Thank you, President and Mrs. Obama

bf1569657989cf968dd2ae4d252dc852We wait to find out what our president-elect will do. Although it appears that his behavior will be remarkably (and unfortunately) consistent with when he was a candidate.

In the meantime, I’m reflecting on the remarkable presidency of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Thank you, above all, for leading with grace.

This was no small feat. Your opposition was resolute. You faced overt and subtle racism as the sad yet inevitable part of being our first black leaders.

Thank you for maintaining your sense of humor.

Mr. President, it’s a gift and I never tired of seeing you use it to needle your opponents, or to just bring some levity to an otherwise impossible job.

Thank you for deescalating our wars.

While you didn’t accomplish all that you set out to, our presence in the Middle East is reduced and you avoided new conflicts. Peace is our goal. You changed the world’s perception of our country as aggressor, using diplomacy to navigate the turbulent waters.

Thank you for decisive action in the financial crisis of 2008.

You let our leaders such as Geithner and Bernanke do their best in the heat of a crisis. There were no best or easy solutions, so doing something quickly was the best course, and you did. The recovery is incomplete and far from equally spread across our workforce, but the crisis is over for now.

Thank you for passing Obamacare.

We are the only democracy without universal healthcare. As the wealthiest nation, we need to treat it as a right and not a privilege.

Obamacare is the first step in that direction. It is flawed and will be replaced with something else. But it will be hard to take coverage away from 20 million Americans who now have it. Many of whose lives were literally saved by it.

There is no progress yet on costs, which are out of control relative to any comparative measure with other countries. This journey will last decades longer but you started it.

Thank you for being the moral voice on gun violence.

You used each tragedy as a reminder of the need for progress on gun control.

However, there is unfinished business.

I wish during your tenure we would have imposed greater control over the financial industry.  Its power and potential for abuse remain largely unchecked.

I wish during your tenure that we found a humanitarian solution to the Syrian crisis.  America should never turn a blind eye to genocide and conflicts that kill innocents en masse.

I wish we could progress on gun violence. In terms of legislation, there are many incremental gains to be had.  In mental health care, we need to accept and respond to the fact that so many mass murderers are afflicted with untreated mental health issues. We now know that mental health is, well, health.

I wish we had cheaper education.  Global trade, automation and the exodus of manufacturing have caused a massive economic dislocation in the last 30 years.  Those who were affected the most need education and social support to learn new skills, not keep old jobs that are no longer viable.

I am sure history will judge you both very well, and it is much deserved.

Your legacy might be sidetracked by your successor for a time, but as you have quoted Dr. King, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  In fact, yours might be the most important moral voices since Dr. King himself.

On tolerating intolerance

The bruising election has caused a lot of soul-searching on my part. And I suspect for many others too.

My moral framework values tolerance, inclusion and diversity. I feel like I am in the throes of a deep dilemma:

In the face of intolerant behavior of others, what is the appropriate response?  Tolerance or intolerance?

To that end, this quote has haunted me for a year:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

First, we have a president-elect for which his office demands the respect and support of its citizens. What to do when the person occupying the office behaves intolerantly (to put it kindly)? What exactly is being sanctioned?

Second, we have friends & family around us who exhibit intolerant behaviors. This was the case before and after the election.

Has anything changed in terms of how one should respond? Is it now more important to speak out against such behavior? Or to look past these issues to focus on people’s admirable qualities?

I wish I knew.


An open letter to Senators Feinstein and Harris

I sent this letter by mail today.  Here’s a copy of what I wrote.

Dear Senators Harris and Feinstein,

First, thank you for your service. I am proud to have you represent me as a citizen and resident of California.

With our president-elect, there is much fear and doubt. Will he exhibit the needed temperament for the job? Will he represent the interests of all Americans, or just his supporters, or just his own? Who will oppose him when there is a need?

I’m sure I speak for many Californians in saying that your role in our government is more important than ever. California on the whole is a socially progressive state, and wants further progress.

I respectfully ask you to consider doing the following.

Be courageous.

Californians will follow your leadership, and respect your choices, more for your courage of convictions than your specific positions and less for whether they align with the interests of a particular voter segment within our state.

We need fighters right now, because fighting is (sadly) going to be the political norm.

Politics and public discourse are going to happen in the public eye and in the court of public opinion, less in the backrooms of Capitol Hill.

