And So The 2024 Campaigns Begin

In a previous post I indicated I wouldn’t open the “Election 2024 Chronicles” until early summer of 2023. Depending on how things go between now and then I may not be able to keep that promise.

It’s virtually a given that President Biden will run for re-election. He’s as much as admitted it and I think other Democrats know that if they challenge him they may well insure a Republican victory.

On the other side, ever since he lost the 2020 election (though he still refuses to admit this) Donald Trump has hinted that he will run again in 2024. A few days ago he made the announcement here. He announced that he would announce before the midterm elections and expected he would ride the crest of a Republican landslide. That didn’t happen.

He also likely expected that once he announced that would end the race to the Republican nomination. But that hasn’t happened. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will almost certain run. Smart money is also on former Vice President Mike Pence to run and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.

Previous to this Mr. Trump was able to immediately halt speculation on competition but it appears his behavior may have finally come home to roost. Fox News appears to have dropped their support for Governor DeSantis and didn’t even fully carry Mr. Trump’s announcement.

So where do we go from here? Clearly a large part of the Republican Party wants Trump to drop out and give his support to DeSantis but that’s unlikely. Trump never admits defeat and never gives up. I think there is widespread fear that Trump will continue to polarize voters to the point where everyone who seeks the nomination will chew each other up until there is no viable candidate.

Trump breaks all molds and defies all expectations so predicting the future is always perilous. But if Trump is going to hit the end of the line, this may be it.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 41: Dobbs v. Jackson

In a previous post I promised to read and discuss two Supreme Court decisions that were released in June: Dobbs v. Jackson and New York State v. Bruen.

I have (finally) read through both with my trusty highlighter. I likely won’t discuss New York v. Bruen. It wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped.

On the other hand, Dobbs v. Jackson was both dense and interesting. It will be a while before I plow through another Supreme Court Decision. So let’s dive in:

Overview: You have to give me props for reading and commenting on a judgement when I never attended law school. Then again, neither did Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln. I welcome feedback as long as it is thoughtful and not obscene.

Majority Opinion

  • The majority opinion was written by Justice Samuel Alito. It was clear to me that despite his testimony that the 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion warranted respect he didn’t give it much. Much of it appeared (to me) to have been written a while ago. The state of Mississippi prohibited abortion after 15 weeks gestation; it did not ask that the states have final authority or that Roe be overturned. But Justice Alito went far beyond the facts of the case to overturn Roe. Law students are taught to find the narrowest ruling on a case.
  • He wanted to place his opinion in the vaunted arena with Brown v. Board of Education. In 1896 the Court ruled in Plessy v. Feguson that public places could be segregated (separated by race) as long as the accommodations were “separate but equal.” In 1954 the Brown decision recognized that separate was never equal and segregation was unconstitutional. Brown was seen universally as correcting the mistake of Plessy. In the same way Justice Alito felt that Roe was wrongly decided from the start and he was correcting a previous mistake.
  • Justice Alito and many of his fellow conservative jurists describe themselves as “originalists,” that when deciding a Constitutional issue we should look back to the original intent of the Constitution’s framers. This view presents a few problems, including this: the Constitution enshrines slavery (Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3). They respond by pointing out that the 13th and 14th Amendments prohibit slavery. In this context Justice Alito goes back to 1791 (when the Constitution was ratified) and 1868 (when the 14th Amendment was passed). But in the years since courts have had to adjudicate all sorts of issues that didn’t exist then. The 4th Amendment protects our “persons, houses, papers and effects” from unreasonable searches and seizures. But the courts have extended that to include our phones, cars, and computers. The 2nd Amendment ensures the existence of a “well regulated militia” but in 2008 (District of Columbia v. Heller) the court ruled that anyone could keep a firearm in his home for protection. Those of us who are not originalists see the Constitution as a living document and while the understanding of 1791 and 1868 matter, they do not hold supremacy.
  • Lest you think this is an anti court screed, allow me admit to one of Justice Alito’s points. When Justice Blackmun wrote Roe in 1973 he divided pregnancy into three trimesters with different government interest in each. Since then we’ve looked at viability (when the fetus can reasonable live outside the womb). But the trimester distinction is a legal and not medical metric and viability has changed over the years. I don’t believe this should rule when an abortion is legal. That said I think Justice Alito overreached in his decision.
  • Finally, I conclude this with a warning. When the decision came down that the right of abortion is not guaranteed by the Constitution it led to concern that other similar issues (marriage equality, consentual sex and access to birth control) may also come under scrutiny. All these issues were decided by the Supreme Court. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, this is what Justice Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion: “[I]n future cases we should reconsider all of this Courts substantive due process precedents including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Conservative government entities may look at this as encouragement to overturn those decisions. Interestingly, Justice Thomas (who is black) is married to a white woman, and he did not include the court’s prohibition against interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia.

