Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


IT WAS AN INSURRECTION. IT IS PAST TIME TO STOP SPREADING TRUMP'S LIES: Those who serve in Congress or North Carolina elective and legislative offices -- who deny, equivocate or condone the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol as anything other than a violent act to disrupt and overturn a fair election -- make a mockery of their sacred oath of office. What they need to do is refute the lies spouted by former President Donald Trump and condemn the actions of the January 6 insurrectionists. Across the nation, state after state, legitimate audit after audit, there are certain undeniable facts: No votes were counted that should not have been counted; Joe Biden received 7,060,347 more votes than Donald Trump; and Joe Biden received 306 electoral votes and Trump just 232. Yet, in North Carolina – where NO ONE has suggested that there were election irregularities that raised legitimate questions about the winners -- nearly every significant Republican officeholder or GOP official parrots Donald Trump’s big lie. Those who perpetuate and peddle the Trump election lies like 16 who signed the Nov. 23 letter aren’t patriots and shouldn’t claim any such thing. They are anti-American insurrectionists. And if their gerrymandered districts can't be fixed so sensible voters can replace them, the NC GOP should use the Primary to police its ranks. But they won't, because they are afraid of a con-man.

NC GOP CONTINUES A CENTURY-OLD EFFORT TO MUTE THE BLACK VOTE: Republican legislators say they drew the state’s new redistricting maps without considering race, a claim they hope will protect their latest exercise in extreme gerrymandering from being declared unconstitutional. But two North Carolina history professors say it’s impossible to divorce race from Republican mapmaking because race is at the center of the Republican political agenda. Indeed, they argue that there’s little difference between the legislature’s current Republican majority and Democrats of the post-Civil War era who sought to restore and perpetuate the political dominance of powerful white North Carolinians. “There is a tremendous amount of continuity in what is going on,” said Professor Robert Korstad of Duke. Korstad and Leloudis do not contend that Republican lawmakers today are racist, but professors do say that the Republicans are carrying on a white supremacist practice of seeking to break the political power of alliances between Black voters and white progressives. That was the aim more than a century ago when white supremacist Democrats used fear mongering about Black politicians’ ambitions – much of it circulated in Josephus Daniels’s News & Observer – to spur white populists to leave their alliance with a bi-racial Republican Party. After regaining power in the 1898 election – a vote followed by the white supremacists’ coup of a Black-led city government in Wilmington – Democrats instituted literacy tests for voting. Democrats used their legislative majority to advance an agenda that resembles the Republicans’ priorities of today: low taxes, less regulation and reduced investment in public education and social needs. Korstad noted that while race-based politics has long limited voting rights in North Carolina, Democrats in the 1990s and 2000s expanded access to voting and turnout rose accordingly. While democracy is under attack again, he said, “There’s nothing here that I find particularly surprising. It fits into a long cyclical history in North Carolina politics. In a way, that gives me hope. We’ve seen things move dramatically the other way.” Kudos to Ned for telling this entire story, something right-wing trolls (of course) always fail to do. One party has evolved, while the other has devolved, and the vast majority of African-American voters realize that.

CARL BERNSTEIN'S EULOGY FOR THE NEWSPAPER BUSINESS: Nearly 25 percent of the 9,000 U.S. newspapers that were published 15 years ago are gone, leaving behind a vast news desert and signs of a weakened democracy. So it’s bittersweet to read Carl Bernstein’s “Chasing History,” a rollicking memoir about the golden age of newspapers. Bernstein ignores the bad karma engulfing the newspaper industry to recreate his rookie days at The Washington Evening Star, a robust afternoon paper that ceased publication in 1981. Bernstein’s nostalgia for those times is so deep that after the first 30 pages I could hear ghostly voices shouting, “Honey, get me rewrite.” If you count the books Bernstein co-authored with Bob Woodward about their legendary coverage of Watergate for The Washington Post (“All the President’s Men” and “The Final Days”) and “Loyalties,” the book he published in 1989 about his parents’ struggles during McCarthyism, this is Bernstein’s fourth time writing about his life and work. Even for one of the country’s most famous reporters, that’s a lot of Bernstein. But he’s as well placed as anyone to tell the story of what gets lost when the presses stop. Counting his current work as a CNN political analyst, Bernstein, 77, has been a journalist for more than half a century. His career spans the profession’s best of times and the worst, though the story he tells in “Chasing History” evokes only the happy days. In 2008, as the digital revolution was destroying newspaper advertising and circulation, Clay Shirky, an influential media analyst at New York University, warned in a widely read article called “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable” against spilling tears for the past. He argued that the survival of journalism was crucial, but that print newspapers could — and would — fade away. “They’ll miss us when we’re gone” was not, he chided, a sustainable business model. Maybe not. But people still do value the connection between a newspaper and its readers and want journalists to be knowledgeable about the communities they cover. Unfortunately, that clashes with something people really don't want, they don't want to pay for their news. They expect it to be both free and well-researched. Because it's important! As Mr. Spock would say, that is not logical.

