Election Violence in My Hometown: Why I Prefer to Look at the Bright Side

Okay, Hillsborough, NC isn’t exactly my hometown, but the farm I grew up on is halfway between Durham, my official birthplace, and Hillsborough, where I began my public school teaching career. Close enough.

And close enough for me to freeze between disbelief and horror when I heard about the firebombing of Hillsborough’s Republican HQ this past weekend.

Photo by Justin Cook for NYTimes

Photo by Justin Cook for NYTimes

Hillsborough?! Home of Orange High School (go Panthers!) and the Village Diner, where my fellow teachers and I used to gorge ourselves on the salad bar during staff workdays? (Hey, if fried chicken has lettuce under it, it’s salad!)

In the words of Richard Fausset’s excellent NY Times article, Hillsborough is

this small North Carolina town, where residents, in the face of cultural change, have largely found an amicable balance between liberal and conservative, traditional and trendy, in the heart of a swing state that is one of the nation’s most politically and culturally divided.

Although I should be inured by now, acts of violence like this always shock me anew. My first response: WHY?! My second: Thank god no one was hurt. And now I have a choice.

I could let my horror sink deeper, adding to the sick sense I think most of us are feeling this election season.


I could focus on this sentence in the NYT article:

A group of Democrats created a GoFundMe page that had raised more than $13,000 by Monday evening for the Orange County Republican Party.

Or this one:

Evelyn Poole-Kober, the vice chairwoman of the Orange County Republican Party…said she was long used to living among Democrats and was friendly with many of them, including members of her garden club.

Election ugliness? La la la, I can’t hear you. I’m too busy focusing on Democrats raising money for, and growing flowers with, their Republican neighbors.

And voting, quietly and without a fuss.

The All Blacks Haka and the Republican Debates: Is It Just Me…?

I’m not a rugby fan (unless you count the movie Invictus). But I am a huge New Zealand fan, and therefore, logically, I am a fan of the New Zealand All Blacks’ Haka.

Don’t know the Haka? Think war dance. Think Maori ritual. Think rhino pawing the ground before charging. Then watch this:

The team the Kiwis are threatening, their historical nemesis the South Africa Springboks–they look a little scared, don’t they? You can see that one guy swallowing. (I always wonder why the opposing team doesn’t just look away while they’re being “haka’d”, whistle a little tune, y’know, like, “dum de dum, I’m so bored…”)

But they don’t. They stand there and watch as if hypnotized. They can’t look away. Just like I can’t. Which reminds me of the U.S. presidential election. Specifically, the debates. More specifically, the Republican debates.

(Note: not saying I couldn’t use the Democrats as an example here, it’s just that this year, with the huge Republican field, and with Donald Trump, well…let’s just say that civility has gone out the window a bit faster, and with a slightly larger crash, than it has with the Democrats.)

They’re calling each other names on Twitter. They’re using words like “dummy” and “low-energy guy” (code for unmanly). Now, to you this might not seem parallel to the foot-stomping, chest-slapping, “I’m coming for you with my war club” violence of the haka, but…think about it. Isn’t the maturity level about the same? How about the overall effect on the viewer’s emotions? Or, conversely, how about the effect on rational discussion focused on solving problems?


I keep thinking about the mesmerizing quality of the haka, its compelling force. And I wonder: what if, prior to one of our national political conventions in 2016, some group performed a haka threatening, say, poverty? “We’re comin for ya, poverty! We’re gonna raise that minimum wage!” Or global conflict? “Aaargh!! We’re going to take in more refugees and stop secretly torturing political prisoners!”

Ehh–it’d never work. Might as well have a bake sale to fund the air force, like those old bumper stickers said. Meanwhile, I’ll watch the haka when it comes on, and the debates, and afterwards I’ll go take a shower and engage in rational conversation with someone.

What do you think? Does raw, animal aggression play any kind of role in our politics? Is there an upside to our political hakas?