Politics Monday: My Parents’ Democracy is Back

The more we and other democracies can show the world that we can deliver, not only for our people, but also for each other, the more we can refute the lie that authoritarian countries love to tell, that theirs is the better way to meet people’s fundamental needs and hopes. It’s on us to prove them wrong.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken
A Venezuelan newspaper ran this photo of six-month-old me and my young, optimistic parents in Caracas in 1955.

Moving abroad in the post-WWII world, Bob and Nan Amerson were steeped in liberal democracy. Their years at Macalester College (Dad, Class of ‘50; Mom, ‘49), like those of Walter Mondale (Class of ‘51), were deeply influenced by President Charles J. Turck’s commitment to internationalism, community service, and civic affairs. Fritz Mondale became a champion of liberal politics, while my parents expressed their civic spirit in their willingness to live abroad as America’s representatives, allowing the world to get to know our country through them. For a quarter century, my parents shared American culture, hospitality, arts, and traditions, believing in the vision so beautifully described by David Brooks.

Liberal democracy is based on a level of optimism, faith and a sense of security. It’s based on confidence in the humanistic project: that through conversation and encounter, we can deeply know each other across differences; that most people are seeking the good with different opinions about how to get there; that society is not a zero-sum war.

David Brooks, The New York Times

When my parents joined the US Foreign Service in 1955, they became part of, to borrow from President Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land:

the American army of diplomats and policy experts promoting the principles of a liberal, market-based system — individual freedom, the rule of law, strong enforcement of property rights and neutral arbitration of disputed, plus baseline levels of government accountability and competence — and the economic and political heft to promote these principles on a global scale.

Barack Obama, A Promised Land (get here on Audible, narrated by President Obama)

Around the world, American diplomats are carrying out that duty today, holding to the challenge laid forth by President Biden in his speech to Congress last week.

Can our democracy deliver on its promise that all of us — created equal in the image of God —have a chance to lead lives of dignity, respect, and possibility? Can our democracy deliver on the most pressing needs of our people? Can our democracy overcome the lies, anger, hate and fears that have pulled us apart?

President Joe Biden

Our diplomats are counting on us to answer with a resounding yes.

Politics Monday: How to Read the Guilty Verdict

The murder ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see systemic racism.

President Joe Biden, speaking after the guilty verdict in the murder of George Floyd
Derek Chauvin casts a KKK shadow
Derek Chauvin casts a KKK shadow in Pia Guerra’s cartoon

The moral arc of the universe has just moved a little closer to justice.

The Editors, The Palm Beach Post
The jury affirms that Black Lives Matter in this cartoon by Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

We can’t leave this moment or look the other way and think our work is done.

President Joe Biden
Barbara Brandon-Croft’s comic strip character Lekesia reacts to the guilty verdict

As a nation, we have far to go. But Tuesday’s verdict is proof that we can progress.

The Editors, The Palm Beach Post
Steve Brodner’s editorial cartoon of Chauvin’s picture in a G for guilty
Steve Brodner’s editorial cartoon of Chauvin’s picture in a G for guilty

For the sake of the nation, the relief of April 20, 2021, must be the opening for a longer campaign to renew civil rights, preserve voting rights, and enact enduring reforms in our police and criminal justice systems

EJ Dionne, The New York Times
Clay Bennett/Chattanooga Times Free Press cartoon thank you note to the Chauvin jury

Politics Monday: Why our nation must have the difficult conversation

My recent post about the possibility of America using Germany’s example of talking honestly about the Holocaust to move the deeply dysfunctional race conversation forward prompted me to write a letter along those lines to the editors of The Palm Beach Post. In the final paragraph, I mention reparations:

Let’s restore the physical vestiges of the slave trade to guarantee the memory of what happened there. Let’s make Juneteenth, the largely Black holiday commemorating emancipation, a national holiday. Let’s talk about what happened during Jim Crow and after — the “white conversation” as AP reporter Deepti Hajela wrote in your March 28 edition. Let’s make amends with reparations, a process the city of Evanston, Illinois has begun. 

Jane Kelly Amerson López, Opinion column, The Palm Beach Post, April 7, 2021

A week later, a Palm Beach Post reader whose great-great-grandparents were in a Polish ghetto wrote this stunning reaction.

The concept of paying “reparations” for slavery is absolutely absurd. No white person today has any connection at all to that hideous practice. And no Black person alive today has been affected by the events of more than 150 years ago. So why in the world should money be paid from whites to Blacks?

