Encountering America's rape culture

By Tom Ehrich

My first close encounter with America’s disturbing rape culture was the Sunday morning I joined a protest outside a shabby house across from Duke University’s freshman campus.

This house was where a group of varsity lacrosse players had indulged their locker room fantasies by gang-raping a woman from the Durham, NC, community.

This was before helicopter parents from the rich suburbs where lacrosse is a tribal sport swooped in, lawyers in tow, to protect their precious boys from any consequences. They threatened, they intimidated, and a weak university administration backed down.

After all, the woman was black. She was an exotic dancer being paid for a sexy performance. Maybe she was a prostitute. Maybe a drug user. Maybe even delusional. With that resume, the team’s brutal treatment of her lost its urgency. As the saying goes in rape culture, “she was asking for it.”

All that would come out later. On this Sunday morning, a crowd of mostly women shouted down the clueless lacrosse guys. They were outraged by this incident. Even more, they were outraged by systemic violation of women at this allegedly prestigious university.

One woman in five, they said, would be sexually abused before she graduated. They would be abused by their dates, by classmates and by strangers. No place on campus was safe. And the university seemed not to care.

That statistic – one in five – shocked me, naïve white male that I was. I couldn’t conceive of such abuse, or understand why the school averted its eyes from a moral crisis and, at a level that might hit them closer to home, a pile of lawsuits waiting to happen. Where were the fathers? I wondered. Where were the upstanding young men who should be protecting their fellow students? Why was a binge-drinking and date-rape culture so casually allowed?

I had lunch with a friend who served mid-level in the Duke bureaucracy. He was horrified, too, but he said nothing would come of it. The university courts rich families. It couldn’t be seen as holding their children accountable. He seemed sad as he told me this, as if the school to which he was giving his professional life had now been unmistakably revealed as corrupt.

Indeed, nothing did come of it. By the time high-priced legal talent and indignant parents were done with her, the rape victim had been made the villain. The lacrosse louts were the good guys.

Women know this story. Many men know it, as themselves victims and as people who care about what happens to women. They recoil at Donald Trump’s casual bitch-assault scenarios. What I saw on that Sunday morning was that many women have had enough. Trump’s wink-wink defense – just “locker room banter,” just guys being guys – has backfired. He has been revealed not only as a sexual predator, but as the poster child for a national collapse in mutual respect. This is the face of the corruption that women have been talking about.

One woman started a Twitter campaign to let women tell of their first experience of sexual abuse. Millions of women have written They describe being fondled at age 10, age 12, age 14 by friends, family, strangers on buses, strangers on the street. The remarkable thing is how unremarkable those stories become after you read dozens of them, let alone millions. This, it seems, is the way of the world for women.

It is nothing new. Plantation owners raped slave girls. Power does what it wants. Getting food by enduring a grope or paying the rent by enduring rape happened to immigrant women and poor women. Groping at the office, we now know, was common once women entered office culture, first as underlings and now as equals in everything but sexual power. Incest of girls happens at the rate of one in four (and, for boys, one in six).

The difference now is that we know the stories, and women who once felt powerless have claimed their power. Now it is a campaign issue, not just a delicate dance for a politician’s biographer. It is a moral crisis with names, stories, details, aftershocks.

Trump keeps trying to change the subject. But one woman after another stands up to tell of his predatory behavior. One right-wing rally after another is recorded and its ugliness laid bare. In corporate culture, where jobs are at risk, women are speaking out against abusers. In time, men who care about women will stand with them.

A quick grab at the water cooler won’t fly. Nor will intimidation by armed right-wing “observers” at the polls. As African-Americans keep telling us, once an oppressed people tastes freedom and dignity, it won’t go back to former days.



On kneeling during the National Anthem

By Tom Ehrich

I am not a high school football player. So I won’t be facing a decision about whether to stand or kneel during the National Anthem at Friday’s game.

But I understand the movement that a San Francisco 49ers quarterback began when he took a knee during the anthem to protest racism in American life. The Times looked at a school in Colorado where Black and Hispanic students see racism every day in how they are treated, and now many players are following Colin Kaepernick’s lead. So are student athletes across the country.

Many adults support them. Many are outraged by what they see as disrespect for flag, anthem and nation. In Texas (where else?) death threats have been aimed at kneeling players.

I was 18 once, of course, and our moment of decision was the Vietnam War. Many fought in that war as an expression of their patriotism. Many protested the war and fought to end it, also as an expression of patriotism. Although the right-wing tried to narrow the definition of “patriotism” to nothing more than support for the war, those of us on the protesting side were doing so out of our love of country, our belief that a nation must be just in its dealings, and our belief in democratic ideals.

It was like the battles in Christianity. Fundamentalists try to define other points of view out of existence. They view diversity as inherently erroneous, especially when it threatens their franchise. In fact, faith takes many forms, and two people arguing heatedly about the will of God might both be guided by Scripture, tradition and reason, both be expressing a deep and abiding faith, but saying different, contradictory things.

The anthem protests are another in a long history of protests that a free people pursue and their opponents try to stop. The same has been true when workers organized labor unions, when women demanded the right to vote and to manage their own lives, when people insisted on reading whatever books they wanted, and people pursued inventions that others said were wrong.

The forces of resistance to change and diversity, and those who demand special status for whites or the wealthy or whatever group they belong to, will always try to strip away the freedom and dignity of those holding opposing views. Instead of asking what life experience causes a black quarterback to protest racism, they defame him as anti-American.

Patriotism, like love and respect, cannot be compelled. It must be felt deeply, and to some extent it must be earned. If you believe your nation has gone astray, the patriotic thing to do is say so and seek a better path, as you understand better. This is the push-pull of a vibrant democracy.

It is always easier to demonize opposing viewpoints and to say, as Trump is saying, Vote for me or else. Many will gladly pick up their assault rifles to provide the “or else.” But true patriotism expects disagreement, values disagreement, and will defend both sides in a disagreement.

