Decision are Made by Those Who Show UP

Without question, we are 17 days from the most consequential election of our lifetimes. Please make your voice heard.

Let’s restore dignity, grace, and intelligence to the Office of the Presidency. Let’s rebuild the American economy on more fairer and just terms. Let’s restore America’s position as the leader of the free world. Let’s act decisively to protect and preserve our democracy and our democratic institutions from the creeping forces of authoritarianism.

No matter what it takes, on November 3rd SHOW UP at the polls. Stand in line no matter how long it takes. This is your patriotic duty to your country…and, I would hope, to your conscience. The direction of our nation will be decided by those citizens who show up and exercise that most precious and fought-and-died-for right, the right to vote. Let’s send a resounding and clear message.

Let us, most of all, restore faith in the promise of America.

JFK’s Four Questions for Measuring Public Leadership

President Elect John F. Kennedy delivering his Address to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, January 9, 1961

During President Reagan’s 1988 farewell address, he invoked that now famous John Winthrop phrase about “a shining city upon a hill,” to symbolize how Reagan had always envisioned America’s purpose in the free world. It was an inspiring and beautifully delivered speech.

But Reagan’s vision seemed mostly concerned with the cultural and commercial aspects of that shining city, and not its leadership. National cultures and economies may evolve into a shining examples, but that rarely happens without good leadership, especially in government.

Though he had not taken office yet, it was actually President Elect John F. Kennedy (JFK) who first gave notoriety to Winthrop’s phrase “A shining city upon a hill” during JFK’s January 9, 1961, Address to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But Kennedy, who would soon assume the highest office in the land on January 20th, used the phrase to focus attention on those entrusted with public leadership.

But I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier. 

“We must always consider,” he said, “that we shall be as a city upon a hill–the eyes of all people are upon us.” 

Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us—and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill—constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities.

For JFK public service was a noble profession, where citizens were entrusted to serve the public’s interests and uphold his or her oath to the Constitution and the founding ideals of this country. This was especially true of public servants elected to high office. For JFK those entrusted with power would ultimately be judged on how they used (or miss used) power—surely by God—but certainly by the great tribunal of History. JFK said History will judge a public leader by the answers to four questions—which I feel are still the best set of questions for judging any public leader, both then and most certainly now.

For of those to whom much is given, much is required. And when at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each one of us—recording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities to the state—our success or failure, in whatever office we may hold, will be measured by the answers to four questions: 

First, were we truly men of courage—with the courage to stand up to one’s enemies—and the courage to stand up, when necessary, to one’s associates—the courage to resist public pressure, as well as private greed? 

Secondly, were we truly men of judgment—with perceptive judgment of the future as well as the past—of our own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others—with enough wisdom to know that we did not know, and enough candor to admit it? 

Third, were we truly men of integrity—men who never ran out on either the principles in which they believed or the people who believed in them—men who believed in us—men whom neither financial gain nor political ambition could ever divert from the fulfillment of our sacred trust? 

Finally, were we truly men of dedication—with an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group, and compromised by no private obligation or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest. 

We know, as JFK did, that his 4 questions are an ideal. We know this because we’re human beings who regularly fall short, sin, and often fail to meet the high moral demands of the moment. It’s what we do. But JFK also knew we had to demand that our leaders strive for these high ideals….because that was what built and, more importantly, sustained that shining city upon a hill. The point, then and now, is that public leaders must have a social conscience and a sense of duty to others—and that we (and History) should judge our leaders by how honestly they have striven to meet the heavy demands of moral leadership.

“Let us stand together…”

I’ve been reading Kennedy by Ted Sorensen as a sort of therapy during these very turbulent times. JFK was a pragmatic idealist. He was intelligent, witty, inspirational, and a highly competent man. Reading about his life (and times) you realize he was very much a man for all seasons and a skilled leader. So naturally during times like these, when all these qualities are missing from the current President, some of us, nostalgically, like to read about great men and women of the past who, while never perfect, met the challenges of moment with a noble sense of purpose, unity, and high ideals.

Yesterday JFK would have turned 103 years old had he been alive. I was reading a few articles about JFK online and came across something I’d never seen before. Here are his final words on a note card that JFK had planned to read at a Austin, Texas, event before his life was tragically cut short on that fateful November 22, 1963 day.

