Tag Archives: Supreme Court

How Well Is YOUR Country Doing?

“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” –Alexis de Tocqueville

Hello friend,

I need to tell you about an old friend of mine. He has been so much on my mind lately, and I need to know what to make of him. You see, I have been watching this old friend–let’s call him Tom–not only the types of successes he has been enjoying financially and in his career, but also the decisions he has been making and the way he has been treating the people in his life. I have been taking it all in, and my gut is screaming out one way, but I would like your read on him. So, please indulge me and thank you in advance for your wisdom.

Tom lives in a big, beautiful house in an upscale neighborhood. He owns a very successful business–employs a lot of people and makes a lot of money–and also has made a killing in the stock market in the decade since the recession. Financially, he is sitting pretty. The rest of his life is less pretty. Tom has had some alcohol-related incidents lately, including a DUI and an assault and disorderly conduct charge stemming from an incident at a local bar. Also, after a back surgery last year, he became addicted to prescription pain medication and has not been able to kick the habit. It has had enormous ramifications in his relationships. He has become physically abusive with his wife, to the point where she has had to be treated at the hospital. After the latest episode–just last week–in which her collarbone was broken, she filed for divorce and moved out of the house with their two middle-grade children. He has not harmed either of the kids physically, but his emotional abuse has been quite traumatic for them both and they were deeply relieved when their mother moved them to the hotel. He has given up his long-held spiritual beliefs and alienated nearly all of his family and friends (though he claims his dealer is a “real, true friend”). He has been able to maintain his thriving business and financial well-being through it all–and he claims that that is the only proof anyone needs that he is “doing just fine, thank you”–but from my angle, it seems like that is just about all he has going for him right now. He seems adrift, bitter, and depressed. A lost soul. If I didn’t know anything about his finances, I would say he is at rock bottom.

What would you say? How is it going inside his world right now? Rate his life for me on a scale of 1 to 10.

I am going to pretend, until I hear otherwise, that you see life in a way that is somewhat similar to the way I see it, okay? So, I am saying that you gave him a low score. Somewhere between 1 and 3. Definitely not above 5. Right? That seems like the rational human answer. When your soul is lost, money isn’t enough to make it found.

I thought of this guy a lot last week as I followed the big news stories of the day on NPR, CNN, and Facebook. Two comments struck me the deepest and got me in my Pondering Mode (which usually leads to a letter to you). The first one came when I was watching CNN in the immediate aftermath of the first vote for the Supreme Court nomination, which happened to coincide with the day that America’s unemployment numbers were released, revealing our lowest rate in 49 years. One of the guests on the show was a Republican strategist–seemingly a clear-minded guy–and after opining on a few different issues, his summary, as it related to the President, was essentially this (I am paraphrasing): “Even if you are like me and find his personality and comments distasteful, based on delivering two conservative Supreme Court justices and the stock market and unemployment numbers, you would have to say that as a President, he has been a resounding success. The country is doing great.”

I am fairly sure that I drooled a large puddle onto my shirt as my jaw dropped onto my chest. He was being completely serious, and my eyes were bugging out of my head, in the same way they might if I had gone to my doctor for a check on a persistent cough and she told me that the diagnosis was simple: I had monkeys flying out of my butt.

I had to pause and collect my mind. After all, I had just written to you in my last letter about how little we know what is in each other’s minds. This pundit forced me to confront the possibility that his read on our President and the state of the union, though preposterous to me, could be a common one. I just hadn’t ever thought of it before, as everything I read and watch seems to be indicate that we are in a historically bad place in our country, led by a man that is historically unpopular.

Anyway, it was in that pondering state that I was looking at Facebook the next day and came across a post from my friend who is notorious for stirring the pot by putting out probing or controversial questions that draw dozens of comments and debates from her large and vociferous Facebook community. She asked something about the Supreme Court fiasco. Amidst all of these folks bashing the Republicans in the Comments section, there was this one woman who stood up for the conservative cause by saying, essentially, “Look how great the country is doing financially, so all is well. (And go Trump.)”  

