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Two Men, Two Destinies

“If you have no character your destiny is tragedy.”  These words offered by former federal prosecutor John Flannery as he described the likely outcome of Donald Trump’s presidency and life.  This notion of self-inflicted fate has been around for centuries as when  Oedipus the King was advised by Tiresias, “Creon is not your downfall, no, you are your own” (Sophocles, circa 430 B.C.).  The remarkable thing about the noose that appears to be tightening around Trump’s neck is that his nemesis, Robert Mueller, has yet to speak one word.  Trump’s addiction to peevish impulse, fearmongering, and deceit are tightening the rope with virtually no help from others.  All one must do is look at the faces of Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Stephen Miller, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, et al—that are often either bursting with rage or spewing contempt—to know these folks are not only in deep trouble, they know they are in deep trouble.  Contrast that with the seldom seen face of Mueller or, moreover, the face of John McCain even as he faced imminent death.  When you are on the right side of honor, tranquility is easy.

McCain’s final words were full of gratitude, self-awareness, and grace.  He spoke of the “privilege of serving,” of his “love for America,” and his “love of my family.”  He easily acknowledged “I have made mistakes”  and even in his life that included physical and psychological torture, and humiliating defeat, he claimed he was “the luckiest person on earth.”  In the end, he knew he had “lived and died a proud American.”  These are words of honor.  These are words of a man at peace.  He also had a message many thought was aimed at Trump.

We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.

Those same ‘many’ wonder if Trump was listening; if he got the message.  But the question is not was Trump listening, the question is, are we?

McCain also deftly arranged his eulogies at his memorial service in the National Cathedral to be delivered by prior political foes, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  He knew that the accolades of former adversaries would be more powerful than those of advocates.  And, he wanted to show the world the spirit of his often stated credo: “we must serve a cause greater than ourselves.”  Of McCain, Bush said,

John was above all, a man with a code.  He lived by a set of public virtues that brought strength and purpose to his life and to his country.  He was courageous, with a courage that frightened his captors and inspired his countrymen.  He was honest, no matter whom it offended.  Presidents were not spared.  He was honorable, always that recognizing his opponents were still patriots and human beings.  He loved freedom, with a passion of a man who knew its absence.  He respected the dignity inherent in every life, a dignity that does not stop at borders and cannot be erased by dictators.  Perhaps above all, John detested the abuse of power. He could not abide bigots and swaggering despots.

Obama, more direct perhaps than Bush, but with a subtlety he mastered as a target of vitriol and racism himself, summoned us to engage anew.

So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty.  Trafficking in bombastic manufactured outrage, it’s politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born of fear.  John called on us to be bigger than that.  He called on us to be better than that.  That’s perhaps how we honor him best, by recognizing that there are some things bigger than party or ambition or money or fame or power, that the things that are worth risking everything for, principles that are eternal, truths that are abiding.

The proverbial elephant NOT in the cathedral was, of course, Donald Trump, whom the press pool reported left the White House in his white MAGA hat midway through Meghan McCain’s remarks, perhaps for a round of golf.  Meghan, the most direct of all in assailing the antithesis of her father, Donald Trump, gave the most eloquent eulogy of the day closing with a line that will, no doubt, be broadcast over and over: “The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.”

I have no hope whatsoever that any of these messages will be considered by Trump.  There is no space to comprehend virtue in a mind addled by avarice.  Again, the question is not did he listen, but are we?  The challenge is to restore our own sense of honor to deliver America to a better place than the dark mendacity that is Trump.

May we embrace the destiny of honor McCain so ably bestowed, and allow the destiny of tragedy to be Trump’s and Trump’s alone.

By |2018-09-01T20:28:52+00:00September 1st, 2018|Current, Donald Trump, Leadership|0 Comments

American Deliverance—an Introduction

What follows here is a draft introduction of my next book, American Deliverance: Restoring the American Dream in the Post-Trump Era. I am sharing it with subscribers to provide an historical context and outlook on the question, What now?  I hope to have it completed and published before we need it!

American Deliverance: Introduction

I was born in 1957, the peak birth year for Baby Boomers and the year the Soviets launched Sputnik into space which, just thirteen years after vanquishing the fascists of World War II, shocked Americans into the reality that yet another existential threat loomed on the horizon, this time led by the hydrant-sized gap-toothed Nikita Khrushchev.  As Elvis Presley’s gyrations on the Ed Sullivan Show blushed the cheeks of women viewers and left network censors chewing the insides of theirs, Dwight Eisenhower, the twelfth and last military general to become president of the United States, began his second term.  Although 1957 marked the end of the interregnum of relative tranquility between existential threats—between World War II and the heightening of Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union—the late 1950s and early 1960s also thrust the United States from a somewhat clumsy pubescent world power to a full-throated superpower in the international system.  The so-called Camelot years of the administration of John Kennedy became the debutante moment for America’s coming-out ascension on the world stage.  America’s aspirational hegemony—sometimes real and at other times fantasy—was challenged by the Soviets and their proxy states for the next thirty years. Once Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika—accompanied by Soviet misadventures in Afghanistan— caused the Soviet model to collapse in 1991, America became the world’s lone superpower.  What followed was what many historians and political scientists refer to as America’s unipolar moment.  With all existential threats once again vanquished, it was up to Americans to lead the world, or to squander its power through fits of hubris and incurious negligence.  Unfortunately, the latter prevailed.

