America’s Golden Opportunity

With barely more than one-fifth of the 21st century gone, we Americans have endured four crises—three of our own and one global—each of which have changed the course of history. 9/11, the Great Recession, the Trump presidency, and the Covid-19 pandemic were highly damaging events after years of relative calm. Now, we face a fifth crisis—Putin’s invasion of Ukraine—which could tip from regional conflict to world war.

Interesting—way too interesting—times.

Crises, however, present opportunities to change our ways, much more than periods of stability. Periods of stability naturally tend to protect and preserve the status quo. However, positive change depends upon how we respond to each crisis. As the Stoics remind us: it’s not what happens to you that is important, it is how you respond to it.

After 9/11, we responded in a manner that cost us trillions of dollars, thousands of lives, and much of our credibility as the steward of pax Americana around the world. We did somewhat better in addressing the Great Recession, but still made plenty of mistakes (although some of those lessons were applied during the pandemic). The Trump presidency was little more than a self-inflicted wound. The fourth crisis—the pandemic—was an outlier crisis inasmuch as it offered little opportunity for positive change as we were, in effect, frozen in place like a doe in the headlights. Lockdowns and isolation are simply not conducive to positive change. Alas, today’s crisis—Putin’s War—offers an array of opportunities for America.

My sense of Putin’s War is that both he and his Russia will be the biggest losers after Ukraine. It will be a long painful slog for all. The only question is how much more damage will be done to Ukraine before Putin and Russia implode. There remains an extraordinarily high risk of nuclear confrontation and an expanding war including other areas in Eastern Europe, but I do not think Putin will receive meaningful support from other nations, most especially China. Yes, Xi will buy Russian oil and alleviate some of the effects of sanctions, but I expect he sees this as an opportunity to subsume Russia as a quasi-client state rather than elevate Putin and enable him to succeed in his empire fantasies. And, Xi needs his military to enforce the edicts of his regime in-country and to pursue his own ambitions in Asia. His preference will be to have Putin under his thumb much in the same manner as is North Korea’s Kim.

Meanwhile, President Biden is doing a masterful job of threading a very difficult needle of containing Putin and preventing that war from becoming a world war. All presidents prefer foreign policy to domestic as it is where their greatest power lies. Few presidents, however, come into office with foreign policy experience. Biden is a fortunate (for us) exception. The escalation maps (a tool used by national security analysts to model multiple-round effects of military actions) all point to an expanded conflict if his efforts and those of European allies fail, or if Putin decides to unilaterally launch a nuclear weapon. To me, the most remarkable thing has been to watch the sanctions gain immediate support across the free world and for self-sanctioning by the private sector to take off like Omicron in a crowded bar. Apparently, there are severe consequences when you kill innocent women and children in broad daylight. So, besides the opportunity to rescue the Biden presidency from rather awful poll numbers, what are the opportunities for the rest of us, and what should we do to bring them to fruition?

The first opportunity comes in the form of a wake-up call to reinvigorating the values that made America great. If I were king, I would have one more inoculation waiting for the arm of every American: inject each of us with the spirit of responsibility and patriotism shown by the Ukrainian people. But here is the uncomfortable truth: the Ukrainians are just behaving the way we used to behave when we upheld the value of responsible individualism. Hopefully, the images of Ukrainians protecting their homeland can be a model for all Americans.

Second, let’s take a lesson from the Poles on how to treat refugees and immigrants. For some reason, we lost our value of being a beacon of hope for the rest of the world; of being an exemplar as a caretaker of human dignity. Our disdain for refugees and immigrants, while most pronounced during the Trump presidency, actually began many years before in the now very blue state of California—aimed at Mexican immigrants. It then became a lever of political attraction across the south—spreading west to east—until we looked like a nation of fearful cruel zealots. The most powerful nation in the world should never behave like a scared bully.

Next, the world, but especially Americans, need to realize that unity and democracies matter. America may, once again, be the world’s “last best hope for earth.” As Americans, our immediate obligation is to drop the petty grievances that have animated our domestic political lives since the inauguration of Trump and realize that we are all on a more important team than mask lovers or mask haters. We must realize that our unity is essential to protecting the world from disaster. Quit shaking fists and start shaking hands. Our enemies are not our neighbors—regardless of political party. They are people like Putin and Xi and Kim and Khamenei. Got it?

To punctuate the value of unity further, we must also actively put down those politicians intent on stoking division within our country. Trump and his clown-like jesters including Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Green, Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar, Jim Jordan, et al, have had their day, but that day must end. As for Trump, who has been and continues to be Putin’s apologist and cheerleader, and who advocates defunding NATO, he must never see the inside of the Oval Office again. Since his campaign in 2015-16, I have called him a wannabe fascist. Let’s make sure his status remains: wannabe.

In addition, so-called news networks like FOX and MSNBC who prefer animus-driven ratings to unity (or journalistic integrity), must be confronted for their contributions to misinformation and malice toward their obligation to serve the public interest—an historical obligation of every broadcast journalist in America. What can you do? Tune them out. Your attention is their life-blood. Starve them into compliance with their obligations to our country. Their First Amendment rights do not extend to the destruction of our unity—of our democracy. It is time they stopped yelling “Fire!” in the proverbial crowded movie theatre.

Finally, if we were unconvinced prior to the Putin War crisis, perhaps $6, or $8, or $10 per gallon gas will convince us that fossil fuels are dangerous beyond their impact on climate change; they are now the currency of war. For all the right reasons, it is time to reduce, then eliminate, our use of fossil fuels.  This realization—this silver lining—may be just what we need to unify and accelerate our efforts toward a clean-green existence. If high-dollar gas will get Bubba to move to the Ford F-150 Lightning EV, maybe we can also get Patty Prius drivers to drop their intransigent orthodoxy of “nature is good and man is bad” and form a peaceful coexistence between the two that supports clean energy, commerce, and independence from absolutist dictums that have proven completely ineffective in addressing the issue of climate change. The only way we solve this and our many other challenges is together.

Putin’s War, our fifth crisis this century, is a golden opportunity for Americans to be Americans again. To set an example that the free world wants to follow. To make the Statue of Liberty mean something again. To assure every fascist and wannabe fascist that they, too, will receive the Putin punishment.

Let’s not mess this crisis up.

By |2022-03-21T22:57:04+00:00March 10th, 2022|General|0 Comments

Buck Up, Bucko. (What Biden might have said.)

Yes, you are special. Yes, your rights have been violated. Yes, I hear your grievances. Yes, you most certainly are a victim who deserves recompense. Poor you.

Now, buck up, Bucko.

You also have responsibilities, much to be grateful for, and you owe your community, country, and the world more than your whining. And, that person seated next to you? They may even be more special than you are. Who knew?

The world is a mess, but this condition is also not special—not new. Human civilization has been more often a mess than not in its long history. Variables outside of our control—exogenous variables—will forever conspire to challenge our aspirations. What matters is how we deal with variables we can affect—endogenous variables—to turn chaos and threats into order and opportunities.

This is the lesson Ukrainians are teaching the world today. Against all odds, they knew that if they did not stand up for themselves and their country the life left over would not be worth living. Chaos and threats did not break them. They know that life as a Putin pawn means a bleak future living in a world like their Russian neighbors where the color spectrum of life ranges from gray to black and liberty is as rare as truth. Ukrainians prefer their bright blue and yellow, and while their flag may be stained by their own red blood, they are forty-four million souls who will fight for their home long after their buildings are felled and oligarchs lose their yachts.

There is not enough Botox in the world to fix what Senator Romney called Putin’s “feral eyes.” Putin’s destiny is assured as just another evil madman whose pasty reptilian skin will blister and fester under the blaze of damnation. Unlike many other political leaders, especially those in America, Putin is in many ways more forthright—more predictable. Yes, he deploys subterfuge, distraction, and deflection as a tactical effort at confusing and disorienting his foes, but his evil aims are pursued in an obvious and direct manner while barely feigning morality or decency.

Meanwhile, we Americans melt down if our barista puts butterscotch syrup in our latte instead of hazelnut. “I’ve been violated!” “Who will save me?” “Someone must pay!” “You will hear from my attorneys!” As children in every city in America go to bed hungry every night.

