Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Stay Uncomfortable

 "We've learned that quiet isn't always peace, and the norms and notions of what "just is" isn't always justice."  - Amanda Gorman, "The Hill We Climb"

"Relieved - but vigilant."  Colorado Governor Jared Polis in an update email, 1/20/21

"The word 'democracy' stems from two roots: "power" and "the people." A true democracy is built around the needs and priorities of its citizens, not those with the greatest wealth....As  Americans of Conscience, we take action to protect freedoms under threat and uphold collaborative democracy as a viable form of government."   - Jen Hoffman, Americans of Conscience Instagram post, 1/20/21

In my online workout classes, the teachers exhort me to "get uncomfortable," because "that's where the growth happens." If we stay in our comfort zones, we're never stretched, we never break down muscle fibers that build back better. Easy for them to say, as they glisten with sweat-gleam, their perfect ponytails bobbing in time to the music. But as an athlete, I know they're right. Progress is incompatible with the status quo.

So while I'm relieved to my core that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are safely installed in their new positions, thrilled to have a serious and professional government again, I will not mistake the installment of their administration for the finish line. I erred in that direction before, when Obama won once and then twice. I relaxed, took a break from civic and political pursuits, under the mistaken impression that America had turned the page on racism and nativism, that the politics of fear had been tossed for the politics of hope. 

We know how that turned out. As the youth poet laureate, Amanda Gorman, said in her astonishing recitation of her poem "The Hill We Climb,"  an uneasy quiet does not equal peace, a tentative stalemate equates not with the establishment of justice. Like approximately eighty million of my fellow citizens, I have been profoundly uncomfortable over the past four years as the forces that would destroy our country and deny our multicultural democracy gathered, swelled and broke over the Capitol.

So of course we want to rest now, secure in the knowledge that a sane and reasonable adult has power over the nuclear football, that our new president has a 200-page strategy for the pandemic response that we've been missing since March 2020. We prayed along with our new president, and I wiped tears from my eyes as a National Guard trooper in the perimeter bowed his head and made the sign of the cross. 

We can breathe easier, sleep better. But we can't rest for long and we can never stop. Over seventy million Americans voted against this administration for a myriad of reasons, the worst of which because they don't want a functioning federal government, don't want policies that work. The performances of A-listers and a spectacular fireworks display will not have changed their minds.

I plan to continue my civic efforts, supporting city and state officials who will move our localities forward, staying in touch with my federal representatives, reaching out to neighbors and continuing to have difficult conversations. Our multi-racial, multi-cultural democracy is a fragile new baby, built on the sloping shoulders of those in power who did not trust us to think for ourselves. We must protect our infant coalition, remain vigilant against those who would threaten it. In the inimitable words of Amanda Gorman, "There is always light, / If only we're brave enough to see it. / If only we're brave enough to be it."


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Pre-Inauguration, or Head in the Clouds

 "The present is too much for the senses, too crowding, too confusing, too present to imagine."  - Robert Frost, "Carpe Diem"

"Se souvenir du passe, et qu'il ya un avenir. Remember the past, and that there is a future."  - Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches

Over the past week and a half, I have transitioned from righteous rage to radical optimism to head-in-the-clouds denial. Despite the fact that this is Trump's last full day in office, that Biden's accomplished, experienced and dedicated team looks to hit the ground running tomorrow, I am scared. Perhaps because these headlines are - for once in the past twelve months - too good to be true. Perhaps because the jealous fates hover over Washington eager to snatch any joy from downtrodden Americans,  heartsick and weary of their country in disarray. 

Regardless (or "irregardless" as Senator Hawley would say) of reason, I am struggling to get my head out of the clouds this week.  In my usual weekend retreat from the news, I buried myself in a new show, "A Discovery of Witches" on Sundance. The series is faithfully based on the Lost Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, and season one focuses specifically on her first novel by the same name. I envision Diana (lead witch) in the Bodleian Library at Oxford and magically, my troubles disappear.

Daemons, witches, and vampires are oddly reassuring characters in this strange time and I find comfort in imagining that such creatures are responsible for the tumult in the United States. Donald Trump could easily be a tormented, warped daemon whose absent Twitter powers goad him further into insanity. Melania is obviously a vampire, and Pence is a human overwhelmed by creature influence. Let's hope the good guys are bringing in a whole host of brilliant, principled creatures whose super-powers include writing and passing legislation at lightning speed and influencing humans to seek and believe truth instead of lies.

Surely it's time for the good guys to get a win, for a good witch like Diana to save the day with powers not seen in centuries. Perhaps Kamala Harris....?  But seriously now, I will breathe more easily when tomorrow is over and our new president and vice-president confirmed without one security glitch. Then it's time for all of us to dust off our own superpowers and - feet on the ground - figure out how we can use them to re-set our country.  Praying for you, Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris, and summoning any witchcrafty magic that resides in my body to protect you during tomorrow's inauguration.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Radical Optimism, Anyone?

