The popular uprising against authoritarianism, tyranny, and deception has given rise to parody in song. The talent matches the cleverness. Enjoy!
The COVID-19 pandemic should not have become a political issue. But it is. Disregard for the practices that protect others became an expression of right-wing individualism. Late in the 2020 campaign the right began advocating for abandonment of the curve-flattening practices that slow contagion. Driven by the desire to restart the retail economy, GOP leadership flaunted maskless super-spreader events. While experts rallied to oppose this wrong-headed notion, the President persisted.
In the world of bikers, rules about wearing helmets are often considered overreach. One of the pleasures of motorcycles is being out in the elements: feeling the alternation of cool and warm air on your face, smelling fields and forests as you pass. The helmet is a barrier.
Likewise, the COVID-19 mask is shunned. But neither of these items of safety gear is for the wearer alone. Accidents and contagion affect many more people. This two sentence news item from Time Magazine dramatically underscores the far-reaching social consequences of ignoring precautions.
Fun loving, party hardy, macho bikers have cost society more that 12 billion ($12,000,000,000) plus spreading suffering that’s impossible to quantify.
I haven’t heard how the town of Sturgis is doing. Could it have been worth it when the economic benefits are accounted for? This is a preview and a demo of what may happen this fall. The administration continues to downplay the threat. The president and his faithful followers continue to scorn mask use. Yes, he’s grudgingly begun to appear wearing a mask, but he makes no bones about not liking it.
Meanwhile the death rate hovers at 5,000 souls a week and experts estimate it will rise from the present 200,000 total to over 400,000 in December. At one point the president and some of his staff proffered the idea of letting COVID-19 run its course so that herd immunity could develop and the people’s lives (and the all-important economy) could return to normal. The Lincoln Project has vividly panned this bad idea in a recent political ad.
The ad is over-the-top harsh, and my initial reaction was that it’s deceptive. But then I considered the president’s actions of late. He’s pressured the CDC to recommend NOT testing people who are not symptomatic. He’s holding maskless rallies in indoor venues. He’s pressured schools to open before they are prepared to do so safely. The GOP legislature hasn’t passed enabling legislation, so the Democratic Governor’s mitigation rules have been declared unconstitutional. The President routinely contradicts his own experts’ assessments of risks and the timeline for vaccine protection. And he’s attacking mail-in ballots to necessitate in-person voting at crowded polling places.
All of those acts would be consistent with a plan to reopen and briefly enjoy the election week illusion of normalcy while COVID-19 does its grim work. Although millions would eventually die, the surviving 99% would be “fine.”
All the candidates we are watching vie for limelight–each of them has his or her cohort of backers, and each of them presents issues that motivate some element of the liberal base to back them. My concern has been not knowing how these diverse followings can be fused into a groundswell of grassroots support. Enter Tom from the shadows at the back of the stage, not from stage right, not from stage left. Kinda looks like he may have been there all along working as a grassroots organizer. Listen to this guy. He may have what’s needed…
George Monbiot knows how to turn it around– the political disorder of our era, that is. And, he’s humorous!
No kidding, you really must watch this TED talk. He brings together many of the elements the sages have identified as the source of our disunity and he suggests a path to deliverance. That’s not bad for just 18 minutes, right?
The Wall and now the administration’s treatment of undocumented people are far more energizing symbols to the Trumpist than any realistic evaluation of the underlying social problems immigrants bring. The rhetoric suggests people who don’t look like “us” (descendants of white northern European immigrants) and don’t speak our language (English) bring crime and are a social burden. But the facts say otherwise: they work, pay taxes, and abide by the law. Indeed they contribute more than they take.
So what’s the hidden problem here?
This meme taken from a Facebook post on a conservative’s newsfeed is core to the bedrock fear of Trumpists: their vision of the good life in America is being eroded. They see immigration as a threat.
When I saw this the words “… impose their culture and beliefs upon this country while at the same time destroying or removing the traditions and beliefs we call dear …” I remembered a viral email I wrote about two years ago. I think that email captures something that progressives can’t or won’t see: a cultural identity issue.
Here is the link to that 2016 pre-election essay. I think it is just as relevant now as then, and I’d only change one paragraph. I’ll let you see if you can identify what I would revise…
Cultural identity — or, more accurately, an existential fear that white privilege and culture may cease to exist in an increasingly multicultural society, is the gut issue driving radical conservative politics. The “Liberal Agenda“, any way you choose to define it, does not allay that fear – in fact, it stokes it.
Frank Bruni, the NY Times columnist, interviewed Ann Coulter, a Fox News commentator and outspoken Trump advocate. She expresses disillusion with Trump’s failure to move his border wall forward. The wall is one huge symbol of preserving the sort of national purity that Coulter desires.
