Month: November 2020

No longer my opponent

Michael Gerson, a former speech writer for George W. Bush and author of Heroic Conservatism, writes a twice-weekly opinion column for The Washington Post. His November 12 column, “This is a massive failure of character among Republicans — with evangelicals out in front,” he wrote:

One of the better speeches I helped produce for George W. Bush was never given. On election night 2000 — standing outside in the rain, at an Austin victory rally that never happened — I had the copy of a concession speech in my pocket. As I remember it, the first lines were: “I have just talked to my opponent, who is no longer my opponent. He is the president-elect of the United States.”

Lisa Lerer’s Wednesday New York Times article, “This is Not a Fraud Case” included this factoid:

A sizable minority of Americans believe Mr. Trump’s claims. A new poll released on Wednesday by Monmouth University found that 44 percent of Americans think we do not have enough information about the vote count to know who won the election. Nearly one-third believe Mr. Biden won only because of voter fraud.

From Lisa Lerer’s article linked above

Mr. Trump’s stolen election hoax is a reprise of his 2016 plan that was not needed after his surprise election. “Stop the Steal” was the name of a group formed by Roger Stone in 2016. For more, see “Behind Trump’s Yearslong Effort to Turn Losing Into Winning,” by Jim Rutenberg and Nick Corasaniti, New York Times, November 15, 2020.

Yin and Yang

There are many hurting supporters of defeated candidates, be they Doug Jones or Donald Trump. Remember them as you read this tender reflection from New York Times reporter Matt Stevens. For months, he covered the long-shot campaign of Andrew Yang, whose hopes depended on a strong performance in New Hampshire.

Mr. Yang wasn’t in the top five, so he withdrew from the race that evening. Matt Stevens wrote, “You could feel the room deflate as soon as he said the words.” The reporter began talking to people in the crowd.

He was approached by 81-year-old New Hampshire voter Gene Bishop, who looked familiar, likely from other Yang rallies. Here’s the rest of the story:

“I just can’t believe that it’s over,” Mr. Bishop said, his brave face melting away. Then, to my surprise, he began to cry. “I’m being very selfish…. But it just hurts.” Mr. Yang, he added after a moment of reflection, had been “a big part of my life.”

It’s easy to be jaded about politicians …. But my brief interview with Mr. Bishop has stuck with me all of these months later. Now, every time I feel the urge to dismiss a public figure’s rhetoric … my mind goes back to Gene.

People like him want to believe in our leaders, in possibility–to feel as if they are a part of something bigger than themselves. And it’s hard, even for a journalist, to be jaded about that.

Photo from “The Meaning of Yin and Yang,” by Jun Shan, ThoughtCo, February 3, 2020

A rainy night in Georgia

In a normal year, a normal presidential transition, this would be a quiet news period, with Americans shopping for turkey and preparing to gather with family and friends. Instead, much of life is still “virtual,” while in the outside world things are happening fast on several fronts. To keep us aware now and to note this for posterity:

Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is the center of an internal Republican argument about legal ballots. Here’s a link to coverage by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein.

The current depression, partially hidden by aggressive government action to provide liquidity to markets, potentially will create a $30 trillion shortfall between government receipts and government expenses by 2023. Here’s a link to a report by McKinsey & Company about possible sales of government-owned real estate to address the deficit. It reminds me when I was a child and my dad began mortgaging his Monopoly property. That was always my clue that the game was almost over.

Here’s a link to another report by McKinsey about burned-out physicians who are leaving their practices due to the COVID-19 surges. If we continue to fail to mask, distance, test and trace, the U.S. may face an unprecedented medical staffing crisis.

From “Vaccine Optimism,” by David Leonhardt, New York Times, November 17, 2020

Enlightened self-interest

A basic premise of economics is that societies run smoothly when people operate with enlightened self-interest. Adam Smith (1723-1790) wrote in Wealth of Nations (p. 15): “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

In The Theory of Moral Sentiments (p. 235), he wrote: “The wise and virtuous (person) is at all times willing that (one’s) private interest should be sacrificed to the … greater interest of the state or sovereignty, of which it is only a subordinate part. … (and) equally willing that all those inferior interests should be sacrificed to the greater interest of the universe….”

