We’re Using the Term “Conservative” Incorrectly

It’s not uncommon for members of the Republican Party—particularly those that identify as MAGA Republicans—to refer to themselves as “conservatives.” In fact, in almost every Republican primary race, candidates go to great lengths to show how far right they are on the political spectrum to convince voters that they are the most conservative of all the candidates. The problem with this scenario is that candidates often move so far right that they cease to be conservative.

For most Americans, we view political ideologies in the context of our history and democracy. Today, we associate Democrats with being liberal and Republicans with being conservative. However, when we view the political beliefs of our politicians through a larger, more historical lens, it becomes clear that many Republicans have abandoned conservatism and have instead embraced authoritarian and fascist ideologies.

To fully understand how we use the term “conservative” incorrectly, let’s start from a big picture view and then zoom in on what Republicans in the United States believe today.

Let’s consider the various political systems on a continuum. This is a very basic way to view political systems. Many academics have proposed different ways to compare the various political systems, and many can get incredibly complicated. But for the sake of this conversation, a basic way of viewing political systems should suffice.

Viewing the graphic above, you see that to the far left is Anarchy, and moving right we have Communism, Socialism, Democracy (illustrated by a donkey and an elephant signifying Democrats and Republicans), Monarchy, Nazism, and to the far right, Fascism. You’ll note that Democracy is in the center of the continuum, and the farther you move either left or right, the fewer rights individuals have and the more powerful the government becomes.

One thing I quibble with on the graphic is the placement of Monarchy. We are no longer creating monarchies, so its placement on the chart tends to confuse the issue. If Republicans move farther right, they do not enter into Monarchy territory. That’s not the next step right. Even so, since monarchies do exist in the world, I suppose it is technically correct.

Next, let’s zero in on our American democracy. On the following continuum, you’ll note that to the left of the graphic is Radical (far left), Liberal (left of center), Moderate (center) Conservative (right of center), and Reactionary (far right). Generally speaking, this is how we view political ideology in the United States. However, in recent years, the term “conservative” has been expanded to include values and beliefs that were never part of conservative ideology. In fact, many of the things so-called “conservatives” stand for today are anathema to what American conservatives have long believed.

American conservatism is based in large part on the writings of Edmund Burke, an 18th century Irish author, economist, and political philosopher. Burke was opposed to the unrestrained power of the monarchy in Great Britain and believed political parties were necessary to prevent abuses by the monarch or the government. He believed in the lessons of experience and in gradually improving through tried and tested arrangements rather than in a priori reasoning and fast-moving revolution.

Ronald Reagan is credited with revitalizing the conservative movement in the United States. The American conservative movement stood for individual freedom, limited government, the rule of law, peace through strength, fiscal responsibility, and free markets. Above all, American conservatives believed in the primacy of our democracy, the sanctity of the Constitution, and the inalienable rights of all citizens.

It’s worth noting that in hindsight, conservatives didn’t always act in ways that were in line with their declared belief in these principles. Nevertheless, these principles were the foundation of conservative belief.

Through the post-war era of the 1940s, into the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the Republican and Democratic Parties both had members that were liberal, moderate, and conservative. At the time, there was no absolute linkage between liberal-Democrat and conservative-Republican. That began to change in the 1990s, particularly with the rise of the Tea Party movement.

Today, the Democratic Party consists of moderate and liberal members, and Republican Party members proudly self-identify as “conservative.” However, the policy positions of the leaders (and many members) of the Republican Party are far out-of-step with the principles traditionally associated with conservatives.

For instance, rather than advocating for individual freedom, today’s MAGA Republicans push for a rolling back of individual rights. In recent years, Republicans have almost universally advocated for the suppression of voting rights, the repeal of a woman’s right to have an abortion, and many Republicans are pushing for a repeal of same-sex marriage and the right to contraception. Until recent years, we saw an expansion of rights for American citizens. But for the first time in our country’s history, we see a major political party working to deny American’s their hard-earned rights.

Republicans over the past eight years have espoused a commitment to the rule of law, even while fighting against the use of the legal system against their leaders. You don’t have to look any further than the four indictments and 91 felony charges against former President Donald Trump to see that most Republicans don’t truly believe in the rule of law. Trump himself views our legal system as a “political witch hunt,” and many of his fellow Republicans claim that government—particularly our federal law enforcement agencies and Department of Justice—are being weaponized against not only the former president, but Republicans writ large, including the January 6 defendants.

Speaking of Trump, he recently laid out his plans for a second term in the White House, and his vision gives a good indication of how far Republicans have moved away from conservativism. Trump promises mass deportations; open air camps at the border for illegal immigrants; a ban on immigrants from “Muslim countries; forced relocation of homeless Americans to tent cities; Implementation of “stop and frisk” laws and deployment of the National Guard to fight crime in our larger cities; pardoning January 6 defendants; a complete overhaul of the government, including firing most career employees and replacing them with loyalists committed to carrying out his wishes; and a Department of Justice that will arrest and imprison his political opponents. As if this wasn’t scary enough, Trump wants to invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day back in office, which will allow him to use the military as a domestic police force, capable of quelling any protests or unrest in response to his draconian policies.

Of course, none of what Trump is planning to do if he wins the presidency is conservative. It certainly spills over into the Reactionary area of the above graphic, and much of what he wants to do goes even farther right on the chart, into fascism. And sadly, many, if not most, Republicans in Congress support the actions Trump wants to take. In recent weeks, Senators such as Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), as well as several Republican members of the House have shared unfounded conspiracy theories and outright lies that tend to support the actions Trump wants to take as president. These elected Republicans have abandoned conservatism—as well as democracy—in an effort to regain control of the government.

My point is this: the word “conservative has a definition. True conservatives have well-defined values and political beliefs. Those values and beliefs may change slightly over time, but they remain basically the same. We do a disservice to our fellow citizens when we misuse words like “conservative.” Trump and his supporters are, at best, reactionaries, and many qualify as authoritarians and fascists. We shouldn’t redefine words to fit the actions being taken by MAGA Republicans. Instead, we should use the words that already exist and the definitions that already describe what Trump and his followers are and what they plan to do.


The 25 Saddest Songs Ever Written

“When all hope is gone,
A sad song says so much.”
–Elton John, “A Sad Song Says So Much”

A year or two ago, Malcolm Gladwell did an episode about the saddest song ever written on his podcast, Revisionist History. In that episode, he went into excruciating detail about the song, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones. For whatever reason, that episode really stuck with me, and ever since then, I’ve been thinking about whether or not “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is actually the saddest song ever written.

Of course, there is no objective way to determine which song is actually the saddest. In fact, there’s not universal agreement on what makes a song sad. Is it the music? The lyrics? The performance? Or is it some combination? For instance, in my research (that sounds more important than “surfing the internet”), I found that a lot of people think Roy Orbison’s song “Crying” is super sad. For me, the lyrics are sad, but the music really isn’t. (NOTE: I went back and listened to “Crying” and I might be wrong. It’s pretty sad.)

Of course, I can’t trot out this list without recognizing that there are a lot of sad songs I’ve never heard. So rather than thinking of this as some sort of authoritative list of the world’s saddest songs, let’s just think of it as my list. Feel free to make your own.

As I dove deeper down the rabbit hole of sad songs, I kept adding more and more songs. So far, my list is 75 songs long, and I continue to add more. I suspect there will be more posts like this one with other worthy sad songs.

In no particular order, here is my (first) list of the twenty-five saddest songs ever written:

  1. He Stopped Loving Her Today
    Written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman
    Performed by George Jones

This is the song Malcom Gladwell decided was the saddest song of all time. It tells the story of a man who is separated from the woman he loves and finally finds a way to stop loving her. I was familiar with the song before Gladwell featured it in Revisionist History, but what I didn’t realize (although in hindsight, I should have) was the reason he stopped loving her was because he died. It was only death that could stop his love for her. That’s sad.

He Stopped Loving Her Today

He said, “I’ll love you till I die”
She told him, “You’ll forget in time”
As the years went slowly by
She still preyed upon his mind

He kept her picture on his wall
Went half crazy now and then
But he still loved her through it all
Hoping she’d come back again

Kept some letters by his bed
Dated 1962
He had underlined in red
Every single, I love you

I went to see him just today
Oh, but I didn’t see no tears
All dressed up to go away
First time I’d seen him smile in years

He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they’ll carry him away
He stopped loving her today

You know, she came to see him one last time (ooh)
Ah, and we all wondered if she would (ooh)
And it kept runnin’ through my mind (ooh)
“This time he’s over her for good”

He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they’ll carry him away
He stopped loving her today

2. She Thinks I Still Care
Written by Dickey Lee
Performed by James Taylor

“She Still Thinks I Care” was originally performed by George Jones, but I prefer the James Taylor version. The song is sad but it also has a bit of humor to it. It’s a little funny the way the narrator is blind to how he’s still not over his old lover. Of course, by the end of the song, the narrator comes to understand that he’s still in love. Dickey Lee, the man who wrote the song, also wrote the tragic, over-the-top sad ballad, “Patches” (see below), made famous by Clarence Carter in 1970.

She Thinks I Still Care

Just because I asked a friend about her
Just because I spoke her name somewhere
Just because I rang her number by mistake today
She thinks I still care

Just because I haunt the same old places
Where the memory of her lingers everywhere
Just because I’m not the happy guy I used to be
She thinks I still care

But if she’s happy thinking I still need her
Then let that silly notion bring her cheer
But how could she ever be so foolish?
Oh, where would she get such an idea?

Just because I asked a friend about her
Just because I spoke her name somewhere
Just because I saw her then went all to pieces
She thinks I still care
She thinks I still care

3. Patches
Written by Dickey Lee
Performed by Clarence Carter

A little boy is born to a poor family in Alabama. The family can barely make ends meet. They dress the boy in raggedy clothes, and then his father makes fun of him, calling him “Patches.” That’s mean.

As if things were bad enough for the little boy, his father—the one that gave him the nickname “Patches”—takes sick. On his death bed, he tells his son that it’s now up to him to take care of the family. Then he dies, leaving poor Patches to figure things out.

Life is hard for Patches, but things are only going to get worse. After working the fields day and night, a storm comes along and washes the crops away. Patches is just thirteen years old, but it’s up to him to find a way to provide for the family. The poor kid needs a break, but every night he can hear his father’s disembodied voice saying, “Patches, I’m depending on you, son.” My God, can’t this poor kid get some peace? Nope.

Next, Patches’ mother dies. Now, in addition to tending the crops, he has to help care for his siblings. Sure, they’re grown, but are they really on their own? Patches needs some rest, but even after all the passing years, Patches is still haunted by his father, saying “Patches, I’m depending on you, son.” Patches could use a vacation and perhaps some mental health counseling.


