Get Out of Your Box

As the humorist Dave Barry recently described a woman’s reaction toward the coming presidential election, she had “the facial expression of a person who has just opened the door to a port-a-potty on the last day of a midsummer chili festival.” Notwithstanding the aversion most Americans have toward a hyper-divided America, and the abject apathy we feel toward the current two geriatric presidential candidates, many continue to forecast a coming civil war between red and blue as fantasized in the recent release of Alex Garland’s dystopian “Civil War.” The movie may be a hit, but the local cinema is likely the closest we will come to any civil war. The vast majority of Americans, whom our collective media ignores, remain hiding inside their boxes where their weariness creates little more than disgust, let alone the energy to pursue violence. Even MAGA zealots are showing signs of fatigue.

The old guard of our two-party system very much wants to keep us there—in our boxes. More specifically, in our three-dimensional boxes with two-dimensional binary choices. This or that. Him or him. Us versus them. Pick one without thinking too much. Settle for the least-worst choice. Set your brain aside. The brain that would like its human to scream, “Bullshit!”, but has been silenced by intensely partisan institutions that want to preserve themselves rather than solve problems, leaving the few remaining screamers hoarse. The Republican leader, Speaker Mike Johnson, seems to spend more time with his comb than his gavel. Meanwhile, Democrats are busy playing their favorite game they learned from the religious right: “Shame on you!”

Sick and tired? Me too.

Depression is at an all-time high in America across nearly all demographic groups—especially our teens who have had the development of their autonomy severely compromised. Consequences have been avoided to their profound detriment. First, by helicopter parenting and more recently by social media and online gaming. As a result, teens and young adults have not learned to properly manage risk in order to make the decisions that make possible the glorious uplifting autonomy they naturally crave. Their sense of self is a mirage. Worse, they know it. They look in the mirror and see a fraud. Depression and anxiety have become both inevitable and pervasive.

Meanwhile, many adults have also abdicated their agency and the responsibility that goes with it. It’s the same problem: without a sense of autonomy based in a healthy embrace of self-determination, we feel lost. Things happen to us instead of because of us. Many have made victimhood their pathetic ambition. Woe is me. Woe be us. It is a twisted way to try to feel good, but like autonomy, aspiration also dies with the abdication of responsibility.

We got here innocently enough. Hoodwinked by the orange one and then buried by the malaise of the pandemic, all of which coincided with our surrender to social media silos that narrowed our world to echo chambers of intellectual incest and, for some, psychological collapse. Between politicians and the media, we’ve been gaslighted so many times the vapors have fogged our sense of who we are, or once were, as Americans. It has left us feeling collectively unworthy, suffering from what I can only describe as societal loathing. Many Americans feel alone and abandoned. Moreover, they take no pride in calling themselves Americans anymore.

These days must end. There is no reason to put up with this nonsense any longer. A soon-to-be convicted felon and sociopath, or a well-meaning grandpa who can barely make it to his helicopter. These are the choices of the most powerful and wealthy nation in the world? Spare me. This nation is loaded with bright young people who know better and can do better. Enough already. Remaining in our boxes is not the answer. It is time to emerge. To kick the political provocateurs and dullards to the curb and take control of our future. We need to do it for ourselves and a free world that craves American leadership, but currently sees us as a frail and confused shell of our former selves.

I won’t beat you up with the remembrances of an old man, but the hard reality (and present opportunity) must be considered if we are to reset America. Yes, America was once a great nation and can be again. I remember when Americans wouldn’t even consider, let alone embrace, victimhood or failure. To be sure, we failed, but we learned from failure and tried again; without recrimination or abdication. We failed our way to success. We saw the future as a promising horizon of opportunity, not a venue for victimhood. We understood that the path to success was not paved with the stones of grievance. Furthermore, we took responsibility, individually and collectively. Consequences—for better and worse—were like oxygen. We needed them to live. Moreover, outcomes were the foundation of our self-worth. Taking responsibility for them, which has become something we urgently and often creatively try to avoid today, was critical to our well-being. It was (and is) at the core of self-determination, which has been an essential American value since Thomas Jefferson put quill to parchment.

So, what can you/we do?

To those of you with more gray hair, or none at all, your job is to mentor. To extend the hand of wisdom to lift younger leaders up. Those who need and want to succeed for the benefit of us all. To get out of their way and cheer them on. No, seventy is not the new fifty, it’s seventy. Shed yourself of your old ego and find satisfaction—self-worth—in helping others succeed. Focus on having the deep word, not the last word. Your country needs you now more than ever, but not in the manner it once did. Enable, mentor, inspire. Nudge, don’t shove, and I’ll say it again: get out of the way!

To those who have all their hair and energy to match it, you are not your social media feed. You are human and have responsibility for yourself, your family, your country and world. That may seem daunting, but it is also your great opportunity to find both your purpose and meaning. It is your path to greatness. Find your way with humility and grace. Embrace failure and learn from it. You can do it. Your ancestors did and so can you. Yes, things are different today; arguably easier. Put your phone down and look at the horizon. All of that world out there is yours. Go and get it!

This American reset will take time. We need to balance our ambition with patience. Be both relentless and deliberate. Above all else, we need to respect ourselves and each other. Shut up and listen. Consider the fact that every person you encounter knows something you don’t know and can do something better than you can do it. And, you have the same to offer. Working together brings all possibilities to the table to assure our mutual success. To make tomorrow better than today. To lead the world once again.

By |2024-05-05T12:49:38+00:00April 21st, 2024|General, Recent, The New Realities|0 Comments

America Needs a (Moral) Hero

“Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”

American media has created many heroes throughout my lifetime and our culture produced many more in real life from popular presidents like Kennedy, Reagan, and Obama to social activists like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks and, perhaps the largest category of all: athletes like Michael Jordan, Muhammed Ali, and Joe Montana to name just three. Recently, women have produced more heroes than men in America like Taylor Swift and Caitlin Clark who are notable and legitimate heroes to millions of American women and girls.

Generally, heroes play a much greater role in our fantasy lives than in our real lives, although the line between the two for many of us can be faint. In fiction, some might suggest they are critical to a novel’s success for without them, and some seemingly insurmountable challenge they must conquer, we wouldn’t turn the page. Recently, I participated in a literary discussion where the role of heroes was debated to find their proper role in great works of literature. I was left pining for heroes. I even suggested, “what America needs—what I need today—is a damn hero” for which I was admonished by one participant for falling in to the trap of the “great man theory” of history, even while I am enough of an historian to know that while heroes do not explain all history, I acknowledge how important hero-leaders are to moving society forward. Where would we be without Washington, Franklin, Lincoln, Roosevelt, or King? Admittedly, we often don’t recognize heroes in real time, but fortunately we have historians to illuminate them later.

