By David Teague • Guest Columnist

More than 20 years ago, I attended a diversity training in Raleigh. A component of the training was to pair up with a partner, choose a group we identified with, and name something about that group that we never wanted to hear said again. The group identity I chose was white male.

Let’s be completely honest: the Haywood County School Board’s long-time practice of recording its work sessions makes it one of the most transparent elected boards in the region. No other boards in Haywood County do the same, and I’m betting not many in the entire state record work sessions. For that, the school board should be commended.

So when School Board Chairman Chuck Francis announced Aug. 4 that the board would stop recording those sessions, many of us who argue for open government were incensed. When a board embraces openness, going backwards seems much worse and more suspicious. Because every presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in the early 1970s has released their tax returns, Donald Trump’s refusal to do so arouses suspicion.

North Carolinians can debate whether a few of the controversial laws enacted by the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly and supported by Gov. Pat McCrory are unconstitutional or not, but it seems the courts are leaning toward striking them down. 

More importantly, perhaps, are that the legal challenges keep landing Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Attorney General Roy Cooper on the front pages of many of the state’s newspapers. Indeed, the controversy over these laws may just help Cooper unseat McCrory from the governor’s office, which would be a positive step for North Carolina.

When the back-to-back national political conventions finally ended, it was like a benevolent deity had provided a merciful pardon, finally allowing me to move away from the television and get on with my life. Those two weeks are one of the few times when I tend to watch way too much TV.

But as we prepare for the start of school, my wife (a teacher) and I have discussed a couple of times the comments by Donald Trump Jr. at the GOP event regarding teachers. In case you forgot or missed them, here’s what Junior — educated exclusively in private schools — had to say:

We made our first trip to Edisto Beach 10 years ago and almost immediately, we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. We had been mired in traffic snarls for hours on I-26 and arrived much later than planned, only to find ourselves in the middle of a rainstorm reminiscent of the days of Noah once we crossed over onto the island. The kids reckoned themselves about starved to death and were scanning the roadsides for any sign of a Burger King or McDonald’s. Nothing. Not a chain restaurant in sight. The whining inside the car intensified to match the rain on the outside.

When Christopher Holt contacted me in March about a trip he was about to embark on to Cuba, I was fascinated. 

Holt is a painter, and in recent years he has built part of his career around traveling to distant places — Egypt, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, to name a few — and doing plein air work, meeting people through his painting, and then trying to make a living off those works when he returns to Western North Carolina.

I’ve always felt this in my gut, but I’ve learned with keen certainty lately that things we think matter actually don’t matter at all. And not only do they not matter, but they pull our thoughts, attention, and emotions away from the parts of life that do matter.

I hope the lawsuit by Mark Melrose against the Haywood County School System has its day in court, and was gratified last week when a judge did not stop it from proceeding.

Melrose — whose daughter was a student at Central Elementary School — has sued the school system over its decision to close the school. Judge Joe Crosswhite immediately snuffed the effort by Melrose to keep the school open through an injunction, but at this point the remainder of the suit is going forward.

On our way back from the coast on Saturday in bumper-to-bumper traffic just outside Charleston, I saw a billboard that not only made me laugh out loud, but also summed up this year’s election better than any political commentary I have heard or read. Some clever realtor put up a picture of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, with a banner that read, “Moving to Canada? We can help you sell your home.”

Amidst a raucous crowd of nearly 600 runners — and probably just as many spectators — a couple of Saturday nights ago at the start of a race at Highlands Brewing in Asheville, I noticed quite a few people with phones taking videos.

And before I could tell myself not to go there, before I could steel myself so as not to give in to the state of paranoia that I suspect many are feeling, my mind ran away to the cell phone video of the St. Paul shooting victim by his girlfriend, to the cell phone videos of the protestors fleeing for their lives in Dallas after a gunman opened up on police, to the flood of mass shootings and police assassinations, and then I was scanning the ground around me for unattended bags, found myself eyeing spectators for anyone who seemed out of place and not into the party-like atmosphere of the moment.

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