About three weeks ago, twelve boys and their soccer coach were discovered to have been trapped in a cave in Thailand by the rushing waters of the monsoon season that had just begun there.  The people of Thailand quickly assembled a team of experts from around the world and worked feverishly to save the boys and their coach.  It was reported this morning that all thirteen had been successfully extracted from the cave.  Only one person died, an expert diver who, while attempting to rig the equipment needed to get the boys out, ran out of oxygen and could not be revived.  The world news agencies mourned his passing.  It was a glowing tribute to Thailand’s commitment to life, and the American press joined heartily in that tribute.

And yet.  In the past year, thirty-three thousand people died in the United States from gun violence.  Eighty-eight thousand died from alcohol abuse.  Almos5t five hundred thousand people in the U.S. died from smoking.  Most shocking of all, twenty-one thousand (21,000) people in the world die every day from starvation.  All of this is not to consider how many people die every day of drug overdose and how many people die or are wrenched from their homes and their countries from military attacks.

I understand what the literal meaning of the term “pro-life” is, and I greatly admire and respect anyone who is able to truly pursue a life committed to the idea.  I struggle mightily, however, with the apparent hypocrisy of those who claim to be pro-life for the purposes of outlawing all abortions but who tolerate, and even support, the promotion of guns, alcohol and tobacco and who would reduce or even eliminate the spending of American funds to fight off starvation and disease around the world.  For those who do so, “pro-life” is no more than a meaningless, political slogan.

I am not “pro-life” in its literal sense.  I understand that we, individually and as a nation, have only limited funds to distribute to those in need.  In a perfect world, we would be able to use those limited funds to eliminate these needless deaths.  It is not a perfect world, and so we must reason about how many deaths we should allow.  That sounds terrible, but it is exactly what we must do.  Justice demands it, and honesty requires that we talk about it.

So let us talk about, let us have a rational discussion about, abortion.  First, is that which is growing in a woman’s womb human?  Of course it is.  No one stands in a birthing room wondering whether the woman is about to give birth to a chicken.  It follows from that simple observation that abortion is the taking of a human life.

Next step.  Are there occasions where justice requires the taking of that human life?  That is a difficult question, and it requires reasoning just as difficult as the gun debate and the starvation debate and the alcohol, drug and tobacco debates.  My answer is: yes.  My reasoning is that there are occasions where we must choose one life over another.  If two people are drowning, and you can only save one, you will have to choose one life over another.  So, for instance, if you are a doctor, and you are faced with a choice of saving the infant’s life or the mother’s, you must choose one life over another.

Final step.  Who should be given the power to choose whether to have an abortion, to take the life of the child growing within that womb?  This is the real, the key, the absolutely most difficult question.  Should that decision be in the hands of a judge?  Of a doctor?  Of a police authority of some kind?  Or how about putting the decision in the hands of a religious figure of some kind?

We are now at the heart of the decision in Roe v. Wade, and we have also arrived at the key moral question we must all face in taking a position on abortion.  If you truly, honestly want to outlaw abortion on the grounds that all life is sacred, you need first to consider whether or not you will be consistent in holding that incredibly difficult and honorable position.  Will you oppose all war?  Will you oppose the proliferation of guns?  Will you ask the government to increase its spending on the rehabilitation of addicts and its contributions to the sick and starving of the world?  If so, I applaud you, and I apologize for my own weakness in not being able to be so strong personally.  If not, then you are a hypocrite, and your arguments are worthless.

If, on the other hand, you accept the fact that killing other humans, or allowing their deaths, is, sadly, a necessity, then you must choose who it is who should decide whether an abortion is permissible.  The Supreme Court has said, essentially, that it is the woman who should have the power to make that decision, at least to the point that the child would be able to survive on its own.

