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Hope at Home: Shifting Our Focus to Developing Stronghold Communities

One of Ronald Reagan’s favorite go-to one-liners was to suggest that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”[1]  Following the Viet Nam War and Nixon’s Watergate scandal that led to his resignation, Jimmy Carter tried to heal the nation with the disposition of a Baptist minister who sought redemption for his flock through his jeremiads built on the theological triad of sin, repentance, and salvation.  Reagan had a much simpler and more appealing approach, which made his defeat of Carter in 1980 a relative slam dunk.  Reagan offered Americans absolution by a theological slight-of-hand when he relocated the entire Calvinist concept of original sin away from the individual to the institution: Americans were not the problem, government was.[2]  In his words of absolution, Reagan began a movement to view the federal government as the enemy of the people that has slid from constructive criticism during his presidency to outright demonization in the current Age of Deceit that began with Bush 43.  The New Deal institutions and attendant bureaucracies that proved critical in America’s recovery from the Great Depression and World War II had become, in Reagan’s view, lead weights wrapped around the ankles of enterprising Americans.

The Republican Party under Reagan became as libertarian as it was conservative, which eventually manifested as the Tea Party movement at the onset of Crisis IV in the early aughts that mixed a rather schizophrenic blend of libertarianism with social conservatism.  This progression of anti-government sentiment made way, finally, for Trump’s faux-populist ethno-nationalism to destroy the federal government’s institutions whenever and wherever possible to give cover to, and create space for, the exploitation of government by Trump and his co-conspirators both inside and outside government.  Trump’s “Drain the swamp!” mantra, which is a common anti-government trope has, of course, only resulted in the expansion of the swamp into a small ocean with small craft advisories posted daily, punctuated by the occasional orange-hued hurricane.

This progression—from Reagan’s focus on individualism over institutionalism where government was the problem to Trump’s claim that only he can fix it (while in reality being, himself, the existential threat)—has ridden a wave of growing anti-government vitriol resulting in most American’s view of the federal government as a very expensive travesty of trust.  In fact, since 2007, American’s trust in the federal government—”to do what is right always or most of the time”—is the lowest in more than fifty years.  78% of Americans report either being frustrated with, or angry with, the federal government.[3]  Congressional approval ratings, which is probably the best proxy for American sentiment toward their federal government, have languished in the mid-to-upper teens for most of the recent decade, ironically only breaching 20% once the impeachment of Trump began.[4]  In this Age of Deceit, marked by extraordinary partisan divisions, the silver lining here is that most of us—a clear majority—actually agree on this: the federal government does not serve our interests.  Even though a sad commentary on the federal government, this consensus is also our common ground from which to begin the restoration of America in the Age of Deceit by shifting our focus, our energy, our resources and power away from the federal government and toward our state and local governments.

Notwithstanding the many social, political, and economic issues that divide us, America is, as Yoni Appelbaum, ideas editor at The Atlantic pointed out, “a land of continual change and a nation of strong continuities.”[5]  Things must change; that much is clear, but the remaining continuity—the common ground—that all of us must embrace is that the hope of restoring America begins at home—away from the klieg lights of congressional investigations, narcissistic Twitter feeds, and the shrill cable TV pundit-criers—where it is far more likely to reach agreement due to the communal necessities of compromise, performance, and accountability.  It is one thing to sling insults at your opponent through national and social media, it is much more difficult to sustain such behavior when you have to stand next to that person in the grocery store checkout line, or passing the “peace’ in a church pew on Sunday morning.  We tend to find common ground more easily when the ground beneath our feet is where we must stand every day.

These structural realities are fortunately also met with a higher general trust of local government, which has been rising, rather than falling, during the Trump presidency. In fact, approval ratings for local government at 72% are the near-inverse of those for Congress and the federal government.  Even state governments garner a 63% approval rating.[6]  Potholes cannot tell the difference between Republican and Democrat tires.  That’s not to say ideology and partisanship remain clear of local politics, but the simple reality is that problems just out your front door are less tolerable and, therefore, more likely to be solved through creative compromise.  The immediacy of issues creates an intrinsic sense of urgency all on its own.

There is another structural trend that supports turning our attention away from the national level toward the state and local level, and that is the waning influence of the nation-state.  Globalism, decried by Trump and other faux-populist wannabe dictators around the world, is affecting the decline of influence and relevancy of the nation-state.  In their attempt to debase the very idea of globalism, Trump and several white nationalists have even tried to restore  globalism as an un-patriotic anti-Semitic slur.[7]  However, the fact is that centralized state authority is being slowly but surely diluted by the distributed information systems that affect all aspects of our lives enabled by digital technologies.  All forms of communication and commerce may now occur without the participation of the nation-state, unless impeded with even stronger technologies to interrupt the channel, as China does with its peoples.

Hierarchies of all kinds are being challenged and usurped by horizontally aligned, web-styled networks.  Regardless of attempts to keep the world dumb—as in disconnected—the benefits and efficacy of connection—of a smart world—are simply too attractive and too durable to be suppressed in the long run.  The collision of imagination and critical thinking that drives creative solutions does not require nation-state intermediation in a smart world.[8]  It is highly likely that what we are seeing today, both in America and across the world, represents the last agonizing dyspeptic reflux of centralized authority as people realize more and more every day that America’s Trump, Russia’s Putin, Turkey’s Erdogan, Hungary’s Orbán, Philippines’ Dutertes, Iran’s Khamenei, China’s Xi, and North Korea’s Kim have little interest and even less capacity to meet the needs of their peoples.[9]  Borders are, after all, a manmade artifact of the nation-state era that become meaningless when transcended by technology and the will of people.  We may as well turn our attention away from the crazies at the national level and connect our communities directly, without the intermediation of the nation-state.  As Lincoln showed in his address at Gettysburg a “government of the people, by the people [and] for the people” draws its legitimacy and power from one source: the people.  Both because of, and in spite of, our national leaders, the time is now to move “the people’s” attention to the local development of stronghold communities.

“Stronghold” is actually a term borrowed from Tucker Malarkey, author of a book of the same name that recounts the valiant efforts of Guido Rahr to create stronghold habitats for wild salmon across the Pacific Rim.[10]  Stronghold in the case of human communities means a shared place that is largely self-sustaining and foundationally resilient; which looks no further than its common interests to guide its application of power and resources; and which seeks to achieve a sense of virtuous humanity where every member holds both the responsibility and opportunity of participation in advancing the objectives of the community (in spite of the interests of outside forces like the federal government).

Regardless of how the impeachment proceedings or the 2020 presidential election turns out, we, as in We the People, have it within our power (paraphrasing Thomas Paine) to begin America over again.  Restoring America is unlikely to occur at the national level.  In 2020, we should begin a movement for the development of stronghold communities by demanding a slow but certain inversion of power and resources back to the local and state level.  Rather than continue to stare at the circus in Washington, D.C. we need to elect people who embrace the stronghold ethic and affect the restoration of the American Dream from the ground up.  Yes, we may end up being the Affiliated States of America, rather than the United States, but I am afraid that we really have no choice.  And, those communities that achieve stronghold status will, very likely, become the most attractive and successful in America while others, stuck in the deceit of “Making America Great Again” will, no doubt, languish; that is, until the truth comes home to roost.


[1] Ronald Reagan, Presidential News Conference, August 12, 1986, Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, https://www.reaganfoundation.org/ronald-reagan/reagan-quotes-speeches/news-conference-1/.

[2] See William Steding, Presidential Faith and Foreign Policy: Jimmy Carter the Disciple and Ronald Reagan the Alchemist (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp. 100-101.

