In March of 1990, I was six-years old, living in Whitesburg, Kentucky, the heart of the southeastern Kentucky coal fields in Letcher County. Had I come across the March issue of Playboy, I would have been very interested in seeing the Oakland, California brunette Deborah Driggs, but I somehow feel that seeing Donald Trump next to her on the cover may have turned me away. I would have most likely tossed the issue in the trash and gone back to my BMX Racing Magazine. Either way, I would not have been reading the articles as many proclaim as their reason for the subscription.
Trump: I love the creative process. I do what I do out of pure enjoyment. Hopefully, nobody does it better. There’s a beauty to making a great deal. It’s my canvas. And I like painting it. I like the challenge and tell the story of the coal miner’s son. The coal miner gets black-lung disease, his son gets it, then his son. If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don’t have the imagination-or whatever-to leave their mine. They don’t have “it.”
At the tender age of six, if I had chosen to read this interview it would have had little or no importance to me. I was not concerned with our local economy or my career. Now, 25 years later, I am a former coal miner who had to leave my hometown in order to find a sustainable income.
I was a coal miner for twelve years. It was a career path I had chosen after high school to put myself through college. My father was not a real estate mogul so I had to financially support myself. After three years I made the decision to continue my mining career. After all, the wages of an underground miner were much better than that of an educator in our local school system. At the end of my twelve year mining career, I made the decision to use my skills, experience, and imagination to look for a new career. This was my choice following the decline of the coal industry.
To say coal miner’s don’t have the imagination or ‘it’ once again proves Donald’s ignorance of the abilities of a coal miner. Coal miners are a different type of people. They are hard working, skilled, and adaptive employees. Coal miners have been working in adverse conditions and in the face of danger for centuries. They can adapt to new environments and learn new skills with minds that are as strong as their backs. If you were to line up a working crew of an underground coal mine you would find Managers, Supervisors, Electricians, Mechanics, Fabricators, Engineers, and of course a multitude of employees with soft skills.
There is pride in being a coal miner, especially when you live in a rural coal community. An employee can enter the mining industry without a high school education and earn fifty thousand dollars a year, an experienced electrician can earn over one hundred thousand dollars per year. These are not wages to be dismissed and looked over in rural communities. When growing up in a region that is sustained through medical facilities, school systems, a few law offices, and coal, those are your only options. For many the romantic notion of working seven miles inside of a mountain and earning a six figure salary is enough encouragement to continue down the career path of coal.
We are now 25 years beyond Trump’s interview with Playboy. The coal industry is in a steep and steady decline. It is due to a multitude of reasons, but more so than any, the market place. Why do coal miners and the rural communities in which they live cry out in the campaign to recover the declining coal industry? It is all they have known. These rural communities have been given a single economic commodity: coal.
When the large firms came into Central Appalachia to mine the resource they collapsed any chance of farming and agriculture by using up the land and the rights of the land owners. The people in these communities became accustomed to the wages and opportunities provided by this new economy. There were ups and downs, booms and busts, but there was always a new rise around the corner. For over one hundred years they had survived on the coal industry and were never shown a more sustainable economy or new industry.
Our state, local, and federal leaders have failed the area by not creating a sustainable economy for these areas. All of the revenues earned through the coal industry were taken away from the communities in which the coal was mined. The coal severance tax was often misused and not enough was put into rebuilding the communities. This was an industry that provided well-paying jobs in an unsustainable economy. Coal is a non-renewable resource that would have eventually ran out and left these coal based communities in the same situation had the market not declined when it did. No one had planned for a new economy, a new industry, or a way for our communities to survive without coal.
There are beliefs for why this happened, but it all boils down to the fact that it did happen. Why? It doesn’t matter at this point. What matters now is being progressive, moving forward, and creating action. We need leaders that will be honest about the situation and encourage the members of our coal communities to move forward using their skills and expertise to create a new economy for the coal communities they love.
Donald Trump said coal miners don’t have ‘it,’ but if he actually talks to any when he comes to Kentucky next month for the Republican presidential caucus, he may learn otherwise. Kentucky’s elected officials are welcome to join him.
Well, Kentucky, this certainly is an ocean of shit you’ve decided to go snorkeling in. You went and elected a tea party governor, and to all the world, you look like someone who just broke into jail. Politically, not many people will confuse Kentucky and Sweden, but you had one of the country’s best implementations of Obamacare (excuse me, the best implementation of Kynect, which differs from Obamacare by having a slightly dumber name) and you threw it away to gamble on a sweaty, lying tax-cheat.
Governor Bevin contradicts himself so much, that he basically has two warring personas: “Asshole” and “Gaping Asshole.” Whatever the true nature of his hole, our healthcare system likely goes the way of the middle class. On top of that, the Kentucky GOP has long wanted to destroy the unions, restrict abortion access, and lower the minimum wage for state workers.
Matt Bevin is like your mother’s vibrator—you get that it exists, but you’d rather not think about it. I get that our beloved commonwealth has a plethora of people who think unions love to punish workers, who want the government to get their greedy paws of their Medicare, and who are convinced that Obama depleted the region’s coal reserves as part of his war on the Appalachian working poor. I just don’t want to think about it. Matt Bevin means that not only do we have to think about this dumbassery, but it also means that when every other state in the union thinks of Kentucky, they’ll say, “Aren’t they the dumbasses that elected that dumbass?”