In a democracy, every voice counts, not just the ones that sound like yours. And every posture during the National Anthem must be allowed, from the quarterback kneeling to the veteran saluting to the mockers hoisting brews.



Wise counsel on "Being Mortal"

By Tom Ehrich

My personal librarian – a/k/a my beloved wife – ordered a book for us both to read. It is having a big impact in our home.

The book is “Being Mortal,” by a surgeon and Harvard medical professor named Atul Gawande. The Times described it as “a personal meditation on how we can better live with age-related frailty, serious illness and approaching death.”

I have many pages to go, but I can share a couple of early takeaways:

First, the medical profession struggles to deal with aging. The number of people practicing geriatric medicine is actually shrinking, even as the number of people entering the realm of geriatric care is burgeoning. It seems, the author suggests, that prospective physicians aren’t attracted to a field where much of the work is boring and where the fix-it-at-all-costs dynamic of modern medicine doesn’t pertain.

Second, much of end-of-life medicine should be about handling the end of life, not trying to forestall it. Our bodies wear out, he says. Later and later, of course, but the end does come. Not because aging is a problem that should have been solved, not because someone failed, rather just because that’s the way we are made.

For some the end stages happen suddenly with no apparent warning, like the sudden downward plunge of a roller-coaster. For others the final stages are a gradual downward slope, perhaps with occasional ups among the downs, but inevitably trending to zero (or what a person of faith would call “victory.”) There’s no predicting which will be our experience.

What I take from this for now is that my work is to live as fully as I can. Skip the morbid fascination with twinges and changes in appearance. Just live. Let my hair go gray. Try to keep my weight in check but not expect a 20-year-old’s buff physique. Understand that some things will happen – like losing teeth, losing some flexibility and dexterity, seeing poorly. Just press on to do my work as long as I feel like working, maintain my property as long as I am able, and use my mind, body and faculties fully.

I found his counsel helpful. Our culture’s obsession with youthfulness doesn’t help anyone. It makes an idol of those who are young, slim and beautiful. It makes middle-age feel like a defeated army in retreat. And it makes elderly years and old-age feel like mistakes. All ages should be about dreaming, taking risks, learning and growing. All should be about purpose and making a difference in the world.



Courage vs. Cowardice

By Tom Ehrich

On the eve of the presidential debates, I attended a church supper and meeting to chart our future course and possible capital expansion. Conversations revealed the difference between courage and cowardice.

One talked about her cancer. One talked about her lesbian daughter’s difficulties in getting launched as an adult. One voiced grave concern for the difficulties refugees face in trying to enter the US. One talked about declining population and rising average age in our valley. One talked about loneliness among seniors. One talked about poverty among children and their dysfunctional home lives. One talked about how she, at age 58, is starting over in her career. One talked about nutritional deficits in the valley touching more lives than ever. One talked about people needing places to find sanctuary in a noisy world.

Not a single one voiced a need to “make America great again.” America is already great, and this valley is proof of it. Not that it is Elysium, but that it contains people doing their best to make life work for themselves and their neighbors.

The issues they face are substantial: inadequate employment, a raging epidemic of heroin addiction, declining school enrollment, the lingering effects of corporate greed in farm labor, inadequate housing for seniors, and a gap between well-to-do weekenders and a struggling year-round population.

Their response? Not to “take arms against a sea of troubles,” not to shout in crazed rage against imagined enemies, not to cry out for a demagogue, not to hope for magical solutions in Washington or in Albany, not to shower blame on political opponents as if they were the only ones who could act and therefore they are to blame for everything that is wrong.

Their response is to act. This is our valley, these are our families and neighbors, and we can do something about it. Not in swaggering survivalist bluster, but in a quiet conviction that faithful people can make a difference. We can’t do everything, but we can do something. Others can act, too. There is no reason why a single child must enter school each day hungry. There is no reason why a single senior should be buried alive in loneliness and lack of purpose.

If our children aren’t learning enough, we can teach them. If local businesses are struggling, we can shop local. If people feel lost, we can go to them, and we can invite them closer. No, we can’t solve every problem or touch every life. But we can act, not just howl at the moon.

The gap between the political class and its allies in the ownership class and the people who actually live, move and have their being in America is staggering. They are looking for ways to amass more power and wealth and to protect owners from accountability. The people are looking for ways to help each other – help that includes counteracting the destruction caused by politicians and owners.

Sure, some religious communities huddle safely inside and glower smugly at the world. Most, however, look for ways to help. Some bigots are thrilled to have rallies where they can shout their hatred. Most people, however, want to make life better – yes, for themselves, but also for others.

I think we underestimate how community-minded Americans tend to be. And how brave. The right-wing wants to paint us as frightened, isolationist and just as self-serving as they are. In fact, most Americans are struggling bravely with the very problems that politicians like Trump want to blame on scapegoats. They struggle, they do their best, they look out for each other, and they remain reasonably optimistic. That is courage. Bellowing bigotry isn’t courage. It’s the face of cowardice.

Courage is dealing with cancer. Courage is being oneself in a challenging world. Courage is giving one’s resources away. Courage is imagining solutions to real-world problems and then pitching in. Courage is preparing food for a hungry child even as your own larder is bare. Courage is preparing for a hard winter by sharing fuel with others. Courage is entering the home of a lonely senior and staying for a while.

Bluster isn’t courage. Calls to violence, insults, lies and going home each night to luxury aren’t courage. They are the face of cowardice.



When a defender of democracy loses its way

By Tom Ehrich

American democracy is in peril when some of its key defenders lose their way.

Many work to defend American democracy. Voters who vote, of course, as well as our large and complex legal system, from judges to enforcement personnel, plus an educational system that enables citizens to process complex information, and the men and women in uniform who defend our freedoms.

But nothing surpasses the defense provided by a free press and especially by a handful of news enterprises: The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, a few other newspapers, a small handful of magazines such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic, and a few online news teams.

