BidenBrief #11: Trust, the Book and the Challenges

October 26th, 2020|

Hello Everyone,

In this last commentary before Election Day, I want to turn to Pete Buttigieg’s book Trust: America’s Best Chance which I cited in my first BidenBrief in July.  It was released on October 6.

With perfect timing in anticipation of writing this piece, my wife, Penny Sebring, and I met alone with Pete on Friday in Chicago.  His staff told us it was the first in-person meeting, unrelated to the Biden campaign, that he has had since the pandemic began.  Lucky us.

Trust is a slender, but important book of the sort we have come to expect of Pete.

In the Introduction, he writes that “this book is written in the spirit of what comes next.”  Hopefully, we are about to turn the page, but while that is not assured, the restoration of trust will remain a major challenge for years to come.  From the Introduction:

I believe events have primed the 2020s to be a decade that determines our future.  It will be in these years that we succeed or fail in advancing racial and economic justice, in stopping the worst effects of climate change, and in repairing the standing of our country around the world…

Trust is a modest contribution—a signpost more than a road map. Its purpose is to suggest that we pay more attention to the central role of trust…I believe we face a threefold crisis of trust in this country. Americans distrust the institutions on which we depend. Increasingly we distrust one another. And the world trusts America less than perhaps it ever has.

There is a large and wide-ranging popular and academic literature on the subject of trust…My approach here is more personal, and political….

I will suggest that trust is not less, but more, relevant and deserving of attention in times like ours, where various forms of credibility have been eroded, sacrificed, or even deliberately damaged. We live in a country whose most radical founding premise was that people could be trusted to govern themselves—and that the people, trusted in this way, would produce leaders who themselves are worthy of trust…

We don’t have another fifty years to sort this out.  If present trends continue, we will be swamped by the consequences of climate inaction, democratic backsliding, racial inequity, and economic inequality.  This time really must be different.

These pages, then, will ask readers to consider how much more frequently and deeply we rely on trust than we usually realize.

Pete argues that social, political, and economic trust have been eroded in our country since the 1960s, culminating in our current nightmare.

This erosion can be traced to LBJ’s and Nixon’s deceptions about the Vietnam War and Nixon’s Watergate-related misdeeds.  But, Pete told us on Friday, he viewed those largely as failings of integrity.  By contrast, the concerted efforts over the past forty years to sow distrust of our governmental institutions, of expertise, and of each other have been ideological undertakings of a much more sinister and dangerous kind.  They began with Reagan, continued with Gingrich and many others, including Clinton, culminating ironically with a narcissist, not an ideologue, in the White House who exacerbated our climate of mistrust.

I will focus here on two of the most monumental potential casualties of declining trust:  combating the coronavirus and climate change.

The virus and climate change pose many parallel challenges.  Both are invisible. Addressing them requires collaboration, domestically and across the globe. They involve false choices, like their economic consequences.  They disproportionately harm already-disadvantaged populations.

Here are some more excerpts from the book:

There are always…compelling reasons why it’s important to build and maintain trust.  But these reasons are elevated at our moment in time, as we face a particular set of challenges – existential challenges…pandemic response and climate change…Such challenges can only be resolved if Americans can trust in their institutions and, just as importantly, if the world can trust in America…

Every pattern that drives distrust – from resentment toward the establishment to the loss of shared reality, from the legacy and reality of structural racism to the general fashion of American paranoia…played a role in creating one of the coronavirus’s most dangerous collective co-morbidities.  Across America, like a compromised immune system, distrust itself proved a dangerous preexisting condition [emphasis added]…

Dealing with climate change has a great deal in common with confronting the coronavirus. To recognize the reality of climate change, and certainly to take any meaningful steps to reduce it, it is necessary for Americans to trust people we don’t know, who are working in fields most of us don’t understand. It requires that we make substantial, transformational changes and investments to reimagine our economy and our infrastructure, while also adapting our individual behavior and choices. All of this, which can be seen as both inconvenient and costly, is required in order to solve a problem whose fundamental physical cause—the behavior of atmospheric gases—is literally invisible. Like pandemic response, climate action requires that we trust in the science, and muster cooperation and coordination where it has often been scarce: among different levels of government, across the partisan divide, and throughout the international community.

In some ways, the climate challenge is an even harder one in which to build trust than our public health emergencies. Because of the time scales involved, little of what we must do to solve the problem for the long term would show visible results in the near term…

Climate action requires two essential forms of trust-building. The first is to build enough trust in expertise that the consensus among scientists can be accepted as the consensus of the people. The second is to build trust in the idea that the effort and investment needed to solve the problem is worth it—even if it takes years or decades to see the fruits of our labor.

These are incredibly important messages about trust from Pete – and why I entitled my first BidenBrief: “Trust in Joe.”  Please vote for him, if you haven’t already.

Please, as always, pass it along.

