Mountain Snail

Stuff Ballard Wrote

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Beware the red invasion!

Asheville Daily Planet, August 15 2020

I was half-listening to local TV news when Rex Hodge came on:  “Fire ants are making their mark in the Great Smokies, in national forests…anywhere the soil is disturbed and there’s sun.”

My hands trembled.  My breathing changed.  I was in a PTSD flashback.

The scene was my side yard in Dallas many years ago.  I was looking down benignly on a brand-new ant mound.  I’d always appreciated ants.  They’re solid citizens.  And I enjoyed watching the bumbling stragglers walk the length of pencils on my desk. 

Hodge was gone, but my fists still clenched as I remembered.  My indulgence let that beady-eyed horde gain a foothold – no, a beachhead – outside my house.  Soon I counted 13 mounds.  And then they came inside.  Their elites, it seems, live on protein – which includes, for example, the protein found in dirty clothes.  Peace with ants outside, ok; getting stung in my bathroom closet, no sir..

I went to a garden supply store, where I was assured that poison bait was best.  Worker ants, they said, would take the poison to the queen.  He was flippant, like the queen’s personal taster was on the payroll.

He left out a few details.  The granules must fall so softly that the workers just happen upon them: “Hark!  What’s this marvelous new food so near?  We must take it to the queen!” 

The truth is this: While the ordinary ant is said to have an unmeasurable IQ, the fire ant – which practices absolute post-invasion genocide on other ants – is more cunning still.  For one thing, they link their nests with tunnels, so when they become irritated by such as poison bait littering about, the workers pick up the queen and her brood and move them.  Then next morning, the guerillas have opened a new base.  I must have poisoned 30 hills, and I don’t think the body count even reached one queen.  And oh yes, most nests have multiple queens.

Another truth:  You can’t win.  The fire ant, you see, has an amazing sex life.  They mate 10 months out of the year, whereas ordinary ants mate only 1-2 months a year.  And they mate in the air, so the female can pick her next home anywhere, even in areas previously declared as safe. 

Fire ants can move up to 30 miles a year on their own and farther when aided by loads of nursery stock.  They’ve hopped to California that way.

A University of Florida insect pathologist said: “The thing people in this country have to learn is that they’re going to have to learn to live with the fire ant….We couldn’t eradicate this thing with an atomic bomb.”

My flashback replayed the day I abandoned civilized warfare.  I was kneeling in a flower bed when dozens of ants struck at once.  My dark side suggested gasoline, and millions of them went up in flames (no exaggeration since as many as 250,00 live in each hill).  But I knew I wasn’t fighting to win.  I knew by now it was an eye for an eye.

The fire ant is no ordinary adversary.  There are just too many of them, and they are organized and tireless and smart.

And fearless.  Their unchanging assignment is aggression.  Every day is D-Day.  And they aren’t sneaky about it, either.  Insects are supposed to hide out by day and do their mischief by night.  They’re suppose to cower on the underside of leaves, eat floors from below and scurry about in dark kitchens.  Insects aren’t supposed to attack a barefoot boy on his lawn in broad daylight.

They grip the skin in their jaws, and unlike other ants, they thrust their stingers deep and inject their painful venom for up to 25 seconds.  This unusual poison prevents white blood cells from reaching the sting, leading to local infection and burning pustules. 

Ultimately, I adopted a simple tactic:  keep them moving.  Don’t let them settle in and start new colonies.  I drove sticks into the openings, the ants were annoyed and moved on. 

Moved on where?  Well, to my neighbor’s yard, I suppose.

‘Socialism’ is just a word

News-Record & Sentinel, 8/2020

Back in April, one of the signs at an anti-lockdown protest read:  “Social Distancing Is Communism.” 

To get what the sign means, it helps to understand how words are used as weapons.

This Opinion page carried a letter recently that used the word “Socialist” eight times; for example: “Where is the voice crying in the wilderness to lead us from evil-doing Socialists?”  All eight warn of bad things happening today, and Socialism gets some blame.

