We use this word “remember” a lot.  We have memorials and mementos and memos and remembrances.  We build monuments and statues and even whole buildings “in memory of …”  We hold days of recollection.  And, as on this very day, we dedicate whole days to remembering.  We remember people (e.g., Martin Luther King) and events (e.g., VE Day, Rosh Hashanah, New Year).  We remember important causes (e.g., Earth Day).  We remember religious commitments — Christmas, Yom Kippur, Ramadan.

Why?  In honor and celebration of those events, no doubt.  More than that, though, I think.  We remember lest we ever forget.  It is too easy to fall into our daily routines, where we are most comfortable.  Life, daily life, is not too bad.  We find a way to get through the day, to do what we need to and still have time to do what we want to.  We pretty much like to see the rest of life as beyond our control.  There are big issues — local, state, federal, global — about which we basically tend to think that they are beyond our control.  As long as those who deal with such things don’t do us much damage, we ignore both them and their issues and just live our daily lives.

But it is just that kind of forgetfulness that eventually leads to the kind of tragedies that we are asked to remember today.  We need to remember, not just the women and men who gave their lives in the service of their country, but the terrible misdeeds of those who drove those women and men into that frightening exposure.  We need, on this day, to remember, not just the deaths of those women and men, but the horrible, ugly, frightening things to which we exposed them.  I remember today my father-in-law, who spent World War II as a Marine, crawling through the jungles of the South Pacific.  Most of all, though, I remember those precious few times when he was willing to recount the horrors he faced at the age of seventeen.  I will not recount them here, but two things are true:  they were horrific beyond anything I ever experienced, and when we send our youth to war, we routinely expose them to just such horrors.

For me, I honor these women and men in two ways by remembering them.  I remember those horrible things we asked them to do.  Then, I remember that I must do whatever I can to make sure that we never ask our youth to face such things again.  War is not inevitable.  It is the result of a colossal failure, the failure of those in charge to resolve their problems by peaceful means, and the failure of people like you and me to think about and care about critical issues beyond ourselves.  If those lives, those seemingly endless rows of white crosses at Arlington and veteran cemeteries across the country and the world are to have real, ongoing meaning, it is our care for others that will preserve that meaning.
















Despite the image being painted by big cities, America still consists of a bunch of small towns filled with people who work hard, dads and moms together and sometimes the kids too, to get enough money to pay for a modest home, a decent health plan, a good education for the kids, and maybe a little recreation.  For these folks, the subtleties of international agreements and the brouhahas about Trump’s sex life and money dealings, are basically irrelevant.  What matter are their circumstances.  Can they pay their bills?  Can they get medical care without bankrupting themselves?  Can their kids get a decent education and a good job?  Can they work and play and pray without undue interference?

These folk, the backbone of the nation, don’t care much about the wars and military actions going on elsewhere in the world, primarily because they don’t know much about it, and because it is not happening here.  It is not that they are heartless.  They are decidedly not.  They are generous to a fault.  They will contribute to local causes and help local people, sometimes absolutely beyond the call of ordinary decency.  It is just that the violence of Iraq and Afghanistan and Yemen and those many other places are so far away that it is impossible for them to understand it, much less do anything about it.

Now, however, those faraway conflicts are about to very much impact these good folk.  Trump has unilaterally withdrawn from an agreement with Iran.  I have not read that agreement, and all I really know about it is that it was agreed to by a group of nations, including our closest allies, France and Germany and England.  I also have no idea what impact this withdrawal will have on the production, and perhaps use, of nuclear weapons in the Mideast or perhaps even globally.

What I do know is that those good people in those small towns are about to pay a lot of money for this and other decisions Trump has made.  Because of the agreement, gas prices are about to skyrocket.  It’s not that there is less oil available.  It is that those who sell oil are going to be able to raise the price of a barrel of oil, and that will immediately result in higher gas prices.  Because Trump has withdrawn from other agreements, the price of goods, and likely even the price of food, will also skyrocket.  Small town America is about to get a financial lesson in the meaning and value of international agreements.

I understand why those folks voted for Trump in such large numbers.  The Democrats were not paying attention to them, and Trump was promising them the moon — drain the swamp, make good deals, “win” (whatever that means) so often we will get sick of winning.  They were, of course, all political rhetoric, that is to say, lies.  Now, however, the awful truth is emerging in the cold, hard currency of family economies.  The Affordable Care Act, instead of being improved, has been kneecapped, and there is no replacement.  The environmental laws have been essentially dismantled, and the resultant damage is already being felt.  The Consumer Safety laws have been discarded, and the financial vultures are circling overhead.  On and on.

By the time Trump gets through with his bovine dash through the china shop that is America’s legislative and economic structure, it will be too late to stop the pain to be felt by these ordinary folk.  The only remedy, and it will be a long, long trek, will be to suffer even more pain restoring the agreements that, while made far away, do have real and lasting effects on all those small towns, and working back to a lasting and well-reasoned program of health care, education and consumer and environmental protection.

More important than anything, the good people of America will likely have learned the meaningfulness of relating to those faraway places.  They will have also learned the treachery of hucksterism.
















A curious pattern has developed among friends of mine with political views contrary to my own.  The conversation starts with some insulting statement by one of us, which is followed by a countering insulting statement by the other.  Then, when either one of us makes an effort to discuss the matter rationally, we inevitably find far more agreement than disagreement.

Why does this happen?  Why do two rational people have to struggle so much to have a rational discussion of their views?  I think it is for two reasons.  To do it backwards, the reason why we do end up having a rational conversation is because we both have the same ideals.  The American way of governing is based on two self-evident principles:  that all human beings are created equal (there are no inherent class differences among people), and all human beings have certain inalienable rights.  If you don’t hold those two principles, then you are not an American.  So, when I finally do have a rational conversation with my friend, we find that we are both grounded in the same principles, and our discussion is only about the best means of serving those principles.

The second reason, the reason why we struggle in the first place, is that there is a movement in America, and elsewhere, to abandon those principles and commit to what some are calling tribalism.  These folks imagine America as grounded, not in the grand principles of the Declaration of Independence, but in a certain cultural identity.  Which identity?  Well, the identity of the folks who are pushing tribalism.  If you abandon principles, then you have also abandoned rationality and replaced it with self-interest, and that makes rational discussion impossible.

All this brings me to a statement made by the present Attorney General, Jeffrey Sessions.  Mr. Sessions recently announced that “America is not an idea.  It is a nation with borders.”  There is no doubt, of course, that America is a nation with borders.  If, however, it is not also an idea, it is doomed.  If we cannot say that America’s national identity rests on the assertion and protection of inalienable human rights, then we are nothing but a bunch of folks with no commitment to anything but ourselves , and life will soon enough be, as Thomas Hobbes warned, nasty poor, solitary, brutish and short.  We will exist, not because of our ideals, but because of our military force.

Let me here denounce, as loudly as I can, the truly hideous view of Jeffrey Sessions.  We have fought wars and lost untold numbers of fellow Americans, and we have provided care, at great cost and the great personal sacrifice of fellow Americans, precisely over that idea of the inalienable rights of all humans.  We have held the position of first among nations because of our commitment to the inalienable rights of all humans.  Abandon that commitment, and you will, as Jeffrey Sessions, obviously has, abandon what it truly is to be an American.

As a test of what I am saying here, I invite you to seek out someone holding political views substantially different from your own.  Ask that person to discuss with you some difficult political topic like tax reform or immigration or global warming.  Ignore the insults and put your own aside, and seek for that rational discussion.  If you get there, you will recognize your interlocutor, and yourself, as true Americans.