Father – One Year Out

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Dad

A year ago today my father passed away, about two weeks short of his 92nd birthday. It still seems surreal in the sense that it can’t be real, it can’t have happened. And yet it did.

I don’t feel as if I’ve grieved. You know what I mean, the kind of grieving that lets it all out, a catharsis, a closing…or perhaps a new beginning. I haven’t done that.

I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been living so far away from my parents for so long, far enough to make visits a planned event. At least one visit a year usually occurred over the 4th of July holiday or Thanksgiving, depending on my travel schedule. After leaving my job to become a full time writer I had a bit more flexibility and visited more often, but still only two or three or maybe four times in any given year. Which means my time with Dad and Mom was sporadic, but special.

So maybe I’m finding it hard to acknowledge his absence because I didn’t see him that often. Perhaps if I had lived closer and saw him every day or every week or every month I would have felt the overwhelming loss necessary to reach closure. If closure is even a thing. Maybe it isn’t.

I miss him.

Because of COVID-19 I haven’t been able to travel anywhere this year at all, which means I haven’t even been able to see my mother since last Thanksgiving. The annual 4th of July parade that brings a hundred family and friends back to my mother’s hometown isn’t happening this year as COVID has pretty much ended social gatherings. I’m also concerned about “bringing the virus” to my Mom. But my tentative plan is to drive up after the holiday anyway.

Recently my brother and sister-in-law moved back to the area, which gives my mother some nearby family for comfort and logistical support. My other brother lives with her so there is a level of assistance close by. Other family also live in the area and my mother has friends she meets, although on a more limited basis given social distancing requirements. Everyone gets by.

My default mentality seems to be that Dad is still around, that he’s merely far away and I’ll see him again when next I visit. Then I’ll read something in a book, or hear a song on the radio, or a random memory pops into my head and I realize he is, in fact, gone. This past Sunday was Father’s Day and one of those “Dad Songs” on the country music station set me off a bit. Not over the edge, but closer to it. I feel like there is a time-bomb waiting to blow, a sudden explosion of emotion that rids my soul of grief. But it doesn’t happen. I don’t know if it ever will. Will the sense of loss end, or will it be one of those long fuses you see in movies that seems to burn forever, foreshadowing a cataclysmic release that never seems to occur.

I know the answer from an intellectual perspective, of course, but psychologically it seems as if a recurring nightmare refuses to give me peace of mind. And yet the random memories are not all sorrow and sadness. Many of these sudden thoughts reflect the good times we had and the inspiration I found in his presence and his life. I like those thoughts.

So thanks, Dad, for being you and being there. I’ll miss you always.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

White on Whites

I am white. I grew up in an all-white New England town. I worked in largely all-white professions. I have white privilege. If you’re white, you have white privilege too. Whether you know it or not.

A friend recently argued that they grew up in humble beginnings, that their family line came from farmers and roofers, that they “worked 24 hours a day” to go to community college after their short stint in the military, and that they have struggled as a small business owner. From this they conclude that “the idea of white privilege is a myth for most of us who are white.”

They miss the point completely.

White privilege means that the way we are treated isn’t affected by the color of our skin.

That’s it.

We’re the “default.” We’re what happens when nothing is happening. We get to skate through life being treated as a person. We get to make or break our lives solely by how hard we work. We are given the benefit of the doubt in virtually all cases.

White privilege doesn’t mean we are all racist. It doesn’t mean we never have bad things happen to us. It doesn’t mean we have never struggled to pay our bills, get a job, or afford college. Those things happen to all of us.

But they don’t happen because of the color of our skin.

As white people we never expect to be challenged by the police for no reason. We’re not likely to be considered “suspicious” for walking our dog. We’re not likely to have the police called on us for barbecuing at a local park, or using the gym in our own office building, or trimming our own hedges in our own neighborhood. We’re not likely to be turned down for a loan because of redlining. We don’t have to worry about those things.

We most certainly aren’t likely to be killed for petty – or imagined – offenses.

