This is Us

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One of the most popular shows of the new television season is This Is Us, a series that follows three generations of an American family back and forth in time. Though it primarily focuses on three grown “triplets” in their thirties, the hallmark of the story is that it flows easily through the decades as if they are continuous scenes on our screens – much the way we surf everyday on our desktops to follow variations of the same news story or subject matter. The latter is purposeful and is a large part of what makes This Is Us so timely and relatable.

This is... a hit

This is… a hit

The focus of the show is about being seen and heard. The brilliant African American kid from drug addicted parents who was adopted but never quite fits in; the fat girl who grows up into an obese women and has trouble letting people see the real her beneath what they view of her exterior, assuming they’d ever care to; and the hot TV actor who was once the least noticed in the bunch who now hides behind his looks and success because he can’t face the pain of always knowing that inside he really is and always was second rate. And these are just the triplets!

This is Us echoes a popular show from my past, thirtysomething, which pulled off a similar feat in the 80s but with the focus on a contemporary group of friends of a certain age who had indeed become each other’s family. However, while This Is Us moves constantly through past and present, thirtysomething dwelled primarily in the present with only occasional echoes of the past.

There was a limit to how willing we were to look backwards for answers in the “Greed is Good” eighties. These days, perhaps presciently, This Is Usfocus is on searching the past in desperate hope for answers about who we are today. Each psychological and actual crisis seems to rest in a series of past incidents – though after seven episodes they provide mostly brief insights and few satisfactory answers or solutions to changing actual behaviors. Perhaps it will go more fully down that road as it continues and takes notes from network execs. But right now, its characters seem to be desperately exploring. They know they’ve suddenly woken up in crisis and are willing to do almost anything to either NOT feel the pain or to somehow begin to forge a new way in which to live on.

You... You're good! #seewhatyoudidthere

You… You’re good! #seewhatyoudidthere

Perhaps some of you might see where I’m going with this. Though I’ll bet half of you don’t… which could be my fault but is probably indicative of the fact that I dwell in deep blue state America. Did you think you’d get a break from it all here? Rest assured there will be little escape for at least the next two four years. Though we’re probably not headed in the direction that you think. In either place.

The Electoral College election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence to President and Vice-President – despite the fact that they will have lost the popular vote by close to TWO MILLION people by the time the final tallies are counted – is currently wreaking havoc on the American family. Yet how we see our present via our past seem to greatly differ, depending on what side of the ideological fence we stand on.

Let’s take the example of what happened when Mike Pence attended the Friday night performance of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton in New York City, a deep blue state renowned for its multi-ethnic population, some of whom work in what is renowned as its sexually diverse theatre community (Note: Meaning, there are a ton of us gays employed on Broadway, and 99.999% of the straights are among our staunchest allies).

...said no one

SURPRISE! …said no one

If you haven’t heard, upon entrance to the theatre, the veepee elect was spontaneously booed among small bits of applause. Sort of like what would happen in an alternative universe if president elect Hillary wandered into a Chick Fill A in Mississippi a week after voting ended.

We've been down this road before #stopandsmellthechicken

We’ve been down this road before #stopandsmellthechicken

Being that Hamilton specifically tells the story of an IMMIGRANT’s rise in American history it is unsurprising the audience cheered at various pro-references to immigration nor is it shocking that upon Mr. VP’s re-entrance to the theatre in the second act a specific line about just how much we immigrants (Note: Yes, my grandparents came from Russia, Poland and Hungary – though not all of them – some were killed by the Nazis) can accomplish if given the chance drew thunderous applause.

That was seemingly about it until after the curtain call, when one of the lead actors read a statement (partially written by Hamilton creator-turned-cultural-icon Lin-Manuel Miranda) as the audience filed out. It read exactly thus:

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To which that night our 2016 President Elect who will lose the popular vote by TWO MILLION (Note: It’s sort of like an asterisk to a home run record), sent out TWO THREE TWEETS via Twitter. They read exactly thus:

So much for the land of dissent – at least in theory. As for practice, well, that’s still up in the air until AFTER January 20th.

But let’s not stray too much from the subject at hand, which would be looking back at our lives and our families in order to provide information, insights and answers about who we are, how we can heal and in what fashion we will move on.

