It’s About Stability, Stupid!

The allegory of the fish in the tank seems appropriate here. You see, the fish swimming in the tank of water has little to no effect on the nature of the water, but the water’s effect on the fish can be profound, even existential. Will it allow the fish to survive and prosper, or not? We are the fish, and the key to our future is more dependent on the water in which we swim than we may be willing to admit.

If history repeats, or at least rhymes, the water Americans will be swimming in for the next fifteen to twenty years is different than any since 1945 to 1961 and, the fact is, only the eldest among us have any recollection of that era. The vast majority of us have no clue what that water was like unless, of course, you are a student of history. And, no, you can’t learn this on TikTok.

We are entering the fourth post-crisis era in the history of America, which I illustrated more fully in Saving America in the Age of Deceit, called the “objectivism” phase. The last three periods of objectivism were the periods following the American Revolutionary War for Independence, the American Civil War, and the Great Depression/World War II. Today, we are emerging from the crisis which began in 2002 (which I call the “Age of Deceit”) marked by the War on Terror, Great Recession, the Covid pandemic, and a whole lotta lies.

Periods of objectivism are times in American history when we value stability, predictability, reliability and, most of all, a return to what we perceive as normal. What is decidedly out-of-favor is anything that rocks the boat—anything that includes upheaval or radical change. Collectively, we’ve had enough of that. Fatigue has taken its toll.

If you are in the persuasion business, which one way or another includes all of us, the next several years will require a keen understanding of these values and resulting trends. From politicians, to fashion designers, to filmmakers, to investors, to homebuilders, to ministers, and even actuaries, the water we are swimming in will affect both strategic and tactical decisions.

As a group, the first thing to notice about these values are that they are quite conservative. Like 1945-61, during the presidencies of Truman and Eisenhower, boring displaced exciting (unless one considered television’s The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet an actual adventure). Notwithstanding the “Red Scare” manufactured by the Catholic firebrand Father Charles Coughlin, the young Reverend Billy Graham, and Senator Joe McCarthy, Americans spent most of their attention on getting back on their feet following America’s third crisis establishing new households, neighborhoods, churches and communities with little upheaval or excitement other than the birth of lots and lots of kids—the Boomer generation. Making babies and mowing lawns was excitement enough. In fact, other than the Midwest roots shared by Missouri’s Truman and Kansas’ Eisenhower, the characteristic both men shared most obviously was the fact they were, indeed, boring!

In consideration of the forthcoming presidential election, both major parties and all candidates should study Truman and Eisenhower. Perhaps instead of Make America Great Again (MAGA), it should be Make America Work Again (MAWA). “Shit don’ work!” has become an unfortunate mantra in America as our fourth period of crisis ends. Planes don’t fly when scheduled, trains fall off their tracks, housing, childcare, and healthcare are a nightmare for many, nutjobs are roaming our streets with assault rifles, and children are behaving like adults while adults are behaving like children. It’s enough to wear a person out.

Before my Republican readers get too confident about these new waters, it is important to understand that the conservative label here is in the traditional sense of the term, the root of which is to conserve. Not the bastardized whackadoodle version of conservatism the red-cappers promote. After all, Trump is definitely no Eisenhower. That said, I wonder how long traditional conservatives—like the boring Mitt Romney—will continue to sit back and watch their party implode at the hands of a narcissistic maniac? The water is now flowing in their favor. At some point, the shame is not on the orange one, it’s on them.

It is time to return to basic American values based in the fundamental tenet of self-determination and a renewed sense of personal responsibility for ourselves and each other. It is time to CONSERVE our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Although a Democrat, Biden is probably best positioned to capture this hill of values, as long as he sets aside the impulse to engage in rhetoric that is perceived as too left-leaning in the direction of progressive idealism and can keep his feet beneath him on the campaign trail. He is, after all, Truman-like boring and actually has enough of a record on several of the relevant issues to argue for building on that record in a second term. Issues like climate change can (and must) be repositioned as a ­conserve-ative issue. Who knows, maybe even make our federal government relevant again. To my liberal friends, fear not: progressive idealism’s time will return someday. (Note that Kennedy followed Eisenhower.) However, that time is not today.

Despite Biden’s perceived advantage, don’t count Trump out. He could pivot from MAGA to MAWA (assuming he can stay out of a prison jumpsuit) and these periods do have room for the appeal of conservative authoritarianism. That’s what the Red Scare folks in the 1950s were all about. Lurking boogeymen will still be promoted by fearmongers. But, also as in the 1950s, scare tactics may get tiresome too. Trump may go the way of Joe McCarthy. Yet, conservatism does include a preference for tighter controls and clear unambiguous guardrails. Some—perhaps many—will prefer authoritarianism to reestablish a sense of stability and calm that could include oppressive and regressive regimes. Like the Germans in their post-crisis era after World War I who took a shine to a young political brawler in Munich named Adolph. America today is not the Germany of the late 1920s and early 1930s, but the natural attraction of authoritarianism among otherwise well-intentioned people should never be passively dismissed.

