Archives for category: Character

I was shocked and depressed to hear the news of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death last night. She was, as everyone agrees, an extraordinary woman, a brilliant jurist, and a champion for the underdog.

Given that she was 87 and had valiantly battled cancer was years, her death was not a complete surprise, though I have no doubt she fought to survive until January 3, when the next Congress takes power.

Saddest of all is that her death at this moment allows the worst president in history, a man elected by a minority of voters, to put three far-right justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. It is utterly indecent to choose a new justice less than two months before the presidential election. But no one ever accused either Trump or Mitch McConnell of being decent. Their lust for power drives them forward.

Here is a beautiful tribute that I think you will appreciate.

Dave Pell wrote:

The Jewish holiday being celebrated today is called Rosh Hashanah. Those words translate as “the head of the year.” God knows we could use a new year, and with any luck, this will be a Ruth Hashanah, a year when America returns to the ideals of one if its greatest leaders in the fight for equality and justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The biblical name for this holiday is Yom Teruah, literally “day of shouting or blasting.” So consider this less of an affront to a Jewish holiday and more a special edition news blast. Today, Nina Totenberg tweeted: “A Jewish teaching says those who die just before the Jewish new year are the ones God has held back until the last moment because they were needed most and were the most righteous.” It’s considered a big deal if a person dies on Shabbat, and an even bigger deal when it happens on Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah. Ginsburg died as the sun set into both. In Jewish tradition, this would make her a Tzadik (RBGT); a person of great righteousness. It’s a shame to lose another one of those when America needs them the most. Time for the rest of us to pick up the slack. Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1933-2020

One of our readers submitted Senator Bernie Sanders’ tribute to Justice Ginsburg. Senator Sanders, by the way, graduated from James Madison High School in Brooklyn, as did Justice Ginsburg, both illustrious graduates of the New York City publuc schools (Susan Schwartz, a frequent commentator here, was a high school classmate of Bernie Sanders.)

Senator Sanders called on his Republican colleagues to honor the statements they made in 2016, when they refused to give a hearing to President Obama’s nominee to full Justice Scalia’ seat after his untimely death in February. The Republicans insisted that it would be wrong to fill a Supreme Court vacancy only only nine months before a presidential election.

Senator Sanders wrote:

First and foremost, the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a tremendous loss for our country. She was an extraordinary champion of equal rights and will be remembered as one of the great justices in modern American history.

That said, the right thing to do here is obvious, and that is to wait for whoever wins the presidential election to appoint the next Supreme Court Justice.

Unfortunately, we’ve already heard from Mitch McConnell that he has decided to go against Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish — and his own words from 2016 — in order to bring a judge nominated by Trump to the floor of the United States Senate.

McConnell’s goal, maybe above all others, is to pack the courts with partisan ideologues who will protect corporations at the expense of workers, will suppress people’s right to vote, and will allow the wealthy to buy our elections. And make absolutely no mistake about it, if he gets his way in this Supreme Court fight, that will be the end of Roe v. Wade.

Thankfully, not all Republicans agree with Mitch McConnell, especially if their past words from 2016 are any guide:

Senator Lindsey Graham

“I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.”

Senator Ted Cruz

“It has been 80 years since a Supreme Court vacancy was nominated and confirmed in an election year. There is a long tradition that you don’t do this in an election year.”

Senator Cory Gardner

“I think we’re too close to the election. The president who is elected in November should be the one who makes this decision.”

Senator Marco Rubio

“I don’t think we should be moving on a nominee in the last year of this president’s term  —  I would say that if it was a Republican president .”

Senator Rob Portman

“It is common practice for the Senate to stop acting on lifetime appointments during the last year of a presidential term, and it’s been nearly 80 years since any president was permitted to immediately fill a vacancy that arose in a presidential election year.”

And a number of senators have weighed in even more recently:

Senator Lisa Murkowski, just yesterday:

“I would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. We are 50 some days away from an election.”

Senator Chuck Grassley in May

“You can’t have one rule for Democratic presidents and another rule for Republican presidents.”

Senator Susan Collins very recently:

“I think that’s too close, I really do,” when asked about appointing a justice in October.

