MUSINGS FROM THE BUNKER

 DAYS THROUGH THE YEAR—HOLIDAYS AND DAYS OF PERSONAL REFLECTION

 

There were other things happening throughout the year besides the pandemic and the election. These are some of the musings on some of those days. I note that I had a lot to say about America around the Fourth of July (actually also in Musings about the election) and I had a lot to say about giving thanks, devoting several days to the concept around Thanksgiving.

EARTH DAY

The Spanish Flu, recalled in the above photo, forever affected those who lived through it. Masks were the order of the day. They had to deal with many of the same issues we are dealing with, but without the therapies we have and are developing or the prospect of a vaccine.

 

I wonder what our kids will say about these crazy days? I think their perspectives will fall into three groups: what was going on before, what it was like in the “Great Isolation,” and what they will say and do in the future in relating back to this pandemic.

 

On the “what was going on immediately before” front, besides acknowledging how an election campaign and impeachment trial occupied much of the news before the pandemic, they also likely will comment on the banality of the issues that seemed important before the crisis. Among other issues, we were focused on the Kardashians, the college admissions scandal, whether people should be guaranteed some minimal level of health care (while the details are to be worked out, hasn’t the case now been made?), what sorts of weapons are okay to sell on the market to anyone who wants to buy them, and The Bachelor.

 

As for lessons learned during the pandemic:

 

  • They will have learned how much of one’s job can actually be done from home with a good WiFi connection.

  • They will have seen both the good that big tech can bring (in the form of information delivery, video-conferencing, connections with friends, and entertainment) and the bad (the endless ads, the misinformation floating around on Facebook and Twitter when honest information was what we wanted, knowing we are being observed, and how algorithms are not necessary our friends).

  • They will have confirmed that moving out the first time was a good thing.

  • They will have gotten to taste the lives of the empty nesters they left behind and, perhaps, appreciate their parents on an adult-to-adult level.

 

How will their perspectives and behaviors change? This is, of course, impossible to predict, but I would suggest:

 

  • An appreciation for the randomness of life and how quickly things can change

  • An appreciation for the freedoms that we enjoy every day

  • A newfound habit of washing hands more frequently (and avoiding hand to face contact)

  • No more handshakes with people one doesn’t know—actually including people one does know

  • Not forgetting when leaving the house to load up on hand wipes and sanitizers

  • Packing for vacation includes a supply of several weeks’ of medications

  • More supplies stored for emergencies

  • A different perspective of time

 

 

MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH

 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Somehow it seemsapropos that the “Great National Lockdown” coincides with the commemoration of mental health. I think it fair to say that all of us, to one degree or another, has some issue dealing with our own mental health in these challenging times. Whether anxieties or depression are caused by housing, food, or job insecurity, whether it’s dealing with health issues, personal issues, loneliness issues, issues of mortality, anger or frustration—it’s out there.

 

Even in the best of circumstances it’s tough to be human. Our society moves fast, our jobs are demanding, our path toward success and fulfillment often riddled with blocks along the way.

 

STIGMA NO MORE?

 

Given the stigma still associated with mental health issues, I was surprised to learn that Mental Health Awareness Month began in 1949. Mental health has, for much of these past 71 years, been something whispered about, something battled alone, and something experienced in shame. No one seeing a physically handicapped person would kick his or her wheelchair. Similarly, there are few people who would laugh at or deride someone unsighted or deaf or suffering other incapacity (well, other than our President, who finds humor in such things). But the stigma of mental health is pervasive—the subject of jokes and humiliation. Hopefully the tide is turning. More and more, people are availing themselves of tools to find peace and comfort—from yoga to meditation, from mindfulness classes to group therapies. And more and more structural and cultural barriers to accessing mental health care are being dismantled.

 

I want to highlight two areas where mental health is a big issue and people are doing something about it.

 

COLLEGE CAMPUSES

 

Life seems more stressful now than when we were kids—and college certainly is stressful. I have been railing for a while about the large colleges and universities that continue to chase U.S. News rankings, engage in arms races to steal professors from each other, and pay exorbitant salaries to many on their coaching and athletic staffs. This is all while retaining a host of development officers and administrators jetting around the globe on first class flights to conferences and to hobnob with the world’s elite.

 

But this is nothing compared to the failure of many to openly acknowledge a different epidemic than we are living through now…the epidemic of mental health, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. I am proud of USC for being a leading voice in this area. Varun Soni, in addition to being the Dean of Religious life, also is the Vice Provost for Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention. Under his oversight, Quade French and others are tackling this pervasive problem.

 

To support the university’s effort to address the issues of student mental health, our family helped create and is financially supporting the Brad Sonnenberg Health and Wellness Initiative at USC Hillel. The Initiative has a full-time therapist for one-on-one counseling, and offers myriad programs to reach out to students (like meditation, mindfulness classes, yoga). Now that much learning is going on-line, so too is the support that the Initiative is providing.

 

In addition to programming efforts, Quade French and Ilene Rosensetein, in the office of Campus Wellbeing and Education at USC, are focused on changing the culture at USC to one that supports and enhances wellbeing and healthy relationships for faculty, staff, and students.  Their work is guided by the philosophy that when an organization’s culture is supportive and well, the individuals within it can thrive.  This is particularly meaningful on a college campus. When faculty and staff are thriving and connected as individuals, they are better able to support students. 

 

UNDERSERVED COMMUNITIES

 

As significant as the mental health strains of the current crisis can be, they have an even greater impact on those affected by persistent poverty and toxic stress. Traumas from neglect, abuse and violence can have lasting effect on young bodies, brains and futures. I asked Martine Singer, CEO of the Children’s Institute (CII), to share some of her observations in light of the current crisis.

 

Martine notes that the problems plaguing children and families, particularly in CII’s primary service areas of Watts and South LA, are even more acute during this crisis. The families CII serves are predominantly Latino and African-American, live in areas with high concentrations of poverty with little access to healthcare and other basic services. They are most likely to fall into destitution as a result of illness or unemployment. As we all know, unemployment and underemployment in these communities in normal times are problematic. These families are disproportionately impacted by COVID, and have the greatest needs. Distribution of essentials, such as food, diapers and soap, has been happening since the beginning of March, as has on-line counseling. 

 

The World Health Organization warned last Thursday of a mental health crisis, the result of “the isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil” of COVID-19. I asked Miki Jordan, CEO of Wayfinder Family Services for comment:

 

“Mental Health services are more important than ever during this crisis. Families have fewer resources and more stress, which historically results in higher rates of abuse and neglect – caregivers are being pushed to the edge by circumstances far out of their control. Family routines are being disrupted, there is mass unemployment and, as children are sheltering at home, they are isolated from others who care, including teachers, counselors, daycare providers, medical professionals and other adults who would normally raise concerns about their well-being and report suspected abuse and neglect.

 

Our mental health caseworkers quickly pivoted to offering counseling and home visits online. We have seen a lot of innovation in our programs. And, while it can be challenging to build rapport over online and phone sessions, the team has gotten creative. One of my favorite stories is about Tom, one of our therapists and how he built a bridge in a family via telehealth. Tom recently discovered that a father and daughter he was working with share Tom’s love of a famous American rock band. This was a transformative moment and a key to the healing process for the family, who had recently reunited after the daughter was returned to her father’s custody. Tom began incorporating music into their therapy sessions. Tom plays his guitar, alongside father and daughter, while they sing their favorite songs during the therapy session—all on Zoom.”

 

COPING AMIDST THE STIGMA

 

I also received a note from a psychologist noting that California mental health workers are volunteering to help the healthcare workers but they are getting surprisingly few calls. Apparently the same thing happened in New York after 9/11. There still seems to be stigma attached to just picking up the phone and asking. As this drags on, some of us will need this help and hopefully won’t avoid making that call…

 

And more than a third of Americans report depression: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-struggle-to-cope-with-depression-amid-coronavirus-11586696401?emailToken=a7785ea211be701b8983e3eb716fd7f24ZmExT3HU4+R5fB1bC5/vO8eJ9rUGPj2DKPTQ1S1hgkoDulfkYKEZ/7Ul+X3/7tABH0Mz1oa93ZZ4qBqSvi/4EY6oIaIeoYbO6HIxF3Ek4A0Cl4RQq10LvexkPwLexuv&reflink=article_email_share

 

 

 

REMEMBERING KENT STATE

 

Thank you, Adam Torson, for reminding me that today is the 50th anniversary of the Kent State massacre. On May 4, 1970, after a week of protests at Kent State University in Ohio, National Guard troops opened fire on students protesting the recent U.S. bombing of Cambodia. After 67 rounds were fired by the troops, four students, all between 19 and 20 years of age, were dead, one student was paralyzed for life and numerous others were injured.

 

The massacre was memorialized by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in the anti-war song “Ohio.”  Here is the tune “Ohio”, with a video of Kent State and the Vietnam protests of the time: https://www.google.com/search?gs_ssp=eJzj4tVP1zc0TDMyy042NE42YPRSzM_IzFdILsovTqpUKC7JzMkpVshLLM5QSMxLUajML81LBwCLJRDJ&q=ohio+crosby+stills+nash+and+young&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS738US738&oq=ohio+crosby&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j46j0l5j69i61.4245j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8.

 

 

 

THE DEATH OF GEORGE FLOYD

 

Thoughts one week after the death of George Floyd and amidst the protests:

 

“…he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid…”

                                --Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

 

Last Monday, George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin and attention must be paid. The entire event was caught on video. The circumstances bear repeating. Mr. Floyd was handcuffed and on the ground. Chauvin’s knee was held on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the last 3 minutes of which occurred after Floyd was no longer responsive. Chauvin was a police officer, whose charge is to protect all of us, whether we are walking the dog, doing our business, or suspected of a crime. This murder of a Black man, immobilized and in custody, was committed ostensibly in the performance of Mr. Chauvin’s duties. This is not the first time this has happened.