As a former Massachusetts resident, I can tell you how admired Senator Warren is for her tenacity. Perhaps knowing this helps gird you for the same.

Embrace the basis of Trump’s support.

There is a desire for real, material change to the political status quo. Mr. Trump tapped into this desire to be sure.

This is a non-partisan issue, as evidenced by Senator Sanders’ success in the primaries as an outsider running with a platform of “political revolution” including changing the role of special interests in politics.

Term limits, campaign finance reform, and reducing the influence of special interests’ money over politicians and policy – these are unifying changes welcomed by Americans of all political affiliation.

I doubt Americans are interested in nuance at this time. One is either strongly for such charge, or not. Those who are seen as incumbents protecting the status quo will be poorly judged as supporting change.

Please consider being strongly for this.

Protect and expand the social progress we’ve made.

America is better for legalizing gay marriage. And for having elected a black president. And for having a female presidential candidate who won the popular vote. And for decriminalizing marijuana so that huge numbers of people will no longer be incarcerated over what we now deem a lesser or non-offense.

However, hateful speech is amongst us, and may well be followed by hateful action.

The weak, disenfranchised, women, and minorities of all types need a voice for equality. More than ever. And while there has been much progress, there is much more needed until we truly live up to the founding spirit of this great country.

We take for granted perhaps the special diversity and tolerance that we enjoy in California. The rest of our country needs your voice for their sake too.

Thank you.

The next four years are going to be hard for you and for America.

Such is the nature of change; it never happens in a predictable or controlled fashion. Rather, it happens spasmodically and unpredictably.

In such an environment, one could be tempted to entrench along party lines. But it is partisanship that Americans want less of.

We can make social progress, and we can fulfill Americans’ desire for a political system that better serves them.

I hope that you may summon the strength and courage on our behalf and with our support.

Sincerely, Don MacLennan

I could be happy today

Let’s assume that Trump’s voters elected him as a change agent to “drain the swamp” of status quo political insiders in Washington.  This is certainly a prevailing explanation for some or most of his support.

If Trump embraces that mandate, then his first 100 days agenda should be to implement congressional term limits and implement campaign finance reform (and reduce the broader role of special interests’ use of money to affect policies).

This would be a hugely popular and unifying outcome for Americans.

There’s a strong base of Democratic support for the same.  After all, Bernie Sanders made huge inroads as an outsider candidate running on a platform of “political revolution” including campaign finance reform.

Really, this is a non-partisan issue. America is tired of its political class. Congressional approval ratings reached a historic low of 12% in the last 2 years. Special-interest money in politics is indisputably influential.

One could even argue that voter opposition to Trump wasn’t over the desire to disrupt the political class’ status quo, but rather his suitability as the agent of change and as a president on the whole.

I could be happy if Trump made this this 100-day agenda.

I’m Sad Today

Trump’s election makes me sad. Although there is a winner, there really aren’t any “winners”.

I’m sad for the people who voted for him that come from rural America and working class backgrounds. They have a reason to be upset because their past prosperity is diminished. But I fear that Trump used them as a vehicle to gain office, not because he was a champion of theirs in his heart of hearts.

I’m sad for those same people because the jobs and prosperity they used to have are gone forever. Such is the nature of capitalism and globalization and the internet-enabled world. Those old jobs aren’t coming back, no matter the leader or his policies. They were sold a story that they can have their past back, which they can’t.

I’m sad because the true source of future prosperity for those people is learning new things, and we’re not talking about investing in them to enable this. Education has been and always will be the great enabler of economic progress. This retooling of our workforce could take a generation, and sadly no politician wants to run on a platform of long-term solutions over short-term rhetoric.

I’m sad for women. It’s a double-barreled setback for gender equality when a viable female candidate was beaten by a provable sexist.

I’m sad for immigrants and ethnic minorities. We’re repeating another cycle of blaming the country’s woes on the newcomers and politically weak. Ask the African Americans of the South, Boston Irish, New York Italians or San Francisco Japanese how it felt in past decades when they were scapegoated for whatever problem the country faced at the time. Obama’s presidency as a step forward in race relations now seems to be at risk.

I’m sad for children, who see a leader who says things they know to be wrong and aren’t allowed to say in their own homes. This didn’t make our jobs as parents any easier when it comes to teaching our children civility and a moral code.

