Jerry Hirsch, Lodestar Foundation: "Donald Trump should be a George H.W. Bush 'Point of Light' instead of mocking volunteers"
by Jerry Hirsh, founder of the Lodestar Foundation, for USA Today
July 19, 2018
“What the hell does that mean?” asked President Donald Trump in a speech this month. “’Thousand points of light,’ I never quite got that one. What the hell is that? Has anyone ever figured that one out? It was put out by a Republican, wasn’t it?”
Trump is no dummy. He had to know the phrase that former President George H.W. Bush coined three decades ago to celebrate the work of volunteer organizations “spread like stars throughout the nation.” Was it a moment of senility, or, more likely, was he pretending ignorance as a way to mock a former president in his final days on earth, as he mocks Sen. John McCain?
Either way, Trump is mocking something else: volunteering to help others, which Alexis de Tocqueville recognized 186 years ago as the bedrock of American democracy. We can ignore some of the president’s loutish proclamations, but not this one.
Demeaning Americans' selfless work
I have first-hand experience. Shortly after his presidency began, Bush began issuing “Points of Light” awards to recognize community organizations around the country and encourage others to emulate them. In 1991, Central Arizona Shelter Services, a non-profit charity that helps the homeless, won one of the first awards. I was on the board and was chosen to accept.
President Bush flew to Phoenix to present the award, and I keep a picture on my wall of him handing it to me on the tarmac at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport, with Air Force One looming in the background. The president’s efforts led to the establishment of the independent, nonpartisan Points of Light Foundation, now the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service, engaging 5 million volunteers every year.
Why anyone — especially a president — would want to demean the selfless work of Americans to help others in need is a mystery and a tragedy. Rather than implicitly criticizing advocates of volunteerism, Trump should become an advocate himself, just as his predecessors were.