Do you remember when it felt good to be an American? When the always sunny-side-up Ronald Reagan proclaimed that every day was “Morning in America”? The best day ever in America was always that day, and tomorrow would be even better.

Traditionally, the essence of the American spirit lies in one basic proposition: that the United States of America is the best place in the world to become all you can be—to realize your dreams. If you were born here, you were damn lucky. And, if you weren’t you would do what you could to get here.  The shining city on the hill beckoned all as the escalator to unmatched human fulfillment where each successive generation would reach new heights of achievement. That spirit was indomitable in American life for more than fifty years—from the late 1940s until the early 2000s. Then, we turned against ourselves.

Today, Americans are exhausted. Many feel as though they have been living on the edge of disaster—mentally, physically, and financially—since before the Great Recession, now more than a decade past. Then, the pandemic threw us all in a pressure cooker threatening our very existence. It has taken an extraordinary toll that has proven very stubborn to resolve. The sad fact is that Americans are killing each other at rates not seen since the Civil War, and committing suicide at rates never seen—ever. (Let those facts sit with you for a moment.) Since the early 2000s, we have fallen so dramatically into divided camps of hate-filled animus the prospect of redemption seems impossible to summon.

After fifty years of extraordinary achievements and prosperity, made possible by the sacrifice and toil of six-plus generations of Americans who preceded us, we slipped into the trap of judgment and condemnation, heaping shame on each other at every opportunity. Shame that kindles humiliation, which results in depression, anger, and violence.

The invocation of shame started with the religious right, but today finds its greatest animated vigor on the woke left. “Family values,” espoused by the religious right was always a contrivance to bind true believers together (for the benefit of the church and/or televangelists), and to condemn those who did not join and conform to the money-machine bondage of institutionalized mysticism. Their pro-life movement is perhaps the most enduring shame-based construct of all time. All well-packaged doctrines, but nonetheless hypocritical and knavish.

More recently, the many shame-based movements of the woke left (MeToo, BLM, Defund the Police, Occupy Wall Street) target men, Whites, cops, and the wealthy with a firehose of shame. Do those targets deserve ridicule? Yes, some do. Will it change behavior—solve the problem? Absolutely not. Finally, right when we need everyone on board to solve the many effects of climate change, and to persuade the unvaccinated to get in line for a jab, the principal pathway of persuasion is, you guessed it, shame. We humiliate people and then wonder why they flip us off rather than do what we need them to do, for us and for themselves.

The message is always the same, notwithstanding subtle modifications to fit different targets: you are immoral; you are unworthy; you are deplorable; you are stupid. Like middle school bullies, we put each other down to build ourselves up. In fear of being displaced from our position in American socio-economic hierarchies and/or enduring the effects of a widening gap between the haves and have-nots, or simply satisfying our elitist impulses, we defaulted to putting one foot on our fellow Americans’ necks and a knee on their backs to assure our own status and success. It is little wonder why we live in a toxic cauldron of ire that is destroying our humanity and our country.

This dire assessment aside, there is an enormous opportunity for those in all elements of society—business, political, and social—who are astute enough to provide the foundation of redemption to save us from ourselves and, yes, thrive. Make Americans Feel Good Again (MAFGA) is a simple and powerfully persuasive proposition. Lifting people up has always proven more powerful than putting them down. “Your success makes mine possible” is a tried-and-true leadership axiom. The elegance of this proposition lies in its return on investment inasmuch as the investment—the cost of adopting this approach—is $0.

The use of the term ‘good’ in MAFGA is intentional. Not happy, or great, or special; good. As my high school expository writing teacher often reminded me: “good is a moral term.” Moreover, ‘good’ is the essence of feeling worthy, which is essential to every human being’s sense of self that enables them to succeed in their pursuit of their particular purpose—of their dreams. Evisceration of the goodness in our fellow Americans—what shaming does—is a surefire pathway to societal collapse.

