American Airlines got right what United got wrong

American Airlines got right what United got wrong

American Airlines recently had it’s own viral video problem. Nothing on the scale of United dragging a bleeding man off a plane, but still atrocious. For American, we can all stipulate that when a flight attendant is hollering at a customer, saying “come on, hit me!” after said flight attendant allegedly pulled a stroller violently from a mother holding a baby then things have probably gone to a place that makes crisis communications professionals — and most of humanity — cringe. Yet, there is something to learn from how American handled a tough situation well.

Understanding what United did wrong in its now famous PR fumble for the ages is key to understanding what went right for American:

  1. United justified itself with rules rather than responding with empathy
  2. United focused on itself, not the customer, in the CEO’s first statement
  3. United blamed the victim in an email to employees rather than be accountable

What United should have done was:

  1. Show empathy
  2. Focus on the customer
  3. Take responsibility

Perhaps no surprise then that American did in their response exactly what United should have done. Here’s the American statement, worth quoting in full:

We have seen the video and have already started an investigation to obtain the facts. What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers. We are deeply sorry for the pain we have caused this passenger and her family and to any other customers affected by the incident. We are making sure all of her family’s needs are being met while she is in our care. After electing to take another flight, we are taking special care of her and her family and upgrading them to first class for the remainder of their international trip.

The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care. In short, we are disappointed by these actions. The American team member has been removed from duty while we immediately investigate this incident.

American showed empathy

They acknowledged up front they had “seen the video” and “started an investigation,” but importantly didn’t wait to go further. The next sentence of the statement established empathy further — and focus on the customer — by declaring what they saw didn’t reflect their values or the way they expect customers to be treated. In short, the statement immediately aligned with the lay public’s reaction: this is wrong and something needs to be done about it.

Note, American threaded the needle by giving themselves some wiggle room in referring to what they saw in the video that was in the news, while still investigating the facts. That placates the lawyers who rightly will want to know if there are additional facts (and video) that mitigate or change the situation. Not likely in this incident, but an important consideration in managing legal risk in crisis communications, while also showing empathy and regret that the customer obviously had a bad experience.

American focused on the customer

Building on the empathy already established at the start of the statement, American responded directly to the customer saying they were “deeply sorry,” while notably declaring they had given her a first class upgrade for the remainder of the trip and were “taking special care of her and her family.” That statement assures the troubled viewer of the video that American is making things right.

Significantly, the sentence preceding the description of what American was doing to remedy things for their customer said “[w]e are making sure all of her family’s needs are being met while she is in our care.” [emphasis added]. That’s a subtle yet powerful statement of empathy and focus on the customer. A passenger is getting in a metal tube to be transported by a trained crew roughly 30,000 feet in the air to another part of the world. Yes, any customer is likely to feel that they’re “in your care,” not just part of a transaction. Acknowledging that fact was wise and effective.

American took accountability

From the start to the end of the statement American owned what was visible to any video viewer: a customer experience had gone south, with an employee of the company making a shockingly bad representation of the organization. As such, that employee rightly went under the bus: “removed from duty while we immediately investigate this incident.” All the more laudable on American’s part because they’ll inevitably have to fight the employee’s union, which already blamed the airline and passengers.

American’s timely public statement coincided with the airline visibly taking accountability on Twitter (where United notably flubbed), taking ownership in 140 characters, including linking to their statement:

Make that taking complete accountability:

The news media coverage of this incident with American, with its still troubling video, was nothing of what United endured. American protected its image in part by getting out quickly with an acceptable response before the media storm grew. That’s a stark contrast to United’s need for repeated statements over several days.

That speed to response allowed the company’s statement to be unattributed on its website and attributed to spokesperson Leslie Scott in direct media inquires. That’s a subtle yet huge communications win in protecting American’s reputation. You only want to use a senior executive’s voice, especially the CEO, when absolutely necessary in crisis, because the reputational risks escalate exponentially if those statements and/or interviews don’t accomplish the desired mission.

Example: I was VP of Corporate Communications at Premera Blue Cross when it announced a significant cyberattack in 2015. We knew the announcement would receive intense media attention nationally and locally, especially coming on the heels of another such announcement by Anthem Blue Cross just weeks prior. We, with input from some great outside advisers, deliberately chose to put me out front for the flurry of expected initial media inquires, even though the (still) CEO is a great communicator.

Thus, we still used an executive spokesperson for a non-stop stretch of media interviews over a couple days, but held the CEO in reserve. He taped a public video statement, was quoted in our press release, and announced the news internally, but did no live media interviews on the topic. We also owned the issue up front, apologized, and provided an immediate solution for customers. The result: the worst of the media storm was largely over in a couple news cycles, with no CEO interviews needed.

That’s exactly what American accomplished, sparring senior leadership from having to take on the risk of tough media interviews in a crisis, which is a credit to the American Airlines team. Don’t think that’s important? Ask Oscar Munoz at United.

