Category Archives: 21st Century Enlightenment

Pertains to issues of stewardship and the commons.

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.


Gun Sense

Gun Violence to Gun Sense*

*”Gun Sense” (instead of “gun safety” or “gun control”) is a term used by Moms Demand Action
It seems to me that the problem of gun violence is really several different problems with guns as a common factor. Our thinking is easily muddied by the tragedy and intense media coverage of mass shootings. It’s useful to discuss five separate categories of gun deaths, each of which may have a distinct solution.

Annual US Gun Deaths

Evidently we are disproportionately fearful of personal violence. The statistics clearly show that “bad guys with guns” are a rarity. Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides. Most homicides (80%) are committed by a person known to the victim—and half are romantically or socially involved. Holdups, home invasions, and mass murders are quite rare.

On any given day, absent a recent gun incident, only 2% of Americans would rank gun violence as the number one problem the nation faces. This constituent complacency is possibly the biggest barrier to legislation reducing gun violence. The gun industry get its way most of the time.

profit fearThe National Rifle Association (NRA) has successfully established itself as a political third rail for any individual politician of whom they disapprove. Despite the fact that only 26% of NRA members are activists who want no government restrictions on guns, the NRA has formidable lobbying clout. It’s the money that flows to the NRA from the gun manufacturing industry that makes the organization influential. It’s gun profits more than pro-gun extremism or Second Amendment zeal that stiffens NRA resolve.


The various loopholes and gaps in our present gun control laws are deliberate, most of them fostered by the NRA and the gun lobby. Their strategy of obstruction is revealed by these tactics:

  • Encumber regulatory agencies by understaffing (defunding personnel) and imposing burdensome procedures and paperwork
  • Resist all regulatory legislation by threating political attack ads and making strategic campaign contributions
  •  Conceal the public health problem by suppressing government collection of gun violence statistics, create gag rules on medical professionals, and block transparency of data
  •  Litigate every new regulatory initiative
  • Shield gun makers from product liability suits with laws that convey tort immunity
  •  Promote broad-based gun ownership with fear-based, self-defense arguments
  •  Block accountability for transfer, lost or stolen guns by constraints on record keeping that make it tedious and time consuming, if not impossible, to trace a gun or audit a buyer’s eligibility
  •  Impede efforts to add dangerous people to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database

It’s business as usual for the army of industry lobbyists who subvert democracy to advance special interests. The effect of these tactics is to allow guns and ammunition of all sorts to be bought and sold freely in public and private channels with little or no accountability for vetting the buyer.  Illegal “straw-man” purchases are common because it’s hard to actually prove such cases in court and the courts tend to treat them lightly.


The automobile may be a metaphor for how guns should be handled. Liability for what happens with a car rests with the owner who holds title. Owners are not only liable, they are also required by law to carry insurance. Automobiles must be registered annually. If gun owners were required to carry insurance and were liable for injuries caused by gun accidents, there would be a very powerful incentive to secure guns and ammunition.

Mandatory registration would make gun trafficking much more difficult – nobody knowingly buys and drives a stolen car – you must have a valid registration and title for a car. NRA gun zealots fear that such registration is the prelude to confiscation (it’s a tacit admission that gun ownership is not an immutable right). The 2008 Heller decision by the U.S. Supreme Court could be reversed, restoring the notion that one’s right to gun ownership is linked to “a well-regulated Militia” as the opening phrase of the Second Amendment states.


Fix 1: Public Health

We need to learn as much about gun-related, public health issues as we can, share the knowledge, and then build practices and programs that will lead to solutions. Medical professionals should be encouraged, not be prevented from seeking information about gun access.

Public Health Summary

  • Fund CDC research on the health aspects of gun ownership
  • Openly publish the facts about gun injury
  • Make health care for depression and other mental illness easily accessible
  • Encourage medical professionals to make gun access part of the patient profile

Fix 2: Education

Gun PosterizedThe idea that one needs superior force to vanquish evil and resolve conflict is deeply ingrained in all of us. It’s the essence of popular adventure stories that our heroes prevail with “guns and guts.” Super heroes don’t lead “win – win” negotiations: they slug and blast their way to overpowering the bad guys.

But the Hollywood epic is not the real world. Far from it. Enlightened people back off, cool off, and work it out. Completely independent of the gun issue, our society needs to learn peaceful conflict resolution in family and school settings. Spouse abuse, battery, and simple assaults are far too common. Mature, sober adults don’t slug it out or shoot each other.