I’m not sure why this election hurt more than others that didn’t go my way. I think it’s because Kentucky—red nationally but blue locally—found itself at a crossroads and took exactly the wrong turn. We are like the kid who can punch up his college application by volunteering for either Doctors Without Borders or God Hates Fags. It seems like an easy choice, but, inexplicably, he says, “Lots of people seem to like that Kim Davis. Let’s see what she thinks.”
But I don’t want to talk about Matt Bevin. I want to talk about my mother’s vibrator. Now that I’ve done that, I want to talk about the state of liberalism in Kentucky. If the left is going to spend some time in the political wilderness, then so be it. But if we don’t get real honest with ourselves real quick, then we will never break out of this pattern. Sure, we may sneak out way back to Frankfort in a decade or so, but for what? If we’re going to suffer and lose and be humiliated, then fine—but I want to suffer for a damn sight more than Jack Conway and the flavorless buffet of cauliflower, Nilla Wafers, and cottage cheese that the KDP is serving us now.
WHAT WE’RE DOING NOW IS NOT WORKING
Let’s start with the most obvious point that somehow isn’t obvious at all. What we’re doing now is not working.
I voted for Jack Conway and very much wanted him to win. Six years ago, I voted for him against Rand Paul even after he ran an ad accusing Paul of not being Christian enough (Conway definitely did not carry the Aqua Buddhist vote this time around, and it may have cost him). My wife, a lawyer, has seen him work up close, and says he is talented and exceedingly competent. Great. I love talented competence—it makes for a great lawyer. In fact, I’d consider hiring Jack Conway to defend me against the defamation suit he will inevitably file against me if he reads this article. But the impression I got from his campaign was neither talent nor competence. It was the world’s least imaginative casting director hiring an extra to play “Governor.” He looks like a governor, and there’s nothing wrong with looking like a governor, but when that becomes your chief asset, then you’re not a governor—you’re a Ken Doll. Jack Conway is a Ken Doll, from his handsome-without-being-attractive face, to his blank, joyless smile, to the flat piece of plastic where his genitals should be. Right now, this seems to be the standard for the Kentucky Democratic Party: look nice and don’t offend anyone.
It’s worth noting that the Kentucky GOP does the same thing. But Republicans—who have learned from their time in exile and who are perhaps a little more panicked with how the country is trending—went over the party heads and got someone from closer to their ideological home. Good for them. Sure, Matt Bevin scares me, but hey, if you live in a cave, then you don’t mind the smell of batshit. Make no mistake: the Democrats allowed them to nominate the radical Republican, because we nominated the moderate Republican.
It’s almost too sad to be hilarious how establishment Democrats are acting exactly like their beloved Friends of Coal. That is, they’re acting like addicts. They keep doing the same thing, refusing to admit the diminishing returns. Run a smiley, apologetic-for-being-a-Democrat Democrat who makes fun of liberals and the EPA. It worked in the 90’s. Yeah, there was coal in the ground in the 90’s too. Things change.
Look, I’m the sort of proud-Kentucky proud-liberal motherfucker that neither Kentuckians nor liberals are eager to claim. But I pulled the lever for Conway. I hate the KDP strategy of attracting conservative moderates and telling liberals “Your Choice: Someone You Dislike or Someone You Hate,” but it worked on me. I care enough about politics to vote the straight D ticket even for someone I don’t like. But people like me are a finite resource, and apparently there aren’t enough of us left to win an election.
Any honest discussion of our current political situation has to start here—what we’re doing now isn’t working. This is exactly what I say to my friends and family who disagree with me about coal. If the best industry for our future has left us the least healthy, most depressed, and the poorest region of the country, then what good is the industry? Similarly, if we trust the KDP, and make compromise after compromise to win and election, and we get our ass kicked by a candidate the GOP is lukewarm about, then what good is the Kentucky Democratic Party?
What we’re doing now is not working.
This election surely has to represent the end of the KDP strategy. Our blandly attractive Democratic politicians have distanced themselves so far from the national party that there is nowhere else to go. Are they going to sue Santa Claus for promoting the war on coal by giving it only to bad children? Alison Lundergan Grimes famously refused to admit that she voted for President Obama. What is less well reported is that President Obama did better than she did. So following her logic, if she takes another stab at the Senate, she will refuse to admit she voted for herself.
These people are a useless embarrassment. They’ve become addicted to winning and they don’t even know how to win. Just like a drunk thinks “I may have lost my job and my family, but at least I have this drink”, the KDP says, “We may have sold out all our principles, and there’s no denying we’re slimy opportunists, but at least we win.” Except we’re not winning. So we’re being assholes and cowards for what?
I jokingly called Jack Conway a Ken Doll, but of course, he’s not. He’s much, much worse. A Ken Doll has no opinions, no personality, just a vapid smile. Jack Conway sued the EPA and threatened to drug-test people on welfare. These aren’t betrayals of liberal principles as much as they are betrayals of human decency. If Matt Bevin is your mother’s vibrator, then Jack Conway is your grandfather’s homophobia. It’s the poisonous element you put with because you like the overall package. (Conway can also be your grandfather’s vibrator. I don’t like thinking of him either. It’s possible I might have lost the reins on this metaphor).
