My Turn

Opinion: La Cosa Nostra del Norte?


Once upon a time, in a beloved mountain community, commerce was the province of three large extended families. Each family conducted business in an assigned territory under the watchful eye of the valley Godfather, Dan the Don, boss of all bosses. But Don Dan was displeased.

“The families show no respect,” he said to his consigliere, Rick (“Raspy”) Rasputin. “I bring this construction initiative to boost the valley’s business growth and development. I tell the families it would be good for all valley businesses, especially theirs. I require their support, but they resist. Where is their loyalty? I’m entitled to far more from them than this!”

Don Dan’s beet-red face reflected his anger. Ever since Raspy persuaded him to carve out special territory for the new Holiday family, there had been growing conflict. Grumbling and complaining had been so persistent that Don Dan couldn’t help but hear it. Heretofore, his judgments and decisions were unquestioned and never resisted. Some were now saying that he’d had a long, successful tenure, but had lost his way and should retire. Compounding the Don’s frustration, a belief had been gaining traction that respect had to be repeatedly earned and was not an automatic entitlement.

“And how do you propose to deal with this disrespect?” said Don Dan.

“Not to worry, Godfather. I have a multi-stage strategy,” Raspy whispered. “We have first the ‘Bread and Circus’ plan. We continually distract the families with free pancake breakfasts, pig barbecues, and outdoor concerts. Then, we have the ‘Big Lie’ plan. We keep repeating half-truths, strawman arguments, and red herring deceptions until they seem like facts and become widely believed. Next, we ‘Blame the Victim.’ We tell the families that they are the cause of their own misfortune. We assert we are taking their territory for their own good, and that it’s just business. Finally, we have the ‘3-D’ plan. Here, we disparage, denigrate, and demean all who would speak against us. We never argue the facts. We repeatedly assault the character and motives of our opponents. It will take them a while to figure out that this strategy really means we lack any compelling positive argument.”

“And what about the charge that we don’t stick to the facts and that we aren’t being truthful with the other families?”

“Don Dan, you are the Godfather, boss of all bosses,” said Raspy. “The facts and the truth are whatever you may say they are.”

“Hmmm. And if these plans fail? What then?” said the Don.

“Then, we go to the mattresses. ‘Holiday Jay’ has 85 of them standing by,” replied Raspy. “He also has rooms where we can hide out, if the other families come for us. In a shooting war, we’ll put your capos, the ‘Ditchman’ and the ‘Teacher,’ out front. They’re each blindly, willing to take a bullet for you.”

“There’s one other matter, Godfather,” said Raspy. “I know you love to tell that story about dirty windows and clean laundry. But the dons of the other families are saying that when you tell those stories, you sound like some crazy ‘Captain Queeg’ character out of that old ‘Caine Mutiny’ Hollywood movie. I suggest you keep that to yourself.”

Despite deep fears of eventual bloodshed, a shooting war never developed. Unknown to Don Dan, there had been a major shift in how families saw the path to business success. They knew brute force intimidation and armed combat would be bad for business. A godfather could no longer make coercive “offers” that could not be refused. At long last, the families dared to dream of peace and collaboration. It was generally understood, however, that this would require Don Dan’s replacement.

The families would eventually come for Don Dan. But they would no longer come, as in times past, with sticks and stones or reformers’ revolvers. They would now deploy new weapons. Their new armaments would be ballots, not bullets, and interfamily collaboration, not intimidation. Future dons would be good listeners. They would adopt values of transparency, openness, and cooperation, and would henceforth partner with the valley families for the benefit of all.

Silver lives in Taos and is the author of “Tributes & Tirades: Taos Life and American Politics” (Nighthawk Press, 2013).

My Turn