I believe the recent letter to the editor about the “NO to HATE” signs (Aug. 7) around the area bears witness to the fact of the great divide in our country —everything is viewed as one side against the other. In fact, the signs came as an act to try to bring our community together against hate — hatefulness of all kinds including violence, racism, disrespectful behavior and other unloving behaviors.
The idea for these signs grew out of a meeting of our clergy and leaders in the area who wanted to unify our community against hate to assure that nothing would happen here as it has in other areas where hate has bubbled over to violence. It was then taken to the congregations where members took the signs and placed them around their own neighborhoods.
These signs were not a statement of political belief but a statement of the power of love that can unify us as a community-a community of diverse opinions and ideas that can be shared openly without judgment and hatefulness. That’s what I would hope for our community — that love will prevail.
Duke Energy can’t win.
Well, perhaps I should clarify that. Duke is a gigantic company with lots of institutional and political heft. It wins plenty of battles. But when it comes to energy policy, the company finds itself surrounded by warring factions that, despite manifest differences, agree on one thing: Duke Energy is on the wrong side.
Conservatives dislike Duke Energy’s eagerness to embrace renewable-energy incentives and mandates that squander resources and raise costs. Progressives think Duke Energy isn’t going nearly fast enough to embrace renewable energy, and strongly dislike the current policy of replacing coal primarily with natural gas. Gov. Roy Coper won’t go along with the company’s preferred approach to coal ash and grid modernization. And just about everyone except Duke Energy thinks it deserves more competition.
I’m not going to whip out my violin and start a plaintive song. As Ronald Reagan once said about the federal deficit, I think Duke Energy is big enough to take care of itself. But I do feel it necessary to point out that when it comes to renewable energy, the progressive demands on the company are fantastical, not feasible.
Duke Energy touts the fact that its total carbon emissions are down 31 percent from their peak in 2005. It hopes to reach a cumulative 40 percent reduction by 2030. Dionne Delli-Gatti of the Environmental Defense Fund told the Charlotte Business Journal that this target was not nearly aggressive enough. “We would like to see a commitment to retiring coal faster,” she said, “and we would like to see them not rely so much on natural gas to replace coal.”
Let’s get real. The vast majority of the decline in Duke’s carbon emissions came from the combination of greater efficiency and greater reliance on natural gas. In 2005, coal plants generated 60 percent of North Carolina’s electricity. Natural gas was a trivial 2 percent. As of 2018, coal is 24 percent and gas is 33 percent. Nuclear remained roughly the same at 31 percent.
Investment in North Carolina solar generation grew by leaps and bounds during this period, to be sure, but from a low base — virtually none in 2005 to 5 percent of generation in 2018. If production costs continue to fall, I assume solar will continue to grow even if there is no heavy hand of government tipping the scales in its direction. But could it take the place of natural gas as the main replacement for coal? Could it and other renewables also displace the need for baseload generation by nuclear plants, as some activists contend? Not under any realistic scenario I’ve ever seen. Might some future technological innovation change the calculus dramatically? No. There are some basic physical limitations here.
Demanding that it break the laws of physics is not.
One of the everlasting social forces in directing human behavior — shame — has become part of the 2020 presidential race.
And one of the most shameful things in these times is to be thought or labeled a racist. As it should be, if true.
Thus, some Democrats and others hoping to defeat President Donald Trump have begun a campaign of shaming anyone who supports or contributes to his reelection. Appallingly, this new tactic is attached to the nation’s recent mass murders and is organized around a damning narrative: that Trump’s incendiary, hate-fueled rhetoric made him an accessory to these killings and, therefore, that those who support him are, likewise, accessories.
If causation is missing — and it is — there’s plenty of documentable evidence to support a supposition that Trump’s singling out of minorities for ridicule and stereotyping has added to the fevers of the already inclined. As a moral imperative, at the very least, he should be condemned and voted out of office.
But shaming as a tactic only works if the thesis behind the accusation holds water and, of course, if the allegedly shameful can be shamed. Recent calls for boycotting fitness enterprises owned by Trump supporter and fundraiser Stephen Ross may ameliorate fury, but how many people have to forgo Equinox and SoulCycle before Ross feels the pinch?
Moreover, shaming in politics often has the opposite effect, otherwise known as backlash. This past week, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, twin brother of presidential candidate Julian Castro, outed several Trump contributors in a tweet. Ironically, six of those he exposed had also contributed to him and his brother — and one was wrongly identified. Cue backlash. Such “shaming,” in addition to appearing “thuggish,” as Karl Rove so expertly put it, also contributes to a climate of reprisals that one hopes wouldn’t include violence, but in today’s extreme world, who knows?
Trigger fingers, though associated of late with white supremacists, disgruntled former employees and emotionally disturbed young men with deranged agendas, come in a variety of shades and political stripes. Certainly, the 2017 shooter who fired upon Republican congressmen while they were playing baseball, nearly killing then-Majority Whip Steve Scalise, was aiming to murder members of a particular political party.
What about the most recent mass shootings?
Authorities have yet to determine a motive for the assailant who opened fire on the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California on July 28. Santino William Legan, 19, shot himself after killing three people and wounding 13.
