Wednesday, November 16, 2016

America Takes a Step Back: Where Do We Go From Here?

It has taken me more than a week to process that Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. I never really believed it would happen. Like most of the mainstream press, the academics, the pollsters, the political establishments of both major parties, I watched with increasing shock and despair on election night, as first Florida and North Carolina, and then Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, tilted in favor of Trump. When I finally accepted that Trump was likely to win – sometime around midnight – I felt deep despair, as if a large weight had descended into the pit of my gut. For the first time in my life, I was forced to acknowledge that I know not my own country.

In hindsight, there are many reasons for Hillary Clinton’s unexpected loss: Her message and appeal failed to capture the trust and enthusiasm of the white working class communities in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ohio, including many of the same communities that voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. Clinton lacked charisma and her speeches failed to inspire. Her campaign forever played defense and did not invoke a sense of higher purpose. Americans wanted “change” – whatever that means – and she represented the status quo. Trump promised to shake things up and was, like it or not, the “change” candidate. The Latino surge didn’t quite happen. African Americans did not turn out in the numbers we had hoped. More than half of white women voted for Trump. Most disappointingly, 60 million Americans willingly overlooked Trump’s express appeals to bigotry and prejudice, xenophobia and fear, misogyny and hate, and voted for him nonetheless.

Although Clinton is ultimately responsible for her loss, FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the email investigation unfairly and improperly impacted the election. His extraneous comments during a press conference in July, when he announced the FBI’s decision not to pursue a criminal case, were inappropriate. And his ill-advised letter to Congress eleven days before the election, which led most people to think the FBI had found new evidence of wrongdoing, predictably halted Clinton’s momentum. When he announced eight days later that the FBI had discovered nothing new and there remained insufficient evidence of illegality, it was too late and the damage was done. As a former federal prosecutor, I will never understand Comey’s motives or why he thought he was exempt from Department of Justice policy that prohibits comment on pending or concluded investigations. We may never really know its full impact, but the FBI’s interference with the American electoral process was irresponsible and inexcusable.

The media, and particularly cable news, also failed at its job in 2016. The single biggest factor in this election was the media’s embrace of celebrity culture and its thirst for ratings at the expense of fairness and truth. Almost every day for the past year, and sometimes several times a day, the cable news networks covered entire Trump rallies while offering little in the way of critical analysis or fact checking. And while the cable channels bequeathed to Trump nearly $3 billion of free air time, there was typically no similarly unabridged coverage of his opponents.

For all of the attention placed on Clinton’s emails, where were the stories and investigations into the hundreds of past and pending lawsuits against Trump, many for racial and gender discrimination, fraud, and unethical business practices? Why did the press fail to highlight and question Trump about his flagrant lies and distortions that left me speechless on a daily basis? His childish insults and tweets, his crowd-pleasing mocking of reporters and protesters, his supporters’ chants of “lock her up” and other hate-filled rhetoric, were frightening and un-American. And yet, the press routinely dismissed these plentiful horrors merely as "Trump being Trump."

But I do not wish to dwell on the negativity of this election other than to note that the Trump campaign was a low point in American electoral history. I am shell-shocked and disappointed with the outcome, but I accept the results. Although Clinton won the popular vote, we elect our president through the Electoral College, and Trump won according to the rules as they presently exist. He is legitimately the President elect.

Although I understand the frustrations and despair of the many protesters marching and chanting against Trump in some of our cities, I hope that will soon stop. Among the most offensive aspects of the last eight years were conservative attacks on the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency, including the birther movement, fomented by Mr. Trump and magnified by such alt-right news outlets as under the guidance of Trump’s campaign manager, and now chief strategist, Steve Bannon. I will not soon forget these thinly-veiled racist attacks on our nation’s first African American president. It is also wrong, however, to exclaim that Trump is “Not My President” for this slogan protests not his policies but the legitimacy of the election. Organize the opposition, fight implementation of Trump’s policies after he takes office, hold his feet to the fire and pressure the Republican Congress, but don’t delegitimize the nation’s institutions of democracy.

