Teri Orr: Dictators never survive, and their legacy always sucks | ParkRecord.com
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Teri Orr: Dictators never survive, and their legacy always sucks

Dictators never survive, and their legacy always sucks

Teri Orr
  

Park Record columnist Teri Orr.

New blood in City Hall has allowed for further community engagement- folks who want their turn at bat are taking a swing at old ways of seeing and doing. New citizens are speaking up, and longtime residents feel there is room again for their voices to be heard.

It spills over the autocratic, top-down leadership style with the heavy hand of, say, our current school district. This doesn’t line up with the whole, open minds learning model we want to think we have district-wide. But we have frustrated teachers and administrators and parents who, of course, want what is best their child but also the whole environment for learning. And defenders of the district would rather stand on metaphorical desks and support the system in place instead of trying to learn why so very many people are disenfranchised, disconnected and displeased with the way the system is not working; for the majority now, not working for the students or teachers or administrators.

Each school is a small country surrounded/bordered by others, and those needs and quirks demand individual attention. Whitewash only makes everything look white. We are a rainbow of issues and challenges and great humans who need representation on a board that should look like them. And never forget, the most considerable bite of every tax bill in this county goes to the school district. Start there, if you want, to understand democracy, representation and hope for good governance.



In City Hall, the former regime was all about style and little about substance. Stoke and Vibe and loving where we lived added up to a sophisticated shell game that moved around real issues and even enabled a climate of constant crisis leadership that required Grama requests to unravel/reveal.

So, when along comes to my favorite geek live event on TV, which hasn’t happened for three years but fully more like six years, where the sitting President showed up, I was excited.



I offered to pick up dinner for friends who are Southern Democrats–a special breed–so we could watch and giggle and gasp and cheer and maybe tear up a tiny bit together. We bore witness to the long-standing tradition of the Washington Correspondents’ Association Dinner. The digs were pointed and piqued and funny and seriously funny, all with a level of respect – if not to the individuals always, then always, always to the profession.

It started on C-span ( and then switched to CNN) with a glimpse back at past presidents and dinners. I had forgotten how funny Laura Bush was that year when she took the spotlight instead of her husband-then-president George Bush. Yes, I know there are ghostwriters, but it matters little what was written on the page if you can’t deliver the line. And last Saturday night, President Joe made fun of himself and his colleagues and the nature of our grand experiment–freedom of the press. When Trump didn’t attend as President, it was the first time in 30 years the sitting president had not participated in the traditional “Nerd Prom” that started in 1921. “Uncle Joe,” allowing himself to be roasted then toast and lightly grill back, reminded us of that delicate balance of covering the story or being the story.

That ability to report on government was so important to the Founding Fathers–the very concept of a free press–they made it the first amendment in their new Constitution. It has been the baseline to the success of our grand experiment. Because without the watchdogs and the voices to criticize and shine a spotlight in dark corners and all the other journalistic cliches, nothing happens.

South African by birth, comedian Trevor Noah was the host of the night and took equal shots at all the networks and print folks and even NPR. He poked at both sides of the aisle and the air space between the tightly packed tables. And at the President. There was much laughter and some gasps, and. . . lots of groans. But then there was a moment when Noah stopped his joking monologue and said something like–do you folks understand what just happened here tonight? We have been taking digs at the leader of the free world! And he won’t be coming after us to assassinate us. (There was laughter) But Noah, the non-native, reminded us that in most of the world, speaking out against the leader would/could put you in line to be shot or beheaded or any number of dismembering things–at least in prison. But here, we can yell, write, photograph and film any form of insults at the leaders in the nation’s capital and every small town in America. The cloak of the First Amendment protects the non-violent protester.

It is messy, this whole democracy experiment. And it looked like it wasn’t going to survive in the past few years. There was one particular event during COVID that tipped me over. The protest in the Capital where then President Trump paraded himself across the street from the White House and stood in front of St John’s Episcopal Church, upside down bible in hand. When the cameras showed the mounted patrolman on those giant horses herding the protestors out of the way in Lafayette Square, I thought, this is the end; I am witnessing The End of Democracy. The experiment has failed.

And still, we persisted.

That President famously would not attend the Correspondents’ dinner and shunned the idea that making fun of one another was a special camaraderie and the ultimate club. The most exclusive club in the world. And all he had to do was show up and laugh with others at himself. And he could even take some well-placed jabs at others. President Biden returning to that role was a welcome return to some normalcy.

There is work to be done here in our country and state and county and city to make us better citizens and better represented (with Better -less gerrymandered- Boundaries). There is work to be done within our county and cities and school districts and fire districts, including all those pesky commissions and boards. Much work.

Maybe we will put together our own local Correspondents’ dinner and roast each other one day. Make fun of how we govern. And how we cover each other in the press. I do not doubt it would be good for a lot of laughs that would last long beyond any single Sunday in the Park. . .


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