The next massacre was at a Walmart in El Paso, where 22 people lost their lives and another 24 were injured. Indeed, this shooter apparently did have a racially driven purpose — to murder as many Mexicans as possible, according to police. Many folks had no difficulty connecting dots between Trump’s words — Mexicans are “rapists,” “drug dealers,” “murderers” — and 21-year-old alleged shooter Patrick Crusius. They’re both fond of the word “invasion” to describe the influx of migrants. But again, causation can’t be established.
The third shooting, in Dayton, Ohio, was on a crowded street outside several bars. Connor Betts, 24, murdered nine and wounded 27 in just 32 seconds before he was fatally shot by police. His motive? He apparently had long wanted to commit mass murder, according to friends, but his reasons remain unknown.
Three males, all young and white, all armed with assault-style weapons. That’s a trend of perpetrators, but not of motives. There’s no evident racist strain to connect them to each other or, with one tenuous exception, to Trump. While it’s despicable that we have a president who seems intent on stoking division by mocking migrants, immigrants and citizens he doesn’t like, leaping extrapolations get us all in trouble.
Piety profiling is rampant these days, as we’ll doubtless soon weary of noting. But donating to political candidates is a form of free speech, and people have a constitutional right to support whom they please. Likewise, those who dislike Trump have every right to state their opinions, to organize marches, to boycott businesses and, legally, even to publish the names of his donors — but fact-check first.
Inarguably, Trump-the-package is damaged goods by his own odious nature and inhumane policies. But it is also entirely true that many, if not most, Trump supporters don’t think he’s a racist, and they’re not either. Thus, shaming is a sham. Trying to assign blame for political gain, even as the bodies of the slain are still being laid to rest, is politics at its most craven — and the very definition of shameful.
”It is remarkable by how much a pinch of malice enhances the penetrating power of an idea or an opinion. Our ears, it seems, are wonderfully attuned to sneers and evil reports about our fellow men.”
— Eric Hoffer
It is 1,218 miles from the Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater in Panama City Beach, Fla., to the Walmart at 7101 Gateway Blvd. in El Paso. It was in that park that Donald Trump, on May 8, was amused by the answer someone in his audience shouted in response to his shouted question about would-be immigrants at the southern border. His question was, “How do you stop these people?” The shouted answer was, “Shoot them.” Trump, with a grade schooler’s delight in naughtiness, smiled and replied, “ Only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement.” But does what happens in the Panhandle stay there?
When mass shootings occur, the nation quickly returns to worthy debates about three questions. One is whether gun control measures can be both constitutional and effective in making mass shootings less likely. A second debate concerns the ability and propriety of law enforcement (in which private citizens properly have a collaborative role) attempts to identify individuals, usually young males, who might violently act out their inner turmoil.
The third question, which is braided with the second, acquires special urgency because of the nature of today’s most prominent American: Can we locate causes of violence in promptings from the social atmosphere?
To the first question, part of the answer is that a reasonable reading of the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision, which affirmed that the Second Amendment guarantees the individual a right to bear arms, permits many measures regulating certain kinds of weapons and ammunition magazines. The second question must be informed by the third, and by science.
James Q. Wilson (1931-2012), the most accomplished social scientist of his time, noted that genetics and neuroscience suggest that self-control is more attenuated in men, and especially in young men, than in women. The part of the brain that stimulates anger and aggression is larger in men, and the part that restrains anger is smaller in men. Wilson emphasized that this does not mean that violent men are absolved of blame. It does mean that as biology and the social environment interact, this environment must be treated with care by prominent people.
It is not implausible to believe that Trump’s years of sulfurous rhetoric — never mind his Monday morning reading, seemingly for the first time, of words the teleprompter told him to recite — can provoke behaviors from susceptible individuals, such as the El Paso shooter. If so, those who marked ballots for Trump — we have had quite enough exculpatory sociology about the material deprivations and status anxieties of the white working class — should have second or perhaps first thoughts. His Republican groupies, meanwhile, are complicit.
The grotesquely swollen place of the presidency in governance (now that governance has become, for Congress, merely a spectator sport) and society has been made possible by journalism that is mesmerized by, and easily manipulated by, presidents, especially the current one, whose every bleat becomes an obsession. This president is not just one prompting from the social environment; he, in his ubiquity, thoroughly colors this environment, which becomes simultaneously more coarse and less shocking by the day.
Eric Hoffer (circa 1898-1983), the longshoreman philosopher, said that “rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” This anticipated the essential fact about the 45th president — Trump’s fascination with what he utterly lacks and unconvincingly emulates: strength. Hence his admiration for foreign despots, and his infantile delight in his own bad manners.
It is one thing to have a president who, drawing upon his repertoire of playground insults, calls his alleged porn-star mistress “Horseface.” Polls indicate that approximately a third of Americans, disproportionately including religiously devout worriers about the coarsening of America’s culture, are more than merely content with this. It is quite another thing to have a president who does not merely pollute the social atmosphere with invectives directed at various disfavored minorities; he uses his inflated office not just to shape this atmosphere but to be this atmosphere.
When Gerald Ford became president after Richard Nixon’s resignation, he told the nation: “Our long national nightmare is over.” Today’s long — and perhaps occasionally lethal — national embarrassment will continue at least until Jan. 20, 2021. If it continues longer, this will be more than an embarrassment to the nation, this will be an indictment of it.