The willingness of evangelicals to forsake the most basic of Christian values is also rooted in white cultural identity fears. The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary says:
The “value proposition” displayed by white evangelicals in the 2016 election, and the definition of what constitutes “moral values” and what doesn’t, is inextricably related to the nation’s upcoming demographic shift—the fact that, by the year 2044, the United States is expected to become majority nonwhite. This has significant implications for the wider faith community regarding issues of race. Much more may be at stake than the leader of the Christian foundation was able or willing to recognize.
Here Douglas refers to the leader of a Christian foundation who explained his support of Trump by saying:
… he told me to consider the “moral values”—such as pro-life concerns—that he said prompted, if not demanded, white evangelical support of Donald Trump’s candidacy.
Douglas argues that the evangelicals are heirs to Puritan beliefs:
… the Puritans and Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic with a vision to build a nation that was politically and culturally—if not demographically—true to their “exceptional” Anglo-Saxon heritage.They saw this as a divine vision.
They traced their Anglo-Saxon heritage through the ancient woods of Germany back to the Bible. They considered themselves the “new Israelites,” carrying forth a godly mission. Central to this mission was building not simply an Anglo-Saxon nation but a religious nation—one that reflected the morals and virtues of God, which in their minds were synonymous with the unsullied ways of their freedom-loving Anglo-Saxon ancestors. “The Lord will make [America] a city upon a hill,” Puritan leader John Winthrop preached in 1630, “[with] the eyes of all people upon us.” [Read the full Douglas article here – (click).]
President Ronald Regan spoke of America’s Capitalist Democracy in similar terms, though I hesitate to suggest that he or his speechwriter made the connection. But the notion that America is set apart and above those outside its boundaries is clear.
Dave Shelman, in a letter to the editor of Sojourner Magazine, cautiously observed striking similarities between the Christian support of Hitler and of Trump:
… particularly the ease with which evangelical Christians, in America today and in Germany then, accepted populist movements and their nationalistic programs. In both cases, the populist forces were able to exploit societal anxieties and make a sentimental appeal to a cultural form of Christianity that served its purposes.
The slogan of the Nazified German Christians was “Germany our goal, Christ our power!” Based on a distorted interpretation of Lutheran theology, a group of theologians at the time issued a document, known as the Ansbacher Ratschlag, opposing the Barmen Declaration. It was addressed to the National Socialist Evangelical Union of Pastors and included this statement: “… we as believing Christians thank the Lord God that in this hour of need he has given our people the Fuhrer as a ‘good and faithful sovereign,’ and that in the Nationalistic Socialist state he is endeavoring to provide us with disciplined and honorable ‘good government.’” This distant mirror of attitudes—and even words—that are with us today should give Christians great concern. The vulnerability of the American church did not come about in the presidential election of November 2016. The present political quagmire has only exposed it.
Understanding and taking seriously cultural identity fear is key to understanding why radical conservatives are refractory to reasoned arguments and willing to subordinate their basic morality values for a powerful champion who says he’s with them. It’s about the survival of their personal identity myth.
There are human needs that take on an importance greater than life itself as Paul Chappell asserts when he enumerates the needs that Maslow overlooked. A person’s life and identity are inseparable from the quest to meet these needs. When frustrated, bad behavior happens.
We bond and identify with others to fulfill these needs, and once we bond our values are profoundly intertwined with our social affiliation. Certain conditions foster bonds.
When I consider these factors it’s easier to understand how a group that is bonded by a shared extreme belief becomes refractory to any contrary evidence. When all of those you count as friends are bonded by a shared orthodoxy, it takes super-human self-assurance and courage to break away no matter how implausibly warped the shared perception is. Reality doesn’t change the belief that bonds.
Denial, selective listening, strategic lying, and many other self-destructive (soul-destructive?) behaviors are understandable when seen in this frame.
Here is a TED talk where an ex-skinhead reveals what got him into the movement, and what got him out of it. I think it confirms what I’ve said above. Perhaps it also points to the resolution of our differences.
The wonderful and inspiring activism of the Parkland HS students has engendered an ongoing dialog in social media between gun enthusiasts and those who want guns regulated or banned. Netflix did a special featuring comedian Jim Jefferies.
Watch it here …
And the second part …
Jeffries confronts the faulty logic and lapsed common sense of many pro-gun arguments. Perhaps humor is the best way to do this.
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. In 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!
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.
We’ve written this essay together—sharing our spiritual concerns and our extensive analysis of the situation. It’s divided into five sections:
How did we get here?
Personality vs. Character/Morality.
Who benefits from our disconnection, confusion, and disillusionment?
Values worth dying for?
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.
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 theNew 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.
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 andwhere 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 US 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].”
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
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.
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.
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
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