A related argument for a lean toward conservatism is well developed by the University of Notre Dame’s Patrick Deneen in his latest book, Regime Change: ­­­­­­Toward a Postliberal Future. Deneen’s argument is that we in the West would be better off replacing the current liberal elite with a new conservative elite to reestablish traditions and institutions to affect a more genuine populism like that he fondly recalls from his own childhood growing up in Windsor, Connecticut. In his view, progress and dynamism have indeed proven disruptive but, on net, also too destructive of social, economic, and political order. The outrage of many progressive reviewers indicate Deneen has certainly touched a nerve, and while I can find holes in his analysis, and expect that his predicted destination of conservative authoritarianism will never occur, history suggests his compass is pointing in the proper direction.

For anyone who has studied the history of human progress for more than a minute, one thing inevitably becomes crystal clear. Progress is not linear, nor is it predictable. It proceeds in fits and starts; two steps forward, one back. Surge then purge. It is random and chaotic, reflecting the array of human dispositions that characterize our civilization.  What the cycles of American history affirm is that during certain periods of time, progress for the sake of progress is not preferred. There are times when good-ol’ stability becomes fashionable. The foreseeable future is one of those times. For this moment in our history, folks will likely prefer stability to change, unless it’s a change back to normal.

To co-opt Bill Clinton campaign strategist, James Carville’s, admonition in 1992 that, “It’s the economy, stupid!” Today, our history suggests, it’s about stability, stupid! The next fifteen to twenty years won’t be exactly like 1945-61, but they may be more alike than different. Who knows, Netflix may even bring back Ozzie and Harriet. Or, not.

By |2023-07-02T13:11:42+00:00June 18th, 2023|Recent, The New Realities|0 Comments

The Great Reckoning

There have been several so-called “Greats” in American history. Two Great Awakenings that inspired heightened religious fervor through revivals. The first began around 1730 and the second in the early 1800s. Then there was the Great War, later re-named Word War I when the second world war proved the Great War was not great enough to end all wars. And, of course, the Great Depression in the 1930s. That was a doozy. LBJ claimed a great one with his Great Society, which intended a liberal remake of social and economic order in the 1960s. Its greatness fizzled in the shadow of the not-so-great Vietnam War. Most recently, just fourteen years ago, the Great Recession from 2008 to 2010. I admit that one seems like just yesterday, but such is the time-warp that accompanies later-life temporal disorientations. Up next: the Great Reckoning.

Intrinsic to its meaning, great suggests an order of magnitude beyond what we might consider normal. Something unusual; often tumultuous. Sometimes inspirational and at others devastating. To be great is indeed to be extraordinary—for better or worse.

Transitions in American cultural dispositions that occur every couple of decades are a natural evolution from one mindset to the next—from one cyclic phase in our history to the next. Every transition offers the opportunity and/or risk of a great event to occur. Based on my reading of history, we are poised to experience such a cultural transition very soon where politics, economics, and social norms will face a reckoning unlike we have seen in decades—probably since the late 1920s when we moved from the period of idealism (Idealism II: 1915-29) to the crisis of the Great Depression and World War II (Crisis III: 1930-45). This transition will be different, however, inasmuch as we are moving on from a crisis rather than into one. We are moving from the current crisis, which I called the Age of Deceit (Crisis IV: 2003 to present), to a period of objectivism (which always follow crises), the last one being Objectivism III from 1945-62.

Today, we stand at the precipice of Objectivism IV (2023+), which is the second phase in a four-phase cycle pattern of history that has persisted since the founding of our country. The three prior cycles of American history were: Land of the Free (1774-1859), Land of Opportunity (1860-1929), and Superpower (1930-2003). (See Saving America in the Age of Deceit chapters 1-3.) All crises eventually end. The Age of Deceit with its War on Terror, Great Recession, pandemic, domestic terrorism, and pervasive political dysfunction has cost more than a million American lives and has put our representative democracy in peril. It is only natural that we seek stability, predictability, and fairness, which is what periods of objectivism aim to secure.

Let’s face it, bullshit had a helluva run. But, in the long run, truth always prevails. The lies we have told and have been told were only tolerable in a world of high growth and affluence where consequences were limited and, therefore, did not curtail either the quantity or grandiosity of our deceits. The decline of economic growth and attendant affluence, brought on by policies of fiscal necessity associated with the pandemic, and the general collapse of globalism underway due to the rise of authoritarian regimes and Putin’s war, mean that the slack in the system that gave room to accommodate deceit is vanishing quickly. High stubborn inflation, coupled with a global risk rout deflating asset prices by trillions of dollars, and a looming global recession means only truth—often hard truths—will be, or even can be considered in decision-making from governments to boardrooms to household dinner tables. Severe economic downturns are always sobering. The days of magical thinking are coming to an inglorious end.