Videos like this paint a fantasy picture of how armed intervention saves the day.  In the real world, bad guys don’t faint conveniently.  The more probable scenario is the ex-boyfriend making an unwanted visit. He advances trying to sweet talk the woman out of the gun, or flies into a rage … a happy ending is not likely.

The most common homicide starts with a disagreement or an insult—then escalates. It happens in social situations among people who know each other. If one or more have guns, shots are fired. The police arrest everyone involved and leave it to the judge to sort out who did what to whom. (I’d bet that most self-defense gun owners have little awareness of those dynamics. Nor do they appreciate that brandishing a gun or firing shots will almost certainly get them arrested.)

Safe handling of guns requires knowledge, skill, and practice. Police and the military drill until the practices are instinctive, and then they periodically demonstrate their mastery of the skill sets. You can’t safely be a casual gun user. Buying a gun, firing it a few times, and then locking it up until you need it does not instill the calm and instincts necessary.

In your church and community life support “Love Thy Neighbor” by advocating peaceful conflict resolution, fact-based education about gun safety and lethal force, compulsory safety training for gun purchasers, and awareness that “guns and guts” is storybook stuff.

Education Summary

  • Promote compulsory gun safety training
  • Create public information campaigns about responsibility and consequences:
    o Gun owner’s liability (like auto owner accident liability)
    o Permissible use of lethal force (tragic mistakes happen under stress)
    o “Shots fired” usually means arrest and court appearances (cops let the court sort out the facts)
  • Teach peaceful conflict resolution in schools and families
  • Counter the Hollywood “guns and guts” hero fantasy

Fix 3: Accountability
Currently, Americans can easily purchase and keep their firearms legally and anonymously. More laws is not the solution. When all U.S. federal, state and local gun laws are tallied, they number more than 20,000. Yet one can buy a gun from a private seller and take it home without any paper trail or public record. With the exception of certain major cities, that’s legal. Federal gun control is at the point-of-purchase. Once you get it home, most states and municipalities have no restrictions on gun possession.

Accountability Summary

  • Prevent informal and unrecorded gun transfers (mandate licensed dealer oversight/documentation of transfers)
  • Require digital transfer records to facilitate tracing of guns used in crimes
  • Extend record retention period (currently background check compliance is not auditable after 3 days)
  • Expand background check data base—include those on terror watch list and no fly list (add appeals process)
  • Repeal immunity for manufacturers for after-sale liability
  • Create truth-in-advertising requirements (like FDA drug and cigarette health warnings)
  • Mandate minimum safety training and liability insurance for gun owners (like car insurance)
  • The seven fixes listed above can’t be done quickly or easily. There is controversial politics involved. It requires a persistent grassroots effort and includes getting corporate money out of politics.

Fix 4: Restrict Military-style, Rapid-fire Weapons

Despite the drama and media hype, mass shootings are not the priority in terms of number of deaths. If we accomplished the forgoing fixes for Public Health, Education, and firearms Accountability, the problems of preventing Mass Shootings would be much simpler.

Certain weapons are unusually dangerous in the hands of an agile shooter because they are designed to quickly maim or kill many people. The challenge is to draw a clear distinction between such weapons and others that look similar but do not have that capability.  With a high capacity magazine a semi automatic can fire 30 rounds in ten or fifteen seconds.

The law already recognizes limits on second amendment rights. For nearly a century the US has made it nearly impossible for a civilian to own a machine gun, weapons like the one in the video are not machine guns. Paired with high capacity magazines, the difference in firepower is trivial.

The Second Amendment likewise does not prohibit licensing of gun owners or registration of firearms. Those government actions are inhibited by political pressure from gun activists who fear government confiscation of firearms. In fact dedicated gun enthusiasts often obtain one or more classes of Federal Firearms Licenses (FFL) classified as dealer/collector licenses. These licenses impose responsibility for secure handling and accountability that keeps weapons of all kinds out of criminal hands. At the same time, they grant privileges such as possession of otherwise-prohibited, fully automatic guns and make it lawful to ship weapons, parts and supplies. The licensing process involves an interview as well as a more rigorous background check than the NICS check done by dealers. Presently the number of FFL “dealer” licenses exceeds the number of Starbucks and McDonald’s combined. This may be a result of the lack of a ranked system of licensing for responsible citizens owning or possessing firearms.

Adding a ranked system of owner licenses would bring similar disciplines and practices to all gun owners. But fear of government overreach energizes the opposition to such common sense controls. Americans have no such fears about automobiles, so we have a system of driver testing, licensing, and vehicle registration with complete reciprocity among the states.

