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. 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.

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.



The Art of Politics…

The Middle East is a stewpot of millennia old resentments – tribal envy, ethnic animosity, and territorial covetousness – historic sites, beautiful people, extreme poverty, oil fortunes, and political intrigue with an underlying stench of greed and desperation.

The grisly, murder, dismemberment, and disposal of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is the latest iteration of this ages old situation. It usually takes years to give us distance from real life events, like the Saudi murder, in order for them time to become the subject of artistic expression. Such is the case with a play now on stage at ACT Theatre in Seattle. The issue is still current, though the play is about a 1993 attempt to address the “Palestinian problem.”

Last weekend, M and I saw Oslo,the Tony Award-winning play based on the Oslo Accords – a most unlikely subject for live theater. The play chronicles the back-channel effort by two low ranking Norwegian diplomats to engineer a solution to the problem of Israel and the 700,000 Arab/Muslim people displaced during its formation. It was always difficult to imagine Israel and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) coming together to craft a solution, but the Oslo Accords nearly pulled it off. If Itzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres representing Israeli and Yasser Arafat and Abu Ala on the Palestinian side seemed like intransigent foes, think of today’s protagonists – Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas – finding common ground.

The drama is Shakespearean in scope and intensity. Would that Shakespeare could have stuck around to distill its essence and bring its players to the stage? J.T. Roger’s Oslo is an ambitious three-hour attempt to give us a metaphor for what’s wrong with the world today. Envy, greed, hatred, distrust, ambition, subjugation, lies, courage and cowardice are all part of it.

The play is a cliff-hanging depiction of the conflict. Its locus is the Holy Land—the intersection, two-thousand years ago – of the world’s three “great” religions. Today, our myopic focus views the problem’s origins in the founding of the Jewish state in 1948 and the resulting expulsion of 70,000 Palestinians from their homes. The real origins and resentments go back to the time of Christ, the founding of Constantinople and the Eastern Orthodox church, the Crusades and their failure, the coming of the Ottoman Empire in 1299 and its breakup at the end of World War I and its subsequent artificial boundaries established by colonial powers. Each period gave way to a rival ideology – Judaism to Christianity to Islam to secularism – and the bastardizations that resulted when sacred ground became the disputed currency of their respective geopolitical units.

In 1972 Beirut was an overnight stop on Pan Am’s famous Round-the World flights (001 and 002), and one night on the way to the luxurious Phoenicia Hotel our crew bus passed the Shatila refugee camp (above), home to thousands of Arabs exiled from Palestine in 1948. As we passed the camp, the Captain and I wondered aloud how long this explosive sub-human situation could continue. Two nights later, terrorists were foiled in their attempt to hijack a Pan Am airplane on the tarmac at the Beirut airport, the first of several such attacks. Beirut, the Paris of the Middle East, was about to become a war zone.

In 2019 the Shatila camp will be 70 years old, and the UN reports that despite the Lebanese civil war, an Israeli invasion, Hezbollah uprisings, and recurring Israeli air strikes, the camp remains home to 9,842 Palestinian refugees.

But first it was the Jews that were displaced and dispersed. The “diaspora” which began with the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC, spread Jews and Jewish culture around the world – but their ongoing hope was always to return the Chosen People to their Biblical promised land. The Jews of the diaspora were admired and reviled in life and in the arts. Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens all had despicable Jewish villains. On the world stage, depending on the viewer, they were seen as successful bankers, generous patrons of the arts, greedy money changers, and Christ-killers until Hitler established them as the perfect foil for his genocidal misanthropy and all that was wrong with Germany post WWI.

The fortunes of Israel since 1948 have been as tumultuous as its larger historical legacy. Following the genocidal events of WWII there was considerable sympathy and good will supporting the establishment of a Jewish state. For decades following its formation, talented diplomats attempted to thread the needle with an indigenous Arab population that outnumbered the new nation’s Jewish immigrants. Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, Itzhak Rabin, and Shimon Peres all were conscious of the tightrope they walked and the need to find a solution to the growing upset of local Arabs and the displacement of thousands of other Palestinians.