[3] Samantha Smith, “6 Key Takeaways About How Americans View Their Government,” Fact Tank News in the Numbers, Pew research Center, November 23, 2015, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/23/6-key-takeaways-about-how-americans-view-their-government/.

[4] “Congress and the Public,” GALLUP, https://news.gallup.com/poll/1600/congress-public.aspx.

[5] Yoni Appelbaum, “How America Ends,” The Atlantic, December 2019, p. 51.

[6] Justin McCarthy, “Americans Still More Trusting of Local than State Government,” Gallup, October 8, 2018, https://news.gallup.com/poll/243563/americans-trusting-local-state-government.aspx.

[7] See Ben Zimmer, “The Origins of the ‘Globalist’ Slur,” The Atlantic, March 14, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/03/the-origins-of-the-globalist-slur/555479/.

[8] See Richard Ogle, Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity and the Science of Ideas (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2007).

[9] See David Brooks, “The Revolt Against Populism,” The New York Times, November 21, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/21/opinion/populism-protests.html?searchResultPosition=3.

[10] Tucker Malarkey, Stronghold: One Man’s Quest to Save the World’s Wild Salmon (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2019).

By |2020-03-11T19:12:12+00:00December 11th, 2019|General|1 Comment

Steel Thyself, Part IV: The Stoic Disciplines (6-9 of 9)

In Part III of this series, I discussed the Stoic disciplines of controlling your destiny, an optimistic disposition, seeking truth through reason, a commitment to learning, and employing negative visualization. This post completes the disciplines with a discussion about positive visualization, our duty to community, suppressing anger, and dying a good death.

6. Practice positive visualization through affirmations.  When I was a teenager in the 1970s, I was introduced to the power of visualization through affirmation. At the time, the practice fell into a quintessential 1970s kitschy mind-bending program name: psycho-cybernetics. Originally published as a self-help book in 1960 by Maxwell Maltz, Psycho-Cybernetics was used principally by athletes who used affirmations to visualize success. As a member of a highly successful basketball team, my teammates and I were asked to apply this practice to certain aspects of the game, like sinking free-throws. The visualized affirmation was always considered as if success had occurred: with all of our senses we experienced the sight, feel and sound of the ball leaving our hands in a perfect arc and snapping the bottom of the net as it passed through the hoop without touching the rim. One could even add a bit a crowd reaction—applause—to boost the affirmation (and ego). The result? We had the best free-throw percentage in the league.
It may seem corny, but damn it, it works. In effect, the affirmed visualization became a self-fulfilling actualization. Psycho-cybernetics has proven a very durable practice applied today to everything from athletic endeavors to academic performance, to job performance, and general development of the practitioner’s self-image. One becomes what one conceives themselves to be. It has been employed by self-help gurus like Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, and Brian Tracy. It has been written about and re-written about every few years by various authors since Maltz in 1960. Today, we have updated, but equally kitschy terms like “imagineering” (trademarked by Disney Enterprises, Inc.) that emanate from this heritage of positive aspirational thinking. These meditative manifestations of success are entirely consistent with Stoicism as they contribute mightily to what stoics call “building your inner citadel.” Stated otherwise, steeling thyself.
These pursuits of self-conceived success have become the focus of one of the most popular Stoic writers of our time, Ryan Holiday. In The Obstacle is the Way, Holiday argues that many, if not most, threats can be recast as opportunities if one sets aside emotion-based fears with a subscription to “intense self-discipline and objectivity” that can turn trials into triumph. Reflecting the stoic lesson that it is your response, rather than the event or issue you are responding to that is most important, he implores his readers to channel Marcus Aurelius who said, “Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.” Ryan employs positive visualization in the re-conception of obstacles when he suggests, “through our perception of events, we are complicit in the creation—as well as the destruction—of every one of our obstacles.” Once such obstacles are addressed as opportunities, victory may be snatched from the jaws of defeat.
This meditative nature of Stoicism that harnesses the cognetic system as a powerful state of mind recasts the world in terms that nurtures well-being and expands personal capacities such that the future becomes a vast array of possibilities rather than a dangerous cauldron of imminent peril. Stoics are cheerful people who make a habit of identifying silver linings in dark clouds. This stoic perspective of positivity must, however, also be accompanied by a sense of humility and one of the best ways I have employed to both maintain and refresh a sense of humility is to consider myself as a speck in the vastness of time and the magnitude of the universe. As the Roman stoic, Seneca, offered, “imagine the vast abyss of time, and think of the entire universe; then compare what we call a human lifetime to that immensity.” We are more than nothing and greater than something, but our significance must be considered with due humility. Nor are we the first or last to meet the challenges of life, we simply aim to do so with a sense of virtue that, if properly embraced, will contribute to the greatness of humanity in our day.
7. Honor your duty to community. I am often humored (and occasionally disgusted) by those who claim their success is the sole product of their personal brilliance and extraordinary work ethic. It is fine to feel a sense of accomplishment, but one must also acknowledge the people and institutions that played a significant supporting role. The most immediate and impactful of these are the community—writ large— in which you live. Parents, teachers, spouses, friends, mentors and, yes, perhaps even a politician or two, all contribute to the supportive net of community that made your success possible. Make sure you both acknowledge and square those contributions with your own. The ultimate aim of stoics—tranquility—can only be achieved by those who are engaged in their community with the aim of leaving things better than the way they found them; the “perfectibility” value (one of the three American Probity Values). When I look back on my own successes, the greatest triumphs have not been in what I directly accomplished, but in the unsolicited expression of gratitude, usually many years after the fact, from someone who has reached out to tell me that I changed their life, or even saved their life. Pay-it-forward (instead of back) is a powerful concept in strengthening communities. Mahatma Gandhi is credited (after substantial paraphrasing) with the prescription “Be the change you want to see in the world,” which is a clear call to this form of exemplary service.
America’s historical proclamations of self-reliance and self-directed lives provide a durable myth, but the reality today is an America (and world) that is much more interdependent than the American frontier romanticized in the late 19th century by Frederic Jackson Turner in his book, The Frontier in American History.  This binding of one’s self to one’s community is what Marcus Aurelius described as contributing to “the service and harmony of all.”  Trump’s “America First” treatise completely ignores this stoic discipline and his behaviors are hardly aligned with any sense of humility.  Isolation leads inevitably to inhumanity, as we have seen in many of Trump’s policies and practices. It is, therefore, now more than ever, essential that we each accept our role in service to others, looking for no greater reward than the welfare of our neighbors and the strengthening of our communities.
In the face of the extraordinary and seemingly intentional failure of our national leaders and Federal government to serve our interests and our communities today, we must shift our attention from the daily clamor of ignorance and avarice being practiced by these national politicians to create stronghold communities. Independent and self-sufficient communities look no further than their residents and local authorities to meet the challenges of the day. Marcus Aurelius, who himself was no great fan of humanity, acknowledged that since we “are an integral part of a social system, let every act of yours contribute to the harmonization of social life.” While we certainly can and should pay attention to things that occur in our nation-states that we find inappropriate and even offensive, we must, as President Theodore Roosevelt argued, “do what you can with what you have where you are.” The “common welfare” (a topic often explored by the Stoic teacher Epictetus) may be best achieved in the one realm we can have a discernible impact: our local communities.
The stoic understands the reality of interdependence, which ironically is even more pronounced today than during ancient times owing to the technological and economic systems that allow each of us to offer our specialized areas of expertise that collectively undergird our daily lives. The renaissance man who could face any task or challenge on his own is a mythical remnant of a bygone era. Sick communities are comprised of self-contained and selfish actors in their residents, businesses, and politicians. Stronghold communities are comprised of those who recognize they must be willing to make their particular contribution if, for no other reason, to inspire their neighbors to reciprocate such that the independence and resilience of the community is assured. People bound, if only by a sense of place, must, as stewards of the community, advocate for the welfare of their neighbors and must similarly have the courage to confront those who behave in divisive and self-serving ways. For the stoic, ignoring this duty is an affront to both reason and Nature.
8. Anger is toxic to tranquility. There is much to be angry about today and anger is at natural response to the powerlessness and plague of dissonance that afflicts so many of us. Yet, look no further than Donald Trump if you want to see what anger can do to a human being; he lives in a persistent state of anger. How often do you ever see him express any evidence of joy? Yes, he smirks and engages in sarcasm as a proxy for humor, but his life is framed in by his own self-inflicted (and fraudulent) victimhood that he deploys as a tool of attraction to bind other angry Americans to him to protect his power. Clever? Perhaps, but also profoundly malevolent and, frankly, deranged. As many have observed—especially those who worked in his White House—despite all his power and wealth Trump is a miserable human being who works hard to make others miserable too.
In existing in a perpetual state of anger, Trump has made himself increasingly irrelevant. In effect, he has transferred his power to the targets of his anger much in the same way we do if we react angrily to those who attempt to incite our wrath. On the other hand, expressing indifference to those who attempt to offend us strangles them with their own anger. Anger begets misery, which is an unsustainable and unstable state of mind. For stoics, anger is the most dangerous and debilitating negative emotion known to humans. It is not only psychologically damaging to ourselves and others, it has physiological effects, like spiking blood pressure, that endanger our health and well-being. Yes, anger is a fact of life, but once one realizes that the negative effects of any anger almost always outlast the negative effects of the event that has caused our anger, we must embrace our stoic preference for reason and work to avoid the onset of anger in the seconds before our anger manifests into a response.
As one of the best writers of Stoic philosophy today, William Irvine, explained in his book, A Guide to the Good Life, both Stoicism and Buddhism teach that we must develop the capacity to, in Seneca’s words, “turn all [anger’s] indications into their opposites.” This means substituting anger for humor, empathy, and even love. I attempt laughter in the face of anger, especially if the source (like Trump) can be considered more cartoonish clown than threat. I often reframe his antics within the realm of entertainment, which allows me to laugh rather than dive into disgust. After all, why would I let someone like that affect my mental and physical health? This technique works well with pathetic agitators, but when the effects are more substantial the challenge is much greater. Irvine suggests, “we should force ourselves to relax our face, soften our voice, and slow our pace of walking,” all in an attempt to arrest the anger response and replace it with a sense of calm. The rationale is pretty straightforward: one cannot be angry and calm at the same time; let calm prevail. One must literally change their physical response to affect a return to reason over emotion. Buddhists practice forcing themselves to think about love for the same reason; anger and love cannot coexist. Whatever technique works for you, practice it, refine it, and practice it again. Don’t sacrifice your tranquility to fight with assholes.
9. Live a good life and die a good death. No one knows if there is life after death, but all of us know there is life during life. A guiding stoic premise is that we must take care of what we know, which means it is our high duty to live the life we know that we have to the best and fullest extent possible, in concert with reason and Nature. Death is another exogenous variable; it is beyond our control. The stubborn reality is that today we are all one day closer to death. As Seneca taught, “be neither careless nor impatient nor arrogant with respect to death, but to wait for it as one of the operations of nature.” That said, our response to death should be contemplated as a sort of exit exam. If this was the last day of your life, would you pass? If everything you did today was the last time you would do it, did you do those things as well as you could have, and did you appreciate the chance to do them? Among other things, these questions—this discipline—has the effect of focusing our minds on the present moment to assure we are doing the right things as best we can. Considering these questions allows us to take stock while we are alive, followed by asking the ultimate question: are you living your life in a state of tranquility? If you pass these tests, you may die a good death without fear or regret. You have known thyself and steeled thyself; you will leave this world better than you found it; you have prevailed in the game of life. Your farewell will undoubtedly be sorrowful for those who love you, but you have earned the right to put a smile on your face, close your eyes, and rest in blissful peace.

