American Leadership is Back

When we are not engaged, when we don’t lead, then… either some other country tries to take our place … or no one does, and then you get chaos. Either way, that does not serve the American people. Humility and confidence should be the flipside of America‘s leadership coin.

Antony Blinken, nominated by President Biden as Secretary of State, in remarks prepared for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Reported by Robert Burns, Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Lee for the Associated Press.

Today, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States as his predecessor enclosed himself in the Baroque pomp of his Florida club, a scant half-hour and an entire universe away from where I live. I am listening to the television as President Biden walks into the White House to the military marching song “Hail to the Chief.” All hail.

Twenty-eight years ago today, my infant daughter and I watched Bill Clinton’s inauguration, the emotion of promise flooding my chest. I remember the soaring optimism I felt the morning after Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2008. Today, a Democrat is back in the Oval Office, and Democrats lead both houses of Congress. Promising optimism doesn’t suit this moment as much as gratitude.

As Timothy Snyder wrote so eloquently in The New York Times Magazine on January 17, 2021, our democracy was pushed to the very brink of failure by a president who wanted to be emperor. He made lies into common currency, befuddling anxious Americans into giving up on truth in favor of social media and turning from the rule of law to of the regime of myth.

But the dictator failed. The people spoke, The courts denied. The states ascertained. The Congress affirmed, and then impeached. Democracy has prevailed. The afternoon’s strongest beams glint off the white monuments in Washington DC in shining contrast to the mausoleum edifice of Mar-A-Lago, where deepening shadows surround a loser who thought he was king.

America has leadership back in the White House, and the world has a country once again engaged in global affairs.

My whole soul is in this, uniting America. We’ll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities. Much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain.

President Joe Biden’s Inaugural Address

American Democracy, Warts and All

USIA showcased democracy

My father, Robert C. Amerson, spent his Foreign Service career in the United States Information Agency, the Cold War organization that communicated US policy abroad and carried out international information and cultural programs. Among the American traditions showcased by Dad’s office every four years were Election Day in November, the announcement of the winner and the concession of the loser, and the inauguration in January of the newly elected president of the United States.

Diplomats represent democracy

Foreign Service officers in US Embassies around the globe have, for four years, faced the challenge of representing a country led by a self-centered, America-first media personality. Instead of drawing on alliances built up over years of diplomacy, President Trump has openly admired the trappings of power exhibited by democracy-squelching strongmen. His failure to address the coronavirus pandemic and his conspiracy theory laden presidential campaign contributed to a negative narrative of an America on the decline. His failure to concede his loss when Joe Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election and his continuing assertion that the election was stolen despite the courts’ finding no evidence of fraud, only added fuel to the fire.

Democracy warts and all

And then came January 6. The world watched aghast as a mob overran the US Capitol during Congress’s affirmation of Joe Biden as President Elect. The images of Americans pillaging the temple of democracy shocked our allies, and our enemies expressed satisfaction at the dying of our democracy. It seemed as if the American story was descending into irreparable chaos.

During his Senate confirmation hearings to be President Kennedy’s USIA director, famed broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow was asked if he intended to tell the bad about America along with the good. He replied, “If the bad is significant, it is going to be reported anyway. We must report it honestly, otherwise it will be distorted.” President John F. Kennedy echoed these words in a speech at the Voice of America, the United States’ international radio broadcaster: “You are obliged to tell our story in a truthful way, to tell it, as Oliver Cromwell said about his portrait, ‘Paint us with all our blemishes and warts.” 

Our warts were on full display on January 6.

Democracy withstood assault

However, Congress reconvened that same day amidst the terrorist debris and affirmed Joe Biden as President Elect, completing an election that truly tested America. Despite the pandemic and orchestrated decisiveness, more Americans than ever before voted in a process that has withstood legal scrutiny. The people have spoken. The courts have ruled. The states have certified. The Congress has affirmed. On January 20, President Joe Biden will take office. 


In America, it is the institution of democracy itself that wields the power when things go wrong. The world is watching as we get back on track. 

