Pope Francis – A Remarkable Man, Visit, and Message

By eschewing many of the trappings of his office and reaching out to all people, Pope Francis has positioned himself to speak with unprecedented moral authority. If one were to boil down the essence of Pope Francis’ ministry it is a message of hope, of respect for the sanctity of life, of the dignity of human beings, and a call to action to leaders everywhere to accept responsibility for finding solutions to the problems of mankind.

His charge to leadership, whatever their venue, is to build bridges that bring people together in search of shared interests. He challenges leaders to set aside personal agendas and to develop a process whereby people can work together toward the common good.

This message is of particular importance to the leadership of democratic governments because democracy demands cooperation among those with opposing points of view. Pope Francis’ support of the negotiations with Cuba and the controversial Iran agreement regarding the use of nuclear power are examples of this process. The Iran agreement is far from perfect but it is the outcome of a commitment of the parties to find common ground and to begin the process of replacing suspicion and mistrust with cooperation and goodwill.

Maybe this is why Pope Francis was chosen at this particular point in history; a time when so much is at stake for humanity. We live in a world that is in desperate need of solutions that benefit all people and not just a select and privileged few. It is almost as if the Pope senses that democratic governments are teetering on the precipice of collapse. This is most certainly true in the U.S.

We have become a people divided at almost every turn, filled with bitterness and resentment for people who are different than us whether rich or poor; white or black; Muslim, Jew, or Christian; citizens or immigrants, legal or illegal; conservative and liberal. The inability of our elected representatives to put the interests of the whole before the interests of the few places our democracy at risk.

When some leaders seem compelled to impose their points of view on others, the very premise of democracy is threatened. The more difficult it becomes to find common ground the more imperative it is that we do find it.

The U.S. population is more diverse than it has ever been in almost every conceivable way and never again will it be less diverse than it is today. As a result, certain segments of our population are at odds with other segments and the differences threaten our society at its core.

Whether issues of race, poverty, government spending, immigration, healthcare, public education, aging, social welfare, or the environment the issues that divide us are cavernous in their extreme. The irony is that each of these problem sets have solutions that will not only serve the interests of all parties but can also transform American society to a new level of prosperity and world leadership. They are solutions, however, that can only be found beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

Not one of us has the right to put our own selfish interests ahead of the interests of others whether we are elected representatives of a legislative body, a president or governor, or even a county clerk in Kentucky. Neither do we have the right to play God and sit in judgment of others. Perhaps sharing this message is one of the things Pope Francis has been chosen to do.

We all have a responsibility to give the best of ourselves to our brethren and to our communities. We have a duty to accept responsibility to do what is right and just, knowing that if any judgment is passed it is we who will be held accountable.

Open Letter to All Presidential Candidates

What is the matter with you people?

Right now, in this 2nd decade of the Twenty-first Century, Americans are in desperate need of a new kind of leadership. People know, intuitively, that the leadership of the last half century, whether democrat or republican, conservative or liberal is not working. What they do not yet grasp is that the outdated policies of yore are the cause of the problems we face today, not the solution.

The appeal of Donald Trump is an expression of the frustration of the American people and their thirst for a new vision. We can only hope they wake up and recognize that Donald Trump provides only an illusion of new leadership before he actually gets elected to anything.

What we so desperately need is a leader who can articulate a new vision of the future that unites Americans behind a common cause, not leadership that divides us even more than we are already disunited. We need someone who embraces policies of inclusion not exclusion of people who look, think, or worship differently than we do. We need leaders who recognize that our diversity is our greatest strength, not our biggest weakness.

The issue with the county clerk in Kentucky provides a perfect example. While she has an absolute right to her beliefs, she does not have the right to foist those beliefs on others. When one takes the oath of public office, one pledges to abide by the constitution and by the laws of our state and nation, irrespective of one’s faith. If we cannot then we need to exit public life and this principle applies as much to presidents, legislators, judges and governors as it does to county clerks.