Last month there were heavily armed white men angrily screaming in police officers faces, forcing themselves into capitol buildings, and threatening elected officials. All while not wearing masks during a pandemic that has killed nearly 110,000 Americans so far.

Nothing happened. No National Guard. No militarized police force. No chemical weapons.

This week we saw peacefully protesting, unarmed, black men and women (and some whites) tear-gassed and beaten by combat-geared federal police, just so an embarrassed Trump could get a photo op in front of a church he has never attended and hold up a Bible he has never read.

Heavily armed white men engaged in violent actions are given the benefit of the doubt. They are called “fine people.” Unarmed black men protesting continued societal discrimination have the armed forces called out on them. They are called “thugs.”

A white supremacist kills nine black men and women at a prayer meeting in Charleston; he is arrested without brutality and given a bulletproof vest and a Big Mac. African Americans (and other minorities) are routinely killed for no reason.

That is white privilege. And the lack of it.

You get the idea. So let’s look inside ourselves, we white men and women. Let’s get a few things clear and then make an attempt to learn how to better our nation for ourselves and all Americans.

First, white privilege is a thing. It doesn’t guarantee us riches or an easy life. It just means we are not being targeted because of the color of our skin. We might not be aware of it, but we benefit from it every single day.

Second, “all men are created equal” means ALL men and women. That doesn’t mean we’ll all achieve the same thing, just that we should all have the same chances for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That isn’t the case. Our society starts people of color at a massive disadvantage at birth, and it keeps them there through unequal treatment.

Third, no one is saying people of color don’t have to work to get ahead. They do. Just like everyone. All they want is a fair chance. They don’t get one.

Fourth, equal rights for all doesn’t mean we lose any of our rights. We still have our rights, and all of us white people will still have our white privilege until the country somehow reaches an approximation of a more perfect union. We’re not likely to see that in my lifetime, but we can try. The beauty of it is that even when or if that happens, we white people still have all our rights. The only difference is that those constitutional rights are enjoyed by all Americans, not just us white Americans. We don’t lose a thing. In fact, we gain a better nation.

Fifth, we have white privilege whether we actively seek it or not. It’s automatic in our society. That’s not because we deserve it; it’s simply because going back to the first enslaved person brought into the original thirteen colonies, we’ve perpetuated discriminatory practices in our policies and societal norms. We need to stop doing that for the good of the country.

Finally, we can all learn. It really isn’t that hard. We whites should be open to learning. Be open to listening. And I mean really listening, not the “listening” we do when we’re just waiting for a chance to give our point of view.

There are many books that help explain what people of color go through. We should read them. Below is a stack of books you can choose from. Some of them can give us insights into ourselves; some give insights into the non-white point of view. I’ve read several over the last few years and am trying to learn more. We all need to do that.

Here are some other suggested readings.

We can also make an attempt to learn more directly from interactions with others that don’t look like us. We’re a nation of diversity. That’s a good thing. We whites need to get out of our bubbles to see that.

Oh, and we really don’t need to offer retorts like “this is a two-way street.” That’s both obvious and blind to the point. Think of the phrase “All Lives Matter” in retort to “Black Lives Matter.” Now think of saying “All Houses Matter” when one house is on fire. Do we fix the problem by ignoring the burning house because all houses matter? Or do we try to put out the flames on the house affected? The phrase Black Lives Matter is to highlight the fact that society often treats black lives as if they didn’t matter. It doesn’t mean that white lives don’t matter. It doesn’t mean police lives don’t matter. In fact, think of the phrase “Blue Lives Matter.” If that makes sense to you then the problem is not singling out a group, it’s the fact that the group is black.

Also, the black population of this country knows they have internal problems. They are dealing with those problems. We don’t need to lecture them on how to clean their own house; we need to focus on cleaning ours. If we do that honestly we’ll find that most of the problem that African Americans (and Latinx and Asians and Native Americans) have in this country is caused by how they are treated by white people and the society we have created. They will work on their issues; we need to work on our own. And we need to work together.