So where do we go from here? 

First, we need to give Trump a chance at governing. He will not take the oath of office until January 20, 2017. Let’s see who he picks to fill his Cabinet seats. Let’s give him an opportunity to moderate his extreme and irresponsible campaign “promises” such as building a wall (okay, maybe not a wall, he says now, but at least a fence), repealing the Affordable Care Act (he apparently likes its main provisions and now only wants to amend it), deporting eleven million undocumented immigrants (he has largely backed off of this one as well), and putting Hillary Clinton in jail (following her “gracious” concession, he seems to have lost his vindictive, banana republic instincts). Of course, we must watch his every move, because what he says one day means nothing a day later.

Trump seems already to be learning what President Obama and Secretary Clinton already know, that governing a country as large and complex as the United States is hard. As President, he will be forced to understand and balance enormous international and diplomatic pressures, intense national security concerns and foreign entanglements, and conflicting domestic political interests. The federal bureaucracy is vast and complex and does a lot of really important things, from protecting our homeland to inspecting our food supply, to keep this country running smoothly. The Affordable Care Act may require modification, but as Trump has already discovered, there are many aspects of the law that Americans want and need. You cannot simply cut off the health care coverage of 20 million people and go back to the way things were without causing extreme hardship and devastation. Unilaterally revoking treaties and trade deals will not only endanger international relations, but will cause massive disruption to our economy. Being Commander-in-Chief is not as easy as it looks, even for a guy who built a few hotels and thinks he knows more than the Generals.

Second, the Democratic Party must find a way to better understand and appeal to the working classes of all races and ethnicities. We used to be the party of working men and women. Although I personally believe Democratic policies are much better for working families than Republican policies, the Democrats need to shake its image as the party of upper crust "elites". We must recognize that at least some of Trump’s support in this election was motivated, not by bigotry and xenophobia, but by legitimate anxieties about the American economy and concern for the future. Yes, Trump exploited these anxieties and inflamed them through racially-tinged and nationalistic fear-mongering, but for millions of rank-and-file union members, low-wage workers, farmers, and small business owners, the anxieties caused by an ever changing economy and globalization are real and legitimate.

Third, we must closely scrutinize Trump’s choice for the vacant Supreme Court seat. This one was not supposed to be his choice. This one was President Obama's to fill. For nine months the Republicans refused to hold even a hearing on the nomination of Merrick Garland, a distinguished and respected jurist with indisputable qualifications. Democrats should filibuster whomever Trump chooses and not back down unless Trump nominates a consensus moderate in much the same way President Obama nominated one in Garland. On most matters I want the Democrats to be the adults in the room and to not play games with American democracy or damage American interests as Republicans have so frequently done the past eight years. But on this issue, we should give the Republicans a taste of their own medicine.

Finally, we must remain active and engaged, especially in this perilous moment of history. We must not allow America to fall victim to the rising tide of nationalism and xenophobia that has befallen much of Europe. Trump’s authoritarian instincts must be unequivocally resisted. Attempts to restrict our civil liberties, to turn away from our moral and historic obligation as a welcoming nation to refugees and persecuted immigrants, to discriminate against religious minorities or to foment fear and hatred against whole classes of people, must be fought with every non-violent tool in our democratic arsenal.

“The worst thing that can happen in a democracy - as well as in an individual's life,” says Hillary Clinton, “is to become cynical about the future and lose hope.” It is good advice, for Democrats and all Americans, as we attempt to make sense of the Trump years.  

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Lessons of October 1962: Why Trump Must Be Defeated

History gives us the tools to analyze and assess current events with a proper degree of perspective. The study of history reveals lessons learned from past mistakes and the factors that influenced past successes. The knowledge of history helps us make sense of new threats, the impact of foreign conflicts on our national interests, and the political and social controversies which affect the long-term direction of the nation. The wisdom of history helps us better judge those who would seek to become the next President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces.