Here I want to introduce a man who died in 1862, a Presbyterian preacher named James Henry Thornwell – a powerful advocate for slavery and the Confederacy.  He wrote:

“The parties in the [Civil War] are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders.  They are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, Jacobins on the one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other.…The world is the battleground – Christianity and Atheism the combatants; and the progress of humanity at stake.”

Both our letter-writer and Thornwell used “Socialists” to denounce their enemies.  In Thornwell’s time, Socialism was a social change movement, in favor of working men.  They were radical (similar to Red Republicans and Jacobins in France).  And Socialism did have an atheistic twist.  But Thornwell’s enemy, the United States, was neither radical nor atheist.   Socialism was for him just a handy weapon.    

Today, many people still think of Socialism as the Marxist atheism of the Cold War.  But in fact, Socialism has evolved so that almost all western countries have Socialist governments or active Socialist political parties.  Socialism now is more like “government involved in capitalism.” 

It seems remarkable that Thornwell and our letter-writer, 160 years apart, both used the same attack word – until, that is, you examine what the two men have in common.

I’m going to take a leap here and say that both men wrote in reaction to unwanted change.  In other words, they’re conservatives.  The Confederacy’s whole purpose was to keep the status quo.  And our letter-writer warns us about specific changes happening among us today. 

Southerners, Thornwell argues, are “friends of order.”  The North was chaotic with its immigrants, railroad-building and factories.  Conservatives like what’s always been.

To me, the one place where weaponizing Socialism actually does harm is “Socialized medicine.”  It keeps people from supporting universal healthcare.  Just like Social Security changed our lives for the better, Healthcare Security would do the same.  Stigmatizing it as Socialist is cruel.

Insider’s view of CSA monuments

Asheville Daily Planet, August 1, 2020

My hometown has a Confederate monument – a 76-footer right in the middle of downtown.  It’s got four generals around the base and generic Johnny Reb on the pinnacle.  It’s a prime target for the monument massacre going on these days, I’m sure.  Indeed, a petition to remove it is circulating as I write. 

But if they gave me the decision, I wouldn’t just say, “Confederate, gone.”  There are considerations.

The four generals were, predictably, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, plus two local-boy generals, Thomas R.R. Cobb and William H.T. Walker.

I’d trash Cobb immediately.  He was everything bad about the South.  He wrote the slavery portions of the Confederate Constitution.  In 1858, he wrote:

“This inquiry…seems to point [the negro] clearly, as peculiarly fitted for a laborious class. The physical frame is capable of great and long-continued exertion. Their mental capacity renders them incapable of successful self-development, and yet adapts them for the direction of the wiser race. Their moral character renders them happy, peaceful, contented and cheerful in a status that would break the spirit and destroy the energies of the Caucasian or the native American.

The three non-Cobb generals deserve more thought.  All owned slaves, but there’s nothing to say they joined the Confederacy to perpetuate slavery.  All three were professional soldiers, and when they had to decide, incredibly to us, they sided with their home state over the country they loved and had fought for. 

For sure, they failed to exercise due diligence in choosing the Confederacy. Dysfunction was absolutely predictable.  Eleven states with States’ Rights and little loyalty to a central government?  Georgia’s governor threatened to secede from the Confederacy over conscription.  Jefferson Davis, an old soldier himself, intended to personally manage the war.  Did my three generals really want to swap the United States for a shabby country run by plantation birdbrains?  My generals were pitiable figures, not villains.  

I’d spare statues of Confederates of good character as memorial of the man.  Cobb would go, and in a pleasantry, I’d replace him with Union Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, local boy who stayed with the Union and is credited by some as winning the war with his logistics.  And Johnny Reb stays on his perch.  These poor dupes were in no way culpable for the Confederacy.  They were literally cannon fodder. 

There’s another reason for keeping my hometown monument.  It was erected in 1877.  Coming as it did soon after the War, it’ was a true expression of grief.  And as such, it was almost unique.

Let me explain.  Wikipedia lists 91 Confederate monuments in North Carolina, and of those, I counted only four that were erected before 1890 – in Raleigh, Fayetteville, Wilmington and a battle site in Harnett County.  The rest came much later.

