The Crown Princess of Norway Mette-Marit has made an extraordinary trip to India, posing as a nanny to care for twins newly born through a surrogate for her two married gay male friends and Norwegian countrymen. This is a complicated story with a lot of heart. The tale involves helpless newborns, friendship, LGBT equality, global inequality, monarchy and democracy, privilege and race. And probably a lot more.
The outcome -- the children arrived safely in Norway to their fathers -- is a happy ending. Presumably the financial aspects in India also were met. And Mette-Marit transformed again from nanny to princess.
It is a gripping story, of course, not least because of the numerous boundaries being crossed: poverty and wealth, north and south, white and black...
These were once the boundary crossings that also made America, and American stories, great. Thankfully, unveiling again in America is a powerful cross-boundary story, albeit a much bigger one, on a bigger stage.
It began long ago, with the unique philanthropic founding of our nation, seeking the "common good," a "more perfect union," "equality for all," while we were still trafficking in human slavery and denying suffrage on gender (and race).
Many transformative social movements of the last two hundred and forty six years grappled with these contradictions and helped get us to the progressive government and system we now enjoy, not the least of which is a Black President, a female Secretary of State, Jews and a Latina on the Supreme Court, an openly gay CEO of Apple, and the further expansion of the social and economic safety net known as Obamacare.
Such progressive transformation often (if not always) came out of cross boundary and transgressive actions that brought rich and poor, north and south, black and white, male and female, gay and straight together -- even as they were also pitted against each other. I recently wrote a play on the true story of General Kosciuszko, the Polish-American Revolutionary War hero who on his death left his entire estate to free black slaves and provide for their advancement; a will written for him by his lawyer and friend Thomas Jefferson, America's third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, whose own will sought to maximize his financial "assets" through the sale of his slaves, including the black slave mother of at least six of his children Sally Hemings (unlike the other slaves, Sally was saved from the auction block by her white niece, Jefferson's daughter with her half-sister, but not given freedom).
As 2012 draws to a close, and our progressive African-American president and the country looks in anticipation to the inauguration in January 2013 of the second time an African American takes the presidential oath of office we have the opportunity for more cross-boundary and transformative reform action. The much talked-about "fiscal cliff", like the many other scary precipices we faced throughout our complicated history, should bring forth the best of the American character.
In the last few days we have seen the heirs to Kosciuszko's example: Philanthropists stand again with civil rights leaders, framing their position as "Jobs Not Cuts." At Yale Law School, students are committing to giving a pledge to give away a portion of their current and future wealth. Apple's new CEO Tim Cook, who is gay, has changed the policy of Apple so that the company will match all 80,000 employees' charitable contributions.
The Washington Post printed a full-page letter advertisement with the claim that the recent presidential election affirmed a philanthropic vision for American: "We're all in this together" and defeated "You're on your own." The ad was taken by a coalition of organizations from as broad a field as National Domestic Workers Alliance, NAACP, Economic Policy Institute, United Auto Workers, with that unique American assortment of names like Trumka, Easterling, Bhargava, Weinstein, Cohen, Mishel, Butler, Garcia-Ashley, Gupta, Kettenring, Jealous, Ai-jen Poo, VanRoekel, Goehl, Moody, Jones, Altman to name a few.
Which is not to say that we don't have the heirs to Jefferson's less than admirable smallness as well. In their own letter to the president and Congress, Wall Street CEOs argued to embrace a plan heavily weighted to deficit reduction, spending cuts of social and safety net programs, entitlement reforms and some revenue increases. Signatories to their letter, include Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan, Citigroup chief executive Michael Corbat and Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein. Of the 97 CEOs of the "Fiscal Leadership Council," I found only two women: Kathy Wylde, President & CEO of the Partnership for New York City (a nonprofit of NYC business leaders founded by David Rockefeller), and Linda Stewart, a leadership and human capital guru -- and no people of color that I could identify.
The jobs numbers say the U.S. economy added 146,000 jobs and show an economy moving painfully slowly in the right direction. Low borrowing rates with the yield on the ten-year Treasury near historic lows confounds the still high need for more jobs and better wages. The CEO leaders' focus on the federal budget deficit borders on compulsive obsession and illogically ignores the opportunity to borrow more to put more Americans to work, to strengthen, grow and build our country.
It rankles me why so many Wall Street tycoons and self proclaimed "fiscal leaders" seem incapable of walking in the shoes of the majority of the American people, middle class and poor people. Is it so hard to believe in prosperity for all? We do owe a lot to the talent of our financiers and the amazing global financial markets they've created; but they owe a lot to the nannies who raise their children, the schools that educate (if not their children at least the children of the rest of us), and workers who build their cars and jets, keep the streets drivable and the police and firefighters on patrol, and the freelancers who will never work for a big company. Speaking on CBS of Social Security the indubitable Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who is himself a Horatio Alger's story, said, "You're going to have to do something, undoubtedly, to lower people's expectations of what they're going to get," Blankfein said, "the entitlements, and what people think they're going to get, because you're not going to get it."
On the other hand, Blankfein's predictions and delivery of Goldman Sach's success is quite the opposite: Goldman Sachs recently exceeded Wall Street analysts' expectations by announcing $8.4 billion in third quarter revenues for 2012. On the heels of a great year, Blankfein is expected to take home an even larger salary than he did in 2011, when he made $16.1 million. Indeed Goldman Sachs said it paid employees more because they increased revenue, and compensation expenses and revenue rose by 133 percent. I wish Mr. Blankfein would find more of "God's work" also in preserving and expanding the social safety net as he does in raising and benefiting from capital.
Crown Princess Mette-Marit of liberal Norway shouldn't be the only one of privilege to walk in a nanny's shoes for her gay male friends, for the love of vulnerable newborn twins, in India. As we face the fiscal cliff, and other challenges to our forward progress (also, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an order granting review in Hollingsworth v. Perry [formerly Perry v. Brown], the federal constitutional challenge to California's Proposition 8, where Proposition 8 eliminated the fundamental freedom of gay and lesbian Californians to marry), shouldn't we all try to walk in the nanny's shoes too?