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An electronic conversation about Identity

(a discussion thread in U.S. forum)

Kevin Kervick, October 30, 2009 6:03 a.m. (U.S. forum)

The question came after some inspiration I experienced yesterday and was a provocative attempt to jar a conversation about American identity. I can appreciate the idea that America is a word that should be applied to everyone from the Americas but until we can find another term to describe US citizens it might have to do. Or not.

The conversation has to do with the identity - inclusivity continuum and hopes to answer some of the questions others have posed on this listserv.

What are traditional American values?
Are we living up to those values?
Where have Americans gone wrong?
How can living those values serve as the basis for a fulfilling life?
Are there other competing values vying for attention?
To what extent can we accommodate to other values while still maintaining the American identity?

I could have said, What is America? But that already biases the question toward fluidity. I'd rather start as a committed family does in family therapy when all agree that the family has a distinct meaning and identity and is worth fighting for as the basis for the conversation.

If you don't want to play that is cool with me. I hope some lurkers might find the time to join us too.


Rosemary Gunn October 30, 2009 9:26 a.m. (U.S. forum)

Kevin, I appreciate your idea of getting a conversation going. Though
my first reaction to "What are traditional American values?" was
" why?" Your next-to-last paragraph seems to allow starting from
_now,_ which seems more useful.

Also, a discussion of values and identity can immediately start to
sound like "us vs. them." I am not sure this is what you mean by
" identity inclusivity," but I have the idea that even if such bonding
may help to pull together a fractious family, applied to a country it
makes it even easier for politicians to build a power base by playing
up the identity of their own group, making war against others OK (as
in [ex]Yugoslavia).

How about instead starting from a question about whether there are
goals, objectives, needs, whatever, that we as a society share?
(Starting from the basics, like peaceful coexistence.) That might
also provide a basis, and allow going on to questions about how to
get there.


John Ferman October 30, 2009 1:24 p.m. (U.S. forum)

The main problem with 'American Values' as a term is that it has
become politicized. Were I able to ask my greatgrandmother what her
values are I would expect something like 'the Golden Rule.' In other
contexts I would think of the Boy Scout Pledge. In essence then,
'values,' American or not, tells one's ethics and morals, tells how
one regards other people, and so on. I think we need a new term for
the politicized American values (also the so-called Family values).


George Dawson October 30, 2009 2:57 p.m. (U.S. forum)

I agree completely that there are universal values that Americans sometimes think that they have a monopoly on. Most people in the world want to go out and work in the daytime and be productive. They want to make sure that they come home to their families at night. They want themselves and their families to be safe over the course of that cycle.

The great thing for politicians is that ethics, values, and morals are all easily politicized. The Golden Rule is great - until you decide you want to stop negotiating and start killing people. Eliminating conflict of interest by legislative fiat is great - until your realize that Congress is rife with conflict of interest.

The last thing that I would expect is a values lesson from a politician.


Kevin Kervick October 31, 2009 5:09 a.m. (U.S. forum)

Sounds like most of you don't want to play. Perhaps there are some others
out there that can help me with this.

Fundamental to this way of organizing a conversation is that we need a
starting point and one that is further down the developmental path than what
Rosemary suggested below. Her ideas would make sense if this were a forming
group that was embarking on a mission statement process. But we are already
an interconnected system of citizens that has a distinct history and
heritage with a living identity. So, while we may not technically be a
family, we are an organized living discrete human system. And that system
needs a core identity to survive. So, what is that identity?

So far I have read a lot of negativity. But an identity would need to be
primarily positive if it is to have any cohesive merit. What are the
positive aspects of our founding and our history that make us who we are?


BK October 31, 2009 8:33 a.m. (U.S. forum)

The United States of America. 144 years and counting without a civil
war. Ya gotta love it.

We've got the violence isolated in a small fraction of the population
stuck in poverty, a few committing it, the balance mostly the victims
while the rest of us enjoy some, relative to those stuck with the
violence, peace, barring religious fanatics and political terrorists.
Of course even this fraction live a better life than those in that
stratum in the Third World, but globalization of the economy is
starting to equalize the squalor. You still gotta love it.