Since Make America Great Again is THE SLOGAN that won Trump-Pence the electoral college vote, many non-T/P voters found themselves recoiling from their anti-immigrant, often racist, sexist and xenophobic campaign rhetoric; their embrace by white nationalists; and rallies where hysteria to Lock Her Up (Yes, you know which “her”) was the war call of both supporters and candidate.

The thinking:

Wait, aren’t we mostly a nation of people who mostly came from other countries? Wasn’t civil rights for Blacks and other non-whites a given, at least on paper, after a checkered racial history culminating with eight years of our first Black president? Isn’t a large part of what makes America great the fact that we don’t en masse scream for the incarceration of an individual until they are proven guilty, or at least until they have been formally charged with a crime?

No friends, THIS is us. #dontleave

No friends, THIS is us. #dontleave

On the same, token, numerous T/P voters and supporters clearly don’t feel great. The discernible issues cited seem to be not enough jobs in the white working class, our country’s benchmark welcoming policy towards immigrants in an age of global terrorism and a general disgust with the status quo in Washington, DC, but more particularly with the liberal coastal elites.

Wait, you fixed the economy for yourself but not us; you don’t care that many of our American factories closed; we were attacked by non-whites on 9/11 and you’ve never faced it; our government is going bankrupt and all you want to do is spend, spend, spend??? Well, there are no free rides anymore, buster (and busterettes).

All of these issues, every one of them, are valid issues for a family to discuss. And what is our country, or any country, after all, if not a family of people???

Just don't bring this up to Aunt Nan at Thanksgiving #shestouchy

Just don’t bring this up to Aunt Nan at Thanksgiving #shestouchy

The question to be answered is how do we, as a family, settle our real differences? Do we look back into our past – one that included slavery, a Civil War, the fight for women to simply VOTE, two World Wars and any number of others, our coming together as a people and landing on the moon, our rise to becoming one of the most financially and socially admired places on Earth? All of the above?

Meaning, What are the PRINCIPLES and ACTIONS that actually made AMERICA GREAT? And if you don’t believe we ARE great, which clearly the majority of the Electoral College voters do not, HOW DO WE BECOME GREAT AGAIN?

If past is prologue it won’t be about limiting freedoms, closing borders, or judging people by their personalities and lifestyle choices. On either side. At least, that’s what our newest, most beloved television characters are beginning to realize. (Note: Thanks, NBC!)

On the other hand, real life America is certainly not lived in via the reality of ONE hit television series, is it?   Or…is it?

Embarrassment of Riches

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I’ve met a few billionaires over the years. Let’s say five or under. And in case you were wondering – no, Oprah was not one of them. Though we were in the same room two of three times. Which I don’t count so much as meeting but being in the presence of her royal greatness. Yeah, I miss her and long for those simpler times when a Black woman from a poor background could try to enable the world to strive for their better selves. Rather than the present when it seems we have exactly the opposite.

Oh how I miss her

Oh how I miss her

Anyway, I only considered one of the billionaires I’ve met to be a truly happy person whose values were similar to mine and who, if push came to shove, I might even consider for U.S. president. This person’s moral compass was such that he judged people not by how much money they were making or had by accident of birth – or what possible connection or DEAL they could bring into HIS WORLD – but rather by their broader views on life. In other words, this person often hung out with and sought the company of poor people – meaning YOU AND I.

Don’t get me wrong.  YOU AND I does not necessarily mean those on the poverty level but individuals who make between $50,000-$250,000 per year. As well as others who make a little more (let’s say up to $1,000,000) and even a few who make much more (up to perhaps even $5,000,000).

By my calculations... that would the 99%

By my calculations… that would the 99%

Heck, there might have been a few here and there on the other end who made even less than the $50,000 cut-off – individuals whom he actually knew fairly well or were friends with those mentioned above and attended the many and varied social functions held at this person’s home. Some of these gatherings were casual, some were to raise money but quite often there were individuals of all shapes, sizes, ages (yeah, even children among the adults, can you imagine?) as well as incomes.