Every issue we care about is at stake: abortion rights, campaign finance reform, voting rights, workers’ rights, health care, LGBTQ rights, climate change, environmental rights, gun safety and more.

Together we must do everything we can to hold the House, flip the Senate, and defeat Donald Trump. But now we also must do all we can to hold Mitch McConnell and many Republican senators to the word and let the winner of the next presidential election nominate Justice Ginsburg’s replacement.

In solidarity,

Bernie Sanders

Scientific American endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time in its history. These are unprecedented times. Never has the need for unbiased, evidence-based decision-making been more urgent.

The editors wrote:

Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.

The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment. These and other proposals he has put forth can set the country back on course for a safer, more prosperous and more equitable future.

The pandemic would strain any nation and system, but Trump’s rejection of evidence and public health measures have been catastrophic in the U.S. He was warned many times in January and February about the onrushing disease, yet he did not develop a national strategy to provide protective equipment, coronavirus testing or clear health guidelines. Testing people for the virus, and tracing those they may have infected, is how countries in Europe and Asia have gained control over their outbreaks, saved lives, and successfully reopened businesses and schools. But in the U.S., Trump claimed, falsely, that “anybody that wants a test can get a test.” That was untrue in March and remained untrue through the summer. Trump opposed $25 billion for increased testing and tracing that was in a pandemic relief bill as late as July. These lapses accelerated the spread of disease through the country—particularly in highly vulnerable communities that include people of color, where deaths climbed disproportionately to those in the rest of the population.

It wasn’t just a testing problem: if almost everyone in the U.S. wore masks in public, it could save about 66,000 lives by the beginning of December, according to projections from the University of Washington School of Medicine. Such a strategy would hurt no one. It would close no business. It would cost next to nothing. But Trump and his vice president flouted local mask rules, making it a point not to wear masks themselves in public appearances. Trump has openly supported people who ignored governors in Michigan and California and elsewhere as they tried to impose social distancing and restrict public activities to control the virus. He encouraged governors in Florida, Arizona and Texas who resisted these public health measures, saying in April—again, falsely—that “the worst days of the pandemic are behind us” and ignoring infectious disease experts who warned at the time of a dangerous rebound if safety measures were loosened.
And of course, the rebound came, with cases across the nation rising by 46 percent and deaths increasing by 21 percent in June. The states that followed Trump’s misguidance posted new daily highs and higher percentages of positive tests than those that did not. By early July several hospitals in Texas were full of COVID-19 patients. States had to close up again, at tremendous economic cost. About 31 percent of workers were laid off a second time, following the giant wave of unemployment—more than 30 million people and countless shuttered businesses—that had already decimated the country. At every stage, Trump has rejected the unmistakable lesson that controlling the disease, not downplaying it, is the path to economic reopening and recovery.

Trump repeatedly lied to the public about the deadly threat of the disease, saying it was not a serious concern and “this is like a flu​” when he knew it was more lethal and highly transmissible, according to his taped statements to journalist Bob Woodward. His lies encouraged people to engage in risky behavior, spreading the virus further, and have driven wedges between Americans who take the threat seriously and those who believe Trump’s falsehoods. The White House even produced a memo attacking the expertise of the nation’s leading infectious disease physician, Anthony Fauci, in a despicable attempt to sow further distrust.

Trump’s reaction to America’s worst public health crisis in a century has been to say “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Instead he blamed other countries and his White House predecessor, who left office three years before the pandemic began.

But Trump’s refusal to look at the evidence and act accordingly extends beyond the virus. He has repeatedly tried to get rid of the Affordable Care Act while offering no alternative; comprehensive medical insurance is essential to reduce illness. Trump has proposed billion-dollar cuts to the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agencies that increase our scientific knowledge and strengthen us for future challenges. Congress has countermanded his reductions. Yet he keeps trying, slashing programs that would ready us for future pandemics and withdrawing from the World Health Organization. These and other actions increase the risk that new diseases will surprise and devastate us again.

