January – A New Start

January 31

It’s a snow day. That should, in theory, give me the day off. And I will admit I didn’t feel particularly driven to write today or to do much of anything else. I watched the snow, relaxed, and just let the day pass me by.

I finally roused myself to action, though, and out I went to tackle the snow. It was only three or four inches. As someone who grew up in Minnesota that hardly seemed worthy of serious consideration. And now, with an eco-friendly, battery powered snow blower it didn’t even seriously challenge my back which I’ll confess flared up rather painfully last night.  

Now, with the sun setting, and the snow still falling, I thought I’d sit down and write but I’m still not inspired. This evening’s viewing fare will include the CNN special that aired last night about QAnon. By all reports it was well done and I’m sure I’ll be appalled, and probably deeply concerned, after it’s over. But somehow, trying to wrap my head around all that, or to rail against those in Congress who either believe that crap or exploit it, is beyond me today.

I also understand from a glance at the headlines that Trump’s legal team for his impeachment defense is falling apart. Apparently, he wants to continue to try and advance his failed (and false) arguments about election fraud even as he is on trial in the Senate. I don’t think it will matter, of course. He could have Mickey Mouse defending him and I still think that the Republican caucus in the Senate would be unlikely to vote to convict. It’s not about the merits. 

The political costs, for them, of standing up to address Trump’s incitement of violence could be considerable. The benefits — politically — are few. It’s not about right or wrong, or the truth. It’s about hiding behind whatever convenient fiction you can find to avoid facing the truth. There’s nothing new about that — sadly. 

What about the COVID response bill? Negotiations continue. Journalists are reading every tea leaf and speculation runs rampant. Will democrats go it alone? Will Biden accept dramatic changes to get a bilateral agreement? How much is too much, how much is too little? The public attention and scrutiny is probably good… at least to a degree. But let’s not get too spun up yet. Negotiations are… negotiations. Parties stake out their positions and draw lines in the sand… but there’s a reason it’s sand that they draw in. Those lines are quickly erased and redrawn. We’ll see where it all goes.

It may be a disaster. It may all fall apart. But there may also be a compromise choice that will allow both sides to declare “victory.” I just hope that the final outcome will be a “victory” for the American people.

So I’m going back to the zen-like state I cultivated throughout the day and let the new week bring what it will. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 30

It’s starting to sink in just how much Donald Trump’s insatiable need to be at the center of every story — to be the focus of adoring fans on Twitter — had come to shape the narrative of our lives in recent years. The glee of his supporters every time he outraged those of us who weren’t his fans, was intense. And so was the visceral reaction that many of us had as he abandoned the role we have come to expect of our presidents in order to feed his ego. Decency, compassion, empathy and principled leadership were shredded.  

For better or worse, he succeeded in becoming “the” story. Only now, with him off Twitter and out of the spotlight every day, are we starting to find a new peace. It’s glorious.

Of course, I’ll say this… if I wasn’t sure what to write about, I could always fall back on Trump. It was sure to spark a lively response.  

Today, however, it’s perfectly fine if there’s not a hugely compelling story line. I have lots to do. Our first big snow storm in the past few years has us in its sights. Sunday and Monday promise to be a reminder of the power of winter! We’ll tackle it as it comes, but given that it will be 50+ degrees by Friday, I do have the option of just waiting til it all melts. There’s nothing THAT pressing on our agenda!

Preparation is the key, however, and a quick trip to the grocery store (along with most of the population of Northern Virginia) may be in order. We have the staples… but do need a few of the things other folks won’t be seeking. Mint, harissa paste, a few other veggies. We’ve got homemade tabouli in our future, along with the caramelized plantain dish I didn’t get to yesterday and maybe some channa masala. There will be Moroccan harira soup (veganized) this weekend as well — a perfect accompaniment to a snow storm.

And we have to pick up some bird food at the Wild Bird Store. The birds will need the feeders topped up before the storm hits (and the squirrels will be pleased, as well). It is fun to see the cardinals and jays, the juncos and nuthatches, the woodpeckers and all the rest come to visit. They’ll be particularly lovely with the colors flashing against the snowy background — for as long as it lasts.

So, it’s time to mask up and head out. I’ll try and get this posted before I go, but if it ends up being a bit later, that’s OK too. It’s Saturday. No deadlines, no worries.  

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 29

There’s little that’s truly new today. Either in terms of the pandemic, or the political drama that seems more important to lawmakers than addressing our nation’s challenges, or anything else. 

It’s one of those days where I feel disinclined to write or to engage. That inclination is compounded by the fact that I’m working on taxes. That process, in and of itself, isn’t really that bad. I’ve used Turbo Tax recently and find the work of pulling together the information for them is no more challenging than when I had an accountant do the taxes for me in the preceding couple of years. And it’s cheaper.

I had done my own taxes for years but as I get older, and as the rules get more complicated, and my own finances a bit more complicated with retirement funds, and social security and different sources of income, it doesn’t hurt to have another set of eyes taking a look. 

What makes me nuts, though, is that in the process I find I inevitably end up reaching out to various folks — banks, or insurance, or the SSA, or someone to get a form, or to verify information. And inevitably, the hold time is too long, the website times out, the passwords no longer work, the responses are more bureaucratic than helpful, and my irritation just grows. 

And, of course, at least for me, there’s always a new rabbit hole to get sucked into. Looking at one issue reminds me of something else I need to address.The paper piles grow, the phone calls or website visits multiply and the entire day takes on a gloomier feel than when I sat down to begin work a while before.

At the same time, there is always light at the end of the tunnel, right? And it’s not just the light of an oncoming locomotive. It’s the realization that, except for waiting for a few more forms in the mail, the work is largely done, the tax year is not a debacle, the side quests are completed, and I can shift to more pleasant pursuits.

Last night it was a leek-artichoke quiche (with lots of other good stuff in it as well) that, when coupled with a nice green salad, brought balance back into the day. And tonight, the light may yet triumph over the dark, when we sit down caramelized plantains with beans, scallions, and lemon and whatever else looks good in the fridge to go with it.

The week draws to a close. We’re no closer to disaster than when it began, I’d wager… but not much further from it either. I guess I can settle for that and look forward to a peaceful weekend.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 28

As we enter the second year of the pandemic we face an incredible array of challenges. But first, let me just say that never did I expect that at this point in my life I’d be starting ANY sentence with “as we enter the second year of the pandemic.”

But we ARE entering year two and at this point I don’t know that anyone cannot guarantee there won’t be a year three. 

As I write this, Brazil’s health care system is collapsing. The Brazil variant of the virus has driven a resurgence of the virus that is leading to an incredible number of deaths. The city of Manaus, that was ravaged by the first wave, is now being devastated by a second wave where the death toll is four times what it has been at any time since the pandemic began. They’re building vertical graves because there’s not enough space for any more bodies.

In the US, even though our numbers are down from the post holiday surge — thank god — we’d be kidding ourselves if we think that this is over. The Brazilian variant is now in the US. The UK variant is here too and scientists expect that both will become more prevalent as we go forward.  The South African variant is a concern too and, as of today it has now been found in the US. And there are growing worries that the UK variant may prove to be more lethal than previously thought, while the other two variants may not be readily controlled by the current vaccines.

Some say the vaccines will work against the variants… but maybe not as effectively. Others worry, though, that the virus will continue to mutate — god knows it has shown amazing and dangerous adaptability so far — and more readily overcome or elude the vaccine.

So, although I’m glad that we’re getting the vaccine, I have no illusions that it’s a “get out of jail free” card. It isn’t. We all have to continue to respect the realities of this pandemic. We need to mask, we need to maintain social distance, we need be smart. Vaccines don’t remove all risks in this changing environment and being vaccinated doesn’t mean we cannot contract and spread the disease and put others at risk. There still is so much that is changing and evolving even after a year.  It’s crazy.

And we see the debate continuing about kids going back to school. CDC says we can manage it. Teachers are worried. I don’t blame them. Even as we talk about how schools can be made safe and how it is all manageable with sufficient precautions, three teachers in Cobb County, Georgia, recently died. How would you feel if you were a teacher?

The questions are hard and the solutions aren’t clear. It’s not a great start to the year. 

Meanwhile, as we struggle with this crisis, we also face the danger and uncertainty associated with another crisis sparked by a political divide that seems to be deepening. The Republican Party seems to be unable to break free from its dependence on Donald Trump and his base.  

Today, for example, the House Minority Leader is traveling to Florida today to kneel at the altar of Trump. He first held Trump accountable for instigating the mob that attacked the Capitol, but he flip flopped within a week. He and others in the leadership — with a few exceptions like Liz Cheney, who is now under attack within the party — seem determined to look away from Trump’s role in inspiring the violent mob in their attack against the Capitol. 

In the same way, they are ignoring those who spread the big lie and those who continue to fan the flames of division. They request to address Marjorie Taylor Green’s history of being a 9/11 denier, of portraying the Las Vegas mass shooting as a false flag operation, of implicitly and directly calling for death for Democratic leaders for treason, and her harassment, insults, and false declarations against a kid who survived the Parkland shootings.

The Republican leadership won’t condemn her, they welcome her donation to the party’s coffers, and they give her committee assignments as if nothing was amiss. They voice no concern about her extremism or her support for QAnon conspiracies about satanists and pedophiles running the government.  

Of course, not all in the party are blind to this and there are those who are speaking out and voicing concern. But, right now, they seem to be in the minority and the party’s face is increasingly the face of extremism, of intolerance, and of division. It is increasingly the Marjorie Taylor Greens who could be the future of the party if they don’t watch out.

And meanwhile, the threat of violent extremism continues. Yet another man was arrested with a weapon and ammunition near a congressional office building. I so worry that it is only a matter of time before we have a tragedy. The more Republican leaders refuse to repudiate the craziness, and the more they turn a blind eye to folks like Marjorie Taylor Green, the more they themselves are part of the problem. 

Domestic terrorism, bizarre conspiracy theories, fiction enshrined over truth, a global pandemic in its second year, and a US death toll marching inexorably towards a half million. It’s a hell of a world. It’s not what I expected at this point in my life, but it’s what we’ve got. 

And so it goes. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 27

There are moments when trying to choose what to write about is a bit like trying to make the right choice from a smorgasbord loaded with delectable delights. There are so many stories to choose from we don’t know where to begin. But today, I’m choosing to focus on my dessert. On the story this morning that was sweetest to hear and that nurtured the hope that has been trying to burst into full bloom for the past week since Joe Biden was inaugurated.

Today, while putting in a few hours on my side-gig for the State Department, I had the chance to watch the “walk-in” ceremony for our country’s newest Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, as he arrived for his first day on the job. Leija and I remembered watching the same event for Hillary Clinton (I opted to forego the Pompeo walk-in and wasn’t in the building for Tillerson).  

When Clinton came on board the C Street lobby at the Department was packed. Folks were eager to hear what she had to say. We were excited and ready to serve the Obama administration and work with Secretary Clinton. NOT because we were all Democrats or liberal in our politics but because we seemed to understand the essence of our work on behalf of our nation — irrespective of which party held power. 