I voted for this sack of shit, but my sincere hope is that five years from now, in a saner, smarter Kentucky, I will be as ashamed of my vote as Alison Lundergan Grimes is of her vote for Obama.
First, we must admit we have a problem. We are powerless over the fleeting effects of winning to where we have made such a victory meaningless and unobtainable. Jack Conway is unworthy of Kentucky. We know this because he can’t keep us from Matt Bevin, who is worse. So we admit we must change strategy, but what do we do?
VALUES IS THE NEW “I’M NOT SAYING, I’M JUST SAYING”
Quick: What are the five most important Kentucky values?
I don’t know, but I do know that the most obnoxious phrase in the English language is “I’m just saying.” Some people say amend that to “I’m not saying, I’m just saying,” so they can let the world know that they are being a dildo intentionally. I also know that this is somewhat relevant to the question about what are “Kentucky Values.”
When we say “I’m just saying”, we’re committing the rare “double asshole” move to perfection. We are saying something we know would cause offense but we’re acting like it doesn’t matter. “I’m just saying” means “I just told you the truth about how I feel, and I’m now asking you to disregard that, and I don’t want to be held accountable if you don’t like my previous statement.” The phrase “No offense” at least knows it’s an asshole (“No offense, but if you don’t lose weight and start using a better deodorant then you’re going to die alone, and that jacket makes it you look like you rape children. No offense to you”). The phrase “I’m just saying” pretends to be nice. “These are just my thoughts, so don’t take it too seriously, because I’m just saying.” In reality, it’s a pernicious and cowardly way of saying nothing.
What does this have to do with Kentucky values?
It depends. What did you list as your five Kentucky values? Maybe you mentioned the physical things Kentuckians value: Bourbon, Basketball, Arrogant T-Shirts With The State Outline On It, Telling Indianans to Blow Us. The Kentucky mountains were founded by people who were kicked out of other more habitable regions in Scotland, Ireland, Virginia, and North Carolina, so a distrust of government and a desire for self-sufficiency still run thick in our blood. That could definitely be a Kentucky value.
Both answers are fine, but they aren’t what I’d go with. My answer is “That is an amazingly stupid question. The state has millions of people in it, and the word ‘Values’ is so amorphous and personal that it would be odd if ten people shared a set of values, much less an entire state.”
I can guarantee you what The Kentucky Democratic Party’s list of Kentucky values would be: Family, Ingenuity, Faith, Hard Work, Independence, Pride In I’m boring myself to fucking tears even writing this.
They want to take the blandest terms that could equally apply to Kentucky Republicans (or Oklahoma Greens or New Mexico Independents for that matter) and present it as though these are our core reasons for being. Voters want to know who they are voting for. Kentuckians asked the politicians to identify themselves, and the Democrats offered a resounding “I’m just saying”.
Politicians pass hot air as virtue all the time, so what does it matter? Well, it matters when the leaders try to pass off this six year-old’s list of virtues as actual policy. Shortly after the election returns, I opened a beer and turned on KET to see if they’d pulled any more bodies out of the wreckage. (A fun Tuesday of public television, hoppy beer, and endless masochism? Sorry ladies, I’m taken).
Up pops Ray Jones, the Democratic State Senator from Pikeville, who threw his hands up and moaned that there’s nothing we can do in this current climate. How are Kentuckians supposed to vote when the national party is represented Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and people who don’t “share Kentucky values”? When pressed on what he meant by it, he sputtered and stammered like he was a twelve-year-old boy, caught with a Sears catalogue in one hand in his penis in the other, trying to find a plausible explanation. Because, of course, he doesn’t know what “Kentucky Values” means either.
Yes, he’s based his political life around it, but that just shows the shallowness of his philosophy and the uselessness of his language. Let’s take a spin on the KDP logic wheel, shall we? “You’ll never get elected in Kentucky if you align yourself with Obama and Pelosi.” “Why not?” “Because they don’t share our Kentucky values.” “Why do you think they don’t share Kentucky values?” “Because you’ll never get elected in Kentucky if you align yourself with Obama and Pelosi.” Thus completes the perfect circle of bullshit.
Sure, you can write this off as a rhetorical annoyance, but it matters. Because now even casual Democrats try to separate themselves from ”hippies” who want to attack coal because “it’s our way of life.” Step back from that logic and try to unpack it for a second. From their love of banjos and drugs to their distrust of police, hillbillies are hippies with better razors. Yet, we’re asked to believe one side of this fictitious divide resents the other so much that they declare war on them simply to disrupt their otherwise flourishing way of life.
It hardly bears mentioning that these claims are bullshit. There hasn’t been a real coal economy in East Kentucky in decades. There are more than five times as many health care workers than coal workers in coal producing counties. Also, obviously, (obviously)—obviously—you can oppose unregulated coal companies writing their own environmental and economic laws and not be a hippie or anti-coal or anything else. But the facts don’t matter once we accept the labels. The Democrats have not only accepted these labels, but they’ve let them replace any coherent policy.
