The Divided States of America

“I’m not convinced people (in the U.S.) are serious about getting to some kind of unified place. I think now a lot of people are more comfortable with the idea that a divided America is part of what the country’s about. And that’s where we’re going to be for a while.” Historian Julian Zelizer

It’s a theme I’ve worried about and raised frequently since November 2016. My blog on 09 December 2018 was titled, “Lost Faith in America.” It was a shock to hear that perspective validated somewhat by Dr. Zelizer discussing the book he co-authored with fellow Princeton historian Kevin Kruse, Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974. How the book “Details The Roots of Political Divisiveness In American Politics” was the forum on NPR’s “On Second Thought”(22 August 2019) with Virginia Prescott. The podcast can be found at On Second Thought: ‘Fault Lines’ Details The Roots of Political Divisiveness In American Politics.wcwc7

 

In her set-up, Prescott described the conclusion in Fault Lines that there have always been political, economic and racial divisions in the United States. The compelling history takes up the first roughly 40 minutes of the hour-long program.

Then the focus shifts to the premise in Fault Lines that “those divisions have become wider and deeper since the resignation of Richard Nixon shook the foundations of our democracy.”

The way our institutions “reform after all of the trauma and tumult of the 60s is to foster division,” according to Zelizer. “Real divisions in American society” that people aren’t quiet about today.

An outcome of these “wedge politics” (Prescott, 40:09) is “effectively purging moderates from our political voices. So, THE LEFT IS GOING FURTHER TO THE LEFT and THE RIGHT IS GOING FURTHER TO THE RIGHT. [EMPHASIS IS MINE].” And questioned what had happened to ideological diversity within the parties.

Nixon claimed executive privilege when special prosecutor Archibald Cox wanted to access the White House tapes. “And it makes me wonder,” Prescott posed, “if he were president now, with access to the kind of megaphone of social media and fully aligned conservative media, would (Nixon) have resigned?”

Zelizer’s response was a denouement (47:50) “You can make an argument, no, (Nixon) would have survived. That a lot of the pillars that certainly President Trump can rely on were not available to Nixon. So whether you’re talking about how the public sees executive power or how it tolerates a lot of executive power to the role the conservative media has played today in giving support to a president who is in trouble, Nixon didn’t have any of that. So (Nixon) is president right when the whole world of conservatism is really just taking form – the movement, the media, the ideas. Trump is at the other end of this. And a lot of what he counts on is the world that’s been created in between.”

Zelizer’s statement about We, the People, the public, is compelling. “. . . how the public sees executive power or how it tolerates a lot of executive power . . .” isn’t the same as it was in 1974. The people hadn’t seen the presidency as being more powerful than the other two branches of government prior to Nixon and hadn’t tolerated presidents who saw their role that way. We, the People changed our views of the role of the president during the terms of Nixon’s successors – Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama. That change became one of the pillars from which Trump reigns.

Prescott suggests that We, the People may have lost faith in the possibility of national unity and asks, “Given the echo chambers that most of us live in, is unity even valued?” (48:30) Do we even value the United States of America?

Unity isn’t valued right now, Zelizer answers. “I think it’s more nostalgic when you hear about unity. But I think when push comes to shove, in a lot of the world of politics and in a lot of the world of our culture, we’re not really seeking unity. We’re seeking different perspectives on big issues where it’s not clear where the common ground would be. If that is the goal – and it might not be and it might be fine not to be there – but if it’s the goal, we need serious introspection about the way we go about the business, the rules of the game, the way all these institutions work. We need that kind of conversation.”

A conversation that’s impossible to have given the polarization and the social civil war in America today between the conservatives and the liberals, and with a president who has stated his disdain for the Constitution.

My faith in America was challenged last year. If Zelizer’s right, I’m not alone. Perhaps we are as comfortable with the idea of a divided America as we were in 1860. “And that’s where we’re going to be for a while.”  — 30 —

 