We understood it was about the values that define us, it was about strong leadership to shape a better global future and to protect our national interests. We understood that decency, respect for human rights, tackling the challenges of the day from climate change to debilitating diseases to violent extremism was in our interest. We knew that building partnerships based on shared values and beliefs was in our interest. We appreciated that it wasn’t always about what was “in it for us” or whether our partners put money in our pockets. It was about us investing in a future we believed in and building global coalitions whose support mattered on critical challenges. 

We lost most of that over the last four years. We lost partners. Alienated friends. We lost sight of our values and never did articulate a strategy for global engagement that reflected a vision of the world we sought to create other than the “America First.” Bah. Throughout my forty years of engagement on behalf of our nation it has always been America first. But it wasn’t a slogan. It was a commitment to doing all the things I talked about above. And I was proud of my service. Proud to be part of work that made such a difference every day. 

And make no mistake; behind the headlines and the debates on issues like Iran, or how to manage our ties with Russia or China, we are working quietly every day in countries around the world saving lives, building a better future, reaching out a hand in partnership, and standing against those for whom the pursuit of power and wealth is all that matters and for whom violence, repression, and lies and hate are tools of their trade.

And today, I was proud again. I was proud to hear Secretary Blinken speak with passion and commitment to the values that defined my years of service. He said, “America’s leadership is needed around the world, and we will provide it, because the world is far more likely to solve problems and meet challenges when the United States is there. America at its best still has a greater capacity than any other country on earth to mobilize others for the greater good.” 

Amen to that. He also acknowledged the challenges that lie ahead for the State Department. “The nations of the world are watching,” he said. And, “They want to know if we can heal our nation. They want to see whether we will lead with the power of our example and if we will put a premium on diplomacy with our allies and partners to meet the great challenges of our time – like the pandemic, climate change, the economic crisis, threats to democracies, fights for racial justice and the danger to our security and global stability posed by our rivals and adversaries.”

The answer, if Secretary Blinken has his way, is we will do all of that — and more. And I know that in the effort he’ll have the unstinting support of the men and women of the Foreign Service. The colleagues with whom I served for so many years and whose commitment to our nation, whose dedication, bravery in the face of hardship and danger, and whose respect and belief in the values that define us, has both humbled and inspired me.

The Secretary made me proud today. I wish him and my colleagues at State well in the challenging days ahead of them. 

The other dishes on the table can wait for another time. Today I’ll savor just this one.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 26

I think any of us, if we’re following the news, can be excused for feeling confused and uncertain. The UK, South African, and Brazilian variants are constantly highlighted by where they are? How bad are they? What does it really mean? 

Will the vaccines work against them? Maybe. Will we need a booster? Maybe. Will there be a rise of the mutants? Anything is possible, I guess. 

How much vaccine is there, where is it and when will we see it and how will it be distributed? A month ago 100,000,000 shots seemed a dream. Now it’s not enough. Is 150,000,000 better? What about 200,000,000? 

And if you’re not feeling a bit of whiplash yet, let’s look at the political news. Biden is a statesman for trying to be bipartisan. No wait, Biden’s a fool and naive for trying to be win Republican engagement. McConnell won the fight over the filibuster. No wait, Schumer won. No wait, nobody won. Try Trump now — try Trump later. Wait… there’s no basis to try him, except, I guess I’m wrong because there is a clear constitutional case for doing so… isn’t there?

There’s too much information and not enough. Too much opinion and not enough fact. Too much partisan posturing and not enough listening. 

We are all struggling with a pandemic that is still far from over and that may surge out of control yet again. We just experienced a horrific attack on the seat of one of our three branches of democratic government. The former president was clearly seeking every avenue he could find to overturn the vote of the American people. There are violent extremists who have threatened the lives of political leaders, local officials, and election volunteers. Public health officials like Tony Fauci are getting death threats, too, and threats are being directed at family as well. 

We have so many challenges and there is so much confusion that surrounds all of them. I feel as though the new Administration gets it… but I wonder if we’re too far down the road of partisanship to come together. There remain those who are too far gone. The Republican Party in Oregon declared today their belief that the attack on the Capitol was a “false flag” effort intended to make Trump look bad. 

Despite the overwhelming evidence, they want us to believe that those who chanted “hang Mike Pence” and plotted to assassinate Nancy Pelosi were really deployed by the Democrats. It’s even more insane than the Arizona party censuring their own governor and Cindy McCain and Jeff Flake because they aren’t loyal enough to Trumpism. That’s the bottom line of that censure. And it’s crazy. It sounds like the old Soviet Union accusing folks of deviationism rather than an America where a range of views can and should be heard.  

And the Democrats who want Biden to abandon his efforts at bipartisanship are sounding like McConnell at his worst. Forget working together. We’ve got the votes so screw the other guys. Yes, there’s a need for urgent action, and yes, there are huge issues for us to address, but if we don’t at least try… just as Obama did… to reach out how will we know? If it fails, it fails. But we should try. And we need to remember that over 74 million Americans saw it differently from those who voted for Biden. They put more members into the House and our Senate is evenly divided. There’s a reason for that. 

“Our way or the highway” may feel good. But it’s not leadership. It may not be good politics either. But I’ll leave that debate for others. I just think, no matter how much some would like to give Republicans a taste of their own medicine in terms of wielding power like a club, leadership demands otherwise. 

For those of us watching it unfold, we can be as passionate as we want. We can vent all the anger and frustration that has built up. I get it. I want to see McConnell and Graham and so many others learn lessons in humility. But when you’re in charge you have to rise above your emotions and partisanship. You do.

I’m not optimistic that we’ll find a path to bipartisanship. But I think Biden has to try and I applaud his efforts which, to me, seem sincere, pragmatic, and determined. And if he then has to go his own way, he’ll at least have made an effort that was clear to us all. And that is important.

We have enough on our plate — truly dangerous crises and threats to our future. Isn’t that enough without adding in political gamesmanship? I know what I think the answer should be, but I wonder if it isn’t going to have to get even worse before they are shocked back to their senses — if they ever are.

And so it goes. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 25

OK.  I TRY really hard not to be cynical. But I can’t help but have a huge problem now, as Trump’s second impeachment trial looms, when I hear Republican Senators arguing that we should be focused instead on “important issues like COVID.”  For the past year, as Trump fiddled and our nation burned, they couldn’t trouble themselves to challenge his fictions about the virus being under control. They couldn’t bestir themselves to insist on a more robust response, they couldn’t fight for more mask-wearing, they couldn’t ensure that we were being smart on supporting the fight against the pandemic or on ensuring that our vaccination rollout was well-conceived.

The Republican caucus on the Hill didn’t rock the Trump boat. But NOW we should be working on it? Could it be because they don’t want to talk about Trump? About his efforts to undermine our democratic process? Maybe they’d rather not confront his “big lie” or have us reminded of Trump’s efforts to inflame his supporters — efforts that led to the attack on the Capitol.  The more we learn, the worse it looks. So suddenly, they care about COVID. Excuse me if I’m more than a bit skeptical about their commitment.

The hell of it is, of course, we SHOULD be focused on COVID. And, as much as I would love to see Trump held accountable I don’t believe it is going to happen. We’ll go through the effort, and maybe history will hold him, and those who vote for his acquittal, accountable. Maybe even the voters will remember. But I doubt that the Republicans who hide from the truth while still trying to avoid criticizing Trump directly will actually pay any price at all. The hypocrisy, though, makes me want to scream. I’m so very, very tired of it.

We can’t ignore it — the issues are too important. But we don’t have to let it consume us. So today, after I put in a few hours for my gig at State, I took a walk with the pups shifting my focus. And next I’m heading into the kitchen. Cooking is my “go to” therapy of choice. Tonight, is an experiment. A simple dinner of pasta and salad but the sauce will be made from leek greens while the “meat” of the leeks will be julienned to become crisped toppings for the pasta. 

 For the salad we’ve got a nice mix of greens and veggies galore. Maybe we’ll add a few grapes or clementines and a few roasted pistachios. We’ll see. I just wish I could dress it like my Dad used to. He had a special magic. I keep trying to recreate his wizardry to recapture a flavor of my childhood.  Perhaps I’ll try again now.

So, political hypocrisy be damned. I want to eat. 

Stay stay, stay strong, stay healthy.

January 24

I listened to Joe Biden’s inaugural address and, like many of us, I drew my conclusions about his message, his intentions, and about who he is.

I found it to be a message of hope and of determination. I heard in it a plea for us to come together as a nation. It wasn’t a naive wish that could set aside all our differences, but rather a call for us to let those differences be not a battle cry but rather part of the competition of ideas that has, in the past, been a source of strength for our nation. 

That’s what I heard. It seemed pretty clear. And, even if you don’t support Joe Biden, I would have thought you might at least give him credit for trying. 

But even that, it seems, is a bridge too far for Fox News. I guess that’s not a surprise. After all, this is the same Fox News that peddled, and often inspired, the lies that were central to Trump’s narrative while in power. The same Fox News that remains the principal news source for so many Americans.  

One day after the inauguration Sean Hannity was declaring his first “week” a disaster. He attacked Biden as “weak” and “cognitively struggling.” Fox declared his call for unity and for healing to be insincere and bogus. They accused him of rushing to ram his “radical” agenda down our throats and of having a “dark” and “divisive” message that was part of a “foreigners first” agenda. One of their commentators summed it up ”I don’t wish Joe Biden well.”  

Newsmax and One America Network are as bad or worse. 

But what really worries me is that so many in our nation are eager to believe them. That many in “white” America are eager to believe them.

I know that there are many reasons they rush to take comfort from the twisted view of our society that these networks offer, but I have to believe that for many — it is rooted in their fear of the future. 

They are told that half of the children in our nation are Black or Hispanic or Asian, and see that as a threat and a cause for fear and concern. This is true whether they are in positions of true social and economic privilege or whether they live on the edge of disaster. They are, nonetheless, still white — and that somehow convinces them that they are entitled to more of a say in our future than our citizens of color. They tell themselves that they are better, more deserving of privilege, and more deserving to be called American. And that is what Fox, and Newsmax and OAN tell them, too.

For them, the inevitability of this demographic change is a reason for fear. So is the increasing influence of different faiths, the redefinition of gender roles, and the fact that we are accepting new understandings of sexual orientation and of gender identity. All of this is new in my lifetime and in theirs. 

For some of us, seeing Pete Buttigieg as the first openly gay man in the cabinet is a cause for celebration. For others it is anathema. 

Some of us applaud the fact that we have a black and South Asian woman as VP and that Joe Biden has nominated a transgender person, Rachel Levine, as an Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services. Others probably see it as a sign of our nation’s decay.  

And Biden’s choice of Deb Haaland as Secretary of Interior and as the first Native America cabinet member, welcomed by many, will be derided and attacked by others. 

Those who cannot accept the face of our changing nation take refuge in hate and discrimination, and they feel validated when the right wing media tells them they’re right to fear the “other.” 

These divisions aren’t going to disappear overnight. And they may not disappear at all. But I believe that the inevitability of the demographic shifts will be a huge driver of change. And, as disruptive and dislocating as change can be, I believe that we will be better for it and I hope it will bring us closer to that perfect union we strive towards. 