They dig for truth and hold candidates and officeholders accountable. If one candidate brags that he has been a huge success as a businessman but the record shows a consistent string of failures, bankruptcies, stiffing vendors and employees, fraudulent enterprises, and bullying government officials, a free press lets us know. What citizens choose to do with this information is a great imponderable, of course. Many denounce the media for reporting it. But nothing will be healthy if the facts aren’t known.

A free press enables all citizens to listen in on a political campaign rally or a debate and to draw our own individual conclusions. We aren’t limited to what the candidates say in ads and puffball interviews.

An effective free press provides the same fact-based, unfettered and bold coverage of the economy and its key players, education and what students are actually experiencing, and popular culture as it shapes our values and awareness.

Perhaps the single most worrisome phenomenon of this election system isn’t the demagoguery of Donald Trump. It’s the failure of The New York Times to cover this campaign effectively, with insight and perspective, and to help voters understand what is going on. Following a foolish doctrine of “false equivalence,” The Times has led the way in giving Trump a free pass on the dangerous, fraudulent, fascistic content of his campaign.

Fortunately, The Times sees its errors. Investigative reporting of Trump’s background and business enterprises has intensified. Last week, the paper demoted its Washington bureau chief for the paper’s poor political coverage. This morning, columnist Nicholas Kristof said, “We owe it to our readers to signal when we’re writing about a crackpot.” He said, “We should be guard dogs, not lap dogs, and when the public sees Trump as more honest than Clinton, something has gone wrong.”

Political coverage is more than a scorecard, more than reporting on poll results, more than naming the odds of who will win, as if American democracy were a pro football weekend. The woods and web are filled with shouts and outrage, conspiracy theories and invective of the basest sort. In this storm of one-sided words that are unhinged from fact, reason and civility, our democracy depends on at least a few news enterprises telling us the truth.

Democracy requires an informed and engaged electorate. The blizzard of lies, conspiracy theories, threats and bigotry don’t constitute “informed.” It’s important to know when a lie is a lie, a conspiracy theory is nonsense, a threat violates civil and human rights, and bigotry trespasses on American values.

Most news enterprises won’t tell us any of that. We depend on a handful of serious news organizations to remember their reason for existing.



The destructive allure of "bubble thinking"

By Tom Ehrich

Ever witnessed “bubble thinking”? Here’s what it looks like.

It looks like Apple trying to get away with a minor upgrade to its iPhone and Apple Watch, an upgrade that barely moved the needle on performance, features or design, and yet was labeled courageous and exciting. Only someone living inside the Apple fan-boy bubble could be fooled by a new color for the iPhone – shiny black, easy to scratch, costing $749 and up – and a new ceramic band for the watch.

Tech critics wondered if Apple had simply run out of ideas. I doubt that. Bubble thinking isn’t about ideas, it’s about living in the echo-chamber of self-reinforcing perceptions and making too much of the incremental nudge that the guy next to you considers a game-changer.

“Bubble thinking” looks like the absurd theater that NBC put forward when it sent an entertainment anchor to moderate policy interviews with presidential candidates. The result, even NBC admitted, was a “disaster.” The outclassed anchor proved himself unprepared and incompetent. With tough-as-nails, highly informed Rachel Maddow available for the event, NBC chose lightweight Matt Lauer. That’s “bubble thinking.”

“Bubble thinking” looks like the Trump campaign, in which an uninformed candidate tries to capture the White House with bullying, invective, bigotry-flogging, and a torrent of lies that defy real-time fact-checkers. His vocal fans love the show and have no interest in facts, policies or democratic principles. They just love getting permission to shout hatred. Trump’s bubble rallies are hothouse events that only like-minded souls are allow to attend, where Trump shouts, the people shout and Trump turns their shouts into ad hoc pronouncements.

“Bubble thinking” looks like high season at the Hamptons on Long Island, and its counterparts in other urban areas, where extremely wealthy people enjoy supremely precious time parading in expensive tribal costumes and talking passionately about things that don’t matter, and then return to boardrooms and law firms determined to grab even more wealth from a struggling economy so that they can do it again next summer.

“Bubble thinking” looks like a $5 million fifth-floor walkup apartment in lower Manhattan. It looks like a $200,000 college education that provides no skills or mental toughness for jobs that actually exist.

Inside the bubble, people don’t deal with facts or truth. They deal with what they want to earn, not the value of what they do. They deal with the promise of great wealth if they can scam the market quickly enough, not the long-term damage done by fraudsters. They love the excitement of high-octane collaboration and don’t stop to ask if their efforts accomplish any worthwhile purpose. They love the money and the toys and don’t ask about real costs and real benefits.

Inside the bubble, fooling people matters more than serving people. Getting elected matters more than strengthening democracy. Having power matters more than using power for the good. Keeping the doors open matters more than doing anything worthwhile inside them. The interests of shareholders matter more than the employees who create the wealth and customers who buy the product.

Bubbles are enticing, and yet they always burst. Sometimes dramatically like the dot-com bust around 1999 or the bursting of the housing bubble in 2007 and beyond. Sometimes in sad middle-of-the-night abandonment, like the poorly managed company that raids pension funds, borrows heavily, and then closes its doors with little warning and no accountability. Sometimes the bubble bursts in a house that won’t sell, a product that falls short of hype while it’s still being financed, or a commencement ceremony where highly paid administrators dispense expensive degrees to graduates burdened with debt, and then send them out to a job market that isn’t fooled by their diplomas.

If Trump can keep his bubble intact long enough to capture the presidency, the bursting of it will be epic, tragic and dangerous. But it will burst. We can be sure of that. Bubbles always burst. Bubble thinking always loses out to reality.

For example, the Matt Lauer/NBC bubble didn’t last even the length of his show. Even as he cowered before the bully, knowledgeable reporters and analysts were calling Lauer to account. The aftermath was blistering. His career is down the tubes. In the end, Lauer’s apparent intention to embarrass Clinton and to build up fellow entertainer Trump backfired and had the opposite effect.

The moral: don’t mess with bubbles. They don’t last, and they do great damage when they burst. Better to see reality, tell truth, and accept the ups and downs of accountability.