Trump also keeps pushing to eliminate health rules from the Environmental Protection Agency, putting people at more risk for heart and lung disease caused by pollution. He has replaced scientists on agency advisory boards with industry representatives. In his ongoing denial of reality, Trump has hobbled U.S. preparations for climate change, falsely claiming that it does not exist and pulling out of international agreements to mitigate it. The changing climate is already causing a rise in heat-related deaths and an increase in severe storms, wildfires and extreme flooding.

Joe Biden, in contrast, comes prepared with plans to control COVID-19, improve health care, reduce carbon emissions and restore the role of legitimate science in policy making. He solicits expertise and has turned that knowledge into solid policy proposals.

On COVID-19, he states correctly that “it is wrong to talk about ‘choosing’ between our public health and our economy…. If we don’t beat the virus, we will never get back to full economic strength.” Biden plans to ramp up a national testing board, a body that would have the authority to command both public and private resources to supply more tests and get them to all communities. He also wants to establish a Public Health Job Corps of 100,000 people, many of whom have been laid off during the pandemic crisis, to serve as contact tracers and in other health jobs. He will direct the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to enforce workplace safety standards to avoid the kind of deadly outbreaks that have occurred at meat-processing plants and nursing homes. While Trump threatened to withhold money from school districts that did not reopen, regardless of the danger from the virus, Biden wants to spend $34 billion to help schools conduct safe in-person instruction as well as remote learning.

Biden is getting advice on these public health issues from a group that includes David Kessler, epidemiologist, pediatrician and former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief; Rebecca Katz, immunologist and global health security specialist at Georgetown University; and Ezekiel Emanuel, bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania. It does not include physicians who believe in aliens and debunked virus therapies, one of whom Trump has called “very respected” and “spectacular.”

Biden has a family and caregiving initiative, recognizing this as key to a sustained public health and economic recovery. His plans include increased salaries for child care workers and construction of new facilities for children because the inability to afford quality care keeps workers out of the economy and places enormous strains on families.

On the environment and climate change, Biden wants to spend $2 trillion on an emissions-free power sector by 2035, build energy-efficient structures and vehicles, push solar and wind power, establish research agencies to develop safe nuclear power and carbon capture technologies, and more. The investment will produce two million jobs for U.S. workers, his campaign claims, and the climate plan will be partly paid by eliminating Trump’s corporate tax cuts. Historically disadvantaged communities in the U.S. will receive 40 percent of these energy and infrastructure benefits.
It is not certain how many of these and his other ambitions Biden will be able to accomplish; much depends on laws to be written and passed by Congress. But he is acutely aware that we must heed the abundant research showing ways to recover from our present crises and successfully cope with future challenges.
Although Trump and his allies have tried to create obstacles that prevent people from casting ballots safely in November, either by mail or in person, it is crucial that we surmount them and vote. It’s time to move Trump out and elect Biden, who has a record of following the data and being guided by science.

Editor’s Note (9/15/20): This article has been edited after its publication in the October 2020 issue of Scientific American to reflect recent reporting.

This article was originally published with the title “From Fear to Hope” in Scientific American 323, 4, 12-13 (October 2020)
doi:10.1038/scientificamerican1020-12

Eleven years ago, an airline pilot named Captain Sully Sullenberger had to carry out an emergency landing with a flight filled with 155 passengers. He couldn’t make it to the airport, and he coolly landed his plane in the center of the Hudson River, smack dab in New York City. The craft was soon surrounded by small boats that ferried the stunned passengers to land. Not a life was lost. Captain Sully was an instant sensation, and a movie was made about his accomplishment.

Now Captain Sully is speaking out against Trump. He says what so many believe. Trump has neither courage nor character.

He tweeted:

“For the first time in American history, a president has repeatedly shown utter and vulgar contempt and disrespect for those who have served and died serving our country,” Sullenberger noted.

“While I am not surprised, I am disgusted by the current occupant of the Oval Office. He has repeatedly and consistently shown himself to be completely unfit for and to have no respect for the office he holds,” Sullenberger added.

“He cannot understand selflessness because he is selfish. He cannot conceive of courage because he is a coward.”

