Nearly 100 million Americans voted before Election Day this year. Now, we wait, watch, and hope. It is a commodity that’s been in short supply in 2020, as a pandemic, civil rights protests, and raging wildfires piled atop the election’s boiling-hot rhetoric. But, damn it, we must hope.
We are united
We hope that Americans remember that we are States United, not states divided, and that our similarities overshadow our differences.
We hope that high-pitched electioneering gives way to quiet conversation.
… to respecting science, nature, and each other.
Thomas Friedman, The New York Times
We have leadership
We hope that we will treat each other kindly, for we are all Americans, with a president for all Americans.
… that dysfunction gives way to precision, focus, and steady leadership.
By Toluse Olorunnipa, Josh Dawsey, Yasmeen Abutaleb, The Washington Post
… leaders rise above self-destructive strife to make deliverance from illness and death a unifying national cause.”
Michael Gerson, The Washington Post
[We enter 2021] … with our eyes open, and our mouth and nose covered.
The Editors, The Palm Beach Post
We are the america the world respects
We hope that the world will see us return to our better selves.
[That we have once again] a president with the dignity and largeness of vision to understand that America still means something in the world.
Mona Charen, The Ethics and Public Policy Center
Remember how we felt about each other as the nation — indeed, the world — went into quarantine? How we sang and waved and greeted each other with kindness and compassion?
… if you go back and look at the very first transcript of our [Voice of America] broadcast back in 1942 during World War II, the famous quote is “The news may be good, the news may be bad, we shall tell you the truth.”
Al Pessin, speaking to Catherine Jacobsen, Committee to Protect Journalists
As I’ve written about before, President Eisenhower created USIA after WWII to tell America’s story to the world, a public affairs operation in tandem with the radio and print journalists of the Voice of America. USIA and the VOA fell under partisan attacks periodically and worked hard to earn the confidence of the Congress during my father’s career. Ultimately, USIA was absorbed into the Department of State, where Dad’s work in public diplomacy carries on in American embassies around the world.
The voa is under attack
Now, the VOA and other news outlets that helped the United States to win the Cold War are under partisan attack.
As Nick Schifrin recently reported on the PBS NewsHour, Michael Pack, CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, ignored a congressional subpoena to appear before Congress over concerns he has politicized and mismanaged media outlets that helped the U.S. win the Cold War. One of those outlets is Voice of America.
Al Pessin joined his former VOA colleagues in signing a letter to the Acting Director of the VOA objecting to the wholesale firing of management and removal of boards of directors as a witch hunt reminiscent of the Red Scare of the 1950s. Even more damaging was the summary visa revocation of foreign journalists, many of whom may face persecution at home for having worked for the United States. VOA journalists — going against a reporter’s grain by becoming the news — put their careers on the line to object.
He has ordered the firing of contract journalists, with no valid reason, by cancelling their visas, forcing them back to home countries where the lives of some of them may be in jeopardy.
Most damaging of all is his public statement, on a podcast, that the VOA is great cover for our enemies.
A great place to put a foreign spy.
Michael Pack, CEO, US Agency for Global Media, speaking about the Voice of America
Pack’s tossed off remark was recorded in an interview with conservative and pro-Trump The Federalist.
It takes a long time to build the credibility of a news organization and just a brief moment to destroy it … It just shows a complete lack of understanding or disregard for the job that we have to do and potentially for the personal safety of the people trying to do it.
Al Pessin, retired Voice of America journalist
Handing our enemies a win
Congressman Tom Malinowski, D- NJ, put it like this at the hearing Pack disregarded.
If China, Russia, North Korea, or any of our adversaries, had in fact infiltrated USAGM, they could have not possibly done more harm to America’s interests than Mr. Pack has in fact done on his own.
Congressman Tom Malinowski
With friends like Michael Pack — and presidents like Trump — damaging our democracy from the inside, who needs enemies?
Mom was raised in Winona, Minnesota, a small town on the banks of the Mississippi, where her mother was a housewife and her father ran the ancestral hardware store. The community revolved around the local YWCA, where Mom absorbed experiences in volunteering that molded her character for life.
My mother found a way to use these experiences during my father’s work in Bogotá, Colombia, in the mid-60s. For the first time in our Embassy life, Mom found like-minded women interested in community service. Bogotá had an active community of “señoras de por bien” — well-off women — who considered it their “deber,” their duty, to do something for poor communities. American women from the Embassy and the expat community contributed their shared experiences in volunteering. As Mom struggled to get well-intentioned Colombian women to follow through, she wrote home:
I’d love to have articles from the YW about the responsibilities of members. We’d like to show how cooperation can accomplish so much for clubs, families, and the country. I dunno. How do you train people in loyalty and responsibility?
