General Thomas

I spent a long weekend in Washington D.C. a few weeks back.

Our family gathered to celebrate my nephew’s graduation from American University. Andrew earned a doctorate in history with a specialization in antisemitism. Sadly, it’s a timely degree, but it’s also sad because his area of study seems perpetually relevant. We can’t seem to shake the disease of hatred in our land and in our world.

On the plane ride to our nation’s capital, I read “Democracy Awakening” by the historian Heather Cox Richardson. The book chronicles the long struggle in America to live up to the Founder’s ideals that “all men are created equal.”

Since America’s birth, women, Blacks, Jews and just about every ethnic group and sexual persuasion and identity have struggled for equal rights and opportunities.

Yet there’s hope.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Change takes a long time, but it does happen. Still, the struggle seems to be endless and at times despairing.

I have friends of every political persuasion—Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, liberal, conservative, moderate, center left and center right. Every one of them is despairing about the state of our nation–I am too. I’ve never been more worried about our future than I am right now. So, when I flew to Washington it was with a degree of trepidation. We were heading to a graduation ceremony, would there be unrest? Would we be safe?

The campus of American University was calm. We felt safe on a beautiful Spring Day in the capital. American is a beautiful school, the campus is stunning and full of flowers in bloom. It was idyllic.

As we traversed the city, I felt my patriotism awakening. I literally felt it.

Seeing the Washington Monument, visiting the astonishing National Gallery of Art and reveling in the majesty of Embassy Row, I felt immense pride.  America is a beacon for the world. We have accomplished so much and none of it came easy.

Indeed, you can feel the struggle, and the miracle that is America when you are in Washington. You can feel the heartbeat of this country beating on the streets of our capital city.

Washington D.C. sure takes a beating, and yes there is crime, homelessness, and violence but there is a whole lot of beauty and accomplishment in this city as well.

Washinton has been called a swamp and Congress and our inane politics certainly deserve condemnation. Our leadership is not serving America and that is why we don’t feel good or safe these days.

It’s hard to deny that reality. We are broken and actively breaking and that will continue until ‘we the people’ decide we’ve had enough of the clown show. There is so much good in this land, so much potential, so much more we can do–together.

Examples of American excellence and possibility can be found everywhere you look—especially in Washington D.C.

For instance, you can’t visit a Smithsonian Museum and not come away in awe.

Washington is a city that aspires, like our nation. You can see it in the architecture, the beautiful buildings, the magnificent churches, and the majestic statues.

I was particularly drawn to a statue of Major General George Henry Thomas, a Civil War hero located in the center of Thomas Circle. It was sculpted by John Quincy Adams Ward and dedicated in 1879 at a ceremony attended by President Rutherford B. Hayes, three other Civil War era generals and thousands of soldiers.

There are 18 Civil War monuments in Washington D.C. One day I’m going to see them all.

Today, the Civil War still resonates, I think in part because we fear the possibility of another one. That’s an astonishing sentence to write, but the visceral hatred between political sides is real and palpable. And I felt it even more in Washington.

It wasn’t that I witnessed anything—except for a barrage of nasty political ads on TV—it’s just that the Civil War is all around you in D.C. There are the statues, there’s Arlington Cemetery built on the former plantation of Robert E. Lee, there’s the Lincoln Memorial and there are signs for Richmond, the one-time confederate capital which is only 108 miles away.

It’s a lot to absorb and the feelings you get in Washington are complicated and paradoxical, much like the feeling of being American in 2024. There’s immense pride but concern, there’s a feeling of strength and vulnerability and there is a confidence in our greatness but a gnawing worry about seeing it unravel because of the divisions in our society.

Lincoln’s words resonate across the centuries: “A House Divided Will Not Stand.”

I’m of the belief that most Americans don’t want to risk the greatest nation in the history of the world. But I am also of the belief that our political leaders are mostly horrible—and that cuts across both parties.

We have so degraded politics, that our best minds are avoiding service at all levels of our government. We, the people, are paying the price. Of course, there are exceptions, but they are exceptions not the rule and that’s my point. We must do better or we will continue to pay a steep price.

That said, America is sure worth fighting for. It’s a remarkable country and an essential one too.

We are the most generous nation on earth, if disaster strikes anywhere you can count on America to help. The greatness of this nation can fill the Grand Canyon.

But…we are not a sure thing.

We are an experiment. Everything we have built, everything that was fought for can slip away from us if we don’t right the ship.

Everyone has a prescription for how to do that. I’m no different. I think the key is compromise, we must learn to work together, or we will surely perish together.

But in a nation where compromise has become a dirty word, that’s going to be hard. But I sure hope we find a way forward.

We must.