Again I was staggered for a moment, but there it was, that same sentiment: If the money stuff is good, then we are definitely a healthy and successful country. We should just keep doing what we are doing. If you want to know if you live in a good country with good leaders, look no further than the stock market and unemployment numbers.

As I gave this idea a fresh spin around my brain to see the many ways it would strike me, a memory from my childhood came up. One of the very few things I can recall about politics or elections from that time was a candidate–it must have been Reagan–saying, essentially, “If you are in as good or better shape financially than you were four years ago, then the only logical vote is for me.” I understood where he was coming from and didn’t question his rationale, as I didn’t give politics a second thought at that age (my parents were big Reagan fans, and Republicans were winning, so I just figured they were cheering for the right guys).

But I give it a second thought now. And a third and fourth, too. I am quite interested, actually. (Sometimes I think I should even go into politics, but I wouldn’t survive, as I take the arguments too personally.) So, when I read that woman’s Facebook comment and listened to the pundit, both saying essentially that our strong economic indicators mean that the country is in great shape and our elected officials are doing a swell job, I was stunned initially. Honestly, after the initial shock of each, I was waiting for the, “Alright alright, just messing with you!” type of follow-up. When I realized that they were completely serious, I had to gather my wits about me, realizing that I have been out of touch with a perhaps-commonly held idea.

Of course, I know that the President has his roughly 33% of ardent supporters who are sure he is making us great again. But do people really think that the country is in good shape? Does a good DOW score and low unemployment mean we are a healthy country?

Don’t get me wrong: I like a strong economy. I like more people having jobs and people earning on their investments. But what about our collective soul? The soul of the nation? Does that not count for anything?

The historians that I read and listen to–old guys like Dan Rather and David Gergen, veterans of many administrations and wars and movements and eras–say the country hasn’t been so divided and faith in our representatives so low in their entire lifetimes. Our standing in the world, from the polls I have seen, has never been lower. Speaking just for myself, I have never felt less “at home” here. And, just by the feel of the energy in the air–not very scientific, I admit–it just seems like dark times in America.

I would argue that that stuff counts, too.

So, I guess what I am saying is I don’t buy the glossy, “Look no further than your bank account,” standard when I assess how well my country is doing. And I resent it when someone offers up the obvious moral decay and corruption in our elected representatives in Washington, the damage to the environment and human rights abuses brought on by the policies of the current administration, and the rise in the level of acrimony amongst ordinary citizens as proof of a country whose very soul is in trouble, the response is basically, “Shut up and cash your check.” That attitude and method of assessment is just too shallow.

It’s too shallow to judge a nation this way, the same way it is too shallow to judge a person this way.

It reminds me of talking to my Mom after she has been to some kind of family reunion or had lunch with old friends.

Mom: I had a nice talk with your Uncle So-And-So.

Me: How is he doing?

Mom: He looks good. And I sat with your Cousin Such-And-Such at dinner.

Me: What is happening in her life?

Mom: She looks great! Her hair is so cute. And her kids are adorable!

Me in my head: Who are my real parents???

When I think about my friend Tom–yes, he probably looks good, too–I see his big bank account and want to think he is doing okay, but I can’t get through ten seconds of the thought without my heart feeling overwhelmingly sad for him and the state his life is in. If I had a vote to live in Tom’s life or the life of someone with less money but more kindness and happiness, I would go with the latter every time.

Similarly, I would love to say that America is in great shape and our elected representatives are doing a swell job just because stocks are up and unemployment is down. But I live here and am neither blind nor stone-hearted. I see what is happening in Washington and in my Facebook feed. The level of acrimony is disturbingly high. So many of our recent policy changes strike me as morally repugnant. When I hear from people across the globe that we have become more of a laughingstock than a leader, I can find no fault in their arguments. I love my country dearly, but I am horribly embarrassed and disheartened about its condition right now, no matter what the NASDAQ says.

Like I said about Tom, when your soul is lost, money isn’t enough to make it found. I feel like the America I live in today is as far gone as my old friend, maybe more. And that makes me sad.