This dramatic story was just reported in the Los Angeles Times. Members of the California National Guard, firefighters, and law enforcement groups risked their lives to save others. Why would they do this? There was no money in it for them. There was service, duty, courage, valor. Call it heroic.

The call came in to the California National Guard at 3:15 p.m. Saturday.

A fast-moving brush fire had choked off the only road out of a popular recreation area in the Sierra National Forest. Hundreds of campers were trapped.

The Creek fire, which ignited Friday evening about six miles to the west, had jumped the San Joaquin River and made a run toward the Mammoth Pool Reservoir, where people were enjoying the Labor Day weekend.

“As fire crews and law enforcement were trying to get everybody out, the fire spotted and then basically grew,” said Alex Olow of the U.S. Fire Service. “Exiting out the road wasn’t safe, so people were asked to shelter in place.”

Authorities quickly determined the only way to evacuate them was with a massive airlift done at night as the fire burned unchecked.

That marked the start of a massive multiagency rescue that some officials described as unprecedented in size and scope.

“Our focus was getting the helicopters in and getting as many people out as quickly as possible to save lives,” said Col. Jesse Miller, deputy commander for joint task force domestic support with the California National Guard.

The Guard worked to assemble its teams and line up resources. But by the time it was in a position to send in aircraft, the fire had essentially reached the Mammoth Pool area, said Col. Dave Hall, commander of the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, which flew the mission.

“The smoke column’s naturally high, very difficult,” Hall recalled. “And we needed some of that essentially to burn down a little bit in order for us to effect a safe rescue.”

At 6:30 p.m., when conditions improved slightly, the Guard launched a CH-47 Chinook and a UH-60 Blackhawk from about 60 kilometers away in Northern California. The helicopters staged in Fresno to receive guidance about where they could approach to pick people up.

A remotely piloted MQ-9 aircraft operated by the Guard’s 163rd Wing based at March Air Reserve Base worked above the site, helping to scout conditions. Personnel identified a small clearing alongside a boat launch road that could be used as an emergency landing zone.

About 8:20 p.m., the helicopters landed at Mammoth Pool.

The seven crew members were greeted by more than 200 campers, many of them clustered on a dock near the boat launch, Hall said. Some had suffered injuries including scrapes, burns and possible broken bones.

But they were ecstatic.

“I spoke with the crew members afterward and they said it was one of the greatest missions they’ve ever done just because of the feeling of relief the individuals who were rescued had,” Hall said. “They were literally giving the crew chiefs hugs as they were boarding the helicopter.”

Rescuers found that some campers had suffered serious burns from the fire as well as scrapes and broken bones.

Some of those at Mammoth Pool described a terrifying scene of driving through flames and finding shelter wherever they could.

Jeremy Remington told ABC30 that he and his family were boating when they went to fill their chest with ice. In less 30 minutes, he said, the fire was roaring toward them.

“The fire completely engulfed everything, all around us,” he said, adding they poured water on their shirts and used them to cover their faces as protection against the smoke and heat.

Two people had suffered life-threatening injuries. They were put in the helicopters first. Then came the 19 “walking wounded,” who needed hospital care but were not considered critical. Crews also prioritized children and those with underlying health conditions, officials said.

“Their focus was on rescuing them, getting them from the point of danger to point of safety and then getting them into the hands of the emergency medical professionals that were on the ground,” Miller said.

Crews dropped off the passengers at Fresno Yosemite International Airport, where a makeshift triage site was set up. There, paramedics assessed injuries and arranged for people to be taken to hospitals, while other emergency workers made sure those who were displaced were matched with shelters.

The helicopters then returned to Mammoth Pool to pick up another load.

By then, between the darkness and thick smoke, conditions had deteriorated again. Not knowing if they’d be able to make it back a third time, the crews loaded as many people into the helicopters as they could — more than 100 passengers in the Chinook and 21 in the Black Hawk, Hall said.

Luckily, they were able to make one more trip, and everyone who wanted to leave was airlifted. Two people chose to stay behind, Olow said.

When the mission was completed about 3 a.m., 214 people and 11 pets had been rescued, Hall said. At least 21 people were taken to hospitals.

