Erik Eisele: Home on the road

We are all part of a tribe. Family, community, state, country, it all comes out from time to time.

The Olympics, pitched as an instance of the world coming together, is one example. Countries meet on a global playing field, a time-honored tradition in camaraderie. But what is it really? Competition. Nationalism. The chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” that fill the stadium are a tribal call, a celebration of divisions, not just unity. It is about us and them, and us. Most of all us.

When Ryan Lochte acts like an imbecile it is not an individual insult but a tribal shame: “the ugly American abroad,” an old tribal stereotype. “He gives our entire delegation a bad name.” How true, a slandering of our tribe.

The Olympics are over. The overt national call has come to a close. But our tribalism has not. It never comes to an end, it is baked into the American fabric.

Some versions are ugly, acute reminders of the stereotype Lochte stands accused of reinforcing: the Ugly American. Those live in the political chants of Americans insistent on restricting entrance or accommodation based on religion. “No more Muslims” has somehow become its own tribal call. Same with “no more immigrants.” This in a country founded by immigrants, built on the principles of religious freedom.

The Ugly American indeed. But tribalism is emotional more than it is logical, it doesn’t always make sense.

Not every vision of tribalism is so bleak, however.

This summer I drove across the United States. First one way, from New Hampshire south to North Carolina, then across to Kentucky, Colorado, Utah, California, then the other, from Washington state back to Colorado and across the long green center to the Mid-Atlantic and the North. Back to New Hampshire, from the Sierras to the Whites, from one unending blue to the other.

In the eastern plains of Colorado I pulled off at a rest stop. It was a warm morning, yellow grass swaying in the breeze. I got out to stretch my legs, hit the bathroom and filled my water bottle. I was roughly 30 hours from home, a long stretch of road before me.

Across the way two men stood outside a green Honda Civic. They were scruffy, their clothes dirty. Modern hippies, maybe homeless, likely both. One had dreadlocks. The other held a leash that ran to a small black dog. Someone had written “Live Free or Die” in white paint along the Civic’s trunk. The dreaded man looked at me, nodded his head, smiled, and then pointed to his license plate with both hands like a maitre d’ showing me to my table: New Hampshire. The Granite State. “We are of the same tribe,” his smile said. I smiled back and waved, then steered toward the highway. Indeed.

A thousand miles later it happened again, this time crossing Ohio: A young man in a low-set Acura slid along the highway. He was driving fast, faster than I would have, weaving his way among the traffic. I saw him approaching in my rearview. I held my course to let him pass.

But when his window was adjacent to mine he slowed. When he paused, I looked. He stared back at me, probably in his early 20s, dark hair, a quintessential college kid. He smiled, raised his fist, quickly pumped it twice and then sped up, crossing back into my lane just in front of me. His plate: New Hampshire, the first I’d seen since Colorado.

What happened next is he slowed.

Not fully, but enough that his message was clear. “Follow me,” he seemed to be saying. “You speed up a little, I’ll slow down a little, and we can band together to cross this Buckeye State highway. As Granite Staters.”

As a tribe.

And here’s the thing: I did. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the months among American foreigners, of being surrounded by cars from California and Colorado plates, Kentucky-ites and Utahns.

The poignant reminder painted in green script and shadowed by a fallen Old Man was enough to push my foot on the accelerator. Maybe it was seeing someone call to me in brotherhood despite having no idea of my name. But cruising along I-70 with no reason to speed up beyond the wave of a non-friend I decided to exceed the posted limit a little more.

I lost him somewhere around Columbus where I-77 turns north. He pulled away amid the congestion, and like a cyclist too weak for the peleton I drifted backward. I didn’t find him again. And I was staying on I-70, driving east to see a friend in Philadelphia, my license plates having left out the full story of my destination. But I still smile as I think of him, a lone warrior whose befriending me stood on nothing but my tags. A true tribal spirit.

Maybe it’s only among foreign shores that such tribalism is born. In the West, highway speed limits read 75 mph. With cruise control pegged at 85 I’d find myself weaving past cars, flying faster than the flow of traffic. Weeks later on my return home through New York the posted limit read 50. I again pegged cruise control at 85, but this time I was the sluggard, a slow motion impediment crawling along the pavement. Empire State plates shot past like I was riding a farm tractor.