I was born and raised down in Alabama
On a farm way back up in the woods
I was so ragged that folks used to call me Patches
Papa used to tease me about it
‘Cause deep down inside he was hurt
‘Cause he’d done all he could

My papa was a great old man
I can see him with a shovel in his hands, see
Education he never had
He did wonders when the times got bad
The little money from the crops he raised
Barely paid the bills we made

For, life had kick him down to the ground
When he tried to get up
Life would kick him back down
One day Papa called me to his dyin’ bed
Put his hands on my shoulders
And in his tears he said

He said, Patches
I’m dependin’ on you, son
To pull the family through
My son, it’s all left up to you

Two days later Papa passed away, and
I became a man that day
So I told Mama I was gonna quit school, but
She said that was Daddy’s strictest rule
So every mornin’ ‘fore I went to school
I fed the chickens and I chopped wood too
Sometimes I felt that I couldn’t go on
I wanted to leave, just run away from home
But I would remember what my daddy said
With tears in his eyes on his dyin’ bed

He said, Patches
I’m dependin’ on you, son
I tried to do my best
It’s up to you to do the rest

Then one day a strong rain came
And washed all the crops away
And at the age of 13 I thought
I was carryin’ the weight of the Whole world on my shoulders
And you know, Mama knew What I was goin’ through, ’cause
Every day I had to work the fields
‘Cause that’s the only way we got our meals
You see, I was the oldest of the family
And everybody else depended on me
Every night I heard my Mama pray
Lord, give him the strength to make another day

So years have passed and all the kids are grown
The angels took Mama to a brand new home
Lord knows, people, I shedded tears
But my daddy’s voice kept me through the years

Patches, I’m dependin’ on you, son
To pull the family through
My son, it’s all left up to you
Oh, I can still hear Papa’s voice sayin’

Patches, I’m dependin’ on you, son
I’ve tried to do my best
It’s up to you to do the rest
I can still hear Papa, what he said

Patches, I’m dependin’ on you, son
To pull the family through
My son, it’s all left up to you

4. Hallelujah
Written by Leonard Cohen
Performed by Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright, Pentatonix, Bon Jovi, K.D. Lang

It seems like just about everyone has recoded a version of “Hallelujah.” It’s one of the most covered songs ever. I chose five versions of the song for various reasons. Leonard Cohen wrote the song and recorded the original version. Rufus Wainwright brought the song to a new, larger audience when his version was included in the hit animated film, Shrek. I really like acapella music, and Pentatonix does a great acapella version of the song. I’m not the world’s biggest Bon Jovi fan, but I like what he did with his version of “Hallelujah.” Finally, in 2010 at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, the Canadian Olympic Committee wanted to honor native-born songwriter Leonard Cohen during the opening ceremonies. They tapped K.D. Lang to sing Cohen’s most famous song, and she knocked it out of the park.


Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?

It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor falls, the major lifts
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew her

She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Well, maybe there’s a God above
As for me all I’ve ever learned from love
Is how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

But it’s not a crime that you’re hear tonight
It’s not some pilgrim who claims to have seen the Light
No, it’s a cold and it’s a very broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Well people I’ve been here before
I know this room and I’ve walked this floor
You see I used to live alone before I knew ya

And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
But listen love, love is not some kind of victory march, no
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?

And I remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove she was moving too
And every single breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Now I’ve done my best, I know it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didnt come here to London just to fool you

And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand right here before the Lord of song
With nothing, nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

5. Strange Fruit
Written by Abel Meeropol
Performed by Billie Holliday

There’s a lot to say about “Strange Fruit.” The song, which was written after Abel Meeropol, a white, Jewish teacher in the Bronx, saw a photograph of a black man lynched from a tree. The image disturbed him so much that he eventually put his thoughts about the photograph down on paper in the form of a poem. Sometime later, he put the poem to music, and showed the song to a friend who owned a jazz club in New York. The club owner shared the song with his friend, Billie Holliday, and the rest is history. “Strange Fruit” was named the Song of the Century by Time Magazine and it became an anthem of the civil rights movement. The images painted by the song lyrics are graphic, and Billie Holliday’s performance is haunting. Although the song never mentions lynching, it’s obvious what she is singing about.

Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastor scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouths
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rut, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

6. Broken Vow
Written by Laura Fabian and Walter Afanasieff
Performed by Josh Groban

“Broken Vow” was originally performed by Laura Fabian, but was made popular by Josh Groban on his album, Closer. The song is about a guy (in Groban’s version) who loses his significant other to another man. He tells her that he wants to know who this other man is, and says that he’ll find a way to let her go if she’ll just explain to him who this other guy is.

The story the song tells is sad enough, but when combined with the sorrowful music and Groban’s excellent performance, it takes on a new, sadder dimension. The album Closer was my initial introduction to Josh Groban. It has several great songs, but “Broken Vow” became my favorite.

Broken Vow

Tell me her name
I want to know
The way she looks
And where you go
I need to see her face
I need to understand
Why you and I came to an end

Tell me again
I want to hear
Who broke my faith in all these years
Who lays with you at night
When I’m here all alone
Remembering when I was your own

I’ll let you go
I’ll let you fly
Why do I keep on asking why
I’ll let you go
Now that I found
A way to keep somehow
More than a broken vow

Tell me the words I never said
Show me the tears you never shed
Give me the touch
That one you promised to be mine
Or has it vanished for all time

I’ll let you go
I’ll let you fly
Why do I keep on asking why
I’ll let you go
Now that I found
A way to keep somehow
More than a broken vow

I close my eyes
And dream of you and I
And then I realize
There’s more to life than only bitterness and lies

I close my eyes
I’d give away my soul
To hold you once again
And never let this promise end

I’ll let you go
I’ll let you fly
Why do I keep on asking why
I’ll let you go
Now that I found
A way to keep somehow
More than a broken vow

7. Nessun Dorma
Written by Giancomo Puccini
Performed by Luciano Pavarotti

Until recently, I didn’t know what the English translation of Puccini’s lyrics were. The song itself is excruciating in the way it is performed by Pavarotti (or pretty much anyone that has performed it), but I didn’t know what the performer was singing about. Of course, that didn’t stop me from getting chocked up every time I’d hear it. At the end of the song when Pavarotti sings Vincero! Vincero! (I will win! I will win!), I want to cry. It’s just such an emotionally charged song.

Nessun Dorma (English)

None shall sleep,
None shall sleep!
Even you, oh Princess,
In your cold room,
Watch the stars,
That tremble with love
And with hope.

But my secret is hidden within me,
My name no one shall know,
No… no…
On your mouth, I will tell it,
When the light shines.

And my kiss will dissolve
the silence that makes you mine!

(No one will know his name
and we must, alas, die.)

Vanish, o night!
Set, stars! Set, stars!
At dawn, I will win!
I will win!
I will win!

Nessun Dorma (Italian)

Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o Principessa
Nella tua fredda stanza
Guardi le stelle che tremano
D’amore e di speranza!

Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me
Il nome mio nessun saprà!
No, no, sulla tua bocca lo dirò
Quando la luce splenderà!

Ed il mio bacio scioglierà
Il silenzio che ti fa mia!

(ll nome suo nessun saprà
E noi dovrem, ahimè! Morir! Morir!)

Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle!
Tramontate, stelle! All’alba vincerò!
Vincerò! Vincerò!

8. Me and Little Andy
Written and performed by Dolly Parton

I love Dolly Parton, although I have to admit that I am more a fan of her as a person than as a performer. Musically, she’s not my cup of tea. But more than most of her songs, I really dislike “Me and Little Andy.” It’s so ridiculously sad and designed to draw tears from the listener. There’s little nuance or subtlety in what she’s doing.

Spoiler Alert: The young girl, Sandy, and her dog, Little Andy die. That’s right, they both die AT THE SAME TIME. That’s a little too on the nose for me, but I can’t deny that it’s a sad song. Of course it’s a sad song. A little girl and her dog die! (Does anyone think that Dolly Parton should be investigated for this? I mean, a little girl and her dog show up at Dolly’s house one night, and the next morning they’re both found dead. Isn’t anyone else suspicious?)

Me and Little Andy

Late one cold and stormy night I heard a dog a’barkin’
Then I thought I heard somebody at my door a’ knockin’
I wondered who could be outside in such an awful storm
Then I saw a little girl with a puppy in her arms

Before I could say a word she said, ‘My name is Sandy
And this here is my puppy dog, it’s name is little Andy’
Standing in the bitter cold in just a ragged dress
Then I asked her to come in and this is what she said

Ain’t ya got no gingerbread
Ain’t ya got no candy
Ain’t ya got an extra bed for me and little Andy

Patty cake and bakers man
My mommy ran away again
And we was all alone and didn’t know what else to do
I wonder if you’ll let us stay with you

Giddy up trotty horse, going to the mill
Can we stay all night
If you don’t love us no one will
I promise we won’t cry

London bridge is fallin’ down
My daddy’s drunk again in town
And we was all alone and didn’t what we could do
I wonder if you’ll let us stay with you

She was just a little girl, not more than six or seven
But that night as they slept the angels took them both to heaven
God knew little Andy would be lonesome with her gone
Now Sandy and her puppy dog won’t ever be alone

Ain’t ya got no gingerbread
Ain’t ya got no candy
Ain’t ya got an extra bed for me and little (whispers) Andy

9. Waiting Around to Die
Written and performed by Townes Van Zandt

“Waiting around to Die?” Of course it’s sad.

Waiting Around to Die

Sometimes I don’t know where
This dirty road is taking me
Sometimes I can’t even see the reason why
I guess I keep a-gamblin’
Lots of booze and lots of ramblin’
It’s easier than just waitin’ around to die

One time, friends, I had a ma
I even had a pa
He beat her with a belt once ’cause she cried
She told him to take care of me
Headed down to Tennessee
It’s easier than just waitin’ around to die

I came of age and I found a girl
In a Tuscaloosa bar
She cleaned me out and hit in on the sly
I tried to kill the pain, bought some wine
And hopped a train
Seemed easier than just waitin’ around to die

A friend said he knew
Where some easy money was
We robbed a man, and brother did we fly
The posse caught up with me
And drug me back to Muskogee
It’s two long years I’ve been waitin’ around to die

Now I’m out of prison
I got me a friend at last
He don’t drink or steal or cheat or lie
His name’s Codeine
He’s the nicest thing I’ve seen
Together we’re gonna wait around and die
Together we’re gonna wait around and die

10. A Change is Gonna Come
Written by Sam Cooke
Performed by Otis Redding and Jennifer Hudson

Sam Cooke wrote and recorded “A Change is Gonna Come,” making it a hit in 1964. A year later, Otis Redding re-recorded the song and gave it a more mournful feel. I read that Sam Cooke sang “A Change is Gonna Come” from the heart, but Otis Redding sang it from his soul. Cooke’s song has been recorded more than 500 times since it’s release in 1964 and it is another anthem of the civil rights movement. One of those re-recordings was done by Jennifer Hudson for the film Malcolm X. I didn’t need to include Hudson’s version, but she’s so good, why not?

