making sure not to miss what’s bigger

I was cold.

I was wet. Very wet.

At one point I could no longer feel my fingers or toes.

Even with protective gear, my right arm was drenched. The sideways rain found ways to penetrate seemingly all inclement weather attire.

We had made the woefully strategic decision to dress for the event instead of the weather. Flying in for the weekend, our luggage capacity adherent to airline limitations only allowed for so much flexibility. I suppose, therefore, we took a calculated risk. We thoroughly failed.

Used to low temps now equating to under 70-something, 39° was bit of a blunt reminder shock to my system. I forgot that socks were good.

Proceed then with two hours sitting on a metal football bench in the rain… two hours fairly near the stage, albeit on the top level of the massive outdoor stadium. We were socially-distanced, of course. Granted, the paths between us seemed only to create a fiercer gauntlet for the plethora of intermittent wind gusts. (Did I say “plethora”?)

Let me add to the visual none other than a clunky, inconvenient hobble — a hobble or wobble brought on by a recent foot injury that currently necessitates both an oh-so-attractive boot and a demonstrably slower pace. 

By all accounts, it was miserable. Absolutlely miserable.

Except that it wasn’t.

This weekend, we had the most wonderful day!

None of the above is untrue.

None of the above is exaggerated. 

Ask any who attended the 2021 commencement ceremonies in Ohio State’s “Horseshoe” last Sunday.

(And if you can find the one other woman I saw also donned in a semi-formal dress and low heels, be sure to ask her, too.)

But I repeat: we had the most wonderful day!

The bottom line was that our son was graduating… four years in college… multiple honors…  professional steps eagerly awaiting… what an accomplishment! What a moment for our family … what a moment not to miss!

We miss the moment, friends, when we focus on what’s lesser.

We miss the moment when we focus on the “rain.”

We miss the bottom line when we focus on all that tempts to derail and distract us… what’s unfortunate, what’s inconvenient, what I wish wouldn’t have worked out that way…

We miss what’s bigger when we focus on what seems unfair, what other people have that I want, where I feel like the victim…

There were so many things Sunday I wished wouldn’t have been that way. I admit, it was temptingly irritating to be unable to steadily hold one of our multiple umbrellas with nothing short of a shivering, soaked right arm. When the water started running down the back of our legs, there may have been an added squeal or two.

But here we were, seeing past our circumstances, not allowing any to zap our joy. We were so gleeful!

We laughed. We cried. We laughed so hard we cried!

True, this proud parent cried, too, at the onset of the accompanying “Pomp and Circumstances.” I admit to also crying as a bit of a softie at the site of the gown, the cords, and the academic distinction added to his prestigious diploma.

But I think the lesson learned, for me and more, is that no matter the depth of irritation or inconvenience, circumstances need not zap our joy nor dampen the celebration. When they do, we miss the moment; we miss what’s bigger; we miss the sweeter blessing and opportunity for growth.

That goes for way more than graduation.

Oh, what a wonderful day…

Joyfully…

AR

Dear Graduate

As I sit down to pen this post, the words seem few. But yet, there still seems so much to say. How do I say this well? How does one compact an approximate 20-some years of events and experience into one nice-sounding, semi-concise letter? How do we mark this awesome milestone?

As you stand tall in “The Shoe” (or elsewhere) this day, accepting your unquestionably well-earned diploma, so much will be running through this proud parent’s mind…

Gratitude…

The older I get, I’m not certain there’s any healthier emotion. I’m not certain any other emotion keeps life in perspective, humbles us, prompts peace, joy, confidence, all at the same time. Be grateful, son. Learn to feel it. Express it. Be generous with it. I think of a simple example — how neither of your siblings nor so many others were accompanied by any Pomp and Circumstance only one year ago. Don’t compare; just be aware. Let your awareness always be cause for gratitude.

An added note… Be sure the gratitude is not aimless. To be grateful means to give thanks not only for something but also to someone for that something. That goes with other people; that goes with figuring the faith thing out. One of the sweet, profound beauties of life is that the more we learn to give the Creator of the universe and the Creator of us thanks — to directly express our gratitude to Him — the more we are aware of who He is and who we are in relation to him. That puts life in perspective and keeps too much else from getting in the way.

Pride…

To be clear, pride and arrogance are not the same thing. To be arrogant means to have an exaggerated sense of self. Pride is different; it’s not exaggerated. Pride is this quiet sense of dignity. It’s a confidence embedded within the awareness of achievement, knowing you’re uniquely gifted, trusting the next step before you, even if it’s not exactly what you would have designed. You will go far, my son. I have no doubt of that. Know we are for you. Always. We believe in you.

