I previously promised that I would ignore Donald Trump and concentrate only on the issues important to the American people.  His most recent comments on the protest gestures of NFL players so perfectly illustrate the malaise that has infected this country that I cannot pass up the opportunity to draw the lesson learned.

To briefly recap, President Trump, speaking at what appeared to be a campaign rally, told his followers that he would like it if, when an NFL player knelt in protest during the national anthem, the team’s owner would say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field.  He’s fired!”  When faced with resounding protests from people across the nation, including players and even owners in the NFL, Trump protested that “it wasn’t about race.”

Since the original protest was clearly about race, Trump’s denial is disingenuous at very best.  In the root sense of his rant, however, he has unwittingly hit on a critical point.  Trump’s rant is not merely about race.  It is far worse than that.  What Trump did, in essence, was to replace our commitment to the American ideal of equal birth and inalienable rights with allegiance instead to the symbols of those rights, or, much worse, allegiance to a single individual.  Boiled down to its essence, Trump’s degrading insults  are based on a classic blunder, in which the ideal is replaced by the symbol created to represent that ideal.  We create a statue to represent our God, and by and by we end up worshiping the statue.  We create a church to serve our God, and by and by we end up serving the church.  We create a flag to represent the American ideal, and by and by we become willing to limit or even eliminate our ideals in order to serve the flag.  By that process, anyone who protests anything is a son of a bitch and needs to be silenced.

What is really at the heart of Trump’s disgusting tirade is his total lack of a moral base.  Donald Trump’s worldview is completely devoid of any value outside himself.  In Trump’s world, that is good, and only that is good, which serves his interests.  But it is of the very essence of morality to be obliged to others.  Trump has utterly no sense of that obligation.

Note, however, that we voted Donald Trump into the White House.  And that should tell us a great deal about us.  We, as a nation, have fallen for this specious “morality of self-interest.”  Whether we literally voted for Donald Trump or not, we have allowed this cancer of self-interest to infiltrate our views and our actions.  Nothing illustrates this more clearly than our failure to insist on rational debate over our pressing national issues.  We have replaced, we have pretty much all replaced, debate with name-calling.  We, we, have chosen, or at the very least tolerated, a predominant worldview of self over others to overtake the ideal upon which this nation is founded. Donald Trump is no more than the distillation of the worldview of self-interest that we have adopted.

So it is indeed not about race.  Far more, far worse, it is about a crisis in our national identity.  Trump is what he is, an ignorant, self-absorbed sexual predator.  If he does not represent us, it can only be that we are choosing to concern ourselves with values beyond ourselves.  I truly believe we will do that.


















Dear Mr. Kaepernick,

You don’t know me, but I owe you a profound debt of gratitude.  What you did when you knelt during the playing of the national anthem before an NFL football game last year took a level of courage and thoughtfulness and consideration for others that says a great deal about your depth of character.

It is my personal opinion that you did a great deal more than even you might know.  While I presume that your action was meant to bring attention to the inequality and injustice still worked on people in the United States because of their race, it also brought to the  American consciousness at a critical moment that we are Americans, not because of our race or our religion or our economic status.  We are Americans because we hold as an ideal that every human being is born equal and every human being is endowed by his or her creator with inalienable rights.  You taught us once again. and we badly need the teaching, that no symbol, and most certainly no individual human being, takes precedence over that ideal.  You reminded us, and we needed reminding, that we have not reached that ideal, and that there is, and likely always will be, a great deal of work ahead of us to pursue that ideal.

I am fairly sure that you are not penniless, but I am equally sure that you are suffering a substantial financial loss because of your actions.  I am a football fan, and I devoutly hope that you will return soon to the game to demonstrate your enormous talents.  I am also a Green Bay Packer fan, so I hope you do that on a team the Packers don’t have to play.  Seriously, however your life goes from here on, I will always remember this great deed you have done for the country.


















The most recent attack on our present health care system brings up, one more time, the fundamental issue of whether health care should be available to all as a matter of right.  This question, instead of being seriously faced in open debate, has been tossed around as a political football for many decades in the United States.  Language has been abused, on both sides, the left with the call for a single payer system and the right with the call for a block grant system, to avoid serious debate.  Nothing would illustrate this point more than to ask yourself whether you understand how each position would function.  I do not know, and I think about it a lot.

As is true with practically every political issue we face today, we need first to state our basic goal, and we need to state that goal openly.  Here is my little effort at doing that.

First, I put it as a moral issue that, being grounded as we are in the commitment to the inalienable rights of all human beings, we must, insofar as we are able, provide every American with basic health care.

Second, it is clear that, whatever system we employ, it must do two things:  operate efficiently and reduce the cost of health care in America.

Third, it is equally clear that, all other things being equal, private industry can accomplish tasks more efficiently and more effectively than government can.

Given these three principles, I conclude that we should have a system that provides basic health coverage to all people, and that that system should be run by private insurers.  I therefore conclude that what we need to do is, first, define what “basic health care” means.  It is neither Cadillac care on the one hand nor aspirins for everything on the other.

