A Nation of Strangers

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An update on my call to “pierce bubbles” from just after the election. Here is my report of where things stand and my take on what the mood of the electorate is.

Earlier this spring while speaking with educators and mentors of mine who were visiting New York City from my hometown in the midwest, a voice called out to me “you live here?”

“Yes, ma’am, I do”, I replied. A politeness that does not leave me just because I’m in Urbania now, which is filled with politeness by the way, it’s just a different sort of politeness. And it’s politeness that demands awareness of impoliteness.

“I’m sorry” she quipped, meaning it as a joke and an insult. I did not take offense, other than to say that I liked living here and that I chose to live here. I was not aware that I am a person to be pitied for living where my family chose to settle.

In the same month, the long and destructive journalistic, or as he would prefer it to be called, “political analyst” career (i.e. his opinion) of Bill O’Reilly has gone up in flames, ending with a 25 million dollar pay check, because of course it did. Trevor Noah cleverly covered this occasion with a takedown of O’Reilly that has been done time and time again by Jon Stewart before him, but he brought something to the forefront that I think is revealing of my entire efforts to “pierce bubbles.”

Bill O’Reilly is and always was a caricature of what the American mind and spirit has become. Spewing rhetoric that divides us, spending more time on fighting against something than fighting for something. His world of make-believe American history, faux virtue-signaling, attempts to monopolize patriotism, and assassination porn became our own for many Americans as Fox News and other corporate media outlets became consumed by the “sensationalism and conflict bias.” And that’s what the real bias in the media has always been. O’Reilly pushed his fears of the “other” onto the American people on a nightly basis. His comically absurd story of visiting the famous Harlem restaurant Sylvia’s in my view, is the most striking example of his worldview, and what has increasingly become–a defining reason why we’ve become a nation of strangers.

I couldn’t get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia’s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it’s run by blacks, primarily black patron-ship. … There wasn’t one person in Sylvia’s who was screaming ‘M-Fer, I want more iced tea. — Bill O’Reilly

O’Reilly had built his entire view of black culture and the capital of black America–Harlem, from stereotypes, hearsay, and never sought out sources that would disagree with his viewpoint because most of our mainstream political discourse has just been reduced to a Google search (i.e. google something to confirm what I already think and want confirmed). The rare times he sought out opposing viewpoints — O’Reilly would yell at them at the top of his lungs on his cable news or talk radio program.

Folks, we’re a nation of strangers in 2017 and we have been for some time. The United States of America is not just many different states but many different states of mind. And this is actually part of the reason why we’ve been so dynamic and vibrant historically. But this has always come with a steep price.

What this election has revealed to me and what subsequent events have revealed since is that our American political factions hold no respect for one another, and that this disrespect has reached the personal level.

If we make it through the next four years, I can only hope that both parties do something to remedy this, because until we have removed all of this type of rhetoric and basic lack of civility, decency, and respect from our systems, this nation will continue to be hopelessly divided.

If our two major parties are incapable of doing this, which is especially saddening and maddening when you factor in just how similar they are about the big ticket economic and foreign policy issues, then a viable new third party movement will be needed, not only to address the growing divide between the political and economic leaders and the people, but to also serve as mediator and bubble piercer between irrational appeal to D vs. R, American against American.

Until next time, take care of yourself out there.

 

 

In Order to Win the Future — We Must Rediscover the Past

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The above photograph (courtesy of either Jacqueline Van Moer or myself…I don’t remember) is Alexander Hamilton’s “the Grange” homestead. Hamilton completed this home a few years before he was famously shot by Aaron Burr, another New Yorker, in the famous duel just across the Hudson River from where we live. Hamilton, although born elsewhere, is the quintessential first generation American. Hard-working, enterprising, ambitious, and brilliant. He served as Aide-de-camp to General Washington during the American Revolution and was our nation’s first Treasury Secretary. You may recognize him from the ten dollar bill, and now Lin Manuel Miranda’s famous musical.