Labor Day: Jesus' kind of holiday

By Tom Ehrich

If work were compensated according to its value to society, trash haulers would earn bigtime and bankers would earn less. Schoolteachers would earn more than administrators and way more than attorneys.

Those who assemble cars would earn more than those who design them. Nurses, ER docs and first-responders would earn more than Big Pharma executives. Hospice staff would earn more than the Big Tobacco executives who dispensed cancer-sticks. Plumbers would earn more than hedge fund managers. And so it would go.

Labor Day, of course, is our annual reminder that we don’t live in a just and rational world. We live in a world where the ownership class lords it over those whose backs, hands, imaginations and minds actually create wealth. Labor Day exists as a celebration of organized labor, which the right wing excoriates as socialist, communist, and welfare for the lazy, but in fact are the ones building the nation. And the ones fighting its wars. And the ones paying its taxes.

A healthy system needs all of us, owners and workers, those amassing capital for factory construction and those working in those factories and those selling its products and those buying those products. We don’t live in such a system, where all are appreciated and treated fairly. Greed has run the table.

Some religious folks will fuss about Labor Day being called a “holiday,” because it isn’t actually a “holy-day.” I disagree. If any holiday could catch the imagination of Jesus, it would be Labor Day. For workers and the one-down were his constituency. The wealthy had no need for him. In fact, they resented him.

An estimated two-thirds of Jesus’ teaching were about wealth and power. A holiday that honors rank-and-file workers and calls the owner class to account is exactly what Jesus had in mind.




By Tom Ehrich


I am about to undertake what is called a “fork.”

One direction will be a continuation of the writing I have been doing for many years. Daily On a Journey meditations, a Weekly Essay, the Church Wellness Report, and regular blogposts on faith, ethics and politics. Plus Fresh Day online magazine.

The new direction will be a focus on aging. Now that I have turned 70, it seems time to write about aging and to offer resources that will help you in your aging and/or in your role as a caregiver or pastor.

I have created two new web sites: is a personal site that will provide access to all that I am writing and a blog on what I am learning about aging. is a site offering resources, links, useful writings, poems, videos and other tools that pertain to aging. I will publish a weekly newsletter containing those resources.

Both sites are launched, but with little material on them yet.

I would like to start sending blog and newsletter to all of my readers, to give you a glimpse of what I am doing. Eventually, I will invite you to join targeted mailing lists. For now, just enjoy and send me your feedback. (Send to

May I take this opportunity to tell you how much I appreciate your interest in my writing? I spend much of my workday in writing – a never-ending struggle to marshal my thoughts, find words to express them, and get them out to interested readers. Knowing that you are out there and reading my pieces makes a huge difference.



Saying No to evil

By Tom Ehrich

Some years ago, I made two new friends through Cursillo. Later they transferred to my parents’ church, so I saw them on visits home.

Lovely people.

The other day I opened my Facebook newsfeed and found a friend request from one of them. I was happy to oblige, though I did wonder, Aren’t we already friends on Facebook? It’s hard to keep track on social media.

Almost immediately I got a Facebook message from her: “Hello.” I don’t normally respond to Facebook messages. She tried again a day later. This time I said, “Hi.” She asked how I was doing. I said, “Great.” She asked what I planned to do today. I said, “Work.”

I usually rise above the monosyllabic. But this exchange sounded canned. Sure enough, her next message asked, “Have you heard the good news?”

There it was, the “good news” scam. If I kept going, the writer would eventually tell me about a Federal program to give away money, if I would just follow their instructions. I replied that I found it “sordid” that this person had hacked my friend’s account and was trying a scam. No response from the other end.

Same thing happened the other day, when another friend’s Facebook account got hacked by a “good news” scammer. I confronted them, and they backed off.

I don’t mind playing this game. It’s interesting, in an odd way. But I do find it sordid that a promising social medium like Facebook has become such a cesspool of scams, attacks posts, lies, bullying and partisan demagoguery.

I have wanted to use Facebook to disseminate information about my writing and to build my subscriber base. But I wonder. What do I lose by being associated with a cesspool? I work hard on my writing and try to use my words to draw people closer to God and to their own best selves. Does using Facebook implicitly lump me in with the scammers and predators?

It’s confusing. My family is on Facebook. Many longtime friends are there. I see photos of my grandchildren and read updates on lives I care about. But in and around this good stuff come the Oakley ads, the “good news” scams, the attacks and deceit from Breitbart and the right-wing, the outlandish claims about partisan enemies, and the vile nastiness of racists.

It’s like standing on a street corner as a Klan parade goes by. The parade isn’t about me, but it’s there, crowding my field of vision. I can tune it out, but it’s still there, the stench of evil bypassing my filters.

I stay on Facebook, though with diminished expectations of any personal or commercial benefit. I just think it’s important that I not hide from the stench of evil. I think we all need to look evil in the face and say, No.

I think we need to read reports from inside Trump rallies and hear the hatred on display and the threats to kill journalists once their candidate is elected. That is evil, not responsibler partisan polityical expression.

The time to confront evil is right away – early in its rise if possible, the first time you see it, or when the stench becomes overwhelming. Evil doesn’t just evaporate. Evil spreads as far and as fast as we allow it to spread.

Say it early, or say it late, but a resounding NO must be said. Evil won’t stop until decent people push back.



Freedom will carry the day

By Tom Ehrich

Some days my caller is “Julia,” who is excited that I have been pre-approved for a $250,000 business loan. Other days it is “Lisa,” who’s calling to congratulate me on winning some “reward” for having visited an unnamed web site.

Another “Lisa” has great news about boosting my credit score. (What is it about the name “Lisa”? Is it like the deliberate errors in spelling and grammar in a “Nigerian letter”: a sign that my caller is a simple-minded girl whom I can outwit? First cousin, of course, to the car salesman who is smarter than I will ever be about hawking overpriced cars.)

I quickly block the incoming number on my iPhone, but these clever ladies must have several hundred phone numbers available to them. Today’s call by “Julia” was from some hamlet in New Jersey.

