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Exploring America’s faith-based politics from Chester Street to Vatican City

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Above, Ralph Waller crosses Chester St. to engage the opposition in dialogue; below, Bob Hill returns the gesture from the other side as the discussion continued. The pro-and anti-Trump sides did find common ground on a concern for the environment. Photos/Roger Bianchini unless otherwise noted

We have reported that at times the common-ground dialogue that began in April across party lines – and Chester Street – between anti-and pro-Trump supporters gathered in downtown Front Royal on Wednesdays seemed to be on the wane. That observation coincided with the arrival of a faith-based pro-Trump contingent focused on prayerful public support of the president and reproductive rights issues.

Some friendly, even playfully hostile dialogue between original pro-Trump supporters Michael and Ralph Waller and Vigil for Democracy, anti-Trump agenda organizer Len Sherp and other vigil participants continues. However, we have been told attempts to expand that dialogue to the new pro-Trump arrivals have been either rebuffed or met with an impenetrable ideological wall of rhetoric. In fact, this reporter was stonewalled in an attempt to get on-the-record comments from the new group on the nature of their support of the president and week-to-week perspectives on some of the more dramatic political developments surrounding the president over the second half of 2017.

Above, in early May 2017 Ralph Waller was still crossing the street to engage in dialogue with anti-Trump Vigil for Democracy demonstrators. Later that month the Wallers were joined by a faith-based, pro-Trump contingent of about 8 to 10 people more prone to prayer than dialogue with the other side.

Coincidentally as these situations were developing, this reporter was apprised of a commentary in the Catholic journal La Civilta Cattolica published last July. After reading the spiritual-socio-political analysis titled “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism” we contacted staff of what is described as a Rome-based, Jesuit-run, Far Eastern journal to inquire about reprint rights in part or total. We were given reprint authority with attribution and publication of a link to the original article.

Why were we interested in reprint rights? – Because of reports that some Vigil for Democracy participants were experiencing the very symptoms of this politically-driven “surprising new ecumenism” on Wednesdays, right here in Front Royal, Virginia.

First, a little background:

Ecumenism is defined as “a movement promoting worldwide unity among religions through greater cooperation and improved understanding”.

According to multiple online sources, what sets Protestant evangelicals apart from others of their respective faiths is a core, generally “born again” conversion belief in Jesus Christ as the lone path to salvation. This “faith above acts” belief is so stringent that evangelicals believe that even a good life full of good acts is futile without the corresponding “conversion belief” in Christ as the path to spiritual salvation.

Rather than good works being the groundwork for human redemption, the evangelical believes “true Christian faith” is at the root of a good life, which is therefore reduced to a consequence of faith, rather than a cause or justification for redemption and heavenly reward.

Online research identifies “Catholic Integralism” as an “anti-pluralist trend” born in 19th century Spain, France and Italy seeking to assert “a Catholic underpinning to all social and political action,” with a corresponding attempt “to minimize or eliminate any competing ideological actors”.

While falling short of criticizing the philosophy, The Josias website notes Integralism within the context of Catholicism is now “largely associated with hyper-traditionalist reactionaries who refuse to recognize the ideological realignment of the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council.” Vatican II is generally recognized as an effort, circa 1962-1965, to refocus and keep the Catholic Church relevant to the modern world. One of its primary directives was ecumenical dialogue and cooperation with other faiths.

Second Vatican Council, the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, the second held at the Vatican (1962-65): it is the move toward inter-faith dialogue and respect forwarded from this council that Catholic Integralists reject. – Public Domain Photos/St. Peters exterior Wolfgang Stuck; inside Lothar Wolleh

The La Civilta Cattolica commentary on the emergence of a fundamentalist ecumenical alliance between U.S. Catholics and Protestants is co-authored by the journal’s Editor Father Antonio Sparado and Reverend Marcelo Figueroa. Figueroa is a Presbyterian minister and editor-in-chief of the Argentine edition of L’Observatore Romano, a daily newspaper based in Vatican City.

Their analysis describes this strange, new ecumenism as an increasingly dogmatic and apocalyptic vision of politics as a battle of ultimate good versus ultimate evil. It is a view of politics and the world that does not leave much room for dialogue or compromise to achieve mutually satisfactory ends. This distinctly American brand of fundamentalist ecumenism is described by Sparado and Figueroa as an “ecumenism of hate”.