I’m sad for LGBT communities, because the long road to acceptance and inclusion is made longer during times of intolerance. We’ve come so far in 50 years on gay rights; I fear the progress will be stalled.

I’m sad that our country’s electorate is divided along such clear lines: rural versus urban, and the associated industries that sustain each populace. These divisions are a cultural and industrial chasm that don’t appear to be on a path to any near-term convergence.

As such, we have no winners today.

We have many who lost. We have others who think they won, but really didn’t gain a long term solution to their ills.

Father’s Day 2016: In Memoriam of DY

Santa Cruz mountains to the Pacific
Santa Cruz mountains to the Pacific

I’ve written a couple blogs before on Father’s Day in memory of my own dad, here and here.  But today I’m writing about another father, whose recent death hit me hard.

Dave Yeung (DY) passed away a couple weeks ago. I didn’t know him well, but every time I met him I felt his warmth and generosity.  I added him to my mental list of “guys I should invest time in getting to know better”.  But that lost opportunity alone might not explain my sadness.

His death was a reminder of the many things that it means to be a dad.

Dave left behind two children under 10, and a wife.  Dave had a 20-year career at HP and was a major breadwinner in his household.  Dave died in his mid-40’s of cancer, after being a life-long athlete including competitive bike racing.  His loss leaves a huge void in his family.

Dave’s loss makes me sad for the struggles his family will face as a result.

Dave’s loss makes me worry about my role as a dad, husband and provider. Can I be the same role model as him?  What would happen to my family if I passed?

Yesterday was Dave’s memorial service.  Hundreds of people showed up.  Over a dozen stood up and said kind words about Dave.  One speaker said Dave was his best friend.  After two others had just said the same.  He then joked that there were probably 20 people present who felt the same way.

Hiking ninja
Hiking ninja

After yesterday’s service, I took Clive on a beautiful hike in the Santa Cruz mountains.  It was life affirming.

I reminded myself that these were the things I should be doing with my son. Teaching him the beauty of nature.  The habit of exercise.  The opportunity to have meaningful conversations.

What started as a sad day ended on a happier note.  Dave reminded me to strive to live life to the fullest. To be the dad we all need to be.


On Equality

equalityThis week was a big one for equality in the U.S.  Gay people are now fully equal in the eyes of the law.  And hopefully, over time, in the eyes of all.

To me, equality requires understanding, then acceptance.  There’s something innate in human nature that causes us to look at those who are different from us with initial suspicion.  However, if one engages with those who are different, understanding can ensue.  If one doesn’t engage, then those differences remain the basis of rejection.

My time in India brought clarity to me.   Through the lens of my American value system, India is a series of contradictions.  Things to both accept and reject.

India is the largest democracy in the world; that’s good.  The people I have met have been warm, kind and gentle without exception.  its diversity is beyond measure; India is an amalgam of 300 kingdoms, each with its own language.  Wave upon wave of outside influences have swept over the country, mostly in the form of invading regimes who left their imprints in turn. This extreme form of diversity requires acceptance of others in order to maintain peace.  That’s good.

Yet, India has many things about it that I can’t easily accept.  Poverty is widespread and wealth is concentrated in the hands of the very few.  The caste system, while going away, isn’t gone.  The poor have little prospect of joining the burgeoning middle class.  The infrastructure is poor, which means disease afflicts the poor disproportionately and adds to their hardship.

My love of India required me first to try to understand its complexity and contradictions to my moral code.  And that led me to acceptance.  Were I to judge India only on the “bad” I’d be writing off sooooo much about it that’s good.

America is engaged in a transformation, again.  Just like past waves of immigration, our population is changing and diversifying.  Our moral code is changing.  In five decades we’ve gone from police raids of gay bars as if being gay was illegal, to legal equality in every respect.

What made this possible?  My suspicion is that as gays have slowly emerged into public life over those decades, others have engaged them.  Which has caused understanding.  And ultimately acceptance.  Any negative predisposition I might have had – perhaps as instilled in me by elders or society – has surely been overcome by knowing people like Gary, Wayne, Amy and Gerrie.  Simply outstanding people being who they are, and for which they couldn’t be anything else.

There is so much work left on equality.  Let’s start by engaging those who are different from us.  Which surely will lead to something positive.