By |2019-12-11T19:36:33+00:00November 24th, 2019|General|0 Comments

Steel Thyself, Part III: The Stoic Disciplines (1-5 of 9)

There is no bible for Stoicism, nor does it proffer the prospect of everlasting life, which are a couple of reasons Christianity gained much more popularity over the centuries even while the two philosophies shared the same time frame for their early development and share many of the same values.  However, unlike Christianity, Stoicism is much more interested in life than death. Whereas Christian theology and ritual are centered on the contemplation of death and resurrection—on a continual bargaining for the prospect of an afterlife, Stoicism is focused on achieving tranquility while living where death is an inevitability that should be met with dignity and grace.  Furthermore, contrary to popular (and superficial) stereotypes, Stoicism does not embrace the humorless, bereaved, and austere character of the ascetic; rather it seeks joy through purpose and welcomes the celebration of success.  Nor does Stoicism have one deified teacher.  While Christianity had Jesus Christ as its earthly leader (and “Son of God”), there is no Mr. Stoic.  Stoicism had both Greek and Roman teachers who came from various levels of social, economic, and political power.  Zeno of Citium (Greek), Cleanthes (Greek), Chrysippus (Greek), Panaetius (took Stoicism from Greece to Rome in 140 BC), Epictetus (Roman), Musonius Rufus (Roman), Seneca (Roman), and Marcus Aurelius (Roman) are some of the more important contributors you will encounter when studying Stoicism.  

Owing to the lack of paper and printing at the time, there are few documents that survived that can inform us about Stoic philosophy.  Stoicism (even though largely theoretical) was a practiced philosophy taught through oral discourse rather than the written word.  Its name is derived from the Greek word stoa, which means colonnade or porch where the philosophy was taught through public lecture and discussion.  Dialogue, letters and short essays comprise what little is available to scholars who wrestle with (and over) the philosophy as they attempt to apply Stoicism to contemporary issues and affairs.  In this post, and the concluding post in this series that will follow next week, I will summarize my interpretations of the principle tenets and disciplines of Stoicism.  Scholars may quibble with my interpretations (as is the scholar’s wont), but my objective is to make Stoicism accessible and relevant—for your use today—rather than become mired in a professorial game of bushy-browed niggling.  Applied diligently, Stoicism provides powerful disciplines to employ in order to steel thyself and achieve a fulfilled and tranquil life.

1. You are in control of your destiny.  Although you do not control everything that happens to you, you do control how you respond to that which affects your life.  Your response, or whether or not you respond at all, are nearly always within your control.  Let’s unpack that concept a bit further with two realizations.  First, one of the great skills in life is knowing what to respond to and what to ignore.  You will find that much of your meaningful outcomes (successes and failures) emanate from a small percentage of that which you have responded to, or engaged with.  Over time, pay attention to those few things that produce most of the meaningful outcomes in order to improve your causal acuity—your capacity for discretion about where you focus your time and resources.  One of the big mistakes I have witnessed when coaching young executives is that they feel they must be in the middle of every issue, event, and reconciliation thereof.  Notwithstanding the inconvenient fact that hyper-involvement is humanly impossible, the simple reality is that your success rate will rise proportionally with your capacity to discard and/or ignore those things that require large investment of personal capital while only contributing marginal (rounding error) effects.  The first question to ask is: “Does the opportunity set (issue, company, organization, initiative, etc.) respond to intelligence?  Then, if that hurdle is cleared, assess the importance or payoff of the desired outcome.  In my experience, only about one-in-five pass these tests.  Be stingy with your commitments.

