“I’ve been thinking …” – Make America Greater

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Here’s a commentary from Jim Heffernan, whom we introduced a couple days ago with his brief book review (he’s got more of those in the works, too) of local author Derrick Josi’s book, “An Industry Worth Fighting For.”  You’ve probably seen Jim’s name before as he’s a prolific “letter to the editor” writer.  When he sent the Pioneer a couple letters to the editor, I suggested that we turn them into a semi-regular column. Jim has a lot on on his mind, so we’ve dubbed his column “I’ve been thinking …” Let us know what you think. Welcome again, Jim!

By Jim Heffernan

As a teenager in the early sixties, sometimes me and my “hoodlum friends” *, Billy and Tom, would board a city bus and ride it across town to the airport.  In those days, Denver had an airport that was once remote and the city grew up to surround it.

When we got there, we would seek out the area where the pinball machines lived.  We’d pick a likely machine and launch our mischief.  Before putting in our quarter, we would gently lift the low end of the machine and two of us would place the toe of our shoe under a  leg.  This had the effect of slowing the movement of the ball way down and making the tilt feature a little sensitive,  When we put the quarter in the now ham-strung machine, everything was easier, you just had to be careful not to “jock” the machine too much.  Soon the free games would rack up at an astonishing clip and once we accumulated about 10 games we would pull our toes out and start playing the machine “for reals”.

Those days are 60 years behind me, but it seems like my mind works a little like that tampered-with machine of the past.  Ideas bounce around continually.

One idea that pops up very, very often is “Make America Great Again”.  I still believe that America is great, but I can remember days when America was, in so many ways, greater.

Trump wasn’t the first one to use the phrase in a presidential campaign.  It was first used by some guy named Wiley in 1940.  Later on, it would be used by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.  Whoever was mouthing the words, it was an empty promise, engendered to win votes and really signifying nothing.

I truly believe that making America great again is more than just a nice idea, I believe it is something we must do to ensure our survival as a democracy.  If we want the lives of our children and grandchildren to be better than ours, we must make America greater.

I wish I could give you a list of exactly what needs to be done, but I can’t.  I have ideas, but I’ve had a lot of bad ideas in my life,  I do feel fairly sure that the way out of this quagmire will not be delivered by our politicians.  I truly believe the recovery of our greatness is a path the is within us.  It is not an easy path.  It involves, gasp, change.

I think we can make a good start by making two basic changes  Part one is changing how we relate to one another.  Part Two is changing how we form our opinions.

I would like to start with an apology.  I would like to apologize for being such a liberal.  Well, not so much for being a liberal, like Popeye,  I yam what I yam.  More accurately, I would like to apologize for wrapping myself in the smug, arrogance that is so often a feature of us liberals.  All too often, we tend to think we have all the answers and those that disagree are stupid and ignorant.  Undoubtedly, there are those in my camp who believe just that way.  I could apply a lot of coarse words to them, but just let me say they are wrong.

I should have seen it sooner.

I have resolved to stop demonizing those I don’t agree with and to apply empathy, understanding, and respect in my dealings with them.

It took me 15 years to quit smoking, there may be hiccups in my resolution.

I am hoping I can encourage others to follow me in my resolution.

I think that to deal with  Part Two, the way we form our opinions, we first need to be careful about our sources.  I believe that talk radio, cable news, and, to a certain extent, social media are essentially worthless.  They are all carefully calibrated to tell us what they want us to hear.  They don’t do it to make us better people, they do it to make lots of money for themselves.  I must confess to losing hours of my life to MSNBC, but I’ve weaned myself away and I’m happier now. When I want television news, I limit myself to an hour of local news or PBS.   I’ve used the time I’ve freed up to read more books, magazines, and newspapers.  Reading allows me to sit back and reflect as I make up my mind.  Besides, the printed word will usually include a bibliography of sources.  Quality newspapers allow readers to submit letters when opinions differ.  I’m sure there must be an equation that could chart the decline in our civility with the decline of newpapers.

   I think I’m on squishy ground when I talk about social media.   I have been very slow to join in.  There are  Facebook pages that I find pleasant, but I’ve seen some that I find repugnant.  I escape the repugnant pages as quickly as I can and never return.   I will forever associate Twitter as a Donald Trump bull horn and stay away.  I wouldn’t know Pinterest if I stepped in it.

Actually, I see now, how we relate to one another and how we form our opinions are very firmly interconnected.

Tocqueville remarked in his classic 1840 book, “Democracy in America” about how readily  Americans formed groups that were sometimes for things like harvesting and barn raisings and sometimes just to be friendly.  I think we are losing that quality.  I read about it in books (two good ones, “Bowling Alone–The Collapse and Revival of American Community” by Robert D. Putnam, and “Them: Why We Hate Each Other.” by Senator Ben Sasse.)  How often do you see people spending time together, but involved with their phones instead of each other?   (I guess this is called “alone together.”)

Let’s start a large movement here in little Tillamook.  Let’s endeavor to apply these two principles – changing how we relate to one another and how we form our opinions.  We can call it Make America Greater, Phase 1. 

* “Hoodlum friends” is both an echo of my father’s words and homage to the great 1958 Lieber & Stoller song “Yakkety Yak”, first recorded by the Coasters. It included the verse, “Tell your hoodlum friends outside, you ain’t got time to take a ride.  Yakkety yak. Don’t talk back.”  It’s a wonderful old song that spoke to our teenage grievances and had some great saxophone riffs in it.