Category Archives: Social Justice

Pertains to income inequality, diversity, opportunity.

How to be “A Good Loser”

Some of my conservative friends are responding to posts by angry Democrats with, “Be a good loser.”  In sports, where it’s only a game, being a good loser means congratulating the other team and thanking them for a good game.  It’s play — or should be.

But the policies and actions of our government are not a game. It is the responsibility of every citizen to make certain that government is good government. flag-plateIn this election a man has been elected whose values and character are deeply flawed.  Much ink has been devoted to cataloging his shortcomings. His choices of advisors and staff are not encouraging:

The short list of White House cabinet picks (see below) reads like a Who’s-Who of rightwing know-nothings (Sarah Palin), dangerous retreads (Newt Gingrich and John Bolton), arch conservatives (Sam Brownback), disgraced hacks (Chris Christie), Wall Street regressives (Steven Mnuchin), and raving opportunists (Rudi Giuliani). Already installed as chief strategist and senior counselor is a white supremacist (Steve Bannon), and, as chief of staff, a Trump toady and party apologist (Reince Priebus).

If personnel is policy, this isn’t looking good. [Robert Reich, Facebook 11/14/16]

In our democracy being a good loser means defending American values as embodied in the constitution. It also means defending inalienable and inherent human rights.  Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — which are possible only with conscious stewardship of our planet, equality, peace, integrity, and community.

We may have lost but we’ll never give up, whatever it takes!

 

OUR “ELECTION” ESSAY

Dear friends,

Instead of our usual year-end letter, we’ve decided to speak from our hearts about the current election and what it means to us.

Jonesborough Courthouse
Jonesborough Courthouse

We’ve written this essay together—sharing our spiritual concerns  and our extensive analysis of the situation.  It’s divided into five sections:

  1. How did we get here?
  2. Personality vs. Character/Morality.
  3. Who benefits from our disconnection, confusion, and disillusionment?
  4. Values worth dying for?
  5. The concerns we have are not going away (no matter who wins).

We hope you’ll receive our letter in the spirit that we’ve written it—as an invitation to ongoing inquiry. Our country is at a crucial turning point.

How did we get here?

Many of us are distressed with the current state of American politics, the ugliness, the bitterness, the distrust of the media, the candidates, the Congress, each other.

League of Women Voters Yard Sign
League of Women Voters Yard Sign

When Richmond and I were young adults, we trusted our parents, our family doctor, our banker, our teachers, and our neighbors. We respected news people like Walter Cronkite or Bill Moyers and their investigative journalism.  We used to feel connected to our larger world.  But extreme mobility and digital media have broken down that sense of community and connectedness.  Now everything has become “entertainment:”  news, food, sports, gun violence.  We’re texting, Instagramming, Facebooking, Tweeting, running to keep up, grasping for diversions.  We’re accomplished but exhausted, successful but soul-weary.

Many Americans spend more time viewing and reading about sports events than they do about the workings of our government. Retired Supreme court Justice David Suter, in 2012, spoke about “Civic Ignorance” and how it puts democracy at risk. He expressed the fear that an autocratic leader could exploit discontent and seize power by promising to fix dysfunctional government.

Bit by bit, what used to give our lives meaning has been eroded.  Advertising tells us we’re not good enough.  Media shows us there are only winners and losers.  The implicit assumption is that power and force alone win the day.  Family dynamics in movies and on TV show competition, cynicism and sarcasm instead of loyalty, caring, hope and generosity of spirit.  The world as the media presents it often seems evil, untrustworthy, and downright scary.

In politics, widespread gerrymandering has resulted in extreme candidates who support partisan stagnation, and fail to perform basic functions like appointing judges, funding government operations, and working towards viable solutions to our state and national problems. Lobbyists are paid more than our legislators and their staff combined (and there are 23 lobbyists for every person in Congress). Elected officials spend more time raising campaign money than they do preparing bills or deliberating on legislation. Everyone, including our representatives,  is fed up.