Today, MAFGA can be applied to any aspect of life that requires persuasion. Business, public health, politics, education, law enforcement—wherever you need people to make a preferred decision or adopt better behaviors, making them feel good about themselves for having done so is by orders of magnitude more effective than dropping the anvil of shame upon their heads. Shaming and the humiliation it evokes must stop, now.

Finally, since many of you follow this post for my political observations, to my Democrat readers, it appears the Republicans have figured this out first. While Democrats are busy criticizing each other in Congress, and shaming people who are unsupportive of their policies (from fiscal stimulus packages to climate change to vaccinations), Governor-elect Youngkin in Virginia was making parents of schoolchildren feel good about themselves again and won the statehouse. Even Republican senator Josh Hawley, a Trumpy firebrand, who made some rather visceral remarks about the state of manhood in America last week, is onto something: he was attempting (wittingly or not) to make men feel good again.

In the presidential election of 1980, Mr. Sunshine, Ronald Reagan, defeated the jeremiad-driven Jimmy Carter by granting Americans absolution from their sins. He intoned: you (Americans) are not the problem, government is. You Americans are good. The question for Democrats today: is Biden, Carter? Republicans may not even need history, redistricting, or voter suppression to assure their next wins if they embrace MAFGA-based strategies. The midterm elections of 2022 and presidential election in 2024 may well turn on the simple measurement of who made Americans feel good again. In the emerging post-crisis era, how could making Americans feel good again ever fail? (Wake up Dems, you may not be as ‘woke’ as you think.)

MAFGA, people. MAFGA.

By |2021-12-01T16:24:06+00:00November 17th, 2021|General, Leadership|0 Comments

The Neverwillbe Reagans

As the Republican presidential hopefuls gather at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library this coming Wednesday evening, there will be, no doubt, a number of attempts to borrow the alchemic allure of President Reagan as each candidate seeks to channel his homespun American exceptionalism.  However, the top-tier, including Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman, and Mitt Romney, have very little in common with Reagan.  They are the product of an angry and twisted exceptionalism steeped in religious certitude, nationalistic fear, and elite entitlement.  Perry espouses state’s rights and secession in a manner not heard since Southern Confederates used the same arguments to preserve the institution of slavery.  Bachman suggests we deserved our earthquakes and hurricanes as a rebuke of our evil ways, while Romney claims that corporations are people too.  At its core, their exceptionalism holds a contempt for Americans—especially for those who do not look like or believe as they do—and for the liberal ideals of the Founding Fathers.  Furthermore, while hope is a dirty word for today’s Republicans, commonly derided in the phrase “hope is not a strategy,” hope is exactly what Reagan brought to America.  (While President Obama tried too, he has thus far failed.)

Reagan gave Americans access to a special grace that his predecessor Jimmy Carter couldn’t or wouldn’t offer; largely due to the fact Carter was locked in his evangelical revivalist trinity of sin, redemption, and salvation.  Where Carter admonished Americans to sacrifice in order to alleviate a “crisis of spirit,” Reagan simply offered Americans absolution.  Reagan’s theological innovation was transferring the concept of original sin from the individual to the institution.  On the domestic front, Americans were good, while government and its bureaucracies were bad.  In foreign relations, the Soviet Union was evil, but Gorbachev (the human) was worthy of Reagan’s respect and consideration.  Reagan exalted Americans regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, or even Party affiliation.  Reagan’s ire was reserved for communism, not Americans, which he saw as the principal threat to God’s gift to humankind: freedom.  Reagan’s America was the chosen land inhabited by chosen people who had a responsibility to the world: to establish a divine imperium of freedom.  While Reagan did battle with his political adversaries like Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, when the day was done they would share a drink, a story, and a song.

