Celebrating a Long Friendship…

I’m not a fan of surprise parties, but when Bonnie Moon called me to say she and daughter Taylor were planning a surprise party for husband Ed’s 80th birthday I knew I didn’t want to miss it.

I snapped this on Saturday night as he was arriving at the party.

Ed and I met on January 2, 1967, our first day as Pan Am pilots. Ed was the third African-American pilot hired by Pan Am. We’ve been friends for 52 years. Through work, marriages, divorces, the birth of children, bases in New York, Berlin, and Miami, promotions, furloughs, stolen pensions, a company bankruptcy, illnesses, and unwanted retirements we’ve stayed connected. On Saturday night I saw Ed through different eyes – in his other world – surrounded by friends I had never met.

I had never given much thought to the path Ed and his friends traveled, though I knew it was different and more difficult than mine. He and I have never seriously discussed race, although it’s always been in the background. We were just friends. Years ago, he invited me to dinner at his parents’ modest home in Miami where I met his father, Hoyt, a chef at Mike Gordon’s upscale fish restaurant in Miami Beach. I was shocked, at the time, to learn that Mr. Moon, as a black man, had to show ID to cross the causeway to get to his job on Miami Beach, but I still didn’t appreciate the hurdles Ed, himself, endured to get where he is.

At the party, Bonnie told us of a friend, Jay Jenkins, who first met Ed in a “Colored Only” train station waiting room on their way to college. That story triggered a memory of my own…when after arriving in Pensacola for flight training, I was upbraided by a white couple in Dillard’s department store for drinking from a “Colored Only” drinking fountain. I still remember the confusion and embarrassment it caused. At the time, Seattle had its own version of segregation and racism – the Central District ghetto, the white’s only Rainier Club, Seattle Tennis Club, Women’s University Club, and others – but I wasn’t directly affected and it was more subtle than the out and out back-of-the-bus racism I was seeing in the South.

Flash forward…Ed graduates from Tennessee State University, is commissioned a second lieutenant, and becomes an Air Force pilot. After a Vietnam tour flying the F-100 he returns to the US to consider his future. In San Francisco he visits Perry Jones, the first African-American pilot hired by Pan Am, and Perry introduces him to O.B. Young, Pan Am’s second African-American pilot. Both men encourage him to apply to Pan Am, but the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team is flying F-100s and Ed wants to tryout for the team. He tells Perry if he doesn’t make the team he’ll apply to Pan Am.

Even though one of 12 finalists, his hopes are dashed when he learns the team has rejected him. He learns later that it’s because “they aren’t ready for an African-American Thunderbird.” As a result, he leaves the Air Force, joins Pan Am, and our friendship begins. I’m sorry he didn’t get that Thunderbird slot; they missed out on a great pilot and team player but we wouldn’t be friends today if he had been selected.

Ed’s upward mobility didn’t stop when he was hired at Pan Am. In the ‘80s he was a founding member of the Organization of Black Airline Pilots (OBAP) and served as its President for several years. In that role he was asked to testify to Congress on the future of aviation and discrimination in hiring. In 1991, when Pan Am declared bankruptcy and we all lost our jobs, Ed was hired by United Airlines and started at the bottom of the seniority list again. When age forced his retirement at United, he moved on to the Transportation Security Agency where today he serves as Command Duty Officer in the operations department dealing with airport disruptions around the country.

Saturday’s event, in a banquet room at the Marriott Suites in Bethesda, Maryland, was a lovely sit down dinner for 50 with a DJ and open bar. In that room I was aware that my friendship with Ed was built around our work and friends at Pan Am, and though I’d met his family I had never met any of his other friends.

On Saturday night, Marilynn and I were seated at a table with three United Airlines captains (all African-American), three lovely former Pan Am (now Delta) flight attendants (all African-American), and Brigadier General Julius Johnson (left) a friend of Ed’s who fought in the horrific Vietnamese battles at Hue and Khe Sanh before commanding units of Army Special Forces. It’s difficult, in that setting, to believe that as recently as 1963 an African-American pilot (Marlon Green) had to take his case all the way to the US Supreme Court in order to be hired by a US airline. I guess that shows progress, but as Bob Dylan wrote, “Yes’n, how many years must a people exist/Before they’re allowed to be free?”