My grandkids are all-American but the Asian and Italian parts of their heritage would, at one time, have brought them in for scorn and discrimination. I don’t want that to ever be part of their reality. I don’t want that to be the future for a black child born today. Or for a hispanic child. Not for any of us. We are better than that. We must be better than that.

So, Fox News can rant and rave. They can spew the hate. But we get to decide who we are and who we will be. And every day as the youth or our nation come of age, I have hope that they will choose hope over hate, decency over division, and justice for all over privilege for a few. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 23

It’s a blustery morning here in Haymarket. Temperatures will not escape the 30s all day, the wind has both power and a chilling bite, and we’ve seen occasional flurries of snowflakes roiling with a wind-driven urgency. In other words, it’s a perfect morning for a mountain dog, a Bhote Kukur from the Tibetan Plateau. Lo Khyi is in his element. 

Last night, as we made our last trip into the yard around 10:30, I watched him tipping his head back to better sample the night air. He scented something that caused him to bristle and he issued a challenge in his deep powerful bark. I wonder what it was — we’ve had mountain lion, bear, foxes and other critters in reasonable close proximity of late. The fence that encircles our back yard gives us some confidence that we’ll encounter no surprises but those scents that the wind carries still set all Lo Khyi’s senses to alert mode.

This morning, after a mad dash into the yard to chase off the squirrels around the bird feeders, he made sure all was in order and then headed up the slope in the back yard to “his” spot. It’s an area at the top of the slope that gives him a view over the top of the fence into neighboring yards and to the street that runs in front of the house. From there he maintains watch. And watch he does — protesting if anyone infringes unduly on what he considers to be his domain — which is essentially all that he can see.

In the summer, when the heat gets to be too much he’ll descend from his perch to find a shadier spot and, if it is too much, he’ll smack the back door with his big heavy paw, informing us that it’s time to come in and enjoy the AC. His heritage, however, seems to make him almost impervious to the cold. If he had his way he’d stay outside all day during the winter months. On the coldest days, he’ll make a small concession to the weather, descending from the exposed position on top of the slope to curl up in the sun on the grass in the middle of the yard.

Lo Khyi, Gyptse Jane, Max and Gracie, have been our companions for years now and they have been so much a part of our pandemic experience. We’ve spent more time together than ever before and have been glad of their company. 

I enjoyed watching the dogs romp a bit in the yard this morning and smiled as Lo Khyi climbed the slope to go on duty. It’s nice to have a bit of routine — a bit or normalcy — as the weekend starts. And it was somehow easier to appreciate it all when the peace of the morning hadn’t been shattered by jarring headlines or outrageous lies from an out of control president. 

It has only been a few days, but, after the stormy seas of the past four years, even a few days of relatively peaceful water seems like heaven. And even though the challenges that lie ahead are daunting, I hope perhaps we’ll address them in an atmosphere that is less fraught with vitriol, division, and bitter attacks. I do, however, hope that the members of Congress will find the sense of urgency that many of us feel. 

We can’t afford to dither and play political games. We really can’t. Maybe some of these members still can convince themselves that the deaths that mount every day are fake news. Maybe some can ignore the science. Maybe there are still members who don’t understand that if the virus continues unchecked the problems posed by the new variants and continued mutations will only grow and only make this problem more intractable and possibly more dangerous. Maybe.

Or maybe some of them just don’t give a crap as long as they score their partisan points. The fact that a huge swath of our nation’s population is facing devastating economic hardship doesn’t seem to faze them… could it be because those who are most affected are also disproportionately black and brown-skinned? The most vulnerable don’t fund their campaigns, don’t wield influence, and don’t have the platforms that ensure that their stories are told. So perhaps members of Congress think they can ignore their problems. 

I just don’t get it. Even if the political temperature has dropped a few degrees (and the jury is out on whether that will endure), the crises we face are real and they are compelling. The pandemic. The economy. Climate change. Social inequalities and racial justice. The threat of radical extremism from domestic terrorists. All of this is in front of us. This is not a time when business as usual is good enough. 

The Trump impeachment is there as well. Already the partisan lines are drawn and, much as expected, the likelihood of a conviction seems increasingly unlikely. His actions were reprehensible but, as much as I’d love to see him (and Cruz, Hawley, Mo Brooks, and others) held accountable, it’s not likely to happen. Given the threats immediately in front of us, I worry that we’ll end up reigniting the political battles of the last four years instead of focusing — and acting — on the crises we must address. 

We don’t need more anger. We need constructive action. Let’s hope we get it.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 22

The news today in Washington is focused on the economy. Yesterday it was about COVID. I can’t help but be struck by how well-prepared the administration has been from day one. They have a plan. They have a vision. That doesn’t mean that everything they want will happen, but at least we have folks taking charge and moving forward. 

There is, of course, political bickering already, but the tone of it seems less toxic, at least. There’s a huge price tag to many of the things that the Biden administration is proposing, but I’d argue that the crises we face are severe enough that we need to act. And I’m bemused that Republicans who let the deficit balloon to crazy levels under Trump suddenly are worried about spending levels. It feels phony… but it is part of the inevitable staking out of positions. I just hope that it will lead to negotiations, agreement, and action and not just obstruction. We’ve had too much of that for too long.

We need decisions and action. If ever the Congress had a chance to begin to restore its reputation it will be now in this time of true national crisis. The poorest 25% of our nation face an unemployment rate in excess of 20%. Food insecurity is real. The need is real. And no one who seeks to be a responsible legislator can deny that pandemic is real and we need action now on vaccines and vaccinations, on schools, and on so much more. 

Fingers crossed that folks will be smart, and principled and responsible. The recent track record hasn’t been great but we can hope, can’t we? Remember “hope?”  It’s that very unfamiliar sensation that made us feel lighter, made our hearts swell, and that made the world around us seem brighter as we watched the inauguration on Wednesday. 

So many folks seem to have been touched… far more than they expected… by the inauguration. Some say they didn’t realize how worried they had been. How worried they were for the nation and for democracy. Some were just relieved at the thought that they could lay down the burden of the anger that seemed to be a constant companion in recent years. And many were surprised by the budding of hope. It seemed a strange and exotic growth. 

It’s still just a seedling, perhaps. It needs nurturing and care. But let’s try to keep it alive. God knows, we need to be able to believe in the future and in the promise of better days ahead. 

But right now, I’ll settle for a good weekend, free of drama and division in the halls of government and on our nation’s streets. Enjoy.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 21

I could write for some time about yesterday. About the new tone. The hope that seemed to sweep across the nation (at least for so many of us). I could speak to moments of inspiration and the reminders of who we are as a nation and who we can be. I could talk about the moments where my heart was touched and the moments when my eyes filled with tears. The inaugural poet, Amanda Gordon, was such a welcome voice of promise. If she, at 22, can speak to our struggles and our aspirations so eloquently, how can we not have hope. It was a good day.

There’s little I can add to all that has already been said. 

And today? Today the sense of the adults being back in charge is just so compelling. It feels good. It’s as if Dad and Mom have come home after having left the crazy babysitter in charge for far too long. 

But today had another element. We got our first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. We know how lucky we are. The process, to this point, has been chaotic to say the least. We had a quick registration experience with the county that connected us to the CDC soon after and that led to an appointment being set that night. In the county next door folks our age had to wait for days longer than we did even to register and in that county there’s no link to the CDC, no clear timeline and there are suggestions that they may be waiting months for a vaccine. Other places are of course using lotteries, have websites that are crashing, or have no idea of whether, where or when they will be able to offer vaccines.  

So, yes… I’m grateful that in our county things worked so well and that today, through the CDC system, we got our shots in yet another neighboring county. Whoo hoo.

It was a smooth and orderly experience and I couldn’t have been happier. There were those moments, though, where you flashed on those “extinction event” movies where people are streaming in to try and get vaccinated. It was just a funny feeling. Standing there in a warehouse that had been “converted” to accommodate the mass vaccination effort. The line meandered over the oil-stained cement floor, the drywall paneling that was punched in, and the blue plastic sheeting over one end. It was clean, it was fine, but it was a bit… unusual. And I’m sure we’ll all be experiencing such things. 

In any event, that was the big event of the day. Joel, who administered the shot, was efficient and pleasant — as were all the folks we saw there. It was pretty impressive.  And we are already scheduled for shot two through the CDC VAMS site (Vaccine Administration Management System). We have to drive 33 miles to a Walgreens across the border in W.VA, but that’s hardly a headache. Far better to have it done and to know that we’re protected — at least as much as we can be.

And number two is needed because COVID is still with us and it’s not going away soon. Just listen to the experts, especially now that they have been unleashed with the departure of a president who had muzzled them for months

There is so good news. The numbers may be coming down — though it is still a bit uncertain. That would be great. But please, remember just how crazy this ride has been. And we are SO far from getting back to anything close to what we once… so many months ago… considered a manageable threat level. We all have to stay focused, stay engaged, stay masked and socially distanced, and…  

Stay safe, stay strong, and stay healthy.

January 20

A new beginning. That’s what one of the commentators just said as Trump’s plane gained altitude and began the journey to Florida.

Today, and the coming days, will be full of folks trying to capture the stark differences in leadership, in belief, and in vision. I won’t even try. I want to experience it far more than talk about.

I’m not ebullient or giddy. I don’t want to be vengeful or vindictive. I don’t want to revel in the many challenges that will confront Trump (though I won’t deny that I won’t shed tears if karma comes into play). I just want to move on. I don’t want the drama or the anger or the constant barrage of blaring headlines. The former president has consumed us for four long years. 

It is indeed a time for a new beginning.

What I am feeling today is hope. I am feeling peace. I feel the calm that can come after moments of great trial. We have survived — not without great cost to our nation — but we have survived.

I’ll savor the peace and the hope. I know that the days ahead will have their share of tumult. I know that the former president will still try to insert himself into our consciousness. I know that the pandemic will continue, the divisions won’t heal overnight, and I know this day could still see threats of violence materialize.  

But, in this moment, I’ll stick with hope. 

Congratulations, President Biden. And thank you for being you.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 19

Tomorrow Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States. He’ll do so in a very different environment, obviously. He will offer his inaugural address not before a crowd of thousands, but instead before a sea of 200,000 American flags filling the national mall. They are meant to represent the tens of thousands of Americans who will not be with us — who will not have the chance to hear Joe Biden’s words because they are among the 400,000+ who have already perished due to the pandemic.

Biden faces an incredible array of crises. The economy has been devastated, families are desperate, the threat of domestic terror is a frightening reality, racial injustice undermines the very essence of who we claim to be as a nation, and climate change is a clear and present danger to our very future. Those are just for starters. But, of course, one of the most immediate and devastating threats that confronts Joe Biden is the pandemic. 

It is a crisis that has spun out of control for far too long and that has caused such untold pain and suffering and anxiety. But bringing it under control is a daunting proposal and it may prove to be all the more difficult as the virus continues to evolve.  