The truth is that we cannot turn back the calendar to a simpler time. We must live in today’s world with our eyes on tomorrow.

The world population is exploding and is projected to reach between 10 and 16 billion by the end of this century. Combined with the diversity of the world community; the complexity of its marketplace; the fragility of the ecosystem; and, the speed with which everything is changing we can be certain that the policies of the past will be as ineffectual as first generation antibiotics are in treating the exotic bacterial and viral diseases sweeping the planet.

In the face of the challenges of dealing with international relations, terrorism, hunger and poverty, crumbling infrastructure, civil liberties, immigration, public education, healthcare, overburdened justice system, crime, drugs, violence, the environment, our dependency on fossil fuels, racial and religious discrimination, and the need for unprecedented leaps in technological development people who believe we can solve our problems through cuts in spending are childlike in their naivety.

If we are going to survive the balance of this century as a free and democratic society then we need the absolute best from every single man, woman, and child. We must make enormous investments to bring everyone on board as full and equal partners in the American enterprise and we must forge agreements and partnerships, even if imperfect, with the people from every nation across the globe.

The last thing we need is the kind of encapsulated thinking and uninspired leadership that has been paraded across our television screens in recent debates or that has emanated from our nation’s capitol.

Who knows what the next 80 years will bring but if we cannot elevate our game that future will not be pretty. Most of us will not be here to see what life will be like in the year 2100 but our grandchildren will and they deserve better. Will someone please step up?

Investing In People, Not Spending Cuts, Key to U.S. Future!

As a nation it is imperative that we assess, across the full spectrum of our diverse population, how well prepared we are to address the incredible challenges facing not only the U.S. but humanity as a whole in this ever-more complex Twenty-first Century.

The key, we believe, is increasing revenue not reductions in spending but we are not talking about tax increases. From public education, the poor, healthcare, the environment, and our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, anyone who believes spending cuts are the solution is living in a fantasy world.

All businesses face challenging times. The most common strategy of a business in financial trouble is to cut costs and, sometimes, it is an unavoidable necessity. Businesses do have another option, however and that is to increase sales revenues. This can be done by adding new customers and also by increasing sales volumes to existing customers.

Increasing revenue is almost always the preferred option but it is also the most difficult. One of the reason why increased revenue is the preferred option is because deep cuts can have a significant, adverse impact on a business’s capacity to produce and its ability to innovate. Very often, the outcome in these situations is business failure and when this happens, everyone loses. Businesses that lack foresight often do not even contemplate increasing sales, so challenging is the prospect.

Governments are often faced with similar decision points. More often than not, the option of choice for governments is to cut spending because tax increases are one of the quickest ways to insure that an officeholder is not re-elected.

Just like businesses, however, tax increases are not the only option to governments operating at a deficit. Another way to increase tax revenues in a way that need not involve increases in tax rates or adoption of new taxes is to increase the tax rolls; the number of people paying taxes. Consider two over-simplified examples:

• By taking a person who exists on a government subsidy and helping them find a job, you not only increase tax revenues but you reduce entitlement liability.

• Grant amnesty to an illegal immigrant and then help them find a job and become a taxpayer.

One of the ways to get a business to consider a sales increase strategy rather than cost cutting is to help them view their employees as assets rather than liabilities. Governments can do the same thing. All it requires is a paradigm shift in which the focus switches to pulling people up rather than cutting them out; inclusion rather than exclusion.

Children attending our most challenged public schools, most of whom are failing, provide a great example. They represent one of the two best untapped natural resources available to the American people. We simply must abandon the “politics of abandonment” that are destroying public education. The inevitable outcome of our current educational reforms are destroying the faith in the American dream for the students of our public schools and their parents.

The other great untapped natural resource for the United States are the millions of illegal immigrants who are desperate for the American dream and who risked everything they have to get here. These men and women want work so desperately that they will stand on a corner seeking day jobs from passersby. How ironic is it that some of the people who believe most fervently in the American dream are denied amnesty.

