I know this: if Trump wins a second term, our democracy may not survive. If he loses, we have a chance to rebuild the country and address even greater problems like climate change and disappearing jobs.
Our saving grace may be grace itself. I believe – and not just because I’m famously a “Sweet Dog” – that our ability to rid ourselves of Trump will be our shared, innate kindness.
Every day, in every state, people serve food to people who are hungry, hold babies born to drug dependent parents, raise money for sick folks, pull unconscious people out of burning cars, phone neighbors living alone during blizzards, wash cars to pay for school field trips. And so on and on.
Will people who do these things really support the cruel man who turns away or locks up families escaping murderous dictators and gangs, who encourages racists and bigots, who sneers at science, who betrays allies, who pardons war criminals, who assaults women, who calls the media the “enemy,” and who every day tells multiple lies, while Tweeting slurs and insults?
With the New Year only two days away, I'm remembering some examples of kindness that everyday Americans performed in 2019, stories about kindly Americans who will decide the fate of our country and planet in 2020.
Not only does Chester, population 3,144, have more than one stoplight – it also puts out four of those radar displays that tell drivers how fast they’re going compared to the speed limit.
However, when Christmas comes around, Chester adds a kindly touch that Santa would approve, if he existed.
What happens? When a car is going at or below the speed limit, the sign displays the word “NICE.”
But when a driver is too much in a hurry to get out of Chester, the sign flashes “NAUGHTY.”
It takes a lot to get Grouchy to smile, but when he saw this, my sensitive dog ears picked up an actual laugh.
Returning to Rhode Island, we phoned Deborah Aldrich, the town clerk. First thing, Ms. Aldrich gave credit where it belonged, because that’s what they do in Vermont.
Chester, she told us, wasn’t the first to reprogram its radar alerts. That honor belongs to Manchester, population 4,391, about 30 miles to the east.
“We thought that would be fun to do,” said Ms. Aldrich, noting that the signs have brought more than smiles – they've produced lots of great press about Chester, including a piece on CNN.
It’s been such a pleasant way to persuade drivers to creep-don't-race through Chester, that the town is considering similar messages pegged to other holidays.
“So there may be other changes,” Ms. Aldrich said, keeping the still-forming plans confidential for now.
We asked what the signs normally say after Christmas cheer fades.
“Slow down,” when drivers are too much in a rush, she said.
And when they obey the speed limit? “Thank you.”
Well, that sounds kind of nice, too, we told her.
She laughed, but resisted the temptation to brag about these and other touches that make Vermont compulsively civilized.
If you live in a place like Chester, you already know it’s a kindly place. But if someone from “away” wants to spread the word, well, that’s nice,too.
AN APRON IS SAVED – AND THEN SOME
Truck’s Human looks after his neighbors, shoveling and snow-blowing their sidewalks in the winter, holding a woodworking clinic for developmentally disabled school kids and helping a friend with some hurry-up painting when he’s getting ready to sell his house.
The other day, Truck’s Human was chatting with a woman who lives nearby and is a talented seamstress, telling her that his favorite chef’s apron was torn and couldn’t be used.
Could she fix it?
Not a problem, she said. And a few days later, she returned the apron, repaired and ready for duty at the grill and cutting board.
But she didn’t stop there. She handed him three new aprons that she had sewn, using the old one as a template and fashioning them with same kind of tough materials used in the original.
The moral of the story? You never know when an extra apron or three might come in handy.
A FOX STAYS PUT
Not a real one. He/she is made out of some kind of metal. It’s fun to see it, and obviously has caught the eye of many passersby, including at least one thief.
The fox-napping happened a while ago and prompted an outcry on a local social media site.
That may have led to the creature’s safe return, but there were fears the fox's handlers might withdraw it from public life for safety. Instead, the fox’s handlers returned it to its rightful place on the wall, much to the delight of the city's non-farming residents and visitors.
No fools, however, the handlers also tacked up a couple of surveillance cameras high up a tree to keep an eye out for would-be predators.
