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The Milkman Cometh 

Taking a Gander: But is the cream disappearing?

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Note: Colin Powell, military leader, statesman, and patriot died October 18, 2021.

It wasn't really so long ago when switchboard operators connected our telephone calls, and during the summer months, there were always lines of automobiles, just short of each summit, with steam pouring from their open hoods and frustrated drivers pacing nearby.

The automatic, electronic solutions for call-routing revolutionized communication. Automobiles have near-miraculous computerized dependability when compared with the Tin Lizzies of yesteryear. And the internet, of course, has put vast knowledge at our fingertips.

When I was young, our family relied on the dependability and punctuality of our milkman. Every morning, around 6 o'clock, he made his delivery. While milkmen, over the years, have been a predictable target of jokes, I felt pretty sure that my mother had never found ours to be a great temptation. (Oh, yes, my little brother definitely did not look like the guy from the dairy. But the Pepperidge Farms delivery man on the other hand, who brought us our fresh bread, did have a distinctive birthmark—strangely similar to the purple splotch on my brother's neck.)

I loved that the gallon bottles of whole milk underwent a subtle change as they sat in our insulated dairy box, a box that sat just to the right of our front door. I took great pleasure being the family member who carried the bottles inside, because I loved the thick cream that separated from the milk, forming a two-inch deep layer at the top, just below the crimped-on paper lid. I'd stealthily remove the lid and spoon up the richness, then replace the lid so carefully that it appeared undisturbed.

Of course, my thefts didn't go unnoticed. Mother was a bit irritated that I did it, cheating the rest of the family of the cream's richness. (Sadly, some of those fat globules are likely lodged in my coronaries today.) Nevertheless, I was never wracked by guilt over my petty theft, and Mother never really chided me for my selfish hoarding of the cream.

The scientific principle of milk-cream separation is one every kid learns in basic science and physics. The cream (fat) is far lighter than the aqueous part of the milk. That's why the cream always rises to the top, providing an additional philosophical explanation of why the best of people should rise to positions of leadership and trust.

Much like the milk on the front porch, I think America had a time when the best of the mix naturally separated from the rest, when people of irreproachable integrity and moral substance moved toward the highest positions of leadership. Colin Powell was one of them. Good character and flawless reputation were the keys.

But now I'm not sure the principle still works. It seems to me that there's been a change. The aqueous milk—or even assorted contaminants, not the cream—tends to rise to the top. The explanation? I have my theories—to state it in the simplest terms, either the quality of the mix has changed, or the physical phenomenon which separated the two components is somehow different today.

Could it be—that the quality of leadership has fallen so far, there is no longer anyone there to represent the cream, and that the distinction between the aqueous and fatty components has blurred the difference? Are good people still attracted to public office, or are political offices the nesting place for the corrupt? For the Hawley's, Greene's, and McCarthy's of our age, there's no question about it.

Sadly, many of the well-meaning and decent ones are sucked into the system, dumping their values in favor of election dollars to ensure their tenure and, in so doing, selling-out their constituencies. When the physical distinctions are gone, there's really no way to differentiate between the cream and the milk. Even worse, the American public has become so disillusioned with the effectiveness of any remaining good guys, that the bad guys appear, at times, to be a legitimate second choice.

That's a dangerous trend—one fueled by the exasperation of responsible voters who haven't been able to see evidence that "good" guys are also capable of moving our country along in the right direction. The destructive Trump syndrome has suggested that, to be a strong leader, one must be a thug and a reprobate, and many of our countrymen are convinced that decent—perhaps milquetoast—leadership doesn't work. Great Americans, people of conscience, like Colin Powell, are disappearing from politics.

Even more disturbing is the very-real possibility that American leaders and legislators have become "homogenized," and that there is no longer a valid distinction between the good guys and the bad ones—just power seekers who have little concern for principle, and are, essentially, all part of the same party. I know, that's a gloomy scenario. But homogenization seems to be fundamental in a day and age characterized by leadership mediocrity and pervasive what's-in-it-for-me motivations.

The question is, can our country break out of this destructive mindset and restore a reverence for, and trust in, the good guys? I believe it's possible.

It's time to bring back the standard of quality leadership that made our country great. We should not merely settle for the lesser of evils, but find those who still believe that integrity, principle, and respect for the law are the only correct standard. We should not settle for anything but the best. If that doesn't happen, our country may not survive.

The author is a retired businessman, novelist, columnist, and former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog.

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