Introducing a new dynamic

Above, the faith-based group eventually grew to about 15 to 20, with varying numbers of children and teens joining the adults week to week. Prevalent through the summer and fall of 2017 were flags representing the Knights Templar and President Trump flanking the American flag. Below, as the 2017 counter demonstrations progressed reproductive rights issues served as a basis for tying the president to faith and God.

After that foray into religious perspectives, we find ourselves back at the intersection of East Main and Chester Streets in Front Royal, Virginia, on Wednesday afternoons. What symptoms of La Civilta Cattolica’s “strange new ecumenism” were being experienced here?

We were told an increasingly hostile, even angry attitude emanating from the faith-based, pro-Trump demonstrators, as well as anti-Semitic and racist comments made in direct conversations – conversations overheard by people from both sides of the street.

Vigil organizer Len Sherp initially told us of a conversation with a regular faith-based female pro-Trump demonstrator, off the record. He later went on the record when we explained our interest in an exploration of the “strange new ecumenism” described in La Civilta Cattolica.

During one of the efforts to dialogue with the newer pro-Trump contingent that originally appeared marching behind a portrait of Mary, mother of Jesus, in late May 2017, Sherp reported being questioned about his faith. He said a woman he later identified at subsequent demonstrations asked if he was “a Jew”. Somewhat taken aback, Sherp said he thought the question irrelevant, adding, “But yes, I happen to be Jewish.

“She replied along the lines of ‘I thought so. You’re all a bunch of Bolsheviks, and the Jews are responsible for everything that’s wrong in the world today.’ I asked her if we Jews in the U.S. – all 7 million of us – should pick up and move to Israel or maybe Canada. And though she confessed to not having considered it, it would be fine with her if we did,” Sherp recalled.

He reported one of the original pro-Trump demonstrators, Ralph Waller, as taken off guard by the exchange; later telling Sherp “how much he respected Jewish people.” Waller later confirmed overhearing the conversation, verifying Sherp’s account.

Several other Vigil for Democracy participants reported a subsequent conversation with another woman with what was described as a thick Australian accent. One woman from the vigil side asked her opinion of Australia’s native Aborigine population, to which she is reported to have replied, “They are hawff human, hawff beast,” after which she crossed the street to the pro-Trump side.

Sherp elaborated he could not be sure if the pro-Trump contingent was her intended destination or she had been a passerby who decided to engage both groups. However, another vigil regular said they were sure they had seen the woman in question on the pro-Trump side during a few more mid-2017 demonstrations, without again interacting on the vigil side of the street.

During this same period of time Sherp also noted a generalized level of hostility emanating from the faith-based Trump supporters that led some vigil participants to disengage.

“The hostility and anger emanating from the Trump side on occasion was off-putting to say the least, and down-right frightening to some. One of our usual participants, who had brought his grandson with him, has indicated that he won’t be coming anymore, because he couldn’t explain to his grandson why those people were so angry; and he feared what it might lead to,” Sherp told us.

Children have participated on both sides, though in larger numbers with the pro-Trump contingent (note: these photos were NOT taken the day of the referenced ‘Hate Makes Us All Ugly’ incident.)

This reporter observed that as the faith-based pro-Trump demonstrations continued into the summer, they increasingly appeared focused directly across Chester Street toward the anti-Trump vigil group. At the same time, for the most part Vigil for Democracy demonstrators appeared to continue their focus on passing foot and vehicular traffic. And while Sherp himself occasionally engaged in across-the-street political banter with the Wallers, he eventually cautioned his fellow “vigilites” working traffic along Chester Street from direct responses to taunts from demonstrators on the other side of the street due to the potential for rising tensions of a less than playful nature.

One incident from this period reflective of a generalized hostility, involving a perhaps 12-year-old girl accompanying the pro-Trump adults, was also observed by this reporter. While speaking with Ralph Waller on the Trump side of the street, trying to identify a spokesperson for the newer pro-Trump contingent, the girl brandishing a “Honk for Trump” sign came up to a nearby pro-Trump adult and reported, “They have a sign that says ‘Hate makes us all ugly’ – maybe that’s why they’re all so ugly.”

