We're on the same team (Oct 8 column)


Voting has begun. County auditor Amy M. Sathoff said her office sent out a record 1,300 ballots in the mail Monday, the first day for early voting. There are candidates who say they are fighting for the soul of America, of Iowa, of this district. Those are stirring words, but I would submit the thought that the soul of our nation, state and community aren't in peril. Sure, there is great danger in our world. Yes, the economy is buckling under the weight of competing demands for how our collective contributions should be spent. Yes, progress toward equality and human rights hangs by a thread with fear-based rhetoric about the public commons returning to some kind of religious and moral past that, if we take a closer look at history, never really existed – it was just hidden better, the warts glossed over more fully.

I hope to not be misunderstood: individuals should be free to practice their religion and hold their deeply-held beliefs without fear of persecution, and they are, especially Christians in our society. What's inexcusable is the rise of anti-Semitism. What I want to say to those who say they're Christians is this: I want you to go to your grandmother's home, or if your grandmother is no longer living, imagine when you were younger and she was. Go into her home, give her a healthy slap across the face, and tell her you hate her. (Sorry, Granny).

Have you done that? No? Why not? Because your heritage, your history, your past, the legacy of love in your family is tied up in that dear person? Because you wouldn't want to hurt her, or to live the rest of your life without her inimitable cookies or affectionate wisdom?

That's who Judaism is to Christians. Hating Judaism or a Jewish person, thinking they're misguided is like hating your grandmother. If you think about it, if Judaism is the grandparent of modern Christianity, the Muslims are Christianity's great uncle. They all sprang from Abraham and like relatives at a Thanksgiving dinner fueled by a few too many beers, a few unearthed ancient resentments, went their separate ways to live exactly what they believed.

What does religious talk have to do with the state of our nation? It's this fight for the soul of America. In my observation, we can no longer agree to disagree, accept that we believe one thing and our neighbor believes another. I am convinced everyone comes to their political and ideological beliefs through their unique experiences, challenges, traumas and triumphs. I have voted for Democrats and Republicans, candidates I adored and those I thought were just okay-er than the other one. My Granddad Ainsworth, whom I also would never have slapped, said straight-ticket voting was the purview of the unthinking, one-issue voting that of the misanthrope. He said each candidate deserves the voter's careful consideration of their ideas, abilities, convictions, integrity and courage. Straight-ticket all the way, every time, in a way takes away the uniqueness, the humanity of the candidates as a voter judges them not by the content of their character, but by the letter behind their name.

Granddad died in 2005 at the age of 94. He suffered from dementia the last while of his life, and I didn't get to see him in those several years. While identity politics had built for years, the early 2000s was the point at which it started to spill over. Instead of voting Republican or Democrat, people considered themselves an R or D in their personhood.

Having deeply held beliefs is great. Enthusiasm for a platform is terrific. Our democracy may not have survived this long without it. One problem with identity politics is that in the headiness we feel when we belong to a group as part of something bigger than ourselves, we can lose our own conscience.

Bishop Steve Paradis of Carthage, Texas recently wrote, “It is essential to have a well-formed conscience, because how you vote has an impact on the state of your soul. When you are vote for someone, you are supporting that person and the agenda that they are proclaiming. What that means is that you align your will with the will of the person for whom you vote. You are choosing what they choose.”

I don't think this means you must agree explicitly with every plank in a candidate's platform, but the condition of holding your nose to vote the party line or for whom you think is slightly more okay than the other one is a big problem. It's a problem with the parties who seem to uplift candidates at all levels who are not always the greatest in courage, integrity and moral fortitude, but if you overlook behavior and action in a candidate that you would call out in a friend or family member, where is our standard? We seem to have accepted that there is this game called politics that the candidates must all play. Putting out dubious claims in attack ads. Accepting dark and grey-money from unknown sources. Shouting each other down in a debate. Trading insults. Serving corporations and special interests instead of we, the people. Getting into office and jockeying for position rather than paying attention to what would best serve the greatest number of constituents. Taking leave of their oaths to uphold the Constitution and serve everyone in their nation, state or district instead of only the ones that benefit them.

There is this game of politics we have tolerated, and then there is the factor of what kind of world do we want to live in? While my home has always been one of spirited discussion on politics and we have even produced a candidate for office who, when he is well, continues a conversation about the state of our union, throughout the quarter-century I have been raising children, I have had to say, “Yes, that wasn't pretty to look at or great to hear, but instead of worrying and complaining, we can look at all the freedom we have to live our lives without obsessing over politics.”

In non-pandemic times we can spend time with friends, go to and participate in concerts and performances, and any time we are free to cook and eat, earn our way, read, write, draw, paint, sculpt, envision, dream, hope and believe.

It's not a life free from politics or politicians. Without our representatives allocating money, where would we be without our public works, public parks, public schools, public libraries, public utilities, public protection under the watch of law enforcement, emergency workers and firefighters, public health...

But isn't benefiting from all of that socialism? Maybe we can just call it common good.

For the common good, for the future of all of us, I feel it is vital that everyone who can vote, does. No one should ever tell you how to vote – that is up to you and your conscience. But voting and taking part in the democratic process is a responsibility and a privilege we should take seriously.

On integrity – in these times of information overload and nearly thirty-five years since the Fairness Doctrine was removed from our airwaves, the truth can be hard to suss out.

As the conversations continue about the right direction for our community, state and nation, I hope we can remember that a small town may be ideally suited to keeping those discussions civil and respectful. Can we strive to do so with a willingness to listen as much as we talk (something the candidates on the debate stage could learn) and to learn from those who may not believe as we do?

In our Emmet County ranks, we have combat veterans who spilled blood for our freedom, and others actively fighting and sacrificing for the right to become U.S citizens.

We have unfinished work in this country. I think we have strayed far from our perfect union, from freedom for all. It's still pretty great here in the U.S, but so many things could be better. No matter who is elected to office, we should all be able to hold them accountable, to investigate the level of their integrity, to insist that they work for us. In a community that shows up for each other on a regular basis, what better way to make it count than to vote?

Now a word for those who are enthusiastic about a particular candidate: we will print letters to the editor endorsing a candidate that fit our guidelines: 400 words or fewer, signed, with a phone number or email address so we can contact you (we won't publish this!), from Emmet County or native to the area, stating clearly why you support the candidate without slamming their opponent (s), keeping it positive and if you can, informative. The final issue in which we will print these letters is the Oct. 26 issue with a chance for responses to those letters in the Oct. 29 issue. We will not print candidate endorsement letters on Monday, Nov. 2 going into Election Day Nov. 3.

Step up for the team. Vote.


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