Dangerous to Democracy

For years I’ve been shocked that so many Americans are willing to excuse or ignore the behaviors that signal that the former president is a menace. Here The Atlantic presents some of the public pronouncements that should be revolting to anyone who loves what our country aspires to be.

If the word “Unhinged” bothers you in the title, I suggest you read Steve Nolan’s book American Carnage – An Officers Duty to Warn. Steve passionately believes that the former Commander in Chief would be found mentally unfit for military service were he a soldier. He says, “I would be obligated to discharge [any person who makes certain statements Trump has made] from the military.

People’s statements and actions reflect their character and values. What values do the facts about Trump’s actions and public statements reveal?

This assessment is not news. For more than a decade, those who know the GOP candidate well, know he’s not to be trusted with the levers of power. The danger is real.

Defending Democracy

Here is carefully thought-out, non-partisan advice on how individuals can and should speak out for good government and democracy. The Washington Post’s “Democracy Dies in Darkness” motto is only one of many signals that government of the people, by the people, and for the people is in peril.

All of us lead busy lives, and it’s tempting to think there is little we can do as individuals. I don’t accept such a cynical attitude of resignation. We are social animals, and peer confirmation is the most powerful of the persuaders that influence how people think. We must speak out for integrity and democracy. Here’s a practical guide:

Countering Disinformation

I’m not an engineer, but I think like one. I’ve disciplined myself to be analytical and logical and to distinguish between assumptions and known facts.

Humans are not naturally rational. We must train ourselves to consciously construct a theory about the nature of reality, and then test our theory by experimenting and observing. Absent such scientific practices, we instinctively invent stories to explain patterns we observe. These stories need not be accurate representations of reality to serve as an organizational tool or a memory device. We may call these stories “hunches” or “intuition” about what’s beyond our certain knowledge.

Our stories may influence our behavior more readily than our reason. But stories are inherently fluid, and unlike the laws of physics or chemistry, they can be manipulated. People can lock on to a narrative (story) and act upon it without deliberation. Bad actors exploit this human tendency to their advantage and gain, often to the detriment of individual wellbeing and the common good. We get played and duped by persuasive narratives designed to harm–disinformation.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has come to understand how disinformation and misinformation can overpower factual contrary evidence. People will continue to trust and rely on stories that have been thoroughly debunked by rigorous scientific research to establish a true perception of reality. We need only look at the anti-vaccination movement, the false narratives asserting that global warming is a hoax, or the denial of the risks of smoking tobacco to verify the power of disinformation and misinformation.

Science Rising and UCS have produced training materials that are intended to help science advocates push back more effectively. On Sunday October 16th at 9:45 am, I spoke on the topic using UCS materials as the core of my presentation. The bibliography of all my sources is below.

Video of October 16th Presentation

Here is a video recording of the presentation done on 10/16/22 at Newtown Friends Meeting Adult Firstday School.

Good Political Ad?

I rarely see political advertising that I like. Most of it goes directly to the trash now. Not only is it not credible — disinformation and deception are routine and unremarkable these days — but often it offends my intelligence.

This piece is different. It frames core liberal values in a Thanksgiving dinner metaphor that even the children around the table can get. There’s a chance that a genuine conversation about what matters could be started.

Membership

I have long believed that we are products of our communities. Religious communities were once the norm in America. That’s no longer true and the “nones” (no affiliation) outnumber the members of any other denomination.

I do not advocate for religious dogma, though I do experience that seeking spiritual enlightenment contributes to the quality of my life. Here is my column for Sunday October 15th that illustrates how enthusiastic participation in a community can make life better.

In addition to joyful and uplifting communities, there are communities of fear, hate, and cynicism. The choice of whether we nurture or poison ourselves is ours to make.

Productive Conversations

I’m left with exasperation, anger, and deep dismay when I try to talk with some people about what’s real and what’s not. The cult of agreement surrounding beliefs held by Trumpists and those who advance conspiracy theories makes productive conversation seem impossible.

The News Literacy Project has taken on the challenge and is offering a seminar for anyone interested in having productive conversations with true believers. Sign up for the webinar using the links in the flyer below.

Education vs. Indoctrination in Our Schools

If your civic alarm bells are not going off daily, they should be. Here in our local schools propaganda is being introduced as history. Investigative reporter Judd Legum (Popular Information) published this report on the Pennridge School District. It’s shocking.

There is a movement of right-wingers seeking to deceive and corrupt our children and it’s not just in Florida and Texas, it’s here at home in PA.