America’s external threats, however, like the fascist regimes of the early twentieth century and the Soviet menace that followed, were not the threats that ultimately placed American power in peril.  It was the unforced errors of American leadership, the apathy of the American electorate, and fundamental inversions of American values and practices that pushed the United States from its pinnacle of power.  In the realm of foreign affairs during America’s superpower era, engaging militarily in Vietnam was the first egregious error.  Kennedy and, moreover, Lyndon Johnson, justified U. S. involvement in Vietnam by the simplistic fear of a cascading domino-effect of communism that might somehow propagate to American soil some 8,600 air miles away but which, of course, never made it within 8,500 air miles of reaching American shores (even though the Viet Cong succeeded in running the U.S. out of the country).  The second grand mistake in foreign affairs followed the events of 9/11 when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney allowed emotional vengeance in Bush’s case, and a chicken hawk’s romanticized thirst for bloodletting in Cheney’s case, to cast a criminal act—9/11—as an act of war.  The power of law enforcement, which would have been supported by most of the world outside of Osama bin Laden’s circle of power, was set aside for neoconservative delusions of American grandeur that resulted in the isolation of the United States from its allies and cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.  Even today, some fifteen-plus years later, a final accounting of this exercise in imperial overreach cannot be summed.  Victory—which was never clearly defined by Bush or Barack Obama—remains an elusive fantasy.  These unforced errors are, however, only a part of the story of American decline.

Apathy in American politics is nothing new, although the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate era was marked by Americans taking a long—forty-plus year—vacation from politics.  Fatigued by the social and political upheaval of the 1960s and by broad cynicism toward government following Watergate, more than half of Americans disengaged from politics.  This abdication of civic duty was compounded by the effects of accelerating affluence that lulled Americans into a lethargic state of stewardship of American values.  This American stupor also allowed the degradation of traditional Constitutional protections by political maneuvering like the legal (but-not-right) acts of gerrymandering in Congress, and extraordinary rulings by the United States Supreme Court, like Citizens United, that compounded the concentration of power among the moneyed class of American corporatists, including Charles and David Koch. This stupor allowed the future to be directed by the few who remained engaged and enraged; by extremists who seized the levers of power and by those who could afford to purchase even more power.  Notwithstanding the apparent progress marked by the election of America’s first African American president, Obama, in 2008, by the elections of 2016 the rudder on America’s ship of liberty was dangling from its hull.

Leadership issues and this general electoral malaise accentuated by rising affluence in the late stages of the twentieth century also compromised three critical American dispositional values that had helped the U.S. rise from ‘The Land of the Free’ following the American Revolutionary War, to ‘The Land of Opportunity” following the Civil War, to its ‘Superpower’ position after World War II.  Individualism, or the notion that Americans were possessed of free will and took responsibility for its expression thereof, was replaced by narcissism.  Perfectibility, or the idea that Americans always strive to make things better than the way they were found, was exchanged for an adolescent sense of entitlement.  And, exceptionalism—the exemplar kind—where Americans attempted to set the example for others to follow, was set aside for hubris.  The upheaval associated with flipping these values to their evil-twin modality allowed, among other things, the election of what psychologists have termed the “malignant narcissism” of Donald Trump as president.  And, as evidence of the power of the presidency and the servile behaviors of Republicans who controlled Congress, Trump was allowed to inflict much more damage on America and the world than any of his forty-four predecessors.

The question for the post-Trump era is, What now?  The broad answer lies in how we address the question, What does it mean to be an American?  More specifically, what values do we choose to support moving forward and what is the story they tell about our fundamental identity?  In the period of cyclical crisis we emerge from today, the values we embrace and the manner in which we execute them will determine whether America moves forward as the world’s steward of goodwill, or discards its legacy becoming—simply and tragically— the next empire to be tossed into the dustbin of history.  The stakes are high and the outcome uncertain.  But, as I will argue in what follows here, among the elements of success are: a return to political engagement, most importantly at the state and local level; a commitment to personal and collective moral resilience; and the reconstitution of authenticity and virtue.  In short, this is what I refer to as leading from the soul.

By |2018-09-01T18:06:31+00:00July 20th, 2018|General|0 Comments

It’s Mars vs. Venus Again

The divisive tribal partisanship so many sociologists and political pundits talk about today may, in the November midterms in 2018 and presidential election in 2020, boil down to little more than an amplification of the gender wars previously explained in John Gray’s 1992 bestseller, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. A number of recent studies suggest Trump has succeeded in creating gender gaps in political preferences unseen in the history of American politics.  The numbers are stunning and the implications affect all Americans and all issues, domestic and foreign

Gender differences in political party affiliation first occurred in the mid-1960s when men began to prefer Republicans while women preferred Democrats. The gap between preferences has widened gradually ever since, but then widened dramatically following the election of Donald Trump.  As Thomas Edsall recently pointed out in The New York Times,

The potential gender gap in congressional voting has risen from 20 and 22 points in 2014 and 2016, according to exit polls, to 33 points in a Quinnipiac Poll published earlier this month. Men of all races say they intend to vote for Republican House candidates 50-42, while women of all races say they intend to vote for Democratic candidates 58-33.  Significantly, white women, a majority of whom backed Trump in 2016, now say they intend to vote for Democratic House candidates in 2018 by a 14-point margin, 52-38, according to Quinnipiac. White men say they intend to vote for Republican House candidates 56-38 in 2018.[1]

This gap also persists not just among all races, but among all demographic age cells;  surprisingly, most pronounced among millennial males who prefer Republicans by a wider gap to their millennial female counterparts than do older age cells.  Just a few weeks ago, Pew Research published this finding, citing that

Women voters younger than 35 support the Democrat by an overwhelming margin (68% to 24%), while younger men are divided (47% favor the Democrat, 50% favor the Republican). The gender gap among voters ages 35 and older is more modest: 49% of older women favor the Democrat, as do 42% of older men.[2]

In the event you are thinking, “But wait, that’s a preference for the Republican Party, but not necessarily for Trump” you would be wrong.  Not only is Trump’s overall approval rating rock-steady (40% among all adults), a plurality of Republicans believe Trump has “changed the GOP for the better” while just 9% say he “has changed the GOP for the worse.”[3]  The Republican Party is very much the party of Trump.  Never-Trump Republicans (which I had hoped were a large and robust contingent) are, at best, outliers.

The strategic implications for this are many for both parties and for both the midterms in 2018 and the presidential elections in 2020.

