Saturday, December 7, 2019

Friday, December 6, 2019

Your Vote Counts

Passing this on from a friend:

“Can’t Live Without You,” written by Philip Middleton Williams and which was produced earlier this year by The Playgroup LLC at the Willow Theatre, has been nominated for Best Play, Best Director: Jerry Jensen, Best actor: Robert Ayala, and Best Ensemble: AJ Ruiz, Robert Ayala, Carla Zackson Heller, Leslie Zivin Kandel and Anthony Wolff for the Broadway World 2019 Regional Awards. Please show your support and vote now!

Anyone can vote from anywhere. However, follow the instructions carefully; you can only vote once, and you must confirm your vote when the e-mail from Broadway World arrives, so check your spam filter just in case.

Thanks.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Law Schooling

Yesterday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing was as expected: boisterous and boorish on the part of the Republican shills, who displayed not only their fealty to Trump; they also showed how little they paid attention in law school.  They got schooled by one of the witnesses.  And how.

Charles P. Pierce:

I don’t mean to diminish the gold-standard, A-level Founders porn with which the nation was gifted on Wednesday. I am a ridiculous nerd for such stuff, and not even the woebegone visage of Jonathan Turley, who’s seeing all those juicy Clinton impeachment TV appearances coming back for him like the visitation of the spirits at Scrooge’s place, can take the smile off my face.

But the best practical argument made in the context of 2019 politics came from Professor Pamela Karlan, who announced her presence with authority by clapping back ferociously on Rep. Doug Collins, the bellowing bullshit auctioneer from Georgia. Because he apparently believes that everyone is as deeply afflicted by deliberate ignorance as he is, Collins snarked about how none of the expert witnesses possibly could have read all 300 pages of the House Intelligence Committee’s damning report by the time they came to testify. To which Professor Karlan replied:

Here, Mr. Collins I would like to say to you, sir, that I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts. So I’m insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor I don’t care about those facts.

I do not envy those of Professor Karlan’s students who show up unprepared for class.

I didn’t stick around for the whole mess yesterday, but last evening as I was driving I heard one nitwit — Rep. Stubey, I think was his name — carry on about how Trump was denied his Sixth Amendment rights to confront his witness and how unfair it all was because he was being railroaded and tried and convicted. Well, A) the hearing was not a trial, and B) the Sixth Amendment applies only to criminal trials. Impeachment and removal is not a criminal trial. Trump may well have committed criminal acts, but he’s not going to be tried for those; he’s being removed from office. The criminal cases will come after, and no, double jeopardy will not be attached because a conviction in the Senate is the outcome of being voted out of office based on the articles of impeachment, not the actual criminal act itself. That’s for the Southern District of New York to do.

In my non-law-school way of thinking, the closest comparison impeachment comes to is a really drawn-out job termination hearing. If you suck at your job, you get evaluated, and then they fire you. If the reason for your termination was embezzlement or giving trade secrets to your competitor, you lose your job. If the company decides to report you to the authorities for your criminal act, that’s another matter. That’s pretty much what happens with impeachment. Trump’s life and liberty are not at stake; his job is in jeopardy, and there’s no constitutional guarantee to protect that.

If I were the law schools where some of these Republican minions got their degree, I’d take a close look at the poor examples of jurisprudence they turned out and think about getting their diplomas back.

Poor Baby

The other kids teased him behind his back so he flounced home.

Trump arrived in London Monday evening planning to tout a foreign policy accomplishment his presidential campaign wants him to run on: successfully pressuring allies to pay more toward the costs of running NATO.

Less than 48 hours later — after he was put on the defensive in front of the cameras and then was the subject of gossip at a private reception of world leaders, a moment caught in a viral video — Mr. Trump canceled a planned news conference before heading back to Washington earlier than planned.

The timing was not perfect. Mr. Trump had hoped the 70th anniversary celebration of NATO might provide a flattering stage and a triumphant narrative, even as Democrats on Capitol Hill on Wednesday trotted out sober legal scholars to testify at the House Judiciary Committee’s first public impeachment hearing.

But instead of creating a split screen, Mr. Trump failed to produce the statesmanlike narrative his campaign had hoped for. The result was he appeared boxed in both at home and abroad, ultimately overshadowed by diplomatic dynamics that put him on his back foot.

They laughed even more when he left.

But Trump got his revenge by taking it out on — of course — poor people.