Performative activism on social media, which has become an acceptable yet meaningless expression of American character, must be replaced by redirecting our energy from rights to responsibilities; from grievances to gratitude; from condemnation to empowerment; from passivity to action. Posting a borrowed meme on Facebook while chewing your corn syrup-laced red licorice does not qualify you as a candidate for citizen of the year. We must stand up, speak up, and act in a manner that honors our past, provides stewardship of the present, and secures the future for those who follow. The challenges of our time are not insurmountable. We must simply decide to trade victimhood for victory.

We know the difference between right and wrong, or at least we did when we were in kindergarten; before we lost ourselves to the imperative of entitlement. In the age of abundance, we have been confused by a lack of consequences. Rather than raise our hands in service, we stretch them to grab our unfair share. We conjure enemies as anyone who doesn’t affirm our fragile egos or satisfy our limitless desires. How special we aren’t.

To be clear, Ukrainians are not superheroes; they are humans too. They are not better people than Americans, they just behave better. There is something about the prospect of losing everything—especially your freedom—that is both sobering and empowering. It stiffens the spine. In America, we are losing our democracy and the values of world stewardship—of exemplar exceptionalism—that should have made us leaders in the fight against climate change. We now stare at our dumbphones, while chewing our licorice, oblivious to our self-inflicted impending doom. As long as the next Amazon parcel arrives, what could possibly go wrong?

I write to you as one of those Americans. I don’t care for red licorice, but my dumbphone is always on and my Amazon shopping cart usually has something ready to “buy now.” However, I am also an historian who knows that American power was not won from the comfort of a couch. That the brilliance of our founding documents has more meaning than a Kardashian tweet. That those same documents gain their meaning not from their scrolled parchment; rather, from the behaviors of Americans who honor their aims with a duty of service.

Name one great American living today. Time is up. Stumped? Me too. Although it is true that greatness may not be obvious in real time—that it reveals itself after the fact—we should be able to name a number of prospects for the accolade. And yet, crickets. Leadership in our society is hard to find. Selflessness is a quaint notion hidden in the pages of books gathering dust in the library. Courage means more than surviving being unfollowed. Duty means putting down Wordle and getting to work.

There is greatness in every human being. Ukrainians are finding it the hard way—while staring down a murderous madman. It is time for Americans to put away their dumbphones and get off the couch. Self-pity will not change the course of history. We must renew our commitment of care for each other and the spaces we call home. We must re-engage in the spirit of perfectibility: to leave things better than we found them.  We must, once again, endeavor to set the example for others to follow. This is the American story of our past when unity and determination led the world. It is time for the sequel.

By |2022-03-10T15:45:34+00:00March 4th, 2022|General, Leadership|0 Comments

Our Time Has Come

The splitting of the chrysalis is underway; soon enough our wings will wriggle free and demand flight.

We now have permission to ask the question, “Now what?”

It is time to put our drama of trauma away. Set our claims of victimhood aside. Straighten our backs and turn our faces, once again, into the wind. From this point forward, if we are feeling oppressed or depressed it is no one’s fault but our own. The urgency of suffering and pining for “normal” has slipped from fashionable to just boring.

Two years into the pandemic we have learned a great deal about ourselves as Americans. While we can point to failures of political leadership, our scientists and healthcare providers—doctors, nurses, technicians, and public health officials—performed extraordinarily well; arguably the best in the world. Our failure to successfully quash the pandemic resides within ourselves as individuals. We neither trust each other, nor can be trusted to do the right things. Ignorance is no excuse; it is our uniquely American character that failed us—individually and collectively. The responsible independence that launched an empire of freedom, creating the greatest superpower in the history of the world, morphed into a toxic narcissism that directly resulted in extraordinary suffering and thousands of avoidable deaths.

But, at some time, all the analyses and debates—political, epidemiological, and cultural—do little, if anything, to advance our lives in a meaningful manner. That time is now.

Regardless of our age, race, gender, or ethnicity we are now emerging into our new post-pandemic selves. We have all struggled and experienced loss in different ways and to different degrees. In the same manner as “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” pain flows through hearts without a predictable trajectory or outcome. Scar tissue is a certainty, but it is our burden as humans to reconcile these events in our own time and fashion—largely on our own. The best we can do now is to allow space and time and be there for each other when our wings wriggle free.

As many of you know, for me, Nature is god. I never took to the rituals and parables and especially not to the judgments and condemnations of organized religions. While many weep at the sanctity of the divine as sunlight streams through stained glass on the glowing altar of devotion accompanied by the harmony of hymns, my tears are shed with joy in my heart as I rest on a fallen log deep within the forest that shelters its inhabitants under a canopy of life. My sweet peace is found in the eyes of a fox who carefully studies me with the intention of a brother in the realm equanimity. We aren’t just of one world; we are of one heart.

Unlike traditional religions, my Nature-as-god contemplation of spirituality actually has a scientific basis. Quantum Field Theory holds that we are all inescapably linked to one another. As the electromagnetic field and electron field interact, all manner of energy and influence are conveyed by and between all of us, whether animals or plants. Albert Einstein called this “spooky action.” Physicists call it quantum entanglement. I accept it as life. Among other things, it provides the foundation for a concept I first put forward in a graduate school seminar in international relations now more than a dozen years ago: coopetition—competing to cooperate. Win-win rather than win-lose.

Like many of you, I grew up schooled in the ethic of win-lose. It took most of my life to unwind my mind from the needless perniciousness of this paradigm. Unfortunately, the pandemic was addressed principally by old white men like me who can’t let go of this win-lose ethic.  The results speak for themselves. And, until and when we can get past this, we have little, if any, hope of succeeding in addressing the more profoundly existential threat of climate change.

Our failure has been literally baked into our future thanks to everything from religions that espouse their particular God as the only legitimate god, to political parties that spend all their time shaming and condemning the other side. We deserve our fate. In the next era (if we are granted one) perhaps we will realize that “spooky action” holds that hurting one another only hurts ourselves resulting in a spiral of collapse. I acknowledge that Jesus Christ would agree with me, but am perplexed and saddened to observe self-proclaimed committed Christians in America acting otherwise every day.

At this point, finding our way (Now what?) is more important than a destination we may never—likely will never—reach. Sweet peace is not the prize at the end of the rainbow, it is the rainbow. Rest assured, in the fog of deceit, given time, truth will prevail. We must remember that life is full of both success and failure, but our learnings come principally from failure. We must keep our hearts and minds open to revelation; add patience and deliberation and the answers will reveal themselves.

Grasping at easy answers and forcing fruition is a fool’s game. Let life reveal itself in a manner that assures durable enhancements to our lives. Likes, clicks, and memes are trash that clutters the gutters of our souls. To know something “by heart” means more than memorization; it means we have learned from the heart, with our hearts, which provide the great mitigators to calm our frenetic minds. Knowledge emanating from our minds and beliefs from our hearts must be carefully balanced; curated with our eyes set on a distant horizon.

Our time has come to live in silent jubilation for being spared during the worst of the pandemic.  We must accept what we owe ourselves and each other: an acknowledgment of our obligations and dependencies to the spiritual realm of being that does not differentiate humans from other animals, or even other organisms. This is the only path forward. The destination may not be within our control, but our intentions and direction of travel are. As Mary Oliver wrote in her poem, “The Journey”:

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do—

determined to save

the only life you could save.

Welcome back, everyone. Your life is yours again.

Please express it with due humility and care.

By |2022-02-16T21:11:43+00:00February 7th, 2022|General, The New Realities|1 Comment

The Great Reclamation Project

Would you like to have your life back? Your community? How about your country?

It seems as though the United States has entered a death-spiral of self-destruction. The conservative and always mild-mannered New York Times columnist, David Brooks, suggested America is “falling apart at the seams”; that it is “a society that is dissolving from the bottom up as much as from the top down.” What we need is a new vision of what life can be and the leadership to match. But we also need to make a commitment to ourselves and each other to change some fundamental behaviors to realize a new destiny through reclaiming what we know is true and good founded in a deep sense of personal responsibility.

When was the last time you sat on the edge of your bed before laying your head on the pillow and said to yourself, “If only all my tomorrows could be like today”? To then rise in the morning with a heart filled with aspirations. To find joy in each face you meet. To be overwhelmed by gratitude. To know that greatness—for yourself, your community, and country—were not just possible, they were probable. To feel like a winner living in the greatest nation in the world. This was once the shared prospect of every American and it can be again.