  1. If you are appalled by Trump’s rhetoric and antics expect much more of it, perhaps at even greater levels than you have seen thus far. Why? Because it works well for him, politically.  Men, in particular, see Trump as their best hope to preserve patriarchy.  As Steve Pinker, a Harvard professor of psychology suggested in Edsall’s column, Trump is

almost a caricature of a contestant to be Alpha baboon: aggressive, hypersensitive to perceived threats to his dominance, boastful of his status and physical attributes (including his genitals), even the physical display of colorful big hair and a phallic red tie. Men may identify with such displays.[4]

  1. To achieve victory in the coming elections, Republicans would be wise to focus on men who have traditionally voted for Democrats and who may be—quietly or not—turned off by gender-based issues like the MeToo movement. (It is important for Democrats to remember that the vast majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by very few serial offenders; painting all men with the same brush—as unfortunately many MeToo advocates do—is a politically risky proposition.) This especially applies to working class Democratic men who, despite much evidence Trump has failed on his promises to them, appear committed to support him, at least through the 2018 midterm elections. So far, these men are willing to buy into the idea that Trump’s failures are not his fault; that the media and various fantasy conspiracies have precluded him from serving their interests.
  2. Expect much more bashing by Trump of foreign leaders, especially Angela Merkel of Germany and Theresa May of Great Britain who are obvious targets of Trump’s machismo. Similarly, Putin of Russia, Erdogan of Turkey, and Duterte of the Philippines represent tough-guy proxies for Trump’s war on women.  And, patriarchy and nationalism are easy bedfellows since they share a common denominator: they are both exclusionary regimes that benefit the few at the expense of the many.
  3. Race-baiting also works well for Trump, and not just among white males. Curiously, and I’m not sure how to definitively understand this yet, Trump’s race-baiting, accomplished partly through his immigration cruelties, does not seem to affect Hispanic males as one might expect.  Perhaps because they appreciate more his cultural nod to machismo than his ridicule of their race, which machismo, at least historically, has been more prominent in their culture than with American Anglos.
  4. For Democrats, get-out-the-vote programs should be aimed squarely at women to take advantage of the pronounced swing of women toward the Democratic party since Trump’s election. If current preferences hold (which may even increase), the key to victory will likely be getting women to vote and, as a counter to Republican appeals to working class Democratic men, in getting disaffected Republican women to vote for Democratic women candidates.  A pink-hued blue wave may affect the tsunamic destruction of the Republican Party. Playing the gender card may also, however, alienate some men (see MeToo comment above), but I suspect those vulnerable to Trump’s chest-beating may have already flipped.
  5. Democratic women candidates have a natural advantage in this gender gap-cum-chasm. But, while they would be wise to artfully counter Trump’s antics on his gender and race baiting, doing so has the potential to also solidify his support among undecided men.  There is a fine line here. Success may come more easily by promoting thoughtful solutions to pocketbook issues like healthcare and the emerging economic consequences of Trump’s tariffs, which should make him vulnerable with both men and women.  Being anti-Trump is clearly not enough; positive policy solutions to gender-neutral issues may be the key to tipping the electoral scales.

As Edsall concluded,

Men’s commitment to protecting their status — their dominant position in the social order — cannot be counted out in 2018 or 2020. Elections have become a sexualized battlefield, and men have repeatedly demonstrated their determination to win no matter the social cost. The outcome of the next two elections will show whether women are equally determined to fight tooth and nail.[5]

Mars and Venus indeed appear to be on a new collision course.

[1] Thomas B. Edsall, “What Happens if the Gender Gap Becomes a Gender Chasm?,” The New York Times, July 12, 2018,  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/12/opinion/trump-midterms-gender-gap.html.
[2] Pew Research Center, “Voters More Focused on Control of Congress – and the President – than in Past Midterms,” June 20, 2018, www.pewresearch.org.
[3] Ibid, p. 11.
[4] OpCit, #1.
[5] Ibid.

By |2018-07-20T21:26:58+00:00July 12th, 2018|Donald Trump|0 Comments

Shall We Read?

When my now nearly thirty year-old son was a toddler, his incessant demand was “Shall we read?” Or, phonetically, “Shall weeeee reeeeeed?!!”  His favorite, Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, is probably why I still cringe at cottontail roadkill.  My daughter also acknowledged the family affection for books when, at “Bring Dad to School Day” in third grade, she was asked to introduce me and, in typical Dallas fashion, was also asked to describe what her father “did” since there were so many impressive dads who were doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and investment bankers.  The look on her face—an ashen moment of utter terror—revealed the fact that she really had no idea what her father did.  She rallied, however, and with rosy cheeks stood upright and proudly proclaimed, “He reads!”

Fortunately, reading literature has survived the onslaught of digital disruption as both electronic and printed books remain in high demand throughout the world.  Although social media has sucked too many hours out of our day with substance no more rewarding than the junk mail the Post Office insists on shoving in our box, I suspect those lost hours will gradually be reclaimed once we realize the intellectual calories offered by social media approximates those in junk mail’s close cousin, junk food.  Spend as little time with social media as you do your USPS junk mail and you will be better informed and maybe even happier.  Junk is, after all, junk.

Read now more than ever! is my prescription for transcending the flood of “truthiness” emanating from the lying peeves who have hijacked our Federal Government.  Facts and critical thinking, when properly applied to put forward an argument, or simply weave the threads of an intriguing narrative are, thankfully, flourishing.  Publishers still have acquisition editors to weed out much of the crap.  As a writer, I know that writing well requires reading well, at a ratio of about fifty pages read for every one written.  Currently, I am in reading/research mode for a new book project tentatively titled “American Deliverance” that will attempt to provide a pathway to right the ship of American values, including tools drawn from Stoicism and Buddhism,  such that we can move forward—individually and collectively—beyond the banality of stupidity and avarice that has become a Twitter-shower of toxic distraction.

Recently, I have read four books (all 2018 releases) that I recommend here below to, perhaps, add to your own reading list.