When I first saw Senator Jones go into his Kentucky values spiel, it depressed me almost as much as the results itself. It meant the Democratic Party had really crawled up its own ass and now believed its own soft thinking. Over the past week though, it’s actually cheered me up. Jones says, “There’s nothing we can do with Democrats like Obama and Pelosi representing us” thinking it’s going to be our motto. Instead, let it be the epitaph for him and the entire Washington Generals starting lineup of Democratic politicians we have now. “There’s nothing we can do” is a pretty perfect summation of these Kentucky Democrats, and it’s exactly why we need to demand newer, stronger ones.
It’s worth noting that we liberals made the same “Kentucky values” mistake. When the election didn’t go our way, a lot of my liberal friends said Kentucky valued racism, ignorance, and voting against their own interests. They said they were going to leave the state. “Racism” seems like an odd charge. Obviously, race is complicated, and I suspect some of Obama’s role of Bogeyman in East Kentucky is racially motivated. Still, it’s hard to reasonably make a case that conservatives showed their racism by electing a black woman to the Lieutenant Governor. It doesn’t mean she’s going to be good at her job, but it does mean any racist who voted her into office is pretty lousy at being a racist.
I don’t understand why we look down on people “voting against their own interests.” For one, it’s remarkably condescending. Why do you assume you know their interests? If you honestly believe that every abortion is the systemic murder of a child by the state, then maybe whether or not you get an Earned Income Credit on your taxes seems less important. Secondly, voting against your own interests is incredibly noble. Putting the good of the country ahead of your own pocketbook? I salute you, my friend, and wish you had a less moronic idea of what’s good for the country.
And to those people threatening to leave the state? It’s been a week, and I imagine most of them have calmed down by now. I made a similar pronouncement in 2004, saying I’d leave America, and then briefly tried to convince my co-workers in Washington DC that I was commuting from Guadalajara.
Certainly, you should live where you love, and if you can’t stand the fact that your neighbors vote differently than you do (that they dislike Jack Conway slightly more than you dislike Jack Conway) then you won’t love it here. In fact, you won’t love it most places. I’ll be sad to see you go both because Kentucky needs liberals and because if we live only in ideologically pure neighborhoods, cities, and states, then we’re going to make it a lot easier for charlatans to sell us the bullshit of “Kentucky Values” (or “San Francisco Values” or “Portland Values” or “Texas Values”).
Besides, if the only thing that was keeping you here in the first place was the brilliant, charismatic governorship of Steve Beshear, then we are very different people.
RECOGNIZING FAILURE MEANS RECLAIMING OUR LANGUAGE
Does any of this matter? Of course, political parties let you down. Your representatives are also representing millions of other people who feel slightly different, who have their own Kentucky Values, and who have their own complaints about the party. They retool every two years, and come back with a whole new way to disappoint you, so does any of this matter?
Yes, obviously. Because Matt Bevin is our governor, a lot of poor people are going to get poorer, a lot of sick people are going to lose their healthcare, and some people are going to die. Kentucky is going to be a tangibly worse place to live and some people will die prematurely because Jack Conway and the KDP are afraid to take any position that isn’t “I’m in favor of being mildly handsome.”
So what now? Should the Kentucky Democrats take a hard left, reclaim our souls, and offer liberal, populist alternatives to this horrorshow on the right? Sure, I’d love that. I think that’d be swell. It would also be a confusingly sensible reaction to every one of your positions being unpopular with voters. But that’s not primarily what I’m talking about. This is ultimately an article about language, about why it matters and why changing it may be the most important issue facing the Democrats going forward.
The more we value the words we use, the more we value the content our words are describing. The more precise we are with our language, the better we can see what we are talking about. It’s long been said that the Eskimos have over 300 words for snow. That means that they can see snow in 300 times the detail as native English speakers, and probably care about 300 times as much. In some languages, there is no separate word for blue and green, and no separate word for red, orange, or pink. As a result, the speakers don’t see the difference between those colors. There’s nothing wrong with their eyes. If someone points out the difference, they can see it. But because they don’t have the language to distinguish the difference, they don’t see the difference.
In Kentucky, we don’t have the language to distinguish between the person who cares about the environment and a “hippie who doesn’t care about our jobs.” We don’t have the language to distinguish between someone who points out our current reliance on coal isn’t working and someone who doesn’t share “Kentucky Values.” Even if you support mining for more coal, even if you support mountaintop removal, but you also support developing solar energy alongside of it, you will be labeled “anti-coal” because that’s the only language we have to describe it. You support the coal companies unconditionally or you don’t have Kentucky Values. We don’t have the language for nuance.
The Kentucky Democratic Party accepts this language to its own detriment. The damage it does isn’t just in the terrible policy. It hurts our mind. I would be a lot happier to support a conservative Democrat who offers a reasonable, adult defense of unregulated coal. Even if I don’t agree with it, I want to hear it because right now I don’t believe it exists. Because we don’t have that, we have this infant labeling: are you “pro-coal” or “anti-coal”? These words mean nothing, and it not only devalues the debate we’re having, it devalues the region we are talking about.
