The Charlottesville Speech the President Needs to Deliver

During demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday (Aug. 12), the driver of a car plowed into a crowd of people, killing at least one and injuring more than a dozen. In the aftermath of this event, this is the speech the President of the United States needs to deliver Sunday morning.

Good morning, fellow Americans.

Our hearts go out today to the victims of yesterday’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and their loved ones. This was, plain and simple, domestic terrorism, and justice will come to the terrorists who spilled the blood of American people today.

It is ironic that this act of terrorism took place in Charlottesville, the hometown of the man who firmly established that this nation was founded on the principle that all men are created equal … who helped start a revolution against the kind of oppression that feels one man, one race, one creed is superior to another … that quashes free expression of ideas.

One of the core values of this nation is that we are free to our beliefs and we are free to express them – no matter how popular or unpopular, how loved or loathsome those beliefs may be – as long as that expression does not infringe upon the inalienable rights of others.

The violence in Virginia began as demonstrations of diametrically opposed beliefs and ideals. Both sides have the right to peaceably assemble, to express those ideals. Efforts by either side, or by any government agent, to suppress that expression is wrong.

But let me be very clear about this: While neo-Nazis and white supremacists have the right to peaceably assemble, to express themselves, to believe what they believe … what they believe is the antithesis of the core values that founded this country.

The idea that one race is superior to another is directly opposed to core American values – to the idea that all men are created equal. It may be your right to believe they are not, but you cannot be a white supremacist and be a patriotic American; the two are mutually exclusive. And while you have the right to express those beliefs, the first amendment does not protect you from the being ignored, disdained or ostracized for them. It only protects you from being arrested for them.

Nazism represents the darkest, most evil part of humankind. It is the opposite of everything Americans stand for. Again, it might be your right to be one, but you cannot be a neo-Nazi and be a patriotic American; these are also mutually exclusive. And while you have the right to express your beliefs in the ideology responsible for the deaths of millions of people, do not be surprised if good Americans rightfully condemn you for them. Again, the first amendment only protects you from being arrested for them.

I know that many have seen my positions on immigration and “America First” as a sign that this administration is sympathetic to white supremacy and neo-Nazism. That would be a mistake. We are not, and we strongly condemn any belief, much less any action based on the idea, that any person is “inferior” because of race, religion, ethnicity or political persuasion.

Bigotry against and hatred of any fellow American – of any race, of any religion, of any gender — has no place in the Trump administration, and no place in an America that believes itself to be “first” among nations.

Our nation was founded on an idea: that all people are created equal. It was founded as a haven for those who shared that belief … as a sanctuary for people – regardless of their faith, their skin color, their national origin – who wanted to be free from the tyranny of ethnic, political or religious prejudice. That value isn’t going to change under my watch. And if you don’t agree with it, then maybe you’re the one who doesn’t belong in the United States of America.




But I learned in second-grade English …

Que Seurat, Seurat: He probably didn't learn this in art school.

Que Seurat, Seurat: He probably didn’t learn this in art school.

As one who writes – mostly advertising –for a living, I hear that from people. A lot.

“I learned in second-grade English that you can’t start a sentence with ‘and’.” Or, “I was taught that it’s not a complete sentence unless it has a subject and a verb.” Or, “Miss Fussbudget drilled it into my head that you need to start out with a thesis statement.” Sometimes, even, “Mister Puffbuttock always said you should never use contractions in your writing.” Well, all of those things are probably true.

We do learn, early in our education, that it’s a “rule” that we don’t begin sentences with conjunctions. It’s a “rule” that a complete sentence contains a subject and predicate. Many things you write in school should, indeed, use the “keyhole” structure that builds a first-paragraph thesis statement. In certain forms of writing, you should avoid contractions.

When these issues come up, I like to think about a kid named Dale.

While at his North Carolina high school, young Dale played football, basketball, baseball and golf. He probably took English from Miss Fussbudget.

He dreamed of becoming a professional athlete. And he took driver’s training, where he learned the “rules” that a beginning driver must learn. Signal a lane change. Stay at or under the speed limit. Allow one car length per 10 mph. Hands at 10 and 2.

In his 20s, young Dale started fooling around with friends from work – doing odd jobs around a race track. And the racing bug bit him.

Retired since 2008, Dale Jarrett is still considered one of the top 10 all-time NASCAR drivers. He didn’t get there by following the rules of the road he learned in driver’s ed. He followed the rules of the track.

If you think about it, Georges Seurat’s second-grade art teacher would probably have been horrified by the rule-breaking of pointillism. (And don’t get me started on cubism.) Considered one of the greatest works of English literature ever, James Joyce’s Ulysses would be nothing but red marks if judged by the standards of middle-school English composition. The boundary-breaking improvisation that defined be-bop would have been frowned upon by young Dizzie Gillespie’s music teachers at the Laurinburg Institute.

In our early school days, we learn rules for the “science” of writing. Sadly, this is as far as writing education goes for most people. Those who pursue careers in writing, however, go well beyond that basic training and study the “art” of writing – just as Gillespie studied the art of the trumpet, Seurat the art of visual composition and Jarrett the art of stock car driving.

