Real Americans

I’m not going to address this past weekend’s events specifically.  There are already hundreds of columns covering every aspect of what happened in Charlottesville (and what is happening, to a lesser extent, in Seattle and Richmond and elsewhere).

Instead, I’d like to refer back to something I wrote about a different terrorist attack a few years ago, this one not on American soil.  Toward the end of the piece, I discussed what makes our nation unique.  That’s the portion that’s relevant to our present conversation.

In the United States, although our record is obviously imperfect, propositions such as “anyone can become an American,” and “we’re a nation of immigrants” are woven into the fabric of our national identity.

It’s much tougher for someone to convince you to engage in anti-American activity when you feel you are, in every sense, an American . . .

When we speak of American Exceptionalism, those of us who still believe in such a concept point to E pluribus unum as an underpinning of that idea. The bargain is a simple one: An immigrant may become fully American in a way that he may never be able to become fully French or fully Russian or fully Dutch.

There really isn’t a catch, either, except that the new American accept our laws and certain very basic cultural norms. The paradox is that those cultural norms are based largely around individual freedom or self-determination, which means “embracing” them might mean only “live and let live.”

Do that, and everything our nation has to offer can become as available to the immigrant and children of immigrants as it is to me. I look—with pride—at a new citizen as every bit a “real” American as I am.

That is our magic.

That is what makes us great.

That is American Exceptionalism.

That is also why we must always preserve that value. It is the mechanism by which a nation of immigrants remains a nation, rather than a litany of bickering factions segregated by blood or holy book.

Every American must believe that this is our land. All of us. Whether we were born citizens or not. Whether we’ve been here for generations or months. Whether we worship the same god, a different god, or no god.

Everyone must remain invested in our nation’s culture and her well-being. The way to make sure this happens is to stress shared values and opportunity, not highlight differences in an attempt to divide us into aggrieved categories.

We’ve done a better job of that than Europe has, and I think our culture has benefited greatly as a result. I can only hope that we continue to do so. But protecting those values, like protecting most things that matter, will take work.

By every one of us.  Tirelessly.  In word and deed.

For the rest of our lives.

Emphasis mine.

I was writing then about our country’s ability to assimilate other cultures into the essence of America.  But recent events have highlighted the flipside of this proposition—something I didn’t discuss at length in 2013.

In order for all of this to work, there must be a willingness to agree to the “American idea.”  That means that those who are ostensibly already part of the fabric of our nation have to accept the idea upon which our society is built.  That’s the true American exceptionalism of which I spoke.

It isn’t merely the concept of “tolerance.”  That’s important.  But it is also the commitment to the idea that anyone who is willing to be a law-abiding member of our society is as fully a part of that society as any of us.

To reiterate: Every American must believe that this is our land.  All of us.  Whether we were born citizens or not.  Whether we’ve been here for generations or months.  Whether we worship the same god, a different god, or no god.

This is not merely the begrudging acceptance of a legal status.  This is the notion that it benefits us, and it makes our lives better, to ensure that all Americans, even ones who are not “like us,” are a part of this endeavor.

It does not mean we must all agree on any political issue.  Quite the contrary.  That, too, is part of our magic.  But we must be willing to resolve those differences through democratic means—including vigorous protest, so long as it remains peaceful.

But ideologies rooted in racial supremacy and/or violence are anathema to this grand idea.  Recall the one proviso I mentioned in 2013: There really isn’t a catch, either, except that the new American accept our laws and certain very basic cultural norms. The paradox is that those cultural norms are based largely around individual freedom or self-determination, which means “embracing” them might mean only “live and let live.”

The mistake I made then was not clarifying that this bargain doesn’t apply only to new Americans.

It applies to all of us.

Those who lack the courage to embrace the American idea because they are too afraid to let go of their “tribal” identity cannot become fully American.  Even if their family has been here for hundreds of years.  People who have only lawlessness and hatred and violence and fear-mongering to give to our society have no place in our society, whether they were born here or not.

I must confess that I pity them.  They are depriving themselves of the full, wondrous, unique experience of what it means to be American—an experience for which the soulless, insipidly narrow, anything-but-unique pursuit of ethnic superiority is no substitute.

The question now is are we willing to prevent these forces from undermining those who do accept the American idea?  (Hint: That effort doesn’t begin with punching anyone.)

