Use gratitude to refill your glass

It is not difficult to imagine the vast number of people who are feeling darkness, desolation, disgust and despondency in their lives these days.  We are battling a once in a century world-wide pandemic which has infected millions and will likely snuff out the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americas by the time it is over…if it is ever over.  We are living, or perhaps just surviving, in an era of hyper-partisan political rancor that has well-meaning people wondering why they should even bother to vote for politicians whose overall approval ratings and trust are lower than the proverbial used car salesman.  It is a time when we are witnessing the resurgence of racial enmity, division and violence that begs the question about just how far have we actually come as a civil society and what became of the inspiring words Emma Lazarus composed for the base of the Statue of Liberty?  And it is a year when prosperity has turned to poverty for millions of people who have lost their livelihood, their ability to feed, clothe and shelter themselves and their families and who understandably doubt if and when their personal recovery will ever occur.

Simon Sinek, a British-born American author and motivational speaker, says “People who wonder whether the glass is half empty or half full miss the point. The glass is refillable.”

So, the question must be asked, how full is your glass and what are you doing to refill it?

We all face challenging times.  Most of us are confronted by the ugliness that we see on cable news or the front page of our local newspaper.  Others of us face our own difficulties in our personal lives because of economic stress, family tensions, workplace issues and a myriad of other doubts, disputes and demons.

Those who are inveterate optimists would describe their life’s glass as half full.  While the pessimists among us see their glass as half empty.  But if Simon Sinek is right and our glass is truly refillable then the question for each of us is how do we fill it to overflowing?   Perhaps the tap that needs to be opened widely is the one marked attitude.  But not just an attitude that helps shape our frame of mind or our disposition.  What can fill our glasses to the brim is an attitude of gratitude.

How then, in the face of all the burdens we bear, do we become grateful?

The place to start is by acknowledging that however difficult life seems to be for so many of us, if we could be completely honest, we would admit that we really have a multitude of blessings in our lives.  If we have clothes to wear, a roof over our heads, protection from the elements, food on our table, those who care for and about us and in turn those we care for and about, relative health of body, mind and spirit and access to medical care when needed then we need only call to mind those who lack some, or worse yet, all of these blessings.

If the pandemic has curtailed the activities we enjoy and the gatherings we long to take part in then we need only think about those who stand at busy intersections asking for a handout so they may eat and drink and who may not have another soul in their lives that will embrace them at the end of the day.  If we are quick to anger at the way our politics has seemed to devolve into a back alley brawl then we need only to think about those in countries where there are no ballots, no polling places and no opportunity to freely choose leaders to represent them.  If we are disgusted by the way the marginalized are treated by being caged, beaten and too often killed then we need only think about how we can use our own privilege to stand up and stand for those who are mistreated and brutalized.

No matter how tough we think we have it, it is a rare person who who would want to trade places with those living on the margins.  And our places are by and large good, safe and comfortable.

If we pause to get in touch with the way our lives have been blessed and the many things we have reason to be grateful for it should cause us to ask ourselves how then do we use our attitude of gratitude to do something positive that will keep our glasses full and overflowing?  As the poet wrote: “let me count the ways.”

Selfless acts of giving back to others are the best way to demonstrate how gratitude can be actualized.  When gratitude is expressed in ways that heal it is as much a gift to the helper as to those helped.  And it definitely refills the glass from half to full.

There are so many ways to connect with others and to give to others.  Religious institutions like synagogues, churches and mosques have active programs of outreach to the community on behalf of those in need. Find one that fits your beliefs.  Faith based organizations such as Arizona Jews for Justice, Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services, Islamic Social Services Association offer opportunities to volunteer through their social justice programs and charitable initiatives.  Find one whose work motivates you.  And countless secular organizations exist in every community to provide relief to those who are hungry, homeless, imprisoned, looking for a new homeland, those who are abused, neglected, under-educated, and those facing more challenges than can be listed.  Find one and step up to join in their work.

So, what does one do?  Take one step and then another and before long you will find yourself blazing your own path of giving, sharing and loving motivated by your own sense of gratitude and with appreciation for all of your blessings.  Your gifts will be returned to you multi-fold.  You will feel satisfaction, gratification and pure gratitude for your ability to lift others up.  It will nourish your soul and definitely fill your glass.  And even though your life may not be perfect and despite the many things that understandably cast a dark shadow on your view of the world, the act of giving to others will cause the sun to shine a little more brightly and help you redefine what is truly important.

If you think a small act of kindness can’t change the world then you should think about the Starfish Story.  Whether you’ve heard it before and would benefit from being reminded of it again or even if you have never heard the story, I encourage you to heed the lesson of this beautiful little parable.

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

We would all do well to be guided by the words of theologian John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.

So, how is your glass?  Half empty?  Half Full?  No matter, your glass is designed to be refilled.  And gratitude may be the best way to refill it.

How I spent my COVID summer vacation

As an elementary school age child I remember one of the first assignments we were given when we returned to class in September.  We were directed to write a composition, something today we would call an essay, on the subject “How I spent my summer vacation”.  Since we all lived in a beach resort and few if any of our families actually went on a summer getaway, our compositions all pretty much read the same.

Like most of my classmates, mine would contain the usual remembrances of our 10-week hiatus from school.  Daily trips to the beach; nighttime visits to the town’s iconic amusement park; backyard barbecues; taking in a few Red Sox games with Dad; and a host of other summer pastimes typical for a kid living in a seaside community.

As I think about writing an adult version of such an essay reflecting on the Summer of 2020 the theme and tone would be quite different.  My Summer of COVID was spent in near isolation.  I ventured out rarely and then just to go to a doctor appointment or to the grocery to re-provision the kitchen and pantry.  There were no restaurant trips.  The only interaction with others was in the virtual world of Zoom or via social media platforms, phone and email.  As I think about my Summer of COVID I’m reminded of the summers of my youth and the popular black and white television series, The Twilight Zone.  After all, this summer could have been the stuff of an excellent episode for the show’s creator Rod Serling. I’ve been holding on to the wish that the Summer of COVID would eventually turn out to be either a bad dream or a science fiction story.  But of course neither would be true.

The Summer of COVID was filled with the daily death and infection counts from the global pandemic that was killing people in every corner of the world.  The ever-present counter on the CNN screen was tallying the death toll like the tote board of a dystopian telethon.