Full disclosure, I’m an amateur historian. But I’ve always read and loved history. Much of my private, personal (not academic or campaign experience) political education has been learned and read through a historical lens. I’ll do my best, but I’m no pro.

Agreeing Loudly dot com introduces you to two new historical series; one that will be locally-based, at least my version of local (New York), and the other a national story intended to give the read perspective on our ongoing, beleaguered, but bizarrely nonexistent national conversation.

I invite you all to help me out on this journey, and point things out that I am overlooking or may have missed. Give your thoughts and feedback and contribute, especially *actual* historian Allan Branstiter of “The Margin of Error” and a frequent “Agreeing Loudly” guest and contributor. As well as Justin Norris, especially for the latter half (discussed below).

Also, especially for longtime residents of NYC and NYS — feel free to join in on the conversation. Come one, come all, and bring friends.

For anyone friends, family, acquaintances, or readers that will be visiting the area — I’ll also try to use this space to recommend really good walking tours or double-decker bus tours that are affordable and valuable.

In the spirit of “piercing bubbles” I’d also like to invite any other amateur or professional historians to contribute to this site and explore their states in a similar or unique manner.

I’ll be covering the New York-focused series in two places: right here at AL.com in the form of longer articles and in more photographic and anecdotal form on Instagram @nycwalkinghistory – which will no doubt be changed to @nywalkingonhistory or @nyswalkingonhistory as goals are accomplished. What goals? Read below:

Double-decker bus tour in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.

Goal — in the next three years (2017, 2018, and 2019) — my beautiful wife, Jacki, and I (and sometimes just me) will be doing a walking historical tour on the streets of every neighborhood in the five boroughs of New York City. We’ve already covered nearly every neighborhood in the Borough of Manhattan, and have been pretty decent progress in the Bronx and Brooklyn as well. In the years to come, we’ll be covering the rest of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, as well as venturing past CitiField (where the New York Mets, my National League loyalties lie there) in Queens and getting out to Staten Island.

Furthermore, and especially as we get closer to covering every neighborhood in New York City, we’ll be venturing Upstate via the Hudson Valley and into Long Island past JFK airport and be doing for the 62 Counties of New York State what we did for the neighborhoods of New York City.

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Unfortunately and unfairly, New York City hogs most of attention and spotlight in the public imagination (for understandable reasons). However, there is so much history in each and every county. A lot of it — I don’t even know yet, but I’m excited to find out. In addition to NYC, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley, you’ll find seven other main regions Upstate. I speculate (and we’ll see if I’m right) that the Finger Lakes area is not too different from the Lakes Area of Minnesota where I grew up. I’m also really excited to see Buffalo, NY — and see how similar it is to Duluth, MN, my only previous exposure to a Great Lakes city outside of Chicago, IL.

The second major historical running series that will begin relatively soon is the story of US History as told through Consequential Presidential Elections.

Ideally, I’ll get a bit of an assist from resident scholar Justin Norris, Carson Starkey, Allan Branstiter, etc. for this series. Once again, I’m an amateur historian. And I’ll do my best.

There will be no schedule and the new articles will be published as they are researched, completed, and edited. No time-table and no promises. But I promise this won’t become like Aaron Gleeman’s top 40 Twins of all time series.

A brief rundown of what elections and the time periods around them that I will be researching and writing on:

1800

(Jefferson v. Adams, and the first peaceful transfer of power)

1828

(Jackson v. Quincy Adams, and beginnings of the rural Democratic Party tradition)

1860

(Lincoln v. Douglass v. Breckenridge v. Bell, and the Civil War)

1896

(McKinley v. Jennings Bryan, and Populism on the Prairie)

1912

(Wilson v. Roosevelt v. Taft, the two party system holds, and the Grand Ole Party rejects progressivism for good)

1932

(FDR vs. Hoover, the New Deal, the new policy consensus, and the leader that history called for)

1960-1964-1968

(JFK v. Nixon, LBJ v. Goldwater, Humphrey v. Nixon, a New Generation, a second New Deal, the tumultuous year that was 1968, and the beginnings of the break-up of the New Deal coalition and the New Deal itself)