A Success Lost in the Chaos: The World Reacts

I recently wrote about volunteering on Democrat phone banks calling Spanish-speaking voters, first in advance of the presidential election and, then, in advance of the runoff election of two US Senate seats in Georgia. It was energizing to connect with enthusiastic volunteers and decent Americans committed to our country’s betterment. It gave me faith that, despite the dismal rhetoric being spouted by the Republicans and their candidate, America remained the country my parents represented abroad.

Well, there is power in people. Through #llamandocontigo, an effort of 2020 Victory, I helped elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on November 3, a result whose affirmation by the Congress finally came yesterday amid the tear gas fumes left behind by Trump’s seditious followers.

AP Photo, Julio Cortez

UDH Pasadena, Mijente, and Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight And, on January 5, we helped elect the Reverend Raphael Warnock — the first Black elected senator from Georgia — and Jon Ossoff — the state’s first Jewish senator and, at 33, the youngest member of the Senate. These two wins return the Senate to the Democrats, thus giving Biden congressional support in the challenging four years that begin January 20.

President Biden now has the political support to help him address a killer virus running rampant and an economy torn asunder by the pandemic, but America remains a dangerously polarized country. Laid low by the past four years’ “America first” actions, our image abroad is no longer that of the world’s leading democracy. World leaders’ reactions to the storming of the US Capitol yesterday reveal the shock of our allies …

Insurgent words turn into violent acts – on the steps of the Reichstag, and now in the Capitol . The disdain for democratic institutions is devastating

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas 

Shocking scenes in Washington, D.C. The outcome of this democratic election must be respected.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg

… and the smugness of our enemies. The Chinese government points at the five deaths in yesterday’s violence and none in last year’s Hong Kong violence. The words in the reaction of Venezuela — where my family began its Foreign Service journey amidst a revolution — could have been cut and pasted from a US Embassy missive to repressive governments:

Venezuela expresses its concern over the acts of violence that are taking place in the city of Washington, USA; condemns political polarization and aspires that the American people can blaze a new path toward stability and social justice.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza

My heart and faith are echoed in the words of the government of Spain, where I spent my final years as an Embassy kid.

I have trust in the strength of US democracy. The new presidency of Joe Biden will overcome this tense stage, uniting the American people.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez

An Assault on American Democracy Shall Not Stand

Dateline Washington DC, January 6, 2021. 4 dead, 52 arrested, 14 police officers injured after pro-Trump rioters breach US Capitol.

The American Congress affirmed the presidential win of President Elect Joe Biden, despite the final maniacal effort of the crazed loser to sic his civilian militia on the Capitol.

If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.

Donald Trump, orating to his protesters midday

Let’s have trial by combat.

Rudy Giuliani, to those same protesters.

At this hour, our democracy is under unprecedented assault, an assault on the citadel of liberty, the Capital itself.

President Elect Joe Biden

Today is a reminder, a painful one, that democracy is fragile. To preserve it requires people of good will, leaders with the courage to stand up, who are devoted not to pursuit of power and personal interest at any cost, but to the common good.

Americans are going to stand up now. Enough is enough is enough.

President Elect Joe Biden

The work of the moment and the work of the next four years must be the restoration of democracy and the recovery of respect for the rule of law, and the renewal of a politics that’s about solving problems — not stoking the flames of hate and chaos.

President Elect Joe Biden

You should look upon what happened this day and be ashamed. You suborned the outrageous fiction that November’s vote unseating Trump was in any way irregular. The blood running down the faces of police officers is on your hands just as it is on Trump’s.

The Editors, The Palm Beach Post, addressing Florida congressmen who supported Trump’s assertions that the election was rigged

What happened in Washington D.C. is not American – definitely. We believe in the strength of our democracies. We believe in the strength of American democracy.

French president Emmanuel Macron

Today may be a dark day for our democracy, but there is hope and change coming.

Washington DC mayor Muriel Bowser, who is extending the public emergency curfew through Inauguration Day

Democracy has prevailed. We inaugurate an honorable and ethical public servant, Joe Biden, as our next president on January 20.

How Darkest of Days Give Way to Hope

Before we retired to the South Florida tropics seven years ago, we lived in the Northeast, where shorter days meant colder days from the fall right into midwinter. My head doesn’t quite understand how the temperature stays mild here as twilight takes over before we’re quite ready for it.

