I didn’t write that headline.
It was provided me partly in jest by a high school mate in Oklahoma I have not seen for 61 years, who went on to become a distinguished Oklahoma City lawyer and school board member and is now in the last month of his life because of cancer.
[Editor's Note: The subject succumbed in June to cancer but his life story remains important. Ironically Trump has announced his first rally in a long time for Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 20 even as covid deaths are on the rise.]
|Horning circa 2015 on Oklahoma City school board
(It brings to mind an old George Gobel joke on the “Tonight Show” when the audience laughed because Gobel was a naval military flight instructor stationed in Oklahoma during WWII. “You may laugh,” he told the audience, “but remember not a single Japanese plane made it past Tulsa.”)
We were actually the University of Oklahoma Laboratory School, which had great teachers and promising student teachers back in the days when this was uncommon. As was our small class sizes. I recall a graduating class of about 30, but I did get to take university level math and literature courses, no small feat back then. Our school was a smattering of kids associated with the university and from the town of Norman and the surrounding farms and ranches, so deliberately not designed as an elite academic program. There was a gigantic Norman High School for most of the town, but thanks mainly to Horning we were also a state basketball star – he had a wicked turn-around jump shot, and with a tall center and some good passers that was enough.
I was the manager of the team (meaning glorified ball boy) and we traveled by bus from town to town, sometimes to gyms so cramped that there was a mattress hung on the wall to cushion players doing layups. Sometimes the rowdy opposing crowd for night games gathered around our bus a bit threateningly, but we were undeterred. It was a happy school environment despite the antiquated facilities – with marshes where we could conduct science experiments, real carpentry shops and frogs we could catch for dissection. We stood out in basketball and chess but lacked the numbers to do much else. Phil’s exploits were such that his son, Clay, now a sportswriter, wrote them up in March 2020 in a column for the Norman Transcript, a paper I think I delivered as a kid in the 1950s.
|Horning circa 1958 in Norman Transcript
I never knew his politics then, and while I enjoyed my school, I was a transplanted liberal New Yorker deeply troubled by the political tones I heard around me. Oklahoma was then and now a red state. I remember the high school once held a debate for juniors and seniors on segregation vs. integration and I cheerfully took what to me as was the obvious winning side of integration. The school’s classes voted for segregation and it took me decades to get over that.
Phil is also a giant fan of my son-in-law, comedian Jim Gaffigan whose wife, my daughter, is his co-writer and they’re parents of five of our grandchildren. I tried to arrange tickets for the Hornings years ago when Jim came through Oklahoma City, but the date didn’t work. That was our only email contact until a mutual friend from long ago told me last month of his battle with stage four cancer. In my email of reconnection, he was most flattering: “I remember so many details of our interactions in our youth," he wrote, "particularly I remember what a good brother you were to Jean.” Jean’s prime care giver today is our sister Malou.
I can write about this because Phil said I could and he is deeply humorous and philosophical about it all. Look at this paragraph: “Given the fact that my expiration date is rolling closer, that I retired 17 years ago, I'm not really devastated about dying earlier than I planned (hoped.) If it comes to pass as predicted (three months), I will be very sad to leave my family when the world is in such a mess and the worst president of my lifetime is in office.”
Let’s think about that for a moment. First, you hear the disappointment with Trump everywhere and it has become harder than ever to stick behind him, even in Oklahoma. Phil is theoretically surrounded by deep waves of red Trump supporters, but his viewpoints are no longer unique.
He is placing a letter to the editor with a local newspaper – and since they have not yet replied I am cheerfully offering this space. The main reason is not the attack on Trump. It is to remind readers that a lot of the noble examples of the 20th century American man are being underappreciated by our 21st century sensibilities. Sometimes the quiet, steady positive life of the Phil Hornings of our world should not pass unappreciated:
Letter to the editor:
First, a personal note: I am a patriot. I have lived in central Oklahoma all my life and have lived under 14 presidents. If you have lived under more, you are at least 88. Three times I have drawn checks from the federal government. When I was a soldier, when I got my law degree on the G.I. Bill, and when I began to draw Social Security. I have twice taken an oath to defend the Constitution, and I believe in the rule of law. I tell you these things hoping you will think about my thesis before piling on.
My thesis: We are victims of the most incompetent president of my lifetime. He is profoundly ignorant. As conservative columnist George Will wrote, “What is most alarming is not that Trump has entered his eighth decade unscathed by even elementary knowledge about the nation’s history… Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something.”
This flaw and others have led to the bungling and botching that is the federal response to the pandemic. He turned down testing kits from the World Health Organization. He spewed false statements. On 1/22/20: “We have it totally under control.” On 2/28/20 referring to Democrats, “This is their new hoax.” Valuable time was lost.
Now, our health professionals are short on testing, masks, ventilators, and protective gear.
Our governors are trying to save lives while Trump is trying to save face.