It’s clear that Ed is a trailblazer with an impressive resume’, but wife Bonnie is no less so. She began her career as a United Airlines flight attendant, became a UAL supervisor, then transferred to Pan Am where she became a Purser and flight attendant recruiter. While”air-lining” full-time she enrolled in law school, earned her degree and gave birth to their daughter, Taylor. She still hasn’t stopped; today she practices law in the District of Columbia with a specialty in guardianship – protecting those who have difficulty protecting themselves. We feel lucky to count them as our friends and to have met some of their other remarkable friends.

It may be age, or simply an awareness of how rare and valuable friendship is that’s led me to write more than one essay about friendship in recent months. It’s also a reminder of how the duration of some friendships, like the 52 years with Ed, that prompts me to search for the right words to celebrate those relationships. Whatever it is, I’m appreciative and aware that even though we’ve known each other for so long, there are always surprises and new friends to be found in these relationships.

In 2016, we visited Washington DC during the week the National Museum of African-American History and Culture opened, but we couldn’t get tickets in the rush of the Grand Opening. Last Sunday, following Ed’s party, we did. It’s a sobering experience… one that makes me both uncomfortable and proud. Uncomfortable to be white and acknowledge the unimaginable hardships black Americans have suffered, and proud to know so many of my friends who have succeeded in spite of that history.

P.S. – Last year I sent Ed a blog I’d written about a childhood experience I had with an African-American classmate named Corky White. We were 7 years old. One day, after school, I took Corky home to play. When my father came home he told me never to bring a black friend home again. Ed liked the blog and sent it out to his network. William Clay, a former Congressman, read it and responded by telling Ed he knew a Corky White who lived in Maryland but grew up in Seattle. Bill Clay checked and it was indeed the same Corky White. Thanks to Ed, Bill, and this six-degrees of separation, Corky and I reconnected 73 years after our childhood play date. In March of 2018, Corky, his wife Patsy, Marilynn and I, and our neighbors, George and Marianne Holifield, who knew Corky in high school, all had lunch together in Seattle. Small world and a tribute to Mr. Moon’s very large and varied network.

Feeling Sorry for Trump…

The universe works in mysterious ways… Last night, for the first time, I actually felt sorry for Donald Trump. It happened at a performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights at the Seattle Repertory Theater. Miranda’s hip hop/rap/salsa/merengue musical chronicles the lives of a group of Latinx immigrants full of hope and aspiration in the Washington Heights neighborhood at the northern tip of Manhattan. Some are first generation, some second, but they found their way to the Heights from all over Latin America – Cuba, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Puerto Rico – in search of a better life. What they find there, in the tenements and steamy summer heat of Upper Manhattan, is community and a shared humanity.

So, what caused my mind shift last night? It’s complicated. I’d been working on an article about the current border crisis but couldn’t figure out how to talk about it without dipping into typical liberal-speak about fear, racial bias, or the tired entreaties of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But, last night, the music and energy of In the Heights gave me the positive image I was looking for – hard working immigrants surging with energy, hope, and a devotion to community wanting to make a better life for themselves and their families. Yes, it’s a musical fiction. Yes, it’s riding the wave and enormous success of Miranda’s Hamilton. But, like all good art, its power comes from the emotion it releases in us and the truth it conveys.

I feel sorry for Donald Trump because he doesn’t know that joy of community. His body language tells us he’s never felt the liberating power of dance and music. His words and actions tell us he doesn’t understand or appreciate the value of artistic expression. As president, he has rejected two invitations to attend the Kennedy Center Honors, created to recognize “exceptional artists who have made enduring and indelible marks on our culture.” Nor has he invited a single artist to perform at the White House. Who can forget the Pablo Casals performance at the Kennedy White House, Bill Clinton playing the sax on the Arsenio Hall Show, or Lin-Manuel previewing the first song of Hamilton for the Obamas and friends when it was just being written? Trump’s ignorance and myopia prevent him from enjoying or acknowledging the contributions of the many diverse communities – Jewish, Hispanic, African-American, Irish, Italian, Polish, Arab, Asian – that make up the American experience. I feel sorry for him but I don’t forgive him for what he’s done to our culture and reputation.

