Avalanche Warning

I live in the high country of Colorado, surrounded by the majesty of the San Juan Mountains, which provide a daily dose of beauty and stability in a world racked by appalling loss and relentless uncertainty.  People who live amongst the peaks adopt their stature, which includes a strength of body, heart, and mind absent in much of America. Obesity is as rare here as it is common elsewhere.  Impulse is set aside for deliberation as a necessity; Mother Nature does not tolerate carelessness, as the rest of America and the world are now (hopefully) learning.  We do, however, have a mortal enemy we all appropriately fear: avalanches.  Bears, mountain lions, and even wildfires are no match for the ferocity of an avalanche: the sudden force of tons of snow and ice racing without discretion to destroy everything in its path.  Yes, they are survivable, but that is as probable as snow in July.  If one sets its eyes on you, your last day is that day.

The elements and dynamics of avalanches are fairly simple.  Mass (snow), slope (mountain), and structural weakness (layers of snowfall that do not bond), and a triggering event (wind, sun, additional snow, or an animal like us) are all that are required to let gravity pull a torrent of devastation and death down the mountain.  Once the avalanche settles, the snow, ice, and debris set up like Quickrete on a summer day; an impenetrable mass that will not release its victims until late summer, if ever. While heli-skiing in British Columbia, I have observed wolverines seeking carrion (decaying caribou flesh) trapped in avalanche rubble, while in Colorado black bears often liberate winter’s kill.  It takes a keen nose and powerful claws to find the avalanche bounty.  Life becomes death that nurtures life again—nature’s answer to sustainability in the high country.

This November, a different kind of avalanche may be coming to America—one that could finally realize the consequences of Benjamin Franklin’s warning at the founding of the United States:  I give you “a republic, if you can keep it.”  Not since the Civil War has America come as close as we are today to losing our republic.  The elements of an avalanche are all there.  Mass, in the form of vast military and economic power together with 330 million souls.  Treacherous steep terrain formed by years of erosion due to managerial neglect of everything from social structures to infrastructure.  Weak layers of leadership began accumulating after the Cold War when character and courage were routinely exchanged for selfish impudence.  Then, in 2017, the weakest layer of all—Donald Trump—now lurking under three-plus years of greed and deceit.  All we need is a triggering event and the republic may fall.

As concerned as I am about Covid-19 and the profound damage it continues to inflict on America, the triggering event I fear most is a failed election in November.  A failed election, which we had in the Bush v. Gore presidential race in 2000 (resolved five weeks later on December 12th by the Supreme Court) is traditionally considered an election when the winner cannot be determined by the vote of the people.  But there is another kind of failed election we have not seen in America: one in which a significant percentage of the population do not accept the results and, therefore, refuse to be governed by the victors.  In 2020, I see this as not just possible, I believe it is probable. Among five possibilities, four would produce failure.

The first failure would be if the election were postponed or cancelled.  As bizarre as this seems, both Trump and Jared Kushner have mentioned this as a possibility; it is clearly on the White House white board.  The second possible failure is if Trump wins narrowly.  In this case, it will undoubtedly be suspected that Putin (once again), and or the Trumplican voter-suppression machine, stole the election.  At the national level, there is currently next-to-nothing being done to stop this.  The third case is where Biden wins narrowly.  Trump and the Trumplicans will cry foul and, with attorney general William Barr and the Supreme Court’s help, may attempt to cancel the election while Trump calls on all MAGAs to rise up in arms (as in assault rifles).  If you thought the Trumpster protests to open the country during Coivd-19 were bad, just wait. The fourth possibility—and our only hope for a smooth transition of power—is if Biden wins by a landslide.  The fifth possibility—a Trump landslide—may not qualify as a failed election, but four more years of Trump would also cause the republic to fall.  After three-plus years of Trump, the republic is barely hanging on as it is.

As distracting, isolating, frightening, and devastating as Covid-19 is, there is another crisis looming; one that no vaccine will fix—an avalanche that could crush the republic.  If Americans of character do not recognize the danger (and vote accordingly) the former United States of America, now the Divided States of America, may become the Failed States of America.  In time, we will heal from Covid-19.  Failed republics do not heal.  They result in a pile of carnage neither wolverine nor bear will touch.  Today, we still have an opportunity to save Lincoln’s “last best hope of man on earth.”  The November trigger awaits.  The stakes could not be higher.

By |2020-06-13T15:25:16+00:00May 23rd, 2020|Donald Trump, General|0 Comments

A More Dangerous Contagion: America’s Pride of Ignorance

Seventy-five years ago this week, America celebrated the defeat of evil: Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.  We emerged from victory as an emergent superpower after deploying 12 million American soldiers around the world and a sense of patriotic duty at home unseen in the history of a young nation.  When historians write the history of this week, the week of May 4, 2020, they may similarly identify it as a proverbial “week that was.”  This week, however, we have finally and perversely embraced a contagion that has remained largely latent—even in the American South—since the end of the American Civil War: a pride of ignorance.

