From Both Sides Now

New to Twitter, while quarantined some weeks back, I posted something I thought was neutral and clever: That both Trump and Biden would do better if they simply stopped talking and campaigning.

Trump, because nearly everything he says seems divisive, either intentionally or ignorantly. Biden, because he has a 50-year career of verbal gaffes that make George Bush look like Laurence Olivier.

It is actually a universal campaign idiom: some candidates are better off leaving town so as to not blow a near certain election victory. And to prove my point, Biden stuck to his bunker with limited public comments and has seen his poll numbers skyrocket; Trump did the opposite and has botched nearly every press conference. Maybe Biden read my tweet.

But in the Twitter-sphere, somehow, my comment seemed to claim some personal moral equivalency between Trump and Biden, with Trump of course some modern-day Hitler. Even a longtime (liberal) friend lost her cool and demanded that I condemn Trump. (She later apologized.)

Some began to criticize me and demand that I condemn the “lies and abuse of public officials” among other demanded condemnations from my keystroke. That became a theme—absent responding to every societal wrong in the Twitter-sphere that I somehow supported the wrong. At one point, in exasperation, I asked if I had jumped high enough while others shot bullets at my feet, while they kept insisting that I jump higher.

Then the name calling started. I was a divisive provocateur. I was part of a cult. My career as Mayor was slammed.

One claimed that most of the money a referendum I had backed while Mayor went directly into politicians’ pockets. Yeah, right. Another wrote that all Republicans since Goldwater had a racist agenda, universally. Never mind that nearly all white Southern Democratic Representatives and Senators voted against the major civil rights legislation of the 1950’s and ‘60’s, and those bills only passed because of Republican votes.

Other seemingly benign comments—hoping that there were decent regulations to protect the votes from each party, was taken as intent to suppress voters. Bizarrely, even my very public support of federally convicted local African American public officials was likewise turned on its head. (Nearly all the public officials convicted by the Feds in Duval County since 1990 have been Black, and I have been supportive of most of the accused.) An expressed hope that pharmaceutical companies will find a COVID vaccine led to tirades against me on health care.

I felt as if I had run into some Democratic version of Trump, with the same name calling, and offensive adjectives, adverbs and nouns. Sometimes, nearly identical words to the behavior that the Democratic tweet-sphere condemns in Trump. Both a mirror image and identical at the same time.

I publicly did not vote for Trump in 2016. I am a Republican, and was the first Republican elected Mayor of Jacksonville since Reconstruction, some 120 years earlier. I have voted for the Republican candidate for President since I first started voting. But I have been called by the media “famously party bucking” and worked hard to be broadly inclusive. I am left on gay rights, women’s and race issues, among others. I drafted a tax referendum for a capital plan for growth management, which passed in a landslide. I appointed the first Black Fire Chief, General Counsel, and Deputy CAO. The latter now runs the Port Authority, the second runs the city’s largest law firm, where I now work. I had more women VPs while President at UNF than men. While Mayor, we purchased about 80 square miles of park space, creating the largest city park system in the country.

I remain Republican largely over economic, judicial, free speech, and religious freedom issues.

I am happy to civilly debate such things. I have moved from right to left on a lot of issues, and from left to right on some others. For example, I have changed on the death penalty and abortion.

When I left office, I was viewed favorably by over 80% of African Americans, Democrats and Republicans, every demographic group and from all parts of town. After a close first election victory, I realized that I needed to, personally and professionally, understand other points of view and perspectives. I became hungry for it.

But people are quick to assume and to label.

What I believe the country needs now is civil debate. We no longer share common understandings of words or even facts. Compromise is viewed as selling out. There is no respect for opposing views.

Frankly, I completely understand opposing views on abortion as I have been on each side. There are sincere beliefs on both sides. Really—good, well-meaning, kind, decent and warm people have opposing views on abortion. Mr. Rogers has it right: Be kind.

I would add: try to understand people whose views you do not share. Call out injustice. Try and be tolerant. Drop the adjectives and adverbs, drop the name calling.

Years ago, I saw the Deadwood actor Ian McShane on a talk show. He usedmost of the interview to condemn George W Bush. He worked it even while others on the show were being interviewed. He interrupted to add another dig at Bush.

Just recently, I read an interview of the same actor. He was asked how he hoped to be remembered. “Tolerant” was his response.

Many people who think they are tolerant, only tolerate those who think like themselves. As for me, I am trying to understand those that don’t think like me.