We keep learning more about the new variants that are increasingly contagious. They may not be more deadly, but there are growing concerns that they will spark a dramatic increase in what has already been an overwhelming number of new infections. And if there are further surges in infections we can look for a surge in deaths as well. And if THAT is not bad enough, there are worries that there may be new variants that could be more resistant to the vaccines that have been developed. 

Even though infection numbers and hospitalizations have been starting to drop a bit once again, there are those who worry very much that we are going to see another deeply troubling and dangerous surge. All the more reason that accelerating vaccinations is important in an effort to break this cycle of transmission. But, even with the rush to vaccinate, it may not be enough. Today for the first time I heard discussion about the need to consider selective lockdowns as part of the effort. I can just imagine how freaked out some people will be at the idea.

I don’t envy Joe Biden. He will need all of our support. He’ll try to build unity and to heal. As a first step, tonight he and Kamala will do a memorial ceremony for the 400,000 we have lost. If we can’t come together around that effort it will be further evidence on how divided we are. They ask that we light a candle at 5:30pm as part of the event. We will. 

Biden has asked legislative leaders to join him tomorrow at a mass in the morning. Many have said yes. It’s a step in the right direction.

We will see a new tone and a new direction from our leaders. I hope enough of us are willing and prepared to follow.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 18

It’s MLK day today. We always made an effort at our Embassies overseas to share Dr. King’s powerful message on this day that was established to honor him. His call for social justice and for racial equality resonated in the countries in which I served. He fought against the racism and inequality that we still see in America today, but his message transcended race. It was a message for all of us. 

He was only 39 years old when he was assassinated. I was 15 then. I remember hearing the news. I didn’t know much about Dr. King at the time. But I knew our nation was in turmoil. Protests and riots were rocking our cities — not everyone shared Dr. King’s commitment to non-violence and it was frightening and troubling to a young white kid who had never been forced to look at or even think about issues of racial equality.

I would wager that most folks in our neighborhood… most white folks in our nation… had not given these issues much thought. We took our positions of privilege for granted. We didn’t give a second thought to the idea that our paths were inevitably easier and safer and held greater opportunity than was the case for people of color. But that was… and sadly is… still the reality in America.

We are reminded of it again and again. It took 15 years of fighting to get the MLK holiday signed into law. The resistance was a function of the unrelenting racism of Southern members of Congress who, sadly, were in turn merely reflecting the racism within our society. It might ease our conscience to blame it all on the prejudices we saw in the South. But we know it’s more than that.

There were 8 minutes and 46 seconds on the streets of Minneapolis on May 25th last year that tragically reminded us that racism isn’t a function of where we live in our nation. It is pervasive and systemic and it diminishes us all. 

Racial injustice is one of the “four crises” that the Biden administration has vowed to prioritize. If enough of us care… if enough of us join the effort… perhaps we can continue our growth as a society. I may not have understood or thought about racism when I was a kid. I may not have recognized the issues then. But I do today. And I know I’m not alone. I believe that we are changing and are willing to be part of the change. That wasn’t true years ago, but I do think it is now.

I saw today a story about a group of black kids, 4th and 5th graders, talking about what their dream is. One little boy said he hoped he might live in a world where “people won’t  be scared when they saw a kid who looks like me.”  

Amen to that.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 17

There’s not much that is really new today. The pandemic rages. A concerning threat continues to hang ominously over the inauguration and our nation. But I believe that for many there is a new resolve as well that we cannot let violence and division become the story of our nation. 

Jamie Raskin, one of the House impeachment managers was on CNN this morning. Sadly, he and his wife lost their son to suicide at the end of 2020. The young man had struggled with depression until it became too much. Now Jamie Raskin and his wife and his daughters face death threats from the violent extremists.

These radicalized domestic terrorists have been emboldened by Trump and other irresponsible politicians whose rhetoric over the past few years normalized speech and conduct that would have been condemned from all sides just a few years before. Telling racists and anti-semites and purveyors of violence that they’re “very good people” and “patriots” and sending the message that “we love you” while they were beating police officers at the Capitol has its consequences, and now our elected officials like Raskin and even VP Mike Pence, are at risk. 

Raskin, though, remains undaunted, as do other members on both sides of the aisle. And they deserve our support.

I know that there are many who are deeply frustrated with the failures of Congress in recent years. I’m one one of them. And the failings of our system that are so deeply mired in partisan divide are magnified in our perceptions when we see members whose conduct has been irresponsible, hateful, and very possibly seditious, still advancing lies and conspiracy theories.

But there are many members in the House and Senate who have been shaken by what we have gone through and who, I believe, are determined to stand for our nation. Raskin is just one of them. He said this morning that after losing his son in 2020 he refused to stand by only to also lose our republic in 2021. “It’s not going to happen,” he vowed. I’m with him and all the similarly inclined members of Congress, from either house, who share that commitment. 

Raskin, in his interview, quoted the preamble to the Constitution. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

These are more than just more words. These provide the fundamental charge to our government. And they have been the lodestone that has guided our system of governance since our founding.

The effort to create a “more perfect union” will, perhaps, always be aspirational. But we have made progress over the years and, despite setbacks, we can continue to move forward. 

There are those, of course, who seek to undo our effort. Those who believe that the blessings of liberty are reserved only for those whose skin is white. Those who would give primacy to “christians” over all others.  

Despite them, we have tried to live up to our vision of America and to achieve that which we aspire to. Slowly and haltingly at times, rapidly and constructively at others. But we have moved forward and the majority of us reject the idea that our nation is some kind of an exclusive club. 

We believe that all our citizens, regardless of faith, or race, or gender, are meant to be part of our experiment in democracy and our effort to create that more perfect union. And we must tell those who hate, those who discriminate, those who believe that violence and guns matter more than the power of our voices expressed through the ballot box; You will not define us. You will not win.

The ugliness and hate and discrimination we see today are not new. But for most of my lifetime they have been a cause for shame and for condemnation. And societal opprobrium kept these forces in check. But in recent years, Trump and others have made it OK. Somehow being racist and hateful, attacking and bullying others, has become part of “telling it like it is.” 

We need, once more, to make it a cause for shame. We must find a way to make basic decency the norm not the exception. 

I’m not sure how we get there but I have to believe that the end of Trump’s presidency starts us down the path. Good, responsible leadership from Biden will help too. So will carefully considered policies to prevent the powerful instrument of social media from being used to propagate lies and hate. And we must find support from businesses and civil society groups that seek to deny the oxygen of public attention, support, and funding, to those whose would make a lie of the vision we believe in for America.

I think we can preserve our republic, but it won’t happen without our committed effort. The energy that so many put into the effort to defeat Trump, to win the Senate and more, must be sustained. Not just to perpetuate one party’s advantage over the other, but to ensure that decency triumphs over hate.

In the dark days of the Civil War that divided our nation so devastatingly, Abraham Lincoln, at Gettysburg, asked the people of our nation to ensure that those who had died on those fields would not die in vain. He asked that people commit themselves to ensure  “… that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

It feels to me that today we once again need the recommitment to freedom and decency and shared values that reflect who we aspire to be. I hope, for the sake of my children and grandchildren, that we will be successful in doing so. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 16

As the day begins, we are seeing over 2 million deaths worldwide from COVID with almost a quarter of them here in the US. That still shocks me. The idea that the US remains the epicenter of this horrible virus and even more shocking is that compared to other developed nations we have one of the worst records in terms of protecting our citizens.  

The ferocity of this virus continues unchecked.  A quarter of the global deaths have occurred in just the past 6 weeks. Here in the US we’re losing over 4,000 citizens a day on our worst days. In L.A. someone is dying every six minutes from COVID — day in and day out. If ever there was an incentive to get vaccinated the ferocity of this virus should be providing it. 

Our daughter, a teacher, got her first shot this morning and we were thrilled for her. I know she was excited and she should be. The vaccination is no guarantee, but it is certainly better than NOT being vaccinated. In five days I will follow suit and won’t hesitate for a moment. 

Once we’re fully vaccinated we still will take great care. We all should. We’ll still mask up and socially distance as appropriate. It’s about protecting others. And we recognize that the vaccine isn’t an absolute guarantee that we might not contract it (even if it is milder or asymptomatic) and spread it. The vaccine isn’t a license to be stupid. But it sure will make me feel better. And it gives us far greater confidence as we think about how to travel safely to Texas when our newest grandson joins the family in early March!

Things may be a mess right now, but I remain hopeful about the world that he will grow into. I believe we’ll overcome our challenges, that we’ll redefine ourselves and we’ll shape a new future for ourselves and the planet. I can’t guarantee that, of course, but I can hope for Baby Gus and hope for us all. And I do know this; that little boy will come into a world in which he will have parents who will adore him, protect him, and nurture him. He will have grandparents who will do all that as well, and happily spoil him too.  His world will be bright and full of love.

And today, despite the pandemic, we’ll join a virtual Baby Shower for Natalie and Tony. These events are important. Not just in terms of family coming together to help prepare for a new baby, but to let the parents-to-be know that they have a network of family and friends who are there to share in the experience and offer their support and love.  

What a good way to spend part of a pandemic Saturday.  

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 15

“Shoot him with his own gun.” That’s what some of the mob attacking the Capitol last week shouted as they surrounded and attacked a police officer who was at their mercy. The FBI reported yesterday that some in the mob had the express intent of finding and assassinating members of Congress. VP Pence came “perilously close” to encountering rioters who breached security and entered the Senate Chamber. Only a minute or two separated Pence, and his wife and daughter, from a potentially life-threatening confrontation with the mob. There was an ugliness and a degree of violence that becomes no less frightening as the days go on. And we may not have seen the end of it.

Not every one who came to DC that day was a domestic terrorist or a thug and a criminal. Many were, though. This is the crowd that some in our government chose to cater to though. One with white supremacists, neo-nazis, gun fanatics and other “very fine people” to whom Trump delivered the message “we love you.”  

This is the crowd that Trump told to “fight like hell.” These are the folks he exhorted to march on the Capitol to “stop the steal.” This is the audience to whom he lied for months, declaring even before the polls that if he lost it would have to be because of fraud and massive rigging. 

I don’t know what will happen with the impeachment process, but all I know is that I don’t believe our nation can survive much more of Trumpism, and if he ever returns to lead our nation I can’t imagine a worse possible outcome.

But no matter how appalled I am by him we can’t let our personal revulsion color our response on critical issues that are now before us. One of those issues is how we will manage the tension between the first amendment and national security when they meet on the platforms that define our modern world. Twitter, Facebook, Parler, and more. What is permissible speech? When does an effort to counter dangerous lies and calls for violence become censorship? 

What is the standard? Who sets it? How is it applied? How do we prevent double standards and how do we ensure that the efforts to bring reason and good sense to managing these incredibly powerful communication tools don’t become a tool for choosing what we can and cannot hear? Even today, Facebook algorithms show ads for military gear to individuals who fit the profile for far-right users. This is what they have created. 

Too far? Freedom of speech? Is it any more different than tailoring ads for vegan products to those who visit pages geared towards vegans? Where do we draw lines and who makes the decisions?  