Their automated scripts apparently were written by the sadist who moonlights as a customer service manager at Microsoft. His mission is to make customer service so maddening that I will never call Microsoft again. Interesting approach to supporting product.

Then there’s the thoughtful person who hacks a friend’s Facebook account and sends me a message asking if I have heard the “good news.” As you know, good news isn’t a staple on social media, so maybe this is a break in the caustic flow. Alas, it turns out to be a scam for getting free government money.

So here I sit with an iPhone 6 Plus, the current acme of technological advancement at the largest company in the world. Its main telephonic function is opening the door to telemarketers masquerading as ebullient easy-to-fool girls just aching to help me solve life problems like my credit score. How did several thousand brilliant minds get sidetracked onto this trivial pursuit?

But no matter. If Apple can convince people to buy a high-end smartphone product that hasn’t been significantly improved in three years, that’s their business. If Microsoft can build customer loyalty through wretched customer service, more power to them. If Facebook can monetize users’ desire for friendship, go for it. In the era of Donald Trump, lying and cheating and pretending to be important might well be a path to victory.

A day of reckoning will come, of course. You can’t fool people forever. Apple-watchers are worried the iconic brand may be losing its way by counting on fanboys’ automatic upgrade fever. Sarcastic ads aren’t helping Microsoft move its hardware. Facebook users seem to be getting savvier and warier, which bodes ill for the social medium. Twitter is already tanking. Tech brands like Cisco and Yahoo are in deep trouble.

Big banks are back at their bad-boy behavior. But this time, the market is paying attention. So are government regulators. Housing prices in Manhattan and San Francisco got so absurd that the market shifted against them. The bloom has faded for WeWork, a high-flying startup whose customers are discovering that renting small spaces with no privacy, a lot of frat–boy noise and poaching of employees isn’t all that appealing.

In other words, people do eventually wake up and see reality. They see empty promises made by employers. They see the poor cost-benefit of an Ivy League education. They see products that don’t deliver and customer service that doesn’t serve. Even lovely “Lisa” can’t keep us on the line.

Polls suggest that The Donald is losing his ability to cast a spell. His aura of business acumen has been dimmed by actual results of his enterprises. Years of cheating on contracts are catching up with him. Now that people outside his raging cohort are paying attention to his rhetoric, they are fleeing. Doing the old “wink-wink” on bigotry is turning people against other GOP candidates.

The good news, I think, is that when people have freedom and choices, they tend to move in a healthy direction. That’s why big banks, software makers and employers work so hard to keep us tethered – unfree – by making it difficult to unwind from them. But nimble competitors keep emerging that counteract that strategy. No wonder Trump promises that his first sortie as President would be to trash freedom of the press, followed by walling off the free movement of peoples.

I put my bet on freedom. God made us to be free. Anything less than freedom won’t last for long. Sorry, “Lisa.”



Work for a trustworthy election

By Tom Ehrich

The top GOP candidate sees his stock falling and begins to position himself as a sore loser, brought down by a “rigged” system, “vicious” attacks, “crooked” opposition. No surprise. Trump would rather crash the constitutional system than bear the label “loser.”

If it were just a bully taking his ball and slinking home, that would be one thing. But he would leave behind a large and angry mob, whose penchant for violent language could well feed a penchant for violent action.

I suspect that this will be Trump’s endgame. Reject me in November, he will threaten, and my people will take to the streets. Nice. Reject me, and I’ll sue you blind and prevent the orderly transfer of power in January 2017. Double nice.

One of the hallmarks of American democracy has been the peaceful transfer of power every few years. In any given election, roughly half the people will be disappointed. In a healthy system, led by healthy and responsible people, the losing side accepts disappointment and vows to try again in four years.

The GOP candidate, however, has no interest in democracy or national interest. His narcissism has no room for such values. He thrives on the mob’s adulation, swarming rage, readiness to do his bidding in assaulting the vulnerable. He will have no interest in lowering their intensity. Let them riot.

Then, if his career in business is any harbinger, Trump will abandon them, as he has fled creditors and consequences in bankruptcy filings. Imagine the mob’s rage when their champion joins the political establishment in betraying them.

I have three suggestions.

First, let’s make sure Donald Trump doesn’t get near the Oval Office. This is a primary national interest.

Second, let’s not demonize those who follow Trump. He has manipulated and exploited them. Their bigotry is despicable. But more than anything else, they are broken, the inevitable consequences of a broken system – a system deliberately undermined by the wealthy few, not broken by people of color or immigrants.

Third, let’s make sure voter fraud, voter suppression and Election Day tricks are seen, documented, pursued immediately, and kept from calling the election into question. Now is the time for a fair and honest election.



Sick candidate, but real issues

By Tom Ehrich

We had a bully at my elementary school. His dad was thought to be a bully, too. We suspected that being beaten at home made our classmate cruel at school. Hard to say, no one wanted to get close enough to him to find out.

I hope Joey got his life together, escaping his father and whatever abuse drove him to cruelty. It is painful to watch bullies remain bullies well into adulthood. They become more deft at hurting people but never move beyond the lonely, ego-crushing experiences of childhood. They find meaning and safety in crushing the egos of whomever they meet, even their families and colleagues.

Many wonder what sickness drives Donald Trump. Some see strong indicators of narcissism, perhaps leading to psychopathic behavior. That is a tragic diagnosis, if true, because narcissism is a personality disorder from which one doesn’t recover. The narcissist can learn to function, but should never be put in charge of anything.

Some see him as a playground bully who just never grew up. Some see him as an entitled rich kid who was taught to believe in getting his way at all costs. Some see him as a pathological liar and cheat.

The diagnoses go on and on, many little more than armchair psychologizing, but some put forward by serious psychologists who have studied the man with professional skill. But in them all is a widely held belief, even in his own party, that something isn’t normal and right about Trump.

