What does it mean to be free in the United States?  I’m looking out my window.  Cars pass.  There is a business across the street whose lights just went on.  Folks will soon be coming to a nearby bar to get a ride to a ball game.  The workers in my own business are gathering to start the day.  There is no sign of fear, no armed troops, no intimidating presences of any kind.  Is that it?  Is that what freedom means?  Just not being bothered?  I think not.

Public discourse on pretty much any political topic — that is, any topic involving the conduct of our government or our communities — has devolved into shouting matches.  People actually go to training sessions to learn how to disrupt rational discourse in order to better promote their own points of view.  That sad fact is, I propose, the result of a perverse notion of freedom.

There has grown up, or at least become more obvious lately, a notion that freedom is a first principle, and that freedom is defined as license, as my right to do anything I want.  Interfering with the rights of others is, by that definition, not wrong in itself but only wrong because it might interfere with my own freedom.  So, for instance, I shouldn’t steal from others because I will likely lose my freedom if I do so.  I shouldn’t violate the rules of the road, cut others off, go as fast as I want, because I will likely be stopped and fined and thus have my freedom abridged.  So the recognition of the rights of others becomes merely a strategy to best preserve my own freedom.

There is, however, an elemental problem with this view.  I could calculate that violating the rights of others would not result in the abridgement of my freedom, and, if my calculation was correct, I could, “freely”, violate the rights of others.  If I am sure I will not be caught speeding, if I have a device that assures me that there are no police in the area, then I can go as fast as I want and break any rule of the road that I want.  If I had enough power to assure myself I would not be caught, I could fleece other people of their money.  The possible examples are endless, and they are all played out in the news every day.  People think they can get away with killing others, stealing from others, tyrannizing others.  All these decisions follow logically from the belief that my personal freedom is the first principle of all action.

The fact, the real, concrete fact, however, is that this is not what freedom means in the United States.  The first, the founding, the defining principle of the United States is that it is self-evident, i.e., it cannot be doubted, that every human being has inalienable rights.  That means that it is not freedom that is first; it is responsibility for others.  My freedom is derivative of that responsibility.  I am free to drive our roads because I respect the rights of others to that road.  I am free to engage in commerce because I respect the right of others to be treated fairly.  I am free to walk the streets, play in the park, and even sleep in my bed because I respect, I insist on, the right of others to do the same.

We are today witnessing, not a constitutional crisis, but a far deeper crisis, an attack on the very principle that gave birth to the Constitution.  We are witnessing a political attack on the very idea of responsibility to and for others.  By shouting over others, by abandoning real and meaningful discourse for insult and propaganda, we are ourselves participating in turning our back on this defining principle of the United States.  This is not a struggle between true conservatism and true liberalism.  That struggle recognizes the value of both views in promoting the rights of all human beings.  We are rather witnessing, and participating in, the tearing down of the very foundation of this country.

I promise not to do that, and if I have done it before I apologize.  I will listen to those whose views differ from mine, and I will respectfully ask them to listen to mine.  Most of all, I will vote, and I will encourage others to vote, for elective officials who will do the same.  In the name of preserving the greatest experiment in political history, I hope you do the same.























On May 13, 1939, the ship St. Louis left Germany.  On board were slightly under a thousand Jewish German citizens who were escaping the concentration camps and gas chambers of the Nazi regime.  Some were admitted into Cuba, but over nine hundred of them were refused, and so they sailed to American waters and asked for asylum in the United States.  President Roosevelt refused to respond to all inquiries and pleas, while his secretary of state, Cordell Hull, insisted that the immigration laws be used to refuse to allow anyone on the ship to enter the country.  Meanwhile Congress refused to pass a law allowing Jewish children to escape to the United States.

It was a low point for the United States.  Not just low.  It was rotten and shameful and degrading.  Other countries, like Cuba and Canada, also refused these people asylum, but for the United States it was vastly worse, because it was in direct violation of the ideals upon which this country was founded.  Contrary to, no, directly contradictory to the vile comment of Jeff Sessions that America is not an idea, the United States is nothing if it is not true to the founding ideal of the inalienable rights of all human beings.  Refusing entry to the passengers of the St. Louis was a direct and deliberate violation of what it is to be an American.