Humility…

Oh, how I wish as a culture we embraced this consistently more. Beware, son. Humility is not universally encouraged. We’ve all had moments in which we’ve been tempted to dismiss the value of life’s arguably most attractive virtue. There will never be a moment when humility isn’t prudent. There will never be a moment when humility isn’t called for. There will never be a moment in which humility should be forsaken. In winning, losing, weakness and strength, be humble. Admit it. Your humility will prompt the ease of extension of both generosity and grace. Such is how one truly wins friends and influences people. Oh, the places you’ll go.

Learning…

Ok, ok, so you didn’t choose my beloved alma mater, but I do deeply respect your choice (except during football season, you know). No doubt you made the choice that was best for you. But don’t let your education end now. Let this be the beginning. Be a lifelong student. The wisest people I know are the ones who keep learning. There need not be any more 17 page papers, all nighters with an insane amount of caffeine, or even late nights at the library. But what the sagacious have in common is they know education never ends. Resist the lure to simply pad what you already think you know. Our culture isn’t very good at this. Be different. Read. Read more than the sports section. Read from the different. The diverse. Resist that tribal thinking. Tribal thinking can be dangerous, as it rarely expands any learning.

Honor… 

I really wish I had some neat, maybe even poignant, concise poetic phrase that we could end on here. But it’s harder; it’s so much bigger. I know honor is important. It’s timeless. You can never outdo another in honor. Still try. When we honor other people, it changes how we see them; it changes how we feel about them. It leads to compassion. Empathy. And it makes it harder to craft those human hills we conveniently suggest we’ll die on. But here’s the catch: most of us are selective in our honor. There is no wisdom in that. Work to honor all. Love another as yourself. Leave no one out. Ever. That’s authentic honor.

So today we sit… quietly… if anyone notices, probably, too, with a few silent tears falling down our face… trying to take it all in…

Grateful for your graduation… proud of your accomplishment… humbled by your growth… learning how very much you have taught us… and so, so honored…

Honored, absolutely, by who you are, son… and who you are becoming.

Well done. So well done. Congratulations, too. I can’t wait to see what’s next…

Joyfully… always…

AR

I disagree!

“How do we handle disagreement?” posed my wise friend last weekend. In a fascinating exchange, his question prompted further, unquestionably relevant pondering…

We are passionate people. We have thoughts and opinions and ways we each think are right.

If it’s right for me, is it right for thee? Is it up to me to demand it right for thee?

Sometimes we think so. We think we are to serve as others’ moral compass. We think it’s our place to judge. We think we are somehow capable of making sensible conclusions for others and even able to render appropriate consequences for such obvious errors in judgment.

So what about disagreement? What are we to do with that? I mean, we all know — logically speaking, of course — that we are no one’s Holy Spirit. That’s a divine role; not yours, mine, government’s, etc. None of us are anywhere capable of that. 

But perhaps the better question — precisely because of our individual, unique thoughts and opinions and ways we think are right — centers around unity. What is it? What is it not? And can we experience unity even in disagreement?

Unity means to be joined together. Simply put, it is a connectedness — a means of being linked together.

Unity is not uniformity. For my entire kid and adult life, for example, I have been a steadfast fan of the Cincinnati Reds (don’t get me started on ignoring the Hall of Fame credentials of one Mr. Peter Edward Rose, Sr.). From my early days of cheering on the dominant “Big Red Machine” to even now, grimacing when the bullpen gives up another late inning home run, I have long been loyal to one of baseball’s charter members of the National League.

Granted, I am not alone in my fandom. I am connected with countless others in my devotion to America’s greatest pastime in southwest Ohio. We don’t all look, think, believe and behave alike. But we are connected. We cheer and grimace together.

Unity is not agreement. Agreement would mean we actually do all look, think, believe and behave alike. Believe me; there is much disagreement among us Reds’ fans as to which pitcher wouldn’t have served up that late inning home run.

But when we confuse unity with agreement, we lose sight of our connectedness.

How do we not lose sight of what is true?

“We prioritize people,” said my wise friend once more.

We invest. We get to know. We listen. Remain humble. Ask questions.

Is this conversation, is this social media post, is this rant or rave going to help another person grow, be encouraged, or be more mindful of what’s good and right and true?

