their lives, love ridiculous mindless rules and regulations that make no sense, want to waddle along like mindless sheep under government mind control, think everything should be free and nobody should have to work, want half the world to mooch off the welfare and labor of the other half, and want to toss out the Constitution so we can all be communists. I hear my echo chamber on the right repeating all that stuff and wonder, how can than possibly be true for so-and-so friend of mind who is a democrat? Well, I'm betting its not.

Each side huddles on "their side" of the great divide speaking in panicked, fearful warnings that the "other side" is out to destroy our country. Yes, there are plenty of extreme people on both sides who truly do want to destroy our nation, our shared values, the Constitution, and the precious freedoms so many have fought to protect. But that probably isn't your typical Republican friend down the street, or your Democrat friend at work. There are fundamental and deep differences that should be debated like the future of the world depends on it, because in some cases, it does. I'm not saying we live in some harmless Pollyanna world where bad people aren't trying to do bad stuff. I'm just saying that most of what each side believes about regular people's motives on the opposite side, their reasoning, and their desires is probably very wrong and very ridiculous. If we are going to learn to respect each other, we must quit talking down to each other. We must stop sitting around in our bubbles and echo chambers speaking in smug and condescending tones about how ignorant, stupid, and dangerous "the others" are.

So, how does this all relate back to Bird, Monk, and Miles? These guys are some of my heroes. Oh, don’t get me wrong, they also had all kinds of flaws and ugliness in them just like we all do. But, they were a target of their generation’s inability to be the better people they should have been. They were the target of people in power reacting to the racist echo chamber of their particular bubble in their particular time instead of asking honest questions with a sincere desire to know who those people were instead of just pushing them out and cracking them on the head with a club. The people denouncing with rage the bad stuff going on today are by extension denouncing the bad stuff that happened to Bird, Monk, and Miles as well as an unending list of bad stuff before and since that time. I stand with you on that. This messages is about making sure that rage and demand for change is targeted directly and accurately to where it belongs, not mistakenly to a broader group who might just be in solidarity with you. This message is also about pushing back on the bad stuff in a way that leaves a path to redemption for those who are broken but redeemable. In my mind, we're all broken, cruel, naive, or hypocritical in some way, and we're all redeemable. We as a people will be our best when believe in and hope for the redemption of all of us, even the most broken among us.

None of this is me telling either side to quit pushing for what is right or pushing back against what is evil. That would be like me telling the Founders to chill out on that whole fight for independence and liberty thing, or telling Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln to go home and leave it be on the whole "slavery and racial oppression is an abomination and should be eradicated" outcry. There are still racists, white supremacists, government and corporate corruption, pedophiles, sexual predators, criminals, scam artists, liars, cheats, violence, toxic aggression, people trying to destroy freedom and the Constitution, power hungry monsters, and no end to the ugly depravity people inevitably do to each other. Sadly, I don't think we get rid of that anytime soon with a nice big group hug. So yeah, we have a long way to go and a lot of pushing left to do. But, imagine the dark world this would be without all the intense pushing to a better place that has gotten us this far. There is evil on both the left and the right and we can never stop fighting against that. But, there are also good people trying to do good things on both sides. This is just me saying: "Hey, think twice who you call evil and think is the enemy. Dig deeper to see where the 'other' side is coming from and you might be surprised how aligned you are. Some of those people you've been raging against could be way more of an ally, friend, brother, and kindred spirit in this fight for us to be a better people you could possibly imagine."

Bird, Monk, and Miles pushed back. They pushed back hard. Their music, one of the greatest art forms of all history and certainly one of the greatest American art forms was in huge part a response to that struggle. You don’t need to like their music, you don’t need to agree with their choice of notes and rhythm. If it doesn't really make sense to you, that's okay. Jazz, like other cultures or languages different than your own, can be hard to make sense of and hard to love. But, look around for the Bird, Monk, and Miles of our day, the ones getting pushed out and beaten over the head in spite of all they have to offer. There's a quote attributed to Monk: "They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along & spoil it." Whatever side you're coming from, white versus black, left versus right, whatever the divide, be the kind of person that comes along and spoils the notion that your side should be hated. And, be the Monk who's willing not to hate the people on the other side that you are supposedly supposed to hate.

Being better comes of seeking to understand and love others who are not like ourselves. Being better means knowing we have a lot left to learn and that we should be more thoughtful about our race to judgement of others. Seek to understand, respect, and love, and watch the world transform, starting with your own world.

April 4, 2021, Post Script

Charles Barkley recently said this. Great way to sum all this up. This doesn't give a free pass to the people who are intentionally malicious, racist, abusive, and use this built up hatred for their own gain. It just means that most of us on all sides aren't the monsters we are made out to be. I would add to his quote that much of the media stokes these fires as well in order to push ratings and viewership.