Chuck

BidenBrief #10: We Can Survive This Turbulence

October 15th, 2020|

Hello Everyone,

Today, we face the all-too-familiar nightmare featuring a problematic president, a pandemic and resulting economic hardship, and a racist reckoning unseen since the 1960s.

But, there are two reasons for hope.  If enough of us vote, that problematic president may soon begin to fade away even if, to adapt a phrase, “he does not go gentle into that good night.”

And, lest we forget, we have survived great turbulence in our country even in my adult lifetime and over a much longer period than four years.

I wrote about it in an Obamagram (January 8, 2009, #38 http://www.obamagrams.com/group-5/another-great-depression/) written during the financial crisis, also as a message of hope.  If you read this section carefully, there are numerous messages buried in this recitation.

1963-1982 Turbulence

I think it very useful to remember what that dramatic period was really like. Think of all the dislocations and social changes we experienced – 4 major assassinations; 4 recessions; the civil rights movement; a presidential retirement; the only presidential resignation in history; the Vietnam War and the Great Society (“Guns and Butter”); the draft; OPEC and an oil embargo; hyper-inflation plus high unemployment and slow growth leading to “stagflation”; Iranian hostages; urban riots; the women’s movement; the environmental movement; and major stock market declines.

Although I come to this without the benefit of professional training as an historian or economist (as many of you will undoubtedly remind me), in my mind’s eye I imagine the trouble starting in 1963. Here is a chronology of the 20 years that followed:

1963 — JFK assassinated; LBJ assumed presidency; March on Washington.

1964 – the Civil Rights Act passed; LBJ defeated Goldwater, winning a full term.

1965 – Bloody Sunday in Selma; Voting Rights Act passed; Malcolm X assassinated; Medicare and Medicaid passed.

1966 — National Organization of Women established.

1967 — Supreme Court knocked down remaining anti-miscegenation laws in 17 states (Barack’s parents’ marriage in 1960 in Hawaii would have been illegal in over half of the states in the union.)

1968 — MLK assassinated; riots in Washington, D.C., Detroit, Watts, and elsewhere; LBJ declined to run for second term; RFK assassinated on night he ostensibly won Democratic presidential nomination; violent anti-Vietnam-War demonstrations at Democratic National Convention in Chicago; Nixon elected president; inflation exceeded 4% for first time in decades.

1969 – 11 month recession started.

1970 – first Earth day; EPA established; inflation exceeded 6%.

1971 – Nixon imposed wage and price controls.

1972 – Watergate break-in; Nixon re-elected anyway; Equal Rights Amendment approved by Congress (states failed to ratify it by 1979 deadline).

1973 – S&P 500 set record of 122; OPEC established and oil embargo started, leading to long lines at the pump; 16 month recession started.

1974 – Nixon resigned and Ford assumed presidency; S&P 500 bottoms out at 61, a 49% decline; inflation exceeds 12%.

1975 – Vietnam War ended; unemployment rate hit 9%.

1976 – Carter defeated Ford, the incumbent president.

1979 – the second oil crisis; Iran took 52 U.S. diplomats hostage for 444 days.

1980 – Reagan defeated Carter, another incumbent president; hostages released on day of inauguration; 6 month recession; stagflation reached apex with “misery index” of 22% [employment rate (8%) plus inflation rate (14 %)], staggering compared to Nov. 2008 misery index of 8% [unemployment rate (7%) plus inflation rate (1%)]; prime rate hit record of almost 22%; after almost 7 years, the S&P exceeded its 1974 high.

1981 – 16 month recession started.

1982 – unemployment rate peaked at almost 11%; real GDP declined almost 2%.

Strange as it may seem, I take solace from this history — our country’s ability to absorb so many body blows for so long.  We’ll get through our current nightmare, too.

But, first, we must all do our part and vote (if you haven’t already).

Please, as always, pass it along.

Chuck

 

 

BidenBrief #9: The “Debate” — Another Wanton Act of Cruelty

October 2nd, 2020|

Hello Everyone,

The news of President and Mrs. Trump’s positive COVID tests broke just as I was finishing writing this piece. In the spirit of compassion, I wish them both well.

Since the presidential-debate-turned-horror-show, I have struggled to make sense of it, as I’m sure many of you have.

What causes Donald Trump to commit endless wanton acts of cruelty? The constant breaking of norms?

As I’ve written since 2015, his acts are not susceptible to political analysis, only psychological analysis. The “debate” was only the most recent example – and one of the most egregious.

David Brooks wrote yesterday: “…the crucial thing about Donald Trump is that he is not a nationalist who uses immoral means. He is first and foremost an immoralist, whose very being was defined by dishonesty, cruelty, betrayal and cheating long before he put on political garb.”

All societies are organized around a series of norms – “standards or patterns, especially of social behavior, that are typical or expected of a group.” As I quoted Lawrence Douglas in my last commentary: “…norms define the limits of appropriate behavior; when someone violates them, we expect the violator to pay a price. Not so in Trump’s case.”