In Trump’s America, walking on eggshells is easier than finding common ground for a discussion of immigration policy. I confess, I can’t wrap my head around the “why” of it, but his incendiary midterm election rhetoric and a fearful, lethargic Congress are keeping us from having a meaningful dialogue and finding a solution to the immigration “problem.”

At its core, the “problem” is difficult only because opposing camps have been unwilling to sit down and wrestle with the details. If we want to find a solution, both sides need to tamp down of the rhetoric, approach the discussion in good faith, summon our capacity for compassion, and be willing to compromise. At its simplest, it will require capital – human and financial – along with acceptance of the fact that war, anarchy, gang violence and corruption underlie the soaring number of immigrants surging along our southern border.

This is not normal, nor is it just an American problem…it’s worldwide. Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas are all experiencing unprecedented flows of refugee and migrant populations. In the Americas, that influx is putting immense pressure on the people and systems that protect our southern border. Refugees and migrants fleeing the danger in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are increasing the stress at American border crossings.

To be clear, the migrants and refugees swarming toward us now are exceptions to normal immigration. Depending on who’s speaking these are “undocumented immigrants,” “illegal aliens,” “economic migrants,” or “bad people.” Each appellation has a layered connotation, but regardless of your political leanings, telling tens of thousands of people that they need to apply for admission to the United States through established procedural channels is an avoidance strategy not a solution. The current administration has its head in the sand if it thinks this mass movement is going to sit on its hands in Tijuana for 10 years in order to be considered for possible inclusion in normal visa flows.

Why isn’t Congress’ addressing the crisis? Lancing this festering boil on our southern border should be their number one priority. Until a solution is crafted the entire US government will be stalled. Can a divided Congress find the will to address it? We’re suffering and divided and will continue to be until it does. There are no simple solutions. It’s difficult but not impossible. In 2013 the US Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, a bipartisan bill introduced and co-sponsored by the Gang of Eight (4 leading Republicans and 4 leading Democrats). Hearings were held, markups made, and on June 27, 2013 the Senate passed the bill with a vote of 68 to 32.

The bill provided “illegal immigrants” who resided in the US prior to December 31, 2011 a path to citizenship pending the payment of a fine, back taxes, and passing a background check without a criminal record. It also gave the children of illegal immigrants, the so-called “Dreamers,” permanent resident (Green Card) status. It beefed up the border fence and increased the number of US Customs and Border Protection agents and introduced a “merit-based visa system” to deal with future legal immigration.

Despite bipartisan Senate passage, the House of Representatives under Speaker John Boehner refused to bring the bill to a vote. It died on the floor of the House. Today, the problem still exists, and we are further from a solution than we were in 2013.

Some Americans, fueled by Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, see a threatening invasion of Central Americans on our southern border, but immigration is not just an American problem. In the UK, hard feelings and divisions over immigration forced a vote that resulted in Britain’s departure from the European Union. Similarly, European countries dealing with an unprecedented wave of refugees from war torn Middle Eastern and North African countries are straining to find resources and struggling to assimilate diverse populations. In Myanmar, Rohingya natives fleeing genocide are relocating to an unwelcoming Bangladesh. The underlying causes of these problems are many, but their geographic distribution makes it clear that immigration is not, as Donald Trump wants us to believe, primarily an American phenomenon.

Most countries, including America, have a system in place to process migrants that establishes the number and categories of immigrants it will accept annually. The American system is not perfect but it has been an orderly way to evaluate and vet people wanting to relocate to the United States.

The migrants on our southern border do not fit into our normal system for the orderly processing of applicants. The world is no longer orderly, if it ever was, and extreme events such as drought, famine, civil war, and despotic governments, death squads and terrorism are driving populations from their homes in search of safer places to live. These extremes underlie the sudden and desperate relocation of huge numbers of people. The “system” was never intended to address or manage large disorderly populations like the ones we’re seeing today. These groups, whether they are Syrians seeking refuge in Germany or Hondurans fleeing drug violence for a safe haven in America, do not have time to wait the eleven years it takes to go through the systematic visa vetting process. They are terrified, and their plight is urgent.