Who am I ignoring in my rant? Who am I justifying disrespecting? 

Profoundly true is disagreement and disrespect are easier with distance; the farther I am from the experience of another, the easier it is for me to draw the judgment line in a place solely consistent with my thinking…

Think race isn’t an issue? Get to know the person of color who was racially targeted. Think race is always an issue? Get to know the person of color who is aware of multiple other factors…

Think Democrats are intolerant hypocrites? Get to know the loyalist, who sincerely believes progressive policy is more compassionate. Think Republicans are arrogant bigots? Get to know the faithful, who sincerely believes conservative policy is more effective. In other words, get to know them. Quit drawing lines from a distance. We prioritize people when we move closer to them.

Moving closer means we humanize. As we move, we feel the connectedness. When we feel the connectedness, we recognize how hollow uniformity and agreement actually are.

Still pondering… so much there…

Respectfully…

AR

are we a racist country?

“… A hundred years ago, kids in classrooms were taught the color of their skin was their most important characteristic — and if they looked a certain way, they were inferior. Today, kids again are being taught that the color of their skin defines them — and if they look a certain way, they’re an oppressor. From colleges to corporations to our culture, people are making money and gaining power by pretending we haven’t made any progress. By doubling down on the divisions we’ve worked so hard to heal. You know this stuff is wrong. Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country…”

In arguably the most talked about presidential joint address, contemporary rebuttal, the words of Sen. Tim Scott made us think.

To be clear, if you stopped by this day looking for a binary answer to the above question, allow me to immediately dispel your expectations. A binary choice answer is insufficient and incomplete. In fact, when we create binary choices — yes/no, racist/anti-racist, for-me/against-me, for example — we are ignoring the complexity of the issue.

Let’s discuss a bit further — as I believe this to be profoundly significant. Books have been promoted and popularized which are solely a series of binary choices. My sobered sense is such is a precarious gambit. 

When we reduce the sensitive, complex issue of racism to a binary choice, we are simplifying the issue. The binary disregards the validity of another. It assumes different perspective equates to either wrong or at best, an incomprehensible outlier. It ignores aspects and experience that don’t fit with our individual paradigm. And when we ignore what doesn’t fit, we fail to engage in the hard work of comprehending the difficult — the totality of the issue. We attempt to cut short the conversation… even though conversations make us think. We saw this in response to Sen. Scott.

With such a well-delivered message that the country is fascinatingly still talking about, pundits and personalities have had to find a way to deal with what Scott actually said… “Race is not a political weapon to settle every issue the way one side wants. It’s too important.”

And then, with few better ways to concisely say it, the name calling went nuts. The demeaning, schooling, awful Twitter tweeting went rampant. Targeting Scott.

I get it. His perspective doesn’t fit in the paradigm of many. That’s legitimate; the name calling is not.

But simply because Scott’s perspective may not fit with mine, it doesn’t make his nor my paradigm wrong; it doesn’t make it right either. It shows that multiple perspectives exist. As one who wants to grow in comprehension, I need to examine more than my or a likeminded perspective.

Those perspectives can be examined via conversation — interactive, respectful dialogue; those conversations prompt people to grow, opinions to expand, and hearts to change. Unfortunately, however, we have created paradigms that encourage us to cut short the conversation. That’s why the Intramuralist respected Scott’s message — the fact that he challenged the binary choice; he actually changed the conversation.

Note how the conversation changed the very next day…

On “Good Morning America,” Vice President Kamala Harris was asked if we’re a racist country. “No, I don’t think America is a racist country,” said Harris.

On “Today” a bit later, to Pres. Joe Biden: is America racist country? “I don’t think the American people are racist,” said the President.

Biden, Harris, and Scott each added more; none claimed racism to be nonexistent. They each acknowledged there is work to do and reform and healing that needs to be examined and take place.

But how the work is done, how reform is crafted, and how healing can effectively ensue will never result from shutting down conversation, shaming another, or by not even allowing another to think the way they do. 

Quick question: how many hearts have been changed via social media when one person opines, another respectfully chimes in with contrary perspective, and the original poster’s tribe members then jump in, swiftly bashing the perceived contrarian? How many are moved to change their opinion when the masses make sure another knows they are wrong?

The best conversations I have, friends — the interactions that make me grow, sharpen and make me think the most — are often with people who hold a different perspective than me… Please, Lord, let me never be so stuck in my own opinion…

Unquestionably, there are great questions in what work, reform and healing look like in regard to how race has affected our country, the progress that’s been made, and what healthy, God-honoring next steps look like. But the way the answers to those questions will actually be effective is by first allowing the conversation to occur.