As we enter the autumn of 2022, the chickens for people like Trump and Putin—icons of the era—are coming home to roost. And, there will be no room for either of them in the henhouse of truth. As Maureen Dowd noted recently in the New York Times, “each created a scrim of lies to justify lunatic personal ambition.” While poetic justice may be the only justice they receive, for them a fate worse than death awaits: irrelevance. Those of us who have been tormented by the greed, cruelty, and dishonesty of people like Trump and Putin can rejoice, but that doesn’t mean the reckoning stops there. There will be pain for all of us, but it will also be worth it. At least we can smile through the pain on our road to liberation from the deceits that began with the Bush administration’s lies about WMD and al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2003, and ended with Trump’s many con-games. To be clear, it wasn’t only politics and government that were a hotbed of deceit; business, religion, education, law enforcement, media, and many other social institutions were guilty of numerous deceit-based schemes. It was the modality of the times.

So, what can we expect as we move through this fourth cycle of American history: the Great Reckoning?

Generally, periods of objectivism are where reason, character, and classic conservatism are highly valued over reckless idealism when hubris, certitude and grandeur prevail. During periods of objectivism, terms like unity, reason, inclusion, pragmatism, tolerance, risk aversion, stability, restraint, containment, self-reliance, meritocracy, frugality, humility, redemption, secularity, family, and community are prevalent. In philosophy, objectivism holds that there are certain things, especially moral principles, that are immutable and exist independently of human beliefs or preferences. There is plenty of room for personal agency, but little for delusion. Historically, presidents with military backgrounds like George Washington, Ulysses Grant, and Dwight Eisenhower performed well during periods of objectivism. That’s not to say our next president will be a former military general, but it most certainly will not be a former reality show host and real estate con-man. If it is, we and our representative democracy are doomed.

More specifically, in this period of objectivism, the first thing all of us will feel are those sobering effects of an economic downturn. Conspicuous consumption will fade from favor. Inflation up, growth down, unemployment and taxes both back up. Although many point to our Federal Reserve Bank and central banks around the world to curb inflation while maintaining growth, that magic combination is highly unlikely. Achieving a soft-landing appears to be more fantasy than probability. The only tool central banks have is monetary constraint accomplished primarily by raising the cost of capital. Demand destruction may destroy the economy before inflation subsides. It is akin to chemotherapy for treating cancer: you may kill the patient before you kill the disease. Those economists who twisted themselves inside-out in their attempt to convince us that public debt doesn’t matter will magically disappear from public life soon; perhaps even enter rehab.

Beyond economics is where it gets more interesting. In national and international security issues, adventurism like the American neo-con impulse to remake the world in our own image (like Bush/Cheney), or a dictator’s desire to capture more territory (like Putin or Xi) will suffer serious long-term consequences. On domestic terrorism, which is the principal security threat in America, Americans will demand and receive much more aggressive law enforcement tactics and legal consequences for terrorists who are predominantly young white males with assault rifles. Investment in research and development—both public and private—will also become more essential and more focused. Research and development will be less interested in digital social puffery and more targeted at lowering carbon dioxide. Do we really need to experience fake life through Zuckerberg’s new goggles? Can’t we just fix our real lives? Technology will be seen as a critical element in saving ourselves from many pressing issues, especially climate change. On investment in public goods, education will, once again (as it does in every period of objectivism), rise to the top of the list. Secularity will also rise throughout the objectivism phase as religiosity retreats from the public and political spheres of influence. Finally, social character will, once again, value integrity over vainglorious flamboyance. Honesty, humility, and self-restraint will return as positive differentiators in selecting leaders in all corners of American life. There will simply be no more tolerance for show-ponies and charlatans.

On a more personal level, those who continue to chase wants and desires—who believe the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence—will likely face crushing disappointment. Living on the treadmill of egocentric satisfaction will quickly become unsustainable. It’s time to put your ego into a reality-induced coma. Let your soul—where values and wisdom reside—be your guide. If it feels good, do it? Not so much. If you’ve made a serious strategic error in relationship or economic matters, unwind that mistake as soon as possible. If you don’t, the marketplace of truth will do it for you. Magical thinking is never more dangerous than during periods of reckoning. Penance may not suffice; mercy may be unavailable. Those who refuse moral sobriety may be forced to consider asceticism. Unfortunately for many folks, liberation from the Age of Deceit will only be achieved through suffering. Enlightenment is a much better choice.

This period of reckoning will be painful, but also tremendously beneficial for America and for humankind. Returning to the truth and treating each other with respect is the only way forward. New contemplations of what defines progress and success are being examined by very thoughtful people like technologist Patrick Collison and economist Tyler Cowen. The answers to basic questions like, What is prosperity?, may be very different in the future than the past. The rhetorically popular adage “less is more” may finally be actualized. Fundamental attitudes about what constitutes fulfillment in life will have to change. No longer will our culture be driven by economic, physical/body, and popularity metrics alone. Dignity as a measure of well-being will become a new focus of public policy. Spiritual metrics associated with happiness and psychological well-being will gain stature.

