What Yesterday’s Irish Immigrants Tell Us About Today’s Refugees

This week everything around us turns green. We are all proud to be Irish. It is hard to imagine that just over 150 years ago the Irish were refugees disdained for their poverty and their religion. If slavery is the United States’ original sin, the treatment of the Irish is the British’s. Truly past is prologue. Swift’s ‘modest proposal’ could be written today with equal parts sarcasm and horror. We would merely need to insert Muslim refugees or Refugees from our southern border as the main object of the piece. How ironic that now we celebrate the Irish who came here as desperate refugees and we turn our back on our modern plight, which is every bit as real as the ‘great hunger’ as it was called in the 19th century. The same old tired fear-mongering, religious bigotry and xenophobia used to justify punishing the Irish is used today to deny and demonize those in most need.

Approximately 1.5 million Irish immigrated to the United States between 1845 and 1855 forever changing the landscape of this country. Who now looks back on history and thinks we should have denied them from coming? But that’s exactly what we’re doing now to those who need us most. History will look back on this moment as a failure. A failure of morality, courage and human decency. Of the nearly 80 million refugees in the world, half are children. So, for those of us who will wear green and celebrate the Irish, let’s stop a moment and think about what we owe to those impoverished refugees from more than 150 years ago, and what we stand to lose if we don’t live up to our moral obligation to help those that are in such desperation today.

The Truth About Joe Biden

“Joe Biden is a lecherous, bumbling, basement dwelling loser who hasn’t accomplished anything over the last 50 years!” Welcome to election 2020! Let the multi-million dollar smear campaign begin. Of course, none of those characterizations of Mr. Biden is fair or true.  This, sadly, is the state of politics in America. Instead of a campaign about ideas we are engaged in a frenzied food fight of ad hominem attacks, hasty generalizations and insults. This is not new. The Jefferson vs. Adams campaign was brutal as this pithy youtube clip demonstrates. Our hope is that we learn from the past, not repeat it.  

I’m sympathetic to how easy it is to assassinate character. It requires hard work to be informed and cognitive dissonance to navigate the complexity of our time. The easier path weakens the republic, absolves us of our responsibilities, and perpetuates hyper-partisanship. The truth is most politicians are regular people. People who had the audacity to believe that democracy isn’t a spectator sport. We see the most character assaults at the presidential level because it has the highest stakes and the most visibility. 

I’ve followed every presidential race since 1992. In 28 years, there have been two candidates who I actually thought had bad motives: Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. It was clear to me that even though the impeachment of President Clinton was motivated by political opportunism not love of country, his conduct and the cover up were unacceptable. I thought he should have resigned. I was grateful for those in his own party who had the courage and patriotism to condemn his behavior. Likewise, I am proud of Republicans who have decried Mr. Trump. I have written often about Mr. Trump. His motives are very clear and show, time and time again, he is not to be trusted and is a threat to the republic.

I have learned over the years that elections are more like public transportation than weddings. We are not committing ourselves to a soulmate. We are looking for someone who can get us as closer to our destination. So what’s this got to do with Joe Biden? Everything! The contrast between him and his opponent is stark–not just subtle differences in policy but wide chasms of moral character. Yes, I basically share Mr. Biden’s political worldview. More importantly, I believe he has the moral fortitude to help steady the ship of state that has been so badly beaten by the storms of egotism, nationalism, fear and self interest–the guiding stars of the current occupant of the White House. Joe Biden’s years of public service, and faith in God, country and his fellow citizens are even more important than his policy platforms. The truth about Joe Biden is that this election will be more about us than him. A test to see if we have the courage to choose hope over fear and patriotism over polarizing disfunction. I’m not just voting for Joe Biden (which I am proud to do). I’m voting for the future of a republic worth fighting for. 

Donald Trump’s Unprecedented Leadership in Unparalleled Times

I have little patience for armchair quarterbacking. Being a critic is cheap. A crisis like we are seeing with COVID-19 will test all of our leadership skills. Looking for blame will do little to help the situation. Donald Trump and other government leaders are not responsible for this virus. I think we all have to be patient as we work to manage this crisis. No matter how much planning and preparation we do there will always be missteps, miscalculations and mistakes. 

One of the hallmarks of leadership is how one responds under pressure and how one owns the problem. During World War II, President Harry Truman kept a sign in the Oval Office that read “The Buck Stops Here.” Good leaders don’t blame others for problems, they go to work to find solutions. A companion principle is accountability. Leaders are eager to know how and what went wrong so they can fix it. The coronavirus is an unparalleled crisis in our time. It has required unprecedented leadership. 

Mr. Trump has provided unprecedented leadership, but, sadly, it has been unprecedentedly poor leadership. He not only refuses to take any responsibility for the handling of the crisis, he looks for every opportunity to blame others. Instead of “the Buck Stops Here,”  we see a passing of the buck. Blaming and abusing the media, gaslighting the World Health Organization, as well as projecting his own failures on governors and others. He has refused to acknowledge where mistakes have been made and shows a disdain for facts. His press events are more like campaign rallies, filled with lies and scapegoating. His dismissal of the crisis early on, and the lack of tests, health care equipment etc., could be chalked up to understandable mismanagement, if it wasn’t for the constant lies, blaming and shaming (for a thorough time line of Mr. Trumps reactions to the virus check out this three part series from Steven Harper).

Some of you will read this and think I am making a partisan attack. However, a crisis like this cuts through party lines.  Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican in liberal Massachusetts, has had wide bipartisan support during the crisis. So has Andy Beshear, a Democrat in deep red Kentucky, and Larry Hogan, a Republican in liberal Maryland. All of these governors have approval ratings in the 70s or 80s. Republican Governor Herbert of Utah, and Governor DeWine of Ohio have received national bipartisan praise, as have Democratic Governors Cuomo and Newsom of New York and California. Why? Because they have exhibited the kind of leadership that we need in a moment of crisis. 

No doubt there will be a congressional panel that it will look into the national mismanagement of this crisis. Historians and other academics will expose in great detail why our response was so inferior compared to places like Germany, Iceland, Ireland, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and others. We will not need to wait for those reports to confirm what we see everyday coming from the White House: a void of leadership looking to absolve itself of any responsibility or accountability for this crisis.