thank you sir

The emergence — and horrible persistence — of Trump has been an event so utterly shocking to me, so smothering to the spirit, so genuinely terrifying. I have done my best to maintain a balance, a perspective. To not allow it all to dominate my consciousness.

Yet every morning I am startled at the alacrity with which it all reasserts itself. I climb out of bed and walk towards my kitchen and then it hits me in the gut, every day: this unutterably and continuously foul, juvenile, profoundly ignorant and uncurious, self-celebrating and exceptionally dangerous man is on a shortlist of two for the most powerful job in the world.

I have been trying to avoid writing about it all, too. Somehow there has been a kind of defeatism associated with this possibility, and a corresponding determination not to be forced to acknowledge the fact that we have descended this low. This low.

Yet anyone who has never been able to understand how one of the most supposedly civilized cultures in the world could have descended into utter barbarism in the 1930s has a front-row seat to the process today. They only need to watch carefully and I think they will learn more, and learn it more vividly, than many an astute monograph could teach them.

What can I say? I must confess that all of this has been having such a horrific effect on my state of mind that … I went out the other night, purchased a bottle of 15-year-old Glenfiddich (don’t bother with the 12, there’s no comparison), and while working my way through it this evening was praying that the DNC’s addresses might pick me up. As Michelle Obama’s did last night — splendid, so fine.

And actually, they did! A little. I have yet to watch the earlier ones but … President Obama’s was the finest address of its kind I may have ever heard. Pitch-perfect, and every paragraph reaching to the best of who we are as a country.

So I only wanted to say here, because I haven’t said it enough (and briefly, given my intoxicated state!): I’m so immensely proud of this man. Openness and decisiveness combined, sharp intelligence and grace, strength and tenderness: he’s got it. As fine a president as we’ve had. And what a great blessing we’ve had him for these past eight, terribly anxious years. Much we can argue over (oh for sure, and in any event we are all most imperfect), but my goodness: it’s not something I do all the time, but I have no hesitation in calling him a great and very admirable man.

I think Andrew Sullivan said it well tonight:

“It’s been a long and entirely unexpected journey with this extraordinary figure. I’ve doubted and panicked, I’ve hyper-ventilated and wept, I’ve worried and persevered. We did a lot of that together, you and me. But I have one thing to say: he never let us down. He kept his cool, he kept his eyes on the prize, he never embarrassed and almost always lifted us up. He is a living, walking example of American exceptionalism, of why this amazing country can still keep surprising the world.

“Readers know how I feel about the Clintons. But this is not about them or me. It’s about an idea of America that is under siege and under attack from a foul, divisive, dangerous demagogue. If you backed Obama, there is no choice in this election but Clinton. This is not an election to seek refuge in a third party or to preen in purist disdain from the messy, often unsatisfying duties of politics. It is an election to keep the America that Obama has helped bring into being, and the core democratic values that have defined this experiment from the very beginning: self-government, not rule by a strongman; pluralism and compassion rather than nativism and fear; an open embrace of the world, and not a terrified flight from it.

“But you know what Obama gave us tonight? He gave some of us hope. Again. That’s what he does. And we will never see his like again.”

CobDmS1UsAEMmR0

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“we can learn to stand in each other’s shoes…”

This is the best thing I’ve read on the appalling events of the past week:

Can we find the character, as Americans, to open our hearts to each other?  Can we see in each other a common humanity and a shared dignity, and recognize how our different experiences have shaped us?  And it doesn’t make anybody perfectly good or perfectly bad, it just makes us human….

Because with an open heart, we can learn to stand in each other’s shoes and look at the world through each other’s eyes, so that maybe the police officer sees his own son in that teenager with a hoodie who’s kind of goofing off but not dangerous — (applause) — and the teenager — maybe the teenager will see in the police officer the same words and values and authority of his parents.  (Applause.)

With an open heart, we can abandon the overheated rhetoric and the oversimplification that reduces whole categories of our fellow Americans not just to opponents, but to enemies.

With an open heart, those protesting for change will guard against reckless language going forward, look at the model set by the five officers we mourn today, acknowledge the progress brought about by the sincere efforts of police departments like this one in Dallas, and embark on the hard but necessary work of negotiation, the pursuit of reconciliation.

With an open heart, police departments will acknowledge that, just like the rest of us, they are not perfect; that insisting we do better to root out racial bias is not an attack on cops, but an effort to live up to our highest ideals.  (Applause.)  And I understand these protests — I see them, they can be messy.  Sometimes they can be hijacked by an irresponsible few.  Police can get hurt.  Protestors can get hurt.  They can be frustrating.