At the onset of Crisis II, the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address summoned the “better angels of our nature” to strum “the mystic chords of memory” in his hope that Americans of all backgrounds and dispositions would recall and embrace the impetus of unity to preempt the bloody war that followed. His words were heard, but unheeded. Today, we are similarly divided. Unfortunately, crises have proven the only way Americans awaken to correct course to save themselves from themselves. For whatever reason, Americans prefer to do things the hard way. As Winston Churchill (supposedly) once observed, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else first.”

Periods of change—especially tumultuous change—are never easy. Homo sapiens much prefer homeostasis. Our job now is to realize that resisting reality and its underlying truths is a delusion we can no longer entertain. We deserve what is coming, which may seem harsh. But as every grade school teacher coaxes their reluctant students: “We can do hard things!” The smartest among us will realize the best approach is to quit demonizing each other to claim victimhood and reach for courage rather than indulging cowardice to save ourselves and our country.

That is what winners do.

By |2022-11-20T14:51:37+00:00October 2nd, 2022|General, Recent|0 Comments

America’s Fourth Turning: Rebirth or Collapse?

The decisions we make in the next two years—individually and collectively—will largely set the trajectory of America for the next seventy to eighty years. We are in that magical moment as we emerge from a period of crisis—the fourth in American history—where we re-answer the question, “What does it mean to be an American?” Moreover, how do we organize ourselves for our mutual benefit? The good news is that crises make room to question old rules and conventions as long as we don’t ignore or squander the opportunity.

If history rhymes, 2022 will be like 1790, 1875, and 1945; the dawn of the “objectivism” phase in the cycles of American history which follows the four-phase rhythm on objectivism-liberalism-idealism-crisis that have defined the previous three seventy-five (plus or minus) year cycles. It is a critical time; a proverbial tipping point in our transition to our next future. (For a full illustration of this cyclical thesis see Saving America in the Age of Deceit, chapters 1-3.)

At the end of the first crisis—the American Revolutionary War—our identity emerged as the “Land of the Free.” At the end of the second crisis—the Civil War and Reconstruction—we emerged as the “Land of Opportunity.” At the end of the third crisis—the Great Depression and World War II—we emerged as “Superpower.” At the end of each of these cycles, at a macro-level, the United States became a better and more powerful nation across almost every measure of human welfare. However, a positive outcome following periods of crisis is far from certain. These tipping points can go either way.

Periods of objectivism that follow crises have historically been periods of relative calm denominated in realism, rationalism, and humanism that prevail over the tumult of crisis where all dimensions of our prior identity (most recently “superpower”) are twisted, damaged, or destroyed. In our fourth crisis, which I identified as the Age of Deceit beginning in 2003, it is easy to point to all the damage that has been done. The spirit of America today, which was alive and well after the first three crises (excepting the South after Crisis II), today feels more like a dungeon of depression.

Disunity, anger, isolation, withdrawal, anxiety, and fear are at extraordinary levels right when we need unity, empathy, aspiration, and calm to prevail in our decision making. The American cultural disposition today is both hollow and fragile. We are not heading toward anything as dramatic as an explosion because that requires a significant level of internal (albeit unstable) energy. The Age of Deceit, punctuated by the pandemic, has ravaged our collective spirit. Rather, an implosion seems more likely where our façade of red, white and blue grandeur crumbles like fragile porcelain into a pile of rubble.

At the end of this fourth crisis, an image of collapse is much easier to conjure than one of ascendent rebirth. Rather than emerging into another period of objectivism, we may spiral into a deeper crisis; one that may be denominated by the construct of predation—like a chapter out of Lord of the Flies or, if you prefer a more current reference, Netflix’ Squid Game.

Today, the closest parallel in American history is the South after Crisis II—the Civil War and Reconstruction. Defeated and nearly destroyed, the South fell into a period of depression and regression from which it has never completely recovered. Reflexive Jim Crow laws and the emergence of its stubborn pride of ignorance, or anti-intellectualism, have remained like heavy anvils wrapped vaingloriously around the necks of southern states prohibiting any notion of rebirth or renewal.  Had the South not remained in the union and been integrated into its economic orbit, it would have surely been conquered or subsumed by another nation-state in the late 19th century.

In addition to our current dispositional distress, we have some significant structural issues that contribute mightily to our fragility. Within both the political and social realms, we have allowed structural incentives to promulgate the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the few. This condition assures the continual festering of political, social, and economic conflict that if left to proceed unabated has, as its natural outcome, violent conflict. The relative distribution of power and means into a state of extreme inequality has a long history of producing devastating conflicts throughout the world. Yes, we could be different, but that notion may be supported by little more than our own hubristic naïveté. (Failed empires have always thought they would be the first exception—until they weren’t.)