And in that advanced study, we learn it’s okay to start a sentence – even a paragraph – with a conjunction. A “fragment?” It can be a sentence. Contractions aren’t forbidden. Only a thesis-style paper should begin with a thesis statement.

It’s not necessarily breaking rules. It’s more a matter of having the skill and wisdom to know which rules can be bent, and by how much. It’s knowing what works, and, when appropriate, what wins.

In the marketing communications business, it’s a matter of playing by the rules of the track, rather than the rules of the road. On this particular track, the field is extremely crowded. The competition is fierce. The prize is your customer’s attention, interest and action. And the rules of the road probably won’t win them.

Go back and re-read great sections of your favorite novel or your favorite poem or favorite song lyrics. Watch your favorite movie, and imagine the dialog as it was born – as words written on a page. Pay attention not only to specific words and their meanings, but to their rhythm and cadence. Notice how the “rules” are bent to reflect the style of the writer, the personality of the character … and the rhythm of the character’s life. That’s what good writing does.

Good advertising writing reflects the style of the brand, the personality of the customer and the rhythm of the customer’s life. Those are skills that Miss Fussbudget couldn’t teach you in second grade. Because they take many years of practice to learn – after you’ve learned the basic rules first.

And when it comes to starting a sentence with a conjunction … you don’t need to take my word for it. The first chapter of Genesis in the King James Bible – arguably the most “formal” of all English translations – consists of 34 sentences.

Thirty-two of them begin with “And.”

And if it’s good enough for God, it’s good enough for me.

This was originally written as a newsletter article for the Princing & Ewend newsletter, way, way back in August of 2004. It has been updated. 

The Most Dangerous Places in America

Is Benton Harbor really the most dangerous place in Michigan?
Is Benton Harbor really the most dangerous place in Michigan? Photo from

Yet another website has published a list of “most dangerous places.” A Facebook friend tipped me off to this one, which listed the “most dangerous cities” in Michigan.

These sites – and many news organizations – do the same thing. They pore over the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, compile violent crime rates from them, and then rank them – usually against other cities of comparable size.

So this particular site that a friend tagged for me said the “most dangerous” city in Michigan was Benton Harbor … which had, in 2013 (the most current statistics available) three homicides and 225 violent crimes.

Detroit, on the other hand, which ranked third on the list, had 316 homicides and 14,500 violent crimes. Flint, all the way down in sixth place, had 48 homicides and 19 violent crimes.

Now, before I reveal what the most dangerous places in the U.S. really are, let me help you understand the flawed logic behind these ranking sites.

Statistics Don’t Lie. But the People Who Use them Do.

Let’s start by naming the top five home run hitters in Major League Baseball history

1. Mark McGwire
2. Babe Ruth
3. Barry Bonds
4. Jim Thome
5. Ralph Kiner

What’s that, you say? Everyone knows the top five are Bonds, Aaron, Ruth, Rodriguez and Mays? How can this be?

It’s the difference between incidence and rate. Mark McGwire has MLB’s highest home-run percentage vs. at-bats, Ruth is second. This logic, then, dictates that Benton Harbor is “more dangerous” than Detroit, that Camden, N.J. is “more dangerous” than Chicago.

But basing the average person’s “danger” on the rate presumes that violent crime is like the lottery, and every person in the city has bought a ticket.

Personally, I think a city in which there were 300+ murders and 14,000 violent crimes is far more “dangerous” than one where three people were killed and 225 robbed or assaulted.

But then, I think Barry Bonds hit 180 more home runs than Mark McGwire did.

The Most Dangerous Places

But let’s look at the ultimate danger – that is, death. Based on national death rates per 100,000, here are the most dangerous places in America:

1. Fast food restaurants (cardiovascular disease: 252)

2. Places that sell tobacco products (chronic lower respiratory disease: 47.2; malignant neoplasms of trachea, bronchus and lung, 49.4)

3. Your car (motor vehicle accidents: 41.3)

4. A workplace, or home, that presents a danger of falls or exposure to toxic materials, or a lake or swimming pool (nontransport accidents, 29.3)

5. Your pantry (diabetes: 23.9)

6. A hospital (hospital-acquired infections: 23.0)

7. The dark recesses of depression (suicide: 13.0)

Homicide, the gold standard of “danger” for place-ranking websites, comes in nationally at 5.1 deaths per 100,000 – just a little behind alcoholic liver disease (5.7)

Ponder number seven another moment though. If you’re going to die at someone’s hand, nationally, it’s 2.6 times as likely to be your own than someone else’s.

Yes, Detroit’s homicide rate per 100,000 is significantly higher than the national average, at 45. But even in Detroit, you’re 5.6 times as likely to die from heart disease than from a homicide.

What’s the Harm?