Personality vs. Character

Two 2016 candidates used the discontent to challenge the political establishment.  Ordinarily such grassroots-driven change would be cause for celebration of the democratic process—but not so much this time.  One so-called  “populist” candidate has appealed to fear, bigotry, hate, and a false nationalism that has rallied many to him for what he’s not:not a politician”, “not politically correct”, “not elitist”, and “not a compromiser.”  Perhaps more hopefully, Bernie Sanders won major changes in the Democratic platform and pulled Hillary back to her Progressive roots.

Quakers have a saying, “Let your life speak.” None of us live up to our ideals all of the time, but it does matter that we learn from our mistakes. We’ve looked into the records of both candidates. Hillary Clinton is a career politician whose accomplishments and failures are very public, but she’s got a long record of service and caring for the poor and the middle class and the experience and temperament to lead and govern.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has the appearance of success in business, but the more one learns about him, the less there is to like or respect.  He’s a savvy and skillful promoter of new enterprises. But 1/3 of his ventures have been outright failures.  Another 1/3 have been marginal at best, and 1/3 have “met expectations” according to the New York Times.  He’s presided over six bankruptcies that represent about $4.7 billion in losses to his investors and creditors. He openly brags that he personally made money as those companies failed. Just this month the Trump Taj Mahal closed.  Though Forbes Magazine estimates Trump’s current net worth at $3.7 billion, economist Robert Reich has calculated that the funds he received from his dad, if invested in an average performing portfolio, would now be worth $12 billion.  His career is also besmirched by his predatory practices with vendors and contractors.  Trump left a trail of unpaid bills and more than 3,500 litigations building his personal wealth. His crude remarks about women have dominated the headlines as we wrote this.  His public speeches and appearances have been so full of misinformation and outright lies that he has set records with fact-checking organizations.

Daily Newspaper Endorsements (Wikipedia)
Daily Newspaper Endorsements (Wikipedia) as of October 22, 2016

No major daily newspaper,  and only 3 of the more obscure ones, have endorsed him. USA Today, The Atlantic Magazine and eight others have savagely denounced him. Yet he remains the GOP candidate for President with polls showing that 43% of voters will vote for him.

To us, it’s more alarming that his followers don’t seem to care about Trump’s lack of merit or character. Many say they just want to elect him because “he will shake up” Washington. They quickly segue into a rant about Hillary as representing all that is corrupt and wrong with establishment politics.  But, if you “burn the house down” to dispatch the vermin, then what?

We note that the Trump campaign staff was recently restructured at the insistence of the Mercer family, one of Trump’s billionaire backers.  The short version of a longer story is that the Mercers want somebody in the White House who won’t mess with Wall Street and specifically who won’t impose a transaction tax to make flash trading unattractive.  Since the Citizens United decision, big money has been a problem, but the Koch brothers and the Mercers are now directing campaigns and the votes of successful candidates for narrow self-serving purposes.

Perception is a tricky matter.  What we “see” depends on what we’re looking for and where we stand.  When I’m fearful and exhausted, I see danger at every turn and deceit in every person.  When I’m feeling more bouyant, I see possibility, and other people represent hope and support.  We constantly decry negative campaigning, but it works because negativity and characterizations are so contagious.  A colleague says, “My boss is a jerk,” and it’s all too easy to agree without any facts.  We assume characterizations are based on evidence, but actually we make the characterization in anger, and then begin to collect evidence to support it.

Throughout Obama’s Presidency, some people’s perceptions were constantly jarred because they were not expecting to see a Black man accorded the perquisites of power.  (Consider how differently you and others you know might perceive a white Marine holding a rain umbrella for our Black president.) The Guardian, a conservative British magazine, not historically a Hillary fan—did an in-depth analysis of Clinton’s fundraising and policy positions and finally concluded that Clinton was “fundamentally honest and truthful.”  PolitiFact did an exhaustive analysis of Clinton and all the other candidates—and consistently found her to be “the most honest of this year’s presidential candidates,” yet according to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, she has received more negative media coverage than either Sanders or Trump.  Robin Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at UC Berkeley observed that, “With Hillary everything she does is either different from what men do and it’s ‘wrong,’ or it’s the same things that men do and that’s ‘wrong,’ and that’s because the underlying thing about Clinton and her candidacy is it’s not normal.  ‘Normal’ is a male candidate, a male voice, a male tie.” (see an excellent article from Rolling Stone, Oct., 2016, “Hillary Vs. the Hate Machine” ) Is perception equivalent to reality?  Since Lee Atwater first said it, political strategists claim it is.