Second, realize that while you control your response, such response is a product of how you interpret the events and the context surrounding the issue, which emanate directly from your cognetic system.  (Know thyself before steeling thyself.)  This is, in effect, the cognetic system’s job: to interpret factors relevant to the issue and, thereby, simplify that which is before you to enable your decision—your response.  This is why it is so important (through solitude summits and mindful meditation) to keep your cognetic system healthy.  Seeing things as they are, and in harmony with your cognetic system (in which you have carefully curated your knowledge and beliefs), are critical to maintaining internal and external integrity that assures you do not fall into the trap of debilitative dissonance or worse: moral suffering.  Virtue, defined by Stoics as being “wise, just, courageous and moderate,” is a fundamental tenet of Stoicism that can only be assured if your interpretations faithfully reflect your cognetic system producing responses that honor the essence of what you know and believe.  Similarly, tranquility—a fundamental aim of Stoicism—is only possible in a state of harmony by and between one’s cognetic system and the actions born therefrom.  

2. Accept the past for what it was and remain optimistic about the future.  A stoic maintains a vigilant focus on the future, while accepting the past as it is.  It is true that humans learn more from failure than success, but once those lessons are learned, move on.  There is little you can do about things that were, or was.  Stewing about the past diminishes your capacity to succeed in the future. Stoics do not participate in victim culture, which seems to be a rising, even popular, social modality today.  There is nothing more anti-stoic than participating in the blame and shame game of those held captive by their miseries (whether real or perceived).  And, be ever mindful about how you evaluate success in the past, present, and future.  Those addicted to fame and fortune, as measured principally in public acclaim and material possessions become hostage to their wants and desires that have a curious way of expanding to bigger and better things to sustain a superficial sense of satisfaction, which is prima facia evidence of their actual lack of value; satisfaction remains ever beyond the grasp of those who pursue the next round of applause or shiny object.  Chasing hedonistic desires is an endless loser’s game.  To the stoic, fame and fortune are matters of indifference.  Moreover, stoics view with contempt anything—especially trivial pursuits of fame and fortune—that threatens the attainment of tranquility.  

Stoics maintain that if one pursues a virtuous life, consistent with the constraints of Nature (capital “N” in the sense of a holistic entity), tranquility is assured.  I will add to this stoic discipline the aim of transcendence—particularly in politics—that compels one to rise above partisanship and serve truth and Nature above the pettiness of partisan rancor.  Transcendence requires a sense of selflessness and the dismissal of popular anxieties promoted by pundits and politicians who are more interested in audience ratings and self-aggrandizement than in improving the welfare of their fellow citizens.  Optimism aimed at worthy outcomes engenders transcendence and a state of tranquility.

3. Seek truth and live in concert with Nature.  One of Stoicism’s most basic subscriptions is to the pursuit of reason and truth, which also means practicing the corollary: rejecting magical thinking and deceit in all of its forms.  I have been described as one who does not suffer fools.  Another, perhaps nicer description is that I honor knowledge and do so in concert with the realities of the natural and mystical world we live in—with Nature.  Stoic practice involves the pursuit of truth with all senses and faculties trained on the detection of bullshit, which in the current Age of Deceit has become a constant challenge.  Detecting the deceits of others is fairly easy, the harder part is calling it out and assuring neither you nor others become its victims.  As we have seen with Donald Trump, power and position can cause many—indeed millions—to accept deceits as truths for various (usually selfish) reasons.  This is what I call magical thinking: the distortion of reality to affect an outcome consistent with the way we wish things were rather than the way they actually are.  The problems with magical thinking are many, but above all is the fact that decisions made based on falsehood, or not in concert with Nature, will, sooner or later, result in failure.  Actions based in deceit or that are incongruent with natural realities are fundamentally unsustainable.  

The much more difficult task is detecting deception and subverting it when we deceive ourselves.  Self-deception is the most debilitating practice of all because it is the hardest to detect and correct.  Checking one’s own magical thinking—a closed-loop internal process—is the most challenging aspect of self-awareness.  Fooling thyself has no place in steeling thyself.  Finally, the aesthetic and mystical values of Nature are many, but perhaps Nature’s most important attribute is that it reflects pure truth; it never deceives even while we—caught up in our selfishness and deceit—threaten to destroy it.  As modern stoic, John Sellars describes, “Nature isn’t blind and chaotic; it is ordered and beautiful, with its own rhythms and patterns.  It is not composed of dead matter; it is a single living organism of which we are all a part.”  The poetic justice is, of course, that Nature will cleanse itself of humanity if we prove to be a formidable parasite within its realm.  We can fool each other and ourselves, but we cannot fool Nature.  We cannot fool the truth.

4. Knowledge is power and must be nurtured with an opposable mind.  Knowledge emanates from education and experience; in the vernacular of the cognetic system it is developed in the empirical frame as intellectual capital.  In the traditional model of education, school was to be substantively completed by the time we reached adulthood.  Then, we were to augment such school-based learning with experience to attain wisdom.  Today, largely due to the demands of the modern world and the availability of enabling digital technologies, educational opportunities are now accessible throughout our lives.  Intellectual capital may be developed throughout life such that knowledge can enjoy a completely dynamic system as long as we are active participants.  

In my generation, which was steeped in the traditional format of school, then work, then an undetermined number of years of retirement, then death, it has been interesting to watch my Boomer cohorts either embrace the new dynamism of knowledge development, or stubbornly and defiantly hold fast to the old paradigm.  The stubborn ones endure mid to late life as little more than death without dying; they are surrendering in the face of victory.  They usually fall victim to intellectual sclerosis, or a hardening of the mind that is typically manifested through growing bouts of anger and frustration as the world moves forward without them.  And yes, Donald Trump could be their mascot.  

The questions to ask of yourself and others to determine if you/they possess a sclerotic mind or a dynamic mind are: Do they view the world as a zero-sum game where limits define options, or a world awash in possibilities?  Do they see issues as black or white, good or evil, or are they intrigued by the nuanced spaces between?  Do they have the ability to see and argue different sides of an issue—possessed of an opposable mind—or do they easily dismiss other options in favor of their predispositions?  Are they deliberative or impulsive?  Do they surround themselves with people who can replace them, or with those who see them as irreplaceable?  Are they curious, or are they certain?  Are the unknowns a source of fear, or a venue of creative opportunity?  Those who are open to new sources of knowledge—through both education and experience—easily pass these tests.  A dynamic mind is always open to new ideas that create solutions no one else has thought of—that transcend the moment.

5. Practice negative visualization—a critical element of steeling thyself.  First, a warning: negative visualization can be an emotional challenge, so practice it from a position of strength when you are able to complete the exercise without victimizing yourself with emotional strife.  Threats, like opportunities, are exogenous variables; their occurrence is beyond our control. However, remembering that we do not control everything that happens to us, but that we do control our response, negative visualization recognizes that bad things happen in life and we may as well prepare for them so that when they are encountered, we have, in effect, rehearsed our response.  Negative visualization is a framing device that allows us to steel ourselves in advance of life’s perils.  It acknowledges the inevitability of setbacks, which become tests of character and ingenuity that, if handled properly, lead to strength.  It also has the effect of bolstering gratitude in the present—to appreciate especially those we love today—before they are lost.  Visualizing the sudden loss of someone or something can spark a renewed level of appreciation.  

How would you deal with an illness or traumatic injury?  What if a loved one dies?  What would happen if you lost your job, or your life savings was lost?  What if a natural disaster takes your home?  Today, many folks I know are extremely concerned with the potential reelection of Trump.  What will you do if these things happen?  Will you be a victim of circumstance or will you be prepared with a plan?  What are the immediate effects of these negative threats?  What are the medium and long-term effects?  What can you do now to ameliorate these effects? “I never thought it would happen to me” is not a useful answer.  Yet, this is what we hear most when people are struck by an unforeseen event that causes them extreme loss and sorrow.

