36.

Saturday was my 36th birthday. The hardest question I faced was “is this where you saw yourself at 36,” to which I could say no, but the truth is I never saw myself at 36. It’s not some milestone year that I had a life plan for. What I increasingly am realizing though is that I’ve reached a bit of a lull in life where I don’t really have much of a plan for anything. That is a scary realization on some level, but also a liberating one on another.

My life plan coming out of high school was to graduate college, go to law school, and then make money. I totally abandoned that in college, and by the end of school my plan was to go to Iowa or New Hampshire and work on the 2008 Presidential campaign. I did that, and kind of became the dog that catches the car- now what? I had planned to leave political campaigns after 2016 and get a “big boy job” in Washington, but then the election happened and kind of took that option away. Fast forward to 2019 and I’m realizing that I never really re-calibrated my goals, and maybe I should. I’m no longer young enough to simply say “tomorrow.” I still kind of am though.

I’ve come to realize that while I have an impressive resume and body of experience, I’m in a much tougher world today. I’ve advanced beyond the career point where I can just interview for any old position I want. In stepping up into a more advanced job market, I’m competing with better applicants. I’m also competing in a job market that values diversity considerably more than just experience (not a bad thing). I don’t provide anything for diversity (there’s a bunch of even older, experienced white, straight guys already there). I’m facing some challenges right now. They’re not likely to get easier in the near future.

I’m also just starting to face Father Time. No, I’m not facing death soon (I don’t think?), in fact I feel better than I have in 18 years at the gym. But time is starting to matter to my future plans. If I ever plan on going into the government and working towards a pension and other retirement benefits, I have a couple of years to figure that out in order to work until I’m 65. If I want a family life, I probably need to get serious about that soon. I’ve started saving some money in anticipation of “grown up life,” but not much. I’m not one to be anxious about life, but time is beginning to be something of the essence. Being rich is not an important value to me, but dying under a bridge with nothing is something I want to avoid.

All of this leads me to an anxious point in my existence. You start wondering “is this what I want?” You know what, to be honest, I’m not sure. My current life is fine, but is it leading me towards future wants? Do I value being happy now over happy later? Do the challenges I face now lead me to change the values I’ve always held? You start questioning your bedrock values of who you are, and if you don’t address that, it leads to a dark place.

So with that, I’ve done thinking about my core values, as I want them to be. In considering them, I’ve come up with a few thoughts:

  1. Stand up for those who need it. In disputes between those with power and those without, do everything you can to side with the disadvantaged. Sure, there have to be laws that protect insurance companies, or a police officer deserves a fair investigation after shooting someone, and we have to have laws about immigration. Even with all of that, remember far too often that the rules are written by those in power, and the people out of power will be the victims far more often than those in power are.
  2. Be skeptical of power. Yes, we need order and laws. Yes, we need standards. Don’t assume that all of these standards are set with the best of intentions for everybody. Too often, they are not. They are written to advantage those in power, and help them maintain their power. Poor people don’t have lobbyists. The disadvantaged often do not have a seat at the table. Don’t assume anyone is looking out for them. My advisor in college tried to instill in students a natural skepticism towards the status quo. I feel like I’ve somewhat lost sight of this. It’s great to understand how things work. It’s important though to…
  3. Don’t accept things as they are. Just because things “work that way” doesn’t mean they have to. Indeed, almost every major change in human history came as a result of someone finding a better way to do things. Progress requires at least some level of questioning the existing norms accepted facts, a vision of improvement. This doesn’t mean all progress is good, or that change is always a necessity, but you should be open to it.
  4. Tell the truth, good or not. Not all truths are good. Some hurt. Some will cause pain in life. Don’t use that as an excuse to lie. As we are seeing in our world today, every lie helps those who would like to see an erosion of facts. They’re dangerous. The temporary pain of the truth may cause you embarrassment or loss, but it will allow you to fight another day. It also allows others to understand who and what you are, on a real level. That can go a long way.
  5. Be liberal with disagreement, but be frugal with making enemies. In politics, your friends today can be your adversary tomorrow, but the inverse can be true. No two people see everything alike, and you should expect to not see eye-to-eye on every question. Don’t scorch the Earth with people whom you see mostly eye-to-eye, or even just respect. They could be a valuable ally in the future. Certainly don’t make an enemy over anything you’re not absolutely passionate about. It can burn you later.
  6. Be careful with whom you align, and never become drunk off the praise of others. You may agree with me on something today. You may praise me and call me a friend today. I may love hearing how great I am. That doesn’t mean I want you as an ally. That doesn’t mean I want us to be associated. That doesn’t mean I should allow that to go to my head. All the praise in the world isn’t worth guilt by association. You can’t buy back the world’s perception from one mistake.
  7. See other perspectives. You’re always right in your view. That doesn’t make it so to others. Allow yourself to try and see their side. Try and be decent to them. Realize they may be wrong to you, but that doesn’t mean they entirely are.
  8. Understand that others may rather be happy than right. And that’s ok. We all only live once, forcing others to be unhappy in the name of being correct on everything will usually result in problems and backlash later. There are times to push people to change. There’s also times to let them be. Don’t treat every situation as “one size fits all.” That’s not life.
  9. Don’t chase money or power, or you’ll get neither. Life will always go up and down, no matter how hard you try to stop it. If you chase the highs of material things, you’ll never quite get there. Don’t worry about the opinions of others. Don’t worry about how important you appear to others. You can’t control that. If you’ve got a lot, don’t flaunt it. There’s nobody the rest of the world hates more than those flaunting it. When you go down, it will be harder. You will have a down.
  10. Live by your values. Seems simple enough, right? Be who your dog thinks you are.