We’re still a long way from becoming that cesspool of bickering, identity-obsessed factions about which I warned.

But we’re a bit closer than we were last week.

Nonetheless, I remain cautiously optimistic.  The United States is a land of 330 million people.  I am resolute in the belief that the clear majority, regardless of political affiliation, ethnicity, occupation, or religion, accepts the fundamental premise upon which the best version of America is based.  These are the Real Americans.

However, as I said before, protecting that beautiful premise will take work.  By every one of us.  In word and deed.  Tirelessly.  For the rest of our lives.

Let’s begin.

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Let Me Tell You About Sundays

Let me tell you about Sundays.

Sundays are terrific.  You can run errands or be lazy.  You can go to church or sleep in.  You can watch a game or read a book.  You can eat brunch or work out.  You can do nothing at all—or all of the above!

In case it isn’t obvious from that ringing endorsement, I like Sundays.  I don’t want anything else that I’m about to say make it seem like my love for Sundays is lacking.  I refuse to be pigeonholed as some kind of anti-Sunday zealot!

Disclaimers notwithstanding, I’ve always had a very particular problem with Sundays.  Ever since I was a little boy, Sundays—specifically, Sunday evenings—have been unfailingly accompanied by what might best be called . . . a mild sense of dread.

Whether when I was in school (even when I liked school) or when I was working (even when I liked my job), there was this tiny feeling of tension, invariably spawned when the shadows grew long and the sun began to disappear into the horizon.   The darkness was a signal that I would have to think about responsibilities again in a few, short hours.

Sometimes that feeling could properly be called “worry,” but not often.  Monday’s obstacles weren’t necessarily things I didn’t want to face.  Even when I relished those challenges, that Sunday-night feeling was still there.

Most of the time, it was merely the awareness of constraint.  Of a lack of freedom.  Or, at least, a lack of preference.  It was the knowledge that, come Monday morning, I would rather be somewhere else, with someone else, doing something else.

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Father’s Day (Redux)

It was.

Hello, old friends!

Long time, no write.

Since it’s Father’s Day (and I’ve been incredibly delinquent in updating this site in recent months), I’m taking this opportunity to share a storytelling podcast I recorded last year.  The topic is my favorite Father’s Day, with a heavy side-order of Red Sox baseball.

It’s pretty good.  Enjoy.  And Happy Father’s Day.

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Something Special: The Mountaintop

In the final episode of “Something Special,” the Washington Redskins tangle with the potent Buffalo Bills, featuring Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Cornelius Bennett, and a host of top-level players at the height of their powers.

There’s not much mystery about how this one ends, but the story of Washington’s ultimate triumph should be enough to bring a smile to any Redskins fan’s face, even 25 years later. We can never forget Joe Gibbs, Charles Mann, Mark Rypien, Darrell Green, Art Monk, Wilber Marshall, Gary Clark, Earnest Byner, Brad Edwards, Joe Jacoby, Brian Mitchell, and so many others who played crucial roles on this team.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, and I also hope it brought back some good memories for older Redskins fans while introducing younger fans to this team for perhaps the first time.

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Let’s All Make Fun of Tom’s Brackets (2017 Edition)

I don’t know anything about college basketball.

But I accept that fact now.

The turning point was hearing that Cal State Bakersfield finished in first place in the WAC this year.  Cal State Bakersfield?!?  The WAC?!?

A hurried online search and one glance at the conference standings made me realize that I am totally lost.  Hell, even after looking at the WAC standings, I wasn’t sure what two or three of the schools were, much less where they were.

UTRGV? Grand Canyon?  Chicago State?  These sound like made-up colleges that play the protagonist’s team in a 1990s sports movie.

And, wait a second, how is Chicago State in the WAC, anyway?

You know what—don’t answer that.

The point is that the acceptance of my obliviousness is wonderful, as it allows me to fill out my NCAA Tournament bracket in about five minutes.

I no longer have to go through the charade of laboring over picks as if I have some clue about who these teams are or how they match up.  There’s not much imagination in what you see below.  There’s certainly no expertise.

However, my bracket still makes for cheap and easy content.  Here goes!

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Something Special: Second Chances

Fresh off of a convincing win against the Atlanta Falcons a week earlier, the Washington Redskins now looked to knock off the Detroit Lions and advance to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in ten years.

