Tag Archives: United States

Our Political System is Broken for the Same Reason Our Relationships End

wedding rings on american flag

(Image/Inspired Acorn)

NOTE: I wasn’t planning to post today, and certainly not about politics, but my response to a comment on yesterday’s post—which had a headline I think many people misunderstood for the EXACT SAME REASONS our political climate is such a mess—turned into a thousand words. So I figured, what the hell. Linds wrote in a comment that the nature of a politician’s job doesn’t allow for she or he to be trustworthy. My reply turned into the following.

My commitment to fairness runs deep.

I reject the notion that politicians can’t be trustworthy. But I accept my perceived reality that they typically are not.

Because of the system being what it is, it’s impossible for non-billionaires to win elections without lots of financial backing.

That forces people who need political funding to sometimes compromise their principles for “the greater good,” convincing themselves they can’t do any good from the sidelines, so compromising 5-10% of their values in order to achieve the 90% once they’re in office is worth it.

But then, after they win election, they have all these ideas about what to change in order to make things better for the people who supported them.

But with every potential change comes some type of negative consequence to politicians’ financial stakeholders, and a bunch of politicians fighting against change because it’s “good” for their re-election, and a bunch of politicians fighting against it because they play for the other team—and winning elections is more important than actually legislating!—and a bunch of politicians on the same team who won’t support change for various political and financial reasons.

Getting 51% of elected officials to agree on something that directly affects American lives, or affects them emotionally, or affects the financial systems in some way is an extremely tall order.

It’s funny. All humans basically want the same things: Safety, financial opportunity, good health, good education for themselves and children, and basic levels of infrastructure (roads, water, electric, law enforcement, emergency services, etc.)

The vast, vast, vast, vast, vast, vast majority of Things Humans Care About are agreed upon by most elected officials, regardless of political affiliation.

That those people will not sit down at a table together to work cooperatively to address the many things which AREN’T divisive, crushes my freaking soul.

When you build cooperative bridges, improving the 70-80% of things everyone collectively cares about, maybe everyone would stop being so shitty to one another about the divisive issues people like to scream about.

Maybe.

But in the end, the TRUTH should not be such a difficult thing to ascertain.

We have elected officials who lie because they have something to hide OR because they have something to lose.

We have media outlets who report false or incomplete information because they have a political agenda or because they’re ignorant of facts, or because they have a financial mandate to report dramatic things as quickly as possible without verifying facts.

And now we’re here.

Republican politicians are trusted by only a minority of registered Republicans, many of whom watch Fox News, read Breitbart, the National Review, NewsMax, the Daily Standard, etc.

Everyone who is not a Republican assumes the R-politician is lying, and that those media outlets are reporting misinformation to promote a conservative political agenda.

Democrat politicians are trusted only by a minority of registered Democrats, many of whom get their news from MSNBC, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, Daily Kos, Slate, etc.

Anyone who is not a Democrat assumes the D-politician is lying, and that the left-leaning publications are intentionally reporting misinformation OR ignoring truth in order to advance their political agenda as well.

A third group of people trust no one. They’re the most cynical of all. And I can’t think of a compelling reason why they SHOULD trust anyone.

We’re now to the point where no one can trust an elected official to be honest, nor can they trust their media outlets to be reporting rock-solid facts and truth.

Yet, we’re all confused about how TWO people with 60% disapproval ratings can end up as our two choices for president.

We turn our backs on the process most of the time, watching “Survivor” and “CSI” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

Then we all get super-interested once the national media starts covering it heavily, and we all talk about it on social media long after all the important work of CHOOSING our candidates actually takes place. So many people, not necessarily through any fault of their own, don’t really know what they’re talking about because there aren’t any places to gather reliable information.

Even the New York Times and Washington Post, which are long-time journalistic standard bearers, are no longer trustworthy to the those made uncomfortable by the Times and Post headlines.

Even IF the information is solid (many journalists are fantastic, even if big-money media is not) a person can’t realistically expect someone of an opposing political viewpoint to believe it’s coming from a place of truthful objectivity. Every major media outlet has now been labeled Right or Left.

And that means everyone spends all of their time in their preferred echo chambers, hearing and reading only the things they want to hear and read.

We need a critical mass of people to decide they want TRUTH more than they want COMFORT.

