Darkest Before the Dawn

In the midst of the grip of the dog days of summer, it seems odd to write about darkness, but the news of the day provides little, if any, rays of light.  Even in the West, what sun there is has become shrouded by a season of smoke from raging wildfires—a climate-change reality that has become an unsolicited summer norm.

Mid-August 2020 may be remembered as the moment we began our descent into a seemingly bottomless inkwell of darkness.  Between a botched Covid-19 response, rampant civil and economic injustice, violence, suicide, and murder escalating across the country at astounding rates, a climate that threatens to consume us, and national leadership drowning in its selfishness and incompetence, it feels like layer upon layer of tribulation may suffocate any light of hope to rescue us from overwhelming uncertainty and peril.  Heading into a hidey-hole like a stunned groundhog in February sounds nearly inviting.  Or, as Michelle Obama suggested, when they go low, just stay high, America!  (I may not have gotten that exactly right.)

And yet, as the English theologian, Thomas Fuller, suggested in 1650, “it is always darkest just before the day dawneth.”  The proverbial sun will rise again.  I promise.

We must also remember that America has been here before.  Not exactly here of course, but in similar dire straits.  That edge of fire that breaks the horizon that expands to overtake darkness will, eventually, lead us out of our current crisis.

After the improvident period of idealism that granted easement to the charlatans and grifters of the middle 19th century, we endured a Civil War that nearly ended the American experiment of a democratic republic.  Yes, it could have ended America, but it didn’t.  We went on to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and create the land of opportunity that doubled our population due to a mass influx of immigrants that quite literally filled America with life and hope.

Following the avarice of the next period of idealism—the Roaring Twenties—that ended with a stock market crash that launched the Great Depression and allowed fascism and evil to sweep Europe and much of Asia during World War II, America once again found the light of hope to ascend on the world stage, this time as a superpower.

The current crisis—the Age of Deceit—marked by the War on Terror, the Great Recession, a 100-year pandemic and a president who is, himself, the existential threat to the republic, was born from the third period of idealism (1980 – 2003) where, once again, affluence twisted our collective character into a braided whip of narcissism, entitlement, and hubris.  A whip we have turned against ourselves with remarkable vehemence.  As with all crises in our history, this one is self-inflicted.  Which also means—through humility and will power—we can transcend it.

We are nearing the end of the current crisis.  How do I know? Because it is time.  American crises (and this is our fourth) last 15 to 20 years.  We are in year 17 of the Age of Deceit.  I expect 2021 will be a race toward renewal; that is, if we are successful in, among other things, affecting a wholesale cleanout of our national leadership.  We need a Washington, Grant, or Eisenhower to deliver us from crisis.  What follows next, if American history rhymes, is a period of objectivism to succeed crisis, which are historically marked by realism, rationalism, and humanism. And, for Baby Boomers, maybe even one last shot at tranquility before we leave America for good.

Last week, David Brooks of The New York Times provided an (unwitting) endorsement of the coming shift toward objectivism when he wrote,

Radicals are good at opening our eyes to social problems and expanding the realm of what’s sayable.  But if you look at who actually leads change over the course of American history, it’s not the radicals. At a certain point, radicals give way to the more prudent and moderate wings of their coalitions.

He closed by invoking one of the greatest thinkers in the history of the modern era, Isaiah Berlin, who laid claim to the light that exists in that seam of possibility that occupies the “extreme right-wing edge of the left-wing movement.”  Where the surety of objectivism lives.

The next few months will be rough.  At times, it will seem as if the light will never come to erase the darkness of despair and loss.  But, come it will.  Many will fight mightily to herald a new dawn.  To them, we will owe a deep debt of gratitude in much the same way we owe those who delivered us from the tyranny of King George III, defeated the treasonous Confederate army in the Civil War, and vanquished fascism in the 1940s.

For the rest of us, we have (at least) one solemn duty: vote, damn it, VOTE!