Nancy Robb Amerson, letter to her parents, 1965
The effort of Mom and her women colleagues was recognized by none other than Ambassador Covey T. Oliver, citing a letter to the editor that has run in El Tiempo, the Bogotá daily newspaper.
The jist of the letter was that our work with the Jardín was real diplomacy. The ambassador send a copy to Washington so the we would have “official recognition.” It is surely a nice extra to have what we try to do recognized as being of some worth to the joint effort.
Nancy Robb Amerson, letter to her parents, 1965
Register and vote
Mom passed away in September, 2012, before she had a chance to vote for Barack Obama. At her memorial, my sister said, “Be sure to vote. Mom would want you to.”
So, today, make sure you are registered. If you want to vote from home, request your paper ballot today. When you get it, read up on the issues and the candidates and mark down your choices. Before you sign it, be sure you have the right ballot — not your house mate’s — and check your listed name before signing. I learned this the hard way when we voted in the Florida primary. I signed my full middle name when the ballot was for Kelly A. Lopez. Probably disqualified. I won’t do that again. You either.
My husband and I are voting by mailing in a paper ballot this year. We live in the President’s official county of residence, Palm Beach, the only place in the country, according to him, in which paper ballots will represent legitimate votes in November.
The county is on the up and up, we agree. The Palm Beach County Board of Elections actually mailed out application forms for mail-in ballots over the summer, and we received ours a month before the August primary. We were glad to have the extra time with the ballot to educate ourselves on who we were being asked to elect.
Palm beach county elections
Although I supported Democrat newbie Guido Weiss in the primary, incumbent Lois Frankel won, and supporting her in November is critical — her opponent will be racist, anti-Islam Laura Loomer whose dangerous language has been banned from social media platforms. Please ignore her.
In the other races, it was satisfying to see a Florida Senate race with our Democratic candidate, fellow New Yorker and current Florida Representative Tina Polsky, on the ballot, and we have a Palm Beach County Judge Jaimie Goodman, who’s been blasted for his lack of decorum, in a November run-off with lawyer Adam Myron to retain his seat. Voting matters.
I have covered banana republic dictators who are more subtle than that in attempting to rig the elections or undermine votes for their opponent.
Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times
Voting by mail is secure
Hoaxster Trump is selling the lie that mail-in ballots are fraudulent votes. Every county in this country is on the up and up, and — because the Trump Administration has failed to protect us from the Coronavirus— more people than ever before will be voting by paper ballot.
Voting is our civic duty
We’ve been given ample notice to not assume that the US Postal Service will adjust its schedule to accommodate our procrastination. When our November ballots arrive, we will fill them out and send them in. If you are an American, please use this link to find your county election office to request yours today. If you are not an American, pray for us to remember our civic duty.
I don’t care who you vote for. But don’t let this election be stolen by people trying to deliberately engineer it so not everyone can vote – – or so that not every vote will be counted.
When my father was stationed at the American Embassy in Rome, our family mail came to us via the Army Post Office (APO), which routes US Postal Office mail to military bases and diplomatic missions around the globe. [A note here: the Defense Department says that the APO mail service is available to only US Postal Service mail. You’ll understand why I say this in a minute.]
So, back to Rome. The Italian postal system was unreliable, so people living in Rome during my parent’s time at the Embassy (early ‘60s and, again, mid-‘70s) put their mail in post boxes in Vatican City, which has run its own postal system for the past century. I just ran across this informal 2017 poll that shows that Italy continues to be ranked poorly on its handling of the mail, with some 80 percent of the respondents to an informal poll rating it as “poor” or “fair”.
the US mail ranks 7th in the world
Look at the bar graph again. In this list of 35 countries, Japan leads in high points for its mail system, followed by South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Austria, and the USA. 7th in a list of 35 countries, a good system.
Americans depend on the US mail
Americans have long relied on our government delivery of the mail to keep in touch with family, order supplies, transport livestock, and even transport children, as my friend Karen Coody Cooper writes in this piece that recently ran in our local newspaper, The Palm Beach Post.
My dad grew up on a South Dakota farm, where the mail linked his mother to family and friends who had found a warmer, easier life out in California. My father’s memoir, From the Hidewood, includes a story about his mother writing her family and making a friend of Dad’s one-room schoolhouse teacher through conversations at the mailbox.
… by the time she’d put the letter and its three pennies inside the roadside mailbox and raised the flag, the familiar slender figure with the book bag in hand had almost arrived.
