Opinion

It’s been a little over a month since Donald Trump became president and for non-Trump voters it has been a scary, nauseating, upsetting, disturbing, anger-inducing ride.   I can’t list all of the things Trump has said or done to upset me over the past few weeks because I’ve lost count.  But as someone who cares about the environment and wildlife, I’m sickened to think Republicans would like to either cripple or get rid of the Endangered Species Act, silence government employees from speaking about climate science, and approved the appointment of a man to lead the EPA who doesn’t even believe in its’ purpose.

Trump’s Russian ties are deeply disturbing.  More disturbing is that most Republicans don’t care about it for partisan reasons, even though they practically wanted Hillary Clinton burned at the stake for having a private email server. Compared to possibly consorting with Russians to disrupt our democratic process, Hillary’s “crimes” seem on the same level as cutting off the “do not remove tag” from a new pillow.  Most disturbing is that a white supremacist is a top advisor to the president.  That should be an impeachable offense.

Quite simply, Donald Trump represents everything that I’m not.  He and his actions are contrary to the core of my being.  He and his agenda has definitely put a strain between Trump supporters, of which some are people I know and care about, and myself.

Some friendships have been lost.  Relationships with some of my family members has been deeply strained.  This was not your typical partisan presidential election.  It went way beyond anything so trivial.  This is a defining time in American history, on par with the social and cultural changes of the 1960s and even the 1860s.  This is about our culture and our values.  These are very trying times and keeping the peace and any sense of sanity, requires a lot of self-control and biting of the tongue.

The tension is thick.  When I’m in the company of a family member or friend that voted for Trump we still laugh and carry on like nothing has changed between us but then there are those honest moments when our eyes meet.  Then suddenly, I know that they know that I know how they know how I feel about you know who.  It’s awkward but worse than that our friendship has been crippled by it.  It’s become a bit of a silent civil war.

I find it unbelievable that others can’t see the threat Trump is.  How are they okay with him appointing a neo-nazi as an advisor?  How are they okay with his unstable, hyper-arrogant, and obnoxious behavior?  How are they okay with him possibly having ties with Russia?  How are they okay with him insulting and demeaning those that are critical of him?  But then it’s easy to see how they don’t see what I see.

Right-leaning and left-leaning news sources tell very different stories.  We’ve been isolated from each other for so long politically that we have evolved into different kinds of Americans.  As someone who studies ecology this is quite familiar.  When members of the same species are separated from each other long enough, eventually through natural selection different traits are favored to match their respective environments, and then we have two new species from one.  The one no longer exists.  Well, in the United States, we have essentially become two different critters, ideologically speaking.

About 35 miles from where I’m sitting, Abraham Lincoln gave his famous “House Divided” speech and it still holds true today.  We can’t go on in one country as two different populations with two different value sets and ideologies.  We have to agree on the most fundamental and foundational aspects of our democracy.  I don’t think we do anymore and that can’t go on forever.  I know that and you know that.

 

Photo Credit:  By swatjester – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3256256

The Grand Army of the Republic Monument stands in Washington D.C. The organization was founded in Decatur.

 

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June and Ward Cleaver Leave it to Beaver 1958

It’s said often that many Americans would like to return to the “Leave it to Beaver” days because it reflects a time when America was a lot less complicated.  The truth is this country has never been uncomplicated.  Some of my favorite television shows were produced during times of social upheaval.  “The Andy Griffith Show” is a prime example.

I remember watching an interview of Andy Griffith and he said the show reflected 1930s America more than it did the decade of the 1960s in which it was produced.  It was done that way on purpose.  I hadn’t stopped to think about that before.  Watching the show today, one would think everyone was getting along so well in the country in the 1960s.  I know history paints a different picture.

The news this morning that Florence Henderson had died was a bit of a shock.  I grew up on Brady Bunch reruns as did millions of Americans.  No matter how many times I had seen the episodes, they offered an escape from whatever was going on in my life.  We all need to escape once in a while.

Maybe the scripts were idealized versions of reality but what’s so bad about that?  Shouldn’t we strive to be better kids, parents, spouses and citizens?  I don’t think these shows make us collectively stick our head in the sand and ignore real problems around us.  We’re aware of all the problems, probably too much.

Andy Griffith Don Knotts 1970

The constant negative news articles and being connected 24/7 to everyone I know through social media is too much sometimes.  Once in a while I have to walk away and remember life before we were all so “together”.  I recently saw a cartoon on Facebook that stated, “My need to be well informed is at odds with my need to remain sane.”  Isn’t that the truth!

