On the Passing of George H. W. Bush

President Bush himself perhaps provided the most insightful assessment of his presidency in a comment to historian Jon Meacham:

“I am lost between the glory of Ronald Reagan — monuments everywhere, trumpets, the great hero — and the trials and tribulations of my sons.”

Even so, I now look back on his life of service and his decency … and realize what our current political climate has lost, and the standard to which we need to aspire and return.  Mr. Bush’s agreement during his term to raise taxes – despite his earlier campaign pledge, and with the understanding that it could (as it did) cost him a second term – because he felt it was the right thing to do – is in stark contrast to the craven focus on self-interest of politicians of both parties that we suffer with today.

I would submit that what can be said of President Bush can’t be said of many presidents:  that his years in the White House were simply a part of the tapestry of a larger life that in its entirety consisted of integrity, honor, duty, devotion to his wife, his family, and his friends, and dedication to his nation.  Although there are good biographies available about him, I recommend that anyone having the opportunity instead read All the Best – George Bush, a compilation of the President’s correspondence over a lifetime.  It demonstrates in his own words, more clearly than any historian, eulogizer or commentator has or will, what a fine man he was.

A Lesson from a Friend

I recently spent time with a very close friend of ours who we hadn’t seen for a while.  It’s getting later in his life, and while he and his spouse both have jobs, it’s fair to surmise that they may always be a bit financially challenged.  He is, nonetheless, completely free of bitterness and without rancor.  He is warm and open, a gentleman in the best sense of the word, who genuinely wishes the best for all whom he meets.  Many of his family and friends are better financially fixed than he and his wife, but he bears no resentment.  He leans conservative and supports President Trump, although he disapproves of the President’s behavior.

Although I acknowledge – it’s a Guiding Principle of these pages — that any outlook I express can be completely haywire, I obviously hold my perspectives firmly and generally offer them fairly energetically.  That said, during our time with our friend, while I posed questions regarding his positions, I found myself very open to what he was saying — wanting to understand his thoughts — because he does wish the best for all, has no confrontational tone as he explains his views, and accepts that I don’t always agree with a gentle smile.

I suggest that today, we not focus on the excesses of Mr. Trump, or, if you will, Ms. Pelosi.  May we as a people find a way to regain our tolerance, our openness, to well-intended views contrary to our own.  I concede that it is more difficult in circumstances where there is not the close personal bond I have with our friend.  Of this I am confident:  whether he or I have the more accurate view of the current state of our national affairs, he is the one much closer to the gates of Heaven than I am; if I do make it through those gates, it will be in part due to his intercessions on my behalf …

Let’s give thanks for all of our family and friends.

A Note Outside My General Realm …

A number of years ago, I read an interview of Robert Redford, in which he was asked:  Was there anyone he envied?

Yes, he said, there was:  his friend, Paul Newman.  He said that Newman was married to the woman with whom he remained deeply in love after more than 40 years; that he made a movie when he wanted to; that he drove a race car when he wanted to; that he experimented to create an exquisite meal when he wanted to …

I feel likewise blessed:  I am also married to the woman with whom I remain deeply in love after more than 40 years; TLOML and I are lucky to regularly see our children, our son- and daughters-in-law, grandsons, family, and friends; we are able to travel; I exercise as and when I want to (which I thoroughly enjoy); I ponder our investments (which, again, I thoroughly enjoy); I blog when I think I have something to add …

Sen. John McCain, in an interview after he was diagnosed with the brain cancer that ultimately claimed his life, indicated that he had had an extraordinarily blessed life.  Mr. Redford felt that Mr. Newman was similarly fortunate.  I consider myself in their company.  As our nation – and, for those that have concern, the Catholic Church — endure trials which I believe will only intensify in the coming months, may we remain cognizant of our blessings …

McCain Discontinues Treatment

I just read that Senator John McCain has discontinued treatment for his brain cancer.  A very, very sad day, not only on a personal level for him and his family but because I would submit that as he prepares to leave us, his nation has never been more in need of his leadership and courage.  I place this note under the “Random Thoughts” category — although I will never enter anything into this site relating to the affairs of this nation that is more integral — because placing it in the “Domestic Policy,” “Foreign Policy,” or “Politics” categories — or in all of them together — seems inadequate; I lack the category this note warrants:  “The Best America Has to Offer.”

Roseanne and Samantha

Having briefly indulged in baseball’s comforting warmth, it’s time to return to reality.  Although the Roseanne Barr / Samantha Bee ruckus is in the process of fading into our daily haze, and there are obviously many large issues clamoring for comment, the uproar around these women has caused me to again focus on our general need to improve our continually coarsening public dialog.

First, Ms. Barr.  I don’t think I ever saw a full episode of her show’s first run and caught but a few scenes of the recent reprise.  Living in my own bubble, I wasn’t aware that she had exhibited a decades-long pattern of racial behaviors until hearing of her tweet about Valerie Jarrett and seeing the ensuing reporting.  This is the straightforward one:  she had multiple chances.  She should have been fired, and was.