That doesn’t prevent auto sport enthusiasts from building or racing whatever vehicle they choose. For public safety governments do regulate public racing events, and prohibit racing on the highway. Why should gun ownership and use be different where public health and safety are involved?

Ranked licensing would reward the dedicated enthusiast or collector for rigorous safety practices and strict compliance with firearms regulation.    These carefully vetted and highly responsible private citizens would enjoy privileges, conveniences and benefits denied to the less accountable individual. Licensing would codify the responsibility that goes with the right to bear arms.

Restrict Military Weapons Summary

  • Basic firearms licensing categories
    o Target practice (limit up to 8 or 10 shots per reload, semi-automatic or revolver)
    o Hunting (as above, but as locally lawful for hunting)
    o Self-defense (handguns and long guns, up to 8 shots per reload)
  • Unusually dangerous gun license category (e.g., for collectors and museums)
    o Tactical (as above, but for larger magazines and rapid fire enhancements)
    o Military (fully automatic, unlimited clip/magazine enhancements)
    o Machine guns, disguised guns, other ultra-lethal gear


Gun violence is foremost a public health problem. When gun advocates say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” they are partly right.  Not all people can handle the responsibility for easy access to a tool that’s lethal and accident prone. Guns are very different than kitchen knives;  their lethal reach is instant, far more devastating, and extends hundreds or thousands of feet.

With at least 250 million guns in private hands, possibly 375 million, and with no central record of who has them, it is and will always be nearly impossible to absolutely control any class of firearm. But with strict gun laws and appropriate licensing, we can empower enforcement to distinguish between lawful transfers among law-abiding citizens and undesirable transfers to criminals and others who should not possess firearms.

Licensing and registration laws impose accountability by their nature. It’s worth noting that the expansion of concealed carry licensing has not been accompanied by a balooning of gun violence. Thus far the statistics support the gun enthusiasts claim that arming responsible people poses no increased public hazard.  Perhaps we can affirm the Second Amendment right to arms and simultaneously make it harder for fools and killers to get guns.

What can we do to replace “gun porn” and gun violence with gun sense? We can take action by addressing the Public Health issues, provide accurate and widespread Education, require sensible Accountability, and Restrict Access to military-type, rapid-fire weapons.

Make Our Democracy Work

We must support our elected representatives at all levels, especially federal, to make the necessary fixes. Send a letter or postcard to your Congressperson and Senators asking that they actively work to free the CDC from the constraints Congress has imposed. Remind them that our gun problem is primarily a public health problem. We need to let science study it. At the same time we need to full fund and empower the ATF to enforce existing law.

8/6/16 Corrected statistical typos. Less than (<) was reversed in first table, percentage of NRA members supporting background checks is 70 to 74% so only 26% support no government restrictions on gun purchase. NRA has done its own studies and claims a different result.
This essay is based on a multimedia presentation by Richmond Shreve 8/4/16, Pennswood Village. A bibliography of principal sources is posted separately.


The “Silent” Minority

Disaffected, Angry and Fearful

Since Donald J. Trump became a serious contender for the GOP nomination there have been many writers and a few academic studies that have sought to profile those who follow and support him.  We know a whole lot about what they don’t have in common: they aren’t all Republican, nor churched, nor old, nor male, nor poor. They are likely to be white or latino, working class, and socially conservative. They tend to be from authoritarian families. Their assessments are binary: winner/loser, truth/lie, good/bad, friend/foe.  (I’ve listed reference links for these demographics at the end of this essay.)

A viral email dating to 2012, right after President Obama was re-elected, contains angry sentiments that we’ve heard echoed by Trump and the people who support him. Various versions exist reflecting embellishments added as it was forwarded from person to person. Though it has been falsely attributed to a US Marine Corps Vet, or to Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, the actual source is unknown.

The American Dream Ended …  ( version)

“The American Dream ended last night in Ohio.

The second term of Barack Obama will be the final nail in the coffin for the legacy of the white Christian males who discovered, explored, pioneered, settled and developed the greatest Republic in the history of mankind.

A coalition of Blacks, Latinos, feminists, gays, government workers, union members, environmental extremists, the media, Hollywood, uninformed young people, the forever needy, the chronically unemployed, illegal aliens, and other fellow travelers has ended Norman Rockwell’s America.

The US Constitution has been replaced with Saul Alinsky’s ‘Rules for Radicals’ and Chicago shyster David Axelrod, along with international socialist George Soros, will be pulling the strings on their black puppet to bring us into the New World Order.

The Republicans ran two candidates who couldn’t even win their own home states, while circus clown Chris Christie helped Obama over the top with a glowing ‘post-Sandy’ tribute that elevated the phony ‘Commander-in Chief’ to Mother Teresa status.