As the Atlantic article I also cited there said: “Trump’s behavior and declared intent leave no room to suppose that he will accept the public’s verdict if the vote goes against him. He lies prodigiously – to manipulate events, to secure advantage, to dodge accountability, to ward off injury to his pride.”

In a phone conversation yesterday, my companion incisively observed that Donald Trump’s norm-shattering behavior says as much about us as it does about him. Do we reward or punish the breaking of our democracy’s norms?

Then, it occurred to me that we could clearly see this coming. Recent reporting about Donald Trump’s tax returns reveals that he was bailed out of his most recent financial mess by a gusher called “The Apprentice.” A so-called “reality” TV show based on public displays of wanton cruelty. “You’re fired!” The breaking of norms. On TV. For all to see. To actually delight in.

The fact that it was a “hit” tells us something ugly about our collective selves. The 2016 election did, too.

What will this election tell us? About ourselves? Are we really committed to this nearly 250-year-old experiment in democracy? Or, not.

Please, as always, pass it along.

 

Chuck

BidenBrief #8: Will He Go?

September 24th, 2020|

 

Hello Everyone,

When I started writing these Briefs, I pledged to avoid talking about the incumbent.  But, now I can’t avoid it.

Will he go if he loses?  Once again, he has threatened as recently as today to ignore a norm that is central to our democracy – peaceful presidential transitions.  Fortunately, some Republican leaders have started to push back – finally.

Lawrence Douglas, a professor of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought at Amherst College has recently written a book on the subject, which is perfectly titled Will He Go?  I have known Lawrence for a long time as an alumnus and a trustee.

Prof. Douglas cautions that our institutional arrangements and the Constitution are not designed to deal with a defeated, but recalcitrant, president. He argues that the most effective antidote is a clearly decisive popular and electoral college vote to elect Joe Biden.  Otherwise, chaos could reign.

This book is both a stern warning and a strong call to action.

Here are some excerpts [emphases added in bold]:

What if the election produced an unclear result, one that could be contested? Or what if Trump lost—but refused to acknowledge or accept his defeat?…

If Trump is thoroughly trounced in November 2020, he will be limited in his maneuvers, master in democratic negation though he may be. But in case of a slender victory by his Democratic challenger or an uncertain result, chaos beckons. Trump will not go quietly. He might not go at all…

The next morning [after November 3rd], the nation awakes to a presidential Twitterstorm. Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump Biggest SCANDAL in AMERICAN history! Rotten Dems tried to steal presidency with FAILED Mueller WITCH HUNT. They tried to steal presidency with FAILED impeachment WITCH HUNT. Now SLEEPY JOE and the CORRUPT Dems are trying to STEAL this election from the American people. I will… Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump … fight the RIGGED result and will punish TREASONOUS CNN and failing NY Times and the Pelosi GANG responsible for worst election HOAX ever!! The TREASONOUS HATERS won’t get away with the GREATEST FRAUD in HISTORY!! [Prof. Douglas has perfectly captured his voice] …

Why have American incumbents historically accepted electoral defeat? The answer is both simple and profound: Our political leaders have accepted—and internalized—the norms of the democratic process. To appreciate what this means, we need to note the difference between conceding and submitting to defeat. Conceding defeat is a normative act. [Submitting to defeat is succumbing to the inevitable.] …

The contested presidential election of 2000 provides an important and even stirring example of the power of our norms…

Thirty-five days after the nation had gone to the polls, the count—and with it the national election—remained unresolved. Then, with Bush clinging to a 537-vote lead out of six million cast statewide, the Supreme Court suddenly stopped the Florida recount [by deciding a lawsuit], effectively handing Bush victory…

It was a dramatic action, and a controversial one. Yet we would be wrong to credit the Supreme Court with bringing needed closure to the 2000 election. That credit goes to Vice President Al Gore. On December 13, the day after the Court issued its ruling, Gore conceded [saying] …

“Other disputes dragged on for weeks before reaching resolution, and each time both victor and vanquished have accepted the result peacefully and in a spirit of reconciliation. So be it with us.” …

No law compelled him to accept the Court’s result; nothing in the Constitution demanded his concession…

Gore chose to accept the legitimacy of a Court decision that was widely attacked as dreadfully reasoned and transparently partisan. In doing so, he placed the good of the country over his own personal interest in winning…

Gore’s action reminds us of an essential truth: Our Constitution does not secure the peaceful transition of power, but rather presupposes it

Now we turn to President Trump. What restraining force do norms play in his political calculations? The short, dispiriting, and irrefutable answer is—none…

norms define the limits of appropriate behavior; when someone violates them, we expect the violator to pay a price. Not so in Trump’s case…

