Image for post
Image for post
Abandoned Ozark iron mine at Maramec Spring Park. Photo by Author.

It’s the anger that’s the hardest for me to communicate.

Years of education has disciplined me to avoid expressing anger in my writing. Starting in junior high English class, and continuing on through college courses and beyond, I’ve been taught to write structured essays with restrained arguments free from emotional adornment. Yet thinking about that Hillbilly Elegy book — and now the movie — turns me into a cussing, hopping mad hillbilly.

What’s even worse than the book, though, has been the gullibility of the people who bought Hillbilly Elegy hook, line, and sinker. That book managed to do serious harm by fooling people who never cared to know anything about hillbillies before Hillbilly Elegy hit the best sellers list into thinking they had learned something about us. I checked J.D. Vance’s book out from the library back when it first got so much love and attention. Even though there was a wait list to get it, I’m glad that I didn’t buy the damn thing. If you haven’t read it, you shouldn’t. And don’t buy into the hype around the movie: you shouldn’t watch it.


Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Srikanta H. U on Unsplash

As I write this the 2020 Presidential Election has not yet been called for anyone, but right now the current vote coupled with where votes are still being counted suggests that Joe Biden has won an Electoral College victory that’s somewhere between adequate and comfortable. Given the way the vote counting is going, by the time anyone other than me reads this the race will likely have been projected as a Biden win, notwithstanding the sore-loser litigation Donald Trump has been promising.

Despite the victory that’s staring Democrats in the face, if you took your cues solely from the Democrats I know, both in real life and on social media, you would think that Joe Biden had lost in a disastrous fashion. Rather than being ecstatic, or even merely content to have drastically improved the quality of the person serving as President of these United States of America, the Democrats I know and encounter are despondent over the election outcome. …


Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Alex Haney on Unsplash

America’s modern Republican Party deserves the fate of the Whigs.

You remember the Whig Party, right? It was once one of two dominant political parties in the U.S. The Whigs were a powerful political force before the Civil War. Daniel Webster, Horace Greeley, Henry Clay, and William Henry Harrison were all Whigs. The Whigs elected multiple presidents and were perennially powerful in congress. Then the Whig Party disappeared into the dustbin of American history during the middle of the Nineteenth Century.

I’m not a professional historian or political scientist, so I’m not going to try and explain the underlying issues that brought the Whigs to an end. I’m just an American who is patriotic enough to have devoted a vast amount of my life to trying to elect Democratic candidates ranging from those I knew to be good and talented public servants to those I believed were at least better than the alternative in the election. Those experiences haven’t given me much insight into the ultimate causes that drove the Whigs into extinction 170 years ago, but they have convinced me of one thing: for the good of America, for the good of Americans, and for the good of the world, we must Whigify the Republican Party. …


Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I took a “leadership” seminar last month. It wasn’t choice that I made so much as it was a work requirement. One hour of a longer professional development course was given over to learning about “leadership.”

My instructor for the hour let us all know right off the top that he teaches a semester-long course that covers many more “leadership” topics than could possibly be taught in an hour. The one-hour seminar turned out to be an earnest attempt to squeeze the main points of that much longer course into a single short session. There were frequent references to the sorts of things we could learn from the longer course, if only we were fortunate enough to take it. …


Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I guess I’m just old fashioned: I don’t see anything at all “patriotic” about reducing the flag to an item of clothing. That supposed patriots are outraged by Nike’s decision to not release a “Betsy Ross” shoe doesn’t so much baffle me as it further convinces me that those who cry patriotism over the flag have very little actual regard for how the American flag is treated. I can’t believe that anyone who truly cares about “respecting our flag” would want to strap even an imitation flag to his feet and walk around that way.