The role of heroes—imagined or real—seems to be critical to our collective well-being. The “better angels” Lincoln referred to in his first inaugural address that might guide us to practice more virtuous lives are the essence of the value of heroes: they bring out the best in us. They provide a model against which to measure our own worth. By their example, they hold us accountable. What kid in my generation did not want to be like Superman? Advertisers have shamelessly understood the allure of heroes for years. The Gatorade advertising campaign, “Be Like Mike” directed us to do what Michael Jordan does and load up on their carb/electrolyte/sugar drinks (which did not improve my jump shot one bit). Heroes show us how to live.

Of all the things that have been written about Donald Trump, few recognize how he has flipped the role of hero on its head. To be clear, for many he is their hero; even seen as a savior—the new chosen one for many evangelicals. A condition I expect Jesus would have a hard time reconciling. And what he has accomplished for too many is to demonstrate how to behave, or perhaps more accurately, misbehave. Unfortunately, Trump’s flip comes in the fact that rather than demonstrate virtuous behavior to summon our better angels, he has single-handedly given permission to those vulnerable to his fear-based manipulation to engage in inappropriate behaviors that violate our laws and established norms of behavior. Everything from attacking the Capitol on January 6th to abusing flight attendants on commercial aircraft can be laid—directly or indirectly—at Trump’s feet. In essence, if you don’t like something, or somebody, or someplace, attack it by whatever means you have available from simple disregard to wielding fists and weapons. As Trump has suggested many times, rules and norms are for suckers and losers!

Notwithstanding the fact that many of Trump’s followers now get their meals on fiberglass trays through a slot in their prison cell doors, many others still follow his path of permissible destruction. He has made being really bad really cool for too many Americans. His anti-hero modality has yet to be countered by a new American hero. Americans need more than Joe Biden whose low ratings are probably due in part to the fact he doesn’t impress as hero, or even hero-adjacent. His Dark Brandon character wearing aviator glasses just doesn’t leap any tall buildings. (Please, Joe, do not even try to jump!) We need somebody to come forward and be our new hero; to reestablish the expectation of better angels. To shift the spotlight back to moral goodness and civility.

Inasmuch as we need a moral hero (as opposed to the next super-hoopster like Michael Jordan or Caitlin Clark) I recognize this is a big ask. America is much more capable of producing athletic heroes than moral ones. When I looked around for prospects, there are plenty of dead moral heroes (Aleksei Navalny the most recent), but few live ones, and I doubt the Dalai Lama is willing to relocate to Chicago. A reasonable expectation is that he or she would come from organized religion; perhaps even American Christianities. But these institutions have become captives of their overlords who are much more interested in institutional preservation and the grandiosity of their leaders.

We are left with the promise of physics, in this case, that pendulums swing. Jesus + Einstein. As pendulums swing to and fro, I have confidence this condition will self-correct; that a new moral hero is emerging even while we can’t name him or her, yet. Heroes and anti-heroes enjoy a kind of perverted symbiosis: they need each other. In the era of Trump, it is simply the nature of Nature that a new moral hero would rise. When he or she does they will not claim the throne of heroism; there will be no fanfare. Moral heroes gain distinction in their humility, not their spray-on orange-hued puffery. In the meantime, perhaps Trump’s kryptonite—the truth—will begin to deplete his kinetic energy so gravitational potential energy can prevail in favor of a new hero.

Now, look up in the sky! It may just be a bird, or a plane, but one never knows where the next hero will come from. Hopefully for America, sooner rather than later.

By |2024-04-21T13:22:33+00:00April 14th, 2024|General, Leadership, Recent|0 Comments

Racing into Spring

On my walk this morning up Boulder Creek, a Western Robin cocked its muddied beak at me and let out a clumsy squawk offering proof her winter rest had left her unpracticed in her warnings to approaching strangers. The message: “I am not to be trifled with” was, however, received. I hope she found a delicious earthworm or two to sate her gullet and soften her disposition.

For most of us, the winter of ’24 was tame by historical standards. In Colorado, we fortunately got plenty of moisture even while higher temperatures meant the snow had the texture of mashed potatoes more than baby powder. The skier’s revelry for “blower pow” was replaced by the climate-change reality of sodden flakes. Here’s hoping our water well—the snowpack—will persevere and protect us from summer wildfires.

As you may have gained from my reference to Boulder Creek, this winter included my relocation from my beloved San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado two degrees farther north latitude to Boulder, Colorado, home of the CU Buffaloes who seek new fame (infamy?) for their football program with Coach Prime. We’ll see how that goes. If he can accomplish what the women’s basketball team has, he may be around for a while.

My reason for relocation were greater opportunities for social and intellectual stimulation as well as better access to healthcare while maintaining reasonable exposure to nature and recreation. Those of you who live in healthcare deserts like the Western Slope of Colorado know what I mean. Cancer brought that reality home to me, loud and clear.

In making the decision, I reflected on a lesson taught to me many decades ago by a great American you have never heard of, Roger Neuhoff. Roger was an east coast guy—a quintessential New Englander—and former CIA agent during the Cold War whom I met during my broadcasting career while living in Washington D.C. His spook-assignment was to infiltrate North Korea during the Korean War and rescue stranded and/or captured American reconnaissance pilots. He was not only smart, he had extraordinary courage. He taught me, with his no-nonsense Yankee wisdom, that if I had a choice of where to live a person can’t go wrong with living in, and investing in, cities that have: a land grant university; a state capital; and, a river. In his view, water, proximity to power, and youthful energy and inspiration assured vitality inoculated from economic downturns. Like most things in his life, he was correct about this formula, too.

So, I decamped; from one corner of Colorado where I was close to New Mexico and Arizona to a northern position closer to Wyoming. I now live across the street from the creek, a fifteen-minute walk to Coach Prime’s new promotional playground—Folsom Field—and just two blocks from Boulder’s famous Pearl Street which has some of the finest restaurants and retail in our country, although the food gets much more of my attention than the latest merch. Besides the university, which is an obvious source of intellectual stimulation, and which I plan to exploit soon at their April Conference on World Affairs, Boulder is also home to Highland City Club (HCC), close to my new residence as well.

HCC has, as its mission, to be a “securus locus” or safe place to pursue all manner of social, intellectual, and business endeavors. Its founder, Sina Simantob (an American immigrant and true visionary) who sees Boulder as an “Athens of the West” and his son, Dustin, have done an extraordinary job of creating a haven for open minded, curious, and intelligent people. Clearly, they made an exception in accepting my membership application! They further describe their mission as:

City Club’s community offers a shared safe place, allowing our members to feel accepted for who they are. Show up as your best self and see us as we see ourselves. We are the young and the old. We transcend race, gender and religious belief. We are the young entrepreneur operating on a shoestring, and the seasoned business person wanting to give back. We are not separated by our politics. We are the artist, scientist, educator, and retiree. We embrace them all. Each voice counts equally. A tall order, perhaps, but we’ve been at it for four decades.