Donald Trump does not care about political power conventionally conceived…

Trump…seeks power simply to keep himself in the public eye; or to put it differently, the only power Trump really craves is the power to command attention. [See my comments in October 2015 identifying Trump’s narcissism in Obamagram #100 http://www.obamagrams.com/group-7/100-will-the-narcissist-help-to-restore-sanity/ ] …

Trump’s connection to chaos and mayhem goes well beyond management style. He draws energy and sustenance from chaos. His power to spread chaos keeps him at the center of attention—and remaining there is his principal political aim…

We have made the disturbing but confident prediction that anything short of a clear and emphatic defeat in 2020 will embolden Trump to either reject an electoral loss outright or, in the case of an uncertain result, refuse to accept any outcome other than victory

The impressive stability that our system of presidential succession has demonstrated for over two centuries might suggest we are very well prepared. Alas, we are not…

[We] will be voting not directly for this or that candidate, but for a slate of electors pledged to him, who will go on to cast their votes six weeks later

(A federal law from 1948 has declared “the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December” as the date when the Electoral College casts its votes.)…

The certified results from every state and D.C. will then be quaintly sent by registered mail to the president of the Senate—that is, Vice President Pence. By the terms of the Twelfth Amendment, Congress will convene in a joint session to count the votes and declare a winner. This is set by law for January 6 following the election—in 2021 [more than two months after the election] …

[Mail-in ballots could take days or weeks to count after Nov. 3. Unless the results are crystal clear on election night, these ballots could prove decisive to a Biden win.]  The phenomenon—in which absentee and provisional ballots typically break Democratic—has been dubbed “blue shift”…

[The combined electoral college and mail-in ballot delays could be fertile grounds for chaos this time.]

Just as I was drafting this Brief, The Atlantic published the attached article (The Election That Could Break America) on this very same subject.  Prof. Douglas is cited in it.

Here is one poignant section:

Trump’s invincible commitment to this stance [never conceding] will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum [November 3 to January 6.] It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before.

Maybe you hesitate. Is it a fact that if Trump loses, he will reject defeat, come what may? Do we know that? Technically, you feel obliged to point out, the proposition is framed in the future conditional, and prophecy is no man’s gift, and so forth. With all due respect, that is pettifoggery [I love that word.] We know this man. We cannot afford to pretend.

Trump’s behavior and declared intent leave no room to suppose that he will accept the public’s verdict if the vote is going against him. He lies prodigiously—to manipulate events, to secure advantage, to dodge accountability, and to ward off injury to his pride. An election produces the perfect distillate of all those motives.

Pathology may exert the strongest influence on Trump’s choices during the Interregnum. Well-supported arguments, some of them in this magazine, have made the case that Trump fits the diagnostic criteria for psychopathy and narcissism. Either disorder, by its medical definition, would render him all but incapable of accepting defeat.

I think you get the picture.  It is now much clearer to me.  Unless Joe Biden wins decisively and early, we may have another historic crisis on our hands.  One that may be even bigger than the pandemic, the recession, or this moment of racial reckoning.

Please, as always, pass it along.

Chuck

  The Atlantic – The Election That Could Break America – September 23, 2020

 

BidenBrief #7: Two Biden Speeches and Kenosha in Between

September 10th, 2020|

Hello Everyone,

In this edition, I want to offer excerpts from two of Joe Biden’s recent important speeches, once again arguing that reading reinforces hearing.

But before I do, I wanted to make some brief observations about the happenings in Kenosha.

Kenosha

Last week, Penny and I timidly ventured beyond a five-mile radius from our house, renting a remote cabin from a hotel in Kohler, Wisconsin, for all of three days.  To inform ourselves, we stopped for a short visit in Kenosha on the way.  Years ago, I used to go there to make investment banking calls on Snap-on Tools, which is headquartered there.

While even the most serious news organizations have focused on the inexcusable destruction in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting, we discovered that there is another, more uplifting, side to the story.  The arson and looting did cause severe damage in a few areas of this small city of 100,000 (about 35% larger than our hometown of Evanston, IL; coincidentally, Jacob Blake’s father graduated from Evanston Township High School in 1984.)  That destruction spread fear more broadly in downtown Kenosha and its surrounds.

That fear led hundreds of businesses and others to board up their windows and doors  But, here’s the heartening part.  Virtually every piece of plywood we saw bore amazing artwork, almost entirely sending messages of hope, overwhelmingly supportive of the protestors (as distinct from shaming the looters and arsonists).  It was an incredibly positive display of community goodwill and creativity.  Light over darkness.  Take a look at the attached photos.

Acceptance Speech

Joe Biden delivered his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention on August 21st.  He embraced light and hope, rejecting darkness and fear.  Here are some excerpts. Notice how simply and unadorned his language is.  A stark contrast to President Obama’s, but perhaps more accessible to more voters. The full text and video can be found here   https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/20/politics/biden-dnc-speech-transcript/index.html

Ella Baker, a giant of the civil rights movement, left us with this wisdom:

Give people light and they will find a way.