Respectfully…

AR

detraction, calumny & a partial administration of justice

For years the Intramuralist has presented a “State of the Government” post consistent with the timing of the President’s State of the Union (SOTU) address. As Pres. Biden delivers a joint address to Congress this evening and not an SOTU (there is a difference, although typically not in style), we continue with our annual assessment. In a very abbreviated nutshell, it typically goes something like this…

The state of the government is too partisan, too influenced by money, too big, too financially imbalanced, and too far removed from the Constitution.

We continue to adhere to each of the above assertions. In fact, we believe this has and continues to be true under the executive and congressional leadership of both parties.

But as we continue examining such — and point noted, from no doubt a limited point of view — increasingly more I am finding the state of being “too partisan” most destructive, even now seemingly accepted, welcomed, and encouraged by many of the intelligent or self-identified moderate left and right. Partisanship is dividing us. And as we become more divided (see Pew Research Center’s most recent polling), we fall prey to beliefs and behaviors that fail in otherwise perceived areas of judiciousness…

Partisanship is prompting us to ignore other perspective.

Partisanship is prompting us to think lesser of others — especially in regard to how they vote, who and what they support.

Partisanship is prompting us to believe dissent should be silenced.

Partisanship is prompting us to embrace mandates and dismiss compromise.

Partisanship is skewing our vision.

As I seek wisdom in an area where it’s not obvious in the nation’s loudest voices, I find myself wrestling with the words of a few who’ve gone before us…

From Joseph Addison, the politician and playwright, writing in London’s The Spectator… who in the late 17th/early 18th century, shared content Pres. George Washington would be noted to embrace. Said Addison in an essay entitled “The Malice of Parties”:

“A furious party spirit, when it rages in its full violence, exerts itself in civil war and bloodshed; and when it is under its greatest restraints, naturally breaks out in falsehood, detraction, calumny, and a partial administration of justice. In a word, it fills a nation with spleen and rancor, and extinguishes all the seeds of good nature, compassion, and humanity.”

I repeat…

A furious party spirit… exerting itself…

… naturally breaking out in falsehood.  (Falsehood is “the state of being untrue.”)

… detraction. (Detraction is “the act of denying or taking away (a quality or achievement) so as to make its subject seem less impressive.”)

… calumny. (Calumny is “the making of false and defamatory statements in order to damage someone’s reputation.”)

… and a partial administration of justice. Think of the many who fight for justice only for some. In order to pursue justice, they advocate discrimination against another.

… a nation filled with rancor. Ah, rancor… bitterness or resentfulness. We see it so much now. And yet these words were written centuries ago.

Still more are recently implored words — a few, no less, included in the final SOTU from Pres. Obama. He shared that the state of our union and government is unworkable if “we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice.” Continuing with some of his own regret, he also asked:

“How can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?”

Partisanship is prejudice; it’s in the definition — “prejudice in favor of a particular cause.” Let’s be a wiser, humbler people. Let’s root out all prejudice. Let’s start by individually recognizing the glaring danger of partisanship… and thus pursue a more healthy state of the union.

Respectfully…

AR

Chauvin, Ma’Khia Bryant & a hard reality

This was a hard week…

Many eyes first followed the long-awaited verdict of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. First and foremost, how hard it was to watch a man die; it doesn’t matter who the man is. God be with the Floyd family.

Let us also say, it was hard to watch the many who suggested due process was not necessary in this situation. Incorporated in the Constitution, due process is a legal requirement afforded to all people. Even when it’s hard.

After the verdict was announced, many eyes moved quickly to Columbus, Ohio, where only 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, was shot to death by a police officer. Initial reports are that Ma’Khia was fighting with two other foster children/teens over a messy house and unmade bed. My heart hurts once more. How absolutely tragic.

LeBron James quickly tweeted out a photo of the cop, with the caption, “YOU’RE NEXT #ACCOUNTABILITY.”

The ACLU called it “murder.”

No question this is tragic. Gut-wrenching. There is also more to the story.

Police were responding to a 911 call in which the caller, amid a commotion in the background, alerted them that someone is “trying to fight us, trying to stab us, trying to put their hands on our grandma. Get here now.”

