when democracy is under attack

Interesting… the word “democracy” isn’t used anywhere in the U.S. Constitution. We are defined as a “republic.” We are also recognized as the oldest democracy in the modern world.

To be both simple and clear, a democracy is a government run by the people.

As we continue — before getting to today’s primary point — let us briefly borrow descriptions from Ducksters, an educational site for kids, which will help us keep with the simplicity. Note: simplicity is a gift.

There are two primary types of democracies: (1) direct and (2) representative.

A direct democracy is one in which every citizen votes on all important decisions. One of the first direct democracies was in Athens, Greece. All of the citizens would gather to vote in the main square on major issues. A direct democracy becomes difficult when the population grows. Imagine the 300 million people of the United States trying to get together in one place to decide an issue. It would be impossible. 

The other type of democracy is a representative democracy. This is where the people elect representatives to run the government. Another name for this type of democracy is a democratic republic. The United States is a representative democracy. The citizens elect representatives such as the president, members of congress, and senators to run the government. 

Democracies are known for some very specific, distinct traits. Most notably, citizens rule; citizens participate; there are free elections — citizens are allowed to vote how they want; there are limits on lawmakers; and the majority rule albeit the rights of the individual are protected. Explains the articulate Duckster: “While the majority may make the decisions, each individual has certain rights such as free speech, freedom of religion, and protection under the law.”

One of the refrains, no less, that we’ve already heard quite often in this election cycle is that “democracy is under attack”… The future is on the line! American democracy is in jeopardy!… Polling data would support usage of said rhetoric, as a majority of partisans tend to believe such. Americans disagree, however, as to who or what poses as the biggest threat.

Evident of the disagreement, the frequent phrase is being used on both sides of the proverbial, political aisle.

And here’s the part that gets my goat… in my semi-humble opinion, it’s indeed ludicrous…

To justify the rhetoric, multiple organized political operatives have been actively engaged in the following:

  • Refusing to debate.
  • Trying to squelch primary candidates.
  • Attempting to actually remove candidates from the ballot.
  • Suing legal political organizations for making it harder to get their party’s candidates elected.
  • Creating fake websites that mimic a party, deceitfully making it look like the party is extreme.
  • Advocating for authoritarian rule.
  • Advocating for misuse of Executive Orders to rule authoritatively.
  • Threatening third party candidates — and those who work for them
  • Threatening revenge if elected.

Friends, the above efforts are being conducted and encouraged by Democrats and Republicans alike. These efforts contradict the distinct traits of a democracy. 

I thus can’t say this enough. Multiple Democrats and Republicans are currently utilizing undemocratic tactics in order to elevate their candidacy or party. They are utilizing schemes meant to propel self or preserve power. 

Let’s be respectfully blunt: a person can’t say out of one side of their mouth that “democracy is under attack” and then out of the other side employ undemocratic tactics. Such an approach serves only as covert participation in the alleged attack.

That’s not democracy; it’s hypocrisy.

Respectfully…

AR

the story of Donald, me & a little diversity

My second or third post ever was about a friend of mine named Donald. I was such an inexperienced (but witty) blogger at the time; thanks to those of you who’ve stuck with me these past 15+ years!

But Donald is someone I think about often and still, even this many years later. What an impression he made.

Let me briefly paint the picture of when first we met…

I was a newly promoted HR director, only 24/25. You know that age… the one where it’s exciting because you’re professionally embarking on a new career; you’re fairly confident you’re going to be really good at what you finally get to do; and yet, you’re not experienced enough to know what you don’t actually know as of yet. 

Donald strolled into my office late one midweek afternoon. Shy from the immediate start, this short, maybe 50 year old, African-American man with a little white fuzz above each ear asked to grab an application, seeking employment from our hotel. It was our policy to fill out applications on-site, but when I shared that with this then stranger, he awkwardly yet politely apologized and timidly uttered that he would try to come back another time.

Something stirred inside of me. I suppose I felt drawn to that awkward politeness in some way. It was clear he had no intention of returning, and so I did something in all my years of HR work, I had never done nor likely will do again. I got up from behind my desk, in my suit, rolled up my sleeves, and said, “Let’s do this together.” He looked at me a little hesitantly, stunned no doubt, not sure what to make of me nor my offer. So I sat down at a table and motioned for him to take an adjacent seat. 

It was clearly a toilsome task for Donald. We walked through the application line-by-line, and while he had to be the one to put the pen to the paper, I spent over an hour coaching him, ensuring he understood what information was being solicited. Something soberly stirred further as I watched him slowly misspell his own name.

Moved by the humility and gentleness of a man who seemed not to have had a lot of affirmation in his life — maybe, also, one who all too easily falls through the cracks in our culture — arguably where that buzz word “marginalized” fits in — I called in a favor… how can we help him? … how can we sincerely encourage? … can we offer him a job?

I called one of the department managers to join me in making a difference, asking if he was free, willing to interview an applicant on the spot. Favor granted, connection made, and Donald was offered an opportunity to work in the kitchen, cleaning, washing, even overseeing the daily employee lunch. Donald was absolutely, unquestionably thrilled. 

Thus began my sweet relationship with this beautiful, sensitive, articulate man. 

