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At the senior expo last weekend, put on again this year by this newspaper and UAMS, a man in the audience of a few dozen asked the political panel what I feared would be an enraging and polarizing question.

He inquired as to which was the more unpatriotic act — kneeling during the national anthem or declining to vote.

Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School of Public Service, dutifully fielded the query from the center-left philosophical position he co-represented with me on the four-man panel opposite the amiable conservative Republicans — dapper lawyer-lobbyist Sylvester Smith and lobbyist and media personality Bill Vickery.

Rutherford said that professional football players are kneeling not to show disrespect to the nation or the servicemen who have fought for its freedom, but to exercise that freedom in an entirely different context — justice, or injustice, or perception thereof. He related that the issue was most recently and vividly called into question by a white off-duty policewoman’s shooting dead a black man in his own apartment after she had mistaken the apartment for her own one floor lower and tried to enter late at night.

As for voting, Rutherford said that was a complex question having to do with cycles of public passion and motivation and the difficulty we insist on applying to our voting process.

Wonderful on-target answers, but here we go, into a culture-war debate, or so I thought.

Yet it didn’t happen. In fact, Smith more or less agreed that the kneeling controversy now afoot was not a patriotic matter but something else. Vickery didn’t say anything as I recall, and I remained blissfully silent. And we moved agreeably on.

It’s one small vignette on one Saturday opposite a bingo game in a convention hall. But, in the era of Trumpian ignorance and demagoguery, I’m looking for tolerance and forbearance and well-considered calm wherever I can find them.

An appreciative word, too, goes to Smith in his answer on Issue 1. That’s the proposal perhaps to be on the ballot by which the chamber of commerce, nursing home industry and medical establishment seek to pass so-called “tort reform” to keep juries from inconveniencing them with harsh damage awards if they harm innocent people.

Conservatives tend to favor it, valuing the monied providers over mere consumers, and Smith didn’t say he was against it. But he did feel obliged to make the “educational” point that, particularly for a senior audience, everyone needed to be aware that, by proposing a cap on non-economic damages, the amendment would place a ceiling of the value of a senior life or a child’s life, making it less worthy than a money-earner’s life.

The greater anger and resentment this day had to do with Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and Merrick Garland’s rudely unconsidered one the year before, and on something I’m afraid I stirred up with a little polarizing passion of my own.

A man in the audience said he’d read that, if you add all the votes cast state-by-state in the U.S. Senate races producing the Republican-controlled Senate we now have, Democrats got several million more votes than Republicans.

“Don’t get me started,” I said, as I got started.

I pointed out that, on the highly divisive and culturally defining issue of Kavanaugh and the Supreme Court, we have a Republican president who got fewer votes than his Democratic opponent making the nomination for consideration by a U.S. Senate controlled by Republicans although, for the cumulative races producing that current Senate membership, Democrats got more votes that Republicans.

No wonder, then, there’s passionate resentment of Kavanaugh.

The reason is that — by giving each state two senators and applying those two seats to each state’s electoral college allotment — we give more political power to bears and elk and moose in Wyoming and Montana and Alaska than to people.

I said I wasn’t proposing to change U.S. Senate makeup, but that I’d love to abolish the electoral college and let the nationwide popular vote decide the presidency. A few in the audience applauded, but, amid the applause, I saw and heard a spitting-angry guy in the back row who stood to shout, “It’s only worked for 200 years.”

We moved on — to Smith’s saying a state like Arkansas would never see a presidential candidate again if we abolished the electoral college, as if that would be a bad thing, and as if we see much of them now unless they come from here.

It was good we moved on, because I was prepared to tell the angry man that it’s not working anymore — not when we’ve had second-place nincompoops become president twice already this young century, the latter of whom is an utter disgrace who imperils the security of the nation and world by his megalomaniacal idiocy.

That might have been a tad polarizing.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.


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  • RBear
    September 19, 2018 at 6:26 a.m.

    Interesting comments, John. Yes, it will draw out the Trump freaks in droves to attack you on your voter points and the EC. As I keep looking at the changing demographics of America, it does beg the question about allotment based on state and not on population. The nation is moving to a more urban environment, primarily due to the shift to an information economy. Urban centers are becoming the economic engines of our country and as those centers grow, it becomes very apparent their vote becomes diluted due to what is now being viewed as an antiquated system.
    When looking at these economic centers, you also find they tend to shift progressive. Texas is a great example as is UT and even AR. For all the rhetoric put forth by right wingers, election expers are seeing the shift in NW AR and are considering strategies to deal with the shift. In TX, even reliably red Tarrant County is shifting.
    So, as these cities and counties grow you see a disproportionate ratio of voter-Senate/EC representation. The question becomes why should voters in ND have more political sway than voters in CA? Why should AR be given more political muscle than voters in NY or WA or IL? When we were an agrarian country, the impact wasn't as pronounced as it is now. But things have changed and now the economic and voter centers are in urban areas.
    The problem is that things won't change anytime in the near future because it will take a constitutional amendment and Republicans will hold onto this advantage for as long as they can. The only thing that will force a change will be when TX flips which will put Republicans out of the White House for decades. They know that and fear that.
    TX urban areas are growing at a rate that outpaces the country and they are becoming increasingly progressive as those seeking jobs in the information economy move from other progressive areas of the country. Take the Senate race. Cruz should be walking away with this, but O'Rourke is giving him a run for his money. Even looking at the latest poll from Qunnipiac, the numbers aren't as cozy for Cruz as he would want. Independents are polling for O'Rourke and if they do turn out in November, it could easily hand the election to him.
    The bottom line is that our country has changed dramatically since its founding and it may be time to look at a few things. But something seismic like a TX flip will be needed for a revisit of the representation system.

  • RBear
    September 19, 2018 at 6:44 a.m.

    BTW, where's the coverage of the second mayoral forum? I saw you there before it started, but I think you had to leave. I've searched the online site for it and have found nothing. It was a good forum on crime that was cut short by the medical incident.

  • abb
    September 19, 2018 at 6:59 a.m.

    Want to abolish the EC? Fine. There is a mechanism for that. Go get 2/3 of the House and Senate to vote for pure democracy (which has never worked). THEN go get 3/4 (36 states) to vote for NYC, Miami, Chicago, and LA to rule over the rest of us. No thanks.

    We should, though, amend the Constitution and repeal the 17th Amendment and have our state legislature to appoint Senators.

    Oh, and as for Skip, yeah, kneeling for the Anthem is showing disrespect for the nation, our flag, our soldiers, and our veterans. The only time I kneeled was to pray and to give last rights to a THT team member mortally wounded.

  • johnnyray1004sbcglobalnet
    September 19, 2018 at 7:23 a.m.

    i will have a column tomorrow on the second forum monday night. i did not have to leave. i gave up my seat and stood in corridor. my view of the event's quality, as you'll read tomorrow, is different from yours. i love the events and the sponsoring groups but the restrictive generalized format is just horrible -- i believe i may refer to it tomorrow as a "platitude parade."

  • Inquirer51
    September 19, 2018 at 7:49 a.m.

    "Platitude Parade." John, I love the alliteration. With one more "P" word, such as "Pretentious," you could have a three point sermon. Did you ever consider becoming a Southern Baptist preacher?

  • RBear
    September 19, 2018 at 8:24 a.m.

    Okay, thanks John. Yea, I guess I lost you in the crowd. It was good in that it got the issues on the table and some of their positions. Scott's got a canned answer to solve crime - 700 officers. I like the ideas of Sabin and Kurrus on COPP. Seen it work well in SAT and apparently it worked well in LR at one time. Budget issues are key and Kurrus shows his muster on that.
    I will be interested to read your column on the "platitude parade." At least they figured out a better rotation which is actually common for debates. This year's mayoral is reminding me of the competitive years in SAT when the forums were almost relentless. Finding the good ones was the challenge.
    abb can you not read my comment? I said it would take an amendment to fix. But all that has to happen to freak out the freaks like you is for TX to flip and you and other right wingers will be SCREAMING for a convention to change it to fit your needs. Once TX flips, it will be a long cold winter for Republicans looking to inhabit the WH.

  • JiminyC56
    September 19, 2018 at 8:42 a.m.

    Thank God people like Brummett and RBEAR don't run this country anymore. And I think our forefathers envisioned this very scenario when they created the electoral college. If I wanted NY and Cali lawmakers and citizens running my life I would move there. Enslaving minorities with tax payer subsidies to ensure votes is not what this country is about but it is the Democrats platform and playbook.

  • RBear
    September 19, 2018 at 8:55 a.m.

    Jiminy so Trump’s farm subsidies to compensate for trade loss ISN’T what you are talking about. Just wanted to be clear about your convoluted point.

  • GOHOGS19
    September 19, 2018 at 9:05 a.m.

    More of the same, tired BS from a sore loser

    September 19, 2018 at 9:20 a.m.

    "...last RIGHTS..."