Start with foreseeing the biggest threats by asking, “What would devastate me?”  Then, run each threat and its effects out to its logical endgame.  Identify what elements or negative effects you can impact today with preemptive action.  Often, this requires little more than a discussion with other people who might be similarly affected to agree on a What if? plan.  In planning for my mother’s death, I organized a plan with both my siblings and my mother that dealt with everything from funeral arrangements to disposition of assets. Sometimes, securing insurance can mitigate the effects—especially in property losses; check to see if yours is adequate.  My wife and I live in a heavily forested region of the Colorado Rocky Mountains that, due to climate change, is becoming more susceptible to wildfire.  Recently, we executed a wildfire mitigation plan that was very expensive and required the removal of many trees to create defensible zones.  It was not only expensive; it was actually emotionally painful to conduct “responsible deforestation.”  But, in effect, we were taking some pain today to offset a potential calamity; not only might we and our home survive, the remaining trees will be healthier and have a better chance of survival as well.   As the Roman Stoic Seneca suggested, “He robs present ills of their power who has perceived their coming beforehand.”  In steeling thyself, being surprised is acceptable, being ill-prepared for what comes next is not.

Next week: Stoic Disciplines 6-9.

By |2019-11-24T15:26:47+00:00November 17th, 2019|General|0 Comments

Steel Thyself, Part II: Mindful Meditation

In addition to solitude summits (Part I of this series) that are designed to affect a deep and honest questioning of one’s knowledge, beliefs, and circumstances, another beneficial practice to steel thyself is mindful meditation and embracing the present moment.  The simple fact that you are reading this post qualifies you as someone who cares; who possesses a moral compass seated in your cognetic system.  The current Age of Deceit in America is likely disconcerting to you and may have even tipped you from moral outrage into a period of moral suffering.  As the Zen priest, Roshi Joan Halifax argues in her book, Standing at the Edge, “when we are angry and emotionally aroused, we begin to lose our balance and our ability to see things clearly, and we are prone to falling over the edge into moral suffering.” Moreover, such disorientations that arise from suffering make us vulnerable to the deceits and nefarious techniques like gaslighting regularly deployed by perpetrators like Donald Trump who seek to exploit us and oppress us.  Practicing mindfulness contributes to clarity in the here and now, fosters openness to affect creative liberation, and strengthens our focus to discern truth from deceit. A clear vision and a strong mind/heart/body connection is fundamental to steeling thyself.  Practicing mindful meditation affords a time out from the deluge of distractions that degrade our capacity to recognize truth and find purpose in the present moment, which is the only moment that matters.

I have been accused of having the mind of a Border Collie: in a state of constant stimulation.  If your disposition is similar, quieting the mind to develop awareness of consciousness while suspending judgment can pose a significant challenge. Nevertheless, having the tenacity of a Border Collie also portends the capacity and discipline to succeed in chosen tasks which, at the very least, is a useful delusion when it comes to practicing mindfulness.  (I am, therefore, I can!)  As with solitude summits, practicing mindfulness is harder than it sounds, but also holds extraordinary benefits from simple relaxation to mind-expanding clarity.  Think of it as you might working out to strengthen your body; mindfulness meditation aims to enhance your quality of mind—to strengthen the head and heart connection that comprise the cognetic system—the nexus of wisdom and morality that frames our soul.  The neuroscientist, atheist, and author, Sam Harris also suggests that “cultivating this quality of mind has been shown to reduce pain, anxiety, and depression; improve cognitive function; and even produce changes in gray matter density in regions of the brain related to learning and memory, emotional regulation, and self-awareness.”  There exists power in simplicity, and mindfulness is, simply, “clear awareness.”

Fortunately, mindfulness training is now much more accessible than travelling to the Far East to sequester oneself for days at a time in a state of mute deprivation under the watchful eye of a Buddhist monk, or subjecting oneself to either synthetic or organic narcotics—however effective—before the myriad of research issues associated with their use are available to determine appropriate formulation and dosing.  LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca, and MDMA (Ecstasy) hold the potential for a number of breakthroughs in alleviating suffering and expanding mental acuity but, as journalist Michael Pollan argues in his groundbreaking personal and journalistic research in How to Change Your Mind, mind manifestation through the use of psychedelics remain in the pioneering stages today due, in no small part, to their politicization in the 1960s  that shut down further research as President Nixon tied them to the political threat of counterculture hippies, which resulted in psychedelics’ unlawful status and a research gap that is only lifting, slowly, today.  In the meantime, there are apps like “Calm” and Sam Harris’ “Waking Up” that provide streaming meditative tutorials and sessions to affect conditioning of the consciousness.  As with physical conditioning, benefits of meditative mindfulness are only available to those with the discipline to do it!

Stated simply, meditative mindfulness is the practice of focusing one’s consciousness on the realities of the present moment, while suspending judgment of those thoughts that appear and recede.  As the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn teaches, meditation begins with relaxation and its end-game is the realization of a “tranquil heart and clear mind.”  As a novice myself, I can attest to the fact that achieving a relaxed but concentrated state of pure awareness is, in itself, an accomplishment of significant benefit.  Relaxing the body and clearing the mind—preferably daily—produces a welcome sense of calm.  The “Calm” and Waking Up” apps offer daily meditations that generally last around ten minutes.  Once you become proficient in these short meditative sessions (which will seem long in the beginning but will eventually seem more like two minutes than ten), you can advance to significantly longer and more involved sessions.  As Thich Nhat Hahn suggested, “In the first six months, try only to build up your power of concentration, to create an inner calmness and serene joy.  You will shake off anxiety, enjoy total rest and quiet your mind.  You will be refreshed and gain a broader, clearer view of things, and deepen and strengthen the love in yourself.  And you will be able to respond more helpfully to all around you.”

Sam Harris underscored the importance of living in the present moment with the observation that “The reality of your life is always now.  And to realize this … is liberating.  In fact, … there is nothing more important to understand if you want to be happy in this world.”  For my own mental health, I like to think of the present moment as my refuge from all those things that bring me worry—that are of deep concern, but are either in the past or future.  Just take a moment and enjoy the now.

By |2019-11-17T14:47:04+00:00November 10th, 2019|General|0 Comments

Steel Thyself, Part I: Solitude

In this Age of Deceit marked by the collapse of traditional American values, and in anticipation of the next twelve months which, no doubt, will be the weird weirder weirdest of the Trump presidency, I am going to share a series of posts drawn from my forthcoming book from a chapter titled “Steel Thyself.”  It aims to provide some tools to regain a sense of responsible individualism in an era that has been overwhelmed by narcissism; a sense of individualism that is one of three of what I call America’s Probity Values, the other two being exemplar exceptionalism (leading by example) and perfectibility (leaving things better than the way we found them).  I anticipate four posts in this series; one each week.

An effective and accessible place to begin strengthening the head and heart—steeling thyself—is with what the psychiatrist Anthony Storr called the “capacity to be alone” such that we might access the redemptive power of solitude.  Our personal cognetic systems (the self-curated constellation of knowledge and beliefs that allow us to simplify the world and make decisions) provides a tool to “know thyself,” which is a critical step in understanding one’s blind spots of ignorance as well as blind spots of certitude—to both reduce ignorance and subdue certitude to enable better decisions.  The next step, after knowing thyself, is to steel thyself—to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses against the uncertainties and threats of the modern era.  Practicing solitude provides the opportunity for honest conversations with the self in a risk-free environment setting aside the judgments of others to enable the honesty and clarity necessary to improve one’s prospects of fulfilling one’s purpose(s) in life.