Dissenting Opinion

  • Both sides acknowledged that Roe held particular respect as a previous decision; the phrase in these circumstances is Stare decisis, “to stand by those decided.” The dissenting opinion (written by Justice Stephen Breyer) argued that Roe was not a mistake and should not have been overturned.
  • The minority argued that Roe ensured that a woman has autonomy over her body and her health. Just as the government has no authority over a man’s body and health, so too with women. The fact that only women can become pregnant does not give additional government oversight to them.
  • Roe has been in effect since 1973 (nearly 50 years) and in that time women have been able to make important and permanent decisions over their lives (e.g. sexual activity and marriage). Changing the rules now places an unfair burden on women.
  • Roe also protected the private relationship between the woman and her doctor. She has a reasonable expectation of privacy and overturning Roe places someone else in the room.
  • Previous to Roe abortion was available if the woman resided in the state where abortion was legal or if she had the ability to travel. This discriminates against women who live in states that prohibit abortion and are not able to travel.

My opinion

Again, I recognize my lack of legal training. On the other hand I did read the whole thing. So here’s where I stand.

Two facts make this difficult: only women can become pregnant and we’ve never come to a consensus when a fetus becomes a person. For centuries many believed that life began when the woman could feel the baby’s movement in her womb. Scientific advances in the last century have only made things more difficult: the phrase “life begins at conception” ignores the fact that conception is a multi step process and we continually learn more about it. Pregnancy is a process and finding a fixed point where life begins continues to prove elusive.

When we think about women who seek abortions it’s too easy to label them as murderers. But by and large they are women who find themselves pregnant and believe that abortion is the only option left. Simply put, the best way to prevent abortions is to prevent unwanted or unplanned pregnancies, and we know how to achieve this. We need to teach sex education in schools and make birth control much more available. We need to teach young women that they can say no and we need to teach young men that they need to take responsibility for their actions.

I have several friends who describe themselves as “oops babies,” in other words they were unplanned but not unloved. They had the good fortune of being part of a family that could afford them (financially and emotionally). This is complicated but the more services we provide to these families the better.

Finally, despite anything you may be thinking, I am 100% pro life. I see abortion as a tragedy but allowing the courts to decide on this just makes it worse.

Thanks for reading.

July 4, 2022: It’s Been 246 Years. How Are We Doing?

It was a temperate 72 degrees on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia, not the image we often get of oppressive heat and stuffy rooms. On that day, in that place, something incredible happened. Fifty six British subjects signed a document that declared that they were no longer part of the British Empire but were instead an independent nation.

From the point of view of King George III (1738-1820) it was nothing short of treason. He saw this as a rebellion that he would put down and punish harshly. This document would be Exhibit A on executing these men.

These 56 were not a diverse group, at least by modern standards. They were all white, Christian (including one Catholic), and men of some wealth. Some were farmers, some were lawyers, some were merchants, but all had the wealth to gather in Philadelphia. They all had a great deal in common, including their belief in revolution.