There’s not an elected official in Kentucky—Republican or Democrat—that actually believes that coal mining is our future. Democrats say it because they feel like they have to say it. Republicans say it because they can’t believe they’ve been blessed with such stupid enemies.
This isn’t just about coal and it isn’t even just about issues where Democrats are wrong. Consider Kim Davis, currently our lowest ranking elected national laughing stock. She compared herself to Martin Luther King, despite the fact that they disagree about bigotry. Republicans loved Kim Davis more than Kim Davis loves traditional marriage and adultery.
Let’s break this down: Is Kim Davis correct in comparing herself to Martin Luther King? Of course she is. Kim Davis defied a federal law that she found prejudiced, did so openly, withstood extreme pressure, went to jail for her beliefs, and came back unchanged in her convictions. That is exactly what Martin Luther King did. The only difference is that Kim Davis’s principles suck dicks. In this particular case, she was wrong in defying this particular law.
What did the Kentucky Democrats say? “Well, you have to obey the law. No matter what you think, it’s the law of the land, so you have to suck it up and change with the time.“ By that logic, Martin Luther King was wrong as well. By that logic, a principled county clerk issuing marriage licenses for gay couples last year would be wrong. Someone issuing marriage licenses for interracial couples in 1950 Mississippi would be wrong. Do we believe that? My problem with Kim Davis isn’t that she broke the law. My problem is that she’s a horrible bigot.
Bumper Sticker slogans are fine for Bumper Stickers. You have eight inches to get your argument across. Twitter slogans are fine for Twitter. You have 140 characters to make your point. But actual policy requires an actual language that gets into the dark crevices of dark argument. We have to talk to each other like adults or else we’ll only think like bumper stickers or Twitter Handles. Am I “Friend of Coal” or am I a “Friend of Mountains” (clearly a false choice—talk about it.). Do I think #blacklivesmatter or #alllivesmatter (it’s the same thing—talk about it).
So that’s my moral. Talk about it. Whenever you hear someone say he wants to support your shared values, you need to ask what he means by that. Your values are your own, and when someone assumes yours are theirs make them explain why. You explain why as well. Language can only add value. More importantly, people who go back to catchphrases and reflexive speech, can only diminish the value of our actual thoughts.
My moral beyond the moral is don’t despair. Life is too valuable to let the world grind you down. We are, for what it’s worth, still Kentucky. We are a good land and a good, diverse group of people, a plurality of whom vote like assholes. Our politicians are about the only Kentuckians who don’t have a clue how to use language. Anyway, we have a beautiful Autumn, and basketball season is almost here. Our life is still pretty great.
If someone makes fun of you, saying that Kentucky has elected the dumbest person from the state to be its Governor, we can laugh and say, “Joke’s on you, motherfucker. He’s from Connecticut.”
9/11 is Christmas for assholes. Instead of Santa Claus, we have Rudy Giuliani, sticking his face on our 9/11 commercials and Coke cans. Instead of Lord Baby Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we have Lord Baby Penis—otherwise known as The War President—who sees the day as a preamble to that one time he got to throw out the first pitch for the Yankees. While we don’t exactly go caroling, we do tend to sing Toby Keith’s ode to sticking things in people’s asses. And we feel so self-righteous about it.
That’s what kills me. Every holiday gets reduced to a cliché, but what that cliché is matters. The Valentine’s cliché is “Buy supper for the reason you’re not dying alone.” The Halloween cliché, depending on your age, is some version of “Ghosts, Candy, Fucking, Watch our kids eat candy, worry about our kids fucking.” The Labor Day cliché is “Shit, we don’t have to work today? Cool.” The Thanksgiving cliché is “The only thing I love more than my family is all this food, booze, and football that allows me to avoid my family.” And Christmas, the king of holidays, has the best cliché: “Be joyous you are alive.”
I’m not strictly Christian, so my Christmas is different than many, but I see it as a celebration of life. In the darkest part of the year, where the world and nature is trying to kill us, we light every light we have and say, “We are alive.” Next Christmas will be different—some family may be dead, some family will be away—but for right now and only right now, we are alive and we are grateful.
The 9/11 cliché is the opposite. It says, “People are jealous because you are American. They will hurt you because you are free and they aren’t. Keep constant watch on them.” Where Christmas brings peace, 9/11 rewards suspicion and fear. Its entire reason for existence is to invoke pain. If you don’t feel that pain, you are told you are disappointing the dead. There is a direct correlation between how acutely we remember this pain and how easily we can be manipulated into horrible, self-destructive actions.
We on the left talk about how President Bush exploited our fear to invade Iraq. Fair enough, but let’s also remember that we were desperate—desperate—to be exploited. Bush didn’t sell us the lie that attacking Iraq would be the solution to 9/11; he sold us the lie that 9/11 has a solution. And that’s the lie we return to every September 11th.
We need to believe we are in control. This is the same bullshit every action movie sells us. “Sure, there is evil in this world and there is squalid depression and fear. But if you punch it in the face really hard…” The best example of this happens when Lois Lane dies and Superman, confronted with the reality of death—a reality he can’t control—flies around the world so fast that he reverses earth’s orbit, making everything go back in time, so he can take another shot at saving the day. Good news for Lois Lane; not so good for the man who just threw up or the woman who gave birth to triplets. But all the audience cares about is that Superman wins. The good guys are in control.