In sum, an exceptional performance by the American Airlines team to respond quickly and effectively, mitigating the initial PR problem and protecting the company and the brand from imminent additional damage. While it’s easy to pick on United’s mistakes, it’s more instructive to have a positive case study from an industry peer so readily at hand for contrast.

Originally published at my LinkedIn page.

The 3 things United’s PR screwed up …and what it says about their culture

The 3 things United’s PR screwed up …and what it says about their culture

United’s now famous April 10th PR meltdown over Flight 3441 will be a case study in how not to respond to a crisis. You can bet United’s competitors are watching and dissecting what worked and what didn’t to incorporate into their own thinking.

No matter how the Flight 3441 incident turns out for United over time, they made three serious mistakes in the first 24 hours of their PR response that all organizations and communications professionals can learn from and consider for the future.

1)     United justified itself with rules rather than responding with empathy

This error was immediately egregious on Twitter, where the constraints of 140 characters combined with a lack of empathy to make for an inadequate first line response to protecting the brand.

While expressing a hint of regret, apologizing for the “overbook situation” is vague and the tweet as a whole demonstrates a horrific lack of empathy for a passenger that was dragged off the plane bleeding. A basic sense of humanity via an expression of regret for a bad customer experience, no matter who is at fault, is a wise starting point for a very public-facing customer brand.

Notably, this approach to immediate social media responses isn’t uncommon for United. They responded just as poorly to the recent – though less horrific – controversy where several passengers were denied boarding while wearing leggings.

This was one of a number of United tweets on this issue that referred to the rule, not any empathy that a passenger was inconvenienced (and other customers flummoxed). Yes, 140 characters isn’t a lot to work with, but thread a couple tweets or find a way to otherwise express regret and sympathy. A corporate Twitter account is a brand platform, not just a customer service vehicle.

2)     United focused on itself, not the customer, in the CEO’s first statement

The statement leads with how United feels, when interested members of the flying public – and equally aghast journalists covering the story – expected a basic sense of humanity and regret that things ended the way it did. Focusing on themselves is a subtle hint United is still an inward-facing corporate culture, rather than the customer-facing corporate cultures that are thriving today (think Amazon). That’s an understandable reality given a messy corporate merger that required a lot of internal attention (and evoked negative customer responses like this), but it’s a serious problem.

Then there is “re-accommodate;” now a thriving point of mockery on Twitter and destined to live in the annals of ignominious crisis communications responses. That word choice indicated lawyers and/or executes better at business than PR were winning internal crisis messaging battles. No communications professional worth half of what United can pay would use that word by choice.

“Re-accommodate” rendered the feint apology in same sentence moot, while the rest of the text showed little real empathy or serious introspection that United understood something horrible had happened that would make their current and future customers very angry with them unless they addressed it transparently and sincerely.

3)     United blamed the victim in an email to employees rather than be accountable

The leading message in the CEO’s email is standing up for his employees. Supporting the team is an important step for a leader, especially in an environment where organizational culture has challenges. But, there was a better way.

Assuming the employees did “follow established procedures,” there comes a point where as a leader you have to say: “we followed all the rules…and it still resulted in a bad outcome for our customer. We’re going to take a hard look at how we do business to make sure our customers get the experience we hope to provide every day.”

I worked in health insurance for years. We found a lot of procedures designed to provide an efficient internal solution but didn’t produce the desired customer experience. It’s not rocket science to identify, but acting on it requires leadership.

The second message in the email was to blame the victim, declaring him “belligerent and disruptive.” That might have worked in the era before social media and smart phone videos. It doesn’t now. A 69-year-old, bespectacled doctor was dragged bleeding from one of your company’s airplanes, United. The lay viewer isn’t going to believe he’s at fault, especially after he properly took his assigned seat during the boarding process and was only then told to get off because one of your employees needed the seat instead.

After all that, the CEO’s vague talk of “lessons we can learn” and treating customers “with respect and dignity” at the end of the note were near worthless because the rest of the email was so bad.

What it all means

It’s fair to speculate some of United own employees reacted adversely after seeing the news coverage of their employer and contrasted that with their CEO’s email. Or a rough Tuesday on Wall Street for United woke up the executive team. Or the communications professionals started winning the internal messaging war. Whatever the sequence or combination, someone at United wrote an infinitely better response for the CEO today, declaring the incident “truly horrific,” expressing “deepest apologies,” and saying “no one should ever be mistreated this way.”

More importantly for any attempt to heal the company’s reputation, the CEO pledged to “make it right” and review all the applicable policies and procedures involved in the sequence of events.

Outstanding.

Except it was more than a day and several news cycles too late, after large swaths of the flying public saw the news, saw United’s initial responses, and have already soured on the United brand. Instead of doing the right thing on day one, United will have to win back the customers it lost with its first 24 hours of bumbling. That’s going to cost them.

What happens to United is anyone’s guess. But, learning from their experience provides a good place to start for leaders and communications professionals finding themselves in a similarly unenviable crisis in the future:

  • Show empathy
  • Focus on the customer
  • Take responsibility

Simple rules to avoid a lot of trouble in this era of fast-moving modern media.