The noise of our current election process, the incessant barrage of daily and hourly media stories, accusations and counter-accusations, and the incessant and indiscrete use of Twitter and social media can overwhelm even the most serious political junkie and overshadow what is truly at stake in this election.  This will be the tenth presidential election in which I will have cast a vote in my lifetime, but this is the first time I have genuinely feared for the country and the world should the wrong candidate win.

Although our individual vote may feel insignificant, cumulatively our votes have serious consequences. Whom we elect or refrain from electing impacts the country for years to come – in the conduct of our foreign policy and the nature and extent of our military engagements abroad, in lifetime nominations to the Supreme Court and federal bench, and in the tone of our civic life at home. The election of George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000 resulted in the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, a war Gore opposed from the start and which became the worst foreign policy blunder in a half century. The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 over Jimmy Carter negatively influenced how Americans viewed the federal government and the meaning of public service. But though I strongly opposed Reagan and, later, George W. Bush, and though I disagreed passionately with many of their policies, I never doubted that they acted in good faith and pursued actions and policies they believed were in the best interests of the United States. This election is different. If Donald Trump is elected President, our country is in grave peril. We need only look to history to understand why this is so.

On October 16, 1962, U.S. intelligence officials informed President John F. Kennedy that a U-2 spy plane flying over Cuba had photographed the installation of intermediate-range nuclear missiles by Soviet military personnel. For months it had been rumored that the Soviet Union was engaged in military activities in Cuba, just 90 miles from the coast of Florida. Now there was solid proof. The implications were unmistakable. The missiles, if allowed to remain, would provide the Soviet Union with nuclear first-strike capability against the United States and its allies in the Western Hemisphere.

The pressures immediately confronting the 45 year-old president for a pre-emptive, offensive military response were intense. Almost all of Kennedy’s military and security advisers – the high-ranking generals of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, most of Kennedy’s Cabinet, and key members of Congress – advocated an immediate and forceful response. Kennedy was told he had no choice but to bomb the Cuban missile sites before they became operational. As Ted Sorenson recounts in Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History (Harper Collins 2008), the solution sounded simple: “U.S. bombers could swoop in, eliminate the sites, and fly away, leaving the problem swiftly, magically ended. But further questions – JFK always had further questions – proved that solution illusory.” Kennedy’s questions revealed that the Air Force could only be certain of eliminating 60 to 90 percent of the missiles. What would happen when one of the remaining Soviet nuclear missiles was used to retaliate against the United States? Kennedy also learned that to restore order after the U.S. bombing campaign would require a full U.S. invasion of Cuba, likely resulting in the loss of 10,000 American lives “more or less” according to the Joint Chiefs.

Kennedy, to his everlasting credit, resisted this advice. He had discovered eighteen months earlier, during the disastrous Bay of Pigs fiasco, that the generals had their own biases, did not have all the answers, and were sometimes wrong. There had to be a better approach, one less likely to lead to all-out war. Kennedy favored a naval blockade to prevent more shipments of Soviet weaponry while he explored a diplomatic solution. But the generals argued that only air strikes could remove the missiles quickly and that the Soviet Union’s actions required a strong and unequivocal response. Merely imposing a blockade would make Kennedy and the United States look weak and permit the Soviets to think they could have their way in the future. General Curtis LeMay, who oversaw the massive firebombing campaign of Japanese cities during World War II, criticized the blockade as “almost as bad as the appeasement at Munich.”

A few days into the crisis, Kennedy sought the advice of former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, considered a wise man of American foreign policy and an expert on Soviet motives and conduct. But Acheson agreed with the generals that the United States should bomb the missile sites. When Kennedy asked Acheson how the Soviets would respond, Acheson predicted they would bomb U.S. missile sites in Turkey. Of course, this would require the United States to honor its NATO commitments and bomb Soviet missile sites in Russia. When Kennedy asked how the Soviets would react to that, according to Sorenson, “[Acheson] paused and replied, ‘by then, we hope cooler heads will prevail.’”