We shine a light on the darkest days of the year

Nonetheless, this week marks the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. We light up the dark with Christmas lights, with blazing fires, with candles in the windows and LEDs in the palm trees.

The shortest day of the year ushers in the winter, but it also marks the beginning of the sun’s return from its northern-most latitude. The days will gradually lengthen even as the cold grips the north, just as, in summer, they shorten as summer heat rises. There’s a certain beauty to the balance in nature.

We have voted out the dark trump administration

It seems fitting that the final weeks of the Trump administration should be the darkest of this awful year as the self-absorbed loser spins his web of lies in a dim corner of the White House. The election of Joe Biden was the promise of relief, and his presence on the national stage these past seven weeks has been a salve of leadership for our ravaged country.

brighter days are around the corner

As winter arrives in the Northern Hemisphere, the devastation is interwoven with a promise that darkness may not last forever: The day the death toll in the United States passed 300,000 was also the day the country began inoculating healthcare workers.

Elisabeth Dias, writing in The New York Times

The darkest day is behind us. The sun has begun its return. It will have marched toward the equator for thirty days by the time of the Biden inauguration, giving the new administration a few extra minutes of daylight in which to work for us. The rays will shine longer and stronger as the coronavirus vaccine makes its way across the country. Eventually, we will all be in shirtsleeves and flip flops. With our masks.

Here is one of my favorite Christmas carols, In the Bleak Midwinter. The lyrics were composed by the English poet Christina Rossetti in the late 1800’s for Scribner’s Monthly, and the melody was added by Gustav Holt.

Three ways to get involved in building community

I spent the last couple of months of the presidential race making calls for Biden/Harris, an activity that introduced me to the amazing work of political volunteers across the United States. When the Democrats’ Victory 2020 introduced calls in Spanish — Llamando Contigo, calling with you — I found myself buoyed by the positive energy of Latino Americans in Florida, Texas, California, and Arizona. Can we count on you? I’d ask. ‘¡Si, por su puesto!” “¿Como no?” Yes, of course, came the response. [OK, yes, I do love the way Spanish lets you know when an emotion is coming up by inserting the upside down punctuation. ¡Si!]

When Joe and Kamala won, I felt the elation of a nation lift me up. I had been part of the blue wave.

Now, I’m putting time into the final election of 2020, the January 5 runoff race in Georgia. The entire country is aware that the control of the US Senate lies in who fills the two Georgia seats, and Democrats are engaged in supporting the campaigns of the Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Fewer voters (even in Georgia) are aware that there is a third race underway.

Let me tell you about three organizations I’ve put time into these past six weeks, and how to get involved.

Fair fight


After Stacey Abrams lost the 2018 governor’s race, she devoted herself to voter outreach, convinced that the state was a genuine battleground if Democrats galvanized young voters, minorities, and people moving in from other states. She raised millions of dollars to organize and register hundreds of thousands of voters in the state – efforts credited with helping Democrat Joe Biden win Georgia.

Stacey, if we had 10 of you, we could rule the whole world.

President Elect Joe Biden during his recent visit to Georgia

Fair Fight promotes fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourages voter participation in elections, and educates voters about elections and their voting rights. Click here to get involved in this community empowerment work.

Mijente

Often we are told as Latinxs that in order to get ahead we need to just work hard and not ask questions. We believe the opposite – we need to hold our heads high and speak out. Mijente helps people do this through campaigns, connects people across a wide network and serves as a hub for culture, learning and advocacy.

Mijente website

Mijente (“the j stands for justice”) is an advocacy group representing Americans from Latin America and Puerto Rico. Its FUERA TRUMP campaign is hard at work in Georgia right now on the Warnock and Osoff campaigns. Their energy is infectious.

United democratic headquarters (UDH)

A coalition of grassroots progressive Democrats in California is at work in Georgia in support of Daniel Blackman in his run for the state’s Public Service Commission. Through its English-language and Spanish-language calls, United Democratic Headquarters (UDH) has already generated upwards of 37,000 (early) votes from Georgians who did not vote in the general election. UDH is small but mighty, with the most comprehensive volunteer training and support of all I’ve worked with this year. Its focus on engaging with people is all heart. I’d bank on this group to keep at this essential work between elections.

Click here to Organize. Resist. Vote.

