Extremism alive and well in Surry County?

By John Peters - jpeters@civitasmedia.com

“You can take your baby-murdering ways and go back to New York or wherever you’re from.”

That was the voice mail on my phone Thursday morning, and the comments were directed squarely at me.

Which is kind of odd, since I’ve only been inside the state of New York maybe three times in my life — twice, briefly, while riding through the state on my way to New Hampshire to visit my brother-in-law and sister (he was stationed at an Air Force base there); and then once when I was a teen-ager. That time, as a member of a Christian-based teen drama group, we were sight-seeing a bit while producing Christian productions in various churches in the area.

And I’ve never, ever even hinted at the idea of being pro-choice (or, more accurately, pro-abortion). I’m not. Every time I’ve ever written about the subject I’ve always been clearly pro-life. Always have been, and I suspect always will be.

This particular caller — who left no return number and conveniently managed to call when I wouldn’t be in the office to answer — apparently didn’t like an editorial cartoon we ran that took a shot at Russian President Vladimir Putin. The caller, in some way I haven’t yet figured out, thought it was about GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, so the caller decided, right then and there, I was some sort of evil, left-wing spawn of Satan.

And he decided that despite the editorial cartoons we’ve run slamming Clinton, or the entire mess of an election process, that one single cartoon means we’re clearly so far to the left we might as well raise the communist banner over our building.

This kind of narrow-minded, knee-jerk thinking, unfortunately, has become all too common in recent politics. We’ve seen it here, in Mount Airy and Surry County, where people are opposed on a position or issue, yet resort to base name calling, vulgarity in their comments, even outright lying about the people on the other side of the issue.

Nationally, that’s hardly new, but in recent years it’s grown considerably worse, reaching what I hope is an all-time low with the Clinton vs. Trump presidential race.

The sad thing is, everyone seems to be hunkering down in their own little small-world bunkers, saying anyone who disagrees with them is anti-American, a complete idiot. And those are the nice words being used. No one seems to be willing to entertain the idea that while you can support a candidate, sometimes your candidate is wrong on some issues, and the other side is right. Maybe, just maybe, it’s about figuring out the best way to do what’s right, not blindly goose-step behind a chosen candidate or party.

As I said, this isn’t new. Just a few weeks ago the big controversy was Colin Kaepernick, a then-backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, kneeling during the national anthem as a protest of … well, he’s never actually voiced an end-game, never explained exactly why he’s protesting, or what would make him stop. He talks in general terms about the situation for black people in America, but it all comes across as headline-seeking material for a player teetering on being cut because of onfield performance (or lack thereof).

Personally, I think the 49ers and/or the NFL should have fined him every time he did that. Not because I’m against his right to free speech, but because he’s using his workplace inappropriately. The NFL will fine a player thousands of dollars for etching the initials of a recently passed relative on his cleats one game, yet they allow players to do whatever they want during the national anthem?

What has been most disturbing about the entire episode, however, is the reaction from some individuals. People have threatened Kaepernick’s life, have called him unAmerican, have said if he doesn’t like America he should leave.

Really? Someone disagrees with your version of American values, so you think they should be killed or exiled? The folks making those statements are the ones truly being “unAmerican,” and I suspect our founding fathers would hop the next ship back to England if they saw Americans acting in that manner.

Back to my anonymous caller — he was upset over an edit cartoon we ran that he perceived as anti-Trump, which probably says a lot about the caller. Remember, it was a clear shot at Vladimir Putin over the Russian attempts at hacking U.S. computer networks. The caller’s general attitude seemed to be that anyone who disagrees with him should leave, because his values are more important than everyone else’s.

I rarely come across so forcefully when I make statements, because I try to be aware there are numerous sides to any given issue. But to this gentlemen, I’ll say you are simple flat-out wrong.

Our job as a newspaper, at least on the opinion page, is to spur thought, to show multiple sides of an issue, to sometimes present things that might be uncomfortable, so individuals of all political and social backgrounds are presented.

I’d like to believe that fosters some open discussion and respect, though it appears for an increasing number of folks, that spurs hatred.

I do find myself longing for the days of the first president I ever voted for — Ronald Reagan.

President Reagan understood to get the important things done, you had to respect the other guys, realize their convictions were just as strong and valid as your own, and give a little on what they deemed important. He understood compromise was a good word, if used correctly, and that being an effective leader meant watching out for all the nation, not just the people who donated to your campaign or wear a political party button.

Are those days gone forever, or are we just in a nasty period that will pass? I don’t know, but I’m not all that optimistic at the moment.


By John Peters