Before 9/11, I thought America was in control. I don’t mean abstractly. On September 10th, 2001, I was having a beer with my roommate. His sister was in the Peace Corps in Sudan, and he was worried about her facing terrorist attacks. We lived in Washington DC, and he said, “Did you ever think about how we could be attacked at any moment? Seriously, we are Rome in the Roman Empire, a sitting duck.” I laughed in his face and said, “You’re crazy, man. No one’s ever going to attack America. We’re too powerful, and we’d kick their ass.” The next morning, he knocked on my bedroom door and told me America was under attack, and I thought, ‘Sorry I laughed at you, but isn’t this taking it a little far?’ We turned on the TV just in time to watch the second tower fall. Over the next ten minutes, my thoughts slowly evolved from ‘This is the most tasteless, well-executed prank I’ve ever seen’ to ‘Holy shit, this is real.’ As a direct result of this, my roommate went through a period where he was convinced he was psychic and he would try to read people’s minds. That is a far saner reaction to 9/11 than anything our elected officials did.
I thought America was in control, but we weren’t. A trillions of dollars defense couldn’t control a lunatic with a boxcutter and absolutely no fear of death. We went to war to restore order. We went to a second war to make sure there was absolutely no doubt of the order. That those wars failed is unquestionable, sad, and almost a little funny (Not as funny as my favorite true life fact of 9/11: The lead headline of the September 11th, 2001 The Washington Times: “Pentagon To Trim Staff By Fifteen Percent”). America acted every bit the cartoon bully that our least imaginative enemies say we are, showed our own weaknesses, and left no doubt about how not in control we were. Of course, you don’t have to have the psychic abilities of my roommate to know we would fail. Wars don’t restore order. At their best, they are akin to sawing off a gangrenous leg—a horror endured to prevent a worse horror. At their worst—well, at their worst, they look a whole lot like what America has done since 9/11.
What do people mean when they say, “Never forget”? I don’t think they mean it as a reminder, as I’ve never met anyone asking, “When did September 11th happen? I’m pretty sure it was September. The ninth maybe?” No, they’re saying, “Remember the pain. Remember feeling scared.” The pain and fear are real, of course, and as much as memory is an honor, they deserve to be remembered. Still, I think there’s something deceitful in this request. They’re asking for a re-set button. “Remember the pain,” is a sly way of saying “Only remember the pain,” or rather “Forget all the terrible things we’ve done in reaction to the pain.”
9/11 scared us like children. We reacted life children, hoping that some action could take away our fear. But we’ve grown since then. Fear is honest, but when we say “Never Forget,” we are retreating to that child-like state—we are elevating our fear into something holy.
Imagine your spouse was killed in a car crash, and as a result you went into a deep depression, became a miserable drunk (If you became a fun drunk because your spouse died in a car crash, that’s a different topic). Imagine you started fights with everyone you saw, got constantly arrested and couldn’t afford to feed your children. Would you want your friends to say “Never forget. Remember the pain. If you aren’t constantly feeling this pain, you’re doing it wrong”? Or would you want them to say, “Everything you’re doing is wrong. Stop it.”
Our pain is real, but it doesn’t matter. We aren’t in control of that. We are in control of the way we react to it. So if we can’t remember 9/11 correctly, then maybe it would be best to not remember 9/11 at all. Let’s treat 9/11 like The Mexican-American War, like the second person you had sex with, and everything our grandparents told us about gay people—let’s forget it.
Some may read this as an attack on one of the sacred cows of American pride, but they’d be wrong. It is an attack on the entire concept of American pride. I hate American pride. American pride is a disease; Lee Greenwood is just the most visible polyp.
My problem with American pride isn’t America. I love America. Football is better than soccer. Bob Dylan is better than The Beatles. Cold beer is better than warm beer. Diabetes is better than Malaria. Go America! I love America. I hate pride.
Pride is a feeling of superiority that you did nothing to warrant. I hate American pride for the same reason I hate American shame (If you’re an American who has sewn a Canadian flag on their backpack before going abroad, I kindly invite you to put your genitals in a Cuisinart). You should neither feel proud of nor ashamed of anything you did nothing to achieve. I gladly attended Lexington’s gay pride parades this year, but in a sane world, gay pride shouldn’t exist. (As a reaction to so much of this not-so-sane world telling people to be ashamed to be gay, an assertion of pride is very necessary). I’m happy to be American, and I’m content to be an American, and I actually love the July 4th cliché (“This country’s so great I’m going to get drunk and play with gunpowder”) but I am not proud to an American.
9/11 is the epitome of pride. As a result, our grief feels self-righteous. It’s kind of like after the Penn State pedophilia scandal, and everybody tried to out outrage each other: “This is horrible—it really upsets me.” “It upsets you? I have a nephew that age, so it bothers me more.” “You think it bothers you? I have a kid who loves sucking off old men, so it really bothers me.” Meanwhile, we punish people at the university who had nothing to do with it, just so we can say we did something. It pleases the lizard part of our brain that hisses “Action” every time we are upset, and we ignore the mammal part of our brain that comes later, asking “What good did that do?”