And for some reason it felt like home.

Erik Eisele is a reporter for The Conway Daily Sun.

  • Category: Columns

William Marvel: The Crimea of Conway?

The best place to dig up political dirt for newspaper consumption is precinct government. That’s where the most expensive mistakes and the most dubious deals go unreported, principally because few people without something to gain are ever present to participate in or to witness even the biggest decisions.

In August of 1988, a few dozen voters passed the sewer bond proposed by the North Conway precinct commissioners, who assured everyone that the bond would be paid for entirely by user fees. The commissioners must have expected to just dump the sewage into the Saco River and make it someone else’s problem, because they didn’t look into building a treatment plant until the pipe was all laid, whereupon they discovered that they couldn’t get a permit for that. Years later, at many times the projected cost and after a controversially costly purchase of land from a banker who held two of the commissioners’ mortgages, precinct voters got their sewer and the taxes to match.

Conway Village has followed an equally unfortunate path, expanding injudiciously to compensate for a plummeting tax base. Gentrification forced most of Conway’s industrial workforce to move inconveniently far away — which, in conjunction with NAFTA, persuaded local manufacturers to look elsewhere for an affordable labor pool. North Conway’s high taxes, meanwhile, have guided the town’s tax-exempt nonprofits toward the lower rents of Conway Village, further depleting the tax base. As a result, the Conway Village Fire District is in dire straits, and already asked the town to take over the cost of maintaining its sidewalks — hence the granite-trimmed sidewalk-to-nowhere on Commissioner Mike DiGregorio’s street.

From within an overlooked town committee, the North Conway precinct appears to be engaged in a self-aggrandizing scheme that may put Conway Village at further disadvantage, and make it even more dependent on the town. Last month, the committee charged with negotiating the non-precinct fire agreement heard a pitch from North Conway for taking over the non-precinct area known on the map as C-9. It’s an area around the new Kennett High School that is doubtless expected to become an entirely new neighborhood in town; the owner of all that land probably did not split the cost of building the high school’s mile-long driveway out of charity, after all. C-9 is already the proposed location of the aquatic center that we can’t seem to live without, and I keep waiting for headlines announcing the beginning of residential development there. That potential development is probably what started North Conway salivating, and that salivation may in turn suggest that the development is not far away.

Predictably, Conway Village representatives object. Fire Chief Steve Solomon pointed to all the time he invested in the high school. David Bernier, the North Conway precinct superintendent, argued that North Conway has “a straight shot” to the area via the North-South Road — although he has not made that argument in any of the other 14 years since the North-South Road has been open. Neither did he claim that Conway had ever failed to respond punctually, yet he still insisted that it was logical for North Conway to take over C-9, “politics aside.”

That comment evidently got a rise out of Conway Village commissioner Janine Bean, who replied that Bernier could not “take the politics out of it.” North Conway representatives offered a rebuttal about the cost of water for firefighting that sounded rather specious, at least as it appears in the minutes of the meeting, and Bean’s comment raises the question of just what the politics are.

Politics and money seldom drift far apart. The proposal involves an immediate revenue loss by Conway Village, and a commensurate revenue gain by North Conway. It should also significantly increase the sale value of any property that could be identified as lying within North Conway instead of Conway. Then there’s the extraordinary potential for future precinct expansion. If North Conway were to absorb the voters in a fully developed C-9, it would dominate the town politically as well as economically, as it now does; future warrant articles asking taxpayers to fund more benefits solely for North Conway could hardly fail.

This change was no doubt supposed to slip through under the radar, but the desire of North Conway Village to subsume the rest of the town has grown a little too obvious in recent years. I first started to notice it when our favorite millennial graduated from Kennett High School in 2009, and her diploma located the school in “North” Conway. Then the sign at the Center Conway intersection of Routes 302 and 113, which for half a century had described North Conway as three miles away, suddenly claimed it was only one mile away; that sign was only corrected within the last year or so, probably during last year’s road reconstruction. Those with their eye on history take a dim view of the creep of empire, and the effort to wrest a desirable territory from a poorer neighbor is an old, sad story. I only wonder who the Vladimir Putin may be behind this Crimea-like attempt at annexation.

William Marvel lives in South Conway.

  • Category: Columns

Robert Gillette: Does Trump have a personality disorder?

