Fight the urge to hate the Washington Post ad, it might just be an olive branch

Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Remember when Super Bowl ads were about beer-drinking frogs? Of course, the Super Bowl has also regularly been the setting for controversy, commercials included. But one ad stood out last night for a different reason. It was a real head-scratcher. But, I thought about it, and I think that it was a blessing in disguise. We'll be back in a minute with the full story…

Super Bowl ads are an interesting tradition. For many Americans, they're the main event. They become a competition of their own, full of upsets and controversies. But, normally, they are from companies like Doritos or Carl's Jr. or Chrysler, with a few non-profit organizations peppered in and maybe an unexpected movie trailer.

So it was a bit strange to see the Washington Post pop onto the screen with an ad. It is confusing for a few reasons. First of all, why the Super Bowl? For a moment there, it felt like journalism was jumping the shark. Only instead of trying to entertain us, they were trying to remind all of us of own mortality.

Then there was the narrator — well, if you didn't see it last night, here it is:

Washington Post 2019 Super Bowl Commercial

But, the more I thought about it, the less I disliked the ad. Maybe the ad was a good thing.

William Gamson, in Talking Politics, describes "The process of negotiating meaning." The idea is that, yes, the media regularly tries to construct a dangerous reality. And we need to be aware of that, but it's also up to us on how we react. Maybe we've gotten to the point that we're all trained to be reactionary. That's risky. What happens if we reject an honest surrender?

For one, the Washington Post did report on the NFL's decision to reject an ad from AMVETS, a group of American Veterans, because it was a "political statement," despite the fact that the NFL has flocked to a number of left-leaning social justice causes and, well, I'm sure you remember, the NFL got pretty political there for a while.

Most outlets are reporting on the fact that the Washington Post dropped $5.2 million on the commercial. For the most part, that's been the headline, especially with last week's lay-offs at many of the former pioneers of new media.

Sure, it was heavy-handed and a little preachy, but there was also an element of it that felt good.

Maybe that kind of knee-jerk reaction is worse than anything in the ad. Sure, it was heavy-handed and a little preachy, but there was also an element of it that felt good. A little reminder that, in America, our press is free, unattached from the government. Newspapers are businesses. Jeff Bezos must be doing something right if he can drop that much on a Super Bowl ad.

They even had a conservative on there.

Maya Angelou once said:

Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.

Who knows. Maybe the Washington Post showed a little courage last night. Maybe there was an olive branch there. And, if that wasn't the case, what do we lose by extending an olive branch of our own? In times like these, that in itself is an act of courage.

This was one of the first homesteads in the area in the 1880's and was just begging to be brought back to its original glory — with a touch of modern. When we first purchased the property, it was full of old stuff without any running water, central heat or AC, so needless to say, we had a huge project ahead of us. It took some vision and a whole lot of trust, but the mess we started with seven years ago is now a place we hope the original owners would be proud of.

To restore something like this is really does take a village. It doesn't take much money to make it cozy inside, if like me you are willing to take time and gather things here and there from thrift shops and little antique shops in the middle of nowhere.

But finding the right craftsman is a different story.

Matt Jensen and his assistant Rob did this entire job from sketches I made. Because he built this in his off hours it took just over a year, but so worth the wait. It wasn't easy as it was 18"out of square. He had to build around that as the entire thing we felt would collapse. Matt just reinforced the structure and we love its imperfections.

Here are a few pictures of the process and the transformation from where we started to where we are now:

​How it was

It doesn't look like much yet, but just you wait and see!

By request a photo tour of the restored cabin. I start doing the interior design in earnest tomorrow after the show, but all of the construction guys are now done. So I mopped the floors, washed the sheets, some friends helped by washing the windows. And now the unofficial / official tour.

The Property

The views are absolutely stunning and completely peaceful.

The Hong Kong protesters flocking to the streets in opposition to the Chinese government have a new symbol to display their defiance: the Stars and Stripes. Upset over the looming threat to their freedom, the American flag symbolizes everything they cherish and are fighting to preserve.

But it seems our president isn't returning the love.

Trump recently doubled down on the United States' indifference to the conflict, after initially commenting that whatever happens is between Hong Kong and China alone. But he's wrong — what happens is crucial in spreading the liberal values that America wants to accompany us on the world stage. After all, "America First" doesn't mean merely focusing on our own domestic problems. It means supporting liberal democracy everywhere.

The protests have been raging on the streets since April, when the government of Hong Kong proposed an extradition bill that would have allowed them to send accused criminals to be tried in mainland China. Of course, when dealing with a communist regime, that's a terrifying prospect — and one that threatens the judicial independence of the city. Thankfully, the protesters succeeded in getting Hong Kong's leaders to suspend the bill from consideration. But everyone knew that the bill was a blatant attempt by the Chinese government to encroach on Hong Kong's autonomy. And now Hong Kong's people are demanding full-on democratic reforms to halt any similar moves in the future.

After a generation under the "one country, two systems" policy, the people of Hong Kong are accustomed to much greater political and economic freedom relative to the rest of China. For the protesters, it's about more than a single bill. Resisting Xi Jinping and the Communist Party means the survival of a liberal democracy within distance of China's totalitarian grasp — a goal that should be shared by the United States. Instead, President Trump has retreated to his administration's flawed "America First" mindset.

This is an ideal opportunity for the United States to assert our strength by supporting democratic values abroad. In his inaugural address, Trump said he wanted "friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world" while "understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their interests first." But at what point is respecting sovereignty enabling dictatorships? American interests are shaped by the principles of our founding: political freedom, free markets, and human rights. Conversely, the interests of China's Communist Party are the exact opposite. When these values come into conflict, as they have in Hong Kong, it's our responsibility to take a stand for freedom — even if those who need it aren't within our country's borders.

Of course, that's not a call for military action. Putting pressure on Hong Kong is a matter of rhetoric and positioning — vital tenets of effective diplomacy. When it comes to heavy-handed world powers, it's an approach that can really work. When the Solidarity movement began organizing against communism in Poland, President Reagan openly condemned the Soviet military's imposition of martial law. His administration's support for the pro-democracy movement helped the Polish people gain liberal reforms from the Soviet regime. Similarly, President Trump doesn't need to be overly cautious about retribution from Xi Jinping and the Chinese government. Open, strong support for democracy in Hong Kong not only advances America's governing principles, but also weakens China's brand of authoritarianism.

After creating a commission to study the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote last month that the principles of our Constitution are central "not only to Americans," but to the rest of the world. He was right — putting "America First" means being the first advocate for freedom across the globe. Nothing shows the strength of our country more than when, in crucial moments of their own history, other nations find inspiration in our flag.

Let's join the people of Hong Kong in their defiance of tyranny.

Matt Liles is a writer and Young Voices contributor from Austin, Texas.

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