  1. The Soul of America: the Battle for Our Better Angels, by Jon Meacham, describes the discriminating courage of predecessor presidents and civic leaders, including Abraham Lincoln, to remind us that throughout American history we have tolerated and survived treachery similar to what is occurring today to, once again, rise to a higher and clearer embrace of American values. (Full disclosure: I know Jon; Jon is a hero of mine as a presidential historian.  There exists no person more thoughtful, studied, and fair-minded than Jon Meacham.)  Like the standards set forth in the “Sermon on the Mount,” it remains unlikely we will ever achieve perfection in our pursuit of American ideals, but we can (and likely will) recover from our current predicament to form a more healthy and, yes, hopeful future for our children and grandchildren.  Meacham’s Soul of America reminds us that decency is more durable than any tweetstorm.
  2. Our Towns: a 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America, by James and Deborah Fallows, provides proof that, notwithstanding the trolls in Washington D.C., America is doing much better than we might think. This should be required reading for anyone engaged in civic service, especially municipal leaders at all levels.  For the rest of us, it’s like a pain-free road trip through both familiar and unfamiliar towns that, coincidentally, share several factors of success even where doom was the odds-on favorite.  Jim brings his decades of journalistic prowess to bear on the essential question: What makes American towns American?, while Deb’s scholarship in theoretical linguistics provides insights about our chosen words and phrases that reveal our cultural dispositions.  From 2013 through 2016, the Fallows crisscrossed the country in their Cirrus SR22 airplane to study forty-two towns, doing deep-dives with locals to identify what makes America tick.  Spoiler alert: Tocqueville was on the right track.
  3. Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet, by Joan Halifax. This is a book for people who care, and who, inevitably, risk tumbling off the edge of their empathetic perch into darkness as they face the challenges of being a good human being in the age of too many bad ones.  Halifax is a Buddhist priest and head teacher at the Upaya Institute and Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  We share an appreciation for the teachings of Thich Nhat Hahn who, together with the Dalai Lama, are the only two Buddhist teachers I have ever been able to comprehend.  I can now add Halifax to that list.  In a spiritual practice loaded with abstractions, Halifax is able to distill those abstractions into accessible utilities designed to coach well-intentioned public servants and caregivers to survive the traps and pitfalls that altruism, empathy, integrity, respect, engagement and compassion hold for those of us who actually give a damn about this world and those with whom we share it.  Unfortunately, good people often suffer depression and anxiety at levels that meet or exceed those for whom they serve.  Halifax shows us how to walk up to that edge, stare fear in the face, and prevail.
  4. God Save Texas: a Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State, by Lawrence Wright. Wright and Meacham are fellow Pulitzer Prize winners.  Wright won his for The Looming Tower: al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, Meacham for his portrayal of Andrew Jackson.  With the exception of a couple of years in the late 1980s, when I resided in Washington D.C., I lived in Texas from 1982 through 2016.  I remember when church was something people did before brunch where the Bloody Marys flowed until the Dallas Cowboys kickoff when Shiner Bock beer took over.  Big hair, big boobs, big balls and big bucks were fun until they weren’t.  In the early 2000s, the weird marriage of Tea Party libertarianism, white Christian rectitude, and pistol-packin’ chauvinism drove Texas into a soup of stupidity and cruelty where it remains submerged today.  My affection for Texas—which was considerable—dropped as fast as the rise in its perplexing pride of ignorance.  The state’s leadership today are a group of gun-toting, Bible-pounding, pasty-white, bigoted men who believe Alex Jones of Infowars (in Austin) just might be the next messiah.  Wright, a liberal lifer where armadillos roam, illustrates Texas’ history of mystifying mesquite-flavored madness that whirls from El Paso to Texarkana to Houston back up to Amarillo and everywhere in-between. And, he shows how the state will likely flip back to its bodacious fun-loving self once this period of righteous conceit (Ted Cruz!) is flushed into the Gulf of Mexico.

Enjoy your summer!

By |2018-07-12T19:37:55+00:00May 30th, 2018|General|0 Comments

2018: Passage to Promise or Collapse?

In my most charitable description, 2017 was a wake-up call for America; a year marked by surprise, anger, sadness and regret. In 2018, each of us must consider the blessings of the past and the challenges of the future while embracing an honest assessment of the role we must play in setting a course that reflects the values and dignity of predecessor generations. 2018 like 1776, 1865, and 1945 is one of those seminal years in American history that will determine the fundamental welfare of our citizens for the next two to three generations until we, inevitably, face a crisis of identity again.  The answer to the question, “What does it mean to be an American?” seems an abstract or, at best, rhetorical question.  Yet, in practice, it is the question at the top of the pyramid formed by our values, and beneath which our norms, policies and behaviors flow.  It defines us in every way.  Trump’s answer, wrapped in the patriotic tones of “America First,” is a deceit of epic proportions that aims to destroy the American Dream and abdicates American leadership across the globe.  No self-respecting American can sit this one out.  It is time for all hands on deck.  Trump is a cancer that is eating the soul of our republic and is an existential threat to the future of our children and grandchildren.  He, and his willing bootlickers, must be banished to the ash heap of history so that we may right the ship, which is currently listing toward peril.

On behalf of my fellow Baby Boomers, I apologize for where we are today—for allowing this monster of avarice and deceit to seize the reins of American power and influence.  Although it is true that Millennial voter turnout may have prevented Trump, they did not create him.  He is an early member of the Baby Boomer generation, born to parents who endured and sacrificed much during the Great Depression and World War II but, unlike their parents, went on to a contrary life of radical self-involvement with an insatiable appetite for consumption and aggrandizement.  We Boomers presided over the greatest period of expansion in American wealth and power with the conscience of a sociopath.  Numerous studies in presidential history argue that any sitting president is simply a reflection of the soul of the electorate, and Trump is unexceptional in this regard.  Together with Millennials, Boomers can take America back; redemption can be achieved in 2018, but the clock—both temporal and electoral—is ticking.

