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MITCHAM: Our system must prevail over party or person

If you favor Trump, you likely see Jan. 6 as some sort of 1776 moment. If you don’t, then you probably see it as the complete antithesis of that.

Personally, I was absolutely disgusted by what I saw, just viscerally sickened, just as I would have been in 2016 if the Capitol had been stormed by Hillary Clinton supporters over Russian interference claims. It’s the failure to see any shared national virtues above partisanship that dooms us all. This is the problem, our biggest problem, the way we reduce ourselves to us vs. them, with no more allowance for “we,” as in all.

This nation was provided with a framework for settling political differences in peaceful fashion, but that system is a house with rot and a fallen tree on a collapsed roof. Moving new occupants into the house doesn’t fix the structure, no matter if you like the occupants or hate them. Any damaged home needs a sober fix, not a drunken one. Hatred is drunkenness. It fixes nothing. It only flails about, never using tools, never doing actual work. And hatred feels like our most abundant natural resource in today’s America. That absolutely must change, or the hatred will continue to change us like some hard whiskey guzzled daily, rotting our insides. This is the crux of the matter — the spiritual, moral, practical crisis at hand. Hatred can’t be our fuel in life, not in our politics either.

And politically, let’s cut to the chase. Are we still committed to having elections? I ask this because elections require an element of trust, and much of this country has little, if any, left. Unless you can personally count every single vote in America by hand, you have to submit to a level of trust for elections to function.

But trust also comes with a secondary requirement: acceptance. For an election system to function, there must be some trust and acceptance. You trust that the count was done in good faith and accept the result, no matter if it makes you happy or sad. If you have real doubts, then you appeal to the courts and present your evidence. If you can’t prove it there, then you let it go. This is basic civics, a base-level requirement to maintain the rule of law. This needs to be true for any election system to hold up, whether it’s Republicans or Democrats screaming “no fair.” Beyond this, what’s our alternative? If we give up on elections as a valid means of determining power, what happens then?

Jan. 6 represented a clear divorce from that way of thinking. We are something different now. A precedent is set. It doesn’t feel like a substantial portion of the country is ready to accept results unless their side wins. And I certainly won’t be surprised if that’s true when it goes the other way. That feels inevitable, too, given what’s happened.

Likewise, you only have to look at the prevalence of gerrymandering historically among both parties to see why any person would distrust election reform efforts engineered by the opposing party. Even worse, cries of election fraud are now not just rooted in concerns but in strategy. If I lose, then wait, did I actually lose? No, I didn’t. They cheated. It was rigged! Imagine every sports game ending this way. It would be exhausting. Well, put on your chinstrap, we’re now in 2022. Sowing doubt over the results is the new election end game.

Such strategies happen on fertile soil now. Our cynicism is at crisis level, its own pandemic of sorts. We readily favor conspiracies over other explanations, because conspiracy theories provide easy villains and answers.

But I don’t see conspiracy; I see long-time Congressional failure taking its terrible toll. We have been in a long slide toward complete executive rule, toward a king, which predates Trump. And Jan. 6 was the firmest evidence yet of this movement, a violent thrust for it. This slide is due to the fact that the legislative branch of our federal government is completely broken, and so it increasingly seems that only a president can actually do anything of substance. The legislative branch is increasingly just a sucker fish on the underside of the executive branch, without any shared aim, except in one regard: preserving the money system — their shared path to personal riches.

Oh yes, that!

It should anger both Republicans and Democrats that getting elected to Congress is such a meal ticket to riches. No, Congress members are not all the same. There are those with good intentions. But the system is straight corrupt and has been for far too long.

Government jobs shouldn’t bring you millions. If they do, then something ain’t right. Imagine this at the BOC table. So and so is suddenly a multi-millionaire after two years at the commissioners’ table in Danielsville. Um, no. So why is this OK at the federal level?

Put down your R or D for a moment and ponder this: Have you ever thought about how convenient our rabid partisanship is for Congressional members in that regard? If we continue to fight among ourselves in this endless culture war, then we ignore the fact that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress get rich off the market, with insider trading, which they allow for themselves as rulemakers, while also taking actions that affect the markets to their benefit, while also taking bribes from companies to do their bidding. Legislators remain free to endlessly play this money game so long as they keep the bribers happy and the public distracted. This is only OK because they say it is — not because we say it is.