Frederick A. Lehrer, Letter to the Editors, April 13, 2021

Today, a Black reader jumps on that final line.

As a Black man, I am not in favor of reparations. But, if they were paid, it would be the government which pays. I guess the writer assumes that only whites work and pay taxes in this country.

Richard Lewis, Letter to the Editors, April 18, 2021

He then goes on to address the even more troubling assumption that Blacks have not been affected by slavery.

What the writer fails to mention are the systems that were put into place to exclude Blacks from almost every segment of American life — voting rights, the Dred Scott decision, redlining and limited access to capital, Levittowns and the GI Bill, just to name a few.

Richard Lewis, Letter to the Editors, April 18, 2021

I had to go back to school on the reference to Levittown and the GI Bill, which gave my father and thousands of other WWII soldiers a boost through college education. The History Channel’s Erin Blakemore writes that although the GI bill did not specifically exclude Blacks, it was administered by states whose discriminatory practices disenfranchised Black veterans. The Levittown Long Island suburb did not allow Blacks in 1944, thus preventing those veterans from accessing the GI Bill-guaranteed mortgage.

Mr. Lewis then hits the bullseye.

However, what is needed is a deep discussion on how we got here. Many feel the plight of minorities in this country is upon the minority. They don’t want to understand or talk about the idea that the United States has not lived up to her promises for everyone.

Richard Lewis, Letter to the Editors, April 18, 2021

How do we have that very difficult conversation? Look for a future post where I’ll be sharing a couple of approaches that are being tried around the country.

“We The People” being inscribed by hands of different skin colors, editorial cartoon by Steve Breen, San Diego Union Tribune
“We The People” being inscribed by hands of different skin colors, editorial cartoon by Steve Breen, San Diego Union Tribune

Politics Monday: Of Course We Need a Vaccine Passport

Travel is ticking back up, and with it talk of a vaccine passport, writes New York Times reporter Claire Moses. It’s not a new idea — inoculations against yellow fever and other diseases are already required for travel to certain countries. Growing up in the Foreign Service, my diplomatic passport was twinned with a passport-sized yellow vaccination booklet.

Opposing on grounds of personal freedom

Like everything else pandemic, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has politicized the notion of a vaccine passport, using the cover of “personal freedoms” to prevent their use.

…vaccination passports reduce individual freedom and will harm patient privacy.

Governor Ron DeSantis

Suing the feds to release cruise industry

And there’s a weird twist to this position, because the return of Florida’s cruise industry, in dry dock since March of last year, is dependent on the concept of a vaccination passport. DeSantis cares so much about this key business that he has sued the Biden administration to release the CDC’s hold. Does his left hand not know what his right hand is doing?

It’s just such a bizarre, mixed signal.

Peter Ricci, director of hospitality and tourism management programs at Florida Atlantic University, quoted in Wendy Rhodes, The Palm Beach Post, April 12

Prolonging the pandemic

He’s fighting for the liberation of unvaccinated people to spread germs as they please in the middle of a worldwide pandemic — one that appears to be surging again. By preventing Floridians to distinguish between who is vaccinated and who is not, DeSantis is telling us to be content with prolonging the pandemic.

The Editors of The Palm Beach Post

Florida leads the country in the number of COVID variant cases, which are 50% more contagious and 64% more deadly. On March 21st, Florida’s deaths surpassed two million. Two million souls are nothing more than data points. You won’t hear this from the state’s confident governor.

I think things are going well.

Governor Ron DeSantis
Pulitzer Prize winner Clay Bennett, Washington Post News Service, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Politics Monday: How I Make The Pandemic Numbers Count

We’ve become used to the COVID numbers

As the pandemic war on and people became more accustomed to the new reality, the statistics on new cases and deaths largely receded from the public consciousness, the numbers less of a blaring siren than quiet background music.

Zac Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Deadly illness has become the elevator music of our daily life.

I type the numbers out each morning

One of the rituals that I have adopted during the pandemic is typing the daily numbers into a spreadsheet. It comes out of my career as a New York State budget examiner in Albany. Identify the data to understand the world.

As I add the digits, I repeat the figures out loud and connect them to real people. Yesterday, 325 people, the equivalent of my entire Florida neighborhood, were diagnosed with COVID in my county. At the state level, nearly 5000, twice the number of students at my Maryland high school, found out they have COVID, too. The 100 Floridians who died on April 2 feels like losing two-thirds of all my Facebook friends.

Florida deaths exceed those of Canada and Australia combined

Florida had more COVID-19 deaths in a year than Canada and Australia combined, even though the combined population of the two countries is triple that of Florida.