I’m still white. I still live and work in a mostly white profession. But I’ve come to realize that us whites have a responsibility to work toward “a more perfect union.” Abraham Lincoln once said about emancipation:

In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.

Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862

We can do this. We won’t lose a thing, yet we’ll gain so much.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

Just a Poor Boy Hired on a Flatboat – Abraham Lincoln and Joe Biden

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Abraham Lincoln

During his campaign for reelection to the Illinois state legislature in 1840, Abraham Lincoln was attacked by his ruffled shirt, gold watch wearing opponent as someone “belonging to the aristocracy.” Having one year of formal schooling, Lincoln responded that while the opposition foppishly rode around the country in a fine carriage, Lincoln was “a poor boy hired on a flat boat at eight dollars a month…with only one pair of breeches.”

I envision this as a man born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, and a gold-plated toilet, accuses former vice president and current presidential candidate Joe Biden of being an elitist. No matter that Biden was born into a middle class working household in Scranton, Pennsylvania, living with his grandparents for a while as the family scratched out of financial difficulties.

I’ve experienced this phenomenon myself, that of being attacked as an elitist despite the fact that I grew up in a poor, working class household, literally on the wrong side of the tracks (the train horn was my morning wakeup call as a teenager). We were never destitute, but only as an adult did I come to realize the balancing act – living from check to check – that my parents pulled in order to provide for us on limited resources. Both my parents grew up in large families in the depths of the depression, so inherited good sense and an ability to make a little seem like a lot. Only after I got to college did I realize most of my peers were financially secure. I struggled through college and pursued graduate degrees while working full time to provide for my own family. I managed to succeed, but like Lincoln, and like Joe Biden, the small town working class never left my bloodstream.

All of this again comes to a head as we enter the final months of the presidential election season. Our choices couldn’t be more stark. A pathological liar, narcissist, and corrupt con man in a corrupt party versus someone who has dedicated his life to public service despite numerous hardships. This should be an easy choice.

What most concerns me is how the Republican Party, like the aristocratic plantation owners of Lincoln’s time, have convinced the working classes to consistently vote against their own interests. Most Southern whites prior to the Civil War did not own slaves, yet the slaveowners conned them into fighting for slavery despite the fact that slavery hurt those white farmers livelihoods. “You’re just like us,” John C. Calhoun and other white supremacists said to poor whites in the South. “You’re better than those blacks,” the line went. And so poor whites became pawns that rich plantation owners used to make the rich richer and all poorer people – white and black – poorer and more oppressed.

The Republican Party of today does exactly the same thing. Exactly. They repeatedly scream that “the others” (African American/Latinx/Asian; Muslim/Jewish; immigrants; LGBTQ; etc.) are the reason poor whites aren’t rich. In reality, poor and middle class whites are kept poor and struggling because the rich have rigged the system to favor no one but the rich. This isn’t some partisan diatribe; this is fact, proven daily by data and history.

There is a reason why all of the states that collect the most welfare, unemployment, and other forms of public assistance are all Republican states. The recent COVID-19 crisis has led some to argue that the federal government shouldn’t “bail out” richer Democratic states like New York, but New York is who pays into the federal bank to bail out poverty-stricken states like Kentucky. California is subsidizing states like Alabama and Mississippi and Georgia. The “blue” states are paying more to the government than they get back, while the “red” states are taking far more back from the government than they put in. “Red” states are the leeches, “blue” states are the blood.

Republicans are constantly trying to destroy public education. They don’t want their constituents educated because then they would realize how the Republican party has been screwing them for decades, all so Republicans can transfer public wealth to the elitist rich. All documented and proven by their actions.

Mitch McConnell has gotten richer as Kentucky – and Kentuckians – have gotten poorer. He lies to coal miners, who continue to die of coal-related diseases while coal mine owners continue to profit billions off their workers lives. An honest Kentuckian would be working to better the conditions of coal miners and help train them for replacement jobs as the industry dies its natural death. But instead he takes their money and lies to them while they die.