People like me are now completely politically irrelevant; I will never again comment on or concern myself with the aforementioned Republican coalition, which has surrendered our culture, our heritage and our traditions without a shot being fired.

You will never again outvote the people who gave Obama four more years. It will take individual acts of defiance and massive displays of civil disobedience to get back the rights we have allowed them to take away. It will take zealots, not moderates; zealots who will never ‘reach across the aisle’ to RINOs, to right this ship and restore our beloved Country to it’s former status.

Those who come after us will have to risk ‘their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor’ to bring back the Republic that this generation has timidly frittered away due to white guilt and political correctness.

My wife and I will now put our anti-ACLU Nativity Scene on display, and start wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas”. And enjoy the rest of our lives in our 50’s-throwback Village of (Redacted) Lakes, here in (Redacted) Harbor.

Atlas has Shrugged, and John Galt has left the building.”

Knowing that I collect and study them, a conservative friend receives many such viral messages and forwards the most provocative ones. In March of 2016, three-plus years after it was originally posted, it was still in circulation   In this instance my friend noted that it expressed the feelings of many people he knows.  The broad scope of the response to Trump suggests that he is right about that. Many of Trump’s applause lines evoke the emotions expressed in this piece.

Viral emails get forwarded exactly because they express a feeling that the sender likes and wants to share widely. Although the original writer remains anonymous, the forwarder is known to his correspondents. When this happens countless times over a several year period it demonstrates that lots of people endorsed the sentiments. It doesn’t seem to matter that the content isn’t logical, and doesn’t pass the sniff test for factual basis.

My knee-jerk reaction when I first read American Dream Ended was to characterize the writer as a defeated white supremacist bigot. It’s easy to make that casual assessment, but not likely to contribute anything to solving the social problem. Since beliefs are primarily influenced by social environment and not by facts, it’s foolish to ignore and marginalize those who hold what we deem to be such ignoble sentiments.

On reflection, I realize that I have friends who don’t speak of such feelings in polite company, but actually harbor them in secret and feel frustrated, angry and ashamed. It’s understandable that they might look back wistfully and see the less enlightened 50’s as a time when they could be themselves. As it is they must watch their words.

Trump’s public appearances attract like-minded people. Trump doesn’t shame them for politically incorrect sentiments or behavior, and in words and actions he evokes the emotions encourages followers to let loose. Polite society is shocked and scornful but Trumpists, having found their tribe, simply don’t care. Indeed, the more criticism Trump draws, the more loyal and fired-up they become.

Like The Rest of Us, Only More So?

To some degree most of us share deep dissatisfaction with the present political climate and the legislative stagnation and gridlock that seems to grow ever worse. Few of us have escaped the economic consequences of the 2007 Great Recession. Though we disagree on the causes and remedies, all of us recognize the social problems of poverty and diminishing economic mobility. Trumpists are much like the rest of us except that in venting the pent-up rage, they blame all the wrong people, and look for a ruthless strong leader to fix it, make it great again.

Norman Rockwell’s America, wasn’t as idyllic as some people remember it. With few exceptions his paintings remind us of what we aspire to, America at its best, not the unsentimental reality of the street.  Most of the “rights” Trumpists feel they have lost, weren’t ever rights, and Trump can’t deliver on his implied promise to Make America Great Again for his followers because that perfected America never existed – at least not for the 99 percent.

Anger at Being Left Out

It’s not patriotic or socially acceptable to be angry at America. Yet for many shirt-sleeve workers the American system hasn’t been working for a long time, and they have lived with smoldering rage they couldn’t express openly. Conservative writer David Brooks described them as: “ … a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them, so naturally they are looking for something else.” And there’s another kind of alienation that’s more social in nature, the mainstream of society disrespects and shames them for their “ignorance.”

To muster our empathy, let’s imagine walking in their shoes. How frightening it must be to jobless with no prospects. How shameful it feels to fail in supporting your family even though you desperately want to work.  How humiliating to have no marketable skills. How depressing to have permanently lost your retirement nest-egg or your home in a market downturn that others have mostly recovered from.

If you’re self-employed, how frustrating to experience your independent small business burdened by fees and taxes when it’s hard to even meet payroll. How enraging to be fettered and delayed by unhurried civil servants secure in their recession-proof jobs.

Although the discontent has been rising for decades, established leadership is reactive rather than creative.  For the prosperous, the good life is secure and it’s instinctive to stifle change that could be disruptive.

