Month: July 2020

Will and Noonan

George Will, a conservative and former republican, wrote a July 29 Washington Post opinion column, “Biden’s election will end national nightmare 2.0.” Will wrote: “One of Biden’s closest confidents … says … Biden was initially ambivalent about seeking the 2020 nomination but ‘Charlottesville put him over the edge.’ The confidant refers to the violence provoked by the August 2017 anti-Semitic demonstrators, and to President Trump’s assessment that there were ‘very fine people on both sides.'”

Charlottesville was a turning point for me, prompting me to post on Facebook a photo of Mike Pence alongside the Presidential Seal, with a two word commentary: “I’m ready.”

Peggy Noonan a conservative and former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) is still a republican–though she has distanced herself from President Trump. In a July 30 Wall Street Journal opinion column, “Burn the Republican Party Down?” she wrote: “When the Trump experience is over, the Republican Party will have to be rebuilt. It will have to begin with tens of millions of voters who previously supported Mr. Trump. It will have to decide where it stands, its reason for being. It won’t be enough to repeat old mantras or formulations…. It’s 2020. We’re a different country.”

I agree with Noonan that “The Democratic Party needs the Republican Party, needs to restrain its excesses and repair what it does that proves injurious. The Republicans need the Democrats, too, for the same reasons.”

“History of Bipartisanship,” from the Bipartisan Policy Center

Keep the faith

Jon Meacham on MSNBC about the remembrance of John Lewis at the U.S. Capitol: “The secular and the sacred intersect in the Rotunda. … Lewis … was willing to die, to suffer for that vision (in the beatitudes) of Jesus. He heard the Gospel … as a young child. … What we will see … is the burial of a war hero. Not every war hero faces fire abroad. He faced fire in the states ….

“What we see there in that Rotunda–where (the sculpted icons of) Eisenhower, Lincoln, Grant, Jefferson, Washington, King and Reagan are—is a man who served … the nation and the cause of liberty, non-violently, consistently and (with) exemplary virtue. And the reason it’s so powerful is that we knew him. This is not some stained glass figure.”

In a July 27 opinion piece for The Washington Post, Meacham noted two Lewis quotes from the service in the Rotunda:

“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to stand up, speak up, speak out, and find a way to get in the way and get in trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble.”

“There may be some setbacks, some delays, some disappointment, but you must never, ever give up or give in. You must keep the faith.”

One of 130 photographs in the July 26 Montgomery Advertiser article by Adam Tamburin, “A nation John Lewis helped unite salutes him on his final journey across Selma bridge,” (photo by Max Gersh/Advertiser)

The final remembrance for Lewis will be a private service today at 11 am (EDT) at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Addendum: Today, The New York Times published a letter to young Americans that Lewis recently wrote for publication on this day. The title page reads, “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation,” and “Though I am gone, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.”

The wisdom that matters

Cynthia Bourgeault asks, “What is the wisdom that matters now?” She says, “Everything that’s good … abiding … worthy …. (and) generative about a human being arises on the other side of our fear of death.” She cites “the old monks in the desert” who found freedom from the fear of death.

COVID-19 has now taken over 150,000 lives in the U.S. alone. In two brief videos by the Center for Action and Contemplation about Wisdom in Times of Crisis, Bourgeault shares her experience of moving beyond the fear of death: “The Gateway to Freedom,” and “Death is the Fullness of Being.”

I had asthma in my childhood and youth. I have vivid memories of being unable to breathe, so the presence of a virus that attacks the lungs has made me more aware of my vulnerability and mortality.

Bourgeault again: “To the extent that we live our life from the heart now with utter integrity, death proves to be no interruption to identity. . . . Who we are is held in the love of God from before time; and as we lean into that now in life and taste it, we’ll be prepared to really see death as the fullness of being and not as the lessening of it.”

John Lewis embodied this kind of fearlessness. More about him tomorrow.

“How fear and anger change our perception of coronavirus risk,” by Sujata Gupta, Science News, May 14, 2020

Alphabetical order

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, announced yesterday that it was extending its work-from-home option until July 2021 for 200,000 full-time and contract employees.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the story, saying CEO Sundar Pichai “was swayed in part by sympathy for employees with families to plan for uncertain school years that may involve at-home instruction….”

The absence of federal leadership about how to reopen schools has created inconsistency and, in some places, chaos. So, Alphabet took action. This will encourage other corporations to do likewise, where possible.

The Journal article cited a statement by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that he expects half the company to work from home in the next decade. This is another example of COVID-19 hastening a trend already in place.

Alphabet’s decision confirms that the virus will be with us for awhile. The 2020-21 school year will be difficult and challenging for everyone. The big question: Can we open classrooms safely before we flatten the curve?

“Editorial: Trump has zero understanding of what it will take to safely reopen U.S. schools,” by the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, July 8, 2020

How you look at it

One of my happy memories is sitting with my dad on the steps from the driveway into our kitchen in the cool of the day. It was a good place to reflect on the unfolding drama of the Universe.

My dad would occasionally respond to an event, a comment, or a situation by saying, “It depends on how you look at it.” He sought to understand–by trying to look at things from the perspective of “the other guy.”

Our world yearns for certainty, and there are times I would like a stronger dose of that myself. But there’s also grace in uncertainty, in withholding judgment, of allowing some things to be held in abeyance.

In his daily meditation for July 12, Richard Rohr encouraged “a strong tolerance for ambiguity, an ability to allow, forgive, and contain a certain degree of anxiety, and a willingness to not know—and not even need to know. This is how we allow and encounter Mystery.