Of course the economic wars go on here and abroad in the upper strata
and what is left of the middle without any physical violence as
factions alternately wrest control of one branch of government or
another from the others. You must love it.

A president who symbolizes how far we've come, is elected with a great
deal of help from moderates of all political stripe, and the ousted
party mobilizes to undermine every initiative with their own failed
policy, already rejected by the majority of the people. Our president
wins a Nobel Peace Prize and is attacked mercilessly, mostly by the
ousted faction, when they aren't sabotaging efforts to raise the
standard of living across all strata of society. You got to love it.

I don't think Kevin has the slightest notion of what real negativity
is. You got to love it.


Bill McGaughey October 31, 2009 9:12 a.m. (U.S. forum)

There's a new political party (New Dignity Party) running candidates in the current Minneapolis election which is focused on issues of identity. Besides being American, each of us has other identities. We are black, white, Asian, native American, etc. We are male or female, gay or straight, educated or not so educated. Here is where identity politics has gone astray in the duality inherent in our dominant political models. History has been diverted to hateful ends. How can each of us have and be able to cultivate a positive sense of identity? That is the question.


BK October 31, 2009 10:00 a.m. (private message)


Enlighten me please. I can relate to some of what you've written, but none of the candidates on the ballot but you list your party as New Dignity. Are there write-in campaigns or individuals in board races with no designation among your new party's candidates, or have you lied to us in using the plural of candidate? Lying is against our rules, you know.


Bill McGaughey October 31, 2009 9:29 p.m. (U.S. forum)

I must object to the recent posting of BK: "Enlighten me please. I can relate to some of what you've written, but none of the candidates on the ballot but you list your party as New Dignity. Are there write-in campaigns or individuals in board races with no designation among your new party's candidates, or have you lied to us in using the plural of candidate? Lying is against our rules, you know."

Mr. K. should know that personal attacks are also against the forum rules. The rules of this forum also prevent posting a second message within twelve hours so that the insinuation of BK's that I have been lying sits there for a long time without the possibility of response.

No, I am not lying. The obvious way to resolve K's doubt would have been to google "New Dignity Party" and see if there is evidence of other candidates in it than myself. If K. had done this, he would have seen the pictures of three candidates on the main page of the party's website ( James Swartwood, John Butler, and myself. On the second page, there are brief biographies of each of the three candidates. Our lawn signs (180 signs posted around the city) list the names of all three candidates. Most of our literature names the three candidates. (Election rules do not permit party designation to be included on the ballot for candidates for Park Board and Board of Estimate and Taxation.) No, I am not lying, Mr. K.

I tried to add to a constructive discussion of identity but K. has steered the discussion into a personal attack on my credibility. Cannot the rules be changed in situations like this to permit a quicker response?

Now I have to make the best use of my time in the remaining three days before the Minneapolis mayor's race is decided. Last-minute personal attacks on the character of political candidates in this town are not unusual.


BK October 31, 2009 10:04 pm. (private message)

Thanks for the answer, Bill, but you've made a mistake; I did not post this to the US forum. I won't bother linking this one to the Minneapolis forum, but I don't think you've done yourself or your party much good here in posting this.


BK October 31, 2009 10:24 p.m. (U.S. forum)

I was going, as I stated, by what is listed on the candidate filings:
and on the ballot. Here's a link to mine: x
- Precinct y.pdf

No one is identified as a member of the New Dignity Party but you,
since they don't do that for the Board of Estimate and Taxation or At-
Large Park Board Member. Thank you for your information and suggestion
that I use, but I chose to use you. I'll take your word
that these men are your fellow party members, and apologize for
accusing you of lying about it; however, I did not post my missive to
you on the forum, and you did.


Bill McGaughey requested contact with the forum moderator, Mike Fratto. Fratto responded: "Bill, You wanted to contact me. How can I help you?"


