Political Column - Cain, Abel, Fire, and Politics

American society is shaking right now, ready to either erupt or crumble. We are seeing this in the conflicts and failures evident in all of our major institutions. In our non-functional medical industry, our non-functional media industry, our non-functional banking industry, our non-functional transportation industry, our non-functional manufacturing industry, our non-functional farming industry, our non-functional small governments, our non-functional state governments, and our non-functional national government.

It's a virus of the mind, heart, and soul that has eaten away the American spirit and left a void, a lack of meaning in life, and in has rushed a feeling of loneliness and a feeling of powerlessness. This curse that has invaded our culture and spread its tentacles into every aspect of our lives reminds me of an ancient story. The greatest cautionary tale ever told.

Cain and Abel is a short story. It's a tragic story. It's a story that our society is living through now. Let me see if I can shed some light on what that means.

Cain and Abel both work hard on their own things. For whatever reason Abel is favored, and Cain is ignored. He doesn't get recognized, he doesn't get what he feels he deserves. He's jealous, he's resentful, life isn't fair, God isn't just, and someone deserves to pay. Now, Cain can't take his vengeance out on God directly, he can't punish existence itself, but he does have some power.

Cain kills Abel. Why? How does that help Cain? It doesn't. It doesn't help Cain in any way. It actually hurts him. Even if he wasn't punished he can no longer trade things with Abel and benefit by what he produces. He was lonely, now he's even lonelier. Killing Abel hurts Cain, so why does he do it?

Abel has unfairly gained an advantage. Abel has been unjustly favored above Cain. God has shown that he values Abel, that existence has a liking for Abel. So, how do you take revenge on someone you can't hurt, you take away something they love. You kill Abel, and if that hurts you too, oh well.

This feeling, this drive, this story, is playing out across American society right now. Everyone feels that things aren't right. That the wrong people are being rewarded. That the wrong people are being ignored. That life isn't fair, that the system is rigged, that society isn't just. And people are looking for revenge. Not knowing how to get it, they are looking for who they can destroy, they are hunting for Abel.

Since I've been in office I've interacted with the Dalton firefighters a fair amount. I wanted to get a feeling for what they're up against. I wanted to understand their perspective on the township. They have been operating at a high level of performance under the strain of a unit that has too many calls for their crew size. Yet they continue to do well.

When I attend their training sessions I ask if they have any questions or concerns, and sometimes they do, but for the most part they are primarily interested in doing their job and trying to stay away from politics as much as possible. And for a fire department that's easier said than done. Unfortunately there seems to be a continual political tension between the local government office and the fire department that operates there. I've seen this in all of the fire departments around Dalton Township.

In many meetings with the fire department I've told them that I think politics getting in the way of firefighters doing their job is unfortunate, and to the extent that I can I will keep politics separate from the fire department. Now, that's not entirely possible. Millage votes are important for fire, and they are political. But there have been multiple points where I've done extra work in an effort to keep fire out of a political situation. So I have held up my end of the bargain. They do good work and the fire chief and I work together to keep them shielded from political turmoil.

To a certain extent I have miscalculated though. And it could be my fault. I have made a splash in Muskegon County politics, and I understand why it's surprising for people to encounter me. My background in philosophy and history, combined with my tendency to tackle every problem, my willingness to debate important subjects and to share the process, is an unusual mix for a politician. Naturally, I have various forces working against me.

I have expected some political strategies and tactics to be used against me. And they have. Many first time politicians are surprised at the lies that are made up about them. Reading any history of politics though quickly introduces you to an immense amount of blackmail and murder. Neither of which have been attempted against me as of yet, and we'll see how that goes for them when they do. Even the legal and physical threats against me have been pretty tame so far.

The rumor mill is churning things out about fire though. I guess if they are able to pressure fire enough to get them to crack in some way while I'm in office, the fault could definitely be laid at my feet, and then that could be used against me. It's a good strategy really if you think about it. And, for the Cains out there, the Dalton fire department would make a good Abel, because they are able.