A Change is Gonna Come

I was born by the river
In a little tent
Oh, and just like the river, I’ve been running
Ever since
It’s been a long
A long time coming, but I know
A change gon’ come
Oh yes, it will

It’s been too hard living
But I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there
Beyond the sky
It’s been a long
A long time coming, but I know
A change gon’ come
Oh yes, it will

I go to the movie
And I go downtown
And somebody keep telling me
“Don’t hang around”
It’s been a long
A long time coming, but I know
A change gon’ come
Oh yes, it will

Then, I go to my brother
And I say, “Brother, help me, please”
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees, oh
There been times that I thought
I couldn’t last for long
But now, I think I’m able
To carry on
It’s been a long
A long time coming, but I know
A change gon’ come
Oh yes, it will

11. Keep Me in Your Heart
Written by Warren Zevon and Jorge Calderon
Performed by Warren Zevon and Eddie Vetter

In 2002, Warren Zevon was dying of cancer. He was frail and weak, and he knew there was no hope for his recovery. Even so, he insisted on continuing to work. On October 30, 2022, Zevon appeared, for the final time, on Late Night with David Letterman. Letterman was a fan of Zevon’s and the two had been friends for twenty years. That night, Letterman dedicated the entire show to Zevon, who played three songs, something previously unheard of. Less than a year later, Zevon was dead.

“Keep Me in Your Heart”—which Zevon did not play during his final appearance on Letterman’s show–is a musical love letter to his wife, who he knew he would soon be leaving. It was the last song Zevon ever wrote and recorded.

In 2017, Letterman received the Mark Twain Award for Comedy. At the award ceremony, Eddie Vetter, having seen Zevon’s appearances on Letterman’s show, sang “Keep Me in Your Heart” for Dave. I’m not a big fan of Eddie Vetter, but there’s no denying he did a great job with Zevon’s song.

Keep Me in Your Heart

Shadows are fallin’ and I’m runnin’ out of breath
Keep me in your heart for a while
If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for a while

When you get up in the mornin’ and you see that crazy sun
Keep me in your heart for a while
There’s a train leavin’ nightly called “When All is Said and Done”
Keep me in your heart for a while

Keep me in your heart for a while
Keep me in your heart for a while

Sometimes when you’re doin’ simple things around the house
Maybe you’ll think of me and smile
You know I’m tied to you like the buttons on your blouse
Keep me in your heart for a while

Hold me in your thoughts
Take me to your dreams
Touch me as I fall into view

When the winter comes
Keep the fires lit
And I will be right next to you

Engine driver’s headed north up to Pleasant Stream
Keep me in your heart for a while
These wheels keep turnin’ but they’re runnin’ out of steam
Keep me in your heart for a while
Keep me in your heart for a while
Keep me in your heart for a while
Keep me in your heart for a while

12. The River
Written and performed by Bruce Springsteen

Almost every article I consulted while putting this list together included Bruce Springsteen’s song “The River” as one of the saddest ever written. It’s sad, to be sure, but if you read the lyrics of “Dancing in the Dark,” you might come to the conclusion that it is even sadder. The problem with “Dancing in the Dark” (if it is a problem) is that, while the lyrics are sad, the music is upbeat. For the longest time, the lyrics didn’t really penetrate my thick skull because the music made me think it was a happy song. However, when I heard a slowed-down version of the song, I finally heard the lyrics.

Of course, that has nothing to do with The River, which is awfully sad on its own merits.

The River

I come from down in the valley
Where Mister, when you’re young
They bring you up to do like your daddy done
Me and Mary we met in high school
When she was just seventeen
We’d ride out of this valley
Down to where the fields were green

We’d go down to the river
And into the river we’d dive
Oh, down to the river, we’d ride

Then I got Mary pregnant
And man, that was all she wrote
For my nineteenth birthday
I got a union card and a wedding coat
We went down to the courthouse
And the judge put it all to rest
No wedding day smiles
No walk down the aisle
No flowers, no wedding dress

That night we went down to the river
And into the river, we’d dive
Oh, down to the river
We did ride, ahi, ahi, ahi

I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well Mister, they vanished right into the air

Now I just act like I don’t remember
Mary acts like she don’t care
But I remember us riding in my brother’s car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on them banks I’d lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she’d take
Now that memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse?

That sends me down to the river
Though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight, ahi, ahi, ahi

Down to the river
My baby and I
Oh, down to the river, we ride

13. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
Written by Hank Williams
Performed by Johnny Cash

I was driving out of the panhandle of Texas heading toward Oklahoma City. It was one o’clock in the morning. I was still more than an hour from Oklahoma City, where a thunderstorm was brewing. It wasn’t raining where I was, but every time there was a lightning strike, I could see OKC’s skyline. It was beautiful and devastating, kind of like witnessing the end of the world.

I couldn’t get anything on the radio but country music, and the station I landed on was playing the old timey stuff, all of it sad. When “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by Hank Williams came on the radio, I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. They rolled down my face like raindrops on a window. There was no sobbing. Just teardrops. I wasn’t sad. There was nothing wrong. But the music got to me.

My preferred version of the song was done by Johnny Cash, so I decided to include it here. I hope Hank Williams understands.

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I’m so lonesome, I could cry

I’ve never seen a night so long
And time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry

Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves begin to die?
Like me, he’s lost the will to live
I’m so lonesome, I could cry

The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome, I could cry

14. Hurt
Written by Trent Reznor
Performed by Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash could really sing a sad song. On his brilliant album, American IV: The Man Comes Around, he sang “Hurt,” originally recorded by Nine Inch Nails. The fact that Johnny Cash covered a Nine Inch Nails song is crazy. The fact that the song came out so great is amazing.


I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real

The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end

And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar’s chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair

Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I’m still right here

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end

And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

15. Everybody Hurts
Written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Michael Stipes, Mike Mills
Performed by R.E.M.

Isn’t R.E.M. great? They have so many great songs. This one might be the saddest. But unlike some of the other sad songs on this list, “Everybody Hurts” gives the listener hope. Sure, things suck sometimes. You’re going to fall down, suffer hardships, be treated unfairly. That’s life, and everybody goes through it. So, don’t give up. When things get tough, hold on. Things will get better. I like that message.

Everybody Hurts

When your day is long
And the night, the night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life, well hang on

Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
Everybody hurts sometimes

Sometimes everything is wrong
Now it’s time to sing along

When your day is night alone (hold on, hold on)
If you feel like letting go (hold on)
If you think you’ve had too much
Of this life, well hang on

‘Cause everybody hurts
Take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts

Don’t throw your hand, oh no
Don’t throw your hand
If you feel like you’re alone
No, no, no, you are not alone

If you’re on your own in this life
The days and nights are long
When you think you’ve had too much
Of this life to hang on

Well, everybody hurts sometimes
Everybody cries
Everybody hurts, sometimes

And everybody hurts sometimes
So hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on, hold on
Everybody hurts

16. All By Myself
Written by Eric Carmen and Sergei Rachmaninoff
Performed by Eric Carmen and Celine Dion

When I was young, I loved this song. It wasn’t cool to admit it then, but I’m admitting it now. I used to listen to the lyrics and feel a lump growing in my throat. I was too cool to cry, but sometimes I wanted to. I always felt that this song was underrated. I wanted more people to appreciate it. Then Celine Dion came along.

Dion’s version became much more popular than Carmen’s, giving the song new life and a new audience. I like Carmen’s version better, but Dion’s does the original proud. And the notes she hits in that song. OMG!

Side note: I think Celine Dion is kind of strange.

All By Myself

When I was young
I never needed anyone
And making love was just for fun
Those days are gone

Livin’ alone
I think of all the friends I’ve known
But when I dial the telephone
Nobody’s home

All by myself
Don’t wanna be
All by myself

Hard to be sure
Sometimes, I feel so insecure
And love’s so distant and obscure
Remains the cure

All by myself
Don’t wanna be
All by myself

All by myself
Don’t wanna live
All by myself

When I was young
I never needed anyone
And making love was just for fun
Those days are gone

All by myself
Don’t wanna be
All by myself

All by myself
Don’t wanna live
Oh, oh, no
Don’t wanna live by myself, by myself anymore
By myself anymore

Oh, oh, oh
All by myself
Don’t wanna live
I never, never, never
Needed anyone

17. Yesterday, When I Was Young
Written by Charles Aznavour
Performed by Willie Nelson

“Yesterday, When I Was Young” has special meaning to me now that I am entering middle age (assuming I live to be 126 years old). The lyrics tell the tale of a man realizing that youth has passed him by. He’s regretting how he spent his younger days, living only for the moment and being self-centered. I especially like the Willie Nelson version of this song. I’m familiar with versions done by Glen Campbell and Roy Clark, but there’s something about the quality of Willie’s Nelson’s voice and the way he presents the song that makes it real.

Yesterday, When I Was Young

Yesterday, when I was young
The taste of life was sweet as rain upon my tongue
I teased at life as if it were a foolish game
The way the evening breeze may tease a candle flame

The thousand dreams I dreamed, the splendid things I planned
I always built to last on weak and shifting sand
I lived by night and shunned the naked light of day
And only now I see how the years ran away

Yesterday, when I was young
So many happy songs were waiting to be sung
So many wild pleasures lay in store for me
And so much pain my dazzled eyes refused to see

I ran so fast that time and youth at last ran out
I never stopped to think what life was all about
And every conversation I can now recall
Concerned itself with me, and nothing else at all

Yesterday, the moon was blue
And every crazy day brought something new to do
I used my magic age as if it were a wand
I never saw the waste and emptiness beyond

The game of love I played with arrogance and pride
And every flame I lit too quickly, quickly died
The friends I made all seemed, somehow, to drift away
And only I am left on stage to end the play

There are so many songs in me that won’t be sung
I feel the bitter taste of tears upon my tongue
The time has come for me to pay for yesterday

18. Tears in Heaven

Written by Eric Clapton and Will Jennings
Performed by Eric Clapton

In 1991, Eric Clapton’s four-year-old son died after falling out of the 53rd floor window of a New York apartment. Clapton went into seclusion for several months following his son’s death, and when he began working again, he teamed up with songwriter Will Jennings to write “Tears in Heaven,” a tribute to his late son. What could be sadder than losing a child, not just in a song, but in real life?

Tears in Heaven

Would you know my name?
If I saw you in heaven
Would it be the same?
If I saw you in heaven

I must be strong
And carry on
‘Cause I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven

Would you hold my hand?
If I saw you in heaven
Would you help me stand?
If I saw you in heaven

I’ll find my way
Through night and day
‘Cause I know I just can’t stay
Here in heaven

Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please
Begging please

Beyond the door
There’s peace, I’m sure
And I know there’ll be no more
Tears in heaven

Would you know my name?
If I saw you in heaven
Would you be the same?
If I saw you in heaven

I must be strong
And carry on
‘Cause I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven

19. Sam Stone
Written and performed by John Prine

“Sam Stone” is the story of a Vietnam veteran who returns home and becomes a heroin addict. The song talks about the impact it has on Sam’s family and how Sam turns to robbery to get the money he needs to feed his addiction. In the end, the addiction takes Sam’s life, guaranteeing a song that will make you want to cry.

