Finding Firmer Ground

As our nation approaches another birthday, I find myself like many Americans feeling unsteady, shaken, and increasingly uncomfortable in holding onto a sense of connection to beliefs I never thought could be at risk. Shared values are essential to me, as is the ability to build consensus on difficult issues and a fundamental acceptance of diversity. A few critical points at the moment are eating away at me.

Respecting Secular Differences

The separation of church and state is something I have always believed cannot be denied in our nation. If this pillar falls, the rest crumbles with it. Of course, I know not everyone believes this, but I always thought the majority would never abandon it. Now I worry it might only take a cleverly constructed minority for it to no longer matter. That would forever undo the nation my family chose as a place to immigrate to several generations ago and call home. Is it possible today we would not be welcome here?

Thinking Through Laws

Originalism, or the notion that our Constitution can only be applied to the literal text of its authorship some two and a half centuries ago, seems impossibly flawed as an idea. This is a document that from its inception has encompassed the notion of revision as a core tenet of its foundation. It also has been amended multiple times in its existence to correct the injustices it has allowed, unintentionally or in ambiguity. Peeling back complex nuance is as critical to an argument as referencing precedent. Judges and lawyers cite case law to examine the relevancy and consistency of prior rulings, where opinions are molded into outcomes through rigorous thinking. If the U.S. Constitution does not require interpretation in its application on the endless topics it does not specifically reference—including innovations that couldn’t possibly have been contemplated in prior times—what is the purpose of higher courts?

Growing with Technology

Technology continues to advance exponentially at a rate that consistently outpaces our ability to understand its implications and effects. Without a nimble, advanced, multifaceted framework to consider legislation around innovations that previous generations could never have imagined, we will find ourselves acted upon by invention rather than fostering wise guidelines for incorporating discovery into our everyday lives. Think ahead another hundred years and try to envision what’s coming. Now try to envision how we will create daily norms around incorporating scientific and engineering achievements so far beyond our current imagination we have no concept of how we will be impacted. If we continue to apply yesterday’s rules to tomorrow’s frontier, we will fail much worse at finding common ground than we are now.

Winning and Losing

My sense is that the heightened divineness so many of us are experiencing is becoming increasingly debilitating. If our notion of winning and losing with each other does not evolve into a more palatable interchange of conflicting concepts, our inability to work through our differences could undermine this great experiment we call democracy. There are always individuals who benefit from pouring fuel on a fire and turning otherwise kind people against each other. We cannot let agendas we don’t share take precedence over the communities we cherish.

As we celebrate Independence Day in the midst of so much turmoil and dissonance, perhaps we should reflect on how blessed we could be if we rediscovered a broader sense of shared values, or at least could approach consensus on addressing our disagreements without knocking each other to the ground in the name of unnecessary polemics.

We can do better. We can be better. The alternative is staying where we are currently stuck, and that does not seem to be leading us to improvement. Commit to clearer logic, expanded empathy, and enthusiastic compassion. Let that be our muse this Fourth of July.


Photo: Pixabay


Wrestling with Wrong

trump-elected-2016I went to bed last night demoralized, my faith in democracy challenged in a way I never believed was possible.

It was late, after the acceptance speech by President-elect Donald Trump. I was exhausted. I slept very little.

I awoke this morning in a state of confusion, a daze that still lingers over me. My fear of half the nation’s voters, more than 50 million of my fellow citizens, brings grief and anxiety to my every thought. Can our ideas about what defines the United States of America be that different? Yes, they can.

I’ve worked a lot of campaigns as a volunteer. This one was different. This one was unprecedented in its vitriol and disgust. This one was personal. This one was moral. The fog of war created cover for absurdist antics and human abuse. This behavior was not taught as acceptable when I learned as a child to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

I have been physically threatened on multiple occasions for my writing about the election, almost entirely by anonymous sources online, for expressing my views, activating my right to free speech. I have experienced anti-Semitism. I have been asked to leave the nation to which my family immigrated generations ago. It is always strange to see words like this in print because I do not experience them at all in real world life, yet those words are always out there masked in cowardice. They never go away. Hate may sit in the background, but it is always with us.

I won’t stop writing. I won’t stop talking. You may have won an election but you haven’t won the bullying match. Don’t believe me, just watch.

I received an email early in the day from a dear friend asking for my advice on how to address his community this morning in the face of shock. I told him I was still forming my thoughts, but here was a start:

I would say human beings are fallible and the wrong answer has always been the risk of our democracy. Majority rule is by nature imperfect, but we haven’t identified a better system.

I would remind people we are now almost perfectly divided, that Trump prevailed by geography and demographics, not by intellectual mandate. Clinton won the popular vote, albeit by less than 1%, which tells us how few minds have to change for sanity to return.

I would make the point empirically that education is the basis of democracy, and while a precious few students enjoy the highest privilege on earth, that is not the norm in this nation by a long shot and if we don’t fix that divide we will destroy the American dream. With intelligence must come humility or Progressives will continue to be seen as elite and detached. Regardless and without apology, reading beats YouTube and a tweet is not a policy statement. Rigorous thought matters over the long haul, no matter how many trivialities consume our hours.

I would tell them to stand by their beliefs, that courage is only real when you oppose the tyranny of the majority and risk losing something for what others can have later. History is written in the future, not the present. Fight hate, fight oppression, have empathy for your opponent or you can’t win them over, have compassion for the hungry, never betray your morality for material gain, and prepare now to fix this error four years from now.