No, Donald wasn’t articulate like most of us may stereotypically think of in said description. He didn’t wax anything poetic or seemingly even phonetically pleasing. But he was a good communicator. When he walked down the hall to proudly set up the employee lunchroom each day, he had something to say to all, usually accompanied by a warm, welcoming smile. I would often hear him gleefully render a little James Brown along the way — although he’d razz me for not knowing any of the words. I would hear him laugh so freely, like an innocent schoolboy. I’d also hear him cry some days, when onlookers cruelly thought it was ok to tease him for who he was… or who he was not.

We talked often, typically daily. Our encouragement was indeed mutual. He’d routinely say, “Miss Ann, you not like other people. You not like them. You different.” I wasn’t always sure what he saw in me, but it was genuine; our friendship was dear. He would sweetly, humbly share, “God made you special, Miss Ann.”

I suppose from far away, one might just see Donald as an adult with special needs and significant cognitive impairment. I didn’t see it that way. In fact, my time with Donald was probably key to my foundational learning that wisdom and intelligence are not the same thing. Donald wouldn’t have fared well on any administered IQ test, but he was indeed a deeply wise man. He saw things in others that not everyone could see. He had a servant’s heart and a solid work ethic. He believed in honoring all others. His discernment was also on target, too often painfully aware of those who felt justified in their lack of honor.

Some days we’d talk about that. It was a hard conversation. He didn’t understand how people could be so cruel. He didn’t know why they’d even want to hurt another. I didn’t either. We’re all created in the image of God. Donald knew that; that should mean something. It should prompt consistent kindness in how we treat all others, especially in our diversity.

A year or so thereafter, I was again promoted to a new location — hopefully now a little more experienced and aware of what I didn’t know as of yet. But leaving Donald was one of the things that grieved me painfully most. He and I would cry a lot that day. I would never see my friend again.

Donald was different than me in so many ways. But only on the outside. He taught me how to see. He taught me how to honor. And he taught me that the differences did not matter to those who are wise.

God indeed made you special, Mr. Donald.

Respectfully…

AR

we need a better option than Death Valley

Prior to reading today’s post, allow me to ask for a private, personal commitment. As always, we will be respectful. Today we additionally ask to refrain from all excuse making. In order to correctly handle this word of truth, wisdom dictates we make no excuses as oft done for singular sides; far too frequently we allow the outlandishness of one to blind us to the lesser outlandishness of another. We then miss the entirety of the argument.

I point today to a thoughtful editorial co-penned last month by Talmage Boston and Tom Leppert for The Dallas Morning News. It addresses our likely choice this coming November, a choice the public has become increasingly concerned about. Dare we suggest, in recent weeks, that concern has intensified. Note how Boston and Leppert begin to frame the choice… [all emphasis mine…]

In October 1854, at the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War, a 600-man British cavalry regiment called the Light Brigade made history. Riding unarmored horses with lances and spears as their only weapons, they rode into the valley between Fedyukhin Heights and Causeway Heights near the Black Sea, seeking to attack a larger battalion of heavily armed Russian troops who had 50 artillery pieces. When the fighting began, the Russians shelled the Brits from three sides, and the brigade was decimated. What happened to them caused French Marshal (and British ally) Pierre Bosquet to say of their ill-considered maneuver into the valley: “It is not war. It is madness.”

News of the regiment’s bitter end soon went viral, to use a modern term, in large part because when poet Alfred Lord Tennyson learned of it, he composed “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” The poem’s timeless message regarding the futile pursuit of victory with a strategy doomed from the start now has application to Democrats and Republicans (and thus to most Americans) since the parties are now preparing to ride the country into battle in the 2024 presidential election aboard their current front-runners, presenting voters with the same dismal ballot choice this year that we had in 2020, even though both men have precipitously declined in stature since the last election day. Sad but true.

If Joe Biden or Donald Trump wins in November, then for the next four years, we’ll be led either by someone who every day becomes more cognitively dysfunctional or someone who every day becomes more psychologically unhinged. Such a bleak scenario will likely produce the same type of disastrous result for our country as was suffered by the Light Brigade 170 years ago…

_____

Some may question the bleakness. Others would argue that only one of the candidates is capable of the doom and gloom scenario; let me respectfully suggest that such a suggestion aligns with the excuse making exercise; there are significant, understandable misgivings with each of these (dare we admit) older white men. Boston and Leppert then discuss the creation of America’s potential newest Death Valley:

When polled, a substantial majority of voters have said repeatedly: “We don’t want a Biden-Trump rematch,” just like the Light Brigade didn’t enter the valley wanting to get killed in battle. Yet despite the voters’ clear message about their preference, today’s parties keep pushing ahead with their front-runners (Onward! Onward!) toward November, knowing nothing good can come from an election predestined to produce four more years of disastrous leadership regardless of which man wins.

Yes, it’s a bona fide Valley of Death scenario because by allowing Biden and Trump to become their nominees, the parties will be yielding to two men who have proven over the years that they place their overinflated egos and selfish agendas above the interest of our nation and its citizens. Thus, the two parties will be complicit in moving ahead with dangerous retreads instead of doing what needs to be done: provide America with new candidates whose sole agenda is to deal with the looming issues that we now need addressed: immigration reform, deficit reduction, a sound energy policy, and a foreign policy capable of bringing some measure of stability to a world now spinning out of control…

_____

The authors — one a historian and one a former political leader — then share three traits they believe are necessary in being a successful president:

  • First, he or she needs to be mentally sharp, have immense stamina, and possess a serious work ethic. More than ever before, the job requires round-the-clock vigilance and nearly superhuman efficiency.
  • Second, the leader of the free world needs to be guided by an integrity-based moral compass capable of invoking the “better angels” of our nature.
  • Third and finally, we need a president with substantial political experience who can run the country as its top leader by staying focused on the concerns of most Americans.