 

Who would have thought that the respite from the relentlessness of the COVID crisis, the cacophony of pundits, the endless tweets, and the fear would come from yet another crisis—one not of a biological nature, but of our own doing?

 

That this act of violence occurred is repugnant but what adds to the tragedy is that the repetition of acts like this, in cities across our nation, has become so regular and we have been desensitized to its repetition. These murders, which might as well have been committed by men in white hoods, have become as second nature to our psyche as have school shootings. We are lesser because we are inured to both of these types of hideous violence. We will be judged harshly by history for our complacency.

THE COVID LESSON

 

What we have learned from the current viral crisis is our inter-relationship with our fellow citizens. We have come to finally realize that the physical and mental health of others has a profound effect on us and our wellbeing. What we have learned is that public health is a truly a public issue. Whether you wear a mask determines whether I’m going to become sick—or die. And if I act the same, you are safer.

 

By sheer coincidence, this inter-relationship—both with respect to our collective responsibility for the spread of the virus and with respect to our collective responsibility to demand reforms in policing—was brought home as I was finishing the novel, The Resisters, by Gish Jen. The premise of that book is a future where we are increasingly dependent upon (and ultimately beholden to and enslaved by) a technological “big brother” (think Alexa on steroids). Late in the book, the leader of the “resisters” quotes Martin Luther King Jr.:

 

“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

 

These words, from King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” over 50 years ago, ring as true today (and in the future described by Ms. Jen) as they did then.

 

THE AFTERMATH

 

In response to the murder of George Floyd, many protests occurred around the country. One of those was here in Los Angeles. We went to witness the protest on Saturday afternoon in Beverly Hills. It was peaceful and emotional. Most of the protesters were wearing masks (many were not, and I worry for them). That these protests occurred is not surprising. It would be surprising if they had not. That there was some graffiti tagged in anger isn’t okay, but understandable.

 

Demanding simply that the people be kept safe by the police—and from the police—is hardly radical. Two unfortunate byproducts from these protests, which I fear will be the main “takeaway” for many, is the vandalism and violence committed by a relatively few people and the press’s presentation of the protests not as fueled by injustice, but as violent lawlessness.

 

It is perfectly natural that some subset of any large group of people who are angry (and in this case appropriately angry) will attract the few who opportunistically commit acts of violence. But these are the outliers and they were called out and asked to refrain—both by the peaceful protesters and the security guards at Nordstrom’s. Obviously, the destruction of property is wrong; but it wasn’t the objective of most of those protesting.

 

Please don’t misinterpret my concern about the serious need for reform in policing in our country as somehow condoning violence in response. Violence of any type—whether committed by protesters, those troublemakers capitalizing upon the protests to foment violence, the police or the armed populace—is wrong. Notwithstanding that violence is out there and that we may be scared is not the story.

 

The destruction of property was a story, to be sure. But it wasn’t the story. The real story is the indignation of so many who stood in solidarity together against an epidemic of police violence, the target of which is Black Americans. The minor story is that around the periphery of the protests were acts of vandalism and violence (not justifiable, but explainable). As best as can be determined, these acts were committed by some small segment of opportunists at the periphery, seizing upon the moment.

 

THE LAMESTREAM MEDIA

 

Our President, again not missing the opportunity to flame the fuels of the debate, threatened in his regular tsunami of tweets this week that “looting will be met by shooting.” This is typical of the lack of moral leadership we have come to expect from our President. Rather than a more matured and measured response that seeks to acknowledge the wrong, urge calm, and promise justice, he tosses gasoline on the fire.

 

Then Sunday morning, our President tweeted:

 

“The Lamestream Media is doing everything within their power to foment hatred and anarchy. As long as everybody understands what they are doing, that they are FAKE NEWS and truly bad people with a sick agenda, we can easily work through them to GREATNESS!” [emphasis is that of the author]

 

All those years of English literature and close reading has not imbued in me the skill to parse the foregoing rant into something resembling coherence. It appears he’s complaining about the media. I, too, have a complaint about the media, but perhaps not the same concerns as Mr. Trump. And I certainly do not see them as bad or having some “sick agenda” (which “sick agenda” he does not describe).

 

The media’s primary focus over this weekend has been the repeated images of graffiti and confrontations with the police. The vast majority of the protesters were no more responsible for the destruction on Saturday than were you and I, sitting in our homes. But news of danger—news of violence—news that makes you scared, outraged, and frightened—that’s what sells. The news is manipulated by its purveyors to stoke our primal fears and force us to consume the news even more, and be further nourished by fear.

 

It is this same media that ceaselessly followed Mr. Trump through his campaign, providing a platform for his every statement, his every tweet, with minimal analysis. I don’t think they do it with an agenda (sick or otherwise), other than profit. They do it because it gets ratings and sells ads.

 

THE OTHER

 

There are many in our society who believe that “the other” is a danger to them. There are many who believe that “the other” wants to harm them and make them unsafe. No doubt there are some who do.

 

But to those whom we might believe are “the other,” perhaps it is we who are “the other.” To them, the police are a danger. To them, racism makes them unsafe. How we police, who is allowed to join the ranks of the police force, how they do their job, and how we reintroduce community policing that builds up neighborhoods—this should be the focus of our concern—not a few outliers in a protest that was otherwise peaceful and certainly justified.

 

As I write this, the County is on curfew for our own safety. It is wrong that we should feel this way, as wrong as it is for anyone to fear for their safety. I hope we can move from fear to action in the coming weeks and months.

 

FOR SOME INTERESTING READING

 

As a big fan of the “showtime” Lakers, I urge you to read Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s op-ed from the L.A. Times for some perspective: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-05-30/dont-understand-the-protests-what-youre-seeing-is-people-pushed-to-the-edge.

 

To learn more about the issues of mass incarceration and racial profiling, I suggest Just Mercy, by Bryan Stephenson, A Letter to My Nephew, by James Baldwin, and The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander. Let’s start by learning about each other. And then doing something about this divide.

 

 

 

JUNETEENTH

 

This coming June 19th is the commemoration of “Juneteenth.” Most people don’t know what the significance is of “Juneteenth.” So, a little history:

  

The portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth” is also known as “Freedom Day.” I had not known why June 19th 1865 was chosen as the date to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation, since the Proclamation was enacted back in January of 1863. Lincoln issued the Proclamation that formally stated the abolition of slavery was a war aim after abolitionist demands and after massive rallies demanded a statement on emancipation. 

 

The significance of June 19th is that was the date that the Emancipation Proclamation first was read to former slaves in Texas (the Emancipation Proclamation was read successively in the states of the Confederacy when Union troops entered. Texas, as the most western of the secessionist states, was the last to hear the Proclamation delivered. The picture above is of the General Order that was read in Texas. For more information about Juneteenth from Smithsonian Magazinehttps://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/juneteenth-our-other-independence-day-16340952/

 

The Tulsa Race Riots. This June is the 99th anniversary of one of the most ignominious of massacres in American history. Some may refer to the events that occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma as “race riots.” They were not race riots. Those who are more educated on these events understand these were the “Tulsa Massacre,” during which hundreds were killed and thousands were rendered homeless over an 18 hour spree of violence. 

 

Tulsa had a history of a strong affluent Black community. As a result of some sort of interaction between a black man and a white elevator operator in an elevator (the woman apparently screamed), the young man was arrested. The man was taken into custody, after which white citizens wanted to take justice in their own hands and black citizens tried to protect him. After several hours of a standoff, the white men attacked. The attacks in June 1921 were perpetrated by white racists against black businesses in an area known as the “Black Wall Street.” The massacre of Black citizens and the destruction of 35 square blocks of Black Tulsa was designated a “riot,” in order that the damage claim would fall within an insurance exclusion. 

 

In a bizarre postscript, the case was resolved with the young man’s release from jail, once it was determined the woman screamed not as a response to a sexual assault, but because he accidentally stepped on her foot.

 

The Trump Rally. Our President scheduled the first of his new series of rallies on Juneteenth in Tulsa. This “double whammy” of significant days in the history of Black America seems at least vaguely antagonistic, unduly incendiary, and certainly disrespectful. This may be coincidental; at least that is how it has been represented by the White House. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume this is the result of ignorance and misstep. It is heartening to see the campaign move the rally from this date and location.

 

Here are a few tweets that I thought you’d find interesting from when the rally had been scheduled:

 

I say this as a Jewish person who lost family in the camps. Trump holding a rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth is like holding a rally at the gates of Auschwitz on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

 

I live in Tulsa, and nearly everyone I know is completely disgusted. I'm not even sure if our mayor was given a heads up on the event before Trump announced it.

 

By the way, the mayor was not informed prior to the rally’s announcement.

 

Why the Forts Must Go. We’ve heard a lot the names of Fort Hill, Fort Hood, Fort Benning, Fort Bragg, and others. One would expect that armed forces installations would be named for men of character and distinction, who fought nobly for the ideals we hold dear. That’s just not true. These were named for Confederate officers—men who committed treason against the United States. 

 

I can think of only two explanations (not justifications, mind you) for how these forts would have been named. The first is that the South had recently been defeated in war and in an effort to create amity between the North and South, concessions were made to the “bravery” of their cause in order to forestall further rebellion. This might well have been a decent argument, had it been made in the 1860s or 1870s, when small pockets of resistance remained, Reconstruction and pacification were being aggressively pursued, and further violence was a concern. That was not the case. The second explanation might have been that friends and loved ones paid for memorials to to honor the memory of their departed friends (although that could have been done in cemeteries and not public squares).