We faced similar questions after 9/11 as legislators debated the Patriot Act and we face them now as we confront the specter of radicalized domestic terrorists and as we see how irresponsible politicians can use these tools to inflame passions and incite violent responses. We need a rational and reasoned response. I wonder if that is possible in this polarized political environment. We have much to deal with as a society. We’re just getting started.

Meanwhile, on another front, yesterday in Virginia the availability of the COVID vaccine was expanded to include those of us who are between 65 – 75 years of age. A quick survey on our country public health webpage led to a message from the CDC, a registration process, and an appointment for our first shots next Thursday. 

I know that this is going to be a tough challenge to vaccinate all that need it across the country. But I have to say I was impressed with the speed with which the process worked… so far, at least… for us. The horrors of this pandemic may be overshadowed for the moment by the political turmoil we face but they haven’t gone away. Vaccinating as many as possible as quickly as possible matters. A lot. So I’m eager to do my part and will get the first shot, and I’ll hope that the second will be available when the time comes.  

And that’s how the work week ends here in Haymarket.  

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 14

My mother passed away five years ago today on the morning of her 92nd birthday. I was one of those who sat vigil with her through the night and was so grateful to be there with her when she passed with the sunrise.

I had missed the chance to say goodbye to my father, who had died unexpectedly while I was serving in Botswana. I was on a trip to Angola, preparing for my next assignment as Director for Southern African affairs when I learned the news. All the more reason, then, I was glad to be there with Mom when the time came.

Life goes on, the years pass, but some memories don’t fade. And today, instead of worrying about irresponsible and feckless politicians and a devastating pandemic that is heartbreaking in its undiscriminating ferocity, I’m remembering my Mom on her birthday and explore my memories of her and all she gave to me and my siblings.

I miss her. I am sure I always will. Not all of us are blessed with parents whose unconditional love buoys us and endures even when we might not deserve it. I was. And I am grateful beyond measure.

So today I attach this link to something I wrote about a year ago as part of series of essays for our own kids. That’s my blog for today. So much happier a choice than anything in the news!

Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you.

January 13

It’s really hard not to be consumed by the political drama that is unfolding. Just as the recent election was one of the most — if not THE most — consequential in our lifetimes, so too is today fraught with significance and consequence for our nation. 

The House of Representatives will vote today and almost inevitably opt to impeach Donald Trump for the second time. 

I wrote one version of the blog this morning.  But I’m back at it this afternoon. 

I’m dismayed. And I think I’m ashamed as well. The majority of the legislators embarrassed me. On both sides of the aisle.

The Republicans offer calls for “healing” and decry the impeachment motion as threatening to spark greater division. Excuse me? These are the same legislators who turned a blind eye for four years as Donald Trump savaged those who disagreed with him and created division and discord at every turn. They have not cared about unity or healing or about “putting the people first” until today when Donald Trump faces his second impeachment. Instead they echoed his lies and matched his contempt for their foes.

And I struggle to believe the sincerity of their concern for unity when so many of them, just days ago, even AFTER the attack on the Capitol, voted against certifying the electoral college results and perpetuated the lie about massive electoral fraud that Trump has peddled, that drove the mob, and that led to the deaths and ugliness we saw last week. 

 If they truly cared about unity and healing they had their chance in that moment to act differently and to speak differently. They did not do so. So you’ll excuse me if I question the sincerity of their call for unity today.

There were those who suggested that if impeachment is pursued we’ll only invite a violent response. To me it felt like folks like Louis Gohmert were implicitly calling for such a response. Or perhaps they believe that we should cower before the anger of the mob that attacked the capitol and not take any actions that might further anger violent extremists. That’s cowardice, not leadership.

Virtually none of the Republicans I heard addressed the real issue of Donald Trump inciting violence against our nation. They just reiterated their increasingly strained and tired charges about Democrats’ “obsession” with removing Trump. They continued to cast this as a strictly partisan issue, seemingly ignoring Trump’s complicity in motivating the attack.  

At a time when all of us, whether Republican or Democrat, are threatened by radical extremism and a threat to our nation, they return to their partisan posturing. Sadly, any movement toward unity that we hoped might follow as we faced the reality of last week’s heinous attack never has materialized.

There is no question in my mind, as Liz Cheney said yesterday, that Donald Trump bears the responsibility for inspiring, summoning, and ultimately directing the mob that gathered on January 6 to move upon our Capitol and the legislators we elected. He “lit the flame of the Capitol riot,” she said. His actions have been irresponsible and dangerous and, I believe, criminal. 

But Democrats have failed to explain why seeking to impeach with only a week left in his term provides a remedy. They have not made a compelling case of a clear and present danger that requires immediate action and they have not shown how the rush to impeachment protects the nation in the short term or how it will result in holding Donald Trump accountable in the long term.

We want to keep him from ever running again? I get that desire, but let’s build the case then. Otherwise we create a martyr and fuel the claims of vindictive retaliation. At this moment I’d rather say let the voters decide IF we ever come to that point in time and let’s allow a more measured prosecution of Trump take place if the facts support it after investigation.

Today the Democrats have sounded as partisan as their foes claim they are. I believe that their condemnation of Trump is fair. But that doesn’t make it sound any less partisan in the environment in which we operate. No one’s mind is being changed by anything said today, and people might be excused for thinking that both sides have little interest in addressing the deadly serious issues we are facing as a nation or the huge challenges that lie ahead.  

And, if Democrats are willing to wait — perhaps for months as some have suggested — for a Senate trial, then what IS the reason that this had to be rushed through the House immediately?  Why couldn’t we have had a more measured process, waited for more facts to come out. Why couldn’t this be left to a criminal investigation and case against Trump if warranted? Democrats, to my mind, have failed to offer a compelling case regarding the process even if the substance of Trump’s acts is reprehensible.

In the past week I really wanted to be convinced that this process would be the answer to what I consider a shocking and seditious act — a horrific betrayal — by the man who is our president. But I’m not sure that we have gained anything with the spectacle that is unfolding today.

A junior Republican congressman made a very brief statement about how he felt as if both parties were in a “race for the bottom” in today’s debate. I couldn’t help but feel the same way.

Like many, I’ve wondered what path makes the most sense as we seek to respond to the crisis that we find ourselves in, but as the days have gone on I have to conclude that this should be less about the timing — a point that is almost moot in any event — and more about the fundamentals of democracy, of justice, of accountability, and principle. 

Today’s action feels rushed and ill-considered and I think there is little emerging that will satisfy anyone who is truly worried about our nation. Some may relish that Trump has been impeached twice — and I’ll admit I think he deserves that infamous footnote in history — but I don’t know that we have distinguished ourselves. 

And sadly this tableau unfolds as these legislators decide which side of history they will stand upon, against a background of fear and the threat of violence. The vote will be held as legislators are reportedly telling their friends that they “fear for their lives and their families lives.” They are scared by the threats from the extremists and they are reportedly scared by Trump’s threats to turn his base — which includes those same extremists — against them. How sad and frightening is that here in the United States. 

Lincoln famously said “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” In this moment of crisis for our nation, the divisions on display today then, should be all the more troubling for us. 

The future is uncertain. I don’t know what will happen in either the halls of Congress or on the streets of our nation. None of us does. So we’ll watch history unfold and, over the next week — and beyond — we’ll hope for wisdom, principled leadership, and courage. We will need them all. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 12

Rabbi Steve Leder who has written a book, “The Beauty of What Remains,” was talking about this morning. The book is about how we deal with grief — about learning the lessons of loss. It is a book that matters during this devastating pandemic.

We may choose to cope by blocking our awareness. We may keep our discussions at an impersonal level where we track rates of increase and daily deaths. But we can’t escape the reality of what we are facing. We can’t escape that there are 375,000 stories of pain and suffering and loss. There are over 375,000 lives that deserve to be remembered and recognized, but how do we do that?

Sara Sidner, a CNN journalist, has been following the deaths in Los Angeles, day after day. She has met with the families whose lives have been devastated by a disease that should never have taken a toll so great. And today she broke down on air, her tears overcoming her. How do we manage the grief? How do we find the “beauty of what remains” when we face such grim news on so many levels across our nation.

There is no question that Donald Trump’s abysmal failures as a leader have brought us to this pass with the COVID pandemic. The fact that so many STILL deny the reality of this virus, that so many won’t even wear masks is part of his legacy. There would have been deaths no matter what, of course, but we know that the numbers are far, far worse than they needed to be. 

History will lay these tragedies at his doorstep. 

Rabbi Leder also spoke about the “hatred from the extremes.” In the attack on the Capitol last week we saw folks wearing “Camp Auschwitz” t-shirts glorifying the Nazi genocide of Europe’s Jews and others they turned their hate upon. And here in America, these violent extremists who marched through the halls of the Capitol chanting “hang Mike Pence,” have plenty of hate. Their white supremacist racism goes hand in hand with the unreasoning hatred that also fuels anti-semitism and new-Nazism we saw on display as well.

Again, Trump didn’t create racism or anti-semitism. But his failure to condemn them — his willingness to give his support to those who wallow in their hatred — has opened the door for what we see today. That too is part of his legacy.

Make no mistake, Trump has inspired his most radicalized followers to believe that now is their time. He has told them they are patriots rather than bigots and pariahs. He, and Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Kevin McCarthy and so many others have chosen to turn a blind eye to the dangers these extremists pose to our nation in hope of gaining their political support.

There is no question that Trump’s silence in the face of hate and his eager embrace of violent extremists (“‘we love you,” he told them as the attack on the Capitol unfolded) has legitimized the horrors. And now the FBI warns that we face armed protests in every state in the days ahead.  

The FBI states the threat is from an organized armed group that is planning to attack government institutions and buildings across our nation. There is a frightening surge in the threats directed against President-elect Biden, against VP – elect Harris, and against Speaker Pelosi. And the sad reality is that there are some in the police and other security agencies who share the racist and hateful attitudes of the extremists. There is also great courage and decency in those ranks, but the pervasiveness of hate, especially when leaders implicitly or explicitly condone it, is a frightening concern for every American.

We don’t know what the coming days will hold. We don’t know if further blood will be shed. But whatever happens, this too is part of Trump’s legacy. 

I don’t know what will happen to efforts to hold him accountable. I don’t know what will happen to efforts to hold Cruz, Hawley, McCarthy, and many others accountable. But we are at a national crossroads. Let’s pray that we choose the right direction.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 11

We continue to try and make sense of all that is happening around us, but we can’t let the drama on the national security front lead us to forget the even more immediate threat posed to us all by the pandemic that continues unabated.  

For 40 straight days we have had more than 100,000 hospitalizations. The daily infection rate has accelerated by 28% in the last two weeks alone with over a quarter of a million new infections every day. We have now hit 375,000 deaths. It’s chaos. In Southern California ambulances with patients can wait 6-8 hours outside hospitals because there aren’t any beds. It is unrelenting and it is frightening.

I just don’t know what more we can say. Now we wait for the vaccines. The process has been haphazard and far less efficient than we had hoped. I know a few folks who actually have received or will be receiving their first shots. I’m a bit envious. God only knows when they’ll get to 1(c) candidates here in Virginia. And the new concern, of course, is whether the second shots will be there if the incoming Biden administration pushes aggressively forward to release current vaccine stockpiles. 