Frankly, the only structural dimension that is functioning properly (for now) in our country and world are the financial markets. They have been proven extraordinarily resilient in serving their principal function: the creation of wealth based on the efficient allocation of resources. People rail and whine about their contribution to inequality, but financial markets are not (and have never been) designed to foster equality. They are designed on the principle of equity, which is a proportional concept that holds that wealth (the output) be distributed based on the proportional contribution of capital, labor, and intelligence (the inputs). This is the capitalist concept of equity, which has proven to be the most effective economic construct for the creation of wealth in human history. A different distribution, or redistribution, of the output of wealth based on the now-popular concept of equity proportional to need (rather than contribution) is the socialist concept of equity. To realize this concept of equity, distributive practices must be addressed away from financial markets by political and social policy, which as of today in the United States has proven impossible to affect.

As painful as the above rendering of our current dispositional and structural issues may be to read, believe me when I say, it has been even more painful for me to write. I am an optimist by nature and have always subscribed to the patriotic notion that we, as Americans, can accomplish anything. It resides deeply in my Celtic DNA that, to quote William Ernst Henley’s poem, Invictus, “In the fell clutch of circumstance / I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance / My head is bloody, but unbowed.” However, regardless of the vast majority of evidence that suggests we may slip into a deeper crisis, there is still a pathway to survive and prosper—to enter a new phase of objectivism.

First, let me assert two realities and one essential trend that I believe we must acknowledge and accept if we are to embrace the axiom of realism—seeing things as they are rather than how we might wish them to be.

  1. Our federal government is irretrievably broken and no longer has the capacity to serve our interests beyond (perhaps) national security.
  2. Our nation is also irretrievably divided such that while we may possess common interests, we are unable to agree on common facts that are a prerequisite to establishing a shared reality upon which to make and execute decisions aimed at serving those interests.
  3. We are, slowly but surely, migrating into like-minded communities that provide a natural basis for future collective action. Our choice of domain—where we wish to live—has shifted dramatically to primarily reflect our political and cultural dispositions.

If we accept these three assertions, we should begin the process of dramatically reducing the role of our federal government and increasing the role of state and local government. Coincidentally, much more in line with the Founders initial concept of the distribution of resources and power between the federal government and the states.

In effect, we must shift our attention and our resources away from the model of the nation-state that has been with the modern world since 1648, and toward the development of stronger states and communities that regard themselves as independent sovereign actors that seek benefit and welfare not through the nation-state, but through what I call state- and locally-directed shared-reality, mutually-beneficial, networked alliances designed to produce the public goods formerly organized and provided by the nation-state. In effect, the United States of America becomes the Affiliated States and Communities of America.

This new design of political, social, and economic organization allows like-minded communities to affect the production of public goods in an expedient and efficient manner—something our national government can no longer accomplish. Enabled by new technologies, there are few barriers to creating networked solutions that transcend prior notions of politically imposed boundaries and artificial prohibitions against free association. For example, if like-minded states, counties, or communities can come together to provide healthcare for their constituents, why should the federal government stand in the way?

This concept of governance accepts the reality of disunity and conflict at the national level by essentially draining the beast of the federal government of its capacity to wreak havoc in our lives—by either action or inaction. Further, it recognizes and subverts the negative impacts of the prospect of the entropic implosion of the United States and subsequent splintering of a failed empire. Finally, it puts us back in control of our destiny. It preserves the spirit of Henley’s final lines in his poem, Invictus: “I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul.”

This effort will take many years, extraordinary political will, and highly enlightened and inspired leadership to come to fruition. However, we absolutely do possess the human capital to succeed. America remains a land rich in extraordinary human resources. Alternatively, we can stand by and watch the demise of our American society unfold as the slow-motion disaster that is already underway. We have the power to transition to a period of objectivism and avoid a slide into further crisis if we pursue a new model of governance. The good news is that at this moment in time the choice is still ours. But, by definition, moments don’t last forever.

By |2021-12-01T16:23:46+00:00October 22nd, 2021|American Identity, General|0 Comments

Amaze me. Please.

I would like you—anyone—to amaze me with your spirit and fortitude. With your sacrifice. With your resilience. With your intelligence. With your dedication. With your honesty. With your passion.

Unfortunately, we are overwhelmed today by stories of grievance; by stories that begin and end with demands based in half-truths or full-lies. Spun and spewed by people for whom life is seen as a buffet of entitlements. People who believe their lot in life will be enhanced by finger-pointing blame at anyone or anything beyond themselves. “Don’t trigger me; I am fragile and it’s your fault!” “Keep those immigrants out; they might take my job!” “Don’t blame me about climate change; I recycle!” “Don’t make me wear a mask, or get a vaccine; my right to ignorance is worth more than your life!” In this age of affluence and abundance, our sense of personal responsibility has largely vanished, and with it our capacity to address urgent problems.