The much-later memorials were the result of an ideology called the “Lost Cause,” an intentional reshaping of Civil War history.  It gained momentum as the dwindling Civil War generation wanted future generations to know the “truth” about the Southern cause.  In that effort, they were totally successful. 

According to the Lost Cause narrative, the pre-war South glowed with benevolent, Christian light.  The war was necessary in the face of imminent Northern aggression, slavery “elevated” the savage Negro and the Confederate army’s skill and courage were overwhelmed by Yankee numbers and industry.  (My grandmother liked to say, “We were not defeated; we were outnumbered.”)  And threading through it all, white supremacy.

Sixty-seven of the 91 monuments I noted on Wikipedia came after 1900, exactly the time when the Lost Cause was fully realized.  That’s also when Jim Crow started.  They celebrated their fictitious white legacy with Confederate monuments – and black suppression.

We can’t tolerate Lost Cause monuments.  They didn’t rise out of grief, like the early monuments.  They deliberately celebrate a false history of benighted blacks and benevolent white masters – and enshrine white supremacy as a permanent way of life. 

Monuments are being moved away to appropriate places, like cemeteries.  Dallas sold the R.E. Lee statue from Lee Park (erected 1936) to a golf resort in South Texas for a million dollars.  The final resting place of Asheville and Buncombe County monuments is being discussed.

Footnote:  They say 35 Confederate monuments have been place in N.C. since 2000, like he 2011 one in Bakersville that lists the 79 Mitchell County Confederate dead.  These brand-new monuments may be kin to modern displays of the Confederate flag.

Essential to who we are?

Asheville Daily Planet, July 2020

Our Founding Fathers had names like Adams, Franklin, Washington, Madison, – English one and all.  The First Congress in 1789 had two Smiths, two Lees, two Carolls.   

They were aware they had started something the world wanted – a place where they could be free to worship and to start over, whatever that meant.  And the world was welcome.  Their basic values were clear:  They wanted immigration.

In that First Congress, the one with multiple Lees and Carrolls, the Speaker of the House of Representative, our first Speaker, was a second-generation German-American named Frederick Muhlenberg.   

The Founders didn’t worry about immigration.  The United States had open borders until 1875.  They worried about citizenship and, specifically, the assimilation of immigrants.  

Speaker Muhlenberg cast the deciding vote against translating U.S. laws into German, and he is said to have kept German from being an official national language.  

He put into words this hugely important guiding principle: “The faster the Germans become Americans, the better.”

George Washington wrote: “By an intermixture with our people, [immigrants], or their descendants, get assimilated to our customs, manners and laws: in a word, soon become one people.”

And that’s what happened.  Immigrants and their descendants stopped being what they used to be and became Americans.

Citizenship was another matter.  In the Naturalization Act of 1790, terms were very generous – to “free white persons of good character.”  Our early leaders were at ease with the Germans and other Protestants who had come in large numbers from the beginning.

James Madison gave the Foundering Fathers’ vision: “I should be exceedingly sorry, sir, that our rule of naturalization excluded a single person of good fame that really meant to incorporate himself into our society.”

The future of America, they believed, included foreigners, people “of good fame,” who “would be a real addition to the wealth or strength of the United States.”

But their vision didn’t see beyond the immigrants who had already come, people like them – white and Protestant.  When the flow turned Catholic, that was different.  To many Americans, Madison – who was still alive – was out of date.

Things got uneasy when newcomers were German Catholics and Irish.  These were not the immigrants our Founders had in mind for their country.  Protestant Scots-Irish immigrants had been welcomed, not these desperate newcomers.  Irish miners and railroad workers were considered disposable.

The American Party (Know-Nothings) gained support in the 1840s and 1850s with their anti-immigrant positions.  Their slogan was “Americans must rule America.”

Abraham Lincoln spoke out in those days: “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘All men are created equal.’  We now practically read it, ‘All men are created equal except Negroes.’  When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read, ‘All men are created equal, except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics.’”

While whites puzzled over the immigrant dilemma, the immigrants set about becoming American.  Ethnic units were common in the Union army in the Civil War, with officers giving commands in native languages.  And second-generation Irish entered the middle class.