Our pop culture tells us to hold grudges. Luke Skywalker thought his parents were killed, and we wanted him to get revenge. Harry Potter knew his parents were killed, and we needed him to get revenge. Fine, fine, fine. But Harry Potter is kind of a bitch. His parents dying is a huge bummer, but he never knew them. In our world, people’s parents die all the time, and they get over it. That his main concern is still avenging them when he’s seventeen, makes him, I’m sorry, kind of a bitch. Our incessant need for revenge has turned us all into a nation of bitches.
These are trivial examples, but they resonate in important ways. Why do we still talk about World War II like it happened last week? We talk about Germany like they are war-hungry sociopaths, forgetting that they have been the one talking us down from our global bar-fight for half a century. That doesn’t matter because in the infancy of the American empire, we had our heroes and our villains. Germany is our villain, and to acknowledge that that may have changed is to acknowledge that we are no longer infants. More importantly, it dilutes the crimes that we committed during the Cold War (“Would you appease Hitler in Vietnam?”) and it brushes aside the apartheid that happens in Israel every day.
What would have happened if we forgot? If on the morning of 9/11, I turned to my roommate, who had just seen the future, and said, “Huh, that was weird,” and went about my day? What would have happened if all of America did that?
We would have certainly avoided one war and probably avoided two. More Americans than have died on 9/11 would be alive. So essentially, we could have prevented a second 9/11 by ignoring 9/11. That doesn’t even speak to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who died. Our fear was real—it still is—but is that worth that price in blood? Would we be better off if we ignored 9/11?
No, actually. For one, we wouldn’t be human. One of the highest human functions is empathy, and the fact that we feel such strong empathy fourteen years removed speaks to our ability to love one another. If the sum-total of my thoughts after watching people commit suicide to avoid burning alive is “Shit, we don’t have to work today? Cool”, then I would be so degraded that I would barely be a human.
The problem isn’t that we remember; it’s that we half-remember. We remember our pain, but we don’t remember the pain we caused. We remember our fear, but we don’t remember that we became the bully, inciting fear in others. We remember our pride to be Americans, but not our joy to be Americans.
When we say “Never Forget”, let’s actually never forget. We remember the horror of 9/11 and remember the horror we inflicted because we were scared. Let’s remember that we are no longer the same country that was attacked, and we don’t want to be. Let’s not let anyone scare us into war ever again.
What we talk about when we talk about 9/11 is bullshit. We talk about American flags, shitty country music, the opening pitch of The World Series (Nice form, W, have you considered becoming a pitcher? Or seriously any motherfucking thing in the world other than president?). We can forget that.
Instead, let’s remember September 11th, 2015. What has happened over the last 14 years to shape this country, for good and for ill? What can we do to make the world better on September 11th, 2016? A nation without pride and without shame would not only make for a better world, it would make for a country that would utterly confound Osama Bin Laden and any Bin Ladens to come. That is a better revenge than anything we can punch in the face.
Provide a last ditch effort at finding financing for their boondoggle.
Having trouble raising tens of millions of dollars? Maybe you can sue the taxpayers and make them pay for it.
And the Webbs are having trouble raising funds for their dumb project. It’s been 7 years since it was announced and so far nothing’s happened and no investors are biting. Their first major “tenant” long ago pulled out, their desperate attempts to sell bonds have been about to start for four months in a row [see RobMorris’ excellent full timeline].
At a City Council meeting on Thursday, the Webbs’ partner, Joe Rosenberg, tried to cast the CentrePointe project as a charity case:
Which is funny given the fact ol’ Joe ran a pawn shop on the block that was long in his family.
Where’s this guy when you need him?
After the CentrePointe block was torn down, receipt books from that pawn shop were pulled out of the rubble that showed decades of pawned engagement and wedding rings (among other things; that was the saddest), the date they were brought in and what was paid for them and promised for them. I’ve always thought that if you see someone struggling you help them, not kick them. But hey, what do I know about running a pawn shop.
In the Webbs’ letter on Friday threatening a lawsuit, they claim the recent action of Lexington’s government — which pointed out that contractually the Webbs are obliged to fill in their hole after 60 days of inactivity, which has long passed — caused them to lose a potential tenant and thus they’re litigious/trying to raise investment capital by suing the city. The Herald Leader reports:
Because of the negative publicity the city’s demand letter has generated, one of the tenants for the project has pulled out, the letter said. The tenant was not named in the letter.
Getty confirmed that Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, which has restaurants in Louisville and Cincinnati, withdrew from the project after CentrePointe received the city’s notice Tuesday.
Getty said that developers hope if the city withdraws the notice, Ruby will return.
Calls to Jeff Ruby this week were not returned.
Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2015/05/01/3830448/centrepointe-developers-threaten.html#storylink=cpy
So that’s apparently the tenant and thus the basis for the lawsuit.
But… Just one more question…
Jeff Ruby is not an idiot. He is a shrewd guy, a smart businessman, gregarious and cool enough to hang out with Drake and smoke cigars because, well, life is good.
After seven years of total incompetence, did it really take a letter from a supposedly impotent city government to make Ruby sit up and think, “These Webb characters have literally no idea what they’re doing, do they?”
Well, in fact, no.