So, the issue is clear, and I hope my point about it is clear.  Argue about abortion, and about guns and about addiction and about war and about starvation.  But argue honestly.  Slogans are not arguments.  True, real, honest arguments face problems squarely and painfully.  Real justice, the real, reasoned distribution of our limited assets among a multiplicity of valid claims, is at one and the same time the most difficult thing and the most important thing we as a people have to face.  But for all our sakes, let us in fact face it.









































Imagine that I came to you and informed  that you needed a new car.  Imagine that I informed you that I would be choosing your new car based on what I saw as your needs, and that I would be delivering that new car sometime in the future.  Imagine that I then delivered that new car, and that I then sent you a bill for what I determined was the appropriate price.  Imagine that I then demanded payment, and when you announced that you could not afford that price, I sued you for the full price, that I got a judgment, and that I collected on that judgment by foreclosing on your house.

Insane?  Yes.  Outrageous?  Yes.  UnAmerican?  Yes.  Happens every day?  Yes.  Some time ago I went to an oral surgeon.  He informed me that I needed to have dental implants.  I asked him how much I would have to pay for those implants.  He seemed somewhat insulted, informed me that he had no idea and that perhaps his assistant could tell me.  His assistant, after some hesitation, then informed me that the bill would be something in excess of twenty thousand ($20,000) dollars.  Not long afterwards, I went to a lung doctor and told him that I would like a prescription to replace the sleep machine that I had been using for the last twenty years.  He said that, in order to get the new sleep machine, I would have, for some reason I still cannot grasp, go into a hospital overnight for a sleep test.  I presume the reason was that I needed to determine whether I needed the sleep machine that I had used successfully for twenty years.  When I asked him how much that would cost, his nurse said, “What do you care?  It’s covered by insurance.”  I underwent the sleep test, after which the doctor gave me the needed prescription.  I bought a new sleep machine.  It cost me just over $300.  The sleep test, however, cost more than $5000.

These are just a few minor examples of what is going on every day in our health system.  We are bleeding money into a system that is unimaginably out of control.  The annual increase in cost of living in the United States over the last eight years has been negligible, while the cost of medical care in that same period has doubled.  Why?  Because it can.  The providers of needed medicines, for instance, have on various occasions doubled and tripled and quadrupled (and more) the price of their products simply on the grounds that nobody can stop them from doing so.  People who depend on those products for their very lives, diabetics and the hyperallergic and others, have had neither a choice nor a say in the matter.

This medical system is every bit as insane as the example of the car.  Yet it is exactly how we receive and pay for medical care in the United States.  It is also anti-conservative.  Real conservatism is, among other things, a commitment to an economic system of fair and open markets.  It encourages open competition.  It supports the efforts of entrepreneurs, who bring to the market the new products and services that create that competition.  It contends, rightly, that such competition will provide the populace with the best products and services for the best prices.

The present system of medical pricing fundamentally violates that conservative economic ideal.  It does so by controlling both supply and demand.  It creates a supply of a product or service, and then it informs its customers that they need that supply.  Then, having short-circuited the conservative system of free markets, it sets whatever prices it wants on those products and services.

Our present economy will collapse if we allow this insanity to continue.  Employers and their employees and other individuals are paying outrageous amounts of money to cover the cost of health care in the United States.  Our only salvation is to return to the sound thinking of conservatism.  We can do that by taking away demand from the medical providers and putting it where it belongs, in the hands of the consumer.  How do we do that?  No individual can do it, because the industries that are gouging us can ignore any individual.  The only way we can do it is by banding together and refusing to pay these scandalous, out-of-control prices for medical care.

How do we do that?  Well, we could, for instance, bargain collectively, say, by forming an association of all consumers of medical care.  Let’s call it, for lack of a better term, a union.  Then we could elect representatives from our union to negotiate with the medical providers for better prices.  Oh, I forgot.  Conservatives don’t like unions.

Okay, well, we could have the government negotiate for us.  We could elect political leaders who would pass legislation requiring the medical industry to  provide medical care for all of us at reasonable prices as determined by a legislative group.  We could call such legislation the Act to Provide Affordable Care to all Americans (APACA)  or something like that.  Oh, I forgot.  Conservatives don’t like that either.

