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

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

Starving for Virtue

It is nearing time to choose a path; do we continue down the current rabbit hole of what columnist David Brooks has called “performative narcissism,” or do we reach back to the values that actually made America great and reengage with each other by demanding honesty, humility and decency?  The top of the presidential candidate card for both parties—Trump, Biden and Bernie—appear to be mired in Brooks’ performative narcissism.  To be fair, Trump is in a league of his own; I suspect that in the coming years his name will be attached to many newly-named psychoses in medical journals than it may appear on shiny new buildings around the world.  Trumpicism may become shorthand for malignant narcissism. Orange skin tone and Aqua Net shellacked hair swirls may prompt calls for an exorcist.  Still, the front-runner Democrats offer little more than slightly milder narcissism and, at times, just as much scapegoating and demagoguing, not to mention inappropriate shoulder rubs. Instead of Mexicans as an existential threat, it’s Wall Street.  Instead of porn stars slapping ass with a rolled-up Forbes, it’s too close—much too close—hair sniffing.  Perhaps old white guys should simply go home and stay there.  Patriarchy has become about as welcome as a houseguest who really thought you meant it when you said, “Stay as long as you want.”  As a relative newcomer to the old-white-guy demographic, I am totally cool with banishment.  At some point, you just have to go fishing and be happy that John Coltrane is available on Amazon music.  Plus, you can sleep in later.  (If only I could.)

Spring is, however, upon us, and green sprouts are beginning to appear among the younger set of political prospects.  Who would have expected that a gay mayor of a mid-western town would rise in a just a few weeks to be third among Democratic presidential hopefuls?  But, besides being gay and from South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg is wicked smart and conveys an honest sense of humility with an apparent addiction to solving problems that face those of us outside the top one percent. Whipping the evangelical avatar Mike Pence with lessons from Jesus was a smack-down long overdue.  Who knew such a person existed in today’s political arena?  Running South Bend may not qualify him to manage an ageing superpower, but his intellect and disposition will, no doubt, send his star soaring well beyond the Hoosier state.  Stacey Abrams also catches my ear; when she speaks, listening is a pleasure.  Like Mayor Pete, her brain exceeds the collective intellect of the entire Trumplican caucus. In three sentences, she defined the entire game in 2020: “Winning does not mean beating Trump. It means winning America. That’s our mission.”  I don’t know if or what she may run for next, but Dems had damn well better start listening to her or Trump, like Netanyahu earlier this month, will be headed for another term.

Happy spring my friends.  Now, it’s time to go re-org the flybox.

By |2019-04-21T14:38:00+00:00April 12th, 2019|Donald Trump, General|0 Comments

American Deliverance—an Introduction

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

American Deliverance: Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shall We Read?

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your summer!

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

2018: Passage to Promise or Collapse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Will Save the American Dream?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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