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Love It, Leave It, or Stick Around and Try to Make It More Lovable

For the second day in a row all the news was about President Donald Trump’s controversial “tweet” that four minority Democratic congresswomen go back to the dysfunctional countries of their ancestors.
Pretty much every Democrat and most of the punditry continued to pile on criticisms, while most Republicans continued to politely refrain from commenting at all. Ohio’s white Republican Rep. Michael Turner called the “tweet” racist” and urged Trump to apologize, Texas’ black Republican Rep. Will Hurd called the comment “racist and xenophobic,” while the Republican party’s sole black Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina deplored the “unacceptable personal attacks and racial offensive language” and made the very same argument we made here yesterday that it distracted from “the Democratic party’s far-left, pro-socialist policies.”
Trump, of course, defiantly doubled down.
“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” Trump told an impromptu news conference when asked about the criticism, as if some people’s agreement settles the issue. “And all I’m saying: They want to leave, they can leave.” He added that “These are people who hate our country. They hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion.” He further reiterated that “If you’re not happy here, you can leave,” and then again that “As far as I’m concerned, if you hate our country, if you’re not happy here, you can leave.”
Which harkened back to our boyhood days in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when the hippies and the hard-hats and the hawks and the doves were fighting it out in the streets and “America, Love It or Leave It” was a popular bumper sticker. It wasn’t a particularly happy moment in American history, as we recall, but it had a lasting influence on our understanding of America’s politics and popular culture and all the disputes that have since occurred.
We disagreed with the hippies’ call for an ignominious retreat from the Vietnam War, and agreed with our parents and President Richard Nixon that the country should press on no matter how painfully for a “peace with honor.” The hippies also had all sorts of crazy ideas about free this and free that, too, which struck even our boyish sensibilities as pie-in-the-sky and ultimately disastrous. They had all sorts of other plans to disrupt the complicated social order we were just getting used to, as well, and negotiating our way through the new world they created proved even more vexing, but at no point did we ever wish they’d just go away.
At this late point in our lives both the hippies and the hard hats and the hawks and doves seem to have gotten some things right and some things wrong. The Vietnam War was ignominiously lost when a post-Watergate Democratic majority in Congress declined to enforce the more or less “Peace With Honor” that President Richard Nixon had negotiated, but more stable and less corrupt subsequent Republicans still wound up winning the broader Cold War, and by now the Republican President of the United States states is a Vietnam-era draft-dodger who says he was “never a big fan of the Vietnam War.”
Nixon created an Environmental Protection Agency and funded the Democrats’s “New Deal” and “Great Society” social programs with bigger bucks than his Democratic predecessosr, but subsequent Republicans reigned in the worst excesses while allowing the good works to go on. The “free love” that the hippies’ “sexual revolution” promised caused a lot of venereal disease and an epidemic of divorce that had a lasting painful effect on many of our friends, but we’re glad that our many homosexual friends don’t fear harassment by law enforcement. The civil rights movement the ’60s brought has resulted in a lot of politically correct silliness, to be sure, but we’re able to work all that out with our many black- and brown- and yellow- and red-skinned friends, and are glad they don’t have to endure the segregated society we were born into.
We never did think the hippies and doves hated America. They seemed to love the blues and jazz and country-and-western and rhythm-and-blues music that is America’s greatest gift to world culture, and came up with The Doors and Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Sir Douglas Quintet and numerous other long-haired groups that made it even greater. They so loved the natural beauty of the American landscape that they’d frolic naked in its mud. They fully embraced the great American bard Walt Whitman’s exhortation to “resist much, obey little.” They availed themselves of free speech and the right to petition for redress of grievances and participated in the country’s democratic systems, occasionally for the better if more often for the worse.
Neither do we think that the hard-hats and hawks ever hated America or its ideals. At this point there’s denying that many of them long for a whiter and more heterosexual time in America, but for the most part they only want to guiltlessly listen to their favorite music and enjoy a backyard beer and freely express themselves and petition for redress of grievances and participate in the democratic processes our forefathers created.
During the eight interminable years of President Barack Obama’s administration the thrice-married and proudly adulterous Trump claimed that the president was constitutionally illegitimate by virtue of his foreign birth, a claim Trump has since disavowed, and griped about “American carnage” and claimed that “the American dream is dead,” but he never did return to Scotland where his mother was born or Germany where he falsely claims his father was born, as he apparently didn’t believe that because he disagreed with the sitting president he was therefore obliged to leave the country. We have no affection for the four minority Democratic congresswomen that Trump is currently feuding with, whose far-left and pro-socialist politics the president’s equally insane “tweets” are drawing attention from, but we hew to a constitution that does not permit sending them back to where they came from, especially since three of the four came from the very states they’ve been elected to represent in Congress..
Anyone who loves America has surely noticed some very human flaws in the scheme, for all its high ideals, and wants to use its democratic processes to create a more perfect union, and no matter how cockamamie their ideas about how to achieve that he or she has every right to do so. America and its democratic processes have gotten us through the hippies and the hard hats and even the more deadly spat between the  Union and the Confederacy, so  we’ll put more faith in that than we do in either Trump or those similarly scary four minority Democratic congresswomen.