Sam Stone

Sam Stone came home
To his wife and family
After serving in the conflict overseas
And the time that he served
Had shattered all his nerves
And left a little shrapnel in his knees
But the morphine eased the pain
And the grass grew round his brain
And gave him all the confidence he lacked
With a purple heart and a monkey on his back

There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes
Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose
Little pitchers have big ears
Don’t stop to count the years
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios, mmhmm

Sam Stone’s welcome home
Didn’t last too long
He went to work when he’d spent his last dime
And Sammy took to stealing
When he got that empty feeling
For a hundred dollar habit without overtime
And the gold rolled through his veins
Like a thousand railroad trains
And eased his mind in the hours that he chose
While the kids ran around wearin’ other peoples’ clothes

There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes
Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose
Little pitchers have big ears
Don’t stop to count the years
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios, mmhmm

Sam Stone was alone
When he popped his last balloon
Climbing walls while sitting in a chair
Well, he played his last request
While the room smelled just like death
With an overdose hovering in the air
But life had lost its fun
There was nothing to be done
But trade his house that he bought on the GI bill
For a flag-draped casket on a local hero’s hill

There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes
Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose
Little pitchers have big ears
Don’t stop to count the years
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios, mmhmm

20. One More Light
Written by Mike Shinoda and Eg White
Performed by Linkin Park

I’m fairly new to this song. I only recently heard it, and the version I heard was a re-make by a band called Fearless Motivation. I really liked it, which led me to search for the original version by Linkin Park. I like that version too. So I’ll share both versions. You’re welcome.

One More Light

Should’ve stayed, were there signs, I ignored?
Can I help you, not to hurt, anymore?
We saw brilliance, when the world, was asleep
There are things that we can have, but can’t keep

If they say
Who cares if one more light goes out?
In the sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do

The reminders pull the floor from your feet
In the kitchen, one more chair than you need oh
And you’re angry, and you should be, it’s not fair
Just ’cause you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it, isn’t there

If they say
Who cares if one more light goes out?
In the sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do

Who cares if one more light goes out?
In the sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do
Well I do

21. Language or the Kiss
Written by Emily Sailers
Performed by Indigo Girls

This song would not make most people’s lists, but I love it. I especially like the way the first few lines set the scene. “I don’t know if it was real or in a dream/Lately waking up I’m not sure where I’ve been/There was a table set for six and five were there/I stood outside and kept my eyes upon that empty chair.” Someone is missing. Did they die? Was there a breakup? We don’t know. What we do know is that someone that should be there isn’t, and it tugs a little bit at our heartstrings.

Later, we find out that there has been a breakup, and it doesn’t sound like it was something the singer wanted, although it appears she’s the one who made the decision. As she both thinks back and moves forward, the breakup is ever present, and we feel her sadness, and maybe her regret. “Language or the Kiss” is a wonderful, sad song.

Language or the Kiss

I don’t know if it was real or in a dream
Lately waking up I’m not sure where I’ve been
There was a table set for six and five were there
I stood outside and kept my eyes upon that empty chair
And there was steam on the windows from the kitchen
Laughter like a language I once spoke with ease
But I’m made mute by the virtue of decision
And I choose most of your life goes on without me
Oh the fear I’ve known
That I might reap the praise of strangers
And end up on my own
All I’ve sown was a song
But maybe I was wrong

I said to you the one gift which I’d adore
The package of the next 10 years unfolding
But you told me if I had my way I’d be bored
Right then I knew I loved you best born of your scolding
When we last talked we were lying on our backs
Looking at the sky through the ceiling
I used to lie like that alone out on the driveway
Trying to read the Greek upon the stars
The alphabet of feeling
Oh I knew back then
It was a calling that said if joy then pain
The sound of the voice these years later
Is still the same

I am alone in a hotel room tonight
I squeeze the sky out but there’s not a star appears
Begin my studies with this paper and this pencil
And I’m working through the grammar of my fears
Oh mercy what I won’t give
To have the things that mean the most
Not to mean the things I miss
Unforgiving the choice still is
The language or the kiss

22. Stay
Written by Matt Rollings, Alisan Porter, and Drew McKeon
Performed by Alison Kraus (feat, Vince Gill)

To be honest, I’m not sure this song should be on the list. Matt Rollins said he wrote it “thinking of the deep love that parents have for their children, and the courage it takes to love at all, knowing the inevitability of loss.” A parents love for their children is not sad. In fact, it’s hopeful. Yet, if you listen to the song you may find yourself getting chocked up. Because all parents know their child is going to grow up and eventually leave them. And when that child is young and you’re holding them in your arms, feeling that incredible love, you never want them to go.

The music is slow–the piano and strings create an atmosphere conducive to crying–and Alison Krauss’ voice is gorgeous (as always). Overall, it’s just a beautiful song.


Oh, my love
Stay, stay here in my arms
So fast these moments fade
Stay, stay
Never go away

Oh, your eyes
Telling me what words can’t say
I wish that you’d never change
Stay, stay
Never go away

I am yours
And you are mine
Bound together for all time
I will carry you until it’s time to go
And I will always be the home
You’ll come back to in your heart
Oh, stay, stay, stay, stay

My only
So much that we could say
You were made just for me
Stay, stay
Never go away

I am yours and you are mine
Bound together from the start
I will carry you until it’s time to go
And I’ll always be the home
You come back to in your heart
I will stay, stay, stay
Oh, my love
Stay, stay
Never go away

23. Alone Again, Naturally

Written and performed by Gilbert O’Sullivan, “Alone Again, Naturally” is my favorite song…about suicide. When I was a kid and the song was a hit, I didn’t realize it was about suicide. I just didn’t think in those terms at the time. Now, I realize what the song is about. The narrator of the song has been jilted by his lover, left at the alter. Then his father dies, leaving his mother lost and forced to start over, something she is never able to do. Then she dies, leaving the singer all alone, and he decides, in his loneliness and sadness, to end it all by throwing himself off of a high tower. Not the most effective way to commit suicide, but who am I to criticize?

Alone Again, Naturally

In a little while from now
If I’m not feeling any less sour
I promise myself to treat myself
And visit a nearby tower
And climbing to the top
Will throw myself off
In an effort to
Make it clear to whoever
Wants to know what it’s like when you’re shattered
Left standing in the lurch at a church
Were people saying, My God, that’s tough
She stood him up
No point in us remaining
We may as well go home
As I did on my own
Alone again, naturally

To think that only yesterday
I was cheerful, bright and gay
Looking forward to who wouldn’t do
The role I was about to play
But as if to knock me down
Reality came around
And without so much as a mere touch
Cut me into little pieces
Leaving me to doubt
Talk about, God in His mercy
Oh, if he really does exist
Why did he desert me
In my hour of need
I truly am indeed
Alone again, naturally

It seems to me that
There are more hearts broken in the world
That can’t be mended
Left unattended
What do we do
What do we do

Alone again, naturally

Looking back over the years
And whatever else that appears
I remember I cried when my father died
Never wishing to hide the tears
And at sixty-five years old
My mother, God rest her soul
Couldn’t understand why the only man
She had ever loved had been taken
Leaving her to start
With a heart so badly broken
Despite encouragement from me
No words were ever spoken
And when she passed away
I cried and cried all day
Alone again, naturally
Alone again, naturally

24. Ode to Billy Joe
Written and performed by Bobbie Gentry

I love the way the lyrics of this song are written. Compare the lyrics for “Ode to Billy Joe” to the other songs on this list The lyrics to “Ode to Billy Joe” are much more densely packed, more detailed. They read more like a novella than a poem.

I’ve never understood what was going on the story the song tells. I used to think that Billy Joe was just goofing around and jumped off the bridge, never intending to kill himself. I was young and naïve in my younger days. Then, I thought Billy Joe jumped off after he found out that he had gotten the narrator of the song pregnant. That’s still a possibility. But what about the thing Brother Taylor saw them throw off the bridge? Did the narrator have a miscarriage or a backwoods abortion, and was it the fetus they threw into the river? I’m reading a lot into the song, but isn’t that the listeners job, to interpret the lyrics?

I don’t now for sure what is going on in the song. All I know is that it tells the sad story of Billy Joe McCallister’s unfortunate death, which is also the death of the young man that the singer secretly loved. Years after Billy Joe’s death, Papa is dead, Mama is so depressed she can barely functions=, and the singer is still going out to the Tallahatchie Bridge, throwing flowers into the muddy river where poor Billy Joe died.

Ode to Billy Joe

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin’ cotton, and my brother was balin’ hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And mama hollered out the back door, y’all, remember to wipe your feet
And then she said, I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge
Today, Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And papa said to mama, as he passed around the blackeyed peas
Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits, please
There’s five more acres in the lower forty I’ve got to plow
And mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow
Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge
And now Billy Joe MacAllister’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And brother said he recollected when he, and Tom, and Billie Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show
And wasn’t I talkin’ to him after church last Sunday night?
I’ll have another piece-a apple pie; you know, it don’t seem right
I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge
And now ya tell me Billie Joe’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And mama said to me, child, what’s happened to your appetite?
I’ve been cookin’ all morning, and you haven’t touched a single bite
That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today
Said he’d be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge
And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge

A year has come and gone since we heard the news ’bout Billy Joe
And brother married Becky Thompson; they bought a store in Tupelo
There was a virus going ’round; papa caught it, and he died last spring
And now mama doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything
And me, I spend a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge

25. When I Call Your Name
Written by Vince Gill and Tim DuBois
Performed by Vince Gill

Although I didn’t rank these songs, “When I Call Your Name” may be the saddest of them all. Don’t believe me? Just take a listen. Between the lyrics, the music, and Vince Gill’s high, lonesome voice, “When I Call Your Name” sets the standard for sad songs.

When I Call Your Name

I rushed home from work like I always do
I spent my whole day just thinking of you
When I walked through the front door, my whole life was changed
‘Cause nobody answered when I called your name

A note on the table that told me goodbye
It said you’d grown weary of living a lie
Oh, your love has ended, but mine still remains
But nobody answers when I call your name

Oh, the lonely sound of my voice calling
Is driving me insane
And just like rain, the tears keep falling
But nobody answers when I call your name

Oh, the lonely sound of my voice calling
Is driving me insane
And just like rain, the tears keep falling
But nobody answers when I call your name
Oh, nobody answers when I call your name


Re-Run: Thank You, Dr. Who

Today, my son turns 24. I originally wrote this post back in 2021, but thought it was appropriate to re-post it today for his birthday. Happy Birthday, Louis!


When my ex-wife and I split up, our son was 14-years old. He was just starting high school and was at an age where he was moving from being a momma’s boy to having more interest, and more in common, with his dad.

At the time, it was heartbreaking on several levels. Not only was my marriage breaking up, but my kid’s family was being torn apart. I felt horrible that I wasn’t able to keep our family together and to provide my children with the stable family life they were used to and which they deserved.