Almost inevitably, I will fall short of living up to these values in the future. I will make mistakes and lose sight of them from time-to-time. I’ll try my best though. It’s all I can hold onto.

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Finding Your History

I recently started piecing together my family tree on ancestry dot com, and so far I’ve found a lot. There have been frustrations, like knowing nothing at all about my mom’s paternal family or the relative roadblock I’ve run into on my dad’s side when I get a generation or so back into the old country, but that’s relatively minor comparable to what I’ve found. My tree now has 137 people, and ties back to several countries in Europe.

I’ve always known about my father’s maternal family, in part because my off-the-boat great-grandmother was alive until I was nine. Among the things I’ve found out though in the past year or two was that she was on one of the final boats into Ellis Island in 1923, just before the Johnson-Reed Act passed (Immigration Act of 1924), choking off most immigration into the country. It also had never occurred to me that she was naturalized as an American citizen in 1942, at the height of patriotic fever during World War II. It started to make more sense though when I realized that our village of Udol (formerly known as Ujak), in present day Slovakia, was a part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire when she was born in 1903, and my great-grandfather had fought for them in World War I, on the side of the Axis. Between the “communist hysteria” that Eastern Europeans faced at that time, and his having fought on the other side of the First World War, getting naturalized probably felt very important for them to show they were Americans. On the bright side of that, my father could get Italian citizenship because of my great-grandfather.

Despite the road block that sat on my mother’s paternal side, her mother’s side of the family turned up a mountain of information. I was able to turn up deep roots in New York and New Jersey, including really deep family roots in the Woodstock area of Ulster County. I could trace family ties back to Colonial America, including in the Revolution period. What I found on the American side wasn’t the shocking part. I was not surprised by my ties back to “old country” Germany, just that they went back into the 1600’s. I was surprised to learn I have relatives from the Netherlands, specifically from Holland and Amsterdam, although that made sense with my New York City roots. I also seem to have heritage in Switzerland too, which surprised me. I even found one distantly great-grandmother from France.

The part that blew my mind though was my British blood. I seem to have a lot of relatives from the Yorkshire and Derbyshire areas on my mom’s side. I was even more shocked when I was able to tie them as far back as the 1400’s. In digging through, I was able to find my English ancestors petitioning the crown on grievances, both in America and Great Britain. Reading back through the history astounded me. I also came to realize that not all of my ancestors were members of the Church of England- meaning some of them likely came here for the “religious freedom” that is such a part of our American history.

I’ve always known I was a bit of a Euro-mutt, but I still learned a lot in all of this. To my knowledge, my father’s paternal side is still 50% Polish/Lithuanian and 50% Hungarian. My father’s maternal side traces back to present day Slovakia, but that region is Carpathian-Ruthenian, meaning most people there are mixed Slovak, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, and Hungarian. My mom’s paternal side is mostly a mystery to me, but I’ve always been told it’s German and Italian. I now know my mother’s maternal side is heavily British and German, with a bit of Dutch, Swiss, and French mixed in. I almost can claim enough flags to guarantee myself being happy at the end of the Euro every time.

I guess I’m as old American as it gets.

Wrestling With Thanfulness

This past weekend was the NCAA Division 1 Wrestling Championships in Pittsburgh, PA. I suffered some real FOMO watching. I wrestled eleven years and love the sport. This tournament is quite possibly the greatest event in the sport. Here it was, across my state. I’m also quite a fan of Pittsburgh, and it’s rivers and bridges. More importantly though, they have Primanti Brothers. I love me some Primanti Brothers. You can see why in the picture above.

After the tournament was over, I saw a former teammate’s post on Facebook, talking about his trip to the tournament. This guy was a lot more accomplished wrestler than I was, winning a state championship and three conference championships in college. He talked about how hard it was for him to go to nationals in Pittsburgh though- the place his career ended, one match short of being an All-American. He talked about how he spent years thinking his entire career was a failure. Then he talked about getting over all of that, realizing how successful he was, and recognizing all the good he took from his athletic career. It was a really cool, inspiring post to read in the mess of politics and personal drama that usually inhabits Facebook.

Obviously that post made me think a lot about my sports career, and what I took from it into real life. As I said above, I wrestled eleven years, but I also ran indoor and outdoor track, as well as cross-country in high school, winning seven varsity letters along the way. I played baseball for eight years, stopping at the junior legion level to focus on my other sports (we weren’t a very good team, and to be honest, that discouraged me. I dabbled in football in elementary school and soccer in middle school too. I enjoyed playing sports as a kid, and did a lot of it. I’d like to think it had a positive influence on me.