United’s now famous April 10th PR meltdown over Flight 3441 will be a case study in how not to respond to a crisis. You can bet United’s competitors are watching and dissecting what worked and what didn’t to incorporate into their own thinking.

No matter how the Flight 3441 incident turns out for United over time, they made three serious mistakes in the first 24 hours of their PR response that all organizations and communications professionals can learn from and consider for the future.

1)     United justified itself with rules rather than responding with empathy

This error was immediately egregious on Twitter, where the constraints of 140 characters combined with a lack of empathy to make for an inadequate first line response to protecting the brand.

While expressing a hint of regret, apologizing for the “overbook situation” is vague and the tweet as a whole demonstrates a horrific lack of empathy for a passenger that was dragged off the plane bleeding. A basic sense of humanity via an expression of regret for a bad customer experience, no matter who is at fault, is a wise starting point for a very public-facing customer brand.

Notably, this approach to immediate social media responses isn’t uncommon for United. They responded just as poorly to the recent – though less horrific – controversy where several passengers were denied boarding while wearing leggings.

This was one of a number of United tweets on this issue that referred to the rule, not any empathy that a passenger was inconvenienced (and other customers flummoxed). Yes, 140 characters isn’t a lot to work with, but thread a couple tweets or find a way to otherwise express regret and sympathy. A corporate Twitter account is a brand platform, not just a customer service vehicle.

2)     United focused on itself, not the customer, in the CEO’s first statement

The statement leads with how United feels, when interested members of the flying public – and equally aghast journalists covering the story – expected a basic sense of humanity and regret that things ended the way it did. Focusing on themselves is a subtle hint United is still an inward-facing corporate culture, rather than the customer-facing corporate cultures that are thriving today (think Amazon). That’s an understandable reality given a messy corporate merger that required a lot of internal attention (and evoked negative customer responses like this), but it’s a serious problem.

Then there is “re-accommodate;” now a thriving point of mockery on Twitter and destined to live in the annals of ignominious crisis communications responses. That word choice indicated lawyers and/or executes better at business than PR were winning internal crisis messaging battles. No communications professional worth half of what United can pay would use that word by choice.

“Re-accommodate” rendered the feint apology in same sentence moot, while the rest of the text showed little real empathy or serious introspection that United understood something horrible had happened that would make their current and future customers very angry with them unless they addressed it transparently and sincerely.

3)     United blamed the victim in an email to employees rather than be accountable

The leading message in the CEO’s email is standing up for his employees. Supporting the team is an important step for a leader, especially in an environment where organizational culture has challenges. But, there was a better way.

Assuming the employees did “follow established procedures,” there comes a point where as a leader you have to say: “we followed all the rules…and it still resulted in a bad outcome for our customer. We’re going to take a hard look at how we do business to make sure our customers get the experience we hope to provide every day.”

I worked in health insurance for years. We found a lot of procedures designed to provide an efficient internal solution but didn’t produce the desired customer experience. It’s not rocket science to identify, but acting on it requires leadership.

The second message in the email was to blame the victim, declaring him “belligerent and disruptive.” That might have worked in the era before social media and smart phone videos. It doesn’t now. A 69-year-old, bespectacled doctor was dragged bleeding from one of your company’s airplanes, United. The lay viewer isn’t going to believe he’s at fault, especially after he properly took his assigned seat during the boarding process and was only then told to get off because one of your employees needed the seat instead.

After all that, the CEO’s vague talk of “lessons we can learn” and treating customers “with respect and dignity” at the end of the note were near worthless because the rest of the email was so bad.

What it all means

It’s fair to speculate some of United own employees reacted adversely after seeing the news coverage of their employer and contrasted that with their CEO’s email. Or a rough Tuesday on Wall Street for United woke up the executive team. Or the communications professionals started winning the internal messaging war. Whatever the sequence or combination, someone at United wrote an infinitely better response for the CEO today, declaring the incident “truly horrific,” expressing “deepest apologies,” and saying “no one should ever be mistreated this way.”

More importantly for any attempt to heal the company’s reputation, the CEO pledged to “make it right” and review all the applicable policies and procedures involved in the sequence of events.

Outstanding.

Except it was more than a day and several news cycles too late, after large swaths of the flying public saw the news, saw United’s initial responses, and have already soured on the United brand. Instead of doing the right thing on day one, United will have to win back the customers it lost with its first 24 hours of bumbling. That’s going to cost them.

What happens to United is anyone’s guess. But, learning from their experience provides a good place to start for leaders and communications professionals finding themselves in a similarly unenviable crisis in the future:

  • Show empathy
  • Focus on the customer
  • Take responsibility

Simple rules to avoid a lot of trouble in this era of fast-moving modern media.

Originally published on my LinkedIn page.

