The Buck Stops Where?

Oh how the Fox News and the CNNs so perfectly capture our current political environment. “Harsh tone, divisive rhetoric, partisanship.”  Sound familiar?  If you’ve scrolled Twitter, watched the news, really – if you have a pulse – you’ve probably heard these catchphrases thrown around.

So maybe the pundits could diversify their vocabulary, but the truth is, they are absolutely correct. Right now, we have a president who embraces his platform by coughing up hairballs of complete nonsense, whether spewing Twitter conspiracies or lashing out against anyone bold enough to disagree with him.  We witnessed the aftermath of a horrific act of violence, one in which a disturbed liberal man fired mercilessly at Congressional Republicans at a baseball practice, nearly killing one.  We heard the inexplicable innocent verdict for a police officer who shot a black man seven times, killing him in front of his girlfriend and daughter.  And we felt – and continue to feel – the tension between misogynistic “Make America Great Again” hat-bearers and irritable, “march-in-the-name-of-anything” protestors.  This landscape is far beyond the politically-correct “divisive, harsh rhetoric.”

I’m not a writer or a historian, so bear with me for a moment. But I thought back to the saying, “the buck stops here.” Soliciting some help from Google, I recalled that this was a favorite of President Harry Truman.  Truman, it turns out, was so fond of it that he had the text inscribed on a plaque and placed on his desk.  Embodying “the buck stops here,” means taking full accountability.  I can’t speak to Truman’s effectiveness as a president (I can assuredly say he never tweeted insults at his predecessor) but I can appreciate what he stood for in this mantra.  Truman was big enough to hold himself accountable for decisions and accept responsibility for outcomes.

See, this got me thinking about our current state of complete disarray. To imply that there is a sole person responsible for this debauchery would be insane.  We’re human.  We live in constant exposure to evil.  So the proverbial buck needs to fall on about seven billion shoulders.  14 billion shoulders, really.  But there are a few positions of power in which, in my view, should really take – rather, embrace – responsibility.  That could really hold themselves to a standard of bringing about unity, of bringing about peace.  And this man sits in the same office as Harry Truman once did.

Now if you have a Twitter account, look at some of the president’s recent tweets. Common threads include, but are not limited to (prompt speedy telemarketer voice): Hillary’s poor performance, Hillary’s emails, Hillary’s ‘collusion’ with the DNC, Obama’s lack of integrity, FAILING Obamacare, the “Obstructionist” Democrats causing setbacks, the witch hunt that targets only Trump, the need for a real TRAVEL BAN, how good he is at winning, how fake news is the enemy, and just about anything else negative.  Someone with such an HONOR, with such an OPPORTUNITY to reach millions of people is openly mocking United States Senators on a social media account.

So my question is this. Why doesn’t the buck stop at the president’s desk?  Why does he insist on the bitching and the bragging, rallying his supporters and riling up his critics?  Imagine for a second if Trump tweeted about his desire for a unified America.  Imagine watching him say that he cares for the poor, for those without healthcare or fearing losing their healthcare, for the unborn, for women’s rights, for minority lives, for refugee safety, for the middle class, for the LGBT community, for ALL HUMAN LIFE.  Imagine scanning @realDonaldTrump and seeing something comforting like, “hey – I’m going to fight for you.  I want to bring us together.  Every human has dignity and deserves to be treated accordingly.”  Imagine the most influential person in the United States of America taking accountability for some of the maliciousness that has spread like a virus through every crevice of our nation.  Imagine.

Again yet we wait. And sides grow further apart as they continue to tear at each other’s throats.  We the people need to do our part to settle the disagreements and to see eye to eye.  But Mr. President, it’s time to cut the bullshit.  Time to stop mocking those with whom you disagree.  It’s time to step up, and not just say but show us that the buck really does stop at the president’s desk.  And then, MAYBE then, we can start to make this country truly great.


Note: All opinions expressed in this commentary are solely my own, and they are just that. They are not to be treated as facts, nor as alternative facts.

Made for Greatness

I think voting in the presidential election is the least impactful thing you can do to effect change. Casting your vote does not make our country great, regardless of your vote.  I’m not saying I don’t think everyone who can should vote, because I do.  But let me explain.

