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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 12/18/20

Good morning and happy Friday! WHERE IS THE MIDDLE? As Andrea and I walked into Beverly Hills the other day, we passed by Beverly Gardens Park, the site of many protests by both the right and the left during the rapid-fire news of this past year. Notwithstanding the President’s claims, the size of angry crowds are not a barometer of public opinion. More often than not, protests and political speech are dominated by those at the more extreme ends of the political spectrum. Rarely are people out in force protesting “from the middle.” People who are in the middle don’t have much inclination to go out marching with signs, “Let’s be moderate!” Or “Let’s compromise and be reasonable.” And if they did, it would hardly be newsworthy. It feels like the centripetal force of the political world is spinning our entire society to the outer reaches, while we lack the political gravity in the middle to pull things back inward. We need to reestablish the gravitational pull toward a sensible and constructive center. That gravity can be found in the structure of self-government and balanced branches of government envisioned by our founders; it can be found in our shared ideals and commitment to the sanctity of the individual and the importance of community; it can be seen in volunteer and charitable efforts we witness daily; and it can be seen in the ability of this country to conquer hunger and disease, stand against tyranny and totalitarianism and strive (if only sometimes succeeding) to do what’s right. We need to rediscover that gravity that pulls us together as a nation. Hopefully Biden, et al., can bring some sense of reasonableness and center to our otherwise polarized country. Thus far, President-elect Biden has balanced his rhetoric carefully, striking a balance between comforting words and innovative leadership. The members of his cabinet seem reflective of the nation and the need for experience, perspective and expertise. Let’s give him a chance. FEELING, THINKING, BELIEVING I’ve been perplexed over the number of people who say that they believe, even now, after a parade of judicial defeats and pronouncements from Secretaries of State and election officials, that this election somehow was rigged. These beliefs lack evidence and defy all objective reason. Yet the belief in these clearly false “truths” persists. I think that in the ceaseless din of cable news, social media and politicians, our society has conflated thinking and feeling. It is fair that Trump supporters believe it is unfair or unjust that Mr. Trump lost this election (which he lost conclusively). But while it is fair the feel this way it’s something different to actually think that he was unjustly denied office. That he lost is a fact. This fact has been borne up by the lack of evidence and a parade of judges and elected officials at the state and federal level repeatedly and definitively rejecting outrageous claims and even more outrageous remedies (e.g., a “do over” or the disenfranchisement of tens of millions of legitimate ballots). The desire of many Trump supporters for a different result and the “feeling” that something must be wrong is somehow transmuted into a certainty that something must be wrong. And that desire for something to be true causes people to hang onto absurd arguments and ridiculous “evidence” because the feeling is so strong. The absolute certainty of these “alternative facts” that feed on a feeling of injustice (which are in fact only beliefs, in the best case, or craven political calculus, in the worst case) brook no dispute or reasoning. A feeling is not a fact. A feeling is responsive to facts—but it does not and cannot supplant that fact. FACTS AND FAITH A corollary to the conflation of feeling and thinking is how one reconciles facts and beliefs. Beliefs are like feelings. We want to believe certain things that are not provable. Objective facts are provable. Beliefs are things that we want to believe true. There can be “truths” that may or not be based upon factual events. There cannot, however, ever be “truths” based on contra-factual events. Religious views are a tricky one, but views that often inform our personal and political choices. Religious beliefs often are based upon faith and not objective knowable facts. But that doesn’t matter, because to the believer there is a “truth.” There is “truth” revealed in many religious stories even by those who lack ironclad faith, whether or not the protagonists existed and whether or not the events occurred. An explanation of a belief that reveals a truth is reflected in a sermon I once heard my friend, Rabbi Eli Herscher, deliver. He had noted that there has not yet been objective archaeological proof discovered of the existence of the biblical Moses. As we all know, the story of Moses is central to Judaism and Christianity. An imperfect man, a stutterer with a temper, led his people out of slavery and to the promised land, despite all odds. Eli said that the search for an objective “proof” of the existence of Moses was not as important as understanding what his life—and death—teach us. Did Moses really exist? Eli said he knew Moses was real because every time he read of Moses’s death, he cried. One need not prove the fact of Moses’s corporeal or historic existence to appreciate the truths revealed by the life that is chronicled in the Torah/Bible. THINGS THAT WILL SURVIVE COVID Our world has been turned upside-down by COVID. We have been forced to change the way we do things like shopping, working, or going to the doctor. I thought I would start a list of things that will survive COVID—for better or worse—and welcome your thoughts. Here are a few to start:

  1. Zoom meetings. Probably here to stay. The “picture phone,” totally inconceivable 20 years ago now is a staple of our personal and business lives.

  2. Reduced business travel. Much can be done on-line and without traveling thousands of miles just to be in the same room.

  3. Telemedicine. We now have greater access to doctors to address routine questions or triage issues we are having, without the lengthy waits in waiting rooms (and the exposure to sick people that entails). Doctors who previously were not adequately compensated for their phone calls with patients now have a means of remuneration for what is real work. Health care becomes more accessible, trips to the doctor are reduced, and doctors should be happy. It’s with us to stay.

Have a great weekend, Glenn

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