Lost Faith in America

It’s no secret I absolutely abhor and have trouble accepting Donald Trump as president of the United States. He was a bête noire long before he announced his candidacy, his election and his first two years in the White House.
I’ve struggled to understand the uncharacteristic depth of my dislike since he announced his candidacy. My almost daily need to share and comment on Trump’s shortcomings and failures on Facebook, now the virtual pro- v. anti-Trump battleground.
An epiphany occurred at the Sunday church service, the first day of advent in the Christian calendar. Celebrating with an Advent wreath is a meaningful custom in many Christian traditions begun in 16th-century Germany. Four candles are typically arranged on a circular garland of evergreen branches representing eternity with a fifth in the center. One candle is lit each Sunday as a part of Advent services, each candle representing an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ into the world. Each of the four candles stands for one thousand years to total the 4,000 years from the time of Adam and Eve until the birth of the Savior.
In the Methodist Church, the first candle lit represents “Hope.”
It was also Communion Sunday and – kneeling at the chancel rail – it suddenly occurred to me that my disgruntlement with our president is a symptom of something deeper.
I’ve lost hope. Hope in America, its future, the future for our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
It’s a shocking, disturbing self-discovery.
I had hope for America after JFK was assassinated. I had hope at the end of the Decade of Assassinations – Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, the Birmingham church bombing, the civil rights workers in Mississippi, Bobby Kennedy. I had hope during the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.
I had hope for America when I volunteered for and served in Vietnam in 1969, returning to be briefed not to tell anyone where I’d been, to change out of my uniform to civvies before we left the base.
I had hope for America through Kent State, Watergate and Nixon’s impeachment, the bombings during 1970, the Olympic bombing, Oklahoma City and the Unabomber.
I had hope for America during the Persian Gulf and Iraq wars, Clinton and Lewinsky.
I had hope for America after 9/11. I’d purchased a jacket designed with the stars & stripes at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. I wore it proudly in Europe, Asia and South America for almost a decade while working and traveling, unafraid because I had hope for America.
I had hope for America during the Obama administration when race moved to the forefront of our American agenda more divisively and deadlier than it had been 50 years before. Through the school massacres and the Boston marathon.
And these are only the top of mind occurrences which challenged my hope for America.
For me, Trump is the personification of that lost hope.
Who he was and how he behaved when the real-estate mogul and reality TV star is the same as he is as president. The American people got nothing new, his oath of office notwithstanding.
For me, he lacks character, is amoral and immoral, unethical, egomaniacal with little interest in opinions different from his own, narcissistic with the need to be the center of attention, racist, misogynistic, a liar, vulgar, antisocial and paranoid, lacks empathy, makes up his own reality and rules to fit whatever he wants them to be, defies the status quo and makes quick, impulsive decisions based on his self-professed superior intelligence and gut. Psychologists call the combination of egotistical traits, hunger for power with impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited decision-making psychopathy.
My insight isn’t justification for my public reactions to and denunciations of his behavior. But the understanding does, on one hand, validate my attempts to challenge the judgment and wisdom of We, the people, when we cast our votes, which I will continue to do. And on another, bare a personal dark side from which I need to consciously struggle to escape.

“Let’s run it up the flagpole . . . “

“Free speech, exercised both individually and through a free press, is a necessity in any country where people are themselves free.”  Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

A friend related the story of someone who graduated from our high school a year ahead of us telling him he has no interest in reading my recent book — The Bridge Between: Race, Rage & Reconciliation in 1960s Iowa (TBB). The reason is because he resents the upside-down American flag on my Facebook site.

US Flag Distress Signal

My friend told me, “I understand where you are coming from, the vast gulf between the ideal of USA and the reality of USA.” A perceptive perception.

He added, “It’s your call, but it seems likely the image restricts your audience.” The Lord and my accountant know The Bridge Between wasn’t written for monetary gain. I’m OK with anyone choosing not to buy or read it which others have done. I wouldn’t remove the distress flag to be marketable.

I’ve lost long-time friends because of the upside down flag. Been castigated. Vilified. Threatened. Been unfriended on Facebook by friends and relatives. I won’t remove the flag because of these situations.

I have no problem with anyone’s reaction. I do have an issue with their lack of understanding of my right to protest.

An upside down flag is globally a signal “of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.” (American flag protocols: Section §8 of Chapter 1 of Title 4 – Flag and Seal, Seat of Government, And the States — of the U.S. Code was enacted by act July 30, 1947.(https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title4/pdf/USCODE-2011-title4-chap1.pdf.) It’s interesting that’s paragraph (a) in Section §8. An upside-down flag is also a sign of protest or revolution in many countries.

I use the upside-down flag on Facebook, because it’s a major social medium in which the chasm between the Trump supporters and the non-supporters is demonstrated by the minute. And because I believe the life, liberty and property of us Americans are in dire danger and distress under this president and his administration. And so are the American character that historically have made America great, our sense of self, our unity, our culture of inclusiveness, our sense of responsibility to the world “lifting (our) lamp beside the golden door.” That we are seeing the fulfillment of Lincoln’s prophesy of our demise as a country coming from within. That’s why I display the upside-down flag.