America had to choose then – just as we have to choose today.  Are we a melting pot, where strangers come seeking a better life and, as Washington put it, “soon become one people”?  Or is America just for “us”?   

A Pew Research Center survey a year ago found that “a majority of Americans (62%) continue to say the country’s openness to people from around the world is ‘essential to who we are as a nation.’”

The immigrant himself might be suspect, but there’s no denying that the children of immigrants make us stronger and wealthier.  They speak flawless English and, in every way, really are American.  Most of the doctors on TV speaking on Covid-19 are immigrant descendants.  South Asians dominate spelling bees.  Kavanaugh is Caomhánach in Irish Gaelic.   

However, the Pew study I cited above continues with this: “But the share expressing this [favorable] view is 6 percentage points lower than it was in September [2018] – a result of a shift in opinion among Republicans.”

Donald Trump, thank you very much. 

Symbol of Southern pride…haha

News-Record&Sentinel, July 2020

An opinion poll by Politico Magazine found that “44 percent of [Americans] see displaying the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride, with 36 percent seeing it as racist.”

Southern pride? What in the world does that mean?  If we’re supposed to be proud of the Confederacy, then we’re proud of stupid.

The South was run by rich slaveholders who couldn’t see beyond next week.  For 200 years, U.S. states and almost all countries had been abolishing slavery. In 1807, the U.S. Congress banned the importation of slaves. By 1860, the U.S. South stood virtually alone.  Time was running out for slavery.

A wise person would have asked:  Isn’t there another way to grow cotton?  Sure there was:  hire farm workers.  Immigrants were pouring into the North (not the South), looking for work.  And the U.S. government was a better bet for future slave compensation than some rinky-dink Confederate government.  

The U.S. couldn’t and wouldn’t allow states to leave the Union.  Everybody knew that.  Governor Sam Houston in Texas refused to sign an oath to the Confederacy.  He said:  “To secede from the Union…would cause war. If you go to war with the United States, you will never conquer her, as she has the money and the men. If she does not whip you by guns, powder, and steel, she will starve you to death. It will take the flower of the country – the young men.

The Confederacy was a terrible idea, and huge numbers of Southerners wanted no part in it.  All of Appalachia was pro-Union, for example.  North Carolina, Tennessee, (West) Virginia and northern Alabama sent 92,000 men to the Union army.  Forty percent of U.S. officers from Virginia stayed with the Union.  Union Admiral David Farragut, of “Damn the torpedoes” fame, was from Knoxville.

But they seceded anyway.  Super-rich, super-dumb.  And sure enough, this loose collection of states, under States’ Rights, was a four-year dysfunctional tragedy with occasional comic relief.  But they did manage to design a cool flag. 

I read that some people fly the flag in honor of Confederates who died for their country.  What can I say?  I hate that they died, but they shouldn’t have fought. 

An impossible States’ Rights government.  A war effort constantly bungled.  Slavery, their hideous cause.

So the Confederacy’s flag is a symbol of Southern pride?  I’m Southern, and I’m not proud. 

How ‘racial hierarchy’ started

News-Record&Sentinel, July 2020

I do not believe for a moment that [whites] will submit any longer [to Negro rule].  It is time for the oft-quoted shotgun to play an actual part in the election….Our historic [Cape Fear] river should be choked with the bodies of our enemies, white and black, by which this state shall be redeemed.  –Alfred Waddell, October 24, 1898, Wilmington N.C.

Negro rule in N.C.?  Really?  Yeah, really.

The old pro-slavery Democratic Party controlled N.C into the 1890s.  They favored big-money interests.  In 1894, poor white farmers, ignored by the Democrats, organized as the Populist Party, and they collaborated with Republicans (60-40 black).  They won, and then again in 1896, even electing the governor. 

“Fusion” kept their promises.  They limited interest on farm loans.  They reversed Democratic voter suppression.  They raised taxes for schools.  They were odds-on favorites again in 1898.

A Democratic adviser wrote: “There is but one hope for the railroads to capture the next legislature, and that is for the n**** to be made the issue.”