Bill McGaughey October 31, 2009 2:09 p.m. (private message)

I wanted to ask if BK's calling me a liar without justification is against the forum's civility rules? If so, what are the consequences? I have prepared a response but must wait another eight hours to vindicate myself.


Mike Fratto (moderator) October 31, 2009 3:50 p.m. (private message)

Calling you a liar is marginal. I don't remember the post, but I suspect you posted something that he considers false and that you should know its false.

If you could forward me B's e-mail I can look at it closer.

He should not have used the word liar. He should have said you were mistaken, wrong or some other descriptive word.

I understand the anxiety of waiting until you can post again. I have had three posts bounce in St. Paul's forum when I didn't even realize I had posted a second post.


Bill McGaughey November 1, 2009 7:43 a.m. (addressed to BK) (private message)

You're right about this and I plan to acknowledge the mistake when the time period elapses. In return, I ask you to acknowledge your mistake. (And I will mention this in my posting.) The subject head of your posting was re: (US) Do you love America? I saw the (US) and assumed that the message went out to the list but when I checked the thread after the posting, realized that this had also not happened. I also checked with the moderator before my posting. He asked me to forward your message, which I did. I heard nothing further from him. No, if there is a statement or insinuation that I am a liar, I have to rebut it. Don't try this again.


BK November 1, 2009 8:53 a.m. (private message)

I'm not sure what mistake of mine that you mean, Bill; you'll have to further articulate that for me to acknowledge anything further. I've already gone much further than I should have in posting an apology for accusing you of lying, even though I did not really do that; I simply stated the facts I found that were readily available and asked you if you were a liar, privately. Expecting me to go further than this is the mark of, well, I won't characterize it as you seem to be likely to post it again in violation of our rules.

You may not be a liar in this particular instance, but you don't seem to have any common sense or competence about the internet. It might have been a good idea for me to change the subject line of my e-mail to you to indicate this was off-list forum correspondence, but all posts from the forum are marked with the same footers and auto-signature blocks, and those e-mails without them are easily identified as off-list; you can share the pitfalls of ignoring these details of what is or is not a post, if you like as I've done in forums before or perhaps that might be something the forum manager might consider doing.

You cannot reasonably ask anything more of me than what I have done already. I have not registered a complaint against you. I have acknowledged the problem, yours and mine, and apologized for my part. I have agreed to leave it in the US forum. What more do you want, Bill? Be explicit in your requests of me, please.

Frankly, I view the last sentence of your e-mail to me as a threat. I am perfectly within my rights and e-democracy rules to post a link to the Minneapolis forum to the this thread in the US forum, and I have said I would not do this (I only did it in the Swede/Norwegian Nobel mix-up because I thought it was humorous, not because I thought it would be damaging to your campaign or personal reputation). The reason I do not link it is because you obviously made a mistake in thinking my query of you was a post, although it might be characterized as a taunt, something I am want to do when I encounter any form of megalomania; perhaps copying the forum manager might be considered tacky or devious, but I thought that you were the only New Dignity Party candidate and as such, a liar. I don't know what more you could possibly expect from me other than what I have done in a matter of little or no embarrassment to me, and rather more to you for whatever crushing impact such knowledge of you has on your campaign, personal, and professional life.

I have suggested to Mike Fratto, as it has been supported in our off-list correspondence, that you are suffering from some cognitive neurological deficits, perhaps even early onset Altzheimer's Disease. I truly don't wish you any harm and I hope for some realization on your part that there is a problem on your end of whatever it is this is, but I will take measures to protect myself should you pursue the course you hint at. forum rules will not protect you in other venues that you might choose to take this, and we both have records of our exchanges unless you have deleted them. Do not make your problems mine, please, as I might solve them in ways you find unsatisfactory. You would be better off consulting with your physician than butting heads with me, something the forums truly don't really need.

You certainly have my permission to post this on the forum and all correspondence before this, as long as you include everything. If you post more off-list correspondence in any edited form, as a condition of my permission you will be agreeing to have me post all of our exchanges in their entirety. You would do well to review these exchanges before we bore the forum with them; I sincerely hope that they end with whatever resolution we reach through this last exchange.