Such is the case for every issue – social security, health care, health and safety protections, an infinite list – Republicans hurt their own constituents while feeding the rich and the corrupt.

Which gets me back to Abraham Lincoln and Joe Biden. While the two men are very different in many ways, they share the desire to help ALL Americans better their condition.

Lincoln was born in Kentucky before moving to Indiana and then Illinois. He retained his Kentucky drawl in the White House. Joe Biden still has a touch of Pennsylvania accent and forthright directness. More importantly, both never lost their love of “the common people,” the working class, with whom each always and continue to identify.

Republicans say a lot of things but very rarely are those things true. Lincoln would be a Joe Biden kind of prudent progressive today. Lincoln would approve of Joe Biden. I approve of Joe Biden. My peers, both representative of my hardscrabble upbringing and my professional historian/scientist colleagues, approve of Joe Biden. Only by ridding the land of Mitch McConnell and the corruption that is today’s Republican Party can we improve life for all Americans, not just the aristocratic few.

As Lincoln said:

It is still to be remembered, that [the wealthy] are not sufficiently numerous to carry the elections.

We must vote.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!


What to Expect When We’re Expecting a Coronavirus Recovery

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2019-coronavirusWe are now on Day #3421 of the coronavirus COVID-19 quarantine, or at least it feels that way. Some states are trying to “open up” again. The stock market has recovered somewhat from its most recent depression-era drop. So what should we expect when we’re expecting a coronavirus recovery?

Unlike when we’re expecting a baby, we won’t reach a given date and out pops a fully formed bundled of economic normalcy. At best we’re looking at a slow-rolling opening. With back-steps. And maybe another quarantine lockdown.

Anyone who says we’re ready to fully open right now is lying to you. And more people will die. This isn’t alarmism or partisan talk; it’s simply biological fact. We’re battling a virus here, not a difference of opinion on whether everyone should have health care or not (although this crisis has certainly shown the ludicrousness of tying health insurance to having a job). As more and more people move out into society, that is, interaction with other people not in their household, the virus will spread and people will die. This week the federal government revealed that the model that estimated a death toll of around 60,000 Americans is now estimating that could rise to around 135,000 deaths. Why the increase? Because 1) people are not social distancing adequately now, and 2) reopening businesses will increase the number of interactions, which increases number of cases, which increases number of deaths.

Also, this isn’t going away anytime soon. We won’t miraculously reach July 4th, say, and the virus is gone. It won’t be gone until there is a vaccine, and even then it might mutate enough to always be with us, something like the seasonal flu that needs a new shot each year because this year’s strain is different enough from last year’s strain to make our antibodies ineffective. All this means is that we may be dealing with coronavirus/COVID-19 for one or two years before a vaccine is ready. Given that the process of developing vaccines can take five to 10 years, a 1-2 year timeframe is actually a bit of wishful thinking.

So what will a recovery look like?

For one, it will look a little different depending on where you live. Given the lack of action from the federal government, and worse, the hindrance of state efforts, each state will have a different plan and timetable for reopening. Larger states may even have different timetables for different parts of their states.

For example, more rural counties in New York State may move further alone the stages of reopening than the more crowded New York City. Urban areas have higher risk of transmission of the virus to others, while rural areas would obviously have a lower risk as the number of people one encounters should be fewer. On the other hand, rural areas also have notoriously poorer health care options, thus potentially decreasing the survival rate should the virus spread.

You’ll be wearing masks in pubic places for a long time, perhaps 1-2 years or more. Not necessarily when you’re out jogging or walking in the park, but certainly in grocery stores and any other enclosed places that might be opening up. Masks are just a fashion statement, they protect you and the person near you…and by extension, your grandmother. Wear them.

I hope you like the 6-foot rule because we’re going to have to keep up the social distancing routine for a long time too. You’ll see why as we continue.

