Making sense of the non-sensical world of American politics

Reflections on my Weekend in the Queen City

I went home to spend last weekend with my family in Charlotte. Charlotte has been for some time, and continues to be, a rapidly growing and ever-changing metropolis which hardly resembles the city I left for college in 1998.  I am not oblivious to the changes, for that would be next to impossible.  I see it, but somehow I don’t feel it.  For me, Charlotte remains that place which houses my childhood memories.  It can never change drastically enough to erase those indelible imprints on my soul.  Undoubtedly, it will continue its transformation from a Southern jewel to an international destination, but, for me, it will always be home.  Small.  Quiet.  Unassuming.  Tall pines and Sweet Caroline.

BBQ Is King

Shortly after landing Friday night, we went to the Bar-B-Que King – the same joint that has provided Friday night’s sweet satisfaction in our family for as long as I can remember – to grub on Western North Carolina-style BBQ, coleslaw, hushpuppies and onion rings. While the comfort food is perpetually gratifying, it is the comfort part that still resonates all these years later.  The pulled pork and coleslaw feed my body; the place itself replenishes my soul.  Like the Sirens in Homer’s Odyssey, I wonder if I will ever be able to escape the irrepressible pull of this place.  Better question: why would I want to?

McCrory Is Driving This Car

Upon waking on Saturday morning – still in a hazy, sluggish state from the barbeque and hushpuppies – I grabbed the morning paper as is my unshakable habit. Plastered on the front page screamed the inescapable headline: “HB2 Repeal on the Table if Charlotte Drops Ordinance.”  At first glance, seeing the word “repeal,” I was heartened that this might be a positive development in North Carolina’s interminable fiasco.  Of course, after reading the second half of the headline (and the article), it became painfully apparent that Governor McCrory was only looking to write a new, darker chapter into this already odious melodrama.  In a move dripping with pure political calculation, McCrory is now looking to deflect blame for HB2 to the City of Charlotte as the instigator of the unmitigated mess in which the state currently finds itself.  This is not exactly a profile in courage.  I hope the Mayor of Charlotte, Jennifer Roberts, exhibits hers by standing up to our bully of a governor.

Picture this: there are two people driving along in a car. The passenger is simply talking to the driver when the driver suddenly runs of the road toward a steep cliff.  The driver demands an apology from the passenger before he will steer the car back onto the road and away from the rapidly approaching cliff and impending disaster beyond.  The driver is Governor McCrory.  The car, North Carolina.  Mutually assured destruction is the destination.

Winning Uncomfortably & Loving It

The highlight of the weekend took place at a scorching Bank of America Stadium where Chip Kelly led his undefeated San Francisco 49ers to battle my previously winless Carolina Panthers. Candidly, the Panthers were downright sloppy.  They turned the ball over 4 times, committed several debilitating penalties, had several blown assignments on defense, and made a couple boneheaded mistakes on special teams.  The Panthers also won by 19 points in relatively easy fashion.

While driving home, my dad and I were listening to local sports talk radio when caller after caller whined, complained, bed whetted and generally belly ached about the Panthers’ uneven performance.  As the calls mounted, I grew increasingly ecstatic.  I came to the thrilling realization that Carolina had reached the point at which they could win easily while their fans could simultaneously express frustration with the less than stellar play.  In the early days, we were happy if the Panthers made it out of the tunnel, let alone scored a point.  Now, our fan base thinks we are the 1984 San Francisco 49ers.  The immaculate transformation!  What an enviable and blessed position in which to be?

Who Are These People?

As I meandered through my parents’ neighborhood on my Sunday morning run, I came across a beautiful sight – make that several beautiful sights. These beautiful sights were similar in size, shape and certainly content, and they were situated conspicuously in the same place on the front lawn of each house that I passed.  The beautiful sights to which I refer, of course, are Donald Trump for President yard signs.  This might sound preposterous to those who know that I find Mr. Trump to be repulsive, uniquely unqualified, and a national disgrace (tip of the cap to Colin Powell on the last one).  All of this is no doubt the truth.

But a separate truth of equal significance also revealed itself: I was relieved to find out who these people are that support Donald Trump. Sheltered in progressive New York City, it is easy to ask oneself: who are these people?  Now, I have the answer.  They are hard-working, honorable, philanthropic, kind, generous, patriotic (and mostly sane) Americans.  What’s more, they are my neighbors (or my parents’ neighbors).  It dawned on me that they are only doing what they think is in the best interest of the country – nothing more, nothing less.  Of course, I vehemently disagree with this judgment and determination in the strongest possible terms.  My hope is that these same people do not view me as somehow evil, or worse, in light of my support for Hillary Clinton.

I understand that politics are emotional, and emotions are personal. This reality notwithstanding, we have to find a way to remove the personal from our politics.  Otherwise, our (already) great country will be lessened in a very profound and ultimately sad way.  In addition to the Trump signs, these folks had a second sign in their yards: a Panthers sign.  For me, it underscored the indisputable truth that there is more that binds than divides us.  Our commonalities far exceed and outweigh our differences.  In the end, we are all in this together whether November brings a President Trump or a President Clinton.

Moving Forward

Last weekend spent in Charlotte with family and friends was truly a blessing. In addition to my mom and dad, I was able to spend time with my sister, my niece (Chloe), my grandmother, tailgate partners Aunt Trena and Uncle Ray, and 80,000 of my nearest and dearest at Panthers Stadium.  It was made all the richer by the disparate, yet equally enlightening experiences described above.  North Carolina is a majestic place, warts and all.  The good thing about warts is that they can be removed.  To be removed, however, they must first come to the surface.  Lord knows they have surfaced.  With our wounds now out in the open for the world to see, it is time to come together to solve our problems and not simply sweep them under the rug.  It is my fervent hope that we North Carolinians, despite our feckless political leadership, have the courage to do just that.