This week’s events were stunning.  It began with a strategic decision by our president.  Yes, actually strategic, although flowing from a river of incompetence, rather than deliberative discourse, that finally breached the dam of decency.  The calculation became clear with his sudden, albeit short-lived, termination of the Coronavirus Task Force; as a nation we are to ignore death in favor of commerce.  The S&P 500 Index has prevailed over the daily toll of death.  Trump and the Trumplicans have placed their electoral bet on increasing the flow of dollars in spite of a raging virus killing thousands every day.  Our dance with the devil has begun.  Grandma can die, we just want a day at the beach.

This week, America locked its lips around Trump’s gaspipe of deceit, allowing the destruction of American character to continue in an intoxicating haze of fear and distraction.  The values that that guided us and kept our backs from breaking through the American Revolution, Civil War and two World Wars, have been flushed down the golden commode in the presidential residence.  Trump’s attack on the EPA is two-thirds complete as the last third of provisions he is intent on destroying are teetering on the edge of a cliff.  Don, Jr. can’t wait to give them a dutiful final shove.  Next, William Barr, gaslight in-hand, wants us to believe that Michael Flynn’s guilty pleas were actually pleas to a crime that doesn’t exist, even while the federal judge presiding, Emmett Sullivan, described Flynn’s crimes in the realm of treason.  Meanwhile, Trump has asked the Supreme Court to cover up his crimes revealed in the Mueller investigation by never lifting the blackouts laid down by Barr’s pen of redaction.  Finally, the CDC’s new coronavirus guidelines will similarly never see the light of day as Trump buried them because of their onerous “prescriptions” (or proscriptions?) that offend the “economy and religion.”  That’s right, the science of public health be damned.

America’s pride of ignorance, which first manifested as a legacy of loss in the South after the Civil War when education and hygiene became stigmatized as practices of an imperial union, is now spreading like wildfire across America, fanned by the belligerent breath of the orange orb in the Oval.  “Open up!” is the cry wrapped in the faux-libertarian selfishness of “live free or die.”  My rights are your death may be a more accurate characterization.  American’s growing sense of narcissism, entitlement, and hubris are no match for the prospect of death.  And it’s not just red states, it is blue as well.  From Georgia to Colorado to California, we are gouging the eyes of science to save commerce and sate our pathos of greed.  In my own county—Ouray County, Colorado—our leaders quickly acceded to the bellowing suffering of hotel owners and Jeep rental outfitters who rely on tourists from Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas where the viral curve looks more like the contrails of a rocketship reaching for the stars—all ordered without any consideration of science.  Like many places in America, we set aside testing in favor of ignorance, lest empiricism might hinder our greed.

We have confounded the world, first with our tolerance of the most horrible human being to ever occupy the White House, and now with our heartfelt embrace of ignorance.  We’ve sent allies scrambling to form new alliances, while adversaries lick their chops.  America’s intellectual and moral capital are being squandered before our eyes.  But, at least we get a day at the beach.  Not the perilous beaches of Normandy that assured our safety and freedom, but the luxurious beaches of Laguna where our loathing of discipline and sacrifice can be expressed without the niggling voices of science.

By |2020-05-23T18:39:55+00:00May 8th, 2020|Donald Trump, General|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

How We Can Win: Understanding the Physics of Viral Contagions

Defeating Covid-19 and returning to a world we once again recognize may have less to do with biology and epidemiology and more with physics.  To be clear, viruses have unique and at times confounding characteristics that can be very difficult to assess, especially as they continually mutate, playing a biological game of hide and seek.  We must further acknowledge that our scientific and medical community is doing everything it can, motivated by both public policy supports and economic incentives, to introduce vaccines and therapeutic treatments to defeat Covid-19.  But, victory over this insidious disease will come sooner if we focus on what we can affect today—the physics of Covid-19—that include two principal factors: the density and flow of human beings.

Humans play two viral roles: hosts and vectors.  We host the virus as its vessel of life and we transmit the virus as its method of transportation.  Without access to our warm nurturing and mobile bodies, it dies.  There are, therefore, two and only two elements of physics we must interrupt to defeat Covid-19: the density and flow of humans.  And, as is often the case, the data tells the story.  Look at the data and the maps they illustrate and the big numbers and big red blobs confirm the hypothesis: places with both high density and rapid flows of humans are hit the hardest, like New York City.  Meanwhile, the Dakotas appear as if they are sitting this pandemic out.  Admittedly, some of this gap in viral incidents can still be blamed on a lack of testing, but that gap is shrinking as more testing occurs.  In my own county of Ouray, Colorado, our commissioners and public health officials continue to tout “no confirmed tests in the county!,” which amounts to little more than a head-in-the-sand proclamation due to a lack of testing.  It’s an easy claim when one’s eyes are shut that dangerously lulls the community into a false sense of immunity and careless behaviors.  As humans, we are hosts and vectors just as humans are in large cities.  But, what we have going for us is a lack of density and flow.