Who benefits from our disconnection, confusion and disillusionment?

Is there a global conspiracy that’s destroying our American way of life?  Are low-wage workers in developing countries stealing our jobs?  Are corporations only rapacious and exploitative? What happened to the social certainties in life, where men were men and women were women and they liked it that way … where people “knew their place” and were respectful?  Where are the “just wars” where the enemy is clear and the cause worth dying for?  Where are the alternatives where there’s clearly a right and a wrong choice?  When did we stop “loving our neighbors” and being “our brother’s keeper”?

Let’s explore the question of “who benefits?” If we’re a nation divided, seduced by drama and diversions, fear and uncertainty, how much more easily we fall into scapegoating others instead of seeing the huge injustices against all of us.  A university study representing the population of the USA as 100 people showed that, during the slow economic recovery 2009-2013, the one richest individual would have acquired $9.10 of every $10 generated, while the 99 of us got the remaining 90 cents!  Or looking from another perspective, real wages for the middle class have stalled since the mid-70’s, but during the same period, “wages for the top 1% have risen 165% and wages for the top 0.1% have risen 362%.” (Thomas Piketty quote)  In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “A house divided against itself will not stand.” When we’re divided as a nation, our allies despair and our enemies delight!

Values Worth Dying For?

Our soldiers are sworn to defend the flag-plateUS Constitution with their lives if necessary. It’s up to each of us to ensure that the values enshrined therein are honored so this nation merits the ultimate sacrifice.  There is far more to it than just wearing a flag pin.

Who, lately, can relax and enjoy day dreaming, playing, thinking, laughing, or just calling a friend spontaneously?  The news is full of corporate exploitation (the Epi-pen scandal and the Wells Fargo scam being the latest as we write this). With an eight figure annual compensation package, what could a CEO lack that would explain such greed? If I’m all alone with no sense of a community that cares about me, if my vote is meaningless and my voice isn’t heard, if one believes that there’s only winners and losers (me vs. you)  ̶  then working endlessly to get all I can and fighting to hold onto it makes perfect sense—especially when some are so obviously “gaming the system.”  From this perspective, civic duty, personal character, stewardship, and kindness seem like quaint, outdated sentiments.

How difficult it is to see clearly when we are constantly bombarded with distorted messages, with lies repeated over and over until they sound “normal” and “true,” with memes that are—well, mean!  The sophisticated systems for slicing and dicing us by our interests and preferences are legion:  what magazines we read, what pages we “click” through to on our computers, what products we buy, our income levels — all types of personal information is gathered.  Marketers have been parsing market segments for a long time. Now political campaigns have brought these techniques to a new high (or low) so that our perceptions can be cleverly manipulated.

The 20th Century is over, and we sense that the 21st Century is taking a new direction.  As teacher and futurist Joanna Macy has said for many years, “This is the time of the Great Turning [away from a consumption society towards an earth-preserving society].”

Cover of Funny Times
Cover of Funny Times

As activist and commentator Van Jones has observed, “We will either turn on each other or towards each other.”  The paths have been diverging for a long time and are now irreconcilable—and as poet Robert Frost declared, “And that [which path we choose] will make all the difference.”

 

Richmond recently observed, “Everyone is a minority.”  We’re easily confused and defeated when we’re isolated from each other, but evidence is now robust that when all members of a group participate in decisions, those decisions are stronger and more relevant to all our needs. Quakers have practiced consensus — finding the sense of the meeting — for centuries. The fact is we are interconnected, intimately bound to every other person in our humanity and our well being. (“All of us together are a genius,” Lynne Twist has famously said.)  How can we learn to listen for our commonality instead of our differences? As supporters for Clinton (or Bernie) or Trump, we all love this country, want a better future for our children, are frustrated with the deadlock in Congress, seek meaning in our work and our relationships.  We need each other’s wisdom and experience, but we must work together to benefit from it.