The Great Reclamation Project is our pathway to a new destiny. It requires a commitment to reclaiming our agency as individuals, strengthening the institutions—both formal and informal— that serve our collective interests, and caring for each other and the environment we inhabit in the same manner we wish to be cared for. It also requires a willful suspension of the long list of grievances, doubts, and animosities we all have collected in the dark days of deceit and peril we have endured over the last several years. To be reclaimed—to affect a new destiny—we must first unshackle ourselves from the anchors of fear and anger and hate. They are killing us. Bearing those burdens is no longer worthy of our attention; it is self-destructive. They must be vanquished to the currents of history.

The work begins at the first hint of dawn—when the sun breaks the horizon tomorrow. We must reclaim our individual lives, our communities, and our country.

Here is how.

Reclaiming Your Life

Step one is taking back our personal agency; to take responsibility again for our decisions and actions that define who we are. To regain our capacity for critical thinking that begins with knowledge gained from credible sources. To be honest with ourselves and truthful with others. Since the dawn of the digital age in the 1990s, we have, willingly and lazily, sacrificed our essential personhood to algorithms controlled by those who wish to exploit us like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. We are not algorithms, we are humans. Apps we downloaded to speed our access to news, products, and services to empower our lives have proven to be little more than a means of manipulation that have chipped away at our autonomy one click at a time. In extreme cases of immersion, which I witnessed personally with a former family member, they came to completely displace reality with a toxic and paradoxical mix of self-loathing and delusions of grandeur. Let’s be clear, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook (now the Metaverse) could not care less about our welfare. Do not participate in his meta-ambitions. Click delete—forever. Take back your agency as a human being. Discard the fear of missing out (FOMO) in favor of the joy of missing out (JOMO).

As the editor in chief of Tablet, Alana Newhouse, recently argued, Americans are suffering from an ethic of “flatness” that arose through a combination of the progression of capitalist incentives dating to the 1970s, with the application of digital technologies in the 1990s, that have rendered American lives indistinguishable from each other—an epidemic of frictionless sameness. All round pegs and round holes. Our institutions have devolved into “forbidding exploration or deviation—a regime that has ironically left homeless many, if not most, of the country’s best thinkers and creators…strangling voice[s]…before they’ve ever had the chance to really sing.” The solution is to embrace, once again, what makes us human. Express your desires, ambitions, and truths regardless of pressures to conform to what the algorithms and apps command of you. Return to the richness of creativity and diversity that once was a hallmark attribute of Americans. As Newhouse concluded, “our lives should not be marked by ‘comps’ and metrics and filters and proofs of concept and virality but by tight circles and improvisation and adventure and lots and lots of creative waste.”

Next, engage with the world under the assumption that there is more good in each of us as than there is bad. History is loaded with examples of regular folks doing horrible things. But, by and large, humans are wired for goodness. From the beginning of humanity, doing right by each other was the key to survival. Today is no different. The key to unlocking the good is a matter of expectations. Humans love to meet the expectations of those who they wish to emulate—with whom they wish to share an identity. We must flip our lens of expectations from the darkness to the light. Reclaiming ourselves can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A change in moral perspective from bad to good—from desperation to aspiration—is essential to changing our personal and collective trajectory.

In hand with this commitment to the expectation of goodness is the rejection of personally held feelings of fear, anger, and hate. Yes, there are legitimate reasons to feel all of these emotions. I feel them—and fight them—every day. But here is the reality each of us must face. Negative emotions such as these provide those who wish us ill, or who wish to control us, with doors of weakness to exploit. Our fear, anger, and hate are weapons-against-us that produce self-inflicted wounds; that eventually cause us to lose our freedom and any hope of self-determination. This was, and is, the entire strategy of control and manipulation employed by our 45th (and perhaps 47th) president of the United States. It has been used by countless fascists who preceded him. Why provide the ammunition for our own executions?

Reclaiming our lives begins with reasserting our strength of individuality. Taking back our personal agency to create a human garden of beauty and diversity that once left the French philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville, both amazed and perplexed as he toured a young America. We must live in the present with an eye on the future while expecting the good in each of us and capturing moments of beauty and success as fodder for gratitude. Know thyself and express thyself while safeguarding beliefs and values such that personal integrity is assured. Flourishing requires character and courage, neither of which emanate from algorithms, nor from apps.

Reclaiming Our Communities

If you have read my essays over the least few years, you know I am a fervent proponent of focusing on the development of what I call stronghold communities. And, specifically and urgently, turning our attention away from the shiny loud object that is our federal government. As David Brooks observed, cited at the head of this essay, our “society is dissolving from the bottom up.” That observation is easy to confirm as each of us have attempted to navigate the conflicts and animosities endemic in the communities we call home. Coupled with the ineptitude of our federal government, which has rendered itself little more than a resource-hoarding sloth, and is populated by those more interested in self-aggrandizement than the welfare of Americans, we face little choice but to fix-our-shit at home and envision a future with stronghold communities as the central actor in curing societal ills and enabling a future denominated in aspirations.

Stronghold communities can come in the form of counties, towns, neighborhoods, or any other organization—open to being defined by those who find themselves in any association to serve a common interest. Just as the reclamation of our individual lives requires rekindling our commitment to personal responsibility, we are similarly required to take responsibility for the communities in which we claim association. The principal focus of stronghold communities is for the production and maintenance of what economists call public goods. Public goods are the things that make our lives work—safely and productively—that we all need individually, but which are only achievable collectively. Schools; utilities; security; transportation, commerce and social infrastructure, are all examples of public goods. In America, we follow schemes of collective capitalism to affect the realization of public goods—a hybrid of socialism and capitalism. Even all types of insurance are schemes of collective capitalism even though they are usually dispensed by private companies. Yes, Mr. Allstate, you are (at least) half socialist!

Stronghold communities must see themselves as significantly more autonomous than they have in the past. They must reimagine themselves as the central actor in securing the welfare of their constituents. The three key skill sets of a stronghold community are: 1) a comprehensive knowledge of the needs and issues of the community; 2) the capacity to persuasively solicit and creatively apply resources to affect the objectives of the community; and, 3) the ability to network by and between other stronghold communities to pursue shared ambitions. Forget the hierarchy that places communities below state and federal institutions. In the future, stronghold communities are the hub of the wheel. We must take sole responsibility for whatever our common interest defines as the public goods of the community. Fortunately, technology is on our side that enables us to both network within the community and to forge alliances between communities to affect the capitalist benefits of division of labor and economies of scale. Traditionally, we have looked to the federal government to perform this networking function, but we must now flip that paradigm on its head.

It starts with fighting—tooth and nail—for the return of our financial resources from the federal government to the state and local level. Keep our tax dollars at home for application to locally controlled public goods. To accomplish this, we must also demand the dramatic reduction in the scope of public goods the federal government is (ostensibly) responsible for. Things like national security, central banking functions, and national transportation infrastructure should remain at the federal level. But things like education, public health, and commerce should be re-delegated to the state and local level. There is no question in my mind that my state, county, and town would have done a better job at protecting our public health during the pandemic than was accomplished by the executive and legislative branches of our federal government, let alone the FDA and the CDC. What a disaster. It is time to scale back the scope of burdens our federal government undertakes and return those obligations and attendant resources to the control of stronghold communities.

Some will argue this pits communities against one another right when we need to come together as a nation. Notwithstanding the fact that our national government cannot effectively produce and distribute many of the public goods we need anyway, competition between communities may produce (as competition often does) better solutions for us all. This scheme harnesses that capitalist ethic of competition that will, no doubt, create differential advantages between communities (and varied attractiveness for people considering relocation), but in the long run will force the unification of communities eager to capture those advantages for themselves through networked coopetition—competing to cooperate. And, unless you haven’t noticed, our well-intentioned national leaders have no chance of unifying the country while the malicious ones have no interest in doing so. As members of our respective stronghold communities, we will all still be Americans, but with a renewed sense of thriving rather than suffering. All, without raising taxes!

Reclaiming Our Country

As argued above, our federal government is irretrievably broken. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t reclaim our country from the bottom, up. The Trumplican Party has completely subsumed what was the GOP. Conservative ideals have been dismissed in favor of a naked power grab designed to protect white Christian nationalists who live in fear of losing their position in the hierarchy of socio-economic-political power. Our nation no longer looks like them and it terrifies them. Ideas are no longer their pathway to power; power expressed as coercion has become an end in itself. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is completely self-absorbed in intra-party bickering and shaming the opposition, all wrapped in a veneer of elite righteousness. As a result, the Biden agenda has collapsed and the American people have been left to struggle to remember why they ever formed a union. Currently, Biden is not just in danger of being a one-term president, he is looking more like a one-year president. This can certainly change, but the prospects look dim. In addition, while the executive and legislative branches seem like they are engaged in a middle school food fight, our Supreme Court in the judicial branch has become a political cudgel that has forgotten such sacred norms as the value and sanctity of precedent. To extend the metaphor of branches, I am reminded of Immanuel Kant’s warning that “out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.” Perhaps our founders didn’t read Kant.

