Death and Life

This past weekend was the first Greater Good Gathering – something I hope will become not just an annual event but part of a larger initiative to promote the “greater good” globally.  What does this mean?  I’ll be discussing that in more detail in several articles and in a future update – but you can already read this coverage of the conference:

Greater Good Conference Holds Inaugural Gathering

A Gathering Seeks Levers to Rebuild Common Good

In my own remarks at the conference, I defined my view of “the greater good” as something not partisan or ideological, but rather simply “advancing the good of others than just yourself.”  Below is one of the “graphic illustrations” from the conference, summarizing my remarks.

A similar theme was struck by our keynote speaker, Martin Luther King III:



As I discussed in my piece this week for US News & World Report, Live More Life, “For me, this has always been the basis for a particular concern with justice and fairness.”  The article relates these “macro” issues to more personal concerns that start from my learning during the conference that one of our cats was dying.  “I’ve come to see these passings as less about the awesome finality of death than the wonder of life,” I wrote, which takes us to the heart of this week’s missive:

[W]e can and must make the most of the time we have.  The literary critic Harold Bloom, in his interpretation of “The Book of J,” one of the main source documents of what we now know as the Hebrew Bible, focuses on the image of King David.…  Despite (if not, indeed, because of) his all-too-human failings – his passion not just for God, but also for conquest, for women, for all around him – David personified an ethos of “more life” that Bloom explicates from all the “J” text as God’s central aim.  That doesn’t necessarily mean more years, but it does mean that the purpose of life is to wring as much from those years as possible.

But living life fully cannot possibly mean living life selfishly:  To confine one’s concerns to one’s self is to limit oneself even more in time and space than the constraints nature already imposes on us.  Why would one do that?  In fact, my greatest concern for our country in this time of Donald Trump is not the repugnance that flows from Trump himself, but rather that a near-majority of Americans would embrace an ethos that concerns itself with nothing but the self….

People often shrug at injustice with the words, “Life isn’t fair.”  Well, no, it isn’t.  But while life itself places conditions upon us, our unique intelligence and moral sense give us the ability to transcend those constraints, to make life, and the world around us, more fair.  To do so – not just for ourselves, but even more so for others – is how we, too, pursue “more life.”  We ought all weep those times we cannot.

This piece was, in many ways, an unintended bookend to my reaction to the Las Vegas shootings that appeared two weeks ago.  As I noted at the very beginning of Change Our Violent Culture, “Las Vegas made one thing clear:  No matter the size of the massacre, nothing will lead to gun control legislation in this country.”  But, I continued, “frankly, I don’t think we have a violent society because guns are readily available:  Rather, guns are readily available because we are a violent society.  That’s what really needs to change.”  After a discussion of the constitutional and practical impediments to stricter gun laws, I turned to my central argument:

[U]ltimately, combating antisocial behavior, whether words or weapons, is, as conservatives like to assert, a matter of culture more than law….  This goes for everyone:  If you’re stockpiling death-dealing weaponry, you’re part of the problem, not the solution.  But if you patronize violent movies, buy products that advertise on violent TV shows, let your kids play violent video games, honor singers of violent lyrics, or vote for politicians who cynically promote firearms in bars and schools while banning them (for obvious reasons) from the government buildings where they work, then you’re part of the problem, too.

Because a nation that acted like shooting people is wrong, every day, wouldn’t also experience a mass shooting virtually every day.

I’m heartened that surprisingly large numbers of people seem to see the Greater Good initiative as a ray of hope in an otherwise dark time.  Because, as always, where there’s life, there’s hope.

As usual, I welcome your comments below!

Sign up HERE to get my blogs directly to your inbox! Get the latest news and analysis of current events and public policy.


Hurricane Donald

In the past month, I’ve written a trifecta of articles on a diverse set of issues in the news – the cultural divide within the country, international relations, Puerto Rico’s needs.  But they all have one thing in common: the destructive nature of Donald Trump.  Here are the highlights – but first a reminder:


Check out the incredible line up of Speakers and register TODAY! Space is limited.



Let’s start with Puerto Rico, which I wrote about this week in US News & World Report.  I’ve spent a lot of time in Puerto Rico in the last several years, working on the Commonwealth’s fiscal situation and economy.  Puerto Rico offers – as did New Orleans, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina – an unusual opportunity for creative solutions, some of which I discuss in this article.

These will require resources.  Yet Trump uttered “jaw-dropping comments in Puerto Rico itself” like, “It’s a great trip. Your weather is second to none,” while complaining that “You’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack.”  The headline on the piece, Trump’s Past, Puerto Rico’s Future, doesn’t quite lay on the irony as thickly as I’d intended, but here’s the main argument:

How did Trump recover from the unmitigated disaster of his own financial choices? By declaring bankruptcy, refusing to pay his bills and restructuring in ways that left him an income and everyone else with the debts. Instead of railing against the Puerto Ricans for their failure to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, in this instance Trump for once actually could profitably offer his preferred example for everything: himself.

… Puerto Rico needs a fresh chance to restructure operations, escape its debt, obtain massive new infusions of cash, and rebrand itself as a leader. And it needs all the rest of us to be complicit in that. Just as Donald Trump did.

This begins to get at the point that Trump’s personal brand of dysfunctionality both epitomizes and drives virtually all the spiraling challenges facing the country today. The State of Nation-States is a somewhat academic piece tackling “a point Trump made in passing” in his speech to the United Nations: “that, as he put it, ‘the nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition.’”  This proposition is debatable because the original impetus for the nation-state “was to reduce violence at the international level … while giving nation-states explicit and unlimited control over violence within their borders – not simply policing against violence but wielding it against their own citizens however they see fit.”  Until a year or so ago, most Americans and Europeans would have agreed with “circumscrib[ing] the rights of nations to do whatever they want to the peoples within their borders” – i.e., “human rights” – but global changes are making many more sympathetic to authoritarian regimes.

The new virtual economy leapfrogs borders and generates changes that are leaving many behind economically and undermining aspects of their lives that they until now have taken for granted. For those less globally connected, the threats – physical, cultural, religious and economic (as well as cosmopolites who don’t seem to mind all those) – all seem associated with territoriality. The traditional nation-state therefore appears to be their bulwark, forging an odd, new coalition between traditionalists in cutting-edge economies and repressive states with extractive economies – personified in the rise of Donald Trump.

That takes me to the piece I grappled with for weeks and rewrote multiple times in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville and Trump’s kulturkampf reaction to it – The Rise of Zero-Sum Politics – which concluded:

For all the Hitler comparisons, Trump is really more reminiscent of Mao: Besides seething resentment and authoritarianism, Mao’s most notable personality trait was a constant need to throw everything around him into chaos. Having fractured the Republican Party into its constituent parts and driven a wedge between them, Trump, with his unerring sense for disruption, now has embraced the opposition.

I ended with a perhaps implausible prediction:  Eventually, “Trump will endorse some form of single-payer health care plan” – not because he supports the idea (he obviously has no clue on health policy), but rather because “it would wipe Obamacare off the books” and “rupture the Democrats as badly as he has already his own party.”  We’ll see if I’m right.

As usual, I welcome your comments below!