Give people light.

Those are words for our time.

The current president has cloaked America in darkness for much too long.  Too much anger.  Too much fear.  Too much division…

United we can, and will, overcome this season of darkness in America.  We will choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege…

No generation ever knows what history will ask of it.  All we can ever know is whether we’ll be ready when that moment arrives.

And now history has delivered us to one of the most difficult moments America has ever faced.

Four historic crises.  All at the same time.  A perfect storm.

The worst pandemic in over 100 years.  The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The most compelling call for racial justice since the ‘60s.  And the undeniable realities and accelerating threats of climate change.

So, the question for us is simple.  Are we ready?

I believe we are…

Character is on the ballot.  Compassion is on the ballot.  Decency, science, democracy.

They are all on the ballot…

America’s history tells us that it has been in our darkest moments that we’ve made our greatest progress.  That we’ve found the light.  And in this dark moment, I believe we are poised to make great progress again.  That we can find the light once more…

The Irish poet Seamus Heaney once wrote:

“History says.

Don’t hope on this side of the grave.

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up.

And hope and history rhyme”

This is our moment to make hope and history rhyme…

For love is more powerful than hate.

Hope is more powerful than fear.

Light is more powerful than dark.

Jacob Blake Speech

On August 23rd, just two days after Joe Biden gave his acceptance speech, Jacob Blake was shot in Kenosha.  On August 31st, Biden responded to the aftermath in a speech in Pittsburgh, aligning himself with protestors while sharply criticizing the violence.  Here is a link to the text

https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/joe-biden-pittsburgh-speech-transcript-august-31 and some excerpts:

In the early days of World War II, Franklin Roosevelt told the country, and I quote, “The news is going to get worse and worse before it gets better and better.  And the American people deserve to have it straight from the shoulder.” Straight from the shoulder.  The job of a president is to tell it straight from the shoulder, tell the truth, to be candid, to face facts, to lead, not to insight.

This is a tragic fact of the matter, how he’s dealing with this perilous hour in our nation.  And how we have to stand against violence in every form it takes…I want to make it absolutely clear…rioting is not protesting.  Looting is not protesting.  Setting fires is not protesting.  None of this is protesting.  It’s lawlessness, plain and simple.  And those who do it should be prosecuted.  Violence will not bring change…it’s wrong in every way…

The simple truth is Donald Trump failed to protect America.  So now he’s trying to scare America.

Joe Biden knows that rioting, looting, and arson are not protesting and cannot be tolerated.  And, the unnamed artists of Kenosha can see the light in the darkness.

Please, as always, pass it along.

Chuck

BidenBrief #6: President Obama’s Convention Speech

August 27th, 2020|

Hello Everyone,

When I set out to write these Briefs, I promised myself that I would avoid mentioning the current president’s name.  But, now I must break that promise for the briefest moment.  Obama made me do it.

The world knows that President Obama spoke at the Democratic Convention last week, in the toughest tone I’ve heard from him.  And, in doing so, he starkly departed from the norm of not criticizing a predecessor.  But, I will stick to one of my own norms here and urge you to read that memorable speech, not just listen to it.   https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/19/politics/barack-obama-speech-transcript/index.html

It essentially had three themes:  Trump, Biden, and Democracy.

Critique of Trump.

President Obama said:

I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously…

But he never did.  For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work…no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves [emphasis added].

(“Get the attention he craves.” My long-time readers may remember my October 19, 2015, Obamagram on Trump’s narcissism:  “In my many decades, I have known only two or three people I consider to have a ‘narcissistic personality disorder,’ a mental illness.”  I then listed the criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and followed with: “Max Weber’s assertion in his 1919 essay – ‘the boastful but entirely empty gesture…leads nowhere’ – causes me to conclude that Donald Trump’s candidacy ‘leads nowhere.’  I expect that he will not long persevere in the nomination process.” I was dead right about the diagnosis, but dead wrong about the prognosis.)

Praise of Biden.

President Obama said:

So let me tell you about my friend Joe Biden.

Twelve years ago, when I began my search for a vice president, I didn’t know I’d end up finding a brother.  Joe and I came from different places and different generations.  But what I quickly came to admire about him is his resilience, born of too much struggle; his empathy, born of too much grief.  Joe’s a man who learned – early on – to treat every person he meets with respect and dignity, living by the words his parents taught him:  “no one’s better than you, Joe, but you’re better than nobody.”

Democracy and Us.

President Obama said:

Joe and Kamala…care deeply about this democracy…

They believe that no one – including the president – is above the law…that our ability to work together to solve big problems like a pandemic depends on a fidelity to facts and science and logic and not just making stuff up…

These shouldn’t be Republican principles or Democratic principles.  They’re American principles… [reminiscent of his famous assertion, coincidentally, at the 2004 Democratic Convention about red states and blue states.]