In an attempt to gain more materiel support for New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo asserted, watch out America, “We are your future.”  As welcome as Cuomo’s veracity and tenacity are when compared to our president, his assertion is false.  Few places in the United States have the density and flow of humans that the New York metropolitan area does.  The New York City metropolitan area has around 24 million people in 3,450 square miles, or 7,000 people per square mile.  By comparison, the State of Texas has around 28 million people occupying 268,597 square miles, or 104 people per square mile.  New York City then has 67 times higher population density than Texas and, understandably, has (currently) 32 times more confirmed Covid-19 cases.  To get a sense of flow, historically Texas has 255 million visitors while New York City has 65 million, or 4x more visitors in Texas.  This flow multiple in Texas is, however, spread over a vastly larger geographic area, which partially explains a less than 4x adjustment to expected viral infections in Texas.  Density and flow must be considered together, as a dynamic duo of physical impacts.  But, it does (along with levels of current testing and medical interventions—much higher in New York City than Texas) help explain why there are (only) 32x more cases than the 67x suggested by the density data alone.  I recognize this back-of-the-napkin analysis will be cringe-worthy to some epidemiologists who would argue for much deeper analysis, but they might also recognize that the availability and quality of data today does not yet exist to satisfy their desire for a broader and deeper plunge.  Regardless, we know what we need to know to guide public policy and personal behaviors: keep our distance and stay in place.

Colorado has done a fairly admirable job of affecting density and flow.  With less than a quarter the population of New York City or Texas, density is less of a problem in Colorado.  Looking at the state map of Covid-19, the axis of incidents follows density and flow, from Denver west along I-70 to several ski resorts, and north and south from Denver along I-25, a major commercial corridor and the unfortunate venue of a bridge tournament a few weeks ago in Colorado Springs that created a Covid-19 hotspot.  Colorado Governor Polis was absolutely right to shut down ski resorts on March 15th; in hindsight, he should have done it sooner.  Eagle County, home to Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts, is second only to Denver in Covid-19 cases.  Flow (of snowbound tourists) matters too.  Moving forward, notwithstanding damaging economic effects, or the prospect of a scientific and/or medical breakthrough, we must do everything we can to reduce both the density and flow of humans.

I understand we all want to get back to social interactions and freely going wherever we desire.  Lately, our president is making noise that he wants our wealth and his poll numbers back where they were in February, and is suggesting we will be able to return to our active selves by Easter, but doing so prior to seeing data that confirms viral transmission and death rates have both ebbed and are in retreat is a foolish violation of the physical realities that confront us.  Economic activity, which (at least as of today) requires both the density and flow of humans will increase both the velocity of money and the virus.  Releasing our bonds of probity would sacrifice any flattening of the curve we have thus far sacrificed for, and put us back where we were, on a steep ascent to death and further economic destruction.  If we want to get out of this sooner than later—if we desire the summer of 2020 to be similar to 2019—we must have the discipline to take our medicine, as distasteful and disruptive as it is.  Discipline will end this crisis; social, economic, and political greed may produce years of peril rather than months.

It’s going to get tougher rather than easier for the foreseeable future, but we must honor the challenge we face with both fortitude and compassion.

By |2020-04-02T20:30:40+00:00March 25th, 2020|Donald Trump, General|0 Comments

Will Staying Apart Bring Us Together?

The irony of “social distancing” is that we may finally reunite as a nation.

The spite and abject selfishness of those who have worked so hard to divide us has proven toxic in our time of pandemic crisis.  The institutions and social safety nets that were built during and following our last crisis—the Great Depression and World War II—have been systematically dismantled since the end of the Cold War, first by the Tea Party and now by Trump and the Trumplicans.  Trump’s “very stable genius” appears to be as phony as his spray-on Orangu-tan.  I cannot decide between “appalling” and “despicable” as the best adjectives to describe his performance in the Covid-19 pandemic, but the results are certainly catastrophic.  His self-awarded grade of “10” is both laughable and extremely dangerous.  Delusion reigns in the White House while people are losing their livelihoods and lives.  If there is a hell, Trump needs to take his throne there, sooner rather than later.

