This Is Why We Celebrate Pride Month In June

I have strongly supported the Pride Flag flying above the Wisconsin Capitol and efforts made through our schools to allow gay and lesbian students to know they are not alone in their walk to adulthood.  What we do in large urban areas does resonate in the rural and quiet communities dotted across the state. Such actions continue to matter as the perpetually angry segment of the conservative base has ratcheted up their rhetoric and awful behavior against the gay and trans community.  The most public display of their juvenile outrage occurred against Target, where store merchandise for transgender shoppers was littered about, and then like a cat who brings a dead mouse to the front door for praise, they took to social media to show off their talent at mayhem. Needless to say, the gay and trans community has every reason to hoist a flag this month, take to the streets in parades, and speak to the truth that our nation again needs to hear.

This spring, I have been reading about the life and times of the first national security advisor to counsel a president.  Ike’s Mystery Man by Peter Shinkle deals with Robert Cutler, a multi-faceted, learned, articulate, and determined man who saw a need for reorganizing how a president amassed information concerning international affairs so as to better shape policy.  Oh, yes, he was also gay. And living a secret life that President Dwight Eisenhower and the madness of the McCarthy era could never come to learn about. We come to discover in the pages Cutler was a banker, a poet, a cross-dresser who loved the female roles in amateur theatrical productions, and a very closeted gay man at the center of a gay White House love triangle. Cutler becomes deeply infatuated with Tilghman “Skip” Koons, a man described as highly intelligent and a gorgeous 27-year-old Russian speaker who Cutler recruited for the National Security Council staff.

President Eisenhower and Robert Cutler

When reading and learning about history it is vital to step into the shoes and time when the events occur.  While that has always been my firm belief, I readily admit to shaking the book and wondering how Cutler did not rebel in some way to underscore the madness of a policy that excluded gay people from federal employment.  In fact, Cutler worked doggedly to place into effect a President Truman-era order that, due to time constraints in the waning days of Harry’s term, would not be implemented until 1953. The absurdity of the mindset that gay people were a threat to national security and that ‘normal people did not associate with them’ is one of the chapters of our collective past that we need to recall as we speak out as to why we celebrate Pride Month. 

Long-time readers of this blog might recall my writing about the example of bipartisanship being employed by Senator Arthur Vandenberg when Harry Truman becomes president following the death of President Roosevelt. Vandenberg, a staunch Republican wrote to Truman saying “Good luck and God bless you. Let me help you whenever I can. America marches on.”  The two men, both vocal and determined from opposite ends of the political spectrum, bonded and shaped the international policy of the nation following World War II. We know that gay people are in every family, and that was the case with the Vandenbergs, as Shinkle writes with an example of the destructive nature of homophobia.

Arthur Vandenberg Jr.

The high cost to the lives of many gay men due to Executive Order 10450, which Cutler aided in implementing, is clear to see from the data presented in the book.

Being closeted and not able to live authentically has no place in our society, and we must not allow the loudest ones on the far right to do more than shout about their bigotry and hatred. The desire by some conservatives to now open old wounds and inflict outdated and repressive ideas upon society must be utterly rejected. The reason I write that line is due to the way Cutler was forced to live if he wanted to shape policy and use his abundant skills for the nation. It hurts to learn in the book that Cutler presented Skip with a 163,000-word journal about their relationship. Their families and friends and all of Washington should have been able to participate in the joy of that relationship and friendship as it was taking place.

We celebrate Pride Month with full recognition from whence we came. The struggles and fights that had to be waged so we can live our lives authentically are what we recall this month. At the same moment, we know that never again will we take a step backward. So, lift the Pride Flag, and as it is hoisted high recall those who never had the chance to do so. That, sadly, is very much a part of the story, too.

Queen Elizabeth II Dies At 96: Met U.S. Presidents Since Harry Truman

It still came as shock, even though it was often talked about over the past years. Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96 and there is now a new monarch in Britain. Only earlier this week the Queen had continued her constitutional duty and invited Liz Truss to form a new government. Even with health problems and aging concerns, there was always Queen Elizabeth who kept the long line of history very much intact on the British throne, acting with quiet resolve for decades.

I have thought about how to best reflect her life as seen through the eyes of this American home, and have settled on a series of photos of her interactions with our top leaders. (The Queen never met President Lyndon Johnson.) President Harry Truman was her first president to meet even though Elizabeth was not yet queen when, at the age of 25, she filled in for her very ailing father.  

