What a difficult year it has been -- So I've tried to find a few things that we can feel good about on this 2016 version of the Great Turkey Day.
1. Dementia rates decline: A large, representative survey has found that in Americans over the age of 65, the rate of dementia has declined from 11.6% in 2000 to 8.8% in 2012, and the average age of onset has advanced from age 80.7 to 82.4 years. This is despite a population that is growing older and fatter and has more diabetes and high blood pressure. The study, which included 21,000 participants, was published in AMA Journal of Internal Medicine. No explanation was offered for the declining incidence.
2. I've become a fan of Trevor Noah, the comedian who has followed Jon Stewart as host of the "Daily Show." Trevor grew up in South Africa during the waning days of apartheid; but, as a child of a black South African mother and a white Swiss-German father, his childhood was fraught with secrecy and danger, since his very existence was evidence that a crime had been committed. He has just published a book: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, which I recommend. I heard part of an NPR interview of Trevor by Terry Gross the other day. Now immersed in our American culture and politics as a comedic commentator, Trevor also brings the consciousness of that apartheid existence in his childhood. He had some advice -- not his actual words, but the message was: "Don't sweat the small stuff." He is not dismissing what we Americans are going through right now when Donald Trump's presidency threatens to undo so much progress. Rather, he is telling us: You will get through this. And it doesn't help to amplify the worst expectations into catastrophe. I recommend Trevor's book as a diverting antidote to the gloom most of us are feeling these days.
3. This one is a stretch, but it could be very good news. The senate race is Louisiana has a runoff scheduled for December 10th. If the Democrat wins, the Republicans' Senate majority would shrink to 51 to 49. The Republican candidate finished first, but with only 25% of the vote, while the Democrat got 17% in an "all comers," ridiculously crowded field of 22 candidates. The Republican is favored to win, since the aggregate of nine Republicans got almost twice as many votes as the seven Democratic candidates, and the state went for Trump by 20%. However, runoffs typically draw small turnouts; and, without Trump on the ticket, it could be a very different picture.
4. David Brooks, New York Times columnist, takes the prize for a choice line so far this week. He wrote: "Trump's appointments so far represent the densest concentration of hyper-macho belligerence outside a drill sergeant retirement home."
5. That was before the announcement of Gov. Nicki Haley as the choice for Ambassador to the United Nations, which in itself I take as a good sign, bringing in someone who was an outspoken Trump critic during the campaign -- and a woman, at that. Yes, she has no foreign policy experience. But she is smart, the daughter of immigrants from India, a rising star among center-right Republicans, and she won major respect in her handling of the aftermath of the mass killings at a Charleston church -- even providing great leadership in the decision to remove the Confederate flag flying over the S.C. state house. Smart choice. She adds class to the cabinet. Let's hope it means something other than good "optics strategy."
6. An obituary notice in the AJC caught my eye and led to fond memories of another era in politics, the mid-60s. Former state senator Roscoe Dean has died at the age of 80. He accomplished nothing and was noted primarily for being dumb and naive; but somehow I remember him fondly. When first elected to represent the Jesup district at 28, he was the youngest member of the senate. He kept getting re-elected because his people loved him, although it was hard to say why, except that he sent a birthday card to every constituent each year. But then his colleagues in the senate discovered how naive he was and would shamelessly write meaningless speeches for him that he would get up and read seriously on the senate floor. He didn't seem to notice. In fact, someone wrote him a speech once that contained the parenthetical instruction [now tell a joke.] Roscoe just read what he was given, including "Now tell a joke." Yes, it was mean. Today we would be shocked and call it abusive. But Roscoe didn't seem to mind; perhaps he liked the attention; and his colleagues seemed to really like him, making him chair of the Agriculture Committee, even as they toyed with his naivete. His political career came to an end when he got caught in an FBI sting, trying to make a deal to import marijuana into the state as a means of financing his re-election campaign. Poor Roscoe. Did he know he was being laughed at? I hope not, because there was something sort of likable about him -- at least from the distance of only reading the human interest stories written about him. And on reading that he died, I found myself smiling with fondness for the gentle fool.
7. I end by reprinting a letter from Rachelle Marshall of Mill Valley, CA that was published in the New York Times a few days ago. "President Obama's words in Athens were a reminder that for eight years we have had a president who possesses a degree of wisdom and empathy rare among political figures.
"Mr. Obama came into office with a message of hope, and with the assumption that Americans regardless of party believed in the principles of freedom and equality our country was founded on, and would support his efforts to carry out these principles. Instead of support, however, he encountered a Republican-dominated Congress determined to obstruct his every effort.
"Mr. Obama's executive orders on immigration and the environment will undoubtedly be rescinded by the Trump administration, and it's too soon to predict what other dismantling the new administration will do.
"But what cannot be erased is the fact that for eight years our country had a president untouched by pettiness or scandal, who tried to make America a fairer, more generous place. For that effort alone, he deserves an honored place in history."
And that is something we can be thankful for today.