This is a personal opinion column written by WCSA sports editor Jeffery Simmons.
Unless your head was planted deep into the sand, or completely covered by a COVID mask, then you probably witnessed some or all of the rumblings coming from Washington Wednesday. As Congress gathered to certify the presidential election, hundreds of people decided to take over the building, sending millions storming for their social media accounts. Patriots or Terrorists. Protesters or Proud Boys. Privileged or Pissed off. Pick your adjectives - they were all on Facebook and Twitter all day. In what has become a nearly daily occurrence of perceived national division, all it took was a few scrolls on the phone to see the full spectrum of political beliefs. Well, maybe one was missing - those who usually fall somewhere in the middle and don’t talk about politics.
That’s where I’ve always been - right in the middle, usually straying far from the national conversation. Because I’m from the South - like pretty much everybody reading this - I have been told since I was a young’un to never talk about politics and religion in public (or in private depending on which relative is coming over for dinner). If you opened that box of worms while passing around the biscuits, be ready for a never-ending debate. I passed on the conversation, but never the biscuits. For me, it was always easier to save all my passion and irrational anger for being a fan of sports. If I was going to call for somebody’s job, it was going to be whoever was coaching the Vols (looking at you, Pruitt). And if I was going to be unwavering in the support of something without it ever proving to me it was going to pay off or care about my feelings, it was going to be bleeding Orange and White (seriously, wait till we get the next coach - it’s going to be our year!). And yet, over the last few months, I’ve found myself more willing to listen to the debates. More so, I’ve been arming myself with some knowledge of my own (choosing to sample from both sides of media) while sitting back and watching people tear each other apart — online. It’s fascinating coming into it without any real allegiances to political parties; it helps me spot the nonsense coming from both sides. I used to tell people I had my own party - the sports writer party. I only was going to worry about stuff if they decided to pass laws specific to me. To my knowledge, it hasn’t happened, though I wasn’t a huge fan of the TSSAA regulating me to the dugouts or outside for baseball and softball games. Alas, it wasn’t put up to a national vote where I could rally for my right to stand in the grass and take a picture. Over the years, I’ve done my patriotic duty. I remember when I was about to turn 18 (way back in 2004) there was a presidential election coming up. My AP Government teacher, Darrell Austin, did his best to get us all registered to vote and encouraged us to get to the polls - never using that time as a way to rally support to his party of preference, or himself for that matter. When I turned 18, my first chance to vote was in the democratic primary (President George W. Bush was going to be the incumbent in November). I met General Wesley Clark when he came to town in hopes of becoming the democratic nominee (didn’t happen) and watched Howard Dean implode his campaign. Looking back, Dean was ahead of his time - that “Yaaaaaaaa” he let out would’ve killed on Tik Tok now. I voted for John Edwards because a girl I liked at the time told me I should. At 18, it seemed like a decent reason. He lost - and it was later revealed he had an affair while his wife was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer. Just a reminder, he was the democratic Vice President nominee in 2004. Yeah, shocking – both parties have had candidates with character flaws in the past (and present, and - likely - future). Since then, I’ve voted in almost all the elections I could (only missing a few while I was in college and didn’t drive back home on Election Day). I’ve voted for democrats and republicans for every office, including President. I’ve voted for democrats and republicans on the same ballot, though not for the same position, obviously. I’ve told some people this and they think I’m crazy. Personally, I think it is crazy to think anything is as simple as looking at a letter and saying that’s good enough. That’s why I get so fed up looking at my Facebook feed on days like Wednesday. Whether it is conspiracy theories running rampant, holier-than-thou hand wringing or - my personal pet peeve - people declaring it as the worst day since (insert whatever terrible historical day), I’m usually left rolling my eyes and laughing. After spending time this weekend helping clean up my great grandmother’s house and finding documents about my great grandfather’s life, I tend to not want to suffer people who made Wednesday out to be Hell on Earth. If Clarence E. “Red” Safley were alive today, he could tell us about what it really means to face life-or-death consequences, like jumping out of a plane on Christmas Day and realizing your legs are gone before you ever hit the ground.