Thankfully, Kennedy was consistently cool and level headed from the start. He resisted the overwhelming pressures for war. He sought instead to find a way for the Soviets to withdraw their missiles from Cuba without losing face. An air strike or invasion was easily the more popular course of action, but Kennedy favored a blockade while pursuing secret diplomatic back channels because he thought these actions more likely to lead to a peaceful outcome. He was right. Kennedy’s courage to trust his own instincts over that of his hawkish advisers – most of whom were older and more experienced than he – saved the world from possible nuclear annihilation.

It is hard to imagine today just how close to nuclear war we came during those tense days in October 1962. As Sorenson retells it, “The discovery that the Soviet Union had secretly rushed nuclear missiles into Cuba tested JFK’s wisdom, courage, and leadership as no president since Lincoln and FDR had been tested. No other test so starkly put at stake, depending on the president’s choices, the survival of our country.” Kennedy’s decision to pursue a more nuanced path, one involving skillful diplomacy and which risked cries of appeasement and weakness, demonstrated true presidential courage and judgment. Had Kennedy succumbed to the immense pressures and demands for an immediate air strike and invasion – and really, who could have blamed him given the nature and intensity of the crisis and the “advice” he received from such distinguished military and security experts – it would almost certainly have precipitated a nuclear assault on the United States. This would have led inevitably and rapidly to an all-out nuclear exchange, potentially rendering much of the world uninhabitable for centuries to come.

Based on the historical record, I believe we are alive today in no small measure because, for thirteen days in October more than a half-century ago, JFK exercised all of the attributes we most want and need in a president – judgment, courage, and moral fortitude. Kennedy combined a healthy skepticism for quick and easy military solutions with a concern for innocent lives. He listened patiently to his advisers, sought a wide spectrum of views, and reflected before acting. And he recognized, as Commander-in-Chief, that every decision has consequences.

I shudder to think what may have happened had Kennedy’s wisdom and patience not prevailed in October 1962, or if someone with less judgment on issues of war and peace – LBJ or Nixon, possibly, or God forbid, a man like Donald Trump. “In the eyes of history,” wrote Sorenson, “our greatest presidents have proved their qualities of greatness when confronted by great challenges.” We peacefully prevailed in October 1962 because, under the leadership of a wise and informed president, “we acted with vigilance, patience, and restraint.”

Although the precise circumstances of the Cuban Missile Crisis will not likely reoccur, some other crisis or series of crises almost certainly will confront our next President – an act of terrorism on U.S. soil or a military or security mishap in the Persian Gulf. Who do we trust with that responsibility? Which candidate has the capacity for thoughtful analysis? Who is more likely to exercise "vigilance, patience, and restraint" when the heat is on? Who do we trust to maintain responsible custody and control of the nuclear codes? Who can responsibly guide the nation through a major crisis?

The prospect of Donald Trump in the oval office under any of these scenarios is terrifying. Trump lacks even the most rudimentary knowledge of world affairs.  He does not understand the Constitution or the day-to-day workings of government. He shows contempt for American institutions and American democracy. By all accounts, he does not read books or engage in serious study. He appears to have no capacity for self-reflection or informed analysis. He listens to no one and never, ever, admits that he made a mistake. He becomes easily unhinged, impulsively making outlandish statements disconnected from facts at the slightest provocation. He is emotionally immature, a boorish narcissist who seems incapable of empathy or compassion. He is the single most unqualified presidential candidate in American history, which is why he is opposed by every living U.S. president, Republican or Democrat.

I have not always agreed with Hillary Clinton on every policy issue, and I am at times frustrated by her lack of transparency and politically-motivated shifts on issues like TPP and free trade. But I greatly admire and respect her intelligence and work ethic. And there is no one at present more qualified to be our next President. Hillary has the experience, knowledge, and seriousness to be president. She has demonstrated a willingness to listen, analyze, and consider the consequences of presidential decisions. She remains calm under pressure, is deeply prepared, and has an impressive command of foreign and domestic policy.