Wealthy businessmen worked secretly to organize.  The Raleigh News & Observer joined, with their cartoonist.  “Red Shirt” thugs appeared.  “White supremacy conventions” were held in Fayetteville and Goldsboro.  Horsemen rode through colored neighborhoods, firing into houses.  Democrats told gun stores not to sell to blacks; whites bought 400 rifles.

Election Eve in Wilmington, Waddell addressed a large crowd: “Go to the polls tomorrow, and if you find the Negro out voting, tell him to leave.  If he refuses, kill him….We will win tomorrow .”

Election day, white mobs slaughtered hundreds of blacks “like rabbits.”  Thousands fled into swamps.   

Democrats won, and their new majority moved immediately to disenfranchise blacks with an amendment that circumvented the U.S. Constitution.  Then they passed “racial hierarchy laws,” aimed at poor whites, to make them feel superior to blacks and be unlikely to ally with Republicans again. 

It worked.  Oh, did it work.  N.C. legislation became the model for other states’ Jim Crow laws.  And generations of white Southerners accepted, without conscious thought, that black citizens were inferior and so “racial hierarchy” was the natural order of things.  I was one of them.

Footnote:  Relevant to 2020, other men spoke along with Waddell.  One was Charles Aycock, whose statue is in the U.S. Capitol.  Another was Tom Jarvis, who has a residence hall named for him at East Carolina University – and a Methodist church!

Why is white supremacy?

News=Record & Sentinel, June 2020

Why is white supremacy? 

I’ve been there.  I know why.

I was taught early on: If a lady enters the room, and she’s white, stand up.  I was taught that Negroes “know their place.” 

That precisely answers my question.  Every generation taught the next generation, mostly by attitude and example, that blacks were “not like us,” maybe even dangerous. 

My family clucked at Hitler’s “master race,” but in fact, we had our own insane version of white supremacy, and it was as much a part of us as five fingers on a hand. 

And everybody bought in.  All my parents’ friends were characters plucked from the 1890s. They were conservative Christians, who confirmed their views with selected Bible passages. Some snorted hatred for blacks, for whatever reason, and I don’t recall my parents disagreeing.

Lately I’ve been thinking back to the origins of present-day white supremacy – and I find terrible decisions there   decisions to be cruel.

The root cause, of course, was African slavery.  Negroes were work animals to be bought and sold and bred.  They weren’t people. 

But after the Civil War, slavery as an economic system – the whole reason for owning slaves – was gone.  And that’s when white Southerners had to decide what kind of society they would build to replace it.  At that point in history, I maintain, whites could have corrected the humongous errors of the Confederacy.  They could have welcomed newly freed blacks into the American melting pot.  But they didn’t.  

In 1866, less than a year after Appomattox, the North Carolina legislature passed “Black Codes.”  First, the Codes established that a “person of color” as anyone with one-sixteenth or more Negro blood.  And they limited the rights of newly freed slaves to the rights of the 30,000 free blacks in N.C. before the War – no gun ownership, for example, public floggings for felonies and no buying slaves in order to free them.   

Fault did not lie with blacks.  They had shown themselves to be responsible people, finding their separated families, legalizing their marriages and seeking to live in peace.

The largest share of blame belongs with politicians.  My next letter on this page will be about the 1890s in N.C., especially the election of 1898. That’s when black suppression gained momentum.

Now our generation has to decide, going forward from here, what kind of society we want for our children

First World, third world

Asheville Daily Planet, July 1, 2020

Why was the White House paralyzed when Covid-19 hit and still now, isn’t responding?

Why has President Trump withdrawn the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, Intermediate Range Nuclear Treaty, Trans-Pacific Partnership, UNESCO, Iran Nuclear Deal and snorted at NATO, WHO and the G-7?

Why?  Our answer begins in the Cold War.  Back then, we had a First World (us), a Second World (the Communists) and an unstructured Third World for everybody else.  Those Third-World countries were mostly poor.  And most of them were ruled by a dictator.    

The Cold War is over, but the Third World remains, now written as lower-case “third world.”  Some, like Brazil, have moved up and out, but most remain poor – and most have a strongman leader. 

