Francis or Donald?

The meeting in the Vatican today brought opposites together: Pope Francis and President Trump. They’re not opposite in all respects of course. They’re both men. They’re both elected leaders. They’re both over 70, much closer to death than birth. They both oversee large organizations with massive resources. They both are adored by many. They both consider women inferior to men. They both claim to believe in God and the divinity of Christ. Actually, when you think about it, they have a lot in common. Yet they are very different.

One sees the world as full of children of God. The other sees everyone as either a winner or loser.

One lifts up the path of community and service. The other embodies the values of individualism and greed.

One stops his car to kiss the head of a disabled young person. The other mocks a disabled person to garner votes and amuse his disciples.

One builds walls. The other builds bridges.

One washes the feet of others. The other grabs people by their privates.

This is the choice we face, Vera: which path to follow.

The fact of the matter is, the vast majority of us choose a path in the middle. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say the path chooses us.

We seek security in things and strive to have more than others, yet we cannot turn our back on the others.

We sense what is right and good, yet long for the comforts and security of riches.

We find appeal in the concept of the brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind, but are appalled by the banality of some of our fellow humans and would like nothing more than to distance ourselves from them.

We simply cannot commit ourselves to go all in on either path. Perhaps it’s out of fear we’re wrong. Or perhaps our heart or brain simply won’t allow it. Or, maybe, it’s just that we weren’t lucky enough to have born into the right family.

Some of us have tried to walk the path of life straddling the two paths, one foot in each. We can’t commit. We find fault with both. Risks in both.

We want and think we can have both. But we find we can’t. At least not fully. Something has to give.

A troubled discontent sometimes settles in. Often, self-delusion takes root. We find theological and philosophical justifications for our compromises. We become blind to the hypocrisy that envelops us.

Meetings such as the one that occurred at the Vatican today are helpful. They force us to confront important questions of life.

It’s tempting to trivialize them. Or to turn our attention to other matters. But I submit we should not avert our eyes and attention too quickly. We should linger in the moment for a while.

Generational Theft

In my lifetime, we have witnessed the greatest intergenerational transfer of wealth ever seen. Seniors have benefited. Our youth have taken it on the chin.

Oddly, even so-called conservatives don’t seem to mind this massive redistribution of wealth. It enjoys broad support. The reasons are obvious; 1) older people vote at a higher rate than young people and 2) people (both voters and their elected representatives) tend to vote their self interest.

Hence, at least thus far, the Boomers and their parents’ generation are doing just fine, the recipients of massive transfers; the youth are massively in debt and on the hook for trillions of obligations owed to what I call the dying generations.

I’m not going to get into the numbers here. If you want to catch a glimpse of them, you can watch this video of renowned investor Stanley Druckenmiller (a former Pittsburgher so he must know what he’s talking about!).

But you shouldn’t have to be convinced. Just think for a moment of the massive transfers that take place in the form of Social Security (people take out far more than they pay in), Medicare, special benefits extended to seniors by state and local governments (e.g., real estate tax breaks) and the less visible countless tax breaks and subsidies that inured mainly to the benefit of the Boomer and their parents’ generations, both in earlier times (education in particular) and now as they age and die.

The result? Continue reading Generational Theft

Class Matters

Vera, I hope, when you grow up, you appreciate the importance of class. Here is a recent example of the lack of class:

President Donald Trump weighed firing his FBI director for more than a week. When he finally pulled the trigger Tuesday afternoon, he didn’t call James Comey. He sent his longtime private security guard to deliver the termination letter in a manila folder to FBI headquarters. (Politico)

It’s not surprising our president exhibited a total lack of class. That’s who he is. But if this is what he means by “making America great again,” I hope he fails. His America is an ugly place. And utterly devoid of class.

I’d like to say that being classless has negative consequences. But I’m not so sure anymore. After all, the man got elected president. Perhaps we’re simply becoming a society devoid of class. I hope not, but the jury is out.

In any case, you get to decide how to live your live. You have it within your power to take the high road. I’m confident you’ll be a better person than our president.

As for his decision to fire the top cop in the midst of an investigation that could implicate the president himself, what can I say? It’s reasonable to conclude this act constitutes an impeachable offense: obstruction of justice. Time will tell.

It’s hard to understand why the president wouldn’t be bothered by Russian interference in our election unless the president was indeed collaborating with the Russians or, at the very least, being complicit. Perhaps there is another explanation. Yet the president’s consistent efforts to prevent inquiry into the matter cannot help but raise suspicions about his motives.

But this post highlights yesterday’s classless act, not the broader issues. The man chose to fire a dedicated public servant by having a letter delivered to the F.B.I. director’s office when the director was out of town. I’d be livid if any of the managers at any company or institution I managed would have engaged in such conduct. What a cold and heartless — indeed, totally classless — act.

But we knew what kind of man he is. None of this comes as a surprise. Yet our nation decided he was fit to be our president.

You’ll soon be two years old. We have a lot of work to do if we are to leave the world in a better place by the time you come of age — by the time you have the right to vote.

But no matter whether we fail or succeed, remember: you choose how to live your life.

Naturally, I hope you make good choices. Conducting yourself with class would be one such choice.

It’s Hard To Stop Laughing On Days Like This

There will be bad days. But this is one of the good ones.

When President Obama was in office, the Congressional Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) so may times I lost track. Of course, it was all for show. They knew the president would never sign their act into law. It was a political gimmick. That’s all.

And then came along the big wind bag. He promised a simple, affordable replacement to the ACA. I knew it was a lot of hot air. I also believed he really didn’t care about the ACA or any replacement for the act. In fact, the evidence is pretty compelling that the only thing he cares about is himself. And perhaps his family.

In any case, all that hot air ran smack into arctic air today. The blowhard failed. Miserably. As did the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. They were unable to agree on a replacement to the ACA. They were unable to pass any bill. And they most certainly failed to fulfill their campaign promise — to repeal the ACA.

That could change in time of course. But for now, we (well, some of us) get to laugh at the circus, headed by the chief clown himself.

So, Vera, here is the larger point: it’s much easier to criticize than it is to actually accomplish anything.

In fact, it’s really easy to snipe. And poke holes. And ridicule. And demonize. And take hollow actions that entail no actual consequences. Or risks. And to huff and puff. And to make empty promises. But to actually do something productive, that’s a much harder lift.

What we’ve witnessed isn’t restricted to the world of politics. You’ll encounter it in the nonpolitical world too. People with loud voices but no skin in the game. And no ability to solve problems and make the world — or their company, other organization, or town — a better place.

Republicans are the teachers today. But it could just as easily have been Democrats. Or anyone else for that matter. No matter who the teacher, there is a lesson to be learned in all of this.

Try to be someone who gets things done and contributes, not merely someone who spouts off. If you do, you may not be able to get elected to the presidency or Congress, but I think you’ll be happier with yourself.

Resistible Urge to Leave the U.S.A., Trumped by an Irresistible Urge to Stay and Fight

One doesn’t expect to have the urge to flee one’s country at the age of 62. But, to be honest, the urge is there. I can’t begin to describe just how disconcerting that is. Continue reading Resistible Urge to Leave the U.S.A., Trumped by an Irresistible Urge to Stay and Fight