And while a glance across the street identified no one this observer would identify as physically “ugly”, the comment appeared to be taken in stride by the adult male the girl was reporting to.

Back to the Vatican

The type of conflict-oriented “we’re good, you’re evil” political stances described above are exactly what the La Civilta Cattolica article on faith-based American politics is about.

“Theirs is a prophetic formula: fight the threats to American Christian values and prepare for the imminent justice of an Armageddon, a final showdown between Good and Evil, between God and Satan,” the La Civilta Cattolica authors write, adding, “In this sense, every process – be it of peace, dialogue, etc. – collapses before the needs of the end, the final battle against the enemy … Such a unidirectional reading of the biblical texts can anesthetize consciences or actively support the most atrocious and dramatic portrayals of a world that is living beyond the frontiers of its own ‘promised land’.”

What do the authors make of this Americanized phenomena of a radicalized political alliance across Christian denominational lines? They call it a “paradox” that transforms a once vibrant spiritual tradition of religious cooperation and inclusion into a “xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls and purifying deportations.” So transformed, the word ecumenism transforms into a spiritual paradox, into “an ecumenism of hate” Father Sparado and Reverend Figueroa assert.

As one U.S. terrorism expert said of the 1979 revolutionary Islamic student siege and hostage-taking at the American Embassy in Iran, “They believe they have God on their side – THAT is a powerful delusion.”

“Intolerance is a celestial mark of purism,” Sparado and Figueroa write, “This meeting over shared objectives happens around such themes as abortion, same-sex marriage, religious education in schools and other matters generally considered moral or tied to values. Both Evangelicals and Catholic Integralists condemn traditional ecumenism and yet promote an ecumenism of conflict that unites them in the nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state.”

‘Intolerance is a celestial mark of purism’ the La Civilta Cattolica authors write. – That sense of divinely-inspired purism doesn’t leave much room for dialogue or compromise. The radically-different perspectives on ‘truth’ across the Chester Street political divide reflect a growing political mood across the nation.

It is a political vision that is incompatible with a secular and democratically-based system of government as outlined by America’s Founding Fathers in the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps that helps explain the faith-based support for Trump – a shared dream of a non-democratic, non-pluralistic, authoritarian State as America’s future. However, it is a vision also incompatible with the beliefs and practice of faith urged by the current spiritual leader of world Catholicism.

The La Civilta Cattolica authors, both reported with close ties to Pope Francis, write, “Clearly there is an enormous difference between these concepts and the ecumenism employed by Pope Francis … His is an ecumenism that moves under the urge of inclusion, peace, encounter and bridges … Francis wants to break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church. Spirituality cannot tie itself to governments or military pacts, for it is at the service of all men and women.”

Pope Francis has emphasized faith as a tool of service to, rather than dominance over, others. He often has washed the feet of the sick and suffering, from lepers to prisoners and African and Muslim immigrants, as seen here. Public Domain Photo/Vatican-frankanswers.com

The 2016 election as ‘spiritual war’

However, the authors point to one platform of the new ecumenism that asserts just such a tie between politics and spirituality.

“There is a shocking rhetoric used, for example, by the writers of “Church Militant”, a successful US-based digital platform that is openly in favor of a political ultra-conservatism and uses Christian symbols to impose itself,” Spadaro and Figueroa write. “This abuse is called ‘authentic Christianity.’ And to show its own preferences, it has created a close analogy between Donald Trump and Emperor Constantine, and between Hilary Clinton and Diocletian. The American elections in this perspective were seen as a ‘spiritual war.’

“This warlike and militant approach seems most attractive and evocative to a certain public, especially given that the victory of Constantine – it was presumed impossible for him to beat Maxentius and the Roman establishment – had to be attributed to a divine intervention: in hoc signo vinces.

“Church Militant asks if Trump’s victory can be attributed to the prayers of Americans. The response suggested is affirmative … This is a very direct message that then wants to condition the presidency by framing it as a divine election.” (Well, maybe if you are prone to mistaking Vladimir Putin for Divinity)

Of a movement claiming to unite faith and politics to a supposedly spiritual end, the authors write that it is a LIE – a lie clearly recognized by Pope Francis, as it appears to have been some 2000 years ago by Jesus Christ.