Respectfully stated, neither of our two most recent presidents and likely fall candidates possess all of the above. So what do we do? We need another option. We need a better option. We will make excuses for no one. 

As has been shared here repeatedly, we currently have our eyes on No Labels, the organization sincerely working to present a “Unity Ticket” for 2024, a common sense, common ground oriented ticket that does not sacrifice any of the above. Write Boston and Leppert once more:

As of now, the group most likely to put forth a viable politically experienced candidate who could provide a welcome alternative to voters is the No Labels organization, which is gaining serious momentum because of its commitment to choosing as its presidential and vice presidential candidates people who have sound minds, high integrity and proven track records in finding real solutions to the challenges we all face.

Yes, we both know that never before in American history has a third-party candidate been elected president of the United States. We also know, however, that never before in American history have we had the perilous situation America faces in 2024, which will become even more perilous in the future unless at least one of our established political parties comes to its senses and decides not to cause the country to charge into the Valley of Death aboard a mentally or morally lame front-runner as its 2024 nominee.

Indeed, we need a better option.

Respectfully…

AR

Super Bowl complaints not about the Super Bowl

So three days ago the highest number of people ever watched the same show at the same time in television history. 

Did you notice then the odd occurrence of all the people watching who found something to complain about other than the game? 

First, it was Taylor Swift. After showing up at repeated regular season games, THE popular music artist was sure to show in Vegas, too, after her whirlwind week and Tokyo tour, cumulating in the shouts and support for her Kansas City beau… Why do the cameras keep focusing on her? … Am I the only one tired of seeing her on TV so much? … I tuned in to watch football!…

Oh, too funny… we are an opinionated bunch… Is it right? Is it wrong? What inside me makes me conclude it’s so wrong?

The reality is the presence of Taylor Swift in the stands prompted a whole new segment of society to pay attention to the National Football League. People paid attention. And people were talking about Taylor Swift.

Next, it was RFK, Jr., the son of Robert Francis Kennedy from the infamous Kennedy clan. RFK, Jr. has been running for President, originally challenging Pres. Joe Biden to be the Democratic Party nominee. He ran a rather clever, 30 second ad in a Super Bowl spot, utilizing vintage audio and visuals from his famous uncle’s 1960 presidential campaign.

After repeating his famous last name multiple times, the jingle alluded to Uncle John’s experience in the House and Senate, gleefully singing: 

“Do you want a man for President who’s seasoned through and through — a man who’s old enough to know and young enough to do? Well, it’s up to you; it’s up to you; it’s strictly up to you.”

Some of his siblings were far less than gleeful, taking issue with the ad utilizing their parents images for a campaign they don’t support. They were not alone in their complaint.

The reality is the presence of RFK, Jr. (and others) in this 2024 electoral race — especially those who are younger and more lucid — is prompting people to pay attention to other presidential candidates. People are paying attention. And people are beginning to talk about candidates other than those named Biden or Trump.

And lastly, it was Jesus. There were multiple Christian commercials landing in Super Bowl LVIII. One was for the prayer app, “Hallow” — notably represented by actors Mark Wahlberg and Jonathan Roumie. 

This ad began: “God, we take this moment just to give you thanks. We thank you for this time to come together, as family, as friends, and as a country.”

With the most downloads in the app’s history that night, the public response to a call to prayer was nothing short of tremendous. 

“Hallow” was not alone, no less. “He Gets Us” returned for another year, this year sharing two ads, one entitled “Foot Washing” and the other “Know Your Neighbor.”

Some were rattled in response but interestingly, for a variety of reasons. Most of the rattle seemed from the “Foot Washing” ad, which portrayed the humble act of service in contemporary but not-always-comfortable environments. They depicted a young man washing the feet of an elderly family member, a police officer washing a black man’s feet, a woman washing another’s feet at a family planning clinic, yet another washing the feet of an immigrant, and several more, servant-oriented acts. The words were few; the poignancy of the images was powerful. Their stated idea is that God gets us — all of us. Knowing that, we ask if we are truly willing to honor and love one another. No matter the perceived differences.

Unsurprisingly, the complaints came from multiple angles, as when faith doesn’t fit into our pre-conceived, self-crafted political or apolitical box, it’s often us who fall prey to playing the deity; we decide exactly how what fits and why.

Was it good? Was it bad? Was it healthy? Was it not?

I’m not an expert, friends. But the reality is the presence of the “He Gets Us” ads on Sunday prompted many to pay attention. People are paying attention. And people are talking about what faith means and what it does not.

Talking is good. Even for an opinionated bunch.

Respectfully…

AR

isn’t it interesting what we learn from this Sunday?

It’s Super Bowl Sunday! What an interesting day! And in honor of the quieter crowd who have minimal interest in professional football, allow me to avow that today’s post is prompted by the big game but really has little to do with the sport. Today we’re just making a few observations, ones that go beyond the game…

Isn’t it interesting that a man once deemed “Mr. Irrelevant” is a starting quarterback in this year’s Super Bowl?