Kerry and Perry…

Wishing my good friends Kerry Koen and Perry Don Francisco the happiest of birthdays. These exceptional men have shaped me in more ways than I can count. Kerry, former fire chief in both Boca and Delray, has become a touchstone for me long after we stopped working together in 2007. I respected Kerry as a chief, he was a great leader, and he built an amazing Fire Department. Kerry is one of those steady leaders, he’s not flashy by any means, but he’s effective and he’s strategic. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and he’s been generous in sharing that knowledge. We have great conversations and I cherish them. He always makes me think about subjects differently. His perspectives challenge you and if you lean in and listen you get a master class in leadership and life.

Perry is similar, but with a very different personality. I laugh and learn when I’m with Perry, the legendary former proprietor of Boston’s on the Beach. Perry has done so much over the years for so many—quietly without fanfare and with great sensitivity regardless of the situation. He’s the guy you want next to you in the foxhole if life gets messy. But he’s also the guy you want to grab a beer with and laugh. Like, Kerry, Perry sees the big picture often before anyone else does. He’s been a fixture in the lives of countless people. I wish them both many years of health and happiness.




  1. Rosemary Nixon says

    Couldn’t agree with you more. I grew up in Boston, surrounded by history; first voted in 1960 for JFK, was inspired by the message of “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” to believe political service on behalf of the people was an honorable profession; got two degrees in Political Science and Public Administration, because I wanted to serve; first job after graduation was in city planning in Hartford, Conn.

    With the ugliness and violence I see now in public life, I feel I was naive that we could all work together to solve problems in this country. I am very discouraged about the future, but continue to volunteer with Encore Palm Beach County to help people 50+ connect with new work and volunteer opportunities because we need them.

  2. Ted Hoskinson says

    As usual, your article on DC and our country was spot on. I went to Sheridan school years ago when it was located at Sheridan Circle, one of the other many other circles named for a General. I drove around Ward Circle 1,000 times in my 50 plus years of calling it my home. Its beauty is undeniable!

    But we are in a place now that is hard for me to understand. We no longer seem to judge someone.”by the content on their character” but rather by the D or R they seem to say they are.

    I, like you, are worried! We need the smartest and the best to step up and want to lead, but who will actually step up! Hopeful but concerned!

    You made me homesick! You made me ponder and think like you always do! You made me want to double down on helping and creating the change required. There are many of us I know!

    Thanks as always for your words !

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Ted, you are a wonderful guy. We need people like you and yes you are already serving with distinction.

  3. Yvonne Odom says

    As always, your articles are insightfull. We must stay “woke” locally. Some elected politician prefer that certain individuals to stay home and not participate. If we cherish our democracy, we MUST stay involved, participate, volunteer, and most importantly, register then VOTE. Everybody. Additionally, I have had the pleasure of working on a personal level Perry and Kerry. I agree totally with your comments about them both. Also Kerry was a senior at Seacrest when I entered as the lone Negro student. We both were privileged to know and respect the leadership of the then principal the late Robert Fulton, who later became the superintendent, Palm Beach County. He demonstrated the essence of “good intentions” by leadership during by 3 years at Seacrest. Again, thank you for your continue insights! Needed now more than ever.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Dear Mrs. Odom, you do know you are one of my heroines…so your words mean so, so much to me. Thank you.

  4. Susan Ruby says

    The feeling you describe of anxiety, and paradoxically hopefulness , accurately describes our national mood.
    We must do better. I agree.

    Also, a very happy birthday to both Kerry and Perry, two lovely men, two men with excellent leadership qualities.

  5. Charles Stravino says

    A wonderful article capturing the unfortunate state of affairs our Country is currently in. I’m hopeful Leaders will emerge and get our Nation, State and Local politics back by demonstrating civility, serving their constituents and work together putting partisan agendas aside.

    Now back to reality!!

    I am blessed and fortunate to have had Kerry, Perry and Jeff as mentors , colleagues and friends for many, many years. These individuals are the epitome when it comes to investing in a community, helping people and self sacrifice.
    Each has made an incredible impact on so many that their first name is all that needs to be said when acknowledging their contributions. I know they have tried to develop some succession across many fronts as we all go forward. We need the future Kerry, Perry and Jeffs’ to emerge and take the reigns. Amazing things can happen over time with leadership and synergy!!

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Such kind words, Charlie. I feel the same about the example you set at our Fire-Rescue Department. We desperately need a new generation to step up and right the ship. We know how to do it, but it takes leadership over a period of time to make things happen.

  6. Literally sitting at the airport in DC reading your article and feeling every bit of what you are describing. We Witnessed a few protests but thankfully peaceful for now. I can’t help but feel angst for my daughter who works in DC at Natural History Museum where she just oversaw programming for the day in celebration on World Ocean Day. The museums are a beacon but you can feel the tension in the air around town, am praying for our country.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Hi Noreen,
      Thanks for sharing. It is palpable. I love the museum where your daughter works.

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