 

But here’s the rub…Much as was the case with statues of Confederate soldiers, these memorials were not created shortly after a hard-fought war to honor friends and family who actually knew these people. These forts were named well after their namesakes receded into the mists of history:

 

                Camp Beauregard, 1917

                Fort Benning, 1918

                Fort Bragg, 1918

                Fort Hill, 1941

                Fort Lee, 1917

                Fort Pickett, 1942

 

These dates belie any nostalgic memory by anyone who knew these men. The first of these was named 52 years after the end of the war. No, these forts were named to preserve the memory of the Confederacy, at a time of the Jim Crow South, discrimination, and the rise of the Ku Klux Clan. These forts were named—and monuments to Confederate traitors were built to deliver messages—the war was but a temporary setback in a more wide-ranging war. They are a blot on our history and they should be renamed post haste.

 

 

FATHERS DAY

 

This is the first full day of summer, Father’s Day, and the 100th anniversary edition of Musings from the Bunker! Next week I’ll share some thoughts about these 100 days but today I’ll celebrate fatherhood. 

 

Given that it’s Father’s Day, I figured I’d indulge myself and introduce you to my Dad, Bill Sonnenberg, who would have celebrated his 100thbirthday this year. I hope these memories spark a few for others, as we all remember our fathers.

 

My father was born in a tenement in New York City to uneducated parents who emigrated from the Village of Slonim, in what is now Belarus. He was the youngest of three children (actually the youngest of four, if one includes a twin sister, who died at birth). That my grandparents, whom I never knew (I was named for my grandmother, Gussie), would have raised two boys that would become doctors and a daughter who would become a teacher is a tribute to the premium many immigrants placed on education. 

 

My father didn’t talk much about his childhood, other than acknowledging that they grew up poor. The family moved quite a bit around New York City, but mainly lived in the Bronx (explaining my father’s love for the Yankees and his begrudging acceptance of our local teams)—mostly because of my grandfather’s lackluster and inconsistent employment history. It wasn’t the happiest of childhoods. My father said it wasn’t that his father didn’t love him…it’s just that he loved everyone (including, equally, his family, any little kid, random stray dogs, and “the ladies”). It is said that boys growing up under less-than-ideal fathers will either emulate their experience or commit themselves not to replicate it. It is my good fortune that my father chose the latter.   

 

Once my grandfather left for good, it fell to my Uncle George and my father to care for their mother. They were good boys. George went to medical school in Germany in the 1930s, studying during the rise of Hitler. Figuring out that Germany probably was not the place to finish his education, he moved to Italy for his last years of training. It is a tribute to his intelligence that he studied medicine in two languages he had to learn on the fly.

 

My father became a doctor not out of choice, but out of duty. He originally wanted to be a lawyer. Upon informing his mother of his goal, she responded, “Your brother is a doctor—you’ll be a doctor.” In those days, what Momma said was the law. He attended Vanderbilt, back in the day when Jews weren’t exactly commonplace in the halls of that institution. One day his senior year, his chemistry professor advised my father that, notwithstanding outstanding academic performance, he wouldn’t be attending because they already had too many Jews. So he returned to New York for medical school and residency, eventually opening his practice in the Bronx, on the first floor of the walk-up. Back in those days, doctors did house calls (I still have my father’s little black bag). 

 

Fast forward to California, to which my parents moved in the 50s (my father’s first job here was at UCLA…it didn’t rub off…). They ultimately settled in Anaheim, where my father figured a pediatric practice could thrive amidst all the young families, Disneyland, and a growing aerospace industry. He was one of the founders of the first pediatric medical group in Orange County (with at least one partner who proved to be a member of the John Birch Society—more on that later). He worked hard.

 

As hard working as my father was, he was always there for his family. We went to countless Angels and USC games, endless symphonies and plays (many of which helped cure his insomnia), Cub Scouts campouts, family vacations that required back seat navigation (he had no sense of direction whatsoever), and any number of deli brunches and Chinese dinners. He was Santa at my elementary school (“I don’t want one of the Christian parents to miss out being with their kid and Santa”). He was a voracious reader who never stopped studying medical journals, even after retirement. He was the “go to” resource for my family and friends, always there for other people, funny as hell, and an all-around great guy. Plus, he could blow a perfect smoke ring from the always-present cigar. Although never credited for it, I’m convinced he invented the sotto vocce zinger.

 

In every aspect of his life, my father was a paragon of integrity, responsibility and good humor. He taught me bravery, duty and selflessness, including caring for his wife and daughter, both of whom died too young. He never complained. He was the best man I ever knew. 

 

Wishing all fathers a happy day.

 

 

REFLECTIONS ON THE LAST 100 DAYS

 

The world is quite different from how it was in early March. While we had heard of the crazy disease that started in Wuhan and gripped Italy, who among us really believes how much our world would be upended in these past 100+ days? Certainly COVID-19 has been a watershed moment in history—a disease that has changed our way of life in ways that would have been inconceivable back then. The world before COVID already has receded into the realm of nostalgia. While things eventually will be “back to normal,” they will never truly be the same. But, while all loss diminishes us, our resilience and our flexibility to change will enable us to emerge stronger.

 

Then in the middle of all this, we had to confront a wave of emotion, self-reflection, and accountability in response to racial inequality and injustice, sparked by the brutal murder of George Floyd. While there has been vandalism and looting in the margins, and maybe even statements by some that might offend, the protests that have emerged from this tragedy by and large have been peaceful and constructive, impelling positive change.

 

The protests remind me of a pearl of advice given to young writers trying to improve their craft: “show, don’t tell.” I believe in many ways the power in the protests and outpouring of critical analysis is akin to holding up a mirror to each of us. One doesn’t need a narrator to see the wrinkles, blemishes, and imperfections looking back at us. It is important that we all reexamine how our society is ordered and consider the mid-course corrections needed to come a little closer to the American ideal.

 

I don’t believe confronting the failures of our past is a rejection of all that preceded us, nor do I consider it an indictment of this imperfect, yet great, country that has evolved over the years. There is much to admire about the ideals upon which this nation was founded. And there is much to admire in our struggle to be better, to provide a light among the nations, to expand democracy, to help those in need. But there are moments of shame, some of which continue to this day, which demand that we reflect and act. Neither narrative—the one of a flawless civilization, always right, or the one of a fundamentally flawed nation, is completely true. But it’s better than most and striving to be better still. “Better than most” may be all we can ever hope to be, either as nations or as individuals. “Better than most” also means we will continue the American experiment and hopefully become better still.

 

 

INDEPENDENCE DAY EVE

 

We will be celebrating a scaled-back version of the Fourth of July tomorrow. But it shouldn’t be any less celebratory. This nation, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” has been a beacon of hope. We have had a string of bad luck—some of which are self-inflicted wounds. But I hope that, as this country has demonstrated in the past, there are brighter days ahead. Following are some thoughts on this Independence Day: 

 

 

FOURTH OF JULY IN 2020

 

Tomorrow we celebrate the 244th anniversary of our nation’s founding—a founding based upon the revolutionary notions that a colony is entitled to self-determination and that people are entitled to certain inalienable rights.

 

This year also marks the 401st anniversary of the first arrival of slaves—human chattel—on our nation’s shores. 

 

These two narratives—one of the aspirations that elevate human dignity and one that tramples over any concept of human dignity—both inform and shape the country in which we live.

 

Recent events have forced a self-examination of some of our basic societal structures, beginning with how America approaches policing. They also have sparked a national debate on how we might be able to continue to expand rights, privileges, opportunities, and equitable treatment for all our citizens. This debate will call upon all of us to confront problems and work together to address them in constructive and respectful ways. 

 

As we think about this great national debate, we should remind ourselves that the America that was envisioned in Summer of 1776 was not ever assumed to be a finished product. Indeed, when the Constitution was adopted in 1789, taking the place of the insufficient Articles of Confederation, the framers said as much in the Preamble. They did not presume to create a perfect, completed project. They sought “to form a more perfect Union.” Not a perfect one. Just a better one. 

 

Many scholars suggest that the revolution was not in fact “completed” until the Civil War was fought and the phrase “these united states” became “the United States.” In fact, even the Civil War was incomplete without the “Civil War Amendments” granting universal freedom, equal protection, and voting rights (but for men only) in the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments.

 

What we all know too well is that the ureconstructed states of the South never fully accepted this formulation, and a century and a half of continued oppression, denial of rights, and degradation followed—not just in the South, but throughout the country. 

 

In the 70s, we thought that the Civil Rights Act of 1965 finally “closed the book” on equality under the law. What we now know is we were wrong. Translating aspirations into actions proved more difficult than one thought. Add to that the failure of our system of public education, our dependence upon incarceration as a means of ordering society, and numerous other failures, and it is hard not to conclude that we are now in need some major fixes.

 

One place where change is being demanded is in how we understand our history—how we create and pass on the myths of our civilization—stories and images that remind us, and teach our children, who we are. One place where this plays out is in public art and the naming of our institutions. 

 

There is no argument I can muster for why any single statue—not one—of a Confederate leader or “war hero” should appear anywhere in this country, in any guise, for any reason. Period. Some would say that anyone who was a slaveholder or who harbored bigoted views of any kind should similarly be relegated to the dustbin of history. With respect to some of them, a more nuanced approach may be warranted. 

 

Was Thomas Jefferson great? In many respects he was—or at least he had ideas that were. He, as much as any of the founders, articulated the high ideals upon which this country was founded. But, of course so did John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin, and they did so without having slaves. Jefferson was an imperfect man, but imperfect within the context of his times (which, we should remember, was several generations before the Civil War was fought). But while this might explain his actions, they do not justify his actions. His culpability in the perpetuation of slavery must be studied along with his good works—just as the culpability of the ships’ captains, the English companies that financed the ships, and all who participated in the deportation of people as chattel should be part of our curriculum. 