When presidential historians finally unearth all the documents related to the Trump administration’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, I suspect they will find there was a concerted effort to delay testing for Covid-19 in the United States because, as Trump himself put it, he did not want to see “rising numbers” that might hurt his reelection campaign.  Forget the fact that early testing would have provided critical intelligence to thwart what we now have, a pandemic, Trump opted to preserve his poll numbers rather than preserve our lives.  Further, we need to be aware that he will undoubtedly instruct his Diabolical Department, headed by the reptilian Stephen Miller, to look for every way possible to use the pandemic to manipulate the election process—including attempting to delay or cancel the presidential election in November—to keep him in power.  Trump clearly cares more about being a full two-term president than he does preventing the deaths of thousands—perhaps even millions—of Americans.

As we keep our distance from each other, we must find a virtual way to come together.  Earlier in Trump’s presidency, efforts at unification were aimed at preserving our democracy and the American Dream.  In the last few weeks, the stakes have become much higher.  We now face a president who is literally trading our lives for his ego.  All of us, regardless of party affiliation, must summon our strength, wisdom, and compassion and come together (virtually for now) to defeat both the virus and Trump.  In November 2016, we traded the audacity of hope for mendacity and hate.  In a “letter to my children,” published on November 9, 2016 at www.ameritecture.com, I wrote,

So, what to do? First, focus on your own physical, psychological, economic, and intellectual strength. Protect and strengthen those four cornerposts. Second, focus on the well-being of your family and friends. Their welfare is your direct responsibility. Finally, get politically active and organized. Your generation has more voters today than mine. The reality, however, is that we vote and too many of your peers ignore this solemn duty. Do not allow my generation to continue to damage America. You have the power. Do not squander it through apathy or neglect. In the end, we all—individually and collectively—are responsible for Trump and what happens next.

Inject the above call to action with steroids and jet fuel today and we may have a fighting chance at ending this nightmare.  But, we can only succeed together.  Yes, we must keep our distance to flatten the curve of the Covid-19 outbreak, while coming closer together than this nation has been since it faced the fascists of Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito.  It is not just about our way of life anymore; it is a battle for our very existence.  We must stick together and look out for each other today, or face the collapse of both America and world order.  This is the challenge.  We must prevail.

By |2020-03-25T18:11:51+00:00March 18th, 2020|Donald Trump|0 Comments

Out of Crisis, Salvation

Nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of imminent death.  Throw in a global economic collapse and we might just achieve the kind of clarity and inspiration to, in Thomas Paine’s words, “make the world over again.”  As one who fits the definition of “at high risk due to underlying health conditions,” I do not take the COVID-19 global pandemic and associated economic effects lightly.  Yet, as an historian I know the rhythm of history and expect this collective calamity—an unforeseen development—may be just what we need to wake-the-fuck up and realize that we are all culpable for the path we have taken and the leaders we have chosen.  The unforeseen has always driven world events more than the foreseen.  As Michelle Obama suggested, power does not change people, it reveals who they really are.  And, times of crisis quickly reveal who among our leaders are authentic and capable and who are incompetent frauds.  Unfortunately, for this moment in history, we do not have a Washington, or Lincoln, or Roosevelt, who led America out of the peril of our three prior American crises; rather, we have a president whose sole concern—even with crisis raging—is, as it always has been, himself.  How I wish Michelle was wrong.

Most (but not all) of us will get through this.  Markets will recover once supply chains and demand are restored; washing hands and “social distancing” are welcome improvements on past practices.  However, we should and must take this opportunity, afforded by crisis, to change our leadership and restore America’s Probity Values that have been squandered since the end of the Cold War.  Responsible individualism must displace the narcissism that denominates too many of our behaviors.  Exemplar exceptionalism—setting the example for others to follow—must subvert the arrogant imperial impulse that seeks to remake the world in the image of America.  Perfectibility—leaving things better than we found them—must, once again, prevail over our sense of entitlement.  Moreover, we must realize we are stronger together—united in common purpose—than we are pursuing power and wealth at the expense of our neighbors.  We are capable of better behavior.  Crises make transformations easier; in the chaos of creative destruction we must seize the moment.

The time is now to set a new course.  Our differences and disagreements—stoked by those who benefit from divisiveness—must be set aside in favor of building stronghold communities.  A stronghold community is a shared place that is largely self-sustaining and foundationally resilient; which looks no further than its common interests to guide its application of power and resources; and which seeks to achieve a sense of virtuous humanity where every member holds both the responsibility and opportunity of participation in advancing the objectives of the community.  Our communities may be small, but we are strong.  We must quit staring at the clown show that is our federal government and demand the return of both authority and tax dollars to our state and local communities.  If we believe in ourselves and each other, we can create a better community, country, and world.  The work begins now.

By |2020-03-18T22:07:55+00:00March 11th, 2020|Donald Trump, Leadership|0 Comments