We need a critical mass of people willing to trade in CSI and the Kardashians for a lot of hard work spreading the word about people who would make amazing leaders—telling their stories effectively—and sharing them with the masses.

Republicans and Democrats (and everyone else) MUST be more committed to problem solving than they are to opposing one another and smearing people wearing different labels.

People seem more interested in winning arguments than actually accomplishing anything.

Coincidentally, that’s also why most divorce happens.

When Our Political Activism Amounts to Blocking Friends on Facebook and Only Digesting Media We Agree With For a Month Every Four Years Right Before Elections, This Will Never Change

But as in all things, I choose hope.

This shit isn’t working at all. Even if Donald Trump somehow proves to be an objectively good chief executive of the United States, there will be MILLIONS of people actively working against him, hoping he fails, spreading lies, denying whatever good might come from his decisions or initiatives, and more and more citizens will soak all that up and either grow more pissed off at the president, OR grow more pissed off at all the negativity and sabotage.

Which is EXACTLY what President Obama has dealt with for eight years.

And what President Bush dealt with before that.

And what President Clinton dealt with before that.

It’s not okay.

It’s NOT okay that this happens.

I’m in favor of spirited disagreement. I’m in favor of people with strong opinions explaining to others why they believe what they believe. But it’s as if no one knows how to do that without hating the person disagreeing with them. They take the Battle of Ideas and make it personal.

And more hate spreads.

But it’s not hard to see why this happens.

For my ENTIRE LIFE, I’ve been unable to listen to an elected official tell me something from behind a podium and trust implicitly that the information was true.

For my ENTIRE LIFE, I’ve been unable to turn on the nightly news or read a newspaper regarding something political and not assume the information was somehow politically slanted one way or another depending on the source.

Right leaners EAT UP Breitbart and Fox News and the Washington Times.

Left leaners EAT UP Daily Kos and MSNBC and the New York Daily News.

Everyone believes not Truth, but what they WANT to believe. They believe the stories that make them most comfortable. Always, always, always.

Very few of us, or the politicians we vote for, own their bullshit. Very few pursue truth even when it’s inconvenient. And very few are committed to helping people who have different wants and needs than “People Like Them.”

I don’t know how.

But if we could get people to raise their hands to accept responsibility for their laziness and pursuit of comfortable lies; and if we could get journalists to vigilantly pursue truth even when the truth works against the beliefs and candidates that make them comfortable; and if we could get enough people to understand that it’s possible to improve circumstances for EVERYONE—not just certain groups at the expense of others—then, just maybe, we have a chance.

When OUR WAY = GOOD and THEIR WAY = BAD, our relationships suffer greatly before eventually breaking. 

True in marriage.

True in all human relationships.

The root causes of our political horrors are the VERY SAME as those of our shitty marriages and broken families.

And the solutions are the same, too.

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Trump Election Should Inspire Hope and Action

statue of liberty

(Image/Pixabay)

The school levy passed in my town.

Because of that, maybe our schools won’t deteriorate, and maybe student performance won’t suffer, and maybe parents with the financial means won’t move to another town with better schools, and maybe then my town’s tax revenue and property values and long-term health and wellness won’t suffer.

I don’t know.

But I think I know that the school levy passing—despite not having a child in the public school system—is likely to impact my life more than the President of the United States does.

I say that because, since I was born in 1979, we’ve had a Democrat, a Republican, a Republican, a Democrat, a Republican, a Democrat, and now—beginning in January—another Republican.

I can’t look you in the eye and tell you that my life would have veered dramatically in another direction had any of those previous elections yielded different results.

I’m not big on talking about candidates I vote for because politics is divisive and I care more about NOT being divisive than I care about any particular political issue.

But given the realities of the 2016 shit show we called an election, I’m comfortable sharing that I neither voted for President-Elect Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton.

There are approximately 150 million U.S. citizens eligible to run for president. And in the end, Americans were asked to choose between two people, BOTH of whom were DISLIKED by 60% of registered voters.

Please skip to the next sentence, People Offended by Profanity, but how in the blue fuck does THAT happen? Because that seems totally unreasonable.

My third-grade son asked me recently as we were driving somewhere: “Hey dad! Who do you like better between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?”