The identity of promise—of Global Stewardship—is denominated in the values of our founders including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without regard to race, religion, creed, or national origin.  Those who embrace these values are caretakers of the American Dream that assures everyone access to opportunity balanced by responsibility within a framework of meritocracy.  This is the ethic of greatness; of a relentless subscription to humanity and humility undaunted by fear.  Stewardship means that the days of American power acquired through coercion are over.  In the future, it will be earned by the extent to which America enables others to achieve their dreams within the context of their unique and legitimate cultures. We must engage with the world in coopetition: competing to cooperate.  It is not our duty as Americans to judge and condemn, it is our duty to protect each other and to support each other as a matter of humanity, rather than as determined through the narrow lens of nationalism.  ‘Promise’ also embraces the fiber of hope—it is prospective—that America’s greatest days lie in the future, not the past.

The identity of collapse—of “America First”—is a narrow, isolationist, and demeaning nationalism that attempts to crush the American Dream and abdicate America’s role in the world.  Its proponents believe there are more threats than opportunities in the world.  That “those people” want what we have and we must fight to protect our borders, our classrooms, our government, our military, and our churches, from the insidious encroachment of intellectuals, socialists, non-Christians, and non-white and non-English speaking peoples. Exploitation trumps stewardship while ignorance is cause for prideful celebration.  Its leaders prey on those threatened by progress with empty promises of returning them to yesterday’s greatness.  For American firsters, there are no shades of gray, only black and white; in every contest, there is winner and there is a loser.  Moreover, the ‘Collapse’ identity plays host to the conceit of a swindler whose prospects are assured by the extent to which he can divide America and concentrate power in his own hands while stealing the wealth and liberties of hard-working Americans.

These are the stakes: the two very different identities in contention for the future of America for decades to come.  This is the year—2018—when, someday, you will be asked, what did you do to protect the American Dream?  What did you do to save America and the world?  In 2018, complacency is complicity.  Unlike prior generations, it is unlikely you will be asked to leave your family to go off to a foreign land with no assurance of your return.  But, you must set aside the whining and fear and stand up for your future.  Participate by contributing through work and financial resources. Focus on flipping Congress in 2018 away from the harlots of Trump’s tribe so that we might preempt their embezzlement of America’s future.  America’s nightmare will not end by counting on someone else to save you.  The time for surprise, anger, sadness, and regret are over.  It is time to win for all of us here today and born tomorrow.  Let’s roll.

By |2018-05-30T20:37:39+00:00December 30th, 2017|American Identity, Donald Trump, General|0 Comments

Trumplandia One Year In (and the Road Out)

As a recently baptized sexagenarian, the years seem to be slipping by much faster although, thanks to Trump, the last one seems like five.  I’ll add this decelerating time-warp deception to the list of Trump swindles since that bizarre night, one year ago, when the Trump family took the stage in the Hilton Midtown Hotel in New York City.  Dazed by victory, their heads spun around the outcome no one, including them, expected allowing them to seize the American presidency and move their hoodwink-America show to the White House.  As the clock struck midnight and morning light followed, the perceived existential threat of 9/11 was transposed into the very real existential threat of 11/9: Donald Trump.  Weirdness has always been a staple of American identity, but most often is expressed as a scintillating adornment of the American condition, rather than Trump’s weirdness, which is a daily beatdown-cum-scourge imperiling the American Dream.  Alas, here we are one year hence.

The question I am asked over and over and over again is, “How and when will we be rid of this cad?”  Absent a failure of health, which is certainly foreseeable given Trump’s gluttonous behaviors and demands of the presidency, I tend to agree with Roger Cohen’s (New York Times) recent assessment that puts Trump’s reelection as more probable than any forced departure.  As for Republicans in Congress who hold the keys to impeachment, unless their own reelection is unlikely, like Senators Corker and Flake, or their own life facing an imminent end, as with Senator McCain, they have thus far been as complicit in the Trump presidential fraud as my own Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton, and Senator Cory Gardner, who undoubtedly rise every morning drinking Koch Brothers’ Kool-Aid from a faux-crystal Trump slipper.  These Republican men and women, who masquerade as standard-bearers of their party, are little more than traitors to American values and institutions.  Here’s hoping they are retired from public office at the earliest opportunity.

To be clear, there is good news on this otherwise regrettable anniversary, but before I get to that we must all accept responsibility for creating the environment that allowed Trump’s election.  Understanding the larger cultural context is necessary to change our ways to assure future Trumps do not recur.  Many have cited the Democratic Party’s failure to consider the needs of the forlorn working white segment from forgotten American zip codes, but there exist larger and more pervasive trends that allowed Trump to hijack the American presidency.  Three core principles: individualism, perfectibility, and exceptionalism, that truly made America great since its founding, have been flipped to their obverse fiendish rivals since the end of the Cold War in 1991 and the profound expansion of wealth that followed.  Here is what I mean by these principles:

  • Individualism—We have free will and we are accountable for how we exercise it.
  • Perfectibility—We have the capacity to make things better and the obligation to leave things better than the way we found them.
  • Exceptionalism (the exemplar kind)—We set the example for others to follow.

Unfortunately, one of the effects of becoming the world’s lone superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union was the absence of a willing and able contender to keep U.S. power in check.  Indeed, winning the Cold War was a victory, but also left us vulnerable to the impulse of hubristic overreach including the temptation to violate the sovereignty of other states militarily, economically, and culturally.  In addition, in the last three decades the U.S. has enjoyed an historical expansion of wealth due, in part, to the “peace dividend” (political and economic) created by prevailing over the Soviet Union and, more so, by the transformation of the economy—led by U.S. companies—from analog to digital.  Notwithstanding the concentration of this wealth among fewer people as this transformation played out, a cultural malaise set in marked by a number of developments including hyper-consumerism, increasing obesity, anti-intellectualism, and a general inclination toward self-absorption, which created a wave of apathy and nihilism that swamped the spirit of America from coast to coast. The result is that these core principles morphed as follows:

  • Individualism became Narcissism.
  • Perfectibility became Entitlement.
  • Exceptionalism became Hubris.