America is worth dying for when out leaders play to our highest aspirations and shared vision. It’s not worth it when our leaders play to greed and manipulate us with fear .

The issues that concern us are not going away

Cover of The Week
Cover of The Week

No matter who is elected President, the issues that divide us are not going away.  We urge you to prayerfully consider your vote, and then vote for something, not against something.  There are no “perfect candidates” (that’s an oxymoron like “perfect parents” or “perfect children”),  but the character of the person who’s at the top of the ticket does matter—as well as the character of candidates  all the way to the bottom of the ticket.

In the spirit of full disclosure, we have historically split our votes when choosing candidates, but this year we’re voting a straight Democratic ticket.  Why?  Because after careful analysis, the facts show that:

  • Over the past 64 years, when the Democratic party controlled the White House (from Eisenhower to Obama), every economic indicator was better—productivity, wages, the stock market, the pace of the unemployment rate’s decline, the rate of economic growth. (Source: Mark Watson and Alan Blinder, Princeton U. professors of economics)
  • Tax cuts and trickle-down economics haven’t worked despite 30 years of “testing”—ask the citizens of Kansas, whose Governor promised a “march to zero” taxes and huge economic growth with tax cuts and austerity —and instead delivered an economic catastrophe! When George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton raised taxes, we experienced a surge in economic growth.
  • Now, eight years later, it’s clear the “dreaded” and much maligned Economic Stimulus Package did avoid another Great Depression, created jobs, avoided a budget deficit that would have been twice what it currently is, and build hundreds of new bridges and hundreds of miles of re-paved highways—without spiking inflation or causing deflation (Source: those same Princeton U. economists, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and Goldman Sachs, among others)
  • Those who work hardest to eliminate poverty are the poor people themselves. There are always those who exploit the system, but it appears that the significant “welfare Queens” are special interests who use “the commons” but don’t participate in what it takes to make the commons thrive for future generations.
  • Obamacare isn’t perfect and the Social Security “trust fund” is declining, but the answer isn’t scrapping these essential programs but working across-the-isle to address what doesn’t work based on evidence, not emotion.
Wedding Chapel Sign
Wedding Chapel Sign

Recently, in a Tennessee wedding caterer’s storefront chapel, we saw a sign that said, “As two families are becoming one, we ask that you choose a seat and not a side.”  This sounds like pretty good advice for this political season.  When the election is over, our democracy needs us all—our active engagement, our constructive criticisms, our vote, our voice, our willingness to stay at the table—and to make room at the table for those unlike ourselves.  Our greatness as a country is in our diversity.  Unless we’re full blooded indigenous people, we’re all descended from immigrants whose courage and vision got us here and whose creativity and tenacity allowed us to become successful here.

As we made phone calls and canvassed door-to-door, we were struck at the enthusiasm of the folks voting for Hillary and at the anger of those voting against Hillary or for Trump. None of us makes our best decisions in a mood of anger.  We strongly believe that our democracy will be safe with Hillary Clinton and at grave risk with Donald Trump.  This election is not about personality – it’s about the character of the candidates and the values they model. We pray, not for political victory, but for the highest good of all concerned.

As Quakers, we seek “that of God in every person.”  We invite you to join us in “minding the Light “ in ourselves and each other, so that we keep the flame of democracy burning brightly.  As one of the tellers at the National Storytelling Festival said last week, “Faith is light in your heart when all your eyes can see is darkness.”  Let’s keep faith with our democracy.  Our election process isn’t an athletic competition.  America is great. We remain the world’s best and strongest hope for a fair, just, inclusive, thriving future.

We’d love to hear your thoughts.  We also hope you’ll take our essay and discuss it with others—or take the bits that resonate with you and write to your friends.  Our democracy needs every voice—if we can learn to listen with mutual respect and open hearts.