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” Christ is quoted to have said. It is a statement on face value that appears to draw a clear line in the sand between the political state and the spiritual journey of mankind seeking a path to and understanding of its Creator.

“Francis radically rejects the idea of activating a Kingdom of God on earth as was at the basis of the Holy Roman Empire and similar political and institutional forms, including at the level of a ‘party.’ Understood this way, the ‘elected people’ would enter a complicated political and religious web that would make them forget they are at the service of the world, placing them in opposition to those who are different, those who do not belong – that is the ‘enemy’ …”

The La Civilta Cattolica authors point to an ultraconservative faith-based effort to tie Donald Trump’s election victory to that of Constantine becoming emperor in a long-shot victory over the Roman establishment. While one side of Chester St. may have bought into that notion, the other side has not – though that latter side may see similarities between Constantine and Trump that eludes that duo’s supporters. Constantine-‘By this sign conquer’ statue/Public Domain

But for the Protestant Evangelical and the Catholic Integralist it is a natural step – for all “non-believers” are perceived as enemies who would not be tolerated in the theocratic state they desire. But how strange is it that such religious fundamentalists have tied their political wagon to Donald Trump, by reputation and action one of the least spiritual men to ever occupy the White House?

An example of this tenuous relationship may be illustrated in how the American Christian right reacted to the 2017 reports of an extra-marital affair Donald Trump had with a porn star. Queried about the phenomena, one Vigil for Democracy participant pointed to the “mulligan” (a golfing term for a do-over) offered up by the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins regarding Trump’s reported encounter with Stephanie Clifford, aka adult film star Stormy Daniels, shortly after Melania Trump gave birth to the president’s youngest child.

The Family Research Council (FRC) is a Christian-based advocacy group, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as an “extremist group” with a primary anti-LGBT agenda. It was founded in the early 1980’s and bills itself as the leading American voice for “traditional family values”. The FRC website identifies Perkins as its longest-serving president (since 2003), an ordained minister and former “leading pro-life voice” in the Louisiana State Legislature. According to its website, FRC’s mission is “to advance faith, family and freedom in public policy and the culture from a Christian worldview.”

Family values hypocrisies aside, the promise of movement in their direction on birth control, abortion and religious rights fronts by the president seem to be enough to hold the faith-based Trump line through any kind of scandal. As Trump himself observed of his “base” during his improbable 2016 run to the presidency, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Above, Stephanie Clifford, aka porn-film star Stormy Daniels, who received a $130,000 payment from Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen during 2016 presidential campaign, ostensibly to remain quiet over an alleged sexual affair with Trump shortly after his third wife Melania gave birth to their son. Below, Evangelical-based Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who gave Trump a ‘mulligan’ (do over) on his alleged extra-marital affairs. Stormy Photo/Public Domain-Facebook, Perkins Photo/FRC website

Of the $130,000 of alleged hush money paid by Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign, one sage observer commented, “At least there is one storm Trump will pay for.”

More seriously – well there is a VERY serious point to that “storm” payment observation, especially if you are Puerto Rican, Floridian or Texan – Catholic Sparado and Presbyterian Figueroa write, “There is a need to flee the temptation to project divinity on political power that then uses it for its own ends … Religions cannot consider some people as sworn enemies nor others as eternal friends. Religion should not become the guarantor of the dominant classes. Yet it is this very dynamic with a spurious theological flavor that tries to impose its own law and logic in the political sphere … Triumphalist, arrogant and vindictive ethnicism is actually the opposite of Christianity.”

Sparado and Figueroa reference a May 9, 2017 interview published in the French daily La Croix where Pope Francis points to the example of Christ (the cross as a symbol of sacrifice), not Constantine (the cross as the hilt of a sword of conquest), as the model for true Christian values in the world:

“The contribution of Christianity to a culture is that of Christ washing the feet, or the service and the gift of life. There is no room for colonialism,” the pope told the French journal, adding, “The only crown that counts for the Christian is the one with thorns that Christ wore on high.”

Sparado and Figueroa observe that for the spiritual leader of world Catholicism, true spirituality and true faith must ultimately be used as a check on abuses of power by any socio-political elite, rather than co-opted as the tool of a political establishment seeking to elevate itself to the position of earthbound deity, above the rule of any law or beholding to any sense of a common, universal good or tolerance.