I thought for a moment: “Well, bud. That’s a little bit like asking me whether I’d rather eat poop or drink pee,” which he thought was super-funny because, you know, third grade.

I continued, but felt a little bit like how teachers must feel when they teach little kids that white pilgrims in fancy black hats and Native Americans in feathered headbands sat together peacefully on Thanksgiving in the 1600s eating cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie: “What usually happens is that two people run for president and each of them shares their ideas for how to help people and make our country the best place it can possibly be. Both people want the same good things to happen, but have different ideas for how to do it. And then we vote for the person with the ideas we agree with the most.”

“Which person do you agree with most?” he asked.

I thought a little more: “I guess I agree with a little bit from both of them. The problem is that I don’t particularly like or trust either of them. And it’s more important to me to like and trust someone than it is for me to agree with them.”

The Most Important Things

That was a big moment for me. When I realized that I value things like character, trustworthiness, and likability more than I do a particular political ideology.

Think about how often you have disagreed with your spouse, your parents, your siblings, your best friends. When push comes to shove, don’t we—more often than not—want those people we know and love standing with us, or representing us more than we do people who share the same likes, interests, opinions, etc.?

Something I learned about me this election cycle is that I’m more inclined to vote for someone I like and disagree with than I am for someone I agree with, but dislike.

I’m a pretty moderate guy, so it’s easy for me to shake my head in surprise at the 2016 presidential election results without getting as emotional about it as others are feeling.

I respect and understand that people with differing political opinions will feel much differently in both directions along the political spectrum.

There are political issues pertaining to this election which have little effect on my day-to-day life, but which DO affect the lives of other people in other places, and I’m not insensitive to, nor unaware of, that reality.

Not unlike how husbands and wives sometimes have strongly opposing viewpoints in their marital disagreements, I wish more people would remember that the beliefs and feelings people have about politics (or any subject) make PERFECT sense in the context of that individual’s specific life experience.

We like to call each other stupid.

Maybe some of us are.

But we’re just different. Like a husband and wife might be, or like someone from Japan versus someone from Switzerland might be.

Japanese nor Swiss people are “weird” or “wrong” for being born and raised in Japan or Switzerland. They are EXACTLY who and what anyone would be if they were born into identical circumstances.

So when we ask a Japanese citizen and a Swiss citizen for their opinion, and they differ from, or oppose, the others, one or both of them are not stupid.

It would be weird if they were anything but what they are.

What if We Had Two (or More) Amazing Candidates From Which to Choose?

James Altucher, one of my favorite writers, wrote that he doesn’t vote in general elections.

“I have no political anti-establishment reason for not voting. I’m not an anarchist. I just don’t see why I should vote.

“A vote is a choice between two elaborate theatrical productions…

“It’s a choice between the aesthetics of Star Wars versus Indiana Jones.

“It’s a vote to see which artist more cleverly evokes our mythological and unconscious responses to the perilous world around us.”

I don’t know how to criticize what James wrote here. How is he wrong? He’s not.

We award the most prominent and potentially important job in the country—possibly the world—to whoever fudges truth, avoids scandal and smears opponents most effectively.

I hope even the most ardent Hillary supporters and/or Trump haters can find it within themselves to see the one (in my opinion) objectively good thing to come from Trump’s election regardless of how effective or ineffectively he holds office: ANYONE with a loud-enough microphone can have their ideas heard and be elected to public office.

This reminds me of the time I learned about that big, glistening ballsack being photographed with children. Because Mr. Balls proves anything is possible.

Maybe We Could Change Things If We Didn’t Do What We Always Do

You know that thing you do?

Where you REALLY give a shit about politics for a few weeks or months leading up to an election, and then once it’s over—whether or not your preferred candidates win—you tune out and get back to the business of worrying about car payments, binge-watching Netflix, job hunting, your favorite sports team, Hollywood gossip, paying for your kids’ college, etc.?

I get it. That’s pretty much what I do.

But whether you’re the kind of person who believes Trump is an answer to our frustrations with Washington politics as usual, or believes he’s a threat to our way of life, or who simply shares my dismay at the idea that we were put in the position of electing a president from two people fundamentally DISLIKED and UNTRUSTED by six out of 10 voters, I hope you’ll agree:

This can’t happen again.