What we missed about Trump’s win…and what we need to do about it

What we missed about Trump’s win…and what we need to do about it

I’m a vocal #NeverTrump Republican with a background in GOP politics. I’m a Seattle-area native living in New Orleans and have many friends from Seattle, college, and other paths in life that are staunch Democrats. I’ve seen the complete gamut of responses to Donald Trump’s electoral victory. And I’m here to tell you almost all of us missed something.

To my left-of-center friends, I share your dismay in a Donald Trump Presidency. To my right-of-center friends, if Republicans don’t deliver for the key voters that made Trump President, Democrats will come roaring back. Either way, we all have work to do.

Here’s why: as much as many people — myself included — lamented the complete shittiness that is Donald Trump’s treatment of most of humanity, especially women and minorities; many key voters that turned the Rust Belt from blue to red saw that too…and still voted for Donald Trump.

Why?

Racism? No.

Of 676 counties across America that voted for Barack Obama twice, 209 of them voted for Trump. Seems like the racists had their chance to vote on that factor in 2008 and 2012. Meanwhile, liberal writer Kevin Drum cites data that disproves the idea of “whitelash” as a major factor in the election.

What about misogyny? Probably not.

70% of respondents to exit polls said Trump’s treatment of women bothers them. 29% of them still voted for Trump!

In fact, there is a critical mass of voters that saw many flaws in both candidates. 14% in the exit polls said neither Clinton nor Trump is qualified to be president. Those voters went 69% to 15% for Trump!

So, if some people that recognized Trump’s behavior, including towards women and minorities, is a problem, why did they vote for him?

A big hint: in those same exit polls, 29% of voters said their financial situation is worse than four years ago. 78% of them voted for Trump!

Much has been written already in the last week of what would prompt voters across the Rust Belt to vote Barack Obama followed by Donald Trump (examples from the Washington Post and the Harvard Business Review). Michael Moore — yes, that guy! — has had some insightful things to say as well, such as this unprecedented 45-minutes-with-no-commercials segment on Morning Joe, about why working class folks in the Midwest flipped this election.

What were those folks looking for? Back to those exit polls: 39% of voters picked “can bring change” as the “candidate quality” that “mattered most.” 83% of them voted for Trump.

There you go.

As troubling as President-elect Trump is, there is a reason it happened. Thousands upon thousands of white, working class voters who previously voted for Obama said, “I’m not happy with how I and my community are doing. We’re being left behind by this economy and our government, and mocked by popular culture. Both these candidates suck, but I’ll vote for the guy who says he’s going to blow it all up. It’s worth a shot.”

Visualizing the shift is valuable in understanding what happened. This work by the New York Times shows how counties shifted their votes from 2012 to 2016, with big movements toward Trump in some parts of the country, as indicated by a red arrows. The bigger the arrow, the bigger the shift. This view however is startling in the concentration of where votes shifted the most:

image1

Boom, there’s your election.

I remember watching CNN on election night, hearing John King zero in on how blue collar counties in the Midwest were moving from pro-Obama in 2012 to pro-Trump in 2016. Two of the many King cited that jumped out to me:

  • Blue collar Erie County, Pennsylvania shifted from 58% – 41% for Obama to 49% – 48% for Trump, an 18 point swing.
  • Union heavy Macomb County, Michigan, home of the original Reagan Democrats, shifted from 52% – 48% for Obama to 54 – 42% for Trump, a 16 point swing.

Sobering.

And since both major parties are coalitions, neither party can abandon working class, white voters in the Midwest any more than they can abandon suburban voters if they want to win nationally and build a governing coalition.

For Democrats: yes, some Trump voters are racists, misogynist, and generally awful people. Bad news: awful people exist on both sides of the aisle, only the particulars of their insanity, intolerance, and anger vary. No one should spend time wooing them or accepting people like the alt-Right in polite society (we should fight that scourge vigorously!). Yet, the reason we have President Trump is that many voters that chose Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 voted for Cheetoh Jesus in 2016. They don’t believe the Democratic party helped them these last several years. You have work to do.

For Republicans: yes, the party now controls the White House, Congress, and a huge tide of Governorships and State Legislatures. But, voters that picked Barack Obama then Donald Trump clearly aren’t wedded to conservative governing principles. If you don’t help these voters, they have no allegiance to you either, nor perhaps a whole lot of patience. You also have work to do.

Some policy options: better education, more retraining assistance, more policies that support families, including health care and child care, and economic growth that reaches these communities. No party has a monopoly on ideas to address those challenges.

Publicly  getting out to visit and listen to these parts of the country would be damn wise too. These fellow Americans need to be heard, and know they’ve been heard too.

I confess my own biases. I grew up on the West Coast, in the suburbs, and spent most of my life in such environments. I choose to live in an urban area now. I’m a white-collar professional. I eat a plant-based diet. I practice yoga. I don’t instinctively identify with a blue-collar, union household outside of Detroit, Michigan or Akron, Ohio.

A lot of us are in that boat. And we better start listening.