Newscasters brought us stories of senseless murders of black Americans at the hands and knees of those who were otherwise sworn to serve and protect.  And while the vast majority of them honored their oaths with distinction too many of their fellow officers snuffed out too many black lives, each of which mattered.

This summer we mourned the passing of the field marshals and foot soldiers of the civil rights movement at a time when their voices and leadership would be needed more than ever.  The deaths of Rev. Joseph Lowery, Rev. C.T. Vivian and Rep. John Lewis extinguished the lights lit by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  And with the loss of those iconic human rights leaders the nation would wonder what new voices would replace their silenced advocacy.

We watched as millions of everyday men and women filled the nation’s streets in peaceful protests to stand for justice and equality only to be beaten and gassed not seen since the 60’s.  Peaceful protesters found their cause hijacked by firebomb throwing looters who blended into the crowds making it impossible to tell the honorable from the deplorable.  In the end, all were painted with the same brush of racism and violence by far too many local law authorities and federal troops.

When we ran out of brutal beatings and killings of people of color we turned our attention to the ugliest political discourse and behavior of our lifetimes.  The venomous spewings of many of the nation’s highest elected officials and their wingmen and women felt like wrecking balls were constantly swinging at the structures of our democracy.

Our economy became one of the costliest victims of the Summer of COVID.  Our unemployment lines reminded us of the lines at depression era soup kitchens.  50 million people lost their jobs or were furloughed.  Food banks saw lines of cars that stretched for miles with people who used to drop off donations but who were now looking for a box of food to get them through the week.  Countless families and individuals lived in fear of eviction and foreclosure.

Migrant families and asylum seekers became the target of Gestapo-like squads of Federal agents who found new sport in separating children as young as one-year old from their families and caging little ones like animals in squalid conditions.

The Summer of COVID created cottage industries pedaling the necessary supplies that we were either mandated to have or wanted to buy because it would save our lives.  Face masks, face shields, nitrile surgical gloves, hand sanitizer and toilet paper was on everyone’s shopping lists but these essentials were in short supply and even if available they came at an increased price.  Grocery stores limited the purchase of meat, cleaning supplies and other staples.

Retail stores were shuttered along with bars, restaurants, gyms, hair and nail salons.  We became a society dependent on home delivery from Amazon, Walmart, and other retailers.  And local restaurants could feed us only by home delivery or curbside pickup.

Even as the summer was only half over parents had no idea how their children would be taught when schools were supposed to re-open.  In person?  Online? A combination of both?  No one knew for sure and the anxiety of families was off the chart.

Working remotely from home, once considered a reward for diligent and faithful employees was now the way in which much of the American work force would navigate to their office.

Worshipers could not congregate in Churches, Synagogues or Mosques. Their only ability to join in communal prayer and connection was from their home watching a livestream on their computer or television.

This was the Summer of COVID and Labor Day, the traditional end of the summer season, will not bring an end to all of this.  It will extend into the holidays we celebrate in November and December.  And we may even be denied the pleasure of sports to distract us from our troubles.  It is uncertain what the fate of college and professional football will be.  The shortened baseball season may not even be able to complete its shortened schedule.

These are the low lights of the Summer of COVID and my remembrances of how I spent my COVID summer vacation.  It was and continues to be a grim and worrisome time for all of us.  But the human spirit still has a way of fighting back against evil like the hoped-for vaccine that will eventually fight off COVID.

Despite all of the darkness in what should be the sunniest time of the year we still find ways to prevail.  We still find ways to be of help to our friends, family and neighbors.  We still find ways to make the best of terrible circumstances.  We still look out for ourselves and those we care about and even those unknown to us.  And most of us work hard to find ways from sinking into the depths of depression and self-pity for the losses and inconveniences we experience.  But sadly not all of us.

The lesson of the Summer of COVID is to find ways of being grateful for the blessings we enjoy even in times of great challenge and difficulty.  We also need to remind ourselves that even at a time of scarcity and loss there is still much that we can give to soften the pain of others.

I learned that lesson in my childhood when our home was ravaged twice in thirteen months by flood.  We were taken in and cared for by our neighbors.  They helped ensure that we would weather the storm even though the actual storm had passed.  And that is the lesson that has been embedded in me through my entire life.  You see it all the time in natural disasters. You see it in times of unimaginable violence and mass killings.  You see the indomitable power and strength that can be offered to those who are suffering even by those whose own struggles are real.

The Summer of COVID has been one of the most devastating periods any of us can remember and certainly one we wish to never experience again.  But it was not without its lessons and it has taught us something about ourselves.  We have overcome.  We can overcome.  We shall overcome.

Gratitude for what we have in our lives far exceeds the despair we might feel for any sense of loss we may experience.  An attitude of gratitude can be a soothing balm for the wounds of a broken spirit or troubled soul.  But as with most medicines, gratitude only can reduce our pain if we make use of it.

So, my adult version of the iconic school child composition How I Spent My Summer Vacation is complete.  The Summer of COVID was no ordinary summer vacation.  But then we have discovered that we don’t have to be ordinary victims either.

Should a business suffer from the sins of the founder?

I’m not a biblical scholar but there are certain iconic phrases that most of us have heard even if we are not able to cite Chapter and Verse.  One of those familiar phrases is: The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons.

Clergy and academicians have discussed and debated the meaning of those words.  Not being either one I will not attempt to place my own meaning on that passage.  But I would like to pose a question as a variation on the theme for the purpose of this discussion: Should a business suffer from the sins of the founder?

I ask this question because in our hyper partisan political environment at the actions of at least one enormously successful nonagenarian has been criticized for his political contributions.  While that may be fair, is it also fair to criticize and even boycott the company he and his partner were responsible for building into an industry leader?

Bernie Marcus, the 91-year-old self-made billionaire is a co-founder of Home Depot, the nation’s largest home improvement retailer.  Marcus has been vilified by progressives for having donated more than $7 million to the Trump campaign.  While that is certainly his prerogative it seems as though Marcus’ political contributions have led many Home Depot customers to make their purchases at its leading competitor, Lowes and other hardware and home improvement stores.  And that shift in consumer loyalty is certainly the prerogative of Home Depot’s customers.

Is it fair to punish Home Depot for the political donations of one of its founders who retired from the company in 2002 and who no longer has any operational control over the firm?  Is it fair to conclude that Bernie Marcus’ political preferences and the way he uses his huge fortune is necessarily a reflection of the way Home Depot uses its resources to support candidates?