Meritocracy, capitalism, and even democracy, which have served America well as cornerstone institutions, have become whipping posts against which all manner of complaints find a place to whine and wail. To be clear, each are imperfect institutions. Meritocracy has been corrupted by the impulse of plutocrats who have cleverly developed practices and systems to, in effect, turn the meritorious work of their antecedents into inheritable legacies. (See: Ivy League.) The economist Thomas Piketty, in his book Capital, illustrates the terminal effects of the destruction capitalism levies on democracy via its capacity to concentrate wealth in the hands of the few (enabling the aforementioned plutocrats). Finally, we are observing in real time how Trumplicans are using democratic systems to destroy democratic ideals through gerrymandering, voter suppression, and court packing.

However, these institutions served us well for more than two-hundred years. Yes, they have created inequalities and stubborn forms of discrimination, but they also produced the most powerful and bountiful civilization in the history of the world. It is only in the last twenty years that these institutions have fallen into the shadow cast by their dark selves; a darkness perpetrated by those charged with protecting their integrity: politicians, media chieftains, judges, and justices. The lesson: people make institutions what they are, not the other way around. The problem we must address is the quality—the character—of our leaders. These institutions will serve us well again once we become their stewards, rather than parasites eating away their strength and compromising their integrity.

I know it’s hard to find these days, but do you remember courage? It is becoming a quaint virtue right when we need it to rise up to elevate a new spirit of leadership that can purge the cynical charlatans who have turned our cherished institutions into schemes to fill their wallets and sate their frail and vile egos. As I shared with my readers in Saving America in the Age of Deceit, “courage is the spine of character; it is the synaptic command and control system for all other virtues.” I further characterized “transcendent courage” as based in truth, action, selflessness, and the humility of self-acceptance, while providing a fountain of strength to embolden everyone. “Those who act courageously enhance the lives and behaviors of everyone around them” (pages 235-237). This might be called the viral benefit of courage. It tends to spread and replicate in a manner that nurtures communities of virtue. And boy, could we use a renaissance of virtue.

The good news is that we know what to do about the unfortunate by-products of our institutions like inequality, discrimination, and climate change. We have never been stumped in creating solutions—in providing the guidance and guardrails that all institutions require. Our challenge is summoning the will to assert what we know is true. The problem started with embracing lies and fantasies that, when they reached critical mass in the mindspace of Americans, became so disorienting and toxic that today we cannot even agree on a shared reality. Seeing things as they are—the most critical skill in decision making—has become so corrupted by incompetent and selfish leadership that we have no hope of solving any of the problems we face. And, the clock is ticking. If we don’t get our proverbial shit together soon, it may be too late to stem things like civil conflict and environmental catastrophe.

Call me cranky if you wish, but cranky is an awkward yet symbiotic bedfellow of wisdom. I know I won’t have the last word, but please allow me the deep word. I want to look upon my fellow Americans and believe in us the way Abraham Lincoln believed that the Union would prevail; the way Harriet Tubman believed in herself; the way that Nikola Tesla believed in alternating current; the way that every nameless and faceless immigrant that crosses our border believes in their future. Moreover, I want to know that when it is my time to take my leave of this place that America and the world are back in courageous hands.

So please, in whatever chosen role you play in this country of ours, please amaze yourself with your dedication to the truth expressed with a deep sense of personal responsibility, and uphold our institutions in the face of those who would like them destroyed. They have served us well, and they will again, once we renew our commitment to leaders of high character. There is little, if any, time to spare.

By |2021-09-05T14:01:08+00:00August 2nd, 2021|General, Leadership|0 Comments

Our Next Destiny: Objective Morality

As a student of history, I have been trained to consider what we can learn from an expanse of time at altitudes that transcend the moment. To be clear, we must deal with the flames at our feet; ignoring them means tomorrow may never come. However, if we are to have any claim of authorship of our future, we must lift our eyes, hearts, and minds to consider new possibilities and opportunities. Otherwise, we are forever victims of circumstance. The time is now to lift our perspective to shape a new destiny.

I have written extensively about the cycles of American history. Born in crisis, our history suggests we then move to a period of objectivism, then liberalism, then idealism, and crisis again. We are at the end of our fourth period of crisis in American history, what I termed the “Age of Deceit.” What comes next—a new era of objectivism—has been characterized in the past by terms such as unity, reason, inclusion, pragmatism, tolerance, risk aversion, stability, containment, self-reliance, standardization, meritocracy, frugality, humility, redemption, secularity, family, and community.