It bears noting that on its Uniform Crime Reports website, the FBI specifically cautions against using the statistics for ranking locations against each other. There are lots of reasons, not the least of which is inconsistency in reporting methodology (because FBI feels the number is underreported, Chicago shows zero rapes for 2013) and jurisdictional issues (the Sandy Hook shootings do not show up in Newtown, CT’s 2012 statistics – because the case was handled by the state police).

But we do it anyway. Why? I believe it to be a grotesque manifestation of Americans’ seemingly insatiable fetish for ranking, ratings and lists. Like quarterback ratings, college football polls and standardized test scores, they really tell us nothing but how something was arbitrarily measured at a given time. And, as we know, not everything that’s measured is important … and not everything that’s important can be measured.

So it could be considered harmless fun. If it were, indeed, harmless.

But it isn’t. It makes it even more difficult for cities to pull out of the decline that has led to high crime rates. You know how a lottery ad portrays everyone who plays as a winner? These ratings portray everyone who sets foot in the city as a violent crime victim. The characterizations are equally misleading.

Worse, it helps Americans do even more of what is one of their most self-defeating behaviors: being afraid of the wrong things. We have millions of preventable deaths because people are too afraid of the stranger at their door to be concerned about the cheesecake in their fridge.

Why Michael Moore needs to go away*

*Along with a lot of other ‘shoehorns’

Social media, the news media and other information outlets have lit up with discussion in the last couple of days about the tragic incident in Santa Barbara, Cal., in which a 22-year-old man killed six people, apparently selected at random, and then himself.

Need we say how predictable that discussion is?

After all, it’s largely the same discussion that we had after Newtown, after the Navy Yard, after Aurora, after Tucson … after every mass shooting we have. But let’s let Michael Moore, the left-wing provocateur and gadfly, offer the most representative sampling in a Facebook post.

It’s because of guns. Every single mass shooting ignites a new call for stronger gun control laws, just as Moore does here. This sentiment was echoed by the father of one Santa Barbara victim; he blamed the National Rifle Association.

But what’s interesting about the comments from Moore and from Richard Martinez is an almost throwaway, parenthetical thought they both added. It’s as if they both mentioned the real problem, but then chose to ignore it on the way to their other agenda.

On his way to calling for more gun control Moore notes that these shootings are carried out by “disturbed white males.”  Disturbed. White. Male. Gun. Only one pattern matters to Mr. Moore, because it’s the only one he wants to see.

On his way to calling for more gun control, Richard Martinez asked: “When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say stop this madness …?”

Of course, the “madness” and “insanity” he’s talking about are that of the NRA and the politicians who protect gun rights. That’s the only pattern of “insanity” he notices – although as a grieving father he deserves slack.

So far, I’ve seen people complain that Elliot Rodger is emblematic of the “entitlement” attitude of young people “coddled” by overindulgent parents. I’ve read Rodger referred to as “spoiled and arrogant.” I’ve read the predictable calls for more stringent gun control laws. I’ve read the blame laid at the feet of “narcissistic media culture.”

I’ve even read the mental health angle of this story dismissed. There have been reports of Rodger’s diagnosis with Asperger’s. Some writers have noted that Rodger was getting mental health treatment, and that the police visited him after his parents complained about some of his writings and videos – but thought he was fine.

And on the flip side, I’ve read comments that say his writings and videos alone should have led to him being committed. “(I)n an actual institution with actual doctors who actually care enough to try to get him back to not being a danger to society,” one comment read.

Most of these comments – in particular, the ones related to gun control and/or permissive parenting – are from what I refer to as shoehorns.  Mr. Moore is a classic example. It doesn’t matter what the shoe of the day is. He’ll find a way to shoehorn his foot into it. The only thing that would have been better for Mr. Moore would have been if the shooter had been poor and he had been bullied by rich kids – then he would have been able to fit both feet in.

All of these shootings are breakdowns of the American mental health system. But we’ll never fix it. Why? Because it’s a style of shoe nobody likes on his or her feet.

What’s even worse is that the cases that really bring home the crisis in mental health care in this country represent an incredibly small percentage of the people with mental health issues.

Twenty percent of Americans will, at one time or another in their lives, have some sort of mental health issue. Many of them will not seek treatment – because, according to most research, they would be embarrassed or ashamed to receive mental health treatment, or they fear repercussions. Just ask Thomas Eagleton.

The fourth-leading cause of death among Americans age 18 to 65 is suicide. More Americans die by suicide each year than are killed in motor vehicle accidents.

Yet what do we hear from people who have sought help for mental health issues? Probably something very similar to what Elliot Rodgers’ family is saying: we tried, but the system didn’t help us.

The system doesn’t – and can’t – help a lot of people. And that’s because too few elected officials consider it a shoe they want to spend any money on … after all, it doesn’t really fit their ideological foot.

It would be best for all of us if the policymakers – and the punditocracy – would stop being shoehorns and start to recognize the most important, obvious pattern – one that we can see not only in mass shootings, but in high rates of suicide, substance abuse, homelessness and a variety of other indicators that have a mental health component. When you recognize those patterns, it’s very easy to see that only one shoe fits.

Apparently, it’s not Mr. Moore’s style.