Yes, folks, notwithstanding the vitriol that has inundated our national discourse, there are still enlightened places in America where open-mindedness fosters creativity and ingenuity across all dimensions of intellectual endeavor.

I am now where the rivers flow southeast rather than southwest, on the so-called “front range” of the Rockies—on the other side of the Continental Divide. Theoretically, our headwaters end up in the Gulf of Mexico, although given the parched lands between I doubt a drop ever reaches its warm waters. During the interregnum from my writing due to my move, I have kept a scant eye on national developments other than to notice things haven’t gotten any better.

My desire for a McCarthy-esque comeuppance for Donald Trump, like when Joseph Welch nailed Senator McCarthy with his famous query, “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” (effectively ending the demagogue’s career), has yet to be visited upon Mr. Trump. And, while I recognize that a sociopath of Trump’s caliber would not likely be swayed by the quaint notion of decency, one can still fantasize. November draws closer day-by-day. Yikes.

Happy Easter, everyone. As He is, may we all be, risen.

By |2024-04-14T13:18:07+00:00March 29th, 2024|General, Recent|0 Comments

For MLK, Jr: “Fierce Resilience”

Big mountains

Big snow

Big wind

 

Scoured stone

Frozen in time

Stasis preserved

Unscarred

 

Millennia speak

Through perseverance

Change swirls

Permanence unrivaled

 

If the peaks spoke

No trivia

Just just wisdom

Low resonance

 

Fierce resilience

Their message

As the world churns

Forever present

By |2024-03-29T14:37:17+00:00January 15th, 2024|Leadership, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

Seeking Higher Ground

I attempt to welcome each new year with more hope than trepidation. Admittedly, I have failed in the last few years. The abandonment of civility in our nation and world, and the unprecedented rejection of rational discourse founded in truth to find agreement about basic realities in order to solve fundamental challenges has proven—to say the least—disorienting. What we have collectively witnessed and endured has tested the fortitude of our character to unnatural levels.

And yet, I don’t think I have learned more about life and how to live it than during these extraordinarily disturbing times. The lessons of my bucolic Boomer childhood notwithstanding, I enter 2024 with great gratitude for these more recent learnings born from the necessity of sanity. Dark times force one to dig much deeper into their knowledge, beliefs, and fundamental consciousness that—if we commit ourselves to a practice of mindfulness—reveals magnitudes of higher-order thinking. The American country singer-songwriter, Lyle Lovett, sang, “I live in my own mind, ain’t nothin’ but a good time.” That worked for me too until my mind wasn’t such a good time. Then, I had to either reconfigure and recalibrate my mental modalities, or accept a descent into the depths of depression. Fortunately, my Celtic heritage allowed no room for despair. I do come from stubborn and sturdy stock.

Recently, I have been digging through my archive of notes, mostly taken from books I have read. Thirty years ago, I read the book A World Waiting to be Born by M. Scott Peck (1993). After several moves, it remains in my library today so it must be a good one. In it he describes a world of rebirth and renewed civility in that early post-Cold War era (two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union) that we now know was, sadly, stillborn. The period that followed—that included our transformation from ages-long scarcity to newly realized abundance—illustrated that while humans are good, we are also weak. The period of high idealism that began in the early 1980s crashed (as periods of high idealism always do) into a period of crisis from which we are now—hopefully and finally—emerging.

Shortly after Peck’s book was published, Microsoft launched the Windows operating system (1995). Since then, I kept a file simply called “Ideas” that has since evolved into many more files that provide a reservoir of knowledge and inspirations that now—three decades later—prove that new ideas may or may not exist, but the great ones come and go and come again. In this file was a quote from Peck’s book that made enough sense to be jotted down at the time, but makes even more sense to me today—after these last few years of tumult and terror.

Peck wrote,

… the point is to plunge ahead as pilgrims, through thorns and sharp stones of the desert into deeper and ever-deeper levels of consciousness, becoming ever more able to distinguish between those varieties of self-consciousness that are ultimately destructive and those that are life-enhancing, even godly.

Today, Peck’s advice leaves me both dumbstruck and awestruck. Dumbstruck because I feel stupid having written it down and then largely ignored it for thirty years, and awestruck because it absolutely nails the value of the rigorous interrogation of my consciousness that has proven so beneficial in eluding despair’s tendril-grip grasp thus enabling my liberation—even if only for a moment here and there. This is what some mindfulness teachers call glimpses of enlightenment: when the spiritual-self—the soul—overcomes the ego-self.

Socrates taught his students the importance of “to know thyself” as a prerequisite to a meaningful and fulfilling life. Indeed, having an honest and humble sense of self is an essential element of maturity. However, as I have learned from those rooted in Eastern philosophy, there is another step. Knowing thyself then enables one to create space between the self and negative thoughts and emotions through the practice of mindfulness. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle recommends, do not say “I am angry,” simply recognize that “anger is in you.” That space created through recognition of anger’s existence, rather than it being an integral part of you, is the space necessary to isolate toxic effects before they penetrate your psyche to cause harm. It enables what Peck is suggesting where he writes about building the capacity to distinguish between things that are destructive and those that are life-enhancing. It is a subtle yet powerful practice. The ultimate benefit of this approach is the manifestation of a balanced and centered life that supports peace and tranquility; what the Greek stoics called eudaimonia.

May I suggest that in 2024 we take Peck’s advice and “plunge ahead as pilgrims” to seek a “life-enhancing, even godly” new year. May we do this from the core of moral goodness that resides in each and every one of us. May we together establish a new road paved by integrity with courage on the accelerator and humility on the brakes.

As we leave 2023 behind, I offer you some lines of verse titled, “Revelation,” that describes the arc of life from its terrifying beginning to its transcendent finale.

Revelation

We arrive alone

Terrified, crying

Strangers smiling

Happy in our terror

We’ll call them family

 

We craft a self

That makes us special

We strive and fail

And craft some more

Climbing, falling, climbing

 

Styles like lovers

come and go

Unmet expectations

Deceive and disturb

Carrots and sticks

 

Surfing rainbows

Beauty without bliss

Until we stop, sit

The stillness of shade

Hearts finally open

 

Light in the darkness

Shedding our armor

Liberation beckons

Solemn calm

Sudden transcendence

In the Apostle Paul’s first epistle to the church of Corinth, he makes the case for the necessity of a life denominated in love while also recognizing the value of faith and hope. While love envelops both, hope is our greatest natural source of strength. It is the spine of our character. Further, it is available to each of us and can only be taken away by a loss of faith—principally in ourselves. It is, therefore, our duty to nurture hope and to protect it from those who wish to strip us of our humanity; from those whose own selfish depravity knows no limits. It is time, once again, to reach for hope and show each other and the world that the future belongs to those who honor its strength.