Every period of objectivism varies to reflect the nature and consequences of the immediately preceding crisis. Historically, these consequences have emanated from economic and physical destruction. The periods that followed the American Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Great Depression and World War II were periods of objectivism. The next fourth period of objectivism will be different. Yes, there has been economic and physical destruction during the Age of Deceit that spanned the wars we waged in the Middle East, to the Great Recession, to the pandemic; but, this time, there has been an unprecedented degree of moral destruction as well. Among other things, the term “empathy” must join those above to set a new destiny—a new era—of objectivism.

Although deceit was the common denominator that I chose to characterize the period of crisis we are now leaving, the moral transgressions ranged a spectrum of violations of those things we might consider under the umbrella of “good.” In addition to our many deceits, we were also selfish, greedy, reckless, conceited, and profoundly narcissistic. Our calculus excluded morality; it began and ended in a transactional modality measured principally in dollars and seldom considered effects beyond ourselves—across extended peoples, places, or time.

Ironically, but also consistent with history, one might expect that morality would have been a primary consideration in the era just passed since periods of late idealism and early crisis are marked by high religiosity. After all, aren’t religions known for their high morality? The answer, of course, is that the values religions promote are, but the institutions and organizations formed to support them fall victim to the same things other institutions and organizations do: compromising their principles in the name of self-preservation. Organized religions compete for adherents just as private enterprise competes for customers. Doing good—meeting moral commitments—are often the first victim of competition.

Of the values all world religions hold is the idea that we should treat each other as we wish to be treated ourselves; the so-called Golden Rule. However, there is another tenet of morality we must both recognize and embrace if we are to transcend this crisis and deliver ourselves to a much better place—to a destiny of objective morality. It to, is taught by most, if not all world religions. I call it the principle of moral reciprocity. It is the idea that we are as strong as the weakest among us, as wealthy as the poorest among us, as safe as the least secure among us, as healthy as the sickest among us. This principle is they key to solving many of our problems; those that collectively fall into the basket of concerns we call inequality. And, it is a prerequisite of achieving the loftiest objective of all: a sustainable culture of integrity.

To secure a future of objective morality we must change two things: where we focus our eyes, and how we measure success. Where we end up, whether we are driving a car, or plotting a path to a new destiny, largely depends on where we focus our eyes. We go where our eyes tell the brain behind them to go. The brain then commands the body to coordinate its capabilities to get there. The other element is how we measure success; when we have arrived at our destination, be it a place or an outcome. In the Age of Deceit, we measured our success in dollars and personal gratification. It should be no surprise, then, that we are in the mess we are in as a society. I believe it can be argued we don’t even have a society today.

For the most part, this shift in perspective is understood by our current president, Joe Biden. Against extraordinary structural impediments, President Biden is trying to take us to a period of objective morality. The good news is forces tend to move us in the direction of objectivism following periods of idealism and crisis. In many ways, we are given little choice to correct our path if we are to survive. We have that going for us. Our eyes will naturally focus on new destinations out of the basic desire for self-preservation. However, embracing the principle of moral reciprocity is anathema to where we have been for the last three decades. This will be a formidable challenge.

Curiously, organized religion could play a positive role. The decline of religiosity in America could be addressed by a new appeal to the so-called “nones” that claim no religious affiliation by appealing to their sense of morality as defined by the Golden Rule and the principle of moral reciprocity. Organized religion—to save itself—must authentically and sincerely embrace morality again. If it does, it will be the first time since it supported civil rights and rallied against the war in Viet Nam in the 1960s. Since then, it has mostly spiraled into the abyss of its current irrelevance. It followed our descent into depravity rather than saving us from it.

As individuals, we must also set our sights on new horizons. If we want stronger families and communities, why do we continue to stare at our federal government and national media? We need to assure we each take responsibility for where our feet stand each and every day. We need to point at ourselves to assure a new destiny. We need to ask our neighbors how they are doing. No one will, or can, lift us up if we don’t make the effort ourselves.  Good and bad are both contagious. It is up to us to see which one spreads.

A life lived in a state of objective morality has many benefits. Today, given from whence we have come, it may just be the key to our very survival, and the prosperity—both material and moral—of many generations to come.

By |2021-04-18T13:22:24+00:00April 11th, 2021|General, Leadership|0 Comments

The Truth Must Rise Again

Our urgent duty as Americans is to assure, from this point forward, that the truth, like the sun, rises each and every day.

Like many of my readers, I am in the last phase of my life.  And, like you, I do not know how long it will last. I have had great successes and great failures. I have laughed and I have cried.  My heart has been filled with joy and emptied by the pain of loss.  And like you, I have known—from a very young age—the difference between right and wrong; between truth and lies.

In moments of weakness, humans can lose their grip on reality; we can become susceptible to deceit—especially if in so doing it makes us feel strong again.  This is what Trump has done to millions of Americans; Americans who feel weakened by a world that is moving in directions that threaten their position in social, economic, and political order.  I have referred to this in other writings as the period of Great Dispossession.  Specifically, to white Christian nationalists who were easily captured by Trump’s rhetoric of reclaiming an American retrotopia perhaps best illustrated in the paintings of Norman Rockwell.