More about that in a moment but first let’s consider how the behaviors, attitudes and philosophies of some business founders have affected consumer loyalty.

  • John Schnatter the founder and public face of pizza chain Papa John’s used the N-word on a conference call. Schnatter is no longer associated with the company.
  • Carl Karcher the founder of the Carl’s Jr. hamburger chain was a supporter of the John Birch Society and he supported banning LGBT people from serving in California public schools. Karcher died in 2008.
  • Chick-fil-A, founded by S. Truett Cathy, has a long history of donating to charities with anti-LGBTQ stances. Cathy died in 2014 but his family continues to control the company.
  • David Green the founder of the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby is strongly anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ and his company faced controversy for its one-time practice of excluding Jewish holiday items from its stores, a problem made even worse when a Hobby Lobby clerk notoriously told a Jewish customer “we don’t cater to your people”.

When we look at Papa John’s and Carl’s Jr. and compare attitudes of those companies with that of Hobby Lobby we need to recognize that the founders of those fast food chains are no longer a part of the companies they founded.  Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A continue to be led by its founder of the founder’s family.  So the question should be asked did the controversies associated with John Schlatter and Carl Karcher end once they no longer in charge?  And does Hobby Lobby’s founder who still controls his arts and crafts empire and Chick-fil-A’s Cathy family continue to hold to long-standing divisive attitudes?  And the provocative question facing their consumers is this – is it is fair to punish any business with damning social media calls for boycotts without having answers to those questions?

Let’s return to the question of Home Depot and its co-founder Bernie Marcus, one of the largest contributors to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.  That support has created considerable chatter on social media with calls for Home Depot customers to find other places to shop for home improvement products.  Is Home Depot suffering from the (alleged) sins of its founder?  And if so is it fair?  And what is the responsibility of consumers to look at the way a company behaves today 18 years after the retirement of a founder whose political contributions have become such a divisive issue?

There are many ways to pull the curtain back and peek into the political contributions of public corporations like Home Depot.  One of the most authoritative sources is www.OpenSecrets.org The Center for Responsive Politics  https://tinyurl.com/y8f7vnbyClick on that link for an inside view into the support Home Depot has provided for political parties and their candidates.  As you look at this data it is important to note that the company itself did not donate, rather the money came from the organization’s PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate family members. Organizations themselves cannot contribute to candidates and party committees. Totals include subsidiaries and affiliates.

So what does the report tell us?  Like so many large corporations Home Depot has spread its political contributions to BOTH parties, to Republican AND Democratic candidates up and down the ticket.  The data invoked the image of a casino gambler who stands by the roulette table and places chips on BOTH black and red – the ultimate definition of hedging one’s bets.  No matter where the little white ball lands the gambler will win something even though he may have also lost some chips in his quest to become a victor.

Let’s look at some of the details.  Thus far in 2020 Home Depot’s political contributions for Congressional candidates shows that 52.66% went to Republicans; 40.66% went to Democrats; and 6.68% to others.  Among all Federal candidates the company contributed to Republicans 54.11% of the time and 45.89% of the time their support went to Democrats.

Thus far this year Home Depot donated $39,873 to Joe Biden and $37,657 to Donald Trump.  They’ve given $219,237 to the Republican Senatorial and Congressional Committees while contributing $54, 608 to the Democratic Senatorial and Congressional Campaign Committees.

The moral of the story, such that you can use the word moral when discussing political contributions, is this.  Taking one isolated fact and trying to logically extend it to create a pattern of behavior may not always be prudent.  Yes, Home Depot’s track record does indicate a tilt toward Republican candidates.  But first, it is hardly breaking news that big business tilts right.  Second, nearly half of its political contributions went to Democratic candidates.  So this is by definition not a company with such a distaste for progressive campaigns that it has given exclusively to conservatives.

Contrast this with the strictly ideological donations of some of the other companies I described which definitely have no balance in their support for issues and candidates that do not agree with their philosophy.  The fact that certain companies have held hard lined views about abortion, LGBTQ rights and other divisive social issues when the reins of control are either still held by the founder or have been transferred to other family members who vow to honor the founder’s legacy makes them inviting targets for consumer backlash.  But when a founder is no longer in control and the new generation of leaders choose to take the company in another direction should those new leaders bear the burden of carrying the stigma or shouldering the blame for the decisions of those who came before them?

What is one to do then?  Make thoughtful, insightful and data driven decisions about where to spend your money.  Don’t assume that what was a distasteful practice by a company at one point in its history is necessarily the way that business continues to behave and believe.  Ask questions.  Do your research.  Use your own process for vetting.  Don’t believe everything you read or hear.  Facts are facts.  Use more time deciding on the merits of your consumer choices.  Be careful about spreading false or distorted information which can harm the reputation of otherwise good and decent businesses whose employees pay the ultimate sacrifice for a boycotted business.

Be a responsible consumer and take time to find out where the true north is on the ethical and moral compass of businesses in sectors such as agriculture, food, cosmetics; clothing products whose production is cruel to animals; companies that employ slave labor, child labor or unfair labor practices; companies whose production involves environmental or health degradation; products involved with oppression; companies that discriminate based on age, gender, sexual preference or race.

We are living in a time where technology that is at our fingertips can reveal information about businesses and politicians that enable us to make wise choices.  Use that technology and those resources to choose wisely.

A lethal national disease that no vaccine can cure

Americans are waiting eagerly for a life-saving vaccine to address the scourge of the Coronavirus epidemic which has claimed more than 125,000 lives and which has turned our world upside down.  We know that vaccines have been responsible for the successful treatment, and in some cases, the eradication of deadly and debilitating diseases.

Evidence exists that the Chinese employed smallpox inoculation as early as 1000 CE. In 1796 Edward Jenner’s early innovations eventually resulted in the eradication of smallpox.  Scientists worked for years to develop vaccines which liberated us from the effects of rabies, diphtheria, tetanus, anthrax, cholera, plague, typhoid, tuberculosis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella and other devastating health threats.

For all of these scientific successes there still remain other life-threatening conditions like AIDS in desperate need of a vaccine.  Though the work continues our hopes remain high that successful vaccines will one day be available for every disease, disorder and condition that kill so many of us each year.

