Saving America in the Age of Deceit

On this 105th day of March (or so it seems), we are nearly as close to election day as we are from the start of the pandemic, back when the novel coronavirus was supposedly a problem contained in a wet market in China, until it wasn’t.  To say things are a bit manic in America today is regrettably an understatement.  And while none of us (save perhaps Bill Gates) foresaw the pandemic, the economic, social and political upheaval that also feeds the current state of mania has been building for years.  The cycles of American history nearly guaranteed this moment.

Those of you who have followed my blog for the last ten years know that I warned of the probable rise of wannabe fascists in my post on March 12, 2010 titled, “The Next Neo: Neo-fascism.”  As America slid further in the direction of favoring deceit over character, culminating in the Trump presidency, I decided, in the spring of 2017, to take several threads of research I had been working and melding it into a narrative to explain how we got into this mess and how we can get out of it.  The result is now available at Amazon in both e-book and paperback, Saving America in the Age of Deceit.

Of Saving America in the Age of Deceit, Roger Cohen, columnist of The New York Times wrote,

“At once an incisive history and a guide to national recovery, William Steding’s Saving America in the Age of Deceit is an important book. It traces the American moral collapse that produced Donald Trump with remarkable clarity. Perfectibility became entitlement, exceptionalism turned to hubris, and narcissism supplanted individualism. With a historian’s sweep and a stoic’s determination, Steding traces a path to recovery of the American spirit through restored leadership, responsibility and sense of community. Erudite and readable, this unusual work inspires hope, for individuals and the nation alike.”

What a mensch.

So, please, reach into that purse of excess cash Trump gave us all to stimulate the economy and help support aging writers like me—$8.95 for an e-book or $14.95 for paperback.  Or, just read the last ten-plus years of blogposts at ameritecture.com and you will see many of the threads.  Although every day I face a country and world that seem less recognizable than the previous day, I also have faith in the American spirit and in our humanity.  The day I don’t is when I will enter a psychedelic pharmacology research program as a willing lab rat; or, rather than go fishing, I will stay fishing.  Or, both!

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

Wanna Get Back to Normal? Think Again.

The gift of Covid-19—yes, gift—is that we have been given an opportunity to, in Thomas Paine’s words, “begin the world over again.”  Okay, maybe not the world, but America.  We all want to be unshackled from our isolation and social distancing; that much is obvious.  However, we must also take stock of the myriad of weaknesses and fatal flaws that have been revealed and amplified by Covid-19, and seize the moment to affect change before we settle too far back into business as usual. Trump and the Trumplicans would like nothing more than for us to demur once we are set free, and to be so full of gratitude for simply being able to hug our friends again, and sit at our favorite table in our favorite restaurant, that we allow the status quo to resume.  However, as American patriots who have now witnessed the horror of a broken healthcare system, the extraordinary cost of incompetent and deceitful leadership in the executive branch, and the economic toll on millions of Americans held captive in an economy that rewards the very few, the time is now for a transformative makeover.

The status quo enjoys a powerful gravitational pull, so it won’t be easy.  During the Covid-19 crisis in my own community, I implored our elected leaders to, well, lead.  Unfortunately, as is all-too-common in times of crisis, they have locked their focus on the flames closest to their feet—staring at the tops of their shoes—rather than lift their eyes toward the horizon.  They are anxious and scared and retreat quickly behind bureaucratic veils to justify doing nothing.  But, one of the first lessons of crisis management is to seek reliable information and cast your eyes where you would like to go—in the distance—to get ahead of the threat in a proactive fashion rather than remaining stuck in reflexive reaction.  As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who knew a thing or two about crises, argued, “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something!”  A do-nothing strategy only assures a fate beyond your control—it is a wager on luck.  It takes courage, but the best leaders have the capacity to make the tough choices to master the elements of crises rather than become victims of circumstance, while others remain lost in their anxieties, addled by imagined risks and unimaginative thinking.

To affect change on a large scale, we must similarly first lift our eyes and visualize a new America.  Let me illustrate with two oppositional news reports from the future, January 20, 2025.  You decide which you prefer.

January 20, 2025, Washington D.C.