“In my career with the Army National Guard, I have not seen an evacuation of this size nor have I heard of anything similar with regards to a fire incident,” Hall said. “So in my book, this is one of the largest events ever.”

But it might not be the last, he said. The fire was 0% contained late Sunday morning and had charred at least 45,500 acres, as evacuation orders continued to multiply.

“We do believe there will be more rescues,” Hall said. “We are posturing crews day and night to support potential rescues. What is unique about the terrain up there is it is a very, very popular camping site and also backpacking site. And because the fire travels very quickly, it is very possible for backpackers and hikers to potentially be stranded.”

Miller credited the work of scores of agencies, including the Madera and Fresno County sheriff’s offices and fire districts, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the California Office of Emergency Services and the California Highway Patrol, for the success of the daring rescue.

Melanie Sirof is a teacher in the Bellmore-Merrick School District on Long Island innNew York.


“Let’s start rowing in the same direction”.

“Posting this now, before I walk into the first day of meetings that signal the start of school. I’m sure by three o’clock I will feel overwhelmed & frustrated, so I write this now, while I am still clear-eyed:

Know this, parents, we teachers are going to make the most of this lemon of a situation. We want your students to have a great year & not just “a great year, all things considered.” We are aware of our place in the story of your child’s life, understand that they only get one “senior English teacher” (or Math, or Chem, or Gov), one sixth grade experience. So we are going to do our best to live up to that mythology. We want your children to discover things about the world & themselves they had not known before our time together & our time starts now.

Can you help? Can you stop talking about what a disaster this is going to be? (Perhaps it will be, but let’s not lose the game before we get on the court.) Can you help your kids to respectfully reach out to us when they are struggling? Can you set them up for success with a mindset that says “yeah, this is the hand we were dealt, & look how everyone is doing the best they can with it.” Can you give them some agency in this, help them understand the buy-in? Can you stop calling out teachers you feel did your students wrong on social media? Give them the benefit of the doubt (a rough day, an honest but not malicious mistake) or the professional courtesy of handling the issue privately?

This will not be a lost year, it will not be a year of treading water, this will be a year in the story of your child’s life & you & I & they have the power to create some true greatness here. That is how we would like to be remembered when they come together in 10 and 20 years for reunions, when their own children (should they choose that path) start school & they are sitting around the dinner table swapping stories. We want your kid to say “Oh yeah, I remember my __th grade teacher…” & then start to tell funny stories about class or remember something they learned that year & never forgot, a new way to look at the world, a new part of themselves.

It’s a big ask, to want be remembered that way, maybe selfish and a bit self-aggrandizing to want to seize the opportunity given every teacher every September. But so many of us are in front of the classroom for exactly that reason, we had teachers we still talk about, people we met at 15 who continue to influence us at 45.

Let us do that -in person, or remotely, or some combination of both- we want the best for your children. Yes, we are all in the same boat, let’s start rowing in the same direction.”

Melanie Sirof
English Teacher
Mepham High School

Joe Biden gave a wonderful speech last night. He was sharp, hopeful, eloquent, compassionate, determined, visionary.

If you missed it, watch it now. He was superb.

He laid out a vision of a renewed America, united to conquer the virus, rebuild our infrastructure, bring people together, and heal the deep wounds inflicted on us during the past four years.

After his speech, Republican consultant Rick Wilson—active in the Lincoln Project—said on Brian Williams’ MSNBC show that the choice in the election is stark. He said, “it’s a choice between a good man and a very bad man; between a decent man and an indecent man; between a moral man and a deeply immoral man.”

After listening to Biden lay out an inspiring call to rebuild and uplift our nation, I saw clips of Trump speaking spitefully in Scranton, Biden’s hometown. Trump was vicious, ridiculing Biden and accusing him of abandoning Scranton 70 years ago! Same old, same old: mean-spirited, nasty, divisive, sowing hatred and chaos. Again, he broke a norm of American politics in which each party goes silent while the other convenes. Not Trump. He was desperate to rain on Biden’s big night, but his me-me-me failed. It was Biden’s night.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post said that Biden spoke from a place unknown to Trump: the heart.