And yet Americans are afflicted with a rapidly spreading disease for which no vaccine will ever be discovered.  A disease so insidious that it appears in the open for all to see as well as in the darkest of private places where it spreads virulently hiding in plain sight.  A disease that sometimes kills bodies but always kills souls.  And it is a disease that cannot be found in medical journals nor studied or taught in medical schools.  A disease which is discussed every day in homes, offices, places of play, places of worship and in our varied media outlets.

We all know about it.  Most of us recognize it as a genuine threat.  But few want to address it for what it is or even name it.  But I’ll name it right here and right now.  This dreadful disease is ISM.  Not a name you immediately recognize but with some quick prompts you’ll know the various versions of ISM.

Racism…Ageism…Ableism…Heterosexism…Misogynism…Sexism… Classism…Vigilantism…Antisemitism…these are just a few of our country’s underlying conditions of hate and discrimination that should be recognized as a national public health epidemic that is eating away at the body of our republic.  They are as toxic and lethal as any infectious disease.  They are slowly eating away at our values and our morals.  And yet they are not to be found in any catalog of diseases or conditions physicians and clinicians use to identify and classify threats to our health.

It’s not as though we haven’t passed laws and even amended our Constitution to attempt to ensure equal rights for all.  In fact we’ve done it a lot and we keep on doing it but somehow we haven’t been able to eradicate all of the ISM’s that afflict us and which cause so much pain and even death.

  • In 1863 we enacted the Emancipation Proclamation and two years later in 1865 we passed the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery.
  • In 1920 we passed the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote.
  • In 1964 we passed the Civil Rights Act and the next year in 1965 the Voting Rights Act was enacted.
  • Title IX became law in 1972 assuring that there would be no discrimination based on sex in any Federally funded activity.
  • The Fair Housing Act passed in 1988.
  • In 1990 the Americans With Disabilities Act became the law of the land.

For all of these and other noble attempts which Congress has passed to protect the civil rights of all Americans and eliminate discrimination we continue to see these the rights and privileges bestowed on every citizen shredded every day.  The laws haven’t wiped out the ISM’s for one reason and one reason only – you cannot legislate morality, ethical behavior, and inclusion.  Laws alone will not wipe out prejudice, bias, bigotry and intolerance.  It is just not possible to punish people into submission and force them to embrace fairness, equality and justice for all.  You cannot legislate morality.

ISM’s have been a divisive disease afflicting our nation from the time of our founding.  And as America is about to celebrate its 244th birthday it is not enough to say what has been said so often: “We have problems and challenges but we have made so much progress.”  That may be true but it is awfully much like damning the problem with faint enthusiasm.

This year as we celebrate our Independence Day holiday, instead of igniting fireworks we should commit to igniting an unprecedented spirit of activism and advocacy toward the goal of wiping out the insidious disease that are the ISM’s spreading virulently throughout our society.

We know that unlike so many other diseases, these ISM’s are not congenital.  We are not born with hatred, discrimination, or bias.  These are learned conditions.  They are taught and modeled by family, friends and neighbors.  And worse yet, the worst behaviors and instincts pour out of the words and actions of our nation’s elected leaders.

The diseases that are the ISM’s that infect our society will not be conquered by a vaccine, or therapeutics, or surgery.  They can’t be prayed away.  And they won’t be eliminated by laws, rules and policies.  Only through an active, consistent, pervasive, and exhaustive effort to change our national ethos will we make the progress we need.

The events of 2020 be they political, economic, race-related, or resulting from the pandemic will hopefully take us to a national tipping point which, like most critically important causes, makes advances when Americans of good faith and good will unite around an agenda.  The progress we have made throughout our history by grassroots activism helped free the slaves, enabled women to vote, broke barriers to employment, education and housing and moved the needle closer toward the goal of making this a more perfect union.

Let each of us ignite the fire in our bellies and the justice in our hearts to conquer all the ISM’s that keep us from being a healthy America.

Police Departments Need Less Brawn and More Brain

Words have profund meaning both positive and negative. So when I read that nine members of the Minneapolis City Council on Sunday announced they intend to defund and dismantle the city’s police department I was both puzzled and disturbed.

I spent most of my career in the business of marketing and branding so I know how easy it is to oversimplify both a public relations problem as well as a substantive problem with the core values of an organization. I don’t want to fall into the trap of oversimplifying the real issues that the city of Minneapolis needs to deal with with respect to its police department. There is no doubt that the Minneapolis Police Department, like so many others, needs significant evaluation and assessment by an independent and objective entity. Such an analysis will no doubt reveal many systems, policies and practice changes that will need to be instituted. And the most challenging of all of these will be a change of organizational culture which for any business or institution is often the most difficult of all the challenges to deal with.

I can’t help but think that the multitude of problems with the American law enforcement sector should at least include the way in which they identify themselves as systems and personnel. The word POLICE is often defined as “the civil force of a national or local government, responsible for the prevention and detection of crime and the maintenance of public order”. When used as a verb, POLICE means “maintaining law and order”. Maybe the law enforcement field needs to abandon the use of the word POLICE and begin thinking about themselves as being in the PUBLIC SAFETY business.

While POLICE certainly encompasses the notion of PUBLIC SAFETY too often and for too many it carries with it the idea that it is a group of armed, frequently macho, night club wielding forces rather than a collection of public servants who walk and drive America’s streets to do what their vehicles often say: “to serve and protect”. If more people believed that the POLICE were there to help them in the same way that FIREFIGHTERS and other first responders do then maybe the image of POLICE would turn from being a menacing and threatening band of civil militia to a group of women and men who are committed to helping maintain public safety… “to serve and protect”.

Perhaps our law enforcement organizations would do well to have more nerds and less knuckles. Officers who are as capable of using their brains as their brawn. It’s a choice and police need to choose wisely.

Community policing, as important a concept as it is, is not new. It is what policing was about when cops walked the neighborhood beat. Admittedly that became more difficult to do as urban communities gave way to suburban development in the post WWII period. But when cops lose touch with those they are supposed to serve the idea of community policing, the process of identifying community problems by police officers in co-operation with the community, is a slogan rather than a core mission value.