Add up the indicators from this election season, then combine that with the recent trend of increase in mortality rates among less educated whites:

Late last year, a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that middle-aged, white Americans have been getting sicker and dying in greater numbers, even as the rest of the world is living longer and healthier.

The authors of that study attributed the trend to what we called “despair deaths:” mainly suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related liver disease.

This is not just a political issue. This is a societal issue. The despair and frustration that leads thousands of people to say, “Yep, I know Donald Trump is a walking disaster zone, but he’s still my best choice because of where things are at” is also driving people to alcohol and other drugs for solace. To the point they’re killing themselves. Vote shaming and protests in the streets of large cities won’t solve this problem.

Combine the election of Donald Trump with Brexit and the rightward shift in European politics as a whole you find another indicator: segments of Western society as a whole are struggling to cope with our rapidly changing modern world. Rightly or wrongly, that’s reality.

We can lament the racism, classism, or whatever other “isms” that might associate with such movements, especially on the fringes. The David Dukes on the right and the anarchists of the left should be welcomed by no one. Meanwhile, as much as there are many other factors in this election — and issues to lament (hello, mainstream media!) — white, working class voters in the Midwest swung this election. Neither major political party will be a major party in the future if they ignore that.

We all have work to do.

Letting go before the final leap to New Orleans

This move to change our lives is happening.

I leave for New Orleans this morning. My son, Joseph, and I hit the road straight from my last day at work to drop his car off for college in Montana, then it’s on to the Big Easy to join my wife, Stephani, and daughter, Sophia, who have been there since July 23.

This is exciting…and scary.

Let me tell you a secret: this transition from Seattle to New Orleans has been hard. It has been emotional. Sometimes it has been downright fucking painful, including because I made things harder than they needed to be.

Why?

The stress of this cross-country move has been real. It ebbs and flows and has different flavors: the finances of paying for it all, the logistics of moving our stuff across the country (or not) in phases, and exiting our home in the Seattle area.

There there’s the pain we experienced in the Pacific Northwest we remained in for months between the decision to move and our final landing. The joyless existence of living in the rental house that daily represented the life we no longer wished to live, including because the house was sparsely furnished after buying our new home in April and moving things down to set it up on Airbnb.

The unknown of buying a house before I have a new career lined up in New Orleans has also weighed heavy on me (see the part about paying for the move!). Being a professional in transition, both at my current employer and looking toward by future in New Orleans, has not been easy.

Throw in the rest of life: being a spouse. Being a parent. Being a professional. Finding time to take care of yourself.

Now throw in my faults as a human being and I made mistakes. I didn’t show up how I wanted or my family needed. Other people got hurt. I got hurt. It was not fun.

I’m still a work in progress. Yes, I had a huge transformation, but my character defects  didn’t magically disappear when things changed a few years ago.

I have not been the picture of zen and serenity through this, especially inside. Sometimes I’ve been a cranky bastard with a short fuse and the adventure definitely has its lows because of that.

I’m an over-thinker and a worrier. Someone who retreats into himself rather than bare my soul when I’m stressed. And there has been a lot of stress.

I learned that lesson about how we can make our own lives more difficult than it needs to be. And because of that, I learned I have more work to do.

Almost everything about this move has now required me to let go in new ways.

  • Letting go of the idea that landing a new job needed to precede our move.
  • Letting go of knowing where the money for this transition was going to come from.
  • Letting go of the unrealistic expectations of what our house in the Seattle area would look like during the transition.
  • Letting go of all the painful emotions that moving in this way, including going through — and in many cases discarding — memory-inducing possessions, reveals.
  • Letting go of the idea that I have or need to have all the answers as we make this transition.

Problem: I’m not very good at letting go. It’s not my natural state. It’s not how I’ve lived much of my life.

Something happened at the end of June that began to shift that. We had the chance to escape to Breitenbush Hot Springs in the midst of this madness. That meant five days and four nights of no cell coverage and no WiFi in the mountains of Oregon. Sophia finished yoga teacher training at a retreat there. Stephani and I tagged along for the ride to make it a personal break while supporting her (and yes, Sophia finished her training and is now a certified yoga teacher at 16 years of age…awesome!).

Stephani bought me a book, The Untethered Soul,  during a stop in Portland on the way to the retreat. A Tibetan shop-keeper recommended it to her for me (while I sat on the top of a double-decker bus turned coffee shop drinking Turkish coffee after filling our bellies at our favorite restaurant in Portlandia). This was not a coincidence.

The book was just what I needed at that time, in that place. I paced my way through it in the relaxing quiet and tranquility of Breitenbush, finishing right before we packed-up to leave (also, not a coincidence).

There’s an entire chapter on “Pain, the Price of Freedom.” Yes, indeed it is the price. And the pathway to the freedom we’re seeking to create in our lives in moving has very much had it’s pain, no small part of it caused by my reactions to stress rather than anything else.

Pain isn’t the end of the world, but it can cause problems. The author says at one point, “If life unfolds in a way that stimulates your inner problems, then by definition, it’s not okay.”

