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Pat Speth Sherman

Pat Speth Sherman

“Nothing should be attempted in a State, but what the citizens might be prevailed on to admit by gentle means, and that violence should never be employed.” So wrote my long-dead Uncle Simon Sallade, a Pennsylvania politician of the antebellum era.

Halloween 2016. It was more than five years ago when I first sensed that our nation was headed for serious trouble. I had just learned from my young third-grade neighbor that one of her classmates had dressed up for the Melrose School Halloween party as Hillary-in-jail. Regrettably, the ill-advised costume was a harbinger of worse yet to come.

Darned if I know what we can do to reverse the toxic culture that infests our public sphere! Ordinarily, reasoning with people would work. But as a psychiatrist friend reminded me long ago, one cannot reason with people who are divorced from reality, truth and facts.

And therein lies a fundamental problem. Whether what we have been told is true or not, most of us have been conditioned almost from birth to believe what those in authority—our parents, our churches, synagogues, and mosques, our schools, the media, our leaders, and our friends—have told us. Indeed, believing is much easier than figuring out what is true, especially when the truth contradicts an entrenched idea. Short of a knock on the head, or a personal or national tragedy, it seems to be exceedingly difficult to dislodge our deeply held beliefs.

What are we to do when 38% of the public do not believe Joe Biden won the presidency legitimately; when 17% believe coronavirus is not a major problem? Some people are convinced that wearing a mask to protect themselves and others from a deadly disease is an assault on their personal freedom. Who cares that a sense of responsibility is freedom’s twin?

Why is it that 29% of the public believes their vote will not be accurately counted (up from 11% a year ago)? Could it have something to do with the virulent spread of the myth that the results of the 2020 election were subverted due to massive fraud? Compounding that problem is the fact that 33 laws enacted (so far) in 19 states will make it harder for Americans to vote. Piling on, there are people in the GOP who are engaged in efforts to replace honest election officials, from secretaries of state to local election supervisors, with Trump loyalists.

Some folks believe that the history we teach our kids should glorify our past while ignoring unsavory facts about what actually happened. The legacies of slavery and racism and the genocide of Native Americans have shaped our society as much as the emergence of free market capitalism. Speaking of which, I have written a story or two about the horrid injuries and deaths suffered by little boys — cannon fodder for the nineteenth-century industrial revolution — who were maimed or killed in Pennsylvania’s coal mines.

Other people, alarmingly including some county sheriffs in Oregon, are convinced that county sheriffs have the power to decide what the law is in their county and, further, that their power supersedes that of all other local, state and federal government officials. And we recently learned that governors and/or heads of the National Guards in several states are openly defying the authority of the Pentagon.

With all of this, I vacillate between hope and despair for the future of our republic. In the moment despair is winning. But I still wonder, can we fix this? If so, how? One idea is that we need to listen to each other but, for me at least, that seems like an inadequate response in a country that has gone from “Hillary-in-jail” to “hang Mike Pence.” What are your ideas?

Pat Speth Sherman is the author of American Tapestry: Portrait of a “Middling” Family, 1746-1934. She was twice elected as mayor of Brookings, Oregon and served from 2005-2008. She now makes her home in Roseburg.

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(8) comments

CitizenJoe

Rubin on despair: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/12/23/enough-despair-we-cannot-be-victims-excessive-expectations/

Mike

Pat Speth Sherman for County Commissioner.

mworden

[thumbup] Pat Speth Sherman!

marie dixon

Second that suggeston. I wonder if she is open to running for County Commissioner.

CitizenJoe

Pat, thanks! I have to come down on the side of hope, because despair is surrender. Reason and compassion may not always prevail, but they are the tools we have. We should keep our tools in good working order.

And what mworden wrote.

mworden

I still have hope, Pat. Why? I don't think there's any evidence that people are believing more untrue and foolish and dangerous things than they ever did. We just didn't hear about it before. Now everyone has access to the bullhorn of social media.