Because of the split, I didn’t get to see either of my kids as much as before. My daughter was off at college and was old enough to view her parent’s separation from a more mature perspective. But my son was at a tender, impressionable age. He didn’t yet have the maturity to adequately deal with the split. That fact haunted me.

Thanks to modern technology, I was able to stay in touch with my son even when I wasn’t physically with him, but it wasn’t the same. I could feel us drifting apart, losing the bond that we had been building, and which had been interrupted by the divorce. I was desperate to find a way to connect with him, to share a common interest, even during those times we weren’t together.

Enter Dr. Who.

In case you’re not familiar, Dr. Who is a BBC TV series that has been airing since 1963. It’s about a Time Lord who travels through space and time, righting wrongs and protecting the innocent from evil villains like daleks, cybermen, Weeping Angels, and other assorted bad characters.

I became aware of Dr. Who when I was about 13-years old. Several of the smarter kids in my middle school were fans and they encouraged me to watch the show, which aired on the local PBS station on Sunday nights. I was not one of the smarter kids, and I was afraid I wouldn’t understand the show. I know that sounds foolish now, but I didn’t want to prove my ignorance to my friends. Instead, I refused to watch the show and voiced my opinion that it was only for nerds. (I was a precocious young lad, wasn’t I?)

Years later, Dr. Who came to Netflix and my son became a fan. I’d find him binge watching several episodes at a time, and he’d try to explain to me what the Doctor and his various sidekicks were up to. I rarely understood what he was talking about. What was a dalek? Why was the Doctor using a sonic screwdriver? What’s the deal with that magic paper? I didn’t have a clue.

But when my marriage broke up and I was desperate to connect with my son, I started watching Dr. Who. I was surprised that I not only quickly came to understand the show, I actually liked it. The Doctor wasn’t human (He was a Time Lord), but he embodied the best human qualities, like empathy, charity, generosity, and, dare I say, love. The shows were campy science fiction, but they spoke to the deepest hopes and fears and dreams and shortcomings we humans here on earth share.

When I was away from my son and the conversation wasn’t coming as easily as I’d like, we’d talk about Dr. Who. We began mirroring each other’s watch schedules so we could talk about the last show we had each seen. Somehow, through space and time and the magic of television, Dr. Who helped me save, and build, my relationship with my son.

One of my favorite episodes is called “Vincent and the Doctor,” and involves the painter, Vincent Van Gogh. The plot of the story is that the Doctor notices an alien creature in a Van Gogh painting (“The Church at Auvers”), and travels back in time with his pal, Amy Pond, to investigate. They meet Van Gogh, who is the only person who can see the creature, known as a Krafayis (Which might explain Van Gogh’s mental illness), and they ultimately save the day. But the end of the episode is the most touching part of any episode I’ve watched.

The Doctor realizes that Van Gogh dies without ever knowing how popular and respected he would eventually become. He lived a miserable life, full of pain and mental illness, convinced that his art would never amount to anything. So, the Doctor whisks Van Gogh through space and time to an art gallery in Paris that features many of the artist’s paintings. Here’s how the episode ends:


Veteran’s Day 2023

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother”
–William Shakespeare,
Henry V

This past week, I watched the 10-part HBO mini-series Band of Brothers, a dramatized version of Stephen Ambrose’s book by the same title. Although the mini-series first aired in 2001, I had never seen it. The series follows the real-life exploits of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division (that’s a mouthful) during World War II.

When the series first aired, it was heralded for its realistic depiction of war. Many of the scenes are gory, violent, and chaotic. None of what is depicted is glorified. And, although many heroic acts are included, none of the characters are treated as heroes.

The series was enthralling. Despite chronicling a war that ended more than fifty years before the show was first broadcast, the series seemed fresh and relevant. It might be even more relevant today, as we see the rise of authoritarianism around the world, and an embrace of Nazism and anti-Semitism right here in the United States.

I enjoyed (if that is the right word) the first eight episodes of the series, but episode nine struck me like a lightning bolt right in the heart. In episode nine, entitled “Why We Fight,” Easy Company is sent to Landsberg, Germany to oversee the surrender of 300,000 German soldiers. While on patrol near Landsberg, Easy Company discovers the Kaufering Concentration Camp. The German guards have abandoned the camp, and the prisoners, weak and emaciated, are locked inside the fencing.

The men of Easy Company don’t know what to make of what they are seeing. Dead corpses litter the camp, and the smell of death and decay fills the air. Skeletal beings, with shaved heads and wearing ragged clothes, wander aimlessly, initially unaware that they are being rescued. When it becomes clear that the Americans are there to save them, the prisoners want to touch their saviors, to hug them and show their gratitude. But for the Americans, who are still coming to grips with what they are seeing, the prisoners look like something out of a horror movie. The soldiers feel a mix of compassion and revulsion, unsure exactly what they should do or how they should act.

The scenes at the concentration camp struck me especially hard because my father was once one of those soldiers. He was in the troops that liberated the Dachau and Buchenwald Concentration Camps. Although he didn’t talk about his experience often, when he did, he described exactly what was being shown in Band of Brothers. It’s still difficult to think that my own father witnessed such atrocities. He was just a 19-year old kid when this happened, and I have to believe that the smell and images stayed with him throughout his life. I’ve always felt a bit of awe toward what my father experienced, but seeing it play out on TV—even a dramatized version—made me respect my dad’s service even more. It also made me mourn what I can only imagine was his lost youth and the lifelong nightmares he suffered because of what he saw.

Dad went on to serve in the Korean Conflict, spending a total of ten-and-a-half years in the Army, much of it in combat or near the front lines. When he came home, he was changed. Who wouldn’t be. He had joined the Army as a gregarious, bright-eyed kid and had returned more introverted, less idealistic, and with a jaundiced eye toward the world. It was no longer the wonderful place he had once thought it was.

The men that survived World War II returned home and carried on with their lives. Some went on to great successes. Others fell on hard times, unable to get over the horrors they had experienced in war. For my dad, it was a mixed bag. Although he didn’t talk about his time in the Army often, the experience stuck with him. He had trouble sleeping, dealt with constant headaches, and for years suffered from stomach ulcers. Doctors could never pinpoint the cause of his ailments, but in hindsight, I think they are obvious. People are not designed to see so much violence and bloodshed. They are not made to endure battle after battle after battle. Everyone has their breaking point. For some, it’s a mental breakdown. For others, like my father, the demons manifest themselves physically, taking their toll on the body.

Dad turned to prescription pain killers for the ulcers and, I imagine, to keep the demons at bay. As a kid, I had hard feelings toward my dad for his addiction. I blamed him every time he didn’t feel up to playing catch or attending one of my baseball or basketball games. Of course, I was blissfully unaware of what he was dealing with, the experiences that kept replaying in his mind, and how he was using the drugs to try to tamp down the memories of all he had seen and done.

I’m sure the nightmarish memories never left my dad. I suspect he was still dealing with them right up until his death in 2019 at the age of 93. But things got better. The demons must have eased up because in the mid to late 1980s, Dad’s health took a turn for the better. The stomach issues, although they never went away completely, improved, and Dad started to enjoy life again. It didn’t happen overnight, but he gave up the painkillers and became more outgoing, more friendly. He laughed more often and seemed to leave the past in the past, more grateful than ever for his many blessings. The farther he got from the war, things only got better.

Thank God there are men and women willing to fight and die for our liberty and way of life. What we ask from them is too much. Even when they survive the wars we send them to, they often return home fighting internal battles that most of us can’t see and don’t understand. I only hope that each and every military veteran finds the peace that eluded my dad for so long. They deserve at least that much for all they have given to our country.

To all of our military veterans, thank you for your service.

Veteran’s Day 2023


Why Do Otherwise Decent People Support Trump?

Let’s do a little time travel experiment.

The year is 2003. George W. Bush is president; the space shuttle, Columbia, explodes on its return to earth, killing all seven astronauts on board; Finding Nemo is the biggest film of the year; and you are twenty years younger.

Or maybe we should go back to 2013. The United States has elected the first black president in its history; terrorists set off a bomb at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring nearly 300; Macklemore has two of the five biggest songs of the year; and you are ten years younger.

Now, imagine that in 2003 or 2013, someone were to tell you that in 2023—just ten or twenty years in the future—roughly half of the country would support a man for president who:

  • Had been divorced three times;
  • Had declared bankruptcy five times;
  • Was prohibited from owning or serving on the board of a charitable foundation in the State of New York because he had misused funds from his own foundation;
  • Had admitted to committing sexual assault;
  • Had been impeached twice while serving as president, once for trying to extort the leader of a friendly nation and once for inciting an insurrection;
  • Had refused to accept the results of an election, and continues to spread the Big Lie that, due to voter fraud, the election was stolen from him.
  • Had been indicted in four different jurisdictions for a total of 91 felony charges;
  • Had called for the execution of a former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the imprisonment, without evidence of wrongdoing, of his political opponents;
  • Has promised that if he is elected again to the presidency, he will institute an authoritarian form of government that includes jailing political opponents and those not sufficiently loyal to him; will fire career government employees, replacing them with cronies loyal only to him, not the nation; will remove the United States from NATO, the most successful mutual support alliance organization in history; and will weaponize the government to benefit his friends and punish his enemies.

If you had been given this information in 2003 or 2013, would you have believed it?

If you’ve followed this blog for the past few years, you know that I have struggled to understand how anyone, let alone half the nation, could support Donald Trump, a man his own former Chief of Staff (and retired U.S. Marine Corp General) called the most flawed man he had ever met. A Trump-supporting friend once told me in 2020 that the reason he and other people support Trump is because the former President’s policy preferences matched their own. I couldn’t understand it in 2020, considering everything we knew about Trump at the time, and I certainly can’t understand it now.

Of course, I’m not the only one who struggles to understand the appeal of Donald Trump. Below, I’ve included perspectives from three different people, including:

  • A British writer who doesn’t understand how so many Americans have been duped by Trump;
  • A political pundit and business owner from Arizona who thinks that calling Trump supporters “stupid” is kinder than saying what those people might actually be: and
  • A small church minister in New York who recounts what it was like to have his congregants pervert Biblical teachings to justify supporting Trump.

They, like me, are confused about the sway Donald Trump continues to have over the Republican Party, and how he has transformed the GOP into an anti-democratic, pro-authoritarian political organization.

I will say, I don’t mind people calling Trump names. I do it myself. But I have to admit that it bothers me to see his supporters—at least some of his supporters—called stupid or ignorant. Some of these people, at least some of the ones I know, are not stupid. I can’t fully explain their attraction to such a cartoonish buffoon, but the Trump supporters I know are decent people who care about their families, communities, states, and the nation. I don’t think they personally wish ill on anyone. Yet, they support a man for the highest office in the land who absolutely wishes ill on many Americans and wants to end the democracy that has served us so well. In many cases, these people self-identify as Jesus-following Christians, yet they support a man who is as un-Christ-like as any man to ever hold the presidency. I just don’t get it.