My sports career didn’t really end ideally though. By the time I reached high school, I played sports because it’s what I did. I got more anxiety out of it than enjoyment. This isn’t a story of over-zealous parents here, while they did push me, I probably could have quit if I wanted. It’s mostly a story of me- how I got stuck doing the things I did less out of pleasure, and more because I had wrapped up so much of my identity in being a good athlete. As I became less excited to play, my performance dipped, and frankly I know now that it changed a lot about who I am. Eventually I spent a lot of my senior year fighting injuries, and my running career ended when I was diagnosed with mono my freshman year of college, before I ever ran a race. I not only quit sports, but I basically quit physical activity. I stopped working out altogether for about seven years, gained a solid 100 pounds, and didn’t take care of myself. That finally stopped in 2009, when a 25 year old me realized I was out of breath from walking up the steps to my office. I finally got a gym membership and lost 30 pounds in the first year. I plateaued there until I started eating healthier and cut back my beer and pizza intake back in 2016. I’ve lost 45 pounds since then and feel much better.

We live in a “winners and losers” culture, and that often overshadows the real value in competing in sports. We take our lessons in the form of trophies and medals, and not as much in the form of what we learn. Nobody gives a shit now whether I won or lost that match back when I was in tenth grade- not my family, nor my friends, not my community, and really not me. Sometimes, especially when we’re competing, we don’t take time to realize the actual important lessons we learned along the way.

So what are some of the lessons I learned from sports that have translated into life? Here’s a few of them:

  • As long as you don’t back up, most referees won’t warn you for stalling. In wrestling, when you don’t do very much to try and score, you can be called for stalling. If you get two stallings, you give up a point. Sometimes you could avoid the referees ire by just staying present in the middle of the mat, and not backing up. Life isn’t a whole lot different. If the people around you think you’re backing up, and you’re not presenting a plan to upgrade, they’ll think you’re not going anywhere. Pushing forward just a bit, or even just remaining present and steadfast where you are, goes a long way to keeping the people in your life happy. People will leave you alone to your business if they think you’re not regressing.
  • Always have a plan, stick to it, and execute. My junior year of high school I ran the mile pretty well. Not well enough to be a state champion or anything, but good enough to score points for the team in most races. Why? I just ran my race. I’d get out with the better runners the first lap, hang in right behind them the second and third lap, then pass everyone I could on the last lap. Sometimes some moron would run way out front that wasn’t supposed to, but I never let that bother me. My job was to hang close enough to score points, and make sure I at least got a third. I knew how to do that. Life isn’t a lot different. You make a plan, you execute, you hope you’re good enough at it to succeed. You can’t get caught up in what others are doing, or panicking that you didn’t prepare well enough. When it’s time, you just execute your plans and try to do them well enough.
  • Small things matter, even tenths of a pound. There is nothing more unforgiving than a scale with your weight, or a stop watch with your time, or the inches a baseball lands foul by. Sports are just like that. By the time you reach high school, the difference isn’t so much physical ability, and that’s even more true at higher levels. The differences are minor, and normally seem to favor the better prepared, more motivated athlete. Sometimes you will miss weight very close, or lose a race by a hundredth of a second, or just miss a home run by feet. That’s not accidental. That usually can be traced to the preparation you put in. The extra lifts you got in during the off-season weren’t “no big deal.” That carries over in life. You know the saying “bad things come in groups?” They do- to people not doing the things they need to be doing at that time.
  • You can’t control what the other guy does. This one is major to me. We live in a society where everyone wants to game the system for a small advantage, and disadvantage their competition. My experience is that doesn’t work very often. The other person is going to do what they do. Nothing you do to get a cheap advantage is going to make you better than a superior competitor, other than to make yourself better. Don’t worry so much about them.

I learned a lot of things from sports that didn’t win me trophies. They probably were more valuable.

Thinkin’ About The Future

In August of 2002 I came back to my dorm from cross-country practice and saw a flier on my building door looking for interns for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign. I never expected to still be doing campaigns for the 2020 Presidential campaign. Hell, I’m not sure I expected to be alive in 2019, so there’s that.

I’ve seen quite a bit in my political day. I’ve worked for a President, in fact the first black President, something that was just a line in a rap song when I was a kid. I’ve worked for five U.S. Senators (six if I count internships), a Secretary of State, and the first woman nominated for President, twice. I worked for New Jersey’s first African-American Congresswoman and a Bosnian War refugee. My travels have taken me to Waterloo (Iowa, twice), Charlotte (NC), New Brunswick (NJ), Washington (DC), Harrisburg (PA), Nyack (NY), Columbus (OH), Trenton (NJ), the Outer Banks (NC), Philadelphia (PA), Myrtle Beach (SC), Woodbridge (NJ), Pensacola (FL), Mason City (IA), Elizabeth City (NC), Hazleton (PA), Wilkes-Barre (PA), Queens (NY), Stroudsburg (PA), Grinnell (IA), and of course, right here at home in the Lehigh Valley. From electing women as statewide judges to electing friends as my own County Executive, it’s all been fun.

Campaigns are exhausting though, particularly these days. You’re on the road, a lot. Having a “normal” life is impossible. You deal with a lot of overly self-assured jackasses that know everything, and sometimes you can’t do anything about them. I’ve been blessed with mostly great candidates, but sometimes they’re politically incompetent, but still expect you to answer to them, rather than advise them. Dealing with employees can be exhausting. In recent years I’ve mostly kept to myself socially during campaigns. I’ve had lots of fun, amazing stories, but I’m getting a bit older.