In the not too distant past, if some crackpot wanted to reach a large audience, he or she would have to hire a hall and advertise to get people to come listen. Now that can all be done on social media platforms.

People believe the craziest things these days. But people always have. P.T. Barnum made a fortune by never underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

I actually don't think we're unintelligent. But we want to believe, to be amazed, entertained and made to feel as if our human experience is being acknowledged and recognized as real and worth something.

Barnum knew that if someone could fulfill those human needs then he could wring money out of it because, "There's a sucker born every minute."

That used to be true. It's still true. In the past, nobody posted about it on Facebook. Now we can't get people to shut up. So we feel overwhelmed, as if this is all new. It's not.

We pulled through in the past. I still have hope that we'll pull through again. I will not despair until and unless we've fallen off the edge into societal collapse.

You tell me only 17% of people have fallen for the lie that covid is not a major problem. That's reason for celebration when you consider major media is spending hundreds of hours and who knows how much money to convince people that covid is no big deal. Most Americans can see right through that.

19 states are trying to make it harder to vote? 55 years ago almost all states made it hard for Black people and poor people to vote. Some made it impossible. We have made progress. But that progress is fading. I hope that these assaults on freedom and democracy will raise the ire of true patriotic Americans and we will turn back the tide of oppression that threatens us.

People of color could not buy or rent a house in Roseburg until 1959. Prejudice and bigotry were written into our laws until recently and people didn't think twice about it. Today, only the most hardcore and depraved people in Roseburg would propose such laws. If they did, they'd be shouted down by the thousands of people who recognize the wrongness of the old status quo.

There's been so much progress. Let's show gratitude for that and let's not take it for granted. Each new generation has the job of protecting the hard won rights they take as their due. It's the job of the older generations to remember the old bad times, when things were worse, and to share our wisdom with the young. We can't take anything for granted. But we can always have hope.

Mike

You've often mentioned how there are Covid subjects and politics you can not discuss with certain members of your family. I'm assuming this has always been a problem with your family (an mine as well). Otherwise, it would be evidence of your own family believing more foolish and dangerous things than ever before. I know that's the case with my family. I'm participating in a family reunion in a couple of months. Can't wait to see how that turns out. Trying to figure out if I will need to wear body armor.

mworden

I wish you luck, Mike. I highly recommend body armor made of a good sense of humor and unconditional acceptance of the person, even when you hate the ideas they espouse.

I remember you writing about growing up in Minnesota with your dad. I think it was Minnesota.

My family was different. We were pretty much all singing Kumbaya in harmony until the Reagan years. Then things began to fray. It got bad when Rush Limbaugh's particular style of name-calling and demeaning became popular. By the time the Tea Party rolled around, all hope of civil conversation was obliterated.

I write about it because I keep hearing about other families becoming estranged over covid and politics. People are expressing great pain, anger and sadness over losing a family member, almost as if they'd died.

They're not dead, they're just idiots and they're your idiots, so love 'em anyway. They think you're the idiot, so you still have a lot in common.

My family cobbled together a truce in the 1990s and have periodically re-negotiated the terms as the political atmosphere became more divisive. It's alright to disagree, but it's not alright to keep pounding on each other and creating scenes. Family is more important than all that other noise.

A lot of politics involves ideas. Covid is different because it involves behavior, like mask-wearing and vaccination. It's a situation where disagreement can actually lead to someone dying.

So we re-negotiated boundaries out of respect and love for each other. I would strongly prefer it if my family member hadn't gone down the anti-science right-wing rabbit hole. He'd strongly prefer it if I hadn't been captured by the leftist cult of science. The divide is wide. We've stopped trying to reason with each other on those subjects. But there's a whole wide world to talk about that doesn't include hot button topics.

I recommend negotiated peace settlements within families. Acceptance vs. trying to fix the unfixable. Just as long as SIL doesn't bring an AK15 to Christmas dinner, down a bottle of bourbon and start making threats.

That's a whole other problem.

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