Previous generations were told that their ultimate loyalty rested with the king (or queen) and they had the power of life or death over everyone. But a 33 year old farmer and scholar from Virginia wrote this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

.

In other words we are primarily subject to God, not the king. We have rights that not even the king can violate.

We’ve made a great deal of progress in the last 246 years, but we’re far from done.

  1. We ended slavery in 1865. This was perhaps the largest task of all. The framers of the Constitution (13 years in the future) recognized that there would be no United States unless slavery were allowed to continue in the South. Slavery constituted our greatest challenge and it led to a conflict that nearly destroyed us. Today, 157 years after the abolition of slavery, we’re still reckoning with full racial equality. But the fact that most of us recognize this gives us hope.
  2. We have never reverted to governance by royalty and we have never come close. Several of our Presidents have been jeered at with the epithet “King.” If you watch the 2012 movie Lincoln he is referred to as “King Abraham Africanis I.”
  3. Freedoms of press, speech, religion, and assembly are entrenched. We think nothing of writing to the local newspaper criticizing our leaders, often not even thinking that citizens of other nations wouldn’t dare. We need to look over our shoulder when we walk into our place of worship.
  4. When we see discrimination we’ve done what we can to stop it. Women now vote. People of color can now live where they choose. Recent conflicts over marriage equality, once thought impossible, are now the law of the land.

And yes, we still have a long way to go. Today we are divided in ways we haven’t seen in our lifetimes. Good people on each side accuse others of wanting to end our democracy. But our history gives us great reason for hope.

Next year I hope I’ll be commentating on our 247th birthday. I’m confident I’ll still be hopeful.

Thoughts on Christmas Movies

I write this in the days after Christmas, having watched parts of countless movies, some old, and some new. My wife loves Christmas and spent the last few weeks addicted to the Hallmark Channel. It got me thinking about Christmas movies.

As long as there have been movies we’ve experienced movies about Christmas. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) may have started this with his novel A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843.

The first half of the 20th Century gave us movies that many of us remember from our childhood. I can’t keep up with the number versions of A Christmas Carol but that was far from the only Christmas movie. We also enjoyed It’s A Wonderful Life, White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Charlie Brown Christmas (among several other cartoons).

All of these movies explored some aspect of conversion. Some character, normally the main character, found his life was changed by the birth of a child 2,000 years ago.

Ebeneezer Scrooge recognized that his choice of profit over love wouldn’t go well for him. George Bailey learned that his life made him a hero, not a sucker. Charlie Brown learned that his heart captured the real meaning of Christmas and he’s not a blockhead.

The birth of a child calls all of us to recognize the possibilities of new life. I think all of us see a newborn and wonder where his (or her) path will lead and hope it’s a path that’s good for everyone. And I think we watch these Christmas movies to remind ourselves of the reality of this.

That said, I have to confess I watch parts of several Hallmark movies with a little concern. In fairness Hallmark is a for profit company and they make movies to make money, not to remind us of who we are.

But if what I saw indicates anything it indicates this: We celebrate Christmas because it allows young, beautiful people to find each other and fall in love. A young man moves back to his hometown and connects with an old girlfriend and they find they were destined from the start. A young woman accepts a job promotion and works alongside a man who seems arrogant but really is trying to heal from a toxic breakup.

This may mark me as a grumpy old man but these movies trouble me. The birth of Jesus didn’t inaugurate a new world where young, beautiful people can finally find each other and fall in love. The birth of Jesus meant that people like Ebeneezer Scrooge and George Bailey and Charlie Brown were more valued than they thought.

And if Faux News finds out about this please understand that this isn’t an attack on the Hallmark Channel or another example on the war on Christmas.

It’s just a reflection from an old guy in California.

Thoughts On Thanksgiving

For as long as I can remember I’ve loved Thanksgiving. Full disclosure, as a child I didn’t much like turkey as I found it a dry version of chicken but that was before turkeys were engineered to taste better. But I liked the fact that it gave me a Thursday and Friday off from school.