The first article was written by Nate White and was originally published in the London Daily. White is a British writer and his article explains why Brits dislike Trump. It’s humorous, but everything White says is factual.

The next article originated as a Twitter thread written by Ryan Shead, a political pundit and business owner from Arizona. In his thread, Shead sets out to answer the question, why do liberals think Trump supporters are stupid? As I said, it bothers me to hear Trump supporters referred to as stupid, but there’s no arguing with the examples Shead provides. There’s just no explaining why otherwise smart, decent people approve of the things Trump says and does.

The final article also originated as a Twitter thread written by Rev. Sean Muldowney, a small church pastor who speaks to the changes he saw in his congregation that paralleled Trump’s political rise. Rev. Muldowney’s words really struck me because he describes exactly what I witnessed: otherwise decent people sucked in by a con artist posing as a Christian. Muldowney’s Twitter thread is a disturbing, but enlightening read.

Why Do British People Not Like Donald Trump?

(Lightly edited for clarity)

A few things spring to mind. Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem. For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed. So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever. I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman. But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers. And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface. Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront. Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul. And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist. Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that. He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat. He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully. That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a sniveling sidekick instead. There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listens to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:

  • Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
  • You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss. After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum. God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid. He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart. In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish: ‘My God… what… have… I… created?’ If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.

— Nate White

Twitter Thread from Ryan Shead

(Lightly edited for clarity):

THIS WAS ON A FRIEND’S PAGE: An anguished question from a Trump supporter: ‘Why do liberals think Trump supporters are stupid?’

THE SERIOUS ANSWER: Here’s what the majority of anti-Trump voters honestly feel about Trump supporters en masse:

That when you saw a man who had owned a fraudulent University, intent on scamming poor people, you thought “Fine.”

That when you saw a man who had made it his business practice to stiff his creditors, you said, “Okay.”

That when you heard him proudly brag about his own history of sexual abuse, you said, “No problem.”

That when he made up stories about seeing Muslim-Americans in the thousands cheering the destruction of the World Trade Center, you said, “Not an issue.”

That when you saw him brag that he could shoot a man on Fifth Avenue and you wouldn’t care, you exclaimed, “He sure knows me.”

That when you saw him mock the disabled, you thought it was the funniest thing you ever saw.

That when you heard him brag that he doesn’t read books, you said, “Well, who has time?”

That when the Central Park Five were compensated as innocent men convicted of a crime they didn’t commit, and he angrily said that they should still be in prison, you said, “That makes sense.”

That when you heard him tell his supporters to beat up protesters and that he would hire attorneys, you thought, “Yes!”

That when you heard him tell one rally to confiscate a man’s coat before throwing him out into the freezing cold, you said, “What a great guy!”

That you have watched the parade of neo-Nazis and white supremacists with whom he curries favor, while refusing to condemn outright Nazis, and you have said, “Thumbs up!”

That you hear him unable to talk to foreign dignitaries without insulting their countries and demanding that they praise his electoral win, you said, “That’s the way I want my President to be.”

That you have watched him remove expertise from all layers of government in favor of people who make money off of eliminating protections in the industries they’re supposed to be regulating and you have said, “What a genius!”

That you have heard him continue to profit from his businesses, in part by leveraging his position as President, to the point of overcharging the Secret Service for space in the properties he owns, and you have said, “That’s smart!”

That you have heard him say that it was difficult to help Puerto Rico because it was in the middle of water and you have said, “That makes sense.”

That you have seen him start fights with every country from Canada to New Zealand while praising Russia and quote, “falling in love” with the dictator of North Korea, and you have said, “That’s statesmanship!”

That Trump separated children from their families and put them in cages, managed to lose track of 1500 kids, has opened a tent city incarceration camp in the desert in Texas – he explains that they’re just “animals” – and you say, “Well, OK then.”

That you have witnessed all the corruption and lacking moral character, rudeness and contempt for you, the working American voter, and you still show up grinning and wearing your MAGA hats and threatening to beat up anybody who says otherwise.

That when Trump scammed $122 million from everyday Americans for his 2020 campaign — folks who were literally on Hospice waiting to pass  — you said, “Trump 2024.”

That when Trump added $7.8 trillion to the national debt after promising to lower it, you said, “he just needs another four years”

That when the trade deficit increased by 40% under Trump, you said, “it would be worse under the Democrats”

That when Trump had the worst jobs record since President Hoover, you said, “four more years.”

That when Trump said he would be too busy working for the American people to go golfing while doing so for a year of his presidency on his own properties, you said, “that’s just smart business.”

That when Trump said everyone would have better and cheaper healthcare once he was elected while 2.3 million more people become uninsured, you said, “the polling is wrong.”

That after Trump said “It’s 15 people and pretty soon it will be down close to zero” Covid cases in the United States, and 400,000 Americans died from it, you said, “who could have predicted?”

That when we found out Trump expressed support for hanging VP Mike Pence during the January 6th Capitol riot, you thought, “He kinda had it coming”

That when Trump said he’s ‘financially supporting’ January 6 defendants and will look ‘very favorably’ about full pardons if he wins the 2024 election, you said, “That’s a real leader”

That when the January 6th Committee presented video testimony from ex-attorney general William Barr saying the former president’s claims of election fraud were ‘bogus’, ‘idiotic’ and ‘bullshit’, you thought, “The libs are just trying to take Trump down.”

That when you heard that Rudy Giuliani said “We have lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence,” to support the claims of election fraud, you said, ‘Rusty Bowers is a traitor’

What you don’t get is that our succumbing to frustration, thinking of you as stupid, may very well be wrong, but it’s also…hear me…charitable.

Because if you’re NOT stupid, we must turn to other explanations, and most of them are less flattering.

— Ryan Shead

Twitter Thread from Rev. Sean Muldowney

(Lightly edited for clarity):

That politician got arrested today. I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve pastored people since late 2015.

Spoiler: lots of failure.

It’s late 2015/early 2016, preceding the presidential election and into the new presidency.

I, like others, observe a rising sentiment among the faithful Christians most immediate to me. This sentiment is a conflation of political aspirations with the will of God.

I observe some good and kind people become supportive of a wealthy celebrity bully who exploits women, minorities, migrant workers, and consumers. His sexual exploits are particularly loathsome.

I grew up in the tri-state area and read the New York newspapers almost every day of my life. I knew what this guy was about since I was 12 years old.

And now he was beginning to exploit Christians for their political support under the pretense of shared values like morality and law-and-order… values that he has not practiced one day in his public life.

Some good and kind people near me soon become somewhat obsessive and defensive over him. It is beginning to look grim. The category of “following Jesus” does not seem to apply to these conversations. Even notions of “decency” and “honor” don’t seem to apply to these conversations.

What started out as a seemingly benign “well he’s just the lesser of two evils” sentiment rapidly evolves into full-blown religious syncretism. Support for this bully is fully equated with doing the will of God.

His personal life doesn’t matter, his ethics don’t matter, his integrity doesn’t matter. Those are all washed away with a few words: “God can use anyone.”

I see through the veil. I don’t know why it’s apparent to me, but it is.

So I’m wanting to speak up about this because it has become a complete spiritual crisis. It has become idolatry. Idolatry is the very thing that is the most dangerous to our souls. No, nobody would outright claim to ‘worship’ this man. But the fawning over him and the defense of him has all the markings of uncritical spiritual devotion that could be easily exploited… and would likely lead to violent outbursts somewhere down the road (“cultish” would be a technically appropriate word to use).

As I witness these things take place — all in the name of Jesus and in the name of being pro-life — I want to speak up. Pastors push back against idolatry, right? Pastors don’t let people create a god in their own image, right? Pastors warn the people under their care about “strong delusions” (2 Thess. 2:11), right?

I want to be helpful, but also maintain credibility. Maintain a peaceable tone. Withhold judgment. Not offend. Make it far less about who one chooses to vote for and far more about the mingling of spirituality with partisanship and populism (I still believe this).

I speak up, as I can, never feeling like I hit the mark. Never feeling like it’s sufficient. Never feeling pastoral enough or gentle enough. Or bold enough or courageous enough. And I’m thinking “nobody else is seeing this as a discipleship issue. Am I wrong? Biased? Stupid? Do we just ignore this so as to not make waves and rock the church?” (That seemed to be the unspoken expectation in the church. I’m the associate pastor in this story, btw).

I have this internal crisis all while seeing some good and kind people become fully seduced by a classic strong-man bully who parrots enough god-talk to win over the historic “moral majority” crowd. I feel defeated as I see people sell their souls to a scam artist. What a shitty pastor I must be, to open scripture so often for people but not be able to help them see that they are dancing in darkness. But hey, at least they check the “fully engaged church member” boxes!

So it’s enough that I’m failing in speaking up about this AND a related “racism is bad” concern (that was a whole thing that should have been obviously ok, but wasn’t).

THEN I learn that my speaking up has caught me a label: “You’re a raging ________” (I bet you can guess).

That was definitely a first. Along with getting reported to a supervisor for my “agenda.” Along with a secret task-force investigation of my social media (though I was cleared of whatever it was that was garnering complaints).

How did I think I was fairing as a pastor, as someone meant to keep watch over people’s souls?

Failure, everywhere.

Now here we are nearing the end of 2023. I am no better a person for my attempts to speak up. I don’t claim to hold any moral high ground. My direct critique of one seductive political figure is hardly an endorsement for the other side, but that’s not how I’ve been interpreted.

I’ve been humbled. I don’t think my voice mattered and I don’t think I made a difference. I don’t think I helped anyone move out of the political haze and into the presence of Jesus. (I’m pretty sure I’m totally shutting my mouth this coming election season… or going full IDGAF, we’ll see.)

The point? It’s not actually about me or what I did or didn’t do, I’m finally realizing.

Reality is reality. What a multitude saw coming did indeed come. And it is still unfolding.

Seems like “persecution/martyrdom” is the next act in this antichrist soap opera.

But you know what? There’s still time to repent, to get off of this train to nowhere, and return to authentic faith in the true Savior. The one who willingly laid down power and embraced weakness.

The one who could have declared religious war on his enemies but instead humbled himself on a cross. The one who invites sinners to his table and empowers them to live a new and different way of life.

Otherwise… behold, your god. Behold, your idol.

As for me?  I’ve grown in security. I’ll lose my job. I’ll lose my credibility. I’m calling out syncretism and idolatry. I’m not standing for theonomy or nationalism. I’m not bowing the knee to false Christianity.

It’s about discipleship and imitating Jesus, or it isn’t.

I’m not usually tweeting/x’ing like this, so the full on vulnerability hangover from this thread is pretty well settling over me.

So, in an effort to soothe my fragile ego, I want to add a contextual note about the language I used.

I hope you caught that I purposefully described “good and kind” people who were seduced by this delusion. That wasn’t me being cute. That’s the truth. That’s who they are. That’s what made it all the more heartbreaking: to see them take on an identity that wasn’t theirs.