It was a crisp and cold day that welcomed the midday inauguration of Kamala Harris as the 47th president of the United States.  Throngs of people packed the mall from the steps of the Capitol to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as the oath of office was administered by Chief Justice Barack Obama.  The regional administrators of public goods, appointed by President Biden after his election in 2020 to cabinet-level positions in the newly formed North American Alliance for Security, Healthcare, Transportation and Commerce, including Gavin Newsom of the Western Region, Jared Polis of the Intermountain West, Beto O’Rourke of the Southwest, Pete Buttigieg of the Midwest, Andrew Cuomo of the Northeast, Andrew Wang of the Mid-Atlantic, Stacey Abrams of the Southeast and Justin Trudeau of Canada surrounded the new president.  The alliance, designed to narrow the focus of the federal government to the management of its core responsibilities, was part of a package of reforms to move more authority and resources to the state and local level while effectively opening the border with Canada.  Biden’s attorney general, Andrew McCabe, missed the event as the “designated survivor” of the administration although his work to bring former President Trump, his family, and a number of former Trump cabinet members to justice for tax evasion, tax fraud, money laundering, crimes against the state, and crimes against humanity continued to produce “below-the-fold” newspaper coverage.  In her first address as president, Harris acknowledged that “while the long nightmare of the Trump presidency and the Covid-19 pandemic is largely behind us, healing would be incomplete—lessons might otherwise be missed—until and when total and comprehensive justice has been rendered.”  The largest inaugural crowd since the swearing in of Barack Obama in 2008 filled the mall with both cheers and tears.  The American Dream was, once again, alive.

Or:

January 20, 2025, Washington D.C.

It was a crisp and cold day in Washington D.C., but the inauguration-cum-coronation of Ivanka Trump as the 46th president was moved into the rotunda of the Capitol to accommodate the use of the throne her father installed during his second term, and to assure the safety and security of Her Royal Highness from the masked marauding malcontents that roamed the city armed with little more than their viral shed.  The “Trump vaccine,” owned by the Trump Organization, that had proved largely ineffective in treating Covid-19 and Covid-21, was the only treatment allowed in the United States under Trump’s first executive order following his second inaugural.  The approximately 100 million Americans who fled the United States in 2021 to seek refuge from disease and the raging impulses of the 45th president, left behind 250 million lost souls who continued to suffer disease, poverty, and toxic levels of lead, mercury, nitrous oxide and benzine; evidence of America’s new role as the last fossil fuel producing nation in the world.  Cormac McCarthy’s nightmare, The Road, has become an American reality.  Trump’s “culture czar,” William Barr presided over the coronation as he now oversaw both the executive and judicial branches of the government.  “God’s law,” as interpreted and enforced principally by Barr, had effectively replaced the Constitution as the law of the land.  Jared Kushner’s drafting of supporting laws, statutes, and codes had succeeded in relegating Congress as little more than a social club of old MAGA standouts like Richard Spencer of the White Nationalist Party.  The social media scions, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey loaded their platforms, Facebook and Twitter, with glamorous photos of Ivanka with a brilliant tiara of diamonds, sapphires and rubies in celebration of her ascension to the throne which, once and for all, dealt a final blow to the American Dream.

It’s your choice, America.  Where do you want to go?  Both stories may seem far-fetched today, but are they?  (Remember where we were just four years ago.)

By |2020-05-02T15:42:11+00:00April 18th, 2020|Donald Trump, General|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

Hope at Home: Shifting Our Focus to Developing Stronghold Communities

One of Ronald Reagan’s favorite go-to one-liners was to suggest that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”[1]  Following the Viet Nam War and Nixon’s Watergate scandal that led to his resignation, Jimmy Carter tried to heal the nation with the disposition of a Baptist minister who sought redemption for his flock through his jeremiads built on the theological triad of sin, repentance, and salvation.  Reagan had a much simpler and more appealing approach, which made his defeat of Carter in 1980 a relative slam dunk.  Reagan offered Americans absolution by a theological slight-of-hand when he relocated the entire Calvinist concept of original sin away from the individual to the institution: Americans were not the problem, government was.[2]  In his words of absolution, Reagan began a movement to view the federal government as the enemy of the people that has slid from constructive criticism during his presidency to outright demonization in the current Age of Deceit that began with Bush 43.  The New Deal institutions and attendant bureaucracies that proved critical in America’s recovery from the Great Depression and World War II had become, in Reagan’s view, lead weights wrapped around the ankles of enterprising Americans.