But what about restaurants?

Phew, I was afraid you wouldn’t ask. At some point, restaurants will reopen, assuming they didn’t go bankrupt when the administration gave all their “small business” loans to big corporations instead of family-owned restaurants and stores. Most proposals have restaurants opening in a sliding scale over time starting with expanding “take-out only” to allow in-store ordering to go. Eventually some restaurants (we’re talking about you, Starbucks) will allow in-store seating, initially at 25% capacity or whatever allows them to keep patrons at least six feet apart (remember your social distancing skills). We may not get back to full capacity for the aforementioned 1-2 years or more. No one knows how the mask thing will work in restaurants. Certainly patrons will have to take off their masks to eat, but what about the waiters/waitresses and other workers who come in contact with many patrons? To be determined.

The limited capacity and social distancing applies to most other stores as well. Limits on the number of people allowed in a store at a time will evolve from none to 10 to 50 to whatever on a schedule determined by the virus. Libraries may initially open up only for pick up of books on hold, after all, can you imagine the logics of wiping down every book in the joint after every patron wanders through? Again, eventually in-library seating will restart and expand over time.

What about my office downtown; will that reopen soon?

Guess what, probably not. Two reasons:

  1. The remote work/working from home idea has actually been rather effective for most office-based businesses). I was largely available 24/7 in my old office because of Wifi and network links, whether I was at home, on my smart phone, or sitting in an airport or hotel overseas. Now we have Zoom (whose stock price has skyrocketed), Google Hangout, GoToMeeting, Skype, Webex, and other online meeting services. It’s like being at the office, without the commute.
  2. Mass transit will be a problem. Yup, that commute. While you may be able to hole up in your teeny office space at work, getting there on the subway, the bus, the train, the plane, the whatever, could be a problem. Remember the last time you squeezed onto the subway at rush hour? Social distancing, Not.

We’re making progress, so the [insert sports team of choice] will start their season soon?

Um, no. Imagine 20,000 to 100,000 people crammed into a stadium to watch some overpaid athletes play a grownup version of the games I played on the street as a kid. Now think about a medical term called the R0 (R-Naught), which is essentially the average number of people one infected person can transmit the virus to. The R0 for COVID-19 is currently listed as 5.7, which means one person could infect 5 to 6 other people. And then those 5-6 people could transmit it to another 5-6 people, each. So a stadium would basically be a really really big petri dish for spreading the virus.

But wait, that means no sports for 1-2 years (or more)?

Yes. Or maybe No. We don’t know yet. The Korean baseball league has just started playing games again after a delay of several weeks. But they are playing with zero fans in the stands (they do, however, have photos of “fans” covering all the seats in a remarkable attempt to be “normal”). Will American (and European, etc.) sports do the same, play their games in empty stadiums? Maybe. If they play, fans could watch it on TV. But wouldn’t that mean the players would be at heightened risk? Let’s see, a bunch of heavily sweating and spitting men (and women) constantly in physical contact with each other? Absolutely. Players would be endangering themselves and their families.

Is it worth it? Personally, I prefer sporting events, concerts, and other big stadium activities be avoided until there is a confirmed effective vaccine widely distributed. But that’s just me.

All of this is a tough call for policy-makers. The more the virus spreads the more people will become infected and the more people will die. But more infection also means more antibody development, which in theory should protect us from future infections. I say in theory because there are already cases in which people once infected, and thus supposedly immune, have become infected a second time. If making the decision to reopen wasn’t hard enough, we have to deal with a lot of uncertainty about what the virus will do in the future. No matter how we look at it, reopening carries a certain level of risk.

But we have to reopen the economy at some point. I’m inconvenienced (I really, really want to eat out at my favorite restaurant and travel overseas), but I can hold out as necessary. Other people are more direly impacted. The “work from home” thing works okay for many businesses, but you can’t wait restaurant tables from your living room. I was surprised that something approaching 80% of households can’t afford to miss one or two paychecks without significant financial hardship. Despite protections that (again, in theory) were put in place with the various stimulus bills passed by Congress, many people are faced with default on mortgages, car loans, even basic electricity and gas to run their stoves. The only way for these people to survive is for them to be able to get back to work.