And like many children of the 1960s I was heavily influenced by the Peanuts “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” and more to the point, Linus’ account of the shared meal between the Pilgrims and the Indians in 1621. Alas, like many historical events, our image has little to do with the actual events. If you want the true story of the first Thanksgiving, let me steer you to Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick.

Nevertheless Thanksgiving has become a time to recognize gratitude. Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1861, instituted by President Lincoln. He proclaimed it during a time of great suffering, when the future of the nation was in doubt.

Now, near the end of 2021, we have a great deal to fear. Many of our leaders continue to ignore the devastating realities of climate change and our role in its creation. Here in the United States many of our citizens have used victimization to ignore the simplest of truths and the most obvious of events.

And yet we give thanks. Thanksgiving does not depend on optimism, the preponderance of evidence, but on hope. There is darkness in even in our best days but more to the point there is light even in our worst days.

Years from now we will look back on Thanksgiving 2021 and recognize not only what was wrong, but what turned out right. Gratitude (Thanksgiving) allows us to celebrate that now.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 39: The First Monday In October

Historically the Supreme Court begins its term on the first Monday in October. Most of the time this date means little to anyone who doesn’t follow the court. But this year, well, it’s a different story.

For much of its history we’ve seen the court as being above politics and their decisions were unpredictable. Not so much today.

Today most descriptions of the court tell us that there are six conservatives: Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barret. There are also three liberals: Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

This matters because this year they may render a decision on an issue that has divided our nation for more than sixty years: abortion. Before 1973 the ability of a pregnant woman to terminate (abort) her pregnancy depended mostly on where she lived and how much money she had. In 1971 a pregnant Texas woman wished to end her pregnancy but she lived in a state where abortion was illegal. She filed a lawsuit claiming that Texas violated her right to privacy and the case, Roe v. Wade made it to the Supreme Court.

On January 22, 1973 the court decided, by a vote of 7-2, that abortion in the first trimester (13 weeks) of pregnancy was within the rights of the mother and cannot be outlawed. Pregnancies in the 2nd trimester (14-26 weeks) could be terminated with restrictions and pregnancies after 26 weeks were protected. Since then it’s been assumed that abortion was unlawful when the fetus/child was viable, that is, could live outside the womb. Opinions differ but it’s generally held that a child at 24 weeks can live outside the womb (full term is 40 weeks). It didn’t take long to divide the country.

Those who opposed abortion identify as Pro Life and those who supported abortion identify as Pro Choice.

At first the only strong Pro Life voice in the United States was the Catholic Church but by the early 1980s they were joined by Evangelical Christians

Since then these groups have formed an uneasy alliance and virtually all their energy has focused them on overturning Roe v. Wade. During the 1980s this became a cause for the Republican Party and since 1984 it’s been enshrined in their platform. Republican Presidential candidates since then have all promised to appoint Supreme Court Justices that will vote to overturn Roe V. Wade.

We may be on the cusp of that. Of the 9 justices all six who are listed as conservatives have been appointed by Republican presidents. During their confirmation hearings they all promised not to have preconceived opinions on abortion and would decide any case on its merits.

Nobody believes that. As I write this the Court has agreed to hear the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Mississippi passed a law that prohibits abortion after the 12th week of pregnancy. Since this case was filed Texas passed a law that prohibits abortion after the 6th week of pregnancy (often before the woman knows she’s pregnant). If the court finds in favor of Mississippi it will, in essence, overturn Roe v. Wade.

Cards on the table, I’m pro life. I know any number of people who describe themselves as “oops babies.” In other words their conception was unplanned and unexpected, but not unloved. I’m not naive and I’m not certain that we will ever get to zero abortions. But I believe we can look to Switzerland for guidance. Theirs is a three pronged approach. They provide sex education in schools, they make birth control free and universally available, and they work to raise the socioeconomic level of all their citizens so that nobody chooses abortion out of economic desperation.