What’s more, the handlers every Christmas loop a large, red holiday ribbon around its neck.
It’s a defiant move, which probably makes the fox an even more tempting target for the Dark Side, but which also casts the fox as a heroic and determined messenger of holiday cheer and goodwill.
THE BOX WITH A BAR OF SOAP shown above is an example of how seemingly overwhelming problems like homelessness can be tackled when grassroots groups and giant corporations alike take small, but thoughtful steps to help.
First, the soap bar symbolizes the work of House of Hope Community Development Corporation, a non-profit agency that helps one-fourth of all Rhode Islanders who are homeless.
One of House of Hope’s recent accomplishments has been fielding a “Shower to Empower” trailer, which includes two built-in shower stalls, a medical exam room and space for haircuts and hair dressing.
Towed by a pickup truck to places around Providence, the mobile unit provides much-needed opportunities for people living on the street to freshen up, as well as to find out about social services.
A second coincidence: Unilever developed both liquid and bar forms of its soap and subcontracted production of the bar kind to Bradford Soapworks, headquartered in West Warwick, R.I.
Obviously, mobile showers and bars of soap won’t end homelessness. But they are reminders to the rest of us of how hard the lives of homeless men and women can be – not even having a regular place to bathe – and they provide practical steps for people who House of Hope say can help them find safe, permanent homes.
The soap comes in four fragrances, including “Hope," Rhode Island's motto, and you can buy them at Whole Foods and Amazon. They’re not cheap – the idea, after all, is to raise money. But they're high quality, with environmentally sound ingredients and packaging.
You can learn more about House of Hope at its website:
And about about Unilever’s program
The Humans had gone to a restaurant cheerfully decorated for Christmas, and were seated at a cozy table in front of the fireplace. At the next table, a man was eating by himself, and seemed lonely, given how he began chatting up his server.
“How was your holiday?” the diner asked.
“It was all right,” answered the waitress, who seemed the younger of the two.
“What do you mean?” said the man, picking up on her less-than-enthusiastic answer.
“Well,” she said, “my sister died.”
“She had two children.”
“Really? What happened?”
“She had an infection. And no insurance.”
“When did she die?”
“Last spring. So this was her kids' and our first Christmas without her.”
“How old are they?”
“Four and 7. They’re living with my parents.”
The diner kept the conversation going, as the waitress went about her several duties, clearing tables, lugging a bin of dirty dishes to the kitchen.
“Are you living with them, too?”
“Nope. With my boyfriend.”
“How long have you been together?”
“Isn’t it about time to get him to ask the question?” the diner said, maybe to lighten up the conversation.
“It’s more like the other way around,” the woman answered, with a hint of sternness.
The Nice One asked Grouchy what they said next. He didn’t know, because by then, the waitress had delivered his and his sister’s food.
Listening to Grouchy and The Nice One – dogs are skilled, if involuntary, eavesdroppers – I thought the restaurant exchange was the right kind of Christmas story.
A man, lonely, eating by himself two days after a holiday when no one wants to be alone, listened carefully and kindly to someone else’s honest words about grief and uncertainty.
I think about him every day.
As some readers know, he was a co-founder of the Tracking Trump blog, and he was our rational, practical voice.
Cat died Nov. 14, and today would have been his 15th birthday.
Cat was a piece of work: he really hated dogs – all dogs – as well as other cats. But he was a great comfort to Humans. And our house still seems empty without him.
I expect to hear from him every day. But so far, nothing.
I have no idea. I guess that death, like life, is a mystery.
When I get to feeling sorry for myself, I take out an illustration that our friend and artist Frank Gerardi thoughtfully created a few days after Cat went off to the vet and didn’t come back.
The drawing shows a cat – our Cat – lying on a cloud, a halo over his head. Below him is someone who looks like the 45th president, sporting a red tie, with two horns protruding from his head and sitting in a pillar of orange flame.
Frank sent me this kind message to go with his drawing:
“Better to be in Cat's heaven than in Trump’s hell.”