As I read the many recent essays—some scholarly and others sloppy punditry—about the impending collapse of our democracy and the prospect of civil war, I am reminded of an old maxim in my study of international relations which holds that at the time the question has been asked, the eventuality is most likely underway, if not having already occurred. Today, we are indeed no longer a democracy. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people? We have drifted very far from that ideal. The political scientist, Barbara F. Walters, prefers the term “anocracy” which is somewhere between a struggling democracy and authoritarianism. In limbo, but headed in the wrong direction. The prospect of civil war is also well underway. Unless you have been asleep since 2016, we are engaged in a cold civil war that is becoming hotter (just look at the trends of violence) every day. And, the leaders of both major parties are fomenting further enmity at every opportunity they can find. Divide us to oppress us to keep power and money to feed their own illiberal ambitions.

I have heard the argument that other aspects of society—more specifically business, industry and the financial markets—will not allow our democracy to fail, or our cold civil war to become hot. However, the institution most cherished by these entities is capitalism, not democracy. We know, if we accept the highly persuasive research of the French economist, Thomas Piketty, that the endgame of capitalism is the destruction of democracy owing principally to capitalism’s effectiveness in producing concentrations of wealth (then power) among the very few, which is profoundly anti-democratic. Have you ever heard of the Koch brothers? Do you think they prefer democracy to capitalism? Further, unless the violence of civil war disrupts the processes of profit-driven businesses, do you think those executives will care? Their job is to serve shareholders, not the liberal ideals of Thomas Jefferson, or the unification ambitions of Abraham Lincoln.

There is a way to reclaim the spirit of America and the ideals of our founders—to reclaim our country. Like many of the challenges any human organization faces it comes down to charismatic and inspired leadership that is genuinely interested in serving constituent members. In our current circumstances, this means a completely new—even flipped—perspective by new leadership whose aim is to re-establish the prospect of the American Dream, including all the aspirations of every human being within the states and territories of the nation, as well as re-establishing the integrity of traditional American values and human dignity throughout the world. This is damn hard work, but no more difficult than that faced by prior generations.

It starts with candidates who aspire to not just restore a functioning government, but to empower the least powerful among us such that we may all rise to become our best selves. Not just better, best. Yes, we are absolutely stronger together. That has been proven over and over throughout the history of humankind. We need to be lifted up, to believe in ourselves again. New candidates must embrace the intoxicating power of winning; of the natural and contagious appeal of victory, which is among the most alluring attractors known in the constellation of human persuasion. Against all odds, FDR, Reagan, and Barack Obama prevailed over their rivals with one simple proposition: they made Americans feel good again; they made both citizens of the country and people around the world want to identify as Americans. FDR made “happy days are here again” a national mantra during the depths of the Great Depression. Regan claimed it was “morning in America” again. Obama promised the prospect of “hope and change.” Our next president must do much more than “Build Back Better.” They must convince all Americans, regardless of political affiliation, that our traditions of hard work, honesty, and creative innovation will, once again, provide a land of abundance and opportunity unrivaled anywhere in the world.

Last November, I proposed a way out of our mess when I published “MAFGA”: Make Americans Feel Good Again, https://ameritecture.com/mafga/. I argued that “lifting people up has always proven more powerful than putting them down.” That candidates who embraced this concept could save us from the doom of Trumplican-styled authoritarianism. I received feedback ranging from thumbs up to “you couldn’t be more naïve.” Many readers were hung up on a visceral need to bring justice to those (especially January 6th insurrectionists and Trump) who have done America wrong before any pivot to aspirational aims. To be clear, reclaiming America requires justice to be served. I fully endorse bringing the full weight of the law down upon the heads of those guilty of violating our laws, including sedition and treason.  But, I also believe that is the job of our justice system. Our job, as citizens, is correcting our personal behaviors by reclaiming our personal agency, strengthening our communities, and supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of re-establishing the American Dream. We must focus on what is within our control. Absent these efforts, the shaming, prosecution, and punishment of those who we believe have done us wrong may amount to little more than a Pyrrhic victory.

We must flip our focus and intentions to advocating for aspiration, hope, success, and winning, assured and secured in the hand of sincere responsibility for ourselves and each other. If we remain where we are, addled by fear, anger, and hate—divided in the sinister trap of us vs. them—we will seal a fate none of us desires. We will fail ourselves and every generation that succeeds us.

It is time to shift our eyes toward the light of dawn. To rise again in the embrace of hope. To know that our strength and our future are in our hands. It is time to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and, before we lay our heads on the pillow of our dreams, know that tomorrow is another opportunity to prevail in the game of life and maybe, just maybe, re-establish that beacon of hope—that city on a hill—conceived by John Winthrop at the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630.

By |2022-02-07T21:46:32+00:00January 17th, 2022|General, Leadership, The New Realities|0 Comments

Hope’s Betrayal ~ Place Your Bets

In his 1732 “An Essay on Man,” the poet, Alexander Pope, wrote “Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” which has been adopted over the years as its shorter version: “Hope springs eternal.” As our own hopes were dashed that 2021 would be a year of rebirth and renewal—as 2021 became a groundhog year to 2020—it is very difficult to breathe hope into our breast yet again. It feels as though hope betrayed us.

We all look to Covid data to gauge when we can lift our gaze from the ground to the sky, but those who study deeper socio-economic and political issues know, Covid (more particularly our response to it) is just the manifestation of much more significant issues now embedded in the American character.

There is a rule that has served me well throughout my life—in all aspects of my life. Does the opportunity, company, organization, person, or other relevant entity respond to intelligence? If it does, proceed with engagement. If it does not, abort. Unfortunately, too many people who call themselves Americans do not—will not—respond to intelligence. The very concept of learning—of taking in new facts about the realities we face and applying this knowledge to guide our decisions and behaviors—has, like masks, become politicized.

Many Americans have chosen ignorance over enlightenment as their stubborn modality to defy progress in the twisted hope of protecting their position in whatever they perceive to be the social, economic, and political hierarchy they prefer. And, of course, there are plenty of political charlatans who promote such politicization to serve their aim of gaining or preserving power. This profound deficiency—the rejection of knowledge—is at the root of our pernicious American character.

Before you read the balance of this post, I feel the need to share my perspective on my commitment to myself as a writer and to you as a reader. Occasionally, I am asked, what is the key to writing well, moreover, to keep writing day after day? The answer is to be selfish; to write for yourself first and always. The writer receives few, if any, accolades or positive feedback, and certainly little or no financial remuneration. If you write for any form of positive feedback, you won’t write for very long.  I write to process the world I see before me; to make sense of it and maybe make a small contribution to the improvement of our collective welfare by sharing what I write.

As for you, the reader, I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate you. Although I do not expect feedback of any kind, you provide what every writer needs: an audience to aim at when making all the little decisions a writer must make. Every writer needs a muse. You are mine. You are the backboard against which I hurl my thoughts to observe the imaginary rebound: hit or miss? You are my necessary and highly useful mirage. At times, however, my truth must trump what I perceive as your preferences to honor my sense of reality; to meet my commitment to see things as they are. This post is one of those times.

I know you want hope in a New Year’s message. I, too, want hope. I want someone to come grab my hand and guide me from the state of languishing that swirls around me toward the sunshine of flourishing that has defined the American condition for decades. And, to be clear, I can point to many things that could break in our favor, but there are harder realities we must address in order for any of those lucky outcomes to produce durable benefits to American society—to change our course in a meaningful manner.

What follows now is a message of realism (combined of prose and verse) rather than puffery. Regardless of what luck may come, character issues continue to beset our path to renewal.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Place Your Bets

As the carousel of threats continues to turn, will we be spared?

In the crush of uncertainty, narcissism has overrun unity as the principal distinguishing factor of American identity. Narcissism’s first victim is love; when combined with the perplexing popularity of ignorance and alternative facts, its endgame may be the destruction of humanity. Can it be stopped? Who will save us?

 

 E Pluribus Unum, rest in peace.

