Former Senate candidate seeks his own justice from his bully pulpit
Editor’s note: former Rutland County Senate candidate Michael Shank claims in a September newspaper op-ed that he left Vermont after being a victim of gun-related violence.
by Damon Brink
I read Michael Shank’s editorial in the weekend edition of the Times Argus while eating a delicious pork belly benedict at the Bomoseen Diner. I’ve been aware of Mr. Shank through his own writing and promotion over the years, initially thinking how cool his life sounded, moving to Vermont, animal sanctuary, civic involvement, and all. I’m sorry for the trauma he’s experienced.
Being threatened is not normal or fun, feeling unsafe in your own home is something, ideally, no one should experience. Feeling powerless to make change, unfortunately, is something that many people experience.
I have no idea what Mr. Shank’s actual life is like but I do know that there are more sides to any story than what is promoted and I hope the Times Argus Editorial Board sees fit to publish another side. I think they will.
I grew up here. I don’t say this to get street cred or to dismiss folks that have moved to Vermont from other places, I say it to build some context and validity to my point. If you grew up here, you grew up around guns and people for whom guns were a part of their life. This included instances of misbehavior, irresponsibility, violence, bullying and all other negative human behaviors but with guns.
People have been living here, in tradition of good and bad behavior, for, well…ever. To be clear, bullying, threats of violence and death, backed by guns, whether serious or not, are not good. Also to be clear, when you move to someone else’s home how much are you entitled to change or even comment on their way of life before it’s realistic to expect some type of negative response.
To me, in following Mr. Shank’s journey though his own writing, it seems he feels entitled to create his sanctuary and have it be whatever he thinks it should be. Perhaps what he thinks it should be is often what Vermont is mistaken for on the surface, which is some utopian, self-sufficient, peaceful, progressive mountain lands full of good people farming and saving animals.
As a Vermonter I’ve seen this again and again, and especially recently. This habit of people who move their lives here from somewhere else and then, almost immediately begin to comment on those who, for better or worse, have lived here all their lives.
It’s like entering a house for the first time and without history or experience chastise the owners for their behavior. Imagine doing this?
Perhaps the house was not a friendly house to begin with, even though it looked friendly because it was beautiful. Perhaps there were other things wrong in the house, also hidden by the façade of beauty and nature.
The point is not whether there are awful and threatening aspects of the house. The point is that you chose to be a guest, perhaps with an incomplete perspective of the house. What do you do in this case as the guest?
If there is a bully, always has been and always will be, and you come to settle near them, who’s responsibility is it to know this? This is no defense of the bully. This is a defense of responsibility and reason.
Mr. Shank’s apparent (and maybe I’m wrong) and continued blaming of the reality of the situation that he has created for himself and his continued blaming of the bully has led to an ironic realization, in my view, of the concept of the bully.
The reality, again, is that threats of death and violence have no place in civilized society, however there are many arguments that we are not civilized, many examples of our common and human lack of civility. This is one of the first principles we need to figure out, how to live together as humans with people who have diverse values and a full spectrum and history of violence to both solve and prevent conflicts.
I am not commenting on whether Mr. Shank is correct or morally right in his approach to threats of violence and intimidation. I have not seen Mr. Shank’s bully; I have not read his bully’s writing or been on the other end of his bully’s threats. But I have read Mr. Shank, as, apparently, millions of USA Today readers have as well. That is quite a pulpit. Some might call it a bully pulpit.
Personally, I know the power of the media and I know the power of single sided narratives. Single sided narratives can’t possibly reveal the truth. Without truth, how can we achieve justice?
For the Vermonters out there, you know this bully of Mr. Shanks. You’ve run into him on the road, at the dump, at the ball fields, in the woods. He’s belligerent, prideful, intimidating, and local. He may have caused some harm, perhaps some bad harm and people have good reason to fear him. We all know someone like him (or her).
We all know people like Mr. Shank as well. Mr. Shank is also a bully. He’s cleaner, shrouded in ideals and popular judgement, wealthy and international and accomplished. He’s “popular.”
Both bullies think they know what’s best. Both bullies want the world to be the way they want and both bullies use the resources at their disposal to get their way. One bully has a gun and uses physical violence. One bully has a million or more people connected over the internet and an international pulpit to preach and teach. I don’t know if Mr. Shank or his family have been harmed, physically, by his bully but I can say for certain that Mr. Shank’s bully’s life has been and will forever be harmed after the international narrative that Mr. Shank has created.
In closing, Mr. Shank opines over restorative justice. Does Mr. Shank believe that he is the arbiter or this justice? Does he think that he possesses the answer?
I think he thinks so. But justice doesn’t live compartmentalized. True justice recognizes the connection of all things as causing agents. This is the foundation of restorative justice. What I think Mr. Shank is looking for is Shank’s Justice.
No thank you, Mr. Shank. No thank you.
The author is a Morrisville resident.