Cheers and Happy New Year.

By |2024-01-07T13:37:50+00:00December 31st, 2023|General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

Taking Stock of the Stones We Carry

Yes, we are living the Chinese curse of “interesting times” in real time.

From the pandemic and our continuing recovery including all of its collateral damage, to wars in Europe and the Middle East and not-so-veiled threats from China and North Korea, to extraordinary political dysfunction and social strife at home, there are many heavy stones to carry. And yet, upon each new dawn we rise up and stride forward, again.

For all this darkness let us please stop for a moment and, as this year draws to a close, take stock of our resilience and perseverance that, with each new stone, seems to increase rather than wane. Bowed though our backs may be, unbroken we stand.

In the midst of our challenges, I see our goodness rising rather than falling. I see our character being chiseled into new forms of lean fortitude. Our virtues that, like fenceposts, stubbornly steady the integrity of our character as the wind-driven snows of infamy attempt to topple the fence altogether. We are, slowly but surely, shedding our excess pounds of dishonor gathered during a period of narcissism, entitlement, and hubris—now more than two decades running—to regain our most fundamental American values: 1) Individualism, or the notion that Americans are possessed of free will and take responsibility for its expression thereof (which was displaced by narcissism); 2) Perfectibility, or the idea that Americans always strive to make things better than the way they were found (which was exchanged for an adolescent sense of entitlement) and finally; 3) Exceptionalism—the exemplar kind—where Americans attempt to set the example for others to follow (which was compromised by hubris).

Are we all the way back? Hell no, but I feel an awakening beginning to glimmer in the eyes of many among us of all ages and of every other American distinction—different races, religions, ethnicities, political loyalties, sexual preferences and gender identities.  Not yet among our leaders who remain deluded by a warped sense of grandeur; rather, among those of us who rise every day, hoist the bag of stones on our back, and attempt to make this day better than the last. Just folks.

The values I identify above—Individualism, Perfectibility, and Exceptionalism—are as old as our founding documents. Observers, like Alexis de Tocqueville in the early 19th century, were enthralled by this American character. Subsequently, countless adversaries have been both fooled and foiled by the strength these dispositional values can muster. The fundamental operating system that both activates and actualizes these values is our commitment to self-determination: to foster a world that meets our interests as we define them—on our own terms.

While it is true that many American politicians and even our own Supreme Court appear determined to restrict and even undermine our right of self-determination, that glimmer I see in people’s eyes suggest they will fail; that “We the People” will not cower, nor be put asunder. We know what freedom is and, as every despot in the history of the world also knows (often learning the hard way), once people taste freedom their appetite never diminishes. Indeed, as many prior American generations demonstrated, we believe it is worth dying for. The Samuel Alitos among us would be wise to take note.

We do, however, need to get smarter about the stones we carry.

Our current load of stones has frazzled our minds and inflamed and bruised our hearts. Anger and depression have reached epidemic levels among Americans today. As a result, our behaviors, both individually and collectively have, at times, been far less than exemplary. Like a kid on a hike in the mountains we have picked up too many stones to carry home. As adults, however, we know from the Pareto Principle that 80% of results come from 20% of causes—the vital few as they are called—suggest we should carry far fewer stones. Understanding these stones and learning which to carry is the most effective means to enhance our well-being and maintain that sturdy chiseled character.

There are three types of stones. Touchstones that guide and inspire, Duty Stones that represent those things we are responsible for, and Burden Stones that represent those things we cannot directly manage or affect. We need to curate our list of those that should be in our bag and discard the rest to achieve a new sense of balance—of equanimity.

Touchstones (TS) emanate from a constellation of knowledge and beliefs that comprise our cognetic profile (a methodology I developed in my doctoral research to predict the behavior of presidents and other world leaders). Each of us has our own unique cognetic profile—as unique as our highly-differentiated fingerprints or the strands of genes that form our DNA. Our TS come from our knowledge and beliefs. Knowledge is acquired rationally through two channels: empirical learnings and experience. Beliefs are acquired through faith via the channels of socialization and indoctrination. These TS collectively guide us and inspire us; they are critical elements of what make up our dispositional orientation, or personality.

Some people have cognetic profiles that favor one or the other, knowledge or beliefs. Understanding this balance and the most influential components of each are powerful predictors of our likely decisions and actions. As for wisdom, consider it the bed upon which these TS lie—the soul beneath your knowledge and beliefs (what the Greeks called sophia, or transcendental wisdom). These profiles are also not fixed. They shift and evolve over time as we encounter our world; they are dynamic. There are also lively discussions over what elements are acquired and which might be inherited, and how our souls (believed by many to be our reservoir of eternal wisdom) plays, but these issues are too deep of a dive for this post.

Duty Stones (DS) are just as you might expect. They include those stones we accept through our many obligations to ourselves, our families, our communities, country and world. As a general rule, we arrive in the world with zero DS then accept more and more as we age until a point around sixty years of age when—if we have done our job well—the list begins to decline. The problem for many, however, is that our self-image, protected by our powerful egos, often clings to these DS which, as I have discussed in prior posts, sets us on a path of decline and suffering rather than transcendence and sweet peace.

In effect, there is a fork in the road of life many miss and blindly continue without shedding their DS. The result is that at the time of our final liberation—our death—we are in an unsettled state of mind. In some, if not many cases, we have actually met the underlying obligation but cling to the DS to maintain a self-image from our earlier life. Like the parent who won’t acknowledge that their child is now an adult. This is when DS can become Burden Stones (BS). But that is not the only or largest source of BS.

I have to say I like that the abbreviation of Burden Stones (BS) is shared with bullshit. I think that is appropriate. BS are the stones we should never have in our bag, but which for many can comprise the majority of stones in their bag. By definition, BS are stones we have no direct ability to affect. They become the primary contributor to what I collectively call gut-fry: frustration, anxiety, anger, fear, and depression.

Some people accept BS out of a sense of shame or guilt, or often times out of a sense of overwrought duty. Sometimes even out of a sense of master-of-the-universe ego-maniacal self-perception as in, “What do you mean I can’t solve all the world’s problems?” (I am guilty of this one.) We cannot directly affect the plight of Israelis attacked on October 7th, Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank, Ukrainians, Rohingya in Myanmar, Uyghurs in China, or any other victims of distant atrocities. What we can do is vote, protest, contribute to the cause, etc., but we must not carry them as DS.