Their abortion rate isn’t zero but it’s pretty low. But reversing Roe v. Wade also won’t eliminate abortions in the United States. It will simply allow states to write their own laws (as they did before 1973). Mississippi and Texas will certainly outlaw abortions but states like California and New York certainly will not. Women with enough money will simply travel to states that allow abortion.

But perhaps most troubling of all, women in those states without the ability to travel find themselves with few options. Some of them will choose to have illegal abortions that often lack the safety measures they need.

Some will say that people who choose to break the law shouldn’t complain about bad outcomes. But many of these women are barely past being girls. Some pregnancies are not consensual and some of them are the result of sexual abuse by someone they knew who broke their trust.

Simply put, overturning Roe v. Wade won’t get us to a pro-life nation. I fear it will draw us further away.

Thoughts On Our WIthdrawal From Afghanistan

Shortly after the events of September 11, 2001 we learned that Osama bin Laden masterminded the attack. We also knew that he was protected from capture by the Taliban, a terrorist organization who occupied Afghanistan. The Taliban identified as Muslim but denied basic rights and education to women. Most of us believed the Taliban to be evil because of their beliefs but felt we couldn’t invade another country only to impose our values on them, noble though they may be.

Osama bin Laden wasn’t a member of the Taliban but was instead the head of another terrorist organization (who also claimed to be Muslim) called al Qaeda. When we demanded that bin Laden be turned over to us Afghanistan refused.

At that point the administration of President Bush had a choice to make. They could either see the 9/11 attack as a criminal matter and dispatch the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or they could see it as an act of war and ask Congress for a Declaration of War.

They did neither. Instead, on September 18, 2001 Congress authorized President Bush to “prevent acts of international terrorism.” On this authority President Bush sent troops into Afghanistan. But here’s the problem: In December our troops were closing in on bin Laden in Tora Bora, in Afghanistan close to the border with Pakistan.

But at the time the Bush administration were more interested in invading Iraq because they claimed that Iraq stored “weapons of mass destruction.” They didn’t but the invasion of Iraq pulled out troops that could have captured bin Laden. Simply put, we were at war with both Afghanistan and Pakistan and bin Laden avoided capture.

That’s where things stood at the end of President Bush’s 2nd term in 2008. He was replace by Barack Obama. President Obama ended the occupation of Iraq in 2017. On May 2, 2011, on orders from President Obama, Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan.

So if we invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to capture or kill bin Laden and we did that over 10 years ago, why have we continued to be in Afghanistan? Good question.

President Bush famously claimed that we weren’t in the business of nation building and had no interest in forcing our American values on another nation. But that’s exactly what we tried to do. Both Presidents Obama and Trump claimed to wish to leave Afghanistan but neither did it.

This year President Biden found himself saddled with a war that none of his predecessors were willing to end, and he decided to end it.

Yes, it’s a mess. Yes, many good people in Afghanistan believed our promise to liberate them from the terrorists that drove girls and women from classrooms and the freedom to go outside their homes.

And yes, perhaps most importantly, we promised good, honest Afghans that if they helped us they could look to a better future for themselves and their families. Now many of these Afghans find themselves trapped in a country no longer their own, fearing reprisals from the Taliban, and wondering why they trusted our promises.

I don’t blame them if the regret helping us. War is an awful thing and promises easily made become hard or impossible to keep. Their vision was our vision for a free and inclusive Afghanistan, and that vision now lies in tatters.

I grieve for them. I also grieve for the brave and heroic American men and women who were placed in harm’s way. Some of them sacrificed their lives. Others came home with horrific wounds (physical, emotional, and spiritual) that will haunt them the rest of their lives. But all came home wishing for a different outcome, and many of them will likely never reconcile the guilt they feel in making promises they intended to keep.

As Americans we need to stand for the promises we make. We are a nation founded on the belief that each and every one of us has the God given tools to create a nation that embodies truth, justice and love.

Finally, and we didn’t learn this after Vietnam, we should never land boots on the ground without deciding in advance what victory would look like. If our goal was to kill or capture bin Laden, we achieved that 10 years ago. If our goal was to create a new Afghanistan in our own image, we should have had that debate 20 years ago.