[By the way, don’t be distracted by the “back to work protests.” These aren’t protests, they are domestic terrorism rallies organized by racist white supremacist groups and the NRA to intimidate Governors and governments.]

We can’t, and won’t, wait until there is zero risk. Zero risk is impossible in any aspect of our lives. But we can begin a process of reopening using science-based decision-making. That means the virus defines the timetable. But it also means that policy-makers – mostly Governors and Mayors – have to make the hard decisions on what to allow open and when. It’s inevitable we’ll see increased cases as we interact more in public, but with adequate testing, contact tracing, and medical capacity we can limit the number of people who need critical medical care. Responsible leaders are paying attention to medical professions and carefully monitoring case rebound.

For the rest of us, keep wearing the mask in public, maintain social distancing unless absolutely necessary to do otherwise, and support honest decision-making. As businesses start to reopen, and especially for local small businesses, go there and purchase their products and services. Do it wisely and observe the necessary distancing and capacity limitations, but do what you can to support those businesses and workers most impacted by the shutdowns.

One last thing. Thank those essential workers that continue to risk their health and lives to make your life easier. Doctors, nurses, disinfecting staff for sure, but also the cashier and other workers at your local grocery store, the people at CVS who keep your prescriptions coming and your basic needs met, the postal workers who now can add “viruses” to their list of calamities through which they continue to work, the teachers who teach your children remotely, and everyone else that has continued to work during these trying times.

Stay healthy. Stay safe. And stay home.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

 

Surviving Coronavirus Briefings

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writer stuggleThere is a meme going around in which Dr. Anthony Fauci, the medical professional that sometimes is allowed to talk at the daily White House coronavirus briefings, demonstrates a mask for surviving the coronavirus briefings themselves. Fauci holds up a roll of duct tape while Trump stands behind him with his mouth taped over.

When the supposed “leader of the free world” suggests injecting disinfectant to kill the COVID-19 virus, you know you’re in danger of not surviving coronavirus. But as deadly as the virus is, the idiocy coming out of Trump’s mouth is the more dangerous. Worse, perhaps, are the lengths his cult followers have gone to claim he didn’t say what he said or mean what he meant…all while basing their support of him on him “saying what he means and meaning what he says.” Yes, the mental contortion needed to make that seem not crazy is, well, crazy.

In any case, perhaps this latest fiasco will stop the daily coronavirus briefings (spelled, campaign rallies/pity-me sessions). But likely not. Trump needs to be in the public eye (spelled, riling up his cult base), so he’ll be back at the podium until he can go back on the road to do the big rallies that are his raison d’etre.

Former Bill Clinton press secretary and long-time political analyst Joe Lockhart has some tips for journalists trying to cover the daily “briefings.” They make a lot of sense, assuming journalists from different networks can collaborate somewhat with each other. Lockhart suggests journalists ignore Trump and direct their questions at Drs. Fauci and Birx, or anyone else who might actually know what they are talking about. When Trump tries to attack you (the journalists) or your news organization, say you work for the American people. Repeat the question when Trump doesn’t answer (or as is often the case, he tosses up incoherent word salad). When Trump tries to move on without answering, the next journalist repeats the same question. Lockhart suggests the press pool should bring in a medical correspondent who can ask the more technical questions. When he interrupts you, politely say you would appreciate it if he would let you finish the question. All of this is good advice for journalists.

But what about the rest of us? We are stuck watching the briefings on TV or our laptops without the opportunity to ask questions. So what do we do?