Really?  Does real conservatism want to keep allowing medical providers to charge us into oblivion?  No.  Not on your life.  That view is unfaithful to true conservatism.  True conservatism does not object to socializing in the appropriate circumstances.  It does not, for instance, object to socializing the cost of national and local defense.  It does not object to socializing the cost of common spaces, such as parks and zoos and common spaces.  It does not object to socializing the cost of fighting fires.  It does not object to socializing the cost of education.

I put it to you that socializing, in some way, the cost of medical care is fully in accord with the principles of true conservatism.  Where there is a universal need, and where the cost of supplying that universal need can only be done in a cost-effective manner by socializing that cost, true conservatism requires that it be socialized.

This key point is an indication that true conservatism has been co-opted by a different, a malevolent, anti-conservative, actually anti-American force.  Those who would profit mightily by eliminating a free market have a stranglehold on the cost of medical care.  They have done so by pretending that they are conservatives, but they are nothing of the kind.  They desire not democracy but economic totalitarianism.  To effect that end, they have gained control of what used to be the party of conservatism, what used to be the Republican party.

We are desperately in need of true conservatism, just as we are desperately in need of the reasoned debate between the principles of liberalism and principles of true conservatism.  It is that reasoned debate that worked to help us move toward the fulfillment of the American ideal in the past, and it is the suppression of that debate that is dragging us backward, away from fulfilling that ideal.  The death of that debate spells the death of the American ideal.  Let us pray that moment has not come.







































Today is the Fourth of July.  Today we celebrate that time, back in 1776, when our country was born.  Its birth was announced by that most precious of American documents, the Declaration of Independence.  The Declaration announced the reason for the creation of this new country.  Unique in all the nations of the world, the United States was founded, says the Declaration, on a self-evident principle.  That means that the United States was founded, not as a certain land area with a certain kind of people in it.  Rather it was founded on a guiding ideal so fundamental, so undeniable, that if you don’t believe in that principle, if you are not guided by that principle, you are not only not an American; you are unfaithful to what it means to be a human being.

Here is that undeniable, absolute principle:  all human beings are born equal, and every human being is endowed by her or his Creator with inalienable rights.  Inalienable rights are rights that cannot be denied, cannot even be given away.  Before anything else, first and foremost, to be, not just an American, but a human being, means to recognize and be responsible for the rights of every other human being.  As Patrick Henry said so succinctly, my commitment to that principle is more important than even my own life.

This is the profound, the defining beauty of the United States, the thing we celebrate most today.  Before we are anything, before we are a collection of states, before we are a land area bordered by water and other countries, we are a people dedicated to the most fundamental principle, the defining principle of what it is to be a human being.  Yes, we have, individually and as a nation, failed that principle.  At our very founding, we denied these fundamental rights to whole groups of people, to Africans and others brought here as slaves, to people who lived here long before our ancestors ever came here, even to all women.  But we have worked, and we are working, to correct those failures.  That first principle is an ideal, our ideal, and to be an American is, before anything else, to work toward that ideal.

So today we celebrate, laugh and play and watch parades and fireworks.  Tomorrow, July 5, we go back to the hard work of being an American, that most important work of pursuing that undeniable ideal.  We go back to earning a living, of course, but in doing even that we go back to making that ideal come closer to realization.  We do whatever we can to bring us close to that ideal.  We embrace our fellow humans.  We honor every other human.  We contemplate and discuss the best means of honoring our fellow humans.  We vote for people who are committed to that ideal.  If we have the nerve and the strength, we run for office on the simple ground of wanting to make that ideal a reality.  We object, in every way we can, to the conduct of our people and our government that violates that ideal.

It is a hard thing indeed to be a real American.  It is exactly as hard as it is to be a real human being.  So enjoy the Fourth of July.  We have a lot of work to do tomorrow.













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.




















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.