I planned on getting out of campaigns after the 2016 election, but it didn’t quite end according to plan. With 2020 fast approaching, I’m seeing another light at the end of the tunnel. This time is probably win or lose though. Running campaigns full time is simply something that I’m aging out of. I won’t exit politics altogether- I could see myself on Capitol Hill, in an Administration, working in a state capitol or local government, consulting full time, running for local office, or working on a specific issue or cause after 2020. I also could see myself working in some other capacity, as a writer, in real estate, financial advising, as a professor, or something I haven’t thought of yet, and doing politics as a part-time thing. I see a transition ahead though. It’s a bit scary. It’s something I just have to do to avoid burning out, and for financial purposes.

Between now and then though is a full cycle. Another shot at Trump is invigorating enough to wake me up everyday. I won’t be able to get out for 2021, both of my local county executives will be up for re-election (I do work on their races). The light’s still pretty far down the tunnel for me. I’m not even totally sure what’s next yet for me in 2019. I do know though that I’m doing a lot of thinking about where my life is going now.

Remembering my Grandfather

Today would have been my grandfather’s 89th birthday. He left us 13 years ago this February 1st, just 100 days before I graduated college. It doesn’t feel that long ago, and yet its approaching the point of literally being a lifetime ago. Every time I think about him, I definitely miss him.

Richard Thomas Wilkins Sr., born and raised in Phillipsburg, NJ, was one of the best influences on my life. I spent a lot of time with him as a child- when my parents worked, some weekend nights, and almost every Sunday. A lot of our time together was doing simple things, like Friday night football games at his beloved Phillipsburg Stateliners, Saturday nights going out to dinner (many times at KFC, where we got hot wings), or listening to Polkas after church Sunday morning. He taught me a lot about serving others too, whether it was his time in Korea with the U.S. Navy, his more than 40 years on the Pohatcong Township Planning Commission, or just his being the usher in church. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned was watching him appreciate his 50th wedding anniversary, even as he battled terminal cancer. Or perhaps it was that style with cancer that did the most to change me as a person.

I don’t mean to hold him up as perfect, he wasn’t, but it felt like a good day to remember him today. Even as the years go by, he remains on my mind.

So This is Christmas…

Merry Christmas to you all. As a believer, raised Byzantine Catholic, I am of the belief that a little over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem of the Holy Land, a child was born, sent from God. Maybe you believe he was sent to preach the word of God, and to sacrifice himself to free us from sin. Maybe you don’t, and this is a holiday of nice gifts, good basketball games, and some good Chinese food. To each their own, I love y’all anyway.

Last week was probably the first time in my life that I started to believe that maybe life is just too hard for human kind. With all of the chaos, division, and crisis in our world, maybe we just can’t handle it. It’s not that division is new, for America or the world, but it is pretty crippling right now. We’ve always comforted ourselves with the idea that “we all want the same things,” or “we’re in this together,” or “we’re all Americans,” but none of that stuff is actually true. We don’t want the same things, which is why the government is partially shut down over $5 billion (a decimal point of our budget) for a wall on our Southern border that is at best symbolic. We’re fully freaking out over pulling our troops out of Syria, something the left would normally cheer, because we realize the damage to our credibility when the Kurds are left to die at the hands of our enemies, or our allies in Turkey. The market is tanking, despite the controversial tax cuts for wealthy people last year. Republicans are fleeing the very administration of the man they stood by and vouched for two years ago. There’s so much more going on right now too. Frankly, I think it all gets to be a bit overwhelming for the average person. We spend all day screaming and yelling at each other over each individual controversy. We do this because we’re not in this together, because we want very different things.

All of this division and anger can be pretty jarring, because it literally reminds us that we might not agree with the person next door. It’s important that we remind ourselves this isn’t peculiar, it’s normal. Americans were not a monolith when debating whether we should declare our very independence, or during the Civil War, or whether or not to enter World War II, or on the virtues of Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, or in our present divisions. Israelis and Palestinians live in neighborhoods near each other and disagree over the legitimacy of their government. Koreans don’t all agree on reunifying some day. Almost two in five French people voted for a Neo-Nazi, while the Brits are narrowly divided on whether they should be part of Europe. Puerto Ricans divide closely on statehood, independence, or remaining a territory. Brazil elected a man who wants to destroy their rain forests. It’s only been a few years since Canadians in Quebec almost voted for independence. Division is as human as breathing. It is something we do, uncomfortably, because we all have the sovereign individuality to do so. It is inescapable, even as it cripples our ability to function.

I am worried though. Our problems are fundamental right now. Our world view is in question, and we’re further apart than ever before. Western pluralism, the diversity that we have lived off of, allows us to grow ever more divided, as we welcome more different strains of thought. I’ve always been proud that my great-grandmother came here to Ellis Island from Czechoslovakia, but I’ve often glossed over the fact that we closed off Ellis Island just months after she got here. We did that then largely because of Asian migration to the United States. Today, migration to this country is more global than ever. The diversity of races, religions, languages, and cultures has caused many “traditional” Americans to seek more inward, ignorant solutions. They deny science, diversity, societal change, and basic progress to “maintain” what they think we’ve been. Are they right? I think not. Are they wrong? In the sense that many of their basic experiences have not improved, that they are not feeling the successes of our nation’s prosperity, it’s hard to blame them for feeling forgotten, left behind, and lost in a changing world that they can’t understand.

