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LBJ nailed it: What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate . . .
Dennis Wyatt 2022
Dennis Wyatt

Don Stewart was as partisan as they come.

When it came to defending his beliefs and protecting his values, he made those in today’s resistance movements cloaked in extreme red and extreme blue  come off as lethargic lapdogs.

There was muscle and grit behind his bark — and he had a lot of bark.

But he also knew there was no percentage gnawing those who think differently than you down to the bone. That’s because he got that you had to work with your neighbors and those who think differently to get things done.

One day Don asked me whether I voted the straight Republican ticket. I replied I never had, opting to vote for the person and not the party.

He fired right back, “That’s what’s wrong with you Republicans. You never vote straight party line.”

“So let me get this straight,” I shot back, “if Jesus Christ were a Republican and Adolf Hitler was a Democrat, you’d vote for Adolf Hitler?”

Without missing a beat he shot back, “You’re damned right I would.”

Don was a proud, hardworking and effective union man who ran the Manteca-based Carpenter’s Union Local. He also was a proud veteran of World War II.

And while he was strident, hard hitting, and was the opposite of a shrinking violet when it came to pushing a cause, Don was able to work with those with diametrically opposing views to get things done.

A prime example was the building of the Manteca Boys & Girls Club on Alameda Street 45 years ago. He worked alongside developers like Antone Raymus and more than a few business owners that were clearly Republican to provide the labor to get the clubhouse built.

He then volunteered almost to his dying day to work to raise funds to keep the club open.

More often than not he’d get into impassioned discussions with other volunteers that held different political views.

To be clear, he hammered his point as if he were operating a pile driver.

He never backed off but he also didn’t try to drown out any opposing views. Even during impassioned exchanges he always let those who disagreed have their say.

He never threatened or tried to destroy someone else’s livelihood or reputation because he didn’t like their viewpoints.

While exchanges could get somewhat heated when he talked partisan politics he never resorted to scorched earth tactics.

And he didn’t judge you by your politics as much as by your character and if you were a person of your word.

I have no illusions.

I do not yearn for the good old days.

Even though smartphones are now used at times as an all absorbing pacifier by some, it beats the heck out of being tethered to a four-foot phone cord that always got tangles or hoping against hope you could find a phone booth and have enough coins in your pocket to make a call when you were stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Nor do I long for the 1960s when riots, domestic assassinations, and the Vietnam War made you wonder whether Barry McGuire’s 1965 chart topper “Eve of Destruction” was an omen.

Fifty-eight years later,  the button has not been pushed and the world is not in a grave. But given the breathless tone of the civil discourse you’d think we’re a day or two from Armageddon — or at least the next election.

America survived the 1960s because no matter how strident the rhetoric got, there was an understanding among those who were past 25 that the idealism — read that how they want the world to be — doesn’t happen if you keep figuratively and literally spitting in the faces of those that don’t share your exact view of utopia.

Don’s words were sharp and pointed. That said, he never laced them with poisonous personal attacks and character assassination.

His goal was to build and not tear down.

You can’t do that if you severely burn the opposition with scorched earth rhetoric and retribution by dedicating yourself to destroying their lives and employment.

That’s because hammering opponents into submission only plants the seeds for them to plot revenge.

You move forward on a path with minimal backsliding when there is give and take that leads to a change in their views — as well as your own — for the better.

Nature gets change with a massive wildfire but it is not lasting. Eventually things grow back and relatively soon there is no lasting visual difference

But when nature is much more deliberate laying down glaciers change is much slower but it tends to stand for longer and be more widely embraced much as the great Sierra glaciers carved Yosemite Valley.

No one is saying we have to wait 40,000 or so years to get a better world.

But lasting change has never been accomplished at the point of a gun whether it shoots bullets or wild-eyed accusations and insults.

 People become focused on the rhetoric and feel compelled to fortify their position and therefore fail to see the whole picture.

Yes, instant communication made possible by being able to blast your thoughts without pause to complete strangers across the globe has a lot to do with it.

The genie, however, is out of the bottle.

What we need to do hopefully within a generation or so is sharpen our collective maturity when dealing with instant communications.

Yes, it was easier to make progress and get things done back in Don’s day.

That’s because your antagonists were people you dealt with face-to-face or in communication you put to paper you gave some thought to before firing it off.