The French Renaissance philosopher, Michel de Montaigne, started his long periods of solitude with the query, “What do I know?”[i]  In this question, he starts by taking stock of himself then proceeds to dissolve himself of all attachments to persons, things, duties and grievances to seek a clarity of mind where old truths may be reaffirmed or discarded, and new truths revealed; to sort out and update his “What do I know?” list.  In effect, such periods of introspection allow a reboot of body and soul, allowing a fresh start to the rest of one’s life.  In children, we know that the capacity to be alone is “linked with self-discovery and self-realization; with becoming aware of one’s deepest needs, feelings, and impulses,” yet in the modern era as adults we have ignored this powerful capacity by allowing incessant interactions and distractions (now mostly electronic) that produce more noise than knowledge, more anxiety than equanimity.[ii]   In a return to the self, one might smell the vestiges of narcissism, but in reality the absence of attachments during solitude allows us to strip ourselves of narcissistic self-deceptions to begin anew with a clear-eyed view of who we are and, moreover, who we would like to be.  We are, indeed, who we are; that much is self-evident.  But, we also need to build the runway that allows us to become what we want to be, unburdened by obsolete injunctions and tired conceits. Practicing periods of introspection allows the mind—our most powerful tool—to refresh, and as necessary heal, our soul.

Sounds fairly simple, right?  It is, until one has to actually do it.  Solitude summits (or retreats if you prefer, although where I live we prefer to “summit” rather than “retreat”) require a commitment to the self that is seldom easy until it becomes a routine built into your life-expectations and the expectations of those who rely upon you.  There are a million-and-one reasons to procrastinate about, or otherwise ignore, a commitment to solitude. Feelings of indispensability to work and family (and guilt born therefrom) are the most common hurdles.  Others just can’t conceive of being alone as they mistakenly equate being alone to being lonely.  However, once you grant yourself the indulgence of solitude you will realize that everyone in your life will benefit (perhaps even more than you).  Your clarity and equanimity have a way of bolstering the well-being of everyone in your orbit.  Begin by creating a “Matters for My Consideration” file in which you place things you need to think about during your next solitude summit.  Allow your interests to be your guide.  Schedule solitude at a time and place that suits those interests.  This alignment of interests assures a level of comfort that supports your quest for renewal and, they emanate from your cognetic system which makes them legitimate inasmuch as they are of you; honor them.

Your solitude may involve travel from home, although travel is not always necessary; solitude may be accomplished anywhere the mind can achieve a sense of quiet reflection that allows you to critically review your traditional knowns and creatively imagine prospective knowns. A park bench, or a long walk may suit as well as a journey.  Question all the givens in your life while favoring dynamism over stasis.  Initially, allow for longer periods of reflection then, as your solitude skills improve, schedule shorter and more frequent periods of solitude to refresh your soul.  Beyond reflection and rebooting your knowns, periods of solitude may also recalibrate your compass—the aims and trajectory of your life.  It will also call to question your relationships—those you should continue to nurture and those you should abandoned.  Holding on to extraneous knowns, objectives and destinations, or relationships that are no longer relevant or productive, are an effective way to die while living.  The most important measure of success during solitude is the degree of honesty you employ toward yourself.  This is most commonly referred to as being “true to yourself.”  Seeing things as they are—especially during times of high deceit like today—may be solitude’s greatest gift.

Next week: Mindful Meditation.

[i] See “Michel de Montaigne: On Solitude,” The Culturium, October 7, 2016, https://www.theculturium.com/michel-de-montaigne-on-solitude/.

[ii] Anthony Storr, Solitude: A Return to the Self (New York: Ballantine Books, 1988), p. 21.

By |2019-11-10T15:12:02+00:00November 3rd, 2019|General|0 Comments

Steel Thyself, it is Going to Get Much Uglier

For many, the impeachment inquiry is long overdue.  For others, it will be a call to arms.  What follows is an excerpt from my forthcoming book (2020) that evaluates American identity in historical perspective; assesses the current state of affairs and America’s (possible) next identity; and provides a path forward for individuals, communities, and leaders. Bottom line: it is going to get much uglier (but there is a way out).

From Chapter 4, “The Age of Deceit”

It is difficult to predict if liberating MAGAs from the sinister grasp of Trump and the Trumplicans is even possible.  When one observes the rage in their eyes, directed at all the wrong targets, changing their minds about Trump may be impossible.  Like trying to convince an addict they will feel better once they take the needle out of their arm, white racial resentment feels too damn good in the moment to be convinced that the rush, however transient, is supporting politicians and policies that are actually killing them.  For brainwashed MAGAs, such data—such intelligence—likely emanates from the deep state boogeyman they have been taught to fear by Trump and Fox News.  To them, the underlying fear of being displaced from their historical position in social, political, and economic order by persons of color, women, and those who praise a god (or no god) unlike their own, is terrifying and, apparently, worth dying for.

It is possible that other voices—maybe even a Democratic candidate for president—will be able to reach some MAGAs with arguments and policies that might provide them a better path to a better life before they die from Trumpism.  Two other developing conditions may prove more effective, however, in eroding MAGA support.  First, that some MAGAs will realize their leader—Trump—is a fraud; that his interests are not theirs and that they are serving his interests much more than he is serving theirs.  Deceit and trust are incompatible and followers must trust their leader or the cohort fails.  And, deceit—Trump’s fundamental modus operandi—will, at some point, destroy that trust.  Second, that the fear and anger Trump has stoked in MAGAs is unsustainable (as fear and anger always prove to be), especially when it becomes clear he is more interested in maintaining their fear and anger for his own benefit than he is in providing them relief.  These conditions may make many MAGAs open to a different candidate, or retreat from politics altogether.

That said, for a few, facing the reality of being deceived will induce unbearable cognitive dissonance.  I expect there will be a few MAGAs that are so blindly committed to Trump that they become his jihadis—domestic terrorists—willing to strap on a suicide vest to go out in a blaze of delusional demagogue-loving glory.  These are the core of Trump’s core and many, if not most, suffer from what psychologists recently defined as “identity fusion” where mitigating cognitive dissonance is set aside for the fusion of one’s own identity with that of a demagogue; in this case: Trump.[i]  They see no daylight between their identity and Trump’s.  An attack on him is an attack on them.  More troubling, they will do anything he asks.  Lonely suicides of despair by handgun—an epidemic in many Trump communities—may be replaced by extremely gruesome and violent homicidal acts that cost many innocents their lives.  Trump’s political demise may be slow in coming, but when it arrives it will likely come with the ferocity and power of an avalanche.  We should expect, based on Trump’s own detachment from any semblance of reality, that he will neither comply with the will of the people nor the rule of law, and will summon his base to act violently in his name.  Despots do not go quietly; they do not implode, they explode—more often than not in a magnificent fury of self-destruction producing significant collateral damage—in this case for America and the world to endure.

Surviving this age of deceit and transcending it toward the next phase of objectivism will require a force of will and character consistent with the strength of those who founded the United States in Crisis I, preserved the Union in Crisis II, and defeated fascism in Crisis III.  The seeds of deceit, planted first in Crisis IV by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, have blossomed into a field of noxious weeds that threaten to strangle American democracy and destabilize the entire international system (anarchical though it is and always has been).  The question is, can we summon our better selves to affect a rebirth—a deliverance from deceit?

Success begins with re-establishing traditional American values; setting aside narcissism for individualism based in personal responsibility; hubris for exemplar exceptionalism—leading by example; and entitlement for perfectibility—ceaselessly seeking to improve the world in which we live.  Returning to these values is our only hope of restoring our competence, our adaptability in times of both crisis and opportunity and, moreover, a new American identity that builds on the successes of prior generations.[ii]  As we will see in chapter 6, values such as these are fundamental to the structure of our decision-making capabilities; they provide the spine of the process through which we simplify complexities to set our course.