A two-state solution i.e. the creation of parallel Jewish and Arab states, had been proposed as early as 1937 during the British Mandate of Palestine, but following the foundation of Israel the local Arab population and displaced Palestinian refugees could never muster enough support to counter the growing power of Israel.

This is the background for the “Accords” and Oslo, the play by J.T. Rogers. An earlier attempt at resolution, the Camp David Accords (Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat, and Menachem Begin), failed when Yasser Arafat refused to buy-in and Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian leader was murdered. With that in the background, it seemed unlikely that a back-channel attempt by two Norwegians would be successful. Starting low on the diplomatic totem pole, with non-governmental representatives from both sides, the Norwegians coddled, complimented, cajoled, (and fed) the participants until the higher-level government officials were reluctantly coaxed into participating in the negotiations.

The play runs three hours with two intermissions. It’s a hard slog at times on a Friday night after cocktails and a pizza, but it’s worthy of the Tony it received in 2017.

Needless to say, the unimaginable Oslo Accords arrived at by the Israeli and PLO representatives ultimately failed, but not because of disagreements between the parties. They had found agreement and comity among themselves – a tribute to the value of face to face negotiations between antagonists. No, in the end, it failed because the agreeing parties couldn’t convince their constituent populations to let go of their hatred and ages-old resentment. First, Itzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister was murdered by one of his own and in the aftermath Arafat couldn’t control terrorist bombers blew up civilian busses and cafes in Tel Aviv. The hostilities escalated from there.

Today, a solution to both “the Palestine problem” and the broader Middle East disequilibrium seems out of reach despite earlier efforts like the Camp David and Oslo Accords. For a moment, in 2011, the grass roots movement of the Arab Spring challenged totalitarian regimes across the region and held out the promise of democratic change, but chaos and suppression took the air out of the movement and blocked its chances.

In Israel, the hard right-turn of the government, and its aggressive, unauthorized building of settlements on the West Bank, combined with the Trump administration’s provocative Embassy move to Jerusalem and withdrawal of financial aid to the UN Palestinian Refugee Fund and Gaza to put an end to talk of a two-state solution. It’s difficult to imagine two self-dealing heads of state like Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump, both under investigation for corruption by their own governments, making any effort to help the Arab and Palestinian populations take a meaningful step toward statehood. And, with a rank amateur like Jared Kushner in charge of Middle East policy it’s a setup for even greater tragic error.

The stewpot continues to simmer in the Middle East and, as the Captain and I agreed driving by the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, the situation is a powder-keg ready to blow again if regional powers don’t find a solution.

The play we saw last week was a lesson in hope…failed hope but hope nevertheless. Unfortunately, the Oslo Accords were unsuccessful, but the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union were also unimaginable – examples of how seemingly intractable political adversaries could achieve extraordinary results…when the will is there and the parties show courage above self-interest.


Tangled Roots…

Do you ever wonder about your ancestry? Do you know how and when your family came to America? Is there any strange fruit hanging on your family tree? Einstein? Al Capone? Sarah Bernhardt? What do you really know about your family’s history?

Are you a true American? Probably not; Elizabeth Warren’s recent DNA test confirms that she is, because her ancestry links back to those who inhabited North America before 1600. They’re the only true Americans. The rest of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Even Donald Trump’s tangled roots are buried in one of those “shithole” countries in Africa he likes to disdain.

Like most Americans, I didn’t know a lot about mine–when did the first Bernards arrive in America, where did they come from, or how to find the answers to these questions until recently. I hadn’t really thought much about it until I was living in Berlin and a friend questioned me about it. When I told her I didn’t know much, she was stunned and walked me over to a framed picture hanging in her entrance hall. It was a drawing of her own family tree dating all the way back to 1500. I learned later it was common for Germans to build those family trees – true or false – because the Nazi’s were always checking for genetic purity. Nevertheless, her question piqued my curiosity.

