What To Make of Heroes Who Did Bad Things

In a press conference this afternoon, President Trump equated George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The first two were founders of our country. The last two led a revolt against our country to preserve an economic and social system that enslaved African Americans and were responsible for the deaths and maiming of hundreds of thousand of Americans.

These four men shared something in common of course. They owned slaves — that is, they held other human beings in captivity because of the color of their skin.

But there are differences. For starters, 100 years separated them. We’ll never know what either Washington or Jefferson would have done if presented with the possibility of succession — dissolution of the Union they fought so hard to establish.

There were other differences. Jefferson had conjugal relations with at least one of his slaves. More bluntly, he didn’t mind sleeping with his captives.

Washington, by last will and testament, granted his slaves freedom after the death of his widow.

Does any of this mean Washington and Jefferson were less immoral than Lee and Jackson?

What it does mean, of course, is that all four men cited by President Trump did bad things. Well, at least some of us think so. Obviously, some of us, apparently including the president, don’t think so, or at least aren’t so sure.

Nobody is perfect, as we know. Each of us transgress in some way or another. Yet few if any of us transgress to the extent of enslaving other human beings. And no one I know is willing to kill other people in order to preserve the institution of slavery.

Some will say the standards were different back then. They were, but it’s also true that many people, back then, thought slavery was immoral.

Fortunately, it’s not up to any of us to judge any historical figure, or contemporary figure for that matter. But it is up to us to judge conduct.

I never thought I’d hear a sitting president of the United States come to the aid of two generals who sought to dissolve the Union which Washington and Jefferson helped forge in Philadelphia. But there are a lot of things I’m hearing these days that seemed unimaginable not that long ago.

It’s one thing to refrain from judging another person’s soul. It’s quite another to defend their bad acts.

David Duke, the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, was thrilled with the president’s comments this afternoon. And why not? The Confederacy finally has an apologist in the White House. And so do the Nazis.

P.S. Lest an erroneous inference be drawn, none of the aforementioned men is a hero of mine.

Making America Less

Our president was speaking to police officers today. Mr. Trump endorsed police brutality. The officers laughed and cheered.

What can I say, Vera?

By now it’s abundantly clear that the concept of “greatness” means different things to different people.

I suppose it’s always been that way. But, at least in my lifetime, we’ve never seen anything like this.

I hope this will prove to be an aberration and that America will reclaim the values and principles that made this country great.

If not, then … . I don’t know.

In the meantime, we’ll do our part to help you grow up to be a truly great person, as opposed to the kind of person who’s leading our country today.

As best I can tell, our future rides on your generation and the generation of your parents. My generation has certainly failed us miserably.

Reflections on Health Care

Some things I think about health care in America:

Our system of employer-based medical insurance makes no sense. It’s an accident of history that should be scraped. It places American businesses at a competitive disadvantage. Moreover, it impedes mobility, puts a drag on the labor market and simply makes no logical sense.

Treating health care as a partisan issue makes no sense either. Disease and death don’t respect party affiliations, ideology, race or wealth. Neither should our health care system.

It’s not a matter of entitlement. No one is owed anything. Rather, it’s a matter of what’s right and just. We’re a rich country. America’s brand of capitalism and democracy has allowed many of us to accumulate vast personal wealth. But it’s a system that is poor at ensuring a fair and just allocation of the fruits the system produces. It’s not that we don’t have the money. We spend more on weapons than the next seven countries combined. It’s an issue of priorities. We can afford to ensure no citizen is denied access to treatment and care because of the inequities built into our economic system.

No child, grandparent or other person should die, languish untreated or be compelled to go bankrupt because they weren’t fortunate enough to be born to the right parents, be free of the inherited diseases or conditions that plague some, be well connected, or have the abilities or desire to land a lucrative position. It’s not right that something as basic and precious as health care is rationed on the basis of parentage, personal income or wealth.

Americans are their own worst enemy when it comes to our health. We haven’t adjusted our diets to our sedentary lifestyles. Our habits, propelled by individualistic and materialistic cultural values, are notoriously harmful, yielding high incidences of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, stress-induced chronic conditions, emotional and mental conditions, avoidable cancers and drug addictions. Moreover, our over-reliance on chemicals (we call them medicines) and our fear of death also lead us to spend obscene amounts of money to compensate for self-destructive habits and to extend life, regardless of quality or the impact on the community or family. But it is what it is. The health care system must accommodate these realities.

Insurers and monopolists (pharmaceutical companies) walk away with huge profits at the expense of sick and dying people and the country as a whole. Privileged positions afforded by laws passed by elected officials (from both parties) who do the bidding of their donors/masters (insurers and big pharma) need to be rescinded. Patent laws should be changed, and insurance processing should be moved to the public sector or profits capped. Further consolidation among insurers should be blocked and greater competition encouraged and fostered.

Allow citizens to buy their medicines from Canada and Mexico, countries who are more committed to the provision of affordable heath care for their citizens than we are. End protectionist policies that serve the needs of the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class.

Stop protecting the wealth of doctors by excluding well-qualified immigrant professionals. Health care, like education and other systems, abhors competition. Moats are erected to protect the status quo and wealth of its incumbents. Get rid of those moats. Use government regulation to ensure quality and safety, not to protect the incomes of the rich.

Incentives matter. If the system allows for — indeed, encourages — excessive profit-taking, over use, inefficiency and waste, that’s what we’ll get. Indeed, that’s what we get. Design the system to encourage and reward affordable, quality health care for everyone.

Require radical transparency, so patients can compare providers and hospitals by cost and outcomes.

Republicans need to get over Obama. Their guy is president now. And they control both houses of Congress. Own it. Take responsibility.

And come on, Mr. Trump, man up! Honor the promise you made to the American people during the campaign. Chose honor and virtue. Show America what true leaders look like. You have the power to make things better. Stop all the whining and excuse making. Lives and personal well-being of our citizens are at stake. Think about someone other than yourself. Do something that is good for America and Americans.

American can afford affordable, quality health care for all.

The only question is, do we want it?

 

Unexpected Beauty

Last week I returned from a nearly two-week trek to Nevada and the West Coast, Vera. The road trip was designed around a Christmas visit with Mike, your grandmother’s brother, in Las Vegas, where he lives, and the Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, California, where our alma mater, Penn State, was to play. But there was much time in between and on the way and back.

We like road trips. As usual, we listened to some audio books in the car. And then tucked in some visits to previously unseen places, like Death Valley and some sites in San Diego. We like to explore. We also returned to some favorite spots, like Santa Barbara and the wine country to its north.

It’s not usual to encounter unexpected beauty on our road trips, especially in places we don’t expect to find it. But this trip was unusual. I can’t explain it. I don’t know why it was different. But it was. Continue reading