Another common form of BS is the heritage or legacy stone. These come from events of the past which, by their very nature as in the past cannot be affected. Placing any of these BS in your bag is unfair to you and to those who are the subjects of your DS, like your family and community. As a further note to late-life readers: do not fall into the trap of replacing DS with BS to bolster your self-image and sate your ego. (I have seen a lot of this.) Do not compromise your path to transcendence and sweet peace.

So, in your bag: TS and selective DS, but no BS.

I expect 2024 will be another year of “interesting times.” A year from now, we may come to appreciate how important it was to lighten our load of stones. As Jennifer Senior wrote recently in The Atlantic as she was contemplating the effects of a potential return of the Orange One to the Oval, regardless of the presidential election, in 2024 “we are once again facing a news cycle that will shove our attention—as well as our output, our nerves, our sanity—through a Cuisinart.” I encourage everyone to have a private conversation with themselves. The year’s turning is a convenient time of reckoning. Look in your bag and lighten your load.

If you do, 2024 may indeed be a Happy New Year.

By |2023-12-31T13:37:19+00:00December 10th, 2023|American Identity, General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

Conversations with God: The (Next) Transfiguration

Apparently, God’s marketing plan for Jesus wasn’t going as well as he had hoped. So, he did what any self-respecting spiritual entrepreneur would do, he held a promotional event.

Jesus just wasn’t getting the traction God wanted. His tattered and worn smock-like and ill-fitting robes together with tread-bare sandals and unshaven un-coiffed appearance tended to diminish the influence of his otherwise godly words. The modern-day rule, that the medium is the message, had yet to be realized. In today’s parlance, he had been trending but as an influencer his popularity was waning. It was time to rebrand Jesus.

In the gospels we learn that Jesus took a few of his pals including his disciple, Peter, James (son of Zebedee), and James’ brother, John the Baptist, up to the top of a mountain. (Mountains are always impressive venues for big promotional events.)  This is where Jesus’ rebranding through transfiguration takes place. Matthew 17:2 suggests that Jesus was “transfigured before them. His face shown like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” Two other important pundits of the day, Elijah (representing the prophets) and Moses (representing the law) also arrived just in time to witness what the disciple Luke described as Jesus’ new and obvious glory (Luke 9:32). “Spreading the Good Word” as is the calling of any dutiful Christian today, meant for that particular event these important opinion leaders would later provide street-cred for Jesus’ rebranded magnificence.

In Christian theology, the Transfiguration becomes a pivotal moment in the transcendence of Jesus’ stature as a divine philosopher placing him at the top of the charts among those focused on hearts and minds until the ultimate event—his crucifixion and resurrection—would complete the pillars of a belief system that has survived now for more than two millennia. The Transfiguration is widely held as the moment between what Dorothy Lee described in her 2004 monograph, Transfiguration, as the connection of the temporal and eternal placing Jesus as the bridge between heaven and earth. A whiz-bang promotional event, indeed. God had nailed it.

Fast-forward to today. God, I have a suggestion. And, don’t act like you can’t hear me. Turn up your hearing aids if you must.

Behaving ourselves—living up to the Good Word—is, as I understand it, a prerequisite to pass through the gates of heaven, which apparently now-a-saint Peter has the gig of guarding. However, like the allure of airline frequent flier miles to affect loyalty, the incentive of be good and live forever in heaven is wearing a bit thin today. (I know you don’t need frequent flier miles, God, but have you seen how hard they are to redeem lately?) Maybe modern medicine is to blame keeping us alive way longer than in Jesus’ day, but being good in a world where so few are is starting to take on the odor of Black Friday deals where you pay more than you would have on Thursday. Today, it seems the path to wealth and power depends on how bad you can be. So, how about another trip to the mountain?

This time, let’s do one better. How about a new plot twist: how about heaven on earth? How about you let the really good ones enjoy nirvana without having to endure death and St. Peter’s pesky entrance exam? Maybe give Pete a rest? I hear he is growing a bit grumpy in his role, anyway. Just imagine the world-wide buzz: “God’s New Plan!” would go viral. (That’s a good thing.) Don’t just transfigure one dude, transform all of humanity! Ambitious? Maybe, but what do you have to lose? Let’s face it, the old scheme isn’t playing out very well. Even your Holy Land isn’t so holy these days, brother. (Apologies, I know that “brother” reference is perhaps too familiar of me. Kinda like a kid tugging on your beard?)

Anyway, what do you think? You’ve no doubt read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice by now so tell me, what pound of flesh do you demand?

God speaks (in an appropriately thunderous reply): “Your ego! Give up your damn egos! Sit in the seat of your soul. That’s where eternal wisdom—the essence of heaven—resides anyway. (Harrumph.) Knuckleheads! Heaven on earth is available to you today as it always has been. Just rid yourself of your egos! Jesus didn’t have one, or I would have made him give his up on that mountain too.”

Taking that last step to transcendence—giving up our egos—is hard, but as hard as it is, it’s better than dying to get there. Doing it while alive is uncomfortable, to say the least. It means shedding yourself of the self that got you to where you are today. It means giving up notions like quid pro quo, or an eye for an eye, or the scarcity mindset of the win-lose paradigm. It means stepping off the treadmill of endless desires; of I wanna this, or I wanna that. It means as the Gods of all religions suggested long ago: forgiving others and ourselves for all of our wrongs. It means finding value in every being—human or otherwise. It means respecting the sacred connection between humans and nature—accepting that Nature is God.

To be certain, transcendence is a messy and uneven process. Glimpses of nirvana will be accompanied by moments of setback and yes, new transgressions that must be met with forgiveness all over again. But I believe it’s worth a try. Humanity today is facing its endgame. Our better angels are hard to find, but they are there. Not in the preening politicians, or screaming headlines and newsfeeds; rather, the person in the seat next to you on the bus; standing behind you in line; sitting quietly on the park bench. Goodness, like the potential for evil, resides in every human being. The good news is that doing good is much easier than doing evil. The rewards may not come as fast, but the outcomes may just save us all.

We all have been witness to the peril at home and abroad in the last few years.  The in-your-face pain and agony are heart-wrenching. To cope, and perhaps even flourish, I composed a page of verse to keep myself in line and on track in my own pursuit of heaven on earth. Perhaps you will find it useful too.

