Selections (3)

A periodic roundup of selected political opinion and social commentary, reflecting the political values of liberalism and the ethical values of Buddhism.

Vol 2, No 3 ……… February 1st, 2021

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In a recent newsletter to his email subscribers, New York Times opinion columnist Frank Bruni marveled at what he described as Joe Biden’s “generous” comments about his predecessor Donald Trump. Since generosity is one of the three core ethical virtues espoused by Buddhism (the other two being compassion and wisdom), and since the primary theme of this occasional feature on The Liberal Buddhist blog is the common values promoted by liberalism and Buddhism, Bruni’s comments are offered in their entirety as this issue’s featured selection …

“Today I’m going to reach back to the day of President Joe Biden’s inauguration. How good it feels to write that! President Joe Biden. We needed a change, and now we have it, and the rightness of this particular one was captured not just in his excellent inauguration speech but also in other words and gestures of his in the hours just before and after that address.

I’ll focus on three unscripted sentences shortly after 5 p.m., when a small group of journalists were on hand for his signing of several executive orders in the Oval Office. One of them asked about the content of a letter that President Donald Trump — who actually followed tradition in this instance — left Biden. There’d been doubt that Trump would do so. “The president wrote a very generous letter,” Biden said. “Because it was private, I will not talk about it until I talk to him. But it was generous.”

Generous. The word grabbed me, and not because Biden used it twice. For starters, “generous” perfectly describes Biden’s response to the question he was asked. He could simply have declined to characterize the letter, citing etiquette and discretion. He certainly wasn’t under any obligation to compliment and essentially thank Trump, not after Trump refused to accept the legitimacy of Biden’s election, spread conspiracy theories and fomented violence. Trump was intent on making Biden’s transition into the presidency as rocky as possible and bequeathing him a country almost impossible to govern.

Biden nonetheless went out of his way to be big. To be kind. He placed Trump, of all people, in proximity to “generous,” when our former president (it feels good to write that phrase, too!) is anything but. Ever since Election Day, Biden hasn’t merely been urging civility. He’s been modeling it, despite a magnitude of ugliness and absurdity from Trump and his Republican enablers that has tested it at every turn. It’s a monumental feat of discipline. It’s the epitome of grace.

And it’s the definition of, well, generosity, which is as good a one-word summary of what America and Americans need right now as any other. We need it from our president. We need it from other political leaders. We need it most of all from ourselves.

I don’t chiefly mean material generosity, though there’s a strong argument right now for government spending well beyond the norm and there’s a call for those Americans who have not been financially hobbled by the coronavirus pandemic to lift up those who have. I mean emotional generosity, spiritual generosity, the kind that puts proper value on the public interest and the common good; the kind that recognizes the trap of endless, boundless rancor; the kind that acknowledges human flaw while rooting hard for human redemption. It doesn’t downgrade the importance of accountability, punishment, justice. It integrates that into the mapping of a place where we can most successfully fix all that needs fixing.

Generously, President Joe Biden is trying to point us there.”

You can sign up for Frank Bruni’s weekly email newsletter here.

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#1 – Joe Biden’s uplifting inaugural address …

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#2 – Amanda Gorman’s inspirational inaugural poem …