For days, in an episode unprecedented in modern presidential campaigns, Donald J. Trump, the Republican candidate, lashed out in angry tweets and media interviews at the modest and dignified parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq in 2004 who happen to be Muslim, and who accused him of knowing nothing of sacrifice in his life.

Piling one attack on another, displaying no sense of empathy for Gold Star parents or caution for his own political interests, Trump has left the Republican establishment, from Rep. Paul Ryan to Sen. John McCain — along with veterans’ groups — aghast.

He kept the furor burning long after it might have died out by angrily turning on Republicans, including New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who upbraided him for his astonishing insensitivity yet stopped short of withdrawing support for his candidacy.

“She’s given me zero support,” he complained, belittling Ayotte who earlier said she supported Trump but would not endorse him.

“While our party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us,” said McCain, America’s most prominent Vietnam veteran, whom Trump once derided for having been captured by the North Vietnamese.

This prolonged, self-damaging episode has led a growing number of respected commentators to question Trump’s emotional stability.

“One wonders if Republican leaders have begun to realize that they may have hitched their fate and the fate of their party to a man with a disordered personality,” Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution, a former Reagan administration official, wrote Aug. 1 in The Washington Post.

“We can leave it to the professionals to determine exactly what to call it,” Kagan wrote, noting that “he is unable to control his responses to criticism.”

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer — a trained psychiatrist — wrote on Aug. 4 that Trump’s behavior is “beyond narcissism. I used to think Trump was an 11-year-old, an undeveloped schoolyard bully. I was off by about 10 years. His needs are more primitive, an infantile hunger for approval and praise, a craving that can never be satisfied.”

Among Trump’s other telling quirks is self-aggrandizing exaggeration: Months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin called Trump a “colorful and talented man.” Trump has repeatedly claimed Putin called him a “genius,” as if any compliment must be a superlative.

And who but an empathy-free individual would actually revel in telling people, “You’re fired!”

There is a name and a formal medical definition for Trump’s likely affliction. Diagnosing at a distance is inevitably speculative, and ethical rules prohibit American clinicians from commenting on the mental state of a public figure. Some seem too alarmed to care.

One of the first to put a name on it was Dr. Ben Michaelis, a Manhattan clinical psychologist and lecturer, quoted in the Nov. 11, 2015, issue of Vanity Fair. Trump, he said, is “a textbook case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.”

Publicly and privately, other clinicians have agreed.

The Mayo Clinic website provides this definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder from the American Psychiatric Association:

“Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism….”

Mayo Clinic summarizes the symptoms of the disorder this way:

“You may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious. You often monopolize conversations. You may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior. You may feel a sense of entitlement — and when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry …”

“At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior. Or you may feel depressed and moody because you fall short of perfection.”

Diagnostic traits, Mayo says, include:

• An exaggerated sense of self-importance.

• Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it.

• Preoccupation with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate.

• Requiring constant admiration.

• An inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.

• Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner.

No person is ever on public display as long or as visibly as a presidential candidate. Coming weeks may reveal definitively whether Narcissistic Personality Disorder — alone or overlain with other disorders — explains Donald Trump.

Robert Gillette is a former science and medical reporter for the Los Angeles Times and a news writer for the U.S. research journal Science. He lives in the Mount Washington Valley.

  • Category: Columns

Susan Bruce: Led by the dead, Part Two

This week it’s time to wrap up the series on New Hampshire gubernatorial candidates by taking a look at the Democratic candidates.  There are five. I’ll be reporting on their various positions as shown on their websites.

Mark Connolly is a former deputy secretary of state, and former director of the state Bureau of Securities Regulation. He wants New Hampshire students to have a world-class education, with more emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). He doesn’t mention K-12 education funding. He would, however, like to return the funding of our state university system to the pre-2011 levels. This would certainly improve the situation, but even if he tripled the level of funding, New Hampshire would still rank a firm 50th in the nation for funding post-secondary education. Connolly would like to modernize state government, certainly a worthy goal and quite necessary. He wants to strengthen campaign finance laws. He supports renewable energy and expanded passenger rail. He mentions the need to repair the state’s infrastructure, notably the rural roads and bridges. His site does not mention Northern Pass. He’s taken The Pledge.