 

The case that there are aspects of Jefferson that can be admired, while others can be vilified, cannot be made for the likes of Jefferson Davis. Jefferson aspired to something but did not have the courage to live it. Davis aspired to continue an immoral system, as a traitor to his country. His name, and those of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Alexander Stephens, should not be celebrated in public sculpture. Similarly, the men whose names were given to Forts Benning, Bragg and Hill are names to be vilified and not celebrated. Traitors all. But even that is not enough. We need to study how these forts were named. They were not memorials of family members or brothers in arms. They were named between 1917 and 1942—the first a full 52 years after the Civil War ended, when the Klan was in its second ascendancy. They were built as monuments to traitors and in perpetuation of the evils for which they stood. Their very existence is an affront not only to Black men and women, but an affront to all of us. 

 

Is it ever acceptable to venerate those who participated in such a vile enterprise as slavery? I think we can celebrate their good acts while condemning their sins.  For this, the bible provides some guidance. Its stories are replete with imperfect—even immoral—actors. Who among us would want Abraham, a man who nearly sacrificed his own innocent son, as their father? And how do we reconcile King David, leader of the Israelites and progenitor of the Messiah, with the man who cheated with his friend’s wife and then sent that friend to the front line, to be killed in battle? I think the bible is teaching us that we are all imperfect, even the greatest among us, yet there is divinity in each of us. None of us is beyond reproach. As Jesus said, “He among you who is without sin, let him cast the first stone…”

 

So here we are, again trying to reconstitute the United States as a truly just nation. It is a nation of imperfection, yet a country of nobility and myriad accomplishments. We can celebrate the country that is a beacon of liberty, that fought fascism and Communism, that stands for great goodness, while not shirking from its flaws. I am heartened by the fact that much of the language being used by people in this ongoing national reexamination is language that adheres to the ideals established by a bunch of guys in funny wigs who aspired to be “more perfect” nearly 250 years ago, with all the imperfections of their time but with hope for the future. In their time, they were visionary. It is now incumbent upon us, in our time, to be visionary and put our divisions aside to form “a more perfect union” still.

 

The Eighteenth Century

 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

 

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” --John Adams 

 

“They tell us, Sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed and a guard stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make proper use of those means which the God of nature has placed in our power.”

-- Patrick Henry

                

The Nineteenth Century

 

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

 

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

 

The Twentieth Century

 

“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world. Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”  --John F. Kennedy

"To sit home, read one's favorite paper, and scoff at the misdeeds of the men who do things is easy, but it is markedly ineffective. It is what evil men count upon the good men's doing."  --Theodore Roosevelt

 

The Twenty-First Century

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”  --Barack Obama

 

 

A HUNDRED DAYS OF MUSINGS

 

Today seems like the right day to answer the question, “Why is he doing this?” It’s been 173 straight days and I ask myself the same thing. Why would anyone put themselves out there, sharing their thoughts, ruminations, and innermost personal reflections? I’ve always been a fairly private and guarded person. There are a number of reasons why I think this is important.

 

 

Some Things Need to be Said. I have a lot of opinions about a lot of topics. I do not purport to be an expert on any of them, but I do maintain that I am well-read and informed.  Most of my musings aren’t earth-shattering new ideas. What I think they are is the vocalization of similar observations that many of you share. I think it’s important that these ideas be shared among thoughtful people who care about their neighbors, their community, their country and their world.

 

The Reasonable Man. I’ve always wanted to write something beyond the well-crafted business or legal letter. Years ago, I thought I would write a column called “The Reasonable Man” (a take on the legal doctrine in establishing negligence, that poses the question, “What could a reasonable person be expected to do in this situation?”). My basic premise was to take an issue in the news and see if the underlying policy concerns from both sides of the aisle could be reconciled. I tend to believe that if one pauses to take a step back from the cacophony that is modern public discourse, there are verities that reveal themselves. Most of the “intractable” problems we face are capable of reasonable compromise and legislation. Our political environment, fueled by marketing experts, psychologists who identify “hot buttons” to be exploited, partisan media and social media platforms, makes this nearly impossible. But I would hope that if enough people thought about it, they might just push their elected leaders to reach these seemingly reasonable compromises. 

It’s Just Fun to Share Fun and Games. Life’s not all fun and games, but we have to remember to have fun and play games. I enjoy writing about—and hearing about—games people play, pastimes in which they engage, movies that they enjoy, and great books they have read. The reason I like to list books, TV and movies by genre is that it reminds us all of shared pleasures. If I can create a few moments of camaraderie and joy in people’s days, this is worth it.

 

The Pandemic is Tough—We Need Community. One thing I recognized early on is that the pandemic and the isolation that accompanies it would draw people inward and reduce social interactions. This might lead to despondency, depression, and anxiety. We need to consciously and deliberately reach out to each other and acknowledge shared anxieties about the future. At a minimum, it can remind us that we’re all in this together and our anxieties are not solitary. On a selfish level, this keeps me in touch with people I care about and I enjoy I love the many responses I receive—please keep it up!

 

An Apology. I know I can come off as preachy or pedantic, so please accept my apology. I do not purport to be the expert on all things. I’m just articulating views, interests, and ideas that I think many of us share. Plus, mistakes happen and I don’t have a copy editor! But if I’ve been dismissive or rude, or been more pedantic than I usually am (well, other than regarding conspiracy theorists), I’m sorry.

 

I try to be guided by the words of the prophet Micah, which my grandfather had etched into a plaque he gave me as a gift many birthdays ago. He felt these words were a prescription for  life: “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God.” We should all try to be a little more just, a little more forgiving/patient with others, and a tad more humble. 

 

Happy Birthday to Me. When I was a kid, I used to think about how old I would be at the turn of the millennium. I never contemplated what it would be like to reach the age referenced in this Beatles classic:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCTunqv1Xt4. It’s not so bad, as it turns out… Medicare begins a year from today…!

 

 

 

RBG, RIP

 

Greetings and Happy Monday. I have a number of random thoughts about the Ginsburg passing and the Court vacancy…

 

But first and foremost, let us all pause to reflect on the remarkable life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a woman who overcome life’s challenges and achieved so much—precedent setting lawyer, advocate for women’s rights, Supreme Court Justice, caregiver to an ailing husband, mother, grandmother, and pop icon (the “Notorious RBG”). Beyond that, she was a real person with a depth of personality and warmth recounted with love and admiration by NPR reporter Nina Totenberg this weekend: https://apple.news/Aw1nU2KLgRIKVVJSggUh0Zg. There are any number of tributes, but here’s another, tied to her faith and the Jewish experience in the holocaust: https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2020/09/19/rbg-ruth-bader-ginsburg-holocaust-jewish/

YOM KIPPUR

 

Today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. The period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are called the “Days of Awe.” It seems that for the last six months we have been living in some very prolonged days of awe…

 

Yom Kippur offers an opportunity to ask for forgiveness. So, here are a few of general application from me: Sorry for crowding your inbox, sorry for not responding to every email, sorry for at times (all times?) being such a raging pedant, sorry for any offensive remark or position I have taken.

 

The focus of atonement is not just acknowledgement of shortcomings, but in turning toward better behaviors. I would suggest that, as a society, we should pledge to be better by:

 

  • Caring more about the environment and working to clean the water and air and use less fossil fuels

  • Eating healthier and with less impact on the environment

  • Trying to understand the “other side” in every debate

  • Practicing greater civility toward each other

  • Becoming better educated on the historic injustices in society and work toward change

  • Encouraging everyone to become better educated on our system of government and our civic responsibilities

  • Giving more to the important charitable institutions that serve our community

  • Voting

  • Accepting the results of elections

  • Assuming when we speak to others with whom we disagree, we do so with the assumption of good faith and legitimate, principled disagreement, and not as bitter adversaries

  • Wearing masks, staying outdoors as much as possible, and keeping more than six feet apart

  • Pausing before sending that angry email or before reflexively responding in a harsh tone to someone with whom we may disagree

  • Applying critical thinking skills to not only the far-fetched and conspiratorial claims in the news today, but in assessing and reevaluating our own views

 

I volunteered for a program this year to mentor two young men from underserved communities in their preparation for, and application to, college. They are two terrific kids. This week, when we were just chitchatting, one asked me about being Jewish. He said I was the first Jew he’d ever spoken with. Among the many questions he asked was a pretty straightforward one—“What do Jews believe?” My answer was that I thought our beliefs were consistent with the core beliefs of most religions. In relating what I think is the single most essential belief, I related the (no doubt apocryphal) story of Hillel. When he was mockingly asked to explain the entirety of the Torah while standing on one foot, he responded, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. The rest is commentary.” I think it’s a pretty simple lesson that in these fraught times often is ignored. We don’t seem to be treating people as nicely as we should be. Wouldn’t it be something if we could all put in practice this fairly simple—yet critical—lesson in the coming year.

 

That’s enough for now. Wishing all the Jews an easy fast and all the non-Jews an enjoyable day of less traffic and faster deliveries from Door Dash (at least until Sundown!).

 

 

 

PRESIDENT’S ILLNESS

 

I assume you’ve seen the news. The president and first lady have tested positive for COVID-19. Wow. It couldn’t get any weirder.

 

Couldn’t someone have timed this better? Musings for Friday were already put to bed and I was getting ready for the horizontal position. Then this comes along. Here are my quick takeaways:

 

First, I wish him a Speedy Recovery. Really. I don’t wish sickness or death on anyone. Even a racist and misogynist. Even someone who has brought American democracy to its current crossroads and endangered the health of our republic.

  

Second, this will Emphasize How Serious This Disease Is. Anyone can get it. Even the president Maybe the more intelligent among them will “get the joke” by now. Wear masks, socially distance, this is serious.

 

Third, the Election Impact

 

  • He’s in quarantine for two weeks, at a minimum. That means that from 32 days out to 18 days out from the election, he will be in quarantine at home.