Do you want real-life human beings untarnished by the Washington political machine—people with the intellect, talent, and temperament to instill authentic change—to be elected into office?

Now is the time to find and informally nominate those people. Now is the time to start building social media campaigns. Now is the time to start getting those people in front of the 2020 voters.

We can sit around waiting for the machine to spit out some more canned candidates which inspire hatred, criminal charges, and Twitter wars; or we can find kind, sane, smart people—the kind of people you know at work, or in town, or leading an organization—and we can start introducing the BEST PEOPLE with the best ideas to the future voters craving the kind of leadership EVERYONE will respect and follow, even during disagreement.

Like people struggling in their troubled marriages, this is either one of the most-important things in the world and a problem worth putting in effort to solve.

Or it’s not.

In which case, has everybody seen the new Rogue One movie trailer?

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How to Feel Grateful, Vol. 2

daily-gratitudeI’m on a never-ending pursuit of happiness.

You are, too. You might not realize that’s what you’re doing. But you are.

Our human instinct is to grab, and take, and capitalize, and steal, and stuff our pockets, and hoard.

Me, me, me.

How can I have more?

How can I benefit?

How can I feel the best?

Sometimes, I don’t have answers. Only questions.

But sometimes, I have answers.

Sometimes, I actually know what the hell I’m talking about.

How to Feel Happy

I titled this post “How to Feel Grateful, Vol. 2” (You can read Vol. 1 here—though it’s among my least-favorite posts), because gratitude is a prerequisite to happiness.

You will not feel the thing we label “happiness,” if you are not first grateful for all that you have.

And you have A LOT.

“Life is short, life is very short. I like life. I like it. I feel like even if it ends up being short, I got lucky to get—to have it, because life is an amazing gift when you think about what you get with a basic life. Not even a particularly lucky life, or a healthy life. If you have a life, it’s a—here is your boilerplate deal with life. This is basic cable, what you get, when you get life. You get to be on earth. First of all, oh my God, what a location.

“This is earth, and for trillions of miles in every direction it fucking sucks. So bad! It’s so shitty that your eyes bolt out of your head, because it sucks so bad. You get to be on earth and look at shit as long as you’re not blind or whatever it is, that you get to be here, you get to eat food. You get to put bacon in your mouth! I mean, when you have bacon in your mouth, it doesn’t matter who is president or anything, you just ahh, ahhhh. Every time I’m eating bacon I think, ‘I could die right now,’ and I mean it. That’s how good life is.” – Louis CK

Here’s how to feel happy:

1. Love yourself.

2. Give more than you take.

a. Give more than you take in your human relationships. Do the little things. Say nice things. Don’t say mean things. Apologize. Say “Thank you.” Say “I love you.” When you feel like you’re getting more than you’re giving, you should work extra hard to give more. Like a contest.

b. Give more than you take in your career. Treat the people you deal with—coworkers and customers—with respect. Give, give, give. Do more. Try harder. Be the best. Then, they give you more money. If they don’t give you more money, another employer will because they want the best person on their team. When you really figure it out, you eventually just make your own job.

c. Give more than you take spiritually. I don’t know what you believe. For the purposes of this, I’m not sure it matters. Just don’t pray and plead and beg when the shit hits the fan. Don’t cry out for help without being appreciative of life’s blessings also. Pray when it’s good. Or just say “Thank you” to the universe. Mean it. Feel it. Bottle that good. Then give some of it to someone else so that they can do the same.

3. Get plenty of sleep.

4. Exercise.

5. Be kind to others.

6. Don’t procrastinate.

“But Matt! You’re totally miserable! Why should I listen to you?”

Don’t, if you don’t want to. Feel shitty, like me. Knock yourself out.

I know I’m right because it’s hard. I know I’m right because it sounds like work. I know it’s hard because these are all of the things I’m NOT doing.

My favorite writer has already written it all a hundred times a hundred different ways and he says it all much better than I do.

You should read it. And you should pretend it’s the most-important thing you’ve ever read.

Then you should change your life.

Thank You

Today we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States.

A day to count our blessings. A day to say “thanks.”

I am grateful for the air I breathe.

I am grateful for my beautiful son.

I am grateful for a warm home on a cold day.