The Trump administration, brushing aside tens of thousands of protest letters, gave final approval on Wednesday to a rule that will remove nearly 700,000 people from the federal food-stamp program by strictly enforcing federal work requirements.

The rule, which was proposed by the Agriculture Department in February, would press states to carry out work requirements for able-bodied adults without children that governors have routinely been allowed to waive, especially for areas in economic distress. The economy has improved under the Trump administration, the department argued, and assistance to unemployed, able-bodied adults was no longer necessary in a strong job market.

That’ll show those meanies in France and Canada.  So there.

HT to Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Live Feed — Here Comes The Judiciary

The impeachment saga moves to the House Judiciary Committee today.  The Washington Post says the Republicans are getting “ready to rumble.”

Defenders of President Trump often describe the impeachment inquiry as a “circus.”

But after the partisan theatrics expected during Wednesday’s first hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, they might need a stronger word.

When Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) gavels the room to order at 10 a.m., some of Capitol Hill’s most aggressive and colorful characters — Republicans and Democrats — will be seated on the dais, ready to inject new friction and hostility into the second phase of the inquiry.

There could be disruptions from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), the Fox News favorite who led a conservative revolt against impeachment in mid-October by storming the secure room where depositions were taking place.

There could be conspiracy theories from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), who nearly named the intelligence community whistleblower during a recent speech on the House floor.

And there could be antics from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a vocal Trump critic who brought a bucket of fried chicken to a hearing in May to highlight the absence of Attorney General William P. Barr, who was scheduled to testify.

Add to these another 38 lawmakers — many Trump loyalists or pro-impeachment Democrats ready to do battle — and you have a potentially explosive mix of personalities whose excesses could dominate the proceedings.

“It’s a bunch of brawlers sometimes on the Judiciary Committee, so it should get pretty hot under the collar as we go along,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the panel, during an interview on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

“I don’t think things have been done the way they’ve been done in the past . . . so it causes some rancor and it should be much more feisty, I would say, than the Intel Committee was,” he said.

The reason for this expected response is rather obvious: they have no reasonable defense of Trump and his corruption, so they’re doing everything they can to distract the attention away from it short of releasing a flock of pigeons and running a stampede of goats through the hearing room.  And I wouldn’t put that past them, either.

Charles P. Pierce:

The Democratic report is an outright burial job. The president* tried to extort an agreement out of the government of Ukraine to help him ratfck the 2020 election. All the receipts are there, in four-part harmony and full orchestration, with circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back explaining how they all would be used as evidence against a renegade presidency.

In dealing with reports such as the one released on Tuesday, it is always important to remember the ARF Principle: Always Read Footnotes. For example, heres a piquant bit of information that you would miss if you abandoned the ARF Principle. Rep. Devin Nunes, Republican of California, ranking member of the House Intelligence committee and former White House lawn ornament, is all over this report. Calls between Nunes and John Solomon, the enormously useful reporter formerly working at The Hill, are featured. These are the people the president* left on the beach. And this is the true bottom line.

This will be all over the TV today because they love to put on the shouting matches; it’s great for ratings and the stakes are higher than the showcases on “The Price Is Right.”

What Mayor Pete Said

Jonathan Capehart in the Washington Post:

When you’re black and gay, there are times when you feel that the two identities integral to your whole self are in conflict. Actually, let me rephrase that. There are times when other folks put your two identities in conflict and you feel compelled to respond.

When I thundered against the ugly lie that homophobia among African Americans was the reason Democratic presidential contender Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., wasn’t gaining their support, I had more than a few white gay men lecture me about black people as they hurled studies at me in the worst-ever display of apples meeting oranges. Those folks were blocked. Now, I have to push back against African Americans who are ripping Buttigieg for what they see as his equating his experience being gay with that of being black.

That’s not what happened. That’s not what he said.

We got here because of a question posed to Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) at the Democratic debate last month. She was asked to elaborate on her criticism of Buttigieg’s outreach to black voters. Harris used her response to widen the aperture to encompass the entire party and how it takes advantage of African Americans, black women in particular.

“You know, at some point, folks get tired of just saying, oh, you know, thank me for showing up and — and say, well, show up for me,” Harris said to applause. After a powerful riff on what black women face, Harris said, “The question has to be, where you been? And what are you going to do? And do you understand who the people are?”

Mayor Pete was asked to respond to Harris. Here is what he said in its entirety, with the relevant lines in bold.