It's not possible to keep up with such a rumor mill. Truth is slower than deceit. So, what I always try to do is address the big things, let the small things slide, and hope that people see through those that are acting in bad faith.

Maybe some of this started when Chief Styles had a large pay raise in the spring. I had included a reasonable pay raise in the budget. At the annual meeting of the electors someone came in to the meeting pushing raises for certain people pretty hard. I encouraged a reasonable raise during the meeting, but things went the other way. It was a good political tactic that caught me a little off guard and passed through the board. Styles thought at the time that it was bad, that it was a political tactic to later come after him. And maybe he was right.

At the beginning of the summer he had talked to me about traveling around the state to give training courses, mostly on mental health for emergency responders and fire fighters. I think that's important and told him that he could, and that I even encourage it. With the caveat that services for Dalton had to come first and that he had to make sure that things were scheduled well for those. He did end up leaving some of those trainings early to respond to things in Dalton, which I expect and appreciate. He gets paid for giving the trainings, takes out his expenses, and then donates the rest. The rumor has been spread that this is double dipping because he's getting paid from both places at the same time. But, he's salary. He works over forty hours per week on average. He's probably gotten close to that over a single weekend before. My hours have been all over the place since I've been in office, including a lot of after hours and weekends, and we have often crossed each other's paths at those times. I've heard people questioning if he works enough hours. It's such a ridiculous request it's odd to respond to. They expect emergency responders to be seen Monday through Friday from nine to five, and then also respond all night, and then also respond all weekend, and on every holiday, and to never fail to respond, and then they have the temerity to ask if the emergency responders are working enough. We are accepting applications for hard working fire fighters, but not the ones that think it's an easy job.

The township was behind on replacing some of the fire trucks. An equipment millage was passed a few years ago. With that the fire trucks have been being replaced. The one that's currently being replaced is 20 years old. It's being replaced with a heavy rescue that's designed for carrying people and equipment, especially useful for things like motor accidents where people have to be cut out of cars. Not every fire department needs to have that specific type of truck, but someone in the area should, and with the number of major car and truck crashes on M-120 it makes sense in Dalton. Maybe some people think that the department should have a ladder truck instead, but I'm going to go with what the people doing the work think they need to succeed. Most people realize that fire responds to a lot of medical calls, and they are the ones that are going to cut someone out of a vehicle if anyone is going to do it.

The open house for fire was cancelled this year. It was a split decision in the fire department. I would have liked to have had it as well. But, it should be a fire decision. And, the priority should be the fire department doing the job of responding to calls. It sounds like some people think that fire didn't want to talk to people. That's not the reason. We live in a state that likes lockdowns and quarantines. How much flack would the department have caught if they had the open house, and then some of these nefarious forces spread the rumor that someone had covid and our entire fire department should be shut down for ten days? Either decision was a lose with these political forces in play.

Hearing these various types of things being discussed it's hard to differentiate those that are being honest versus those that are lying, those that have well thought-out and well intentioned concerns versus those that are being used to spread a false message by others. It concerns me somewhat for the morale of fire. To work immensely hard at a difficult job for fairly low pay. The reward is the meaning of the work itself. To confront on a daily basis the life and death struggle of people in the community. To know without a doubt that what you do makes a real difference. And then, to hear that maybe some of those people don't support you. Doubt can creep in. Doubt about your ability. Doubt about whether or not you should really be putting in that much effort. Doubt about whether or not it's really worth it.

So, this article exists as part of me doing my job. We need a fire department that functions. It's my duty to confront Cain, to stop him, to protect Abel. The fire department does get a lot of explicit support, and that's appreciated. And I'm confident that most people by far support the fire department, even if they don't go out of their way to say it. It's one of those things that people rely on, and they know that they can. It's work that has meaning built in. It gives purpose and community. In a shaking world it helps to hold things steady. And for that, our fire fighters deserve recognition and respect, and when necessary, protection.



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