I need a reprieve and I think our entertainment should offer a reprieve from all of the junk we’re bombarded with daily.  It should also inspire us to be a little better, a little kinder, and a whole lot more hopeful.  Considering that much of the news out there isn’t even true anyway, I’d rather put my kids (and grandkids) in front of the television, tablet, smartphone, or whatever they’re watching and find some enjoyment and peace.

There’s a lot to learn from Charles and Caroline Ingalls, Ward and June Cleaver, Mike and Carol Brady, Andy, Barney and Aunt Bee, Gilligan and the Skipper, and even Herman and Lilly Munster.  We all need to learn to laugh again, especially at ourselves.  If there’s anything missing from this narcissistic, over-informed time we live in, it’s that.  We need to laugh again.  We take ourselves entirely too seriously while standing on our social media soapboxes lecturing the rest of the world how it ought to be.  I’m as guilty as anybody.   In reality, I just want to laugh again.  I want to find some peace and I’m forever grateful to the shows and entertainers that were able to deliver on both.

 

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I questioned whether I should post this or try to compose or more positive and polished response but this is the raw unfiltered emotion I felt soon after the election. This is why many continue to march in the streets.

There’s only a couple events that compare to the level of emotion I felt Tuesday night – 9/11 and the day I sat in my old bedroom weeping as my mom was nearing her last breaths from cancer down the hall.  On Tuesday night I wept for my country and the pain was visceral.

9/11 was an attack from the outside and though the fear I felt that day was paralyzing.  I remember walking outside on that beautiful September day and though the sun was bright it couldn’t touch me.  The flowers and butterflies were still marvelous but dumb to all the fear and uncertainty that veiled my eyes.  I couldn’t listen to music for weeks or enjoy laughter.  But at least I knew my country was together.  I knew that if this country were to ever be destroyed, it would be of our own doing.

There I was with my hat from Hillary’s 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination and my “I Voted” sticker, anticipating at long last a win. But I wasn’t angry about my candidate losing on Tuesday night.  It wasn’t the source of my overwhelming sadness.  It wasn’t about partisanship or even the disappointment of not seeing a woman elected president.  I felt as though I had watched the country I loved and thought I knew die that night.  The disillusionment I felt was searing.

Everything my parents and school teachers had taught me to be – kind, tolerant, polite, humble, forgiving, and even the Golden Rule itself, had been tossed out the window by millions of fellow Americans. How could I accept that?  As flawed as we are as a nation, I always thought we were good at heart but are we?  Hate had won for the whole world to see and I was mortified. I mourned for human decency.

It felt as though my mother’s memory had been dishonored.  Then I thought about the neighbors I grew up with that were of the Greatest Generation.  I learned so much from them and on 9/11 their example gave me hope and strength.  They had been through hell and they knew what mattered in life.  They had defeated the worst kind of hate imaginable.  How did people forget?  Electing a man like Donald Trump dishonored their memory as well.

A man that is openly and unashamedly cruel, rude, racist, sexist, and xenophobic had won the presidency in America.  How could that be?  Over the last couple days, I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out what I’m supposed to do over the next four years.  How can I fit into this picture without losing my mind or my hope in humanity?  I’ve thought a lot about the words and actions of Martin Luther King Jr, Robert F. Kennedy and others who carried the torch of equality and civility through dark, turbulent times. I thought much of the work had already been done and only a few loose ends were left to be tied.  I was wrong.  That torch has been passed to you and me now.  Let’s carry it forward.

 

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Amphitheater and Scovill Zoo Train

This past week has been a pretty good one for Decatur.  The Howard G. Buffett Foundation handed over a check for nearly $6 million dollars to build a new amphitheater in Nelson Park and connect Scovill Zoo’s train to the Children’s Museum.  Funds for the amphitheater were hoped to be secured with a state grant prior to Governor Rauner replacing Pat Quinn.  Due to the state’s woeful non-existent budget, the pledged funds didn’t materialize.  Now the Buffett Foundation had pledged to fund the projects without the state.  What a wonderful gift to the city!

Most people were happy for the donation but critics chimed in.  Some believed the money could have been put to better use for other projects and some people just don’t believe Decatur is worthy of such amenities.  I’ve never understood people like that.  If you value Decatur that little, why are you still here?  I for one am thrilled that the Buffett Foundation values Decatur enough to help.  I’m also going to enjoy listening to concerts at the amphitheater and riding that train.  Aren’t we all just big kids at heart?  I am!  I think the amphitheater and extended train route will both be incredibly unique attractions, improving our quality of life and very likely bringing in visitors.  Why complain about that?

Richard Louv Presentation

I attended the lecture given by author Richard Louv at Millikin on Thursday night.  It was hosted by the Institute for Science Entrepreneurship at Millikin University.  Louv is known for bringing to light nature-deficit disorder in children.  The night also celebrated the 50th-year anniversary of the Macon County Conservation District.