Hillary lacks JFK's charisma and is not a “perfect” candidate. But she has spent her life engaged in matters of policy, in working to improve the lives of women and children, in forging meaningful compromise with her political opponents. For the past fifteen years, Trump consistently insulted women, self-inflated his insatiable ego with buildings bearing his name, and produced shallow, gimmicky television shows. During that same time, Hillary served on the Senate Armed Services Committee and as Secretary of State; and she advocated for human rights abroad while protecting U.S. interests in every hemisphere. Before that, Hillary worked to improve the lives of women and children and had a front row seat at the highest levels of state and national government. There is simply no contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the race for president. Yet we have endured false equivalencies and thin polling margins throughout this election season. We are living in dangerous times. There can be little doubt our vote in 2016 is as critical as in 1960 to ensure our existence as a country and as a world.

In June 1963, several months after the missile crisis ended and the Soviets had dismantled and withdrawn their offensive weapons from Cuba, Kennedy gave a profoundly important and thoughtful speech at American University in which he argued for a limited nuclear test ban treaty. Kennedy recognized that, as the leader of the free world, his words mattered to friend and foe alike, more than many Americans understand. Our allies and enemies listen carefully to the president’s words. This was especially true of the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. In this speech, President Kennedy acknowledged our common humanity and set the tone for mutual cooperation and respect:
So, let us not be blind to our differences--but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.
It is not simply that Donald Trump is a highly flawed man. Kennedy and many other U.S. presidents were flawed men. But presidential character and judgment, the moral fortitude we need when the tests of history arise, have nothing to do with personal shortcomings. It has to do with experience, intelligence, discernment – qualities that cannot be taught, or learned on the run, but require a lifetime of study and a willingness to engage in critical self-reflection. Even great presidents make mistakes. But the only people we should ever entrust with the solemn obligations and responsibilities of the presidency are men and women of good will. Donald Trump is not that person.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Six Days in Paris

Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world. -- Voltaire
Andrea and I recently returned from Paris, where we spent six wonderful days exploring the City of Light, its beauty and grandeur, its history, art and architecture, its culinary delights and wine. Lots of wine. Six days does not do justice to the splendor of Paris, but it was enough time to experience its rhythm and daily life. Paris is an ideal place for lovers and dreamers, intellectuals and historians, artists and philosophers. It is a city full of grand cathedrals and wide boulevards, narrow medieval streets, some of the world’s greatest museums, outdoor cafes and charming little bistros everywhere.

There is nothing like traveling to a foreign country to develop perspective, to see things in a different light. Americans are an insular breed, and most of my life has been lived within the narrow confines of an American mindset. I love America. But the world beyond our shores offers other ways of doing and living from which Americans can learn and benefit.

Paris has a fabulous underground metro system far superior to the old, smelly, decrepit subway systems of most U.S. cities. Public transportation is simply better in Europe, health care more universally accessible; the streets are safer, the air cleaner, the traffic less congested. The food seems fresher too, the portions more reasonable, the use of additives and pre-fabricated processing less prevalent.  Contrary to their reputation for snobbery, most of the native Parisians we encountered were friendly and delightful, the shopkeepers and wait staff universally helpful, showing no disdain for our inability to speak French. My few feeble attempts at “Je suis vraiment desole, je ne parle pas francais” (I am very sorry, I do not speak French), were met with bemused appreciation.

A narrow side street in the Latin Quarter
Paris is a modern city that has somehow retained its old world charm and intimacy. Whether exploring the shops on I'le St. Louis or walking through the winding streets of the Latin Quarter and Saint Germain on the Left Bank or Le Marais on the Right Bank, climbing the hills of Montmartre or exploring the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay, each day here was vibrant and spirited. Although it was her first time in Paris, Andrea repeatedly noted how familiar it all felt, as if we were visiting family. It may be why Gertrude Stein once said, “America is my country and Paris is my hometown.”

The River Seine
To walk along the Seine and breathe the autumn air is to experience a momentary sense of peace. Paris has a seductive quality that makes life seem a little more enjoyable and forces you to philosophize and contemplate the arc of history and our place in the universe. It is easy to understand why so many famous American writers and artists chose to live here for portions of their lives. “I guess it goes to show that you just never know where life will take you,” writes Amy Thomas in Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light. “You search for answers. You wonder what it all means. You stumble, and you soar. And, if you’re lucky, you make it to Paris for a while.”