Ironically, victory and affluence turned a vibrant and compassionate American society into a real-time display of Dante’s seven deadly sins: envy, wrath, lust, greed, gluttony, pride, and sloth.  People behaving badly, from Wall Street to Hollywood to Washington D.C. to Main Street, has become the norm.  And no, the evidence does not suggest greater piety would have saved us.  The fact is the destructive transformation of these principles occurred during—correlates with—the highest period of religiosity in the history of America.  Morality and righteousness may not be symbiotic after all.  Add this to the propensity, enabled by social media, to become siloed into our own self-affirming worlds and a perfect storm of intellectual and moral decline produced an electorate vulnerable—even receptive—to manipulation and fraud.  The petri dish that is the American experiment became a viable host for the cancer that is Trump. The good news is, we can lift ourselves out of this morass.  Trump did not create these conditions; he simply exploited them as any con man might.  We can be disgusted by his behavior, but we remain in control of, and responsible for, our own.

In spite of the damage done by Trump’s cadre of kleptocrats and incompetents—traditionally known as a president’s cabinet—the broader population appears to be emerging from denial, fear and despair, and organizing to reestablish the values and institutions that underpin the American Dream and American leadership throughout the world.  Unified and inspired people are the antidote to Trump.  Six thousand Indivisible chapters across the country did not exist one year ago and they are now evolving from reactive resistance to proactive agents of change at all levels of government.  Personally, I can credit the festering lesion Trump has inflicted on the American presidency for compelling me to engage anew with many Republicans, Democrats and Independents who are unwilling to stand by and watch Trump’s shit-show of avarice and deceit. “Repeal and replace”—like that touted by Republicans in the healthcare debates—is now being scrawled with Sharpies on the headshots of congressional Trumpsters who have learned how uncomfortable town halls can be, and who correctly fear the ballot box in 2018.  And while too many aggrieved citizens still sit idly by wringing their hands over Trump without getting out of their chairs to act, or opening their wallets to support, I am hopeful they will at least show up at the polls at their next opportunity to vote the bastards out.  This is no time to be a bystander in the battle for America.

The challenge now is to move from anti-Trump to pro-American Dream; to reestablish American values and exert those now-quaint norms of honesty, humility, and service such that individualism, perfectibility, and exceptionalism once again supplant narcissism, entitlement, and hubris.  This means shifting from defense to offense; to become proponents rather than just opponents.  As true patriots, we must rally around the flag of the American Dream and put forward declarative and realistic proposals that clearly illustrate the benefits of our candidates and policies to a vast majority of Americans, not just those who share our ideological silos.  This is hard and honest work, which is kryptonite to people like Trump and his pathetic sycophants.

As my former fellow Texan, Barbara Jordan, wrote:

Are we to be one people bound together by common spirit, sharing in a common endeavor; or will we become a divided nation?  For all of its uncertainty, we cannot flee the future.

One year later, we know what we are dealing with in Trump.  This is no time for fear; this is no time for indifference.  We must challenge ourselves and our leaders to become, once again, ardent advocates of the American Dream.

By |2017-12-30T19:45:14+00:00November 7th, 2017|Donald Trump|0 Comments

Get Off Your Knees America!

Unintentionally, the defiance first exhibited by Colin Kapernick and later adopted by more than two hundred fifty NFL players, coaches, and owners (although with evolving and wide-ranging purposes) has provided Donald Trump with a new opportunity to dog-whistle his white nationalist base and feed his insatiable megalomania.  Trump’s consistent aim—to divide the country and consolidate power in his petite pasty palms—has actually been bolstered by those who laud the kneelers while patting themselves on the back as if they too are modern-day revolutionaries.  Rise up America, this is no time to be on your knees.

Setting aside the profound naiveté of those who are surprised they were so easily cast as unpatriotic—as anti-American—by Trump and his fellow lapel-pin patriots, expressing defiance during the national anthem is an epic strategic failure.  That is not to say the kneelers are less patriotic than Trump, however, true patriots are those who embrace the symbols, norms, institutions, and laws of the United States, and who stand and fight to preserve them from any existential threat, even when that threat is the president of the United States.  True patriots do not reject America’s symbols; they redefine and magnify American values to forge a new more inclusive identity.  No American in contemporary history did this as well as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

King understood that to succeed he had to unite people in support of a higher interpretation of American values and pursued his aims within and in support of the nation’s laws and institutions, always in a non-violent manner even while being jailed, abused, and eventually assassinated.  King’s dream—that changed America and the world—was sought with a transcendent sense of grace while never bowing his head (unless in prayer) and certainly never kneeling in defiance of the flag or the national anthem.  He stood tall against the tyranny of racism and delivered America to a much better place.  He even succeeded in getting a good ol’ Texas boy and president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, to relinquish political control of the southern states to the Republican Party (where they have remained ever since) in order to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

King’s approach carried significantly more risk, and could not have felt nearly as rewarding as players who kneel in defiance while television cameras amplify their celebrity.  But, King recognized that in the end success depended on being seen as the greater patriot than those who perpetuated the sadistic and exploitative postbellum frameworks of Jim Crow.  His updated version of American identity offered a more genuine interpretation of Thomas Jefferson’s aspiration “all men are created equal.”  Perhaps most importantly, however, was the way King saw himself as a servant rather than a celebrity.  He explained in one of his lesser-cited sermons, “The Drum Major Instinct” that greatness was born from service.  Drawing on the lessons Jesus gave his disciples, King said,

If you want to be important—wonderful.  If you want to be recognized—wonderful.  If you want to be great—wonderful.  But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.

Vanishing the existential threat Trump poses to the United States will require a great deal more effort than kneeling during our anthem.  It requires a level of service and commitment that establishes a higher level of patriotism and elevates American values to forge a new identity.  Rather than averting our eyes and praise away from our flag we must hoist it high to preserve the American Dream and to reignite respect throughout the world.  It is our anthem and our flag, not Trump’s.  As the saying goes, failure is not an option. Every day in every way we must stand up for a better America that serves the interests of all Americans in a thoughtful and compassionate manner.  Do not fail wishing you had done more; do not look back and wonder how could this happen?  Rise up now for yourself, your family, and the promise of the American Dream.

