Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Glancing at a big TV screen over the shoulders of friends engaged in good conversation Tuesday night, I got my election result
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   11/08/2002)

Glancing at giant TV screens over the shoulders of friends talking in a restaurant, Tuesday night, I watched the brave new world of Republican rule arrive piecemeal. The volume was down, so I got my first returns from on-screen graphics. Trimmed in red, white and blue, screen after screen showed Republicans winning most races for Senate and House. Added to a Republican president, this puts virtually all the power in Republican hands in the mightiest nation that ever existed.

I didn't have to catalogue the things I wanted for my children's children to know this is not a happy result. The new Republican hegemony worries me. The Grand Old Party used to be a friendlier place, even to old tree-huggers like me.

Why have Republicans turned their backs on so many good traditions? What happened to the party concerned with equality, peace and conservation? Never mind that great old Republican icon, Abraham Lincoln, what happened to the Republican Party of Theodore Roosevelt, who busted big time corporate crooks, took on the monopolies, and protected America's natural resources by setting aside vast and beautiful wilderness tracts for national parks? What happened to the Republican Party of Eisenhower, who warned against giving too much power and money to a growing military-industrial complex? What happened to the Republican Party of Nixon, who signed into law the Environmental Protection Agency and supported clean air and clean water and affirmative action? What happened to the Republican Party of Reagan, who found ways to defeat our worst enemies short of bombings and mass invasions?

The Democrats are equally to blame for turning the country over to the friends and special interests of the far right and ultra-wealthy. They never presented a better vision than Bush's. Never articulated an alternative to bombing the heck out of Iraq and invading Baghdad. Never came up with a coherent economic policy. They seldom cried foul over cynical moves to weaken the agencies that enforce laws against insider trading and crooked accounting practices. Seldom marshaled the courage to slam Cheney and Bush for their own roles in questionable business practices, or for beating the drums of war to cover up the disgraceful state of the economy. Voters were given few alternatives to rallying round the flag and president in this trying time.

No, sitting in that restaurant Tuesday night I didn't bother to catalogue the reasons for the sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach. This morning, though, I tried to crystallize my thinking with a list of things that worry me about one-party control. It goes something like this:

I don't relish a world in which the only creatures we share the planet with are cockroaches, rats and house pets. Don't want a world in which military might is all that counts. I don't want a country in which we're all forced to go armed. A country in which people get put in the slammer for possession of an ounce of pot or because they racked up Strike Three in some intolerant jailing scheme that does away with the judge's discretion. I don't want a world in which cars get lower gas mileage year after year, one in which we have to conquer Baghdad and set up a military regime there to feed our oil habit. A country in which corporate executives stack one another's boards in order to vote themselves ever more outrageous bonuses. A world in which to walk in the sunshine is to risk skin cancer. A world in which nuclear waste is shuttled from state to state to keep it out of the groundwater and away from terrorists. A world in which the poor spend money on lottery tickets to send rich kids to school. Don't want a world in which foreign policy is based on pressure from the Jerry Falwell crowd to help make contrived Biblical prophecies come true. Don't want to live in a state in which the official tree might as well be the highway construction cone.

Oh well, there were a few bright spots for an old tree hugger like me. Van Hilleary was turned away from the governorship. The National League of Conservation Voters gave Hilleary a 7 percent rating out of a possible 100 based on his congressional voting record. According to the NLC, he voted to give billions of tax dollars to fossil fuel companies and nuclear power companies in a bill that also could have resulted in more weapons grade nuclear waste. He voted to cut the budget of the EPA. Voted against greater fuel efficiency for automobiles. Against funding to preserve open farmlands. Against programs to weatherize low-income homes. Voted for oil-drilling in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. For permitting higher arsenic levels in drinking water. For drilling and mining on lands designated as national monuments and off the coast of Florida.

Phil Bredesen, on the other hand, makes a credible claim to have set aside more land for parks and greenways in Nashville than all the previous mayors in the last 75 years combined. In a state that ranks among the worst nationally in loss of open lands and species--a state that saw 13 state parks temporarily shut down last year--Bredesen's victory is heartening. It's something for an old tree hugger to cheer about. In this year's election, there was precious little else.