How about you? How do you rate your country’s condition right now, and what do you base that upon? Open up your journal and make an honest assessment of the land you call home? I think it is important to be clear about what factors you include in your assessment. Do you stick to hard numbers, like statistics a politician might tout as proof of success? Do you mostly use economic indicators, like the unemployment rate or the DOW? Do you factor in our current reputation in the global community? How much of your assessment of our nation’s condition is based on what you hear or read from friends or your social media community, especially in gathering your read on the level of acrimony between people with different views? How much is based on the overall vibe that you feel with your gut or sixth sense? How do you think your view of our situation is affected by whether you are a supporter of the political party currently in power? Specifically, if you are conservative, did you rate the country’s health as GOOD in 2008 when President Bush was in charge, despite the fact that we were embroiled in war and our economy was in a free-fall, then rated it as BAD during the Obama years, and now GOOD again with your party in charge of everything? Does a country have a soul, at least in a figurative sense? That is to say, is a country bigger than a sum of its statistics? Is it fair to assess a country in a way similar to a human: as more than just their job, age, marital status, and income? If it is, do you agree with my reading that America is in a bad spot right now–its soul is struggling–despite some promising economic indicators? How adrift are we? Way gone or just a slight shift in our course? Leave me a reply and let me know: How well is YOUR country doing?

Live open-hearted,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please pass it on. Let’s raise our consciousness.

P.P.S. If this type of self-inquiry appeals to you, I encourage you to take a deeper dive with my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, available at your favorite online retailers.

Love Your Country, Not Its Leaders: The Worst Election Year EVER!!!

DSC_0640“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” –Groucho Marx

Hello friend,

Last week’s death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia ignited yet another political firestorm in this country and gave the average American another reason to be disgusted with our representatives in Washington, DC. Before his body was even cold, the Republican leaders—and most vocally the Presidential candidates—began popping off about how they would filibuster or even flat-out refuse to hold hearings for anyone nominated by President Barack Obama (a Democrat), seeing as he has only about eleven months left in his term. Ted Cruz, currently running a solid second for the Republican nomination, seemed to shout the loudest, demanding that we “let the American people decide,” ignoring the fact that we already decided by electing Obama to his second four-year (note: not three-year) term.

President Obama, for his part, finally shot back and said, in essence, that he would do the job he was elected to do until the end of his term.   Of course, everyone on the Democratic side had been saying that since the moment Justice Scalia’s death was announced.

The lines were drawn exactly as they always are these days—“All Republicans over here! All Democrats over there! Now chant your party’s anthem and close your ears to theirs. Go!”

In this case, I think the Republicans look like the petty ones, and the Democrats look like the ones fighting for the just cause. But make no mistake, if the shoe were on the other foot and we had a Republican President in his final year, I am sure that the Democrats would take their turn and be no less petty. It is as though neither side knows any other way to operate anymore without being labeled as a traitor to their party. No matter what noble intentions they may have entered politics with, at this point, it is very difficult to find one person who is not just playing the party power game. Independent thought—not to mention the notions of cooperation and compromise—have gone completely out the window. These characters just cannot seem to get out of their own despicable way.

Ahh, the perfect time for a long campaign for the Presidency!

[Full disclosure here: As I have mentioned before, I am very liberal. And though I have no interest in joining either major party in this country, I admit to having a nearly-violent physical reaction against the thought of being represented by most of the leading Republican candidates. However, I like to think of myself as a fairly objective consumer of Presidential politics. It completely fascinates me—both sides–and I typically have strong opinions about each candidate and what each party should do to be more successful in the race.]

After watching all of these characters intently for months of debates, town halls, and stump speeches, it is clear that this is a pretty ragged bunch of Presidential hopefuls. Each of them has issues that make for a less-than-ideal candidate. If you combine that with the poisonous political climate in America—and even the sad way us regular folks have become so accustomed to ruthlessly tearing our leaders down—my conclusion is that, no matter who wins the upcoming election, our next President is a one-termer. I just don’t see any of them lasting.