1980

(Reagan vs. Carter, American Optimism, the opening of an era of boomer short-sightedness, and the beginning of the end for the New Deal)

1992

(Clinton v. H.W. Bush v. Perot, the Democratic Party sells its soul to win back the White House, betrays working people and families, and the boomer Clinton Party triumphant)

2008

(Obama vs. McCain, History made, Opportunities Missed, and the first Information Age election)

 

A Millennial Couple’s Journey From Saint Paul to New York City: Part Three – Morgantown, Mountains, and Entrance to the East Coast

by Troy M. Olson

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Our view entering Manhattan last August.

Morgantown, WV — Jacki and I began the last leg of our journey driving over the Appalachians on what was turning out to be a longer drive than we had planned. We thought we could get to New York City with all of our possessions in three days. However, since we had the Penske truck for five and a very angry cat, we took the more scenic route. We took our time. No regrets at all. Because traveling further south than we needed to allowed us to see family the night before officially arriving.

D.C. Suburbs — I got see my East Coast relatives on the night of August 1st, which was badly needed. Outside of coming back to Minnesota for funerals, seeing the Jones family of Maryland has been the only time this past year I’ve seen family. While I had experienced this lack of familiar connection before during my year long deployment earlier this decade, this time it affected me more because it was self-imposed and I was always just a plane ride away from the Midwest. As Jacki and I get more and more established out here, this is definitely something we will rectify.

The next day was going to be a long one, and Harrison Potter needed some exercise. He met his nearly identical tuxedo twin in McNugget. Several mosquito bites, even more kitty hair loss, and a night spent breaking things and we were ready to get to our new home.

East Coast and Our New Home — New York City, Borough of Manhattan, Harlem.

By midday on August 2nd of last year, nearly a year to the date where Frodo was stabbed on Weathertop (oops…wrong story), we arrived at our new home in the Heart of Harlem and began the arduous process of unloading the Penske truck. I saw the road ahead and it was not pretty. I immediately called the only human being I knew at the time in New York City, my lifelong friend and co-writer of various screenplays, famous pre-mudgeon and Brooklyn film industry alum Zach Kangas. One year later, I’m happy to report I know hundreds of fellow New Yorkers now, to varying degrees. However, only Zach would help me unload a Penske truck.

Jacki and I arrived in New York last year without guaranteed jobs, very little to our names, too many books to count (let alone, fit in our apartment), and about seven craft beers. Objectively speaking, moving here was insane. One year later though, I know now more than ever that it was the right move.

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What We’ve Learned So Far…  Jacki and I are now employed and more or less have been since the start. In fact, we work every single day in some capacity. Her in finance, and me in real estate. We could not have got here without the love and support of our extended families.

It is not lost on me that many would correctly point out, that we are gentrifiers in our new neighborhood. We are. It is a fact I’m very aware of each and every day. In a city as diverse and concentrated as New York, you end up seeing just about everything you can imagine. It’s easy to disappear into it. Looking back on a journey that took my wife and I from growing up in towns of under 10,000 to the second largest city on Earth (Tokyo, Japan is the largest), I cannot help but feel more connected to our common humanity than I’ve ever felt. Whether it is thinking back to then or looking at now and where we want to go.

Jacki and I have experienced nothing but a very welcoming and positive attitude. The old adage that New Yorkers are aggressive and mean is not necessarily true. I would argue New Yorkers are direct and to the point. While I always retain a good amount of my midwestern passive aggressive, in fact, a good amount of my satirical nature depends on it, the direct and “I’m outta time” nature of this city suits me at this stage in my life.