I understand the rationale, but if manufacturers aren’t able to keep us supplied and if folks start to miss their second inoculation it could be a misplaced effort. We have to hope that their performance will be markedly different than the ineptitude we’ve struggled with for the past year. It’s frustrating, though, that so many of these issues that are literally life and death for some people, are so totally out of our control.

And meanwhile, the political turmoil continues. As we learn more and more about the horrific violence that occurred at the Capitol the anger and disgust that many of us feel seems to be growing. We are now seeing the private sector increasingly distancing itself from Trump. The PGA has pulled a major tournament from a Trump golf course. Blue Cross-Blue Shield and other companies are stopping or suspending donations, not only to Trump, but to any of the legislators who sought to undermine the electoral process by propagating the false narrative about election fraud and the validity of Biden’s victory.

We’ll see what comes next. The impeachment process has begun. We don’t know where this will lead but this can’t be just political theater. The issues are real, the danger that Trump has posed to our nation cannot be denied.

Whatever Trump’s future, January 20th can’t come quickly enough. Our government is frozen in place. The President is in his “bunker” incapable of leading or acting. We have no idea of who is in charge or if anyone is at all. We confront a pandemic, the threat of domestic terror, and a president who may be mentally ill. 

He might emerge today but not to condemn the violence, not to apologize, not to lead, but to vent his anger at Twitter and Facebook because he can’t use those platforms any longer to spread his vitriol and his lies. It is telling that major networks will likely decline to air his remarks live as they are worried that he may use any such platform to foment further violence. What a world.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 10

The excitement I felt following the election that heralded the end of the Trump presidency is hard to rekindle this morning. That has nothing to do with Joe Biden or the team he has assembled. But I worry about the radicalism that is growing by leaps and bounds in our nation. 

The papers are full of reports about how Trump and his political lieutenants and the right wing media have all fueled the extremism we’re seeing. An extremism that led to the attack on the Capitol which, as the reports are stitched together, was even more dangerous, more violent, and far more frightening than we realized as we watched it unfolding.  

There was an ugliness there… a fanaticism… that is frightening and it won’t just go away when Trump’s time in the White House ends. There are those, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who disagree and believe that we can quickly return to normal with Trump’s departure. He is confident in our country. I am too but I just think that the road back to normalcy, to decency, and to our democracy, may be longer and harder than those, like Secretary Powell, who are offering the most hopeful spin on it at the moment.

We should be prepared for a battle. A real struggle for our nation’s future. A determined and fanatic minority willing to break all the norms, and even eager to unleash violence directed against those that they see as the enemy, can have an influence far disproportionate to their actual numbers. The brown-shirted followers of Adolph Hitler are a case in point.

I don’t know if we’re at that point in America, but we can’t just ignore the possibility. This morning I heard a discussion about the politics of cultural despair — about the dislocation that occurs when we see the world we have known dissolving before our eyes. That makes some sense to me. And the fact is that this is not just something that affects Trump supporters. 

For all of us, the world is changing and it is doing so at breakneck speed. Political upheaval, a devastating pandemic, dramatic demographic shifts, climate change, and more, all combine to shake our foundations. Add in the further dislocations driven by the rise of AI, big data, and biotech advances and you can understand why the earth seems to be shifting under our feet.

Some people refuse to accept the changes… they refuse to accept the world as it has become. And that’s part of the problem too. The folks we saw last week chose to reject reality. They preferred instead to buy into all the lies and conspiracy that are their daily fare and they drive ever deeper down the right wing conspiracy theory rabbit holes that propagate the most bizarre explanations imaginable for why the world has changed. 

Rather than accept the election results, accept the reality of the pandemic, accept the reality of the changing world, many of the people who were on the streets in DC chose to live in a world shaped by their delusions instead. We talked so much during the year about the “two Americas.” We talked about the alternative realities in which we live. Last week we saw that manifested in the extreme.  

It’s uncomfortable to ponder all this. It’s hard to know how we deal with it. But this is going to be part of the national discussion in the months — and possibly the years — ahead. More than ever, we need to be engaged and responsible citizens lending our voices to the discussion. It isn’t going to be easy. But it’s the hand we have been dealt. Now we have to figure out how to play it.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 9

My day started today with two articles. Both are disturbing and offer serious food for thought.

The first is from CNN. It’s deeply troubling (link is below). It offers a glimpse at the currents that gave rise to the events that occurred in Washington on Wednesday as we saw a mob attack our nation’s capitol.

We already know that the divisions within our society are pronounced. It’s not just about Trump — he just exploited them. And they have not been “created” by FOX, or OAN or the like — though they have nurtured those divisions with the lies they sow in fertile and receptive ground. And it’s not just about a “culture” war and whether we say “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays.” It runs deeper than that.

And it’s not just about a few “crazies.” We need only to look at the concerns felt by many Americans that led to a Trump victory in 2016 and garnered him 74 million votes in the recent election. It makes me wonder how deep and how widespread our divides are. And when there are folks who talk seriously about hanging Nancy Pelosi or Mitch McConnell, or about the need for violence and dealing with the “traitors,” we can’t just dismiss it. Their anger and sense of betrayal fuel their calls for violent revolution and a remaking of our nation.

Some even called Mike Pence, the unfailingly loyal sidekick to Donald Trump, a traitor who deserved to be killed. What have we become? How many do we have in our society who believe such things? They are a minority, but if they truly are willing to resort to violent extremism, that minority can create a huge threat. And, when would-be-demagogues like Trump seek to exploit them and use them as a tool to intimidate or terrorize others, we could be in for a rough ride.

How we counter this extremism could become one of the most significant challenges our nation faces. Just as we have struggled with violent extremism across the world we would be foolish to believe that it can’t appear here at home. There are those who think that the extremist threat Is only about Islam and they focus on the attacks we have seen by ISIS, or Al Qaeda, or other muslim extremist groups. But make no mistake, extremism’s roots lie not in faith but in alienation, in economic or social oppression, or in fear and anger about a changing world in which many do not fit and have been left behind.

In Africa I saw the potential for growing extremism among youth and, in many nations, it was more likely to be Christian kids than Muslims who would become the next wave of violent extremists. And we may may be growing similar extremism in our own nation as well. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, anarchists, and others with wildly mixed messages but based in anger and hate, pose a true threat to our future.

We are not immune. We need to recognize the threat and be prepared to respond from a security perspective as well as in identifying and addressing the factors that create fertile ground for such extremism to rise. I hope it is a short-lived phenomenon. I fear it may not be.

The other troubling report (link is also below) is from the New York Times and it looks at the pandemic and the increasing number of mutations. It’s a longish piece but worth the read. It is as fascinating as it is troubling. And it gives greater urgency than ever to the effort to get this virus under control rather than allowing it further time to mutate beyond current vaccine’s ability to control it. The urgency we already face, as deaths mount precipitously and health care systems are overwhelmed, is compounded by the risks associated with an unchecked virus that mutates in an effort at it’s own self-preservation. It’s what viruses do.

Against the background provided in this article, the decision of the incoming administration to push out virtually all the current stockpiles of vaccine takes on another dimension.
The article is not a dire prediction of doom and gloom. But it is another thoughtful examination of the science of viruses such as this and a reminder of the costs and the risks we face when that science is ignored and when we fail to use the tools we have at our disposal to counter what may be the greatest global public health crisis we have faced in our lifetimes.

I don’t envy President-elect Biden or VP-elect Harris. The challenges that await them are daunting. Extremism. A deadly pandemic. A crippled economy. Families in need. And a society that must find a way to deal with legacies of racism and economic inequality that give lie to the dream that shaped our “creation story” as a nation and that will only fuel further problems if left unaddressed.

I hope we are equal to the task that lies ahead. We may indeed need a new American revolution — just not the ones envisioned by the extremists who seem to find it so easy to talk about the need for hangings and executions. Instead we can continue to create a more just society. We can address need for health care for our citizens. We can protect our environment before it is too late. We can effect political reforms that restore purpose and vigor or our national leadership and put the nation above partisanship.

Well… so much for a light-hearted Saturday AM. Remind me not to start my weekend reading the news.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 8 

Where do you begin on a day like this?  

What happened on Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol was shameful and horrific. Donald Trump’s role in instigating it was equally so. And there are legitimate worries about his mental state and about the potential for him to perpetrate greater damage is there. 

Many want Trump to be held accountable — to be punished or removed from office. I understand that desire. I share it. But I’m not convinced that it will either happen or that is how or where we should focus our energies over the next 12 days. I fear that we’ll get new drama, more lines being drawn, more opportunities for political game playing, but nothing of significance will actually occur.  

And, even though I share the worries about what other crises Trump could spark with his erratic behavior, any action to remove Trump through impeachment, even IF successful, would not likely be resolved until virtually his last day in office.

Let’s not let anxieties overcome our common sense and let’s not let our desire to punish lead us down a path that actually gives Trump’s followers a cause to rally around.  

I know it’s important to call out impeachable conduct and Trump’s conduct fits the bill. But I still question whether at this stage it will not do more harm than good. But, if the threat of impeachment compels him to resign, I’ll cheer as loudly as anyone and concede that it was a good tactical choice (as opposed to a censure condemning his actions). I’m just doubtful that anyone as shameless as Donald Trump will have the decency to resign or ever acknowledge that what he unleashed on our nation this week is inexcusable.

That attack was a serious threat to our nation. But we have to recognize that it’s not just about punishing Donald Trump, no matter how disgusting his role in it was. We also have broader issues at play. Some of the most prominent among the attackers were known figures in Qanon, the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Bois, and various other far right groups. They pose a threat to our future and to our national unity. The response needs to be clear, swift, and firm, but guided by the law and due process. 

The basic facts are clear, though,  There’s plenty of video evidence showing some of them entering the Capitol holding zip ties that could have been used to restrain people — one assumes members of Congress. Videos of them attacking Capitol Police with pipes and tasers. Video of them trashing our nation’s Capitol and invading offices. 

Anyone who wants to believe that this was not the work of pro-Trump extremists or who offers the false narrative being advanced by some members of Congress that these were actually ANTIFA supporters is delusional or deliberately lying and seeking to muddy the issues. The threat these groups pose as proponents of domestic terrorism must be recognized and contained.

And we need to answer the question of how this could have happened, especially when so much of what they intended was telegraphed on the internet in the days leading up to their attack. The questions abound and there are those who are wondering if their attack was made easier by pro-Trump elements in law enforcement agencies. The questions must at least be asked when the failure is as spectacular as this failure was.  

Meanwhile, in the face of the violence and threats that were fueled by Trump’s lies and manipulation. Facebook and Twitter have finally begun to act in a meaningful way to rein in the abuses. And, in the face of the chaos of Wednesday and Trumps’ role in it, The Wall Street Journal has joined the chorus of those urging him to resign. Even Fox News has voiced concerns.

And it’s not just Trump who is drawing scrutiny. Simon and Schuster has canceled a book deal with Senator Josh Hawley, one of the legislators who persevered in propagating the lies about election fraud and irregularities. 