Maybe in part it is at least a little bit about branding. And if the POLICE brand is tarnished then maybe it is time to re-brand. So don’t defund police departments and certainly don’t dismantle them. Instead, reallocate the budgets of law enforcement organizations so that sworn officers and associated civilian staff can focus more on improving the safety of their communities and dealing with the systemic root causes of crime and civil unrest. And by all means, don’t expect that even the best run departments in the country can effectively do their jobs well unless and until the there is an equal commitment to bring about change in the judicial system, the way in which we incarcerate people, and the social safety net systems that have been torn to shreds allowing fragile and vulnerable people to fall through.

There is much to be grateful for in the American law enforcement system but it can’t be fixed by adding more testosterone and muscle. Law enforcement leaders need to think about ways in which they can be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Every American wants to live in a safe environment so let’s stop thinking about the inherent threats that police too often represent and start thinking more about the way officers devoted to public safety can be welcomed to their communities when they are seen as helping not hurting those they serve.

We Need Courageous Voices Now

I grew up as a very precocious child of the 1950’s.  I was as comfortable in the company of adults as I was with my peers.  And I seldom shrank from conversations where I often held a contrary point of view.  I would frequently push back against my family or their friends spoke and acted on the wrong side of social justice.  I was seldom shied away from calling out those whose language or points of view I found offensive.   I guess you could say I felt comfortable speaking truth to power, a Quaker concept first coined in the mid 50’s as a non-violent political tactic employed by dissidents.  I didn’t know about this phrase at the time and I certainly never thought of myself as a dissident.  I simply behaved instinctively to take a position or stand up for a principle I felt strongly about.

Throughout my childhood my father would often try to caution me from speaking up or speaking out saying “don’t be a Nachshon”.  He wasn’t a scholarly man and I have no doubt that he was unaware of what it meant to be a Nachshon or where that phrase came from.  He must have heard it from others and placed his own meaning on those words.  I have no doubt that he believed being a Nachshon was a pot-stirrer or a trouble maker.  I’m sure he had no understanding that Nachshon was actually an Israelite slave in Egypt who, together with 600,000 recently un-slaved Jews fled Egypt and reached the Red Sea.  With Pharaoh’s chariots behind them and the sea in front of them it was Nachshon who summoned all of the faith and courage he could muster to enter the sea only to watch the waters part allowing the Israelites to cross to the other side where they would watch as Pharaoh’s army drowned as the parted waters came together again.

Nachshon

Nachshon was no pot-stirrer or troublemaker.  He was a humble man who exhibited extraordinary courage to save a nation.  I wish my father had understood the difference which I would only come to learn about later in life.  Only when I discovered what being a Nachshon meant was I able to think of his admonition differently.  Only then did I realize that I was exhibiting the slightest glimpse of courage as I took a firm stance for what I believed in and what I thought was right.

The world has always depended on the Nachshons who, in every generation, have fought injustice and behaved courageously to do and say what was right at the time by speaking truth to power.

America has had countless Nachsons from the time of the nation’s founding, through all of its battles and wars, through times of economic calamity and when the fate of the democracy was imperiled.  Each of them, in their own way, has helped save the nation.  Sometimes from outside aggressors and often even from within.  That courage comes from many places.  One’s own sense of right versus wrong…good versus bad…a moral compass that always points to true north.  Those who have taken various oaths of allegiance have pledged themselves to “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

In good times, the oath is a lovely sentiment.  But in times of strife, when our democracy is on the line, the oath is the very embodiment of the courage required to use everything in our individual and collective power to protect and preserve the nation.

America has been blessed with millions of courageous heroes.  Some wore stars on their shoulders…some wore stripes on their sleeves…some have been known to us all…more were only known to their family, friends and comrades in arms.

And from time to time, courage has been seen and heard in the halls of Congress.

In 1950, as McCarthyism began to divide Congress and America, Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican from Maine, issued her “Declaration of Conscience,” asking for bipartisan cooperation to protect national security. “It is high time that we stopped thinking politically as Republicans and Democrats about elections,” she said, “and started thinking patriotically as Americans about national security based on individual freedom.”  Senator Smith and others in Congress put their own reputations and careers on the line to put a stake in the heart of McCarthyism, a courageous action that helped preserve our freedoms and democratic way of life.

Margaret Chase Smith

Two decades later, on March 21, 1973, then White House Counsel John Dean, told President Richard Nixon that as a result of the cover ups associated with the Watergate break-in that there was a “cancer growing on the presidency” and that if it was not cut out it would kill Nixon’s presidency.  Dean’s willingness to testify before Congress about what he knew, and what he himself was implicated in, contributed to the end of the Nixon Presidency.

John Dean

The end, of course came, on August 7, 1974, when Republican leaders, Sen. Barry Goldwater, House Minority Leader John Rhodes, and Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, R-Pa., made it clear to the embattled Nixon that he faced all-but-certain impeachment, conviction and removal from office in connection with the Watergate scandal.  The next evening Nixon addressed the nation and announced his resignation.

Goldwater et al

Courageous heroes are people who put others before themselves. Courageous people have good moral ethics.  They do things for the sake of being good, and not just a means to an end or to be rewarded for their good deeds.  Those with courage are willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.  They are like Nachshon, often a humble person who reaches within themselves to save their nation and their way of life.

Today, America is at a crossroads.  Will we take a courageous path that will lead to the preservation of our democratic way of life or will fear of retribution overtake us as we succumb to the lesser angels who would take us on a path of havoc and morale implosion?

Crossroads of Fear & Courage

Who will be today’s Nachsohn?  Who will be brave enough to tell us that our nation’s values are in jeopardy?  Who will show the courage necessary to help stop us from what might be an inevitable future of isolation, intolerance, divisiveness, and hate?   Who from places of power are the unlikely voices who will speak truth to power?  Who will have the courage to do what it takes to bring an end to a regime that is endangering our democratic way of life.  Who will do what it takes that will help us hear the echo of Gerald Ford’s words when he said “our long national nightmare is over”?  When will the best interests of the nation become more important than political self-preservation?

We urgently need that courageous voice.  We need a modern day Nachshon and we need him or her now.  Nothing less than the ethos of our nation, the characteristic spirit of our culture, our beliefs and our aspirations depends on it.

Elijah Cummings

Dancing with angels

America’s Third Civil Rights Movement

Proclamation 95, better known as The Emancipation Proclamation, was a presidential proclamation and executive order issued by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. It changed the federal legal status of more than 3 million enslaved people in the designated areas of the South from slave to free.  The signing of the Proclamation was the pivotal event that helped to hasten an end to the four year Civil War which cost the lives of 620,000 and thus ended America’s First Civil Rights Movement.