So I am also asking you to believe in your own ability – to embrace your own responsibility as citizens – to make sure that the basic tenets of our democracy endure.

            Because that’s what’s at stake right now.  Our democracy…

Last month, we lost a giant of American democracy in John Lewis…he told me…that on the very day that I was born, he was marching into a jail cell, trying to end Jim Crow segregation in the South…

Whatever our backgrounds, we’re all the children of Americans who fought the good fight…Irish and Italians and Asians and Latinos told to go back where they came from.  Jews and Catholics, Muslims and Sikhs, made to feel suspect for the way they worshipped.  Black Americans chained and whipped and hanged.  Spit on for trying to sit at lunch counters.  Beaten for trying to vote.

If anyone had a right to believe that this democracy did not work, and could not work, it was those Americans.  Our ancestors.  They were on the receiving end of a democracy that had fallen short all their lives.  They knew how far the daily reality of America strayed from the myth.  And yet, instead of giving up, they joined together and said somehow, some way, we are going to make this work…

You can give our democracy new meaning.  You can take it to a better place.  You’re the missing ingredient – the ones who will decide whether or not America becomes the country that fully lives up to its creed.

We must heed President Obama’s warnings about Trump and the fragility of our democracy and embrace his full-throated endorsement of Vice President Biden.

Please, as always, pass it along.

Chuck

BidenBrief #5: Michelle Obama’s Convention Speech

August 20th, 2020|

Hello Everyone,

I’m sure that many of you are watching the Democratic convention.  In my opinion and others, one highlight was Michelle Obama’s speech on Monday night.  It was special.

If you have been reading my commentaries for a while, you’ll remember that I frequently recommend reading important speeches in addition to listening to them.  That’s true of this one, too.

It is largely a testimony to Joe Biden’s character and a call to vote.  Here are some key excerpts:

As I’ve said before, being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are. Well, a presidential election can reveal who we are, too. And four years ago, too many people chose to believe that their votes didn’t matter…

And we’ve all been living with the consequences…

…Whenever we look to this White House for some leadership or consolation or any semblance of steadiness, what we get instead is chaos, division, and a total and utter lack of empathy.

Empathy: that’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. The ability to walk in someone else’s shoes; the recognition that someone else’s experience has value, too. Most of us practice this without a second thought…

…See what happens when that lack of empathy is ginned up into outright disdain…

Sadly, this is the America that is on display for the next generation. A nation that’s underperforming not simply on matters of policy but on matters of character…

And I know that regardless of our race, age, religion, or politics, when we close out the noise and the fear and truly open our hearts, we know that what’s going on in this country is just not right. This is not who we want to be…

So if you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this: if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can…

[But,] I know Joe. He is a profoundly decent man, guided by faith. He was a terrific vice president. He knows what it takes to rescue an economy [2008-9 financial crisis]…beat back a pandemic [Ebola], and lead our country [Obama’s good example]. And he listens. He will tell the truth and trust science. He will…manage a good team [of rivals]. And he will govern as someone who’s lived a life that the rest of us can recognize…

Now, Joe is not perfect. And he’d be the first to tell you that. But there is no perfect candidate, no perfect president. And his ability to learn and grow—we find in that the kind of humility and maturity that so many of us yearn for right now.

Joe Biden wants all of our kids to go to a good school, see a doctor when they’re sick, live on a healthy planet.

And if we want a chance to pursue any of these goals…we have to vote for Joe Biden in numbers that cannot be ignored…

This is who we still are: compassionate, resilient, decent people whose fortunes are bound up with one another. And it is well past time for our leaders to once again reflect our truth…

That is the truest form of empathy: not just feeling but doing; not just for ourselves or our kids, but for everyone, for all our kids…

…We have got to do everything we can to elect my friend, Joe Biden, as the next president of the United States.

The full text is attached and here’s a link to the video of it:

https://youtu.be/VZwfEWpG_wA

During PBS/NewsHour’s coverage on Tuesday, Mark Shields noted the message sent when the first person to place Joe Biden’s name in nomination preceding the rollcall vote was a young Black woman, a New York elevator operator named Jacquelyn Brittany.  She told about how respectful of her Joe Biden was when he rode in her elevator, leading Mr. Shields to remind us of the adage: “Character is how somebody acts when nobody is looking.”

Michelle Obama strongly vouched for Joe Biden’s character again on Monday night.  He is the president we need right now.

I’ll have something to say about President Obama’s speech last night next time. It was remarkable.

Please, as always, pass it along.

Chuck

Michelle Obama Convention Speech

 

 

BidenBrief #4: Team of Rivals

August 13th, 2020|

Hello Everyone,

One of my long-time readers is a Nobel laureate.  In reaction to Brief #3, he asked me, in essence, whether I am confident that Vice President Biden would surround himself with a competent cabinet to compensate for his own alleged deficiencies.  I am.