— Bud Norman

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The Kansas Weather and the Rest of the News

The neighborhood tornado sirens went off Sunday evening, which seemed odd given the light rain and even lighter winds we noticed outside the window, but we nonetheless did the Kansas thing and turned on the old-fashioned AM radio and checked the newfangled internet radar. Kansas is our favorite of the 49 very fine states we’ve visited, and we urge you to pay it a visit sometime, but you do have to be careful about the weather around here.
Kansas gets hotter than Hades in the summer, colder than the proverbial well digger’s ass in the winter, and the few in-between weeks of spring and fall are either eerily perfect or downright scary. On the good days you can drive around with the top down and watch a spectacular prairie sunset of shot gold, maroon and violet, dazzling silver, emerald and fawn, with the earth’s whole amplitude and nature’s multiform power consigned for once to colors — as Walt Whitman once memorably described it — but on the bad days Mother Nature is a mean old bitch old around here. Kansas goes through droughts when the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers slow to a trickle, and such rainy seasons that both rivers would have overflowed their banks and flooded our Riverside house if the damned know-it-alls at the City and County Halls hadn’t defied local anti-government opinion and dug the Big Ditch on the west side of town. Every spring, and to a lesser extent every fall, the state also gets lightning strikes and medicine-ball sized hail and ferociously high winds and car-window-shattering barometric pressure drops and torrential flash-flooding rains and Wizard of Oz-sized tornadoes that can quite literally kill you, and on several occasions we can well recall each of them have come quite close to killing us.
The Kansas weather hasn’t killed us yet, however, and we like to think the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was right when he said “That which does not kill us makes stronger.” Life on the prairie can be harsh, but so can life be anywhere you might go, so maybe the weather has something to with Kansas being able to stumble along as well as it has since it righteously entered the Union as a Free State.
Despite the tornado sirens we only got a brief heavy rain and moderates winds on Sunday, although the unlucky neighborhoods to the west did get some hail that will probably involve an insurance claim or two, and that’s the way a lot of the media scares always seem to work out. Barring bad weather we’ll try to get back to the rest of the news today, and we’ll try not to be alarmist like some of the meteorologists around here, but we’ll also keep in mind just how bad things sometimes get.

— Bud Norman

Rotten to the Common Core

For all the dire economic news and reports of political dysfunction, the most disturbing story of the past week was about the decision to replace literature with bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo in the nation’s schools.
Something called the Common Core State Standards in English, which has been embraced by 46 states, requires that 50 percent of all the required reading in elementary schools and 70 percent in high schools be non-fiction. Suggestions for the new assignments include Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” an excellent and surprising recommendation, but also such dry governmental fare as the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s “FedViews” and the General Service Administration’s “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management.” The educrats responsible for the diktat insist that it’s no big deal, except to the extent it will better prepare the youngster to take their rightful places in society, but we are not reassured.
Any federal “one-size-fits-all” plan for education is destined to fail. What’s needed in a rural Kansas classroom might not be suited to the children in a crumbling inner-city school back east, and within either group the educational needs and capabilities of the individual students will vary even more widely. Each of the 46 states that have signed on to the new standards would do better to allow their school districts to decide what’s best for their charges, and the districts should leave the matter to every school, where the principals should in turn leave the matter to the discretion of the teachers whenever possible. If at any point in this process anyone concludes that the teachers aren’t capable of making the best decisions, they should reconsider their hiring standard for teachers.
There are several things about this particular plan, though, that are especially galling. It’s partly a very personal distaste, as literature afforded us the few enjoyable and genuinely enlightening moments of our desultory schooling, but it’s also an affront to our political, cultural, and educational sensibilities.
How very frightening, for instance, is the assumption that all functioning citizens of the brave new world of the American future will be required to slog through the turgid and deliberately incomprehensible prose of bureaucratic regulations. This assumption is likely correct, alas, but all the more reason that young people should instead be reading Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” to be properly forewarned about the sterile society they’re about to inherit. Perhaps the point of the new standards is to shield the children from such subversive material. Without sufficient regulation some old-fashioned English teacher in flyover country might expose his students to Walt Whitman’s admonition to “Resist much, obey little,” and there’s no telling where that might lead.
Neither do we care for the inevitable cultural effects of this plan. The communication skills of the young people we encounter today are barely sufficient for “tweets” and text messages, and further evidence of the country’s increasing illiteracy abound. We note from the Washington Post’s account of the controversy that the man who played a key role in foisting the new standards on the country was unable to get through a speech at the New York State Education Building without resorting to an expletive that the more genteel editors of the paper felt obliged to delete. Holding up the jargon-laden soporifics of the General Services Administration as a model of well-written English will not better the situation at all.
In addition to teaching people to coherently and more elegantly express a thought, literature from sources other than the Government Printing Office also helps people formulate an idea. Those seeking any insight into human behavior, man’s relationship with God, the history of civilizations, or anything else that might be useful to a sentient being as he avails himself of whatever’s left of his freedom would do better to check with Mark Twain, Robertson Davies, Joseph Conrad, or a number of other dead white men than the GSA. Great literature fires the imagination and prompts one to ponder all the possibilities, which is precisely why it has lost favor with the generations raised on our empty-headed pop culture, but the country should expect its schools to remedy such cultural dysfunctions rather than acquiesce to them.
The proponents of these new standards will no doubt argue that anyone who can master the complexities of executive orders and bureaucratic reports should then be able to cope with mere literature, but deciphering the archaic language of William Shakespeare is more challenging and yields a better understanding of a vast world far more complex than anything dealt with by the Bureau of Weights of Measures.
Great literature is also a link to the past, with all its accumulated wisdom and warnings, and one wonders if the new standards are meant to create a break from that past and allow those who would impose their one-size-fits-all solutions on a new and more meticulously planned society. This distinct possibility is perhaps the most troubling aspect of the plan. Economic and political problems come and go, but when a culture goes it’s gone.

— Bud Norman