Emancipation Proclamation

On July 2, 1964, more than 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, President Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark civil rights and US labor law known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  Four years later and just seven days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Johnson signed a second Civil Rights Act of 1968, which provided equal housing opportunities regardless of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

JBJ and MLK 1964

Before equal rights could be granted to virtually all Americans, America’s Second Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s would claim the lives of innocents and activists alike.  Among them were Emmett Till; Medgar Evers; Eldridge Cleaver; four little girls in a church basement in Birmingham; Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner; and Martin Luther King Jr.

Today we are witnessing the first skirmishes of America’s Third Civil Rights Movement…the fight for the lives of school children, people of color, and potentially anyone walking the streets of any U.S. city whether large or small.  This new Civil Rights Movement is not about equal opportunities in the labor force, accessible housing, integrated schools, or other public accommodations.  This new battle is not about universal access to seats on a bus or at a lunch counter or which drinking fountain may be used.

Instead this new fight for equality derives from America’s seminal document, the Declaration of Independence which speaks of three unalienable rights, the first of which is LIFE.  The founders described the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as having been given to all human beings by their creator and which governments are created to protect.

Life Liberty and Pursuit of HappinessDeclaration of Independence

But the words of the Declaration, though implicitly promising these fundamental rights, ring hollow for the 13,000 Americans who are murdered each year by one of more than 300 million guns in the U.S.  The unalienable right to life is alienated on average 96 times every day when an American is murdered by a gun.  And, of the 96 people killed every day by a gun, seven are children and teens.  On average, 50 women per month are shot to death by an intimate partner.

America’s gun homicide rate is more than 25 times the average of other high-income countries.  An analysis of gun homicide rates in developed countries— those considered “high-income” by the World Bank — found that the United States accounted for 46 percent of the population but 82 percent of the gun deaths

If every person killed by a gun last year avoided being shot and instead they were a passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight it would take nearly 100 planes to accommodate them.  Now imagine that all 100 planes plummeted to earth.  The carnage would be unfathomable.  13,000 murders each year by guns is like five Pearl Harbors or four September 11’s…EVERY YEAR.

None of this data include accidental deaths from guns or suicide by self-inflicted gun shots.  These are murders.  The same robbing of life that befell those lynched, blown up, or killed by other violent means.  And in each case that fundamental and unalienable right to life was violently stripped away.  Each was an infringement of someone’s civil rights.

The plaintiff cries of Enough is Enough are resonating across this country with the loudest coming from America’s youth.  High schoolers have become this generation’s civil rights leaders. They are the brilliant, articulate and passionate voices of what started as a grief stricken protest but which has evolved to a national movement.  The voices of the students from Parkland where the civil rights of 17 students and teachers synced in harmony with student-led sibling marches in more than 800 cities across the globe.

Capitol  March for our Lives - New York Times

What was first thought to be a short-lived protest has grown rapidly to a real movement that has and continues to capture to attention and commitment of millions of everyday people as well as leaders in the highest seats of government, faith leaders, and other celebrities and notables.  And it appears to be a movement that will not soon go away.

March 4 March 10

This third American Civil Rights Movement appears to have an endless supply of fuel to sustain the passion and energy last seen in the 60’s by those who marched for equality or in protest of a war.  We are witnessing the evolution from a moment to a movement.  And as with all movements, change may not come easily, quickly or even completely.  Change comes about incrementally by those who pledge to sustain the movement until voices become victors.

March 5   March 3

The courts have long held that the wrongful death of an innocent by at the hands of a police officer can give rise to charges of a civil rights violation.  The basis would seem to be that the victim has been robbed of the fundamental right to life.  And though infrequently used, this legal oddity was actually first conceived in the Civil War reconstruction in the 1870s as a way to prosecute criminal activity when local authorities either wouldn’t or couldn’t convict someone committing crimes against black people.

Exactly what remedies can be developed to slow or even eliminate the epidemic of murder by firearms is yet to be discovered.  But one thing is certain.  The youth of America have launched a movement and as they will tell anyone who will listen, they’re not going away.

March 1

We’ve seen their faces and heard their passionate pleas.  We feel like we know Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Alfonso Calderon, Sam Zeif, and Delaney Tarr.  But the image of one young girl who spoke at the Washington March for our Lives was the one speech that connected the most famous Civil Rights leader of the modern era with the newest Civil Rights leaders of this generation.

Yolanda Renee King, the nine-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. told the world that her grandfather had a dream that “his four little children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.”  Then little Yolanda shared her dream… “that enough is enough. And that this should be a gun-free world. Period.”

Yolanda

The day before a gunman snuffed out the life of Dr. King, the iconic Civil Rights leader said:  “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.”  The young people who have inherited Dr. King’s zeal and commitment will undoubtedly take this country to the victory lane of America’s third Civil Rights Movement.  They will be the activists whose advocacy will bring about the day when Americans may never again experience the catastrophic death toll caused by guns.  And following Dr. King’s teaching, they will succeed nonviolently but with all of the passion of every Civil Rights leader whose legacy they have inherited.

Knotted gun sculpture

The Day That Cable News Died

We’ve all heard the expression: “The day the music died”.  The date was February 3, 1959.  The place was a field in Clear Lake, Iowa where a small plane carrying music greats Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper fell out of the sky killing all aboard.  It wasn’t literally the death of music.  It wasn’t even really the end of the emerging music genre in which these three young Rock and Roll pioneers excelled.  But it sure felt that way.

The Day the Music Died

Two decades later another pioneer, Ted Turner, launched the Cable News Network with a flourish that would put him atop the news broadcasting industry just like those three music pioneers taken too soon sat atop their trade.

Ted Turner

Turner’s bold idea was to create the first all-news television network in America.  And while it got off to a shaky start, CNN together with its shorter format affiliate CNN Headline News soon became the go to place for late breaking news from their bureaus and correspondents around the world.  If there was a story to be covered or authentic breaking news to be reported you could count on CNN to deliver it to your television.  Turner’s experiment evolved into one of the most dependable sources of immediate journalistic excellence available.  If you wanted to know what was happening in the U.S. or abroad all you needed to do was turn to CNN or its Headline News cohort.