Fortunately, Joe Biden is blessed with an abundance of former presidential aspirants who could constitute his “team of rivals,” to borrow a widely-used term.

On Tuesday, he took his first major step in that direction in naming Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate.  Now, we have our first Black vice-presidential nominee, our first graduate of an HBCU, and a woman.

It was a very mature decision.  As we have been repeatedly reminded, Senator Harris pointedly took the Vice President to task during one debate for his opposition to school busing years ago.  She was extremely effective in so doing, and Biden was clearly embarrassed and annoyed by it.

But, he picked her as his VP anyway.

It tells us a lot about the man.

Can we imagine the current office-holder doing that?

It is important to remember that Biden, who ran against Obama in the 2007-8 primaries, personally benefitted from Obama’s own team of rivals approach when he was selected to as his V.P.  Importantly, so did Hillary Clinton when Obama appointed her his Secretary of State.

Joe Biden has the experience and demonstrably the temperament and relatively low ego (for a politician) which will enable him to assemble a strong supporting cast.

When I was an investment banker, I vividly recall the CEO of a client company telling me the secret to his success was hiring people to run the major sectors of his company who were more expert in their areas then he ever could be.  He put it: “I hire people who are ‘smarter’ than I am.”

Biden has an abundance of talent among his primary rivals with which to construct an exceptional cabinet – such as Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and Julian Castro – as well as all of the Obama administration veterans he worked with, like Susan Rice.  In terms of race and ethnicity, gender and gender identity, and age, this group is without precedent.  With his selection of Kamala, he has indicated his willingness to tap such talent.

In September 2009, in Obamagram #45, I wrote:

I have quoted Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals many times before. In the latter stages of the book, she talks about President Lincoln’s attempts to negotiate peace with representatives of the Confederacy, quoting Harper’s Weekly:

“Indeed, nothing but the foolish assumption of four years ago, that Mr. Lincoln was unfit for his office,” could explain the fatuous predictions that he would “flinch and falter” before the Southern delegates… “We venture to say that there is no man in our history who has shown a more felicitous combination of temperament [and] conviction…than Abraham Lincoln.”

It seems fitting for our current time of racial reckoning that Goodwin’s 2005 book — which popularized the term as far as I know — was about Abraham Lincoln’s Civil War cabinet which was in office when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

A recent article in The Atlantic posed this: “[can you imagine] the powerful prospect of a final night at the Democratic convention when Biden could stand at the center of a stage (whether in person or virtually) with Warren, Harris, Klobuchar, Abrams, Buttigieg, Booker, Castro, McRaven, Rice, Garcetti, Bottoms, Yang, [Bill] Gates, or others and declare that ‘not just me, but all of us’ are coming to reset the nation’s direction.”

Penny and I met Kamala in July 2019 at an event in Chicago hosted by our friend John Rogers, who founded the largest Black-owned investment company in the country.  We found her to be both gracious and tenacious.  Those characteristics will serve Joe Biden well during the campaign and as he assembles the rest of his team of rivals come November.

Please, as always, pass it on.

Chuck

 

 

BidenBrief #3: The Importance of Trust

August 6th, 2020|

Hello Everyone,

This is the third of what I anticipate will be about a dozen commentaries on Vice President Biden as we run up to November 3.  I apologize for adding to what I imagine is your already over-flowing inbox resulting from the pandemic.  But, we simply much keep our eyes on the prize.

In my first Brief, I wrote: “More than anything, I believe this is an election about values.  Undergirding the values that commend Vice President Biden is the notion of trust.

Joe’s doubters will point to his “gaffes” or his speaking skills which don’t match Barack Obama’s (whose do?).  I can live with both of those shortcomings because what I desperately need right now is a president I can trust.  Our democracy needs it, too.

Long-time readers know that I often quote David Brooks.  He wrote a piece in the New York Times in 2014 entitled The Evolution of Trust about the “transformation of social trust.”  The glue that binds societies.

I’m one of those people who thought Airbnb would never work. I thought people would never rent out space in their homes to near strangers. But I was clearly wrong…

And Airbnb is only a piece of the peer-to-peer economy. [Uber and Lyft are others]…

In retrospect, I underestimated the power of a few trends that make the peer-to-peer economy possible…

And the big thing I underestimated was the transformation of social trust…

…people often live alone or with short-time roommates, outside big institutional structures, like universities, corporations, or the settled living of family life…

Economically, there are many more people working as freelancers.

The result is a personalistic culture in which people [trust other people but] have actively lost trust in big institutions [like the federal government]…

During the last four years and now exacerbated by the pandemic and racial reckoning, we have seen further erosion of trust in government.  Should we all wear masks?  Will a vaccine be safe when one becomes available?

In May, a poll taken by the Associated Press and UChicago’s National Opinion Research Center (where my wife, Penny, worked in the 1980’s) found that “Only about half of Americans say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine [shot when it becomes available.]”