The approach to Ms. Bee’s comments about Ivanka Trump is for me more complex.  Ms. Trump, as a formal member of the Trump Administration, is a government official and has to abide a certain level of scrutiny.  A number of her activities while in office warrant severe criticism (the Chinese trademarks she received in recent days being a ready objective example).  That said, Ms. Bee went too far.  I confess that if Ms. Bee had called our daughter what she called Ms. Trump, I wouldn’t want her to get a second chance; I’d want her fired.  I can’t fault the President for feeling and stating the same.

I find it no excuse for Ms. Bee that — as her defenders have been quick to point out — the President himself revels in escalating the level of crass exchange now present in our public discourse.  I don’t care.  I would assert that if Ms. Bee intends to contribute to the public commentary, she has (and had) a responsibility – like all from the President of the United States to a lonely blogger — to do so civilly.  At the same time, unless she has shown a pattern of untoward behavior (if so, I haven’t seen a report of it), termination seems too harsh.

So how might TBS proceed?  Although it looks like the network intends to let Ms. Bee get away with simply a more robust apology to Ms. Trump, I would offer this:  if the terms of her contract give TBS the right to cancel her show without further payment to her if it so wished, TBS might consider (1) making it clear to Ms. Bee that another like incident will result in her immediate termination and (2) requiring Ms. Bee to forfeit a month’s salary (which, given internet accounts placing her TBS salary at around $1million, amounts to about $80,000), to be paid to a charity designated by Ms. Trump [a real charity – not a Trump charity ;)].  Such an approach would not end her career, but would send a message that untoward conduct comes with consequences beyond the tired rite of insincere apologies.

Codes of behavior matter.  As our longstanding norms come under ever greater stress, we need to maintain our respect for them in small matters if we hope to have them withstand the assaults in large areas that are likely ahead of us.

Taking a Knee …

I’ve recently read The Assault on Intelligence by former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden.  There are a sufficient number of foreign policy and security insights in his account to warrant making some further Noise about his book in the future.  However, the NFL’s announcement this week of its new policy requiring all players on the field to stand during the national anthem made me recall one particular passage of Mr. Hayden’s book (he was raised in Pittsburgh, and appears to be as much the Steeler fan as some of us are Packer fans), in which he reminds that the controversy began with a speech President Trump delivered in late September, 2017, during which the President said the following:

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now.  Out.  He’s fired.  He’s fired!’ …. When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they are playing our great national anthem.  The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium.  I guarantee things will stop.  Things will stop.  Just pick up and leave.  Pick up and leave. [Emphasis mine, not Mr. Hayden’s].”

My comment to follow, but what prompted this post is something Mr. Hayden added:

“The week before [the President’s speech], six NFL players protested social injustice and police brutality by sitting or taking a knee during the pregame anthem.  Six.  This was not a national issue.  [Emphasis Mr. Hayden’s].”

I have not independently verified Mr. Hayden’s claim that only six NFL players sat or knelt during the pregame anthems the week before the President’s speech.  If his account is accurate, it would seem that the President – a masterful showman with a unique genius for manipulating the media and his supporters – here, as in many other instances, adroitly spun what became and remains a mountain out of a molehill to inflame his supporters for his own political purposes.

This is an area that I enter cautiously, since at least two people for whom I have the highest regard have indicated to me that they are troubled by the NFL players that haven’t stood during the national anthem.  I would offer this:

  • Reading the President’s words as Mr. Hayden quoted them was chilling for me in the first instance for reasons having nothing to do with the substantive issue. His references to “people like yourselves” and “those people” did, at the very least, again set up the “us against them” tribalism mentality that divides us rather than unites us, and at worst, exacerbated racial tensions (since virtually all, if not all, of the players not standing were black men).

 

  • My Catholic upbringing has from the outset left me a bit puzzled about one aspect of this controversy; I relate “taking a knee” to genuflection – certainly not a lesser level of respect for that being esteemed than standing.

 

  • Again, perhaps influenced by a lifetime of genuflecting: I suggest that one could consider the players’ actions as respectful, nonviolent demonstrations — akin to the sit-ins and the freedom rides of the 1960s — through which they called attention to injustices they perceive to exist in our nation.  Calling out a perceived injustice in this country is not disrespecting the country.

 

  • No one of any political stripe should disagree with the proposition that in this country, one is free to express his/her views on controversial issues in a nonviolent manner.

 

  • I have a different perspective on Mr. Hayden’s point about this not being a national issue. While we must carefully address the merits of the issues the players have raised, it escapes me why we as a nation should have our hair on fire because some number of men choose to lawfully express their views about perceived social injustice.  In this country, people demonstrate about some issue or other every day.  Only the NFL’s glitz makes it noteworthy.  Many thousands marched for enhanced gun regulation a few weeks back; judging by the lack of Congressional action in this realm, our nation has (regrettably, in my view) pretty readily taken that much larger demonstration in stride.

Agree or disagree with me on the substance of the players’ demonstration (and as noted above, a couple of people whose opinion I hold in the highest regard do indeed disagree with me); but no matter where one stands on the substance, it appears fair to pose that the lion’s share of the emotion generated around this issue has been entirely … Trumped up.

As I was about to hit the “Publish” button on this, it occurred to me that it’s appropriate to suggest that amidst holiday gatherings and home projects, we take a minute this weekend to remember the sacrifices made by Americans to enable us to freely express our views on controversial issues in a nonviolent manner.  This last paragraph is a rare one that I am 100% confident is not haywire …