The entire basis of the Webbs’ litigious letter is that Ruby pulled out after the city’s actions.
Ruby’s been tired of the Webbs’ BS for sometime.
In January, Ruby was “frustrated”:
By February, he was apathetic:
And on March 12th he’d had enough.
“Not doing it,” he tweeted. “Looking for a different location now.
A month and nearly a half later, after the city of Lexington sent the Webbs a letter pointing out that no work on the construction and completion had been accomplished in at least 60 days, Ruby seemed to reiterate what he’d already decided: this nonsense isn’t worth the trouble.
The entire legal case the Webbs are building is built off the back of the idea that the letter from Lexington pointing out that their agreement had been violated somehow magically alerted one of their tenants to the fact that the project was massively delayed (7 years!) and making zero progress toward completion.
It should surprise no one that the construction of the Webbs’ legal case is as nonexistent as the construction of their imaginary development.
CentrePointe is a hole in the ground, and so is the Webb legal argument.
Now, when I asked Jeff Ruby about all this he tried valiantly to make everything nice. He said that after his March 12 tweet, he and the Webbs “patched things up next day.” But when I asked Jeff if he ended the project this past week because of the city’s letter or if he was just tired of being jerked around by the Webbs — who, you’ll recall, have been jerking even their own supporters around for over seven years — the excellent Mr. Ruby didn’t respond.
In January he was frustrated, by February he seemed to have given up, and in March he actually did give up.
This past week Ruby gave up again. But the Webb brothers want you to believe this was a first time thing, a direct result of the city’s contractually obliged actions, rather than a continuation of a serious credibility problem they have with their own investors and partners. It’s an argument that insults the citizens of Lexington, and perhaps more importantly to the Webbs own case, insults the intelligence of Mr. Ruby, their supposed partner.
If the Webbs would drive their own investors and partners away, why would the city be any different?
If they think the citizens of Lexington are too stupid to understand what’s going on (or, as the case is, not going on), how dumb do they think their investors are?
And here’s the Webb letter as images with literal pages of supporting evidence and impenetrable legalese which has been translated by B&P’s legal advisory team:
What is the definition of “no”? For that matter, what does “toward” or “completion” even mean? What is a “Parking Garage”? Are not two cranes and an occasional dune buggy parked up on this site? Has not Uncle Dudley’s Big Wheel been spotted lying idle on its side in a spring puddle? Is that hole not actually in fact a garage?
Does not the time one spends on the morning john contemplating work that could potentially be done at some distant hypothetical point constitute in itself “work”?
Apparently during the winter months it “snows” and is “cold” and then it starts to “rain” all of which confounds construction companies round the world. History clearly shows that all structures ever built were built during times of extended temperate drought. Hopefully during this thing called “summer” it won’t then become “blazing hot” and “unbearably humid.” We do not understand these earthly conditions.
As evidence below will demonstrate, and as the dates mentioned above make clear, very occasional maintenance of the CentrePitte constitutes in itself work toward the completion of CentrePointe, for if the hole were not merely and intermittently maintained over years of total inactivity, there would be no “work” done and thus the hole would be filled with dirt and covered with grass which is not “work toward completion” but in fact a hindrance of completion, thus, maintaining the status quo of the hole is by definition work toward completion. It makes sense because it is a circle of reasoning and circles make sense.
Furthermore, LFUCG’s letter of a day ago demonstrably and perhaps irreparably damaged the supposed good standing of the Webbs and their failed CentrePointe project in the community and among potential investors who, heretofore, had zero knowledge that this hole even existed nor the fact that it has existed for two years, nor, further, that the entire project has been a failure for nearly eight years, nor further that the Webbs have been failures in their own right for four decades. Had the letter of yesterday not been written, the good people of Lexington and the mysterious dead investors of the world would have continued on in a state of total ignorance as is the common state of the common man, of which the Webbs are not. Prior to sending this letter, there was literally zero knowledge of the project’s failed history — easilyaccessiblegoogle reports and an extensive recent local TV news story notwithstanding. This letter from LFUCG was clearly an act of terror, and now the whole entire world thinks this project is a failure whereas a day before no one ever suspected that the Webbs were liars.
Oh! And another thing, that letter from a day ago caused a totally unnamed prime tenant to move out. This unnamed supposed tenant had literally zero knowledge that a project which has sat idle for eight years through a series of bungling mismanagements and dysfunctions by the developer might be in trouble. Then LFUCG went and wrote that letter. The tenant was really, really, really stupid and was prepared to hand over lots of money without doing any due diligence but then they read some letter from some guy in a city government which, as was stated at the outset of this reply, has zero power. Powerless government has no power to destroy this already destroyed project and has now destroyed this already destroyed project which is, as point of fact, why it’s already destroyed… because of this letter from LFUCG.
See! Work! The poorly constructed walls of the hole were falling apart due to total inactivity at the work site and the Webbs own shoddy construction standards. So workers worked to work at nailing a couple two by fours to the poorly constructed wall which clearly, is yet another significant step toward completion of the parking garage. Two by fours! Shoddy construction rectified! Work!
Don’t email me.
Did we ever pay these guys? We have a terrible track record of not paying our contractors. Does anyone remember if we paid these guys?