My response is, I completely agree. And I welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters in America who don’t yet know me.
And before I share what’s in my plans, let me talk about what’s in my heart and why this is so important. As mayor of a city that is racially diverse and largely low income, for eight years, I have lived and breathed the successes and struggles of a community where far too many people live with the consequences of racial inequity that has built-up over centuries but been compounded by policies and decisions from within living memory.
I care about this because my faith teaches me that salvation has to do with how I make myself useful to those who have been excluded, marginalized and cast aside and oppressed in society.
And I care about this because, while I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country, turning on the news and seeing my own rights come up for debate, and seeing my rights expanded by a coalition of people like me and people not at all like me, working side by side, shoulder to shoulder, making it possible for me to be standing here. Wearing this wedding ring in a way that couldn’t have happened two elections ago lets me know just how deep my obligation is to help those whose rights are on the line every day, even if they are nothing like me in their experience.

Let me state at the outset that I do not for one minute disregard the anger over what folks thought Buttigieg said. I of all people know that when you’re black in America, you’re used to your feelings being discounted, your experience being devalued and your very presence being denied, if not outright ignored. I understand why hellfire is visited upon anyone who tries to draw direct parallels or attempts to equate our unrelenting battles against racism and white supremacy with their own struggles with discrimination. But what I will not do is drag someone for using their own experience to build a bridge of empathy, openness and awareness to try to help make the lives of others better.

Buttigieg could not have been more clear when he said, “While I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country, turning on the news and seeing my own rights come up for debate.” This is an open acknowledgment of his status as a white man immunizing him against racial prejudice. But he is also asking everyone to see that he is acquainted with bias as a married gay man under attack from his own government.

From Day One, the Trump administration has gone after the rights and legal protections of the LGBTQ community, including scrubbing our existence from federal government websites. And folks forget that while same-sex couples can be married on Sunday, they can still be fired on Monday for being — or being perceived as being — LGBTQ in 17 states. Only 22 of the remaining 33 states grant blanket protection from discrimination to LGBTQ people.

No, it’s not the same as the systemic racism and white supremacy that took root in 1619. But that supremacy and the cisgender straight white men who are its focus continue to hobble the efforts of the rest of us to fully claim the equality promised in our founding documents. That’s why I say there is a shared (not same) struggle for civil rights between blacks and the LGBTQ community. The late civil rights icon Julian Bond made it plain in a 2008 interview. “You are what you are, and you cannot be discriminated against in this country for what you are,” he replied when I asked him about the connection between the black civil rights movement and its gay counterpart.

Also lost in the anger was the “I see you” of Buttigieg’s response: the part where he says, “I have lived and breathed the successes and struggles of a community where far too many people live with the consequences of racial inequity that has built up over centuries but been compounded by policies and decisions from within living memory.” Recognizing the corrosive effects of structural racism past and present is not new for Buttigieg. And, remember, he said this before he was called “a lying MF” for not recognizing the impact of structural racism on education during a 2011 mayoral candidates’ forum in South Bend.

The last part of Buttigieg’s answer is key to understanding why he is so eager to show he’s empathic to, if not fully able to understand the fear and concerns of, folks who aren’t like him. The part where he talks about “how deep my obligation is to help those whose rights are on the line every day, even if they are nothing like me in their experience.” This reminded me of what Buttigieg told me during our sit-down at the 92nd Street Y in May:

… at a moment like this, when every possible reason for excluding somebody has been weaponized by this administration, it’s a reason we’ve all got to be ready to stand up for each other, not by pretending that we know what it’s like to be in somebody else’s shoes. I don’t know beans about what it’s like to be, even within the LGBT community, I don’t know what it’s like to be trans, I just know enough to know I gotta stand up for somebody who is ….
All of us have to figure out how to find what’s in our identity and use it as a source of solidarity for others, because anybody can be marginalized. And so many people right now are that if we don’t stick together, you never know who’s gonna be next.

If you’re still dragging Buttigieg after reading that, then you’re not really interested in having allies willing to join the fight with you. That’s not to say you have to support his run for president. That’s your business. But when someone like Mayor Pete says, “I see your struggle. How can I help? How can I be of service?” my inclination is to say “Welcome!” — especially when they promise to be on the national stage for decades to come.

