On a divided America: We’re doing everything we can to make our time the worst it can be

I used to ask retired Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy if the times we’re living in were as divided and troubled as when he was a young man.

McCarthy served as a Marine in Vietnam. He came up as a Des Moines police officer in a time when the city had as many as 30 homicides a year.

He was chief of detectives when a man shot and killed two managers at the Drake Diner in cold blood the day after Thanksgiving in 1992 and led the manhunt to bring the killer to justice.

McCarthy eventually served as police chief and was later elected sheriff. The man saw a lot of the worst of the world and Des Moines.

McCarthy retired to Florida with his wife two years ago. I didn’t have the heart to call him again to ask the same question I’ve asked over the years: Is this the worst it’s ever been?

McCarthy’s answer was always no.

He believed Americans were at each other’s throats more in the 1960s and 70s than today.

But Friday, Des Moines schools sued the Iowa Department of Education over start times during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I hope that school districts have the best interest of their students at heart, just as I hope the state’s education department has the best interests of schools at heart.

But this feels like another battle between blues and reds for the soul of America, though the school district is allegedly non-partisan.

I don’t know who is right in that situation, but for sure it’s going to cost taxpayers a lot of money.

Parents of University of Iowa football players planned to protest the Big Ten’s decision not to play football this fall because of pandemic concerns.

It’s hard to decide which conclusion is worse: Football is that important or that parents are that disconnected from what is important. (Hint: It’s not your son making the NFL.)

I talked about the football issue with my friends at KXNO’s Sports Fanatics on Thursday afternoon.

I said a lot of the Big Ten schools had medical schools. One hopes they consulted their own experts. You’ve got to respect the advice of doctors who are skilled enough to teach other doctors, I suggested.

Host Chris Williams countered he thought if you lined up eight different doctors you would get eight different stories.

I don’t know if that’s specifically correct, but I understand what he means.

It seems as if nobody has definitive facts anymore. I attribute some of this confusion to the “he said, she said” style of journalism that gives equal weight to inequal ideas.

“Two plus two equals four,” said mathematician Fred Calculator.

“Well, I say two plus two equals five and Fred Calculator is a communist,” replied Jane Armpit, an area woman who drinks potato water.

There are more news outlets than when I was a boy, though they are staffed by people I trust far less.

Stories are chosen not based on their importance to the reader or viewer but based on how likely it is someone will click on the link or watch a few seconds longer.

This means little things like school boards, city councils and county government are regularly and consistently ignored.

You can’t fault news outlets there. People don’t care about the local government and schools.

They say they do, but the news outlets have the hard data. They care about college sports and salacious crime. They’ll fall for the occasional emotionally manipulative story, but when it comes to doing the work of democracy, Americans don’t give a damn.

When something like a pandemic comes along, people just pick the narrative that best fits their preconceived ideas. It’s called confirmation bias. America is drunk on it.

In fact, if objective truth and confirmation bias were blood and alcohol, America would be in a coma hovering close to death.

Everything is a cage match in an underground prison fighting league. No one is paying attention. They’re busy debating who is a better basketball player: LeBron James or Michael Jordan.

  1. Who cares?
  2. It’s Jordan.

It feels like the nation is in the middle of the O.J. Simpson trial. A scientist presents DNA evidence for the prosecution. The defense calls a witness to say DNA evidence is bunk. The jury decides to ignore reams of evidence and decides based on race.

Race, or rather racism, remains a central problem for our nation. I would talk more about that, but I’m afraid anything I say will lead to me being labeled a white nationalist.

McCarthy always told me that things were more violent in his time. That’s true. There are fewer homicides in the capital to be sure.

He was a Marine in the Vietnam War.

At least there’s not a war on now.

Oh, wait. There is a war on now. Two, actually. We’ve been at war in Afghanistan for 19 years this fall. We’ve been at war in Iraq since 2003.

I heard an NPR story about Iraq wanting the rest of U.S. troops out of their country. That’s more than 17 years after then-President George W. Bush declared the mission accomplished.

They call the Korean War the “forgotten war.” There’s some truth to that, too. But we’ve forgotten two wars while they’re still ongoing.

I digress.

The truth is it doesn’t really matter if things were better or worse in 1968. The reality is we can only live now.

And our now is a strange and mean time. I don’t know if it’s the worst ever, but it’s sure as hell the worst now I can imagine.

Daniel P. Finney covers farts and armpit noises for ParagraphStacker.com.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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