It isn’t his political opinions – those are run-of-mine positions dating back to Reconstruction, the advent of Jim Crow and the Klan, the America First movement, and a centuries-old history of seeing Islam as an enemy of civilization. Even in his fascination with fascism, Trump’s voice is a voice we have heard before. And his ignorance of history, the Constitution, foreign policy and what makes a society tick can be matched by many politicians whom we simply vote down, but don’t question their sanity.

In his relentless need to belittle people, however, Trump suggests a deeper toxicity. When he mocks whatever he finds vulnerable in a person, when he fires off angry messages whenever his thin skin is pricked, when he casually calls for violence against opponents and says he would like to “hit them hard,” when he shows lack of self-control under pressure and a stubborn, childlike refusal to admit error, many see deep pathology.

It is important to separate the GOP’s current positions from the sickness of its leading candidate. The people in their common sense can defeat Trump at the polls. He can go down in flames and resume a failed business career with even greater name recognition. The positions he espouses, however, will remain a living legacy that we must take seriously. The racism in Trump’s taunting is a racism deeply felt in America. After all this time, it hasn’t gone away. The fear of immigrants isn’t going away. Neither is growing alarm over the violence possible, indeed likely, in a heavily armed populace.

The gap between rich and poor is widening. The predatory behavior of financial institutions is worsening. The determination of politicians to take money from the poor and middle class and channel it to the already-wealthy is accelerating. Collapse of basic institutions through under-funding and over-bureaucratizing isn’t going away.

Reasonable people can disagree about these matters. It is tragic that a sick candidate has turned the normal push-pull of democratic politics into a messianic cult. Many who follow him will wonder what to do next when his candidacy fails. They have legitimate concerns. Who will hear them? Or do they need to look for another proto-fascist strongman?

It won’t be enough for Democrats to defeat Trump. They will also need to prepare for healing a broken society. The bully’s mob will need to be brought back into the mainstream. The bad actors who are plundering the nation will need to be held accountable. Eight years of right-wing obstructionism will need to end, preferably through a renewed willingness to do the hard work of governing.



"Rally of Incompetence"

By Tom Ehrich

Maybe I was wrong. The image I expected from the Party of Trump in Cleveland was something akin to the Nuremberg Rally of 1934 – the so-called “Rally of Will” -- that introduced Nazism to the world.

There is still time for the orange-haired bully to stand alone on stage, to teach blue-blazered Republicans how to do a stiff-armed salute, and to unleash his version of the Nazi brownshirts to do more beating up on black women.

So far, though, the convention has been a “rally of incompetence,” marked by plagiarized speeches, empty seats, delays, fear-mongering by angry B-list politicians and stars, discord among delegates, no-shows by party leaders, and a virtual appearance by the candidate that seemed oddly like the disembodied face of “Big Brother” in “1984.”

Maybe Trump is managing this convention the way he manages his businesses: poorly. And with boundless narcissism and deceit. We’ll see what happens in the final day.

Meanwhile, I’m told that Republicans in Indiana are thrilled to have Gov. Mike Pence taken off their hands. His disastrous first term as governor threatened to drag down the entire ticket in state and local elections.

New Yorkers are reminded why they don’t miss Rudy Giuliani. House Speaker Paul Ryan has discovered what Gov. Chris Christie learned: that all lapdogs end up fighting for scraps. And the nation has seen up close what a white-power insurgency looks like, namely, sad and sour.

Right-wing Christians must be wondering why they hitched their institutional ambitions to a leader who cares nothing for their Savior, for their faith, or for them. They might have gotten their regressive morality into the GOP platform, but, in the end, serving as the off-stage chorus to a narcissist won’t do much for their credibility as people of faith.

If current trends continue, many smaller craft will sink when the big ship T goes down. The “Southern strategy” of Nixon, the heritage of Lincoln and Eisenhower, the assumed right of country-clubbers to rule, the illusion that wealth cares about the little people, nostalgia for the 1950s – all down, all under water, all swept away by reality.

This could change. Trump could benefit from a nightmarish act on the world scene, or he could concoct one, as Hitler did. Even a free people can be stampeded over the cliff if they are frightened enough.

The pathetic drama in Cleveland won’t be the final act of this tragic year in American politics. But I find myself more optimistic about the eventual victory of common sense. The decoded slogan of the Trump movement – “Make America white again” – speaks loudly to a few but repulses the many.



"Land of the free, home of the brave"

By Tom Ehrich

In our tucked-away corner of the Rondout Valley, west of the Hudson River, it’s all about family on this Fourth of July. That means it’s all about freedom.

Normally we are two. Today we are 11. Each of us is free to move about, to pair up in marriages and partnerships, to have children, and to spend a holiday without any heavy hand oppressing us or any warring armies threatening us.

This freedom isn’t an entitlement; it is a blessing, won hard, defended vigorously, and constantly under threat by extremist forces seeking power and by cagey wealthy seeking more wealth. Use it or lose it: use my freedom, go about freely, speak my mind, stand with those under assault – or else count on losing what I cherish. The forces of darkness never stop, never relent.

My ancestors came to the New World seeking religious freedom. They were happy to find it, not so happy to extend it to others. It took several generations before the rigid Puritans caught this spacious continent’s spirit of freedom, entered more liberal religious traditions, and became the practical builders of towns and enterprises and colleges who saw that freedom and knowledge were essential.

These were brave men and women. They journeyed into one little-known world after another. None was notable for his valor in combat; their valor was to settle land, start new enterprises, and do their part as citizens, including serve in the nation’s wars.

To me, the National Anthem’s words “the land of the free and the home of the brave” mean something very specific. They mean the freedom to be whatever one can manage to be, with no arbitrary constraints. They mean the bravery of the responsible citizen. They mean the bravery that it takes to form marriages and to start families in uncertain times. They mean a love of freedom that insists on others being free, as well, and a foundational bravery that dares to live as a free and self-sacrificial citizen.

It worries me that so many of my fellow Americans are frightened and willing to sacrifice some or all of their freedom just to feel safe. It worries me that so many are willing to deny freedom to certain others. It worries that so many are retreating into the cowardice of bigotry, jingoism and isolationism.