I am grateful for a reliable vehicle to get me to my destinations.

I am grateful for food.

I am grateful for music.

I am grateful for family.

I am grateful for friends.

I am grateful for you.

I am grateful for another opportunity to keep trying. Each day, a chance to make my life what I want it to be. A chance to wake up and do what is necessary to achieve peace. To seize happiness and make it mine.

It won’t be by frantically grabbing scraps as if there isn’t enough to go around.

It will be by sharing the treasure trove with others. By sharing a bottomless well of joy with everyone willing to make the journey there, and by encouraging the unwilling to try.

I am alive.

I am blessed.

I am loved.

I love.

You keep looking for miracles, but you don’t always see them.

Go find the nearest mirror and take a good, hard, long look.

Because you’re the miracle.

And I’ve never felt more gratitude for you than I do right now.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Sept. 11, 2001: A Reflection on Freedom

WTC memorial

What are we most afraid of? Being hurt? Or being scared?

It’s the jumpers plummeting to their deaths that I’ll always think of first.

A half hour earlier, everyone in those buildings was simply minding their own business, perhaps frustrated by a conflict at home that morning, or excited for a date that night, or maybe pleasantly distracted by the picture-perfect Tuesday in New York City.

Whatever was on their minds was quickly replaced by the commercial airliner crashing into their office building.

I imagine most of them figured out pretty quickly what had happened. I imagine many of them remained hopeful that firefighters would extinguish the flames, and that everyone would later exit in an orderly fashion.

But it couldn’t have been long before smoke infiltrated the upper floors making breathing difficult or impossible.

Desperate people were using jackets and shirts to flag for help that would never come.

The writing was on the wall. Sooner or later, they realized it. They were all going to die.

Human beings. People just like you and me watching as co-workers decided: I’m not burning to death.

“I can’t take it anymore. I’ve gotta jump,” they might have said, before disappearing out the window.

After living entire lives, dealing with the ups and downs of youth and adulthood, a typical workday turned into a choice: Burn alive or jump 1,000 feet to death?

The fall from the top of the World Trade Center is a full 10 seconds, at least.

Take a moment to count to 10. To consider the length of the fall.

What does a person think about for a full 10 seconds while committing unplanned suicide?

I didn’t shed tears for all of the people who died in the plane crashes and subsequent explosions. Not right away, at least.

But when I saw those people hurling themselves out of the upper-floor windows of the World Trade Center 12 years ago today, the tears started to fall.

The Fallout

It wasn’t good, those first hours and days following the attacks.

Everyone was scared. Uncertain.

People were afraid to fly. The federal government instituted its color-coded terror threat alert chart. It always seemed to get elevated to Orange whenever I was going through security checkpoints at the airport.

Terrorism is frightening. Because the victims never deserve what they get. Because justice can never be served.

But people tried.

Americans with small brains started to blame everyone with brown skin for their pain and anger.

Between 2002-2008, about 13,000 civil rights complaints were reported in the United States to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Imagine how many weren’t reported.

I remember feeling sorry for every Muslim-American I’d see.

But I also remember being part of the problem. I was never thrilled to see a few young men of Middle Eastern descent getting on my flights. I was, because of their skin color and/or nationality, suspicious of them. It was unwarranted paranoia. Hell, it was racism.

I remember being at Chicago O’Hare Airport once waiting for a connecting flight.

I glanced over to see a guy about my age in a suit and tie working on his laptop. He was of Middle Eastern descent. His computer’s wallpaper was the movie poster for the film Syriana—a political film about the various entities fighting for control of the Persian Gulf’s oil fields.

The movie is not overtly anti-American, but it certainly points some—perhaps deserved—fingers in our direction.

It’s not sympathetic to terrorism, but seems to suggest it is an obvious career choice for many young men growing up impoverished in that part of the world.

Here’s all I know: In that moment, I just knew that random, well-dressed Middle Eastern guy waiting for my flight was trouble.

I was afraid.

And I almost didn’t get on the plane.

But I did. I was nervous. I remember sitting in the back on a mostly empty flight so nothing was behind me. And, of course, the flight was without incident.

The guy probably lived in Chicago or Seattle or Philadelphia his entire life.

I try REALLY hard to be rational. To be reasonable. To be fair. To be kind.