Derek Dextraze has a website. It is not a good one. There are too many fonts, too many paragraphs written in capital letters and no biographical information. Digging deeply into the site, I was able to discover that Dextraze is from Dover. He supports raising the minimum wage to $15. He favors legalizing marijuana and wants tougher laws for heroin dealers. Dextraze wants to lower property taxes. He has taken The Pledge, and favors a constitutional amendment to prohibit an income tax. He also wants to keep the Department of Motor Vehicles open later in the evening and possibly on weekends. My daughter recently spent nearly two hours on hold with the DMV. The reason for this is that New Hampshire doesn’t raise sufficient revenue to fund our state agencies and/or run our state as if it mattered. Dextraze doesn’t seem to understand the role taxes play in funding government. In any case, the real goal of his website seems to be selling his children’s book.

Ian Bernard Freeman does not have a website. Ian Bernard moved to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project. He’s since changed his name to Freeman, an affectation that is common among Free Staters, who seem eager to adopt new names once they move to a new state. Ian has been the leader of the Free Keene cult, but has had some problems this past year. The FBI raided his house and took a bunch of computers, amidst rumors of a child porn investigation. This is the house that he’s repeatedly tried to get tax-free status for, claiming it is a church. No arrests have been made as a result of this raid, but the raid brought up the old stories about his views on the age of consent for adult/child sexual relations. He doesn’t think there should be one.

This made life a little embarrassing for the new corporate Free State Inc. so they decreed that Freeman wouldn’t be welcome at their large public gatherings. Freeman has no website or Facebook page for his gubernatorial race. From the New Hampshire Liberty website, I learned that Freeman wants to legalize marijuana and end enforcement of victimless crimes. He wants equal ballot access for all candidates regardless of party affiliation. He wants New Hampshire to secede, and he wants to make all taxes voluntary.

Steve Marchand has been an auditor, auditing municipal, county, and state governments around the country. He served on the city council in Portsmouth, and also served a term as mayor. Marchand supports legalizing marijuana. He’s opposed to the death penalty. He supports paid family leave. He opposes Northern Pass. He’s in favor of eliminating the cap on state education grants.

He lists restoring school building aid as an infrastructure issue, where it merited five paragraphs. The red listed bridges got one paragraph. He does include municipal and state employees as part of the state’s infrastructure, and emphasizes the need to repair the retirement system for these employees. Roads got nothing. Telecommunications infrastructure got nothing. He thinks that college/business partnerships will bring down the cost of college tuition. Marchand had nothing to say about education funding. He refuses to take the pledge, but is opposed to a sales or an income tax. This sounds a little bit like Kelly Ayotte saying she will support Trump, but not endorse him. The late Antonin Scalia might have called this, “jiggery-pokery.”

Colin Van Ostern was a business manager at Stonyfield, Inc., helped launch the College for America at Southern New Hampshire University, a college that helps adults get a college education with little to no debt. He’s also served two terms in the executive council. He has the best organized website. Van Ostern mentions a lot of issues other candidates did not. He believes New Hampshire needs to expand access to rural broadband! He opposes Northern Pass. He points out the need to safeguard the state’s drinking water. Van Ostern also supports fully funding the New Hampshire Alcohol fund. If he succeeded, it would be the first time it’s happened since the initial appropriation in 2003. Five percent of the revenue raised in our state liquor stores is supposed to go to directly to that fund to help finance treatment and prevention. He believes in expanding supportive housing for recovering addicts, and working with businesses to give people in recovery a second chance by giving them jobs. He’s also a supporter of expanded passenger rail and raising the minimum wage. He, too, has taken The Pledge.

Taking The Pledge is a tacit admission that nothing will change. There will still not be enough money to run the state in more than the most rudimentary fashion. The infrastructure will continue to decay, while the costs of repairs will continue to rise. And the libertea crowd will still bray about cutting business taxes, as if that will entice businesses to ride into New Hampshire on their unicorns, despite our failing infrastructure, high energy costs, high housing costs, and various other failings. The Pledge allows Mel Thomson and Bill Loeb to continue to run New Hampshire from the grave.

Not a one of the candidates mentioned the serious housing problem we have in our state. All of these candidates face an uphill battle with statewide name recognition.

