The Rancher & The Sheriff

There is no substitute for seeing things without the lens of someone else's reporting. This illuminating video of a conversation between Ammon Bundy, leader of the Oregon militia occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, and the sheriff of Harney County, Oregon, Dave Ward, is no exception. It cuts to the heart of the dilemma we face in America.

These are two Americans, just ordinary guys, without great station in the world, facing the fact that the situation they are in could get very bad. Not just for them, but for everyone in the country, should events spiral out of control. They speak like men, offering what they see is the solution, and they listen to the other, even if they are not convinced. Then they shake hands and depart, back to wait to see what comes.

It is both a noble and painful thing to watch. These two men are not much different from each other. But they are divided, and why? Because the federal government has forced each to make the hard choices and uphold, as men, as Americans, what they see as the honorable path.

This is the story of America, whether we like it or not. I was thinking of how it is similar to the experience of the Breckenridge family, of whom I write in my forthcoming novel Victory Ruins. As the government grows, it absorbs communities into its sphere. In small steps and then huge leaps, it gradually redefines local relationships by the corrupt standards of national politics. It forces men to choose, in the end, when without such an imposition they might never have had to.

Yet in spite of this, these men act civilly and with honor, at least for now. I do not agree with Bundy or his form of protest, but the video disproves the media's comparisons of his actions to Black Lives Matters or Islamic terrorism. These men did not engage in violence from the start like the latter; and can you imagine anything more different from this video than the former's protests? In that case, there was only shouting of slogans through bullhorns and the police never listened, they just stood in serried ranks in riot gear. But these men talk like men should -- face-to-face, as equals who know the terrible responsibility they have to avert the worst, yet who cannot forgo what they see is right.

Thus has it ever been, if we care to look back and remember.

Man is the pie that bakes and eats himself, and the recipe is separation.
— Alasdair Gray