All of these “extra” immigrant populations are “undocumented,” meaning they do not have the required documents to immigrate legally. Most are hoping to be granted asylum status and be admitted on the basis of threats to their welfare. So, how do we approach a solution to this extraordinary situation?

Historian Jon Meacham’s most recent book, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels asks us to consider how we got into this polarized, gridlocked political stalemate and appeals to “our better angels” to lead us out of it. Where is our compassion? What kind of government tells migrants the only way to asylum is through an official port of entry and then blocks access to that crossing? What perversion leads this same government, our government, to limit asylum interviews to a handful each day while thousands are told they have to wait their turn. Where is the “can do” spirit that can put a man on the moon but can’t process asylum applications for people who have walked more than 1000 miles seeking safety? What kind of a president sends an armed military to an international border as a pre-election stunt when border law officers are adequate for enforcement? What kind of government uses tear gas against women and children whose only sin is frustration with a broken system only ask for a safe place to live.

According to best estimates, there are about 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America. They mow our lawns, make our beds, wash our dishes, and clean our houses. That’s 3.66% of the US population. Estimates are that 3.6 million of the 11 million are “DREAMers,” children brought to the US by their parents and given a special status by President Obama. Because Congress hasn’t solved the problem there are now roughly 4000 migrants at or near the US-Mexico border. On Sunday, ICE closed the border and used tear gas to push the crowd on the opposite side of the border back.

Referring to In the Heights, Braden Abraham, Artistic Director of the Seattle Rep wrote

“I’m struck by how this (2008) groundbreaking work resonates differently now and more broadly than ever. A lot has happened over the last decade, from the Great Financial Crisis, to Lin-Manuel transforming musical theater with is monumental Hamilton, to the emergence of immigration as the toxic centerpiece of our politics. As incendiary as this is, the first may be the better clue to In the Heights increased relevance. The questions Lin-Manuel’s Upper Manhattan Latinx community wrestles with—what it means to have roots, a community, or a home; whether to stay in a pace or leave or if one even has a choice in the face of economic inequality and gentrification; whether the American Dream can still be achieved—are increasingly being asked by people and communities, both immigrant and no-immigrant, throughout our country.

I continue to believe that the arts can reach us and teach us things we need to know about ourselves, each other, and the world. It’s unrealistic to think that Donald Trump will be changed by something as energetic and moving as In the Heights, but it can remind us of the real America and give voice to those of us who feel we have lost ours in the last two years.

Trump as Tragic Figure…

Ever since that theatrical moment when he and Melania – rode the escalator from their gilded palace in Trump Tower to the food court below – I’ve been trying to find a suitable metaphor, real or literary, to describe the unfolding drama of our times.

Before the inauguration I thought Donald Trump might be our Great Gatsby, and I even wrote an essay making the equation.  http://www.jackbernardstravels.com/djt-great-gatsby. Like Jay Gatsby, Trump is a larger than life character removed from the concerns of ordinary people. Both characters cultivate images as self-made empire builders with self-inflated biographies. Both crave acceptance by the elite they will never be a part of and surround themselves with leeches and hangers-on. Both love extravagant trappings and beautiful women, and Trump would no doubt be flattered by the comparison. Even if he doesn’t read or know the story, to see himself as a character portrayed by Robert Redford or Leonardo DiCaprio would stroke his unquenchable ego and delusional image as a handsome leading man of unimaginable wealth.

But differences abound; Gatsby’s Long Island estate is an “old money” property not a midtown Manhattan tower built by Mafia thugs using cheap materials. No, Trump is definitely not Gatsby. Both are imposters, and neither is what he seems, but Gatsby has good taste in trappings and women. He isn’t a nouveau riche vulgarian from Queens who chases models and thinks gold toilets are symbols of class.

Gatsby, like Trump, is a criminal. He made his money as a rum runner and does business with criminals but is brought down by a case of mistaken identity. It could happen to Donald as well. Wouldn’t it be ironic if a porn star, a Playboy model, and some Russian hookers are the ones that drive the final stake in Donald’s mythology? Just desserts in a fake world. Fake gold. Fake tits. Fake hair. Fake tan. No, Donald Trump is not our Great Gatsby.