As they conclude, Sparado and Figueroa explore “fear” at the root of what they describe as a political perversion of faith. “It is fear of the breakup of a constructed order and the fear of chaos … The political strategy for success becomes that of raising the tones of the conflictual, exaggerating disorder, agitating the souls of the people by painting worrying scenarios beyond any realism.”

Boy, does that sound familiar to anyone on, say, the fronts of immigration or LGBT rights?

“The appeal to the apocalypse justifies the power desired by a god or colluded in with a god.* And fundamentalism thereby shows itself not to be the product of a religious experience but a poor and abusive perversion of it,” La Civilta Cattolica’s authors conclude.

Back home

‘Pray for Our President’ to keep his hands off any beautiful women in the neighborhood; but that one below looks prepared for any celebrity glad hands.

And so after this long detour through Vatican and European history, as well as La Civilta Cattolica’s pages where we encountered “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism”, we again find ourselves back at the intersection of East Main and Chester Streets, in Front Royal, Virginia, USA.

So, what is to be made of such faith-based political hostility and encounters described along Chester Street reflective of anti-Semiticism, notions of racial superiority, and stereotypical vilification of political opponents passed on to the children?

One might say it indicates that we are part of a world becoming not only smaller due to technological advances, but unfortunately no less mean-spirited than past empires history tells us were built upon bigotry, lies and the stereotyping of “others” as somehow less human, less worthy, less “holy” than the ruling elite and its devotees. – Devotees hypnotized by clinging to the cloak, not of Christ, but to that of an Emperor and the power of the State.

*FOOTNOTE: observe that the La Civilta Cattolica authors write “god” in this passage with a small “g” indicating their belief the “new ecumenism’s” faith is in a false god.

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This Thanksgiving, let’s embrace a resilient new tradition

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For a holiday grounded in tradition, this Thanksgiving is going to feel unsettling: face masks, socially distanced gatherings around an outdoor fire pit, and even Zoom calls with relatives from afar. In the midst of such a shakeup, perhaps the most grounding step we can take is to reflect on our old traditions and whether they truly serve us, our families, and our communities — especially when it comes to the focal point of the holiday for millions of American households: the bird on the table.

The origins of the turkey at the center of our holiday meal are actually murkier than the widely embraced narrative of the “First Thanksgiving” celebrated between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe, which was, in reality, an unremarkable occasion that may not even have featured turkey at all. And, of course, the account completely sidesteps the grim history of raids, murders, and other crimes committed against Native Americans by European colonists. Nonetheless, the turkey took on a starring role in early American literature — particularly the 1827 novel Northwood by Sarah Josepha Hale, who campaigned for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday to bring the U.S. together and stave off the inevitable Civil War. Unfortunately, though, the turkey and its holiday could not thwart the South’s unrelenting quest to preserve slavery by going to battle with the Union.

Despite the raging war, or perhaps aided by it, warming tales of Native Americans and new generations of European Americans all holding hands and giving thanks have persisted in our textbooks and our culture to this day when we now collectively eat a whopping 46 million turkeys. But gone are the days of turkeys raised on family farms, or even the less palatable forced marches of wild turkeys to slaughter. These birds’ modern place — inside the industrial animal agriculture industry — is now not only the turkey’s tragedy. The production of our Thanksgiving meals is actively harming us, and especially the most marginalized among us, all while masquerading as a badge of national unity and gratitude.

Let’s start by peeling back the fancy “American Humane Certified” and similar labels on brands like Butterball that were designed to win consumers’ trust while obfuscating the injustice, environmental devastation, and cruelty behind their products. For the harrowing reality behind the packaging, we can give thanks to the vertical integration of poultry farming over the past half-century by a handful of these massive corporations, forcing former family farmers into below-poverty wages and mountains of debt. Meanwhile, inside poultry slaughterhouses, workers — the majority of whom are immigrants and people of color — are also low-paid, often needing to rely on food stamps to get by, and, as recently revealed by Oxfam, many even resort to wearing diapers because of being denied bathroom breaks.

Then, as the pandemic gripped the nation earlier this year, fast-paced, dangerous slaughterhouses quickly became hotspots of infection. Forced to continue working by Executive Order despite rising cases, slaughterhouse employees were often denied adequate PPE and the ability to practice social distancing. According to the Food and Environment Reporting Network, there have now been over 42,000 coronavirus cases and 200 deaths in meatpacking workers. One plant inspector called the slaughterhouse a “ticking time bomb.”