The state primary election is on Sept. 13. Be sure to research all the candidates, be sure to bring a photo ID (to combat the non-problem of non-existent voter fraud), and be sure to vote!

Susan Bruce is a writer and talk radio personality. She lives in Concord. Visit her blog at susanthebruce.blogspot.com.

  • Category: Columns

Tom McLaughlin: Bedeviling Choice

How did we end up with two candidates most of us dislike? Well, we voted them in, that’s how. What does that say about us, the American people? That’s the essential question here. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump reflect us — and we don’t like what we see. This year we tend not to ask “Who are you voting for?” so much as “Who are you voting against?”

Leaked emails confirm the Democratic National Committee steered the nomination toward Clinton and away from Sen. Bernie Sanders. They also confirm an incestuous relationship between Democrats and mainstream media. Both phenomena were long suspected but the emails are proof in black and white.

Republican leaders never hid their dismay as Trump won primaries. They maneuvered openly to deny him the nomination but failed. Trump got a record number of popular votes and won legitimately. Clinton also got more votes than her opponents, but Sanders supporters ask themselves if his momentum might have carried him past Clinton had the DNC had not covertly worked against him early on. We’ll never know.

Ordinary voters in both parties were dissatisfied with leadership, but only Republicans got a “change” candidate while Democrats got an old battle-ax. Lately, however, Republicans feel buyer’s remorse as Trump repeatedly trips over his own tongue. Clinton has political experience, and it shows. She is focused and on message as the general election campaign proceeds.

With zero experience, Trump is neither. Every day he gives a hostile media more arrows to shoot at him. While he bleeds in the polls, Republicans like Ted Cruz, Susan Collins and Ben Sasse grab life jackets and jump ship. They’re not facing re-election this year but others are. Party leader Mitch McConnell said he’ll understand if they want to grab their life jackets and jump, too.

Aside from refusing to release his tax returns, Trump is an open book. He eschews a teleprompter and speaks his mind day after day. That novel approach appealed to voters in the primaries but it’s sinking him in the general. It’s still 10 weeks to Election Day, and that’s an eternity in politics, but it’s not looking good for him. She sticks to script while he shoots from the lip.

Clinton has been caught in lie after lie, but the mainstream media virtually ignore them. Trump says dumb things almost every other day and they focus on him instead. Obama’s “Justice” Department protects Clinton too, but fears more email leaks showing the Clinton Family Foundation as more a money-laundering operation and political slush fund than a charity. That could still sink her. If the electorate starts seeing her and Bill Clinton’s quarter-million-dollar “speaking fees” as bribes and payoffs, her polls could flip quickly. She’s a smooth and practiced liar as I personally witnessed last December when I had a 15-minute exchange with her. Lies roll off her tongue effortlessly and she’s been skating away from accountability for decades.

“The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t,” goes the idiom. We know what Hillary Clinton will do if she gets in so she would be the devil we know. We’re not sure what Trump would do. He’s been all over the political map during the past 30 years and it’s hard to tell, so he’s the devil we don’t know.

Trump, my least-favorite of the Republicans who ran, is one of the few candidates I didn’t get a chance to interview this election cycle. He says he’s pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, wants to beef up the military and enforce immigration law — all good, but he used to think differently on some of those issues and has not explained why he changed. He never spoke of reducing the size of government either.

Trump did release a list of judges he would appoint to the Supreme Court — all strict constructionists. The four liberals on the court do not feel bound by the Constitution and would rely on foreign law. One, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, advised Egypt not to use the U.S. Constitution as a model. I was more appalled, however, when Reagan-appointed U.S. Sevent Circuit Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner said: “(T)he original Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the post-Civil War amendments (including the 14th), do not speak to today … I’m not … particularly interested in the text of the Constitution. I don’t believe that any document drafted in the 18th century can guide our behavior today.” Clinton would appoint more like these.

If you’ve ever said: “This is a free country and I can do what I want,” remember: that’s true only because of the Constitution — especially the Bill of Rights. Primarily, however, the Constitution is a document that says to government: “you have these powers only and no more.” It was designed to prevent the federal government from becoming the behemoth it is.

To preserve the Constitution at least, I plan to vote for Trump, the devil I don’t know.

Tom McLaughlin lives in Lovell, Maine. He can be reached on his website at tommclaughlin.blogspot.com.

  • Category: Columns