But, who is a comparable figure? Is it John Gotti, the Teflon Don (no pun intended). He comes to mind, but he’s too smooth, too well dressed and too well-spoken. Like the Donald, he’s a ruthless criminal surrounded by henchmen and it’s entirely possible the Donald will also end up behind bars. How about Tony Soprano? Is he too real? Too earthy? Too invested in his team? Donald would sell his children if it would save his skin (or hair). Or, how about Bernie Madoff? He fooled a lot of smart people for a very long time…and while the Donald may have fooled his base, he never really fooled us. We always knew he was a fraud. Those of us who have observed him over the years have always known he was a liar, a fake, and thin-skinned trickster.

So, if it’s not Gatsby or Tony Soprano, is there a better analog? Lately, I think the better metaphor is Lear, the king who loses his grip on reality and family. Surrounded by a “mocking Fool,” greedy family, and sycophants who flatter him ceaselessly, we watch as he gradually descends into madness ranting that the whole world is corrupt. Unable to trust those around him, he yields to his impotent rage. No comparison is exact but this one seems apt. I have a hard time thinking of Trump as a Shakespearean character except as a comedic Falstaffian foil (a fat, vain, boastful, cowardly slob who surrounds himself with petty thieves). But, Shakespeare keeps surprising us with how contemporary he is, and staging King Lear today he might choose Trump as the tragic king who gradually descends into madness while his family dissembles and the kingdom suffers.

Since last week’s midterm elections, he has taken on Lear-like characteristics. He sees himself under siege. The press is after is ass. House Democrats are emboldened and threaten like wild dogs. The Mueller investigation haunts him. His former confidants Cohen, Manafort, Rick Gates, Flynn, and Roger Stone are all under indictment or soon will be. He rages about an immigrant invasion coming from the south. He’s paranoid about leaks and doesn’t trust anyone but family and Sean Hannity. His wife orders the firing of a deputy national security advisor and he complies. He fires Jeff Sessions and appoints an interim AG whose last job involved selling fraudulent time travel, Sasquatch verification, and toilets. He exiles staffers, promulgates conspiracy theories, photoshops videotapes of a White House press conference, withholds press credentials, and lashes out at African-American women reporters. He rants about rigged elections, voter fraud, and patriotism, but he can’t drag his sorry ass to a WWI cemetery in France or Arlington National to honor the dead on Veterans Day.

Rain… Bad hair day… Enemies everywhere.

And, Ivanka… perhaps his last true ally, like Lear’s daughter, Cordelia, has made herself scarce amidst the shitstorm. Even his few remaining allies are terrified. WTF are we Americans to think of an ignorant lunatic formulating foreign policy based on what Fox and Friends reports in the morning or Sean Hannity tells him at night. With the power and resources of the entire US government at his disposal he takes his cues from Hannity, and Alex Jones.

God save us.

Escaping the Nightmare…

As a movie fan I’m often surprised to learn how long it takes to bring a film project to the screen. What seems like an of-the-moment performance may take years to find its way to a theater near you. That’s certainly true of the newest version of A Star is Born starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Like its earlier versions, this is the story of an older star who discovers a young talent, falls in love with her, but is ultimately destroyed by alcohol and jealousy as his protege’s star brightens while his own grows dimmer.

The Star is Born franchise was launched in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March featured in a non-musical telling of the story. It was retold as a musical in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason in the leading roles and again in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson—all of them “star” vehicles, but none, to my mind, as touching or artistically polished as the current Bradley Cooper version.

This newest iteration, in theaters now, had its origins in 2011 when Clint Eastwood began developing an updated remake with Beyoncé in the leading role. Frustrated by casting problems and other production delays, Eastwood let his project die until Cooper picked it up in 2016 agreeing to take over as star and first-time director with an updated story line.

If you haven’t seen it you’re missing a Master Class in acting, film making, song writing and storytelling. I’ve seen it twice, along with viewings of its antecedents and purchase of the soundtrack.

In this version, Cooper plays Jackson Maine a country rocker who still draws stadium-sized crowds but is propped up by alcohol and hard drugs. When he discovers Ally, a young woman singing in a drag bar, he recognizes her talent and is smitten. He encourages her songwriting and brings her on stage at one of his shows (Coachella) to sing an arrangement of the song she wrote and previewed for him in a supermarket parking lot. Suddenly, her career is launched, and she’s on a rocket ride toward stardom.