As charming and effective as Reagan was at attracting political support, it is easy to find fault with his presidency.  Besides his promises, government got bigger, deficits swelled, and illegal activities were conducted from the desks of the National Security Council.  Reagan never delivered on the social agenda of the Religious Right, although that should have surprised no one; as Governor of California, he allowed abortion to be legalized and he supported gun control.  He was often heralded as a great communicator, but he was also a lousy executive.  He lived in his own world where too often fantasy trumped fact; where reason was set aside for faith.  But, Reagan gave Americans something that the dismissive angst spewed by today’s field of Republicans will never accomplish: Reagan made Americans feel better about themselves.

It is a long road to the election in November 2012, and America is indeed in dire straits.  Things might get better by themselves, although right now I’d bet on worse.  But, we’ve been here before; there have been many dark days in our history.  What’s required now is a humble sense of self, a platform of mutual respect, and above all, the courage to do right by our founders and our children.  Reagan’s alchemic American exceptionalism may not be the answer today, but believing in each other and taking personal responsibility to make the country and the world a better place while setting aside certitude, fear, and elitism would honor his legacy in the most worthy manner.  Less than one hundred yards from where the Republican candidates will debate Wednesday night is Reagan’s tomb.  Above it, carved in granite, reads, “I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is a purpose and worth to each and every life.”  Reagan loved his God and his country, and he loved Americans.  That is a message the Republican candidates would do well to heed.

By |2017-05-23T19:54:57+00:00September 2nd, 2011|General|0 Comments

The Reagan Echo: Donald Trump

In my forthcoming study of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, tentatively titled “The Disciple and The Alchemist,” I wrote about Reagan that,

He was a transcendent optimist—a spokesman-as-leader—who employed alchemy and soaring rhetoric to obviate contradictions.  He stood, as appropriate at any given time, near either Democratic or Republican mirrors to reflect and project his appeal through a libertarian prism, matching the prevailing mood of the electorate.  From the threat of communism, to fatigue of government intervention, to the embrace of an evil enemy, he knew how to change the angle of the camera and strike an appealing pose for his audience.

As I observe the improbable candidacy of Donald Trump for president today, I cannot help but hear echoes of Reagan’s appeal and alchemic modality.  And, the electorate seems to be just as depressed (or angry) today as it was in the latter stages of the Carter presidency.

The comparisons are eerie.  While Reagan espoused the “Gospel of Prosperity,” Trump promotes what David Brooks of The New York Times has labeled a “Gospel of Success.”  Meanwhile, Obama speaks of self-restraint and sacrifice the same way Carter spewed jeremiads of sacrifice-based redemption.  Like Reagan, Trump also believes in American exceptionalism based on overt power, projected for the benefit of Americans first.  Notwithstanding missteps, like Vietnam before Reagan, and Iraq/Afghanistan before Trump, for Trump Americans remain the chosen people in a chosen land, the new Israel.  Meanwhile, Obama, like Carter, tries to re-identify America as a force for moral good, waging humanitarian wars (Libya) and preferring cooperation to competition.  I can’t remember ever hearing Trump (or Reagan) utter the word ‘cooperation’.  Reagan’s Hollywood-styled past and Trump’s New York/Atlantic City slick-shtick (and multiple marriages) also place them in stark contrast to the Obama/Carter image of up-from-nothing populist purity.  Furthermore, I can easily see Trump reeling in the Religious Right the same way Reagan did with his “I know you can’t endorse me … but I can endorse you”; especially with either Palin or Huckabee at the bottom half of the ticket.

Trump has also taken a page out of Reagan’s early campaign playbook in his attempt to de-legitimize the President.  Reagan questioned Carter’s strength, patriotism, and decisiveness, while Trump has pounded the birther issue with the conviction of a Klansman.  Trump will easily get the angry white vote, and if he can co-opt the Religious Right (now Christian nationalists) with whitebread exceptionalism, he’s halfway there.  Trump’s next target will be to add the other half—fiscal conservatives—to his electoral coalition.  He’ll question Obama’s fiscal toughness in the face of huge deficits and the recent S&P outlook downgrade on US securities.  Trumps own fiscal follies will no doubt be recast as the scars of experience in a Hobbesian world.  He will ask the Reagan question: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” and will couple it with “Who would you rather have at the negotiating table, a nice guy, or a winner?”  He might even say to Obama: “You’re fired!”