Robert Amerson, From the Hidewood
Current attempts to hamper service
Elsewhere in the same issue of The Palm Beach Post was an article about the Trump Administration efforts to hamper the US Postal Service’s ability to deliver the mail, — in order to ensure its demise and resurrection as a for-profit enterprise — resulting in the death of chicks in transit to poultry farmers who’ve relied on the mail for their inventory. Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) has taken the issue to Washington. Look at her. I would do what she asks. She is one of us persistent, nasty women who wants answers. I don’t think she’s going to be okay with converting the US Postal Service into a private corporation. And, Americans serving our country abroad rely on the USPS to get their mail to the Army Post Office.
Private sector Mail failed me
This week, I had my own postal experience that sheds some light on the issue for me. After a decade of holding onto the written records of my mother’s family — a collection of letters, poetry, and other paper in annotated binders which she created and curated — I decided to finally get them to their proper home, the historical society in her hometown of Winona, Minnesota. Although I felt badly about not having done more with the materials while I had them, I knew that I was doing the right thing in putting these treasures closer to family. The Winona County Historical Society assured me that they’d accept the materials, redirecting any that might better belong in another historical collection — Mankato, in Blue Mound County, was where her mother’s Kelly family was from; other family came from Fountain City, across the Mississippi in Wisconsin.
I packed the binders into two sturdy boxes culled from Amazon deliveries. Given the delicacy of the task, and trying to limit my exposure to people — the Coronavirus has not been tamed here — I chose FedEx to deliver the two boxes to their permanent home.
Here is what happened one week later.
One box was delivered to the Winona County Historical Society. The other box was dumped at my front door, soaking wet, falling apart, and somehow still containing its precious cargo. The FedEx address label with the Minnesota address was gone, and the box made it back via my husband’s name and our home address on a new FedEx label. How this happened is a mystery. When I tracked the box, it shows that it is still enroute to the original destination, with a current address of Countryside, IL. The automated response line would not put a real person on the telephone. Because the box is still in transit. And the FedEx shipping center down the road, which I visited yesterday with the box and cargo in hand, will not issue me a refund and/or re-ship the cargo. I’ll try again today to reach a human being.
So much for the private sector.
The USPS will get my box this time. I’ve been out in the world enough to appreciate that social distancing precautions are in place to protect me, and 95 percent of the people we’ve seen are wearing masks. The Coronavirus numbers are in decline.
Of course, Governor DeSantis and Education Commissioner Corcoran are demanding that Florida schools re-open in-person. I’m betting we see those COVID-19 numbers shoot back up.
I grew up reading The New Yorker. Well, not reading it exactly, but flipping through the magazine to take in the cartoons, and trying to enjoy them like my parents did. We also had two big coffee table books of collected New Yorker cartoons, including one issued in 1950 on the magazine’s the 25th anniversary. It included this by Charles Addams.
These days, the editorial cartoons in The Palm Beach Post express the nation’s exasperation and exhaustion better than ever. Here are some from the past month.
Andy Marlette of the Pensacola News Journal digs into Governor Ron DeSantis, whose callous attitude rivals that of his hero, Donald Trump. Trump’s genius test is fodder, too.
Nick Anderson of The Washington Post channels Trump’s “it is what it is” response to the Coronavirus.
Walt Handelsman of The Advocate in New Orleans and Signe Wilkinson of the Philadelphia Daily News are tracking the Republican’s dismal record on responding to America’s economic crisis.
Andy Marlette even gets credit for weather forecasting, correctly noting that Hurricane Isais kept away from Florida, where the Coronavirus is running rampant.
These talented artist-commentators say more than a thousand words. Thank you!
Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961
President Kennedy’s words nearly 60 years ago inspired a generation of Americans, who themselves were standing on the shoulders of the Greatest Generation, who came of age during the Great Depression and served their country in World War II. Americans of the prior generation had experienced the carnage of World War I.
According to vocabulary.com, the word “civics” is an American English invention from the Latin, civicus “of a citizen.”
Civics is the rights and responsibilities “of a citizen.” Americans like to lean into our rights — our freedom to gather, to express, to pursue happiness — a whole lot more than honor our responsibilities— to vote, to serve on juries, to pay taxes. About half of eligible voters turned out in 2016. According to a 2007 study by the National Center for State Courts, only 15 percent of voters are ever called to jury duty, and only 5 percent of those actually serve. [HIGH FIVE IF YOU HAVE!! I served twice in Albany, NY, both good experiences.]