Once we have figured out what we mean by basic health care, then we should provide that care to every American through a system run by private insurers.  My suggestion is that we divide the whole country with a grid, and then auction off each grid to a private carrier.  The winning bid gets a monopoly in the section it has successfully bid for, and a public service commission is charged with controlling the cost charged by that insurer to avoid gouging.    Then we grant these private carriers the right to negotiate with medical providers for the lowest prices for care and for medical products, particularly drugs.  Finally, since we have now provided basic health care for everyone in the country, we remove health care provisions in all other insurance — auto, products, homeowners, etc. — and we remove medical expense as an item of claim in various legal actions.  So we eliminate subrogation, and we remove medical expense from all forms of personal injury claims.  This last action will significantly slash the cost of liability and worker’s compensation insurance across the nation, thus taking a burden off employers so that they can be more competitive in the global market.

The devil being in the details, adopting this plan would require much research and debate.  But it would be honest research and honest debate, because we would not be hiding our real reasons for holding the positions that we do.  It is that business of hiding our real goals that makes rational debate impossible and shouting and ridiculing necessary.

I may be wrong about the efficacy of this proposal.  What I am not wrong about, and what is desperately needed in our political arena today, is that we must first, openly and clearly, state our real goals.  If we did that, I would bet that we would find much more agreement among the competing sides that we think exists.  Most Americans agree on their first principles.  Given that, our discussions are simply about the best means to serve those principles.

























Something very ugly has crept into American political debate.  It is not just harsh opposition.  Cartoons from as far back as the early 19th century portray invective every bit as nasty as the worst of contemporary political comment.  Political issues generate deep, deep feelings in people, and those people have always expressed their political views with great passion.

In recent times, however, political debate has done something far worse.  It has disappeared.  Real, serious debate has been replaced with ideological sloganeering.  Instead of the process of stating one’s arguments and critiquing the arguments of others, we have been reduced to shouting slogans and defining ourselves with labels.  Not only do we not engage in serious debate.  We are even instructed not to argue and even not to allow argument.  During the debates prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, its opponents were instructing people to go to the debates and create disruptions that would prevent rational debate.

All this came to a head for me when, recently, I was talking to a neighbor.  A second neighbor came by, and the first said to the second, “Don’t talk politics with this guy.  He’s a Democrat.”  What my neighbor, a dear friend, was telling us was that political opinions were to be held without reason, without challenge.  You believed this or that because it was what people of your ideological characterization believed.  The closest anything came to reasoned debate was rationalization supporting your pure, ungrounded beliefs.

I admit to being guilty of this.  I have for a long time called myself a liberal.  I have restricted my watching of news solely to those stations and channels and newspapers that support my point of view.  Worst of all, I have accepted positions, not because I had come to them through reasoned discourse, but simply because they had been designated the positions identified with the “liberal” label.  For instance, I have accepted unlimited access to abortions because it is a “liberal” position, even though I have deep reservations about the subject, starting with the fact that I find it unquestionable that human life begins at conception.

So here is what I think we need to do.  First of all, we should throw out all the labels.  I am not a liberal, or a progressive, or a leftist.  I am a person who has concluded, by reasoned discourse, certain positions, like the need for universal health care and the need to have more balance in the distribution of wealth through increases in a progressive tax system.  Second, we should open our minds to, and participate in, reasoned discourse.  No more shouting matches.  No more listening only to likeminded people.  We need to know and understand why people want more limited government and fewer (and lower) taxes.

And, very most of all, we need to listen.  So talk to me.  I’m listening.
























I was driving to work this morning, something I have done for a very long time.  I drive on city streets, and my trip is about five miles.  There was absolutely nothing unusual about it, but in the middle of it I had a strange sensation, a weird feeling.  I looked out, and there was the usual stream of cars going in both directions, folks going to or coming from work.  Nothing different from the thousands of times I had done this before.  This time, though, I was caught up in the absurdity of it.  Vehicle after vehicle, each weighing at least two thousand pounds, was streaming down the street, each consuming a substantial amount of energy, and each carrying just one person.

Several things dawned on me.  First, this is going on all over the country.  In places like New York and Chicago and Los Angeles, the stream of cars is many times greater than in my city, but the phenomenon is the same — vehicles gigantically oversized for the task moving just one person along the pavement.  Each vehicle contains seats for at least five people, but four of them sit empty.  And the stream goes on and on, like the mindless humming of the residents of a psych ward.

Science has made many discoveries, some of which have led to the ability to produce that stream of cars.  To put that another way, we use this phenomenally inefficient method of travel because, well, we can.  By that very same logic, we do many things.  We feed the world, because we can.  We make and explode nuclear weapons, because we can.  We provide heat and light and mass communications to virtually all our citizens, because we can, and we pollute the seas and the land and the air, because we can.

Science makes its discoveries because it can.  Science, by itself, makes no judgments about the propriety of the use of its discoveries.  That task is left to us, and apparently we have more or less ignored it.  That is what is odd.  I am in my office now, and I look out on the street as car after car goes by, each with its singular passenger, each ignoring the insanity of it all.  And note, I am one of them.

Odd.  Odd, disorienting experience.  It makes me realize something about all those folks and about myself.  We don’t need moral leadership.  We need moral participation.