With the wrong values or no values (as is the case with Trump), our future is likely to follow a random path of chaos and destruction.[iii]  Cultural amnesia and the deterioration of liberal institutions affected by a toxic malaise of indifference—a rot from within the soul of America—could, slowly but surely, topple America’s idealized empire of freedom.  As cartoonist Walt Kelly suggested in his famous poster for the first Earth Day in 1970, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”  Prior generations of Americans held fast to these higher values and did the hard work to assure our future; if we want to retain the American power they sacrificed so much for, and restore the American Dream for our children and grandchildren, we had better correct our current course, and soon.

i See, William B. Swann, Jr., Angel Gomez, D. Conor Seyle, J. Francesco Morales, and Carmen Huici, “Identity Fusion; The Interplay of Personal and Social Identities in Extreme Group Behavior,” Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, 2009, Vol. 96, No. 5, pp.995-1011.

ii See Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead (New York: Vintage Books, 2004), p. 176.

iii See William Steding, “Trump’s Value-free Presidency,” December 6th, 2016, Ameritecture, https://ameritecture.com/trumps-value-free-presidency/.

By |2019-11-03T19:13:38+00:00October 4th, 2019|American Identity, Donald Trump|0 Comments

Hurricane Dorian: Destined for Sainthood?

The “chosen one”; the “second coming”; “the son of God.”  As evangelicals succeed in making their once-proclaimed moral majority into an immoral minority by their bear hug of the most amoral president in U.S. history, spiritual poetry-in-motion lurks in the Caribbean Sea.

After mercifully sidestepping that nasty island (Puerto Rico) with that nasty lady-mayor (Carmen Yulin Cruz), Dorian, a hurricane that is predicted to make landfall somewhere on or between Donald Trump’s beloved Mar a Lago and Trump National Doral Golf Club offers a spectacle of comeuppance long overdue.  130 MPH winds may rip the faux gold-plated chandeliers from their moorings of The Donald’s southern white house, raining down a wrath of Biblical proportions on what evangelical clowns like Jerry Falwell, Jr., Franklin Graham, Ralph Reed, and Robert Jeffress consider Jesus Trump.

What Democrats and Robert Mueller have thus far been unable to put asunder, the new nasty-lady, Dorian, may ravage with the spirit of a lady scorned.  The women in Trump’s orbit, who favor heavy makeup, ballgowns, stiletto heels, and silicon in all the right places will, no doubt, rush to hiss at Dorian as she approaches, but no amount of Aqua Net will save the day.  Of course, the wreckage will be left to be cleaned up by Mar a Lago’s undocumented workers paid for by American taxpayers, but the carnage will sing in lyrical rhyme to those of us who suffer the wickedness of Jesus Trump and his Bible-thumper sycophants.

The most nasty-lady of all, Mother Nature, whom Trump’s toadies at the EPA and Department of Interior are working feverishly to destroy with cocktails laced with methane and benzene, has her opportunity to silence Jesus Trump’s Twitter feed, capping off the end of the hottest summer in the history of the modern world with her own tweet:  Donald be damned!  As we each settle in for the spectacle of ruin on this three-day break from Jesus Trump’s apocalypse, please God—whomever and wherever you may be—allow us this brief respite from the spiritual fraud that is Donald Trump.

And, to all the nasty-ladies everywhere: You go, girl, you go.

Happy Labor Day.

By |2019-10-04T17:12:04+00:00August 30th, 2019|Donald Trump|0 Comments

TTN: the Trump Terrorist Network

May we please, at long last, call a spade a spade?  Donald Trump is terrorist-in-chief.

His entire modus operandi is centered on fomenting fear, destroying democratic institutions, and now a direct—word-for-word—connection to mass murder in El Paso, Texas.  He is a social terrorist (racist, misogynist, bigot).  He is an economic terrorist (trade and currency wars).  He is a political terrorist (abuse of power and obstruction of justice).  And, he is a security terrorist (Russian election meddling, cyber negligence, nuclear proliferation malfeasance, and the degradation of NATO).

As I have argued since before his inauguration, Trump IS the existential threat to the United States of America.  It is time we came together to rid our country of this threat.

Section 802 of the USA Patriot Act expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism, adding to existing international terrorist laws dating back to the early 1990s.  Among other things, it provides for any act committed that is “dangerous to human life” that is intended to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”

I recognize it is odd—okay, bizarre—to consider that an American president, who is supposed to be commander-in-chief of the country’s security resources to protect the life, property, and liberty of the citizenry to be, in reality, its terrorist-in-chief, but that is clearly where we are today.  Yes, it is embarrassing and unsettling, but we must also acknowledge that it is profoundly dangerous to the welfare and security of the American people.

Trump has been called many names, but terrorist-in-chief subsumes all of them and he, as the existential threat to the nation, must be defeated by those of us who are the real American patriots.

The Trumplicans will not see it this way, but they are—in spirit, in fact, and in law—Trump’s accomplices.  They enable, comply, and assist him in his terrorist activities.  They, Fox News, and the many Internet troll sites that traffic in hate and destruction comprise a domestic terrorist group that must be prosecuted and dismantled before they are allowed to inflict further destruction on our peaceful coexistence and, moreover, compromise the Constitution and the many laws that keep our citizens safe and our country secure.  As with child pornographers, they are not entitled to protection under the First Amendment, nor should we allow the Second Amendment to provide them protection from enabling mass murder.  They are domestic terrorists.  Guantanamo?  No.  But crimes against the state and humanity?  Yes.

Those of us who care about our fellow Americans must muster the courage to call this for what it is and rid this country of its most immediate threat: TTN, the Trump Terrorist Network.

By |2019-08-30T15:58:22+00:00August 6th, 2019|Donald Trump|0 Comments

The MAGA Hoax

When the history of the Trump era is finally written, those who will have lost the most will not be immigrants, or the “enemy-of-the-state” media, or liberal elites, or Democrats, or objectified women, or even the Republican Party, it will be those who were his most fervent supporters: the MAGA hatters.  These are the folks who lose the most when the Affordable Care Act is gutted, opioids are distributed like M&Ms, school funding is eviscerated and teachers migrate to urban areas, fracking and industrial waste ruins water supplies, middle-class take-home pay falls to subsidize tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals, infrastructure projects (especially broadband) never advance beyond rhetoric, and plentiful guns become the weapon-of-choice to settle family feuds and end the hopelessness of the forlorn—the so-called deaths of despair.  In this age of deceit, Trump’s swindle of white, mostly rural, Christian, MAGAs will amount to one of the greatest cons ever perpetrated on a group of citizens in American history.

His trick?  Making sure MAGAs remain fearful of, and enraged at, all the wrong things: collectively Trump’s stalking horses.  Mexican “rapists,” all people of color, immigrant families, working women, all non-FOX media, Democrats, sanctuary cities, and virtually everyone and everything beyond the borders of the Unites States—especially Muslims.  Trump’s next ghost-written book should be titled, The Art of the Con.  Deflection, distraction, dishonesty, and his ultimate goal: disorientation, are easily achieved in the stew of fear and anger that he and FOX news work tirelessly to foment among MAGAs.    His relentless campaign that utilizes Twitter, FOX, and revivalist-styled stadium rallies have one target: MAGAs.  Fear begets anger, which begets more fear and anger such that the spiral of disorientation is assured.  The result: a disorientation so extreme that its victims can no longer discern truth from lies and, ultimately, right from wrong; they become so disoriented as to approach the clinical definition of mental illness.  More specifically, MAGAs suffer from Trump-induced psychosis: a severe mental disorientation in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality, which is exactly what Trump must maintain to keep his fascist fantasies alive and, moreover, Trumplican congressmen and senators in line.

