The onslaught of dramatic headlines continued, even intensified, this week. Despite the preponderance of air time given to Donald Trump’s impeachment, there were three stories unrelated to the trial that claimed my attention in a special way because of a personal connection I had to the news.
First—and this story received little attention in the media—I was struck by a brief Associated Press article, “Trump Threatens to Bypass Commission on Presidential Debates.” The President fears that the debates will be unfair to him. The “debates” in question have nothing to do with those underway now to determine the Democratic presidential nominee. Rather, the story refers to the Presidential debates held quadrennially between the major candidates in the weeks just before the general election. President Trump’s arrogant disregard for this important opportunity for the American electorate to see him in contrast to the Democratic nominee is yet another example as to how he considers himself outside the norms—formal and informal—of his office.
When I was at Intersections, former Presidential Press Secretary Mike McCurry was a member of our Leadership Council and, at the time, co-chair (along with his Republican counterpart) of the Commission on Presidential Debates. Mike invited Intersections to create a report with suggestions as to how the debates could be more accessible to the American public and prompt wider discussion about the issues of the day.
Though our well-regarded report was never formally adopted, the experience gave me a window into negotiations that took place within the bipartisan Commission. I was struck time and again by how scrupulously fair the Commission was in creating ground rules that both parties accepted. For Trump to imply that the Commission might rig the debates is absurd on its face and yet another myth of victimization he creates for himself. It is astonishing to see how many ways this “strong and stable” President can portray himself as a victim and how many of us are so quick to buy it.
Then, there was the sudden death of Kobe Bryant and how this enigmatic celebrity—and extraordinary basketball player—could so captivate a nation and convulse us in sadness. I played intercollegiate basketball and so I had a peek into the sacrifice needed to excel. Granted, Kobe’s skills were extraordinary (far beyond my wildest dreams); but so, too, was his unimaginable dedication to his craft.
As the father of two (now grown) daughters, I was further moved by the way Kobe’s mentorship, respect and affection for his daughter Gianna, who died with him in the helicopter crash, heightened the emotional bonds that countless fans—even casual basketball observers—felt for this superstar. Sadness was pervasive in L.A. and beyond at the sudden deaths of this father-daughter team. One distraught fan tearfully proclaimed, “Kobe was an icon for our whole generation. He was invincible.” The life-lesson from this story is obvious: neither Kobe Bryant nor anyone else is invincible. The tragic deaths of Kobe and Gianna serve as stark reminders of how short life really is and how fragile we all are.
And finally, the Trump administration this week unveiled Jared Kushner’s much ballyhooed Mideast Peace Plan. What a disappointment! What took so long? While not surprising, given the domestic challenges facing both Donald Trump and Bibi Netanyahu, the plan is so obviously tilted in favor of Israelis that it will likely set the peace process back a generation. It leaves Jewish settlements in place and carves the Palestinian lands into an archipelago. No Arab ally—not Egypt, Jordan or even Saudi Arabia—supports it. And there has been no input whatsoever from Palestinians.
Anyone familiar with the region knows that the limited “sovereignty” the plan guarantees over Palestinian lands is nothing short of a cruel joke. I’ve had the privilege of spending time in both Israel and Palestine and have witnessed the countless insults and inconveniences that Palestinians endure because of the current arrangement. Kushner’s plan only makes these hardships more extreme. There is no wonder the plan lacks support outside Israel, and in many quarters within Israel itself.
We are all connected. World events can seem distant and unrelated to our personal lives. But if we are attentive and look beneath the surface of the headlines with compassion and empathy, we can discover remarkable intersections with the world around us and see how our common humanity becomes apparent in the stories we share.