President Harry S. Truman and Britain’s Princess Elizabeth are shown as their motorcade got underway following the reception ceremony at Washington National Airport on October 31, 1951.
 Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
20th October 1957: Queen Elizabeth II, US president Dwight D Eisenhower (1890 – 1969) with his wife Mamie (1896 – 1979) and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at a White House State banquet.
 Keystone/Getty Images
Buckingham Palace during a banquet held in his honor, American President John F. Kennedy and his wife, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, pose with Queen Elizabeth II London, United Kingdom, June 15, 1961.
 PhotoQuest/Getty Images
From BBC
President Gerald Ford dances with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth during a White House State Dinner honoring the Queen US Bicentennial visit, Washington DC, July 7, 1976. (Photo by Dirck Halstead/Getty Images)
6/8/1982 President Reagan riding horses with Queen Elizabeth II during visit to Windsor Castle, Daily Mail
Express UK
People magazine
Prince Phillip, Queen Elizabeth II, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama. Photo: Jack Hill – WPA Pool/Getty Images
(Wow….just wow.)

Dwight Eisenhower Would Be Most Scornful Of Donald Trump

It was, admittingly, the oddest combination of video footage to see within the same day.

In my attempt to focus a part of each day on learning more history I pulled up a video of former President Dwight Eisenhower, who in 1964, returned to Omaha Beach with CBS newsman Walter Cronkite. The interview and program which aired on television is a reminder of what titanic decisions were made in World War II. What I found of most interest, these decades later, is how leadership is viewed in hindsight.

There are striking images galore in the video and truly intense moments when one can feel the weight and enormity on the shoulders of the man we would come to know affectionately as “Ike”. There was a portion of the interview that was truly memorable in light of what followed from the Trump White house.

Eisenhower made the following statement to Cronkite.

I devoutly hope we will never again have to see such scenes as these. I think and hope, pray, that humanity will have learned more than we had learned up until that time. But these people gave us a chance, and they bought time for us, so that we can do better than we have before.

At the same time I was watching this interview on my computer, Donald Trump was pumping out a 46-minute series of nonsense and factless charges about the election from the Document Room. At a time when there are records cases of new COVID infections, record hospitalizations, record deaths, and more pain and suffering than this nation has known in our lifetime Trump did not utter one word about the public health crisis.

Forget the people who are dying alone, other than with perhaps a medical professional who themself are stressed out and utterly dismayed at what’s happening. Put aside those who struggle and survive COVID will face long-lasting, serious after-effects. Forget the devastated families who are losing loved ones to death at the holidays. No reason to talk about any of that when there is a conspiracy theory to prolong and ramp up from the White House!

Let me point out this pandemic has created more deaths than there were battle deaths in any war this country has fought except World War II. BUT, let me add we are only about 15,000 deaths from exceeding that total! And all in less than one year.

When Eisenhower looked at the crosses on the burial grounds at Normandy he was most aware of the crushing burden he needed to make in 1944. But he said of those who died “But these people gave us a chance.”

When the Trump administration saw the loss of life in New York this past winter with the refrigeration trucks and the fast burials, along with nurses who were breaking down in interviews…that was the moment to stir into action a series of federally mandated plans to fight the pandemic. When medical professionals told this administration that the deadly virus would come back with full fury in the fall they did their part by imparting the needed information. They surely hoped that elected officials who could make the difference with policy moves would then do their jobs.

Trump never once looked at the burial sites and considered what could be done from Washington to stop the spread of the disease and the huge loss of life.

Just as Ike relied on professional weathermen steeped in science to provide him essential information so to fight Hitler, doctors alerted our nation’s leaders to the dire needs when fighting this pandemic battle. The difference is, of course, Ike listened to the ones who were grounded in science.

It was an odd alignment of video to sift through and ponder but it was most telling. When events call for a person to step up and lead, history will record what followed. Ike proves one way of responding. Trump proves the exact opposite.

And so it goes.

Night Three Of Republican National Convention 2020: Featuring Dwight Eisenhower

This week during the Republican National Convention I will feature a Republican each day from the pages of history who acted in exactly the reverse of Donald Trump.  There is no way I can sit and listen to the creative lies being broadcast at the convention this year.  It is the first convention from either party I will have missed watching since starting in 1976.

Monday I  focused on the need for character and shone a light on Gerald Ford.  On Tuesday Abraham Lincoln was featured with an eye on leadership and empathy.    Today the need for strong international alliances is the topic highlighted by Dwight Eisenhower.


In the 1950s President Dwight Eisenhower worked to strengthen our allies and at the same time encourage nonaligned governments to step closer to the democratic models of leadership.  And we know that there were times when Ike used tough language when he viewed actions of NATO not to be aligned with his own world-view.   But the president also made it known that he was not pulling the rug from under the alliance.

He stated about Europe in 1954, “the obligations which the United States has assumed under the [North Atlantic] Treaty will be honored.”

Over succeeding administrations, there have been periods of dust-ups and questions about financing the defense pact.  But they were dealt with by diplomatic means, with an understanding of the history that underpins the international partnership.