The Lions had already lost to the Redskins 45-0 in the first game of the season, but a lot had happened since early September.  This was a healthier, sharper Detroit squad than the one Washington had dispatched in week one.

On the other hand, the Lions had never won in Washington in six decades of trying.

The full story of the 1991 NFC Championship can be heard here:

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Something Special: Step One

We pick up the story of the 1991 Redskins with Washington having secured home-team advantage throughout the playoffs by posting the NFL’s best record.

However, the road to the Super Bowl is never easy.

First up for Washington in their quest for a world title were Jerry Glanville, Deion Sanders, and the flamboyant Atlanta Falcons, winners of six of seven games since losing to the Redskins earlier in the year.

The full story of this 1991 Divisional Playoff battle can be found in the player below.

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Best of 2016

TheAxisOfEgoFacebookHappy New Year!

Since today is (observed as) New Year’s Day, I thought I would go through the usual motions of curating the best material I generated in 2016 and putting it all in one post.

2016 included a fairly major shift in content for The Axis of Ego.  I really hadn’t done much in the podcasting realm in about three years—prior to six months ago.  As such, most of the posts from summer onward were podcasts, not essays.

In fact, I only wrote a handful of pieces this year.  Whether that’s lamentable or an improvement is up to you.  Either way, here’s all the stuff I liked best from the past year:

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Ten Things I Learned in 2016

dumpsterfire20162016 was a . . . well, it was definitely a year.

I learned a lot this year, though!

Yes, 2016 provided some terrific opportunities for learning—sometimes via the proverbial “hard way.”

Here, in no particular order, are some of the lessons gleaned from the past twelve months:

1. Eating is largely about habit and social ritual, rather than the ingestion of necessary nutrients.  Willpower can flip that relationship with surprising totality.  People who think that dieting is complicated are kidding themselves or lying to you.

2. Creating storytelling podcasts can be pretty fun.  In case you hadn’t noticed, this formerly writing-heavy website has largely become a depository for storytelling podcasts over the last six months.

3. On the other hand, I have almost no interest in listening to storytelling podcasts.  Exception: I like listening to ones that I’ve created, but I’m not particularly motivated to listen to the work of other people, unless I have a specific and compelling reason to do so.  Whether that makes me a bore or a narcissist or something else is up to you.

4. In my entire life, regarding someone’s chances of success, I have been very, very wrong about exactly two people: Russell Wilson and Donald Trump.

5. I should have moved to Old Town Alexandria when I was 25, not in the waning years of my 30s.  But it’s still nice.  Better late than never.

6. Speaking of storytelling, you probably shouldn’t do a podcast series about the 1991 Washington Redskins during football season.  It’s just background noise, especially when the Redskins are having a decent year.  Speaking of that . . .

7. I have no idea how to promote a podcast effectively.  None.  Even with the advantage of having a popular platform (Hogs Haven) on which to promote my work, the number of listens I got each week was around 50.  That’s fifty.  Five-oh.  The number of comments on my usual columns at Hogs Have are almost always over 100.  The number on the podcast posts were somewhere between zero(!) and eight.  I have to get better at that.

8. Much to my chagrin, disc-based media is already dying.  I got my first blu-ray player in 2014.  The format will be bordering on obsolete within 24 months of this writing.  If you visit, e.g., a Barnes & Noble, you’ll notice there is probably as much vinyl in the store as there is blu-ray.  This matters to me because I have about five huge albums full of movie and TV discs at the moment.  As hard to believe as this might be, we will be even more dependent on the Internet in a year or two than we are now.

9.  I sometimes forget how old I’m getting.  Almost all of the people I’ve befriended at work, for example, are younger than I am.  That possibly speaks to my maturity level or my lack of career advancement, but, in any case, the members of my DC peer group being between five and fourteen(!!!) years younger than I am can drown out the sound of 40’s rapidly approaching footsteps.

10. Never wear sneakers on a first date.

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Something Special: Let’s Prove It

With their first loss of the season behind them, the 1991 Washington Redskins enter the final month of the regular season looking to clinch the NFC East title and secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Most importantly, Washington looks to get momentum on its side as they head into postseason play.

This run of games against the Rams, Cardinals, Giants, and Eagles would go a long way toward determining how difficult the Redskins’ road to the Super Bowl would be.

The full episode is in the player below.

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