First off, don’t watch the briefing. They aren’t actual briefings anyway. Trump has been known to run up to two hours, with only a minimal amount of that time given over to the actual experts. Trump has a tendency to talk when it’s clear he has no clue what he’s talking about, in part because he is intellectually deficient and unprepared (he starts by reading a prepared text that he clearly has never seen before, then riffing idiotically [hence the disinfectant injection “idea”]), and in part because he sees these briefings as free campaign rallies. So at best there is very little useful information provided; at worst, Trump inspires people to endanger their lives or the lives of others (literally; poison control hotlines in every state have reported calls from people who tried injecting bleach or swallowing “hydroxychloroquine” tablets designed to kill algae in fish tanks). So don’t watch. Later, read reputable news coverage.

Second, unless you live in a “conservative Republican” state, check out your state Governor’s press conference. New York’s Governor Cuomo offers daily information useful to everyone, even if you don’t live in New York. Other Governors (both Democratic and Republican [e.g., MD, MA] may have less frequent press briefings, perhaps weekly, but they usually provide information that accurately informs their states but can be useful for other states. Know what the stay-at-home criteria are for your state. If you live in Georgia or Florida, listen to New York’s Cuomo since your Governor clearly isn’t listening to health experts.

Third, be wary of going out too soon. We will have a second wave of COVID-19. When people who have been sheltering at home start interacting with more of their neighbors, it is inevitable that there will be an increase in cases (and deaths) until such time as there is a vaccine. And a vaccine lilely isn’t coming until summer 2021 at the earliest. Social distancing in some form will be the norm until then, and perhaps to some extent even after.

Fourth, engage your family. Physical distancing will be necessary for a long time, but that doesn’t mean mental distancing. This is the time to take advantage of the “family time” created by working from home and remote schooling. Always wanted to try that new hobby? Do it now. Cooking, doing repair work around the home, puzzles, reading, playing with your kids. Start writing that novel. Keep a diary called “Surviving Quarantine” (or whatever). Explore what is important in life. Plan out that road trip you’ll take in 2021 or 2022. Save up for the big vacation you’ll want to take once it again becomes possible. Take advantage of various Zoom/Google Hangout/Facebook Live events. Check out museums/concerts/lectures/courses being made available for free during this home sequestration period. Do it all. But don’t do it as a sprint; it’s a marathon. Pace yourself.

Fifth, engage with others. The previous paragraph isn’t going to work so well for people who are essential workers because they likely have even less time and more stress than before the quarantine. Others have difficult family situations that are exacerbated by the close quarters (domestic abuse cases are up). Others don’t have the financial or physical resources to maintain physical distancing. Others are out of jobs and may not ever get them back. Still others find seclusion psychologically taxing; depression is a major problem even in the best of times, and these are clearly not the best of times. If you fall into one of these categories, please reach out as much as you can to friends and organizations available to help your particular situation. If you are privileged to be covered by the “Fourth” paragraph above, then reach out to other people in need. Deliver food to those in need. Man hotlines. Call/email/text family, friends, and online acquaintances who may be having a hard time. Donate to organizations that are stepping in to help.

Sixth, think about how this crisis has revealed the darkness in the hearts of some, and the inequality inherent in many of our systems, from the economy to health care to how government works. Change is always hard, but change will be necessary. Think about how we can make America work for all of us, not just the few.

This current crisis won’t end soon, but it will end. When it does, there will be a new normal. As Abraham Lincoln wrote in the midst of the Civil War:

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise–with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

We will get through this. And when we do, we must make bring our nation closer to what the Founders aspired to when they said “all men are created equal.” We must rediscover the soul of America. Only then can we nobly save the last best hope of Earth.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

 

Leadership Lessons from Lincoln

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colorized_lincoln_photo_cropLeadership in a crisis has been a popular topic lately, with Abraham Lincoln often mentioned in the context of saving the Union. This begs the question as to what leadership qualities are useful in a crisis, and what leadership lessons can we learn from Lincoln.