Our myths crumble, jarring and disorienting.

We face tomorrow before we understand what happened today.

Staring into a kaleidoscope of fractal unknowns.

 

Nature and our planet will be fine once we are gone.

 

The planet doesn’t care.

We’ve had our chance to prove our virtue.

Creatures, both great and small have no more tears.

Earth turns toward the next epoch, slowly cleansing.

 

We hold on tight to our sense of entitlement—a comfortable delusion.

 

We believe we are so special.

Then tumble down like pinballs striking out.

Surely, we will be recognized as deserving and great.

While empathy is hung from an oak tree at noon.

 

We beg for grace as we double-down on our sins.

 

The glory of God come forth!

Sacrifice (by others) to assure our redemption.

The light grows longer now to reveal what we have wrought.

The ringing from the belfry clangs discordant.

 

We lean on the warm shoulder of optimism to deceive our desperation.

 

Falsely saved to celebrate ourselves.

We sing our songs of self-exaltation.

Our tribal subscriptions weaken under the weight of hypocrisy.

The flag of humanity bleached of its brilliance.

 

The path forward grows narrow now as we slouch toward Bethlehem.

(We are the beast.)

 

Alas, the bell of reckoning tolls for thee.

Hands reaching to grasp the emptiness.

Striding past crumbling statues and rusting magnitudes.

The road, the road, the road.

 

Deliverance or desolation, is the choice still ours?

 

Who will carry the fire?

Place your bets, or turn in your chips.

The House doesn’t care.

Is it you? Is it me? Is it us?

 

The wheel of a new year churns.

 

Note: With a tip of the hat to John Donne, W.B. Yeats, and Cormac McCarthy who each knew we would get here.
By |2022-01-17T20:08:56+00:00December 30th, 2021|American Identity, General, The New Realities|0 Comments

Sweet Peace: the Strength of Equanimity

Neither you, nor I, nor anybody knows what the future holds. In the last two years we have all learned this lesson. It seems like the uncertainty of the future, which heretofore lay comfortably beyond the next month or year, came crashing back to the present. Today, let alone tomorrow, has become very difficult to predict. At times, it feels like the flames are lapping at our feet. This immediacy of uncertainty has caused tremendous anxiety that has manifested as depression and pain compromising both our mental and physical health. When we add isolation to the mix, necessary to protect ourselves from Covid-19, we have, in effect, created a pressure cooker with no apparent relief valve.

Yet, by most headline measures Americans are doing well today. The stock market is up, jobs are plentiful, wages are increasing, vaccines are working (if only everyone participated), American’s savings accounts are at historical highs, our military is not involved in any hot wars, and billions of dollars in infrastructure development are being deployed to improve our communities and lives. But, anger, violence, and suicide are at epidemic levels. Despair is at an all-time high. The surgeon general is sounding the alarm about anxiety, depression, and suicide among our children and adolescents. The truth is adults are faring no better. Forget the American Dream, the American experience—our daily interactions that comprise all of those things we do to make our lives work—are, at best, strained and unreliable.

In my now six decades of being an American, I have never seen so many things that just don’t work. The simple things in life can no longer be taken for granted. It is both frustrating and exhausting. Pre-pandemic, if a water main broke there were both the workers and the pipe available to fix it. Christmas shopping did not require an advanced degree in supply chain logistics, not to mention less gift for more money. When a flight attendant accidentally bumped a passenger’s arm while performing their duties they didn’t get punched in the face. People didn’t scream at you at the Post Office for wearing a mask. And, the mail you went to pick up showed up when it was supposed to—undamaged!

The painful paradox of the American experience today is that it is counter to a culture based on striving. As Americans, we believe we cannot only perform the simple things; we can accomplish the unimaginable. We strive to pursue success and happiness on whatever terms we choose. In the midst of all the striving we eventually realize—after both victories and tribulations—that life is more about thriving than striving. At the core of thriving lies sweet peace, which is that strength of equanimity that enables each of us to thwart the effects of people and events that may harm us with a calm sense of resolve. It is also that metaphorical soft pillow we lay our soul upon when we grab a moment to express a sigh of contentment—if only to ourselves—for the blessings of our life.

Sweet peace is, however, by no means a given. Although it is foundational to thriving and resides at the center of it, it is both an essential and fragile asset. For those of us with other issues—who have been dealt an additional blow to their mental or physical health—it can result in catastrophic consequences for the individual and their family. Instability and fragility are now the norm. At times, it seems the only available coping strategies are apathy and resignation: giving up. Meanwhile, there is a large segment of America who are cheering on the destruction of our democratic institutions and reveling in the suffering of their fellow Americans to gain power for themselves, or to just satisfy their sadistic impulses. These are the demons among us.

So, what do we do?

Perhaps we should just keep our heads down and have faith in the old maxim “this too shall pass.” That feels to me, however, like the 2017 hope that the office of the presidency would change the man who held it. How do we keep our chins up and marshal on while our sweet peace shrivels like a raisin in the sun? This is a challenge many Americans wrestle with every day. Demons of despondency seem to lurk in the shadowy vestibules of the house of despair that aim to destroy sweet peace.

Here are a dozen suggestions to preserve our sweet peace; some are mine and others from people smarter than I. To build and maintain what the Stoics called our “inner citadel.” To harness the intensity of today’s pressure cooker to make us stronger.

  1. Hold fast to the memories of better days. Find comfort in the historical fact that we have faced worse and prevailed; that we know how to do things well—to make them work again. My maternal grandfather survived World War I in France and the Spanish flu of 1918-20, then persevered through the Great Depression and World War II to have a family, build many businesses and become a leader in his community. Yes, we can prevail.
  2. Practice self-care and self-love. If you don’t sincerely love yourself—first and always—who will? In an age of isolation, your own love may be the only love available to you. If that fails, it is a slippery slope into despondency. Give yourself permission to be selfish in this manner. You first.
  3. For this moment in time, mental health is more important than physical health. I am fortunate to have the skills and discipline (instilled through competitive athletics) to capably maintain my physical well-being. But, I don’t know diddly-squat about maintaining my mental health. Based on emerging data, few of us do. Making this a new priority has been essential to securing my sweet peace—to preserving my sanity and my life.
  4. As the Stoics (and later Viktor Frankl) argued, we may not be able to control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to it. And, don’t forget, sometimes the best response is no response, especially when dealing with bullies—the aforementioned demons.
  5. Honor your purpose; your reason for being. Do not give up on who you are and, more importantly, why you are. Friedrich Nietzsche claimed: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how [or what, or where, or who].”
  6. Let those close to you who are struggling know you are there for them. David Brooks wrote in the New York Times recently that a pastor advised him to support those who are suffering with the personal commitment that “I want more for you.” Then, strive to make the “more” happen. Words are nice; deeds are better.
  7. Practice gratitude. As the Dalai Lama suggested, “Let us try to recognize the precious nature of each day.” Express gratitude for what is right with our life; embrace the blessings of the good. Another meditation instructor I follow, Jeff Warren, suggested to take a moment when things go right, or when you see something beautiful to “let the good land.” Savor the good things rather than just letting them pass.
  8. Know that in the long run honesty and virtue are more durable than deceit and iniquity. Selfish cowards and evil-doers tend to meet their demise sooner rather than later. Those who have hurt you will, in the end, hurt themselves such that they can no longer harm you. Karma, baby, karma.
  9. Learn to identify toxic individuals and shun them from your life. It is easy to identify and avoid obvious scoundrels, but the lighter versions—the ones who are all take and no give and who criticize you behind your back—can be obsequious in disguise, but can suck the sweet peace right out of you. They are also those who are often wrong but never uncertain. These are the parasites who find little value in their own lives so they attempt to diminish you to inflate their own fragile egos.
  10. Seek truth and live in concert with Nature. One of Stoicism’s most basic subscriptions is the pursuit of reason and truth, which also means practicing the corollary: rejecting magical thinking and deceit in all of its forms. Do not tolerate bullshit; it is poison and will afflict you both mentally and physically. Live in concert with Nature; it never lies.
  11. Learn, learn, learn. Knowledge is power and lights the path to a better life and a better world. Take care to vet your sources of knowledge. Question the givens. Similarly, avoid or discard those in your life who suffer from close-minded intellectual sclerosis. They are a close cousin of the toxic individuals in #9, above.
  12. Know your own particular deceits and blindspots and work to subdue them. Self-deception is the greatest source of pain and suffering I have endured in my life. Knowing thyself is a prerequisite to steeling thyself. These self-deceptions come in many forms, but the most dangerous one for me has been believing someone else has my best interests at heart. I have learned (the hard way) to trust others to do what they believe is in their best interest (rather than mine) to avoid what can be excruciating anguish.