There have been many troubling and deeply concerning statements from Donald Trump about NATO during his term in office.  His bombastic and headline-grabbing trip to Europe sent huge ripples across the governments of our allies.  There was no upside to Trump calling our defense allies freeloaders.  Or scorn them as in some way having taken advantage of American taxpayers. While there have always been discussions about the monies and roles of the alliance there has also been, from each prior administration of both parties, a deep foundation of understanding that our common values, shared interests, and mutual security guarantees were more vital than petty matters.

Trump likes petty matters, however, and therefore sought to undermine the historical niceties that have bound our nations together.  Meanwhile, what Eisenhower knew and practiced, and also what the others who sat in the Oval Office well understood, is that being president often means issues need to be managed.  The grand fix or perfect design for reshaping the topic at hand is not always plausible or desirable, given what the outcome might be.  Therefore maturity, reason, historical understanding, and a softer-touch are often called for when leading.

Ike had those qualifications in abundance.  But in 2020 we see what happens when they are totally absent.


Donald Trump Never To Be Role Model, Anywhere


I grew up when there was still an understanding in the heartland of the nation that a President of the United States was a role model.  I grew up seeing pictures and hearing reports from international travelers and workers about the homes of many people in far-flung places having two pictures hung on their walls.  The Pope and a photo of President John Kennedy.   That to me demonstrated not only the power of our nation, but also the gravitas and prestige of a president.

It is not a partisan thing to say no one on the planet is hanging a picture of Donald Trump in any living room this weekend.  The den, perhaps, so to better aim when playing darts.

The idea of Trump being a role model came to mind this weekend as he took to the golf links.  He was trying to demonstrate that his being out and a part of the nation’s reopening should encourage others to follow suit.   Trump considered his golf time not only a personal outing but also a message of how the rest of his fellow citizens should act.  (Regardless of data and medical advice about wearing masks and self-distancing.)

But Trump can never be a role model for anyone.  He has no character traits any adult would want to see duplicated in our youth.   That fact was demonstrated when he again demeaned women on social media and spewed groundless accusations against a former Republican congressman.

Over the weekend Trump lashed out at the way House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Democratic rising star Stacey Abrams looked.  He had the temerity to talk about someone’s weight!  Not to leave out the person who defeated him in the 2016 popular vote –by 3 million votes–Trump attacked Hillary Clinton as a “skank”.

He did not set aside his bizarre behavior at that point but instead launched into a feud with former US attorney general Jeff Sessions, and then repeated a murder charge against Morning Joe, TV host Joe Scarborough.

There is no parent in the land wishing their child grows up to be like Trump!  Given how and when I was raised as a child, I can assure my readers I make that statement about a president with no glee.  It is damn sad to have to print and post such a fact.

I grew up 20 years after the end of World War II.  As a boy there was much reverence in the nation for President Eisenhower who died when I was seven years old.  As the years passed it was always demonstrated that even though Ike had a lofty place in world history that few would ever attain, he was also to be recalled for how he set an example about how to act.  He pushed aside vanity and conducted his presidential career with humility.  He had ‘the stuff’ that made parents all over the nation look to him as a role model for their kids.

It has long been a sore point of mine when national public figures succumb to the dark side of their character.  No one alive in government has fallen so completely to the worst side of their character than Trump has over the past three years.  I fully understand that in reality there are limited national figures in our country who have the qualities and characteristics that most parents would want their child to look up to, or model their lives after.  Baseball players on steroids, or movie stars on their third marriage, or the president on his third wife, who only months after giving birth, he had sex with a porn star. We really have so few genuine national figures that our kids can call heroes.

But should we not demand that the President of the United States have at least the basic qualities our youth should be encouraged to emulate?  When did Americans toss the idea of virtue aside when making the choice for president?

Trump is not going to change into a book reader any more than he will grasp what empathy is all about, or adjust his self-centered behavior to meet the needs of his office.  He will never be a role model for anyone, anywhere. He is a pathetic person.

This November I need to have faith my fellow citizens will rise up and reject the one who has demonstrated the worst of human nature—on a daily basis–and turn towards a path where again adults can use their president as an example of how to live life.

Wise Thoughts From Bryce Harlow

One of the continuing themes that emerges from the Trump White House is the lack of  candor that many of his aides and top insiders have when it comes to saying what must be said to someone who is so out-his-league in matters of governing and policy-making.   As I was reading this weekend I came across a great quote from another Republican who faced a similar quandary as an insider to presidents.

Bryce Harlow, devoted though he was to Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, both of whom he served in high-level positions, insisted on telling them what he believed, not what they wanted to hear.

“When someone said, “It must take courage to tell a president he is wrong,” Harlow replied,” It takes courage not to do it if you know you should. It may hurt you, but if you can’t do it, you can’t live with yourself. That’s an expensive trip.”

Amen, Bryce.

1956 Presidential Election Recap

Grainy Video From 1952 Presidential Election