To protest, some people take a knee. Raise a clenched fist. March. Sit in and sit down. Strike, even teachers. Burn the flag. Beat minority citizens senseless. Burn cities. I display the distress signal on my Facebook page.

As an 11-year military veteran of both the AF and the Army, including a year in Nam, I’ve stated before that my service meant I was and am prepared to defend to the death the First Amendment right of any citizen or non-citizen to lawfully protest.  Any veteran who doesn’t understand that responsibility or right didn’t really understand the oath s/he made, in my opinion. And any citizen who supports the troops, but objects to an upside-down flag as a symbol of protest in a time of  “dire distress in instances of extreme danger,” doesn’t understand what it means to be a citizen, in my opinion.

Beyond not acknowledging my right to protest, the furor over my Facebook flag is hypocrisy I suspect by a number of those who object.

The same code that indicates the meaning of the American flag with the union down also says the flag “should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.” How many of us have violated that rule? How many apparel companies and designers would be out of work if people were as offended by that use of the flag as they are by my display?

The code also says it “should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.”

There go the Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day decorations, the industries and employees that produce them, and the McDonald’s flag flying under Old Glory as well.

And no “part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.” Athletic apparel companies and their workers have just fallen in the face of protestors citing Section §8.

“However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations.”

I shouldn’t have an American flag patch on my Vietnam Veteran’s hat or my favorite patch denim jacket since I’m not formally a member of any of those groups. How many wear the flag on a sleeve with the union (the blue field with the white stars) facing the back rather than forward? Or wear an American flag pin on the right lapel rather than the left, near the heart?

Some who protest my protest symbol don’t properly display the flag at their homes with proper lighting and don’t properly dispose of them when they become unserviceable.

The one outside our house is. And donated to the Boy Scouts for a proper flag-burning ceremony.

Flag 309 Palm Street

Many who object to my Facebook flag have never stopped driving, gotten out of the car and stood with hand over heart when kids were raising or lowering the flag in front of the school. I have.

My use of an upside-down American flag is a symbol of protest. It’s not un-American or anti-American or unpatriotic.

For me, there’s an interesting sentence buried in Section §8, paragraph J: “The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.” Our First Amendment allows this “living thing” to be burned in protest. That Constitutionally guaranteed right and others are “all or nothing rights,” not ones that are “pick and choose.”

If they’re not, it begs the question whether the United States is today “a living country” or a dying social experiment.

No More “Permission to Pee”

High school graduation ceremonies are inherently cruel. One minute, you’re on top of the world. You survived. Walk across the stage, barely hear your name through the cheering and screaming, take an empty diploma holder, shake the principal’s hand, pump the air, flashbulbs from the official photographer adding to the surrealism.

You couldn’t wait to get out of high school. Out from under. On your own. You made it.
It may take a few hours or number of days. But the realization will hit that graduation means EMANCIPATION. What that means doesn’t immediately register until your parents tell you there are two basic choices to keep your room: get a job during the summer until college or vocational school starts in the fall, or join the military.

“Hey, wait a minute, a week ago I was still in high school. I’m barely 18. Can vote but can’t drink.”

pERMISSION TO PEEWith emancipation comes responsibility for decisions, actions and consequences. On the upside, you no longer have to ask permission from the teacher to pee. No one’s going to chase your homework or your attendance, unless the school has a mandatory attendance policy. Your parents can’t call and ask how you’re doing, unless you’ve given FIRPA permission for that information to be shared.

Of the two-thirds of high school grads who start college, roughly one-third drop out after the first year of college.

Students are under a tremendous amount of stress, which creates tension and anxiety. They’re told 100 times from parents to school orientation to four years of first-day classes, “You’re not in high school anymore.”

Between the two of us, my wife and I were professors for nearly 40 years, colleges, universities and tech school, private and public, large and small, East coast to West and in between.

Our syllabi included a “How to Be Successful in My Class and in College.” There’s no illusion that syllabi are read. But reduced stress, anxiety and tension regardless of the class, course or professor make students more “teachable.”

Before Classes Start
1. Map where all classes are at least a day before; preferably two. WALK THE ROUTES between classes to find the most efficient way, especially if you’re limited to 15 minutes. Know where you’re going Day #1 so there’s no anxiety, no mix-ups, showing up in the wrong class at the wrong time. Keep a campus map with you the first week or so to make sure you don’t get lost. If you need help, ASK SOMEONE!!!!! It’s also a great way to meet people.