The establishment is inherently risk-averse and defensive.  Neither posture supports visionary thinking. They fail to see the threats and opportunities coming until it is far too late to adapt. We see the pattern play out daily in the Opinion section of the Wall Street Journal. When you are happy with the way things are, it’s hard to embrace change or to recognize any need for it. Enter Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Case in Point: The GOP Establishment

The GOP successfully built their base from a coalition of evangelicals and several flavors of populists. But in most policy matters the establishment “business suits” were acting contrary to the interests of the “shirt-sleeves” that made up 70% of that base. Now, thanks to Trump, it’s coming unglued and the shirt-sleeve Republicans (and Democrats) are awakening to how the suits have been ignoring them. Bernie Sanders addresses the ignored needs, while Trump blatantly exploits the fears and emotions that the GOP panders to with more nuance.

One of the consistent failings of the GOP has been the failure to see big challenges coming. That is the essential nature of establishment conservatism. “Don’t fix what works,” might well be the slogan of the GOP establishment. GOP ideals (Free markets, small government, low taxes, deregulation, and a disbelief in central social planning) all come from the instinct that nobody is smart enough and pure enough of character to engineer a better future. Centrally controlled economies fail. There are no historical successes. Conservatives prefer to allow events to run their course unfettered except by the invisible hand of Darwinian efficiency. The industrious will prosper, the lazy and incompetent will suffer the deserved consequences, and society will be the stronger in the end. It’s a hands-off no safety net philosophy that is fiercely individualistic and reactive. Big forward-looking ideas, at least for organizing American society, are not sought or valued.

Laissez-faire economic philosophy looks impartial and reasonable for those whose fortunes have prospered – the top of the food chain. But unfortunately not everyone, and certainly not a solid majority of the people, feel that they have prospered economically or otherwise. Fearing the popular appeal of the big idea politics of the left the GOP has reacted by opportunistically crafting positions that attract groups of single-issue voters: evangelicals, gun enthusiasts, right-to-lifers, and militarists. This last includes people whose livelihoods depend on maintaining and equipping our large military. Loyalty to the GOP is rooted in an emotional appeal to an instinctive fear or personal belief. It’s reactive, not visionary.

This aggregation of individual issues is not a natural union of like minds it’s a circling of wagons for collective strength. The GOP establishment doesn’t have the votes to prevail on its own.  “My enemy’s enemy is my friend,” seems to be the unifying glue.  For years the leaders piloted the GOP on a course that protected the interests of the fortunate and successful, shielding wealth. They used rigid party discipline and policy to uphold the collage of single interest postures that bound the other two-thirds of the base together.

To divert the attention of the base from their lack of participation in the growth of personal wealth, they systematically spread disinformation such as “trickle-down” supply side economics and the notion that lower taxes on the wealthy result in more jobs. Despite unprecedented reserves of cash in blue-chip industry, the consumer demand that actually drives commerce and jobs has been slow to recover.  Reduced taxes on the wealthy enacted during the Bush years failed to bring offsetting economic growth and while the rich got richer, the nation got deeper in debt.

Rana Foroohar writing for Time (4/4/16 issue) describes how little of that protected wealth actually is engaged in producing anything real:

“Experts including Adair Turner, the former
head of financial regulation in the UK, estimate
that only about 15% of all capital flows within
America’s financial system end up making their
way into the real economy. The rest of that money
just rotates around the high-finance microcosm,
enriching the 1% as they buy and sell existing assets
to one another, bidding up their value, while
failing to invest in research, products, jobs or innovation.
C-suite executives, likewise, contribute
to the sort of “quarterly capitalism” by seeking
out Ding Doodle—style deals rather than making
long-term investments. That has begun to worryy
even some of finance’s most accomplished players.
(Warren Buffett, Larry Fink and Jamie Dimon recently
met in secret to discuss how to fix corporate

Anti-democracy Tactics

The GOP also opportunistically gamed the system to acquire more power. The tactics include: gerrymandering of congressional districts to ensure election of GOP legislators; conservative stacking of the Federal and Supreme Court benches; killing public funding for National Public Radio; building the Fox News Propaganda machine; promotion of discriminatory voter ID laws; weakening the labor unions; and eviscerating campaign finance laws. The wealthiest GOP supporters created PACs and Super PACs to fund political advertising and elect GOP candidates. Though politically effective, these measures did nothing to help the plight of increasing numbers of less successful wage-earning individuals in their base.  They became Romney’s infamous 47%.

Until Trump rallied what I’m calling the silent minority, the GOP held them spellbound with bright shiny objects like flag-pin patriotism and propaganda that said big government was the problem. The GOP raised fearful specters like socialism, health care death panels, and they vastly over-hyped the threat of weapons of mass destruction and lately the menace of terrorism and of ISIS.