  • No more rallies. I think the absurdity and audacity of these non-mask-wearing gatherings is now over.

  • At least one debate canceled. Thank goodness. Good for our country and Dennis’s blood pressure.

  • Greater focus on COVID-19, its status, our response, and its eradication. This is bad for the President. The focus of the campaign should solidify around the COVID-19 response, the cavalier nature in which the administration has handled this, and the failure of leadership.

  • More people in the White House and the campaign will get sick. There were a number of people on Marine One with Ms. Hicks and Mr. Trump.

  • Questions will be raised on the President’s movements upon learning of Ms. Hicks’s infection. Did he follow protocols? Did he ignore them? Did he attend a rally even after learning of her infection?

 

Fourth, Now What?

 

  • If he recovers quickly, he and his supporters could use this as “proof” that the disease isn’t so bad. The problem is that, with multiple infections, some will be worse than others, weakening this potential narrative.

  • He will be off the campaign trail for a while.

  • Now I really wonder about his mysterious unannounced weekend visit to Walter Reed  late last year. How healthy was he really?

  • Biden will be empathetic, which will rile the President. 

  • What if he becomes seriously ill? He’s older, out of shape and obese. Could he be incapable of discharging the duties of office (he’s been unfit for a while but still able to act…)

  • What if this is the opportunity for him to dodge losing the election? What if “for the good of the country” he steps aside? After…of course, pardoning everyone. And then Pence could pardon him in an act of charity and healing. Seriously, this could be the opportunity to declare victory, avoid a humiliating loss, and garner empathy and acceptance of the flurry of pardons.

 

Was the Word “Schadenfreude Coined Precisely for This Moment? Texts were flying last night including, “My father hasn’t been this happy for six months.” “I wonder how people will feel about his rallies now.” “Karma, there is a god.” “This could be a reality show and no one would believe it.” “I’m shocked he admitted it.” “I’ve never wished suffering on anyone, but…” “I hope he’s not planning on drinking Clorox.”

 

Irony. Tonight our Doctor-In-Chief pronounced, “the end of the pandemic is in sight.” I’m guessing his view may have changed in the hours after that statement.

 

Finally, “I can’t wait to see tomorrow’s musings!” I wish I didn’t get that one…it amounted to a challenge I had to accept. It’s late; I’m tired; this is my best at this point…

 

 

 

HALLOWEEN

 

Sadly one of the victims of the pandemic is the wonderful ritual of trick or treat. This pagan holiday was a big deal with our kids. Spooky stuff was a big deal. No one loved spooky stuff as much as Brad, and no one was as strategic at maximizing territory and booty as Lauren, but today’s anecdote is of Jake. When we did our trick or treating, I stayed at the sidewalk when the kids walked to the door. But this time, Jake came back to me and told me I had to come to the door. Frank Robinson, the only player to win the Most Valuable Player award in both leagues, lived in our neighborhood and was handing out candy. It was a great Halloween present from Jake...

 

Halloween was a big tradition when I grew up as well. Pasadena may have the Rose Parade and New York may have the Thanksgiving Parade, but Anaheim had the Halloween Parade. I suppose that was the only holiday left without a major parade. In the 40s, 50s and 60s it was a big deal for people from around the State to descend on the city with all the orange groves. It was a big deal each year when I was growing up, with some 75,000 attending each year. It has been a tradition since 1924, when Babe Ruth was the Grand Marshal. It fell on hard times for a while but now is experiencing a renaissance these days, still celebrating the pagan holiday…

 

 

 

SOME THANKSGIVING THOUGHTS
 
I have been thinking a lot about isolation as we approach a Thanksgiving that the CDC urges be celebrated in the isolation of household units only, without guests. While celebration in larger groups would be nice, I find comfort in the idea that, much as I love the togetherness around the table, we are not celebrating the meal. We are celebrating the relationships and connection amongst those close to us. And that doesn’t change with proximity or the lack of it.
 
And we are celebrating thanks. Thanks that we are in the midst of the pandemic and still alive, uninfected, and surrounded spiritually (if not physically) by others who enjoy the benefits for which we give thanks. Hopefully most of us are thankful for jobs, food on the table, physical and mental health, and the time to enjoy recreation.
 
It is not the isolation of the smaller Thanksgiving table this year that causes me concern. Rather, it is the isolation of stubborn confidence that we are always right, in which many of us find ourselves. We all are guilty of being too quick to identify those with whom we disagree as somehow “separate” from ourselves.
 
This isolation is practiced in its extreme not only by the ultra-right, but by much of the right that isolates itself within the narrow confines of NewsMax, Breitbart and the Epoch Times. Its most recent manifestation is the summary dismissal of Tucker Carlson, always the Trump team player, for challenging those claiming the fraudulence of the election to show the facts. He is now being “voted off the island” as espousing a view that varies from those of the Trump faithful.
 
This isolation of surety exists on the left as well. The self-assuredness that justifies shouting down competing views on college campuses and the willingness to cancel and shame people because of a perceived indiscretion—often years in the past or said in haste—is a form an isolation and separation.
 
Diane Cairns described this desire to retreat into our own comfortable places of consistent confirmation bias and curated news that will keep us happy as the “isolation of rigidity.” And that’s what it is—a confidence that we are so extraordinarily sure of our own correctness that our rigidity and unwillingness to consider other points of view becomes a wall that separates ourselves from other views and other people. That isolation is not caused by COVID or loneliness or loss. That isolation is caused by a rigidity and inflexibility of our own making. It is not the physical separation from loved ones on this single Thanksgiving but the separation we are imposing on ourselves that should cause us the greatest concern.
 

 

IT’S THANKSGIVING WEEK

 

It’s an abbreviated work week! I have a potpourri of thoughts this morning. First, thoughts on Thanksgiving:

  • We should be thankful for those who are important in our lives, that we are in good health (hopefully), that we live in these times, with the creature comforts that our modern society provides, in the great democratic experiment that is America, which has tried—often successfully and sometimes not—to be a beacon of enlightenment, compassion, and stability in a world of human, biological, climatic, and existential threats.

  • We should acknowledge the plights of those less fortunate than we—those who fear getting pulled over by a police officer, who may not feel safe in their own homes, who don’t have their own homes, and those who suffer from physical and mental illnesses. We should be thankful that we don’t go to bed hungry, cold, sick, or without clean water, as do so many people around the world. We should be thankful that we have the means to address many of these maladies, not just by waiting for government to act but by acting ourselves. There are plenty of ways we can help, most readily by contributing to important charitable institutions that work to make our society more just, healthy, safe, and caring.

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are all inter-connected. We have learned—the hard way—that the health of our neighbors affects our own health. The uptick in significant climate events (heat, storms, fires, etc.) shows that climate change no longer is “out there” sometime in the future but is in the here and now. The isolation has reminded us that our collective and individual mental health is prone to ups and downs and not exclusive to those with chronic illnesses. I continue to return to a wonderful quotation (whose provenance I don’t recall), about the similarity of our experiences and yet the differences in our plights:

 

“While we may not all be in the same boat, we most assuredly are on the same ocean in the same storm.”

 

 

THANKSGIVING

 

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. That and Passover. While both are holidays centered around a bountiful meal with family (and who doesn’t love a bountiful meal?), they offer much more. Each is in its way a celebration of gratitude. In our family, each has gathered together family together in one place—from my parents’ home until today—for as long as I can remember, it’s been a day to celebrate family.

 

This year is quite a bit different. Some will celebrate in smaller numbers (hopefully all outdoors!). Others will break into their smaller family units. Others will have zoom meals. Still others will have a zoom toast followed by dinner at their respective homes.

 

While this year has been a focus on a harmful, often deadly, pandemic, we are rightly preoccupied with our losses—what we don’t have this year. We won’t be hugging as much or hanging around the table together as long. This year since March has been focused things we have lost—some greater losses than others, but all losses nonetheless—not seeing people as much, not going out, not traveling, not being with loved ones, not being at school.

 

But today, I’m going to focus on what I am grateful for. I have a terrific family that, each in their own way, is making a difference in the world. I have a great extended family that brings me great joy. I have my health (other than a few sore joints and ligaments!). I live in what is still the world’s greatest experiment in a free people living in a democracy, notwithstanding its occasional failings and all the attacks on that democracy in recent days. I belong to a faith, not dissimilar from others, that encourages us to look outward and act in ways that improve our communities and the world. I’m thankful we have the means to try to help make change.

 

I’m thankful for our book clubs, golf buddies, college friends, wine aficionados, travel companions, ski families, college friends, and Netflix.

 

I’m thankful of friends like you. I love the connections we maintain, the responses to the Musings, the corrections, the suggestions, and just the occasional “hi, I’m still here!” I have realized in our physical absence from each other—and yet our closeness on-line—how precious our relationships are with those with whom we share this journey.

 

Finally, my gratitude doesn’t extend just to those who are here to read this but it reaches to so many no longer here, who have raised me, guided me, taught me, demonstrated bravery to me, and touched me in ways great and small. They are forever with me.

 

Wishing you and your families a healthy and happy Thanksgiving,

 

THANKSGIVING II

 

I hope everyone enjoyed this strangest of Thanksgivings. As we all emerge from our turkey comas, I was thinking of a few things that I’m thankful for this year that I could not imagine a year ago would justify giving thanks:

  • I’m still alive and haven’t been hospitalized by a deadly virus

  • We had an election in America that didn’t result in a constitutional crisis and failure of our electoral system

  • We didn’t have widespread rioting in the streets as a result of (a) legitimate grievances about racial injustice, or (b) illegitimate grievances about “the election being stolen.”

  • It’s late November and the USC Trojans have won but THREE games. NOTE TO CHIP SELLERS AND OTHER NON-SPORTS FANS…USC has only played three games this year and won them all (if only barely). In a typical season, 10 games already would have been played and a 3-7 record would not be something to brag about.