I want to think each party has some knight in shining armor that is going to ride in and save the day as an appealing candidate. Of course, it is too late for that now—we are stuck with this motley crew—but a few months ago, I was really thinking that rescue must be imminent from both sides. I was sure the parties would not allow such a sketchy and unelectable bunch to go through this thing unopposed. But in the end, the best they came up with to invite were an aging Vice President (Biden for the Democrats) and the guy who lost the last election (Romney for the Republicans). And even they declined! It was then that I knew we were in big trouble.

The 2016 election always seemed to me destined to be an easy prize for the Republicans. In my adulthood, the Presidency has moved back and forth between the parties, with only the first Bush not winning a second term. Still, it had gone Republican (H.W. Bush)-Democrat (Clinton)-Republican (W. Bush)-Democrat (Obama). With that pattern, this is the Republicans’ turn. Also, as I noted about the particular brand of viciousness and lack of cooperation that has become the norm in Washington, as well as the convincing story the Republicans have been able to sell to their base during these past seven years—lots of folks really hate President Obama—it has always just seemed destined to me that a Republican would be our next President.

With that, I have been on the lookout in recent years for those few—or even one–golden candidates that would sweep up the hearts and minds of the Republican base the way Obama did for Democrats eight years ago. I have been looking for the next Democrats, too, of course, but more the Republicans, figuring their golden child was my next President. Surely in all this time, someone could be groomed for such a sure-thing role, an obvious nominee to produce an obvious victory. Right?

Apparently not.

I am not going to go through each of the leading candidate’s foibles and why they so plainly should not be our next President. I just think that when the Republicans—in this, their year of golden opportunity—get to nomination day and name their guy, they are then going to look at each other in horror and say, “Oh my gosh, we just crapped the bed!”

Fortunately for them, I think the next thing they will say is “Ha! So did they! Game on!!!” That is because the Democrats–who probably began this process thinking their chances were slim amidst the anti-Obama sentiment, but then got their hopes up when they saw who was doing well in all of the Republican polls—have failed to produce a golden child of their own. Even though in my private political thoughts, I can see ways in which I would be excited to see either of the Democrats elected, in my objective look at how each is generally perceived—fairly or unfairly, depending upon which of the two you are talking about—it is obvious that either one is going to be a tough sell to the American people in November. I am pretty sure the Democrats will have their own “We just crapped the bed!” moment as well.

What the heck have we gotten ourselves into????

If you are anything like me, you have recurring fantasies about blowing the whole system up and starting again with all new parties and definitely all new politicians, only to wake up to the ugly reality of our current situation and the feelings of powerlessness to stop it. But then again, maybe that is what the voters are trying to do right now—blow it all up, I mean—in the only way that they see available to them: by voting for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, one who isn’t a native of the current system and the other who most rails against it. That is the only way any of this circus makes sense to me!

How about you? What is your take on the current state of American politics? Open up your journal and join the fray. This one is fun, because you can go at it completely subjectively and unpack why you support your favorite candidate and party, and then you can try to look at both parties and all candidates objectively and try to understand their appeal and their weaknesses.   It’s a HUGE topic, so you can journal for days and days on the various characters and issues on the stage. The other fun thing for a journal writer on this topic is its ever-changing nature. So, dive in! How loyal are you to one party? What drew you to that party in the first place? Have you switched party allegiances during your lifetime? Are you officially a member of the party, and is that important to you? Are you proud of the way your party handles things (not just which issues they support, but how they actually carry on the business of politics)? On which issues do you have some agreement with the other side? On which issues do you wish your party would compromise more? Of all the candidates from your preferred party in this year’s Presidential race, do you think any of them are excellent, can’t-miss prospects? How many on your side have no business leading this country? Objectively, which one would do best in the November election? Is that the same person you think would be the best President? What about from the other party? Which of their candidates is more palatable to you and why? Which one from the other party do you think would do best in the national election? Does anyone from the other side NOT make you think it would be an awful four years with that person leading the country? What is the worst case scenario for you? Okay, now think about some polling questions for all of the candidates. Who is the most trustworthy? Least trustworthy? Who seems to most represent your values? Least? Who would do best with the economy? Worst? Who is best with foreign policy? Worst? Finally, in order, rank the candidates from most likable to least likable. Do you seem to vote more on likability or more on who actually lines up with you best on the issues, whether they are likable or not? Do you wish we could start over with politics in America, perhaps with new politicians or more parties or only publicly-funded elections? How would you set it up? Have you ever had any desire to throw your hat in the political ring and see what kind of change you could make? If there were more people like you in politics, would it work better? Do you know someone who would make a good President? Is there any way out of this mess???? Leave me a reply and let me know, What does your dream candidate look like, and why are they so hard to find?