Shakespeare and Company - Paris
On our last day in Paris, I spent a splendid two hours at Shakespeare and Company, a wonderful and quaint bookstore on the edge of the Latin Quarter, where famous writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, and William Burroughs hung out in their respective times. There is something fresh and exhilarating about casually browsing through a bookstore with such a distinguished history. At one point, I walked upstairs and pulled a book from the store’s reading library, sat by the picture window with a view of the Seine and the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and began reading Interesting Times: A Twentieth Century Life by Eric Hobsbawm, a self-critical memoir by a British Marxist historian whose life’s experiences and intellectual reflections impressed me. As I am wont to do in these circumstances, I began to wonder if my life has lived up to the expectations of my youth, when I dreamed of conquering the world. Have I endeavored to live an interesting life? Does my life and work have meaning and purpose?

Perhaps I am lazy or less ambitious, but what I most enjoy about life – to write and think and read – seems at odds with the demands of my life. Yes, I write and think and read for work, but it is different, the subjects not of my choosing, the objectives of each assignment driven by the requirements of clients and budgets. But it is easy to romanticize the life of an artist. Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime. By conventional standards, he was a failure, his art dismissed by critics, who considered it the product of a mentally disturbed madman. Today, his paintings are the rock stars of the Musee d’Orsay, where crowds of people flock and take pictures of his work.

Van Gogh Self-Portrait at Musee d'Orsay
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man,” wrote Hemingway, “then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” The city’s imprint has stayed with me since returning, though work and everyday life do not allow for the leisurely pace of a Parisian philosopher.

A quiet street in Montmartre
Now it is back to work and life and the U.S. presidential race, which I followed in Paris only from my daily perusal of the Paris-based International New York Times. Trump had a bad week when we were away and the polls are finally showing a widening gap between the one qualified candidate and the most embarrassing excuse for a presidential contender in my lifetime. One evening at dinner, we engaged in a conversation with a lovely young couple from Amsterdam – a businessman in the oil and gas industry and his wife, a lawyer with a prominent London-based law firm – who could not understand what was happening in America or why the reactionary forces of extremism were threatening to take hold in the United States. As Europeans who have spent considerable time abroad, they were quite familiar with the far right forces of xenophobia and racism that also threaten much of Europe.

Most of our time in Paris involved a break from all that, as if we had stepped back in time to a place of elegance and simplicity, where humankind has found a way to emphasize the pleasures of life – good food and wine, great works of art, history and old world charm, casual walks along the river. But I realize this was a vacation, not everyday life. For life is not so free and easy. We cannot stay in Paris forever. In reality, we experienced Paris as American tourists sufficiently privileged to afford six days and five nights in this beautiful and expensive city. Income inequality and poverty, the threat of terrorism, the constant struggle to make a living – all of these things are as prevalent here as in any other city. And yet, my perspective has been broadened, my senses expanded. As Charles Dickens observed: “What an immense impression Paris made upon me. It is the most extraordinary place in the world!”

Andrea and me at Jardin du Luxembourg
To know Paris, Bruno began, pulling on his cigarette, you need to relax, have a glass of wine, and enjoy life. -- Jennifer Coburn, We'll Always Have Paris

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Memories of Summer

When I was young and still played the game myself, when I dreamed of someday playing in a big league ballpark; when the heroes of my youth were men named Gibson, Brock, Cepeda, and Shannon, the Cardinals came to life in the box scores of the morning paper, in the statistical nuances of each year’s Strat-O-Matic cards, and in locally televised games against the Phillies and Mets. Although my family ventured into Philadelphia or New York to see a major league game only once or twice a summer, I cherish those memories. I recall still the smell of fresh peanuts and hot dogs, popcorn and cigar smoke as we walked from our car towards the grand old cathedrals of baseball, those round conglomerations of brick and concrete that, once inside, opened into a vast expanse of green turf and perfectly placed white lines, unblemished outfield grass, and a diamond shaped infield; the dirt mound patiently awaiting the start of play as an unused rosin bag and lone white baseball lay idly by the pitching rubber. It was a beautiful sight.

