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Opinion | Is Humility the Right Tone for Biden’s State of the Union Address?


To the Editor:

Re “The State of the Union Is Stressed,” by David Axelrod (Opinion guest essay, Feb. 16):

Mr. Axelrod’s advice is off-base, literally and figuratively. The Democratic base needs to be energized and mobilized, while the middle needs to be convinced that we’re moving in the right direction. Neither group is going to be inspired by a tepid State of the Union address about what’s been accomplished.

This administration has, if anything, fallen short of touting its successes. President Biden must recount the accomplishments forcefully while pointing to what his administration will further accomplish in the months ahead.

Yes, Mr. Biden can still appear empathetic in his address on Tuesday — it is his natural state — but he dare not dwell on problems, nor is it required. The pandemic is trending in the right direction (even if threats of other variants are out there); the economy is roaring (even if inflation needs to be addressed); respect has been, and continues to be, restored around the world (at a time when U.S. leadership is urgently needed).

If Mr. Biden and his administration don’t convey confidently that we are on the right track — which is a perfectly credible claim — why should we expect Americans to believe it is so?

Philip Vlahakis
New York

To the Editor:

This opinion piece put into words what I’ve been thinking for a long time: The Democratic Party needs to learn to make small meaningful gains that can stick rather than aim for sweeping reforms.

To use a sporting analogy, continuing to put a few points on the board while the clock keeps ticking may not be very sexy but it will often win the game.

In an increasingly divided nation, those who can make meaningful change on behalf of the average American (such change often being in the political center) will make real, if unsexy, progress for Americans and can help rebuild our economy. That progress, particularly during a pandemic, is what average Americans deserve from their politicians.

Paul Hally

To the Editor:

Re “2 Manhattan Prosecutors Quit, Putting Trump Inquiry in Doubt” (front page, Feb. 24):

After less than two months in office it is reported that Manhattan’s district attorney, Alvin Bragg, has overridden the judgment of his senior staff and might not pursue the criminal investigation against the Trump organization and Donald Trump. Two assistant district attorneys heading the investigation, both of whom have been involved for many months and have special expertise in such matters, have resigned in protest.

While one should not make judgments from afar and without knowing all the facts, the decision by Mr. Bragg is startling and seems to fly in the face of mounting evidence that Mr. Trump and his company criminally gamed the system to reduce taxes and obtain bank loans.

The Manhattan D.A.’s office has long had a reputation for excellence and nonpartisanship. If that reputation is to be preserved, Mr. Bragg must speedily, and convincingly, explain the basis for his decision.

Gerald Harris
New York
The writer is a retired New York City Criminal Court judge and a former Manhattan assistant district attorney.

To the Editor:

Re “Push to Move On From Covid Sharpens Pain of Those at Risk” (front page, Feb. 18):

As a pediatrician, I try to protect my patients by masking and being vaccinated. I was recently diagnosed with an autoimmune condition requiring immunosuppressants. I have been living in a “bubble,” having minimal contact with people outside my home.

Opinion Conversation
What will work and life look like after the pandemic?

I am fortunate that I have disability insurance and am able to sequester myself. What about people who don’t have these “luxuries”? Those who have no choice but to work or have children who go to school or to day care?

As a society, shouldn’t we try our best to protect the most vulnerable, whether children, elderly or the immunosuppressed? We must do whatever we can to protect one another, whether it be getting vaccinated or wearing a mask when possible. In a perfect world we wouldn’t need mandates. People would do it because it’s the right thing to do.

To the Editor:

Re “Travel Is My Antidote for Fear” (Opinion guest essay, Feb. 19):

Andrew McCarthy is so correct in identifying a side effect of the two-plus-year-old Covid pandemic for many people. Fear. Especially for older people who had been planning to spend their retirement years traveling as they pleased. A huge “Halt!” entered into our lives.

I’ve done some traveling this past year, carefully evaluating what I can do safely, but, honestly, it’s still not the same. There is always that fear that as hard as you try to protect yourself, somehow it will fail. And the Covid restrictions in place, for which I am grateful, sometimes just seem to be overwhelming.

These last two years my time has gotten shorter and my bucket list has gotten longer. I’m determined to move forward with my life. I can control what I do, but I can’t control how others behave. That is another fear that has entered my life.

Karin Kemp
Matthews, N.C.

To the Editor:

I really appreciated Andrew McCarthy’s reminders about the benefits of travel and his musings about fear. But while reading the piece I also could not help but think, “Oh Andrew, your privilege is showing.”

Most of us do not have the luxury of walking through Spain or jetting to Ireland. We have to deal with our fears every day without the benefit of travel or even the faint hope of being able to take time off from our day-to-day survival to contemplate how fearful we have been and continue to be.

At least while reading his essay I was able to travel in my mind. Not the same thing, but I will take it and try to think of it as a little vacation.

Lauren J. Smith
Monson, Mass.

To the Editor:

Re “What We Lose When Work Gets Too Casual,” by Elizabeth Spiers (Opinion guest essay,, Feb. 7):

I’ve been an employee and an employer. As the essay states, working from home isn’t universally good for productivity, though those who’ve been able to in the pandemic may have greatly appreciated (and needed) this flexibility.

Similarly to how we tend to remember ourselves earning better grades than we actually did, we may think more generously of our habits and actions than is warranted. We may remember our effort, and not necessarily the things we didn’t get done.

Advancing in a career takes hard work — harder work than staying in the same place. It often takes harder work when you’re younger and newer, because you don’t know as much and you have less experience. It takes good faith, maybe not always being adversarial; showing up with a positive attitude; and accepting limits, including that there’s no guarantee of how and when that advancement may happen.

If we all work to maintain our boundaries, we may get to a better, more honest place based on our values and priorities. This includes the physical boundary of the space we inhabit, which any architect will tell us greatly affects our behavior. For some, or many, going back to working at an office may be part of the answer to solidifying boundaries and leaving work at work.

The more honest employees and employers can be with each other and themselves, the better the outcome will be from this discussion, including a healthier culture that supports the emotional and physical healing we all have in front of us.

Kate Nugent
South Burlington, Vt.


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