This recent crisis is just the tip of the iceberg of the dismal and oppressive history of factory farms and slaughterhouses. An article in Environmental Health Perspectives explains the mechanism behind a unique form of environmental racism: “Swine CAFOs [concentrated animal feeding operations] are disproportionately located in black and brown communities and regions of poverty.” These factories host massive open-air lagoons of pig manure, which are then sprayed onto crops as fertilizer. Surrounding communities report high rates of respiratory irritation, depression, and fatigue and lower quality of life. As for turkey farming specifically, says Jeanne Melchior, acting president of environmental nonprofit Protect Our Woods, “The smell of the turkey houses is terrible. … You can see mounds of manure stacked in the fields. They try to spread it or haul it off, but when it rains, it just runs into the rivers.”

And as more than 41 million Americans (again, heavily concentrated in Black and brown communities) struggle with hunger, animal agriculture consumes enormous water and land resources. Over 500 gallons of water are needed to produce a single pound of turkey, and for beef, this number skyrockets to 1,800 gallons (whereas kidney beans require just a tenth of the latter figure). Collectively, about 27 percent of our global water footprint can be attributed to this industry, which takes up just as great of a proportion of the world’s ice-free land. In the absence of meat, dairy, and egg production, we could free up an area of land as large as the U.S., China, E.U, and Australia combined — while still feeding everyone.

With what, though? When we begin eschewing this harmful menu default, we can start embracing new traditions that foster resilient, healthy, and sustainable communities. Harking back to that old Thanksgiving mythology that largely omits America’s rich, complex, and often tragic indigenous history, many Native American chefs are addressing the lack of cultural representation in standard American holiday cuisine by “decolonizing” their dishes, which, according to Nephi Craig, founder of the Native American Culinary Association, means “to examine what you’ve been taught around food or nutrition and to take a deep look to see if the standard American dietary pyramid reflects you as an individual.” He further elucidates that this “could be a plant-based meal … It comes down to responsibly sourcing your food based on your views on decolonization and food security.”

All Americans can join Nephi in asking ourselves that question: What does our Thanksgiving meal truly mean to us? Already, millions of people are discovering that we can actually live our values of inclusivity, diversity, and justice through a healthy and hearty feast. Last year, nearly a third of Americans were contemplating enjoying a meatless Thanksgiving dinner. And as the holidays creep up, a new ASPCA survey has just found that over 70 percent of people who heard about the dangers behind factory farming during the pandemic have begun moving away from these products.

This holiday, we’ve already been forced to press pause on what we’ve always done. Let’s use this opportunity to start a new Thanksgiving default, one of resilience, one that helps everyone thrive, and one that centers plants on our plates. With endless possibilities like BBQ roasted cabbage with tempeh, butternut pumpkin with lemon tahini, North African spiced carrot and parsnip salad, and even vegan pumpkin pie ice cream, this new tradition will be something everyone (and our taste buds) can be thankful for.

Laura Lee Cascada
Front Royal, VA 22630

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Thank you for volunteering

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During this COVID-19 crisis, our entire community faces many challenges. This difficult period revealed more than ever the indispensable role of volunteers. We realize that without their dedication and generosity, the consequences of this pandemic would have been much worse.

We’re privileged to have an abundance of community heroes in our region that are willing to pitch in when needed.

To all our local volunteers, THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Royal Examiner.

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Historic Election?

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historically speaking

“In this historic election.” How many times have you heard this over the past two weeks? In truth, there are some historic elements. This election had the greatest number of votes cast in history. Is that historic or population growth? It’s also a higher voter percentage than we have seen in some time, but nowhere close to the highest. A woman on the winning ticket is most definitely historic, so much in fact that I am stumped on how to make a comparison. This past week most of the attention seems to be on Trump’s refusal to admit defeat. But that is not historic either. Many have called this the most important election in our lives, whereas, in fact, it is just the most recent.

First, let’s tackle the voter turnout. At 67% voting at last count, the 2020 election is impressive for modern elections. The last time we cleared 60% was 1968. Historically, however, between 1840 and 1904 voting was always over 70% with the elections of 1856 and 1860 going over 80% and the highest election percentage of all time was 1876 with 81.8%. The elections of 1860, 1876 and 2020 have some similarities; they had either controversial figures or voting irregularities.

