Our Gift. Our Job.

As the snow falls softly this New Year’s Eve on our hideaway in the Colorado Rockies, I feel a welcome sense of seclusion from the outrage porn we have come to endure from the steady stream of farce and deceit pulsing through the wired and wireless reality that continues to warp our senses and worse, corrode our values.  And yet, I can’t help but summon a cup of gratitude at having been granted the fateful gift of being born into a country that allowed me to become whatever I want: to associate as I please, to feel safe and secure, to pursue my dreams, and to enjoy the fruits of those pursuits by, in my case, living my final years in the most beautiful place in the world.  Of course, being white and male helped a great deal, but I’ll set that convenience aside for another post.

The vast majority of Americans alive today were born after the great toils and sacrifices that made the United States the world’s lone superpower.  We did not endure the sacrifices of our Founders, the horrid circumstances of the Civil War, being gassed by the Kaiser in World War I, the abject poverty of the Great Depression, or being one of twelve million Americans whose lives were imperiled or lost in World War II.  I reflect on my grandfather’s life who, born in 1890, saw more than his share of hardship and challenge; an arc of life that began in a sod hut and ended just three months before an American walked on the moon.  Our gift was to inherit a bounty of prosperity and goodwill made possible by people like my grandfather that allowed us the promise of the American Dream: to live a better life than those who came before us.  All we had to do was keep the dream alive; to keep the flame of freedom burning for those who followed us.

Fifty years ago, several brainiacs from places like Harvard and MIT were asked to envision what life would be like today.  For the most part, especially as they predicted advances in technology, they got it right.  As Jill Lepore reconciled in The New Yorker, “most of the machines people expected would be invented have, in fact, been invented,” but “most of those machines have had consequences wildly different from those anticipated in 1968.”  She illustrates further that people like Carlos R. DeCarlo, then the director of automation research at I.B.M., got the tech-side right while getting the human side terribly wrong when he argued that “the political and social institutions of the United States will remain flexible enough to ingest the fruits of science and technology without basic damage to its value systems.”[1]  Oops.

Wealth, even while distributed on the terms of equity rather than equality—the basis of capitalism—has allowed America to become by orders of magnitude more powerful than any other nation-state on earth.  As Yuval Noah Harari reminds us in Homo Deus: a Brief History of Tomorrow, “ today more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists, and criminals combined.”[2]  Money and power can indeed be a very good thing; most Americans want more of each.  Values, however, which provide the foundation of our collective welfare, have proven a more difficult challenge.  Affluence provides a veil of delusion that, like termites in our framing, weakens the structure of civil society to the point that collapse becomes inevitable; that, as the poet W.B. Yeats warned, might produce a “rough beast, its hour come round at last” that may slouch toward “Bethlehem [or Washington D.C.?] to be born.”[3]

The compromise of values in the fog of affluence has indeed placed the American Dream in peril.  More people are concerned about their internet speed to upload their selfies than they are the welfare of the widow living next door.  We live in a society of hyper-consumerism that appears to find satisfaction only in our next—always next—purchase. The seldom-acknowledged effect of losing our values is that we not only make worse decisions, we lose our capacity for satisfaction.  Like the opioid addict, only the next fix will do.  Further, in the cradle of affluence we lose the effects of consequence and, thereby, our commitment to truth.  Most have forgotten (if they ever knew) the self-satisfaction that is born of sacrifice, and that it is the tightly woven fabric of purpose that gives us access to grace.

When I speak of values, I do not mean the contrivances of the Religious Right—so called “family values”—that have been employed to secure subservience and to liberate true-believers of their earnings under the hood-wink of Prosperity Gospel.  The values I speak of are the values of the rough-hewn American character that succeeded in founding and keeping a new republic that truly believed in the sanctity of freedom, embraced with humility and secured by hard work and yes, even death.  Slowly, but surely, our prosperity has flipped these values to their evil twins: entitlement, hubris, and narcissism.  Our current (but hopefully soon-departing) president is the literal embodiment of this disease.  We must face it: he is us.  But, we can recover from our waltz with madness.