I know this though- despair brings about hate, and hate makes people do awful things. Surely people who are partaking in the success of humanity don’t join the Ku Klux Klan, Hamas, ISIS, or any other hateful group. Surely people taking part in the prosperity of nations do not vote to “expel the other,” and exasperate division. The failure of the state to both distribute success among both labor and capital, or to show the successes of a global, diverse community have lead the people to accept crackpot regimes, extreme radical parties, and a permanent “war state,” both militarily and in our society.

My only hope this Christmas season is exactly in the thing that I denied exists above- our shared humanity. We are not hard-wired to hate in our every day life, and if we just interact more, we’ll realize it. I had a beer tonight and talked to my Republican bartender friend as a person, not some horrifying other. When we live our every day lives, and talk to each other, we suddenly don’t have the time, desire, or ability to hate each other. While living on social media may make us feel more partisan, more divided, and more distant from each other, it also gives us the opportunity to connect globally, to see things we may not have otherwise, and to access other points of view we may not have otherwise. Connecting with the world has allowed me to discuss politics, theology, popular culture, economics, and war with friends from Tehran to Taiwan, from Moscow to New York, from Berlin to Montreal. Just getting out and talking to my friends here in Easton has allowed me the opportunity to see other perspectives. One of my best friends here is currently in Afghanistan, serving as a U.S. Marine, and our views on the world are very different- but listening to him tell me his experiences has given me a great, different perspective on life and the world.

We do not share the same hopes, dreams, and goals in this world, our ruggedly different outlooks on the world, our individuality, prevents that. It is impossible to have a globally shared vision, and for that reason I am very afraid this Christmas. Our challenges are great, and the pathways to solve them are different. That is inescapable. My hope is simply in the billions of interactions that every day people have every day. Maybe, just maybe, our desire to not live in constant chaos, constant contradiction, and constant conflict with each other will save us. Maybe getting to know people different than us will save us. Maybe the every day compromises we make with each other will win out as the example. Maybe not though. Maybe we’re doomed to argue ourselves to death on Facebook over our differences. Maybe the despair of our own lives will eat us alive. I don’t know right now. I can only hope not. Maybe our divisions do define us, but maybe our desire to live peacefully in our own way define us too. Only time will tell.

The political scientist in me forecasts doom and gloom this Christmas. The faithful believer in me hopes we can find a better way. The world is a contradictory place, and sometimes all we can put our faith in is exactly the things we swear to be impossible. To my family, to the friends I’ve made along the way, Merry Christmas, and I love you all. To those of you reading me, peace be with you, Merry Christmas to you too. May we all leave the world better than we received it.

Thankful

I’d like to think I’m a thankful person, but the truth is that I take a lot of things in my life for granted. I’ve been blessed with many great things in life, whether it be my family, a comfortable middle-class life, intellectual and athletic abilities, decent health, a solid education, friends, second (and third) chances, or even just the chance to be alive. When you live every day in relative peace and tranquility, it becomes your norm, and you take it for granted. It’s not to say I haven’t had trials and tribulations, it’s to say I’ve lived my life free of oppression and despair. I should be thankful for that, every day.

This Christmas though, I am happy for my career in politics. Since I was 19, I’ve lived around political campaigns, and the people in them. Many, many of those people are not like me. I’m not calling them better or worse, but they’re there for very different reasons and motivations, and their different perspectives have enriched my understanding of life. Learning from their experiences, I think I’ve grown to be a better man than I might have grown up to be, as I was as a 19 year old intern on my first campaign.

I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities, and some not wonderful ones, to see the world through different eyes. I’ve worked with people who had undocumented relatives they desperately wanted to save from deportation. I’ve worked with people struggling to speak their own truth, and come out as who they are. I’ve worked with war refugees, who’s entire families were on “kill lists,” forcing them to leave their countries and seek asylum here. I’ve worked with people who grew up in poverty in southeast Washington, New Jersey, Appalachia, and Philadelphia. I’ve worked with Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. I’ve worked with a Latin American member of his nation’s Congress who was assassinated when he went home. I’ve worked under some of the most accomplished members of our Congress in my lifetime. I’ve worked for career teachers. I’ve worked for Muslims, Catholics, Jews, and Protestant Christians. I’ve worked for Midwesterners, Northeasterners, and Southerners. I worked for the first African-American Congresswoman in New Jersey history. I’ve worked for prosecutors, and alongside ex-felons. I’ve worked for Latinos, African-Americans, and white people. I’ve worked for winners and losers. I’ve worked for incompetent people, evil people who left their jobs in shame, and some of the finest people I’ve ever met. I’ve worked for Senators, Governors, Congress people, cabinet secretaries, state legislators, local officials, unions, and even a President. I’ve probably worked for or on a lot of cool things I’m forgetting right now.