He wrote:

President Trump has tried every dirty trick in the book — and a few new ones — to cast doubts about the workings of Joe Biden’s brain. But Trump has been focusing on entirely the wrong organ. Biden’s appeal is from the heart.
The Democratic presidential nominee, in the most crucial speech of his long career in public service, had no problem clearing the low bar Trump had set. The evening began with a clip of Biden quoting Kierkegaard and ended with him quoting the Irish poet Seamus Heaney.

But the power of Biden’s acceptance speech — and the power of his candidacy — was in its basic, honest simplicity. The rhetoric wasn’t soaring. The delivery was workmanlike (he botched an Ella Baker quote in his opening line). But it was warm and decent, a soothing, fireside chat for this pandemic era, as we battle twin crises of disease and economic collapse we only see each other disembodied in boxes on a screen. Biden spoke not to his political base but to those who have lost loved ones to the virus.

“On this summer night,” Biden said, his voice growing rough, “let me take a moment to speak to those of you who have lost the most. I have some idea how it feels to lose someone you love. I know that deep black hole that opens in the middle of your chest, and you feel like you are being sucked into it. I know how mean and cruel and unfair life can be sometimes. But I have learned two things. First, your loved one may have left this earth, but they will never leave your heart. . . . And second, I found the best way through pain and loss and grief is defined purpose. As God’s children, each of us has a purpose in our lives.”

Biden’s speech, and indeed the whole closing night of the Democratic convention, was the polar opposite of the Trump’s “American carnage” vision. Biden’s rejoinder: American compassion. American competence. American community.

Words kept recurring: Dignity. Normalcy. Decency. Integrity. Stability. Sanity. Family. Big-hearted. Justice. Respect. Faith. Hope. Love. There was little about policy from Biden, and certainly no laundry list of proposals and promises. There was no attempt to throw red meat to the political left. This was about healing and recovery.

No choice here: Biden must beat this hateful, ignorant, illiterate, vicious man.

Arthur Camins, retired science educator, warns that the coronavirus pandemic is rivaled by an equally harmful pandemic of selfishness.

He begins:

Deadly as it is, the uncontrolled spread of Covid-19 in the United States is but a part of a broader, more devastating phenomenon: the be-out-for-yourself-pandemic. The readily available antidote is organizing for mutual benefit, but that medicine has been intentionally kept off the public market. Now, people are marching for it in the streets.

The virus lurked in our culture in partial dormancy at least since defeat of resistance to New Deal legislation. It reemerged in plain sight with the election of Ronald Reagan, the rise of ultra-conservative think tanks and foundations, and Republican dominance in local and state government. Be-out-for-yourselfism reached pandemic proportions with Trump’s victory. It has perniciously infected much of our daily lives, reeking death and destruction in its path. We are suffering from rampant selfishness sepsis. The pathogen spreads by promulgation of a three-pronged anti-government, anti-tax, anti-regulation ideology. Racism is its nourishment.

He goes on to explain why this ideology undermines our ability to react wisely to the coronavirus, which requires cooperation and common purpose.

I just finished reading Mary Trump’s family tell-all, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. 

I found it fascinating and horrifying. Mary is the daughter of Fred Trump, Jr., the heir apparent to the family business. The family consisted of paterfamilias Fred Sr. and his wife Mary. Fred Jr., Elizabeth, Maryanne, Donald and Robert.

The Trump family was dysfunctional and cruel. Fred Sr. was never satisfied. He pinched pennies, long after he was a multimillionaire.

When Mary’s father Fred Jr. tried to break free of the family business, he became a TWA pilot. He was the only family member to make a way for himself on his own. But his father called him a “glorified bus driver” and harangued him until he started drinking and lost his job, then returned to the family business. Maryanne struck out on her own and became a lawyer; she married a promising many who couldn’t earn a living. Fred Sr. gave him a job as a parking lot attendant.

When Mary’s parents divorced, the divorce agreement awarded her mother $600 a month in alimony and child support. The family lived frugally, as did everyone but the parents and Donald.