Reagan’s appeal resided in its simplicity; he pulled on American’s sense of patriotism and desire to “stand tall” again.  He re-imagined America’s special destiny as a “shining city on a hill.”  In a complex world full of nuance and strange alliances—one that calls for an Obamaesque mind and demeanor—Americans may decide they’d just like to feel good again.  They may prefer illusion to reality.  If they do, Trump’s orangish hair (like Reagan’s) won’t matter.  Some say Trump’s anger will do him in; this may prove to be wishful thinking by Obama supporters.  After all, aren’t we all angry?  Trump should summon his inner Reagan, and Obama better not make the same mistake Carter’s advisors did when they hoped they would face Reagan on election day.

By |2023-12-01T15:34:19+00:00April 19th, 2011|General|0 Comments

The Real BFD

I appreciate Vice President Joe Biden much the same way I do habanero sauce: in small quantities and few places.  While it can make a meal, it can also ruin it.  I expect President Obama shares my sentiment.  Notwithstanding Biden’s (nearly) off-mic proclamation about the passage of the recent healthcare bill, there was a much larger BFD this week (than non-reform-healthcare-reform) with the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II (START II).  Those of you older than college age will remember this pesky thing we once called the Cold War, where our collective fears were frequently if not systemically stoked by the idea that the US and Soviet Union stood poised to annihilate each other with nuclear weapons.  (Remarkably, and an obvious illustration of how time flies, those college age or younger were born after the collapse of the Soviet Union.)

The signing of START II is a BFD not so much by what it achieves, but by the relative ease with which it was accomplished and by the general lack of media attention it has received. Indeed, as Thomas Blanton and William Burr at the National Archives pointed out in an email to me today, “the new START treaty signed today in Prague represents ‘real’ but ‘modest’ cuts in strategic nuclear forces comparable to some Cold War alternatives but still higher than the most far-reaching proposals considered by Presidents Reagan and Carter.”  But, of course, this one got signed.  Having read the archived correspondence between Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev that surrounded the negotiation of predecessor Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty II (SALT II), I can assure you that these treaties don’t come easily. Correspondence and dialogue historically had all the trust and congeniality of an old married couple that have hated each other for the last forty years.  The US and the Soviet Union lived with each other in a quasi-psychotic symbiosis characterized by institutional schizophrenia. Fortunately, the Soviet Union collapsed under its own internal contradictions, and as a result Medvedev/Putin and Obama live with less, or different, demons.  If any president prior to Bush (41) had accomplished such an agreement in this manner, we would be witnessing a ticker tape parade similar to those that marked the end of World War II.  Today, the launch of the iPad received much greater attention.

The larger issue of course remains: the ‘miracle’ of the Manhattan Project—nuclear weapons—remain in ample supply throughout the world and are the highest ambition of terror networks and unstable states. The next BFD is dealing with that reality. Next week, forty-seven nations will meet in Washington to sort out what might be done. As with his recent ‘re-conceptualization’ of the use of nuclear arms by the US, Obama deserves credit here too.  Sam Nunn, former senator from Georgia and former security hawk, who now laments his support of nuclear arms development and heads National Threat Initiative (working to rid the world of ‘loose’ nukes) would like us all to view a new documentary, Nuclear Tipping Point ( The message is chilling but credible: Will we choose cooperation or catastrophe? Will we allow terrorist networks and/or unstable states to turn our ‘miracle’ into further madness?

As much as we all wring our hands over domestic issues, and as much as they will decide short-term political futures, we need to take responsibility and attempt to put our ‘miracle’ back in the proverbial Pandora’s box.  It is a BFD, and as impossible as it might seem, we must try, try, and try again.



By |2017-05-25T21:36:12+00:00April 9th, 2010|General|0 Comments
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