Soon released video shows Bryant with a raised knife in her hand, yelling “I’m gonna stab the f**k out of you, b***h,” and then lunging at an unarmed other girl dressed in pink. Bryant was shot as she lunged at the other girl. How absolutely heartbreaking and awful.

Still more public reaction…

A CNN segment referred to the girl Bryant was attempting to stab as “the child in pink who was so close to Ma’Khia when she was shot.”

NBC Nightly News played the 911 tape. They omitted the part that said someone was “trying to stab us.”

LeBron James deleted his tweet.

Friends, this is hard. We want to wrestle with reality rightly.

While every death is tragic, even when our hearts are hurting — as angry and passionate as we may be — we need to take time to discern the rest of the story — as opposed to instantly reacting to the narrative we think we know. Not every incident fits into our narrative. Reality is more complex.

As wisely said by Ned Pettus, the Columbus Public Safety Director — who is also black — shortly after the incident:

“A teenage girl is dead and she’s dead at the hands of a police officer. Under any circumstances, that is a horrendous tragedy. But the video shows that there is more to this. It requires us to pause, take a close look at the sequence of events, and though it’s not easy, wait for the facts as determined by an independent investigation. We have to ask ourselves, what information did the officer have? What did he see? How much time did he have to assess the situation, and what would have happened if he had taken no action at all?”

Pause.

Take a closer look.

Wait for the facts.

Don’t minimize the tragedy, but don’t let emotion interfere with discernment.

Don’t squeeze the situation into a narrative you’ve predefined.

The story matters. The entire story. Even when it’s hard.

Yep, hard week, my friends. I continue to affirm we are in this together — on the same team — black, white, Asian, Latino, you-name-it. Always and still. May we realize such and honor one another.

Respectfully…

AR

no more agree to disagree

Hang with the Intramuralist long enough, and one swiftly learns there are two popular phrases which oft prompt a rapid, negative (albeit playful) response: “It is what it is.” And… “Let’s agree to disagree.”

“It is what it is” simply feels hollow to me. It’s more what we say when we don’t know what to say — or — when we don’t want to say any more. I remember it used years ago to describe a brawl between players and fans and to describe a high-profile, celebrity divorce. Surely, in both of those situations, there was more to say.

My sense is “let’s agree to disagree” is primarily employed in order to ensure relationships don’t suffer. I get it. I just wish we would commit to more. Too often, the retort creates an easy exit to difficult conversation, when if worked through thoroughly and respectfully, it’s an opportunity for growth and the broadening of perspective.

I reflected upon said phrasing when coming across Lynn Uzzell’s recent contribution to the RealClearPublicAffairs’s 1776 Series, which “explains the major themes that define the American mind.” Uzzell teaches American politics and rhetoric at the University of Virginia and Washington and Lee University. She shared an essay entitled, “Madison’s Five Lessons for Overcoming Polarization.” The entire essay is excellent; hence, excuse my much too-concise, but longer-than-usual, blog post edit. If we could overcome polarization, we would no longer have to agree to disagree; we could do more. Writes Uzzell…

“There has never been a time when our nation wasn’t divided by partisanship. Yet some eras are more divisive than others, and few of us would deny that we’re living through an especially polarized time. For those who don’t trust their instincts on this question, numerous surveys bear out a collective hunch: polarization really has gotten worse in recent decades.

We don’t lack for probing examinations of the causes. Ezra Klein blames modern social and news media. Charles Murray notes that ordinary class divisions have become intensified through American ‘super zips.’ Some studies blame the nationalization of local politics, while others suggest that even our leisure activities are exacerbating political divides. Predictably, each side blames the other for increased radicalization within their respective political parties.

While many of these studies provide genuine insights into our current condition and how we got here, too few have grappled seriously with the most pressing question: How do we get beyond the hyper-partisanship? Lessons drawn from our preeminent constitutional founder James Madison might prove helpful… Madison not only lived through one of the worst epochs of American partisanship but also helped lead the country past that unruly epoch and into greater harmony. That’s why his lessons are worth examining today.

Lesson 1: Teach Classical Rhetoric to America’s Youth.

… The greater ‘free speech’ scandal is the one that nobody talks about: that most colleges and universities aren’t teaching their students the purpose of free speech… It wasn’t so long ago that an education in classical rhetoric was deemed an essential part of enlightened self-government. When Madison attended Princeton, he heard lectures on ‘Moral Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Eloquence’ from none other than John Witherspoon.