Donald was sent away to military school because he was a disobedient, rude youth. When he finished school, he went to Fordham, a Catholic university in Manhattan. He didn’t think Fordham was good enough for his ambitions, so he decided to transfer to the University of Pennsylvania. Mary says that his sister Maryanne did his homework for him, and Donald hired a smart friend to take the SATs for him. When he brags about being “first in his class” at Penn, that’s hot air. He was never much of a student.

Mary describes a family dynamic in which her grandfather belittled everyone but Donald. Donald was the chosen child, the one with the hubris and arrogance that his father admired.

She says that Donald was a master of self-promotion. Whatever he did relied on the wealth and political connections of his father until he was able to cultivate his own connections. As far as she could tell, Donald failed at everything he did other than creating an image of himself as a successful businessman, which he never was. She recounts the multiple bankruptcies that never seemed to slow down his image-making.

Mary describes how Donald tried to put a piece of paper in front of his father that would have given Donald complete control of his father’s estate, putting all of his siblings at his whim. When they got wind of it, they stopped him. But when the father died, Mary discovered that the siblings had gotten the will rewritten to exclude her and her brother. Her brother had a severely disabled child who needed expensive medical care, and the family withdrew his health insurance as a club to force the two children of Fred Jr. to sign away their inheritance.

At one point in the book, Mary describes how Donald invited her to help him ghostwrite his next book. A professional ghostwriter would have demanded a share of the royalties. He refused to pay her, and when she said she needed money to buy a computer, he told her to ask the publisher. She was never able to figure out what the book was supposed to be about, and eventually she gave up trying.

The book is rich with insight and story of the Trump dynasty, a family led and controlled by a tyrant. The tyrant had only one favorite–Donald–and Fred Sr. rewarded him for his braggadocio, his lying, his cheating, and his willingness to subvert every norm.

Read the book and you will gain a lot of new insight into who this man is. He has no morals, no scruples, no ethics, no principles, no character. Yes, he is capable of shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and talking his way out of it.

He believes in nothing other than the myth of himself that he invented. He is a “self-made” man only in the sense that he believes his own P.R. He was not self-made in business; his father footed the bills and found ways to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to him and his siblings to evade taxes.

After reading this first-person account, I realized that my contempt for this man, which I thought had hit bottom, fell even lower.

 

 

@StanleyKrute shared this story on Twitter, about Rabbi Michael Beals of Delaware and Senator Joe Biden.

About 16 years ago, as a rabbi new to Delaware, Rabbi Beals officiated at the memorial service for an elderly woman, Mrs. Greenhouse. She didn’t have much in the way of worldly goods. She lived in a very small apartment in a high-rise building. Rabbi Beals led a prayer minyan that was conducted in the basement of her building because her apartment was too small to accommodate 10 people.

As the prayer commenced, the door opened and a man quietly entered.

From the tweet:

Toward the end of the service, a door at the back of the laundry room opened; who walks in but Sen. Joe Biden, head lowered, all by himself.

I nearly dropped my prayer book in shock.

Senator Biden stood quietly in the back of the room for the duration of the service.

At the close of the kaddish, I walked over to him and asked the same question that must have been on everyone else’s mind: “Sen. Biden — what are you doing here?”

He said to me: “Back in 1972, when I first ran for Senate, Mrs. Greenhouse gave $18 to my first campaign.

Because that’s what she could afford. And every six years, when I’d run for reelection, she’d give another $18. She did it her whole life. I’m here to show my respect and gratitude.”

Now, the number 18 is significant in the Jewish faith — its numbers spell out the Hebrew word chai, as in “to life, to life, l’chayim!” But it’s also a humble amount. Joe Biden knew that. And he respected that.

There were no news outlets at our service that day — no Jewish reporters or important dignitaries. Just a few elderly mourners in a basement laundry room.

Joe Biden didn’t come to that service for political gain. He came to that service because he has character.

He came to that service because he’s a mensch.

And if we need anything right now when it comes to the leadership of our country — we need a mensch.

I know this is such a simple, small story. But I tell it to as many people as will listen to me.

Character.