Democrats can beat republicans on the ground

Democrat Donna Shalala == Hunter College president when I was there — who lost her November bid to retain the Miami congressional seat she won in the 2018 blue wave, attributed the loss to Republican dominance on the ground during the pandemic.

We were being careful because we followed science, but we’ll have a record to run on in 2022.

Donna Shalala speaking on the PBS NewsHour

Democratic community-building, one telephone call at a time, will be essential to engaging voters in the issues that matter. There is no cost and any amount of time is fine. The systems hide your telephone number, the conversations are scripted, most people are pleasant, and you might just find yourself laughing out loud with delight at populist democracy!

When No Means No

The fury of our two-year-old daughter was never greater than when the world — as in her parents — denied her something she wanted. Sometimes, it was as simple as demanding to see a television show again when technology had not yet made that possible. Sometimes, it was more primal — another trip to the ice cream store, more candy, less napping. The more she hollered, the less inclined the world — her parents — was to bend to that tiny girl’s intense will.

The tantrums of a tired toddler have nothing on what must be happening in the White House following Trump’s loss to Biden as court after court has rejected Trump’s election fraud lawsuits. The Supreme Court — including “his” justices — put the cherry on the top with its refusal to even hear Texas’ suit that would overturn the election results in four other states.

He has never before encountered a problem that he couldn’t sue away through the court system or spin away.

Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, on Fresh Air

Unfortunately for Trump, and fortunately for the country, he has not been able to bend reality to his desires.

Jamelle Bouie, The New York Times

Could you imagine if I lose? My whole life, what am I going to do? I’m going to say I lost to the worst candidate in the history of politics. I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country. I don’t know.

Donald Trump, on 2020 the campaign trail

We did imagine it. You did lose. Maybe you’ll have to leave the country. Just don’t do it on Air Force One.

Democracy Ousts Another Failed Dictator

I began my life in the dawn of Venezuelan democracy at the start of my father’s Foreign Service career. My memoir THE DICTATOR FLEW OVER OUR HOUSE & OTHER TRUE STORIES: AN AMERICAN EMBASSY FAMILY MEMOIR opens with a propeller airplane passing overhead in the middle of the night as dictator Pérez Jiménez flies into exile.

Sixty-six years later, I have retired to the South Florida county that the loser of the 2020 election calls home. By January 20, Donald Trump — a dictator wannabe — will fly over my house on his way into exile at Mar-A-Lago, his Palm Beach club.

Two dictators fly over my house

My life will be bookended by dictators flying over my house. But the connection is even more troubling, because there is an uncomfortable similarity between Trump and the current Venezuelan strongman, Nicolas Maduro.

What Trump calls fraud, maduro calls democracy

Two years ago, Trump promised to oust Maduro. It is one of the reasons he carried the South Florida vote in the 2020 election.

Fast forward to post-election Trump, who has spent the past six weeks claiming fraud and refusing to concede. Meanwhile, as reporter Scott Smith wrote in his recent piece for the Associated Press, Maduro calls the truly fraudulent Venezuelan elections a win for democracy, Something is very wrong with this picture of two dictators.

  • One was the 45th president of the world’s longest-lasting democracy. The other, the most recent in a series of strongmen who overcame South America’s longest lasting democracy.
  • One has cemented control over major institutions of power and the legislature, and the other one leaves behind him a legislature determined to undermine his successor, a remade Supreme Court, and a decimated executive branch.
  • Both have left a wide trail of unprecedented economic, political, and health crises that threaten their countries’ viability.

American democracy has held

But, in America, the democratic institutions have held. Some 80 Trump lawsuits have been summarily dismissed by the courts, including “his” Supreme Court. Local election officials, the heroes of 2020, ran the cleanest process on record, despite unprecedented turnout and amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The Electoral College aligned its votes with those of the people of their states.

The flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago, We now know nothing, not even a pandemic or an abuse of power, can extinguish that flame.

President Elect Joe Biden

Two dictators fly over my house, ousted by democracy. Not bad bookends to a life!

Trump must never again be allowed

But, lest we think this is over, heed the words of Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, who warns that Trump must never again be allowed to hold power.