Thoughts On America’s Declaration of Independence

I’ve been ruminating and thinking about this post since the 4th of July (our annual celebration of alcohol and pyrotechnics). We celebrate this day, and we should, but in some circles it comes with a certain amount of anger and division.

Some groups think we should feel gratitude for our freedom and any criticism equates to a lack of patriotism. Others steadfastly insist that our nation continues to fall short and celebrating our freedom is premature as it’s not complete.

Let me, once again, take the middle ground and hopefully shed some light instead of heat. By the way, if you’ve never read the Declaration of Independence it’s worth a read. You can find the text here.

The document makes two declarations: we are no longer a colony of Great Britain, but instead we are an independent nation; and we are all created equal, given our rights by God and not a King.

The first was easy: we are no longer British subjects. Of course the British didn’t agree to this until 1783 when they signed the Treaty of Paris and acknowledged our independence. That was the easy part.

When Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) agreed to write this document he was only 33 years old, but was well read in philosophers of the time. His most famous phrase, our entitlement to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” actually came from John Locke (1632-1704).

Mr. Jefferson also declared that “all men are created equal” even though he would continue to own slaves for the rest of his life. He and the rest of the signers recognized that the survival of this new nation depended on the continuation of the institution of slavery.

I believed Mr. Jefferson struggled with these two aspects of his life. I believe he wished this new nation didn’t depend on slavery but he was aware that it did and was aware that there was no way he could have run his plantation without slaves. I’ve formed this opinion after reading Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves by Henry Wiencek. It’s less than 300 pages and it’s worth a read.

I believe we can equate equality with the ability to vote; if you can’t vote you can’t fully participate in how our nation is run and are always subservient to those who can vote.

But in the late 1700s only a few Americans could vote, basically white, male landowners. Children couldn’t vote (and still can’t). Women weren’t able to vote in all elections until 1920. Residents of Washington D.C. couldn’t vote for President until 1964 and still don’t have representatives in Congress.

And, of course, adult, male, newly freed slaves were guaranteed the right to vote by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution in 1870 but their actually ability to vote was spotty at best (and nonexistent at worst) until civil rights legislation passed in the 1960s.

In short, a look over our history in the last 245 shows that the those eligible to vote has gradually increased. I say this with some irony as I am a white, male, landowner myself.

Several states are passing legislation that I believe intends to discourage voting among certain groups, and I believe that we need to fight against this. And sadly there is reason for discouragement in the short run.

But the phrase “all men (sic) are created equal” has always been inspirational. I believe that if Mr. Jefferson came back to life he would be pleased that the institution of slavery was gone and I hope he’d be embarrassed that his long term relationship with Sally Hemmings, one of his slaves, was known.

In the end I believe we should celebrate the 4th of July while at the same time recognizing that the phrase “all men are created equal” continues to challenge us.

Thoughts On Watergate, 49 Years After the Fact

On June 17, 1972 a small group was arrested in the Watergate Office Building in Washington D.C. Twenty six months later, President Nixon became the first American President to resign from office. He knew he would otherwise be impeached and removed from office.

It was worldwide headlines at the time but you really have to be either 60 years old or a political junkie (guilty on both counts) to remember this. Here is the elevator pitch on what happened:

In 1972 President Nixon ran for reelection against Senator George McGovern. It was a runaway from the beginning and McGovern won only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. But the Nixon administration formed a committee called “The Committee to Reelect the President” in the hopes of not only winning, but winning big. A few members of the campaign decided to find out what the McGovern campaign was doing and broke into Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate building to wiretap their phones. On the second try they were caught and arrested. President Nixon knew nothing about this until reading it in the newspaper but ordered his aides to pay money to the defendants to plead guilty and say nothing about the break in. In return their families would be taken care of. Obviously it didn’t work and by the end almost everyone involved went to prison.

