The Bully or the Mean Girl

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

America’s choice has the world on edge. And it has the average American held hostage to two unsavory options.

After a week in which Donald Trump made some outrageous claims at the Republican National Convention (i.e. the complete and total safety of all American citizens on the day of his inauguration) and Hillary Clinton launched a juvenile and mean-spirited Facebook page called TrumpYourself, it occured to me that Americans are faced with the prospect of voting either for the Bully or the Mean Girl in a campaign that is sure to reach middle-school levels of maturity and decorum. Imagine those choices for class president in eighth grade. Now imagine those choices for Leader of the Free World.

As I consider the upcoming election for President, I feel a very deep sympathy for my fellow Americans. I have been a resident of Canada for sixteen years but will always have my American roots. There are things about the U.S.A. that infuriate and frustrate me, but it is still a beautiful, magnificent country. It is a country that represents so much of what can be so right about democracy. And its people are so often outrageously generous, authentic, loving and hopeful. When I think back to being born and raised in the U.S.A., my memories are full of joy and contentment. I know there is no such thing as a perfect place on earth. I know the U.S. is fallible and caught up in its own mythology. But I feel so grateful to have been brought up an American. It was a privilege.

But from the distance I am at now, I consider Americans and the prospect of having to choose between one of two petulant and ultimately unpresidential candidates and I shutter. I don’t know what I would do if I was still a resident of the States. I feel that there must be tens of millions of Americans who feel sick to their stomachs when they consider November of 2016. I feel there must be millions of Americans who feel trapped and held captive in a presidential race that is equal parts farce and tragedy. Can this really be where we’ve ended up?

I have never witnessed a presidential race that is so joyless and devoid of real hope. And I have never witnessed one so propelled by fear and vitriol. Unfortunately, I believe it is only going to get worse from here. And because of that my heart aches for Americans, for the large majority who find themselves between the obnoxious and childish camps of Trump and Clinton. What is really at stake here is democracy and the decency and vision that has accompanied it for so long in the U.S.A. What is at stake is the average American, really. They do not deserve this circus of a presidential race. And they deserve far, far better leadership and representation.

Where is the hope in all of this? How can the U.S.A. move forward in any kind of positive direction?

I believe the answer lies in remembering what is in the DNA of the U.S.A.; remembering that the country is run not by any authoritarian, narcissistic demagogue, but by the people themselves. The hope of the country has never been in one person. And, despite what Donald Trump claims, the election of that one person will not bring the change and hope and strength you wish to have as Americans. The simple fact is that the only people who have the real power to change, to unite, to bring back the decency and graciousness and vision of the country are the people themselves. Faith in one man or one woman is misguided and naive. The U.S.A. has never been about the one but the many, despite the cult of personality that arises around candidates, despite the celebrity worship and almost god-like status of the rich and influential.

Americans, remember: They don’t have the power, you do. This campaign has made it seem like the battle is between the Bully and the Mean Girl. But that’s not true. The battle is between a deeply flawed system of government and a people who deeply want their country to remain a place of hope and peace and unity.

Trump or Clinton: Both are establishment, both represent money and power, both make ridiculous claims they can never back up, both are flawed. Don’t hang your hat on either of them. Instead, remember who you are; remember what you are capable of; and remember it is your country, not theirs.

In the end, I still don’t know what I’d do on election day. But all of us on the outside looking in around the world are counting on you doing the right thing. I don’t believe in Trump or Clinton but I believe in you. And I’m not alone.

America, Greatness and Appealing to the Better Angels


I’ve been reading “The Sketch Book” by Washington Irving, the author who gave life to the Headless Horseman and Rip Van Winkle. “The Sketch Book” contains both of these classics of early-American literature. It was published in the late 1820’s when the United States of America was an infant nation taking its first solid steps into maturity. I picked up the book out of a longing to read some great writing that really challenged me in a way modern writers cannot. I expected that kind of experience reading something written almost two hundred years ago. What I didn’t expect was to read passages that seemed to speak directly to the political and moral climate of the United States in 2016.

In a chapter about the animosity that existed between English and Americans in the 1820’s (not a big surprise on the heels of two wars fought between the nations!), I felt like Irving’s ghost was addressing issues that are popping up all over the place today.

The first quote that struck me was this one: “Governed, as we are, entirely by public opinion, the utmost care should be taken to preserve the purity of the public mind. Knowledge is power, and truth is knowledge; whoever, therefore, knowingly propagates a prejudice willfully saps the foundation of his country’s strength.”

Like so many others I have been angered and frustrated by the things said and issues promoted by Donald Trump in his bid for the candidacy of the Republican party. The broad¬†generalizations, mockery, bombast and overall asine-ness of his ridiculous campaign is reason enough to be disgusted. But what has really discouraged me is the lack of responsibility shown by someone in a position of power and influence in what he will say and represent in the public sphere. It is not a stretch to say that Trump has “knowingly propagated prejudices”. Reading Irving’s quote I realized what else has me fuming: In the mindless quest to “Make America Great Again”, he is actually sapping the great strength of America. He will not make America great by this strategy but drag it down somewhere far below mediocrity, to a place that is base and petty and self-serving.