My own parents, like many American parents, seemed reticent to talk about family ancestry. I didn’t understand it, but it didn’t seem that unusual. My mother was an only child of older parents and I sensed her childhood was an unhappy one. My father was the youngest of five siblings, 17 years younger than his next oldest and raised mostly by his older sisters. Neither my mother nor my father offered me information about our lineage and I didn’t press them for it. To be fair, they might not have known much. In the early days of the republic and the rush westward to a better life, a lot of family histories were lost or forgotten.

I accepted the conventional wisdom that immigrant families were anxious to assimilate and distance themselves from their foreign roots and chose not to pass on the story of their origins. I had no reason to believe that about my family, but there was an absence of information so it made sense.

Because my parents didn’t talk about it, family history didn’t seem important. At one point, to fill in the blanks, I concocted a story about a French heritage, plausible in my own mind because Bernard is a French surname and I’ve always been a Francophile. But it was bogus, and I started to unpack the family history when my mother died and a distant cousin sent me information she had uncovered about our family’s roots.

Since 1953, when James Watson and Francis Crick broke the code – literally broke the code –and discovered the structure of the DNA molecule (double helix, below) it’s become increasingly easier to trace ancestry. Genome scientists have expanded the decoding and today ordinary mortals can send a saliva sample to various commercial enterprises such as 23 and Me or and unlock the door to their genetic provenance.

Recently, with information from 23 and Me, I discovered that Bernard ancestors, mostly Irish and Scottish in origin, settled in Virginia before America became nation. We weren’t fugitives after all, and from a farm near Thomas Jefferson’s estate at Monticello in the 1700’s the family slowly moved west over the next 200 years.

My favorite Bernard story, maybe a metaphor for the whole clan, involved two distant cousins. Uncle Sam and Uncle George who had reached Colorado just before the Gold Rush at Cripple Creek. In 1892 they opened a grocery store to supply the miners, and according to “The Ghost Towns of Colorado,”

Sam took over William Shemwell’s half interest in the Elkton claim for canceling Shemwell’s $36.50 grocery bill, and Uncle George paid Sam Gee, a “colored ash-hauler,” $50 for his one-eighth interest. George then financed the development work for two years until he was just about broke and the Elkton was about to be abandoned. Then they hit pay dirt–$40,000 in the first week. Eventually, the Elkton produced gold worth $16,000,000. Later Sam Bernard got control of another rich mine, the Beacon Hill El Paso—an $11,000,000 producer.

The Bernard boys took their millions and more or less retired from mining in 1902. George bought a huge ranch north of the Springs and raised blooded cattle. Sam went in for trotting horses. But, George died practically penniless in 1933. Sam died in ’37 an indigent patient at Colorado State Hospital (the state mental hospital).

As Kurt Vonnegut would say, “So it goes.” The Bernards and their money are soon parted, but it’s a good story and we like good stories. Thanks to DNA science and the expansion of genomic and genealogical resources, we can all learn more about our families.

In the past, I’ve asked myself “Why is family history important?” I still don’t know the answer, but as the last remaining member of my generation it “feels” important. Of 5 uncles and aunts and 10 first cousins I am the sole survivor. Ancient cultures have always had a tradition of passing their ancestry information to succeeding generations. At this point, I wish my parents had talked more about it.

The more I learn about my ancestors, the clearer the picture of the American timeline becomes. Pre-revolutionary immigration, the acquisition of land, the establishment of homesteads, child mortality, hard farm labor, the halting trek West, education as a way to a better life (my uncles and aunts were all college graduates before 1920), and improvements in the quality of life. My father was born the year the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, and 55 years later I flew an airplane at 1000mph.

America is a land of immigrants and opportunity. Mr. Trump wants to close the door, pull up the ladder and dump the people of color overboard. My family would probably pass the Trump test, but I have grandchildren, close friends, and neighbors who would not. We can’t let him close the door. Immigrants and diversity have made America as great as it is. Embrace it. I’m glad to have learned more about my ancestry. I plan to learn more. The information is out there, but sometimes it takes a little digging to untangle those roots.