In doing so, they’ve abdicated their function as an effective branch of government in favor of system that secures personal wealth for them as government employees. This has been to the profound detriment of the United States of America. Red and blue may hate each other in Congress, but as a body, they’re united in this key way, preserving the money game. This is blasphemous. How can we trust any actions of Congress while it embraces such perverse incentive structures? This isn’t a matter of red or blue to me. It transcends that. And it is the issue of the day in my eyes, the poison in the system, infecting every branch of the river.

We don’t need violence. We need real Congressional reform. We need term limits. We need laws in the interest of the public, not the lawmakers. We need for this long-held system of sanctioned bribery to be an overturned table like Jesus and the money changers. This has to come through Congress itself, not from some president, some king. It has to be a nation demanding better of its representatives.

We will never fix our rotting house unless we force Congress to fix their awful money racket. This should honestly be political priority number one for any civic-minded American, regardless of party. We need Congress to shape up and recognize that actual patriotism — not fakery — comes with the institution of a system that works for us, not for their checkbook. We need this to be a joint message from Republicans and Democrats from across the country.

And why is this so impossible? Why should this be the naive take? Why can’t there actually be a group of Republicans and Democrats united and pushing for systemic change that we truly need for the health of the nation? We’re being played in this way, yet we’re too bitter about our red and blue differences to even see the actual “swamp” is simply a license Congress gave to itself for its own corrupt behavior, and it cripples our whole political system. We must revoke that license and demand something better.

Instead, we seem to think some savior is going to come from the White House one day to rescue the country from its self-inflicted wounds. I don’t see that. I just don’t. In fact, this false hope is a huge danger, too. Our four-year panic fest over a red or blue savior is pushing us into complete looney-ville as a nation. We’re venturing into total cuckoo-land over presidencies, never to return, unless we put our feet down and push ourselves back to shore and do some actual civic work as a people from the ground up, locally to the state to the federal level, not in the spirit of partisanship, but in a bipartisan push for a system that actually functions for the whole. I only see one true way out. It’s from hatred being put aside and civic principles pushed from the public, red and blue, on all who represent them in that Capitol. It shouldn’t be a partisan thing, but an American one. This is what I wish Americans would shout from outside that Capitol to those within, united in that cause, not violent, but forcefully clear. And if we do have some real revolution, I wish it to be over this American principle, not over party or person, but something bigger.

This is what I think about today, Jan. 6. I wish you would, too, whatever your political affiliation. I’m tired of despair. I want better. Don’t you?

Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal. He can be reached at

SMITH: A trip to Wrightsville

WRIGHTSVILLE – This laidback town of 2,237 is one of the many economically challenged communities across our state (and also the country).

Over the years, it became a familiar stopping place for travelers moving up and down state highway 15, most of them headed to Athens for University of Georgia football games. Or returning home from a sojourn to UGA’s famous hedges.

For years, Wrightsville has been a rural outpost which has seen businesses come and go. There have been storefronts boarded up and the textile flight caused the shuttering of an apparel manufacturing plant. That was debilitating, but Wrightsville survived.

Then along came Herschel Walker, the biggest, fastest running back in America. Many football aficionados, including countless college scouts, came to see Herschel run.

Today, Herschel is still running, this time to become a member of the most exclusive club in America, the United States Senate. Sportswriters are interested in his political venture. Political columnists are being drawn here to research his background and early life. Just like the Florida game in 1980, the outcome is in doubt. Will it take a miracle for him to win the day? Nobody knows.

Herschel brought “on the map” status to the seat of Johnson County forty-plus years ago, but it remains something of a sleepy small town dominated by agribusiness.

In the last fortnight, I spent a midday in Wrightsville and was excited with what I learned about my hometown. The people I knew, principally my classmates, have retired or passed on. That includes Hodges Rowland, an attorney, my best friend growing up. He died during peak COVID times, and I was unable to attend his funeral, which will always be regrettable.

The ties in the community with the University of Georgia—directly or indirectly—have always run deep and that has not changed. Donnie Sweat, a highly regarded accountant, and Allen McMichael, whose firm Electro-Mech, produces scoreboards, are seasoned Bulldog fans and have always had Georgia on their minds.

There are three women in Wrightsville’s mainstream who made my day and make me believe that there will be economic sunshine in Wrightsville if more young people follow in their footsteps.

Janibeth Outlaw, a graphic artist, is the mayor, the town’s first female official. She goes through her day thinking of ways to make things better for the town and community. She gave me one of her sketches of the water tank which offers a welcome to those passing through, proclaiming that Wrightsville is the “friendliest town in Georgia.” Can’t wait to get it framed for my office wall.

