Sunday, November 20, 2016

Rhinestone Cowboy On the Road

July 1976. The bicentennial of the United States. As we occasionally did during the summer, we vacationed in Florida. Not only to visit our paternal grandparents, but also Disney World. We would make the trip numerous times over subsequent years. Our Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon loaded, we piled into our usual seats. Dad at the helm, mom in shotgun, my sisters in the middle row; I took up position in the back well among the suitcases. Seatbelts? Who needed seatbelts? I was protected by a hard plastic wall of American Tourister! Thus, I settled into my makeshift fort. My cavalry, breaking camp from our previous destination, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, would soon follow “riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo.”
    Our mission was to find Holly. That is, Holly Hobbie.

Horse Soldiers II:  The Holly Hobbie Raid

    Wait, hold on…now that I recall, the Olds CC and Williamsburg was the ’78 trip; we drove an Oldsmobile Cutlass on the ’76 trip. The Holly mission indeed was the ’76 trip, because I recall sitting between my sisters in the backseat. Either way, on one evening, we ate dinner at Top of the World in Disney World. “Gloria,” a singer by training and daytime soap opera actress, was the entertainment. During her performance, she came over to our table. Turning her attention my way, she began singing to me. At a pause, she said I reminded her of her little boy. She winked, I blushed. We had a moment.
    Yes, it was definitely 1976. A very good year.

1970s version of a safe space

    The following year, 1977, we were flying into Dallas, Texas. Dad, working for American Family Insurance, was heading to Brownsville to recover a stolen car, which we then would use to drive back to St. Louis. Thus, this was both a business trip and family vacation. To lovely Brownsville - a place very much remote and hostile, straight out of a classic Western movie - and other points along the way, like old cowboys “ridin’ out one dark and windy day.” When we stopped at a gas station because dad had gone the wrong way - toward the Mexican border rather than our overnight destination of Corpus Christi - “a bolt of fear went through” mom that dad would be shot and the rest of us kidnapped never to be seen again. Fun for the whole family!
    First, we had to survive the landing into Dallas.
    As we circled the airport, the airplane chaotically banked and turned as it went “a ploughin’ through the ragged skies and up a cloudy draw.” Although only five years old at the time, I questioned the ability of the flight crew.
    “Does this pilot know what he’s doing?” I incredulously asked, more out of frustration than fright.
    Little did I realize, but people sitting around us heard my exclamation. Immediately, they burst out in both laughter and applause. For me, the incident sparked a future, albeit unrealized, interest in attending Annapolis toward a career as a naval aviator. Ironically, it also heightened an inherent fear of flying. I wouldn’t fly on an airplane again for decades - to attend a friend’s wedding - choosing instead the preferable road trip even if “that's takin' the long way.” When we later dined in Corpus Christi, my one sister would have instilled in her the lifelong nightmare of being served a whole fish - particularly, Lutjanus campechanus, otherwise known as Northern Red Snapper - complete with gaping eyes, floppy fins and rough scales. Yes indeed, fun for the whole family!
    Flash forward 11 years to 1988. Summer, before the start of my sophomore year in high school. My parents and I go on a weekend road trip through Kentucky and Tennessee, my sisters preferring to stay home. Along the way, we would visit Louisville, Lexington, Fort Knox, Nashville (and Vanderbilt University) and, lastly, Kentucky Lake before returning to St. Louis. Driving past Vanderbilt on our way to dinner, I admired the southern scenery and charm...of its coeds. The campus seemed nice too. As such, I placed it on my growing list of potential college applications, alongside Alabama, Colorado and, my future alma mater, Missouri. Arriving at Kentucky Lake mid-afternoon, my dad and I rented a boat. Mom chose to stay ashore, relaxing in the comforts of the air-conditioned lodge.

By air, land or sea...we'll rescue Holly Hobbie!

    Motoring around and exploring the lake for a few, fun-filled hours, we got stuck in mud at one point in an unmarked shallow cove. Of course, I was the one manning the wheel at the time. However, dad felt guilty, if not embarrassed, for not realizing the deceptive depth of the water. Reluctant and fearing what might lurk in the murky waters, I nonetheless volunteered to give us a push. Feeling around for the propeller to ascertain its location for safety reasons, I took up position on the boat’s stern and gave it several heaves. Meanwhile, I unpleasantly felt numerous fish swimming about and brushing against my bare legs, which was unsettling and increased the anxiety of the situation. After several attempts to dislodge the craft as dad gunned the engine, we eventually escaped the predicament and made our way back to the dock.
    Our enjoyable day on the lake had come to an end, and so had our weekend of adventurous travel. Piling back into the car after cleaning up, we set a course “on the road to [our] horizon” back toward home.
    Yippie i ay, Yippie i oh!

[Read similar stories and much more in my personal narrative, Echoes From An Unexamined Life -]

©2016 Steve Sagarra

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Electoral College Triumphs, Not Trumps

"Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president."
-Theodore Roosevelt, 26th U.S. president

Every four years, it happens. Armchair constitutional and legal “scholars” who believe themselves smarter than Alexander Hamilton - you know, that guy from the highly-acclaimed musical with which everyone is so enamored? - and James Madison cry out after an election with calls to abolish the Electoral College. Instead, they feel presidential elections should be decided by popular vote, i.e. direct democracy. In the words of Jason Patric’s character, Jim Bowie, in The Alamo, “you don't like the outcome, so you change the rules?” To advocate for the change is to further advance the gradual dismantling of our founding generation's ideals and fundamentals at a time when, now more than ever, we should return to and seek their guidance. Yes, voters rightfully can be angry, frustrated, upset, etc, over the results of an election that does not go as one had hoped. Yet, we, as a nation, have an understanding to accept not only how our presidential elections have been conducted since the country’s inception, but also the outcome whether one agrees with it or not.