Peace,

Marguerite and Richmond
October 24, 2016

“And the work of generosity shall be peace, and the effect of generosity will be quietness and security forever.” Isaiah 32:17

 

Storyteller and humorist Donald Davis' lawn sign in Jonesborough, TN.
Storyteller and humorist Donald Davis’ lawn sign in Jonesborough, TN. Photographed at The National Storytelling Festival, October 2016.

 

 

“They Don’t Care” – Terry Madonna, Pollster

For his followers Donald J. Trump is “a sharp stick in the eye” of the political establishment according to Franklin and Marshall Professor Terry Madonna, who has been studying political attitudes for more than two decades. When asked why mounting evidence of the GOP candidate’s mendacity doesn’t repel his followers, Madonna said, “They don’t care.”

It seems that all else about Trump is irrelevant to his followers because he is seen as the only candidate who is not part of a system that they quite literally hate, and want to destroy.  This burn-the-f**ker-down mentality is refractory to reason, facts, and all forms of persuasion. It’s anti-intellectual and fired by a seething rage at both blue and red establishment politics.

Recently historian Ken Burns broke with his long established practice of political neutrality to speak about the threat this represents to the American political system.

The ever perceptive Gary Trudeau expanded on one of Burn’s metaphors:

(Click to view web page)
(Click to view web page)

The Doonsbury strip likens the folly of electing DJT to the presidency to having DJT pilot a jet with no training or experience. It’s funny in a macabre way, but really folks can we let this happen?

What can we do if they just don’t care about the facts?

There is another dimension to this, it the disaffection of the rest of the voters with Hillary Clinton as the only viable alternative.  Whether or not you feel that it is justified, it is real. The consequence is apathy on the part of many who would otherwise rally to be sure DJT is not elected. Political professionals know that candidates must generate enthusiasm to motivate voters to get out and vote. So the fact that voters don’t like HRC works for DJT and he is exploiting and amplifying it.

The very most persuasive force in politics is personal relationships.  Our most cherished attitudes and beliefs derive largely form what we perceive to be congruent with our friendships.  Friends do, in fact, discuss politics and religion over dinner.  What you can do, if you want to influence the election is take a personal stand against what you see happening.

As for myself, I write posts like this one. I will also be writing my “Christmas Letter” in October this year, and it will express my deep concern for what I see as a threat to my children and grandchildren … what Ken Burns so passionately decried.

 

Populists vs. Elite

In 1966 I wasn’t paying much attention to world politics and none at all to Red China, but Mao was tipping over the socioeconomic apple cart much as the populists here in the USA seem to want to do. Mao felt that the pointy-headed elite intellectuals (no, he didn’t call them that) had become over-educated and were perpetuating an elitism that was introducing too much capitalism.

The fix was to tell the elites “we don’t need you” and banish them to the rural mountains and country side where they could be re-educated through hard work on the farm.

Chaos ensued for five years. The resulting hardships took even longer to overcome. In the US, there was little empathy. As commie-fearing devout capitalists, we were happy to see the Reds shoot themselves in the proverbial foot.

I can’t help thinking that today’s populists and their “Make America Great Again” revolution are the US version of China’s cultural revolution half a century ago: so much anti-intellectualism; so much blind faith in a man whose image and career is more smoke and mirrors than substance; so much arrogant ignorance and bravado.

When all our political elites and pointy-headed intellectuals have been dispatched to the hills and country, will we too face a decade of economic chaos while the Trumpists figure out that their leader doesn’t have any capacity to lead or to fulfill his sweeping pledges to make the mythical greatness of yesteryear return?

So far it looks like most Americans are smarter than Mao was, but in less than 90 days we will know for sure.

 

Guns and Freedom

“Freedom’s Safest Place” is how the NRA styles itself in its current series of self-promoting ads. The ads run on YouTube.com and tend to be linked as preludes to gun-related content.  They also show up if Google searches have associated your internet address with gun interest.

Freedom's Safest Place
NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION VIDEO SERIES

Everyone interested in the interplay of gun violence and politics should take time to watch a few of these. They stoke the fears of gun enthusiasts, promote guns as the solution to violent crime and terrorism, and in not so subtle ways reinforce a conservative political agenda.