2. Log on, and, if you can get into the courses you’re scheduled to take, download the syllabus for each. READ it. This is your roadmap for the professor’s expectations. FOLLOW IT.

3. ATTEND THE FIRST CLASS. ATTEND THE FIRST CLASS. ATTEND THE FIRST CLASS. There are typically waiting lists for classes and people who DON’T ATTEND the first class are frequently dropped. Your seat is filled and you go to the end of the ADD list. That can mean delaying graduation by a semester or more.

After Classes Start

1. Learn each professor’s attendance policy. Highlight it in the syllabus. Monitor your own attendance record so you’re not surprised at the end of the semester with a reduced grade or an “F.” The secret is to ATTEND CLASS, because things will happen during the semester when you can’t.

2. DON’T CHEAT. Research studies show that 68% of college undergraduates and 43% of graduate students admit to cheating on tests or written assignments. Seventy-six percent turn in someone else’s work verbatim, 42% have purchased custom papers, essays and theses online, and over one-quarter have had a paid service complete their online courses. Interestingly, cheating is more prevalent among students with higher GPAs who have more to lose from lower grades. My wife and I could tell you stories, but that would take a separate blog. Ninety-seven percent of cheaters aren’t caught and the result is normally suspension or expulsion. Three percent are caught. You can’t be in the three percent if you don’t cheat. The schools and the professors are serious about cheating. Text-matching software, webcams and cheat-proof tests are used to catch cheaters. Laptops, smartphones and smartwatches are banned from classes and exams. Often the rationale for cheating is that it’s necessary to stay competitive in a GPA-driven academic and hiring world. But cheating prevents you from learning and costs you personal integrity. You’re lying on a gurney looking up at a brain surgeon about to operate on you. Do you wonder if s/he cheated to get through medical school? The pilot to get through flight school? Your child’s teacher to get through teacher training?

3. ASSIGNMENT DEADLINES ARE ABSOLUTE. “The computer crashed and ate my assignment” isn’t an excuse. IF YOU MISS A DEADLINE, TURN THE ASSIGNMENT IN ANYWAY with a note that says you know it’s late. But you wanted to turn it in to show you’ve done the work even though you may not get any credit for it. You may find partial credit earned, which wouldn’t have been if you hadn’t turned it in. At the end of the semester, if you’re on the borderline between a “D” and an “F” or an “A” or a “B,” the fact you turned in the work late MAY – EMPHASIZE “MAY” – may make the difference.
4. BACKUP ALL ASSIGNMENTS & PRESENTATIONS. Murphy’s Law is a prevalent part of life on any campus. Use a jump drive or better, a cloud which can be accessed from anywhere. If you’re giving a presentation, carry it in on a jump drive, email it to yourself as an attachment, put in on the cloud. Have at least three ways of accessing it. Murphy LIVES in classroom computers and in the IT system.

5. After the first week, go by each professor’s office during his/her office hours and introduce yourself. “Hi, I’m Mike Miller. I’m in your (day and time) class. I had a quick question about . . . (have a real question.)” Thank them. Male professor – shake hand. Female – professor; wait for her to offer to shake your hand. Do this at least once more after the midterm. With five classes and 20-150 students, s/he may not remember your name, but they’ll remember having met you. If you ever have an issue in the class, that goes a long way.

6. Be prepared and contribute in class. Don’t be the one who always answers, but don’t be an anonymous mute. Professors will recognize you, which may be important later.

7. Get into study groups, even if you think you know the information cold. There are three benefits. One of the most important is the social interactions. Many of the people, especially in your core liberal arts courses, will be in other majors. It gives you a chance to broaden your perspective beyond Haslam College by making friends in other disciplines. The second is a chance to review material and validate that you do know it. The third is to help you identify the gaps if you don’t and practice the materials with others who are in a similar situation.

8. Professors don’t GIVE grades. You EARN the grades, which professors record and report. You’re not entitled to a grade simply because tuition was paid. This is part of learning to accept consequences for decisions by not blame-shifting. “If I fail your class, my folks are going to stop paying my tuition and I won’t be able to stay in school.” Oh, so it’s only my class? How are you doing in your other classes?

9. I can’t tell you how many students came in my office the day before, the day of or the day after a final exam or when grades were due that I couldn’t swear was ever in one of my classes that semester. And it was usually, “I know I didn’t come to class or do the assignments or take the tests, but if I don’t get a ‘C’ I’ll have to drop out of school.” Don’t late for the final hour to try and resuscitate your performance. TRACK YOUR POINTS and grades throughout the semester. If there’s a question or a conflict, TALK WITH THE PROFESSOR as soon as it’s discovered. MAKE SURE YOU AUDIT before the final month in the semester to assure you’re on track to earn the grade you want or need. It also gives you time to try and make up the difference.