I come to my ideas about how to respect the flag from my great-grandfather. He had some very specific rules about how the flag was to be treated. He was an enthusiastic patriot who tried to enlist in the Army during the First World War, but he was sent home because he was too young. Then he once again tried to enlist during the Second World War, only to be turned away as too old. He had to settle for sending his sons off to war and working in a small arms factory during WWII. He instilled his notions of patriotism and respect for the flag into several generations of Gibsons — including me, his oldest great-grandchild. …


Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Jonathan Simcoe on Unsplash

Just because I’m not watching the first Democratic Presidential Debate doesn’t mean that I’m not keeping an eye on the Democrats running for president. Both America and the Democratic Party seem to be at a crossroads, making this feel like the most momentous presidential nomination for Democrats in my lifetime. The nomination process is worth watching closely, even if a debate featuring a total of twenty candidates spread over two evenings isn’t.

I can’t tell other Democrats who to support in this vital primary process or what Democrats should even be looking for in a candidate. To me, though, the most important trait in a candidate isn’t great oratory skills or perfect ideological alignment with my policy preferences. Provided a candidate clears a few basic bars of acceptability, I’m looking for something more prosaic as I decide who to support. …


Image for post
Image for post
Franklin Pierce: President and Famous Doughface. By Mathew Brady — This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs divisionunder the digital ID cwpbh.02545. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36225803

I’ve been thinking about Doughfaces a lot recently.

That’s not something that I normally do, it’s just that I’ve been reading The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to the Civil War, by Joanne B Freeman. It’s not a tricky title or anything. The book is about the way actual and threatened violence in congress was a harbinger of, precursor to, and contributing cause of the American Civil War. Doughfaces figure prominently in the tale.

In the years before the Civil War, Doughfaces were the Northern politicians, mostly Democrats, who sided with Southern slaveholders rather than their fellow Northerners whenever a dispute over slavery arose in congress. During that time of tenuous Union, Southern congressman (uniformly slaveholders and supporters of expanding slavery) used threats of secession backed up by acts of violence (often wrapped in the cloak of an “honor code”) to get their legislative way. While men like John Quincy Adams used a formidable array of legislative tools to oppose Slaveholder bullying, for decades a coalition of Slaveholders and complicit Doughfaces generally held a working majority in congress. …


Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Joy Real on Unsplash

My racist uncle passed away a few weeks ago. His twin addictions to nicotine and alcohol brought him to a slow, painful, and inevitable end.

His exit from this world was unmarked by fanfare or ceremony. Calls were made to family members to share the news and a few memories. His last wish that his remains be cremated without a service was almost respected, with only the barest of rituals observed to satisfy a couple of dissenting family members.

When I was a little boy, he had been my favorite uncle. Young and smart, he was always eager to play a children’s game or take his nephew to a movie. His wit was quick, displayed in word play and snappy comebacks. I saw him a lot because he helped my father out on the farm. …


Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Peter Hershey on Unsplash

Excellent reporting has once again revealed a truth of American politics: profits drive corporate political engagement. Everything else is just public relations.

The most recent pieces of evidence for this fact about America came from Reid Chamberlin at Open Secrets and then from Judd Legum’s Popular Information newsletter. It turns out that many of those huge corporations sponsoring floats in Pride Parades and bedecking themselves in rainbows have donated millions of dollars to anti-LGBTQ politicians. Companies like AT&T, UPS, and Comcast talk a good game about equality, and by all accounts they have strong workplace policies protecting LGBTQ employees, yet they give prodigious sums of money to elect politicians opposed to equality. These are politicians like Tennessee’s U.S. …


Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

American politics is . . . fraught at the moment.

I’ve never seen anything like politics in 2019. Excluding the months around the birth of my children, I’ve spent the thirty years of my adult life following politics, and I’ve spent two decades of my adult life actively engaged with Democratic Party politics. I can’t say that those decades have been calm and full of bi-partisan goodwill, but they weren’t anything like what we’re experiencing today. The challenge today isn’t old-fashioned inter-party fighting or the politics of personal destruction. …

About

John Gibson

Overeducated hillbilly. Farm kid. Ozarker. MIT physics alum.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store