This time around, Trump’s lawless ambitions have been limited by unamused courts, by courageous state and local officials, by a vigilant mainstream press, by a Democratic House, by his own buffoonish leadership and by an ideologically moderate Democratic candidate who won a reasonably large electoral the victory. But these conditions are hardly permanent.

Michael Gerson, The Washington Post

Trump Foiled by Central Casting

In a recent column on Joe Biden’s choice of Janet Yellen as Secretary of the Treasury , Paul Krugman states that Trump rid himself of the former head of the Federal Reserve for, among other things, being too short.

Trump thinks height matters

Trump seems to believe that the Fed is a lot like a roller coaster: You have to be so tall to go on it. You might say that [firing Yellen] was the height of a bad decision.

Matt O’Brien, The Washington Post

Robert Reich, the diminutive former Secretary of Labor, wouldn’t have stood a chance, even on his tippy toes.

Trump thinks looks matter

Looking right for the part was Trump’s defining variable in casting for his minions. Trump complained that his first national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, dressed “like a beer salesman.” Rex Tillerson was appointed Secretary of State because he is tall, fills out a suit, and oh, that hair, a real eminence gris.

But Trump especially likes a man in uniform. According to a 2019 CNN piece by Daniel Dale, his use of the terms “great looking” and “central casting” caromed in his second year in office.

These guys are central casting — like from a movie, except better. They’re stronger, bigger, tougher, meaner, and actually better-looking in a certain way.”

Donald Trump, about military officers, at a rally in July 2019

Trump’s true look is revealed

Today, a defeated Trump is left with the bottom of the barrel scrapings in Rudy Giuliani, a pathetic, ranting lunatic dripping shoe polish hair dye. Right out of central casting for a B-rated horror flick, one that we are already tuning out.

And Janet Yellen, poised to be the first person to have held all three of the traditional top U.S. policy positions in economics — chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, chair of the Federal Reserve and now Treasury secretary — continues to crash through glass ceilings. And hers are words we have longed to hear for four years:

To the American people: We will be an institution that wakes up every morning thinking about you.’Your jobs, your paychecks, your struggles, your hopes, your dignity and your limitless potential.

Janet Yellen, Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of the Treasury

How Palm Beach County Helps Us Help Each Other

Voters now realize more than ever what government means to them. And in the case of the coronavirus pandemic, lives and livelihoods are now at risk.

Nick Moschella, Executive Editor, The Palm Beach Post writing about Political Editor Antonio Fins.

With Florida’s coronavirus cases surpassing the 1 million mark, Governor Ron DeSantis surfaced from weeks of laying low to give voice to an imaginary universe. “I’m opposed to mandates period. I don’t think they work,” DeSantis appears to be still playing up to Trump, who disdained masks from the start and made mask-wearing so voluntary that he turned the White House and his rally locations into infection hot spots … At this point, DeSantis is just sucking up to a guy who’s a month away from hiding out in Florida in an illegal long-term living arrangement at the Mar-a-Lago Club to avoid the New York tax-fraud prosecutors.

Thank god for local government. As Isaac Morton reported in the Florida Phoenix, many of Florida’s 67 counties have mandated masks, including Palm Beach County where we live. When the governor threw open the state at the end of September — ushering in the explosion in cases — he also appeared to take the teeth out of the mask mandates by denying counties the ability to impose fines for rule-breakers.

What he didn’t say was that counties are empowered to establish the rules for businesses operating within their jurisdictions. Palm Beach County’s June 24, 2020 mandatory masks order continues in place unaffected.

Mandating the wearing of facial coverings in all businesses and establishments and in outdoor public spaces where social distancing is not possible.

Palm Beach County Executive Order

Palm Beach County backed up their words with a good deed — mailing out County masks to all its residents. We have used them in place of my early, hand-made efforts.

From what we can see, and unlike the push-back videos that went viral over the summer, people are following these orders in their daily errands. The county hasn’t had to fine anyone, though — as a former budget examiner — I’ll bet their fiscal office would love to count on the revenue stream from people like this Costco customer.

What you can’t change, you should at least make money on. Maybe it’s time for a sin tax, like those on cigarettes and alcohol. A pandemic pay-up, to be earmarked for PPE.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are rolling up our sleeves and masking up. We just received a new batch of masks from Palm Beach County and will wear them with pride.

Get the picture?