10. We borrowed Wayne Gretzky’s advice for our kids in school and on the futbol pitch: you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Most professors have a “non-negotiable” caveat when it comes to the syllabus. Which isn’t a legal contract. It also usually contains a phrase that it may be adapted or adjusted as needed. If you have a performance problem in a “non-negotiable” professor’s class, go talk with him/her anyhow. Don’t beg or plead, but offer some positive, realistic, appropriate solutions for which YOU will take responsibility. The worst that can happen is that the “non-negotiable clause” will be invoked. You’ve lost nothing. But hopefully learned something.

11. Life’s a matter of choices. Opting to attend a weekend party where you overindulged and are suffering the horrible effects on Monday when you have a major taste probably isn’t the best choice. Don’t party all night and then expect to perform on a test the next day.

One of my basic life guides is John Lennon’s observation, “Life’s what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

There are five life skills valued by any employer that you can develop while you’re still in school – flexibility, adaptability, agility, initiative and perseverance.

Responding to life requires the ability to be flexible like a willow and not rigid like a Georgia pine, which snaps in the wind. Adaptability is being able to blend into any business or social setting like a chameleon. Agility means making decisions and moving quickly. Initiative is demonstrated by finding a path, a problem or a solution without standing around and waiting for someone to point the way. Perseverance is not allowing roadblocks to determine your success, but finding a way around, over, through or under them.

College or vocational school is a transition from the nest to entering the professional world. Immerse yourself in the social culture, in your studies, in the town and the area, the school’s traditions. Nurture your friendships that can become lifelong.
Take your time. The two or four years will pass in the blink of an eye. Make it everything you want it to be and who you want to be.

“Your Life Is Not Your Own.”

Profundity is found in the most unexpected places. Susan and I just finished Season 4 of the BBC’s Sherlock. The series was an absolute exhilarating, exhausting triumph in casting from stars to crowds, writing, directing, cinematography, settings and sets. Steven Moffat’s writing was . . . I’m nonplussed trying to describe it. WOW. But in the third episode in the last season, The Lying Detective, Sherlock made a statement to a young woman who told him his blog had saved her life.

“Taking your own life. Interesting expression. Taking it from who? [“whom”] Once it’s over, it’s not you who’ll miss it. Your own death is something that happens to everybody else. Your life is not your own. Keep your hands off it.”

Wow. Which led to another discussion with my wife and best friend about the concept of someone “dictating” what s/he wants to happen after s/he dies. Burial or cremation? Funeral or memorial? Officiant? Participants? Invitees? Music? By whom? Scripture?

From personal family experience, the deceased’s desires can cause not only financial and logistics problems, but conflict and emotional issues as well.

Re-read what Moffat shared through Holmes. “Once it’s over, it’s not you who’ll miss (your life). Your own death is something that happens to everybody else. Your life is not your own. Keep your hands off it.”

Susan knows I prefer to be cremated, but will have no control or awareness of whether my body is returned to ash. That’s entirely her decision.

Which leads me to my primary life mantra, discovered when reading about Dag Hammarskjold in Weekly Reader in the fifth grade. He was the second UN Secretary General and died in a plane crash in Africa that was probably caused by another aircraft of unknown origin.

The story shared a quotation handwritten by his grandmother on a piece of paper found in his family Bible among the wreckage.  

Live your life such that — in your final hour when all others are weeping — you alone are without a tear to shed.

My death is something which will happen to everybody else. The period after isn’t something I’m responsible for. 

But I am responsible for my life, hands on, while I’m living it. Holmes would agree. 

 

 

Defensive Driving Can’t Beat Stupid

I’ve been in love with driving since my first exhilarating experience when I was 12, spending the summer on a friend’s family dairy farm. They had what I think must have been a derelict, gray, windowless floor stick-shift Renault with no seatbelts required based on my memory of its shape. My friend was permitted to drive us bouncing and jouncing — radical jolting — all over the farm, from task to task and the swimming/fishing hole when chores were done.

One day he asked, “Wanna drive?” Does a chicken . . . ? Didn’t take long to learn not to stall when letting the clutch out in first or grind a pound of metal when shifting. The control, the power, the speed, the forbiddance of the act. The tricked-out bike leaning against the porch at home would never be looked at the same.

