OP-ED: What ever happened to those good, old-fashioned York County values?

David Schneider

York, you and I need to have a talk.

I lived in you for many years, and you taught me many things for which I'm forever grateful. I have blood and tears there, like most. Hundreds of my kin are in the soil, their stone monuments being covered by the grass, wearing away. Two fought in the Revolution; two in the Civil War. Two were judges and magistrates. One was a York City constable.

I have cut your lawns and plowed your gardens and painted your buildings.  I was raised in your churches — the pot luck suppers, the Sunday breakfasts at grandma's — and learned to cherish family under your watch.  I've been through your every borough 50 times. I've worked in your orchards. Driven all your roads.

For years, I voted for your popular legislators, like any good York Republican would.  Your down-home society really is a bedrock of American idealism, the trust and honesty supposed to be inherent to small town life — something we can return to, and why we always come home for holidays. It's rejuvenation..

Yet lately, I'm concerned about your health. As much as I'd like to bring it up, I can't have this conversation on the phone, or at a birthday party, even if we could have birthday parties, because things would get complicated. You don't do complicated very well. As soon as someone says something that conflicts with your view of right and wrong, they're judged and labeled. I know you don't mean to be this way, and it isn't necessarily new. You may not realize it, but it's getting worse.

Milynn Saxon, 5, of York City, as about 100 people gather in Continental Square in peaceful protest of the death of George Floyd, to remember others who have died and to celebrate the communication experienced throughout the week between community members and officials in York City, Friday, June 5, 2020. Saxon was at the rally with her mother, Natalie Saxon, her sister, Abby Fisher, and her nephew Athen Fisher, 7, both of West York.  Dawn J. Sagert photo

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We old Yorkers all have a dichotomy problem. We love tribal society, where things are the same and predictable. We love what we love and hate what we hate. On one hand, that makes us passionate.  

But I'm worried about your barometer.  Passion is becoming twisted and morphed into something that you always said you didn't like — fakeness, haugty-ness, two-facedness — the things you always said were more urban traits. I'm very confused.   

You continue to support leaders who say they're for law and order, but who fan flames of insurrection when a doctor asks they wear a mask in public, to protect old folks. Then when people protest about another legitimate issue, like the horrid death of a man at hands of police, and are pepper-sprayed or worse, you say they are mostly looters.

You continue to support politicians who apologize for those who spit out constant anger, temper tantrums, and then hold up a Bible in front of a church for three minutes, and call them saintly. You were always tough on Russia, where real freedom has never existed, but when a politicians cozy up to Russia, you apologize for it. You believe in Jesus but lately ignore almost all the things he said except a few which fit your new view on things.

You always said to believe in hard work and the American dream, yet you ignore the growing gap between rich and poor, and when it's pointed out to you, claim that only people not like you are “the rich.” You say you're proud of your immigrant heritage, yet treat newcomers the same way bigots treated your grandsires when they stepped off their arks. 

You believe people are still “good Christians deep down” even when they have multiple marital affairs, dishonest business practices, use coercion and expletive-filled tirades when faced with simple daily disputes. You said always get the facts, but you've been good at getting yours from only a few similar sources, and when confronted with conflicting information you call it fake news. You told me to always own up to my mistakes, but now support people who never apologize. 

You said you believe in the Constitution, said prior presidents overstepped their bounds, but when a new president purposely forces authority outside those bounds, brags about it, you support him because he promises you fantasies. 

You don't like conflagrations, or shouting boastful people, but you allow people to speak for you who use only these methods to put down rational argument. You were always skeptical of authoritarian leaders — now you trip over yourself to fall in line. You said not to lie, yet back people who ad-lib untruths like bad jokes. You were all about free-love and peace in the '60s but now fight your 80-year-old neighbor because he trampled your lawn.

Last week, a man who doesn't look like you and from somewhere far away was killed in the most blatant way possible, you took notice, and maybe were sad. You have said before that you don't trust the police, get angry at cops for giving you a legitimate ticket, but then say that people of color should just obey. You said you were for civil rights and had some “black friends,” but I've never been able to find any of them. You say there's no white privilege, but regularly associate with no one who isn't white.

I know you pity a man who lost his life in a routine stop by a police officer, who either did not follow protocol or ignored it. You want to do something — this is new for you, and I'm hoping perhaps that the old American ideals of freedom are still strong in you. For the first time the country is united with you that a black man should not be harmed just to make a low-level arrest — this is a seminal event — previously even the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. only made you shrug your shoulders.

But there's that old dichotomy again. If others express problems, you say their complaints are overblown, or they don't work hard enough. They should just be quiet.  You don't see the connections between ignoring years of anger at, say, policing practices which might be rushed or prejudiced. Most police are good and righteous — I know many — their jobs are at times impossible, but you don't want to believe that some are traumatized and have let their fear or anger cause them to hurt others, accidentally or otherwise. 

No, it's the people who have to change, not the police. 

You support the police, but not the tax revenue that might actually help them in a tough grueling job. You decry protests, but would rather not make the connections between a president belittling 60 percent of the population, and how this might perhaps upset some people — because that's too complicated. You miss how, being angry at NFL players for kneeling, you ignored what they were kneeling about. Perhaps if you had asked, “Why is he protesting?” Instead, you put those players in categories of “good” and “bad” based on how you think you would act — I've heard you do it many times. 

Now you are upset about George Floyd, and some of your people say something should be done. But your own house is on fire and you can't help your neighbor until you put out the tribalism and mistrust within yourself. Here are all these things that you always said you would stand for, or up to, or fight against, yet you do not lead by example. Are you sick? Are you unwell? What happened to “liberty and justice for all” and “one nation under God” and all you said when I was a kid? Did you think I wasn't listening? 

Go out and set an example — be positive, do good, shun quiet hate. That will help. You have been caught up in delusion and fear for too long, and it's like an infection in your system. You need a doctor, and if they aren't all too busy saving your ass from COVID-19, they might just have time to help.

— David Schneider grew up in York County and now lives Baltimore.