Politics hasn’t made me rich, God knows that, but I’d like to think it’s enriched me as a person ten fold. I’d like to think the people I’ve met professionally, in addition to the people in my personal and private life, have all left an impression on me in some way. I’d like to believe the pathway I’ve chosen in life has made me better than perhaps I would have been otherwise. Lord knows I’m not a perfect person, that my vices and flaws would leave me unacceptable to some. Nevertheless, I’d like to think those of you who have gifted me with your presence have made me a better person than I would have been, and that this better person has helped make the world a better place than it would have been otherwise. We’ll all die, and we’ll all make mistakes on the way there, I’m not really worried about that. I’m just thankful that my pathway has forced me to take stock of different positions in life than my own, and maybe changed my view of the world for the better.

I think my time out in the field will come to an end soon. Probably after 2020. I’m on the old end of the pool at this point, so I need to be in an office or headquarters, and maybe have a little life stability. At 35, that’s not too much to ask.

Thank you to you all. Merry Christmas.

One Month of Christmas, Day 2

Good day and Happy Monday, November 26th, 2018. Today is 29 days until Christmas. Here’s today’s random thoughts…

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Our Immigration System Has Been Broken for a Century Plus, but Trump is Creating a National Disgrace

What’s happening at our Southern Border Right Now is a disgrace. Trump sent several thousand troops to the border in a basic political stunt, to pretend he’s getting tough on illegal immigration. The reality? It was a publicity stunt. Now he’s violating American and international law by not allowing asylum seekers to enter our country while their claims are investigated and decided. This is not supposed to be something up for discussion- it’s long-standing law. To make matters worse, he’s literally having us tear-gas people on the Mexican side of the border, for some unknown, indefensible reason. In the ultimate sign that their isn’t intelligent decision making going on here, he might just close some border points altogether, making things inconvenient for Americans who cross the border on the regular.

I’m reminded throughout this mess that we are a nation of immigrants, and that my family has immigrant roots too. My great-grandfather Joseph, from my father’s paternal side of the family, came to the United States with his brother from Poland, immigrants who would not become citizens for years after their arrival. My great-grandmother Julia and her husband, from my father’s maternal side of the family, came to Ellis Island from Czechoslovakia, and also took years of working here and raising a family before getting citizenship. None of these relatives were high-skilled “desirable” workers, in fact some of the family members who came here had been gassed in World War I and were what I would call insane. They were all welcomed here to work though, and they built a life a world away from places in Europe where they no longer felt okay with staying. It’s the best side of America that they were allowed in.

In 1892, Ellis Island began processing immigrants as a port of entry. In 1924, just months after my Great-Grandmother Julia Kravchak arrived from her village of Udol, in present day Slovakia, the Immigration Act of 1924 shut down Ellis Island as an immigration entry processing center, and turned it into a detention center for undocumented immigrants in our country. That law created quotas for immigration, largely racist quotas that favored immigrants from white nations over people from non-white nations (at that time, largely aimed at Asian nations). While the law has been amended since then, these same quota systems have largely survived in American law. They have caused much of the backlog of those waiting for entry from Mexico, Central America, and South America, while making it easier to come from “more desirable” places. Our asylum system, our system of refugees, and our educational visa system have all worked fairly decently though, and have been good for our society and economy. Or, at least they were. Now Donald Trump’s border policy has become to fire tear gas and rubber bullets at families trying to flee violence and oppression. There is nothing to be proud of here. This is our Immigration Act of 1924, except that this time we’re actually being violent.

I’m not arguing that we should have an open border, because I don’t think we should. I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t deport criminals, because I think we usually should. I’m arguing we should be a humane people, because I think we always should.

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The Eagles Still Suck

Yes, they won a football game yesterday. Yes, they’re 5-6, and one game out of first place. Yes, three of their final five games are against the two teams in front of them, so they just need to win games to win the division. Yes, someone has to win the division, host a playoff game, and then has the same shot as everyone else in the NFC. With all of that said, the Eagles stink. They have guys literally coming in off the street playing in the defensive secondary. They have no deep threat, aren’t committed to the run, and have a quarterback who still seems just a little bit off this year. Oh, and they’re not as good in the trenches on either side of the ball. And the coaching is worse. 

Who are they really going to beat though? New Orleans? The Rams? Kansas City? The Patriots? The Chargers? Please let me know, because I don’t see a contender they can beat, right now. As a result, my enthusiasm is low.

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Climate Change, Climate Change, Climate Change, and yes, more Climate Change!

I don’t think we can scream loud enough about the U.S. Government’s report on Black Friday the climate change is an imminent problem that will hurt our society across all demographics and income levels. The report, mandated by law across many agencies not only said climate change is real, or that it is man-made, but also that it is dangerous. Of course the Trump Administration tried to release it on Friday of a holiday weekend.

Democrats, but also really any people who care about Earth’s future, need to scream bloody murder about this. I may think less of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Pelosi protest stunt than an outdated can of spam, but she is absolutely right to be calling for a “Green New Deal” right now- Democrats need to latch onto this, party wide. First off, in nakedly politically potent terms, jobs. Second off, we have to move towards a more green economy, now, to avoid disaster. The fact is, there’s no sane argument *not* to move towards a green economy.

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So You Think You’re Smarter Than Your Dog?