The first pitch

When I was learning to talk, my parents asked, “Who’s the best baseball player in the world?” I would reply, “Pee Wee Reese.” Later, from 1960-1965, I was a devoted Saturday viewer of the CBS Game of the Week, called by Reese (1918-1999) and Dizzy Dean (1910-1974).

I became a Braves fan when they were in Milwaukee. I still remember their 1957 and 1958 World Series against the Yankees. In recent years, the only games I’ve watched on TV have been the World Series. So, baseball isn’t a pastime for me, but rather something that’s in my past time.

The short 2020 season has begun. Dr. Anthony Fauci, 79, threw out the “first pitch” at the Nationals/Yankees game on Thursday, proving that basketball is his first sport. It was widely noted that Dr. Fauci, a good sport, doesn’t want anybody to catch anything, and that he managed to “flatten the curve.”

Until fans can safely return to the stands, here’s a video to remember what a full stadium of cheering fans feels like: Vin Scully’s call of Kirk Gibson’s pinch hit appearance against Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series, as well as their conversation about it 30 years later.

“Pee Wee Reese” was easier for a toddler, but a more accurate answer to my parents’ (circa 1952) question was “Jackie Robinson” (1919-1972). Photo from the Library of Congress, “By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights: 1860s-1960s.”

The next four years

Four years ago, I told my wife that Hillary Clinton should give Donald Trump a microphone, buy him air time and let him cook his own goose. I was wrong. To me, he has always seemed unhappy and often angry–not an attractive disposition.

I underestimated how many people resonate with him. I believe one reason he has maintained a loyal “base” is because many of them also are unhappy and angry. Tex Sample helped me see this in Working Class Rage: A Field Guide to White Anger and Pain.

Mr. Trump’s base has been unfazed as a parade of his former generals, cabinet officials, staff persons, business associates, military and civil servants of all ranks, and now a family member has catalogued a consistent pattern of destructive attitudes and behaviors.

I’m pondering two scenarios: (1) what the country might look like after four more years of Mr. Trump; and (2) what the country might look like with him as an unhappy and angry former president who continues to cultivate a sizable, unhappy and angry political base. Neither scenario is rosy.

Either way, a suggested companion for the journey is the prophet Jeremiah, who was active from around 626 BCE into at least the early years of the Babylonian Exile, which began in 586 BCE. Buckle up!

From “Donald Trump’s Authoritarianism: A New Political Correctness?” by former Birmingham News writer Wallace B. Henley, in The Christian Post, March 8, 2016.

“A third of the population”

Anne Applebaum, writer for The Atlantic and author of The Twilight of Democracy, turns 56 tomorrow. For 32 years she has divided time between her native America and Poland, home to her husband, a former Polish official who, like her, is politically center-right.

Young Applebaum was inspired by Ronald Reagan’s optimism. An article in The Atlantic (adapted from her book) tells how she parted ways with some of her Reagan era friends and acquaintances (such as Laura Ingraham).

Her book describes a painfully similar parting with some former friends and acquaintances in Europe, whose abandonment of democratic ideals prompted the book’s sub-title: “The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism.” She describes a challenge for leaders with democratic ideals today:

Karen Stenner… has argued that about a third of the population in any country has what she calls an authoritarian predisposition. …one that favors homogeneity and order. … Authoritarianism appeals, simply, to people who cannot tolerate complexity: there is nothing intrinsically ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’ about this instinct at all. It is anti-pluralist. It is suspicious of people with different ideas. …It is a frame of mind, not a set of ideas.

“Authoritarianism: The Terrifying Trait That Trump Triggers,” Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard, March 26, 2018

Personal power

The import of the Bethlehem manger is described in the prologue of John. Theologians condensed it to one word: Incarnation.

The practical meaning: You have more available power than you know. More simply: You can make a difference.

The mystery of leadership: The less self-serving and more self-giving you are, the more useful you will be on planet earth.

Saikrishna Prakash, in The Living Presidency, wrote about the silent power of one delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention:

“…one cannot minimize the role that George Washington played in the creation of the executive. … Most everyone knew that if there was going to be but one chief executive, Washington would be that man. His standing was unparalleled. … Washington was seen as selfless and patriotic—the polar opposite of someone obsessed with amassing power, fame, and wealth. … Thus the widespread, healthy suspicion that politicians were unprincipled, venal, and power hungry was somewhat held in check. This was not a constitution built to curb a George III, a Richard Nixon, or a Chairman Mao. It was built to empower the virtuous, selfless, and thoughtful George Washington.”

When facts change, a great leader changes her mind. Angela Merkel may have saved the E.U. Can the U.S. overcome our petty partisan differences for the common good?


“Get tough!” “Show compassion!” Advisers disagree. “I am your president of law and order,” sounds like good news to many. As one who hears an echo of George Wallace and Richard Nixon–not so much. But the debate is far older than this presidential election or the election of 1968.

It’s at least as old as the debate in King Rehoboam’s White House, where his older advisers pressed for a “kinder and gentler” king of Judah to replace the deceased King Solomon. His younger advisers urged him to be tough. He chose the “law and order” path, which led to division. The northern tribes seceded from the Kingdom of Judah to form a new Kingdom of Israel.

Leadership is never easy, a challenge President Trump underestimated. We are 103 days away from the 2020 election. I invite you to join me in a season of self-reflection about leadership, with some occasional posts about the importance and difficulty of leadership. How can each of us be a better leader, or follower, as the situation requires?

In 2017, Tom Nichols wrote The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. A New York Times review said it describes “how ignorance became a virtue.”

Good leadership involves several virtues, including wisdom (Solomon at his best), discernment (Rehoboam flunked his first test), servanthood (Robert Greenleaf) and humility (Jim Collins).

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, “European Union Leaders Agree on Spending Plan for Recovery,”The Wall Street Journal, July 21, 2020