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Burt Prelutsky / Jul. 27, 2020

On Charities & Appeasement

I differ from most people when it comes to charity. The ideal seems to be that one should contribute anonymously. I disagree.

I differ from most people when it comes to charity. The ideal seems to be that one should contribute anonymously. I disagree.

On occasion, I have donated in a way that might as well be anonymously. That is to say, I have contributed to political campaigns, but only to those where I felt the Republican had a decent shot at winning.

As much as I would like to see people like Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Adam Schiff, Maxine Waters, Rashida Tlaib, Jerry Nadler and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, lose, I’m not deluding myself that their constituents will belatedly come to their senses.

I prefer that my charitable donations be one-on-one. So, after reading about a 7-year-old girl in my neighborhood, a member of a family I didn’t know, having her brand new Christmas gift bicycle stolen, I bought her a replacement. I simply decided that seven was too young to be turned into a bitter cynic.

When another neighbor I didn’t know — a single mother of three young kids — was having trouble during the shutdown feeding her brood, I sent her a check.

When it comes to organized charities, the only ones I ever donate to are the Salvation Army, St. Jude’s Children Hospital and a privately-run dog shelter here in the San Fernando Valley.

So far as I can tell, all three are kosher and the person running it is not skimming the cream off the top with an eye to retiring to a villa in the south of France.

Obviously, I don’t expect thanks from the Salvation Army or the others, although I don’t tear up the tax refunds these outfits provide, although I’m really not sure what donations are tax deductible these days.

I’ll share a personal story involving charity that few people other than those who were involved know about. Back in the 90s, I who had enjoyed a fairly successful TV writing career, was gobsmacked by ageism and found myself and my wife having to sell our condo. We didn’t have that much escrow in the place, so eventually we were surviving on credit cards while hoping that one of my spec screenplays would sell and rescue us. When not a single one sold, we had to file for bankruptcy.

But that merely stopped the hounding phone calls, it didn’t pay the bills.

So I threw myself on the mercy of my friends. In my begging letter, I told them that they should only send me money they could afford to kiss good-bye.

Although a couple told me to consider it a gift, not a loan, I promised to pay back everyone if I ever could, but short of a miracle it wasn’t likely to happen.

The results were overwhelming. Within a week, I received checks from nearly everybody I had contacted, and even a couple I hadn’t, such as movie director Burt Kennedy, whom I’d only met once, but who heard of my plight from our mutual friend, actor Jack Elam.

Even now, nearly 25 years later, just thinking about the generous response makes me tear up. Now you probably better understand why the final scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” affects me as profoundly as it does every time I watch it.

For a week, as over $30,000 arrived, not only from life-long friends like Hank Hinton, but from Billy Wilder whom I had only recently befriended, I was George Bailey, the richest man in town.

Of course, I thanked them all, expressing my eternal gratitude. And, best of all, perhaps because I had my own version of Clarence Goodbody, Angel Second Class, who was trying to get his own pair of wings, I received my own Christmas miracle — the opportunity to write the Christmas episode in 1998 for Dick Van Dyke’s “Diagnosis Murder,” which led to a two-year stint as the show’s Executive Story Consultant (staff writer). But the two year gig was enough for me to pay back all the loans (gifts) and buy us a home.

If the money had been dropped on my doorstep by an anonymous donor, I would have been enormously grateful but I also would have been annoyed and disappointed. I would have wanted to express my thanks to an actual human being.

I think that’s the part that people who have never had to accept charity don’t understand. What’s most important isn’t for the donor to receive thanks from the recipient, it’s allowing the recipient the opportunity to give thanks.

Gratitude is a virtue, and one that is in grievously short supply these days.

I often hear the word “compromise” mentioned when people (nearly always Democrats) actually mean capitulation and surrender.

People even mention “appeasement” as if it’s something noble. It wasn’t noble when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain adopted it as a policy when dealing with Hitler and it hasn’t improved any over the past 81 years.

You never win an argument, a debate or a war through appeasement.

Look at Israel. Over the decades, they have constantly tried in vain to appease the Arabs and the Muslims by ceding them land for peace. All they succeeded in doing was losing acreage they could ill-afford to surrender.

Today, the Republicans think that by trying to appease the Democrats, they’ll somehow achieve political Nirvana. But, of course, it never works because the Left interprets concession exactly the way that Hitler did, as a sign of weakness, as proof that the Republicans don’t have a backbone or a willingness to fight for their rumored principles.

Even President Reagan, “Mr. Trust-But-Verify” himself, allowed Tip O'Neill to con him into signing the 1986 Amnesty Bill by promising to finance the building of a border wall. If House Speaker O'Neill built a wall, it must have been the one around his backyard.

Speaking of Washington politics, why do Republican presidents ever delete their party’s numbers in the House or Senate by turning them into Cabinet officers or ambassadors?

There are lots of people, including former officeholders and business leaders, available for those positions.

But by rewarding Jeff Sessions for his early support by removing him from his safe seat in the Senate and making him the Attorney General, a position he was ill-suited to fill, Alabama wound up replacing him in the Senate with a Democrat named Doug Jones.

At least they’ll have a chance to rectify that blunder this November.

I was delighted to see that in yet another case dealing with religious freedom, even Chief Justice John Roberts joined the majority on the Supreme Court in deciding that The Little Sisters of the Poor don’t have to provide contraception pills or devices for their non-Catholic employees.

That serves to remind me that not only must Donald Trump be elected in November, but it would be great if the GOP took back the House from Nancy Pelosi and absolutely essential that the Republicans hang on to the Senate. Otherwise, even if Trump wins a second term, he will have no way to replace a dead or finally retired Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a Neil Gorsuch or a Brett Kavanaugh.

Finally, I don’t think our young people get quite enough credit for their ignorance. While it’s easy and quite appropriate to blame their mental sloth on the schools, the news media, the social media, pop culture and their parents, a great deal of the blame belongs to the kids because most of them lack intellectual curiosity.

Most of the things I’ve learned, I didn’t learn in school.

In fact, once they managed to teach me to read, write and solve math problems in grammar school, I barely learned anything worth knowing in a classroom.

And I’m willing to bet that, aside from those of you who went into specialized fields such as medicine, law, engineering, science, architecture, accounting and the like, you, too, learned very little until when, 11 long years later, you entered graduate school.

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