Politics Monday: Lend a Hand, Find Common Ground

Here is the thing about life: there is no accounting for what fate will deal you. Some days you need a hand; there are other days when we are called to lend a hand.

President Joe Biden’s Inauguration Address

My Neighbors Lent Us A Hand During My Illness

Until my near-fatal illness in 2019 4,500 miles from home, I didn’t understand that our neighborhood was also our community. In addition to collecting our mail and tending to our garden, they suspended our homeowner’s association dues — the lifeblood of any gated community — until we returned. They even offered to pay our bills. When we finally returned home, neighbors that had never stepped foot in our home stopped by to check on me. Every step I took down the block was accompanied by vigorous thumbs ups from passing cars.

We All Lend Each Other a Hand During the Pandemic

The pandemic has only reinforced our relationships. Younger neighbors did our shopping early on. One woman shared bags of apples and salad-makings from Feeding South Florida, and I baked pies in return. We distributed avocados from the tree I grew from a pit, and lots of folks got Christmas cookies from me this year. We all give each other thumbs ups every day for surviving this awful pandemic.

By Lending A Hand, We Find Common Ground

President Biden’s Inaugural Address was filled with the attributes that build community. Humility, vulnerability, compassion, resilience, interdependence, solidarity. Self-confident patriotism. He called on us to find common ground.

This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward, and we must meet this moment as the United States of America.’

Joe Biden’s Inaugural Address

The editors of The Palm Beach Post echoed the refrain.

We believe Americans stand at the brink of a crossroads. Both sides can remain mired in partisan rancor. Or they can look for a way back to civil discourse and a focus on the common good.

The Editors, The Palm Beach Post

Leave it to Bruce Springsteen to say it best in Jeep’s Super Bowl commercial last night.

We just have to remember the very soil we stand on is common ground, so we can get there. Our light has always found its way through the darkness. And there’s hope on the road up ahead.

Bruce Springsteen, The Middle

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

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

Latino Voters Lift My Spirits

As the Coronavirus rages on amidst Trump’s lie-spinning campaign, the most unlikely thing has rescued me from television television news angst: Telephone conversations with complete strangers. Latino voters all over the country are a rising Blue Wave that is lifting my spirits.

I am one of several thousand volunteers across the country who are making calls for Biden to Latino voters, an effort named Llamando Contigo (Making Calls Together). I was a bit skeptical — I mean, does anyone answer their phone when they don’t know the caller? The answer is yes, although some immediately wish they hadn’t and hang up.

At any rate, the automated dialing system shields us volunteers from all the failed connections, while also protecting our privacy by interposing a dedicated telephone number as the source of the calls. When a real person picks up, and confirms that they are the person we think we’re calling, that’s when the magic begins.

Latino voters speak my language

Janie, Fina, Susie, circa 1958

First of all, I’m speaking Spanish. I’ve come to appreciate in writing my memoir that my first language was Spanish, learned from the woman from Galicia, Spain who lived with my parents and infant me (and, about a year later, my sister) in my father’s first Foreign Service post in Caracas, Venezuela. Josefina did not speak English, so home, which had been monolingual Minnesotan English for my first six months, morphed into a bilingual space. Dad, Mom and I spoke English to each other and Spanish with Fina, and my sister was born into this bilingual reality, she and I played together as easily in Spanish as in English.

Spanish was my family’s “private language” during my childhood — never more so than when we lived in the States — and is the language that my brain turns to when I have something to say quickly and privately. Being bilingual surely gave my Latino husband the inside track in our courting days. Still does. Spanish is in my corazón. Call me a Norwegian Latina.

Latino voters raise my spirits

”Hola,” I say to the person at the other end of the line, identifying myself as a volunteer with the Democratic Party. Now and then, I find a Republican, though a courteous Latin one. I’ve heard about abortion, but only from one woman, and a couple of Biden supporters argued that he should be stronger in his response to civil unrest.

But, mostly, my “Are you supporting Joe and Kamala?” Is being answered with, “¡Claro que si!¨and ´”¡Por su puesto!” Of course! And we are smiling, laughing, knowing that we can make America the land they migrated to. The optimistic, if imperfect, democracy in which we are making our way.

Latino voters appreciate voting

I spoke to a woman who will become a citizen next year, and cannot wait to vote. I spoke with a woman who ran out of time to register to vote, but will register now so her voice is heard next time. I spoke with a determined 85-year-old widow whose husband did not want her to learn English but whose her son will come to help her fill out the paper ballot. I shared the website voyavotar.com Iwillvote.com with men and women unsure of how-where-when to vote, and glad for the support. I spoke with a man who had never thought about volunteering for campaigns but now knows it’s part of American possibilities. Herés where to learn more about volunteering for Biden at the 2020 Victory.

In their recent article about President Obama’s passionate campaign speech in Miami in support of his Vice President, Palm Beach Post reporters Christine Stapleton and Wendy Rhodes quoted a Venezuelan in attendance:

We [Americans] need to go back to a country that respects people. We need normalcy, empathy – we need a president that puts country before self.

José Vivas, Lake Worth Beach

¡Amen, hermano! My spirits are lifted by the rising blue wave of Latino voters rolling toward November 3.

Finding a Purpose: Americans, Dogs, and a Seagull

I was moved by the Democratic National Convention, beginning with the Zoom-esque choir of American children singing the Star-Spangled Banner.

I was moved by the variety of spokespeople for the states’ Convention delegation, by our geography, our languages, our passions.

And I was moved by Joe Biden. If ever there was a time for a naturally garrulous talker to nail a speech, it was Thursday night, and he did it. Americans together. Collaboration. Unity. Purpose. The man spoke about finding a purpose amidst personal tragedy, and his purpose is national service. It is us. We’re going to bat for Biden.

I was moved again today by two episodes in my going-to-church program, CBS Sunday Morning. The theme, again, was purpose.

The first — a story told by Conor Knighton — was about a retired surgeon and pilot who, after losing his wife, found his way back to life again by flying animals to adoption centers through his non-profit, Dog Is My CoPilot. Peter Rork has rescued 15,000 dogs from overflowing shelters (often, high-kill, too) to underpopulated shelters with lots of foster and adoptive volunteers. In doing so, he knows that those animals have rescued him.

We feel the same way about our Kumba. He feels the same about his soft security companions. With a job to do — carrying — Kumba is able to relax around other dogs when we’re on our daily walks. We’ve still got the muzzle, but it stays home most of the time.

Kumba feels that way about his stuffed companions!

And the second, good-news story — told by the lovely Steve Hartman, On the Road — was about a lobster fisherman who was befriended by a seagull. She showed up on his boat out in the middle of the Gulf of Maine in 2005 and basically never left. When she suffered a leg injury a few months ago, Captain John Makowsky got the bird help at the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick. When the bird recovered, he released her back to the wild, but she continues to show up whenever he is at sea.

It’s about the purpose revealed whenever two living creatures truly need each other.

Steve Hartman, On the Road, CBS