The decency in tragedy

There was a unique sense amid the difficult week of news.

Youngstown lost Ron Russo, longtime battalion chief from a family of firefighters, in a motorcycle wreck last Friday.

A day later, Girard patrolman Justin Leo went to a call that would be his last.

It’s been nine days now of pause as the two men are paid their respects.

The unique sense we’ve experienced is an emergence of something mostly lost these days.


In Girard, strangers lined rainy roadways just to witness Leo’s body returned from Cleveland.

In Boardman, people from throughout Northeast Ohio waited for more than two hours to pay respects to Russo.

Our and Facebook message boards – often havens for hate and hubris even for the most sedate of topics – shone a tone of civility this week over these events and, perhaps, even other areas.

It’s cliche, such civility, isn’t it?

Saw it in Houston. It was in Las Vegas. Ditto Sandy Hook. Trace all these trails back to 9/11 if you want.

Why does it take tragedy to deploy decency?

As this happened here, one of the most profound U.S. Senate speeches of all time was happening.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake quit his job Monday. Well, he’ll officially be done in 2019. But frustrated, fatigued and likely outflanked politically, he announced he’d had enough of what we’ve become.

It was the best Senate floor time since Mr. Smith spoke.

I encourage you to find Flake’s speech. It’s all over the internet, and it’s subtly epic.

Some of my favorite moments:

“Our democracy [today] is more defined by our discord and our dysfunction than it is by our values and our principles. It is time for our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.

“We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country – the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institutions; the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons.

“We were not made great as a country by indulging our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorying in the things which divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake. And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard-won and vulnerable they are.”

I could reprint his entire speech here. Please find it today.

Flake directed most of his angst at President Trump, without naming him.

It’s incorrect to say Trump is the cause of this. Trump is the result.

Hate, angst, dispute, disgust, disdain are our most beloved sport today – and Donald Trump is just its Michael Jordan or Tom Brady.

The epicenter for all of this and what propelled Trump, oddly, is where I directed you a bit ago: the internet.

As newspaper folks, we realized early on in the late 1990s a uniqueness with the internet:

We are all publishers now.

We can publish anything we want. And this is where it has taken us.

Free speech is a great thing – until it becomes a deathless, unrepenting weapon. Hate speech from the always-on internet is akin to the Las Vegas shooter’s guns never stopping. Ever.

Depending on how you use free speech and a smartphone – you either have a verbal gun in your hand all the time, or you are constantly encountering verbal bullets. It’s shooting and ducking that never ends.

At the core of every genocide in world history is dehumanization. Hateful language and speech is the subtle start of any dehumanization effort. That outlook comes from Brene Brown.

If Ted Talks were a sport, its Michael Jordan would be Brown – professor, author and humanity genius. She was on the “CBS This Morning” show a few weeks back – well before the Flake, Leo and Russo events. But what she offered then of America and the world was visible this week with the three men.

“We are more sorted than we have ever been in the U.S. We built ideological bunkers. We are more likely now to live with, worship with, and go to school with people who are politically and ideologically like-minded.”

It’s a sorting that’s largely a counterfeit connection, she said. “Common enemy intimacy” is what she called it.

“The only thing we often have in common is we hate the same people.”

Blame, rage, anger and fear rise in these relationships.

I know I see it in some of my best connections.

On a road trip last week with a buddy, we were the most dangerous people on the road as our super-sized pickup truck raced up on cars owning the left lane at a speed slower than ours. And the drivers weren’t just slower. They were all sorts of human conditions unfit for print. In passing one such driver, my pal did the obligatory slow-down, eye-glance move as he passed.

I asked something like: “So what did that accomplish?” He answered: “I feel better.”

Friday, I had coffee with a genius in our Valley – a smart guy, seriously. We met about the same time Youngstown leaders were opening a new Wick Avenue in the shadows of a college that just announced a $100 million campaign, and has added new apartments, new eateries, a new bookstore and more.

And my genius pal was complaining about what Youngstown State University hasn’t done. “Do you see what they have at Kent?”

Nonsense, I said – politely of course, as he’s a genius, which I think I told you.

Again – these are great guys.

Last week in this space, I wrote of another great guy who said to let people OD’ing just die. He said it not knowing my late brother overdosed. The article reached him, and he apologized with a “thank you for the wakeup call.”

We all need a wakeup call.

We need to find it not in the midst of a dead officer, firefighter, concertgoer, office worker, college student, bar patron, hurricane or earthquake.

Ted Talks genius Brown is from Houston, and was on CBS just after her city was flooded.

She spent some nights in a shelter. When that helping hand came, she said no one asked of her nationality, her political beliefs or anything of the like.

Strangers grabbed the hands of strangers.

“We need to hold hands with strangers. We need reminders – collective joy and pain – reminders that we are inextricably connected to each other. Human connection can be forgettable. But it is not breakable.”

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at He blogs, too, on Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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