Informally donned with the infamous moniker for being drafted last in the 2022 NFL draft — which yes, means 262nd out of 262 — and then thrust forward by a series of setbacks to all those ahead of him in the San Fran QB line — Brock Purdy is the starting quarterback for the 49ers today in Super Bowl LVIII. Given a choice to see his one-time circumstances either through the lens of bitterness or humility, Purdy has obviously chosen humility. One simple quote from him this week rang beautifully true: “The bottom line is, life isn’t about you.” Isn’t it interesting the correlation between humility and success?

Isn’t it interesting that the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers were the same teams in the final face off four years ago?

Here we go again. According to ESPN, the Chiefs started the 2020 game with a 65.5% chance of being victorious. Fresh into the second quarter, the Chiefs’ odds increased to 80.9%. Halfway through, no less, the odds narrowed to near 50/50, and with only seven minutes left in the contest, the 49ers had odds of winning at 96.1%! And yet they didn’t.

At no point during the contest, could any discern with certainty who was going to win. There were lots of twists and turns and things no one expected… cheers and jeers and moments of both agony and delight. There were also many who were hoping for a two-team matchup other than Kansas City and San Francisco.

And isn’t it interesting that in and around today’s game, we’ll see more of pop icon Taylor Swift than of current President Joe Biden?

What a week (what a year) for Taylor Swift! After accepting her record-breaking fourth “Album of the Year” at Sunday’s Grammy’s and then off to four concerts on her Tokyo tour, today she’s expected in Las Vegas in support of boyfriend Travis Kelce. Like it, love it, or want some more of it (or not), the cameras will be certain to zoom in on the country’s seemingly current favorite music artist, enthusiastically donning her noted Chiefs’ gear.

One person we are not expected to see is Biden. While the tradition of an interview with the sitting President began with CBS’s Jim Nantz and Pres. George W. Bush in 2004 and became an annual occurrence in 2009 with Pres. Barack Obama, Biden is skipping the interview, declining to speak to America’s largest live audience. A bit of my drink may or may not have burst from my mouth when his advisors said the move was an intentional attempt to honor the voters, noting how fatigued we already are with politics. 

Wow. What a week Pres. Biden has had. After his mental faculties were seriously questioned for far more than his references to recent conversations with two deceased world leaders, let me respectfully agree that he and his advisors were indeed acting intentionally. It just didn’t have anything to do with honoring us.

Lest we digress for a mere moment, this was a bad week for Biden. And remember: I don’t say that as any fan of Pres. Trump; I say that as an honest observer and one who craves an elect of unquestionable ability and integrity. This week I found myself scratching my head (or spitting out my drink), and saying, “Really? You want me to believe that?” 

A special counsel concluded that Biden should not be charged in an investigation regarding the mishandling of classified documents. But the most prominent, damaging conclusion was that Pres. Biden has significantly, mentally declined.

Like bad actors in an even worse play, we could have predicted what would happen next. Biden’s loyalists and PR team immediately offered emphatic denials and stern how-dare-they’s. Their challenge, though, is that the report only said what the far majority of us already know to be true; we’ve seen it with our own eyes. As CNN Sr. White House correspondent MJ Lee said in response to Biden this week, “For months, when you were asked about your age, you would respond with the words ‘watch me.’ Well, many American people have been watching and they have expressed concerns about your age.” We are concerned.

To be clear, we are concerned about both Biden and Trump. We are concerned about that again being our choice, knowing each prompts serious question about ability and integrity. We are concerned about them, their lies, and those who so easily lie for them.

Hence, in future weeks we will discuss our existing options for the year ahead. That, my friends, promises to be interesting.

Time for 2024. It’s clear the game has already begun.

Respectfully…

AR

how do you solve a problem like the border?

So let’s attempt to understand the border issue. It’s been in the news much as of late, and clearly it’s a problem. Let’s take a step back, make sensible observations, with a desire to disrespect no one nor repeat any talking points. (We typically don’t find talking points all that helpful.)

First the glaring problem…

Allow me to quote Margaret White, Co-Executive Director of No Labels, the bipartisan problem-solving organization — preparing a less-divisive, “unity ticket” this fall — in summing up the current issue:

“Since 2021, unauthorized crossings across the southern border are up over 42 percent, totaling nearly 2.5 million in 2023 alone. That’s along with a shocking 141 percent increase in suspected gang members and terror suspects caught at the southern border. And the number of migrants claiming asylum has skyrocketed over that time as well, with our under-resourced immigration courts now facing a backlog of more than two million asylum cases.”

Adding to the above info, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that in the U.S. fiscal year 2023 (which ended Sept. 30th), they encountered approximately 3 million people illegally entering the country. As NPR described the issue this winter, “Migrants are showing up at the U.S. southern border in historic numbers.”

The debate then over the size and severity of this challenge focuses on how unauthorized immigration impacts the economy, national security, terrorism, crime and drains on government budgets. One of the reasons the elect struggle to solve this admittedly complex issue is because they tend to minimize one or more of the above aspects, not addressing the totality of the issues.

Let this not pose as any expert account. What we do know, though, is that we are a nation of both laws and immigrants; therefore, none of the above should be minimized. 

Unfortunately (not throwing stones — still making observations), both Pres. Trump and Pres. Biden have been playing politics with the issue. For Pres. Trump to recently announce his lack of support for a legislative stab at solution — calling the passage of a proposed deal “another gift to the radical left democrats” because the public has realized it’s a major issue and the Democrats are finally willing to negotiate — suggests Trump cares more about his political future than about the current problem. Clearly, Trump wants to campaign on this issue as is.