And Madison’s interest in the subject outlasted his college days. In 1784, he ordered a copy of Hugh Blair’s popular Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. ‘True rhetoric and sound logic are very nearly allied,’ argued Blair. The proper study of rhetoric is much more than the artistic arrangement of words; it “‘eaches to think as well as to speak accurately.’

It’s not fair to castigate today’s students as ‘snowflakes’; they’ve never been taught a better alternative to disinviting, protesting, or shouting down campus speakers who challenge their presuppositions. If the standard curriculum included classical rhetoric, they would be equipped to engage logically with speakers expressing diverse viewpoints – to discover for themselves whether their visitor was a sophist or a Socrates, or something in between. Even better, their taste in speakers might become too refined for the most inane of the campus rabble-rousers.

Lesson 2: Find Creative Ways to Encourage Both Sides of Every Argument.

… Madison was not naïve. He understood that ‘the one-sided publications which happen to predominate at particular periods’ created a ‘delusion’ in the minds of people who encountered only perspectives that reinforced their own opinions. He whimsically suggested that the perfect solution might be an arrangement whereby each sheet of newspaper was printed on one side by a press representing one party, then printed on the other side by its rival. That way, readers could not avoid ‘both sides of every question,’ and ‘truth would always have a fair chance.’

Given the insularity and nasty tone of today’s media ‘bubbles,’ Madison’s suggestion might require further refinement. Currently, both sides in the political debate are writing in such polarizing fashion that a media diet that included listening to the other side’s overheated polemics would not likely moderate or broaden anyone’s opinions. Studies have shown that the experiment may have the opposite effect. Far more constructive would be publications or events designed to engage opposing sides in a format that encouraged civil disagreement…

Lesson 3: Socialize with your (Political) Enemies.

… Madison’s administration established a social change in the nation’s capital — one owing perhaps more to the president’s vivacious and charming First Lady. Dolley Madison instituted regular Wednesday ‘drawing room nights’ at the White House, and everyone was invited. Her nonpartisan parties became so popular that they were known as ‘squeezes.’ One guest, Pennsylvanian Representative Jonathan Roberts, observed: ‘By her deportment in her own house you cannot discover who is her husband’s friends or foes.’

Of course, partisan rancor did not magically disappear over whipped syllabub and ice cream, but it was softened. One may disagree, vehemently, with a dining companion, but it becomes harder to demonize him…

Lesson 4: Never Allow Political Disagreements To Get Personal.

… In his public speeches, Madison could be a forceful voice for his political party, but he never allowed his criticisms to get personal. Toward the end of his life, Madison grew even more scrupulous: he actively concealed the faults he discerned in others. Dolley explained his editorial practice when preparing his private papers for publication: ‘He desired me to read them over, and if any letter, line, or word struck me as being calculated to injure the feelings of any one, or wrong in themselves, that I would withdraw them or it.’

… Madison’s active avoidance of all personal affronts, even during political disagreements, is a standard of conduct sadly foreign to today’s political discourse. Yet ad hominem is listed among the logical fallacies for a reason: it never improves our political understanding but invariably poisons our political atmosphere…

Lesson 5: Repentance.

As Madison grew older, he eventually regretted some of his youthful excesses… Madison later described feeling ‘consciousness & regret’ over those earlier compositions. Although he did not repent the positions he had defended, he thought these essays breathed a party spirit ‘which was of no advantage either to the subject, or to the Author.’

… One of the biggest problems with a hyper-partisan era is that it produces excitements that tempt even capable and well-meaning individuals into misbehavior that they might spurn in better moments. Madison was right: there is no excuse for such vitriolic behavior; ultimately, the only recourse is regret, remorse, and a resolution to do better in the future. Unless our political and thought leaders adopt this lesson and reconsider their own contributions to today’s toxic political climate, there is no hope for improvement.”

Uzzell continues, noting that “the stakes are high, since the surest and most final way to resolve polarization is through armed conflict.” That gets a little scary to me, as she asserts that “the most hyper-partisan era in our history, after all, was not the 1790s; it was the 1850s, which ended in the Civil War. Every civil war is simply partisanship that got out of hand.”

Every civil war is simply partisanship that got out of hand.

We can learn to overcome polarization. But we must do more than look down on another, demand they think like me, or silence and shut them down. We must do more than agree to disagree.

Respectfully…

AR

why congressional approval is so low

One of the things that drives me crazy is dishonesty. Ask my sons…

Sarcastic? OK, sometimes that’s funny.

Exaggerate? Well, that can make a good story a great one.

But lie? That’s wrong. 