I was serving in a large-ish rural church. I was a first-generation Christian (at age 19) city boy who was ministering in a 200+ year old church where the generations ran up to 4 deep. I got close to farmers, truckers, sporting goods magnates, factory workers, educators, nurses, and business owners.

Side note: farmers are the most amazing people and are doing one of the most dangerous jobs. No farmer is only a farmer. A farmer is a farmer and an engineer and a mechanic and a trucker and a weatherperson. They’re on the cutting edge of technology and steeped in tradition. Farming is among the professions with the highest suicide rates. They’re at the mercy of supply and demand, government policy, the weather, and a host of other variables. All so you and I can eat the food we eat. Go thank a farmer.

So, I showed up needing to learn a whole new culture. My education included why rural communities were drawn to Trump on a *policy* level. There were some real benefits.

And also why they were drawn to Trump on an *emotional* level. They believed he really saw and valued them. That’s why NONE of my story is about “Trump voters.” I don’t ask people how they vote and don’t try to influence people how they vote.

My story is about good and kind people who fell into a trap, put their whole identity into advocating for a criminal, and called it Christianity.

I was not a martyr or a lone voice among a whole MAGA mob. I detected a subtle undercurrent of unhealthy and un-Christlike speech and posture among some people in our community. It was when I challenged that undercurrent that it felt like a rogue wave unleashed.

It wasn’t everyone. But the loud voices were VERY LOUD and the defensive posture was VERY DEFENSIVE and no amount of “here’s the bible open in front of us and can you please show me where you are drawing your perspective from?” conversations seemed to be helpful.

All this to say, I don’t want my story to contribute to “othering” people. When I would speak up, it usually had to do with hearing someone make a disparaging remark about “those people.” There is a real temptation to “other” the people who “other” in the name of decency. No.

That story was about people I cared for (and still care about). People who were swept up in a deluge. People who lost the ability to discern between true and false faith.

Please don’t read any stereotypes of any people or groups into that story.

–Rev. Sean Muldowney


Relationships Are Good For Your Health

Last week, I posted an essay about how marriage (or any long-term, loving relationship) can increase your happiness. That essay was a bit personal, as it was prompted by my desire to be in a relationship.

As I was looking into ways that marriage leads to happiness, I came across a study conducted by Harvard Medical School that has been ongoing for 80 years. That study indicates that, not only do strong, long-term relationships lead to happiness, but they’re actually good for our health and well-being.

Rather than regurgitate the study, I’ll let Dr. Robert Waldinger, director of the study, do the talking. I’ve included two videos featuring Dr. Waldinger. The first was put together by After Skool, an artistic YouTube channel that puts animation to speeches, audiobooks, etc. The second is a TedTalk that Dr. Waldinger did in Boston in 2015.

The Secret to a Happy Life

What Makes a Good Life? Lessons From the Longest Study on Happiness

If you want to learn more about Dr. Waldinger’s work at Harvard, you can pick up his book, The Good Life.


Want to be Happier? Maybe You Should Get Married

In 2016, after 28 years of marriage, I got divorced. As my marriage was unraveling, I had it in my mind that I would never get married again. I viewed myself as a rugged individualist, the kind of guy who could happily go through life on his own, without need of a romantic relationship, to be a fully realized, happy human being. I was wrong.

After my divorce, I made the conscious decision not to date until I was certain I was done grieving the loss of my marriage. I didn’t want to jump into another relationship just because I was lonely or unhappy. And to be certain, I was lonely and unhappy. Even so, I stayed strong.

Now, ten years after the breakup of my marriage, I realize how wrong I was about being a rugged individualist. I’m not. I yearn for a serious relationship. I didn’t see myself in those terms previously, but I now realize I’m a relationship guy. I like my life better when I’m in a relationship. I like me better when I’m in a relationship.

All of that is hard to admit, but what is even harder to admit is the reason I’d like to be in a relationship: I think it will make me happy. I know, the common advice is that you have to be happy being alone before you can be happy being with someone else. I previously bought into that logic. It’s one of the main reasons I avoided dating for so long after my divorce. But is it really true?

New research indicates that marriage (or a long-term relationship) is the source of most happy people’s happiness. Research done by professor emeritus Sam Peltzman of the University of Chicago indicates that married people are much happier than unmarried people.

In the research, Peltzman looked at several variables, including age, race, gender, education, geography, and marital status, and found that of all the variables, marital status was the only one where there was a big gap in happiness. Married people were 30% more likely to report that they were happy than their unmarried counterparts. And it didn’t matter if the unmarried were never married, divorced, or widowed, the statistics remained the same.

Sadly, the population of unmarried people—and by extension, unhappy people—is growing. In 1974, only 6% of people that reached the age of 40 were unmarried. Today, that figure has increased to 25%.

Peltzman’s research is not an outlier. Similar research conducted over the past several decades has come to the same conclusion. And while Peltzman didn’t study why married people are happier than unmarried people, other researchers have. That research falls into two categories. The first posits that marriage doesn’t make you happy. Instead, happy people tend to get married. This is the school of thought that says you have to learn to be happy alone before you can be happy with someone else.

In a way, this makes sense. People who are happy generally enjoy life and are attractive to a potential partner, who is also likely happy. They find each other and it’s only natural for them to decide to continue being happy together. Unhappy people, on the other hand, aren’t particularly enjoying life. And this glumness tends to repel potential mates, who aren’t interested in being brought down by the unhappy person’s gloomy outlook.

Professor Brienna Perelli-Harris, a professor at University of South Hampton in the UK is a believer in this first theory. Her research concludes that the happiest couples marry and that marriage doesn’t lead to their happiness. Unhappy people simply aren’t in the mood to commit to a lifelong relationship.

According to this theory, while Americans’ happiness level has fallen significantly since around 1980, they’ve stopped getting married. Fewer happy people, fewer weddings.

On the other hand, the second category believes that marriage leads to happiness. According to research conducted by Lyman Stone at the Institute for Family Studies, getting married boosts happiness levels for at least two years after the wedding, even controlling for reported pre-marriage happiness levels.

The argument made by people who believe in this second category is that “close, supportive, long-term relationships make you happy. Finding those types of relationships through friendships is possible, but it’s hard. People move away; they get busy. Most friends don’t buy houses or raise children jointly—the kinds of activities that glue people together and force them to cooperate. According to professor Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University, “Marriage is the usual way to find a durable, caring relationship that undoubtedly makes you happier than you would be if you didn’t have it.”

Another study, this one conducted in Europe in 2017, found that married people were happier after getting married than they were before, and that the happiness boost lasted for many years. Of those that participated in the study, those that said that their spouse was their best friend got nearly twice as much satisfaction from their marriage as those who didn’t feel that way about their significant other.

Do unmarried people who live together long-term rather than get married realize these same benefits? Almost, but not quite.

A study conducted in Germany found that cohabitating people realized about two-thirds of the happiness boost from living together as married people did. Why the difference? The study didn’t delve into that question, but some guesses can be made. It may be that married couples realize a slight happiness boost from making a legal, binding commitment that cohabitators don’t realize. The consequences of a marriage not working out tends to be much more serious than those of the breakup of a couple that was simply living together. It could also be as simple as those living together, while generally happy with one another, aren’t committed or in love enough to take the next step into marriage. Regardless, the important point is that there is still a happiness boost for cohabitating couples that, while not as big as for married couples, is still higher than the happiness level those couples reported prior to cohabitating.

What is it that makes cohabitating couples happier than their unmarried, not-living-together counterparts? John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia and co-author of the 2017 study explains it simply: “It’s the sharing of stuff…the legal thing (marriage) is probably the least important part of it.”

I fall into this second way of thinking. Looking back, even when my marriage was on the rocks, I was happier than I have been for most of the time that I’ve been single. Why would that be? These are just guesses, but I think it’s because I was part of a family (when my kids were still at home) and part of a team (with my wife). I felt like I belonged to something bigger than me, something that was important and, at least in theory, lasting. Being divorced, I often feel like what I do doesn’t matter to anyone but me. If I was more irresponsible, I might like that feeling. But the truth is, I enjoy being responsible to someone other than myself. The obligation makes me feel needed. It makes me happy.

In all honesty, I’m not hellbent to get married. I’m not opposed to it, but it’s not my goal. I simply want to be in a relationship, to share my life with another person. I want to love and be loved. I want to understand and be understood. I want someone to go on adventures with, to laugh with, cry with, and to be my better half. Maybe even my best friend. Why? Because I’m convinced it will make me happier.


Re-Run: You Never Know

This post was originally published on August 5, 2021.


Let’s call him Ryan. Truth is, I don’t know his real name. He was sitting on a median at a Florida intersection dressed in shorts and a threadbare T-shirt. He had a backpack sitting next to him, and he was holding a small sign, too small for everything he had written on it. The only word I could make out was “Homeless.” The rest was a mystery.

Ryan had short-cropped hair that looked like it had been cut by a non-professional, several days growth of beard, and a bearing that suggested defeat. He sat slumped over, with his head down, staring at his shoes, his feet tapping to a beat only he could hear. His sign was asking for help, but his body gave the impression that he had already given up.

I’d seen Ryan a few days earlier at the same intersection. On that day, the traffic signal turned green as I approached, so I only saw him for a moment. I’m ashamed to admit that my first thought when I saw him was, He’s a young, able-bodied guy. Why doesn’t he get a job instead of just begging?

The reason I’m ashamed of having that thought is that I always try to remember that you never know what people are going through, what hardships they’ve suffered or challenges they’ve faced. You truly never know. It’s easy to judge people. It’s harder to understand them and give them the benefit of the doubt. On that day, I took the easy way.

The second time I saw him, I had a red light, so I stopped a couple of cars back from Ryan. My heart was in a different place when I looked at him. I had no idea what his story was, but I was fairly certain it wasn’t a happy one. I waited for him to look up, but he just kept staring at his feet. I rolled the window down, and the heat rushed in. The day was oppressively hot, the sky devoid of clouds.

“Hey,” I yelled. I wanted to sound friendly, but be loud enough so he could hear me.

He looked up but didn’t move. It wasn’t clear if he saw who had called out to him. I held my arm out the window, a $20 bill in hand. Now he knew who had called out to him.

He stood, then walked toward me. Ryan was thin, his clothes baggy. His shorts, which hung below his knees, were dirty, and his T-shirt sweat-stained.

“How are you?” I asked, holding the money out to him.

He took off his sunglasses and stared at the $20 bill for a moment. His eyes brightened. A smile spread across his face revealing a couple of spaces where teeth used to be.

“Oh man, thanks. Thank you so much.” His voice was gruff, gravely, and he had a noticeable southern accent.

His eyes weren’t quite right. They didn’t move in unison. Was he mentally ill? Did he have some sort of disability?

“I hope this helps,” I said.

“This is great. Now I can get something to eat.” He was visibly excited. I wondered when he had last eaten.

The light turned green and traffic started to move. “Have a good day,” I said.

“Yeah, you too, man. Thank you.” Ryan looked again at the money, then stuffed it into his backpack. As I pulled away, he grabbed his sign and hoisted his backpack onto his shoulder, then walked toward the nearby Burger King.