September 21, 2016 Posted by | 2016 Presidential Election, Carolina Panthers, Charlotte, Charlotte Ordinance, Donald Trump, Governor McCrory, HB2, Hillary Clinton, North Carolina, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Dean Smith, Basketball & Me

Growing up in North Carolina, along Tobacco Road, I could hardly help but become a life-long and ardent fan of the game of basketball. ACC basketball, in particular, was etched into my soul long before I was even aware. My childhood pictures bear the proof – me dressed from head to toe by mom in Tar Heels garb, presumably against my will. From a national perspective, North Carolina – along with Kentucky and Indiana – is known in large measure due to its sustained excellence in the sport. In addition to UNC – Duke, NC State, Wake Forest, Davidson and Charlotte have all enjoyed varying degrees of success on the national level.

When I became old enough to make my own fashion decisions, basketball-related attire did not fade from, and indeed still dominated, my wardrobe. After being introduced to most sports by my father, I quickly gravitated to basketball as my true love. Being a baseball man, this might have dismayed my dad to a certain extent; but, if so, he never let on. Many a night, we would shoot hoops in our paved driveway long after the Carolina blue skies had faded to dark. Supper, often times, would have to wait, despite mom’s objections. Put simply, I was hooked, and over time, wasn’t half bad. In fact, in our neighborhood, I respectfully (but not so humbly) submit that my jump shot was the purest of them all.

To further amplify the significance of ACC basketball in North Carolina, I can remember my teachers in school being permitted to tune the TV to the ACC Tournament on the Friday that it began. (In those days, before conference expansion, the tournament did not begin in earnest until Friday.) That same day, I would race home from school to watch the afternoon and night games with my dad. The weekend of the ACC Tournament – serving as the capstone to the conference season and a precursor to the Big Dance – was always a magical one, win or lose. That weekend has produced highlights from some of the sport’s most prominent names – including Michael Jordan, David Thompson, Ralph Sampson, Phil Ford, James Worthy, Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, Tim Duncan, Jerry Stackhouse, Vince Carter, to name a scant few.

To me, however, ACC basketball always revolved around one central figure: Dean Smith. From very early on, I remember being awestruck by the professional way in which he marched his troops into battle. There always seemed to be such order and formality. The sense of purpose was palpable. Churchillian, no doubt. Watching Coach Smith lead his team in a game was like watching a great conductor direct his orchestra. Precision. Composure. Incredible power, yet supreme control. Coach Smith’s teams seemed to be just that – a team – moving together as if on a string, of which Smith was the master puppeteer. But above all this, there was a grace, humility and poignancy to his leadership that seemed to command the utmost respect from his players.

Coach Smith’s accomplishments speak for themselves – 879 victories, 17 ACC Regular Season Championships, 13 ACC Tournament Championships, 11 Final Fours, 2 National Championships. But this was simply basketball – a game, after all. Much later in life, I would learn that Dean Smith was an even taller figure in the game of life. Most of the stories are well known and documented, because Smith was unafraid, and unapologetic, to publicly serve as an agent for social change. Smith helped Howard Lee, a black graduate student, purchase a home in an all-white neighborhood in Chapel Hill. Interestingly, Lee would be elected Mayor of Chapel Hill three years later, and go on to become a NC Senator. In the late 1960’s, a difficult time in the South to be sure, Smith promoted desegregation by recruiting the first black athlete, Charlie Scott, to UNC, and would later take his black players to lunch at white-only establishments.

Smith was so adamantly against the death penalty that he made frequent trips to North Carolina death row, often befriending the inmates. Occasionally, he would take his teams to visit these hardened folks as well. Famously, it was reported that he got into a heated discussion with then-Governor Jim Hunt – otherwise a friend and political ally – in connection with his decision to deny a stay of the execution of a particular death row inmate. Smith argued, allegedly rather loudly, that not only was Governor Hunt a murderer, but so too was Smith himself, by association as a citizen of the State.

Publicly and bravely, Smith fought against nuclear disarmament during the Cold War when such a position was politically untenable. My guess is that these very public examples represent only a small fraction of Smith’s efforts to influence social policy, many of which were surreptitious and away from the spotlight. And though Smith’s positions were not always popular – and they often weren’t – they were, in his view, the right thing to do. Principled, above all else.

Coach Smith’s quick wit, extraordinary recall and elephantine memory are legendary; his fierce loyalty unequivocal and unquestioned. Since his death last week, the glowing tributes from former players – each seemingly with their own anecdote – paint the same picture of a man who cared deeply about each individual he came across, their lives and their livelihood, long after the ball stopped bouncing and the glare of the gym lights dimmed. By all accounts, this fatherly concern and care was delivered in equal parts whether the recipient was a family member, friend, former player, manager, ball boy, janitor, or someone Smith simply met on the street. And for this, Smith enjoyed, in return, the unbending loyalty from his former players, colleagues, and mere acquaintances. Listening to and reading the various stories this past week, it struck me that the deep feelings for Smith seemed to surpass loyalty and fondness; it was sheer reverence.

I certainly do not mean to speak of Dean Smith as if he were a deity. He, after all, would be the first to acknowledge that he was far from perfect. But for a boy, a basketball fan, growing up in North Carolina, along Tobacco Road, he was pretty darn close.

February 13, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment