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Larry Peterson - Straight Shots

Writer takes a break, choosing people over politics

There’s a difference of opinion, and then there’s angry difference of opinion.

That’s why I’m taking a pause from contributing this column for awhile, at least until fully back on staff from the temporary layoff. I’ve maintained a presence in this space even after the March 31 change in employment status, because frankly it gave me something to do besides putting another coat of paint on something or sort and toss stuff from another box in the basement.

I’ve spent 24/7 making mental notes for “the next column” for close to 40 years, one column per week for most of those years, so it would have been a hard habit to break.

But the final straw is what’s happening to long-established local relationships, which were built on nothing even remotely related to politics. And, those are WAY more important than getting out another message about why someone should be supported or not in a political race. Or, even what to do about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

It dawned on me when I tried to make a sarcastic Twitter post about Alabama coach Nick Saban getting cleared to coach five days after a positive COVID-19 test, after three follow-up negative tests. My frustration was that players in the Big Ten, including those from my alma mater, must wait 21 days after a positive test before returning.

I figuratively rolled my eyes at the double standard, that the star coach from the premier football conference in America gets the green light on the eve of their biggest regular season game (against Georgia) on national television. But, an Iowa defensive back would wait three weeks.

But, you can’t project intent or nuance on a social media post, so it turned into a point of contention on the virus response. Everything becomes politicized now — you’re either “us” or “them” on every issue.

And then the online comments to our News Advertiser story on the Freedom Rally in Afton featuring Rep. David Young were so vicious and vile, I couldn’t look anymore. It’s just too inflammatory. I’ve grown weary of jeopardizing those longstanding friendships that were built on other things — covering their kids in the paper, writing about stuff of local interest, coaching their kids, etc.

Now, where you stand politically moves front and center in someone’s opinion of others. I’ve never seen anything like it. While we’re affixed labels from one side or the other, it’s not always as clear as black and white to us as individuals.

For example, I’m not going to toe the party line and defend “the media,” as critics like to lump us all into. The approach of some network newscasts does not reflect the journalism I was taught. I can’t go as far as to cry out “Fake News!” as one side would, but I can’t make a blanket defense of the tone of the presentation in many cases, either. It’s more complicated than silly labels.

Here’s the deal. Deb and I have had serious discussions about spending our retirement years here in Creston, rather than move to a warmer climate or a more metropolitan setting. (The loss of our movie theater and public golf course have not encouraged us in that decision, but there’s always hope of salvaging them under new owners.)

So, if we’re going to stay, then one thing you think about is preserving the integrity of those friendships built over more than three decades of interactions. Why blow it all up because of suddenly divisive red-blue political differences? It’s not worth it.

I know some friends have deleted me from their social media contacts over politics. I don’t do that, I just either unfollow if I want a break instead of unfriend on Facebook, or mute a particular Twitter feed for awhile until the (political) storm blows over. I just can’t cut someone out that I know and respect over some politicized issue. I still enjoy seeing pictures of their families and grandkids! I can live with them having a different political opinion than mine.

Those state and national public figures don’t know us as people, but those who we run into during a Walmart stop or at a local restaurant do know us. And, in most cases they’ve been acquaintances for many years.

Stevie Nicks, longtime featured singer for Fleetwood Mac, said on CBS Sunday Morning last weekend that a major effect of COVID-19 and the broad response is that “time is being stolen from all of us.”

When you’re 63 years old, time is kind of important. I’m going to try to make the best of the time that’s afforded me, and one aspect of that is to not deliberately or accidentally sabotage relationships I value. At least until this volatile election has passed.

Right now, in this environment, you think about the readers’ reactions to a commentary essay. So, maybe I think I successfully make my case on a matter. What am I losing for winning?

I’ll catch you later, when some of the anger and hate has dissipated. That seemed like a better place.


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Twitter: @larrypeterson

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