THE FIVE FREEDOMS WE MUST CHAMPION IN THE NEW YEAR: Freedom Number One on FDR’s list was the “freedom of speech and expression.” Of course, in some ways, the world has made important strides in this realm over the last 81 years. Here in the United States and many other parts of the world, for instance, the freedom of artists resides in a much stronger position than it did in the mid-20th Century when thousands were blacklisted for leftist political views and films and books were regularly banned for “obscene” content. The advent of the internet has contributed to this trend by making it harder than ever for would-be censors to monitor and control what people express and consume. But, of course, the fight in this realm continues. In just the last year, forces of the political right have launched a new and concerted campaign to whitewash how American history is taught and renewed efforts to prevent schoolchildren from accessing celebrated authors. Meanwhile, in other parts of the globe – perhaps most notably, Xi’s China and Putin’s Russia – the right to openly criticize the government and champion meaningful political change remains effectively nonexistent. A similar story can be told with respect to FDR’s second core freedom – the “freedom of worship.” While some countries have made enormous strides in ending government efforts to stifle or advance religious belief, the trend is decidedly negative elsewhere. Not only do many nations remain organized as repressive theocracies, but even in the United States, our historic commitment to separation of church and state is under a new and energetic assault. And then there are Freedoms Three and Four – the “freedom from want” and the “freedom from fear.” Here too, of course, the record is decidedly mixed. Across the planet, even as millions of humans live longer and healthier lives than ever before, millions of others live in abject poverty with hunger and hopelessness their constant companions – even here in the U.S. It’s for this reason that we would do well to supplement FDR’s still excellent list with a fifth freedom on which all others remain utterly dependent – the freedom of a sustainable environment. After all, the cause of human freedom won’t amount to much in the long run without rapid and intentional efforts to preserve the fragile biosphere upon which all life is dependent. #5 is very important, because as Climate Change ravages our world, all those other freedoms will be overshadowed by survival demands.

THE FALSE PROPHETS WHO INSPIRED THE VIOLENCE ON JAN 6: The sounds of Billy Graham’s crusades would fill my grandmom’s Georgia home in the 1970s. A decade later, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s “PTL Club” would win her loyalty, as well as her monthly tithes. My parents gently tried warning her that the “PTL” stars were scam artists less interested in her spiritual welfare than in her monthly Social Security checks. Even after being treated rudely by Tammy Faye in a chance encounter, Grandmom kept sending money the Bakkers’ way as they built their empire on the backs of working-class Christians. The dreadful pair’s get-rich schemes leveraged Americans’ love of God for cold, hard cash. Looking back on the events of Jan. 6, perhaps we should focus more on the false prophets who inspired the violence of that day than the rioters we still highlight on video loops. Those who beat cops with American flags should serve long jail sentences. But the most important lesson from that tragic day may come from deconstructing how plutocrats and trust-fund babies deployed propaganda campaigns to push that bloodthirsty mob up the Capitol steps. Just as the Bakkers used the Gospel of Jesus Christ to prey on gullible viewers, these right-wing billionaires and their allies are trying to brainwash millions of Americans into believing the U.S. government is deploying Afghanistan War helicopters to launch domestic attacks against them, that the FBI is purging patriots from society and that the “deep state” staged the Jan. 6 riot as a “false flag” to strip citizens of their constitutional rights. These hate-filled hysterics spewed against the United States have been punctuated by verbal assaults targeting military heroes, the slandering of the U.S. intelligence community and a barrage of fire against the nation’s democratic voting system that would make Vladimir Putin blush with pride. These are the kind of anti-American screeds that fueled the Capitol riot, and they have been preached with increasing intensity since that tragic day. The targets of their misinformation campaign now await trial or languish in jail while the authors of these phony crises sleep comfortably in their marbled mansions and beachside resorts. They are free to travel the world on their super yachts or private jets while Jan. 6 defendants beg for their freedom in federal court. I can't allow myself to feel sympathy for those who were "duped" into attacking the Capitol, but Morning Joe is on the money when he points out the stark difference between the propagandists and their target audience. But that's what civil courts are for, to settle issues that (for whatever reason) fall outside of the criminal justice system.


KIM MACKEY: BOOK BANNING IS AN ATTACK ON EMPATHY: Eliminating the diversity of our books doesn’t eliminate the diversity of our country, but it can eliminate empathy by denying students an opportunity to see the world through another’s eyes. Blowback on curriculum that make even a token mention of diverse experiences denies students the tools to help us “form a more perfect union.” Learning about imperfections doesn’t lead to guilt, rather it builds empathy and capacity to improve. Amid a pandemic with over 832,000 American lives lost and scores of healthcare workers burned-out, one would think we’d do well to have more empathy within our communities, not less. Perhaps it should be no surprise that some of those fighting against masks are also fighting to mask our potential for developing empathy through books and curriculum. These folks inundating school board meetings are not defending the flag, but tearing at the fabric that binds us together: Empathy. The irony is, all those who whine about "indoctrinating" our students are doing just that by removing books from those students' shelves. They are becoming the very evil they (say that they) fear.