The political establishment of both parties largely ignored long-time and emerging issues that have seriously hurt the silent minority. Among these are the disruption of American manufacturing by international trade agreements, the insolvency of many pension programs, the short and long-term effects of the Great Recession on the middle class, wage stagnation for four decades at least, and the chronic neglect of US infrastructure.

Looming in the future as threats are: global climate change, global scarcity of essential resources like clean water, air, and even food, loss of unskilled work to robotics and automation, and conflict arising from religious extremism. To add insult to injury, Social Security and Medicare may be unsustainable if not reinvented. Bernie Sanders preaches a vision of a better deal, and Donald Trump plays to the fear and anger. The establishment didn’t see them coming.

“Us” versus “Them” Mentality

Many of those who write or read about Trumpists are looking for affirmation that they are somehow morally flawed and different than the rest of us. We want to believe that Trump followers are an anomaly – not regular people. Media reporters have jumped on photos of a campaign worker with tattoos allegedly identifying her as a white supremacist.  But the data does not support such broad stereotyping of Trumpists. There is vastly more to be learned by searching for our similarities.

Fr. Richard Rohr, OHM addressed this in one of his recent meditations:

“Our lack of human compassion is rather starkly revealed in most of the candidates we consider worthy of public office in the United States. I am not sure if this is as much a judgment on the politicians’ delusions as it is on the spiritual and human maturity of the American electorate itself. That so many who call themselves evangelical (“Gospel”) cannot see through this charade, has become an embarrassment for American Christianity. Many now see our cultural Christianity really has very little to do with Jesus. Any candidate is praised and deemed worthy of high office because we think, “He speaks his mind” (when it is actually our prejudices that he is speaking aloud). Two thousand years of Jesus’ teaching on compassion, love, forgiveness, and mercy (not to mention basic kindness and respect) are all but forgotten in a narcissistic rage. Western culture has become all about the self, and that is just way too small an agenda. The very self that Jesus said “must die” is now just about all that we think about!”

Our enemy is not “out there” somewhere, it is us. It is American Individualism run amok. We operate on the assumption that opportunity is so abundant that anyone anywhere in this country can make his or her way if they only try. When the facts contradict, we seek out or invent a distinction that defines “us” as different and better than “them.”

You can’t have a serious conversation about our times without hearing assessments like these.

A retired professional planner from Staten Island (direct quote):

RW: I’ve much to say re politics, but let’s leave it at this:  Cruz is more dangerous than Trump, who just wings it.  Republicans are no longer conservatives; they are right-wing reactionaries.  Real conservatives are respectable establishmentarians, wary of change unless tested and proved, respectful of precedent, hesitant to engage in foreign interventions, advocates of free enterprise, not monopolies and corporate welfare, and skeptical of government social engineering attempts. They are not interventionist, pro-Israel neo-cons, supply-side, trickle-down economists with no regard for consequences, nor advocates of government prohibitions on abortion or government restrictions on voting rights.  They are for individual rights, not against them.  Nor are they racists.  Todays Republicans are; they should not be called conservatives.  (And Democrats are wimps.)”

Truck driver retired from the USAF (paraphrase of a longer conversation):

MS: “I usually vote republican. At first I liked Trump, but lately with the stuff he’s been doing, not so much. I just don’t like Cruz and I don’t think he’d get much cooperation from congress. Hilary’s the best qualified, but I don’t trust her. And Bernie Sanders is a socialist.”  [MS says he doesn’t know who he’ll vote for.]

Jeff Sharlet writing in the New York Times Magazine (4/12/16)

After the Youngstown [Trump] rally, I drove to the only bar I could find still serving food and found myself sitting across from a group of three supporters. Mike was a union electrician, Shawn a dispatcher and Jackie a nurse. “Definitely a racist,” Shawn said of Trump. That did not appeal. But who would receive his vote? “Definitely Trump.” Mike was a probably; Jackie wouldn’t say, but she seemed to be sliding toward Trump. Only the bartender, Shane, was holding firm for the Democratic Party. He couldn’t believe his friends. “Trump’s not just a racist, he’s a [expletive] psychotic racist!”

“So are half the people who walk into this [expletive] bar!” Shawn shouted back. He did not want to be racist. He did not want Trump to be racist. What he wanted, he said, was a better job, the kind of job Youngstown used to be known for.