Zac Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Florida leads the country in the number of COVID variant cases, which are 50% more contagious and 64% more deadly. On March 21st, Florida’s deaths surpassed two million. Two million souls are nothing more than data points. You won’t hear this from the state’s confident governor.

I think things are going well.

Governor Ron DeSantis

Politics Monday: How Governments That Support Society Make Us Happier

I’ve seen inequality widen, the social fabric decay, the racial wealth gap increase. Americans are rightly convinced that the country is broken and fear it is in decline.

David Brooks, The New York Times

The coincidence of the pandemic’s one-year mark, President Biden’s gargantuan COVID relief bill, and the annual World Happiness Report makes me hope that America may be ready to acknowledge that society’s health and wellbeing comes before individual wants.

Americans need government help

In his recent column, The Biden Revolution Rolls On, New York Times columnist David Brooks writes that President Biden’s epic spending plans — the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package followed by a $3 trillion package of jobs, clean energy and infrastructure proposals — raise a fundamental question.

Should the government redistribute money to the disadvantaged for the sake of common decency and to restore social cohesion?

David Brooks, The New York Times

FDR’s post-depression social welfare programs gave us Social Security, and LBJ’s war on poverty and civil rights work gave us Medicaid and Medicare. Still, America spends far less of welfare-state programs for the young, the old, the sick, and the disadvantaged than do other developed nations.

Americans distrust government

As compelling as our current crisis makes me say YES to government support, the notion goes against our grain, Brooks writes. Our origin story, our revolutionary break with a central power, make us distrust The State. The government as provider of social benefits conflicts with The American Dream gospel that individual hard work leads to success.

Northern European countries outrank us

The World Happiness Report is out, reported David Keyton of the Associated Press. The respondents ranked much social support they feel they have if something goes wrong, their freedom to make their own life choices, their sense of how corrupt their society is and how generous they are. The top 10 countries are Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Austria.

We find year after year that life satisfaction is reported to be happiest in the social democracies of Northern Europe. People feel secure in those countries, so trust is high. The government is seen to be credible and honest, and trust in each other is high.

Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University

When I first wrote about the World Happiness Report in 2018, I was not surprised to see America far from the top ten countries: we are number 18. With American’s distrust of each other, community is challenging to build and government seems ever more alien. The report notes that American culture prizes signs of wealth such as big houses and multiple cars more so than other countries.

Material things don’t make us happy.

Sonja Lyubormirsky, UC-Riverside, author of The How of Happiness

Support, generosity, honesty = happiness

Supporting first responders. Lending neighbors a hand. Volunteering at food pantries. Haven’t we learned that community is all that matters? After all, just being here after this crushing year is pretty darn good.

Editorial Cartoon by Kevin Necessary, Cincinnati Enquirer. Masked man says: “The sun has been shining, it’s getting warmer, and the vaccine is rolling out. Now I have this weird feeling. What’s the opposite of despair?”  Masked woman says: “I think you mean ‘hope.’”
Editorial Cartoonist Kevin Necessary, Cincinnati Enquirer

Politics Monday: Truth, Empathy, Inspiration, and Results

The most relaxing 20 minutes of television watching I can recall in recent years happened on March 11, when President Joe Biden addressed the nation. After years of clenching my gut every time the former White House resident opened his mouth, sitting and listening to our president was downright blissful.That the topic was not a happy one — the pandemic — made my feeling all the more remarkable. Here was a grownup, speaking truth, showing empathy, and inspiring us.

Here is some of what I carried forward out of that evening, and the reflections of journalists I respect on the importance of this moment.

Telling the Truth

President Biden’s first national address began with the tragedy of the year-long siege of the Coronavirus pandemic: the losses; the pain; the economic and emotional hardship so many Americans are suffering. Biden showed us an index card he carries in a suit pocket with the number of COVID deaths. After a year of false promises, science denial, and the encouraging of careless behavior, our new president told us the truth.

We know what to do… tell the truth.

President Joe Biden

Showing Empathy

We have an empathetic president, one who overflows with it. We have a president that says “we” instead of “I,” giving words to the sorrow and frustration so many of us are feeling.

Jonathan Capehart, PBS NewsHour

He’s giving you the sense that he cares about people. It’s not like before, when what we had was, ‘It’s all about himself.’’

Mary Wilmes, Pennsylvanian shop owner quoted by Will Weissert, AP, Democrats Bank on Relief to Win Back the Wary Working Class

Engaging Us

We need to remember the government isn’t some foreign force in a distant capital. No. It’s us. All of us, turning our hands to common purpose.