Certainly there was a respectable amount of multimillionaires and above but to watch this man walk around the room and actually listen to others as they shared their views of the world and he, in turn, revealed his with equal enthusiasm – was a genuine sight to see. He didn’t have handlers. There was sincerity in his body language and dialogue. When he engaged he looked into the eyes of the person he was engaged with rather than trying to clandestinely glance to or service what he perceived to be the more advantageous prey at his party.

Yes, he was the billionaire unicorn

Yes, he was the billionaire unicorn

I know all of the above to be so because some weeks after one of his parties about a decade and a half ago, this person accepted a dinner invitation to my humble abode. Incomes for writers fluctuate greatly and let’s say it was absolutely one of my leaner years. But show up for the very small gathering he did – engaged, joyous and happy to be there. I kept thinking — this person has given away more money than I will make in 10 lifetimes – and that’s being very generous to me. Why is he sitting in this funky bottom floor duplex apartment with worn, thin wood floors in desperate need of sanding when he could be luxuriating in several of his own luxurious homes? Or be chowing down in a five star hotel or restaurant with other power brokers or wheelers and dealers? Or better yet, charter his own private jet and fly him or his party of choice to Rome, Paris, Athens or, say, even… Palm Beach, Florida?

... in a home that probably looks something like this

… in a home that probably looks something like this

The simple answer is that this person wanted to be at my house. And not because he was slumming – or even running for office. The money was nice but it didn’t define him. He had his own foundation, still worked at his chosen profession, and continued to make and give away millions of dollars. But the money, the wealth and the privilege were not his brand. His personhood was who he was. And the corporations he owned was not this person. He was.

This man forever changed my perception of the uber-wealthy and shook up my views of just how one begins to navigate success and failure, poverty and riches.  It’s all in the game of how you perceive yourself and engage in the world. Is one lesser than, better than or, at the end of the day, on equal footing with others despite society’s too numerous to count measures and scales?

I can't really fault that logic

I can’t really fault that logic

To put it more simply — can you be a leader without being superior. Is there a way to win at what you do without inciting the hatred of your supporters for the other side and inciting them to moral and physical violence? If business really is a cutthroat and cruel arena where any actions can be forgiven because it’s not personal, how could it be that this particular person rose to the top of his, and then some, without doing any of it?

Well, perhaps he just got lucky. Or is an anomaly. Or secretly did just that and covered it up? No. He was just a guy with a lot of ideas and an inner belief in the world and in himself. In that order. Rather than vice-versa. He didn’t think so much about of making him or his company #1. He instead created a product and systems that facilitated connection – rather than alienation.

I'm starting to feel like this person might own a lot of hooded sweatshirts

I’m starting to feel like this person might own a lot of hooded sweatshirts… but no. #keepguessing

In the hours I spent with this person all that time ago he spoke a lot about wanting to continue to take what he had and use it to restore the environment to its natural state so it could be enjoyed by as many people as possible despite their means

This person loved the land and owned a lot of it – and I mean more PRIMO acreage in the most desire spots in both our urban and rural landscapes than you can imagine; and made sure that upon his death the state and federal government will take over such lands and keep and preserve them in perpetuity to their natural green habitats. The final part of the DEAL is that these lands will be open to the public to peruse and enjoy.

Channeling my inner Maria Von Trapp

Channeling my inner Maria Von Trapp

In other words, this land will not be developed into steel and concrete versions of mini-adult Disneylands that many of this man’s many, many friends could afford or would even choose to frequent. His desire is not to bring us back to a past where these lands can be GREAT AGAIN. Nor did he think it necessary to rip these lands apart at the seams in order to preserve them and bring back their greatness.

His thought was – and still is – to enable a place where we can all – everyone one of us despite our backgrounds – gather as many people together to share the land –and the infinite possibilities it evokes – as he could.

Well great, now I miss Mad Men even more

Well great, now I miss Mad Men even more

Funny enough, that’s the way he built the empire that made him rich. Not the other way around.

Final note: This person is listed as one of the top charity givers in the United States in the last 15 years with contributions in the many tens of MILLIONS of dollars. No other billionaire running for president at the moment is even in the ballpark.

Not even CLOSE.

Making America great again.  Indeed.