Ted Cruz, my son’s birthday, and a Dremel: I’m a swing voter.

I’m desirable to politicians. As a female swing voter, I’m part of a hugely-coveted group. Today’s my son’s birthday, and I have a Dremel…and I’m not afraid to use it.

Let’s start with my son Zach: he is damned lucky to be celebrating his birthday, having started life by beating the 1% IUD odds; a wild child in high school who almost crashed his car into a deep reservoir (we never would have known where he disappeared that night), and who served as a US Marine in Afghanistan, flying as a heavy-helicopter crew chief in dangerous missions across southern Helmand Province. Today, I should be doing what I always do on my sons’ birthdays: just being happy.

But thanks to Ted Cruz, instead, I’m writing to the people of the United States. I’m worried about us.

We are being separated into smaller and smaller groups that are ever more bitterly divided against one another. I’ll use some words here: Republican. Democrat. White. Black. Hispanic. Evangelist-Christian. All-Other-Christians. Muslim. Rich. Poor. Old. Young.

It’s not we the people who are the problem. It’s the WORDS.

We the people are just you and me and your sister-in-law and the coffee guy. We agree sometimes, and we disagree sometimes, but we care deeply about each other. But when we stick words on others, we stop being people and we become GROUPS.

Groups exist for only two reasons: they either work together, or they fight each other.
(Oh, okay, all you scientists: yes, groups do exist so we can collect data and analyze it and come up with theories. But I mean, in society. Real-people groups.)

If you take one whole thing, and divide it up into groups, it’s not as strong. It’s vulnerable.

People use words to divide us up into groups so they can control us. It’s as simple as that.

HERE’S WHY I’M WRITING ON MY SON’S BIRTHDAY: Ted Cruz recently claimed that a more liberal Supreme Court would mean that “crosses and stars of David [will be] sandblasted off the tombstones of our fallen veterans.”

ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME? I’m the mother of a US Marine. That is not happening.

Okay, I had to get that out of my system.

Feeling that strong, intoxicating, addictive, sexy power of rage? Not good. Not good for our country. But oh, so, so tempting.

You folks in relationships, you know how good rage can feel; to go head to head with that person who used to be your sexy-boyfriend/girlfriend and is now a stupid, lying, cheating spouse. You good drivers, you know how fast you can catch road rage when an @$$hole cuts you off and then acts as if it was your fault. You parents, you know how you want to grind glass in your teeth when your teen stonewalls you and then rolls their eyes at you. You want to be angry.

Anger is more contagious than Ebola. You can be the nicest person in the world, and somebody treats you viciously, and in seconds you flash, ready to fight. Anger which comes from made-up, fear-mongering lies is a powerful tool that can be used to manipulate people. Hold that in your mind for a moment.

Back to groups: remember, once you divide people into groups, if they’re not working together, they’re against another group. This is fun in school sports. It is not fun when people who care deeply about how they worship God become afraid that that right will be taken away from them.

I am deeply proud of our son’s service in the Marine Corp, as well as the military service of both my father and father-in-law. I am so proud that all three of our sons work hard earning their living, fifty to sixty hours a week. They have gun collections which would appall most ‘liberals’ – stay with me a moment – and I am so proud of how careful they are with them. I am proud of the small business my husband and I had that at one time employed seventy people. I am devoted to the church which I have served for thirty years, singing in the choir, painting the windows, offering prayers, hosting events.

Guess what. I’m a friggin’ liberal. You’d never know from the stats above, but I am.

When I heard the senator imply that people like me – liberals – would condone desecrating the tombstones of fallen veterans, I was beyond angry. I WAS FURIOUS. How dare he compare me to the Taliban, who desecrated churches? How DARE he?

