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

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,

[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,

[4] “Congress and the Public,” GALLUP,

[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,

[7] See Ben Zimmer, “The Origins of the ‘Globalist’ Slur,” The Atlantic, March 14, 2018,

[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,

[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|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

Two Cups of Tea

With just a couple of days remaining before the midterm elections many people, including me, are bemoaning what appears to be a new low in political discourse that suggests a complete abandonment of America’s position as the standard-bearer of liberal democracy. If the evidence of yelling, screaming, head stomping, and complete disregard for the truth is any indication, on Wednesday, November 3, we could be facing a new Congress that is likely to turn the rotunda of the Capitol into a cage-fighting ring to settle petty political scores. And to be fair, neither party is innocent here. There are nasty people on all sides. It bears remembering, however, that American democracy has always been a messy and chaotic business and extremism is nothing new. Furthermore, extremism, like that which marks much of today’s Tea Party rhetoric, has a way of becoming diluted over time while offering new leaders a springboard to interpret underlying principles in more attractive ways.

Princeton historian, Sean Wilentz provides evidence of this phenomenon in his recent article “Confounding Fathers” (The New Yorker, October 18, 2010). He details an historical review of the John Birch Society and its tight parallels with today’s Tea Party. Wilentz argues that the extreme rhetoric of Beck, Palin, Limbaugh, and their many followers/imitators, is simply an update of the 1960s incendiary fodder produced by Robert Welch (founder of the John Birch Society) and Willard Cleon Skousen (founder of the All-American Society and philosophical mentor of Glenn Beck). In essence, today’s tea is Birch Tea. As the 60s moved forward, the Birchers experienced a straightening and redirecting of their principles by cooler and more astute minds like that of William F. Buckley, Jr. As Wilentz points out, Buckley’s biographer John J. Judis, observed, “Buckley was beginning to worry that with the John Birch Society growing so rapidly, the right-wing upsurge in the country would take an ugly, even Fascist turn rather than leading toward the kind of conservatism [his] National Review had promoted.”

Buckley and other more practical conservatives asserted the principles of right-wing extremism sans the bombastic bravado. I can still hear Buckley intoning his arguments on Public Television with sharp wit and rhythmic cadence without bludgeoning his political adversaries. He had a sense of decorum absent in the practices of Beck, et al. In time, he also had a candidate for president in the governor of California, Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s brilliance resided in his profound interpersonal intelligence. Historians have roundly criticized him for his lack of analytical skills and interests, but one thing he knew was how to connect with people. He used soaring rhetoric to be sure, but it was always a shade or two less hot than the Birchers. He also knew the difference between rhetoric and policy. He invited the support of social conservatives by embracing their passion against abortion and for school prayer, but knew better than to use his power as president to assert government control over what he viewed as personal liberties. He was a rhetorical conservative and a pragmatic libertarian.

In a recent interview I completed with Reagan’s son, Ron, he suggested his father would be a poor fit in the Republican party of 2010. Ron believes his father would be barely conservative enough on today’s scale to make “center-right.”   What is also clear, however, given this reading of history, is that our concerns of the day shall pass. Brighter and more reasonable minds will prevail. The rough and garish will realize that enduring power, like that which Reagan enjoyed, is won not just through coercion and fear, but also optimism and yes, hope. Reagan believed in American exceptionalism more than any politician in contemporary history. While it did not always serve him well, it did allow him to favor inclusion over division, and optimism over fear. He was a compassionate exceptionalist, able to condemn communism as an “evil empire” while befriending its leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. Together, they set the stage for the end of the Cold War and an unprecedented period of economic prosperity.

Birch Tea won’t last, but it will provide elements to cull from its leftover leaves, which, when combined with more mild herbs, will offer a less bitter cup of tea. Perhaps it will be called Reagan Tea.

By |2017-05-25T18:32:05+00:00October 31st, 2010|American Identity, General|0 Comments

The Age of Apate´

In the last fifty years, the American experience has hurtled forward from Kennedy’s Age of Camelot, to the Age of Aquarius, and now the Age of Apaté (a-pat’-ay), named for the Greek goddess of deceit whose evil spirit was released once Pandora opened her box. The lid on Pandora’s mythical box (actually a jar) was loosened by the alchemy of Ronald Reagan and the ambition of Mikhail Gorbachev that ended the Cold War. When Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika-styled reforms slipped perilously toward revolution the Soviet model imploded. However, what was once widely considered a great victory over godless communism—the collapse of the Soviet Union—quickly became affected, or perhaps more accurately infected, by the spirit of Apaté. Hubris and deceit were easier and, let’s face it, more fun than humility and honesty. With the Soviets out of the way, we Americans were free to assume a wide berth of exceptionalism to expand our reach and reign. And, we did it on the wings of Apaté.

Today, many debate today whether we have entered another Great Depression, or just a Great Recession, but it may be more accurately considered a Great Deception. From WMD, to credit default swaps, to non-reform reforms and unreal reality shows, we Americans have elevated the art of deception from a hapless wizard deceiving a dream-addled girl from Kansas, to a metastasized algorithmic ethos denominated in fraud. We face unimaginable deficits while we continue to ignore their obvious causes lest a noisy constituency or moneyed lobbyist objects. We wage war without a clear objective and no exit strategy to, among other things, protect our access to a source of energy that compromises our health and security while slowly but surely killing the planet on which we live. We are re-writing our history books to expunge our liberal heritage in favor of Christian nationalism—a crown of thorns to replace Uncle Sam’s top hat—as we elbow both reason and tolerance out of the public square. Bigger lies and more hate are essential ingredients in contemporary narrative.

Jonathan Franzen’s new book, Freedom, may indeed be the defining period piece of the era. As Charles Baxter aptly points out in his review of Freedom in The New York Review of Books (9/30/10), “the noble lie serves as the pivot point around which almost everything in Freedom turns.” Alas, at least all elements of American culture, including politics, economics, religion, literature, and entertainment are aligned—albeit around an axis of deceit.

Fear not, we will find our way out of this sticky web of deception; or perhaps more likely hurled into the stubborn certainty of a reality based in truth. The fanciful altered state of the last twenty years is coming to a painful end. As with most empires that vanquish their enemies, the last and greatest challenge is in facing itself. This too is America’s final imperial test. Our future rises or falls on our capacity to see things as they are under the blinding light of truth. We may or may not be different than the fallen empires that preceded us, but we will most certainly fail if we continue to indulge Apaté’s nefarious ways.

By |2017-05-25T18:38:13+00:00October 10th, 2010|American Identity, 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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