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, General|0 Comments

At the Edge: Survival Tips for Baby Boomers

For the remainder of the typical Baby Boomer’s life the United States will likely be in decline, which will put Boomers—much more than others—in a very precarious position.  But, that does not mean one cannot survive and prosper, although it may require re-defining your life and a whole lot of work.

Following the Federal debt debacle, the subsequent market sell-off, and the downgrade of U.S Treasuries by Standard & Poor’s, I received a Friday evening email from a financial consultant (to “Our Valued Clients”) that implored their valued ones to avoid panic.  They (all much younger than I) wrote: “We urge clients to take a deep breath, relax, and not react emotionally to what we are seeing in the market.”  While I was nowhere near panicking—perhaps because I have come to accept devaluation due to systemic risk (and because I’ve already changed my own investment strategy)—it struck me that if they were concerned enough to send out such an email after-hours on a Friday in August, then maybe I should panic.

The markets after all, like Mother Nature, are incapable of emotional irrationality.  They are the final arbiter of value and instantaneous purveyor of consequence.  They are the highest expression of our collective expectations.  They reveal the (stubborn) truth that is (finally) piercing the veil of denial embedded in the advisor’s call for calm. Panic may actually be a rational choice for a Boomer who is facing this truth.  After all, the timeframe for capitulation and recovery may exceed the Boomer’s lifespan.  Indeed, the market meltdown that followed on Monday suggests panic may be the new norm.  Of course, many financial analysts and pundits immediately rolled out their feel-better rhetoric claiming what we had seen was an aberration or “disconnect,” which is their unwitting acknowledgment that they have no idea what is happening.  One thing is certain, however:  leaving your money in their hands is in their best interest.

The truth the markets have expressed can be summed up as follows: while most of us know what the right thing to do is (setting aside those addled by ideology, misplaced faith, or engaged in modern-day piracy), we lack the will to do it.  This is and has always been the case for Americans. As Winston Churchill once observed, “The Americans will always do the right thing after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.”  The most glaring historical example is slavery.  The Founding Fathers—evidenced by their own writings—knew that slavery was inherently wrong, yet they did nothing about it (notwithstanding presidential aspirant Michelle Bachman’s twisted historical interpretation).  It took nearly one hundred years to breach the legal threshold and emancipate slaves, then another hundred to leap the moral threshold and get rid of the racist work-arounds like the Jim Crow laws.

What is required to clean up the financial and political mess in the United States is relatively easy to identify, but impossible to execute.  There are four things that must be done.  We must make at least $4 trillion in expenditure cuts including restructuring Medicare and Social Security, endure increased taxes in the near term, overhaul/simplify the tax code, and redesign Congress (starting with term limits).  Failure to do all of these things will accelerate the precipitous decline of the United States as the wealthiest and most powerful state in the global system, but none of these things will be accomplished; at least not as a matter of will.  The consequences of this are dire and probably worth panicking about.

Today’s obvious and unbelievable stupidity displayed by our elected representatives is no different than the stubbornness that protected slavery and segregation, except this time we all—not just slaves—will suffer.[1]  It would be ahistorical and irrational to believe we will act better or more quickly in dealing with our financial woes than we did when committing prior sins or facing crises.  While democracies are arguably inherently good, they are not designed to exalt morality or pre-empt crises. Our lesser selves do not assure better governance via aggregation.  In open systems, the best one can hope for is that crises will produce creative destruction, which is what is happening now. There is, however, an alternative for Boomers to limit their exposure and preserve their long-term well-being.

Boomers must re-imagine and restructure their lives.  Succeeding generations have less baggage to shed and are (sigh) more attractive to employers.  The winning strategy since World War II has been to align one’s self with big companies, big governments with big militaries, and big markets.  Get a job with a large enterprise—public or private—and climb the ladder.  Invest in big money-center financial markets and count on a 7% after-tax return.  Expect the government to provide healthcare and a financial safety net beginning at age sixty-five.  That strategy is not only dead; it has become dangerous because of its exposure to systemic risk.  Now is the time to simplify, disconnect, and sustain.

Simplify.  Get small and remain flexible.  Reduce your footprint and keep your running shoes nearby.  Eliminate stuff; sell it or give it away.  Invest in yourself first, especially your mind and body.  Get things right in your head and heart: smart and content.  Next, invest in things you control.  Then, invest in companies that play at the edges—that rely on their own balance sheet to fund their future and which are highly adaptive.  Leverage wisdom.  Avoid the whiz-bang dreamers.  Boring companies make more money, longer.  But remember: it’s not about wealth; it’s about well-being.  Take time to appreciate nature, art, music, and literature.  From simplicity comes peace-of-mind and well-being.

Disconnect.  Minimize your exposure to systemic risk.  Focus on the quality of your connections and relationships, not the quantity.  Size and scale are no longer de facto advantages.  De-leverage your own balance sheet as much as possible.  If able, move to a town that has a history of self-reliance; where services are few but the basic stuff works, and Boomers are still employable.  If you must live in a large city, form small communities (actual or virtual) within the city or within your neighborhood, but do not be constrained by geography or borders. Whenever possible, leverage technology to create your own reliable world.  Alliances are still important, but choose your cohorts carefully.  Large collectives will be unable to avoid systemic risk.  Again, think small to evade collateral damage.

Sustain.  Within means and with respect.  Channel your inner hippie.  Feed your soul.  Embrace an ethos of sustainability.  Ask yourself when making large and small decisions: is this option sustainable?  Am I using resources in a manner that respects their origin?  The so-called “permaculture movement” is worth exploring to identify ways to support sustainable agriculture and urban food gardening.  “The ethic of permaculture is the movement’s Nicene Creed … care of the earth; care of the people, and a return of surplus time, energy, and money, to the cause of bettering the earth and its people.”[2]  This may sound a bit squishy until you realize sustainability is essentially what our grandparents called self-reliance.

The foreseeable future in the United States is grim.  We lack the will to do the right thing.  Our system of collective action is broken.  But, we can always act on our own to re-imagine our lives, form new alliances, and make a new future for ourselves.

[1] While many deplore Congress but like their own representative, I am not among them.  My Congressman, Michael Burgess, stood with the Tea Party before he bowed to Boehner, and his most recent claim to fame is authoring an amendment to legislation to preserve the production and sale of 100-watt incandescent light bulbs.  I’m sure the electric company and both employees of Light Bulb World are thrilled.
[2] Michael Tortorello, “The Permaculture Movement Grows From the Underground,” The New York Times (July 27, 2011).
By |2017-05-27T18:26:15+00:00August 9th, 2011|General, The New Realities|0 Comments
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