The most celebrated and followed historical figures in our world are those like Jesus Christ and the Buddha who are believed to have been divinely inspired and bestowed with an inviolable sweet peace. In the face of extraordinary threats (even death) equanimity never left them. They met every circumstance, however grave, with supernatural calm.

Oh, to be like them.

In the modern era, we have witnessed similar strength from people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama. Unlike Christ and the Buddha, we know the humanity of these three; they had no special access to the divine or other resources that are not also available to us. It is our challenge, in light of the immediacy of uncertainty and threats we face today, to summon all of our perseverance and love to protect our sweet peace.

I wish sweet peace for each and every one of you during this holiday season.

By |2021-12-30T17:13:24+00:00December 16th, 2021|General, The New Realities|0 Comments

Hard Truths

I expect things are going to get better in the new year. Especially (if you read my last post about entrepreneurism), for folks who seize the opportunity to start new businesses. However, things may only get better for those who embrace a clear-eyed view of hard truths and who exhibit a toughness of resolve even greater than we were forced to muster during the first two years of the pandemic. In other words, things can get better, but they will not be easier. The years of sleepwalking our way to success provided by the abundance created by prior generations is over.

Our arrival in this world and our departure from it are moments that, for the vast majority of us, are solo events. No one comes with us and no one leaves with us. In the intervening years, we struggle to forge relationships to form families, businesses, organizations, and communities to sate the innate urge to procreate and to enjoy the benefits of belonging. If we are honest with ourselves, of the many effects of the last two years of the pandemic we have realized that the old feel-good trope, “we are all in this together” has proven to be a bell ringing in the wilderness of anxiety, loss, and grief that usually goes unheard. The hard truth is that regardless of how much we extol the virtues of human connection, these last two years have delivered the harsh reality of how frail those connections really are; of how the promise of humanity has been impaled on the rocks of selfish cowardice.

The American myth of “We the people” forming a more perfect union has entered a downward spiral from which it may never recover. Virtuous individualism that binds us as a community has given way to malignant narcissism that is eating the flesh of magnanimity at a voracious rate. Our nation’s political leaders have pursued this carnivorous practice with reckless abandon. There exists a tenet in all world religions that holds we must fall into the abyss before we can summon the courage to support hope in a manner which manifests the promise of a better life. Perhaps that is what is at hand here. However, today we continue to choose hate and shame and violence over the common good. Our better angels have swapped their wings for devil’s horns. If this continues, before too long we will all be, as the image above depicts, dancing alone.

I am fortunate to have built a big life, or at least big enough. That is the socially acceptable version—anchored by humility—of the description of my life; ascribing my success to good fortune. But the truth for me (as surely it is for you), is that I have had both good fortune and bad. In fact, bad fortune is assured for all of us. Suffering is a certainty. Good fortune is created by our persistence to live our life on our own terms. It is born more from willpower than circumstance. Joy is hard won. The honest version of my claim of a “big life” is that I am the reason I built a big life. I tell people I have been lucky to convey a sense of humility, but to a greater extent the truth is I made my luck happen. Acknowledging this truth is critical to surviving and prospering in the new year and the next years. As the Latin proverb, Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat, reminds us: fortune favors the brave.

Our safety, security, and success in the future will only be assured by our individual strength of character, our intelligence, and our willingness to do hard work. The kumbaya “we’re all in this together” trope is just happy horseshit. I recognize that sounds harsh, but hard truths are often hard to take.

Personal thriving—of body, mind, and spirit—begins with accepting the certainty of suffering then taking the risk to summon all your will and resources to endure the consequences with the aim of turning those consequences into benefits that produce fulfillment and joy. No other person or entity will make this happen for you. We can hope for the love and support of others along the way, but we are truly lucky if we receive it. If you have had such support, count your blessings.

In my experience, love and support was promised as a silent quid pro quo to achieve the concealed aim of the faux supporter: to steal away a piece of my winnings. To dine and dash and then claim they were chased from the restaurant by a villainous chef. Claiming victimhood as a path to vindication for bad behavior is as popular today as it is immoral. It is a twisted remnant of the age of abundance we are now departing. It is the essence of selfish cowardice. It is the practice of losers. Betrayal by those who pledged their love and support is the hardest truth I have had to endure in my life. I wish it on no one.

A related hard truth is that once you do achieve success, very few people (if any) will be happy for you. Many, many will claim they are happy and offer you high-fives. Then, they will work to undermine your future success once they fail to take a piece of your success for their own account. These are the silent parasites in our midst and will visit you in many forms from family members to friends to those offering professional support (attorneys, accountants, etc.) to every charitable organization you have never heard of. You will be very popular, and the adulation you receive (with the exception of those who genuinely love you) will be as phony as a Trump tan.

Cynical? Perhaps. But, as one who prides himself on seeing things as they are rather than as I might wish them to be, I cannot allow myself to ignore a mountain of evidence. To be clear, the deceits I have endured in my life are probably no greater than yours, although a big life does also make you a big target. Denying the occurrence of such deceits, or allowing them to be styled as benign events devoid of malicious intent (rather than calling them out for what they are) produces a festering bile that will eat you from the inside, out. This is the poison of injustice. And, denying or ignoring these events allows the offender to offend again, which creates new victims and accelerates societal decline. One must be brave with hard truths if virtue is to be retained, which is the most foundational asset of all.

In 2022 and beyond, we must grant ourselves the arrogance of confidence in our hard truths if we are to survive and prosper. We must be cautious—on the edge of miserly—with whom we convey our trust. I acknowledge the popular argument that vulnerability equates to bravery, but it can also be just foolish. It can leave you violated beyond repair by those who would rather steal your big life than do the hard work of building their own. Today, a preponderance of deceits has caused betrayal to become its own pandemic; more insidious than any viral variant known to humankind.

Pick your music and dance—alone or together. But, be careful where you step. And, always know where every exit is in the dancehall. We have entered an era where our prosperity and well-being will be subject to threats heretofore considered unimaginable in recent history. This trend is well underway. We must meet those challenges with our eyes wide open to the light of hard truths and meet the world with a sense of steely fortitude. Our descent into the abyss may be a necessary prerequisite to the re-birth of hope, but the ladder of hard truths is most certainly our only way out.

By |2021-12-05T14:47:10+00:00December 5th, 2021|Current, General, The New Realities|0 Comments

MAFGA

Do you remember when it felt good to be an American? When the always sunny-side-up Ronald Reagan proclaimed that every day was “Morning in America”? The best day ever in America was always that day, and tomorrow would be even better.

Traditionally, the essence of the American spirit lies in one basic proposition: that the United States of America is the best place in the world to become all you can be—to realize your dreams. If you were born here, you were damn lucky. And, if you weren’t you would do what you could to get here.  The shining city on the hill beckoned all as the escalator to unmatched human fulfillment where each successive generation would reach new heights of achievement. That spirit was indomitable in American life for more than fifty years—from the late 1940s until the early 2000s. Then, we turned against ourselves.

Today, Americans are exhausted. Many feel as though they have been living on the edge of disaster—mentally, physically, and financially—since before the Great Recession, now more than a decade past. Then, the pandemic threw us all in a pressure cooker threatening our very existence. It has taken an extraordinary toll that has proven very stubborn to resolve. The sad fact is that Americans are killing each other at rates not seen since the Civil War, and committing suicide at rates never seen—ever. (Let those facts sit with you for a moment.) Since the early 2000s, we have fallen so dramatically into divided camps of hate-filled animus the prospect of redemption seems impossible to summon.

After fifty years of extraordinary achievements and prosperity, made possible by the sacrifice and toil of six-plus generations of Americans who preceded us, we slipped into the trap of judgment and condemnation, heaping shame on each other at every opportunity. Shame that kindles humiliation, which results in depression, anger, and violence.

The invocation of shame started with the religious right, but today finds its greatest animated vigor on the woke left. “Family values,” espoused by the religious right was always a contrivance to bind true believers together (for the benefit of the church and/or televangelists), and to condemn those who did not join and conform to the money-machine bondage of institutionalized mysticism. Their pro-life movement is perhaps the most enduring shame-based construct of all time. All well-packaged doctrines, but nonetheless hypocritical and knavish.