We had done it before.  We tore the children of native Americans from their parents.  We ordered the genocide, virtual and sometimes actual, of whole native American tribes.  We interred a whole segment of our fellow Americans simply because they were of Japanese parentage or ancestry.  At the very moment of our founding, we allowed and even approved the enslavement of people based entirely on their race.  After all of these atrocities, however, we finally worked, and are working, to make up for our wrongdoing and work toward a fairer country and a fairer world.

Or we were, until the present administration took a gigantic step backward.  “They are not humans.  They are animals,” said the leader of this nation.  “We want to throw people out — no judges, no hearings.  Just throw them out,” he said.  So we, we the people of the United States, we tore children from the arms of their parents, put those children in cages, and threw their parents into jails with no plan to reunite them.  We fixed the borders so that those fleeing violence and death in their own countries would have no way of applying for asylum, forcing them to enter illegally or return to the misery they sought to escape.

This moment, this abominable moment, is every bit as violative of who we are as the slavery and genocide of our past.  We are an idea.  If we are not that idea, that commitment to the rights of every human being simply because she or he is human, then we are no longer the United States.  We become a tribe, a functional dictatorship ruled by power, a culture of bigotry.  To echo those frightening words from the Vietnam war, by claiming to preserve the United States, we destroy it.





















I did not ever think that the conduct of my country would be compared to that of the Nazi regime under Hitler.  Now, however, it is everywhere and it is unavoidable and it is undeniable.  The conduct of the government in creating internment camps for children is really only the last and most obvious emanation of a disease that seems to have infected the entire nation.  Trump is only doing what he thinks his followers want, and his followers, including many otherwise reasonable legislators, are doing nothing to dissuade him from that thought.

We are all to blame.  Liberals listen only to liberal views and write off opposing views as idiocy or worse.  Conservatives listen only to conservative views and write off the liberals as anti-American, defining that term in almost military fashion.  Politics is no longer the art of the possible but a battlefield weaponized by money and rhetoric.

I felt this deeply when, not long, a good friend and neighbor of mine were talking about not much.  Another neighbor came along, and my friend said to him, while pointing to me, “Don’t talk to him.  He’s a Democrat.”  We use terms these days like “tribal” and “transactional” to reflect the fact that we are enemies rather than partners in the task of determining the best way to realize the ideals on which the United States was founded.  We don’t talk; we yell.  We don’t reason; we insult. We don’t compromise; we objectify.

So where is the hope?  Are we simply doomed to become yet another historical moment of the failure of ideals?  I don’t think so.  I think the hope lies, no thanks to my generation, in the young.

Last night my son-in-law called me.  He told me that he was attending a business conference, one that he said was his favorite event.  The conference featured speakers who addressed, not how to make more money, but how to identify and pursue real human meaning in running the business in question.  We talked for a long time about how to communicate that this business was in existence primarily to improve the lives of its clients.

One could pervert such a conversation.  One could say that an attitude of sincere concern for the lives of those clients was nothing but a good advertising ploy.  One could adopt the old joke that sincerity is the key, and that if you can fake that you will be wildly successful.  That had nothing to do with it.  This man, and the group to which he was speaking, was genuinely committed to the idea that real value, real meaningfulness, lay in our dedication to others.

I am older, and I fear that my generation bought into the notion that we are defined by our possessions and our power.  In this sense, we all voted Donald Trump into office, because we made it possible for a large portion of our population to think that self-interest was our primary goal, our defining principle of action.

I see hope, however, every time a young person speaks.  I see hope when the school children rail against the school killings.  I see hope when women fill the streets of Washington to decry injustice for all.  I see hope when groups gather, like the business conference I mentioned to discuss, not increased profit, but increased meaningfulness.

Here is the point.  We got ourselves into this mess.  We, by our inaction and indifference, created an atmosphere where Trump and his ilk could be allowed to claim that their blatant self-serving was actually what America was all about.  We can get ourselves out of that mess, but it takes effort.  The young are making that effort.  Where are you?  Well, if you’re not going to help, at least get out of the way.  For the times, as Dylan said in another time of renewal, they are achangin’.























Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

I write, on behalf of the many friends and colleagues with whom I have discussed recent events, to apologize for the insults and idiocies foisted on you by Donald Trump.  While there is no doubt that Mr. Trump won the electoral college vote for presidency of the United States, I wish to assure you that the vast majority of the good people of the United States are profoundly embarrassed to have to admit that he is the president of the United States.

With the exception of a small group of extremists, pretty much everyone in the United States would admit that Donald Trump is a poorly informed, self-absorbed boor and self-professed sexual predator.  He has, for all of his life, insulted and degraded pretty much everyone he has met.  As long as he was confined to dealing with others of his ilk, he was, in some sense, tolerable.  As president of the United States, however, his conduct is a national embarrassment.  I know that otherwise decent legislators of a certain conservative persuasion have allowed Mr. Trump’s disgusting comments and conducts to go uncondemned, apparently on the theory that he and his underlings have pursued policies in keeping with that certain persuasion.  While we object to that past tolerance, we absolutely condemn his mistreatment of our closest friends and allies.  We urge you and the citizens you represent to understand that this man does not represent the views of any Americans except those who somehow profit from his outrageous comments and conduct.

I beg you and your fellow citizens to understand that we the people of the United States respect and admire the land and the people of Canada.  We are deeply grateful for, and will always remember, the endless contributions that your country have made to the peace and prosperity of our country.  Donald Trump is the greatest electoral mistake the people of the United States have ever made.  We will correct that mistake, in an orderly fashion, as soon as possible.  In the meantime, we beg you and the good people of Canada to accept our apologies for making the egregious error of having elected the likes of Donald Trump.  When we are finally rid of him, we hope that we will restore our treasured relation with you as our closest friends and allies.









Former President William Clinton is a moral pig.  That is painful language, but this is a man who, as president of the United States, repeatedly engaged in sexual acts, some truly bizarre, with a young White House intern.  Prior to his terms as president, Mr. Clinton repeatedly had sexual bouts with women other than his wife.  On at least these bases, William Clinton is a moral pig.

William Clinton drove two nails into the heart of the United States.  First of all, he gave us George Bush, which led to the senseless war in Iraq at the very least.  (There are those who says he actually gave us 9/11, because if Gore had been president, he would not have ignored the many warnings about that kind of attack on America.)  Had he not shamed the office of the president so blatantly, Al Gore would have been voted in as president, and we would have had a president who would have pursued intelligent policies on such things as the economy, the environment and medical care.

The second, and likely far more deadly, nail that William Clinton drove into the heart of American democracy was that he gave us Donald Trump.  While it is true that it was his wife, Hillary, who ran against Trump, William Clinton was an albatross around her neck.  Even with a moral pig for a husband, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and only lost the electoral count on the basis of thirty thousand votes.  Many, many of those votes went to Trump on the grounds that the voters did not want this pig back in the White House, even as the president’s mate.

Now, in this time when women are finally getting the respect that they have always deserved and the sexual abuse they have so long suffered is getting roundly and deservedly condemned, this man, asked whether he ever apologized to this young intern, whose life he basically ruined,  instead announces that he is the real victim.  “I was sixteen million dollars in debt when I left the White House,” he whined.  Poor baby.  He is now a multi-millionaire, living in outlandish comfort, selling yet another book.  He has once again demonstrated that he is, in at least some ways, every bit as self-absorbed as the totally self-absorbed Trump.

We don’t ask much of our presidents.  We don’t ask them to be brilliant.  We don’t even ask them to be very clever.  Basically, we ask them not to hurt us, at least not too much.  Trump is indeed violating that low, low bar, but Trump would not have had any chance to do so without the help he got from the disgusting conduct, and the subsequent deplorable conduct, of William Clinton.

Perhaps the best lesson we can take away from this observation is that we should not, stronger, we cannot, make judgments about our political figures based only on their labels as “Republicans” or “Democrats.”  There are very good, very dedicated, very committed Republicans, and there are many such Democrats.  There are also some real jerks in both parties. jerks like Trump and jerks like Clinton.  We cannot excuse the conduct of pigs like these two merely because they are “one of ours.”  We, all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike, need and deserve women and men of good character and a dedication to the interests of the country rather than their own.  It is time to hold these our representatives to a far higher standard,  And it is time to stop hiding behind mere labels.