The Republican Party under Reagan became as libertarian as it was conservative, which eventually manifested as the Tea Party movement at the onset of Crisis IV in the early aughts that mixed a rather schizophrenic blend of libertarianism with social conservatism.  This progression of anti-government sentiment made way, finally, for Trump’s faux-populist ethno-nationalism to destroy the federal government’s institutions whenever and wherever possible to give cover to, and create space for, the exploitation of government by Trump and his co-conspirators both inside and outside government.  Trump’s “Drain the swamp!” mantra, which is a common anti-government trope has, of course, only resulted in the expansion of the swamp into a small ocean with small craft advisories posted daily, punctuated by the occasional orange-hued hurricane.

This progression—from Reagan’s focus on individualism over institutionalism where government was the problem to Trump’s claim that only he can fix it (while in reality being, himself, the existential threat)—has ridden a wave of growing anti-government vitriol resulting in most American’s view of the federal government as a very expensive travesty of trust.  In fact, since 2007, American’s trust in the federal government—”to do what is right always or most of the time”—is the lowest in more than fifty years.  78% of Americans report either being frustrated with, or angry with, the federal government.[3]  Congressional approval ratings, which is probably the best proxy for American sentiment toward their federal government, have languished in the mid-to-upper teens for most of the recent decade, ironically only breaching 20% once the impeachment of Trump began.[4]  In this Age of Deceit, marked by extraordinary partisan divisions, the silver lining here is that most of us—a clear majority—actually agree on this: the federal government does not serve our interests.  Even though a sad commentary on the federal government, this consensus is also our common ground from which to begin the restoration of America in the Age of Deceit by shifting our focus, our energy, our resources and power away from the federal government and toward our state and local governments.

Notwithstanding the many social, political, and economic issues that divide us, America is, as Yoni Appelbaum, ideas editor at The Atlantic pointed out, “a land of continual change and a nation of strong continuities.”[5]  Things must change; that much is clear, but the remaining continuity—the common ground—that all of us must embrace is that the hope of restoring America begins at home—away from the klieg lights of congressional investigations, narcissistic Twitter feeds, and the shrill cable TV pundit-criers—where it is far more likely to reach agreement due to the communal necessities of compromise, performance, and accountability.  It is one thing to sling insults at your opponent through national and social media, it is much more difficult to sustain such behavior when you have to stand next to that person in the grocery store checkout line, or passing the “peace’ in a church pew on Sunday morning.  We tend to find common ground more easily when the ground beneath our feet is where we must stand every day.

These structural realities are fortunately also met with a higher general trust of local government, which has been rising, rather than falling, during the Trump presidency. In fact, approval ratings for local government at 72% are the near-inverse of those for Congress and the federal government.  Even state governments garner a 63% approval rating.[6]  Potholes cannot tell the difference between Republican and Democrat tires.  That’s not to say ideology and partisanship remain clear of local politics, but the simple reality is that problems just out your front door are less tolerable and, therefore, more likely to be solved through creative compromise.  The immediacy of issues creates an intrinsic sense of urgency all on its own.

There is another structural trend that supports turning our attention away from the national level toward the state and local level, and that is the waning influence of the nation-state.  Globalism, decried by Trump and other faux-populist wannabe dictators around the world, is affecting the decline of influence and relevancy of the nation-state.  In their attempt to debase the very idea of globalism, Trump and several white nationalists have even tried to restore  globalism as an un-patriotic anti-Semitic slur.[7]  However, the fact is that centralized state authority is being slowly but surely diluted by the distributed information systems that affect all aspects of our lives enabled by digital technologies.  All forms of communication and commerce may now occur without the participation of the nation-state, unless impeded with even stronger technologies to interrupt the channel, as China does with its peoples.