 "I believe this radical optimism is the good news of the gospel and I propose that we take it seriously...Optimism, like pessimism, tends to be a self-justifying outlook. The more pessimistic you are, the more you are likely to fail and thus justify your pessimism. And similarly, the more optimistic you are, the more apt you are to succeed and justify your optimism." - Beatrice Bruteau, in Radical Optimism

If the title of this blog startles you, it's perhaps because the events of the previous week. the previous ten months or even the past four years have laid the table for a meal of doubt and serious concern, rather than for radical optimism. And yet, we have to start telling ourselves a new story, one with heroes as well as anti-heroes, with inspiring winning as well as dastardly doings. 

For me, two Congressional heroes emerged from the chaos of insurrection events on January 6. First, my own Congressional Representative, Jason Crow, who was trapped in the gallery with several dozen other representatives, reporters and capitol police who could not make it out of the chamber in the initial escape. Congressman Crow, an Army veteran, crouched low and went to help his fellows fit their gas masks, and urge them to safety when an escape route was finally found. He was the last person in the chamber, insisting that others leave before him.

Congressman Crow held a telephone town hall last night, which I listened to. He described the events of the insurrection calmly and without drama, full of resolve to investigate the security lapses and the alleged participation of certain police force members and even Congresspeople. He is also full of resolve to work with his fellow representatives to help rebuild this country, to conquer the virus and take back or economy. This includes members who denied the results of the election, who did not support the insurrection but believed the lies that generated it. He said  the only way the disparate sections of our society can come together is to work together, and - when this pandemic is over- to share a beer or a coffee together.

Another hero who emerged from the chaos is Representative Andy Kim , a second-term Democrat of New Jersey. Representative Kim returned to the Capitol building after the certifying vote  and viewed the destruction in the rotunda with horror and dismay. He began to clean the floor of glass, debris and personal belongings, at times alone and on his knees, hard at work until 3 am. He was photographed  hard at work and the image, a beacon of hope, went viral.

We do have heroes fighting for us. One might say that the ten Republican congresspeople who voted to impeach Donald Trump were heroic, standing against the tide of their party and the influence of millions of voters.  President-elect Biden is heroic, standing above the pandemonium incited by Trump and proposing a bold new plan to fight the pandemic and rebuild the economy. And we each have the opportunity to act heroically every day. We aren't followed by photographers and we may be isolated in our homes, but through our attitudes, our words, our interactions, we can begin to generate the fire of radical optimism and show it's warmth to the world. For me, this post represents my rubbing the first two sticks together and I will try to keep that spark glowing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Thugs in Sharp Suits

 "A thug in a sharp suit with an Ivy League degree is still a thug." - Mimi Swartz, "Never Forget What Ted Cruz Did" New York Times, 1/11/21

What a week. Have you recovered? I haven't. The world watches in horror as our democracy wavers. Repercussions slowly emerge. Business groups and corporate donors have condemned both last week's violence and the rejection of confirmed election results on the part of certain Congress members. Some corporations have asked for their money back or threatened to withhold all donations for the coming year. The Harvard Institute of Politics removed Representative Elise Stefanik (R - NY) from its Senior Advisory Committee after her repeated (unsubstantiated) claims of voter fraud.

The Harvard Institute of Politics is associated with the Kennedy School of Government and was created "to serve as a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy" (Wikipedia). Remembering Kennedy's exhortation "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country," it  appears that Rep. Stefanik's efforts to undermine a free and fair election significantly depart from the Institute's mission. Kennedy School's dean, Douglas Elmendorf, issued a statement that read (in part): "Elise has made public assertions about voter fraud in November's presidential election that have no basis in evidence, and she has made public statements about court actions related to the election that are incorrect." (Politico) Dean Elmendorf initially asked Rep. Stefanik to resign, and when she refused, he removed her.

I applaud the Dean's action. Intelligence does not equal conscience and an Ivy League degree doesn't ensure a principled response. I saw this as a student at Harvard and I see it now in the examples of Stefanik, as well as Senators Josh Hawley (R - MO) and Ted Cruz (R - TX), who continue to insist the 2020 election results were fraudulent. When confronted with their repeated untruths, these three (and others like them) only assert that the "woke Left" is trying to erode their freedom of speech, their diversity of opinion. A lie is not a "diverse opinion," it is a lie. These individuals understand the difference.

They cannot claim lack of intelligence or education as a basis for their faulty reasoning. Stefanik graduated from Harvard College in 2006. Ted Cruz attended Princeton undergrad and went to Harvard Law School, and Josh Hawley attended Stanford and then Yale Law School. After years of legal study, they do understand that the election was fair and the results were accurate, but they have chosen to evade the truth and insist otherwise. Why? Hawley and Cruz have presidential ambitions and covet Trump's tens of millions of voters. I don't know the reasoning behind Stefanik's messaging. Usually the degradation comes down to money or power, an old but true story.

My years at Harvard introduced me to many different types of intelligent people.  As someone who grew up middle class and ignorant of anything outside my narrow stripe of experience, I would guess that most of my classmates were more wealthy than I. Certainly those who had spent four years at an expensive prep school were on a different plane. It was shocking to find that intelligent people make bad decisions, can be as cruel or cold as any uneducated individual (if not moreso). Credentials do not equal conscience; that became apparent as I learned about social justice.