Heaven on Earth

Settling into my core, the inner citadel

Aware, centered, and balanced

As a noisy world rocks,

tranquility prevails

 

All doors are open

while energy flows with ease

Unencumbered by worldly concerns

Humanity is history’s pawn

 

Home with all the love I have received

Home with all the love I have given

Home is where I am, wherever I may be

 

Battles left to fade in the dim light of yesterday

Victories and defeats become one

Regrets are now irrelevant

It is time to move through

 

Angels dance as I embrace surrender,

welcoming me to the other side

The urgency of life yields to calm transcendence

Serenity—my new lover

 

Clarity of mind is pure and easy

No more fear, no more anger

Losses appear like stepping stones on the path

to resilience and deliverance

 

Dignity thrives in the mercy of presence

The final liberation begins

where suffering ends

Pure love is all that remains

 

Alone but not lonely,

swaddled by a life well lived

Days marked by glory and grace,

nights by peace

 

Home is heaven

Heaven is home

Heaven on Earth

As light is hard to come by in this season of Winter’s solstice, my wish for you is to find solace in the darkness. To set aside fear in favor of hope. To find strength in the depth of resolve your ancestors provided as your special inheritance. To find mercy around every bend. To be there for what you believe and for whom you love.

To set your ego aside and settle into your soul.

By |2023-12-10T14:32:44+00:00November 26th, 2023|General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

Imagination Nation

America has always been a nation driven by the unbridled imagination of its citizenry. In our first two centuries when we saw something we could improve, we acted to do so often without asking permission. The declarative mindset was, “We the people” can do better. Of course, there is a fine line between ambition and hubris but, for the most part, our unique and enduring concoction of courage and optimism—expressed through our imaginations—has served us well. This particular elixir of positivity—that all things imagined are indeed possible—has contributed mightily to a special brand of exceptionalism that produced the greatest empire of the modern era that has led the cause of freedom in the world for seven decades.

In the last twenty years, there has been a slow degradation of this national disposition that made America the imagination nation. It began with the ill-fated War on Terror in 2003; a fear-based reflex to 9/11 fueled by hubris and justified by lies or, as those inside the Beltway might prefer: “politicized intelligence.” Then that skinny black guy with the funny name—Barack Hussein Obama—tried to lift us back up to the pinnacle of hope and imagination only to be sidelined by fearful old pudgy white guys with common names who felt they were losing control of the America where they pulled all the levers and turned all the dials across politics, economics, and society. Fear of dispossession is indeed a powerful thing.

Then, as if on cue, arrived a reality TV show host with fabricated hair, tan, and wealth to convince us, as he claimed in his inaugural address, that the America that had led the world as a beacon of freedom since World War II was in a state of “carnage.” And, as he would remind us over and over, only he could fix it as he lined his pockets and those of his family members and closest allies with ill-gotten financial gains. His Republican predecessor president, George W. Bush, tried to warn us as he left the inauguration that January day from the east side of the Capitol when he suggested, “Well, that was some weird shit.”

The carnage that Trump envisaged did indeed arrive during his presidency. He promised it and he delivered. No democratic institution escaped his wrath culminating in an attempted coup d’état in January 2021. Of course, during this time America and the world also endured one of the greatest existential threats in a century: the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic was indeed a crisis but, as with all crises, it also represented an opportunity for America to exercise its courage and optimism to lead the world to contain the virus and heal its victims. But, thanks to Trump and those who had found new power based in fear and anger and division, America took the low road abdicating its position of leadership in the world and propelling the American empire into a tailspin. Meanwhile, adversaries like Vladimir Putin saw an opportunity in America’s meltdown to attempt to reestablish of the long-ago Russian empire. Unfortunately, we all—including both political parties—have largely embraced this simplistic, binary, and highly toxic disposition of us versus them, zero-sum thinking, which is completely contrary to what truly made America great during its first two centuries.

So, here we are. What now?

In the last six years, the American character has collapsed in on itself; it has imploded. Rather than rising up to face our many challenges we have allowed the spirit that made America great to be driven into a ditch by selfishness, deceit, and hubris.

We cry, “Why me?” when we should be exclaiming, “Why not?”

We accept the status quo when we should be forcing our so-called leaders to follow us to a better tomorrow. Very few Americans want either Trump or Biden as their next president but, as of today, most of us shrug our shoulders as if there is nothing we can do. We express outrage as Putin annihilates Ukrainian innocents then watch with a stunning sense of hypocrisy as an ally, Netanyahu of Israel, does the same to innocent Palestinians with American weaponry. We watch as drug companies extort profits while causing the premature opioid-deaths of thousands of Americans and we blame the dead. We have the most expensive and least effective healthcare system in the developed world and we sit in the waiting rooms of medical facilities across the country and just take it. We allow our children to be slaughtered by assault rifles and instead of addressing the obvious problem of way too many guns in America, we express our concern for the protection of an archaic and poorly worded amendment to our Constitution. All while Nature is screaming in our faces that she will rid the earth of us as soon as she can if we don’t act to curb our addiction to fossil fuels, and to the growth we have wrongly convinced ourselves is essential to our continued well-being.

The time has come to dust ourselves off and get out of the ditch. To accept nothing less than what our imaginations can conjure. To reject outright those who spew fear and anger and division. To hold each other and ourselves to the standards of the America that looked slavery in the eye in the mid-nineteenth century, and fascism in the eye in the mid-twentieth century, and fought with undaunting determination to claim the higher ground of freedom—not only for ourselves but for all of humanity. Yes, we can do hard things.

Today, I would like to declare a National Look-in-the-Mirror Day. Now is the time for every American to look in the mirror and ask themselves, “Why not?”

By |2023-11-26T14:30:41+00:00November 19th, 2023|American Identity, General, Recent|0 Comments

Altered States: My Road Trip West

When I last road-trip reported in May from my first extensive windshield-time since the onset of the pandemic (“Healing the Heart in the Heartland,” May 21), I had cruised through nine states in the Midwest—the American Heartland. For those who missed it, or have forgotten its message in the ether of a glorious summer, I observed that “What I found was a paradox of prosperity and fear; both inspiring and heartbreaking.” I also found “lovely people” who “treated me as nicely and respectfully over eleven days of travel in a very long time—perhaps ever.” I also noted they had “suffered what is the biggest con in the modern era: Trumpism” that had left them in a state of perpetual fear, principally of communism and transsexuals. Their hearts were wide open while their minds had been slammed shut.

I recently completed another trip, this time to the West where I was born and spent my formative years. From my home in Colorado through Utah, Nevada, Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and back; seven states in eleven days. Given my history of living more than a third of my life there (albeit several years ago), I expected a similar if not higher level of comfort that I experienced in the Heartland during this autumnal excursion. That is not at all what I experienced. If the Midwest is a monolith of homogeneity, the West has become a perplexing and unsettling compote of heterogeneity. Translation: diverse and disparate bordering on unhinged. And, passionless for most things other than the self.