Be grateful for Choice,

William

P.S. Even if you disagreed with every word I said, did reading this letter help you clarify your preferences? If so, please share it. Let’s get better together!

When I Am Proud of America

DSC_0061 2“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” –Mark Twain

Hello friend,

Every time I popped onto Facebook last weekend, I was more and more encouraged and uplifted. I had heard the news on Friday of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all fifty states. It took the whole course of that day for the reality of that decision to sink in. It felt like just last year when I was amazed and heartened by my own state, Minnesota, voting for marriage equality, and I never dreamed that something like Friday’s decision would happen any time soon. I figured it would take a couple more generations of bigoted folks to die off before there was a chance at getting nationwide marriage equality laws in place. After all, through all of the centuries of this country’s existence—and even through the Civil Rights Era and beyond—the gay community had seemingly made very few strides in terms of gaining mainstream acceptance and justice. But then Friday came, and BAM!!!! Just like that, this movement that felt like it had only just begun creeping its way forward suddenly took a quantum leap toward equality. As the ramifications of the Supreme Court decision gradually sunk in that day, I became increasingly grateful and emotional about it. It just felt so good that so many people who had been so long denied this institution that I, and so many others like me, take for granted in our heterosexual privilege, would finally be granted access to the club (or rather, that the “club” no longer existed). I was suddenly a big fan of the Supreme Court. And then the Facebook profile pictures started changing to include the rainbow overlay in support of the gay community. When I saw the first one, I was like, “Oh, that’s a cool image! I never knew YOU were an ally and a supporter of marriage equality. I like you better now!” And then they just kept on coming, one rainbow flag after another, from all corners of my Facebook community. Each one lifted my spirits a little more. Pretty soon, I was like, “Go, America!!!” It was one of those rare and awesome moments when I have been both proud of my country (for the decision) and proud of my countrymen and women (for the support of equality). We got it right!

I have always felt very proud to be an American. Growing up in the Cold War Era, patriotism and hatred of the “Evil (Soviet) Empire” went hand-in-hand. I grew up believing that we were definitely on the right side of that battle. My family was also crazy about the Olympic Games, so when the undermanned USA hockey team beat the mighty Soviets and won the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, it was a defining moment in my childhood and probably the first clear memory I have of being proud of America. I guess that at that age, I likened the hockey team’s victory to a giant knockdown punch of Good over Evil. America, my country, was something to brag about in that moment.

I also believed the history books I learned from in elementary school. I blindly accepted the idea that we were the undisputed King of the World in all matters of commerce, ideas, and diplomacy. So I was a regular patriot, proud to live in the best country in the world. That wasn’t one event, though, but just a general pride. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the cold truth about the way we built this reputation and ascended to such heights (by taking the lands of indigenous people, killing those people, and building our industry on the backs of enslaved peoples, with little regard for the way we treated other countries and lands along the way). My childhood pride was of America the Concept.

So, what were the events that made me feel proud of America the Country? My country. Not just the concept of America—we all love the idea of Freedom and Opportunity and the like—or what an American person or persons (like a hockey team or a scientist) did, but what the country did. Or, more specifically, what the American government did.

When I look back to my childhood, beyond the Olympic Games of every four years, I remember being proud of my country for the space program and, particularly, the space shuttle missions. Remember how big of a deal those were when the shuttle was new? Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch the launch on television. I was in awe of what they were doing, and the whole aura about it was cloaked in patriotism. America was, in my childish point-of-view, the only country in the world who did amazing things like this for the betterment of all humankind. We were the shepherd, and I loved being a part of that.