Hawley, of course, is looking for ways to explain his stand. And today we saw Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz suddenly find reason to be outraged by Trump after enabling him and cosseting him and dancing to his tune for four years. I’m not particularly impressed with any of these folks who are bailing out now (with essentially just a week to go) or who have suddenly decided Trump has gone too far. They are not profiles in courage. It feels far too self-serving to really believe they mean it. 

Perhaps there is some value in folks sending a message that Trump has gone too far… way too far… and finally distancing themselves.  But some are just hypocrites. I’ll let you choose who fits that bill.

And as we deal with the crises engendered in these last days of a dying presidency — the worst in our modern history — we have so much more to worry about. 

The economy continues to slide, with 140,000 jobs lost last month and more families than ever at risk.  

And the pandemic continues to take unprecedented tolls while our leaders are absorbed with Trump’s continued unwillingness — his scripted statement yesterday notwithstanding — to accept the peaceful transition of power. But the pandemic doesn’t give a crap about Trump or our politics. It is far more efficient, I fear, than our efforts to fight it and yesterday it took over 4,000 lives. Yet ANOTHER new record. And projections? Who even wants to think about the possibility that in the weeks ahead we could see deaths rise to over 6,000 a day!  

There is SO much for us to do. So many crises. SO many challenges. We can’t let Trump continue to set the tone or set the agenda. It’s time to see him gone. It’s time to see him forgotten.

It’s time for us to heal and to rebuild our nation. I think that’s what Biden intends to do. I hope we can all assist with the process.  

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 7

We saw it coming. And the fear and anger and despair that many of us feel is warranted. I don’t know that I can add much to the extraordinary volume of commentary that we all have before us. It is hard to believe that any of us are indifferent to the events that unfolded yesterday and, even if I offer little original or new, I feel the need, like so many of us, to try and make sense of what has happened.

I would start by saying that, in my mind, there is no question that responsibility for the crisis we saw yesterday lies with Donald Trump and those other so-called leaders who spread the lies, who fueled the sense of grievance, and who gave license to the domestic terrorists to trample on our democracy and all that has shaped us as a nation. Sharing in the culpability are the Republican politicians who turned a blind eye and who remained silent in the face of the shattered norms and abuse of power by Trump because they might get one more judge appointed or win support from Trump’s followers. Then there are the news services and commentators who, in pursuit of a larger audience share, deliberately further inflamed passions of the conspiracy theorists and who gave voice to, and embroidered upon, the lies. They too bear responsibility.

We’ve seen some of his enablers now run for cover. Maybe they’re sincere. Lindsay Graham said “enough is enough.” Mick Mulvaney, his former chief of staff, is resigning. Bill Barr, the recently resigned Attorney General has condemned his action as a “betrayal of his office.” All that is good. But where was their outrage and concern for our nation and about his conduct when they could have made a difference? I welcome their condemnation of Trump, true, but I can’t bring myself to applaud them when they are foremost among those who encouraged him and made many of his worst abuses possible. 

The bottom line is that yesterday we saw a mob that turned into rioters and domestic terrorists. The mob that Trump told to march on the Capitol. The mob that Trump incited, and lied to, and that he told to “show strength” to take back that which had been “stolen” from them. Trump sought to intimidate legislators. He was ready to accept mob rule rather than the rule of law if it would preserve him in power.

Will these events help us end the fever dream that revolves around the Trump cult of personality? I don’t know. Perhaps what happened yesterday shocked many back to reality, but there are still some in the Republican Party who continue to tell the lies or who now claim that the mob that attacked our Capitol were not really Trump supporters but maybe ANTIFA activists. Clearly not everyone learned the lessons. 

Still, when the process of certifying the electoral results resumed last night — and I give Congress credit for setting the tone and resuming the business of the people — there were many members who spoke from the heart. They were sobered by the events of the day and were truly and deeply concerned for our nation. It was a step in the right direction, but whether it will hold for the future remains to be seen. Mitch McConnell, Ben Sasse, and even folks like Kelly Loeffler 

Facebook has suspended Trump at least until after Biden’s inauguration.  Twitter may do the same. There is talk about invoking the 25th amendment and removing Trump for incompetency, there is talk about Congressional censure. There are questions about his mental state and his ability to lead the nation.  

There are also troubling questions about why the response yesterday was so delayed. Why the response looked so different from the response, for example, to BLM protests last summer — protests far less dangerous and threatening that what we saw from the violent mob yesterday. 

There are so many issues. But the bottom line is that what happened yesterday, despite all the corollary questions, still comes back to one thing — this was a mob incited, encouraged, and directed by Donald Trump to attack our nation.

The fury and outrage are not misplaced. Our choices in the days ahead may be critical and defining of our future. Assigning blame is one thing… choosing our path is another. I can only hope we’ll be guided by the principles that have shaped our nation. Principles I believed in during my years of service and I still believe in today.

Today, let’s ask for wisdom, and care, and responsible partnership across the political spectrum as we chart our path forward. 

Let’s put our nation ahead of our parties. 

Let’s stand for America.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 6

The spotlight today remains politically focused. That’s not a surprise. We have the runoffs in Georgia. We have the certification of Biden’s electoral victory with the political theater that will accompany that and we have a massive pro-Trump crowd gathered in DC to march on the capitol. That’s a lot going on. 

The protest march is fine. I may disagree with their views but they have the right to march and protest just as the BLM advocates and others did over the past few months. I worry, though, about what will happen. Speaker after speaker is fueling their anger. Giuliani called for “trial by combat.” Others are calling on the protestors to “save America” in the face of a “stolen election.”  It’s lie after lie. And it’s frustrating to know that these protestors are letting themselves be guided by them. Trump is foremost among those who have abandoned the truth. He told the crowd today that VP Pence can overturn the results of the state elections by his actions today — something that we know to be false, but that is not at all surprising.

The protestors may be willing, and even eager, believers, but you can’t help but feel they are also being used. Their anger is based on a narrative about electoral fraud and a “stolen” election that just isn’t true. I wonder how many of them would be there if they hadn’t been manipulated and lied to for the past two months. And, if this leads them to act beyond the bounds of legitimate protest, it will be a travesty and a tragedy that will put people at risk and further undermine our centuries long traditions of peaceful transitions of power. 

Perhaps the day will pass peacefully, but this is troubling. 

And meanwhile, the farce that will be perpetrated in Congress today by some in the Republican caucus is a futile effort that only further fuels confusion for many Americans. There are those with Presidential ambitions who are seeking to advance their own interests and are using the election certification process to do so. They will put their own interests ahead of the nation’s just as other Republican legislators are seeking to curry favor with Trump’s supporters and avoid the risk of Trump’s wrath. They have reason to fear it. The Trumps are already threatening any Republican in Congress who doesn’t participate in the farce today with primary challenges and a concerted effort by the Trump base to defeat them. It’s such a blatant display of political intimidation that it’s hard to believe… but their words leave no doubt. 

Then, of course, there are the Senate polls in Georgia in which the two Democratic candidates seem poised to win. I won’t be disappointed to see Senator McConnell who once vowed to make Obama a one-term president and who sought to block every item on his legislative agenda, become the minority leader. There are many, many challenges that lie ahead and, with a Congress that is so evenly split in both houses, we will have political drama for months to come. But McConnell’s ability to be obstructionist has been diminished and perhaps the prospect for legislative compromise and progress is improved.

And, of course, while all this unfolds, the pandemic rages. Day after day we hope that maybe numbers are finally plateauing. We hope that one of these days we’ll see the start of a downward trend. But not yet. Every day it’s more grim news. Every day it’s new records that make us cringe. New records of hospitalized Americans as we have climbed well past 130,000.  New records on deaths… yesterday it was over 3,700.  More infections, more deaths, more hospitals overwhelmed.  

To see politicians engaging in gamesmanship and telling their lies while our citizens are dying in record numbers from this pandemic is shocking and heartbreaking. To me there are more important concerns than scoring partisan political points. But apparently, not to them.

But that’s life in America today. And that’s as sad as sad can be.

Stay strong. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

January 5

Oxygen shortages. Never thought I’d be talking about oxygen shortages, but there you have it. This is the age of COVID. 

If you live in L.A. and have a heart attack and can’t be resuscitated in the field you won’t be taken to the hospital. They just can’t cope and are making hard choices about who can and cannot be saved.

We may be facing infection rates up to four times higher than previously thought according to one study. New York City is setting up mass vaccination sites. Folks waiting for vaccinations in Florida sit in their cars in horrendous lines for hours only to be turned away. It feels like the worst of a bad sci-fi flick about the end of days. But it’s just another day in America in 2021.

But our president can’t be bothered to give these issues his attention. He wants to overturn the election. He doesn’t care that voters had another verdict. Voters don’t matter. Only his ego and his obsessive need not to be a “loser.” Steal the votes. Lie about the outcome. Coerce others to engage in fraud. Pressure the VP to violate his own obligation to certify the electoral college results and tell a crowd you “won’t like him as much” anymore if he doesn’t. Make’s you wonder what he’s saying to Pence privately. 

Yep. It’s a dangerous time as we face a crisis but have no leadership. I’ve never seen a president so totally abandon his duties. Yet he wants to stay in the job. There’s an irony there.  

And god knows what sort of drama will surround the Georgia polls today. Or the demonstration in DC planned for tomorrow to coincide with the electoral certification.

None of us knows what will happen next — either with the pandemic, or the vaccinations or the political crisis that continues to roil our nation. What we know is that the ride will continue to be bumpy. Strap in and hang on. Enough said.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 4

Well, I know how thrilled folks were to kick 2020 to the curb. We wanted it in our rearview mirror and I get that. I wanted it too. Turning the page on a calendar, however, doesn’t wipe the slate clean and give us the totally new beginning we might like.

The politics feels the same. The pandemic news is as bleak. And sadly, our seeming inability to get our hands around basic tasks related to managing the crisis still seems striking in a nation that has in the past shown such resourcefulness and leadership in the face of pronounced challenges.

We all, by now, have heard Trump on his call cajoling, bullying, and implicitly threatening the Georgia Secretary of State. So much for those who argued that he would “learn his lesson” after an impeachment trial for abuse of power in his efforts to push the leadership of Ukraine to somehow dig up dirt on Joe Biden. It never ends with Trump and it likely never will. We can hope, though, that when he speaks from his diminished soapbox in the months ahead both the reach and the resonance of his lies will be commensurately lessened. 

His impact, however, will long be with us. He has empowered and emboldened folks who were once on the far right fringe of his own party to act and speak as if they are now the heart of the Republican Party. Louis Gohmert of Texas is one such actor. After his lawsuit to compel the Vice President to reject the electors chosen by the states failed, he essentially argued that like-minded believers in the fiction of electoral fraud would have no other choice but to turn to violence in the streets. 