All this started because of the coronavirus health crisis and the apparent lack of national leadership in dealing with it. Two weeks ago I wrote a post on my author website called “That Time Lincoln Got a Virus and Almost Died.” That post led to a full hour discussion on The Railsplitter, a podcast dedicated to examining Lincoln and the Civil War. A few days later I participated in an online webinar with Louis Masur, a Lincoln scholar at Rutgers University, who discussed “Leadership Lessons from Abraham Lincoln.” Then last night was another online discussion about “Statesmanship in a Time of Crisis” with eminent Lincoln historian Allen Guelzo. Next week is yet another online workshop sponsored by the President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, DC, this one using Lincoln to examine “Emotional Intelligence in Crisis Leadership.” Even former President Obama offered a leadership thought stemming from a particular quality of Lincoln.

All of these programs have one thing in common. Everyone turns to Abraham Lincoln when discussing how to deal with a significant crisis. And rightly they should. Lincoln helped the nation get through its most difficult crisis, when the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions fought respectively to destroy or save the Union. Because of Lincoln, the Union was saved.

When asked what leadership qualities of Lincoln got us through the Civil War and can help us through both our current health and constitutional crises, specific answers differed. But most agreed that honesty and integrity are critical to instill confidence in the path forward, even when that path is fraught with uncertainty.

During my “Lincoln and Viruses” podcast, when asked how Lincoln might handle the current coronavirus crisis, I suggested that Lincoln would be deliberative, listen to experts, and decisive. Louis Masur agreed that Lincoln qualities needed today include: be honest, admit what you don’t know, be willing to listen, ensure everyone is working towards solutions that benefit the public, and evaluate, deliberate, and accurately communicate. He suggested that a president should offer some sense of comfort and hope, as well as know when to hold their fire (i.e., work towards solutions, not berate mistakes). Masur also suggested using humor to facilitate communication and public confidence. Separately on this topic, journalist and Lincolnophile Ed Epstein noted that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was adept at using appropriate levels of humor to help her constituents through this trying time. Lincoln was certainly known for using humor as a means of reaching the public and lightening the load for those on the front lines.

Allen Guelzo referred to Lincoln as both a statesman and leader, two skills that are not necessarily present in the same person (e.g., James Madison was a great statesman, not so great a President). Guelzo also suggested that one of Lincoln’s greatest traits was to know what the federal government can and should do, while leaving the generals and governors to do what they are best at doing. This seems to be a variation on the medical creed of “First, do no harm,” followed by doing everything in his power as leader to help those leaders in the field. Lincoln helped and encouraged his field generals, not inhibited or attacked them.

The Guelzo conversation (with Madison historian Robert George) also touched on how leaders interact with experts. Experts, for example Dr. Fauci in this coronavirus crisis, provide the fruits of their expertise. While it is critical to listen to the experts, the leader must evaluate the information in toto, that is, collect information from a variety of experts and integrate into the bigger picture, deliberate, then decide and move forward. You don’t attack or dismiss expertise, you assimilate and incorporate it into honest decision-making.  Lincoln understood this and listened to many experts, then made decisions consistent with that information in the greater context. Once decided, he moved forward with gusto to make it happen. As he told General Grant, “Let the thing be pressed.”

Former President Barack Obama also spoke this week in support of the medical community and leaders at the local and state level. He told the nation’s mayors that “the biggest mistake any (of) us can make in these situations is to misinform.” Be honest. Be helpful. Communicate accurately and earnestly in an effort to keep the public informed. Keep your eye on the goal – to help everyone get through the stormy present.

Leadership is hard. It requires someone willing to listen, capable of thoughtful deliberation, and the ability to keep the best interests of the public in mind. Leaders do not work against their Generals or Governors (or doctors); they assist and facilitate their efforts. Leaders do not publicly berate others; they work to help them take the needed steps. Leaders don’t lie to protect their ego or their bank accounts; they provide honest information so that people can make the right choices.

One thing became clear through all these looks at Lincoln’s leadership qualities: these qualities are sorely lacking today, and more Americans are dying because of the lack of leadership.

We could use Abraham Lincoln right now.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!