And not only is it wrong, it’s incredibly unattractive and a clear extinguisher of respect. Hence, as one who coaches, encourages, and builds wise, effective leadership, I am often deeply disappointed when I see leaders manipulate with mistruth. 

As written here several years ago, the Intramuralist thought it was ill-advised, partisan governance when then Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to hold even a hearing for Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. Even though the vacancy was created by the death of the honorable Justice Antonin Scalia in February, McConnell said that Americans had a “unique opportunity” by aligning the court fulfillment with voting for a new president, “as they decide who they trust to both lead the country and nominate the next Supreme Court justice.”

Right. Call it sarcasm or exaggeration if you wish. The bottom line is that McConnell was manipulating with mistruth. There were almost nine months between the Court vacancy and the election. Clearly, he was politicizing the issue. He wanted opportunity for a potentially conservative President to nominate a potentially more conservative nominee.

This week took another dishonest turn. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Sen. Ed Markey among others introduced legislation to add four justices to the Supreme Court. Said Nadler, “Nine justices may have made sense in the nineteenth century when there were only nine circuits, and many of our most important federal laws — covering everything from civil rights to antitrust, the Internet, financial regulation, health care, immigration, and white-collar crime — simply did not exist, and did not require adjudication by the Supreme Court. But the logic behind having only nine justices is much weaker today when there are 13 circuits. Thirteen justices for thirteen circuits is a sensible progression…”

Again, right. Call it sarcasm or exaggeration if you wish. The bottom line is Nadler is manipulating with mistruth. Clearly, he is politicizing the issue. He wants opportunity for a liberal President to nominate four potentially liberal nominees in order to change the perceived ideological balance of the Court.

Pack. Expand. Pack. Expand… Congress has currently decided to wrestle with this issue. Hear from others within the party on the inherent wisdom of such…

“I have heard that there are some people on the Democratic side who would like to increase the number of judges. I think that was a bad idea when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to pack the court… If anything would make the court appear partisan it would be that. One side saying when we’re in power we’re going to enlarge the number of judges so we’ll have more people who will vote the way we want them to. So I am not at all in favor of that solution to what I see as a temporary situation.”Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 2019

“It is wrong to think of the Court as another political institution. And it is doubly wrong to think of its members as junior league politicians. Structural alteration motivated by the perception of political influence can only feed that perception, further eroding that trust.”Justice Stephen Breyer, 2021

“President Roosevelt clearly had the right to send to the United States Senate and the United States Congress a proposal to pack the court. It was totally within his right to do that. He violated no law. He was legalistically, absolutely correct. But it was a bonehead idea. It was a terrible, terrible mistake to make. And it put in question, for an entire decade, the independence of the most significant body — including the Congress included in my view — in this country, the Supreme Court of the United States of America.”Sen. Joe Biden, 1983

No doubt there’s a reason respect for Congress is so low. Said Statista Research Dept. expert Erin Duffin 3 weeks ago, “Congressional approval, particularly over the past few years, has not been high. Americans tend to see Congress as a group of ineffectual politicians who are out of touch with their constituents.”

Ineffectual. Out of touch. With neither party possessing even a 51% majority in either legislative body, each party seems unable to resist the temptation to seize more power. Their power grabs are unattractive and a clear extinguisher of respect. With such a split population, neither party has a partisan mandate. 

They do have a mandate to be honest. At least we wish they did.

Respectfully…

AR

how should we respond?

Was it one more act in a pattern of racist police violence?

Or was it the tragic outcome of a high pressure mistake?

In a disturbing development in which a young black man was resisting arrest in Minneapolis Sunday afternoon, after a traffic stop/outstanding warrant situation, a veteran white female police officer, yelled “Taser, taser, taser!” She then fired one shot, immediately dropping her weapon, stumbling back, and crying out, “Holy shit. I just shot him.” 20-year-old Daunte Wright would drive away, soon dying from the fatal, single shot.

As with every killing of any other, my heart grieves.

Pres. Biden mirrored a similar response. He, too, had questions…

“The question is was it an accident? Was it intentional? That remains to be determined by a full-blown investigation. I think we’ve got to wait and see what the investigation shows — and the entire investigation,” said the nation’s 46th president.

Was it an accident?

Was it intentional?

Does it matter?

Friends, this situation is indeed grievous. I also find our grieving country, earnestly confused in how to react. People and pundits propose and project all sorts of mandates and emotion. Our collective reaction manifests itself in all sorts of words, actions, emoting. Hence, so many questions…

Do we lament?

