Politics Monday: How vaccinations might restore America’s place in the world

American Leadership

He is the kind of liberal that emerged after World War II: confident in America’s greatness, confident in the state, having little interest in the culture wars that emerged since the 1960s, fierce about civil rights, deeply rooted in the working and middle classes.

David Brooks, The New York Times

David Brooks recently interviewed President Joe Biden to look at the direction he is promoting in his very big pieces of legislation. He could have been describing my parents, too. They devoted their working years to advocating for America’s ideals abroad during the Cold War, when our country was the undisputed leader of the free world.

China’s Challenge


Today, it’s not Russia but China who threatens. How ironic that the country which birthed the COVID pandemic is poised to reap the rewards of America’s leadership failures under Trump.

We’re kind of at a place where the rest of the world is beginning to look to China. We’re at a genuine inflection point in history.

President Joe Biden

Shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity

The president who is leading our nation out of the pandemic is positioned to deliver the world as well. In the next month, the U.S. could start a process of global COVID-19 vaccine distribution that saves millions of lives, asserts its stature as a beacon for the world and makes the nation itself safer, write USA Today reporters Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub whose article includes these inspiring quotes.

It’s an important moment for the world when the U.S. leans back in.

Orin Levine, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

U.S. involvement could be the tipping point.

Dr. Tom Kenyon, Project HOPE

It’s the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. It’s the strong thing to do.

President Joe Biden

The Bombas Strategy

I would love to see a U.S. government proposal that they’re going to donate a dose of a vaccine for every person under 18 vaccinated in the United States. You could pitch that to adolescents – that if they get vaccinated they can help another person.

William Moss, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Moss calls this a Bombas approach. The sock company Bombas has a nifty sales gimmick.

For every item you purchase for yourself, we donate an item to someone affected by homelessness.

Bombas

The background is compelling.

We heard that the number one most-requested item at homeless shelters was socks. It may seem like a small thing, but having clean, dry socks provides a very basic level of comfort to an underserved community that deserves to have a little more comfort in their lives.

Bombas

And it’s good business.

We’ve donated more than 40 million items that specifically meet the needs of the homeless community, including entire bundles of new clothes. That’s 40 million acts of kindness, all thanks to you.

Bombas

So, how about engaging Americans in vaccinating arms around the world? In my parents’ post-WWII time, internationalists called it “hands across the water.” Maybe it’s time for shoulders across the water.

Politics Monday: From Winning Hearts and Minds to Saving Lives

On the current trajectory, if we don’t do more, if the entire world doesn’t do more, the world won’t be vaccinated until 2024.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Hands Reach Across the Water Post-WWII

When my parents joined the Foreign Service in 1955, they embraced an internationalist vision of winning hearts and minds for America in the Cold War. In today’s pandemic and war torn reality, from Gaza to Yemen to India and the African continent, diplomacy is being called on to save lives.

We have an awfully long way to go.

Hands Unable to Reach Across the Country

We are living through a distorted reality that offers vaccines in abundance to Americans who don’t want them, while the people around the world who are desperate to get the miraculous protection cannot get a vaccine to save their lives.

We cannot win each other’s hearts and minds today in polarized American, much less reach our hands across the water.

Could today’s version of America have been able to win World War II? It hardly seems possible. That victory required national cohesion, voluntary sacrifice for the common good and trust in institutions and each other. America’s response to COVID-19 suggests that we no longer have sufficient quantities of any of those things.

David Brooks, The New York Times

Pandemic Solidarity Fractures

A year ago, we were locked inside, keenly aware of our collective fragility. Americans clapped for first responders. Italians sang arias from their balconies. The pandemic revealed our fractures, the murders of Black men and women shattered communities, and an election spawned an insurrection. Masks were politicized.

Colonial Pipeline Panic Reflects Selfishness

We were reminded how little we regard our community at large, when the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack generated a meltdown. Governor DeSantis declared a state of emergency without clarifying that South Florida does not depend on Colonial for gas, and suddenly gas stations in Miami were out of fuel and shut down.