The increase in voting percentage is also impressive in 2020. Four years ago, 59% of the population voted, an 8% growth in 2020, one of the highest of all time. Much of this has been attributed to hatred of Trump more than fondness of Biden. Yet, when we look historically, there is not a clear pattern of controversial presidents being the reason for large differences between votes. There was a 10% jump between 1872 and 1876. Though 1876 is one of the most controversial elections, the controversy was the outcome, not the candidates. There was also a 10% jump between 1948 and 1952. Again, nothing controversial; in fact, Eisenhower was popular with both sides in 1952. Finally, the greatest difference between elections was 1836 and 1840 with a 22% increase of voter turnout. In this case it was the economic Panic of 1837 had hurt the incumbent Martin Van Buren, not anything controversial.

As for Trump’s attitude towards conceding, while annoying for the Democrats, this also is not new. Historically speaking, we do not even have to go back very far, only to 2000. Anyone old enough to have gone through this election probably remembers too well the annoyingness of new vocabulary words like “hanging chads.” The Election of 2000 saw two new candidates but with familiar names, Vice President Al Gore versus George Bush. As with 2020, it was a close election on election night and whoever won Florida would win the game.  As election night came to a close and it looked as if Bush had won Florida, Gore made the concession call to Bush. However, by the next day Democrats had come out with claims of voter fraud and voter suppression in Florida, and Gore called Bush back to recant his concession. Democrats demanded a recount, which was done, but after the recount did not change the outcome, Gore demanded a recount by hand instead of by machines. The issue was that on some punch cards, the wrong names were accidently hit or were not punched properly. The recount took weeks, this time to the annoyance of Republicans. In the end, it took the Supreme Court to force the recount to end and declare Bush the winner.

Another example is the election of 1876. The election that tells us the importance of one vote. It looked as if Democrat Samuel Tilden would win the election. He had more popular votes and only needed one of the four remaining states to win, as with Biden in 2020. However, there were voting irregularities in those four remaining states. For instance, South Carolina had 101% voter turnout. Of the four states, three were southern, Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana. Why is it always Florida? Why that is important is that the Democratic Party dominated southern states so it was expected Democrats would win all three, let alone just the one needed to win. To solve the issue, Congress was forced to get involved and create a 15-man board to determine the winner. There were five congressmen, five senators, and five judges. Seven of these were Democrats and seven were Republicans with one independent. Perfectly fair, until the one independent judge resigned his position and a new judge had to be appointed. The only judges left on the court were Republicans, resulting in Republican Rutherford Hayes winning the presidency by one vote. Democrats claimed foul play but eventually agreed to the ruling when the Republicans promised to end Reconstruction in the South.

It is always good to see democracy in action and that so many took part of the election process. This was an important election in that all elections are important, However, historically speaking, neither the percentages voting nor the squabbling after the fact are anything new.

With the election past us now, I hope everyone can put politics aside for a day and enjoy your Thanksgiving. I for one am grateful I live in a country where we can have this fight about elections. Not all nations get to do this.

Dr. James Finck is a Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. To receive daily historical posts, follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog or on Facebook.


Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog.

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A one-man and his merry band’s show of destruction and decimation

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Our Interim Town Manager (ITM) Matt Tederick is a very tricky individual. He is also a great manipulator. He also knows and unfortunately used the action of firing people to create fear and loyalty. He believes giving away plaques will create a picture of employer/employee love and togetherness. He also shows a keen ability to cover his tracks when necessary.

Case in point – now remember, he is the Town Manager who has total control of what goes on within the Town, not a single major item ever gets by him, he has the last and almighty say over everything, even the Town Council – questioned about the environmental carnage along Happy Creek he stated no tree over a four-inch diameter was cut down on the banks of Happy Creek between South and Prospect Streets. As complaints started coming in about these trees being cut down, he goes into self-preservation mode and turns the situation around to make himself look clueless.