On August 8th, 2016, Donald Trump was speaking about the prospect of Hillary Clinton nominating the next members of the Supreme Court of the US.  “Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment,” Trump said at a rally in Wilmington, N.C., on Tuesday. “By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

The facial expressions and body language of those present was alarming. Smiles, glances at companions that said, “Did he really say that out loud?” And, most shocking, nods of agreement.

Apologists immediately “clarified” Mr. Trump’s meaning saying he was only acknowledging the legendary political cohesiveness and clout of the NRA.  But here I will make the argument for a much more sinister meaning.

FREEDOM’S SAFEST PLACE

What does this tag line mean? If you follow NRA’s interpretation of the Second Amendment, it affirms the notion that Americans have not only a right but a patriotic duty to own and be proficient with arms. The idea is that freedom’s enemies, foreign and domestic, would never prevail against the populist will of an armed and ready citizenry. Should the government get out of hand, the people so armed can and will defend freedom; or so the myth goes. If you listen carefully to Wayne Lapierre’s “We Don’t Need You” rant, he’s articulating the anti-establishment, anti-elite anger of what’s come to be termed populism. “I am the NRA, and I’m Freedom’s Safest Place,” he says.

Yes it is a myth.  The stereotypical NRA life member is overweight, over 50, and no match for a squad of modern combat trained troops no matter what his gun collection holds. But more important, which political faction do these latter-day Minute Men represent?

In their fantasy, these defenders of liberty imagine a clearly defined enemy. Someone or some ideology that all good souls agree is Freedom’s enemy, and all are willing to die a hero’s death to repel. Alas, the real world is many shades of grey, full of nuance and complexity, and not something that all unite in recognizing as “the enemy.”

But, the myth has become reality in some dark recess of a few minds. And this is the context for Mr. Trump to refer to them as “the Second Amendment people.”

One observer of the Trump crowd said that there was a pause after Trump said, “By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. …”  His impression was that Trump heard something in the shouts of the crowd and responded, as he so often does. We can’t tell just what he heard in the crowd’s shouts, but for sure it was not a nuanced statement about the political cohesiveness and clout of the NRA’s Second Amendment defenders.

Thomas Friedman observes, “After all, an informal Trump adviser on veteran affairs, Al Baldasaro, a Republican state representative from New Hampshire, already declared that Clinton should be ‘shot for treason’ for her handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack.” In his column he compares the extreme hatred and anger of Trump’s followers to the climate that culminated in the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

Is it really hard to decode “…Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.” What would a  gun zealot, one of the Second Amendment people, one who hates and fears Hillary Clinton, be expected to think was meant?

God Save America, my beloved country.

Monica Lewinski – Compassion

Alexandra Schwartz Article
New Yorker on Lewinski TED Talk

New Yorker Magazine writer Alexandra Schwartz at first questioned, as may of us did, Monica Lewenski’s premise that cyber bullying represents a deficiency of compassion. But her article takes you through her own process of coming to appreciate what Ms. Lewinski is saying.

Personally, I think the deficiency is far more pervasive, and is certainly not limited to the internet.  Recent headlines have told of the excesses of college fraternities and many of the comments by those involved have revealed an astounding ignorance of what has made their exploits so sensational. From inside their self-centered world view they fail to see the problem.

If such attitudes are the norm among tribes of fraternity brothers at Ivy League colleges, is it any wonder that in later life they become CEOs and Investment Bankers who see no problem in dismissing social and societal damage as “externalities?”  Should we be surprised that they have no shame about gaming the political system by essentially bribing politicians with campaign support?

I suggest that we are living in an addictive, psychopathic society that has perverted the ideals of democracy. Our lack of compassion for large segments of our citizenry both present and future accounts for our lack of stewardship for the planet, and for the health of our own society. Could the rise of right and left-wing extremist groups, fundamentalist cults, and other aberrations be a consequence of narcissistic Americans dismissing compassion as wimpy and naive? If not psychopathic, how do you explain the opportunistic political exploitation of these wing-nuts?

Monica Lewinski is pointing to just one of the many glaring examples that support my assertion. God Bless Save America!