But that’s what the terror attacks a dozen years ago did to me and many others. They mind-fucked us into judging people who deserved better. And into being afraid of everything that we didn’t understand.

I’d rather be dead than hateful. I mean that.

Lessons in Courage

I don’t know how to defeat fear.

I only know that it’s worth trying.

When I think back on my life and the things I was afraid of, fear only went away once I worked up the courage to try something and survive it.

Twelve years ago today, families and friends of the 9/11 victims were feeling all the same fears as the rest of us. Only those were the least of their concerns.

Wives lost husbands.

Children lost mothers.

Parents lost children.

Brothers lost sisters.

Cousins. Uncles. Best friends. Grandparents. Neighbors.

Gone.

Because 19 assholes believed their religious and political causes warranted mass murder.

I can’t begin to imagine the fear widows and widowers felt. The void left from divorce is brutal. What about when your partner never comes home? For reasons our brains can’t process? Due to the whims of mad men we’ve never met or heard of?

How do you pick up the pieces from such tragedy?

It’s beyond my understanding.

But people found a way. Brave mothers and fathers who were left to raise children alone. Kids who grew up with 9/11 victim tags forever taped to their backs. Firefighters who continued to run into burning buildings.

If they can make it, can’t the rest of us?

If they can persevere, can’t we all?

If they can show that level of courage and fortitude under unimaginable duress, shouldn’t I? Shouldn’t you?

The Divorce Fallout

My wife of nine years—a girl I’ve known since we were 18—and the person I trusted most in the world ended our marriage on Easter Sunday this year, and I quickly learned she was sleeping with another man.

The psychological effects of that have yet to be fully realized.

I haven’t even flirted with the idea of investing my emotions in someone else.

But sooner or later, it’s bound to happen.

Will I get jealous and paranoid?

Will I be afraid to commit?

Will I project my fears and insecurities and anger toward my ex-wife onto this new, undeserving person?

I don’t know.

I’m not in control of my fears.

These are things I won’t know until they happen.

I only know what kind of person I WANT to be.

The kind of person who doesn’t let the past poison the present.

The kind of person who evaluates everyone on his or her own merit—on the sum of my experiences with them.

I’m afraid I might not get it right. That I’ll push people away.

I just want to do whatever the best thing is, in life and love. Those answers aren’t always obvious.

And I hope you’ll join me in my efforts to not let leftover fear and scarring from previous experiences adversely and unfairly affect our future relationships.

Let Freedom Ring

It has been 12 years since the Twin Towers fell. Since the Pentagon was attacked. Since Flight 93 went down in Shanksville, PA.

Since all those brave firefighters lost their lives.

Since all those tear-filled phone calls were made saying goodbye to loved ones in those final moments.

Since those desperate men and women stuck in the upper floors of the World Trade Center decided falling to their deaths in lower Manhattan presented the least-painful, least-frightening option.

A lot of the anger has dissipated now. Perhaps not with the families directly touched by the day’s events. Perhaps not with the brave soldiers who have seen some serious shit as a result of the ensuing military conflicts. Perhaps not with people scattered throughout the Middle East who have had to endure the fallout from exploding bombs and toppled regimes.

But for typical Americans like me? We don’t think about it that much.

We’ll never forget. We promised we wouldn’t. And it’s a promise we’ll keep.

But it doesn’t dominate our thoughts anymore. We don’t freak out before air travel anymore. We don’t assume everyone with brown skin hates America.

We’ve healed in a lot of ways. And now we can live again. Pursuing our personal passions and interests. Taking vacations. Enjoying nights out. Attending weddings and concerts and sporting events and church and parties and baby showers.

That’s freedom, right? True freedom?

Not being sad?

Not being angry?

Not being afraid?

Isn’t that what all of us really want?

I think so.

This matters to everyone coping with their own brand of sadness and tragedy and life obstacles.

We can trust that time will heal. That our negative emotions will eventually be replaced by a new sense of normalcy and acceptance and hope.

Because we’ve seen it in our own lives and in the lives of brave people in places like New York, Washington, and everywhere that tragedy has struck.

And this matters for our country—and for our world.

The recognition that hate and violence and death make life shittier.

And that love and peace and hope make life beautiful.

Let freedom ring.

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