President Joe Biden, March 11, 2021

I need you.

President Joe Biden, March 11, 2021

Inspiring Us

Finding light in the darkness is a very American thing to do. In fact, it may be the most American thing we do.

President Joe Biden, March 11, 2021

If we do our part, if we do this together, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day.

President Joe Biden, March 11, 2021

The July 4 vision gives us something to look forward to after a long year of doing the same limited things over and over.

David Brooks, PBS NewsHour, March 12, 2020

Delivering Results

In December, the president-elect promised that 100 million Americans would be vaccinated in his first 100 days in office. By March 11, we were nearly there, my husband and I among the those vaccinated, and we have now surpassed that number. According to NPR, Americans have received more than 124 million doses of the vaccine, and we are just 62 days into the Biden administration.

Put trust and faith in our government to fulfill its most important function, which is protecting the American people.

President Joe Biden, March 11, 2021

The president pledged that there would be enough vaccinations on hand by May 1 for all Americans. We believe him.

Imagine that. This is the America my father represented during his Foreign Service career.

Politics Monday: How My Local Newspaper Builds Civic Responsibility

My days are bookended by two delicious hours of information intake. The early riser in our household, I quietly ingest The Palm Beach Post on my iPad over breakfast on our lanai, and my husband and I soak in the PBS NewsHour after dinner. (We’re not all highbrow: we watch Wheel of Fortune during dinner.)

My breakfast spot

The newspaper and the NewsHour often inform what I write about in this blog. Today, the subject is newspapers themselves.

In her recent PBS NewsHour interview with outgoing Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron, anchor Judy Woodruff commented on the loss of local newspapers:

… over the last 15 years, I was reading, 1,800 newspapers, local weeklies and dailies, have shut down.

Judy Woodruff

The St. Petersburg Times — on the opposite coast of Florida — became one of those lost local newspapers when it was merged into the Tampa Bay Times a decade ago. Yesterday, as reporter Claire McNeill wrote, the printing plant that continued to run the paper saw its last issue hit the streets, marking yet another loss.

When the St. Petersburg Times’ plant was built in the late 1950s, the paper ran a 36-page special section. ‘Like the great pyramid of Egypt,’ a reporter wrote, the new plant was a grand symbol, ‘a functioning monument’ for readers alive and unborn.Hiring ads ran near-daily: ‘Get in on the ground floor of the newspaper of tomorrow.’

Claire McNeill The Tampa Bay Times

Our local newspaper tells us what’s happening in our community, our village, our town, our county. If all politics is local, the newspaper empowers us to engage on issues that matter. Let me give you a concrete example: tomorrow’s local elections.

My husband and are not eligible to vote. Our community lies outside the boundaries of local government in the western reaches of unincorporated Palm Beach County. Our elected officials — the commissioners, the sheriff — were part of the November elections. I will admit that I glossed over the Palm Beach Post’s many articles on the issues and the candidates in tomorrow’s municipal elections, but yesterday, the paper got my full attention.

Reporter Chris Persaud wrote about the spill-over impact on local elections of the record number of Floridians who voted in the 2020 elections. Eligible voters who requested a mail-in ballot for the November elections automatically received a ballot for tomorrow’s municipal elections. For some, it was a welcome reminder.

Normally I don’t even vote in presidential elections. I ain’t got no faith in politics, period. But because of the recent craziness in politics, I just decided to take a swing at it.

Tommie Butler, a 64-year-old Black Democrat from West Palm Beach, quoted in a Palm Beach Post article by Chris Persaud

For others, it was an annoyance.

I thought we were done voting.

Lisa Steinmetz, West Palm Beach, quoted in a Palm Beach Post article by Chris Persaud

Democracy is ongoing, as is our civic duty to participate. We are never done voting. And these are exactly the types of actions that the GOP is seeking to put an end to after what was the highest turnout in the nation’s voting history. So, if there were no newspaper and no surprise ballot in the mailbox, who would turn out for local elections?

Who is going to provide the public the kind of information they need and deserve to know in order to be engaged citizens?

Marty Baron, outgoing executive editor, The Washington Post, speaking on the PBS NewsHour

Politics Monday: Why We Broke Up With Andrew Cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, once the star of the pandemic and a strong contender for the White House, is now embroiled in two scandals — a underreporting of nursing home deaths and two allegations of sexual harassment — that have him in political jeopardy. Not only that: SNL added insult to injury by replacing Trump with Cuomo on the cold open a couple of weeks back. Serious kudos to Pete Davidson.