It would be one of the most karmic events in the history of karma — not to mention every Frank Capra movie ever — if Pete Buttigieg became president.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Send In The Clowns

Heather Digby Parton (“Hullabaloo”) in Salon on the upcoming hearings in the House Judiciary Committee:

We don’t yet know how [Committee Chair Jerry] Nadler plans to run the hearings but I think everyone hopes he follows Schiff’s example. A draft of possible impeachment proceedings from September indicates that Nadler plans to allow committee staffers “designated by the chairman and ranking member” to “ask questions of witnesses for a total of one hour, equally divided across the parties (in addition to the normal questions from members),” so it’s likely that the hearings will at least have an hour or so of meaningful exchanges.

But that’s going to be tough. This committee is one of the most rancorous in the House and it has twice as many members as the Intelligence Committee. Many of them are showboating egomaniacs on a good day. Both Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, who were highly combative during the Intelligence Committee hearings, also sit on Judiciary, so we can expect more of their red-meat performances. And we can be sure that Trump’s most loyal guard dog, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, along with borderline crackpot Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, will be looking for ways to upend the proceedings.

As Judiciary member Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., told Fox News on Sunday, “it’s a bunch of brawlers sometimes on the Judiciary Committee, so it should get pretty hot and under the collar as we go along. I don’t think things have been done the way they’ve been done in the past, Mike, and so it causes some rancor and it should be pretty — much more feisty, I would say than the Intel Committee was.”

If you tune in, you’re going to hear a lot of hot air and bullshit from the Republicans about how unfair the process has been.  That’s because they have not been able to defend Trump’s actions, so they won’t try.  Hence the clown show.

Monday, December 2, 2019

In All Fairness

The House Judiciary Committee picks up what Intelligence threw them.

As the impeachment inquiry moves into a critical week, President Trump and his Republican allies are debating the degree to which the president should participate in a process they have spent more than two months attacking.

On Sunday evening, White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone told the House Judiciary Committee in a five-page letter that Trump would not participate in its first impeachment hearing, scheduled for Wednesday. The invitation from Chairman Jerrold Nadler “does not begin to provide the President with any semblance of a fair process,” Cipollone wrote.

Four constitutional scholars — three chosen by Democrats, one by Republicans — are expected to testify on the standards for impeachment. Nadler (D-N.Y.) told Trump he had until 6 p.m. Sunday to notify the committee that he or his attorneys would attend; he has given Trump until Friday to decide whether to participate more broadly in the impeachment process.

It’s been a hallmark of Trump’s tenure that he and his minions are always talking about “fairness,” as if everything that happens to them is or isn’t fair.  Trump whines about how the press or the Democrats or the ice cream dispenser is so unfair to him, which is then followed by a tantrum, and then holding his breath until he shits his pants.  It’s like he’s never taken into account the simple fact that whether or not something or someone is fair or unfair to him and his fe-fe’s doesn’t really count for much, especially when the facts and the truth are what matter.

By definition, the impeachment process in the House is investigative.  Whether or not it’s fair depends on who participates.  If the White House refuses to comply with subpoenas and requests for information, they can’t then complain bitterly that they have been denied the opportunity to provide evidence.  If the Republicans who are in thrall to the White House sit through hours of depositions in closed sessions and then create a stink about the closed sessions being unfair, then they’re just pandering to their minders at Fox News.  In short, they can’t spend all their time trying to screw up the entire process and then pronounce it as unfair because the entire process somehow got screwed up.

As John F. Kennedy noted, life is unfair.  It’s something we should learn and take into account at about the time we learn how to take turns on the swing set on the school playground.  But trying to explain that to someone who has yet to rise to that level of maturity is a hard thing to do.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Sunday Reading

Impeachment as Spectacle — David Masciotra in Salon.

The House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings have been the perfect sweeps-season exhibition of American dysfunction, weirdness and stupidity. Democrats are meticulously proving that President Trump is an inveterate liar who broke the law by transforming international diplomacy into a partisan, tabloid dirt-finding expedition in exactly the buffoonish manner that anyone would expect. Trump is a corrupt con artist unqualified for a junior high student council. Impeachment and removal are beyond debate to anyone of minimal sanity. In other breaking news, the Earth orbits the sun.