 

A FINAL WORD ON THANKSGIVING

 

Thanks to Abraham Lincoln (the man whom our current president might have done as much as he has for Black Americans) declared a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863, the year of the emancipation proclamation and victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg (the site of the President’s most recent unsubstantiated attacks on the election this Wednesday). In the words of Heather Cox Richardson, “Lincoln established our national Thanksgiving to celebrate the survival of our democratic government.”

 

I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to acknowledge that this year, we should be giving thanks to the survival of our democracy against the flurry of venal and unsubstantiated attacks on our electoral system and against those people—elected officials, government workers, volunteers, and poll watchers—who are responsible for ensuring its accuracy and fairness. It was a close call but the system survived Rudy and Sidney and Rush and their minions.

 

And in the words of our President-elect, “Think of what we’ve come through—centuries of human enslavement; a cataclysmic Civil War; the exclusion of women from the ballot box; World Wars; Jim Crow; a long twilight struggle against Soviet tyranny that could have ended not with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but in nuclear Armageddon.” And then he said, “Faith, courage, sacrifice, service to country, service to each other, and gratitude even in the face of suffering, have long been part of what Thanksgiving means in America.”

 

 

HANUKKAH OBSERVATION

I don’t quite understand why, with all the beautiful festive Christmas lights, the Jews chose a simple pale-blue and white motif for Hanukkah. Christmas offers a panoply of bright colors and cheer that I look forward to each year. Sure, Hanukkah isn’t the biggest of Jewish holidays—certainly when compared to the High Holy Days and the three Festivals (Sukkot, Shavuot, Passover). Indeed, Hanukkah is a bit player on the Jewish calendar. But it has become more popular and is now observed with greater verve as a Jewish alternative to (and sharing in) the Christmas spirit. So here’s the question: With all the Jewish ad executives, public relations consultants and interior and clothes designers, pale blue and white is the best they could come up with?

CHRISTMAS

 

Wishing all of my Christian friends a blessed and joyous Christmas!

 

Christmas is a holiday that is interesting for Jews. As a Jew, I welcome and revel in the celebration of Christmas in the same way as I respect and celebrate Muslim and Hindu friends celebrating Eid and Diwali. At this time of year, the holidays offer a welcome reminder that we can all celebrate different traditions, while respecting them all.

 

As a Jew on Christmas, one is used to jokes about our “special” ways to celebrate—going to an uncrowded movie theatre and eating Chinese food (well, this year, it’s “turning on Netflix and ordering Postmates”). The love many Jews have for Christmas extends to the music. I still can sing (well, my version of singing) any number of Christmas carols I remember from fifth grade choir. Back in the day when we listened to radio stations, one heard Christmas music during “drive time” from Thanksgiving through the new year.

 

It’s no secret that many non-Christians harbor jealousies of this joyous holiday that goes beyond the music, the food and the lights. The holidays bring a sense of shared celebration and good feelings and a much-needed “breather” to count our blessings and commune with family and friends.

 

As a child, I recall my father playing Santa at my elementary school. When I walked up to Santa, I said “Hi, Dad” and told him that he didn’t fool me. Later I asked him why he played Santa. He smiled and said, “This way, I let all the Christian fathers enjoy being with their kids when they meet Santa.” From him I learned to enjoy the Christmas season, in large measure because it brings such joy to other people.

 

And then there are the movies. I have two favorites. The first is A Christmas Carol, in its various incarnations. My favorite version of A Christmas Carol remains “Scrooge” (the musical version), starring Albert Finney. The second is Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, a classic that brings a tear every time I watch it (particularly when Jimmy Stewart’s brother shows up at the end and toasts him—“to my big brother George, the richest man in town”).

 

If Capra or Dickens brings a tear to your eye and you’re looking to feel good while watching a beautifully filmed movie, thy Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield, starring Dev Patel and a multi-racial cast. In the end it all “comes together,” as most Dickens does, in a delightful fashion. As for Capra, there hardly is a more apropos movie in these fraught times than Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

 

A very Merry Christmas to all and a happy (and less eventful) new year!

 

And in the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us all, every one.”

 

 

NEW YEAR’S EVE
 
Time to say goodbye to a challenging year. While there has been much to lament, there has been much to be thankful for. Among the many, many lessons of the past year have been the need to be patient, reflective, forgiving, and thankful. We have learned what we have, what we can lose, and what’s important to us. We are learning to find pleasure in the company of fewer people and to find pleasure in our own company—whether with a book, on a walk or communing with nature.
 
I look upon the new year with hope. Hope that, after a year of getting a lot wrong, we can start to get a few things right. Hopefully it will be a year of renewal of spirit and an appreciation for what the world—and our fellow inhabitants of this rock—have to offer. Perhaps we can finally make inroads in addressing the many challenges and opportunities that lie before us.
 
I’ve been obsessing over the New York Times’s request that readers send in their words of thanks that sum up 2020. The condition is that it must be expressed in six words—no more and no fewer. Here are a few of my six word bursts to summarize the past year:
 
Activities
 
Getting outdoors on the golf course.
I miss sharing a golf cart.
Music and puzzles fill my days.
Daily jacuzzi is Jewish holy water.
Anyone read a good book lately?
Football? Yes. Classes? No. Please explain.
My ski season will never start.
 
Thoughts about a few friends
 
Looking forward to more Hochman hugs.
Rosenbach brothers have lots to say.
Thanks, Dennis, for keeping me honest.
People named Mark contribute a lot.
Ira is a cranky old dude. (but usually right…)
Ed, work on your next stand-up.
Seemah at 90—youthful as always.
 
Some final thoughts on the year
 
Trying to stay safe; not easy.
What’s going on behind your mask?
Brad would not believe this shit.
…days like these, strange days indeed…
We will get through this together.
Grateful to have friends like you.

 

 

NEW YEAR’S DAY

No Rose Bowl. No Rose Parade. Largely meaningless bowl games with empty or nearly empty stadiums. Tom Masenga has been lobbying for weeks that I haven’t noted Notre Dame’s strong football season this year, particularly since I talk about the less-than-stellar USC Trojans. So, for you Tom: Good luck against Alabama and that 19 ½ point spread…!
 
It’s a new year and the pandemic isn’t over yet. But we are slowly emerging into the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be better. By September 1:

  1. School will be back in session

  2. We will all be vaccinated

  3. We will be making holiday plans for next December

  4. We will be thinking about longer-distance travel in 2022

  5. We will be eating out

  6. We will be on the road to recovery as a nation

Before we embark on this new year and leave the past one behind, we should recall some of the lessons we learned. In large measure this was a year when we were awaked from our complacency about so much in the world. Beyond the lessons of this public health emergency, our inability to respond effectively, and the heroism of the scientists and the health professionals, there are a few messages we received this year that we can’t forget:

  • We have been awakened from our complacency regarding racism in America and the disproportionate allocation of resources among our people.

  • We have been awakened from our complacency regarding the planet and the climatic changes that are no longer merely projections, but reality.

  • We have been awakened from our complacency regarding the institutions of our democracy and their fragility. If we don’t take actions to further strengthen our democracy and people’s perceptions of its fairness, we are doomed. No more can we take for granted that our fellow citizens are of good will and will adhere to the will of the people.

  • We have been awakened from our complacency regarding the power of the Internet and social media—and that its ubiquity can lead to the spreading of disinformation and untruths, feeding on our fears to turn people against each other.

  • We have been awakened from our complacency regarding American power. It is not unlimited; it is threatened; its vulnerability to “asymmetric” attacks and cyberwarfare is real. We have allowed those with less moral standing and fewer resources (i.e., Russia) to exploit our weaknesses (our division and suspiciousness) and our strengths (our democracy and our trust). Further, with the pandemic, we have showed that size, power, and resources did not enable us to fare better—in fact, complacency and the political infighting in this great nation contributed to our nation’s suffering.

 

 

GEORGIA VOTE AND JOINT SESSION

 

We won’t know for sure for a while, with recounts through this week, but at least currently it appears likely that we will have a Senate controlled by the Democrats by the thinnest of margins. I hope it holds. This will give President-elect Biden the latitude to pursue an aggressive agenda on COVID relief and economic recovery. The fact that the Senate majority is close and yet controlled by Biden’s party may bode well for a bipartisan agenda. Further, the “all obstruction all the time” agenda of Mitch McConnell won’t control bringing legislation to the floor. Finally, the loss may demonstrate the weakening effect of President Trump’s control of the party. I’m hopeful.

 

As to the two (likely) defeated Republican incumbents, one ran after extensive stock trades suspiciously tied to confidential COVID news, whose campaign photoshopped a picture of his Jewish opponent with an accentuated long nose and tropes about money. And Loeffler, appointed to her position, was firmly against Black Lives Matter and whose campaign darkened her Black competitor’s skin color in photos. Not sorry to see them go.

 

Today a Joint Session of Congress will receive the Electoral College vote and finally, definitively, mercifully, officially certify the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, putting this farcical challenge of the election results at an end. It may take hours and may even extend into tomorrow, given the required debate of each disputed state’s electors.

 

The machinations of the Mad King are nearly spent. He has demeaned the office; he has demonstrated his utter lack of decency time and time again; he failed in responding to COVID; he has besmirched our reputation internationally; he has strengthened the hand of Russia, China, and despots and oligarchs across the political spectrum and around the world; he has weakened our intelligence gathering; he has weaponized the Justice Department to his will; he has tried to bribe foreign leaders to help him in elections; he has threatened election officials to manipulate elections. He will be judged harshly by history on these and so many other counts—known today and that may not be known for years.