This past weekend, the Cardinals arrived for a mid-August series against the Phillies. Perhaps in part to make up for the lost games of my youth, I bought tickets to all three games. I cannot explain my continued need to soak in new baseball experiences year-after-year. But with each game are memories formed that mark the passage of time and progress of life.

On Friday night, Andrea and I were seated near the third-base dugout amidst an impressive contingent of Cardinals enthusiasts, a pleasant deviation from my usual experience at Citizens Bank Park, where I feel like an intruder crossing enemy lines. Directly in front of us was a wholesome looking collection of girls and boys who danced and laughed and cheered every Cardinals hit and Phillies out while donning bright red-and-white jerseys bearing the names Wainwright, Molina, Carpenter, and Wong, and an out-of-date Beltran for good measure.

But despite a second inning home run from Randal Grichuk, the Cardinals looked lifeless at the plate for much of the game. I suffered silently as the Cardinals swung and missed at slow changeups and sliders offered by Phillies starter Adam Morgan. Despite the indignity of it all, my loyalty was rewarded in the top of the ninth when, down 3-1, Yadier Molina singled to right and, one out later, as if an answer to a prayer, Jedd Gyorko belted a long, towering, home run deep into the Philadelphia night. As Gyorko rounded the bases, the game now tied, I envied these young Cardinals fans dancing in their seats, exuding a joyful glee that bespoke their youthful innocence. Even more, they reminded me of the ever present cycle of life and repeated rhythms of baseball, the heartbreak and occasional sweet rewards of caring about the same team summer-after-summer.

Two extra innings later, with the score tied 3-3, Jhonny Peralta doubled and Grichuk rocketed a 405-foot drive off the wall in the deepest part of the ballpark to put the Cards ahead. Our new young friends became euphoric as Section 129 erupted into spirited celebrations, improvisational dances, jubilation and delight. I almost felt sorry for the few Phillies fans scattered among these happy interlopers who had taken over their ballpark.

In the bottom of the 11th inning, Cards rookie and future star Alex Reyes, a big-framed flamethrower who hit the 100 miles-per-hour mark on three pitches, took the mound with the hope of securing the final three outs and a Cardinals victory. Reyes looked unfazed by this inherited responsibility and mounting tension. When he retired the first two batters, I mistakenly allowed myself to relax and exhale, for it appeared a Cardinals win was at hand. But then a ground ball just beyond the reach of Peralta, followed by a walk, put the tying and winning runs on base. The few Phillies fans left in the stands suddenly regained life. My palms began to sweat and insides turned somersaults, a wonderful evening at risk of a tragic ending. Why do I put myself through this? Why does any fan enjoy this? Anyone who believes baseball is a boring game is not paying attention. The stress almost unbearable – a ball, a strike, a foul ball – until finally, mercifully, Freddie Galvis hit a sharp ground ball to first base that was scooped by Matt Carpenter, who touched the bag for the final out. And a collective sigh of relief from Section 129.

Andrea and I watched from ten rows back as the Cardinals finished their on-field handshakes and congratulatory hugs before disappearing into the dugout like Shoeless Joe into an Iowa cornfield. As we walked contentedly from our seats to the parking lot, we left with a momentary sense of peace and another baseball memory.

For game two on Saturday night, Andrea and I were joined by daughter Hannah and long-time friends Mike and Linda Dennehy. As Mike and I talked of old times, it soon became clear that the baseball Gods were less favorably disposed towards me on this night. The Cardinals’ hitters were thrown off stride by Phillies starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, who struck out eight Cardinals over seven innings en route to a 4-2 Phils win. Hellickson was opposed by Cardinals rookie Luke Weaver, who didn’t look to be a day over 15 as he played in only his second ever big league game. Weaver surrendered a lead-off home run to Caesar Hernandez in the bottom of the first, followed three batters later by a double and then a looping line drive that fell into and out of the outstretched glove of Cardinals left fielder Jeremy Hazelbaker. And just like that, it was 2-0 Phillies.