Bill McGaughey November 1,2009 11:27 a.m. (private message)

I would like you to post a message on the US forum that you have checked the New Dignity Forum website and found that there are more than one candidate as you suggested in your private posting. I will be posting a message to the effect that I did not realize your posting was a private message and, had I realized this, I would not have posted my message on the forum.

You seem, however, to want to perpetuate a quarrel in suggesting that I may be suffering from a mental disorder. I ask you to cease and desist.


BK November 1, 2009 9:26 a.m. (private message)


I have better things to do than to read the New Dignity Forum; I stated that I accept your word on the matter in my previous post, and if you care to link the NDF in your own post, fine. I will post no more on the forum about the matter and request you to consider whether your request is reasonable.

What you do and post in the forum is your business and what I do and post is mine.

I truly feel that you do suffer from a cognitive deficit of some kind, and whether it is a natural consequence of aging or something more serious is something you might pursue with your physician. I would never share this in a public forum, but I won't allow you to use me to compensate for your own failures, whatever they might be.

Our private exchanges are waste of time for both of us, so I have no problem in ending them.


Mike Fratto November 1, 2009 10:45 a.m. (private message)

Bill this was a private post to you. It appears it did not go to any forum. I am sorry, but I cannot take action on private posts.

FYI: I suspect B. used the word lied when he could have used exaggerate or some other similar word.

I also do not know why this post is in the US Forum since it deals with the City of Minneapolis, I think.


Bill McGaughey November 1, 2009 1:54 p.m. (U.S. forum)

After posting my latest message on this forum with reference to BK's suggestion that I might have lied about the number of candidates associated with New Dignity Party, I received an email from K. stating that his accusation was made in a private posting. He did not appreciate my quoting from his email in the public forum.

K. is correct that his posting was private. I judged otherwise from the header attached to the email: "RE: (US) Do you love America?" I have been accustomed to thinking that a message was posted on the forum when it is prefixed by (US), (Mpls) or other similar initials. Even when "Re:" is attached to the header, the message often goes to the entire forum.

Had I realized at the time that it was a private posting, I would not have written or posted my response. I was mainly concerned about the 12-hour waiting period which prevented me from responding to the accusation and, of course, about two explicit references to lying being attached to my name in a message sent to a group of 100 posters. A private posting, of course, has no time limitations. The private email was addressed to me and to the forum moderator, Mike Fratto.

Before sending my message, I did communicate my concerns to Fratto. He was not familiar with K.'s email and asked me to forward it to him. I did that but heard nothing from him about this subject until today.

I am still concerned about unsubstantiated allegations of lying attached to my name, whether sent to Fratto or the entire group. Since I mistakenly sent the text of K's message to the public forum, the issue is out there. The allegation of "lying" is a direct attack on my character; it alleges an intention to deceive. I would not have been so concerned if K. had asked whether I had given correct information about New Dignity Party's membership or even if he had suggested that my claims to the group's membership were exaggerated. The word "lying", however, puts this accusation in a class by itself. As a candidate for mayor of Minneapolis, I cannot afford to let such characterizations go unchallenged.

I thank K. for his latest communication to the forum and this will be my last posting on the subject. However, I do want also to say that I think that, in the political area, the issue of lying, real or alleged, relates to American values and identity.


Bill McGaughey November 1, 2009 2:17 pm. (Minneapolis forum)

As a fellow candidate for mayor, I'm delighted that the charges made against Al Flowers early in the campaign have been dropped. In a just world, there would be at least equal attention to a person's being vindicated as when accused. But, of course, such a world is elusive.

I do think that the Star Tribune and other media should run something about Flowers' vindication to clear up earlier misconceptions. The election is coming soon.

One small correction to earlier comments: Al Flowers did receive a delayed invitation to appear before the Star Tribune editorial board and he did, in fact, appear. Someone else got the endorsement.


BK November 1,2009 8:39 p.m. (Minneapolis forum)

woo hoo. another mayoral candidate's reputation restored.