Alan Greenspan’s long-standing trust in this theory was shaken by recklessness in the financial community. At a New York Economic Club dinner in February, 2009, he said, “All of the sophisticated mathematics and computer wizardry essentially rested on one central premise: that enlightened self interest of owners and managers of financial institutions would lead them to maintain a sufficient buffer against insolvency by actively monitoring and managing their firms’ capital and risk positions.” This premise failed in the summer of 2007, leaving him “deeply dismayed.”

As persons, and as a nation, we operate from self-interest within the context of a global community. The biblical prophets’ primary arena was Israel, but their operative principles applied to every tribe and nation. In our time, the best tariff and trade policies are not arbitrary, but crafted with care and negotiation, aiming for win-win solutions that are good for all parties (the butcher, the brewer, and the baker). Done right, “America first” policies and practices express values and priorities that put the planet first.

Photo from “Want Good Volunteers?”, by Chris Jarvis, Fast Company

America first

At Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill in June, 1775: “Despite losing their strategic positions, the battle was a significant morale-builder for the inexperienced Americans, convincing them that patriotic dedication could overcome superior British military might.” This was among the first of many times when Americans sacrificed self by putting America first.

On January 20, 2017, while working in Tuscaloosa, I listened to President Trump’s Inaugural Address on the radio. His theme was a protectionist America First, with isolationist overtones that have been part of our identity from the beginning. I re-read the speech last night. Mr. Trump spoke of rebuilding and restoring our country.

Here’s one part I didn’t remember: “Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent.”

The biblical prophets “checked and balanced” Israel’s leaders. As kings came and went, the prophets provided a steady plumb line, reminding kings of their duty to act justly. Part of the prophets’ task was to lift up positive role models, to call forth the kings’ better angels, and at times to remind them of their own words. They have been magnificent.

Tomorrow: Is it in America’s enlightened self-interest to put the planet first?

From Reuters, via The Guardian, “The Obamas greet the Trumps at the White House–video

Objective, common sense

Religion is like a bottle, which can contain either milk or whiskey. The importance is what’s inside, as noted by the prophet Amos.

Prophetic voices may or may not sound religious. We revere biblical prophets in retrospect, but often they seemed irreligious and were quite unpopular. Prophetic voices bring to the table objectivity and common sense, two qualities that would greatly benefit our current president.

He has failed to demonstrate objectivity. His instinct is to spin a promotional narrative (such as the invalidity of mail-in ballots), then interpret events (such as losing an election) in light of that narrative. He is skilled at selling his narratives and talking his way out of trouble.

He ignored, and even ridiculed the common sense approach to COVID-19 recommended by epidemiologists: mask, distance, test, trace. The most effective mitigations (masking and social distancing) were simple tasks, but he was too self-conscious of what “the look” might do to his “brand.”

Anthony Fauci has been a prophetic voice, sadly taunted and ridiculed by the President and crowds at his rallies. The President cited Dr. Fauci’s advice not to urge masking, but Mr. Trump took it out of context–it was very early in the pandemic when the supply of N95 masks was very limited and urgently needed by front line healthcare workers. As masks became available, Dr. Fauci consistently urged their use. Strong leaders listen.

A simple mask

King Josiah ruled for 30 years of unprecedented peace and prosperity as refugees from the north flocked to Jerusalem. After his death at Megiddo in a battle with the Egyptians, a leadership crisis ended with an invasion by the Babylonians. Jerusalem’s most talented people were exiled to Babylon, including Ezekiel, who heard what he believed was a divine message (in Ezekiel 33.7): “Now, I am making you a sentinel for the nation of Israel.”

Ezekiel 33-34 juxtaposed two themes: (1) when leaders failed, God stepped in to lead/shepherd; and (2) God made Ezekiel a sentinel for the people. I believe President Trump would have been re-elected had he been an early adopter and consistent mask-wearer. In April, our best minds said we must “flatten the curve” for two full weeks, but skepticism and impatience fueled the pandemic and tanked the economy. A simple mask was the key.

