Holiday Wonders at the Garden at the Memphis Botanic Garden, Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Karen Pulfer Focht)
The holiday season, we often hear, is for children, a magical time of lights and jolly elves and fancy cookies and gifts.
But the older I get, the more I realize that adults need magic in our lives as much or more than kids. Given the last couple of years — tornadoes, a pandemic, multiple special legislative sessions over which voters had no control — this Christmas begs for gifts we can all enjoy.
As I contemplated writing this column, I entertained the idea of writing something humorous — a satirical “12 Days of Christmas,” perhaps, or a sarcastic Christmas list. (A passport for anti-immigrant GOP legislator Bruce Griffey, so he can experience other cultures? A Magic Eight Ball to help Gov. Bill Lee make decisions?)
But other outlets and other writers will do that, and probably with more skill and wit than I. So instead, I put some hard thought into what Tennesseans, elected and not, could really use in the coming year.
- Empathy. Tennessee’s legislators have a gross deficit of empathy and understanding for the ordinary Tennessean. Consider their treatment of those who became unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the federal government under then-President Donald Trump, passed extra pandemic era unemployment assistance to help those who lost jobs as businesses closed temporarily or permanently as well as providing financial stimuli to families under a certain income level. But Gov. Bill Lee and most of our Republican leaders took a dim view of the assistance, exhorting Tennessee workers to get off the government teat and get a job. To ensure they did just that, Lee cut off the additional federal unemployment benefits two months before they were set to end, citing possibly apocryphal stories about family-owned restaurants who couldn’t find employees. (Tennessee Lookout, June 9.) In October, three months after benefits ended for Tennesseans, small businesses still couldn’t fill jobs, pointing to a possible error in Lee’s logic.
- Courage. This gift is intended for a small group of Republicans, the legislators who act the part of Chief Big Talk about their purported independence of thought outside the Capitol chambers but then vote the party line 99% of the time, regardless of whether it’s good for their constituents. The Republican party is clearly facing a divide between the far right Trump brand, as epitomized in Tennessee by Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles and legislators such as Culleoka’s Scott Cepicky and Knoxville’s Jason Zachary. Tennesseans need cooler heads — Rep. Sam Whitson of Franklin and Sen. Richard Briggs of Knoxville, for instance — to stand up to their right wing, which is becoming less of a fringe and increasingly more of a majority dangerous to our democracy.
- Organization and peace. These gifts go to state Democrats, who continue to be their own worst enemies. I’m of the opinion that the state would function much better with two strong parties, and even the minority party can exert good for constituents if it operates efficiently. That’s sadly not the case for Tennessee’s minority party. Stories abound of infighting among members of the Tennessee Democratic House Caucus. In the case of one county Democratic delegation, members with seniority are heard to be cutting deals with House Republicans to sacrifice a new and popular member to redistricting. A party that is continually beset by infighting can’t do the fighting it needs to be doing for Tennesseans.
Given what I’m asking for, my wishes may as well be “magic,” but at Christmas time, a girl can dream. And I’ll always take a few good cookies.
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