An old friend of mine, now retired from the Foreign Service, has written on third-world dictatorships.  Turns out, around the world, third-world dictators have a lot in common.  Here is my friend’s six-point analysis:

“One, everything revolves around the leader.  Planning and systems and job titles and division of labor and separation of powers are meaningless. It’s whatever the leader wants at that moment, that is, whatever maximizes his personal interests. Nothing else matters. I mean nothing else.  And no endeavor is important if he did not originate it or can claim credit for it.

“Two, all state institutions exist to comfort and protect him and his family and close associates.  The flip-side is also true, that all state institutions exist to punish his enemies.

“Three, media exist to praise him and should never criticize.  He should be ‘respected’ at all times for everything he says and does. Most countries I have lived in literally featured pictures and/or selected quotes from the leader on the masthead or elsewhere on the front page of every newspaper every day. All TV and radio news programs began with a review of what the leader said or did that day. 

“Four, all decisions are deferred to him.  He can’t, of course, make all decisions, but he certainly will reverse decisions someone else made that he doesn’t like.  And that person will likely be fired.  The result is, people are afraid to make decisions.  Nobody takes the chance.

“Five, the leader will spend the budget and, probably, use government-controlled institutions to finance whatever he feels like doing. State-run banks lend to him and his cronies and don’t expect to be paid back. Banks won’t loan to people he doesn’t want to see funded.

“Six, there is no such thing as conflict of interest for him and those he cares about.  Many ministers of transportation around the world own bus companies, for example.”

Now back to President Trump.

I asked two questions about him above, two why questions.  My friend’s analysis of third-world dictators answers both.

Why the chaotic response to Covid-19?  See Point Four.  In the article, he also speaks of “drive-by tasking,” an informal State Department phrase for the third-world tendency to delegate jobs willy-nilly to just anybody, knowing they have no power to do anything.  Remember how Vice-President Pence was put in charge of virus response?  Then later, Deborah Brix was named “White House coronavirus response coordinator,” with no power, of course.

And the spectacle of Republican congresspeople around a table, each one lavishing praise on the Leader, several of them gushing about how their state had needed ventilators or masks and got them right away after calling the president or Jared.

And why Trump’s low opinion of treaties and international agreements?  See Point One.  This is also why he disparages anything Barack Obama did, or anytime he wants to say no other president has ever done something before him.  He’s the sun, and no planets are allowed that he didn’t create.     

Is he a wannabe third-world dictator?  In a sense, yes.  He certainly feels entitled to the same effusive gratitude that Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin receive.  But on the other hand, he’s just being himself.  And that self-centered self expects to be all and end all.  That self is also stunningly ignorant.  He knows nothing of our Constitution or of world dynamics.

America is a First-World country with a third-world president.  In November, we can get our worlds back in balance.  Vote, everybody, vote! 

No restraints? Bad idea.

News-Record & Sentinel, May 20, 2020

I think most of us, at one time or another, have wished we could live without any restraints.   No red lights of any kind. 

But we know it’s’ a bad idea, don’t we?  That kind of super-selfishness is not who we are. Our lives are oriented around other people, especially our families.  We’re compassionate people. 

That’s what’s so amazing about Republicans in our General Assembly.  They campaigned in 2010 as giants of the faith – but then they won.  And they tasted political power.  Yum, yum.

James Madison (abridged) wrote:

“When the majority has schemes of oppression, popular government enables it to ignore both the public good and the rights of other citizens. If this impulse and the opportunity be allowed to coincide, we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be relied on as an adequate control.”

Republicans’ first act as the new majority was to set legislative and congressional district boundaries, and they drew their gerrymanders.  Election outcomes would be predetermined for at least 10 years.  No more worries about pesky voters.

The world’s authority on elections wrote in the Raleigh News & Observer in 2016: “North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.”

To be fair, rank-and-file Republican lawmakers didn’t come to Raleigh with “schemes of oppression,” looking for “opportunity,” ready to crush “the rights of other citizens.”

No, but their leader did.  And all Republicans went along.

That leader was a murky man named Thom Tillis, Speaker of the N.C. House, now a U.S. senator who is now asking us to reelect him.