Not only does Mr. Gohmert seek to invalidate our votes in November’s election and essentially orchestrate a coup but his implicit call for violence is reprehensible and irresponsible. But so are the actions of other Republican leaders like Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley who continue to pour fuel on the incendiary fiction of electoral fraud on which Trump spins new layers daily. Let’s hope that the encouragement that all these folks — including the president, for god’s sake— offer in an attempt to rile up their base doesn’t give way to the violence and ugliness that Gohmert and others — including Trump — tacitly encourage during the protests planned for January 6.

I applaud Senator Cotton, with whom I probably disagree almost all the time on policy issues, for refusing to be drawn into the web. And of course, he immediately became yet another target for the tweets Trump launches against anyone who stands for democracy rather than offering blind loyalty to the cult of Trump that has come to dominate the Republican Party.

And as far as the pandemic that made 2020 such a difficult year goes, the start of 2021 finds not a single state showing a decrease in COVID infections. We’re averaging over 213,000 cases and over 2,600 deaths every day. And those numbers are still rising. Four states have seen a 50% increase in new cases in one week! California alone had 45,000 new cases yesterday. 

Once that number was the cause of alarm as a daily total for the entire nation. Now we are numb to the numbers. I don’t know if we truly understand how close to collapse our health care system is in many parts of the nation and how challenged all the diverse networks that drive our highly decentralized health care delivery systems across the country are. If ever they needed leadership and national vision, direction and support, it is now.  

And these same systems, that are overburdened and stretched to the breaking point are now being asked to pick up the pace on vaccinations. If they don’t, things will only become worse. But some officials seem to think that our national government’s job ends when we get vaccine vials delivered to the states with little or no apparent thought as to what comes next. 

I know that this is a tough issue at a tough time, but I have to believe that there is some degree of failure of planning and vision. Again. 

And meanwhile, as they worry about the potential for ever MORE rapid spread with the new variants in play, some officials are scrambling to recalibrate vaccine plans. Maybe, they posit, we can reduce the dosage of the vaccinations for certain age groups. Maybe we can delay the second shot. Maybe we can do this or that. The goal is to get more shots into more people, to counter a virus even more prone to spreading. 

I understand why they’re exploring the options. But it’s all conjecture and speculation. It’s not based on clinical trials or in-depth research. It’s just an educated theory that maybe it would be OK. And I get that desperate times call for desperate measures and they should explore the options. 

But it seems that there are other options we should be exploring as well. Ones that involve real federal leadership and support to the states. Ones that call for planning and partnership that has been lacking to this point. Ones that don’t find folks calling a Florida vaccination appointment line over 200 times, as happened to a friend, in a vain attempt to book one of the 5,000 vaccination appointments on offer. 

Once we were better than this. Better in our politics. In our leadership. In our sense of civic duty and responsibility to each other. Better in our response to crisis. Better in so many ways. And maybe we’ll be better again. Maybe 2021 will improve with age. But for now, the new page on the calendar looks far too similar to the ones that preceded it.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy

January 3

It’s a quiet Sunday in Haymarket. I didn’t even turn on the Sunday news shows. I knew what I’d hear. The same grim news about the pandemic and the ever more bizarre tale of 140+ Republican House Members and 11 Republican Senators seeking to overturn a democratic election in the United States. I’m embarrassed for our nation. And it becomes ever stranger as they assert that there should be an “emergency 10-day audit” of results from “disputed states” because of the volume of “allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities.” 

They don’t acknowledge that the “volume” of these allegations have been engineered, encouraged, and perpetuated by none other than Donald Trump, the Republican legislators who have supported the lies, and the conservative media who have amplified the baseless claims. It doesn’t matter how many recounts or audits have been done. It doesn’t matter how many lawsuits have been thrown out by courts across the nation, including the Supreme Court, for lack of evidence.  

Apparently, if you lie long enough and outrageously enough you can then demand that your lies be treated as worthy of attention. 

Let’s be clear. There is no evidence of fraud or malfeasance in the conduct of the election. There is nothing that would change the outcome. But it has now become OK for the losers in a democratic election in America to attack our democracy rather than accept their loss and ask themselves why their positions were rejected.  

And, of course, they want to focus only on states Biden won and only on the presidential race. Somehow the results that favored Republican House Members and Senators were just fine. 

The shameless hypocrisy and lies and the willingness of the men and women who swore an oath to preserve and protect our Constitution makes me ill. I swore that same oath when I joined our Foreign Service and each time I was sworn in as Ambassador. And when I see these supposed leaders abandoning principle to serve themselves and to salve Trump’s wounded ego I want to weep.

Make no mistake. This is not normal. This is not fact finding or an honest attempt to answer questions. It is dangerous demagoguery and it angers me beyond words. I have no desire to be measured in my response. 

And just this minute, as I write, I have heard for the first time the audio recording of Trump’s phone call with the Secretary of State of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger in which he alternatively cajoled, then threatened Raffensperger and told him he had to “find” over 11,000 votes for Trump. That Raffensperger should just tell folks he had “recalculated” and that Trump won.

THIS is not normal either. For the President to interfere in the election process in this way. For him and his allies to try and subvert the will of the American people. Don’t let anyone offer you excuses for this. Don’t let them tell you this is OK, or it’s understandable, or that every leader does it. They don’t. It’s an abuse of presidential power, it’s a subversion of our democracy and it’s wrong — and possibly criminal.

And these sorts of things are why I feel alarmed. And angry. And worried about what our nation is becoming. 

When will it end?

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 2

There is always a moment when the tide begins to turn. It’s not immediately perceptible, but it happens as surely as night follows the day. Just as even the fiercest storm eventually blows itself out or the darkest winter eventually ends. We may not be able to mark the exact moment when the change begins, but it inevitably happens. There is a rhythm to the universe that asserts itself. And we ride with it.

The tide has not yet started to turn regarding the multiple challenges that have come together in a perfect storm of crises for our nation, but it eventually will. I wonder though, how long we will have to wait and whether we’ll sense that the change is upon us once it begins. 

It’s hard, in the face of the bitterly harsh realities of this pandemic and the unrelenting climb in the death toll and infection rates, to be confident that we’ll ever see the back of this beast. We face record hospitalizations, record deaths, and frustrating vaccination delays. Before the day is out, we will likely reach 350,000 victims. If we want to vaccinate three fourths of the nation in an effort to achieve herd immunity by next fall we would have to be vaccinating a million people per day, every day, for the next nine months or so. We are nowhere near that. Not even close. So, when will the tide begin to turn on this crisis? Not yet. But it will come.

And, lost in the grim news of the pandemic, there have been numerous reports in recent weeks about the abuses and prejudices being faced by black men and women across the country at the hands of police officers. Some of these tales have had tragic, and unjust endings. Others have been humiliating and hurtful. All suggest that the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that marked the end of George Floyd’s life last summer have already been relegated to the list of racist killings in America rather than recognized for the shame on our nation that they are. It’s not just about the police. It’s about all of us. 

I hope that the tide will turn on this issue as well. But it has been far too long… centuries too long… in the coming.

On another front, the stock market continues to boom, so, many of us assume that at least all is well with the economy. We aren’t looking for signs of a turning tide because we think it’s all just fine. But it isn’t. 

If we look closer we see that a record numbers of American’s are food insecure. We see that food banks are overwhelmed, that millions of jobs have been lost, small businesses have been devastated, savings have disappeared for countless families, and far too many in our country face a growing desperation. But still our leaders bicker and dither over increasing the size of the stimulus checks, and the very real suffering faced by so many is reduced to part of a political calculus for those whose lives are largely untouched. 

And it becomes even harder to sort through the challenges and sense if there is really a sea change in the wind when, over the past four years we’ve been conditioned to question the truth of almost everything we hear. We have had a president who offers lies and half-truths to us as our daily fare and whose unrelenting assault on journalists and the media in general has led many to question whether they can believe anything at all. Bitterness, anger, and grievance have been the constant narrative. 

The change in leadership from Trump to Biden will certainly bring a change of tone in the White House, but will it also portend a change in the political divisions that have cast the validity of our democratic process into doubt and that have shaken our assumptions about the American experiment in democracy that still continues to this day?

Yesterday we saw the Senate join the House in overturning Trump’s veto of the Defense appropriation bill. Might this signal a change? It might. But we also know that next week we’ll see Republicans in both houses of Congress supporting the false narrative of election fraud and pursuing a course which, if they had their way, would result in the overturning of our election results. Outside observers would call this an attempted coup — a rejection of the expression of our democratic right to choose our leaders. So is the tide turning here? Who knows?

None of these challenges will abate at the same time or the same pace. But I still believe that they will. And If you see it otherwise, don’t burst my bubble. So we’ll wait, and we’ll watch, and we’ll hope for the change to come. It’s the best we can do for now.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

January 1

Happy New Year.

Well… we made it through 2020. We can be grateful. There are, sadly, many who did not. And today as we look to the future with hope, we can also, I hope, take a moment to remember the 350,000 of our fellow citizens who we lost last year.

New years do offer us hope and that was very much on my mind yesterday. The chance to begin again. Fresh starts and blank pages are always welcome. But the reality is that the slate was not completely wiped clean at the stroke of midnight last night. It isn’t a totally fresh start.

Just a glance at the headlines will remind us of that, while we begin the year with hope, we have so much to come to grips with. We have a pandemic that is still months away from being contained. We have a new variant of the virus that will fuel more cases. We have a vaccine program that holds promise but that is way behind the curve. And we have projections that are frightening in their severity. We have a record number of Americans hospitalized with the virus, record numbers of deaths, and before the day is out we will pass 20 million cases. That’s a tough way to start the year!

And we still have a long way to go to reach any degree of political rationality as well. Republicans are determined to continue to give life to the nonsense and, to be very clear, lies, that Trump and others are offering about the elections. 

There have now been close to 60 court cases to look at allegations of fraud or electoral malpractice. Nothing has been found. There have been recounts. Nothing changed. Any objective observer accepts that the election was an honest expression of political choice by the American people. And Joe Biden won. This is something we should celebrate. 

Instead we have at least 140 Republican legislators who are going to dispute the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory. They want to throw out the votes of thousands of Americans and reverse the election results to give Trump another term. That’s what it is about. 

The effort likely will fail — it almost certainly will fail — but make no mistake that is what lies at the heart of this. It is an effort — no matter whether it is realistic or not — to overturn the results. And they do so not because they believe that there was fraud or that those results are wrong. They do so because they seek to appease Donald Trump and to protect their own political futures. They do so because in the political world in which they live it is apparently, more acceptable to lie and undercut our democratic process than it is to do the right thing, accept the outcome, and facilitate a peaceful transition of power.

It’s pretty disheartening and even more so because it’s hard to believe that these legislators will suddenly begin to practice the politics of principle after January 20. It’s hard to give credit to the hope that they will decide that the national interest matters more than their personal interests. We can hope that Biden may be able to create an environment in which he can convince enough of them that acting in the national interest IS in the their personal interest. But that will require a dramatic shift in the national narrative that, in this still-toxic political atmosphere, seems like wishful thinking. Still, it’s a new year. We can hope. 

So, I will choose to start the New Year with hope. But I know that we also start the year facing some pretty grim realities. Let’s hope that 2021 defies our worries and our fears and brings the new day for which we long. Fingers crossed.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.