On Saturday of this past weekend, music fans braved threats and realities of rain to hear the best of old-time and bluegrass tunes as the Old Times Fiddler’s Convention wrapped up a little over 40 miles from Floyd.
About 160 miles from Floyd, three people died during a violent demonstration of hate and racism in Charlottesville.
Two events that showcase the deep divisions that divide this nation and our society.
We can talk about living in the country and that things like what happened in Charlottesville does not happen here but we live just 40 miles away from the campus of Virginia Tech, where a madman with a gun took out students and faculty in the largest massacre at an American school less than 10 years ago.
On Facebook, I see people in Floyd County talk about wanting to fire “warning shots” into the windshields of cars containing people they don’t like. I sometimes have a weapon on my hip and have a valid concealed carry permit, but normally I have it because I am en route to a shooting range or similar activity.
Even with what happened in Charlottesville Saturday or at Tech less than a decade ago, I do not feel a need to carry a firearm for daily protection…at least not yet.
On Facebook over the weekend, a thread that I started with a post about an article i wrote about traffic in our area turned into an angry discussion about people driving under the speed limit. Since it was in a private group, administrators of the group turned off comments after a Riner man unleashed a bitter tirade laced with obscenities, insults and threats.
A moderator of the private group where the comments appeared cut them off, a necessary and welcome move.
During a journalistic career that spans more than half-a-century, I built a reputation for blunt, edgy opinion columns that stroked public debate and, too often, anger on issues that faced the nation and communities.
In 12 years at The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois, my columns resulted in slashing of tires and brake lines on my cars, threads of injury or death over the phone and boycotts by advertisers for the newspaper. They also cost elected officials their jobs, corrected mistakes by governments and helped those in need.
I reveled in the controversies. They helped sell papers and, when I was single, helped me attract young women during the “swinging 70s.” It fed an ego that I needed to bring under control.
I took that propensity to stir emotions into a successful career as a political operative. During a dozen years away from journalism, I used an ability to create controversy to help candidates and campaigns. In an often bitter campaign to help Congressman Manual Lujan of New Mexico, I even dug up a little known quote from Adolf Hitler and used it, unattributed, to stoke anger against his opponent, state treasurer Jan Hartke, son of former Senator Vance Hartke of Indiana.
It worked. Lujan won and Hartke left New Mexico in disgrace. Others in political circles congratulated me because I proved I was an operative who would stop at nothing to win. As a newspaperman, I worked to expose such tactics. Then I turned into one of those I once exposed.
Since leaving politics and returning journalism, I have spent more than two decades apologizing for my actions as an operative and trying to atone for it by going after politicians and its corruption and dishonesty.
Sometimes, I go too far. I have revised articles, admitted mistakes in judgment and corrected material.
Sometimes, my articles had a positive affect. A series on the questionable attempts by an English con artist to obtain financial backing from Floyd Countians for a “data center” that wasn’t exposed his operations and helped bring an end to his efforts locally.
He now sits in federal prison on fraud charges and England wants him for crimes they say he committed back in the British isles.
But when I look back at the thousands of articles written on Blue Ridge Muse over the last 13 years and many more in the four-plus decades before, I can see where stroking anger can turn destructive.
As a campaign operative, I used fear to generate anger among voters. I helped bring out the anger and hate that drives out reasonable debate in our society.
I’ve helped turn our society into a hell hole where anger and hate prevails. We saw what anger and hate can do in Charlottesville this past weekend.
We must work to cut the violent emotions that drive too much of what was once considered debate.
Maybe I’m not the one who can come up with an answer.
I’ve been too good at generating strong emotions that too often get out of control.