Electing an honest man . . .

About once a week, I wake up in the morning, drink a cup of coffee, and read a poem or two.  I like poetry:  wit and emotion condensed into a few words.  This morning I read Sheenagh Pugh’s poem, Sometimes and it made me think about our country and its presidents.  Pugh wrote:

“Sometimes things don’t go, after all,

from bad to worse . . .

A people will sometimes step back from war;

elect an honest man, decide they care …”

I cannot tell a lie.

Pugh seems wistful about electing an honest man—and well she might be.  Honesty in politics is almost as scarce as thrift in politics.  I realize our country was founded on wonderful myths about integrity and honesty like the one in which George Washington disobeyed his father and chopped down a cherry tree.  He confesses his deed by saying: “I cannot tell a lie.”

George Washington is ancient news though, and the new normal seems like an abnormal:  lie—and get by.  Sadly, presidential lying has a long and depressing history.  Some rationalize that we set the bar too high, characterize-wise, for our presidents.  Others say that politicians would never get anything done if they didn’t occasionally tell a white one (or red, or blue one).  FDR and JFK both hid and lied about infidelities in their marriages.  Nixon lied about Watergate.  Ronald Reagan lied about the Iran-Contra affair (though some historians give him a pass due to his “forgetfulness”).  George W. Bush exaggerated the Iraq threat and promoted the lie about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction.  The list goes on.

It is refreshing though, when someone somewhere in politics steps up, and tells a painful truth.  I felt this way during the recent presidential debates, when candidate Pete Buttigieg told Rachel Maddow, “I couldn’t get it done…”  referring to being the mayor of a city that needed more Black police officers, especially in light of a recent officer-involved shooting of a black man there.  I’m not sure why Buttigieg’s confession struck me as an act of courage, whereas former president Jimmy Carter’s admission that he was responsible for the 1980 failed hostage rescue in Iran simply seemed like ineptitude.

Actually, I don’t expect more from my president than I expect from myself, and according to research, some inadvertent or harmless lying happens daily for most humans.  I think it becomes an issue when there’s too much intentional lying, or there is a risk related to a specific lie.  In this regard, we have a problem with our current president.

There’s been numerous polls tracking the number of lies President Trump tells on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis.  At some point, presidential lying crosses the line from benign political misdirection to charlatanism—a con man playing the American people.  In fact, it was a president, Abraham Lincoln, who reminded us: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time—but you can’t fool ALL the people ALL of the time.”

Honest Abe

Then there’s the all-important issue of the lie’s importance.  Lies that divide us as a nation, or get us into foreign wars, two problems George Washington foresaw as threatening our democracy, can be especially harmful.  Trump this past week lied when he questioned whether four U.S. congresswomen were really “American.”  Washington would say this increases our divisiveness.  Trump also twisted the truth and set the stage for a foreign war with Iran.  Another George Washington no-no. Trump accused Iran yesterday of violating a nuclear deal that his administration withdrew from last year.  Even though Iran was faithful to the deal up until that point.  If George Washington is our founding father, Donald Trump is the confounding one.

The policies of my president are important to me, but so is his or her person.  I want to trust and be proud of the president of our country.  I want someone in office who not only has moral courage, but is moral.  Am I asking for too much?  Maybe.  And the sad reality is, I only have one vote to make things better.  In this, I again find comfort reading Sheenagh Pugh’s poem:

“Sometimes our best efforts do not go

amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.

The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow

that seemed hard frozen:  may it happen for you.”

Buying Fireworks at the Reservation

 

We drove through the Duck Valley Indian Reservation on the Idaho-Nevada border this past week, and I thought about the many times my husband and I took our sons to the rez to buy fireworks for the 4th of July.  As a couple of rowdy, growing boys, my sons loved going to the reservation to get “real” fireworks.

Going to Duck Valley, the home of the Shoshone-Paiute tribe, was like crossing the border into another country—and in a way, reservations are other countries.  As sovereign nations, tribes are answerable only to the federal (not state) government.

My family would watch out the car window searching the sagebrush plains, hoping to be the first one to spot a wickiup—a sure sign we’d entered reservation territory.  Someone in the car would soon say, “There’s one.”  Then we’d all look to see a conical-shaped structure made up of branches and sticks sitting in the backyard behind a house.  Wickiups look similar to the tipis of the Plains Indians, and like tipis, their original purpose was to be a temporary camp dwelling.

I remember one of our first 4th of July trips to the reservation.  Down the main drag of the little town of Owyhee, Nevada, the only town on the reservation, we saw a hand-painted fireworks sign that signaled with an arrow to make a turn.  The fireworks stand sat in front of a run-down cinderblock apartment building.  I saw a blanket used as a curtain over one window and a screen bent and hanging from another one.  My sons jumped from the car as soon as we stopped, racing to the stand to see what kind of fireworks were for sale.  The door to the apartment opened and a young man stepped out wearing a baggy pair of jeans and a T-shirt.

“How-gh!  Yá’át’ééh!” he smiled toothily and held up his hand in greeting, Indian chief-style.

“Hello!  We want to buy some fireworks,” my husband told him.

George (he introduced himself) asked us if there was any particular kind we were looking for.  Before we could say a word, both my sons offered, “M-80’s.  Bottle rockets.  The good stuff.”

George was very genial and seemed more than happy to accommodate us.  I asked him if he got a lot of firework customers way out here on the reservation.

“Oh sure.  Quite a few.  You’d be surprised.  They’re like you, looking for the kind of fireworks they can’t buy where they live.”

Everyone wants more bang for their bucks on the 4th, but I had some hesitancy about buying “real” fireworks, something I’d vocally expressed many times to the rest of my family with little success.  I’d heard enough stories about people losing fingers lighting M-80’s.  Call me sentimental, but I had this wistful hope that my sons might grow up with all their digits intact.

“Anything special happening on the reservation?” I asked George conversationally.

“Yes!  It’s time to make some money,” he grinned, taking my husband’s twenty dollar bill to make change.

“I meant to celebrate the um . . .  well, Independence Day?”

Suddenly it hit me.  I’d just realized the obvious and sad irony in celebrating America’s independence from Britain—by buying fireworks from people who’d sought their own independence from America.

But George didn’t seemed fazed by my question.  “We got a big pow wow going on, food and dancing—probably do some handgames, some sticks and bones, you know?”

I didn’t know.  But George patiently explained that handgames were an old Native American tradition.  He said the games were like small-time gambling.  Any age and any number of people could play.  We talked a little more and when we finally left the rez, our backseat was full of fireworks contraband.

Our sons are grown now, and with the West increasingly a tinder box just waiting for the match, my husband and I have little interest buying anything with the word “fire” in it.  As I write this blog though, I’m remembering George.  I wonder if he went on to bigger and better things.  He was so bright and charismatic.  I hope he’s no longer selling “real” fireworks, but instead, has found a real job—or at least something that’s enabled him to move out of his shabby cinderblock apartment and into his own home, a home of course, with a wickiup in the back yard.

 

Image credit:  Diana Hooley,  Image credit:  Diana Hooley, Image credit: wickiup