Problem: a lot of my life during the last few months have been filled with things that stimulate those inner problems. That hasn’t been good for me. It sure hasn’t been good for my family. Mission #1 for me in New Orleans: get in a rhythm and flow that stimulates the best of me, not the worst.

Yet, however, much I try, I know none of us can fully escape those ingredients that cause us problems. Thus, slowly I’ve been working the last few weeks to increasingly follow the book’s counsel: “relax, then release.” It’s a simple phrase that encapsulates much of the work’s theme of different aspects of letting go of the things we have weighing us down. A simple phrase with a lot packed in to the book (which if you’re intrigued by these concepts, you should read!).

Friends, I’ve had a lot of things weighing me down recently. It’s time to let them go.

This past couple weeks I’ve done a lot of sorting through old things. Things filled with memories from my childhood, college, and my life as an adult. Many pleasant memories, many not, including in reflecting how I showed up in them. Ultimately, a lot of things that stirred emotion…and some deep fucking pain.

 

That’s a big part of why it’s time for me to let go. It’s not always easy or instinctive for me, but I don’t have a choice. The alternative is not the life I want to live.

This drive for New Orleans will be a splendid, father-son road trip, taking us to parts of the country we’ve never experienced before. A new journey to start a new adventure, whose foundation has to be for me about letting go of the past so that what’s possible and waiting for me in the future is allowed to be…and flourish.

That IS the life I want to live.

Time to let that happen.

 

It’s Time for White People to Speak Up

More specifically: white, middle class people, from outside urban areas…and especially those that consider themselves Republicans or conservatives.

Because what happened with black men getting shot recently in Louisiana and Minnesota is not ok.

The subsequent violence against police officers — especially the horrific murders in Dallas — is equally not ok.

Here’s the problem: lots of people like me, middle class, white, not-urban…and conservative…had comparatively little to say about what happened to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, but much more to say when innocent cops started dying in Dallas .

That has to change.

Both were terribly wrong. Scenes like people lining up to hug cops in Dallas are a sign there is hope. But, real hope won’t come from hugs. It will come when white people who have heretofore been silent about such issues start speaking up to demand change.

Newt Gingrich was right (yes, I said that…and may not say it again for quite a while) in his Facebook Live chat with Van Jones. Most white people don’t understand what it’s like to grow up black. Especially grow up a black male.

We middle class whites have many reasons to not identify with or empathize with the black experience. We, especially outside the South or major urban areas, didn’t grow up exposed to black communities, including the experience with economic want that pervades too many black families. Our opportunity at a high quality education was often dramatically different. And we didn’t experience the direct and indirect racism they’ve encountered in their lives.

A perfect example of that difference in experience:  Ron Sims tale of  living and driving in Seattle while black. Ron is a former King County Councilman, King County Executive, and Deputy Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He’s an upstanding, leading citizen in our society. Ron’s been stopped by police eight times in Seattle, with the consistent theme that he’s guilty of driving while black. There is no other conclusion when he is never cited but always asked where he’s going and does he live in the neighborhood.

Not. Acceptable.

Ron’s tale via words on Facebook is helpful, but it is the combination of video and social media that will likely truly change our understanding. Conservative political pundit Matt Lewis nailed it in describing how social media and video has transformed how we understand and think about this issue, by increasing access to images we wouldn’t otherwise experience in our lives, and images that dramatically expand our understanding of the issue.

Newt said many whites “instinctively under-estimate the level of discrimination” black people face in America. Lewis says why the under-estimation is starting to change. Correct. Because watching Alton Sterling and Philando Castile bleed out on video doesn’t leave you a lot of options if you’re intellectually honest about the horror unfolding.

I stand guilty as charged throughout much of my life of that critique of of middle class whites. I’m white, grew up in an upper-middle class home in a suburb of Seattle, and went to private high school as well as a highly selective liberal arts college back east. I’m also a Republican — though far, far from the stereotype (and virulently anti-Trump) — who has worked for Republican elected officials and knows many conservatives because of my past professional life and political experience. For years, I consistently underestimated the discrimination black people experience.

What changed for me on this issue? Increased exposure to video of police misbehavior is a contributing factor. So to was a recent diversity & inclusion training I took that led me to re-think a number of my assumptions and beliefs. And I think moving to New Orleans soon plays a big role too.

I went to college in Virginia and have traveled through parts of the South. I’m a history and political science major who knows quite well our national past on the issue of race. I know things are different from the Pacific Northwest I grew up (above and beyond Ron’s troubling experience in Seattle). But visiting New Orleans several times in advance of our final move gave me a new and deeper perspective on race issues.

New Orleans is in the Deep South. For all the welcoming and funky vibe of the Big Easy, racial tension is palpable. I’ve observed it in white people. I’ve observed  it in black people. I’ve been on the receiving end of it when it was loudly and visibly clear my white family wasn’t welcome where we were at in one neighborhood (conversely, we feel delightfully welcome in the predominantly black neighborhood we choose as our home).