But even those who dislike the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” surely we should be able to hear the pain of Alton Sterling’s family.  (Applause.)  We should — when we hear a friend describe him by saying that “Whatever he cooked, he cooked enough for everybody,” that should sound familiar to us, that maybe he wasn’t so different than us, so that we can, yes, insist that his life matters.  Just as we should hear the students and coworkers describe their affection for Philando Castile as a gentle soul — “Mr. Rogers with dreadlocks,” they called him — and know that his life mattered to a whole lot of people of all races, of all ages, and that we have to do what we can, without putting officers’ lives at risk, but do better to prevent another life like his from being lost.

With an open heart, we can worry less about which side has been wronged, and worry more about joining sides to do right.  (Applause.)  Because the vicious killer of these police officers, they won’t be the last person who tries to make us turn on one other.  The killer in Orlando wasn’t, nor was the killer in Charleston.  We know there is evil in this world.  That’s why we need police departments.  (Applause.)  But as Americans, we can decide that people like this killer will ultimately fail.  They will not drive us apart.  We can decide to come together and make our country reflect the good inside us, the hopes and simple dreams we share.

President Obama, July 12, in Dallas

Copyright 2016 WFAA

You can watch the entire address here.

“either way you win”

Much attention has been paid to President Obama’s remarks — within his Commencement Address at Rutgers University yesterday — aimed at the Republican frontrunner (it’s still so hard to say or fathom) for the presidential election. But very little has been written about his addressing the state of free expression on college campuses. And this is worth highlighting. Though I’m a big Obama fan, this is one of the areas where I’ve been disappointed and concerned about the net effects of his administration. But I’m pleased to hear him speak out in the way he does here. He could certainly have avoided the topic had he chose, but I think the fact that he has addressed this on more than one high-profile occasion now in recent months demonstrates his awareness of the problem. More in future posts. (Emphasis in the following quotation is mine.)

“And if participation means voting, and it means compromise, and organizing, and advocacy, it also means listening to those who don’t agree with you. I know a couple of years ago some folks on this campus got upset that Condoleezza Rice was supposed to speak at a commencement. Now, I don’t think it’s a secret that I disagree with many of the foreign policies of Dr. Rice and the previous administration. But the notion that this community or the country would be better served by not hearing from a former Secretary of State or shutting out what she had to say, I believe that’s misguided. I don’t think that’s how democracy works best, when we’re not even willing to listen to each other. I believe that’s misguided.

“If you disagree with somebody, bring them in and ask them tough questions. Hold their feet to the fire, make them defend their positions. If somebody’s got a bad or offensive idea, prove it wrong. Engage it, debate it, stand up for what you believe in. Don’t be scared to take somebody on. Don’t feel like you got to shut your ears off because you’re too fragile and somebody might offend your sensibilities. Go at ’em if they’re not making any sense. Use your logic and reason and words, and by doing so you’ll strengthen your own position. And you’ll hone your arguments and maybe you’ll learn something and realize you don’t know everything. And you may have a new understanding, not only about what your opponents believe but maybe what you believe. Either way you win. And more importantly our democracy wins.

the Dalai Lama’s letter to President Obama

“Please accept my congratulations on your re-election to the presidency of the United States.

“When you were elected in 2008, you inspired the world with a call to take responsibility for the problems we face as global citizens. Since then, you have made earnest efforts to live up to that great hope and trust placed in you by the American public. I believe you have been re-elected now in recognition of that effort.

“When you first took office, I remember writing to you that the world places great hope in the democratic vision and leadership of the United States and that I hoped you would be able to shape a more peaceful world, bearing in mind the poverty, injustice and deprivation suffered by billions of people. The need to address these issues remains pressing today.

“As you know, it is over a year since I handed over all my political authority to the elected Tibetan leadership, but as just one among the six million Tibetans I want to thank you for your steady encouragement of our efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the problems in Tibet. I am very appreciative of your support for our Middle Way Approach, which I continue to believe is the best way for us to ensure a solution that is beneficial for both Tibetans and Chinese. Given the recently deteriorating situation in Tibet, of which the tragic series of self-immolations is a stark symptom, I hope your Administration will be able to take further steps to encourage a mutually acceptable solution.

“I am presently on a visit to Japan, and am pleased to send my prayers and good wishes for every success in your second term.”