The Electoral College and the American Idea of Democracy, by Martin Diamond

As is so often equally forgotten during this time - or, is it simply no longer taught in civics class (do these even still exist?) - the United States, in fact, is not a direct democracy. For as long as it may stand, it is a representative republic. Under this republican form of democracy, the Electoral College has operated to preserve equity among the varied populations of the individual states and protect from factionalism and majority mob rule. Otherwise, only the most densely populated areas would have influence in choosing the president. California currently may have 55 electoral votes and New York 29, but Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming’s three each (21 total) are just as vital. That is how Hamilton and Madison designed it to work. Despite complaints from those who fail to understand this importance and dismiss it as nothing more than an antiquated institution, it continues to do so to this day. Even more disconcerting, where does it end? What other supposed bygone ideas - like the Bill of Rights or perhaps even the Constitution itself - might be deemed unnecessary by later generations, despite the contrary?

For the past eight years, voters opposed to the current president, Barack Obama, have been cajoled and lectured that he is everyone’s president. This is the truth, as a president represents the entire nation - even those who did not vote for them. Naturally, one can disagree with and argue against the agenda and policies while still respecting the presidency no matter who occupies it. Again, this is how our system operates. But now with the election of Donald Trump, it seems acceptable to chant, protest and even riot under the banner of “not my president.” This is hypocritical, once again demonstrating the political short memory of the American electorate. While he may not be the popular choice, Trump, like the others before him, is now the president-elect by way of the electoral process. Same as any losing opposition, you do not have to accept the person but you must respect the result of the vote. Otherwise, we will devolve into a society of anarchy and authoritarianism reigning over civility and consensus...exactly as Hamilton and Madison feared, and the very reason for the existence of the Electoral College. 

©2016 Steve Sagarra

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Obama's "Dutch Boy" Presidency, Part II

As U.S. voters go to the polls to elect a new president, let's follow-up on the departing Obama administration's two-term record. After eight years, it would be delusional for President Barack Obama, as he and his acolytes continually have done while in office, to place blame for what has occurred during his tenure on his predecessor. Eventually, he must own his own failed record that, indeed, has fundamentally transformed the United States. The economy, despite rhetorical assurances, still has never fully recovered from The Great Recession; many significant indicators are in the red, as they have been for the duration. Much of this is attributable to an historic level of over-regulation - most significantly, the disastrous and poorly implemented Obamacare - that continues to burden small and large business alike. If that were not enough, racial and social tensions are at an all-time high not experienced since the 1960s - where is the utopia of unity promised eight years ago, exasperated by nothing less than the president's own divisive rhetoric?

The international scene is just as worrying. If North Korea is any indication of future problems, Iran ever more is a threat - only difference that the latter directly received billions of dollars from the Obama administration to fund their not-so-subtle ambitions. Meanwhile, ISIS, never given proper credence by the administration as a major threat, evolved and continues to devastating effect upon the Middle East. As it is, a majority of Americans feel terrorism is a bigger threat to national security than before September 11th, a trend attributable to the administration's failures and inability to take the lead properly addressing and combating it. On top of all of this, China and Russia have been flexing renewed confidence because of a perceived withering and weak United States over these past eight years - frustrating our allies and further emboldening our enemies.

Truly, here's to hope and change under a new administration as the nation moves forward.

©2016 Steve Sagarra

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Why I'm Voting For Gary Johnson

Despite a continuously expanding list of scandals that should have nullified her candidacy, the contents of Hillary Clinton's emails should be more worrying than some are unwilling to admit. More so than the hackers and leakers with whom some seem to be more concerned, rather than a potential felon candidate ascending to the presidency. The attempted control and influence over supposed impartial government entities and an indispensable objective media is straight out of the fascist propaganda playbook. Undoubtedly, these emails are a terrifying window into a potential Clinton presidency that would only further its absolutism, corruption and dishonesty, with the knowledge that it is answerable to no one. We already have experienced one of the most contemptuous and least transparent administrations in our history over the past eight years; we do not need to continue that trend. To believe otherwise is to have your head in the sand.

Donald Trump is no counter in this contentious “lesser of two evils” contest. He is equally perilous to our republican system as he is repugnant. Abrasive, imprudent and uncouth in his demeanor, especially toward those who disagree with him on political and social issues, he is more schoolyard bully than presidential. By all indications, he knows more about growing his own wealth and portfolio - unashamedly, of bankrupt failed businesses - than the delicate intricacies involved in actually maintaining and growing a healthy economy. Again, we already have experienced eight years of a know-nothing president whose only “success” has been further tanking the economy between rhetorical speeches and economics-challenged policies. A Trump presidency simply would extend this cult of personality trend that has shrouded his predecessor. Also, it is hard to trust a supposed billionaire who, apparently, cannot afford to properly groom his hair.

If you are for civil liberties, fiscal management, responsible government and social acceptance, neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump offer this platform. You know who does fit that description? The Gary Johnson/Bill Weld ticket. Is it absolutely perfect in every aspect and criteria on the checklist? That answer depends on your personal mindset, but it is the most reasonably sane choice compared to the alternatives. Besides, to demand absolute perfection from our leaders is to deny our own human flaws. Both Johnson and Weld are successful two-term former governors, no less in traditionally Democrat states. Historically, more often than not, former governors have made the best presidents because of their executive experience at the state level. They also do not carry with them the negative trappings that follow both Clinton and Trump into every debate and speech. That criteria alone should make all the difference in the choice.

With an unprecedented disdain by voters for front-runners Clinton and Trump, this election is not just about the immediate next four-to-eight years. This is about the long-term future of the United States, and, even more, the integrity of the presidency. 

©2016 Steve Sagarra