One of the projects she has in mind is a Herschel Walker Museum. She has had conversations with the principal, the man who wore No. 34 between the hedges, and while he can’t give it priority at the moment, he is appreciative of her objective and will support the project.

Then Janibeth introduced me to sisters Stephenie Reagan and Allie Lee—pharmacists, who grew up here and were graduated from Georgia Southern and subsequently South University School of Pharmacy in Savannah. From the outset, they planned to return home and take up residency here and raise their children in the environment with which they are passionately familiar.

They both hold the view that their hometown offered a pleasant experience for them when they were coming along, and they want the same for their kids. With their winsome smiles and ebullient personalities, they are doing their part to confirm that Wrightsville is, indeed, the friendliest town in Georgia.

Their story is such a beautiful one. They worked part time through their high school years at Sumner’s Pharmacy, owned by Joe and Jean Sumner which influenced them to become pharmacists professionally. They came home and purchased the business as their former employer was segueing into retirement.

There is a buzz in the atmosphere with their customer friendly manner. They are all about teamwork, helping hands, pride in hometown and being good neighbors.

Serendipity lashed me repeatedly on my most recent visit to my hometown. The next time I need a bottle of aspirin, I may drive home and ask Stephenie and Allie to take care of my pharmaceutical needs.

Loran Smith is a syndicated columnist and a longtime University of Georgia radio personality. 

More kindness for 2022

By Ronda Rich

As a child of the gothic Southern Appalachian mountains, the screeching echoes of hard times and the bristling sound of the departure of love ones have been constant bellows in my ear.

I am no stranger to sorrows that settle deep in the bones’ marrow or tears that flow from deep hidden places in my heart.

In the past year, Death’s Angel has visited too many times. Church after church, grave after grave, scripture after scripture, our tears have left a trail that turned the hard dirt into a puddle of soft earth that threatened to give way under the weight of our being.

We are not alone. Many have suffered similarly. We often saw the same faces as the organ music played mournfully and we took our seats among the bereaved.

Through the struggles, the heartaches, the downturns – and even the joys and triumphs – it has often occurred to me, the urgent need for increased kindness, understanding and patience.

It is not a resolution. It is a determination. I have already begun. I take a moment to talk to strangers in grocery stores about football teams that win. And those that lose.

When the phone company sends a bill that is five dollars too much, I ask, “Is it worth the aggravation? The strain of my voice?” And since it has been years of one problem after another with the same company, the word “thieves” often, unbecomingly, slips into my complaints.

I am increasingly kinder with my judgments. I have made enormous progress in not holding folks accountable if they lack Daddy’s forthrightness; Mama’s common sense; Pawpaw’s unyielding faith; or my nephew’s unerring work ethic and keen eye for managing a dollar bill.

To the best of my ability, I will not score today’s libraries against those of my youth or librarians against the literary geniuses who so skillfully guided me through the Dewy system.

Myra Taylor, Ann Dayton and “Miss Jean” Gilreath were platinum standards, each invested in, not only in the good of library visitors, especially youth, but in the world itself. They spoiled me, for I never asked a question that she could not answer.

The bestseller lists? They could quote the Top Ten. Where to read about horses? In minutes, they returned with stacks of magazines. Their minds were filled with book suggestions, both classic and modern.

Our high school was modern. Back then. The library sat at the end of the hall and had no doors to close it off from those who wanted or needed it. It was wide open and welcoming. The center was a two-step sunken area with round tables that were used for studying or club meetings after school.

With its bright orange and green décor, it was my favorite place. I can still smell all those books and see the bright smiles of Mrs. Taylor and Mrs. Dayton as they greeted me warmly.

One day, I was in the back row of books. I always checked out several at a time. Petite Mrs. Taylor, with her strawberry red hair and more freckles than even I had, swirled around the corner.

“What are you reading?” She pulled the book from my hand then cast a disapproving frown. It was a Victorian romance mystery by Victoria Holt. She shook her head. “You can do better than this. You’re smart and you should feed your mind. Come with me.”

In 10 minutes, she had pulled four books from the shelves and explained why I should read each. I took them all. And the Victoria Holt book which, with a sigh, she agreed to because I promised to read the others.

These are trying times. As trying, in a different way, as the desperation of the 1930s’ mountains. Yet, we should strive toward exceptional kindness, forbearance and empathy.

I think Mrs. Dayton gave me a book to read on that, once.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of There’s A Better Day A-Comin’. Visit to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.