With power, Tillis quickly showed his colors.  Speaking to the North Carolina Association of Educators: “The message from the Legislature is clear.  If you stand against cuts to public education, we will teach you a lesson.”

He regularly pulled tricks like in January 2012, when he called a special midnight session to override a veto and gave Democrats one hour’s notice.  When they protested, he smirked: “This should be a learning experience for you.”  He often mocked: “Didn’t you read the election results?”

Tillis isn’t surprising.  That all GOP lawmakers went along, that’s beyond surprising.

Hear Abraham Lincoln: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Decision then, decision now

Asheville Daily Planet, June 1, 2020

Decisions come to us in all sizes – from the life-changing big ones to the every-day small ones.  Some decisions can be postponed or even avoided altogether, but some are like crossroads: you take this way or that way. 

Some decisions are both – huge and unavoidable.  The American Revolution in North Carolina was of that kind.  Everybody had to take a side, Tory/Loyalist or Patriot.  The Revolutionary government required an oath of allegiance.  My five-greats-grandfather, Connor Dowd, made his decision.  Oh, did he! 

Dowd came from Ireland to Cumberland (now Moore) County, N.C., in 1760.  By 1775, he had accumulated thousands of acres of land on Deep River and a distillery, ferry, tannery, grist mill and 11 slaves.  He also had an enemy, his neighbor, Philip Alston. 

When the war broke out, Dowd followed his religious beliefs on pacifism and submission to established authority and did not support the Revolution.

You can understand his decision.  His denomination, “Separate Baptists,” disapproved, and besides, the status quo had been good to him.  But he didn’t stop at non-support of the war.  He gave massive in-kind support to the Loyalist militia before the Battle of Moore’s Creek in early 1776.  They lost badly.

Unfortunately for Dowd, the local leader of the Patriot militia was Philip Alston.  He arrested Dowd and held him without bail.

The irony is, Dowd was wavering on his Loyalist decision.  A letter from Revolutionary leader Robert Rowan to Governor Caswell protested Dowd’s arrest:  “I was much surprised on enquiry to hear of his being charged with treasonable practices, against the State, as from a conversation I had with him some time before, I was persuaded he intended taking the oath.”

Almost all his fellow Loyalists switched sides after the fiasco at Moore’s Creek, but Dowd could not.  His treatment by the Patriot militia drove him to a final, fateful decision.  He and his wife were now confirmed Tories.  When the war came to N.C. again, in 1781, Dowd equipped a Loyalist contingent, headed by his son, Oyen.  They were to join General Cornwallis on his drive north.  But they were ambushed by Patriot militia In the Battle of Lindley’s Mill on Cane Creek, and Oyen was killed.

After the war, Connor Dowd was deported to Ireland, and everything he owned was taken by his creditors to pay his debts from the ill-fated military expedition.  His wife and children went to live with relatives near Hillsborough.

He made his decisions, right or wrong, and he lived with the results.

Which brings us to us.

This November, a decision will come to every American voter that is just as momentous as that faced by the people of N.C. in the Revolutionary War.  No joke, no exaggeration.    

Do we want to give Donald Trump the power of the presidency for (at least) four more years?  We must choose yes or no.  It’s a crossroads decision.

Do we want a president who said:  “When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total, and that’s the way it’s got to be”?  Do we?

Do we want a president who said to Vladimir Putin concerning journalists: that he’d like to “get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn’t it? You don’t have this problem in Russia but we do,”  Is that what we want?

Do we want a man as president who told his rich friends at Mar-a-Lago after the 2017 tax cut bill: “You just got a lot richer”?  Do we?

In short, do we want to continue the great American Experiment in democracy, or do we want to give ourselves over to a would-be third-world dictator? 

We decide individually, yes, but we contribute to the national decision – especially here in N.C.  If we here reject Trump, he will likely lose.  Our individual votes are that important.

I can’t help thinking that Connor Dowd spent the last seven years of his life in Ireland, living off a pension from Parliament for his Loyalist service, thinking and rethinking his decisions in the war.

We will, likewise, live with the results of November’s vote.  We must think very seriously how we, individually, decide.  We’re at a crossroads.

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