More shocking than the extent of Trump’s petty corruption is the obsequiousness of leading Republicans, all of whom have publicly invested in the personality cult surrounding the former host of “Celebrity Apprentice.” Apparently convinced that the country cannot survive without the leadership of the man who had the wisdom to fire Gary Busey in the boardroom, and later defend murderous white supremacists, the GOP have exposed themselves as lacking any of the principles — “family values”; belief in small, honest government; fiscal conservatism, patriotic loyalty to the laws and institutions of the United States — they previously boasted about.

House impeachment, and subsequent Senate removal, in any rational Congress would have taken all of four minutes, allowing the electorate to prepare for the alarming reality of President Mike Pence.

Instead, curious citizens are subjected to the monstrosity of Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, whose previous high-water mark was disregarding accusations of sexual abuse in the Ohio State locker room when he was an assistant wrestling coach, doing his best impersonation of a serious human being as he shouts about “process” in his shirtsleeves. Barring any bombshell, it looks as if the entire Trump fiasco will result in a repetition of the Bill Clinton episode — impeachment in the House, acquittal in the Senate.

That is not the only reason that the entire proceeding feels anticlimactic. It is deeply unsatisfying because it is focused on what is likely the least of Trump’s misdeeds.

At least 25 women have accused Trump of sexual assault – most of them alleging that he forcibly grabbed their genitals, which is precisely what he has bragged about doing on an open mic. Sexual predation and harassment are conspicuously absent from the congressional hearings on Trump, along with media dissection of his presidency. Occasionally, a pundit will casually reference the accusations as if they were nothing more than an unfortunate, but pedestrian reality of national politics. Rep. Katie Hill, a freshman Democrat, resigned over a consensual affair with a staffer, yet Trump faces no political consequences for, according to his credible accusers, a lifetime of assaulting women.

Defenders of the government’s inadequacy in the pursuit of justice might protest that none of Trump’s accusers have alleged any criminal behavior during his presidency. It seems odd that chronology would have any relevance — what if there was evidence that Trump murdered 25 women in the 1990s and 2000s? Would Congress have to ignore it? — but operating only within the confines of Trump’s term in office is equally devastating to not only his lack of leadership and character, but also to an impeachment that, while just and necessary, resembles the prosecution of Al Capone for tax evasion.

The last living Nuremberg prosecutor, Ben Ferencz, called Trump’s family separation policy at the border — ripping children out of their parents’ arms, locking them in cages, leaving them vulnerable to abuse — a “crime against humanity.” Explaining that it was “painful” for him to watch the news of the Trump administration’s cruel treatment of families seeking asylum, Ferencz said, “We list crimes against humanity in the Statute of the International Criminal Court. We have ‘other inhumane acts designed to cause great suffering.’ What could cause more great suffering than what they did in the name of immigration law?”

Ferencz’s outrage barely elicited coverage in the American press, and provoked a pathetically meek political response. The United Nations definition of “genocide,” formed in response to the Nazi holocaust of Jews and other minorities, extends far beyond murder. It also includes “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Genocide is not on the impeachment agenda.

What is on the itinerary, apparently, is a commitment to displaying many American failures of policy and cultural imagination without comment. EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony that Trump orchestrated the bribery campaign against Ukraine was damning, but with the exceptions of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, no one appears compelled to discuss why ambassadorial posts are always on sale to the highest donor — a bipartisan tradition that Republicans, as is their wont, elevate to unexplored heights of irresponsibility.

Everyone of conscience should feel grateful to Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for helping to expose Trump as a criminal who wields presidential power for personal gain, but is it necessary and healthy to celebrate militarism while papering over unjust war?

Yes, Vindman is a lieutenant colonel in the Army. The “service” for which everyone is calling him a “hero” was contributing to one of the most reckless and immoral annihilations of human life in modern history — the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Meanwhile, in recent weeks Trump has pardoned three accused war criminals.

If by some miracle, the Senate actually convicts President Trump and removes him from office, Americans should applaud in the morning, but go back to protesting by the afternoon. The words that French journalist Claude Julien wrote following Richard Nixon’s resignation still ring true: “The elimination of Mr. Richard Nixon leaves intact all the mechanisms and all the false values which permitted the Watergate scandal.”

Be Nice — Annie Lowrey in The Atlantic on our epidemic of unkindness.

Take five minutes to meditate. Try to quiet the judgmental voice in your head. Call your mother. Pay for someone else’s coffee. Compliment a colleague’s work.