Pres. Biden has also spent ample, obvious time playing politics, pretending for far too long that the border wasn’t even an issue for some reason. Biden recently claimed “I’ve done all I can do” to secure the border, not acknowledging that he purposely rolled back several Trump-era immigration policies which curtailed the issue at the onset of his presidency. Biden has recognized a need to change course, as the border’s current status is a perceived losing campaign issue, one that clearly, he does not want to campaign on as is.

FYI: members of the Senate crafted a current proposal that they are expected to vote on this week. They seem more likely to pass the bill than the House, as there is not wise bipartisan agreement. Note that the bill’s price tag is over $118 billion. Funding for Ukraine accounts for over half that cost; another 25% goes to Israel, Indo-Pacific allies, and foreign, humanitarian assistance. Just over 17% of the border bill actually addresses the U.S. border. Again, it’s difficult to discern what’s a wise way forward when politicians on all sides pick their prime moment to play politics. Such paves the ever-growing erosion in public trust.

Once again, therefore, much as I’m not a fan when disrespect is employed, HBO host Bill Maher arguably said it best. In a panel discussion on his “Real Time” show last weekend, Maher discussed the immigration issue with New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu.

“Immigration is real but the reaction to it is not real. It’s all a bunch of acting. They should be getting an award this awards season,” said Maher. “The Republicans act like they want to solve this, but the Democrats called their bluff. I mean, there is a bill right now that a lot of them, Mitch McConnell and some pretty conservative senators saying this is as good a deal as you’re gonna get. They don’t want it because they don’t want this issue to be solved because they need it as an issue…”

Sununu agreed. He also called for all the lawmakers on Capitol Hill to be fired, “every one of them,” seeing Democrats and Republicans alike continually prioritizing power for their party over issues that America desperately needs to solve. Said Sununu, “Make no mistake about it, Joe Biden has a lot of power to change a lot of policy and affect the immigration issue.”

Maher then added, ”That’s true. I was gonna say part two of the acting is Joe Biden saying ‘You know what? If you just give me a new law.’ A new law?! The president can fix this and he already has an existing law. This is all so silly! ‘I need a piece of paper from Congress to deal with the border.’ No you already have that.”

Just making observations, friends. The political posturing is obstructing solution to very real problems. With all due respect, this is evident of why the public’s trust in both of the two likely 2024 presidential candidates has significantly eroded. Something means more to them than solution. Our nation’s need is for each of the elect to be sincere problem solvers. Actors are respectfully better suited for other lines of work.

Respectfully…

AR

the two-fold phenomenon that goes further than football and Taylor Swift

Oh, isn’t this fun?

Suffice it to say (unless any of us have been living under a proverbial rock), we have witnessed a whole new promotional scheme unfold in professional football, one that the NFL’s marketing department never concocted but over which has now undoubtedly found itself both felicitous and gleeful.

It’s called the Taylor Swift phenomenon. 

What is it? Why is she so popular?

Many indeed have their angles and answers. At only 33 years old, the American singer-songwriter has sold more than 200 million records, is the highest-grossing female touring act, and seems to be just about everybody’s person of the year. 

Some discuss her meteoric rise in the music industry; she is a fabulous songwriter. Others acknowledge her sustainability, how her music has spanned decades — writing professionally since 14 — hence, her current apt-named “Eras Tour.” Still more discuss her deliberate fan interaction and ongoing humanitarian efforts. Regardless of the angle, the reality is that Swift is profoundly popular and is indeed having a very good year.

Part of that year includes going public with her relationship with Kansas City Chiefs tight end, Travis Kelce. Suffice it to say once more, he, too, is having a very good year. 

Supportive of Kelce — and with the NFL slate equating to 17 regular-season games — Swift has been present in the stadium to cheer him on. As she has been present — and as producers are prone to do — the cameras have oft been focused on her, in a game that’s typically more focused on the football. 

Fans have noticed. “Swifties,” they are called. According to a no doubt inexact 2023 survey (by Morning Consult), 53% of American adults identify as Taylor Swift fans, from which 44% identify as the more ardent “Swifties.” According to The New Yorker, while there is some diversity within her enthusiasts, “Swift’s fanbase skews female, millennial, and white.”

All that to say that the phenomenon seems two-fold.

The first angle is that persons who never watch football are tuning in. I think of my professional colleague whose 10-year-daughter now sits with him for each weekend game. Across the country, there are countless stories of dad-and-daughter bonding, potentially more so than any organized, middle school dance. I think that’s great. The more the merrier, so-to-speak, and how fun that more want to watch the nation’s most popular sport. Especially entertaining, amusing (or insert-desired-adjective-here) is Swift’s game-time reactions to Kelce’s great plays… and his not. Oh, this is fun…

Yet the other angle we’ve witnessed, is how we treat the uniqueness of Swift’s profound celebrity status. Let me go further, with absolutely all due respect especially to Taylor Swift. 