More recently, the many shame-based movements of the woke left (MeToo, BLM, Defund the Police, Occupy Wall Street) target men, Whites, cops, and the wealthy with a firehose of shame. Do those targets deserve ridicule? Yes, some do. Will it change behavior—solve the problem? Absolutely not. Finally, right when we need everyone on board to solve the many effects of climate change, and to persuade the unvaccinated to get in line for a jab, the principal pathway of persuasion is, you guessed it, shame. We humiliate people and then wonder why they flip us off rather than do what we need them to do, for us and for themselves.

The message is always the same, notwithstanding subtle modifications to fit different targets: you are immoral; you are unworthy; you are deplorable; you are stupid. Like middle school bullies, we put each other down to build ourselves up. In fear of being displaced from our position in American socio-economic hierarchies and/or enduring the effects of a widening gap between the haves and have-nots, or simply satisfying our elitist impulses, we defaulted to putting one foot on our fellow Americans’ necks and a knee on their backs to assure our own status and success. It is little wonder why we live in a toxic cauldron of ire that is destroying our humanity and our country.

This dire assessment aside, there is an enormous opportunity for those in all elements of society—business, political, and social—who are astute enough to provide the foundation of redemption to save us from ourselves and, yes, thrive. Make Americans Feel Good Again (MAFGA) is a simple and powerfully persuasive proposition. Lifting people up has always proven more powerful than putting them down. “Your success makes mine possible” is a tried-and-true leadership axiom. The elegance of this proposition lies in its return on investment inasmuch as the investment—the cost of adopting this approach—is $0.

The use of the term ‘good’ in MAFGA is intentional. Not happy, or great, or special; good. As my high school expository writing teacher often reminded me: “good is a moral term.” Moreover, ‘good’ is the essence of feeling worthy, which is essential to every human being’s sense of self that enables them to succeed in their pursuit of their particular purpose—of their dreams. Evisceration of the goodness in our fellow Americans—what shaming does—is a surefire pathway to societal collapse.

Today, MAFGA can be applied to any aspect of life that requires persuasion. Business, public health, politics, education, law enforcement—wherever you need people to make a preferred decision or adopt better behaviors, making them feel good about themselves for having done so is by orders of magnitude more effective than dropping the anvil of shame upon their heads. Shaming and the humiliation it evokes must stop, now.

Finally, since many of you follow this post for my political observations, to my Democrat readers, it appears the Republicans have figured this out first. While Democrats are busy criticizing each other in Congress, and shaming people who are unsupportive of their policies (from fiscal stimulus packages to climate change to vaccinations), Governor-elect Youngkin in Virginia was making parents of schoolchildren feel good about themselves again and won the statehouse. Even Republican senator Josh Hawley, a Trumpy firebrand, who made some rather visceral remarks about the state of manhood in America last week, is onto something: he was attempting (wittingly or not) to make men feel good again.

In the presidential election of 1980, Mr. Sunshine, Ronald Reagan, defeated the jeremiad-driven Jimmy Carter by granting Americans absolution from their sins. He intoned: you (Americans) are not the problem, government is. You Americans are good. The question for Democrats today: is Biden, Carter? Republicans may not even need history, redistricting, or voter suppression to assure their next wins if they embrace MAFGA-based strategies. The midterm elections of 2022 and presidential election in 2024 may well turn on the simple measurement of who made Americans feel good again. In the emerging post-crisis era, how could making Americans feel good again ever fail? (Wake up Dems, you may not be as ‘woke’ as you think.)

MAFGA, people. MAFGA.

By |2021-12-01T16:24:06+00:00November 17th, 2021|General, Leadership|1 Comment

America’s Fourth Turning: Rebirth or Collapse?

The decisions we make in the next two years—individually and collectively—will largely set the trajectory of America for the next seventy to eighty years. We are in that magical moment as we emerge from a period of crisis—the fourth in American history—where we re-answer the question, “What does it mean to be an American?” Moreover, how do we organize ourselves for our mutual benefit? The good news is that crises make room to question old rules and conventions as long as we don’t ignore or squander the opportunity.

If history rhymes, 2022 will be like 1790, 1875, and 1945; the dawn of the “objectivism” phase in the cycles of American history which follows the four-phase rhythm on objectivism-liberalism-idealism-crisis that have defined the previous three seventy-five (plus or minus) year cycles. It is a critical time; a proverbial tipping point in our transition to our next future. (For a full illustration of this cyclical thesis see Saving America in the Age of Deceit, chapters 1-3.)

At the end of the first crisis—the American Revolutionary War—our identity emerged as the “Land of the Free.” At the end of the second crisis—the Civil War and Reconstruction—we emerged as the “Land of Opportunity.” At the end of the third crisis—the Great Depression and World War II—we emerged as “Superpower.” At the end of each of these cycles, at a macro-level, the United States became a better and more powerful nation across almost every measure of human welfare. However, a positive outcome following periods of crisis is far from certain. These tipping points can go either way.

Periods of objectivism that follow crises have historically been periods of relative calm denominated in realism, rationalism, and humanism that prevail over the tumult of crisis where all dimensions of our prior identity (most recently “superpower”) are twisted, damaged, or destroyed. In our fourth crisis, which I identified as the Age of Deceit beginning in 2003, it is easy to point to all the damage that has been done. The spirit of America today, which was alive and well after the first three crises (excepting the South after Crisis II), today feels more like a dungeon of depression.

Disunity, anger, isolation, withdrawal, anxiety, and fear are at extraordinary levels right when we need unity, empathy, aspiration, and calm to prevail in our decision making. The American cultural disposition today is both hollow and fragile. We are not heading toward anything as dramatic as an explosion because that requires a significant level of internal (albeit unstable) energy. The Age of Deceit, punctuated by the pandemic, has ravaged our collective spirit. Rather, an implosion seems more likely where our façade of red, white and blue grandeur crumbles like fragile porcelain into a pile of rubble.

At the end of this fourth crisis, an image of collapse is much easier to conjure than one of ascendent rebirth. Rather than emerging into another period of objectivism, we may spiral into a deeper crisis; one that may be denominated by the construct of predation—like a chapter out of Lord of the Flies or, if you prefer a more current reference, Netflix’ Squid Game.

Today, the closest parallel in American history is the South after Crisis II—the Civil War and Reconstruction. Defeated and nearly destroyed, the South fell into a period of depression and regression from which it has never completely recovered. Reflexive Jim Crow laws and the emergence of its stubborn pride of ignorance, or anti-intellectualism, have remained like heavy anvils wrapped vaingloriously around the necks of southern states prohibiting any notion of rebirth or renewal.  Had the South not remained in the union and been integrated into its economic orbit, it would have surely been conquered or subsumed by another nation-state in the late 19th century.

In addition to our current dispositional distress, we have some significant structural issues that contribute mightily to our fragility. Within both the political and social realms, we have allowed structural incentives to promulgate the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the few. This condition assures the continual festering of political, social, and economic conflict that if left to proceed unabated has, as its natural outcome, violent conflict. The relative distribution of power and means into a state of extreme inequality has a long history of producing devastating conflicts throughout the world. Yes, we could be different, but that notion may be supported by little more than our own hubristic naïveté. (Failed empires have always thought they would be the first exception—until they weren’t.)

Frankly, the only structural dimension that is functioning properly (for now) in our country and world are the financial markets. They have been proven extraordinarily resilient in serving their principal function: the creation of wealth based on the efficient allocation of resources. People rail and whine about their contribution to inequality, but financial markets are not (and have never been) designed to foster equality. They are designed on the principle of equity, which is a proportional concept that holds that wealth (the output) be distributed based on the proportional contribution of capital, labor, and intelligence (the inputs). This is the capitalist concept of equity, which has proven to be the most effective economic construct for the creation of wealth in human history. A different distribution, or redistribution, of the output of wealth based on the now-popular concept of equity proportional to need (rather than contribution) is the socialist concept of equity. To realize this concept of equity, distributive practices must be addressed away from financial markets by political and social policy, which as of today in the United States has proven impossible to affect.

As painful as the above rendering of our current dispositional and structural issues may be to read, believe me when I say, it has been even more painful for me to write. I am an optimist by nature and have always subscribed to the patriotic notion that we, as Americans, can accomplish anything. It resides deeply in my Celtic DNA that, to quote William Ernst Henley’s poem, Invictus, “In the fell clutch of circumstance / I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance / My head is bloody, but unbowed.” However, regardless of the vast majority of evidence that suggests we may slip into a deeper crisis, there is still a pathway to survive and prosper—to enter a new phase of objectivism.

