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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FEATURED SELECTION:

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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ADDITIONAL SELECTIONS:

#1 – Joe Biden’s uplifting inaugural address …

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2021/jan/20/unity-is-the-path-forward-joe-bidens-inaugural-address-in-full-video

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#2 – Amanda Gorman’s inspirational inaugural poem …

https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/politics/100000007561374/poet-amanda-gorman-inauguration.html?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20210121&instance_id=26239&nl=the-morning&regi_id=1518433&segment_id=49887&te=1&user_id=d5db21857560d585c919832c1b387ecd

Current Comment #11

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and social commentary.

Vol 1, No 11 ……… November 28th, 2020

THE WEEK JUST PASSED ~ With the official transition finally under way, President-elect Joe Biden began naming his cabinet nominees, while the second wave of coronavirus infections continued to soar. Yet, amid the swirl of these two fast-moving developments, the country seemed to take a much-needed pause from polarization in order to observe Thanksgiving with a minimal, but still welcome, sense of somberness and gratitude.

The first two selections below represent two different perspectives on Thanksgiving and gratitude – one personal, the other political, and both very apropos for our times. The final selection comes as a wake-up call for liberals, urging us to broaden our perspective beyond the narrow confines of liberalism’s Anglo-American roots – a most timely invitation, as the United States attempts to resume its leadership role in the global community, much of which is still reeling from four years of the Trump administration’s disregard and disrespect.

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Selection #1 – Meghan Markle, the native-born American actress who, as the spouse of Prince Harry, is also the Duchess of Sussex in her adopted country of the United Kingdom, offers a deeply personal appeal for compassion and concern for others. A most welcome reflection for this week of Thanksgiving in this year of widespread suffering …

“When people ask how any of us are doing, and when they really listen to the answer, with an open heart and mind, the load of grief often becomes lighter — for all of us. In being invited to share our pain, together we take the first steps toward healing. So this Thanksgiving, as we plan for a holiday unlike any before — many of us separated from our loved ones, alone, sick, scared, divided and perhaps struggling to find something, anything, to be grateful for — let us commit to asking others, ‘Are you OK?’ As much as we may disagree, as physically distanced as we may be, the truth is that we are more connected than ever because of all we have individually and collectively endured this year.”

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Selection #2 – New York Times opinion columnist Thomas Friedman offers thanks and gratitude to all those who stood firmly on the side of democracy as Trump and his enablers continuously sought to subvert it during these past three weeks following the election …

“We should be truly thankful this Thanksgiving that — after Donald Trump spent the last three weeks refusing to acknowledge that he’d lost re-election and enlisted much of his party in a naked power play to ignore the vote counts and reinstall him in office — we had a critical mass of civil servants, elected officials and judges who did their jobs. It was their collective integrity, their willingness to stand with ‘Team America,’ not either party, that protected our democracy when it was facing one of its greatest threats — from within. History will remember them fondly.”

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Selection #3 – Indian essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra examines the limitations of the Anglo-American tradition of liberalism, which has historically ignored all cultures but its own, and now finds itself unable to respond meaningfully to the global political and social crises of our time …

“[The] narrative of a US-led global journey to the promised land was always implausible. Four years of Trump have finally clarified that between 2001 and 2020—and through such events as the terrorist attacks of September 11, intensified globalization, the rise of China concurrent with the failed war on terror, and the financial crisis—the world was moving into an entirely new historical period. Moreover, in this phase, many ideas and assumptions dominant for decades were rapidly becoming obsolete. Today, those who insisted that there was no practical alternative to Western-style liberal democracy and capitalism have no concepts with which to explain how China, a Communist-ruled country, became central to global networks of trade and finance; how India, ostensibly the ‘world’s largest democracy’ and fastest-growing economy, as well as a counterweight to China, came to be ruled by Hindu supremacists inspired by European fascist movements of the 1920s; and how electorates angered by dysfunctional democracy and capitalism at home empowered far-right demagogues.  The laments and exhortations of a still largely white, male, and middle-aged commentariat bring to mind James Baldwin’s verdict that ‘the white man’s world, intellectually, morally, and spiritually, has the meaningless ring of a hollow drum and the odor of slow death.’ A new way to understand the forces at play is urgently needed.” 

https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2020/11/19/liberalism-grand-illusions/

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THE WEEK AHEAD ~ The transition to a Biden administration should pick up speed, as his advisors and appointees begin to engage with their counterparts in the outgoing administration, and as the United States prepares to re-engage with the global community after four wasted years of Trump’s misguided “America First” approach.

As always, take good care of yourselves and stay well … Tom 

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