This really isn’t a long post here, but let’s dive in here- are you smarter than your dog? Sure, dogs can’t build the intricate society we have, with houses, currency, relationships, and entertainment. On the other hand, who cares? Dogs don’t care about all of that. They like to eat, play a bit, go outside a few times a day, and sleep. In many ways, I envy them.

Today though, I was talking to my dogs and it hit me- when I talk at them, they seem to grasp my language and know what I mean. When they bark at me? I have no idea. So their brains managed to evolve enough to understand another species, but mine didn’t.

Who saved who again?

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Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid are the Best Sports Entertainment in Philly

No, for real, fight me on this. Jimmy Buckets has been here for like two weeks and has two walk-off baskets. Joel Embiid is throwing himself alley-oops off the glass. Embiid is playing like an MVP, leading the league in 30 pt., 10 reb. games so far this year. I realize maybe Ben Simmons isn’t quite leaping forward as hoped, but he’s your third scoring option now- does he need to? Not in November.

And since I know you’ll bring up Markelle Fultz- relax. He’s 20. He should be in college yet. Yes, it’s possible he has a debilitating nerve injury and is shot. Maybe he’s a head case. Or maybe he’s just young, and has been snake-bit by injuries and an impatient fan base. Why trade him now, at pennies on the dollar? Put him on the bench, get him safe minutes, and hope he turns into 70% of what you hoped in a few years.

But for now, just watch The Process and Jimmy Buckets amaze you.

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Run DMC’s “Christmas Time in Hollis, Queens” is a Better Christmas Anthem than Mariah’s Song

Hear me out- I don’t hate Mariah Carey. I don’t even hate her over-played “All I Want For Christmas.”

But the reason for the season is “Christmas Time in Hollis, Queens.” It’s getting overplayed, in NBA and car commercials. But it’s just better, more authentic, and didn’t play to the fantasy land Christmas love story narrative of millions of teens in my generation. They just wanted you to know they loved their mom’s cooking.

And I do too.

0- Election Day

I was in an odd place on Election Night of 2002. I was suffering from mono, and had just decided to not try to return to running track and field or cross-country once cleared. I wasn’t playing the drums anymore, and was only about 20 months removed from my last wrestling bout (a 15-0 win), after 11 years in that sport. At that time, I was simply a young political science major, driven mostly by my opposition to the Iraq War and my support for the working class and unionized labor. I had no idea that politics would replace sports and music as the central meaning in my life yet, or the places it would take me. I thought I was majoring in political science at that time as a pathway to law school, not to be heading into 2020 still working on campaigns, but life doesn’t ask permission when moving you in a direction.

What I wouldn’t give to be back on a wrestling mat today, or run down that windy back-stretch on Easton’s track, or jam out on my drum set for a jazz band competition. All of those things once defined me as a person, and their fading from my life is part of why I am where I am this morning- running a regional boiler room, over-seeing the Charlotte area for the Democratic Party. Politics has taken me all over the place, and let me see places and things I never would have expected to see. I’ve managed Congressional, county and State legislative races, been a statewide field director, run a statewide early and absentee vote program, and of course been a regional field director. I’ve worked for members of the progressive caucus in Congress, and downright conservative Democrats. I’ve been exposed to people, places, ideas, and issues that I never would have seen otherwise. Politics has come to re-define who I am, what I am, and how I see the world. It truly filled the voids I previously left.

Father Time is not my friend though. If I want to retire at 65, I need to start moving in that direction sometime soon. Politics, and yes the Democratic Party, have changed a lot since I was a 19 year old intern for the PA Dems coordinated campaign. I don’t honestly know how I feel about it, if I’m honest. It’s not what I signed up for as an anti-war, pro-union youth. At the same time, these values are who I am now, at this point.

I’m not sure how many of today’s I have left. Let’s hope this is enjoyable.

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GOTV is not a place or time for intellectual thought- you just do it. You do your job, as instructed, and just hope it works out. Freelancers who try to do their own thing and be heroes usually end up doing more harm than good. It’s a place for people who are orderly and follow directions. I find that Democrats aren’t so hot at that.

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By 11pm tonight, one of two narratives will take hold:

  1. Democratic passion and enthusiasm, buoyed by anti-Trump fever, swept the nation up in a Blue Wave that at a minimum flipped the House, and maybe more. I also imagine that inside of this narrative will be a sub-story on whether “Berniecrat” lefties or mainstream, establishment figures lead the way, which will shape the opening salvos and days of the 2020 Election.
  2. Donald Trump’s stark rhetoric, his barnstorming schedule, and the awakening of the right-wing over Brett Kavanaugh’s “treatment” by Democrats stoked Republican enthusiasm to perform better than expected. Trump’s tough talk on immigration and Republican tough rhetoric against Democratic candidates in Georgia, Florida, and more saved the day. While many races were tight, Republicans held on in Republican seats. Donald Trump looks nearly impossible to beat.

For what it’s worth, be careful to not over buy on either story. The Democratic “Resistance” of these past two years may or may not work in a mid-term, in which Donald Trump is not actually on the ballot. Either way, that doesn’t mean you should conclude the same for 2020, when the Democrats will have to pick an actual person to run against him.