Do we shame?

Do we cry out?

Lash out?

Who is the target of our response?

Do we react publicly?

Privately?

Do we pray?

Can we dictate the behavior of others?

Can we demand some are silenced?

Must all take a definitive stance?

Do I have a limited perspective?

Am I humbly able to ask that question?

Do I know everything?

Is there more than one right way to respond?

Is what’s right for you what’s right for me? 

Is there room for varied, prudent reaction?

Is there grace and space for more than one wise reaction to exist?

As we struggle with responding wisely, the best thing I personally know to do in the immediate moment at hand is to weep with those who weep… mourn with those who mourn. 

Let my weeping prompt zero pride. Let it not cause me to rush to judgment nor justify other wrongful behavior. Let me lead with compassion. Let only my empathy and humility increase. This is my humble prayer.

Yes, this is hard.

Respectfully…

AR

is requiring a photo ID discriminatory? asking for a friend

Let’s be honest. There’s too much rhetoric out there right now. In 21st Century America, every issue needs an enemy; the acquisition of a carefully crafted enemy expedites support. It builds public backing faster and in many cases, prompts the omission of detailed scrutiny which multifaceted issues necessitate. Hence, many exaggerate or inflame in order to stir up support. The desired end then justifies their oft mendacious means.

The challenge then is discerning right and wrong from the rhetoric. Wise-thinking persons don’t want to be talked into anything; we don’t want our discernment skills to be determined by news activists with agendas, singular source bias, nor social media shaming. (For the record, social media shaming has the exact opposite effect.)

One issue that’s been incredibly difficult to discern amidst this backdrop is the question of whether it’s appropriate to require a photo ID to vote. Is such discriminatory? The Intramuralist is “asking for a friend,” because we wish for no friend to be treated unfairly. I also believe most wise-thinking Americans have a desire to never discriminate. So let’s extract the rhetoric and unpack the issue.

Many activities require a photo ID — purchasing alcohol or cigarettes, renting a car or hotel room, applying for welfare, for example. Granted, the Constitution doesn’t provide Americans with the right to any of the above. That’s what makes voting different.

The issue gets trickier when we acknowledge that a photo ID is required both in marriage and air travel. Our country has had many conversations about those perceived rights — an individual’s right to marry whoever they want — and freedom of movement; the TSA requires a photo ID for everyone boarding a plane.

Examining multiple surveys from a diverse cross section of sources, it appears that the percentage of American adults who do not have a photo ID is somewhere between 7-11%. While each state provides some sort of free photo ID to any resident who needs one — meaning affordability is not an issue — the debate by the ACLU and others is accessibility to government-issued sources. The question is how transportation to/fro said sources affects the poor, disabled, and those living in more rural areas.

Such made me wonder how a photo ID requirement affects turnout. My very unscientific research was interesting…

  • A two election cycle study released in September of 2014 by the Government Accountability Office studying Kentucky and Tennessee concluded that strict photo ID laws reduced turnout by 2-3%.
  • A ten year study released in February of 2019 by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) concluded that strict photo ID laws “have no negative effect on registration or turnout, overall or for any group defined by race, gender, age, or party affiliation.”

The results are inconclusive. Especially if we only focus on a singular study.

I thus find myself in search of the bigger question. Eliminating the “enemy rhetoric,” knowing employers of such most likely hope we will omit the detailed scrutiny, the challenge in the voting debate is obvious…

How do we manage the tension between fraud and participation? How do we simultaneously ensure the integrity of the vote and encourage broad, individual involvement? 

Which makes me ask… if one side or another is employing inflammatory rhetoric, which of the two sides of the tension are they prioritizing and why? 

Are they only attempting to eliminate fraud?

Are they only encouraging increased participation?

As the NBER study acknowledged, “Combating such fraud is critical to build citizen confidence in election results and consolidate democratic regimes… However, rules pursuing those objectives can also weaken democracy if they keep eligible citizens away from the polling booth. Compounding the matter, legislators have an incentive to push for restrictions if citizens enfranchised by flexible rules will likely vote for rival parties – or oppose restrictions if that will widen their base.”

Our legislators, pundits, and politicians have incentive to push and oppose, exaggerate and inflame, prioritize and omit. Perhaps step one is acknowledging such — and not allowing any enemy to be crafted.

Let’s keep talking. Let’s resist the rhetoric. Let’s keep asking for a friend.

Respectfully…

AR