Blowing The Whistle

January 14th, 2016

Something my father told me long ago has bubbled to the surface lately.

“Son,” if he wanted me to listen, he started with son, “if the man (they were all men then) in office votes the way you would, then no matter how big a sonuvabitch he is, he’s your man.”

That sort of thinking, and the world-weary cynicism it represents, may be the only possible explanation for the quality of our political discourse.

We only hear high-pitched promises and fiery rhetoric, and block out the low, mean source of the sound.

As published in The Memphis Daily News, January 15, 2016, and in The Memphis News, January 16-22, 2016

Raindog Copy


I have an old white dog.

She’s like a lot of old white dogs. She has a lot wrong with her, aches and pains here and there, problems internal and external, sagging everywhere. She spends a lot of time napping in front of the TV, snoring while she’s at it, talking to herself and dreaming about what used to be, having nightmares about what she imagines is coming. She’s at her happiest eating, and her unhappiest at the prospect of someone different and unknown at her door or outside her window. Dogs and people that don’t look like her and her people. Squirrels. Cats. And horses, definitely horses. When she used to go to the office with me she’d see them lined up by The Peabody as we passed and give them a piece of her mind. She sees them on TV, too, and barks. She really doesn’t know anything about horses, but she’s convinced every single one of them is a threat, sure of the coming stampede.

She used to be in charge, but now there’s a younger dog in the house, running circles around her, yapping incessantly, going after the attention – even the food – that was hers. She grumbles and snorts about it, wondering what happened to her world, resenting change, fearing the future.

Spoon is 13 – that’s older than dirt in dog years – and Nora’s convinced she’s deaf. But I know she hears what she wants to hear – the whistle to go out, the call to dinner, the doorbell, just the brush of FedEx feet on the porch, the slightest creak of the mailbox lid.

And if I really want to get her attention, I’ll just yell – “Squirrel!” – and she’ll leap to the window in full fury scanning ground and limb. Better yet, yell – “Horse!” – and she’ll charge the TV to save us. But I’m not going to do that anymore, I’m going to stop making old white dogs jump for my amusement.

In today’s political parlance, and in the sad reality of today’s communication strategy, that exercise is called dog whistling, the insidious creation of innuendo that only targeted dogs can hear and respond to out of fear and need.

No one in American recorded history, chiefly because the ability and willingness of the media to record it didn’t exist, can stick both feet in his mouth and make as shrill and disturbing a sound as dog whistler Donald.

He is not alone. Seeing his success, many imitate the whistle. In Washington. In Nashville. Here.

Far too many dogs, mostly old white dogs, hear it and come to it – charging the TV to stop the imaginary stampede, believing that walls and barriers can stop change, that barking and snarling at those who differ will make us “great again.”

We are far better than that and should listen for higher motivation. If no one answers the uglier, lower whistle, the sound will fade.

I’m a Memphian, and Spoon and I are a couple of old white dogs.



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