Most of us remember the mandatory semester-long driving class, mine with Mr. Mukai. The first days on the road. Impatient to have the wheel, which was being shared during one hour with three other driver wannabes. Mukai grabbing the wheel and pulling me off onto the ungraded, unmowed shoulder to teach me and my shrieking passengers how to maintain control and not roll.

The first license earned was a huge accomplishment, the first step in emancipation controlled by the keepers of the keys, reluctant to bestow that autonomy behind the wheel and imposing weighty restrictions with consequences when finally permitted.

As the oldest of six, driving was not only an authentic badge of maturing, but provided an increasingly important venue for escape, solitude, reflection and exploration. I do some of my best thinking while I’m driving. Or cooling down after a confrontation. The need to focus on safely navigating the roads requires the internal emotion to be reduced.

I’ve logged more than a million miles, from dirt back roads and narrow two-lane asphalt to the multi-lane interstates and European “A” and “M” roads and Autobahns. I prefer off-interstate travel, through small towns and communities in terrain which isn’t hypnotically monotonous as the Eisenhower interstate system, built for rapid troop deployment when the Russians attacked during the cold war by following the basic math principle that the shortest distance between two points . . . .  The plan also spawned one of the worst movies ever, Red Dawn (1984).

I’ve driven in 49 of the 50 states — still waiting for Alaska — four of the Canadian provinces, and in two border towns in Mexico including Tijuana and just over the border to Nogales in the state of Sonora.

No more than a half-dozen tickets in that time, a couple of fender-benders which were my fault and two more serious, non-injury ones which weren’t.

And I can’t wait until we have driverless cars, and I have to relinquish control of my vehicle without losing the transportation, privacy and wanderlust functions. This isn’t a new idea. It’s one I’ve held for a long time, since my first friends were killed in auto accidents in high school due to driver carelessness and negligence. In some cases it was there’s. In others, it was the other driver. Or from covering accidents as a reporter. The ones with child victims were the worst.

We all know what our diver strengths and limitations are when in command of a two-ton car, SUV or mid-size truck or a four-and-three-quarter ton large truck. Whether we use our strengths and correct the limitations is another matter.

The one thing you and I don’t have control over is the other driver, his or her experience, strengths and limitations, stresses, medical and psychological history and so on.

Yesterday’s run from Saint Simons Island to Statesboro and back up I-95 was a perfect case in point. The drive is 120 miles, just under two hours with a 70 mph internet speed for all vehicles, including semis. I-95’s 112 miles through Georgia between the Florida and South Carolina borders is referred to as “The Florida Turnpike North” or the “Daytona Speedway for the Rest of Us.” The average speed as I’m writing is roughly 68.125 mph. [https://roadnow.com/i95/current-average-speed-exit-to-exit]. “Average” includes those who drive at the speed limit or less (usually in the No. 1 lane) and the Fast & Furious who routinely run between 90-100 mph in all lanes.

Yesterday afternoon, we had one of those cars you see in your rearview mirror more than a mile back and when you look up again 10 seconds later, they’re drafting like it’s Daytona. I was in the No. 1 lane northbound with cruise control set on a going-with-the-traffic-flow 78 mph. There were two semis chasing a semi wrecker in the No. 2 lane at roughly 75 mph and another semi running about the speed limit in the No. 3 lane.

The driver let me know with his horn that I was slower traffic and supposed to move over. He might have blinked his headlights at me. I couldn’t see them in my rearview mirror, only his hood from about the middle on. But I could guide a sketch artist today on the driver’s features.

I had two choices. Slow down so I could tuck in behind the semis or speed up so I could pass them all and get out of his way. That would have put me over 90 mph. I can drive that fast, but we were nearing mile marker 60 where the McIntosh County deputies have a berry patch for picking up superspeeders.

Georgia has a superspeeder law about which many drivers — both Georgians and out-of-staters — are unaware or don’t care. It adds a $200 state-fee in addition to any local jurisdiction fines where the speeding offense occurs for any driver convicted of speeding at 75-or-more on any two-lane roads or at 85-and-over anywhere in Georgia.

We passed the bear hideout, but none were there. A couple of miles later, I’d gained enough on the wrecker that I’d be able to pull over with another two car lengths and let the tailgater pass.

He didn’t need the extra space. He came up as close to my back end as he could and slid into the gap in front of the wrecker. He must have coated his car’s front and backend with Vaseline before he set out for Ontario. The glare he gave me as he passed like I was standing still was enough for me to pick him out of a lineup of 100 men.

And none of us in that dangerous procession slowed.