How could “the land of the free and home of the brave” become a land of the frightened mob and the coward? Surely we can do better than this. I pray for America, because we have been entrusted with something that people everywhere yearn to have: freedom, self-respect, duty. When we honor this trust, hope resounds in every land.



Dealing with powerlessness: strongman or solidarity

By Tom Ehrich

Once the two candidates have exhausted their insults and snark, they might turn their campaigns to the issues.

The orange-haired bully, however, knows little about the issues and comes across as an empty suit. Hillary Clinton knows too much about the issues and comes across as a know-it-all. Knowing too much is far preferable to knowing nothing, of course, so if the presidential election focuses on issues, we can expect to hear bombast from the Republican suit and deft rejoinders from the Democrat.

But an issues-orientation won’t go deep enough. For the larger question has to do with what form of government can deal effectively with the spread of powerlessness, a contagion emanating from the gross raids on wealth and power by the privileged few.

This election is being fed by negative feelings: stress, financial insecurity, fear, anger, xenophobia, religious victimization, wounds from discrimination, helpless rage against predatory wealth.

This isn’t an aspirational moment, in which people are imagining what great things ought to happen next, or how to position their lives for opportunities, how to build a nation, a city or a dam. It isn’t about “possibility thinking” or any movements of uplift. It isn’t about improving the lot of the have nots.

It is a time of grievance, often expressed as whining. It is a time when people feel victimized by powerful forces, by privilege, by other races, by an unfair system. Some see a racial hand pushing them down, some see a gender hand, and some see greedy elites.

The common element is powerlessness. The political question, then, is what can be done about powerlessness.

In effect, the orange-haired bully is stepping up as the classic “strongman.” Elect me, he says, and I will make things right for you. Cede your power to me, and I will punish those forces holding you down, even if I have to do it alone. Make me the boss, and all will be well.

Hillary Clinton speaks from the pulpit of solidarity. It’s the ”occupy” movement all over again. It’s the energy of “sisterhood,” now broadened to embrace men: if we hang together and don’t allow power to pick us off and divide us, we can make things happen. We will be as smart as we need to be, not limit our smarts to what our opponents can accept. People are trusted to work together for a common good.

The strongman approach speaks deeply to some people, especially to people who have an authoritarian bent. But this is much more a solidarity moment in American life. Look at the aftermath of the Orlando shootings. The bully tried to make it about him. Clinton said little, leaving oxygen in the room for the people. They, in turn, rallied around the gay community, rallied around Orlando -- an entire planeload of passengers offering sympathy to the grandmother of one victim, legions showing up for Pride marches, preachers preaching words of hope to the oppressed. People rallied around gun-control with a moral potency that might not defeat the NRA in Congress but has claimed the visuals. Democrats sitting-in on the House floor carries much more electoral weight than one more photo of white men buying assault rifles.

Strongman systems never work. They turn despotic. The strongman cannot deliver on his promises, and in any event, he abandons the promises as soon as he gets the power. The strongman system turns corrupt and cruel. Witness fascism in the 20th Century. Count how many immigrants came here to get away from corrupt strongman systems in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Gaze upon the sorry spectacle of Russian strongman Putin, as well as the the sordid realities in world soccer and strongman-led religion.

Pope Francis has appeal partly because he doesn’t pretend to be the strongman. Although the occupy movement didn’t have enough leadership to sustain momentum, its instinct to seek horizontal leadership, rather than hierarchical, seemed spot on. Business and industry are moving away from strongman command-and-control systems. Look how even the loftiest tech giants work from desks set among the rank and file. Even though the military still has an ethos of top-down discipline, action in the field tends to follow the solidarity, horizontal model.

In effect, the strange candidacy of the orange-haired bully is reminding us why strongman systems have fallen out of favor. The would-be strongman simply isn’t smart and capable enough to pull it off, nor can he be trusted to consider any interests but his own. The would-be strongman is an advertisement against his own cause.



Salute to dads

By Tom Ehrich

As a son, a father and a grandfather, I want to salute the dads.

I know I am grateful for the father who raised me, loved me, and showed me what it means to be a man, a husband and a father. Like many in his World War Two generation, he cared deeply for his country, for his community, for his church, and most of all, for his family.

I burst with pride when, as a boy, I helped him move his business to a new location. And when I walked home from school on Election Day and found him doing his biennial duty as a poll worker, caring for democracy. And when I stood beside him in church to sing his favorite hymn, “O God, our help in ages past.”

I burst with pride also at the lives of my three sons. Like many fathers, I never knew if I was doing enough for them. I know I tried to teach them important life skills: reading, writing, fielding grounders, respecting women, driving, using basic tools, working hard, and being honest.

They are extraordinary young men. They make the world better.

And now two of the three are fathers! I love watching them in action. They get it. The third will, too. The most important parts of being a father? Loving their kids’ mother. Loving the kids. And being present.

I know that many children are ambivalent about their fathers. Many fathers are ambivalent about being dads. It’s a challenging role. To some extent, the mounting dysfunctions of our society take fathers as their first casualty.

On Fathers Day, I celebrate all of the men who are trying their best.



no hiding from the darkness

By Tom Ehrich

Grief overflows in some quarters, and glee in others. Some leaders respond with compassion and tenderness to the loss of 49 lives, other leaders crow and feast on tragedy.

Even on my quiet country road, I sense a coarsening, worsening and collapsing of the public square. Right-wing extremists cannot “pause for death,” as Emily Dickinson wrote. They bully and excoriate without remorse. Even more gays need to die, they say. No more Muslims in America. Put a firearm into every hand. That alone, plus a strongman at the helm, will keep us safe.

Insanity rises, so loud and relentless that it comes to seem normal. Posturing is mistaken for wisdom, and cruelty for strength. Blame the victims, blame opponents, divert attention from actual causes. Hide the truth in vitriol.

We are witnessing combustion of an unprecedented sort. If it loses, another strongman will step forward, one who isn’t so patently odious as the orange-haired bully. If it wins, our nation could be lost for decades to come. When the stupid, cruel and blind get power, they don’t suddenly develop minds, souls and wisdom. They take up arms and start knocking on doors.