Sometimes we can get so enamored in the sincerity of our glee, that there’s almost this rush to worship — a reverence and adoration comparable to religious homage. To be clear, Swift hasn’t asked nor encouraged such a deific response. But yet something is happening. Let’s not dash to immediately conclude it’s all bad. Better yet, let me ask: what does this tell us? What does the angle reveal? Note the observations of author Amy Julia Becker, an admitted fan, who joined in the Eras Tour with her family in Massachusetts: 

“As soon as we arrived at the show, [spouse] Peter and I were both struck by the sense of being in a house of worship. The rituals, the chants, the ecstatic moments, the shared experience, even the reciprocal relationships established through friendship bracelets—it all underscored a sense of awe and transcendence alongside intimacy. People are notably kind to one another at a Taylor Swift show. At Gillette Stadium, even the security guards were smiling widely and dancing in the aisles. Because our oldest daughter has Down syndrome, we were able to stand throughout the show in a section specifically set aside for people with disabilities. It felt holy to stand among other disabled people, watching sign language interpreters and dancing alongside a woman in a wheelchair. The title of Jessica Winter’s recent piece for The New Yorker sums it up well: ‘Bearing Witness with My Daughter at the Church of Taylor Swift.’”

Becker is grateful that of all the celebrities her children may attempt to emulate, they have turned to Swift. Remember: there are many honorable characteristics about Swift, especially in the perceived honesty and tenderness shared in her own, gifted, seemingly transparent lyrics. 

So let me provide a bit more clarity to my pondering of the phenomenon this day…

I don’t see the worship or the so-called “church of Taylor Swift” as a necessary source of judgment. Oh, golly… I’ve worshipped all sorts of lesser things before. But what I do see is a nation in need of something more… of something better… craving unity, honesty, goodness and authentic connection. The Taylor Swift phenomenon highlights that glaring need… and indeed, how we try to find it in all sorts of creative ways.

Respectfully… (… and can’t wait for the Super Bowl…)

AR

questions from January

As we always encourage the asking and answering of questions — listening, too — here is what we witnessed asked by media in January of 2024:

  1. Americans Want Change, Can the GOP Get It Together?
  2. Are EVs Actually Cheaper To Own?
  3. Are Latino voters really defecting in droves to Republicans?
  4. Biden Is Losing—Will The GOP Have The Courage To Win?
  5. Caitlin Clark is approaching the all-time scoring record for women’s basketball. How close is she?
  6. Can Anyone Beat Oppenheimer at the Oscars?
  7. Can Biden Win Back Rural Iowa Voters Who Left Dems?
  8. Can Dean Phillips Make Dems Think Twice About Biden?
  9. Can Even Trump Save Biden’s 2024 Run?
  10. Can Joe Biden Pull Off a Harry Truman?
  11. Can Jon Stewart live up to his ‘Daily Show’ legacy?
  12. Can Rental EVs Survive After Hertz’s Shift Back to Conventional Vehicles?
  13. Can Taylor Swift make the Super Bowl from her Tokyo tour?
  14. Can Taylor Swift Sway the 2024 Election?
  15. Can the Left Stop Pretending Biden Is Well?
  16. Can the MAGA Shrew Be Tamed?
  17. Can Trump Be Stopped?
  18. Can Trump pay $83 million verdict?
  19. Can Trump Win the Chick-fil-A Vote?
  20. Congress used to care about the ‘dreamers.’ What happened?
  21. Could a Baseball Star Really Flip Dianne Feinstein’s Seat?
  22. Could Biden’s Ego Doom the Democrats?
  23. Could Nikki Haley Actually Do It?
  24. Could retired Alabama football coach Nick Saban save America?
  25. Did KJP Just Serve Up Her Worst Word Salad Yet?
  26. Did the Republican Primaries Even Matter?
  27. Do Democrats secretly support Texas on the border crisis?
  28. Do We Really Live in an ‘Age of Inequality’?
  29. Does Anyone Actually Like Joe Biden?
  30. Does ‘Barbie’ Deserve All the Hype?
  31. Does Kamala Harris Really Think Americans Are This Stupid?
  32. Does Old Joe Biden Even Know That He’s President?
  33. Exactly how sexist is Donald Trump?
  34. Has Barbie been snubbed at the Oscars?
  35. Has Nikki Haley’s campaign exposed Trump’s worst vulnerability for 2024?
  36. Has Wall Street Given Up Trying To Stop Trump?
  37. How Can We Fix America’s Unaffordable Health Care System?
  38. How Did We Get to This Point in Yemen?
  39. How do you solve a problem like Kamala?
  40. How Is Gaza Being Covered on Television News?
  41. How Much Does Iran Control Its Proxies?
  42. How Often Is Taylor Swift Actually Shown at N.F.L. Games?
  43. How Should the US Respond to the War in Gaza?
  44. How Will Biden Respond to Iran’s Latest Attack?
  45. If Bill Belichick doesn’t get a coaching job now, which teams might hire him in 2025?
  46. In 2024, What’s the Way Forward?
  47. In Hollywood Awards Season, What Role Will Gaza War Play?
  48. Is Biden Really the New Carter?
  49. Is Biden’s Campaign Doomed Before It Even Begins?
  50. Is ‘Bidenomics’ a Winner or a Loser for 2024?
  51. Is Congress Really Going to Abandon Ukraine Now?
  52. Is everyone rooting for the Harbaughs this post-season?
  53. Is Gay’s Failed Presidency a Referendum on DEI?
  54. Is It Time to Give Up on the United Nations?
  55. Is It Worth It for Democrats To Keep Shielding Biden?
  56. Is New York in Play for 2024?
  57. Is Plastic Surgery Making People Look Worse?
  58. Is the Electoral Fix Already In?
  59. Is The Proposed Border Deal A Good Idea?
  60. Is the Trump Threat Too Serious for Humor?
  61. Is there a realist case for Palestine?
  62. Is There Any Way in Hell Nikki Haley Can Stop Trump?
  63. Is Ukraine’s new strategy hurting Russia?
  64. Joe Biden Warned Iran Not to Do Anything. Iran Did Something. Again. So Now What? 
  65. John Or Jim Harbaugh?
  66. Lockdowns To Save the Environment?
  67. Need More Proof That Joe Biden Knows He’s Going To Lose in November?
  68. Panicking Over Polls Showing Biden Losing?
  69. Ready for the Longest Campaign Ever?
  70. A Trump/RFK Ticket?
  71. UN: Sorry About Our People Attacking Israel. Now How About Some More $?
  72. Wait, Did Joe Just Say Beau Biden Was Killed in Normandy?
  73. Was This the Year of Peak Woke?
  74. What Are Haley and DeSantis Running For?
  75. What Caused the American Crack-Up?
  76. What if Biden or Trump suddenly leaves the 2024 race?
  77. What If the Real War in Israel Hasn’t Even Started?
  78. What is UNRWA, the U.N. aid agency Israel accuses of having militant links?
  79. What’s Next for College Admissions?
  80. Where is Hamas Getting Its Weapons?
  81. Which states could get new congressional maps in 2024?
  82. Who Are the Real Insurrectionaries?
  83. Who Needs Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2024?
  84. Who will hold Dr Fauci to account?
  85. Who Will Trump Pick to Be His Vice President?
  86. Who’s Radical on Abortion Now?
  87. Why are Americans so displeased with the economy?
  88. Why did Falcons pass on Belichick?
  89. Why did Jim Harbaugh leave Michigan for Chargers?
  90. Why Do Americans Keep Voting for Trump?
  91. Why is Biden running?
  92. Why is Bill Belichick leaving the Patriots?
  93. Why Is Nikki Haley Still in the Race?
  94. Will Americans Tame U.S. Foreign Policy in 2024?
  95. Will an Immigration Deadlock Cause a Government Shutdown?
  96. Will Covid Voting Rules Stay in Place in 2024?
  97. Will Democrats Convince Biden To Step Aside?
  98. Will Haley Give Trump a Run for His Money?
  99. Will Politics or Economics Win Out in 2024?
  100. Will the Supreme Court Keep Trump Off the Ballot?