Talking with others from New Orleans about that topic and thinking about it further led me to the same conclusion as Newt Gingrich. I have in the past “instinctively under-estimated” the discrimination black people have experienced, especially when that experience spans generations of white-black racial tension that is embedded into some communities.

At the same time, I have friends and others I know, love, and respect who are currently or formerly in law enforcement. I trust and respect them for all the reasons the police are traditionally respected in our country. They’re good people, risking their safety to serve our communities.

Yet for all the good cops out there, there are also bad and indifferent ones too. And those bad or indifferent cops need to  be held accountable, learn some empathy and compassion, or find new employment.

What can white people do about all this? Demand that empathy and accountability from law enforcement and the elected officials who oversee them.  We should want more of this cop who brought food to a woman caught stealing eggs to feed her kids and less of incidents like this past week that spark further violence and rage.

The officers responsible for those murders in Minnesota and Louisiana need to be held accountable. They could also learn some basic empathy. You know what was missing from each situation after shots were fired? Any serious attempt to treat the now disabled “suspect” who is bleeding to death in front of them. What the actual fuck is that?

One gets the impression from such videos that cops are taught empathy at the police academy about as much as doctors are taught in medical school about how to have a serious conversation — rather than just prescribing some pills — with a patient whose diabetes and heart disease is a result of their grossly unhealthy lifestyle. Meaning: precious little.

That has to change. We can’t really on the empathy police cadets enter the academy with, because humanity is too imperfect.

Where does that change start? I wish I knew exactly, but for all of us it probably starts by showing a little more compassion, a little more love, a little more empathy, a little more effort to think about what the shoe is like on the other foot.

Beyond that, when the opportunity comes, it’s on us to speak up for police accountability and empathy. By us, I mean middle class whites, especially conservatives. We’re the critical mass that can have an impact on this issue. Liberals and other activists have already been having their say, with modest effect on some of these topics . We don’t need to have the exact same policy goals at this point. Just a shared commitment to a decent society with a little bit of compassion. It’s gotten that fucking basic right now.

It’s time.

We live in a beautiful country, my friends.

The Chugach Mountains rise out of the forest surrounding Anchorage.


Our country is beautiful beyond words. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton can’t change that.

“Beautiful” is probably not what comes to mind when you think of our singular national event this year: the Presidential election.

The phenomena known as the candidacy of Donald Trump is anything but beautiful. Perhaps intriguing in its defiance of the known laws of politics…basic decency, the remotest sense of competence, coherent intellectual thought, etc. But, definitely not beautiful.

And if there was no Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton would be Donald Trump, the major party candidate with astronomically high negative ratings. No beauty there either.

I’ll tell you what’s beautiful about America. The diverse, majesty of our country is beautiful. Something neither the madness of Donald Trump nor the deplorableness of Hillary Clinton can take from us.

I’m on a plane from Anchorage to Seattle as I typed most of this, completing a turn and burn trip for work. Meanwhile, I’ve been travelling to New Orleans in preparation for my move there. I’m getting a fascinating view of our nation. And if there are two more different parts of country than Louisiana and Alaska I’m open to offers, but you’ll have trouble making the sale.

There’s something you should know about Alaska: it’s big. Gigantic. Huge. This geography geek’s visual proves the point. When you say your state is big, Alaska laughs, pats you on the head, and says “bless your heart.”

Even a simple trip to Anchorage proves the point. Look out the window of the plane riding over the coast of southeast Alaska on the way north and you can’t miss it. Mountain after glorious mountain. And I mean mountains.  Not what passes for mountains east of the Rockies.

Mountains. Covered with snow and glaciers throughout the year. Majestic. One after the other. Row upon row. Rising towers of rock above the earth. Like something out of Lord of the Rings (Tolkien geeks: think of the scene in the Return of the King when the beacons of Gondor are lit to summon aid from Rohan).

Everything is bigger in Alaska. Even the mudflats where sea meets land can range for hundreds of yards, with their own network of rivers and channels. And the forests. Green upon green, for as far as the eye can see. Covering the landscape, including huge islands where no human treads, no road roams. Where miles of pristine beach stretch untouched, for lack of humans to reach them.

A view out a building of even modest height in Anchorage shows all these things. The ocean. Mudflats. A sea of trees. The glorious mountains of the Chugach, in near inconceivable proximity to a major US city. Hovering over life on the edge of the world.

And the edge of the world it is. Even as there is much further north to travel from Anchorage to the reaches of Alaska, far to the coasts of the Bering Sea, the desolate North Slope, and the deep isolation of the soaring mountains, endless forests, and sprawling tundra of the Bush. Even in Anchorage, you know you’re far from the rest of the country.  On this last trip to Alaska of several I have taken for work I noticed for the first time: a Blockbuster Video is still in business.

Even a short distance from Anchorage by car can show you the edge of the world, such as the majestic Turnagain Arm, a fjord-like intrusion of water into the heart of mountains that spring from the sea. Mountains that when you ascend near the top to view the world your heart will nearly crack with wonder at the glory of this creation in which we abide.