You first need a big dose of uninformed panic. And then you’ve got to top it off with the kind of every-man-for- himself mentality that doesn’t bode well for when a real crisis comes along and cooperation is paramount.

Frank Cerabino, The Palm Beach Post

Getting A Vaccine to Save Each Other

Which brings me back to reaching hands across the aisle, across our neighborhoods, across the country, to get vaccinated and bring this pandemic to a stop.

We’re not asking you to storm the beaches of Iwo Jima; we’re asking you to walk into a damn CVS.

David Brooks, The New York Times

Embassy Kid: Preface

I am completing a memoir about my childhood, which I spent in Latin America, Europe, and Washington DC during my father’s career in the Foreign Service. Here is the preface from Embassy Kid: A Memoir, which I hope to publish within the year.

Jane Kelly Amerson López

Alone in America

I watched the tail lights of the rental car vanish down the elm-lined street on that August afternoon in 1973, taking my parents and my sister back into the Foreign Service landscape without me. I should have been in that backseat, eyes forward, hands folded, as America vanished behind us, the self-contained, four-person unit jetting back into our Real World.  Instead, here I was, stranded alone in America, astonished to find myself broken apart from the family unit with which I’d negotiated 18 years in Latin America, Europe, and the even stranger land of the Washington DC suburbs. 

Most American kids leave home to go to college. My home had just left me. I was an Embassy kid. 

Finding My Way

It would take me the better part of a decade to sort myself out. While my family completed my father’s Foreign Service career abroad, I switched to my middle name and wandered through the United States, accumulating college credits at five institutions, working a series of hourly jobs, and training as a modern dancer, a trajectory that eventually landed me in New York City. There, in the city that felt like all the places in the Real World at once, the nicest man I know called me by my Spanish name and something clicked in my heart. We’ve been married for forty years, during which we’ve created our own real world rich in rewards, the greatest of which is our daughter. We’ve traveled, but America is home.

Third Culture Kid

 It wasn’t always. When I was younger, I struggled to answer the most American of questions: “Where are you from?”  I lived in eight places in six countries on three continents before I was 18, but none of them was home. I was born in Minnesota and my Norwegian ancestry shows in my fair coloring, but I grew up in Latin countries. I was an American kid with the mystique of a diplomatic passport overseas, but I felt like a foreigner in the United States. I sink my roots fast and make friends quickly, but I up-root easily and don’t ever look back. I’m never from here, but I’m also not from there. Neither a true-blue American like my parents, nor a member of any other nation, I’m a Third Culture Kid. 

Archeological Exploration

When I was in second grade in the magical ancient city of Rome, I was sure I’d be an archeologist. Although that idea evaporated when we moved to another part of the world, I realize now that I’ve spent the better part of my adult life sifting like an archeologist through the detritus of my childhood, looking for the evidence of where I was from. 

I wove childhood memories and family anecdotes into stories about my parents, Robert and Nancy Amerson, my sister, Susie, and me. I dove into the journals, letters, and interviews my parents left behind containing their personal observations about a quarter-century with the United States Information Agency. My father’s book about Venezuela, How Democracy Triumphed Over Dictatorship, and the oral histories of other Foreign Service officers who served alongside my father during the Cold War, have allowed me to breathe life into historical events and to recover personal experiences that would otherwise have been lost to time. Finding a way to share these stories has been a thrill, a comfort, and an honor. And reflecting on the impression of these experiences on the Embassy kid that I was and the adult I have become has been a rewarding journey. 

An Homage to My Parents

This book is an homage to my parents, two patriots in the firmament of Embassy people, men and women who, then and now, serve as America’s emissaries abroad, raising their children in foreign lands far from family and friends in order that the world get to know us.

These are the stories of an ordinary American family living through extraordinary times in the service of their country. 

This is where I am from. I am an Embassy kid.

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.