Such words are meant to bring people together to meet difficult challenges and overcome obstacles. Unity of purpose and a sense that “we’re all in this together” has always been the message of great leaders in democratic societies.

A house divided cannot stand as Lincoln said. And currently we are a house that is being purposely divided. Our times call longingly for new leadership; a new way forward out of this morass of greed, selfishness, and little mindedness. Let us hope this November the nation will “stand together with renewed confidence in our cause.”

Right now we’re in a bad movie with a predictable ending

Without a doubt the winters in the Washington D.C. area have been getting milder. Of course we still get spells of arctic cold and your occasional snow storm, but if you’ve lived here for any length of time, as I have for almost 3 decades, there is no arguing the winters aren’t, on average, what they use to be. The trend is unmistakable. The climate is changing. Our warm weather seasons are getting more severe and longer and our cold weather seasons are getting milder and shorter. These well predicted warming shifts in climate are happening in various degrees all over the planet. And we have good reason to believe the climate crisis is far worse than scientist projected.

Global warming is happening and the reasons for it aren’t surprising…at least to most of us. The scientific community has been warning us for a long time—decades—that human activity is principally responsible for a drastic increase in the amount of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere, which is causing global temperatures to rise. While we don’t know everything about something as vast and dynamic as the earth’s climate, we do know a lot, and we’re about 99% certain humans are the main cause for rising global temperatures.

So I wasn’t surprised to see, for example, that last month was the warmest January in recorded history. Or that Antartica, a continent usually buried in snow and ice miles deep and registering the coldest temperatures in the world, recently had its warmest day ever recorded—69.35 degrees! And we know that as the Arctic ice continues to melt at an alarming rate, the sea levels—with mathematical certainty—will rise all around the world. With the largest percentage of the world’s population living near the coastlines, we can imagine the havoc this will eventually bring. There are a whole range of potentially large, global problems—increased disease, water resource problems, extreme weather events, agricultural problems, droughts, etc, etc,—that the coming climate crisis will likely bring.

But right now we’re in a bad movie with a predicable ending. Right now the scientists…or imagine, say, a team of heart doctors (climate scientists), who’ve spent their lives educating themselves about hearts, experimenting, testing, and studying the data, are (have been) telling us we’re heading toward a massive global heart attack if we don’t change our diet and habits real soon….like, right now. Do you believe these doctors? Or do you just dismiss their expertise and decades of research as all part of some “hoax“?

We have these fast food minds—and their fatty food science denial agenda—telling us we’ll be just fine: “Eat on! Those heart doctors are wrong! Experts can’t be trusted! They’re elites! The truth has a liberal bias!” Not surprising, I guess, given we’re a nation with a big obesity (educational) problem. The “Eat on!” crowd has, for now, sadly, won the day. And so the long term costs and sacrifices that must and will eventually have to be made (mostly by the generation not responsible) in dealing with this climate crisis will only be greater and even more painful.

Real statesmanship (public leadership) is partly about getting people to face problems they’re avoiding….because it’s an uncomfortable topic to discuss…or, as we see on Capitol Hill, it cuts into their campaign donor’s profits. The tragic thing about our current national leadership—-the President and a large portion of Congress—is that there is so little statesmanship and so much pure selfish tribalism. The common good is not even remotely on the agenda. Because that would require political courage and compromise and bipartisanship. And we see so little of that anymore.

Though I continue to hold out hope, it’s getting harder and harder to be hopeful about the future. Whether it’s with the global climate crisis, massive inequality in this country, the cost of healthcare, or our tribal politics, I’m less and less optimistic we’re going to be able to avoid a major crisis. But I will continue to hope…and pray…and you’d had best do so also.

“the cause…we never faltered in defending”

Here, without contemplating consequences, before High Heaven, and in the face of the world, I swear eternal fidelity, to the just cause, as I deem it, of the land of my life, my liberty and my love—And who, that thinks with me, will not fearlessly adopt the oath that I take. Let none falter, who thinks he is right, and we may succeed. But, if after all, we shall fail, be it so—We still shall have the proud consolation of saying to our conscience, and to the departed shade of our country’s freedom, that the cause approved of our judgement, and adored of our hearts, in disaster, in chains, in torture, in death, we never faltered in defending.

— Abraham Lincoln

Amen.

#ImpeachmentVote