Donald Trump: Illusion of Bold Leadership

The willingness of so many Americans to embrace Donald Trump as a legitimate candidate for President is evidence of just how frustrated Americans are with the leadership in Washington, whether President Obama, whom so many demonize, or a dysfunctional Congress.

Trump’s immediate popularity is also a function of a desire for quick and easy answers to the seemingly overwhelming cascade of challenges facing our nation, its people, and the world community.

We do need bold, new leadership with fresh insight into the unprecedented number of issues of the Twenty-first Century but Donald Trump provides only the illusion of bold and fresh thinking; the kind one would expect to find on any of the inane reality shows on television.

The more frustrated we become with the challenges facing our society the more tempted the masses are to abandon good judgment and also the core principles of democracy. The truth is, the more complicated and critical the issues become the more important it is to cling to our democratic principles. Relinquishing those principles, however briefly we might envision doing so, is the single-most dangerous strategy a free people can contemplate.

The problem is heightened by the fact that we often confuse our democratic principles with over-simplified political dogma, catch phrases, and clichéd solutions. I love, for example, the assertion that we can turn our country around if we just cut spending or balance the budget. How could the logic be any simpler? Is it not common sense? The answer, of course, is only if we ignore the realities of society.

The reality is that a full third to nearly half of the American people depend upon their government for their economic survival. The underlying theme of conservative ideology is to cut off the poor, the infirm, the disenfranchised, and illegal immigrants because we can no longer afford to support their dependency. We quietly include the growing population of the elderly in this sweeping agenda but we are careful not to mention them too loudly. Neither do we draw attention to the fact that so many of the poor are minorities.

It would be one thing if the proponents of such radical spending cuts offered up alternative solutions to the problems facing the unfortunate members of our society but, of course, they do not. Rather they offer up the metaphoric equivalent of “Let them eat cake!” And, we have not addressed the enormous cost of protecting our environment and rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Sadly, this burgeoning population of Americans, many of whom have lost all faith and hope in the American dream, are the product of 65 years’ worth of dysfunctional policy making; both democrat and republican and both liberal and conservative.

If we cut them off, where do our leaders think these people will go? Will they quietly disappear and let the rest of us go on with our lives?

The growth of this population of vulnerable Americans will accelerate in the aftermath of our nonsensical policies regarding public education, poverty, healthcare, aging, employment, immigration, and Social Security. The greater their number the louder will be their clamor and the more reactionary will be the response of “middle Americans” and the government representing them.

The greater the enmity between the “haves” and the “have nots” the more incendiary our society. The social wildfire that will burst forth as a result of an inevitable spark will rage more furiously than anything we have experienced to date. How can a nation survive leadership that so egregiously neglects the needs and interests of such an enormous segment of its population while claiming to represent and serve the American people?

If we do not find meaningful solutions to these challenges the future will not be pretty and the more vulnerable we become as a nation the bolder will be the response of the nations that compete with the U.S. for economic, political, and military supremacy.

If we are to have any hope of sustaining the great American democracy throughout the balance of the Twenty-first Century we must find a way to bring our entire population on board as productive members of a fully participatory democracy. Not an easy task, to be sure, but it is impossible only if we fail to pull our heads out of the landfill of the past century’s failed policies and outworn platitudes.

Our future can be secured only if we reach beyond the boundaries of conventional wisdom for real solutions to public education, healthcare, poverty, immigration, discrimination, and the environment using all of our imagination and ingenuity. Only when we learn to think exponentially will new and innovative solutions be discovered that can meet the challenges of the Twenty-first Century and beyond.

In addition to this blog, Mel Hawkins is the author of Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, a nonfiction book offering a blueprint to fix public education and transform American Society; and a novel, Light and Transient Causes, about what happens if we don’t.