Virtual Sabbatical from the Extremism

As summer draws to an end and kids returned to school, they were likely greeted by the ritual of their first school assignment, “What I did for my summer vacation.”

The assignment helps reengage students, casually acclimating them into the routine of homework, and allows the teacher to gauge student’s skill levels. It is usually considered a fun topic, which helps ease students back into the rigors of school. With that spirit in mind, I thought it would be entertaining to offer my version of this classic homework assignment.

Some of you may have noticed I have not written a politically themed article since May. Some of you reached out to me and asked “Why, Jeff?” Truth be told, my summer diversion came as a result of a question that had been gnawing at me for a while, “what difference was I making?” I found myself lost, unable to answer the question.

It was not enough that I strived with every article to present a rational, open-minded piece. The Portsmouth Herald was my paper, I grew up reading it, and I was honored when I was asked to write an op-ed. I had no illusion as to what was being asked of me, I was to be the “token conservative.” I knew almost every column would be met with disdain, dismissed as “extreme.” Call it foolish, but I thought occasionally I could reach beyond “my base,” even though my beliefs and principles are hardly extreme. I hated the fact I was lost, staring at what used to be a simple question for me to answer: “What difference was I making?”

Some of you were probably thankful, grateful because that “right-wing, phobic, immigrant hating, fascist” finally surrendered, chased out of the arena of debate. Or some may believe I was likely scared off by the overwhelming progressive intellect that surrounded my article every Sunday. Maybe it was because I couldn’t handle the hate email or disjointed responses to my articles in the comments section or offered as letters to the editor. Hardly.

Before I start sounding like the lost chapter of the book “What Happened,” descending into a tirade of self-loathing, I found myself at a crossroads. I avoid using the phrase “burnt-out,” because that seemed too casual a term. What I was feeling, and what I was struggling with was much worse. I have never had any difficulty expressing my beliefs or engaging in debate. However, like some of you I had grown increasingly concerned by the tone and rhetoric that was commonplace when people “tried” to discuss the current state of affairs.

I have no problem engaging in robust debate. I delight in the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” back-and-forth banter between those of opposing views. I rather enjoy the mischievous goading of an opponent, but I found my humor and good heart were lost to many. Many of you felt if I disagreed with you, dared to present an honest opposing view, then I must be stupid, racist, evil. Where do I go from “evil,” “what difference could I make” if people start from the position believing I am a bad person?

So I took a virtual sabbatical, I chose to engage you differently, and many of you who thought I must be an “extremist, political hack,” actually enjoyed reading my articles on Alexander Scammell, John Stark, and my reviews of the movies “Wonder Woman” and the “Heroin Effect.”

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed writing my articles over these past few months, and how appreciative I am of the fact the editorial team at SMG indulged this divergence. But alas, summer is over, and I have a decision to make. I can continue writing the types of pieces I have been writing over the past few months, but they are not “op-eds,” or I can reengage, return to the arena of debate. So, starting with my next column I will return to being the voice of reason, but with a few conditions.

First, it is not my job to defend people, actions of others or political parties. Nor is it my responsibility to arbitrarily bash people, their actions or political parties. There are enough commentators, personalities, political hacks, mischief makers and misguided protesters that are part of that fools parade. That does not mean I won’t be hitting hard, or pulling punches, and when appropriate, offering praise, just that it will be detached from any preconceived notions some of you believe I possess.

Second, I will freely ignore the call for action, mandates far too many demand of me, but conveniently ignore when “their side” commits similar or worse transgressions. My only obligations are to the facts, not anyone’s vague interpretations of the truth.

I love it when hypocrites try to hold me to a standard they do not place on themselves or their allies, often turning a blind eye, casually brushing it off as “different.” I am calling malarkey. I will not be held accountable to speak on someone’s behalf when I have no affiliation with that person, or condemn the words and actions of others, when that very same person calling for me to speak out has remained silent, indifferent to people that are part of the same political alliance.

Third, I will no longer write “in the heat of the moment.” I will put some distance between the event and the overwhelming emotions that cloud our minds. If the debate is truly worth our attention, it can wait until reasonable heads prevail.

Lastly, I will continue, from time to time, to write non-politically charged articles. You enjoy them, I enjoy writing them.

That is what I did this summer. I pondered my place in the world of debate, and wrote pieces many of you of all political persuasions enjoyed. But fall is here and the carefree days of summer are fading. Time for me to return to my proper place, reminding many of you that you are wrong, but not bad people, just misinformed (wink, wink).

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