As he was casting the film, Mr. Cooper remembered seeing Lady Gaga sing a few years earlier. Then, fortuitously, he heard her again, this time singing La Vie en Rose, the Edith Piaf classic, at a benefit concert in Los Angeles. The following morning, he called to ask her if he could stop by to talk. She agreed and shortly after arriving he asked if they could sing together (Midnight Special). She was surprised by the timing and urgency of his request, but they sat down at her white piano and that was it. She was in – and so was La Vie en Rose.

The updated story beautifully and believably crafted by Cooper is a dark one, but unlike the Streisand and Garland versions this one is not overplayed. Lady Gaga reveals herself to be an accomplished actress as well as a superb singer-songwriter. She, Cooper, and Lukas Nelson (Willie’s son) wrote most of the music, and to make it real performed all of the songs live at Coachella, Glastonbury, and in small clubs.

To add even more authenticity to his portrayal of Jackson, he studied guitar with Lukas Nelson for 18 months and met with Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam as his on-stage performer model. He also felt that Jackson’s voice needed to be lower than his own, so he hired a voice coach to help him model the new voice on Sam Elliott’s (who was later hired to play Jackson’s brother).

I’ve been a longtime admirer of Cooper’s work, including American Sniper and Silver Linings Playbook, but it was an interview with James Lipton on Bravo’s Inside the Actor’s Studio that gave me a true appreciation for his professionalism as an actor. He comes from a middle-class home where his stockbroker father and housewife mother engaged their children in serious conversation over dinner every night. He had their full support and there was never any question when he told them he wanted to be an actor and attend the Actors Studio. I remember liking him even more when he invited his mother to be his date for the Oscars in 2013 and announced that he had stopped drinking because it was affecting his work as an actor. Today, he shares his LA home with his supermodel girlfriend, Irina Shayk, and their new baby.

I came late to the Lady Gaga party, because I was put off by her early stunts – the dramatic meat dress, emerging from an egg at the Grammy’s and other episodes early in her career. But, her album of duets with Tony Bennett made a fan of me, and my appreciation has grown steadily since. If you haven’t seen their rendition of The Lady is a Tramp you’ve missed a classic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPAmDULCVrU

In A Star is Born, Lady Gaga aka Stephanie Germonatta, is Ally, the aspiring singer-songwriter, not Gaga. Her character is a plain Jane restaurant server with mousey brown hair, a big nose and no makeup, and her only escape from this mundane life is singing in a drag bar where the drag queens and clientele love her.

In post-release interviews journalists have been quick to ask if this character is the real Lady Gaga aka Stephanie, and she has been equally quick to assert that she is not. The girl with the mousey brown hair, she says, is Ally her character in the film. She is certainly a stripped down, un-ornamented version of the woman we know as Lady Gaga, but an actress able to create a memorable and authentic character no matter whether it is Ally the rising star or the real Stephanie Germanotta.

I could write more but I encourage you to see the film for yourself. I may have turned my appreciation into a political escape strategy, but in the process I’ve had a fascinating time reading film reviews, the New York Times Magazine cover feature on Gaga (October 7, 2018), watching the Stephen Colbert-Gaga interview, re-watching Cooper’s interview on Inside the Actors Studio, and seeing the documentary Lady Gaga: Five-Foot-Two.

These two actor/singer/songwriter/musicians are demanding professionals who deserve all the raves they’re getting for A Star is Born. For me, the film is Oscar-worthy and I look forward to seeing both actors take the stage when Oscar comes around in 2019.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me. It’s time to get back to the nightmare and the fight for our democracy. Today’s news was all about the mid-term election – or it was until the President fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and installed a stooge to run the DOJ and oversee the Mueller investigation. The nightmare continues. Why does every day have to be an exercise in constitutional survival?

 

Can You Love a Bigot?