That was what Mike wanted too. We drank another round of fireballs. Mike’s probably-Trump began inching toward certainty. Another round. Then he suddenly roused himself, rising up from the bar. “I don’t care if you’re racist!” he shouted at a room by then nearly empty but for us. “If you’ll just bring back one [expletive] steel mill!”

Shawn nodded, seriously. We drank to the dream, the steel mill they knew was not coming. It felt good, at least, to believe.

Continue reading the main story

Interviews with Trump supporters reveal a common theme: they like Trump because he’s a brash outsider – and he’s really shaking up the insiders.

Lots of people cheer Trump exactly because he blurts out what’s on his mind, or seems to. He’s obviously not scripted and handled by a team of spin professionals.  He’s not part of the business-as-usual Washington establishment. He’s generated billions of dollars’ worth of earned [free] media by being unrestrained – not unlike the shock-jocks of radio. You could paper a wall with the magazine covers and political cartoons that feature him. He entertains and energizes followers by appealing to emotions instead of presenting rational ideas.

Trumps critics explain his appeal as a mainline zap to the “lizard brain” – that part of the brain that’s most primitive and wired for instinctive survival. It’s the domain of fear, hate and mob behavior. For people who feel anxious and threatened, irrational arguments, obviously unsupportable or untrue claims don’t matter. What does matter is the resonance with something instinctive deep and dark in the listener.  It’s a gut level thing – bold, assertive, impudent, aggressive, powerful and confident. “Make America Great Again” translates make me feel secure and good about myself again.

At this primitive level feelings reign; and facts, logic, and sensible thought fail. Condemn this as “ignorant” at your own peril, because we all, as humans, have areas where we function on emotion and ignore (or don’t seek) the facts. It is how we are wired. Much of becoming an adult is training ourselves to temper our lizard brain instincts.

By way of example, consider the enormous attention we focus on acts of terror. The rational mind knows that our individual personal odds of falling prey to a terror event are vastly lower than suffering a home or automobile accident. Yet as a nation we spend billions on anti-terror measures and still don’t feel entirely safe. We certainly don’t dread automobile travel, or the flu season that way. The most important personal life-choices we make (who we love, what we eat, what we do for fun) seldom involve much rational thought. We actually function on an emotional level most of the time – all of us. We regard those who appear to be entirely rational as cold and alien, like Spock of Star Trek.  Donald Trump knows this. But does Hillary?


Compassion not Confrontation

Most of the press and the GOP establishment wrings their hands over how to stop Trump, as if he alone and personally were the problem. In my view he’s just the latest opportunist exploiting the emotions of those we now term Trumpists. His “leadership” is more a cult of personality than a political movement. I call his followers the silent minority because they feel alienated, disrespected and repressed in a society that shames people like them. If you accept that “they” are like us only more so, then confronting them as outsiders can’t work – it only alienates them further and fuels their anger.

George Lakey, a Quaker activist, teacher, and writer asserts that practicing compassion and nonviolence is the only strategy that stands any chance of success.  In his March 18, 2016 Essay How Empathy, Not Protest, can Defeat Trump and Right-wing Extremism he says,

“Donald Trump’s March 13 rally in Boca Raton, Florida, was revealing. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank left the press corps and inserted himself into the core of the giant crowd. In that rally protesters had been screened out. Trump brought forth his usual inflammatory rhetoric, saying he might pay the legal fees of someone who sucker-punched a protester. Milbank reports, however, that the rally remained fairly tame. When Trump eventually asked, “Do we have a protester anywhere?” no one responded. Where was the drama? Milbank noted, “Trump and his advisers seem to delight in the confrontations, which fuel the crowd’s energy.

Lakey goes on to demonstrate that angry confrontation won’t be effective. Trump crowds feed off the energy of conflict. Lakey’s low-drama strategy is not intuitive but it makes great practical sense. I recommend visiting the website, reading the essay, and also reading the reader comments and Lakey’s very illuminating responses. For real-world tactics, Lakey suggests a Swarthmore source that documents 198 nonviolent actions and reports on their use and historical effectiveness. He promises to write more in future posts and suggest a strategy.

They Aren’t Going Away

The members of the Trumpist Silent Minority live among us and they aren’t really that different from us. Actually my late father harbored some of those bigoted sentiments while being outwardly politically correct. I recognize them in his stories about war experiences, and his patronizing attitude toward certain minorities, and his simplistic framing of complex social issues. Some of my fellow firefighters were like the writer of that viral American Dream email. They may be closet bigots, but they are also men who are bold and selfless when faced with danger.  In other words the anxieties and feelings that draw a person to the Trump personality are not as aberrant or weird as some media would suggest.