“You never know,” I reminded myself. “You just never know.”


Finding My Voice

Have you ever had a complete stranger change your life? It happened to me, and I want to share the story of how it happened. It’s a story I’ve never told, but one that I think is important.

The story begins in May 2020. We were in the midst of a pandemic that had killed tens of thousands. I knew it was going to get worse, but I had no idea how many lives it would eventually extinguish.

My emotions were raw. I had just ended a relationship a month earlier. I was hurt and lonely. The nightly update on the number of people who had died from Covid made matters even worse. People were dying, families were being destroyed, and all but the most essential businesses were being shut down. In addition, the country was being torn apart politically. The federal government seemed completely unable or unwilling to effectively address the pandemic, instead turning it into another battle in the country’s ongoing culture war. It was a difficult, depressing time.

Then Derek Chauvin, a white police officer in Minneapolis, snuffed out the life of a black man named George Floyd, for no reason other than that he could. The whole ugly episode was captured on video and was served up to a national television audience, setting off protests and counter protests across the country.

Our divided country became further divided, pitting those who were outraged by the murder of George Floyd against those that didn’t seem to care that a police officer had murdered yet another unarmed black man. I was solidly on the side of the former, but what could I do, sitting alone at home, emotionally frayed and angry? Then I read this poem:

What Does One Say?

What does one say,
when George Floyd is executed in broad daylight,
and a seventeen-year-old girl films him calling for breath and his dead mother,
and the world looks on as the officer tucks his hands in his pockets?

What does one say,
when the streets fill with righteous anger,
and the refrain of “no justice, no peace” rises like incense,
and the sounds of flash bangs crack the night sky?

What does one say,
when suddenly the church doors are flung open,
and the wounded stumble in to find help,
and the traumatized step in to find sanctuary?

What does one say,
when, for two nights, fires rage all around,
and fist-sized embers rain down,
and smoke covers the block like a blanket?

What does one say,
when the President uses tear gas against his own people,
and the Bible becomes little more than a prop,
and protesters—who are pleading for Black lives—are labeled “thugs” from the nation’s most prominent pulpit?

What does one say,
when a neighborhood, once rich with groceries, becomes a desert overnight,
and businesses burn to the ground,
and nonprofit partners return to find nothing but wily flames and ashes?

What does one say,
when white supremacists show up to incite violence,
and black hawks circle round and round,
and neighbors—ages twenty to ninety—set up lawn chairs on the street corners to keep watch?

What does one say,
when the refrain “all lives matter” is again wielded like a sword,
and some choose to attend to the ninety-nine at the expense of the one,
and white moderates look at the uprising and say that “they just aren’t doing it right”?

What does one say,
when the church—the last public building—becomes the epicenter of disaster recovery,
and smells not-so-faintly of tear gas and smoke and sour milk,
and any lingering desire to protect the structure for an unknown tomorrow is eclipsed by the want to use it today for love?

What does one say,
when tens of thousands from every nation and every creed show up in need of food and basic necessities,
and goods enough appear each day,
and volunteers descend from far and wide—each called to be present for this moment?

What does one say,
when violence and tenderness join hands,
and institutional racism and righteous anger come face-to-face,
and grief and love embrace,
and scarcity and abundance kiss?

What does one say?
Truth is, I’m not sure.
But what I know is this:
Black Lives Matter.
You are not alone.
And God is here, already at work building something new.

That poem was written by Ingrid Rasmussen. Ingrid is the Lead Pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. Even now, when I re-read it, I get choked up just like I did when I read it for the first time on June 7, 2020. The poem brought all of my emotions—the hurt, the anger, the loneliness, the helplessness—to the surface.

I wanted to scream, to cry, to reach out, to make a difference, but I didn’t know how. I was just an older, middle-class, white guy. What did I have to say about the George Floyd murder or institutional racism that was valid and meaningful to anyone? I had lots of thoughts, lots of feelings, but no voice. In my experience, people like me just didn’t speak up. It was easier to stay quiet, to not make waves, to blend into the background. It was safer to keep opinions inside, to not ruffle any feathers, to not alienate friends or family.

Then I read Pastor Rasmussen’s poem and something inside me changed.

You see, Pastor Rassmussen is white, like me. She’s Lutheran, like me. I didn’t think people like us spoke up about racism and inequality. But if Pastor Rasmussen could speak up so powerfully and so clearly, then maybe I could too.

I began voicing my opinion on social media, the most convenient way to communicate, especially during a pandemic. I got into arguments, I lost some friends (both online and in real life), and I angered some people that thought I was being a radical for having the audacity to say that black people in the United States were entitled to equality and justice under the law.

I’m not sure what I expected when I decided to speak up. I sure didn’t set out to single-handedly change the world. Maybe I hoped that something I said would change a mind or two. Truthfully, I don’t know if anything I said made a difference. But I don’t think that was the point. I saw an injustice, and thanks to Pastor Ingrid Rasmussen, I found my voice and spoke up. What happened after that was and is out of my control. But until our country and our government treats all people with respect, equality, and justice—regardless of the color of their skin, the God they worship, the country they hail from, or the person they love–I’ll keep speaking up. It’s what each of us should do.

I still have never met or spoken to Pastor Rasmussen. Even so, I am so thankful to her for the courage, eloquence, and commitment to doing the right thing she displayed in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder.

Thank you, Pastor Rasmussen. Your words helped me find my voice, and I am eternally grateful.


Is Donald Trump Disqualified From Being President?

The Union won the war, at least in theory. The Confederate Army was defeated, but the southern states carried on as if they hadn’t lost. Confederate officials continued to run things in the south, and black Americans, now freed from bondage—again, in theory—continued to be mistreated and denied their Constitutional rights. Lincoln had a plan to free the slaves, but how he planned to incorporate them into the larger society was murky at best. Then, he was assassinated.

The Union had been saved, but it continued to be torn apart. Southern states sent former Confederate officials—military leaders and politicians, including Vice-President of the Confederacy, Andrew Stephens—to Congress. It was an audacious move. The very people who had advocated for succession of the southern states and who had helped wage a bloody war against the United States, were now being sent to Washington to help lead the very country they had committed treason against. Something had to be done.

Republicans in Congress were outraged. They didn’t think that former Confederates should be anywhere near the seat of power. They responded by passing the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, known colloquially as the “Reconstruction Amendments.”

Section three of the Fourteenth Amendment spoke directly to what was happening in Washington. Republicans in Congress wanted to make sure that no Confederate officials—military or political—could hold office in the federal or state governments. Section Three reads:

“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

Two esteemed law professors, William Baude of the University of Chicago School of Law and Michael Stokes Paulsen of the University of St. Thomas Law School, contend that the Fourteenth Amendment, Section Three prohibits Donald Trump from even being considered to hold any state or federal office. And according to these two professors, the call isn’t even close.

What makes Baude and Paulsen’s contention all the more credible is that both men are well-regarded conservatives, and both are members of the Federalist Society, the conservative group behind the Republican’s push to stack the federal judiciary with conservative jurists. It’s hard to dismiss Baude and Paulsen’s argument as part of the “liberal agenda” when both men are firmly entrenched in the conservative movement.

The two legal scholars published their findings in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. They spent 126 pages making their case, but their conclusion comes down to this one paragraph:

“The bottom line is that Donald Trump both “engaged in” “insurrection or rebellion” and gave “aid or comfort” to others engaging in such conduct, within the original meaning of those terms as employed in Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment. If the public record is accurate, the case is not even close. He is no longer eligible to the office of Presidency, or any other state or federal office covered by the Constitution. All who are committed to the Constitution should take note and say so.”

Baude and Paulsen are not alone. Former federal judge and conservative legal scholar J. Michael Luttig, as well as progressive Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Tribe, recently published an article in The Atlantic agreeing with Baude and Paulsen. Their conclusion?

“The former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, and the resulting attack on the U.S. Capitol, place him squarely within the ambit of the disqualification clause, and he is therefore ineligible to serve as president ever again. The most pressing constitutional question facing our country at this moment, then, is whether we will abide by this clear command of the Fourteenth Amendment’s disqualification clause.”

I have heard some commentators talk about the need to file a lawsuit to exclude Trump from the 2024 Presidential ballot. However, that may not be necessary. According to Baude, Paulsen, Luttig, and Tribe, Section Three is self-executing, and it is not dependent on Trump being convicted of any wrongdoing before it can be used.

In other words, it is up election officials in each state to decide whether or not Trump should be allowed on the ballot. Secretaries of State in California, Massachusetts, and Maine have already begun investigations into whether or not Trump is disqualified from running for the presidency. Lawsuits to compel election officials in Colorado and Minnesota to remove Trump from the ballot have been filed. Republican Presidential candidate Asa Hutchinson has called on Secretaries of State to refuse to include Trump on the ballot. The idea is beginning to gain steam.

Of course, there are credible people who disagree with Baude, et al. Conservative commentator and Never-Trumper David Frum thinks the argument that Trump is disqualified from running for President is a fantasy. Former Assistant Attorney General for the Southern District of New York, Preet Baharara, as well as former AGA and head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chuck Rosenberg–both well-respected legal thinkers–don’t believe Section Three applies to Trump’s situation. But at the moment, there seems to be more legal experts that agree with Baude, et. al than don’t.

An important point that sometimes gets overlooked is that the Constitution sets other qualifications for those wishing to become President. For instance, anyone running for President must be at least 35-years old and must be a natural born citizen of the United States. Section Three is not a punishment. It’s simply a qualification that a candidate must meet in order to be allowed on the ballot. It is up to the election officials in each state to determine if each candidate is qualified to run for president.

So, what can we expect to happen? In a word, lawsuits. If a Secretary of State in any state excludes Trump from the ballot, you can expect Trump to challenge the decision in court. If a Secretary of State decides to include Trump on the ballot, you can expect a lawsuit from citizens of that particular state contending that Trump is unqualified to be on the ballot. Eventually, the Supreme Court will need to weigh in. And what will they say?

If I had to guess, I think the majority of the Court will agree with Baude and Paulsen’s assessment. I know that may seem counterintuitive since six of the Justices are conservative, and three of those Justices were appointed by Trump himself. Even so, I could see six, maybe even seven, of the Justices agree that under Section Three of the 14th Amendment, Trump is not qualified to run for the Presidency. I don’t expect Thomas or Alito to disqualify Trump. Gorsuch could go either way. I expect Roberts, Kavanaugh, and Coney-Barrett to side with the three liberal Justices to find that Trump does not meet the Constitutional qualifications to run for the Presidency of the United States.

No matter how this shakes out, it’s an interesting situation with extremely high stakes. Assuming Republicans choose Trump to be their candidate through the primary election process, there will be a lot of pressure on the various secretaries of state to either include or exclude Trump from the ballot. Lawsuits are certain to ensue, and it will be up to the Supreme Court—if they agree to take on the case—to decide if Trump is allowed to run.

I think our crazy political environment is about to get even crazier.