Louv spoke about nature-deficit disorder but he also talked about Decatur.  He had visited Rock Springs and the bike path earlier in the day and was impressed.  Louv has visited cities all over the world and remarked that he had never been to a city that had an urban bike trail connect to a conservation area.  He also believed that Decatur could be a leader and example in urban biodiversity.

Decatur Has One of the Best Wildlife Corridors in the State of Illinois

As someone who has spent the past four years studying natural resources, I can attest that Louv is absolutely right.  Decatur has all the right ingredients to be an example to the world for conservation.  Essentially, if you follow the Steven’s Creek Bikeway, you are viewing one of the best wildlife corridors in the state.  The areas that I have studied, Garman Park, which I hope one day is connected to the bike path, to Sanders Park, through Fairview Park, Scovill Golf Course and then finally connecting to Rock Springs is a hotspot for wildlife.  Such a wildlife corridor is incredibly rare in the state of Illinois.  It should be a top priority of the city to improve the corridor and preserve it.  I have personally identified state endangered birds along the bikeway and believe the corridor should be designated as critical habitat.  There’s some areas that need to be improved but it wouldn’t be ridiculously costly or difficult to make those improvements.

Below:  Portions of the Steven’s Creek Bikeway, which is a wildlife corridor

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Aim Higher

An important thing that Louv mentioned was that it’s not good enough to aim to be “sustainable”.  We can do better than just recycle newspapers and aluminum cans or aim for energy efficiency.  We can make Decatur an example to the world for how a city can be a place for both people and wildlife to coexist.  And I’m not just talking about animals but plants too.  After all, most of Illinois’ endangered species are plants.

I don’t go out into Illinois’ barren agricultural landscape to find wildlife. I stay here in the city because that’s where much of the wildlife is.  So, I hope we move to protect and enhance our natural areas within the city.  Decatur could easily be an example for urban wildlife conservation to the nation and world.

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Video gaming, landscaping requirements and paddle boarding… what do they have in common?  Nothing, other than they’re the topics I’m discussing today!

Restricting The Number of Gambling Parlors to 30

I’m glad that the city council decided to limit the number of gambling parlors.  Not that I have spoken to everybody in the city but of those I have spoken to, all are glad as well.  Nobody foresaw such establishments setting up shop in Decatur after video gaming was made legal in the city.

I guess I’m against gambling parlors partially for prudish reasons but for many others as well.  To put it bluntly, I think they make the city look cheap, trashy and desperate.  Plus, I see nothing of real benefit from their existence.  They’re kind of like mosquitoes.  So, I guess I’m record for really not liking them. Ha!

McDaniel On Required Landscaping

Councilman McDaniel suggested a couple week ago during a council meeting that the city should scale back landscaping requirements for businesses.  If we’re getting too nitpicky and ridiculous, okay, but I think the requirements are needed.  In fact, I’d like the requirements to be tweaked.

I’ve noticed that new businesses look great at first but as trees and shrubs die, they’re often not replaced.  I’ve also noticed some commercial properties, after a few years, simply cut down and remove living trees.  So, we end up with the same cruddy looking commercial properties as we had before.  I’m not sure if there is a requirement for continued maintenance (I don’t think there is) but I think such a requirement should be set in place.  Maybe we can require a little less landscaping up front to make it more cost-effective long term for businesses, but continued upkeep should be enforced.

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Dead trees in front of Decatur’s Walmart (North) that need replaced and I think Walmart can afford new trees

This goes for the city as well!  I noticed a lot of the trees planted along MLK Jr Drive north of Mound Road were cut down last year but have not been replaced.  When the road was widened and expanded, the trees with thrown in as a nice gesture to the neighborhood for aesthetic reasons.  That commitment needs to continue.  It’s kind of like letting yourself go after getting married.  Nobody wants to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t even bother trying to look half-way presentable.

Unless we want all of Decatur to look like 22nd Street, we probably should demand a little more!

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Only the stumps remain from trees the city cut down last year on MLK Jr Drive

Paddle Boarding and Kayaking on Lake Decatur

I was happy to read this morning that paddle board and kayak rentals are going to be available on Lake Decatur, at least for a trial run.  Standing Paddle Company is providing the service.  As I’ve vacationed in several other places, I’ve noticed that both of these activities are very popular. Considering Decatur has a lake in the middle of it, it always seemed to me that we should have the same recreational opportunities.  I’m glad someone has stepped up to give it a go and I’ll be trying them out.  Kayaking has been on my bucket list for a long time.  For more information visit their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/standingpaddleco/?fref=ts or their webpage at: http://www.standingpaddleco.com/

 

 

 

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