At Mondays November 9th Town Council meeting, Mr. Tederick calls a Town employee whose department is responsible for the work up to the table or should I say, witness stand, and proceeds to say to the Town employee, “There haven’t been any trees over a four-inch diameter cut down, isn’t that right? The Town employee, perhaps with a pre-meeting briefing by the ITM says, “No, except the larger ones that were (on the shelf or level ground above the creek’s bank). The ITM looks like he is clueless about these larger trees that were cut down.

But isn’t the ITM the one that worked with the consultant on the drawings for the deeply flawed permit applications and all that went into this environmental and wildlife catastrophe?

Now for the truth. As I walked through the war zone, I measured stumps of cut trees anywhere from eight to thirteen inches on the bank and on the shelf. So, it is not difficult to see through this little self-preservation show by the ITM. Our Town Council, which was pointed to by the ITM as approving every move toward this bank side clear-cutting that “isn’t clear-cutting” says or does nothing about any of this. If it was the ITM’s idea that we approved, we do not care what you, the citizens think or say about it.

So, thank you, Mr. Interim Town Manager and Town Council for showing us your true feelings about the environment, the ecosystem, the birds and animals that depend on the trees you have cut down and the creek bank you have steamrolled, because that is what this council and its puppet master wanted, no matter what we citizens thought. Your “cut down all native vegetation and throw some rocks down in its place” attitude speaks worlds about all of you and your carelessness towards the environment we all share, and which some town citizens live adjacent to who were given little if any heads up on your plans to decimate their natural buffer to heavily traveled Commerce Avenue.

Paul Gabbert
Front Royal

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Opinion

A little tribute to Happy Creek, Front Royal VA

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Unplanned, as we took our morning walk to Happy Creek, musician Richard Lockhart was singing on a picnic table with his guitar.  He agreed to shoot a little music video with the creek!  Just thought it would be fun.

I am not a political person. However, I recently became aware of some problems currently happening to our creek.  I don’t know all the details and don’t claim to be an expert.  But, I do feel moved to share how very important and special the creek is to many people.

Every day I walk to the creek. I see lots of action or sometimes zero action.  People of all ages come to the creek to enjoy time to play, relax, draw, exercise, and sing!  This summer my son learned how to catch trout from a neighbor at the creek.  I cooked up the trout and had a glorious meal from the trout my child caught from Happy Creek.  We also had a blast floating in the water with friends and looking in the water with goggles to see what we could see.

Often I see a group of senior citizens gathering at the shelters to play cards during the day and couples holding hands at sunset during an evening stroll.  People come to the creek for family portrait shoots or kids splash and play to cool down in the creek on a hot day.

What does the creek mean to you?  Have you enjoyed swimming or catching fish in the creek?  Did you go to the creek to hang out with your grandparents or just skip rocks?  I sure hope that we keep the creek safe and healthy for many more years to come.

Jen Avery
Front Royal

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Opinion

Local Housing Market and Short-Term Rentals – An Open Letter to the BOS

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I frequently read about and see with regularity the volume of CUPs (Conditional Use Permits) requested for short term rentals. These seem to be a primary focus of many public hearings. While precedents have been set with the legality of such and the common nature of these occurring in this region, I would ask each one of you to pause for a moment and consider the possible negative extraneous factors. Housing in Warren County, including Front Royal, is at a very low stock in the trifecta of quality, quantity, and affordability. When residences are sold to people whose sole intent is to lease them for recreational purposes and financial gain, it further exacerbates the level of reasonably affordable housing units for local families seeking shelter for a longer-term basis.

These permits essentially remove housing from the local market when the original intent was for less transient use. Air B&B, like other virtual leasing services, is not an old technology or platform and is showing the ability to disrupt conventional and more affordable housing markets. In my opinion, the highest and best use for homes in this region is for housing our workforce and not as playgrounds for more affluent suburban users.

Perhaps a density, usage, or housing stock formula can be created and implemented that would legally limit and provide a mechanism for the government to restrict these licenses. In the purest sense, a CUP is essentially a license to deviate from the norm. Such licenses would provide a mechanism for control without unduly burdening our local and more permanent population. Vacation homes, temporary retreats, and transient use have a place in our local economy, but perhaps it should be evaluated at a higher level to ensure that parity is maintained.

Gregory A Harold, MBA, Class A Contractor, OSHA 30
Project Manager, ERDMAN

(Editor’s note: Mr. Harold is also a current member of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors.)

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