Pluralism—a fundamental tenet of Americanism—which was once a clarion call to the world to join us in the American experiment, was flipped from ideal to threat for those targeted by Trump.  Science and technology—that assured America’s place as a hegemonic superpower and literally extended our lives by decades—became a suspicious and dangerous regime deployed by highly educated elites.  Knowledge and reason, revered at our nation’s birth as a gift of the Age of Enlightenment, has been traded for beliefs corrupted by blind faith in purveyors of deceit—con men—operating at all levels of our society.  The Age of Deceit has reigned down upon us.

It was said by many, including president-elect Joe Biden, that the events of January 6th in our nation’s capital do not represent “who we are.”  I beg to differ.  Today, what has happened and may continue to happen, is exactly who we are.  It is ugly, embarrassing, and shameful, but we must each own our part—either through our active participation or our inactive complicity—if we are to have a chance of redemption and renewal.  We must own this truth.

Since as early as 2010, in this blog, I have warned about an emerging move toward the impulse of fascism in America.  I have warned about the degradation of the American values, writing most extensively about it in my 2020 book, Saving America in the Age of Deceit.  In public meetings in my own hometown, shortly after Trump’s election, I labeled him a wannabe fascist and further warned that the great irony of his presidency would be that while America has faced many existential threats throughout its history that today, as appalling as it was, that threat resided in the Oval Office. Many looked at me as if I were crazy, others just hoped I would be proven wrong.  I was neither.

We must, once again, see our country through clear eyes and full hearts. One of the great lessons of my life has been to work carefully and deliberately to always see things as they are as opposed as to how I might like them to be.  To be always and ever curious.  To question the givens. To learn even when it hurts.  As we age, we have a choice: do we become hardened in our thinking—intellectually sclerotic—or open to new knowledge and emerging realities? The first path leads to isolation and anger; the second path to fulfillment and transcendence.  The first life passes holding a bucket of resentment; the second swaddled by grace in a state of peace.  Which will you be?

Another tenet of Americanism is the prospect of second chances.  Who we are today, as painfully illustrated in our nation’s capital this week, does not have to be who we become.  Those with open and curious minds are always becoming.  Those with empathy lift others up to see the view they see: the promise on the horizon of hope where we must—immediately—allow truth to rise again.

By |2021-01-19T14:29:34+00:00January 10th, 2021|American Identity, General|0 Comments

The Allure of Madness

As the country descends into chaos, driven by a mix of structural inequities and a ruthless pandemic that requires leadership far beyond the grasp of Trump World, we each have a choice: stand in resolution guided by values and virtue, or hitch a ride on a comet of madness toward a romanticized return to a mythical normal that will never be normal again. Regression—the fantasy of returning to yesterday—is the fault line of the selfish and uninspired. Progress requires clear-minded honesty and transcendent courage acknowledged with the certainty of sacrifice.  It has been curious, and at times shockingly sad, to watch which path people choose.

Standing to reestablish and actualize values and virtue is difficult work; an often gut-wrenching undertaking unaccompanied by the prospect of immediate reward. It requires a deep sense of self, based in the hardened steel of dignity to suffer sacrifice with eyes fixed on an aspirational horizon of fortitude. The other choice, escaping—riding the comet—renders the allure of madness; to thumb one’s nose at reality while indulging the impulse of selfishness. To ignore science and party with friends at old watering holes. To expect our institutions to suddenly rise up to save us as we spiral into self-absorption. To run away to the fantasy of a romanticized past—however distant and fanciful—to alleviate the quarantine blues.

As we stare at the last days of this crisis—the Age of Deceit—the selection process is underway.  The list of individuals, companies, organizations, and governments that comprised yesterday’s heroes—those we held in the highest regard—will undoubtedly be selected for or against as a new list is revealed.  The wonderboys of yesterday, like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, are destined to become the pariahs of tomorrow. Companies that take their direction from investment bankers and tightly-wound lawyers may find their fortunes plummet as stewardship gains favor over exploitation. Those who bayed loudly from the pulpit to extol the promises of a white Christian nationalist renewal will be forced to reconcile their sermons, laced with more hate than love, as the offering trays return empty from the few left to listen. And governments will, once again, come to realize that leadership starts with service.

As I wrote in Saving America in the Age of Deceit, “the rudder on America’s ship of liberty [is] dangling from its hull.”  Out of greatness we have managed to create a stew of despair, dissonance, and dread.  Those who have succumbed to the impulse of selfishness—who embraced the allure of madness by grasping precariously onto the tail of the comet—will be forced to trade their gratuitous binge for the sober reality of tomorrow.  Those who set aside feeling good for doing good—the stouthearted and most resilient among us—will chart the new course of history.  Which are you?

By |2020-07-27T20:16:46+00:00July 19th, 2020|General, Leadership|0 Comments
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