Then, there was this opinion piece in the Times last week:

“What worries me most right now is that the distrust we’re seeing today will happen with vaccines,” Dr. [Tom] Frieden [former director of the CDC] told me. “There’s already a huge amount of distrust in vaccines. We’ve got this scarily named Operation Warp Speed program for them… It runs the real risk going forward that whether or not the government cuts any corners on the construction of a vaccine, there will be a perception it has, unless we have very open and transparent communication about it”…

Signs point to a growing anti-vaccine movement …That we’re even worrying about people refusing to get a coronavirus vaccine suggests something horrifying: that Americans’ trust in public health and the institutions of government will be worse off after the pandemic subsides than it was at the start…

You cannot force public trust; you have to earn it by being humble and transparent, and by listening…it’s the grueling and deeply human work of democracy, which is never finished.

“An epidemic is not only technical and medical — they are not cured only by science or vaccines,” Dr. [Cheikh] Niang [a WHO medical anthropologist who worked on the Ebola epidemic in West Africa] told me. His words have haunted me since. “Ebola was beaten back by many things, including building consensus inside communities and restoring dignity and trust. This is what we learned. Hopefully, it is not too late for you over there to learn it, too.”

So, we can see how critical it is that our president and other leaders are capable of restoring trust in our government, our institutions, and our democracy.  Trust is a central reason why we need Joe Biden — now.

Please, as always, pass it along.

Chuck

BidenBrief #2: John’s Last Words and Pete’s Case for Joe

July 31st, 2020|

Hello Everyone,

John Lewis’ funeral is today.  As many of you have already know, he wrote an essay shortly before his death which was published in today’s New York Times.  Here are some excerpts which are instructive for the multiple challenges we are facing:

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity…

Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself…

Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it…

So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

In my first BidenBrief last week, I reiterated why I began supporting Vice President Biden after Mayor Pete dropped out and enthusiastically endorsed him.  Humanity, integrity, temperament, and decency.

Last Wednesday, my wife Penny Sebring and I also participated in a remote discussion with Pete along with ten others.  At that time, I asked him what are his strongest arguments for Joe Biden’s election now that he knows him better.

Here are the principle arguments Pete offered [emphases added]:

It’s not a small thing for the President of the United States just to be a decent person– I know that should be table stakes, right?

…there’s a basic decency [to Joe] that I always thought [was there] even when we were competing against each other and certainly since then. [It goes] hand-in-hand [with] integrity. But right now, its exceptionally important because it can have a unifying effect…

Another thing is that he’s really serious about this idea of being a transitional figure in empowering new generations [and restoring dignity to the office].

[And,] he…understands…issues personally…[for instance,] as a military parent [his deceased son, Beau, served in the Army and was deployed to Iraq in 2008-9] the revelations about the Russia bounty story hit him and his family. Like me, he comes from a community…with economic issues [for his first ten years, he lived in Scranton, PA, a small city with struggles like those of South Bend, IN]…[We] need somebody in [the White House] who’s got some sense of what’s at stake in everyday life in a way that totally escapes the current president.

In these comments, you will notice that Pete frames his arguments in terms of character, personal philosophy, and lived experience, not in terms of policy proposals or position on the political spectrum.

I totally get that.  First and foremost, I believe we need a calming presence like Joe Biden in the oval office, someone who will start to restore trust in the presidency and our other institutions.

More on trust next time.

Please, as always, pass it along.

Chuck

 

BidenBrief: #1: Trust in Joe

July 23rd, 2020|

Hello Everyone,

I wrote my last PetePost on March 4, on the cusp of the shutdown we have since endured.  Since then, I have written a few pieces (called Exograms) about the effects of COVID-19.

But, I have been reminded that, with 102 days and less than 15 weeks to go until the election, we cannot take anything for granted, no matter how positive the polls.  So, I’m now setting out to write a dozen or so “BidenBriefs” to add what I can to the conversation and keep us all focused on November 3 amid this raging pandemic.

I’ll simply start by reiterating what I wrote on March 4, which now seems like so long ago.

I am for Joe because he shares Pete’s values and many of his qualities – humanityintegritytemperament, and decency.  Qualities we desperately need at this fragile moment…Joe’s humanity and decency were on full display on Monday night when he responded to Pete’s endorsement [by likening him to his deceased son, Beau.]

More than anything, I believe this is an election about values.  Undergirding the values that commend Vice President Biden is the notion of trust.

Appropriately, as most of you know, Pete’s new book, Trust: American’s Best Chance, is strategically timed for release on October 6 to remind us of the paramount importance of trust in our democracy and its leaders.  In a statement about the book, Buttigieg said: “…in the years ahead, it will be more important than ever to build trust – trust in our institutions and leaders, trust in each other, and trust around the world in America itself.”

I trust Joe Biden and hope you do, too.

Please, as always, pass it along.

Chuck