"I think most white people and Black people are great people. I really believe that in my heart. But I think our system is set up where our politicians, whether they are Republicans or Democrats, are designed to make us not like each other so they can keep their grasp of money and power. They divide and conquer.

"We're so stupid following our politicians, whether they are Republicans or Democrats. And their only job is, 'Hey, let's make these people not like each other. We don't live in their neighborhoods. We all got money. Let's make the whites and Blacks not like each other. Let's make rich people and poor people not like each other. Let's scramble the middle class.' I truly believe that in my heart."

August 15, 2022, Post Script

This divide has only gotten much worse in the two years since I first wrote this. The midterm primaries going on are a contest to see who can come off as the most extreme, with a hard pivot in the general election to show how stupid and immoral the "other" party is. This article on NPR shows the poll numbers not just of how far apart we've grown, but also how stupid and immoral we think the "the other side" has become.

Americans have increasingly negative views of those in the other political party : NPR

The Jan 6 hearings are just one more layer in the divide. The two sides see those events from two completely different universes. The Democrats see crazed lawless mobs destroying our democracy and tearing apart the fabric of civil society. While I don't see evidence of a stolen election, I believe in the right of the people to gather outside that day. But, for the part where crazy people stormed the Capitol Building egged on by an outgoing president seeking to retain power, they are right. Inexcusable, reckless, irresponsible, and dangerous things happened that day that should never have happened. On the other hand, Republicans see a nation founded on freedom, individual liberty, and constraint on government overreach slipping away to what feels like a growing wave of people who see no limit on the amount of control government should have over our lives. They are right too. Storming the Capitol on January 6 was absolutely not the answer to that. Rusty Bowers is a life long close personal friend. Everything he testified to at the hearings and has said since, I stand with him. We share the same faith with those same tenants that protecting the Constitution is a sacred duty. I've spent my whole life with that duty as foundational. I've written an anthem to this cause with a third verse entirely about that duty. I believe in the vision for America shared by Reagan and others that freedom for all means prosperity for all, that too much government ultimates chokes us all to bondage. But, that cause is built on the foundation of the Constitution, not underming it. I want that advance that cause by defending the Constitution, by rule of law, and by winning hearts and minds to this most noble cause, not by tearing all that down and alienating the very people who's hearts and minds I hope to persuade.

Having said all that, Republicans see how our streets and cities were filled with riots, mobs, fires, vicious demands to defund the police, violent attacks on people and property that people on the left opposed. They see Democrat leaders and celebrity egging that on instead of condemning the violence and see a hypocritical double standard. Just as Democrats (and most Americans) were right to be appalled at crazy people violently storming the Capitol, Republicans were right to be appalled at at our nation being overrun and people seemingly applauded and made heroes in doing so. The halls of the Capitol building are sacred ground sympoblizing the freedom of our Constitutional nation. But, the streets of America are no less sacred and no less a symbol of the freedom of our Constitutional nation. We can not stand by and have either overrun and violated. All the toxic behavior on both sides is wrong and must be condemned. I grew up being taught that two wrongs don't make a right.

None of this is to discount or dismiss the issues that both sides want to bring attention to and to debate. That part should happen. Both sides have valid, deeply critical issues we all should care about. Social and economic justice and care for the environment matter to all of us, not just Democrats. Holding government back from unchecked growth and intrusion on liberty matters to all of us, not just Republicans. As I've said, much of the debate is in the means and methods, not the actual desired outcomes. Being smart, fair, and reasonable about achieving our desired outcomes matters. Both sides have bad ideas on how to get their ideas accomplished, both have good ideas. The abortion debate exploded in the middle of all this adding fuel to the fire of people trenching in on opposite sides with disdain for the other. I believe deeply in the sanctity of the life of the unborn child. Treating abortion as a fundamental and unilateral right of the mother with no regard to the life of the baby has never made sense to me. Overturning Roe v Wade was one of the great achievements for "my side" and I certainly share in the belief that we did something right in that action. But, I have also listened carefully and with sincere interest to what that has meant for the "other side." I have been reminded these past few months of the excruciating consequences that some people face in extreme circumstances of rape, incest, and mother's lives being in grave danger. I hear the plea from the "other side" to get government out of our lives on this deeply personal issue. The essence of all I believe and all I write about is about getting government out of our lives in ways they don't belong. So yeah, I hear it, I get it. I see it different than the "other side" in that I see two lives, not one. But, I have have deep empathy for how they feel invaded. This is one of our most difficult issues and very likely we will come to agreement. Just saying these words ignites bitterness and resentment from people on "the other side" many of who are personal friends I care deeply about. I have to say what I believe. I just hope I can say it with kindness and empathy for those who believe differently. I hope those who disagree with me will have kindness and empahty for me. I hope we can debate and disagree with compassion and empathy for the concerns, fears, and aspirations of the other side. The true essence of American Democracy should be the freedom to debate what is right and wrong for our nation and advance laws in a Constitutional framework to establish those principles. I will always argue on the side of smaller government, others will always argue on the side of bigger government. But, just as most people on "the other side" who want more government are not evil, corrupt, or stupid, most of the people on "my side" are also not evil, corrupt, or stupid. Most of us want what's best for our country and for the generations that come after us. For the moment, we are not headed in the direction of seeking the good in the "other side" and finding common ground to build on. I do hope that this moment will pass and a time of more kindness will come. Passion and conviction, yes! But kindness in that, that is my plea.