The beauty and intrigue are mostly still there, but the spirit of opportunism and reinvention—that had attracted fortune seekers to the Gold Rush of the mid-19th century, to the glamorous icons of the film and television industry of the mid-20th century, to the digital entrepreneurs of the late-20th and early-21st centuries—has been largely crushed under the weight of too many people, water rights fights, and a complete lack of cohesion around a values-based sense of common purpose. The great heritage of the West—that anything and everything was possible there—was nowhere in evidence, while its great cities are a depressing hollowed out version of their former selves. One young woman from Napa, California advised me to “stay out of our cities” on my road trip. I remember growing up in Seattle years ago thinking cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, and New York City were dangerous places to avoid; now Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco are cast in the same grim light. The mid-sized western towns and communities I visited retain their charm and a modicum-sense of community, but rural and urban areas left me bewildered—at times crestfallen.

I was expecting to be not only reconnected, but reinvigorated with the hope that the West could bail out America from its current malaise. Rather, I found a place profoundly different than the Heartland, but no more ready or willing to contribute to the renewal of the American spirit. Will America’s next leaders come from the West? Maybe, but my guess is probably not.

More specifically, the West remains younger and much more diverse racially, ethnically, politically, and religiously than any other part of America. It also embraces open-mindedness and tolerance unmatched throughout the rest of America. However, I observed an odd and discomfiting twist to these characteristics that defined an underlying paradox: while westerners value open-mindedness and tolerance, they practice it at a distance. They keep to themselves. Warmth and intimacy seemed to be considered inappropriate, perhaps even dangerous. The great irony is that the same warmth and intimacy that people in the Midwest and, even more so, the American South practice as foundational to their particular culture are accompanied there by close-mindedness and intolerance. It’s a head-scratcher. One would expect higher open-mindedness and tolerance would lead to higher civil intimacy, and lower to less intimacy, but the inverse appears to be so.

Perhaps it is the West’s historical subscription to its myth of rugged individualism and libertarian values—based in a sense of introverted humility—that requires a less friendly, more standoffish set of social practices, but I didn’t sense their reservation was born from humility. Not like the puritan Yankee New England reserved nature that has its roots in priggish humility; rather, a guarded sense that everyone and everything may be a threat at any time that suggests keeping one’s distance as a best practice. Unfortunately, this condition of detachment introduces a slippery-slope slide into what I call pinball syndrome: an unsettled state of fatalism—a passive resignation to gloom. Like the pinball that has no sense of agency, one just careens from one bumper to the next while fooling themselves that they are simply going with the flow when they are, in reality, sliding past the flailing flippers into a trough of forlorn indifference.

This syndrome is further supported by my next observation: when westerners talk about their concerns there are few common threads like in the Midwest where communism and transsexuals were nearly universally seen as the most imminent threats (thanks largely to Trump and FOX News). Instead, the world before the westerner is considered only in very personal terms—not in terms of community. Their fears mostly fall under the categories of political and security, but expressed as personal rights and personal security. They see themselves as living in the places they live, but not of the places they live. Again, I suspect this gives them a false sense of detached agency like a pinball that has convinced itself it is in control, or engaging willingly in the flow when, in fact, it is bouncing out of control. I observed this being further complicated by an odd and unhealthy mix of high entitlement and victimhood that is exploited very creatively and cynically by politicians like the congressperson from Washington, Pramila Jayapal. She deploys the same game as Trump—manipulation through fear—just at the other end of the political spectrum.

Like many Americans, westerners have grown wary of government and institutions. And their nature is to be less rooted and more restless; consistent with a population that has a high composition of immigrants from both out-of-country and from across the country. Westerners view the rest of America as disconnected from reality and woefully unenlightened—especially the federal government which routinely sends their eyeballs rolling up into the back of their heads—seen as both incompetent and irrelevant. I must also point out, however, that this shallow-rooted restlessness makes the West much more willing to accept change, which may be why it can be credibly characterized as the land of radical geniuses. Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Steven Spielberg and many others all either started there or wound up there due to the West’s culture of creativity and acceptance of pursuing technology-enabled altered states of being, establishing new multidimensional platforms of human activity from commerce to social media to artificial intelligence. Unfortunately, more recent radical geniuses include the biotech con-artist Elizabeth Holmes and crypto-conman Sam Bankman-Fried. Hopefully, they don’t become the new trendsetters of the West.

This condition of creative destruction and reconstruction excludes, however, the volcanic Trumpy intellectual potholes of Eastern Oregon and most all of Idaho (ex-Boise). Volcanic as in antediluvian, volatile, and toxic. At times, driving through these regions reminded me of the Appalachian Highway in West Virginia that while beautiful, also had a vibe of “keep driving.” It is no surprise Eastern Oregon is seeking to secede its state to join Idaho. Regressive isolated dullards exist in the West too. There were places in Northern California that also had that “keep driving” vibe, where people still promote a separate “State of Jefferson” to exit California.

To be both clear and fair, notwithstanding the Eastern Oregon/Idaho exception, the West has a significantly higher consciousness of the environment and the effects of climate change than the rest of the country. Nature also offers greater appeal in the West than most of our country to affect human engagement. Yet, westerners are still struggling to transition from climate-aware to actively committed. The “covenant of reciprocity” to reconnect humans and Nature advocated by botanist and author Robin Wall Kimmerer (Braiding Sweetgrass) remains an ambition. Most practice a performative mode of activism, which is to say for appearances rather than effect. They are advocating but not activating. Social media posts seem sufficient for many—especially millennials. But I registered a much greater sense of urgency among younger Gen Z folks. This may not generalize to the rest of the country, but I suspect millennials may fall into the same relatively irrelevant generational category of the Silent Generation that came between the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers. The next great generation may well be Gen Z. Millennials take note: you now outnumber Boomers.  Being in the long shadow of Boomers is no longer a valid excuse to sit on your hands, although Gen Z may seize political control soon anyway. Your choice!

A final note on a condition that seems to be plaguing the West more than other regions of the country and that is the tourist-ification of nearly everywhere, which has gone into hyperdrive since the pandemic. State and national parks have been hammered by humanity. Tourists are both a blessing and a curse. I will argue here that the tourist-ification of the West is similar in terms of consequence to the industrialization of the East in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some western towns are so dominated by tourism and/or in the case of ski towns, a ski resort company, that they are beginning to take on the characteristics of the Andrew Carnegie steel towns of the late 19th century. Integrated dependencies within local economies do create strength, but such dependencies can also turn into vulnerabilities if the dominant industry or a large company falters. The reality is that tourism, like the years-ago production of steel, is a dirty business. It has a high carbon footprint (fossil fuel-driven travel), imposes surge impacts on community infrastructure, provides mostly low-wage seasonal jobs, creates seemingly unsolvable housing issues, exacerbates income inequality issues, and subjects fulltime residents to the tourist persona of surly entitlement. In short, tourism is inherently unsustainable. I expect a backlash coming soon. The stress between fulltime locals, second homeowners, and tourists is at an all-time high. Policymakers from national to local need to start working on economic development alternatives to tourism sooner rather than later.