“What really makes baseball so hard,” Roger Angell has written, “is it’s retributive capacity for disaster if the smallest thing is done wrong, and the invisible presence of defeat that attends every game.” I believed Hazelbaker should have caught the ball, that he did not need to dive and make a heroic attempt; another step or two, an extended stretch of his glove hand, and he could have, probably should have, made the catch. Instinctively, I grumpily exclaimed that “Hazelbaker should have caught the damn ball” and “that damn rookie cost us another run.” When Andrea, in defense of Hazelbaker, said, “I guess it looks easy from the cheap seats,” my rebuttal was limited to mumbled R-rated expletives into my beer. But baseball is a game of redemption and second chances. And when Hazelbaker launched an opposite field two-run home run in the third inning to tie the game at 2-2, all was forgiven.

As the game continued, its gentle cadence allowed me and Mike to take it all in as we talked about life and families, the music we liked as kids, and whatever else came to mind. Baseball is a game that allows for long conversations, interrupted only by a foul ball, a double in the gap, or a pickoff attempt at first. “Baseball’s time is seamless and invisible,” writes Angell, and “players move at exactly the same pace and rhythms as all their predecessors. This is the way the game was played in our youth and in our father’s youth, and even back then . . . there must have been the same feeling that time could be stopped.”

But as I am frequently reminded with each passing day, time cannot be stopped. Life moves forward at an unforgiving pace. Mike and I have been friends since the fourth grade, when my parents moved to Hightstown, New Jersey, and Mike and his family lived on the same block. Now, 48 years later, both of his parents and my father have left us, our children are mostly grown, and the memories of childhood fade as our youthful spirits are betrayed by the bodies of middle-aged men. And yet, on those rare occasions when I see Mike now, it is as if time has indeed stood still. The Cardinals lost on Saturday night, but as we said our goodbyes outside the park, I knew that baseball, for all its nostalgic glory and magnificent history, really is only a game, a temporary respite from the joys, the sadness and disappointments, and the obligations of life.

On Sunday, despite predictions of scattered thunderstorms, Hannah and I returned to the ballpark for the final game of the weekend series. As we watched the pre-game warmups, with the starting pitchers playing long toss in the outfield before throwing warmup pitches in the bullpen and players running wind sprints and stretching, I thought back to my high school days and my own pre-game routines – stretching, a relaxed game of catch, infield drills and batting practice, staying loose. As I watched Cards starting pitcher Mike Leake throw long arcing balls with effortless ease in the outfield, I could envision a younger version of myself in days long past, when I was a teenager and a summer breeze caressed my face as a ball landed comfortably into the webbing of my glove. This imaginary time travel happens whenever I watch baseball in its pre-game form, or between innings, when the players appear loose and the music plays in the background and the sun and sky form a backdrop to my daydreams.

The game that day approached near perfection. The Cardinals slugged four home runs as Leake pitched seven scoreless innings en route to a 9-0 Cardinals win. As Hannah and I talked and absorbed the game, experiencing the luxury of a rare one-sided victory, I felt as if, for three hours on Sunday afternoon, life was a work of art, with baseball a small brushstroke on a large and colorful canvas. But life is not a work of art. The rains fall and nighttime beckons. Three days later, Hannah left to start her post-college life in another city, reminding an anxious dad once again that time cannot be stopped.

I realize now that my feelings for baseball, though childish, are shared by scores of fans just like me, and were best described years ago by Roger Angell:
Our national preoccupation with the images and performances of great athletes is not a simple matter. The obsessive intensity with which we watch their beautiful movements, their careless energy, their noisy, narcissistic joy in their own accomplishments is remarkably close to the emotions we feel when we see very young children at play. While their games last, we smile with pleasure – but not for long, not forever. Rising from the park bench at last, we look at our watch and begin to gather up the scattered toys. That’s enough boys and girls. Time to go in now.