The one time either of us (Jacki) did face something unpleasant, it led to my favorite sentiment of all this past winter. Jacki was riding the subway when an older (white) woman yelled at her for being new to the neighborhood, for being a gentrifier. Irony being completely lost on this woman, she continued to single out Jacki until eventually, a black man stood up and said: “Everyone is welcome in this neighborhood.” This sentiment is undeniably America on its best days. It should be true for all communities and neighborhoods. Yes communities and neighborhoods. Don’t be fooled by the skyscrapers. Every American city is a series of communities where people find belonging and commonality each and every day, a series of neighborhoods both famous and unknown, new and old, and a series of streets named after Presidents, civil rights leaders, or just made up to be a numbered grid so tourists can’t get lost.

“Everyone is welcome in this neighborhood” is the country that I believe in. I hope it’s the one that you believe in too.

Agreeing Loudly’s Allan Branstiter Receives Accolades for Coverage of Veterans’ Issues

Allan Accolades

LOS ANGELES, CA—Agreeing Loudly columnist Allan Branstiter received the accolades for his deft and insightful coverage of veterans issues. Jack and Jason, two prestigious and influential New media, poured praise for Branstiter’s work.

“I have been browsing online more than 3 hours nowadays,” Jack remarked about Branstiter’s article covering the obvious plight of a Minneapolis veteran who spend days soliciting the thanks of civilians on Memorial Day , “yet I by no means discovered any attention-grabbing article like yours. It is beautiful value sufficient for me.”

Jason was evidently more impressed by Branstiter’s journalistic bravery, explaining “I believe that you simply could do with [just] a few p.c. to power the message house a bit, but instead of that, this is an excellent blog. . . . I will certainly be black.”

Both urged Agreeing Loudly’s editorial staff to pay Branstiter market rates for his contributions to their website. His peers universally agree.

“To be honest,” mused Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal, “as exceptional as Troy Olson and Carson Starkey are, you can find writers just like them pretty easily. Allan Branstiter’s the unicorn of online journalism. You’re not going to find another Allan Branstiter.”

“Forget once in a generation,” stated David Brooks, “he’s more of a once in a lifetime talent.”

Retired public radio personality Garrison Keillor was more subdued in his praise for Branstiter’s growing influence. “I consider it an intensely personal failure on my part that Allan Branstiter hates me,” he said, “I worked for decades under the apparently misguided conception that I was good at my job; however, I’m clearly the embodiment of bad white liberalism and a stain upon the very term ‘entertainer.'”

While the Agreeing Loudly editorial staff could not be reached at press time, Branstiter’s colleague Carson  Starkey offered his praise. “Allan Branstiter is the Ta-Nehisi Coates of America’s veteran community,” he remarked. “Inequality and injustice flee at the sound of his keystroke.”

The Associated Press attempted to contact Jack and Jason; however, a “trojan horse” cracked their internal email server and emptied the organization’s trust fund.

A Millennial Couple’s Journey From Saint Paul to New York City: Part Two – Is This Heaven? No, It’s Iowa

by Troy M. Olson

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Goodbye, Grand Avenue, Saint Paul. It sure was a great ride.

Now that I’ve finally wrestled the pen and paper away from professional instigator Harry J. Potter (tuxedo cat version), I’m digging into my journal (and likely horcrux for Harry) to tell our version of the journey from Saint Paul, MN to New York, NY.

Leaving Minnesota

We spent our last few days making the rounds to our favorite restaurants and favorite friends and people. Admittedly, I may have indulged in this a bit more while Jacki spent 90-plus degree days packing our stuff, the stuff we couldn’t get rid of and did not throw away. I feel okay admitting this bout of laziness now because I ended up driving the Penske “big rig” the entire way. Although the move was certain, perhaps I wanted to soak in every last drop of Minnesota unsweetened tea. We were excited, nervous, and pre-nostalgic. Very millennial.

After packing up the truck all day, with the help of parents, we were finally on the road at about 8 P.M. Harry was excited, or terrified. Or excited. Or terrified. We’ll get to that later. Later that night we crossed the Minnesota-Iowa border. While I’ve spent significant time in the Middle East, England, the state of North Dakota, and the state of Missouri in my life, this was the first time I could ever truly say I was leaving Minnesota, perhaps for good. It was bittersweet.

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