Hierarchies of all kinds are being challenged and usurped by horizontally aligned, web-styled networks.  Regardless of attempts to keep the world dumb—as in disconnected—the benefits and efficacy of connection—of a smart world—are simply too attractive and too durable to be suppressed in the long run.  The collision of imagination and critical thinking that drives creative solutions does not require nation-state intermediation in a smart world.[8]  It is highly likely that what we are seeing today, both in America and across the world, represents the last agonizing dyspeptic reflux of centralized authority as people realize more and more every day that America’s Trump, Russia’s Putin, Turkey’s Erdogan, Hungary’s Orbán, Philippines’ Dutertes, Iran’s Khamenei, China’s Xi, and North Korea’s Kim have little interest and even less capacity to meet the needs of their peoples.[9]  Borders are, after all, a manmade artifact of the nation-state era that become meaningless when transcended by technology and the will of people.  We may as well turn our attention away from the crazies at the national level and connect our communities directly, without the intermediation of the nation-state.  As Lincoln showed in his address at Gettysburg a “government of the people, by the people [and] for the people” draws its legitimacy and power from one source: the people.  Both because of, and in spite of, our national leaders, the time is now to move “the people’s” attention to the local development of stronghold communities.

“Stronghold” is actually a term borrowed from Tucker Malarkey, author of a book of the same name that recounts the valiant efforts of Guido Rahr to create stronghold habitats for wild salmon across the Pacific Rim.[10]  Stronghold in the case of human communities means 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 (in spite of the interests of outside forces like the federal government).

Regardless of how the impeachment proceedings or the 2020 presidential election turns out, we, as in We the People, have it within our power (paraphrasing Thomas Paine) to begin America over again.  Restoring America is unlikely to occur at the national level.  In 2020, we should begin a movement for the development of stronghold communities by demanding a slow but certain inversion of power and resources back to the local and state level.  Rather than continue to stare at the circus in Washington, D.C. we need to elect people who embrace the stronghold ethic and affect the restoration of the American Dream from the ground up.  Yes, we may end up being the Affiliated States of America, rather than the United States, but I am afraid that we really have no choice.  And, those communities that achieve stronghold status will, very likely, become the most attractive and successful in America while others, stuck in the deceit of “Making America Great Again” will, no doubt, languish; that is, until the truth comes home to roost.

 

[1] Ronald Reagan, Presidential News Conference, August 12, 1986, Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, https://www.reaganfoundation.org/ronald-reagan/reagan-quotes-speeches/news-conference-1/.

[2] See William Steding, Presidential Faith and Foreign Policy: Jimmy Carter the Disciple and Ronald Reagan the Alchemist (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp. 100-101.

[3] Samantha Smith, “6 Key Takeaways About How Americans View Their Government,” Fact Tank News in the Numbers, Pew research Center, November 23, 2015, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/23/6-key-takeaways-about-how-americans-view-their-government/.

[4] “Congress and the Public,” GALLUP, https://news.gallup.com/poll/1600/congress-public.aspx.

[5] Yoni Appelbaum, “How America Ends,” The Atlantic, December 2019, p. 51.

[6] Justin McCarthy, “Americans Still More Trusting of Local than State Government,” Gallup, October 8, 2018, https://news.gallup.com/poll/243563/americans-trusting-local-state-government.aspx.

[7] See Ben Zimmer, “The Origins of the ‘Globalist’ Slur,” The Atlantic, March 14, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/03/the-origins-of-the-globalist-slur/555479/.

[8] See Richard Ogle, Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity and the Science of Ideas (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2007).

[9] See David Brooks, “The Revolt Against Populism,” The New York Times, November 21, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/21/opinion/populism-protests.html?searchResultPosition=3.

[10] Tucker Malarkey, Stronghold: One Man’s Quest to Save the World’s Wild Salmon (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2019).

By |2020-03-11T19:12:12+00:00December 11th, 2019|General|1 Comment

Hurricane Dorian: Destined for Sainthood?

The “chosen one”; the “second coming”; “the son of God.”  As evangelicals succeed in making their once-proclaimed moral majority into an immoral minority by their bear hug of the most amoral president in U.S. history, spiritual poetry-in-motion lurks in the Caribbean Sea.