Like in any breakup, it wasn’t him: it was us. Until, it WAS him.

We needed him then

Compared to the lackluster spin of the White House’s communications about the coronavirus, Cuomo’s forthright, real-word, daily briefings were a sorely needed breath of fresh air. Lots of us tuned in to sit at his knee as he explained the new awful reality to us, and to tell us how, if we did certain things, we’d get through it. As a NYS retiree, I was downright giddy that the rest of the country was fawning over my boy Andrew. This is leadership, I wrote, and the pundits agreed.

Coupled with flashes of humor, tales about his family and his nightly visits on CNN with brother Chris, the governor’s daily reports won him a level of trust that placed him second only to Anthony S. Fauci.

Jeff Greenberg of Politico writing in The Washington Post

We all chose to overlook his bulldozer personality and zero-sum approach to power, as Shane Goldmacher wrote in a 2018 piece in The New York Times. Andrew Cuomo was who we needed.

We grew tired of him

But we grew restless and impatient with sitting and listening. We tired of the same answers. We began to think about moving on.

Then, barely six months into the pandemic, Cuomo published a book about his strategy, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, taking a victory lap way too early. No one likes a braggart, least of all political enemies.

We’ve had too many “mission accomplished” moments.

Rebecca Katz, a New York City-based Democratic strategist who ran a primary challenge against Cuomo in 2018, in a reference to former President George W. Bush’s boast days after the conquest of Iraq.

We found someone new

In November, we voted in a new national boyfriend. Joe Biden was the real deal, a soother-in-chief who also told it like it was. On January 20, Joe moved in. We are relieved to be alive, being led by a mensch, and looking ahead once again.

but the rest is all on him

The number of nursing home deaths turned out to be double what the governor stated, and, rather than admit the error, Cuomo spun for weeks. When he finally admitted the truth, it poured oil on the fire of his political foes, and suddenly the man who was given super pandemic powers is under Federal investigation.

Political aggressiveness swells the male ego. As of this writing, there are two sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo by former gubernatorial aides. And he’s still trying to control the narrative.

The nursing homes story really exposed quite a bit about questions about his leadership style and the success of his leadership during COVID.

Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham

If you’re not careful, the same crisis that can raise your stock can just as easily bring you down.

Nicholas Riccardi and Martina Villeneuve, The New York Times

Politics Monday: When A Diplomat Is Assassinated, The Whole World Mourns

My father, Robert C. Amerson, had the good fortune to serve in Italy twice during his diplomatic career, meaning that I grew up speaking Italian in the 1960’s and again in the 1970’s. Maybe that’s why this morning’s article about the death of an Italian diplomat caught my eye, but Luca Attanasio’s story is so much more.

The Milan daily eulogized Luca Attanasio, the Italian ambassador to the People’s Republic of Congo, who was gunned down yesterday, along with a carabinieri official and a United Nations driver. According to a New York Times article by Megan Specia and Gaia Pianigiani, were in a World Food Program convoy en route to a school in the eastern part of the country when they came under attack. It is presumed that the ambush was a kidnapping effort gone wrong by one of myriad rebel groups who are vying for control of the mineral-rich area.

If your image of “diplomat” still looks like a stuffy eminence grise in white tie and tails, look at who this man was.

Diplomat

He was just 44, one of the youngest ambassadors on the globe. His was a meteoric rise through the diplomatic corps: commercial secretary in Berne, counsel in Casablanca, chief-of-mission and then ambassador in Kinshasa.

Humanitarian

He met and married his Moroccan wife in Casablanca. Zakia Zeddiki is the founder of Mama Sofia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the education of street children. Attanasio was honorary president. They had, wrote Anne Le Nir for Radio France International, dedicated their lives to helping others.

For their altruistic work in the support of humanitarian projects the couple was awarded the International Nassiriya Peace Prize, wrote RFI.

Everything that we in Italy take for granted is not so in Congo where unfortunately there are still many problems to be solved. The role of the embassy is above all to stay close to the Italians but also to contribute to the achievement of peace.

Luca Attanasio, Italian Ambassador to the People’s Republic of Congo, quoted by Italy 24 News

Son, Husband, and father

Attanasio leaves behind his parents in Italy, and his wife and their three young girls, twins and a baby, in Congo. The world mourns with them today.

A force of nature, an example for our children. A light in the fog that warmed and illuminated.

La Repubblica newspaper