Twenty minutes later, we’ve looped onto I-16 north, a two-lane speedway which runs 167 miles from Macon to Savannah. Our kids live 30 miles up what’s been called the most dangerous interstate in Georgia. So much so that the state is denuding the median for miles to save a few lives at the expense of thousands of trees. Drivers and cars don’t kill people in Georgia. Trees do. No word on how many cubic feet of oxygen are being lost per day as a result.

It’s 5 pm., rush hour as Savannah/Chatham County workers head into Bryan and Effingham and Bulloch and other counties to the north in a daily version of the Cannonball Run. It’s also the time of day when the semi convoys of 8-10 or more trucks clog the interstate, jockey around slower carriers from right to the left lane, causing spasmodic slow and go traffic flows.

We’re the safe two seconds behind a logging truck in the No. 1 lane at a respectable 75 mph, not flinching as chunks of bark from raindrop to softball size fly off. Reminds me of the warp-speed transition scenes from the Star Wars movies.

I see a white GMC about a half-mile back in the rearview mirror coming on like the proverbial bat who resides in Hades, weaving in and out. He approaches from the right-hand lane, jockeys into position behind a semi that I’m starting to pass and glares at me.

There’s another Ford Escape behind me being driven by a young woman probably in her mid-20s. She’s one-and-a-half to two car lengths behind me and is trailed by another dozen vehicles.

Without a turn signal, the GMC bozo slides in behind me and forces the woman’s car onto the shoulder. She did a masterful job of controlling the car so it wasn’t sideswiped by the truck’s left-rear panel. And made a controlled move back onto the roadway. A driver who knew what to do.

The GMC was so close that a tailwind gust would have pushed it into my car. I could see the headlights this time. The Jimmy is high enough, if we were filming a Lethal Weapon scene, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) could have put his hand out a broken tailgate window and easily left a hand print on the hood.

The driver didn’t back off. No good putting on the brakes. Disaster. The emergency flashers didn’t phase him. We traveled at least six miles or 4.8 minutes before I could clear the last vehicle in the No. 2 lane.

I moved into the No. 2 lane closer to the semi in that lane than I should have or the law allows. But the guy behind me was more dangerous.

He again put the pedal to the middle, blew by like he’d hit the nitrous oxide button and proceeded to bully people out of the way until he was over a hill, around a curve and couldn’t be seen any more when we’d covered the same ground.

Going home, traffic was light on I-95 South around 9:30 pm. Which means I can see the three cars streaking toward us like guided missiles, weaving in and around the sparse traffic from lane-to-lane. In the day, I would have called it drag racing. As they sped by, two Floridians headed home and a Floridian driver wannabe from New York. All three luxury sedans — a Mercedes, BMW and Lexus.

The angel on one shoulder hoped they got wherever “there” is. The devil on the other wishes . . . . Turns out, a McIntosh deputy had nailed the third one when we caught up about 10 minutes later.

Here’s what I don’t understand. If the speed limit is 70 mph and a driver is pushing 90 mph, he’s going to cover 100 miles 20 minutes faster than the legal driver and 12 minutes faster than I would at 78 miles per hour.

Is that 20 minutes worth a superspeeder ticket or serious injury or death to the driver, passengers and other victims?

That’s why I can’t wait for driverless cars. Where speed and distance and changing lanes and collisions will be moot, and speeding tickets and the need for a superspeeder law to provide additional funding for trauma centers treating accident victims will be as outdated as AM transistor radios or pagers.

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The devil we know . . . .

My wife and I were talking last week about the NRA we knew when we were growing up after NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and the organization lashed out at companies who’d responded to a boycott movement, and eliminated perks and discounts for NRA members.

We were both in Scouts and attended summer camps where we received NRA training and certification in weapons, typically a .22-caliber long rifle and shotgun. The NRA at that time was a “mainstream and bi-partisan” group focused on hunting, marksmanship, safety and conservation.

How did it morph into the radical gun-rights group of today?

As I thought about the question, I started channeling Rod Serling. And changed my mind about President Trump. We NEED him to be president until 2020.

What happened to the all-American NRA before the late 1970s? What happened to its membership?

According to the Post story, NRA leaders and members deemed the Gun Control Act of 1968, which had the support of California Gov. Ronald Reagan, as “one that the sportsmen of America can live with.”

Nine years later, after careful planning, the NRA was taken over by guns rights hardliners in a surprise coup in the Revolt at Cincinnati in 1977. Read “How NRA’s true believers converted a marksmanship group into a mighty gun lobby” in The Washington Post, January 12, 2013. The link is http://tinyurl.com/y75t6ao6.

