Halfway along on my bike ride I spied a banner high up a flagpole: six-inch-high letters spelling out, “Let’s
go, Brandon,” red and white on a blue background.
I was sure that it was new, since I frequently pass this particular house with the circular driveway and there was no flag before.
The sentence – or imprecation, as most people know by now – is code for “(Expletive) Joe Biden,” which is what a crowd was chanting during a NASCAR race, but what an NBC Sports reporter misheard as cheers for the race winner, Brandon Brown.
The morning of the following day, when I was passing the same house, a man was exiting a car in the curving driveway. Why not, I thought.
“Hey, bud,” I said.
He turned, smiled and said, “How ya doing?” He appeared to be in his 50s, heavyset with a short, military-style haircut. Possibly a former offensive lineman in college or high school.
“I wanted to ask about your flag,” I said.
“Sure,” he said as he looked up at the flag and chuckled.
I asked him if he really meant to display it at Christmas, the season of peace and goodwill.
“I don’t know,” he said, smiling. “Yeah, I guess.”
Although the obscenity was directed at the president, I asked the man, wasn’t it also an attack against, at least, half the population?
The man’s smile was now gone.
“Well,” he said, “we’re coming back anyway,” By which, I assumed, he meant that former President Donald Trump was coming back.
I rode home and I told my wife, Marianne, about my conversation. She said that I had wasted my time.
“I wanted to give him something to think about,” I told her.
But the following morning – when the flag was still flying – Marianne’s contention that such people are immutable appeared to be right. Which got me thinking: Maybe I needed to change my behavior. Maybe for New Year’s, I needed a resolution for dealing with politically and profanely recalcitrant people.
Previously I deemed it a responsibility to confront anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers, immigration opponents, Jan. 6th insurrectionists and voter suppression advocates – to compel them to see the illogical or nonfactual basis of their views. And so I have tried, both in newspaper columns and in person.
But Marianne’s claim that it’s a waste of ink and/or breath on closed minds has been borne out. Several friends and relatives, with whom I used to have normal conversations, now eschew and ignore fact checking. One person even said that in matters such as the coronavirus, they would rather listen to Trump than to Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Therefore, I resolve in 2022 to fight fire with judo. I resolve to parry with the American “obstinocracy” by reversing the momentum of their thrusts back in their direction. I resolve to call them out on their manhood at every turn – since faux strength and machismo, not reason, seems to be the impetus for their views.
For example, those who falsely claim that elections have been crooked to say that we must have tougher voting restrictions. But their real reason is their fear of sharing democratic power with African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans.
There are also those who fallaciously claim that critical race theory offends and harms their children – and who want parents to storm schools, threaten board members and control the curriculum. But their gut motivation is the fear that history will confirm the truth about racial injustice, giving power to the aforementioned minorities.
Therefore, in 2022, when someone tells me that global warming is a natural occurrence and that we are wimps to heed alarmist scientists – all 97% of them – I will suggest that they “man up” and fight the calamity head on instead of fearfully burying their head in the sand.
I also resolve to similarly challenge others, whether it’s homophobes with a hysterical fear of Americans in the LGBT community, white supremacists with an infantile fear of being replaced or the political office holders who betray the public good out of fear of Trump.
So when I next return to the corner with the house with the circular driveway – and suggest to my neighbor that he is clearly too brave a man to hide behind a euphemism – I will let you know how it goes.
David McGrath is an English instructor at Florida Southwestern State College in Punta Gorda, and the author of “South Siders.” Email: email@example.com.