GENEVIEVE MARTIN: WE MUST STAND UP FOR DEMOCRACY: On Jan. 6, 2021, a coup was attempted at the U. S. Capitol. The Capitol police were not prepared. Why? Until that dreadful day, we believed in the “American way.” We were proud of our system of voting. Candidates would not, even before campaigns were concluded, openly declare them “rigged.” We believed in our elections and those willing Americans who conducted them. History will record that one person is responsible for American citizens losing faith in our electoral system. He claimed our system “rigged,” and “dishonest” even before elections were held. Over 60 courts have thrown out his claim of a stolen election. No other president would undermine the very system which has kept us the “shining light” of freedom and democracy for over 200 years, and not until an obdurate occupant of the White House more concerned with “winning” than obeying the constitution created distrust. Our trusting innocence has been shattered. The ex-president’s refusal to believe in a fair and legal election and the sharing of this belief led directly to the insurrection. Not only should we be ashamed and disappointed in his refusal to accept the truth but, also in the “sheep-like” inaction of those around him who knew better. I also hold Trump mainly responsible for the attempted coup, but he was gladly facilitated by right-wing pundits and GOP lawmakers. There's a lot of shame to go around, but most of them don't have the capacity to feel shame.

PRASIDHA PADMANABHAN: WOMEN BELONG IN HISTORY TEXTBOOKS: Women’s history is often overlooked or undermined in our current curriculums. Instead of being an immersed part of American and world history, women’s history is rarely even a sidebar to the conversation, causing students to have an underdeveloped understanding. Without understanding the depth of women’s history, students fall susceptible to the narrative that women are inferior or contributed less in history — which is not only untrue but also extremely harmful in the long run. Furthermore, when we learn about women, it is often about their domestic roles in the house and not their righteous acts throughout history. For example, most students know about Paul Revere; however, few know about the 16-year-old Sybil Ludington, whom Ms. Wells mentioned as a woman Americans should know. Sybil rode horseback in the nighttime to deliver a similar message of the arrival of the British. These integral stories in history are all too often overlooked as unimportant because they center women; however, it is invaluable to ensure students appreciate women’s history as a part of all history — and understand that women are not only equal but also have accomplished amazing things throughout history. This can all be explained by conditioning; the way our society has been (constantly) conditioned to view to the White Male Patriarchy as the most "secure" form of community, and how young girls are conditioned, from an early age, to take up their role in that formula. We must break all that conditioning if we truly want to evolve as a species.



Empathy, in the abstract

I recently lost my brother-in-law (cancer sucks), and I've been pondering his character since then, in an effort to keep those good aspects alive, I suppose. He was a good man, but even more important, he was a happy man. Or at least someone who was rarely "dark of countenance." I'm sure he buried some things, like we all do, but I don't believe they haunted him like so many others experience.

I want to be more like him. I want to enjoy life, not struggle through it. And I believe fostering my already innate sense of empathy may be a way to do that.

The ability to share and understand the feelings of others may sound like some new-agey crap, but it is a genuine emotion, and one that is often in direct conflict with our ego. A conflict that is healthy, in my opinion, because it can keep us from being sucked into a vortex of self-indulgence and paranoia.

There are two types of empathy; sharing and understanding the misfortunes of people we know, based often on specific incidents or developments in their lives. This is very common, you might say "easy" to feel, but that's because we have a personal connection. So ego is likely playing some role in this scenario, because it is "my" friend who is suffering. Doesn't make it bad, or necessarily selfish in nature, it just is.

What is much harder to develop is empathy towards strangers. And even harder that that, is empathy that is not generated by a specific detectable hardship, an event that comes to your attention. A tornado destroyed their town, refugees fleeing from a war-torn environment. Again, feeling empathy for such people is not wrong, it is categorically right. You should. But the most elusive form is empathy in the abstract.

I've seen several memes that use some variation of, "You don't know what that person is dealing with, so be nice to them."

I agree wholeheartedly. It's safe to assume they are struggling with something. And you don't necessarily need to know exactly what that something is to generate empathy. You can extrapolate, create a probably inaccurate portrait of their problems, and hang it on the wall.

But Steve, what's the point in doing that?

Because it will counter your natural (yet flawed) sense that you are in direct competition with this stranger, your unfounded fears of him (or her), your desperate need to be Superior in whatever environment you find yourself in, and a whole host of other self-constructed barriers to happiness and well-being.

Empathy in the abstract provides a counterweight to those often unconscious tendencies, something your ego would lead you to believe is a weakness. Don't listen to it.