The New Guard introduced and propagandized the government as A Second-Amendment boogey man whose objective was to violate gun owners’ rights and take their guns away. “The sky is falling, the sky is falling” strategy worked.

What the NRA failed to mention and kept people distracted from with its propaganda onslaught is that “the government” is the people. If the people wanted to keep its Second Amendment rights inviolate, they could do so with the ballot box and without the NRA.

Not something the NRA wanted people to realize, so it expanded the list of boogey men to scare Americans even more into supporting it financially and buying more guns.

By the time the average NRA member realized what their organization had become, it was too late to reverse the hijacking.

A member who walked away and would be targeted by the NRA targets as turncoats, un-American, unpatriotic traitors. Easier to walk away from Scientology.

Yes, it’s a simplistic explanation. Twilight Zone? Not.

The NRA worked to ensure its survival and agenda by joining itself at the hip with the conservative Christian far right.

Which started me thinking again. And again channel Rod Serling.

Trump needs to remain president until 2020.

If he isn’t, then America will be taken over from within by the conservative Christian right like the NRA was, before any of us know what happened.

The conservative Christians have long supported the elimination of the separation between church and state explicit in the Constitution. An interesting hypocrisy, because they’re adamant opponents of any challenges or changes to the Second Amendment of that same Constitution.

The conservative Christians knew that the imposition of a theocracy would have to be done from within. Research their agenda and strategy statements.

To ensure the implementation of the conservative Christian agenda, it looked for a way in from the inside – the election of conservative Christian representatives in Congress to form a minority powerful enough to dictate legislative agenda and policy. Had to be the Republican party, the party of the right.

Donald Trump wanted to be president, for whatever reason, which has been subject to much speculation.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to understand the opportunity the conservative Christians saw for Trump to be their stalking horse.

The strategy — back Trump, allow him to run his campaign his way, agree to have the other candidates withdraw without appearing they had done so and hopefully have the long-shot who didn’t really want to be president win the White House.

The quid pro quo? The conservative Christians got to pick the vice president with political acumen and party support to be next in line.

The choice? Mike Pence, who calls himself a “Christian, a conservative and a Republican in that order.” Anti-abortion, anti-same sex marriages, signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act which would have allowed widespread discrimination in the name of religion, wanted illegals to leave the country in order to qualify for a guest-worker program.

That Mike Pence.

When the conservative Christian right realized that their stalking horse had unexpectedly the election, the brilliant part of their strategy came into play.

They assumed that Trump would get himself impeached. Counted on it.

The 46th president? Mike Pence. The new VP? Someone appointed by the GOP controlled House, but rubber-stamped by the conservative Christians. One of the conservatives who dropped out of the race in exchange for the No. 2 position? Sen. Ted Cruz? Sen. Marco Rubio? Why would the House members agree? Because if they didn’t, the conservative Christians would sabotage any and all proposed legislation.

With Pence in the oval office and the conservative Christians wielding control of the GOP and Congress, the objective of taking over from within to effect the shift of the country to a theocracy would be achieved.

Trump has shot himself daily in the foot or other body parts these past months. Where has Pence been with his visible and vocal support? Where have the GOP and the conservative Christians been?

And if Trump weren’t his own worst enemy, it’s not unreasonable that Pence and the conservative Christians would have been prepared to throw some banana peels and bars of soap and leaked memos and sacrificial accomplices to illegal actions his way.

Abraham Lincoln knew what happened at the NRA could happen to our government. “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us. . . .” This was in a speech he made 23 years before being elected president.

He was talking about why we voters need to take responsibility for and control of the government which is ours. WE are the government.

We voters need to keep Trump until 2020. The devil we know is better than the one waiting in the wings that we don’t.

We need to look carefully at who we send to Washington in this mid-term election and that they clearly act as representatives to WE the leaders of government. And that they are the subject to term limits we establish at the ballot box.

We need to eliminate the bi-modal, bi-partisan, moderate-devoid Congress and make the distribution normal again – the majority of Congress composed of moderates who practice “the will of the people” instead of the will of the party, the PACs and purse strings, with small liberal left and conservative right at the ends of the distribution.

Then we need to commit and work to select the presidential candidates in 2020 who will serve US, rather than ones who covet and seek the office by selling to special interests like the NRA out and making deals within the party, which offer the lesser of two evils as in the last election.

We the people who are the government and need to select candidates who are the better of the best.

Two cents. Put ’em in the communal penny cup.