 

But there are others who will be judged harshly by history. Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson and others have made it easy for those of us who care about our democratic institutions and the continued survival of this republic to identify the traitors in our midst. Their behavior is shameful and treasonous. But spectacularly, I doubt any of them (many of them lawyers and many of them the product of Ivy League educations) actually believe the merit of the claims of election fraud they are propounding. The coup that is being attempted will fail, but those who pursue it should always be remembered for the craven political operatives that they are, demonstrating complete disregard for all that is decent in our processes of democracy and fairness. If there is anything left of bipartisanship, its fragile remnants rest in the care of Senators Romney, Sasse, Collins and Murkowski.

 

 

THE CAPITOL RIOT / INSURRECTION

 

FIRST, FOUR QUOTES:

 

“Democracy is fragile, requiring leaders with the courage to stand up” who are “devoted not to the pursuits of power, but to the common good.”  --President-Elect Biden

 

“Today’s violent assault on our Capitol, an effort to subjugate American democracy by mob rule, was fomented by Mr. Trump. His use of the Presidency to destroy trust in our election and to poison our respect for fellow citizens has been enabled by pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice.” –James Mattis, Former Secretary of Defense

 

“This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic—not our democratic republic.” –George W. Bush

 

“There are only two parties remaining today—patriots and traitors –Ulysses S. Grant in 1861

 

Today was to be a series of “best of” selections on this 300th Musing from the Bunker. But events have taken control.

 

I won’t mince words and I won’t bury the lede. Donald Trump should be removed from office via the 25th Amendment. He has incited rioting, violence and insurrection. He is unfit for office—and has been for the past four years. He is a dangerous man. He is mentally unstable. His administration is a criminal enterprise of self-dealing, retribution and ignorance of facts. He must be removed. If Mike Pence is a patriot, he will call a cabinet meeting to do this promptly.

 

Yesterday was one of the darkest days in American history. Yesterday we got a taste of what our country has devolved into and how things may well get worse. Our president motivated this insurrection in calling forth this “Save America March.” Among other things, he said: “You will never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength. You have to be strong.” Republican leadership and conservative news media encouraged it. This day will be emblazoned in our memories—we will remember where we were and what we did—along with the Kennedy assassination, the hasty departure from Saigon, the Challenger disaster, and 9/11.

 

This was not a assemblage of angry protesters protesting for civil rights or against a war or injustice. This was a group motivated solely for the purpose of ignoring the facts and the results of legitimate elections. The new Justice Department must get at the root of this organization—who, what and when—but one thing is certain. Donald Trump was there. He wasn’t there at the Capitol but he was there in spirit—he inspired, encouraged and abetted them. He will leave office in the ignominy he deserves.

 

The shameless, venal display, fueled by the President and his enablers, is nothing short of sedition. Shame on the President and shame on Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Ron Johnson and others who have seized upon the deranged President’s rantings and unsubstantiated claims, encouraging their constituents to protest. After 60 courts have ruled there is no election fraud, multiple recounts have confirmed results, and the certifications of votes by the States has occurred, they are spewing lies and conspiracy theories solely for political gain and positioning. They should all be impeached or censured. They are COMPLICIT!

 

HEADLINES PILING UP

 

Here are statements that would be headline-grabbing and norm-bending individually, but were happening in real time yesterday:

  • President encourages protestors in front of the White House and riles them up to go to the Capitol and tell you what you think.

  • Crowds of protestors flood the U.S. Capitol

  • Capitol locked down

  • Gas masks delivered on the House floor

  • Vice President evacuated from the Capitol

  • Members of Congress being told to shelter in place, cowering under desks and in cloak rooms

  • Confederate flags carried to the Capitol

  • Armed stand-off in front of the House chamber

  • Protester manning the dais in the House chamber yelling “Trump won that election.”

  • Capitol police asking for law enforcement assistance.

  • Officer inside House chamber calling in “officer in distress,” asking for back-up. “We are stretched very thin…”

  • Woman shot and killed on the Capitol grounds

  • Pipe bombs found at the Democratic National Committee

 

And in the past two days:

  • Passengers on plane with U.S. Senator Mitt Romney chanting “traitor; traitor…”

  • A state representative not seated in Pennsylvania because their opponent refused to concede and Lieutenant Governor, presiding at the time, escorted from the chamber

  • Eric Trump (“We’re coming for you and we’re going to have a good time doing it”) and Rudy Giuliani (“Let’s have a trial by combat”) calling for warfare and retribution against adversaries

 

This is what happens when lies and fake news are allowed to run rampant, fueled by the very people we have elected to protect our democracy.

 

SOME IMAGES

 

A gallows and a noose at the Capitol

A man lying down near the Capitol, imitating George Floyd on the ground

A man in red, white and blue face paint in the capitol

A rioter sitting at the chair’s desk in the House chamber

Confederate flags

A person with a “Camp Auschwitz” t-shirt

 

Let’s remember we had people protesting police brutality and killings and they were gassed for a photo opportunity for the President. Peaceful protesters were gassed, arrested and beaten. In this case, we have images of Capitol police helping insurrectionists down the stairs, holding their hands. Were these protesters black, might the response have been different?

 

SOME QUOTES FROM THE DAY

 

Former DC Police Chief Charles Ramsey to Trump: “He did this.” He said if he were still Police Chief he would say “Shut the hell up and get out of the way.” He noted that this is “as close to a coup attempt as this country has ever seen.”

 

Jake Tapper, “Trump is spilling fuel like the Exxon Valdez.” John King, “What the Republicans are doing is not just a fantasy. It’s a dangerous fantasy.”

 

 

From the idiotic Mo Brooks of Alabama, who has been stoking this fire for weeks, “At least Socialist Democrats have NOT defunded Capitol police. Evacuating chamber.”

 

Congresswoman Norma Torres: “This is the United States of America and this is what we have to go through, because Trump has called on homegrown terrorists to come to the Capitol and invalidate people’s rights.”

 

President-elect Biden: “This is not dissent…this is disorder…it borders on sedition…”

 

WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN AFTER THIS

 

Besides our democracy and beyond our somnambulance as facts are thrown to the curb, not believing “this could ever happen here” our innocence has been torn away. It can happen here. And this will continue, with gun and ammunition sales at alarming highs. But here’s what else we can expect:

  • Investigation in the failures of the security around the capitol, notwithstanding warnings

  • Investigation into the organizers of this gathering

  • Prosecution of many of the protesters, whose faces are clearly visible on film

  • Censure of those who incited to violence; possibly including prosecution

  • An accelerated move to constrain social media publishing lies and incendiary rhetoric and hate speech without consequence. Twitter has tried a bit—but Facebook and YouTube hardly at all. Curiously, YouTube finally indicated today it would prioritize “real news” in its feed.

  • A commission to create a Model Elections Code, to once and for all propose reasonable rules that states should follow

PRINCIPLES DISAPPEAR

 

My opinions are no secret to you all. I believed the objections to the certification of President-elect Biden’s victory were baseless. The members of Congress who yesterday allegedly believed that our election process is flawed and that an election was “stolen” today stopped their political posturing about “stopping the steal,’ not because they saw any evidence to change their minds but because it was always a cold and calculated, shameful attempt to curry favor with their most loony supporters. And it has been shown to be the lie that it always was. We cannot forget the names of those initially supporting this crazy seditious scheme.

 

DEAR FRIENDS WHO SUPPORT TRUMP

 

I have been patient with my friends who continue to support President Trump, thinking their support was based upon some ideology, some sort of support of Trump’s “strength and honesty,” or some great fear of a liberal destruction of our country. I have concluded that they have been possessed by the same tribalism as Republican lawmakers.

 

To them I say that this no longer is a question of politics. It is a question of morality. It is a question of patriotism. It is a question of honesty. It is a question of democracy. It is a question of facts. It is a question of acceptance of the verdict of the people.

 

This morning I read a post from a conservative friend of mine who openly abandoned Mr. Trump. Another de-registered from the Republican party today. They still have legitimate policy differences with the Democrats but they have principles. It’s not too late for the rest of you to abandon Trumpism and the anti-science, anti-democratic, anti-truthfulness, sedition that it embodies.

 

I no longer have patience for you. You are complicit in supporting the President and his supporters continuing to espouse baseless conspiracies and inciting violence. Now it is reaching its denouement. And I don’t think it ends here. We have nothing left to talk about. There is nothing to say. I can see no theory by which you can continue your support of this anti-American behavior.

 

 

AFTERMATH OF THE CAPITOL RIOT

 

I was trying to think of the proverbial “picture that speaks 1000 words.” What describes the problem with our country? The above is a legitimate candidate for that honor. You may recall this picture. There was a hurricane heading toward the Southeastern coast. Notwithstanding the predictions of experts, the President maintained the hurricane was headed toward Alabama (it wasn’t). What the picture foreshadows what was to come over these ensuing years:

  • If he says it’s so it must be so. This was one of the first, but by no means the last, when it was decided that the Dear Leader is always right.

  • There wasn’t an adult willing to stop him. The president’s advisors could not stand up to him. Leadership, as we all know, requires the humility to hire the best advisors to provide counsel and to point out when the leader is wrong. The President surrounded himself with sycophants and when they stood up they would be fired. Another key to the despots’ playbook: the stifling of dissent in the corridors of power.

  • Willingness to do anything—regardless how ridiculous—to curry favor. One of his enablers drew this clumsy extension of the hurricane’s cone “by Sharpie.” His enabler understood that one cannot tell the Dear Leader he is wrong and one should do everything possible to elicit an “attaboy” or “attagirl” from the boss.

  • Compliance must be absolute, in all things great and trivial. One must fight all dissent. This was a matter of little import. If he misspoke, so what? But even the most trivial thing—the most human error—the slip of the tongue—must be explained away because the Dear Leader can’t possibly be in error.

  • He must be pandered to—like a petulant child. We’ve heard a lot about his tantrums and, of late, his complete lack of balance. Rather than be confronted, he is coddled. Here, honey, how about this toy? Are you happy now? Want an Oreo? Rarely does this sort of parenting work.