By |2017-11-07T14:33:26+00:00September 27th, 2017|American Identity, Donald Trump|0 Comments

Who Will Save the American Dream?

As Trump tramples the American Dream in favor of his despotic nightmare, no one party or candidate has emerged as its savior.  The Democrats best effort at fashioning a new narrative has given us the limp ‘n lame “A Better Deal” while the progressive icon, Senator Elizabeth Warren, decries a “rigged system,” both weirdly attempting to sound more Trumpy than the other (see my recent post “Democrats, It’s Time to Wise Up,” August 15, 2017).  Whoever develops a narrative wrapped around the tenets of the American Dream—under attack since the rise of the Tea Party and under siege during the Trump presidency—will likely do very well in 2018 and beyond.  However, to date, Trump’s opposition has become so disoriented with the horrors of his presidency it is either strangely emulating him as in the case of the Democratic Party leadership, or so narrowly focused on particular issues and interests as to be blinded to the strategic imperative of crafting a more powerful narrative to capture the support and enthusiasm of enough Americans to seize power and affect change.

The American Dream is a very simple proposition, first put forward in 1931 during the Great Depression by historian James Truslow Adams in his essay, “Epic in America.”  Adams wrote,

[The American Dream is] that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. [It is] a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

Perhaps the American Dream is being ignored as a rallying cry because it is too obvious.  Perhaps Trump’s opponents are taking it for granted.  But, it is exactly what Trump is attempting to destroy in his pursuit of fascist power, and it is precisely what needs to be employed to unify Americans against the hackneyed recklessness of Trump’s Republican Party.  “Make America Great Again”—Trump’s fraudulent appeal to the American voter—can and should be defeated by the simple elegance of “Caretakers of the American Dream.”

While Trump advocates exclusion, uniformity, regression, supremacy, stasis, exploitation, indifference, dominance, authoritarianism, segregation, fear, division, and hate; the opposition is eerily silent about inclusion, diversity, progress, equality, development, empathy, democracy, integration, courage, unity, and love—the characteristics that underpin the American Dream.  The opposition is so appalled it appears confused, or at least distracted, which is, of course, exactly what Trump wants.  And, each and every progressive issue and interest fits nicely under the umbrella of the American Dream as it embraces fundamental American ambitions, including “the pursuit of happiness.”  Fairness, equity, and justice are at the Dream’s heart as civil and human rights, healthcare, immigration, and respect for science and the environment fit comfortably in its shadow.

The British scholar, Lawrence Freedman, argues in his epic study, Strategy: a History (2013) that strategy is “the art of creating power.”  Trump and his Republican Party have waived the flag in support of white economic nationalism to create theirs.  It is time someone or some party started waiving the flag to save the American Dream, where our power as a nation truly resides.

 

By |2017-09-27T22:03:40+00:00September 5th, 2017|American Identity, Donald Trump, General, Leadership|0 Comments

The Silver Lining in Charlottesville

Good news: as of this writing, Trump’s concern for the statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson being removed or vandalized from parks in the U.S. has been averted; that is, as long as we ignore the droppings of resident pigeons.  More good news: the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which prohibits “abridging the freedom of speech,” is doing its job.  Yes, it’s ugly and even scary to observe what some of our fellow Americans believe they should say or do in expressing themselves, but that is part and parcel—the risk and cost—of an essential element of freedom in America. Unfortunately, some folks missed the lesson that having a right does not make whatever one wants to say or do also right.  The wannabe Nazis, KKK, and other cretin white supremacists in Charlottesville provided a disgusting and jarring spectacle that offends the hearts and minds of the vast majority of Americans, none more than a generation of Americans who risked their lives to defeat Hitler, or carried the heavy burden of bringing civil rights to a country that to this day struggles with the simple notion of fairness and equality.  When the images of Charlottesville spread, which seemed like a colorized newsreel from the early 1960s, it felt like more than a half-century of progress in America suddenly dissolved.

In the aftermath, however, what is clear is that these events revealed more than they actually dissolved.  As Michelle Obama said at the Democratic Convention in 2012, “Being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.”  And, the First Amendment has enabled our president to reveal, once again, that we made a terrible mistake in allowing his ascent to an office once held by Washington and Jefferson.  Any remaining questions regarding Trump’s fitness to hold the office—at least among reasonable and moral Americans—were settled this week.  He must go.  Those who marched in Charlottesville waving Nazi flags and chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” must be similarly shamed, shunned, and hopefully rehabilitated.  Being scared or fearful of them is unacceptable.  They are the ones who are afraid; behind the veneer of hate lurks weakness and cowardice.  The true patriots are those who marched against them; those who understand that fear has no place in the heart of a patriot.

This chapter in American history will, I hope, be over soon.  Those rights of freedom we hold so dear will have, once again, allowed the country to move forward to assure that we all, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or origin, are deserving of admiration and respect.

By |2017-09-05T22:13:59+00:00August 18th, 2017|Donald Trump, General|0 Comments

Democrats, It’s Time to Wise Up

As we move into the second half of Donald Trump’s first year as president, the lists of unprecedented things—from Trump’s seemingly limitless lies, to the tally of bizarre actions by his cabinet members, to the volume of leaks from the White House that appear to require the tensile strength of a fire hose—the greater and more curious development may be the Democratic Party’s abject failure to seize the moment and bring anti-Trump energy to bear on consolidating power.  Not since anti-Viet Nam War movement and Watergate in the late 1960s and early 1970s have so many Americans been apoplectic about our national leadership.  And yet, the Democrats, Progressives, Liberals, Berniecrats, or whatever name is claimed, seem bereft of a compelling plan to exploit the craziness that has metastasized throughout the lymphatic system of the Republican Party.