After mercifully sidestepping that nasty island (Puerto Rico) with that nasty lady-mayor (Carmen Yulin Cruz), Dorian, a hurricane that is predicted to make landfall somewhere on or between Donald Trump’s beloved Mar a Lago and Trump National Doral Golf Club offers a spectacle of comeuppance long overdue.  130 MPH winds may rip the faux gold-plated chandeliers from their moorings of The Donald’s southern white house, raining down a wrath of Biblical proportions on what evangelical clowns like Jerry Falwell, Jr., Franklin Graham, Ralph Reed, and Robert Jeffress consider Jesus Trump.

What Democrats and Robert Mueller have thus far been unable to put asunder, the new nasty-lady, Dorian, may ravage with the spirit of a lady scorned.  The women in Trump’s orbit, who favor heavy makeup, ballgowns, stiletto heels, and silicon in all the right places will, no doubt, rush to hiss at Dorian as she approaches, but no amount of Aqua Net will save the day.  Of course, the wreckage will be left to be cleaned up by Mar a Lago’s undocumented workers paid for by American taxpayers, but the carnage will sing in lyrical rhyme to those of us who suffer the wickedness of Jesus Trump and his Bible-thumper sycophants.

The most nasty-lady of all, Mother Nature, whom Trump’s toadies at the EPA and Department of Interior are working feverishly to destroy with cocktails laced with methane and benzene, has her opportunity to silence Jesus Trump’s Twitter feed, capping off the end of the hottest summer in the history of the modern world with her own tweet:  Donald be damned!  As we each settle in for the spectacle of ruin on this three-day break from Jesus Trump’s apocalypse, please God—whomever and wherever you may be—allow us this brief respite from the spiritual fraud that is Donald Trump.

And, to all the nasty-ladies everywhere: You go, girl, you go.

Happy Labor Day.

By |2019-10-04T17:12:04+00:00August 30th, 2019|Donald Trump|0 Comments

TTN: the Trump Terrorist Network

May we please, at long last, call a spade a spade?  Donald Trump is terrorist-in-chief.

His entire modus operandi is centered on fomenting fear, destroying democratic institutions, and now a direct—word-for-word—connection to mass murder in El Paso, Texas.  He is a social terrorist (racist, misogynist, bigot).  He is an economic terrorist (trade and currency wars).  He is a political terrorist (abuse of power and obstruction of justice).  And, he is a security terrorist (Russian election meddling, cyber negligence, nuclear proliferation malfeasance, and the degradation of NATO).

As I have argued since before his inauguration, Trump IS the existential threat to the United States of America.  It is time we came together to rid our country of this threat.

Section 802 of the USA Patriot Act expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism, adding to existing international terrorist laws dating back to the early 1990s.  Among other things, it provides for any act committed that is “dangerous to human life” that is intended to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”

I recognize it is odd—okay, bizarre—to consider that an American president, who is supposed to be commander-in-chief of the country’s security resources to protect the life, property, and liberty of the citizenry to be, in reality, its terrorist-in-chief, but that is clearly where we are today.  Yes, it is embarrassing and unsettling, but we must also acknowledge that it is profoundly dangerous to the welfare and security of the American people.

Trump has been called many names, but terrorist-in-chief subsumes all of them and he, as the existential threat to the nation, must be defeated by those of us who are the real American patriots.

The Trumplicans will not see it this way, but they are—in spirit, in fact, and in law—Trump’s accomplices.  They enable, comply, and assist him in his terrorist activities.  They, Fox News, and the many Internet troll sites that traffic in hate and destruction comprise a domestic terrorist group that must be prosecuted and dismantled before they are allowed to inflict further destruction on our peaceful coexistence and, moreover, compromise the Constitution and the many laws that keep our citizens safe and our country secure.  As with child pornographers, they are not entitled to protection under the First Amendment, nor should we allow the Second Amendment to provide them protection from enabling mass murder.  They are domestic terrorists.  Guantanamo?  No.  But crimes against the state and humanity?  Yes.

Those of us who care about our fellow Americans must muster the courage to call this for what it is and rid this country of its most immediate threat: TTN, the Trump Terrorist Network.

By |2019-08-30T15:58:22+00:00August 6th, 2019|Donald Trump|0 Comments