After childhood, I hate to admit that the moments of being proud of my government’s actions kind of dried up. With more of the veil lifted to my adult eyes regarding the reasons we really do what we do in the world—usually MONEY leading the way—it became more difficult to cheer for the good old USA in areas of diplomacy. No matter how hard the politicians tried to sell the many wars and “conflicts” we entered, I was disappointed in us for entering them. And I watched how we—as a people and in the three branches of government–were treating each other at home in terms of advancing our pillars of Liberty and Equality, and I was like the kid who grows up to see his hero wasn’t so heroic after all. I still loved and rooted for America the Concept, but the “We The People” America was seriously letting me down. As a sensitive idealist and optimist, I must admit that my feelings were being hurt the country that I loved so much.

I am happy to report, though, that the old Red, White, and Blue has begun to turn things around in my eyes in recent years. A story of redemption has begun to emerge out of all of the chapters of disappointment. It started with Presidential politics in recent elections. Yes, amidst that arena that is still basically a Gong Show to me and everyone else, my spirit has been lifted by the American people’s relative openness to candidates beyond just old, White guys. Whether or not I am a fan of theirs, I have been delighted to see the popularity of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton and their legitimate candidacies for our highest offices. The worm is turning, and I love that my six-year-old daughter has examples to look to in the biggest arenas of politics. I now believe that there will be legitimate female candidates on the ballot when it comes time for her to vote. Go, America!

The bigger source of pride for me in that arena, though, has been our—We the People’s—election of a Black man to the highest office in the land. Given where we have been in this country—and where we still are in a lot of ways—it was absolutely astonishing to me that we made that bold move as a country in 2008. Sure, I know that only half the country votes for the winner in these elections and that the other half often fiercely opposes, but the fact that we had a Black man right there in the arena (and that he actually won a majority of votes) speaks volumes about a collective shift that has begun to occur in the mind of America. Whether you agreed with his politics or not, I felt like America deserved a giant pat on the back on that election night in the name of racial progress. It was a big, big deal.

Then came last week and two Supreme Court decisions that really brought back some of that national pride from my youth. The first one confirmed the legality of the Affordable Care Act, which is our imperfect beginning to the journey toward assuring that all of our residents have access to health care. I know this issue is a polarizing one in our country—and, interestingly, also not on the radar at all for many people—but for me, it is an important one when it comes to national pride. With the rest of the world, at least conceptually, treating health care as the basic right that I think it should be, I have always been quite embarrassed that in America, health care was only for those who could pay for it. As someone who could not always do so, I remember the helplessness and desperation I felt when I was uninsured and mangled my thumb and wrecked my back. Though I know we are only at the beginning of this process, I am heartened by these first steps toward this basic decency. We can do it!

The other Supreme Court case, of course, was the same-sex marriage decision. In all ways, that just made me feel very good. Let LOVE rule, America!!! It struck me as a happy coincidence that it was the lead-in to Pride Weekend, an annual celebration of the LGBTQ community. My wife was marching in the Pride Parade through downtown, and my heart felt so full (and relieved) for the entire community and its allies. My country had finally done right by them. I was marching in my own Pride Parade. Pride in America. We the People.

How about you? What makes you feel proud of your country? Open up your journal and examine your relationship with your government and your people. Are you typically more proud of them or more disappointed? Think back to your childhood. When did you feel that national pride? Compare that to your adulthood. Did you become jaded like me and aware of our collective shortcomings? What moments or movements have made you feel proud to be one of us? Inevitably, discussions such as this one end up being politically driven. As the hyper-liberal that I am, I can think the legalization of same-sex marriage is one of our most proud moments, and the ultra-conservative next to me can write her article about this being one of our most shameful moments. Where do you fall on this topic? What about the others I mentioned: issues around gender, race, and economics/health care? What other issues move your needle in terms of national pride or disappointment? Are they mostly political issues, or are there others, like my Olympic fever or space shuttle awe? Leave me a reply and let me know: When are you proud of America?

Celebrate LIFE,

William