We must recognize how we got here; the tragic compromises we made in our generational moment of weakness when we convinced ourselves of our own beauty and infallibility.  We must revisit our history of greatness—prior to our own birth—that was won at the end of a shovel, not a selfie-stick.  We must hold ourselves, our family, our friends, our community, and our nation accountable to the reality of consequence and to the standard of truth.  Only then will we be able to look our children and grandchildren in their eyes to claim we did our part to keep the American Dream alive. This is our job in 2019.

[1] Jill Lepore, “What 2018 Looked Like Fifty Years Ago,” The New Yorker, January 7, 2019.

[2] Yuvall Noah Harari, Homo Deus: a Brief History of Tomorrow (New York: HarperCollins, 2017), front matter.

[3] William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming,” 1919.

By |2019-04-12T17:42:10+00:00December 31st, 2018|Donald Trump, Leadership|0 Comments

Get Off Your Knees America!

Unintentionally, the defiance first exhibited by Colin Kapernick and later adopted by more than two hundred fifty NFL players, coaches, and owners (although with evolving and wide-ranging purposes) has provided Donald Trump with a new opportunity to dog-whistle his white nationalist base and feed his insatiable megalomania.  Trump’s consistent aim—to divide the country and consolidate power in his petite pasty palms—has actually been bolstered by those who laud the kneelers while patting themselves on the back as if they too are modern-day revolutionaries.  Rise up America, this is no time to be on your knees.

Setting aside the profound naiveté of those who are surprised they were so easily cast as unpatriotic—as anti-American—by Trump and his fellow lapel-pin patriots, expressing defiance during the national anthem is an epic strategic failure.  That is not to say the kneelers are less patriotic than Trump, however, true patriots are those who embrace the symbols, norms, institutions, and laws of the United States, and who stand and fight to preserve them from any existential threat, even when that threat is the president of the United States.  True patriots do not reject America’s symbols; they redefine and magnify American values to forge a new more inclusive identity.  No American in contemporary history did this as well as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

King understood that to succeed he had to unite people in support of a higher interpretation of American values and pursued his aims within and in support of the nation’s laws and institutions, always in a non-violent manner even while being jailed, abused, and eventually assassinated.  King’s dream—that changed America and the world—was sought with a transcendent sense of grace while never bowing his head (unless in prayer) and certainly never kneeling in defiance of the flag or the national anthem.  He stood tall against the tyranny of racism and delivered America to a much better place.  He even succeeded in getting a good ol’ Texas boy and president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, to relinquish political control of the southern states to the Republican Party (where they have remained ever since) in order to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

King’s approach carried significantly more risk, and could not have felt nearly as rewarding as players who kneel in defiance while television cameras amplify their celebrity.  But, King recognized that in the end success depended on being seen as the greater patriot than those who perpetuated the sadistic and exploitative postbellum frameworks of Jim Crow.  His updated version of American identity offered a more genuine interpretation of Thomas Jefferson’s aspiration “all men are created equal.”  Perhaps most importantly, however, was the way King saw himself as a servant rather than a celebrity.  He explained in one of his lesser-cited sermons, “The Drum Major Instinct” that greatness was born from service.  Drawing on the lessons Jesus gave his disciples, King said,

If you want to be important—wonderful.  If you want to be recognized—wonderful.  If you want to be great—wonderful.  But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.

Vanishing the existential threat Trump poses to the United States will require a great deal more effort than kneeling during our anthem.  It requires a level of service and commitment that establishes a higher level of patriotism and elevates American values to forge a new identity.  Rather than averting our eyes and praise away from our flag we must hoist it high to preserve the American Dream and to reignite respect throughout the world.  It is our anthem and our flag, not Trump’s.  As the saying goes, failure is not an option. Every day in every way we must stand up for a better America that serves the interests of all Americans in a thoughtful and compassionate manner.  Do not fail wishing you had done more; do not look back and wonder how could this happen?  Rise up now for yourself, your family, and the promise of the American Dream.

By |2017-11-07T14:33:26+00:00September 27th, 2017|American Identity, Donald Trump|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