Messages from my church leaders about compassion, enmity, and defending the Constitution:

Love Your Enemies

Defending Our Divinely Inspired Constitution

The Peace of Christ Abolishes Enmity

And...this again from a man I love and respect. There may be many things we see differently. But, I bet more that in our heart and soul we align. Either way, I love and admire him, and hope if he knew me he'd feel the same of me.

Wynton Marsalis on Martin Luther King's Legacy

April 14, 2024, Post Script

When I first wrote this on July 4, 2020, almost 4 years ago. I pointed out that NPR leans left. I just went back and read that. What I said holds up now. Of course, Fox News and many other outlets lean right or hard right and have moved farther that direction since 2020. What I wrote about that also still holds up. I'm not sure where to go these days that sits fairly in the middle with true intellectual honesty. Everything I'm about to say about NPR also applies to news and media sources on the right.

Everything I said above about admiring and appreciating the programming and journalism on NPR remains true. I still make my monthly pledge and don't plan to stop. But, as the divisiveness of the last four years as amped up, NPR has inched farther and farther left and their professional objectivity has suffered. For me that mostly means that as someone who deeply believes in limited government and so many of the principles traditionally held by Republicans and the right (I’m a Reagan Republican), I often feel ridiculed, condescended upon, and misunderstood when I listen to NPR, that they didn't fill their journalist obligation to reach over and understand where people like me are coming from. Granted, there are many on the right who have gone away from where I stand, and perhaps NPR is speaking to them, not people like me. But so many of those "farther right" people are my close friends AND family who have real and valid reasons for being where they are. NPR owes them every bit as much intellectual honesty as they owe me. And, they owe the left the same. By antagonizing stereotypes types and fear mongering to the preconceived notions of the left, perhaps the left is who NPR is letting down the most. They deserve better. We all deserve better. We’re all human. We’re all vulnerable to getting emotionally frothed up, and we’re all capable of using rational discourse to get our feet back on stable ground. There is a growing attitude that NPR allows to persist that anyone who doesn’t stand with the left and the attitudes and policies of the left is dangerous, intellectually inferior, or not valid in their views. I want a news source that can give an honest assessment of both sides, report the valid values each side is trying to bring, and not “scold” (see editorial below for source of that term) those who seem to sit on the wrong side.

Recently Uri Berliner, an NPR editor, spoke to this in an editorial.

I’ve Been at NPR for 25 Years. Here’s How We Lost America’s Trust.

It is controversial. I've read it. I've read NPR's rebuttal. I've read the Fox News take which unsurprisingly pounces on this. I agree with Berliner's assessment. It is the intellectual honesty I have been looking for from either side. It just happened to come not only from someone on the left, but someone very high up at NPR! I am disappointed that NPR isn't taking more responsibility to be self-aware and intellectually honest enough to see and learn from the truth in what he is saying. Just more denouncing, no soul-searching, no self-correction. I find it so interesting that Berliner describes the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd as the key pivot. That set off the powder keg of toxic anger across the country that prompted my aching heart to write what I wrote on July 4, 2020, just two months into that. It wasn’t our first pivot. We’ve had countless pivots since we became a nation and before. But, it was a big one and there is much to analyze in the many pivots that led up to it. Something important about America was lost that summer. Who knows if we can ever get it back. But, everything I wrote on July 4 that summer stands. I believe in a conflicted America. And, I believe that essential is our ability to overcome our worst tendencies and be our best whether from the left, right, or middle. To do that, ALL of us must be truly honest about ourselves and must also be honest about those we call “enemies.” Perhaps we’re not all the devils and enemies we’re made out to be, or make others out to be.

Pendulum Jail for Morrison

Graphic: The Balanced Pendulum of
Government Control
(PDF Version)

"Still Mine" Movie: The Proper and
Balanced Role of Government


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