As we face a long, deadly battle with the virus, I’m reminded of another president’s call “to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’–a struggle against the common enemies of (humanity): tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.”

He said, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.” And finally, “… let us go forth to lead the land we love… knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

From “Leading by Example, Some Politicians Urge Residents to Wear Face Masks,” by Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, New York Times, April 4, 2020

A prophetic quest

Amos was a prophet with a passionate quest for truth. In a graphic prayer (conversation with God), he heard the Almighty say (in Amos 7.8), “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel….”

Parker Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal, wrote about his quest for truth: “I want my inner truth to be the plumb line for the choices I make about my life–about the work that I do and how I do it, about the relationships I enter into and how I conduct them.”

The plumb line is an appropriate symbol for 2021. Our recent public discourse has been dominated by loud volume rather than laureate virtue, by what sells rather than what endures. We need to recover a consensus about some basic, objective, self-evident truths.

As Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in the United States Department of Homeland Security, Christopher C. Krebs has widespread bi-partisan respect. But, by the time you read this, Krebs may be fired by President Trump for disputing his claims of voter fraud.

Is Krebs a prophetic voice speaking inconvenient truth, or is he a disloyal, deep state operative? Time will tell. Truth endures.

Chris Krebs, photo by Evan Vucci/AP

Let reconciliation begin

Let it begin with us. Last week I started watching some of that “other” network’s coverage. When my friends on “the other side” see things so differently, I remind myself that likely they’re getting different news. Reconciliation begins by trying to understand the other side. If I can learn their way of thinking, maybe I can speak their language and say, “I sure see things differently. Let’s talk about that sometime.” A tease can be more effective than a taunt.

Let it begin also in those hallowed chambers in Washington. Here are some thoughts from a November 10 Wall Street Journal article by Siobhan Hughes and Ken Thomas, “Biden and McConnell, Old Sparring Partners, Hold Key to Cooperation.” The sub-title presents the challenge: “Relationship between president-elect and Senate leader faces stiff test in a partisan age.” They’ll be pressured from the outer edges of their respective parties to hold fast, go for broke, and not compromise.

In a 2011 speech at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville, Mr. Biden said as Mr. McConnell looked on, “Never have we said one thing to one another in which we haven’t kept our word—as bitter as our disagreements may be.” Mr. McConnell wrote in his autobiography, “The reason we could get a deal done—and that I could work with Joe—was that we could talk to each other.”

The challenges are great. The obstacles are many. I’m hopeful. In 2015, Mr. McConnell was the only Republican senator who attended Beau Biden’s funeral. It begins with people listening to people. Here, there, everywhere.

From the Wall Street Journal article linked above

Return to Makin Island

Shortly after Memorial Day, my cousin Ed forwarded the video below. I’m sharing it with you on this Veterans Day. Ed is retired after a career in the Air Force. He flew big “birds” in Vietnam. I remember one story of when he was evacuating the seriously wounded. After takeoff and achieving the designated altitude, he put the craft in a slight descent to maximize speed.

Those who served, or are serving, in harm’s way have countless stories of simple acts that make a big difference. This 7 1/2 minute video is about the gratitude and respect some Pacific Islanders showed to U.S. Marines during World War II.

In 1942, nineteen Marines were killed during a battle on the Gilbert Islands. When their greatly outnumbered unit was forced to retreat, they asked the Islanders to please bury their dead so the Japanese couldn’t find them. Years later, an Islander who had been a teenager during the war led a recovery team to the burial site.

An Air Force C130 and an honor guard were dispatched to return the 19 bodies, which were found buried with their helmets on, rifles in their hands and dog tags around their necks. It was obvious that the Islanders had buried the Marines with great care. As the honor guard loaded the bodies on the C130, a lone Islander voice began singing “The Marine Hymn.” This moving video is about an extraordinary human gesture in response to the Marines’ sacrifice for the Islanders.