Earlier this month the Democrats, led by Senator Charles Schumer of New York, attempted to brand a new plan with the slogan “A Better Deal.”  The announcement was so lame—so painfully weak and inauthentic—it reminded me of Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis’ fateful 1988 ride on top of a tank wearing a helmet meant for a much larger man.  Further, it mirrors Trump’s transactional disposition in an attempt to suggest the Democrats can out-Trump Trump.  The ultimate irony may be that the Democrats need look no further than the Republicans to learn how to win; yet they are so addled by their inability to look beyond narrow self-interest in favor of a big inclusive narrative, so reluctant to work within the political system to harness its power, and so intoxicated by years of throwing back shots of nihilism that they may squander this generational opportunity Trump has so assiduously delivered.

The lack of a tight, compelling, and over-arching narrative that provides a large tent to attract enough people to truly affect change is the first and probably the most egregious failure of the Democratic Party today.  Democrats are adept at listing all the things they want, but weirdly deficient in their capacity to articulate those needs within a belief system—a narrative based in why (as opposed to what, how, where, and who).[1]  Their many attempts to bring like-minded people together often quickly devolve into a resource competition between particular interest groups concerned with economic inequality, healthcare, environment, immigration, women’s rights, etc. The Republicans on the other hand have, for decades now, wrapped themselves in ideas and beliefs rather than dialing too far down into the detail of policy until, of course, they assemble enough power to implement change.  This strategic disposition has served the Republicans very well: they control the majority of state houses throughout the country, and all three branches of our Federal government.  Their narrative has the American flag as its central symbol—they own patriotism even while many of them barely qualify as more than lapel-pin patriots.  They speak of beliefs, not wants or desires; of a limited role for government, of fundamental values that emanate from the Constitution (and the Bible), of a country that sets the example for the world as opposed to the Democrats who compile lists of grievances in search of “a better deal.”

This Democratic penchant for issues rather than ideas is deeply ingrained in the DNA of the Party and on display recently by one of their standard bearers, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, at the meeting of Netroots Nation progressives in Atlanta on August 12th.  She ticked off her list of popular progressive issues then struggled (and failed) to place them within an inclusive over-arching narrative, or vision, astonishingly borrowing Trump’s tired trope that “the system is rigged!” as her preferred punch line.  She railed against a common target of Democrats—the evil of corporate power—even while a more abhorrent evil, neo-Nazis and white supremacists, were marching and killing in Charlottesville, Virginia.  She managed to touch every special interest in the room while fundamentally failing to provide them with a reason to come together under a transcendent value system that might unite them in something more than hating Trump, power, and wealth.  She may have improved her own political prospects for 2020, but she did nothing to move the Party onto stronger footing.  She and Senator Schumer are squandering the opportunity provided by Trump.

The second strategic failure of the Democrats has also reached legacy status: the propensity to fight a system from the outside rather than penetrating it and accessing its power to achieve transformative objectives.  Michael Tomasky, columnist for The Daily Beast and editor of Democracy: a Journal of Ideas summarized this condition best recently in The New York Times where he argued,

One key difference between the right and the left in this country has been that the right has worked an inside game while the left has mostly remained outside the system.  That’s how it has been since the late 1950s, when the modern conservative movement was first organizing itself and its leaders made the conscious decision to work within the Republican Party.  The Republicans of that time were full of centrists and liberals.  It wasn’t a club die-hard conservatives wanted to join, but they did.  They decided rather than fight the power, they wanted to become the power.  And, of course, they have.

Meanwhile, Democrats are not only unsure of what to call themselves today, they easily succumb to the simplicity of factions—of self-identifying with what they want in the moment rather than a larger ideal—unable and often unwilling to find common ground within their own party, by and between their many myopic, and frankly selfish, leaders.  This is exacerbated by another anti-system sentiment that perpetually keeps power beyond their grasp: low voter turnout among 18-44 year-olds.  This modality is highly unlikely to provide a path to power within a system that will endure well beyond the life of their current concerns and desires.

The third strategic impediment to the success of the Democratic Party is its penchant for nihilism.  While the Republicans proudly espouse an exemplar strain of exceptionalism—that America is the chosen land for people who themselves have been chosen to lead the world to a better place—the Democrats tend to wallow in a nihilistic broth of self-pity.  Jimmy Carter became (in)famous for his “national malaise” jeremiads, and was subsequently easily defeated by the sunny disposition of Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” that offered Americans absolution from the sins that concerned Carter.  Occupy Wall Street may have been the movement that established the residency of this condition in the modern Democratic Party.  Begun as a leaderless movement with no particular objective other than raising awareness of economic inequality and revealing that Wall Street is governed by (surprise!) greed, their followers accomplished nothing in terms of change but painted the Party as a home for downtrodden Millennials who believe they have no chance of success in a game that is—wait for it, of course—rigged!  Perhaps this is a revelation for some, but people are not generally attracted to negativity and cynicism.  Rather, people want to be associated with winning teams; they want to be for something—proponents—rather than against everything—opponents.  It’s much more fun to have the ball and play offense than it is to look at others playing with the ball and hoping someday to join in the fun.  Republicans understand this, while Democrats, to their great peril, find bewildering comfort in whipping themselves with the repudiation that accompanies failure.

The nearly six thousand Indivisible groups around the country, representing the new progressive core of the Democratic Party, took their initial organizing framework from the playbook of the Tea Party.  That proved to be a wise adaptation from a group that has become a stronghold within the Republican Party.  Democrats, Progressives, Liberals, and Berniecrats would do well to revisit other strategic aspects of Republican success to capitalize on what Trump hath wrought for the GOP.  Tactics follow strategy, not the other way around.  Ignoring these lessons may produce the unthinkable: Trump’s second inauguration.

[1] For more on this type of narrative building, see my essays in the “American Identity” collection at https://ameritecture.com/category/american-identity/.
By |2017-08-18T15:13:56+00:00August 15th, 2017|Donald Trump, General|0 Comments