Bernard Shaw

And because imitation is the highest form of flattery, MSNBC came along in 1996 to emulate the Turner model with another 24/7 new cable news channel.  And it too was a respectable source of information both domestic and foreign.  Early anchors like Jodi Applegate, John Gibson and John Siegenthaler brought the nation and the world right into our homes with their world-wide cadre of reporters, photo journalists and producers.

MSNBC

Even through the sordid stained blue dress event that ultimately led to impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton, CNN and MSNBC continued to cover the nation’s and the world’s most important news stories.  In fact from the time they first launched you could always depend on these cable news networks to keep many journalistic balls in the air and juggle a multitude of stories simultaneously.  Cable news was the place to turn for the latest information about:

  • Terrorist attacks
  • Wars
  • Coups
  • Nuclear threats
  • Space exploration
  • Technology and science
  • Medicine and health
  • Popular culture
  • Environmental issues
  • Societal changes
  • and much, much more

Unlike the tragic crash in Clear Lake, Iowa that killed three American music celebrities it’s hard to point to a specific date or event when cable news died.  Oh, I know, it didn’t really die any more than the music died in in 1959.  But it has certainly felt that way.

When did cable news devote virtually its entire broadcast day to the repetitious coverage of politics and the sordid and unseemly events that inevitably grow and multiply like germs in the petri dish of modern American politics?  When did reporters with superb journalistic credentials become talking heads repeating the same narrow story lines over and over again from dawn till dusk and beyond?  Where have assignment editors gone who would have previously ensured that important events would be covered in depth?  When did cable news feel compelled to take the path of false equivalency by having surrogates and spokespersons delivering predictable talking points and over talking their counterpart from the other side? When did Americans thirsty for information about what’s happening in far flung corners of the world feel the need to turn to foreign news sources like the BBC, DW News, Sky News and others?

Death and famine are rampant in the world.  Natural disasters are wreaking havoc and changing lives and landscapes.  Conflicts are raging in more than 20 nations taking thousands of lives but many of those war zones are never discussed on cable news.

Ongoing armed conflicts

News does not always take the form of death, destruction and tragedy.  There are events and happenings going on around the globe that should be celebrated and which will positively change the quality of life for the citizens of the world.  Yet they largely go uncovered by American cable news channels that give us almost nonstop politics.

CNN and MSNBC have drastically reduced their resources for news gathering and reporting.  They have taken what were previously respectable all news channels and turned them into a news version of so many sporting events where the attraction is less about the sport than it is about the carnage caused between competitors.

The music didn’t actually die in that 1959 plane crash.  And the news didn’t really die on a date of less certainty.  But it sure feels that way.

America Needs More Courageous Servant Leaders

Leadership

In October 2015 Pope Frances made his first official visit to the United States as the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church.  Shortly after his departure I published the following commentary about the Pontiff’s visit in which I wrote about his modest charisma and the lessons he taught about the true meaning of servant leadership.

I have thought a lot about this article over the last year as I have watched the human train wreck that is the Trump presidency.  Yesterday’s comments by Donald Trump in which he used vile and racist language to once again show his hate and disdain for black and brown people in the U.S. and throughout the world should be a tipping point for this wholly unfit occupant of the Oval Office.  But it can only serve as a tipping point if we see unprecedented courage from leaders in government, industry, clergy, and the nonprofit sectors who are willing to speak truth to power and condemn with a united voice Trump’s indefensible actions, comments and attitudes.

I could write volumes about what is wrong with a society that would elect a Donald Trump as its President with the full knowledge of his history of misogyny, xenophobia, and racial animus.  Rather than one more commentary on what most enlightened people know to be the problem I thought it would be helpful to offer a possible solution.  And the best way for me to do that is to re-publish my October 2015 commentary about the meaning of and the need for courageous servant leaders to step up and help re-direct the moral compass of the nation.

Here is my commentary written more than two years ago which I believe is as relevant today as when it was first published more than two years ago:

(The following commentary was first published on October 21, 2015)

The security barriers have long been taken down, the Vatican flags and banners have been folded and stored, and the Popemobile and Papal Fiat are garaged waiting to be sold or auctioned to benefit the poor. Pope Francis may be back in Rome, but the lessons he imparted during his first U.S. visit continue to inform and inspire not only the Catholic faithful, but all who had the opportunity to hear and see him.

Pope visit

So what exactly did the pope teach that was neither religious, spiritual, moral nor ethical (which is, after all, what we expect to hear from the head of the Roman Catholic Church)? Simply put, the pontiff taught us through his words and deeds the important lesson of servant leadership. Every organization and institution has a titular or nominal leader, but too few are led by authentic servant leaders as exemplified in the way we got to know Francis in Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

Pope Francis

In his book, “The Culture Engine,” organizational consultant S. Chris Edmonds defines servant leadership as “a person’s dedication to helping others be their best selves at home, work and in their community.”

Edmonds says that all servant leaders share two fundamental beliefs about the people they lead, and engage in five practices that put these beliefs into action. He describes servant leaders as those who believe that:

  • Every person has value and deserves civility, trust and respect;
  • People can accomplish much when inspired by a purpose beyond themselves.
  • According to Edmonds, the five practices of servant leaders include the following:
  • Clarify and reinforce the need for service to others;
  • Listen intently and observe closely;
  • Act as selfless mentors;
  • Demonstrate persistence;
  • Lovingly hold themselves and others accountable for their commitments.

Characteristics of Servant Leaadership

Jeffrey Krames, a Jewish American business author and son of Holocaust survivors, in his book “Lead with Humility: 12 Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis,” offers a practical guide for how any leader can take these same principles to become an authentic and humble leader. Krames sums up the four characteristics that he believes make Pope Francis a model of servant leadership:

  • Be authentic;
  • Advocate for the least among you;
  • Lead with humility;
  • Avoid insularity.

Those who shoulder the important responsibility for selecting and evaluating leaders of communal organizations would do well to measure current or future staff and volunteer leaders to determine if they embody the characteristics and practices of a true servant leader. At the end of the day, it will be genuine servant leaders who do more than lead their organization. Instead, they will contribute to leading an entire community to change for the sake of shared greatness and the common good.

What we saw from Pope Francis during his U.S. visit was the very best example of a quiet, authentic and humble servant leader who offered lessons worthy for us all to follow.