By |2020-09-01T15:22:52+00:00August 18th, 2020|General, Recent|0 Comments

Old Words for a New America

As hellfire rains down upon the land and the world grinds slowly toward a Covid19-induced coma, there is much to be said and written about the perfect storm of a viral contagion, incompetent leadership, and eviscerated government institutions.  But, today I want to lift our eyes above the flames lapping at our feet and look—longingly—at the horizon of what seems today a distant tomorrow.  For this moment, while the orange orb in the Oval continues to flail in dyspeptic fits as the truth closes in on his presidency, we need to consider setting targets for a better future.  This period of crisis in American history, which I call the Age of Deceit that began with the Bush-Cheney lies and (hopefully) ends with the fetid stain left on our flag by Donald Trump, also provides an opportunity for transformation.  The good news is that deep crises not only allow transformation, they demand it.  The cycles of history suggest that a new normal, framed by a new American identity, will rise to put the Age of Deceit in our rearview mirror.  Everything, from the values that define us to our modalities of behavior will change for better or worse.  Let’s focus on the better.

Given the state of affairs in America, which may, in the end, rival the effects of two prior crises—the Civil War and the Great Depression—the words we choose to express our feelings, frame our thoughts, and describe our plans must be chosen wisely.  The features of any targets are relevant, but the words we use to describe them tell a tale of their own.  In studying the cycles of American history, I found a rather stark contrast between the words that dominate discourse during periods of high idealism, which precede periods of crisis, and the words most prevalent during the periods of objectivism that follow. I won’t go into the ~70 year cycles that contain periods of crisis, objectivism, liberalism, and idealism; a complete illustration of them will be in my forthcoming book, Saving America in the Age of Deceit. Today, I will simply introduce the words—the colors we choose from the palette to paint our future.

I describe periods of idealism as those times when mixing tequila and steroids somehow seems like a good idea.  The most recent period of idealism began in 1980 and ended in 2003 with the onset of the War on Terror, followed by the Great Recession, and now the Trump/Covid19 disaster.  The linguistic modalities of the idealism period bled through the onset of our nation’s fourth crisis—the Age of Deceit—and will expire as we emerge from this crisis and enter the next period of objectivism.  During idealism, zealotry, rectitude, and righteousness—from all participants on all sides of every issue—become the prevailing modus operandi.  Hubris and certitude, grandeur, conspicuous consumption, hyper-individualism, speculation, deregulation, class inequalities, invincibility, abundance, and high religiosity are terms that dominate discourse.  These are often very entertaining and unfortunately reckless times to be alive in America, which is no doubt why the hangover—periods of crisis—always follow.

As we emerge from crisis, new words replace the old.  In this phase, terms like unity, reason, inclusion, pragmatism, tolerance, risk aversion, stability, containment, self-reliance, standardization, meritocracy, frugality, humility, redemption, secularity, family and community are prevalent. In short, realism, rationalism, and humanism reign.  Presidents with military backgrounds like George Washington, Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower have traditionally performed well in these periods.  In many ways, the nature of the objectivism phase is the antithesis of the crisis phase.  The political upheavals from the crisis phase give way to a settling of political modality around a common theme: the federal government must recede from its high levels of engagement at all levels of society as a result of both budget realities and electoral fatigue.  People and the communities they live in take higher responsibility for their fate.  In periods of objectivism, tribalism gives way to communalism and stewardship prevails over isolationism.  Nationalism is set aside for localism which, as I wrote last fall at this blog, is why our focus must shift now to building stronghold communities and demanding a return of authority and resources from the federal government to our state and local governments.  See https://ameritecture.com/hope-at-home-shifting-our-focus-to-developing-stronghold-communities/.

One thing is certain, the current crisis will end someday.  To affect transcendence sooner rather than later, we should begin to adopt a new language to inform our dispositional values and the social, economic, and political policies we craft.  Lift your eyes; lift your mind; lift your heart. The path forward is ours to choose.  Old words can create a new America.

By |2020-04-13T22:08:02+00:00April 2nd, 2020|General, Leadership|0 Comments
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