First, I did not vote for Donald Trump. I can spell out myriad reasons behind this, but let me use his verbal assault on Muslims and immigrants in general to help paint my example.  When President Trump initiated the controversial “travel ban,” I reacted like many Americans across the country.  I was pissed off.  I was upset.  I felt like our country was gravitating towards a position of complete apathy towards those people suffering in the Muslim-majority nations, viewed by the administration as possible terror threats.  Granted, I did not know a whole lot about the ban in terms of background. My knowledge of the conditions of these countries was limited to a number of high-profile photographs of children in Aleppo, stranded in a sea of rubble, and often wounded.  Nonetheless, my heart poured out for these citizens who were to be denied access to the United States.  The only vindication came after thousands of noble Americans swarmed U.S. airports in protest and a federal judge blocked the ban.

A bullet dodged. Still, my blood boiled with anger over the merciless acts of the United States government. How, I thought, can we turn our backs while people are greatly suffering, in the name of protecting our own people? Was America not built on the principles of welcoming and compassion towards others? This act of aggression perplexed me.  But I knew I was not alone.  Days after the travel ban order passed, I watched television coverage of thousands of protestors speaking against the ban across the country.

And then I had a thought.

The seven war-torn countries that made up the ban list all had something in common. They were viewed as threats because of terror attacks, both domestically and abroad, committed against countless innocent civilians.  Moreover, these countries suffered government corruption, extreme poverty, internal warring, and tremendously poor living conditions.  Naturally, it felt right to feel sympathy towards the citizens of these tormented countries.  But then it hit me. These conditions did not begin yesterday.

Nor did they begin last week, last month, or last year. These are countries which have been facing extreme conditions for a long time.  For me to take notice only when a president I don’t care for blocks refugees is absurd.  Was this about my love for refugees or my disdain towards the president?

I dug through bank statements. Clothing, drinks, dinner, groceries, more drinks, more dinners.  Not one penny to a global relief organization.  UNICEF, the Red Cross, and other relief agencies did not even have my name or information in their databases.  I thought back to my interaction with others.  Not once did I think to stop by a refugee center to help.  Not once did I reach out to see how I can help those struggling in our community, refugee or not.  I had even quoted Scripture on my Facebook page, from Matthew 25: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  I beamed with pride; it was a subtle criticism of the current administration (and its supporters), and a reminder of my love for all these “brothers and sisters.”  But I read and re-read the passage from a different angle; I looked at Trump’s actions versus my own.  How did I show my love for human dignity abroad?  Moreover, how did I show love for human dignity in the United States?  In my own Central Pennsylvania community?

My answers were consistent across the board: resounding inaction. I was so caught up in the Trump administration’s hatred that I had forgotten about my own potential for greatness.  I treated the least of my brothers and sisters exactly the way Trump treated refugees in dire need: with blatant ignorance.  I walked around with my head down or on my phone, poring over the injustices of the world.  In doing so, I bypassed the homeless man who was down on his luck, the family in need of a meal, and the community organization seeking financial assistance.

Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change his or her own community. I can’t help but think that if every protestor, if every voter, if every human being with means reached out a hand to help someone else, we would be so much stronger as a nation.  I’ll be the first to call myself a hypocrite.  But I hope this epiphany leads me to move to make a difference.  It can be tough, it can be uncomfortable, but it is an absolute necessity.  Pope Benedict XVI once said, “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” We can all be great, but we need to divorce ourselves from the comfort of our computer screens.  Maybe we can’t reverse a presidential decision, maybe we can’t end world hunger.  But we can start.  We can help our neighbor.  We can lift up our brothers and sisters in our community.  And we, you and I, can start making a real change in the world.  It can be uncomfortable.  It can be incremental.  But it can be great.  And the beautiful thing is, it doesn’t need to wait until the next local, state, or presidential election.  It can start today.

Stop Booing Colin Kaepernick

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has dominated the media, dating back to the Preseason when he decided to sit for the National Anthem, and later kneel. Kaepernick has continued his stance (or lack thereof), saying that he is “Not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”  Weeks later, he remains in the spotlight, saying that he refused to vote and then defending oppressive former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and his education policies. Many people appreciate Kaepernick for igniting the conversation about race relations and using his platform as a professional athlete to peacefully speak up.  Many others are showering him with boos at games, chastising him on social media, and voicing their hatred for him at the office watercooler.  Whether you love him or hate him, one thing is certain; everyone who has a pulse has heard the name Colin Kaepernick.

