On Taxes and Public Service: Being My Own Pundit

When Ben Franklin remarked that “nothing is certain except death and taxes” he didn’t anticipate the spectacle of a major party candidate bragging about being a tax dodger during a presidential debate. Donald Trump asserted that he was “smart” for not paying federal income tax. To my mind, that’s not smart at all, especially for someone who is supposedly a great business person. He should understand that taxes are our communal  investment in America and that public service is an honorable calling.

Hillary and Trump Debate Public Service

Hillary crosses into Trump territory for the initial hand shake — a varsity wrestling move.

Taxes make it possible to be a great nation. To hold elections. Conduct commerce. Make laws. Taxes pay the heating bills in the House of Representatives. They provide schools to educate workers for Donald Trump to hire. Taxes build roads and subways so people can get to Trump’s job sites. Water and sewer systems to keep Trump’s golf courses green.

Public Service versus Career Politicians

Taxes pay the salaries of public servants, whom Trump derides as “career politicians.” George H. W. Bush (R) had an outstanding public service career, serving as a congressman, ambassador, director of the CIA, vice president, and president. So did Gerald Ford (R), who served in the House for 25 years before becoming vice-president, then president due to the scandals of Richard Nixon, whom Ford pardoned at the expense of his own legacy because it was the right thing to do for the country.

Franklin Roosevelt (D) served in state and federal positions for 35 years. He was elected president a record four times, created the economic miracle that dug us out of the Great Depression, and navigated our nation through the heinous Second World War. Jacob Javits (R-NY) served in Congress for 30 years; Everett Dirksen (R-IL) for 34 and Robert Byrd (D-VW) for 51.

Well, you get the idea. And I get the point that Trump is trying to make, albeit artlessly. But there is a difference between public servants and careerists, just as there is a difference between smart businesspeople and a scofflaw huckster. And Donald Trump is the latter.

To Watch or Not to Watch? Debating the Debates

Years ago, in a very funny book called Parliament of Whores, conservative political satirist P. J. O’Rourke dubbed television news “the fourth branch of government.” That was never more true than now, when 24/7 cable produces pseudo-news hour after hour, in pursuit of eyeballs and clicks. And the industry is salivating over the current election debates.

How television will cover the debates

A satire of politics and Washington

Yes, internet commentary is ubiquitous (and often crazy) but it tends to be more authentic than television because it lacks the pretense of serious journalism beamed out by CNN, Fox and their clones. The endless and shallow commentary offered up by people whose main objective is to sell advertising has worn me out, and I imagine many others too.

So what to do about these debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? Do I watch and grit my teeth as Trump distorts truth with impunity? Shall I sit on the edge of my sofa, stomach in knots, while Hillary is interrogated yet again about “her damn emails?” This morning I thought not. But as the day goes on and the time of the first debate nears, I find myself circling the flame, feeling that it is somehow irresponsible not to watch. Or perhaps I am simply justifying a need for spectacle, like the ancient Romans who flocked to the circus.

The Debates Are a Form of Living History

Hillary Clinton brings ample experience to the debates.

Hillary Clinton speaks at UN Women’s Conference

It doesn’t really matter. Much as I’ve complained about this election, I can’t not be part of history. And it is history, regardless of who wins. Certainly I hope to see Hillary Clinton in the White House, and not because she’s female. I would not lift a finger to elect a Sarah Palin or a Nikki Haley. In fact, I would campaign against them. I want to see Hillary become president because she is a feminist who has always acted on the conviction that women and children matter.

So my solution is to watch the debates, but to boycott the commentary. It’s all biased one way or another and I’ve heard it all by now anyway. I’ll decide for myself who scored points about what, and how I think each candidate performed. I hope other voters will do the same.

P.S. O’Rourke, a traditional conservative, says he is voting for Hillary.

How’s Your Cultural Competence?


Cultural competence helps in herding cats.

We’re all in this together.

My friend Milly jokes, “You’re the last white person I’m educating.” She’s referring to her role in developing my cultural competence. While this is funny, consider the serious issues that underlie her statement. Many people like me, who grow up white and privileged, make assumptions based on our own experience, or the lack thereof.

By “privileged” I don’t mean wealthy. I mean being able to walk into an expensive shop without worrying that the clerk will think you’re shoplifting. Or being able to assume your teenage son can come and go without being shot by police. People of color, on the other hand, don’t have this kind of privilege. Many grow up navigating two different worlds, the world of white privilege and the world of their less privileged, direct experience. They understand our world better than we understand theirs. This is a major handicap if we are unconscious of our privilege.

People of privilege sometimes make assumptions, attribute motivations, or come to conclusions that are inaccurate and possibly detrimental to our teams, projects, and organizations. I was lucky. I worked with people like Milly, who took the time to talk openly with me about issues of race, class, and privilege.

What’s more, we both worked in an organization–the Girl Scouts–whose leaders had the courage to offer safe, structured spaces for this kind of talk to take place. It was the early 1980s, when few workplaces made cultural competence a priority. We didn’t always get it right, and not everyone was on board, but many of us made an honest effort. It paid off for me, not just professionally, but in all aspects of my life.

Make it a point to educate yourself about how best to operate in today’s multicultural workforce. Whatever your racial, ethnic or cultural background, cultivate colleagues who can help you become a more effective teammate and manager by creating a work environment that values diversity. Cultural competence is no longer a skill that is nice to have. It is an attribute that is essential for success in a global economy, even if you never travel beyond the place you were born.