It’s always interesting what we ask.

It’s even more interesting how we answer.

Respectfully…

AR

[Editorial note: sources utilized but not limited to ABC News, AllSides, AMAC, The Athletic, The Atlantic, Boston Globe, Brookings, CNBC, CNN, Daily Kos, The Dispatch, Financial Times, FOX News, The Free Press, The Guardian, In These Times, Los Angeles Times, The Messenger, MSNBC, National Review, The New Statesman, New York Magazine, New York Times, Newsweek, PBS, Politco, Project Syndicate, Racket News, Rasmussen Reports, Real Clear Politics, Real Clear Science, Sky News, Slate, The Spectator, The Sporting News, Substack, TAC, Time, Townhall, Tuscaloosa News, UnHerd, US News & World Report, USA Today, Vox, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and X.]

why do we believe the lie?

I’ve thought about this for a while. Be gentle with me here. It’s not the easiest of subjects. But I think it makes sense. 

I want to talk about lying. And not so much whether we do it or not. More so, why do we believe it in others?

Because the full-fledged reality is that we all believe some lies. Knowingly or not, we believe some things that we have no idea are untrue or whatever politically correct word we want to call it. Whether it be that Napoleon was short or gum stays in your stomach for 7 years or eating carrots will significantly help your vision, we all believe some set of lies.

I think back to the biggest lies I’ve ever believed. One comes to mind immediately… and I want to be extremely careful and respectful here, as forgiveness has been sincerely requested and given, amends have been made, and sweet, redemptive healing conversation has necessarily occurred. 

I had a friend once who, as a teenager, told me she was dying. Only a few months to live. She asked me to heartbreakingly share the news with her best friend. It was awful. One of the worst days of my life.

The only problem was, she was not. She was not dying, not scantly ill. Nothing was physically wrong. Who knows how many months she had yet to live. Even still. 

Again, remember that I wish to be most respectful here; it’s both necessary and appropriate. My dear friend asked for forgiveness sometime later; it was genuinely requested and granted; and we both grew immensely from the experience. Love keeps no record of wrongs; therefore, no wise reason for me to keep record either.

But this many years later, relevant to our conversation here, I ask myself: why did I believe the lie?

Why did I believe what was said?

There was no evidence. No collaboration. Nothing that proved nor disproved the story shared.

So why did I believe it?

Why did I believe something that at a later point would prompt much confusion and even in this situation, devastating heartbreak?

There’s an easy, obvious reason, friends.

This is zero rocket science.

Why did I believe the black-and-white lie of another?

Because I wanted to.

I wanted to.

We hear so many lies now embedded in our public discourse. Egad. All generations see it; and so many generations — especially the youngest — want nothing to do with it. I get it. It’s difficult to comprehend… not so much that lies actually occur, but so many dressed up, seemingly intelligent people think it’s an appropriate way to proceed. So many think that lying is ok.

