Donald Trump: a 21st Century Charles Lindbergh?

As the nation suffers through Donald Trump’s bombastic racist xenophobic campaign for President, and wonders whether his campaign will have enough staying power to carry him into the White House, I was reminded of Philip Roth’s fictional account of Charles Lindbergh’s defeat of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential campaign, entitled The Plot Against America.

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While Lindbergh is best remembered for his valiant trans-Atlantic flight, during the 1930s, he revealed himself to be a known anti-semitic Nazi sympathizer. Nazi military leader Herman Göring presented him with the Commander Cross of the Order of the German Eagle, on behalf of Adolf Hitler, in 1938, the same award the Nazis presented to another famous American anti-Semite, Henry Ford earlier that year.

Lindbergh actively opposed entry into World War 2, which was not that uncommon prior to Pearl Harbor. What was more disturbing about Lindbergh’s opposition to the war was his clear sympathy for the so-called racial purity theories espoused by the Nazis. He spoke at America First rallies and in 1939, published an article entitled Aviation, Geography, and Race in Reader’s Digest in which he stated,

We can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood, only so long as we guard ourselves against attack by foreign armies and dilution by foreign races.

In his diaries, Lindbergh wrote,

We must limit to a reasonable amount the Jewish influence … Whenever the Jewish percentage of total population becomes too high, a reaction seems to invariably occur. It is too bad because a few Jews of the right type are, I believe, an asset to any country.

While Lindbergh did not run for President, he had an avid following which makes Roth’s book both realistic and frightening. I highly recommend it, and for those who have not read it, I will not reveal the ending.

I doubt that Roth had Trump in mind when he wrote The Plot Against America, but the lessons in that book which reveal how racist xenophobia can quickly catch fire in our nation and potentially elect a candidate who spews vile hate to the most powerful job in the world are well worth heeding. Recently, some have compared Trump to the infamous red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy, and like McCarthyism, the media has some responsibility in fueling Trump’s rise.

Hopefully, Trump will not rise as far as McCarthy, but will fall as hard as he did when he was finally discredited. Whether you prefer the McCarthy comparison or the Lindbergh comparison, Trump’s vile racism does not belong in the White House. Our nation has a long way to go in defeating racism, but we turned a corner in electing Barack Obama twice, and we must not allow the pendulum to swing so far back we end up with a xenophobic racist in the White House.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Settlements: An Integral Part of our System of Justice

Today, I settled a case on behalf of my clients. As is typically the case in settlements, neither side got everything they wanted, but both sides agreed to settle their dispute understanding that the unpredictable nature of allowing a judge to determine the outcome of the case made the risk of continuing litigation too great for both sides to bear.

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While settlements invariably involve compromise, they are an integral part of our system of justice. Our system of justice is designed to resolve disputes in a peaceful manner instead of resorting to vigilante justice. Although rulings from courts are key pieces of our system of justice, they actually represent only a small minority of the results of litigation. In fact, roughly 95% of all civil cases result in a settlement before trial.

Recently, a friend expressed concern over Tony Robinson’s family’s decision to sue the City of Madison over the fatal shooting of their son by a Madison police officer, as he thought that it would only result in a settlement. Ironically, this lawsuit was brought just a day after the City of Madison settled the lawsuit brought by the family of another victim of a fatal police shooting, Paul Heenan, for $2.3 million.

I explained to my concerned friend that although it was impossible to predict the outcome of the Tony Robinson lawsuit, odds were very high that it would result in a settlement, and there was nothing wrong with that. In fact, that is what happened just before the trial in which I represented a Sun Prairie Middle School student against a police officer who assaulted him at school.

While the City of Madison claimed the settlement in the Paul Heenan case was not an admission of liability, and technically that is true, I can assure you that no party settles a case for $2.3 million without knowing that it has a very good chance of losing a lot more if the case goes to trial. As the Heenan family’s attorney Mike Fox said,

We want policing to be something other than a reaction to unreasonable fear and unreasonable anger, and we hope that this case is a testament to the fact that a shooting of an individual who is unarmed and who we allege did not pose a threat to the officer is simply wrong.

They hope this settlement and the work it took to achieve this settlement will become part of the national conversation that is currently dealing with relationships between police officers and their respective communities and a dialogue between police officers and their respective communities that seems to be dreadfully out of sync.

Civil rights attorneys, such as myself, hope that every settlement brings about systems change resulting in improved future behavior by both the perpetrator of the civil rights violation, and perhaps more important, by others who learn about the settlement. As an attorney who continues to battle the schools to prison pipeline, I sincerely hope that my Sun Prairie settlement, and the Paul Heenan settlement take us a couple of steps closer to living in a nation where our police officers protect us rather than injuring or killing us.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Flexible Thinking=Better Problem Solving

Earlier this week, I was faced with a problem I have never encountered before in my 30+ years as an attorney. After meeting with my client on Sunday night in my hotel room to prepare her for a 4 day hearing that was scheduled to start the next morning, I woke up to see an e-mail from the judge that she was sick with a high fever and could not preside over the hearing that day. She hoped we could start the next day.