My father served for more than 60 years as secretary of the University Kiwanis Club in Seattle. It wasn’t his profession. It was his passion. He saw it as his way to give back to the community and do good in the world. In 1977 he was chosen by Kiwanis as the “Man of the Half-Century,” an honor that brought tears to his eyes. He was a “good man” in the eyes of his community and his family. I loved him, but…

Last week, in sorting through family pictures and memorabilia I ran across a letter he wrote to my godparents in 1960. It was written after he and my mother returned from a trip to New Orleans and Miami. Near the end of the letter he wrote:

“If you ever go to New Orleans let me know as I know all the strippers by their first names. We got quite a kick out of the French Quarter. Miami Beach you can have. I have never seen so many Jews in my life. I don’t know why they wanted a country of their own as they have one in Florida.”

My father was a bigot. Respectful and polite in public, he was a bigoted white man who privately referred to blacks as “coons” and Jews as “kikes.” He didn’t believe blacks, Jews and Indians were entitled to Constitutional protections. He forbad me to have a black friend (I’ve written about this before) and thought Jews were going to “jew us” out of our rightful heritage.

I want to believe that were he alive today, his racism and bigotry would have been replaced by an honest recognition that he was wrong. Even in his time, decency would have led him to regard today’s Donald Trump as vulgar and unfit for the presidency. Even so, he might have voted for him, but I’m quite certain he would never have voted for Barack Obama. His racism was too deeply ingrained to vote for a black president.

That was the home environment I grew up in. I loved my parents but hated their prejudice. In high school and college, we had fierce verbal battles about racism, mostly academic for them since they had no contact with black people and only occasional interactions with Jewish “friends.”  They lived in a lily-white world, where fear of blacks, Mexicans, and Jews colored their political and social attitudes, although they knew that their son’s friends were a mix of colors and faiths.

On Saturday, a deranged, un-closeted bigot murdered 11 elderly Jewish congregants and injured 6, including 4 police officers who were attempting to halt the slaughter at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Earlier in the week, in another part of the country, the FBI was working diligently to uncover the identity of an unhinged bomb-building Trump zealot who mailed 14 pipe-bombs to two former presidents and twelve other Trump critics.

My parents were both college graduates. They’re dead now, but I like to think they would be appalled by these horrific events and outraged that white-supremacy, anti-Semitism, domestic violence, and anti-institutional rhetoric has been allowed to surface, fester and permeate national politics by a president who refuses to condemn their manifestations.

It would be comforting to think that every educated American would condemn this kind of bigotry, but at a time when racial and ethnic animosity is at such a high level it flies in the face of evidence. I have two close friends who have expressed sentiments similar to those my father wrote out in 1960. One friend is a retired teacher and Christian youth leader. The other is a well-respected community leader. Both have expressed anti-Semitic feelings in the course of our conversations. Both would deny it. Such is the nature of an unthinking bias. The teacher often talks about his high school “Jew teammate buddies,” and the community leader friend often criticizes Jewish “friends” but is seemingly unaware that his comments are not-so-veiled anti-Semitism.

Pittsburgh, mail bombs, school shootings, Charlottesville—these are symptoms of America’s poisonous leadership vacuum. Wherever Donald Trump goes and whenever he speaks the message that blares out is “If you’re white, Christian, born here, and love me I will speak for you.” If you are “other” you’re on your own. I will not protect you.

Right now, a group of 3-4000 migrants, mostly from violence-ridden Honduras and El Salvador are walking toward America’s southern border. Trump and his posse are calling them invaders and terrorists, and Kevin McCarthy, the House Majority Leader claimed that their journey is being funded by George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and Tom Steyer – not coincidentally all Jewish. This is not a dog-whistle alert. This is blatant anti-Semitism.

My father’s racism and anti-Semitism were reflexes based in fear of the “other.” He tried hard to be a good citizen and was well regarded by his peers. His bigotry was private—shared only with those closest to him. He was not the most powerful man on the planet whose words set the tone for public attitudes and discourse in America. Donald Trump is an uninformed, greedy, self-dealing, provocateur whose only reference is himself – a person who makes tepid references to terrible violent events only when they are scripted by others and read unenthusiastically from a teleprompter when forced by his communications director.

I loved my father–Kiwanis’ “Man of the Half Century”–but I abhorred his bigotry. There is no neutrality when anti-Semitism is present. Silence is complicity. Your vote on November 6 can make a difference. Don’t be complicit.