I find Watergate particularly topical today. President Nixon served our nation well in many areas but not here. He believed he was above the law and bribing people to remain silent was justified. He didn’t see himself as subject to the law.

During this time many Americans were frightened that getting away with this would embolden him to continue to consolidate his power and violate the balance of power that our Constitution demands. We may have come closer than we ever knew. President Nixon continued to insist that he did nothing wrong and there was a “silent majority” who would support him.

Perhaps the greatest indication of our democracy happened on August 7th and 8th, 1974. A President resigned and a new President took office. We showed that nobody is above the law.

I write this at a time when the most recent former President believes his reelection was stolen from him and expects to return to office in a few months. He won’t.

We are still a strong democracy that believes nobody is above the law.

Thoughts on Turning 61

Earlier this week I celebrated by 61st birthday. I confess I keep hearing about people who hit the birthday that makes them feel old and launches a midlife crisis (to say nothing of hair plugs and convertible sports cars) but I’ve never experienced that.

And yet for some reason this birthday has caused me to reflect on what it means to be living in my 7th decade and it’s been an interesting exercise. Let me share a few observations:

  • I’m far beyond a midlife crisis. If my life is only halfway over I’ll live to be 122 and I don’t want that. I enjoy life as much as the next guy but if God wants to call me home when I’m 70 or 80 I’m down with that. I’ll miss everyone and I hope I have enough time to make sure I don’t leave any complications for my loved ones. I’m also aware that the older I get, the more people I will miss.
  • My body is definitely on the decline. When I was 15 I participated in a 25 mile walkathon to raise money for charity and I did it without any preparation. The next year I roller skated for 12 hours (11PM to 11AM) and when I was 23 I rode 100 miles in one day on my bicycle (it’s called a “century”). For many years I contented myself with the belief that if I spent time training I could do any of these things again. I now know those days are gone forever. No matter how long or hard I train I won’t be able to replicate these events. And that’s OK. Those are good memories and I have no desire to do them again. I’m happy with my ability to walk the hills at the San Diego Zoo and enjoy what I experience.
  • Even as a teenager peer pressure wasn’t much of a problem for me (and spared me the horror of wearing a leisure suit) but it’s less so now. I’ve learned that doing something stupid for a short term gain ends up costing much more in the long run. I don’t remember standing up for a principle or another person and regretting it. And I do regret all those times I didn’t.
  • I no longer feel a need to have an opinion on everything. We live in a society of pollsters and customer service surveys that seek our opinion on everything from Presidential approval to flavors of dental floss. I’m certainly not without opinions but a few years ago I realized that it was OK to not have an opinion on everything. At the time I saw a news report on chocolate milk being served in school lunches. Some thought this would lead to an increase in milk consumption and that was good. Others felt children shouldn’t be given chocolate at school. Me? I have no opinion.
  • Related to this, I’m fine with people disagreeing with me. After an animated discussion I told a friend this: “I know how you feel and you know how I feel. You won’t change my mind and I have no desire to change yours so let’s stop talking about it.” I think he’s still baffled by this but I’m fine with that too. I guess I find less power in my opinion than I used to.
  • I don’t have to do something because someone tells me so. I don’t have to see the new movie that changed your life and I don’t have to taste your recipe for liver because “you’ll like my liver.” If it changes your life for the better, good for you. But leave me out of it.
  • On a related note, if I don’t share you anxiety or panic over something you’re going to need to live with that. And while I’m aware that we need to do more to reverse climate change and rising extremism I don’t think the world is going to end. When my parents were children they feared Hitler and Mussolini; my childhood lived under the shadow of the Soviet Union’s nuclear capability. These threats were valid, but in the end good won over evil and I’m convinced we will do so again.

I recognize that some of these things come back to bite me, but that concern ran too much of my life when I was younger. My future has always been finite and every day “the rest of my life” gets one day shorter.

As a friend of mine says: “Don’t piss of an old person. The threat of a life sentence doesn’t mean as much as it used to.