Avoiding Terror

I’ve never been the subject of a criminal investigation. But I know people who have been — who lived in fear of being prosecuted and imprisoned. In a few cases, their worst nightmares came to fruition: they had to serve time.

One thing I’ve observed: when you’re the target of a criminal investigation and live with the fear of going to prison and having your life turned completely upside down, it instills pure terror. Even men who normally walk with a swagger and play the role of the strongest chimpanzee in the jungle melt into a puddle of fear. Terror works that way.

You might think this is an odd point to make to one’s granddaughter. But I learned something else along the way: the terror that I reference has visited sons and daughters from good families. One never knows who might cross the line.

There’s a lot of pressure to cross the lines these days. I know people in the business world who have crossed more than one line. Some were discovered by law enforcement. Most weren’t.

The pressure to “succeed” in America is intense. And the fear of losing one’s job can be pretty intense, too. It causes people to do stupid stuff — stuff that could land them in jail.

So I no longer think the terror of criminal prosecution is restricted to those who live on “the other side of the track.” I’ve learned that the odds of the getting caught and prosecuted are greater over there, but I’ve also discovered there is more criminality on the “good side” of the tracks than most people imagine.

Personally, I think it’s foolish to cross the line, to subject oneself to possible prosecution. But many people don’t share my concern. Many people are willing to take a lot of risk. I’ve kept some of these people from being prosecuted and from going to jail. But I’ve also visited some of them in prison.

Recently, we learned that our president is under criminal investigation (or at least that’s what he says). Based on what I know about his actions, he has reason to be concerned. Whether his concern has blossomed into terror yet, I don’t know.

It’s obvious, though, that his life and well-being are being affected. Unfortunately, when our president is under the spotlight like this, all of our lives will be affected.

I have no idea how any of this will turn out. I’ve gotten people out of worse predicaments than the president seems to be in, but, of course, I don’t have all the facts. Some of those facts may be helpful. Some may be damning. In any case, the spotlight that’s shining on this matter is unlike any normal case. Bright lights have a way of exposing dark corners.

If I could advise Mr. Trump, I’d tell him several things. First, stop tweeting. Second, stop digging. Third, stop acting so damn guilty.

People who make stupid decisions often make the situation worse by digging the hole even deeper. The president has been digging a lot lately. He needs to stop.

One way people often dig their holes deeper is by lying. It’s rarely a successful strategy. Indeed, it’s often the very thing that ensures things will turn out poorly. The president needs to stop lying. Unfortunately, it may not be possible for this man to do that. Lying has become who he is. This, combined with a deep-rooted insecurity, is usually a recipe for disaster.

As I’m sitting here this morning, Vera, I can’t imagine you would ever do anything that could put you into legal jeopardy. That said, I’m sure many, many parents and grandparents of future felons thought the same thing.

It’s quite possible you may feel the pressure to do the wrong thing at some point in your life. You may feel your job is at stake. Or your financial survival. Whatever fear or pressure may be present, my hope is that you will be strong and courageous and take the high road. Never approach, let alone cross, the line. Do nothing that unfairly injures another person or institution. Never put yourself into a position similar to the one our president has created for himself.

Terror is real. Keep it at bay.

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.

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.