Today is Zach’s birthday, my Marine Zach. Not long ago I mourned at the news of a catastrophic helicopter crash in Hawaii, for the Marines lost and for their loved ones. Zach came terrifying close to the same fate more than once, and he encountered death often. In one of the most painful conversations we had about his service in Afghanistan, Zach described an ‘angel mission’: recovering the bodies of US soldiers who were killed in battle, some of them by explosions. A container with the soldier’s remains would be handed to Zach, to be carefully escorted to the base and start the long flight home. “Mom,” he said, his voice choking with emotion. “Mom…some of those boxes were so small.” He broke down and wept.

Those remains, however few, were precious. They were sent home to those who loved them, destined for burial where people could honor and grieve and erect a tombstone marking their life and death.

How dare Mr. Cruz use those sacred stones to try and make people angry and afraid?

What to do about it? You can fight fire with fire, but you cannot fight anger with anger; it only makes anger stronger. You cannot fight fear with fear.

I bear no ill will to Rafael Edward Cruz. He and I are likely the same: we truly want to do good. We may disagree about how to do it, but I believe that we both, in our human hearts, want to be kind to people.

Should I hate him? No. I must do what I can, peaceably, to help him have new vision. He will be so much more powerful if he stops fear-mongering and truly starts working for good.

Ted Cruz, meet Pope Francis. Can you imagine Pope Francis ever saying such an appalling statement?

Our government is a republic. In order for it to run as it is designed, we require a president. We who will elect one are not groups. We are people. Those I love, my extended family and friends, run the gamut from as far right as you can get to as far left. We all feel the same about the ‘whats’ our country needs – economic and personal and environmental safety – and we differ wildly on the ‘hows’ and sometimes the ‘whys’. How can we elect someone we can entrust to take care of all our wildly-differing agendas…not someone who will manipulate us and divide us?

I would offer this: please listen carefully to the candidates. Are they saying things that cause a gut reaction of fear and anger and retaliation? If so, that person is trying to control you with fear.

Do you think things will get better once if you elect a fear-mongering anger-lord, whether he cloaks himself in the name of religion (Cruz) or bullying (Trump)? My friends, be careful. Just as you don’t want Road Rage Guy or your teenage kid or your stupid ex-spouse – those other individuals who, too, incite you to respond with rage – just as we don’t want those angry, lying people running our country, do you want to pick as president someone who in your gut causes you to feel less safe, less opportunity, more fear, more anger?

I’ll vote for who I believe has the most integrity and intelligence: an honest, good, smart person. You need all three; any two of those qualities without the other isn’t enough. Of all the candidates, the four I’m watching are Kasich and Bush on the Republican ticket and Sanders and Clinton on the Democratic. I may not agree with all their ideas, but they’re not bullies, and I think they for the most part have avoided any truly repulsive fear-mongering.

Which brings us to my Dremel.

I’m a friggin’ WASP right-to-choose Obama-loving diversity-supporting respect-the-dignity-of-all-human-beings married-to-one-man-for-thirty-plus-years-but-supporting-gay-marriage hard-working woman who just wants to live a quiet anonymous life writing novels and metaphysical non-fiction…but Mr. Cruz started this, and two can play at this game.

The sacred grounds of Arlington and other national cemeteries hold Christians of all denominations as well as Jews. They also hold the remains of veterans who were Muslim, Buddhist, Soka Gakkai, Wiccan, Baha’i, Unitarian, agnostic, and atheist.

If the PoliticalReligious-Right’n’Might ever gets it into their dadblamed heads that being American means ‘only their brand of Christian’ and dares to try and remove ANY symbols from those tombstones…well, you can bet your ass that me and my Dremel will be there to carve ‘em right back on, along with a whole bunch of my far-right and far-left family and friends, with love for all, in the name of God the Father, the Virgin Mary, and sweet Jesus Christ, Hallelujah, Amen.

Not as a group to be labeled and divided and used… but as a group working together, despite our differences, to make something happen.

As Americans, choosing to not be manipulated by fear.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go make a birthday cake.

In kindness,
Katie Aiken Ritter

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Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts: we are grateful for those represented by these Muslim Bahai tombstones