We are all part of the American whole, and America is part of the community of humanity. We can’t build walls or hoard resources to defend ourselves from the social problems of sharing this little planet. Like it or not, we are all in it together for the duration.


Media Opinion and Analysis Considered for this Essay:

Donald Trump, American Preacher – Building a congregation for his prosperity

Who are these idiot Donald Trump supporters?

Measuring Trump Supporters for Intolerance

Not Even My Wife Knows …” Secret Trump Supporters

We Asked 8 Trump Supporters Why …

The Befuddling Connection between Trump and His Supporters

Some of My Best Friends are Trump Supporters

The Myth of the Trump Democrat

What do Trump Supporters Think About Climate Change?

Why Economic Anxiety is Driving Working Class Voters to “Trumpism”

Don’t Be Fooled – … ‘silent majority’ doesn’t exist.

The Republican Crackup

A Strange but Accurate Predictor of Whether Someone Supports Donald Trump – WaPo

Who are These Idiot Donald Trump Supporters?

The Huge Cultural Shift That’s Helping Trump Win Evangelicals

What Republicans did 15 years ago to help create Donald Trump today

Who are Donald Trump’s Supporters?

Who Supports Donald Trump?

No, Not Trump, Not Ever – The New York Times

How Trump Happened

The Trump-Berlusconi Syndrome

Why Trump? « George Lakoff

Chris Hedges: The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism

The Elements of Trumpism

Why They Voted for Trump




It’s about Vision and Fear

I’ve been pondering the motivations of voters who rally around each of the candidates, as have most of the wonks in Washington. talk aboutAn article in the NY Times examined the things candidates talk about in the debates and presents a  chart to illustrate the relative frequency each topic gets discussed.  Take a moment and click on this link so you can see the whole graphic: Which Issues Each Party Debates, or Ignores.

If you were asked to place the issues on the chart without seeing the article, I suspect you could replicate it by making the left side “visionary” issues and the right side “fearful” issues. I suppose I should not be surprised.  Those who ardently believe that government should be smaller and do less, find it hard to come up with positive ideas for action that will muster voter support. Fear is powerful substitute for vision.

The GOP has incited fear very effectively to manipulate elections. Newt Gingrich at the January 24, 2015 Conservative Freedom Summit set the stage for the present campaign with a veritable catalog of fear triggers the GOP could use.

For those who see the nation as a community that looks out for one-another aided by government, big ideas and grand visions abound. Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist, is widely faulted for espousing issues and ideas that are unworkable and might wreck the economy if attempted. Hillary Clinton is accused of being too pragmatic, and practicing the tepid politics of the possible.

Trump’s authoritarian anti-establishment posturing plays to fears and resentments under a banner of “Make America Great Again,” an undefined goal that calls forth the sentiment that the establishment has disregarded and disrespected Americans with 1950’s values and sensibilities.  It’s not so much a vision as a retro-fantasy about how things were once better.

In a commentary in today’s NY Times Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson argue that Hillary actually is visionary.

Mrs. Clinton has put forth an ambitious and broadly popular policy agenda: family and medical leave, continued financial reform, improvements in the Affordable Care Act, investments in infrastructure and scientific research, measures to tackle global warming and improve air and water quality, and so on.

But voters and pundits alike complain that she’s a cold-eyed realist who hasn’t articulated what George H. W. Bush once wistfully referred to as “the vision thing.” Instead, it’s Bernie Sanders who has been cast as the visionary in the Democratic contest, an idealist brimming with inspiring (if often unrealistic) proposals.

The bulk of the article makes the historical case for government’s role in out national prosperity and individual well-being. It’s more about how the current political discourse ignores the facts of our past. In effect it implies that Hillary actually has the key to making America great, but keeps it hidden.

Our nation badly needs a dialogue that reminds Americans why a capable government is essential and how much we are paying for its erosion. Mrs. Clinton understands this, but she may have neither the opportunity nor the inclination to say it.

I think the authors are on to something.



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!


The RSA website is fascinating.  Chock full of great reading and visual material, it is one of those web destinations that you will want to bookmark and spend some time browsing.  But the jewel of the RSA experience won’t be found on the front page ( it’s tucked away here.

These YouTube videos are actually essays read aloud and accompanied by the drawings of what is known as a “graphic recorder.”  As the narrator reads, an illustrator draws.  Time-lapse techniques allow the white board drawing to keep pace with the words, and the overall effect is both entertaining and an aid to grasping and retaining the content. Check out the samples below …

Re-Imagining Work – ‎The Truth About Dishonesty – ‎The Divided Brain – ‎Videos