 

I fervently hope that the time may have come when we hear those who are devoted to America’s values that enough is enough.  A time when people of good will and good faith can set aside their self-interest and political agendas to begin to talk more about what’s right and less about who’s right.

Monday is the annual commemoration of the life of the reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It is fitting that we remind ourselves of the words of 19th century clergyman Theodore Parker which were often spoken by Dr. King:  ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’”

But that arc does not bend by itself.  It only bends toward justice guided by the moral compass of courageous servant leaders and not by those who believe that America’s best days are behind her.

Arc of the moral universe

America’s Annus Horribilis

On November 24, 1992 Queen Elizabeth II gave a speech at Guildhall to mark the 40th anniversary of her Accession. In it The Queen referred to recent events as part of an annus horribilis.  In typical understatement The Queen said: “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis.”

Annus horribilis

The unpleasant events which happened to the Royal Family in 1992 included:

  • Prince Andrew, Duke of York would separate from his wife Sarah, Duchess of York.
  • Anne, Princess Royal divorced Captain Mark Phillips.
  • Diana, Princess of Wales’s tell-all book revealed the unhappy truths of the princess’s marriage – particularly, the affair between Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles.
  • Scandalous pictures of the Duchess of York being kissed on her feet by her friend, John Bryan, were published in Daily Mirror.
  • Intimate conversations between the Princess of Wales and James Gilbey from a tape recording of their phone calls were published in The Sun.
  • The affair between the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles was confirmed by a transcript of a recording of their phone calls published in the Daily Mirror.
  • Windsor Castle – one of the Queen’s official residences – caught fire and was extensively damaged.
  • John Major, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, announced to the House of Commons that the Prince and Princess of Wales had decided to separate.

While they were admittedly sad events, 1992 represented a year of personal tragedy, personal embarrassment and personal loss for The Queen.  None of these events, as upsetting and traumatic as they were to the Royals, brought into question the future of the Monarchy and certainly none of these events rocked the United Kingdom to its core.  Not one single event or even all of them combined came close to calling into question the viability of the U.K.’s democracy.

What was an “annus horribilis” for The Queen was little more than fodder for the tabloids and gossip sharing for many Brits.  It did not represent a constitutional threat nor did it threaten the values, freedoms and lives of The Queen’s subjects.  In the final analysis it was a very personal annus horribilis” and not one that created upheaval and division throughout Great Britain.

Contrast The Queen’s year of personal misery with the kind of year the U.S. has had since January 20, 2017 when the 45th President took the oath of office on the West Front of the Unites States Capitol. As 2017 draws to a close many are asking if this past year has been America’s “annus horribilis.  It was a year of shameful and divisive language, hostile and racially motivated acts, misdirected economic and social policies, and dangerous rhetoric and threats on the world stage by the first President to be so widely characterized as wholly unfit for office.

From the moment the Presidential oath of office was administered by the Chief Justice, a dark cloud appeared over Washington and it has grown wider and darker throughout the year.  We were shocked that our new President’s questionably disingenuous statements gave way to documented and well proven lies.  We watched suspicious activities increasingly become supported by facts and evidence.  We experienced what was hoped to be just an overactive political ego become dwarfed by the severe and continuous manifestations of chronic and consuming narcissistic personality disorder.  We became frustrated when our hopes for transparency regarding his tax returns and allegations of previous sexual harassment and abuse were answered with angry defensiveness and obfuscation. We hoped against hope that the campaigner’s vile language, racial slurs, humiliating words directed at and about minorities, people with disabilities, women, and those with different lifestyles or gender choices would, once he was elected,  give way to the chief executive’s more moderate and inclusive attitudes.  Such was not the case and we were left to learn to live with yet more disappointment.

The Queen called it “annus horribilis” but for the more plain spoken Americans who have been outraged by what we’ve witnessed since the inauguration it was just a damn horrible year.  A year of shame, humiliation and fear about the true State of the Union.  And even greater fear for the irreparable damage that will be left behind when the reins of power eventually transfer to more responsible hands.

what-have-we-become

The anger and frustration with the President has divided family members and torn friendships apart.  He has been one of the most divisive figures in American political history.  He has been the butt of nightly attacks by late night comedians in a way that no other President has ever been so consistently lampooned. He has changed cable news from media outlets that carry world-wide news events to virtually 24/7 political shows.  And his predictable twitter rants that follow reports about him on television or by political opponents has changed social media more than anything since the first major commercial Internet Service Providers hit the scene in the early 1990s.

For the first time in modern history the American President is no longer universally regarded as the “leader of the free world”.  Many have relegated him to a second tier leader with German Chancellor Angela Merkel often identified as the most influential world leader.  Extreme American nationalism and exceptionalism have served to wear out the U.S. welcome around the world.

Mt. Rushmore

As the president becomes increasingly isolated by world leaders it only follows that he will see a growing movement by members of his own party moving away from him as the 2018 mid-term elections approach.  His coat tails will likely not be seen as an advantage to those Republicans seeking election in 2018 but instead he will feel like an albatross that they will fight to rid themselves of.

The old saying “with friends like that who needs enemies” could not be any more true than when the President’s former close and trusted adviser Steve Bannon makes public statements such as:  “Trump is like an 11 year old child.”  Or, “He’s got a 30% chance of finishing his first term either because of impeachment or the 25th amendment.”

With the lowest approval ratings after his first year in office of any previous President it is hard to understand why he believes that the way out of his political predicament is to try to dig himself out of his hole.  Two thirds of Americans view him unfavorably and the CNN poll shows that voters favor Democrats over Republicans in 2018 House midterms by widest margin in years with 56% favoring Democrats and 38% favoring Republicans.  This could result in a seismic shift in the political balance in Washington with a real possibility that Democrats might have a chance to re-take both the Senate and House.  The underlying reason has as much do with Trump’s style, personality and demeanor as it does with his policies.

Unfit

Such is the report card for year one of the Trump presidency.  The real question is what will year two bring.  Only time will tell.  But the one thing that seems clear to so many is that 2017 has been America’s “annus horribilis or less eloquently put, a damn horrible year.

2017

Many Americans will undoubtedly be glad to see the end of 2017 hoping against hope that 2018 will help restore dignity, admiration, trust and confidence in their government and in their President in particular.  But hope is not a plan.  It will take increased and unrelenting activism to regain the government we deserve.

Change may be just around the corner