Charles Lane explains one of Trump’s basic character flaw: he lacks decency. One of the ceremonial roles of the President is to show compassion and decency in times of trouble. Think of Reagan when the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded, killing all aboard as the nation watched. Think Bill Clinton after the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing. Think Obama after the Newtown massacre. They mourned with the nation and helped us through the tragedy. One thing Trump has been unable to do is to express empathy for those who suffer. To him, they are losers or statistics. 120,000 people have died during the pandemic, more will die, and he can’t find it in him to express concern or caring.

Charles Lane wrote in the Washington Post:

The coronavirus has rekindled interest in “The Plague,” Albert Camus’s haunting and, now, eerily relevant 1947 novel about a fictional fatal epidemic in what was then a French colony in North Africa.

As thousands die and thousands more suffer deprivation and isolation under quarantine, the book’s protagonist, a doctor, explains why he carries on his work: “There’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is — common decency.”

Which brings us to President Trump, and his response to the coronavirus, from his initial belated steps to his rambling attacks on the media at White House briefings to his bizarre remark (an attempt at humor, his staff later said) at Saturday’s rally in Tulsa: Increased testing for the virus is “a double-edged sword” — useful for public health but bad for public relations — so “I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.

In all of it, the missing factor has been decency, which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as “behavior that is good, moral and acceptable in society,” and which, throughout most of previous American political history, presidents have at least pretended to model.

Trump, by contrast, has transgressed his way to the top, tapping — it must be acknowledged — the deep alienation of a swath of society that sees validation for long-ignored grievances in his rule-breaking.

Yet the past three months, since the pandemic disrupted American life and claimed more than 118,000 lives, have shown that Trump’s lack of decency is a matter more of personal character than political calculation. The insults, the self-indulgence, the all-but-explicit racist language — this is just how he rolls.

And now it may be yielding diminishing returns. When the coronavirus hit, the American public, even some who previously opposed him, seemed willing to rally behind Trump in the “war” he announced from his Oval Office desk.

From mid-March through mid-April, polls tended to show relatively high approval for his handling of the virus, including several showing more than 50 percent support.

All he had to do to sustain that was to show real concern; to educate himself on the issues; perhaps to turn the other cheek to a hostile press. Camus’s doctor concluded that common decency “consists in doing my job.” Trump could have, too.

It just wasn’t in him. Instead, at an April 23 White House briefing, he mused crazily about the curative power of sunlight and injected disinfectants, then, when the media called him on it, claimed falsely he was being sarcastic — and his ratings on handling the virus began to fall. Now, 55.3 percent disapprove, according to the RealClearPolitics average.

Common decency, or the lack of it, is also Trump’s Achilles’ heel regarding mass protests against systemic racism that began after George Floyd’s death, for which a former Minneapolis police officer has been charged with murder.
Trump has mouthed healing words scripted by speechwriters — even consoled the Floyd family briefly on the phone. When speaking spontaneously, however, whether on Twitter or at the Tulsa rally, he is venomous and violent, even going so far as to suggest a 75-year-old man who suffered a severe head injury at the hands of Buffalo police may have provoked the assault because he was an anarchist spy.
The American people do not want this. Nearly three-quarters of adults surveyed by YouGov in early June opined that the United States is “out of control.” Sixty-four percent said the solution for this is “bringing people together,” while only 36 percent favored Trump’s approach, “law and order.”

Sixty percent of Americans told the YouGov survey they agree with the words of former defense secretary Jim Mattis, that Trump “does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us.”

This rejection of Trump’s message is especially striking given how uneasy the public was about looting and other violence. Excesses of the new movement such as “cancel culture” also frighten moderate potential allies.

Yet people do not rally to the banner of “law and order” when the man raising it is himself an agent of chaos and conflict.

Even among people who voted for Trump in 2016, almost a quarter agreed that Trump is not even pretending to unite the American people. One-tenth considered him “racist.”
And, of course, only 6,000 supporters showed up for Trump’s Tulsa rally in a 19,000-seat venue, an event that brazenly defied both public health concerns and the sensitivities, still raw since a 1921 massacre of black people in that city, of African Americans.
When it comes to Trump’s character, there’s no realistic prospect of change. For America as a whole, fortunately, there is.