Today, the global pandemic is calling forth our civic duty in a much simpler and more profound way. What we are being asked to do for our country is wear a mask.
According to Wikipedia, civics is about behavior affecting other citizens. Wearing a mask protects others from us. All of us are others. All of others are us.
Compared to living in the dark for years as the citizens of Londoners did during the Blitz, wearing a mask is pretty light stuff. Bearing up under nightly bombing assaults called out the British “stiff upper lip.” In her recent article in The Palm Beach Post, reporter Jan Tuckhill featured local author Jill Rose. Rose, whose mother was Winston Churchill’s nurse and whose letters to the Prime Minister are now Rose’s book, Nursing Churchill, wonders if the English “keep calm and carry on” could help Americans call forth the character we need.
Merkel represents everything Trump loathes: globalism, multilateralism, international law.
Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, the German Marshall Fund
She is also a powerful woman and a quantum physicist —a female powerhouse who won’t quietly take his bad behavior, and, worse yet, a scientist. In fact, she may actually be a stable genius.
Trump’s impulsive decision to withdraw troops plays right into Russia’s goal of destabilizing the West. With Britain’s exit from the European Union, a less robust military presence in the EU’s most influential country represents a critical injury to the trans-Atlantic alliance that has defined the post-WWII era.
Furthermore, the presence of American troops in Germany is not to defend that country, but part of an overall collective stability and security for Europe as a whole and a critical part of America’s global military footprint.
The threats posed by Russia have not lessened, and we believe that signs of a weakened US commitment to NATO will encourage further Russian aggression and opportunism.
Congressman Mac Thornberry, House Armed Services Committee, R-Texas
Indeed, the revelation this week that Russia offered bounties to the Taliban for attacking American troops in Afghanistan is but the latest evidence that Russia continues to be our enemy.
During his Foreign Service career during the Cold War, my father, Robert C. Amerson, studied NATO. It was part of his 1960-61 year at the Bologna Center, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. His class cohort included both American graduate students and career government professionals. A handful were American foreign service officers; the rest were an international mix. Crucial information and relationships were cemented during the year.
My father’s year at the Bologna Center expanded across Europe that spring when the class traveled to Paris to visit the recently re-located headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO.
Barely a dozen years old, NATO had grown out of post-war economic and security needs among the nations of Western Europe. Washington viewed an economically strong and rearmed Europe as a key Cold War bulwark against communist expansion. The Soviet control of East Germany and the Soviet-sponsored coup in Czechoslovakia gave rise to real concerns that Western Europe would be similarly co-opted.
The Marshall Plan addressed economic development with a massive influx of aid and the NATO agreement addressed the region’s collective security — members were sworn to consider an attack upon one as an attack upon all. NATO put the United States on the side of Western Europe, while the Soviets held the East under the Warsaw Treaty.
Italy’s significant communist party gave its membership in NATO strategic importance. The United States became concerned that a winning leftist coalition would pull Italy into the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. It was rumored that the new Central Intelligence Agency had intervened to support the pro-American Christian Democrats against the pro-Moscow Socialist Democrats. A monumental anti-Communist letter-writing campaign promoted from the pulpit of Italian-American Catholic Churches and the American-backed coalition took the election.
Imagine the conversations in Dad’s course on Soviet History as the Bolognese professor laid out these issues. How freeing it was for him to be a student and not a spokesperson for a year.
WHEN THE DICTATOR FLEW OVER OUR HOUSE & OTHER TRUE STORIES, Jane Kelly Amerson Lopez (work in progress)
The Poles have even offered to name the facility Fort Trump.
Marc Thiessen, The Washington Post
Meanwhile, the European Union is keeping its doors closed to Americans. It’s less about troops and more about the raging coronavirus pandemic in the United State, but, either way, this is all about Trump’s lack of leadership.
The governor of my state of Florida, Ron DeSantis, is “counting on people to do the right thing” about social distancing and wearing masks to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. In the next breath, he shrugs off the young crowds at the bars, saying “people are going to do what they’re going to do.”
Set the clock to wake up early. Have your exercise clothes ready. Have more fresh fruit than less processed snacks at the ready. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard. It’s a good way to structure your own behavior.
Things get sticker when the impact of our individual behavior spills out into our community. Sometimes, a physical reminder of the right thing helps reinforce the behavior, like placing doggie poop stations at strategic intervals in my community. (The Lopez Commission imposed mask-wearing on Kumba to help him resist over-reacting to other dogs. It’s working. He’s a dear.0
Suggestions are not enough when it comes to keeping society safe. Regulations ensure that houses in Florida are built to withstand hurricanes or storm surge. Laws have established speed limits, seatbelts, and airbags to make driving safer. When it’s a matter of public health, national security, or other overarching principle, the people we elect to represent us in government step in for the collective good.
