There are just a few more days left in this year. About this time, people start thinking about resolutions for the year ahead. But why wait? Make 2018 count before we put it in the books. Give to charity or volunteer... Go to the gym a few times... Read a book... Write or call someone you haven't connected with in a while. Be accountable. Finish THIS year strong.
Like many days, yesterday was a travel day for me. On my journey to be with family this Thanksgiving, I was struck by how NICE people were to their fellow travelers. A few examples: (1) people looked at each other and let mergers into the line to board my flight, where I often see people with eyes fixed straight ahead, seemingly intent on NOT letting people in front of them; (2) people helped each other with suitcases and "big steps" getting on and off buses and trams; (3) people in a crowded and disorganized queue at a fast food restaurant asked those around them if they were waiting to order before stepping forward to place their own orders. And last but not least, to the gentleman in row 17 of Delta Flight 1706 to Chicago, who exchanged seats to let a mother sit next to her daughter, you rock, dude. Well done.
I travel a lot, and I'm pretty sure what I experienced yesterday was an elevated level of niceness. Niceness to those around us, as simple as it sounds, reflects the core principle of our republic--the principle that each of us has worth, or value. That principle is the foundation for systems of justice and governance that are supposed to provide each of us equal treatment--treatment reflecting our equal value as human beings, regardless of wealth, health, occupation, race, gender, orientation or any of a multitude of other differences arising from circumstance or choice. I suspect that this is the way most of us have chosen to respond to the utter lack of niceness in our national political dialogue these days. I hope I am right. Because giving each other that basic R-E-S-P-E-C-T is one of the most important things we can all do to be accountable citizens.
Two things I've learned about my fellow Americans during the past three years bother me: (1) Too many of you are unable or unwilling to decide for yourselves what is true and what is false; and (2) Too many of you put loyalty to your political party ahead of loyalty to the principles for which our country is supposed to stand.
When the president hears something critical of himself or his policies, he declares it is "fake news," and too many of you just swallow his assessment uncritically. You should be able to decide for yourself what is true and what is false. We know that a statement is true when the statement rises to the level of "justified true belief." A statement rises to the level of justified true belief when it corresponds to the world in a way that it is independently verifiable and that it is coherent with a broader set of justified true beliefs. And "independently verifiable" doesn't mean that your cousin agrees with the statement--it means that the overwhelming majority of credible sources confirm that the statement is a fact and / or that the statement allows you to predict things about the world that you can also test and prove to be true.
The most important thing about the American political process is not whether one party or the other wins or loses an election. Rather, the most important thing about the American political process is that it preserves the set of processes that are most likely to produce fair, unbiased outcomes and that recognize the equality, dignity and sanctity of individual persons before the law, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, age, gender or sexual orientation. So when the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan refused to bring comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in June, 2014 to the floor of the House because he was afraid that enough of his Republican party might support it to give the Democrats a win, that is not a victory for the Republicans. When the Republican-controlled Senate decided in 2016 that they would not even give the Supreme Court nominee selected by the last Democratic president the same procedural justice--a confirmation hearing--granted other Supreme Court nominees, that is not a win for the Republican Party. These are not victories for one political party--they are defeats for the American political process, for the rule of law, and for the dignity of the individual person.
The message of my book, Accountability Citizenship, is simple. Figure out your values, figure out which candidates best represent those values, and vote for those candidates. I voted early. Tomorrow is election day. Please vote.
Everything I know about Senator John McCain, including my brief encounters with him during my Senate Fellowship in 2000, tells me that his passing marks the loss of one of our great examples of public service.
McCain was not a perfect man--none of us are. Because none of us can be perfect, perfection is not a requirement for someone to be a great public servant. But the next best thing, I think, is for a person to be honest with themselves about their imperfections, and about the flaws they find in the systems they are trying to administer. In my experience, Senator McCain was an incredibly honest man, even when he had to stand alone to speak his truth.
During my fellowship, one of my assignments was to staff a resolution honoring those killed in action fighting for our country. It was a simple task. No politician wanted to be caught NOT supporting that kind of resolution. So I reached out to the other military fellows, and the proposal rapidly gathered a critical mass of signatures. Then I got a call from the Navy Fellow in Senator McCain's office. He explained to me Senator McCain was not going to sign. It wasn't because he disagreed with the content or the purpose of what we were trying to accomplish, but rather because the vehicle we were using was not the right way to achieve our end. I had the choice of redoing the work in the manner he preferred, in which case he would have supported it, or continuing with the initiative as it was (which had ample support to get passed). I took the easy way, and moved on to the next task in the endless list of assignments. But I never forgot that, of all the Senators, Senator McCain was the one who was willing to stand alone against something that had widespread support, not to be obstructionist, but to teach his Fellow, and me by extension, a point about congressional procedure.
Over the weekend, one of my West Point classmates shared some stories about McCain. Turns out, they had flown regularly on the same commuter flights between Phoenix and Washington back in the mid-90's, and had a passing acquaintance. My classmate's observations were of a man who worked hard on the flights, who would recognize him with a wave just because they knew each other in passing, and who always flew coach.
Senator McCain's efforts to fight waste in public spending and inefficiency in government are well-publicized. The attached article from the WSJ shares many other great things about this great man. But I will always remember him a a great servant of our country: a leader who was honest with himself and with others even when he had to stand alone, and a man who walked his talk. Rest in peace, sir.
Another prominent American patriot calls out President Trump for his embarrassing behavior and utter lack of character: https://www.businessinsider.com/navy-seal-william-mcraven-trump-security-clearance-2018-8
"I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency." Admiral William McRaven
My friend David Sutherland (President, Sutherland Partnership, Inc. and Chairman, Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services) posted the following question on LinkedIn this morning: "What will you be reflecting on while you recognize our nation’s freedom and your own patriotism?" Here is my response, to which I appended the url to the previous blog on this page.
"Great post, Dave. One thing for sure: I'm grateful for the opportunity we had to serve our country together. But I was thinking of this exact question when I saw your post, and what I had come up with were two things. First, every July 4th, I am reminded of the final sentence of the Declaration of Independence: "And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor." Second, I constantly remind myself that the genius of our founders was in creating a system of procedural justice aimed firmly at the goal of a society wherein all are treated equally before the law. That system has never created perfectly just outcomes--not at the beginning and not now. But it does give us the chance to continually make things better, and to fix our mistakes. And it is our duty--for each of us--to evaluate and do our part to make that system work. Whatever problems or challenges there may be, we have the power to fix them. Happy Independence Day, my friend."
I hope you all have a terrific July 4th.
People who Disagree with you on Politics aren't Necessarily Evil