A Strategy of Disinformation

One of the ways you can tell the good guys from the bad guys these days is by looking at what they do, that is, the actions they take, and asking yourself what values those actions represent. The right-wing media and certain pols are saying that President Biden has done nothing for the disastrous fires in Hawaii. Heather Cox Richardson, with a historian’s exactitude, documents what Biden has done.

Disinformation only works if people are not thinking critically, and misplace their trust. Those who misrepresent what Biden has done, lying about it, are writing for a political base they have successfully blinded to many realities. They don’t expect to persuade the rest of us.

How long they can keep the blinders on those folks and perpetuate their mass delusions is hard to know. But the rest of us must redouble our efforts to stay connected to reality and seek the truth.

The Means Aren’t Justified by the End

A core concept in democracy is service to the common good. But what form that takes–therein lies the rub. Please consider the example that Robert Reich explores in the essay linked below. The distinctions and insights it presents are central to understanding what our national values are or should be.

Free enterprise mingled with character, compassion, and solidarity with high social values is a good recipe for a society that works for everyone. When you admire a person’s success in life, it’s important to weigh the means by which it came.

Common Purse?

A writer I referred to in an earlier post remarked about a group of adults living together in New York City, pooling their resources. It was an aside to a discussion of the decline of community in the US.

It’s a mistake to regard such arrangements as weird or novel–they simply go by another name. Here are some contemporary examples:

  • Families. Husband and Wife both work these days, and in many families young adult family members live under the same roof and contribute.
  • College Fraternities. Students share a house, pool resources for meals and services.
  • Religious Orders. Monks and nuns often live together in a “monastic enclosure” or house where work and expenses are paid out of a common fund.
  • Roommates. In academic and urban settings, singles share a suite of rooms to save on rent.
  • Ashrams. There are a number of ashrams in the US where people pool resources to participate in a spiritual community.
  • Group Homes. Many charities operate group homes to support vulnerable people or as half-way houses for people who are learning to live independently.

You could probably think of more examples of common ways that Americans form affinity groups to support one another in meeting basic needs for food, shelter, and leisure time. It’s not the anomaly that it might seem at first.

America has drifted away from some traditions that supported the instinct to combine resources for the common good. In the 20th Century, men organized clubs like Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, the VFW, and the American Legion. These clubs provided networks of mutual benevolence and social contacts while doing public service. In the 21st Century most of these clubs struggle to attract new members.

Country Clubs organized around Golf, Tennis, Pickleball, and other sports seem to be holding their own, but the focus has shifted to the sport, and away from the mutual benevolence of a strong social network.

Volunteer Fire Companies were once the working man’s equivalent of a social club. Members would develop close personal relationships while training to fight fires. They experience a special bond because the rely on each other to be safe while facing danger. But the burden of increased risks, daunting training requirements, and the athleticism needed to perform the firefighting role have combined with a decline in the social motivations making it difficult to attract new younger members. It’s less common for a person to live and work in the same community. Commuting and changes of employment take their toll.

Slow change, which happens over decades, easily escapes our attention. The breakdown of these formerly common social networks of interdependence and community is only clear retrospectively and maybe only to old-timers like me.

I don’t think the change is for the good. I believe that some of what divides us politically is the illusion that we can do without parts of our society, relegating them to a lower status. The nation, each state, and our municipalities are “common purses” that exist to serve the common good. Some would privatize all of it, thinking that they would prefer to pay only for the goods and services they desire without regard for social good. The benefit of the common purse is not appreciated.

Lost Community?

Jake Meador, writing in The Atlantic observes:

The Great De-churching by Davis and Graham finds that the defining problem driving out most people who leave [their church] is … just how American life works in the 21st century. Contemporary America simply isn’t set up to promote mutuality, care, or common life. Rather, it is designed to maximize individual accomplishment as defined by professional and financial success. Such a system leaves precious little time or energy for forms of community that don’t contribute to one’s own professional life or, as one ages, the professional prospects of one’s children. Workism reigns in America, and because of it, community in America, religious community included, is a math problem that doesn’t add up.

“Why Did So Many People Stop Going to Church?” ~ The Atlantic

Pernicious individualism and workism may have spawned the loniliness, depression, social divisiveness, and other social ills of our time. Humans have prospered by banding together, but somehow our culture doesn’t seem to foster values that nourish a healthy community life.

Don’t dismiss this article as being about religion or spirituality — it’s about what bonds us as a human family. Lots of good ideas here. Read the article, follow the links.

One's identity is far more than one's profession.