Washington Irving reminded me that people in positions of influence, especially in a democratic land where the voice of the people give it power, have a responsibility to use their words with care, to promote justice and peace and truth, and to give meaning not to ignoble but to noble purpose. By this you promote the “purity of the public mind”. I have been witnessing so much of the opposite lately that I have felt the greatness slipping away from the U.S.

What is the greatness of America? The next quote I came upon in Irving’s book reminded me of that. But it also brought discouragement as I considered the debate in my homeland over the refugee crisis and how some states were refusing to give asylum to people desperately in need of it. Here is Washington Irving again:¬†“Opening, too, as we do, an asylum for strangers from every portion of the earth, we should receive all with impartiality. It should be our pride to exhibit an example of one nation, at least, destitute of national antipathies, and exercising not merely the overt acts of hospitality but those more rare and noble courtesies which spring from liberality of opinion.”

I have lived in Canada for the last fifteen years but I was born and raised in the United States. Growing up, you learn about the make-up of your nation; you learn the pride in being a land of free people who came from every corner of the globe; you learn to believe that your nation, above all others, will do the right thing when confronted with the choice to do or not do what is right. Now, as an adult, I know a lot of what I was taught growing up was a form of American Mythology that helps to promote the idea that the U.S. is the greatest nation ever. You grow up singing lots of spangly songs of patriotism, believe me! Yet there is a deep truth in the fact that America has been a light and a hope for millions of people over more than two centuries. Those famous words at the Statue of Liberty, penned by Emma Lazarus, and taught and quoted over and over cannot be ignored: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”¬†

Emma Lazarus in her poem called the Statue the “Mother of Exiles” but I don’t thinks she was just talking about the Statue. The United States has been the Mother of Exiles for so many. In fact, many Americans can trace their roots to a time when their grandfathers and fathers were exiles; people yearning to be free from religious persecution, ethnic cleansing, poverty, prejudice and the like. How can it be, then, that a group such as the Syrian refugees – a group that certainly could be described as tired, poor, huddled masses yearning for freedom – be confronted with proverbial closed doors and barred gates?

The answer, of course, is fear. Fear specifically of ISIL but fear more generally of a big, bad outside world that will destroy your way of life. Yet what is that way of life but freedom? And who is free who can abide anyone being denied freedom themselves? Who can let fear give voice to their opinions who know that ultimately what has always been true, in the words of JFK, is that the only thing America has to fear is fear itself? Fear strips away freedom; it takes away your freedom as it takes away a freedom others so desperately crave.

America doesn’t need to be made great again. America is already great. But America needs to be reminded of its greatness. It is being forgotten. Worse, it is being replaced by something lower than mediocrity: Spite, vitriol, a shallowness that threatens to swallow up everything like a Black Hole.

The fear needs to be named. And then the fear needs to be rejected in favor of the boldness that has always marked the United States as the home of the brave and free. That’s the America I still love. I suspect that the vast majority of Americans agree.

I appeal, as one of my favorite Americans once did, to the “better angels of our nature”. Abraham Lincoln was attempting during that first inaugural address to avert a coming horrific conflict. Unfortunately, America slipped into the bloodiest era of its history. My hope and prayer is that by appealing again to those angels in us, this time around, instead of horror there will be peace.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” – Abraham Lincoln



Ron’s Briefs


I’d like to share my briefs with you. My brief comments, that is.

Sometimes a little sanity is in order. These days, a lot of sanity is in order. I don’t purport to be someone of great wisdom but I do consider myself pragmatic. In that spirit, I share my briefs with you below, random and unabridged…


Sometimes a rainbow is just a rainbow.

Most times a niqab is just a niqab.

The only thing we have to fear is a fear-mongering candidate on the campaign trail.

Oxymorons: Jumbo Shrimp, Military Intelligence, President Trump.

Pride and Greed: When did two of the Seven Deadly sins become a requirement to run for public office?

The Tea Party was a Canuck band long before it was a band of Ka-Nuckleheads.

Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But people can kill a lot more people with a gun.

Jesus would never be packin’. Just sayin’.

Black lives matter. Co-opting the slogan for your own means just totally misses the point.

The USA: 5% of the world’s population, 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. The Land of the Free is the Home of the Imprisoned.

Giving boxes of Kraft Dinner to a food bank is not “Tackling Hunger”.

Canada is planning on building a wall to keep Justin Bieber in the US.

It’s a simple formula, guys: Stop being idiots. Women like guys who aren’t idiots.

It’s easy to take offense; much harder to extend grace.

If you live in the suburbs you’re not uptown or downtown. You’re just town.

Wonderbread is the suburbia of wheat products.

The War on Christmas rages on in the world, leaving a bloody red trail of Starbucks cups in its wake. Oh, the humanity!

Since 9/11, 0.000003 percent of refugees admitted to the US have been arrested for plotting terrorist activities. Also since 9/11, irrational fear and prejudice have made people really bad at math.

Simple equation: Refugees + Seeking Asylum = LET THE DAMN PEOPLE IN!

Free people don’t live in fear or act out of hate. Doing so just makes you a slave.