I'm going to deviate from my travel blogging on this page and talk instead about politics.  I'm a lifelong (and incorrigible) political addict, as I mentioned in a previous entry, but I rarely write about politics in my websites because it's too divisive.  No matter what kind of political comment I make, no matter how bland, I'm guaranteed to anger someone, somewhere.  Between my DelsJourney and ExtremeGeographer websites, I've written over 700 webpages during the past 15 years (receiving over 6 million visits so far) and have intentionally avoided discussing politics. 

Until now.  I wrote this page in the days after the 2016 election and modified it in the weeks and months afterwards, after some Election Reflection.

First, my background:  Despite being the "Extreme" Geographer, my politics are moderate and I've voted for candidates in both parties over the years.  I believe that Republican John McCain is an American patriot and that Democrat Barack Obama saved our country from a terrible recession.  I believe in compromise and think we should always try to understand the other side, and I’m wary of extremists on either side who insist it’s “their way or the highway” and that the “other side is evil.”  America is a big country, Americans have lots of different ideologies and political views, and we all have to get along with each other. 

My parents taught me to respect everyone regardless of their skin color, ethnicity, religion or gender and I still firmly hold those beliefs.   I also figure that each person's political views are a product of their life's experiences, including the family they were born into, their schooling, their relationships and their travels.  If I’d had your life experiences, I’d probably think a lot more like you – and if you’d had my experiences, you’d probably think a lot more like me.  

Hate Mail and Death Threats

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Above:  Driving across Indiana.  Really worth a death threat?

I've learned to be careful about what I post in my websites because whatever I say about any topic, no matter how innocuous (e.g., “the sky is blue”), someone out there will vehemently disagree.  In 2001, having just driven across Indiana during a road trip, I posted a story on my DelsJourney website saying that I thought the state was kind of boring.  Shortly afterwards I got an email from an angry Hoosier in Indiana who’d read my post and, quite seriously, threatened to kill me.

In 2008, I received another death threat and this one more serious because it was a hand-written letter.  A guy (I’m assuming it was a guy) had read my DelsJourney website and figured that I must be gay because I mentioned that I'd never been married.  He scribbled out two pages in ink telling me that he hated gays and knew where I lived, so he was going to come over to my apartment in Portland and slash my throat.  I was alarmed of course:  not only that someone was agitated about my website, but that they'd done an Internet search to figure out where I lived and then took the time to write me a two-page, hate-filled letter, had put a stamp on it and mailed it.  But after a few moments, my trepidation was replaced by anger and I brusquely thought to myself, “Bring it on, dude!”  I was ticked off that a total stranger – or anyone for that matter – would have the audacity to threaten me like that.  

I kept that letter as evidence in case I was ever murdered, leaving it somewhere my family could find it, and I still have it.  But I didn’t report it to the police because I figured there was nothing they could do.  The person wisely didn’t sign it or include a return address, so other than a handwriting sample, all I had to identify him by was the postmark:  from Vancouver, Washington, a few miles away.  As far as I know, there’s still a guy somewhere in Vancouver who wants to kill me because he wrongly assumes I’m gay.

That situation reminded me of another homophobic incident in 2001.  I was driving across Texas on a long cross-country road trip and had just said goodbye to some friends in Austin, then pulled into a grocery store parking lot in south Austin and began writing up a shopping list.  As I sat in my Toyota truck with the window rolled down, a rusty old station wagon pulled into the parking space facing me and a grizzled, middle-aged white guy sat in the car glaring at me, also with his window rolled down.  He started muttering something about gays which I couldn’t quite understand, so I just ignored him because he was obviously unbalanced.  He was still muttering a few minutes later when I got out of my truck and went into the store.

When I came out of the store a half-hour later, his car was gone but as I approached my truck, my jaw dropped.  A two-foot long scratch had been etched all the way across my door.  My beloved Toyota truck, my baby for the past 16 years who’d taken me all over the country, had been “keyed.” 

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Above:  My beloved 1985 Toyota truck on the Oregon coast, a few months before it was keyed.  I drove it more than 250,000 miles for more than 20 years through 48 states.  Note the sunset "Oregon Trail" license plate.

I instantly knew who did it, but why?  The only rationale I could figure was this deranged fellow had seen my “Oregon Trail” license plate and mistook the sunset on the plate for a rainbow, a symbol of gay pride.  He apparently assumed I was gay and decided to vandalize my truck.  During the 262,000 miles that I drove my truck around America, that was the only damage it ever suffered and I’m still pissed off about it.  I posted that story on my website in 2001 if you want to read it. 