In an age of polarization, xenophobia, inequality, downward mobility, environmental devastation, and climate apocalypse, these kinds of Chicken Soup for the Soul recommendations can feel not just minor, but obtuse. Since when has self-care been a substitute for a secure standard of living? How often are arguments about interpersonal civility a distraction from arguments about power and justice? Why celebrate generosity or worry about niceness when what we need is systemic change?

Those are the arguments I felt predisposed to make when I read about the newly inaugurated Bedari Kindness Institute at UCLA, a think tank devoted to the study and promulgation of that squishy concept. But it turns out there is a sweeping scientific case for kindness. In some ways, modern life has made us unkind. That unkindness has profound personal effects. And if we can build a kinder society, that would make life better for everyone.

Darnell Hunt, the dean of social sciences at UCLA and a scholar of media and race, told me some of the questions the institute hopes to investigate or answer: “What are the implications of kindness? Where does it come from? How can we promote it? What are the relationships between kindness and the way the brain functions? What are the relationships between kindness and the types of social environment in which we find ourselves? Is there such a thing as a kind economy? What would that look like?”

Not like what we have now. Research proves what is obvious to anyone who has been online in the past decade: For all that the internet and social media have connected the world, they have also driven people into political silos, incited violence against minority groups, eroded confidence in public institutions and scientists, and made conspiracy theorists of us all—while making us more selfish, less self-confident, and more socially isolated.

“The internet is largely a cesspool,” Daniel M. T. Fessler, an evolutionary anthropologist and the new institute’s director, told me. “It is not actually surprising that it is largely a cesspool. Because if there’s one thing that we know, it’s that anonymity invites antisociality.” It is easier to be a jerk when you are hiding behind a Twitter egg or a gaming handle, he explained.

The political situation is not helping matters, either. Americans have become more atomized by education, income, and political leanings. That polarization has meant sharply increased antipathy toward people with different beliefs. “We’re in this hyperpolarized environment where there’s very little conversation across perspectives,” Hunt said. “There’s very little agreement on what the facts are.”

There’s plenty of pressure for people to be unkind to themselves, too. Matthew C. Harris and his wife, Jennifer, seeded the Bedari Kindness Institute with a $20 million gift from their family foundation. For him, the topic is personal. “I wasn’t kind to myself, which has roots in my own childhood experiences. I was judgmental of myself, and therefore others. I was very perfectionistic,” he told me, reflecting on his business career. “I realized: This is not sustainable.”

The antidote seems to lie in media, economic, social, and political change—lower inequality, greater social cohesion, less stress among families, anti-racist government policy. But kindness, meaning “the feelings and beliefs that underlie actions intended to generate a benefit for another,” Fessler said, might figure in too. “Kindness is an end unto itself,” and one with spillover effects.

At a personal level, there’s ample evidence that being aware of your emotions and generous to yourself improves your physical and mental health, as well as your relationships with others. One study found that mindfulness practices aided the caretakers of people with dementia, for instance; another showed that they help little kids improve their executive function.

Kindness and its cousins—altruism, generosity, and so on—has societal effects as well. Fessler’s research has indicated that kindness is contagious. In one major forthcoming study, he and his colleagues showed some people a video of a person helping his neighbors, while others were shown a video of a person doing parkour. All the study participants were then given some money in return for taking part, and told they could put as much as they wanted in an envelope for charity. (The researchers could not see whether the participants put money in or how much they put in.)

People who saw the neighborly video were much more generous. “One of my research assistants said: ‘There’s something wrong with our accounting; something’s going haywire,’” Fessler told me. “She said, ‘Well, some of these envelopes have more than $5 in them.’” People who saw the first video were taking money out of their own wallets to give to charity, they figured. “I said, ‘That’s not something going wrong! That’s the experiment going right!’” It suggests that families or even whole communities could pitch themselves into a kind of virtuous cycle of generosity and do-gooding, and that people could be prompted to do good for their communities even with no expectation of their kind acts redounding to their own benefit.

Interpersonal empathy might translate into political change, Hunt added. “We see this [research] as being civically very important,” he said. “Take homelessness in L.A., for example. How do we get the electorate to become more empathetic and support policies necessary to make a meaningful intervention? That’s not something you can just do by fiat. People have to be brought along.”

This holiday season, there are so many ways to bring yourself and your community along—among them little things like taking five minutes to meditate, calling your mother, and paying for someone else’s coffee. Maybe kindness is not a distraction from or orthogonal to change. Maybe it is a pathway to it.

Doonesbury — Remember the wall.