But I want to talk about Josh Brown. Have you heard the name Josh Brown?  If you haven’t, don’t worry.  You aren’t alone.

Josh Brown is a former NFL player, recently released from the New York Giants after admitting that he has physically harmed his wife upwards of twenty times. Twenty.  Are you pissed off yet?  Are you ready to berate him on social media, share villainizing memes, and call the NFL on its lax domestic abuse policies? But wait – there’s a kicker.

All of these events unfolded almost three months ago. Well, longer if you consider the fact that he wrote a letter to his friends in 2014 detailing the abuse, was arrested in 2015, served a damning one-game suspension at the hands of the wonderfully consistent NFL regime, and was re-signed by the Giants in a $4 million deal over the offseason.  The news, social media, water cooler conversations should be all over these brutal inconsistencies, right?  Well, let’s consider one more piece.

Josh Brown is white.

Look, it may not be the only reason that this story has been brushed aside, as there are myriad other significant issues plaguing our country today. At the same time, though, I’m perplexed at how people continually mock the 49ers quarterback, sharing memes and offering hate-filled comments, but have remained silent about a domestic abuser and a team and league that knowingly protected him.

One issue I have is best captured by the title of the USA Today’s Nancy Armour: “Josh Brown admitted to beating wife, and NFL barely cares.” This is the same old song and dance.  The NFL and New York Giants organization tag-teamed the mishandling of the situation, claiming they were gathering more evidence, even as they levied the one-game ban.  Armour is right.  The NFL cares about women when it is profitable.  When October ends and the pink gear goes away, the league shifts its focus to making money.  Actually, I’m lying.  It never shifts its focus to begin with.

What really reeks of hypocrisy to me is the position of many people – largely a conservative, Trump-worshipping demographic – when it comes to these two athletes. Our charismatic President-elect, the “Law and Order” candidate, won a particularly divisive election using some very strong racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic rhetoric.  I’ve heard many people defend him in spite of, or even for, this dialogue.  One of the most oft-repeated defenses is such: “They are just words.  Hillary’s actions have been much worse.  Benghazi.  Emails.  Trump just isn’t politically correct.  He says what’s on his mind.”  They’re just words.  Should we not, then, assess NFL athletes by the same platforms?  No, I do not agree with all of Colin Kaepernick’s statements, especially not a defense of Fidel Castro.  But these are words, and he is peacefully speaking out in protest of real social injustices using that same platform.

Inversely, let’s talk about actions. Actions like treating your wife as your personal slave.  Actions like repeated physical abuse.  Actions like John Mara, the Giants owner, knowing that Josh Brown had harmed his wife and dishing out a lucrative deal in spite of that.  (None of these is protected under the Constitution to my knowledge).  And I cannot help but think that maybe, just maybe, the NFL, ESPN, the mainstream media might not want to risk one of its white players slammed throughout the media.  The NFL has a shield to protect, and a white audience shoulders almost 85% of that very shield. I have yet to see a single internet meme that calls out Brown or the Giants organization.  I have yet to hear colleagues talk about the sinister nature of these abuse accounts.  I have yet to see a major news station run a detailed report, less a discreet link on the ESPN website that took some scrolling to find.  Is it fathomable that these sources might want to confine the reporting on Josh Brown to reduce the risk of this backlash?  Is it possible that the networks don’t want to offend or lose their beloved white viewership?

I understand that my article poses more questions than answers. But I think this case needs to be brought to light.  I believe in the power of forgiveness and second chances.  I believe Josh Brown, just as Colin Kaepernick and Ray Rice and Michael Vick, deserve a chance to rehabilitate their images and find forgiveness in the public eye.  My intent is not to villainize Josh Brown; I just believe that societally we need to shift our way of thinking when it comes to professional athletes.  If Ray Rice’s elevator footage can make the front cover of Sports Illustrated, Colin Kaepernick can get plastered over derogatory internet memes, and Richard Sherman can be labeled a thug for some strongly-worded interviews, how should Josh Brown be treated?  We are fortunate to have rights afforded us by the First Amendment.  And we are firmly protected by these rights.  So I encourage you, boo, mock, tweet, post away.  Boo Colin Kaepernick.  You’re allowed.  But at the end of the day, remember this: they’re just words.