I could better understand from these incidents the homophobic hatred that, sadly, is endured by my gay friends.  And like everyone, I have many friends who are gay.  If you don’t think you have any gay friends, then either you don’t have any friends or you don’t know them very well. 

My point is:  There are some real wackos out there (but not you, of course), so anyone who posts political comments on the web needs to be careful.  Even those who don’t post anything political need to be careful because, sadly, these days anyone can flame someone with lies or ridiculous conspiracy theories, like Pizzagate.  So with that in mind, and at the risk of being threatened (or worse) by said wackos, here are...

My Thoughts About the Election

Given all the polling that had been done in the days and weeks before the election, I was stunned, like most Americans, by the results.  But rather than rant or rave about one candidate or the other (or both!), I’ll make a few general comments.

First, I love America and have spent the last seven months driving from one coast to the other to see it, to become the first person to visit literally every one of its 16 corners.  And during my trip, I've talked to people from all walks of life and political ideologies.  If you really love your country, don't stay in a cocoon.  Get out and see it.  You might learn that the folks "on the other side" in this deeply-divided country aren't nearly as despicable as you thought.  Some politicians (on both sides of the aisle) are constantly trying to divide us because it favors them politically.  But the truth, as I've learned on this and previous road trips around America, is that there's a lot more that unites us Americans than what divides us.  We're really not that different from each other, despite what some politicians or media outlets might want you to believe.  

Second, my ancestors came to America in 1634 seeking freedom and they've fought in every American war to preserve those freedoms, so I feel deeply about what this country stands for.  Abraham Lincoln is my sixth cousin and George Washington is my seventh.  One of my ancestors, Seth Putnam, was at the Boston Tea Party in 1773 and another, General Israel Putnam, fought the British army at Bunker Hill two years later.  During the Civil War, one of my great-great-grandfathers lost an arm and another lost an eye, both fighting with the Union Army.  And in World War II, my Dad fought in the Navy's first group of SEALs while his brother Bill survived the attack at Pearl Harbor, only to have his Navy ship sunk by Japanese dive bombers a few months later.  Nope, no "bone spurs" in this family.  I get alarmed when I see the causes they fought for, like freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom to dissent, being suppressed by politicians.  America’s freedoms and diversity are among its greatest strengths, and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t have this country's best interest at heart.

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Above:  Watching the stunning election results in my motel room in Sarasota, Florida on the evening of November 8, 2016.

Third, despite what those on the extreme left and right say, I believe the greatest threat to any democracy, including America’s, isn't one political party or the other.  The greatest threat is an uninformed electorate, so every voter has an obligation to seek the truth – the real truth and not stories that are posted on Facebook, YouTube or shady websites full of wild conspiracy theories.  Simply because someone repeats a lie a hundred times doesn't make it true, so be wary of any politician whose campaign strategy is to Just Make Stuff Up.  No matter which side you’re on, don’t believe any politician without asking yourself if they're being honest.  Don’t be lazy, don't be a lemming, and don't simply agree with everything a politician says without questioning them.  That's called a cult and it's exactly what happened in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.  Never stop seeking the truth or holding politicians accountable for lies and falsehoods.

Finally, America is more polarized now than at anytime since the Civil War, something we should all be greatly concerned about.  It's now clear that those divisions have been (and are being) exacerbated by foreign interference in our elections.  This time, according to all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, it was Russia favoring Donald Trump but next time it could be China favoring the Democrats, which would be just as bad.  Foreign interference in our elections that favors either party and tries to divide America is reprehensible, and I think that’s a much greater threat to this country than the election of a particular candidate.  So don't demonize your neighbor who’s “on the other side,” because that's exactly what the foreign operatives want.  Instead, treat those on the other side with respect and tolerance (hard to imagine, isn't it?) to show our foreign adversaries that America can’t be divided.  

So my main message is this:  Take your politics seriously but not personally.  In other words, get informed on the issues and don't believe anything a politician says without looking into the facts – not the "alternative" facts, but the real, and only, facts.  But don't take your politics personally and fall into the easy trap of seeing those on the other side as evil or despicable.  Some of us have very different visions of what this country should be, but just remember that we're all Americans and that we all love our country.

That's all I'm going to say about politics on this website.  Now it's back on the road.

 

 
 
 
 

 

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