Emerging studies now show the reality of Trump’s stewardship of white rural America.   Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland, by, Jonathan Metzl (Basic Books, 2019), reveals the extraordinary costs inflicted on white America by Trump and the Trumplican Party.  Metzl studies public health and the “intersecting histories of race and health in Southern and midwestern states.”  He observed an array of conservative political movements like “starving government funding, dismantling social programs, and allowing the free flow of most types of firearms” that originated with the Tea Party, funded by the Koch brothers, legislated by the Freedom Caucus and given voice (particularly to the alt-right) by online outlets like Breitbart.  The effects on “state agendas, national GOP platforms, and, ultimately, policies of the Trump administration” resulted in what he calls “backlash governance.”

Metzl further found that the principal appeal to garner support from the folks who now proudly wear MAGA hats was simple, but intoxicatingly powerful: white racial resentment.  White backlash politics gave MAGAs “the sensation of winning, particularly by upending the gains of minorities and liberals; yet the victories came at a steep cost.”  Specifically, rapidly increasing rates of white death.  The numbers are disturbing.  For example, in Missouri as gun laws were liberalized at the insistence of the NRA, gun deaths spiked among white people and, incidentally, not among African Americans.  He concludes that “lax gun laws ultimately cost the state roughly $273 million in lost work between 2008 and 2015 and … the loss of over 10,506 years of productive white male life.”  In Tennessee their refusal to expand Medicaid “cost every single white resident of the state 14.1 days of life.”  In Kansas, the Tea Party economic experiment of slashing state education budgets resulted in a sudden rise in high school dropout rates that correlates with an average reduction in life expectancy of 9 years.  In all, in Kansas, in just four years: “6,195.51 lost white life years.”  MAGAs are, quite literally, dying for Trump and the Trumplicans at rates much higher than other demographic groups, including African Americans and Hispanics.  Trump claims he is the only one who can save them and yet, his policies are actually killing them.  Some savior.

It is difficult to predict if saving MAGAs from Trump and the Trumplicans is even possible.  When one observes the rage in their eyes, directed at all the wrong targets, changing their minds about Trump may be impossible.  Like trying to convince an addict they will feel better once they take the needle out of their arm, white racial resentment feels too damn good in the moment to be convinced that the rush, however transient, is supporting politicians and policies that are actually killing them.  For MAGAs, such data, such intelligence, likely emanates from the deep state boogeyman they have been taught to fear by Trump and FOX News.  To them, the underlying fear of being displaced from their historical position in social, political, and economic order by persons of color, women, and those who praise a god (or no god) unlike their own, is terrifying and, apparently, worth dying for.  We can only hope that other voices—maybe even a Democratic candidate for president—will be able to reach enough of them with arguments and policies that might provide them a better path to a better life before they die from Trumpism.  If you believe in prayer, send a special one to a MAGA in your life; that they may see the proverbial light before they are buried, MAGA hat in-hand.

By |2019-08-06T19:33:38+00:00May 1st, 2019|Donald Trump, General|0 Comments

A Sermon for Sanctuaries

Destroying places of peace and unity—sanctuaries—appears to be a thing today.  In both physical form and ideation, sanctuaries have been under attack in this age of deceit.  Whether it be the accidental burning of the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, the murderous rampage at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the numerous bombings and burnings of African American churches across the South, or this Easter morning’s church and hotel bombings claiming more than 200 souls in Sri Lanka, sanctuaries are under siege.  Even our president has attempted to defile the concept of sanctuary as he continually casts “sanctuary cities” as places where dirty liberals harbor even dirtier immigrants rather than comply with his vile impulse to banish the weakest among us from American soil.  But then, peace and unity are anathema to his fascist affections.

As an agnostic myself, I generally concur with American industrialist Andrew Carnegie who lamented the fact Americans built more churches than libraries.  I share his wonder for how different America might be today had those numbers been flipped.  And, while the Easter story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection (let alone the virgin birth) never passed my giggle-test as a young churchgoer, and made even less sense as an adult, I do not condemn true believers even while they have often sought to condemn and persecute me.  Notwithstanding the fantastical promise of everlasting life that millions of folks have easily embraced, the values espoused by Jesus Christ are indeed worthy of the sanctity of sanctuaries.  On this Easter Sunday, my hope is American Christians—especially as their numbers wane—will set aside their penchant for judgment and condemnation in their feeble attempts at personal puffery and seek instead to reinvigorate the lessons of Jesus who would have never considered the weakest among us to be enemies of the state.  In so doing, perhaps they may even reverse the current decline in religious membership, which Gallup Research has shown is declining at an accelerating rate; curiously aligned (for the first time in American history) with party affiliation.  Apparently, Trumplicans are now the most fervently religious among us.

Salvation may be impossible for those Catholic clergy engaged for decades in pedophilic perversions and attendant coverups across the globe.  Evangelicals who have sold their souls to support Trump—who arguably comes as close to the anti-Christ as any American leader may have ever come—may find redemption beyond their reach.  Jews who look upon Palestinians in the same manner as Trump does Mexicans might also want to look in their spiritual mirrors.  Buddhists killing Rohinga refugees in Myanmar will undoubtedly face a perilous reckoning.  Jihadi Muslims who twist the Koran to justify their murderous ways may find the fires of damnation awaiting them rather than seventy-two willing virgins.   All are quick—too quick—to forget the teachings of their chosen spiritual leaders whether Christ, Moses, Buddha or Muhammad to, as a start, treat others as they wish to be treated themselves.  None of these behaviors—as pervasive and deplorable as they are—are consistent with the peace and unity that are the foundational elements of sanctuaries.

Ironically, the fate of peace and unity, which has been the clarion call of religions across the world for centuries, today rests with the secular rational humanists among us: the areligious.  The soul of sanctuaries and the values of Christ, et al, are in the hands of atheists, agnostics, and what Gallup and Pew Research calls “nones.”  Not all true believers, nor all nones are all good or all bad, but the pendulum is swinging hard in favor of the nones.  Those of us who prefer humanity in all its glory and failings over those who succumb to the impulse of self-aggrandizement, fear, and hate are the new caretakers of historically religious values.  We may prefer to walk alone in different sanctuaries than those constructed under the yoke of slavery or celebrity-styled donations, but we are often the first among many to respond to those in need.  We may be reluctant to stand in the judgment of others, being familiar and accepting of our own failures, but we may also be better teachers than those who loudly proclaim their righteousness.  We may not have our names engraved on the pews of great churches across the land, but we may be the first to sacrifice our place in the sanctuary of peace and unity to someone who needs the comfort of fellowship.  We may not check all the boxes of conformance to be admitted at the gates of heaven, but it may be because we never needed the promise of everlasting life to be good and moral people in the here and now.  We may be considered wayward souls by our religious brethren, but our preference for doing good over just feeling good remains always in the present.

Sanctuaries, in churches or as cities, or just a big beautiful canopy of evergreens splitting a crystal blue sky, must be protected and nurtured to assure the prospect of peace and unity.  Vile politicians, perverted priests, angry rabbis, sanctimonious ministers, or imams preaching violence deserve their increasingly certain fate of irrelevancy.  The goodness of morality and virtue—wherever and within whomever it may be found—must prevail over these pious pretenders.

Happy Easter, or Passover, or maybe just spring.

By |2019-05-01T14:44:59+00:00April 21st, 2019|Donald Trump, General|0 Comments