First, let me assert two realities and one essential trend that I believe we must acknowledge and accept if we are to embrace the axiom of realism—seeing things as they are rather than how we might wish them to be.

  1. Our federal government is irretrievably broken and no longer has the capacity to serve our interests beyond (perhaps) national security.
  2. Our nation is also irretrievably divided such that while we may possess common interests, we are unable to agree on common facts that are a prerequisite to establishing a shared reality upon which to make and execute decisions aimed at serving those interests.
  3. We are, slowly but surely, migrating into like-minded communities that provide a natural basis for future collective action. Our choice of domain—where we wish to live—has shifted dramatically to primarily reflect our political and cultural dispositions.

If we accept these three assertions, we should begin the process of dramatically reducing the role of our federal government and increasing the role of state and local government. Coincidentally, much more in line with the Founders initial concept of the distribution of resources and power between the federal government and the states.

In effect, we must shift our attention and our resources away from the model of the nation-state that has been with the modern world since 1648, and toward the development of stronger states and communities that regard themselves as independent sovereign actors that seek benefit and welfare not through the nation-state, but through what I call state- and locally-directed shared-reality, mutually-beneficial, networked alliances designed to produce the public goods formerly organized and provided by the nation-state. In effect, the United States of America becomes the Affiliated States and Communities of America.

This new design of political, social, and economic organization allows like-minded communities to affect the production of public goods in an expedient and efficient manner—something our national government can no longer accomplish. Enabled by new technologies, there are few barriers to creating networked solutions that transcend prior notions of politically imposed boundaries and artificial prohibitions against free association. For example, if like-minded states, counties, or communities can come together to provide healthcare for their constituents, why should the federal government stand in the way?

This concept of governance accepts the reality of disunity and conflict at the national level by essentially draining the beast of the federal government of its capacity to wreak havoc in our lives—by either action or inaction. Further, it recognizes and subverts the negative impacts of the prospect of the entropic implosion of the United States and subsequent splintering of a failed empire. Finally, it puts us back in control of our destiny. It preserves the spirit of Henley’s final lines in his poem, Invictus: “I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul.”

This effort will take many years, extraordinary political will, and highly enlightened and inspired leadership to come to fruition. However, we absolutely do possess the human capital to succeed. America remains a land rich in extraordinary human resources. Alternatively, we can stand by and watch the demise of our American society unfold as the slow-motion disaster that is already underway. We have the power to transition to a period of objectivism and avoid a slide into further crisis if we pursue a new model of governance. The good news is that at this moment in time the choice is still ours. But, by definition, moments don’t last forever.

By |2021-12-01T16:23:46+00:00October 22nd, 2021|American Identity, General|0 Comments

Letting Go of Quislings & Saving the Future

Major Vidkun Quisling was a bad guy. Norwegian by birth, during World War II as Nazi Germany invaded his homeland, he betrayed his fellow citizens and switched sides to become the leader of a pro-Nazi puppet government to oversee Norway for Hitler until the Nazi regime fell in 1945, after which he was sentenced to death by his countrymen and executed by firing squad in Oslo. Posthumously, he became infamous. “Quisling” (yes, an eponym) has come to mean a traitor or collaborator who assists an occupying force to the detriment of their country. Today in America, we have about 75 million quislings.

The FBI identifies domestic terrorism as the principal threat on their radar to the safety and security of Americans, also known as angry white men with guns. Even while Tucker Carlson, et al wring their hands at the prospect of al-Qaeda rising from the ashes of Afghanistan to attack the United States again, the reality of the moment is that Jihadists are no match for our own domestic terrorists. Yet, this form of American quisling, while grabbing bloody headlines, doesn’t contribute significantly to the 75 million quisling tally.

There is a more insidious and more pervasive threat that no politician (save Biden’s attempts) will directly confront in America today: the roughly one-quarter of Americans who refuse to comply with masking and vaccines. They don’t carry guns (at least not only guns); they carry the SARS CoV-2 virus and play host to future variants. Their breath, while not as intimidating as an assault rifle, can be just as lethal. They are conspiring (wittingly or not) with an even bigger enemy of our health and safety: Covid-19 disease. Aiding and abetting the enemy that is the pandemic, they comprise the vast majority of America’s quislings. They are the much larger threat to America.

However, as maddening as it is to watch American Covid quislings put the rest of us (especially children) at risk, it is time to let them go; to ignore them as if they were invisible. There is an old rule in strategic planning that has served me well, both in my professional and personal life. The shorthand version is “that if it doesn’t respond to intelligence, discard and move on.” “It” in this case can be a person, company, organization, investment opportunity, or any other entity that does not respond in a reasonable and timely fashion to the truth or, more broadly, intelligence. American Covid quislings qualify. They have proven that they do not respond to intelligence. So, set aside your anger and/or empathy (if you have any of that left). Do not continue your efforts to persuade them, nor fight them, nor appease them. It’s time to apply our time, energy and resources to saving the future for the rest of us.

The epidemiologists I follow suggest will be living with Covid-19 and its many variants for years. Our best hope is to wrestle it into a manageable public health risk like seasonal influenza. That said, I have also learned of mRNA concoctions—currently being developed—that could wipe out all coronaviruses within about five years. That includes everything from Covid to the common cold. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, I want to bend the ear of my readers over 45 years of age and suggest that we individually and collectively do everything we can to help younger generations achieve their dreams, the same way our parents and grandparents did for us.

My concern today is less for the physical health effects Covid has wrought than it is for the mental health effects that are just now emerging in the psyche of Americans.  Losing the future is completely unacceptable and, currently, that is where we are headed. As one who has spent decades involved with the complexities of strategic planning, Covid is the biggest Joker-in-the-deck I have ever seen. It has proven to be so pervasive and significant in its effects that there is no such thing as long-, or even mid-, term planning.  What we are left with is rising every day and reacting to the flames at our feet. The effects of this condition include a loss of control that manifests, ultimately, as hopelessness. Our psychological well-being, which is the core of the American spirit, is at risk of collapse.

If you belong to the Boomer generation, or are a member of Generation X, the country and the world was handed to you on a silver platter. We are lottery winners who had the good fortune of being born at the right time and place. Most of us have done very well. Those who didn’t probably can’t point their finger at many culprits besides themselves. We benefited mightily from America’s ascension to superpower status after Word War II and, subsequently, the rise of the digital age and all of its benefits and opportunities. Yes, we can gripe about our trophy-kid millennials and selfie-driven Gen Z-ers. But, remember this: we raised them.

For someone my age, who is on a (hopefully) gentle downslope coast to the finish line, I must accept that my impact on the future is limited and, frankly, less relevant than a twenty- or thirty-year-old. My contributions to the world have largely been realized. I can coast in the present moment with my Calm app in hand. It’s the younger people I am concerned about. They deserve our encouragement, support, and consideration. Rather than beat our heads against a wall of anger and ignorance behind which the American Covid quislings fester, we need to be there for the three-quarters who are trying to do everything right. Who, but for Covid, would be blazing a trail of success through their own creativity and hard work. Those still in school or just starting out. Those whose canvas still has plenty of white space upon which to paint. Those who are the promise rather than the past.

It is incumbent upon the rest of us with a bit (or a lot) of gray in our hair to assure we lift up our younger Americans. Sure, we may have been ridiculed by older generations rather than lifted up, but we arrived on the scene under very different circumstances. That silver platter was polished to a high gloss before we arrived. The world as it exists now is our doing, and we have failed to deliver it as ripe with the promise of opportunity as the one our parents and grandparents left us. Rectifying this deficit will be difficult, but not impossible. What we must do with the years we have left is to save the future for those who still have one.

All we need to do is ask the question—often and sincerely—is their anything I can do for you to help you achieve your goals—your dreams? Then, follow through. It doesn’t take much: a hand up, a boost, a shoulder to lean on, a piece of wisdom here or there to get them past the challenges of the day. They want to succeed on their own terms much the same as we did. And, as much as you may like hanging out with your peers, helping younger folks may just lift you up too.

Saving the future is not just for those who will live it; it is for those of us who have already had one.

By |2021-10-22T16:09:53+00:00September 18th, 2021|General|0 Comments
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