Harvard introduced me to issues of social justice and inspired a need to act. I took a class with Robert Coles, the eminent child psychiatrist, on moral development. Coles highlighted the racial and socioeconomic inequalities that plague our society and disproportionately affect children, and in my section of the class I visited the projects of Cambridge and a hotel on the edge of Boston where families without homes paid day-to-day. Prior to taking Coles' class I was as ignorant of those living situations and inequalities as I was about wealth. At Harvard I met both the wealthy and powerful and those our nation had sacrificed in pursuit of those same false gods. 

There were many examples of good work. I coordinated the Big Brother - Big Sister program in Quincy House and observed as one of my housemates became a true big brother to his assigned "little brother." They have celebrated all major life events together for the past thirty years. Many of my class became public servants: doctors, nurses, teachers, professors, journalists, authors, scientists and parents who seek to improve our society, our country. Like most Americans, we wrestled with the hard truths and tried to avoid the easy lie.

The purpose of this blog is not to condemn myself, my classmates or anyone who has obtained an Ivy League or other college degree. But it's worth pointing out that many of the politicians currently trying to co-opt President Trump's populist base are not "of the people," but of the credentialed elite. Their intelligence renders this hypocrisy "breathtaking," to borrow a phrase from Mimi Swartz. These individuals know the election was fair and the results were accurate, but they do not care - they want the following that comes from "standing up to the elites" and they hope that voters forget their own highly credentialed (and expensive) backgrounds. I suspect they missed Coles' class on moral development.

Major donors and the business community as a whole seem to recognize this base hypocrisy and the dangerous and destabilizing violence that it presages. It's now obvious that a fair number of our elected officials would risk destroying our country if they got to rule over its ashes. Some Trump voters ignore the fact that inequalities would deepen in those ashes, that lives would certainly change, but not for the better. It's time for those of us who know the truth to declare it. The First Amendment is not an excuse to spray untruths, threats, and planned violence across our country, and a thug in a sharp suit with an Ivy League degree is still a thug.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Capitol is Breached

Yesterday's blog post about sedition was both prescient and completely ignorant of the true danger escalating in Washington DC. After a morning rally in which 45 incited his followers to march on the Capitol, they did exactly that while he slunk away to hide safely in the White House. Four people died as the mob attacked the Capitol building, breaking windows, vandalizing offices, posing for selfies in the Senate chamber, and attempting to frighten our Congressional Representatives into failing to certify the 2020 election results for Biden.

Let's ponder that again: four people died. They died because our president is deranged, focused solely on the "impossible" fact the he lost the election. Sixty court cases, numerous recounts, and endless conversations have proven the legitimacy of the election results, but this narcissistic sociopath cannot believe the truth. His refusal to accept it, his promulgation of endless lies claiming fraud, claiming victory, lead directly to the loss of life yesterday. He should be removed from office under the 25th amendment to the Constitution, or - failing that - he should be impeached so that he can never run for office again.

There are many questions in the minds of Americans today. How were the Capitol police and the National Guard not prepared for the riot and the violence that was predicted, even promised, on social media? Why were troops in battle gear stationed on the Capitol steps for the Black Lives Matter protests but nowhere to be found during the riot of a (mostly white) mob of armed and armored Trumpists? Were they simply unprepared, did Trump and his minions refuse to protect the Capitol, were there insiders on the force? Certainly no one has been arrested, no charges leveled, no consequences given. The coup attempt is both unbelievable and completely predictable, based on Trump's endless assaults on our democracy.

Congress went back to work last night after the chambers of both Houses were cleaned, and we hope, sanitized. They voted to confirm the election results and declare Biden - Harris the incoming president and vice-president. Though leadership of both Houses claimed unity and urged unanimity, still six senators protested the vote counts. They are: Tommy Tuberville (AL), Roger Marshall (KS), John Kennedy (LA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS), Josh Hawley (MO), and Ted Cruz (the embarassment of Harvard University), from Texas. Remember their names, remember their cowardly, treasonous actions in supporting a president who cares nothing for our government or for us. There were also 121 representatives who objected to the results, and a complete list is here. They should be reprimanded, even expelled, as they failed to uphold their constitutional responsibilities and pandered to Trump's base for their own self-interest.

We must rally in support of our incoming administration and fight back against the selfish and corrupt play for power by Trump and his mob. Be vigilant, be strong, be aware of what transpires in the people's House, in the people's government. We ask our elected officials to correct the wrongs levied by Trump and his minions and to stand strong against the conspiracy theories generated by forces of hate and ignorance, and we stand behind them.

*Update on January 8: A Capitol police officer has died from wounds inflicted by rioters, bringing the total death toll to five. US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund has resigned, as has Sergeant at Arms of the Senate, Michael Stenger. The FBI are seeking help from social media and from citizens to identify rioters from photos, as many were allowed to leave the scene.