Western states are, like much of America, at a crossroads. The dream of the West has become nightmarish for many. I expect western states will either burst forward in a fit of genius innovation, or spiral entropically into collapse. A moderate midway regression to the mean seems improbable and profoundly out of character. As with the rest of the country, the next fifty years are full of uncertainty for the West. It may be my birthplace prejudice, but I bet—I hope—the West will find its footing soon and regain its prowess as a venue of innovation, opportunity, and inspiration.

Now, it’s time to start a fire in my wood stove. Winter has arrived in the Rockies with snow on my doorstep.

By |2023-11-19T13:52:18+00:00October 29th, 2023|American Identity, General, Recent|0 Comments

And the Winner is: None of the Above

What was most remarkable about the second Republican debate of the non-Trump presidential aspirants and the almost-but-not-quite shutdown of our federal government was how few Americans seemed to care. According to the Nielsen ratings service, viewership in the second debate dropped 38% from 12.8 million to 9.3 million—the lowest viewership since Trump became a candidate in 2015. As for the prospective shutdown, people were much more interested in the budding romance of Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce. (Creepily, they do look like siblings.) And, somewhat disconcerting to Democrats, a YouGov poll showed Dems (in Congress plus Biden) were blamed for the looming shutdown as much as Republican members of Congress, although more—44%—blamed both.

In an admittedly somewhat twisted manner, the current disinterest Americans feel toward presidential candidates and Congress warms my heart. I will take it as a sign they are now doing what I have long advocated: turning their attention toward their own lives and their communities to pursue their welfare through means other than our federal government. Building informal neural-styled networks to focus instead on the development of stronghold communities and looking only occasionally at the circus in Washington D.C.—principally as a masochistic form of entertainment. If “Traylor,” “Tayvis,” or is it “Swelce”(?), transform their romance into a presidential ticket, my money is on them. And yes, Ms. Swift would be at the top of the ticket.

After I did watch the second Republican debate, which reminded me of a bunch of kindergartners just before a much-needed nap time, and observing the complete dysfunction of Republicans in the House of Representatives who are controlled by the pervy and peevish Mr. Gaetz, it is apparent the only plausible prospect for new inspired leadership resides on the Democrat side of the political ledger.

If you are Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, Vivek Ramaswamy, Mike Pence, Tim Scott, Asa Hutchison, that guy from North Dakota, Marianne Williamson, or Cornel West, you actually share something in common besides running for president: the majority of Americans do not want you to be the next president of the United States.

Get over yourself and get off the stage.

Nor is a “No Labels” or other third-party candidate what America needs because that would virtually assure a Trump election inasmuch as it would dilute the vote for whomever the Democrats put up against Trump—presumably Biden. What we want are new candidates in both parties; preferably under 60 and not under indictment.

Is that so much to ask?

In my post of September 10th, “Let’s Get Really Real,” I called for Biden to step aside, give his blessing to a new roster of Democrat presidential prospects, and allow a process of debates, primaries, and the convention to sort out a new nominee. Several others—from pundits to columnists to scholars—followed with the same plea, but to no apparent avail. It turns out Biden, who promised he would be a “transition president,” has an ego, too.  Since then, the data for his prospects of reelection continue to be highly uncertain, especially if there is a third-party candidate and in the face of growing discontent of younger voters who may just sit this election out. Notwithstanding the fact that millions of older Trump voters have passed on since 2020, if younger voters don’t show up that potential advantage for Democrats is lost.

I would not be at all surprised if neither Trump nor Biden were inaugurated in January 2025. I know it seems improbable today, but both are weak and getting weaker.

There is another way to save the 2024 presidential election, although it will be messy. The old-time brokered convention. Smoke filled rooms. Arm twisting and enemies who magically become friends, or at least temporary political allies acting in the interest of a majority of their party. This is the way we named nominees for decades. Convention delegates actually arrived at their conventions as free agents once the first ballot resulted in no clear winner. Eventually, this process was seen as undemocratic and the parties schemed to rid themselves of the cigar-smoking arm twisters like, for the Dems, creating so-called “super-delegates” (which itself is highly elitist and undemocratic). The move to a more transparent and ostensibly inclusive process was heralded as an advancement for democracy. It (sort of) made sense but, today, does it? Might it be relatively more democratic today to let delegates duke it out, especially with the level of burnout/apathy amongst the broader electorate?

Furthermore, the stranglehold the geriatric class of politicians have on America today, coupled with their insatiable appetite to stay in power, including Biden, Trump, McConnell, Pelosi, and Grassley—collectively the dentured not-so dynamos—there is an obvious oligarchy who represent a form of political constipation that today threatens democracy more than the party convention arm-twisters of yesteryear.

Our federal government needs an enema.

The last time a candidate was selected in a contested/brokered convention was Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, after which he served as president for two terms. Before that it was FDR in 1932 who served for twelve years. Generally, though, the concern at the party level has been to unite the party after such a contentious process. Yet, today, we need more choices. We need to have a pathway for as-yet undeclared candidates to see that it may be worthwhile to throw their hat in the ring, or be drafted by delegates. My expectation is that once one does others may follow if only to claim they are positioning themselves for 2028. Furthermore, it allows the party to (at least) force the incumbent—Biden in this case—to consider other alternatives for his choice of running mate which, in the case of Kamala Harris, allows the party to replace her with a stronger backup to Biden and enhance his chances next November.

Based on today’s polling that shows a high dissatisfaction with declared candidates, it is simply too early to lock-in candidates for either party. Incidentally, the Republicans may be forced into a brokered convention if Trump’s legal woes manifest into higher uncertainty as to his capacity to serve another term. If that occurs, it is even more critical that the Democrats open up their process to have an equal advantage to consider all the possibilities.

We are thirteen months out from the general election. Neither party is served well with their current frontrunners. Strategically, openness and flexibility in the nomination process fits with periods of high uncertainty and long lead-times. Many, like Obama’s former advisor David Axelrod, argue it is too late; to which I—as politely as possible—respond, bullshit. The American electorate is hungry for more and better choices and is quite capable of turning quickly in favor of new intrigue—as in Traylor/Tayvis/Swelce from the world of celebrity couples. The party that understands this first may significantly improve their chances later not only with a better candidate, but with a reinvigorated electorate—including independents who will likely decide the winner, anyway.

It will take some courage but that is, after all, a foundational characteristic of leadership.

By |2023-10-29T12:42:38+00:00October 6th, 2023|General, Leadership, Recent|0 Comments
Go to Top