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Just to make things clear, on no other level has the national political environment helped Democrats as much as the U.S. Senate. We are not talking much today about normally swing state seats like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Virginia. If Hillary had won in 2016, all would be in serious danger today. Even so, the road to winning a majority is brutally hard tonight. Democrats must:

  • Win tough races they currently lead in West Virginia, Indiana, and Montana.
  • Win at least one, if not two of Florida, Missouri, and North Dakota, all of which are within a point leads or much worse.
  • Pick up at least three of Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee, and Texas, all of which are razor close.
  • Get Mississippi to a run-off and hope Republicans pick a nut, if they fall short on any of the above.

To be clear, it’s possible that Republicans pick up like five seats, and Democrats get none of their pick-ups. A 56-44 GOP Senate could happen. By the same token, so could a 53-47 Democratic Senate. Neither seems likely. I still would expect the GOP to hold the Senate with 50-53 seats after this election. That, by the way, is not a bad outcome for the Democrats, relative to where they started the cycle.

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I don’t want to start 2020 before it needs to, but it’s worth noting- not many of the Democratic leading candidates are being invited into swing districts to close. You see some Barack Obama. You see some Joe Biden. You do see some Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, the occasional Elizabeth Warren, and a few others in blue areas to try and bump turnout, but you don’t see them going much to PA-10, NC-9, or any other moderate district we need to win the House. For the most part, this tells me that our field doesn’t have a broad enough audience to win the electoral college in 2020. A majority party that wins elections can win electorates that aren’t fully ideologically aligned with them, especially against a polarizing figure like Donald Trump.

Just saying.

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If Democrats win back the House tonight as expected, it’s important to remember all the points on the road to this victory, beginning with Donald Trump’s victory speech in the early hours of November 9th, 2016 in New York. There was the GOP’s decision to try and repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court striking down their Congressional map and putting their own fair map in place, the GOP pushing through two conservative judges after blocking Judge Garland, Charlottesville, Parkland, many Trump statements, Connor Lamb’s victory, and of course the tax cuts, to name a few moments.

When you watch tonight though, there are some key areas of the country to watch. The Philadelphia, Miami, and San Diego media markets look ripe for big Democratic gains. California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, Texas, and Florida all look like states where major gains are happening.

What are some districts that Democrats have to win? PA-5, 6, 7, 17, CA-49, NJ-2, 11, AZ-2, CO-6, FL-27, IA-1, IL-6, KS-3, MI-11, MN-2, 3, VA-10, WA-8. These 18 seats are prime pick-ups.

What are the toss-ups that Democrats need to win some of to win back the House? CA-10, 25, 39, 45, 48, FL-15, 26, GA-6, IA-3, IL-14, KS-2, KY-6, ME-2, MI-8, NC-9, 13, NJ-3, 7, NM-2, NY-19, 22, OH-12, PA-1, 10, TX-7, 32, UT-4, VA-2, 7. These 29 seats are where Democrats would tip the House and build their margin.

What seats would signal a huge Democratic wave? There are actually 56 additional GOP seats in their likely or leaning camps, which the Cook political report is still tracking. I can tell you for a fact that at least a couple of these seats are firmly in play after early voting. All told 103 Republicans are waking up in danger today. 80 of them could win, and they would still possibly lose the House. Remember, the Democrats are flat out favored to take 18 of these seats.

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Down here in Charlotte this cycle, things have been eventful. My region has five state House races, all pick-up opportunities. It has two State Senate seats, also pick-ups. We also are doing GOTV for NC-9 on the Congressional level, a pick-up opportunity. It’s nice playing all offense, for a change. I expect us to pick up a State House seat or two, a State Senate seat, and possibly a Congressional seat tonight (though that will be tight). If things go well though, we could easily pick up much more than that. If you’re watching at home, you should keep an eye on HD’s 68, 98, 103, 104, and 105, SD’s 39 and 41, and CD 9.

Back up home, the only work I did for the general was PA HD-121. I have more than a passing interest in PA-115 (did work there last cycle) and 137 (my home district, I tried to push some personal capital with national organizations in there for our nominee). I did some Summer field work on PA’s CD-10 before it was targeted too. I am hoping for a Blue Wave to sweep them all into office.

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My three tiers of potential Democratic Gubernatorial pick-ups tonight:

  • Likely- Maine, Michigan, Illinois, New Mexico
  • Leaning- Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada
  • Possible- Georgia, South Dakota, Kansas, New Hampshire
  • Giant Blue Wave- Vermont, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, Arizona

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There’s less good forecasts out there for state legislatures than any other major level of government. Fortunately, the Washington Post recently published an article on this, and named the following chambers as “in play”:

  • Michigan House and Senate
  • North Carolina Senate
  • Maine Senate
  • New York Senate
  • Arizona House and Senate
  • Colorado Senate
  • New Hampshire House and Senate
  • West Virginia House

For what it’s worth, people in North Carolina think the House is at least as much in play. Carl Klarner did the forecasts for the Post, and you should check him out here.

No, Pennsylvania is not on here. Expect solid gains though tonight. I suspect the Democrats will end up with between 92 and 95 House seats, and 20 Senate seats. This puts both chambers at least marginally back in play moving forward.

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Go vote. No, really, do it. Your country needs you, whoever you are. While I have interesting stuff to write here, none of it matters like you doing your civic duty. I have friends who are overseas right now representing our country, the least you can do is go vote.