Absent any action from the governor, the Palm Beach County Commission has finally mandated masks. The Palm Beach Post had urged them to do so in this editorial that ran the day before the vote.
No, this is not an overreach by the government. No, it’s not unconstitutional. And no, it’s not a question of your personal rights being taken away. It’s well-established law that elected officials have the right – no, the responsibility – to take actions to protect public health.
The Palm Beach Post
The Commission made doing the right thing easier. With our case numbers leaping ahead of most states, you know that my family is sticking with masks if we have to interact with the world. I have been transforming pillow covers into masks. It takes me a long time but is comforting, and I can see why knitting, darning, sewing have long been idle time activities. (Another weight management strategy: when your hands are busy, you’re not using them for snacks!)
Compliance isn’t universal, and not wearing a mask won’t land you in jail, although it carries a fine.
Four days after the Commission’s ruling, scores of partying 20-somethings made for an alarming headline: PANDEMIC’S YOUTH EMBRACE MYTHS AS CASES SKYROCKET.
“I think it’s a hoax, and I think that it’s just the flu on steroids.” She then giggled and walked into the restaurant without a mask covering her mouth and nose.
John Pacenti, The Palm Beach Post
These people are part of Generation Z, the age group that mobilized for gun reform after the Parkland shooting, and that have more recently marched in Black Lives Matter protests. I choose to believe that most of these young people, like us old people, believe in collective behavior for the common good. We’re just at home doing the right thing while the media interviews the partiers.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefing, usually set in the State Capitol in Albany, took place today in Brooklyn, where his message was to encourage New Yorkers to wear a mask and to get tested at one of the 700 sites now available throughout New York State. But, he said, he could not get this message out alone.
Government cannot do this.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York State
He clarified. He could tell people to stay home, to wear masks, to socially distance.
My job throughout this pandemic has been to communicate, to give people the facts.
The consistent repetition of all the facts builds trust, and trust builds compliance. Even among New Yorkers. But, Cuomo said, government cannot force the behavior, especially by 19 million New Yorkers, he said.
Today, he admitted he needs help in communication. His three daughters, isolated together with him in the Governor’s Mansion a couple of blocks from the Empire State Plaza, my old stomping grounds, have critiqued his performance. One said he needed more “edge.” Another said he wasn’t “cool” enough.
I disagree. I think I’m cool. But when you’re in Brooklyn and you want to talk to this community, you need really cool people from this community like Rosie Perez and Chris Rock.
Enter star power, celebrities “from the block” Rosie Perez and Chris Rock, speaking to their fellow Brooklynites about “doing the right thing.” Perez encouraged New Yorkers to “stand up” for themselves and for others by getting tested and wearing a mask. Rock suggested that testing be a festive occasion. Take the posse! Take the family! But get tested, as he did this morning on his way to the briefing. He couldn’t resist adding that he barely passed with a 65.
Perez and Rock, who will also be doing PSAs, were practically gushing in their remarks about Governor Cuomo.
Our governor is a rock star. He makes me proud to be from New York.
Rock prefaced his remarks by saying that Cuomo has brought him calm every day. And then he added:
You bring me joy every day.
Imagine that: an elected official who brings joy during the Coronavirus pandemic. By telling the truth. Consistently. Calmly. Sticking with the facts. Taking responsibility. Sharing the limelight. Taking actions, like partnering with the health care industry to provide better care of at-risk, poor people. Like getting masks and PPE to emergency workers, to essential workers. Like issuing an executive order that enables stores to prohibit the entry of unmasked persons.
It was almost as if the two stars were discovering the good in government.
Trump and McConnell have worn Americans down so far that we are beginning to expect nothing good to come out of Washington, I think. Thank God for governors, whose approval ratings over the past three months have soared, maybe especially in contrast to the tanking White House numbers. And for mayors, and county leaders, and boards of commissioners, and school boards, and Homeowners Association boards, all community members willing to be the target of the never-content populace because someone needs to get things done for us.
Yes, government employees are essential workers. Public hospital nurses, aides, cleaners. Police officers. Transit workers. Teachers. Road crews. Building code enforcers. OSHA enforcers. And the people doing what I used to do in the NYS Budget Office, assessing how much less revenue city, county, and state governments will have this year and how they are going to keep producing the critical infrastructure to get us through the pandemic. Because they have to.
I hope when this is all over that you’re still with the government.