Wednesday wasn’t the worst day since Pearl Harbor or the Civil War. If 2020 proved anything, it probably won’t even be the worst day this year. By late Wednesday night – or early Thursday morning – Joe Biden’s victory was certified, the democrats had taken control of the senate and some dude wearing a sweet Viking helmet completed his 15 minutes of fame. Since we’re out here making outlandish comments and declarations, here are things I believe will happen the rest of my life:
1) Every time one party seizes control, the other is going to say that they are evil and should be ousted.
2) The party in control will always think it is doing what is best for the country.
3) This will flip every 4-8 years.
4) People supporting both sides will say stupid things in defense of their own party, most of which will be documented so they can “cancelled” down the road.
5) Everybody will be hypocritical in some fashion. As they say, there is a tweet for everything.
This isn’t new - none of this started yesterday. It’s been growing for decades, likely amplified by giving all of us a voice online (we really don’t need it sometimes, myself included) and the ability to search out news outlets that cater to what we want to hear.
(Quick side note: I’ve been in the news industry for over a decade - it’s definitely dominated by democrats, especially locally. It doesn’t take more than 20 seconds online to find plenty of reporting geared for republicans though. Here’s the secret - news outlets are either spoon feeding their followers the stories they want or stirring up enough controversy to keep people interested. Either way, it sells their product. Somewhere in between those things, they sometimes tell you what is going on locally. — if you’re wondering which one I do on the WCSA website, I’m definitely giving you the best information on local sports with a spoonful of sugar and the occasional surly ‘Simmons Says’ column.)
While I don’t expect this madness to stop, there is one final thing I want to address when it comes to everybody rushing to social media to make sure people know they’re going to be “on the right side of history.” I want people to stop talking down Warren County citizens, especially those who are from here. Whether you stayed or moved, at some point you got the chance to experience McMinnville and all its majestic nature. It may be the place you never wanted to leave - like me - or the town you couldn’t escape quick enough. Either way, I can almost 100 percent guarantee that you people here are met daily by a person (and mostly like hundreds of people) who would give you the short off their back if you needed it. This county may not agree on everything, but I’ve never seen it fail when it comes to supporting our own. It’s disheartening to see people online, some of which I’ve known for decades, speak about Warren County as if everybody here is auditioning for a role in a “Deliverance” remake. Not everybody here is a banjo playing hick incapable of engaging in debate. The vast majority of people in McMinnville are great folks – caring, compassionate and considerate of everybody.
I’ve usually found that talking to local people has been the best way to get down to the nuances of beliefs which to be shared and understood as we all work to maintain a civilized society. Of course there are some turds in the punch bowl, but that’s every segment of people no matter the premises you use to divide them. Social media just makes them easier to spot. One thing I always come back to is people talking about the “Good Ol’ Boys,” in town. Most recently, it has become a derogatory term, aimed at some real or imagined segment of locals people feel control everything - McMinnville’s form of Illuminati I suppose. While I can’t say for sure there aren’t some master puppeteers controlling the town, I haven’t met them in my 34 years. I have met some “Good Ol’ Boys,” though. I’m talking about the people who look out for their neighbors, support their local teams, show up in masses for fundraisers and generally do their best to make sure McMinnville is maintained by wholesome, hard-working and caring people. I’m talking about the guy who once stopped on the side of the road to help my change a tire when I was stranded with a flat and the many mothers who have fed me over the years because I was a friend of their kids. I’m talking about the people who see me on the street and smile, with both of us knowing we have no idea who the other person is. We’re just all trying to be friendly. Maybe one day, we’ll realize those smiles and nods can be contagious. Perhaps we will find that all of us need each other, no matter what letter we support on Election Day. Or maybe we’ll go back to leaving politics and religion at the door when we have conversations. Until then, I’m going to stick in the middle, listening and laughing at the ridiculous things people say and write. Here lately, it’s a lot more entertaining than watching the Vols.