Of course, I notified my client right away, and then proceeded to notify all our witnesses of the postponement. As it approached Noon, the judge notified us that she still had a high fever and was not sure if she could start on Tuesday. I asked her if she could let us know by 2 PM if we were going to start the hearing the next day, as after that time, I would have to pay for another night’s stay in the hotel. Shortly before 2:00, she notified us that she did not think she would be well enough to start the hearing the next day, and would notify us later whether or not we would start on what would have been the 3rd day of the originally scheduled hearing. I notified my client and the witnesses and returned home.

Just before Noon on Tuesday, the judge notified us that she was feeling better and believed that she could preside over the hearing on Wednesday. I informed her that I would check on my witness availability, and as it turned out, some of my witnesses were no longer available. By late afternoon, I informed her that I did not believe we could proceed in a fair and just manner to my client, given the unavailability of some of our witnesses and the judge agreed to postpone the hearing until later in the month. I am now working on rescheduling the witnesses for the new hearing dates.

While this story has its own unique elements, in truth, we all encounter unexpected changes in our personal and work lives periodically. Although it is certainly easier to live our lives in a routine manner without unexpected changes, frequently life simply does not work out so simply. In order to successfully solve problems that unexpected changes present, having a flexible mind leads to better problem solving, less panic, and ultimately better results.

The good news is that flexible thinking can be taught to parents and children. Flexibility exercises can help teach resilience.

The Sloan Center on Aging and Work produced an excellent paper that demonstrates how flexible thinking and flexible options improve workplace engagement and thereby produce better results for employees and businesses. The authors studied workplaces in 4 developed market economies, including the United States, and 6 emerging market economies, and among other things found that,

Employees’ assessments of their own flexible thinking, supervisors’ flexible thinking, and access to flexible options were all positively related to work engagement and organizational commitment.

Ultimately, many situations require thinking outside of the box.

outside the boxHaving a flexible mind allows for such outside the box thinking and can solve problems leading to personal, professional and systems change.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

In Praise of Sidewalks in my Neighborhood

My wife & I have lived in the same wonderful Tenney Park neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin,  for 29 years, and in the same house on a one block street for the past 23 years. Located just a couple of miles from the University of Wisconsin campus and downtown, many of my neighbors commute to their jobs by walking, biking or taking the bus.

As our son prepares to leave home for college, and my wife and I contemplate the next stage of our life, we often reflect on the special nature of our neighborhood. A couple of nights ago, on a beautiful evening, we decided to walk to a local restaurant about a mile away for dinner. The walk was lovely, but what made it extra special was that every few hundred yards, we stopped to engage in conversation with neighbors, who are also our friends, who were also out walking. This was not mere chance. Our neighborhood helps to form a cohesive and friendly community, in no small part, because of its sidewalks.

Sidewalks help build community because they create good places for interaction. A good resource for creating good places for interaction is the Community Tool Boxout of the University of Kansas. As they explain:

Good places for interaction are places where people – often from many parts of the community and/or diverse backgrounds – meet naturally and interact comfortably and often pleasurably because of the nature or attraction of the space and/or the activities associated with it.

While sidewalks are only one of many ways that good communities are built, they are invaluable as an easy and casual way for neighbors to interact and naturally get to know each other. The Community Tool Box goes on to list 11 great reasons to create good places for interaction. They can:

  • help to develop a sense of community pride and ownership.
  • help build a true sense of community among people of diverse origins, backgrounds, and points of view.
  • make the community a more pleasant place to live because more people have contact with one another.
  • increase the general enjoyment of life in the community.
  • increase safety and security.
  • improve the livability of neighborhoods.
  • promote individuals’ understanding of one another’s culture and humanity.
  • provide a forum for the exchange of ideas.
  • They can increase equity.
  • They can increase social capital, particularly bridging social capital.
  • They can expand children’s horizons through interactions with people who have different assumptions and expectations. Some time ago, I wrote about our neighbor’s Giving Tree across from our house which exemplifies the importance of this point. Here are some neighborhood children playing on that tree. IMG_1529

Of course, there are many other places for good social interaction, including parks and plazas, but sidewalks are critical as they allow for easy access for neighbors to meet and greet each other on a regular basis, thereby building friendships and community. In just one walk to dinner, my wife and I were able to check in with 7 neighbors (and some of their dogs), who have become our friends by being such good neighbors. Neighborhoods with sidewalks should relish and maintain them. Neighborhoods without sidewalks should strongly consider building them to build better and stronger communities.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.