It is tempting to say, "They won’t get to me. On my country road, we are safe. Nothing changes here." That is delusional. As my friend Eric Gurvis wrote for Fresh Day magazine, the hangman eventually gets to everyone. “First the alien, then the Jew,” and then you and me.

When darkness covers the land, it covers all of the land, not just selected portions where “they” reside. Even those shouting loudly for the strongman will find themselves in shadows.

Citizens of the light must push back. Write back, post back, speak back, demonstrate back, vote back – do whatever we can do to “call to mind the deeds of the Lord” and to remember what God wants. That isn’t religious posturing. That is reality. God is God, and the God whose “mighty deeds” redeemed Israel is the same God who healed the blind and broken, the same God who faced down avaricious Church prelates, the same God who brought freedom to slaves and dignity to the lost.

When a smug pastor in Sacramento celebrates the slaughter of gays, that isn’t God speaking. That is the darkness. When the lieutenant governor of Texas tweets bigotry, that isn’t leadership speaking. That is the darkness. When the orange-haired bully accepts “congrats” for blaming Muslims, that isn’t America speaking. That is the darkness.

We counter the darkness by speaking in the light and for the light. There are no safe country roads where we can hide. There is only God’s light.



Report from the Stone Ridge (NY) Library Fair

By Tom Ehrich

Such an array. All my favorite authors, in hardcover, $2 each – first five books, $10, then five more, another $10.

When it came time for our duty as cleanup helpers, a coordinator said, “Take whatever books you want.” It was a perk of helping at the Stone Ridge (NY) Library Fair.

So I selected another ten books. We will come back on Sunday to help with final cleanup and take home even more. Maybe I will locate that history of Paris in the 19th Century by David McCullough.

The key will be to read the books and then give them back to the library to resell at the next fair. But not to store them, not to create bookshelves to house books already read. Not to add more stuff at a time when my wife and I are trying to shed load.

The point is the reading, not the storing. A book opens the mind, enriches awareness, informs and perhaps even inspires. But it is what comes next that matters. What do I do differently because I read this or that book? How do my beliefs and ideas change?

If nothing changes, then storing a printed volume on a shelf is meaningless. And if action, belief or idea does change, then it’s the next book that I need to find.



Daring to push the envelope

By Tom Ehrich

One of Fresh Day magazine’s regular contributors is planning a six-week renewal leave this summer. For her writing, I urged her to “be as creative as you want to be. Photos, videos, text pieces, poetry -- push the envelope.”

In other words, don’t be hemmed in by precedent, expectation, what she already feels comfortable doing, or self-doubt. As they say in my wife’s home state of New Hampshire, “Live free or die.”

I think of this exchange as I contemplate the impending nomination of Hillary Clinton and her battle with Donald Trump and his politics of bigotry, anger, fear and hatred.

Clinton’s nomination means many things, of course, including her being the first woman nominated by a major party for President. What I find noteworthy, in light of my friend’s leave, is the politics of possibility that Clinton represents.

From what I know of her life and career, she has “pushed the envelope,” not in righteous indignation but in the conviction that she can do anything she sets her mind to do. The fact that something is new to her, or new to her college, state or nation, doesn’t hold her back. She has lost many battles. But she keeps trying. She represents resilience, and resilience is the key to the politics of possibility.

The orange-haired bully, on the other hand, tries to push people around, by tapping their fears (being called a “loser,” for example, or “ugly,” or being threatened with a lawsuit) and taking away their possibilities. He has raised up a mob of angry people, many of them white men, whose cause is to deny possibilities to people of color or immigrants or women or religious outliers. Rather than “live free,” they want to live small, live angry, live in chains of self-perceived rightness. They would rather take away someone else’s freedom than risk exercising their own.

Trump is clearly a fragile man, as bullies and narcissists tend to be, without resilience. The saying about him is, “He was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.” He cannot bear to see the “loser” in his own business resume, or the shallowness of his dancing on third as he waits to be driven home, and he clearly doesn’t care that his pitch to frustrated white men aims at the wrong targets and will do nothing for them if he wins. Maybe he’ll just saunter on home and dare the umpire to call him out.

For better or worse, this nation was founded on possibilities. People believed it was possible to set aside monarchy and to have a free nation. They believed they could educate all men and, later, all women. They came to believe that all should be free – a possibility never tried on the face of the earth – and that all should participate in self-governance. They believed in open borders and new possibilities for the world’s losers. They believed in inventions, vaccines, massive dams, bridges, towers, great ideas, cures once thought impossible.

Yes, every possibility was resisted – often by the same narrow thinking that Trump is manifesting. Every possibility had detractors proving it wrong – until it worked. Some possibilities, like freedom and self-governance, took tragically long to come about – until they did come about.

Yes, some possibilities cost money, and that money has to come from a rearranging of benefits and privileges. Those who think they will lose in that rearranging push back. That’s understandable and can be dealt with in the normal push-pull of politics. What Trump has pursued, however, isn’t the cost question, but the darker question, Does this person even deserve possibilities? In Trump’s world, entire categories have no right to embrace possibilities or enjoy the freedom that possibilities represent. They don’t belong.

After a lifetime of successes and failures, miscues and mishaps, and bold service, Clinton hasn’t retreated into fearful bitterness. For all her scars, she continues to believe in possibilities, both for herself and for the nation she has served. She has endured much of the worst that a male-centered society can do to a woman, including the misdeeds of her own husband. She has been marginalized and patronized. But those setbacks haven’t hemmed her in or filled her with self-doubt. She is an inspiring model for many women who have experienced the same.

She is also an inspiring model to progressives like myself. I have been appalled by the rancid ranting of right-wing religion, right-wing politicians and now the mobs threatening violence if they lose. I have worked at staying active in the public square. Clinton’s resilience makes me treasure my own.

So I say to all of us, let’s push the envelope. Let’s be all that we can be. Let’s believe in a land of possibilities. Let’s live free.