What I’m describing is not the United States many of us know. It’s unique. Different. And so very, far away.

In Anchorage you know you’re far from everything else. Over 3 hours by plane, sharply northwest from Seattle, itself in the far northwest of the Continental US. Anchorage is a modern city in one of our United States. Yet, it is an outpost. The urban hub in a place where the state capitol (Juneau) has no paved road leading in and out because of its geographic isolation. Home to industries of oil and natural gas as well as the harvesting of sea life, where people live by extracting natural resources for the care and feeding of the distant, congregated masses of the nation.

Life in Alaska is hard. You can see it in the people. They look the part. Rugged. Weather-worn. Tougher than many of us care to know or understand.

People assembled to perform that extraction at the hard edges of the world. People living in conditions most of couldn’t tolerate year around. Extreme weather. Extreme daylight and darkness. Extreme isolation.

The buildings in Anchorage tell you life is hard. The country is beautiful. The buildings of the city are not. Many are downright ugly by many standards. They’re not built to be pretty. They’re built to protect you from the weather and to allow you to do what you need to do indoors.

In strong contrast, the buildings of New Orleans are endlessly beautiful. Not in a brand new construction, everything is in splendidly perfect order beautiful. In bright, bold colors with indescribable historic charm and glory that delights just as much as the raw physical beauty of Alaska. It is the oldness of the soul, nestled in the Deep South, as Alaska is to the newness of the soul we explore the ends of our world.

In New Orleans, there is a magic, woven into the layers of the historic, beating heart of the city. To be in the Big Easy is to understand this. To understand the lovely compilation of the old South and the rest of our nation. And when you find it, it will call to you. Call you to a place where there is always a party. A parade. Costumes. Beads. Always something to celebrate in this thing we call life in a community that will offer you a friendly embrace because that’s who they are.

You will find nothing of the sort in Anchorage. No such never-ending party. No such colorful joy. But, you may well find something else  in Alaska: a bold, majestic natural beauty that may speak to your soul and call you deeper into its reaches.

This is the dichotomy, and beauty of our nation. From Anchorage to New Orleans, and everything in between. We’re Americans.

From the wonderfully friendly and fit people of Utah as I passed through Salt Lake City to the pleasant, amiable – if chubby – people of the Midwest as I passed through St. Louis, I’ve seen other pieces of the puzzle of our nation as I’ve travelled in recent weeks.

We are a glorious, diverse lot. We live in a beautiful country.

A country with a system of government delightfully (and mercifully in light of this year!) designed to de-centralize power. A President Trump or a President Clinton is not likely to be pleasant.

But, there is only so much they can do.

While our national visit from the fuck-up fairy seems rather severe right now (and indeed it is!), Trump or Clinton have to deal with Congress and the Courts whom our Founding Fathers intentionally desi1gned to thwart the designs of power-hungry leaders. Thank you Madison, Hamiltion, et. al.!

Even as we inevitably put that separation of powers to the test, we can also take comfort in knowing the ugliness of our politics will not permanently harm the beauty of our nation and its people. From the natural glory of Alaska to the eclectic assemblage of humanity in New Orleans. There’s nothing a horrific and lamentable Presidential election can do to change that.

Thank God.

I’m out.


Sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand and hold to it. The consequences may become unpleasant, muddy, and at times painful. So be it. Holding to principle and respecting your own integrity may require it.

Donald Trump is just such a line.

My thoughts on the Donald are already in writing. Put more succinctly: no fucking way.

I’m a Reublican who will never vote for Donald Trump; #NeverTrump to the end, and proudly so.

My previous post on the topic provides the case for those interested in rehashing the many reasons to oppose the short-fingered vulgarian. The animating reason remains this: he is wholly unfit to occupy the Oval Office.

I worked for a Republican US Senator and a Republican President, in sum for nearly 10 years. Almost a quarter of my life.

I worked for them because I believed. Not that they were perfect, they weren’t. But for whatever faults the public perceived, they were honorable men. Men of intellect. Men of principle. Men of dignity.

Donald Trump is none of those things.

Man or woman, of any political affiliation,those attributes should be a basic requirement to serve as President  of the United States.

I will neither vote for Hillary Clinton. While not the same threat to the Republic as Trump, her flaws are also too many. I’ll vote 3rd party or pass on over the race for President when voting.

Why? Especially when it comes to the Donald, I can’t look my kids in the eye and say “yes, you might not agree with the President but respect them and their team. They serve our country.” I worked for George W. Bush. And I respect President Obama and his team for their service, politics aside.

Not with the Donald. Not with his ego-uber alles approach to life.  Not with his clown show of thugs, sycophants, and the grammatically inept around him.

Let us respect instead the people in Congress and the Courts who will serve as a necessary check against the excesses of a Trump Administration. A Clinton Administration reprise would likely be only a milder, less tabloid headline-rich version of the same.

And for God’s sake, let’s do better in 2020. Republican and Democrat alike.