  • The counterfactual can be made to be real and SCIENCE BE DAMNED. This was an early example of how easily the public’s view of the facts could be manipulated. Notwithstanding scientists’ understanding of meteorology, notwithstanding the history of recorded hurricane behavior, notwithstanding computer modeling, this illustration was modified—in plain view of the press and the public. And yet it was adopted as factual by supporters willing to be manipulated. The Trumpists learned from this that it would be easy to manipulate the public in the future.

 

HAWLEY’S COMET

 

Josh Hawley appeared as a bright object, appearing on the public stage explosively. He willingly picked up the mantle of “savior of elections.” And just as quickly as a comet appears brightly in the night sky, it completes its circumnavigation of the Earth, speeding into the dark firmament, not to be seen again for decades. His hometown newspaper, the Kansas City Star, says has “has blood on his hands” for helping foment the hostility based upon unfounded allegations of election fraud. He will forever be seen in the mind’s eye raising his fist in celebration and victory at the rioters at the Capitol. He engaged in a completely unfounded claim that the Congress met on Wednesday not to merely receive the Electoral votes certified by the states, but to stand in judgment of their elections and potentially modify the outcome of those elections. He objected to Pennsylvania’s electors based upon the fact there was not a court in Pennsylania to resolve the objection and, therefore, the Senate had to take it on. This is simply untrue. He’s a liar. There, I said it. It’s time we call things out for what they are. The Pennsylvania courts have spoken. Repeatedly. The Supreme Court spoke. Hawley’s objection is the stuff of Grand Guignol theatre.

 

Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz were educated in the finest Ivy League institutions of higher learning. They wear this badge proudly as a validation of their brilliance and accomplishment. Hawley clerked for the Supreme Court. They both took the fundamentally same Constitutional Law courses as the rest of us admitted to the bar. They are wrong and they know it. What these two anti-American dissemblers have failed to appreciate is that these degrees conferred upon them were not mere accolades to be added to their resumes; with those degrees comes responsibility to the institutions and the nation that conferred those degrees.

 

THE LESSON OF 1876 AND THE INCONSISTENCY WITH JOSH HAWLEY’S CLAIM

 

The process Congress went through on Wednesday was to perform the administrative act of accepting the electors delivered to the Congress by the States. The disingenuous Republicans invoke the election of 1876 as justification for their craven actions. Either they do not know their history or they willingly choose to ignore it and lie to their supporters who crave justification for their illegalities.

 

1876 was completely different. Apologies for abbreviating the entirety of the sordid story but the simple key distinction is this… Congress was presented in 1876 with multiple slates of electors FROM THE STATES. Legislatures sent a slate, governors sent another and it was a complete cluster. Because of that, decisions had to be made about which slate to accept. The facts are completely different from those of today and the precedent is completely ludicrous. If you stayed up late last night you heard the Vice-President announce that a slate of electors was received, that it seemed in order and that it was the only one submitted. Then the slate was to be accepted unless objected to. This time, the Republicans decided objection to the undisputed state action would be okay—based upon baseless claims of fraud.

 

As a postscript, Rutherford Hayes’s electors were finally accepted because Hayes consented to the end of Reconstruction. It was a dark day in American history. Had he instead refused, the entire history of Jim Crow might have been different.

 

People talk about the insurrection outside the Capitol that eventually broke in. But we need to focus on the insurrection taking place inside the Capitol. The certification of the electoral vote is a ministerial act. ONLY if there are competing electors does Congress interfere. Here, there was a physical insurrection outside and an insurrection against the Constitution inside the House chamber. Hawley, Cruz, et al. were completely out of line performing political theatre to feed grist to the mill of the hard-right.

 

Much as Halley’s Comet, which appears every 76 years and then flings back out in space, Josh Hawley’s comet had a brief few moments of light and now will wane, not to be heard from again. Inshallah.

 

FALSE EQUIVALENCY AND THE BATTLE OF THE PROTESTS

 

I have read several Trump-apologists diminishing the rioting of Wednesday night as a “largely peaceful protest that got out of hand through the actions of the few.” They liken it to the Black Lives Matter protests and the Vietnam protests. Oh my… Here are a few things that were different:

  • In the prior instances they were actually protesting something important. Protesting police brutality and the murdering of defenseless Black people in the custody of the police qualifies as a legitimate beef where I come from. So does disputing a war that history has shown us to have been futile and pursued when our leaders knew of its futility. Here, people were complaining that their guy didn’t win an election and it wasn’t fair…without proof…

  • The Black Lives Matter protests actually were peaceful. Hundreds took place. Yes, looting and vandalism occurred and that’s bad. But it really was a few and generally toward the end of an otherwise peaceful rally.

  • The police were actively involved in quelling the other protests. Here, they stood idly by.

  • Here the Presidents and his allies were fomenting violence and insurrection. And they even warned us…

  • Here the symbols of democracy and the very acts of our democracy were attacked.

 

There is nothing similar about prior protests and these.

 

POLICE DE-ESCALATION AND BLACK LIVES

 

The police stood down and allowed the venting of anger in the insurrectionist activities of Wednesday. On the one hand, I’m pleased that the police didn’t escalate. It proves that they are capable of doing so. But their de-escalation was in the presence of white protesters, protesting nothing of ideological importance—not civil rights, against a war, in support of legislation. Why is it difficult to imagine them doing the same in a Black Lives Matter protest? The “defund the police” movement I maintain is not really about defunding but about redeploying and rethinking.

 

In the words of Dana Gordon, “Remember when everyone asked why Black kids were looting the stores after a police shooting? Where are those same questions about white people breaking into the Capitol and stealing national treasures?”

 

When the president wanted to have a photo opportunity in front of a church with a bible, Black Lives Matter protesters were clubbed and gassed. They were protesting about police brutality and asking for criminal justice reform. These people on Wednesday were protesting for the victory of their candidate, notwithstanding the facts. There was NO legitimate protest taking place.

 

The treatments were completely different. The president stood by and watched, after riling them up.

 

Lauren reminded me this morning that the Rev. Raphael Warnock (now Senator) was arrested by Capitol Police s few years ago for praying in the rotunda of the Capitol to protest efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

 

Seems like different responses to me…

 

COMPLETE POLICE FAILURE

 

Only fifty-two arrests. Four deaths. Why weren’t they prepared? They were warned, after all. Where were the paddy-wagons to pull in all these protesters and arrest them? Why so few arrests?

 

They had plenty of notice. They had plenty of warning. They took selfies with the rioters. They opened the gates. They stood by. The national guard wasn’t called until neighboring states did so. The President preferred to watch.

 

Time for D.C. to be a State. Time for a commission to figure out how this could have happened. More on these topics next week…

 

 

INAUGURATION DAY

 

Happy Inauguration Day!

 

IN MEMORY

 

First, I’d like to pause to recognize the devastation of COVID as we cross the 400,000 death mark (and are headed toward 500,000 by the end of February). Our response has been among the worst in the developed world. COVID has now passed the Second World War in American dead from a single event. While there is no comparison for the brutality and inhumanity of that war and the millions who died, this landmark is worth noting. And while not all deaths could have been prevented, a lot of them could have been.

 

Wars are devastating, violent, and merciless events leading to deaths inflicted by people on other people. COVID is a scourge of a different kind—one that has been exacerbated by unpreparedness, duplicity, mis-messaging, false messaging and misdirection by our leadership. The COVID-19 epidemic now trails only the 1918 Flu Epidemic, the AIDS epidemic and the Civil War as the most devastating event in U.S. history.

 

WE ARE NEARLY HERE

 

Much of the conversation in the months leading to the election was about the monster that was Trump. Much of the conversation between the election and the December certification of electoral votes by the states was propelled by the myriad recounts and over 60 lawsuits, crazy conspiracy theories about election manipulation and widespread fraud that was unproven. Then the news was eaten-up by claims that the United States Congress, in an act of cynicism, was to overturn the legitimate vote of the people during their January 6 ministerial acceptance of the State certifications of electoral votes.

 

January 6th will, of course, live in infamy. Through the weekend the news was all about the repercussions to that presidentially-sanctioned attack on our institutions of democracy. And then the following week was a time for us all to bone-up on the 25th amendment and the House’s attempt to impeach (again) with solid justification, this worst of all presidents. All the while, we have been dealing with the ham-handed federal response to COVID and the lack of direction to the states, while watching the train-wreck as the delivery of vaccine will be late and disorganized.

 

Today, however, is different. Today we should shift our focus and look forward, away from the national embarrassment and catastrophe that was the Trump administration and the complete sell-out of once respectable members of the Republican party to this wolf in wolf’s closing. If you still think the election was stolen or that Trump is our savior should listen to the first 2-3 minutes of the attached (if you don’t have the time for the full 9 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qud-CiuJTnI&feature=youtu.be. You don’t have to agree with all of it (I don’t buy all the Antifa excuses four minutes in) to agree with most of it.

 

HOPE

 

Today, it’s about hope. Hope that an imperfect man, yet a tireless public servant, who has experienced more than his fair share of grief and loss, can lead a country that is itself plagued by grief and loss. We now will go through the quadrennial celebration of the continuation of our democracy, which Mr. Trump thankfully will not attend. It will not include the triumphant parade and the endless pageantry but perhaps that is just as well. Perhaps it should be quiet, thoughtful and contemplative.

 

I wish Joe and Kamala and our new executive officers and legislators all the best in patching our wounds, addressing the pandemic, dealing with the challenges of racial injustice, addressing the crime committed against families at our border, addressing more equitable taxation, and providing infrastructure funding and government support to families in need and small businesses struggling to emerge from dark economic times.

 

If the pandemic didn’t make it clear enough, we’re all in this together.