Not only that, but we all see the people who go after the lies of a singular person, but willfully ignore the lies of others. Again — not rocket science — we all know it. Some go after the lies of Trump. Some go after the lies of Biden. Some go after the lies of Bobbert, Harris or another. But the sad reality is that so many do it, and way too often, they ignore the fact-checkers and suggest that the lies of one are so much worse than the lies of the other.

Why? 

Because it’s easier. We want to. It fits in our narrative if we can ignore the lies of only one. We can convince ourselves that the “lesser of two evils,” so-to-speak, no longer qualifies as evil.

Let me not suggest that there isn’t personal, valid reason to support one candidate over another; I am simply addressing our singular calling out of dishonesty. I crave integrity. And as one who wishes for all to pass the integrity test, I find myself sitting here, knowing that what we want is not enough; fitting into our desired narrative is not enough. It is inconsistent to suggest only one lies or one lies differently, especially when fact-checkers are rampant in reporting both.

For the record, Napoleon was closer to 5’7” — standard for the time, gum typically exits our digestive system in a max of 7 days, and while Vitamin A does help our eyesight, carrots contain zero Vitamin A.

Just trying to be consistent. It’s important, you know.

Respectfully… 

AR

what if what we believe is wrong?

It’s no secret that I’m a big believer in learning from diverse people groups. This idea that we can only learn from the likeminded or like-something simply doesn’t resonate with me. It seems shortsighted, in fact, causing us to miss out on a whole host of insight and goodness.

A year and a half ago, I began learning from a colleague’s kids; they are 11 and 9 now. Wanting to authentically connect by caring about what they care about, we started talking about books. My friends are avid readers, and so over these past 18 months, we have actively exchanged ideas, insights and encouragements.

One of the aspects in which we’ve been overtly intentional is in the encouragement to read or to not. As many are well aware, it is a bit of a wry pet peeve of mine when a person reads a good book and then immediately exclaims, “You should read this!”

Friends, if I read every book someone encouraged me to read, I would do little to nothing else.

That said, my young friends have become excellent book reviewers. They know how and when to encourage — to hold ‘em, fold ‘em, and tell me when to run, so-to-speak. They have learned when to suggest reading by others — by children and/or adults — and they’ve learned to be both sensitive and intuitive to the desires of others, especially in regard to what they also would enjoy and have time for.

A recent, ringing endorsement, no less, was for “The Wingfeather Saga,” a four book, award-winning fantasy series written by Andrew Peterson, the artsy musician who plays just about everything, now allowing his creativity to shine through far more than song. I found the series to be delightful. While typically not fond of fantasy, there was something simply endearing about the adventures and transformation of the Igiby family and the tales that showcased the virtue that far more than children would be wise to embrace. 

For the purposes of today’s post (and thank you kindly for allowing a bit longer foray into the lives of both my deft reviewers and the animated Igibys), I’d like to focus on a singular insight presented in the series — an insight prompting a question, leading to a virtue relevant even a world that is not fantasy.

Let’s get there by identifying a key character. He’s the primary antagonist in the saga. [Note: for those wishing to read, let me advise you to tread lightly. I will not be giving the story away; however, we will be discussing some detailed information. Feel free to forgo.]

Let me introduce you to Gnag the Nameless. Throughout the books, Gnag the Nameless is the baddest bad guy. The unmistakable villain. He is ruthless, and far more fear than revere. In many ways he is the manifestation of evil in this fantasy version of planet Earth. He is powerful. People cower in his presence. He misses no opportunity to kill and destroy.

His nefarious behavior was birthed by his childhood. Fascinating how such affects us all. Gnag was a twin born in a royal lineage, the rightful heir to the ruling throne. However, Gnag was demonstrably, physically deformed at birth. The story of his birth was shared with him by his caretaker… Gnag was so deformed, so atrociously ugly, that his mother didn’t want him. She was disgusted. Repulsed. She therefore chose to raise only the “healthy” twin. Additionally, Gnag’s existence was to never be known. He was thus exiled as an infant, growing up elsewhere. He was told how unwanted he was. So unwanted, in fact, he wasn’t even given a name. Hence, Gnag the Nameless.

Understandably upset, Gnag’s emotion swelled. Over time, his emotion became a passion. His passion became a conviction. His conviction then drove everything he did. 

There’s but one problem.

What Gnag believed was untrue.

His emotion, passion and evolved conviction were based on an inaccurate starting point. What the caretaker told him was false.

As for the story, let me first clean this up… The scene is absolutely heartbreaking, when both the reader and fictional character learn the truth… Gnag was loved. He was wanted. He indeed had a name. His mother almost died giving birth. She thought he was dead. Gnag never knew.  

Let me humbly attempt to connect all of the above to the point of this post…

Something happens. A story is shared. An angle is seen. An emotion is felt. We believe something strongly. It grows. It grows more over time. It grows increasingly more when we connect with like experience. We become zealous… passionate. We get so passionate in our perspective that we never pause again to consider other angles and possibilities. We know what we believe and why we believe it. And we’re convinced it’s all based on solid reason and accurate stories.

But what if… what if… there’s an aspect of what we believe that’s untrue?

It may not have been intentionally misspoken, but yet, it was inaccurate.

Sometimes I wonder if that’s what’s happening a lot right now. We convince ourselves that everything we’ve based our perspective on is accurate.

But what if something we believe is wrong?

Will we pause long enough to know?

Respectfully…

AR