He’s the President, not the King. We bond together now to keep him from having more authority than our Constitution will allow. False prophets are always exposed. This one will betray his following like all others have and then our good work can continue.

Teach your children well.

Shortly after I sent that I watched the live concession speech of Hillary Clinton and felt pressure crushing my heart. Then I watched the live remarks of Barack Obama committing his team to the peaceful transition of power. Following that I spent a few hours reading numerous posts from friends, strangers, journalists, and pundits either trumpeting the success of their candidate or, like me, attempting to find a path to wrestling with wrong. Only now I am I beginning to come to a point of view on where to look next:

Clinton supporters vastly underestimated the power of disaffection and blame.

Trump supporters are even more vastly underestimating our commitment to our values and hard-won gains.

We are separated by the thinnest of all margins. We tip the scales by standing our ground. In the letdown of our opposition, which I believe is inevitable, a few will join us and then we’ll right the ship.

Don’t underestimate a committed cause. It cuts both ways, but reality will expose delusion.

Stand your ground, speak your voice, recommit to goodness.

I don’t have it all figured it out anymore than you do. There is still a brick on my heart and it won’t be lifted anytime soon. I will learn to live with that, and fight harder because I feel the perpetual discomfort. We will not teach the next generation that our ultimate experiment in democracy is won or lost on who is the most effective liar and stirrer of hate. That is too cynical a pill to swallow.

We also won’t cave under the auspices of, “It’s time to come together and heal.” I have no business with the alt-right. I have no interest in excusing racist, misogynist, bigoted hate speech. You want to build an idiotic wall? We will oppose it. You want to round-up millions of people you don’t want here? We will stand in front of their homes. You want to take away medical care from 20 million Americans? Not without the fight of your life.

Blind faith that your super-hero Trump can bring back jobs that are no longer economically viable is ill-founded. People who bet on a whim will discover that quickly. The notion that random change for the sake of change will improve lives is equally empty. People who embraced rhetoric absent a fact-based plan will also discover that quickly. It is illogical to reject globalization and automation. You don’t have to like it, but you can’t make it go away. If you try to put up walls, you will have wars, and they are way more costly. The change you think you want to embrace cannot occur without mass loss.

This reality will take place in record time. Remember some of the disillusionment that followed President Obama’s first few years in office? The exponential disillusionment coming your way will make that seem like a full slate of promises kept. If you were disaffected before, watch assets as they shift at lightning pace to the 1% when they go on sale. Then you will realize that you have been duped by a con man, and when a very few cross back over the line to sanity, we will get back to work moving forward.

We wrestle with wrong by exposing it. That path began this morning. The sooner we recommit to course correction, the sooner this injustice is corrected.

Yes, we can.

A Civil Right and a Civil Responsibility

From Newsweek — March 21, 2011:

“How Dumb Are We?” by Andrew Romano

Tina Brown of New Yorker and Daily Beast editorial fame is now making her provocative imprint felt on the “new” Newsweek, evidenced here by summary findings in asking our fellow citizens no more than what we ask aspiring citizens.  Since my wife helps prepare many of these aspiring citizens for the same test where the stakes are slightly higher, I have some modest insight into the scope and depth of empathy here.  In the Newsweek test given to 1000 already-Americans, apparently 38% failed.

Click through and take a look at the test before you jump to the conclusion that it is just a dose of unimportant trivial pursuit.  We have to take a basic written test to get a driver’s license, but our sacred one-person one-vote widely evangelized model for democracy comes with only an age restriction.  If you can buy a six-pack of beer at the corner grocery store, even if you can’t calculate the tax in your head, you can vote.

Does this matter?  Methinks it does.  Putting aside the issue of education’s role in bettering newly arrived and long-term citizen’s quality of life as it can apply to the job force, what about the quality of the dialogue (and yes, argument) we need to share with each other to assign executive, legislative, and judicial power to individuals to collectively make the decisions on our behalf that position our nation for solving its current problems, preventing its future conflicts, and making us proud on the world stage.  How can we possibly do our civic duty of discussion and debate if we don’t have any sort of level playing field of knowledge?  We all have to somehow evidence we know the rules of the road to shift out of reverse, at least most of them, but we don’t have to evidence anything to have an opinion on public policy, it shall remain in perpetuity by our Constitution an inalienable right.

So why one set of rules for those already in the club and one for those who so desperately want to join the club?  Are we perhaps asking too much of the newbies, is the test somehow a set of trick questions meant to create a litmus test of seriousness of intent or a number controlling hurdle?  Is it perfunctory?  Or is there wisdom in making people proud of achieving a shared platform of understanding before we welcome them to the permanent pride of  this fragile experiment we call democracy?

If the conclusion one draws from my commentary here is that already-Americans should have to pass the same test to vote, that would hardly be my thinking, that is settled law.  Equally I would not want to eliminate the test for new citizens, because I have personally observed their joy in passing this test and their newfound hope and faith in a future that begins with the reward.

What I am suggesting is that if we don’t start demanding broad, honest, serious, fact-based and critical thinking models of education for every single human being as an absolute, then we’ll get what we’ll get.  We’ll keep fighting with each other, we’ll let Congress keep fighting with each other (the wrestlers change costumes but the steel cage death match remains Groundhog Day), and we’ll keep making mistakes until one day we make one that is just too serious, and our relevancy on the planet will be reversed.

We need to get very, very pissed off.  Each of our votes is one, it counts the same.  We have to have faith that everyone around us has some shared basis of decision-making or our own contribution no longer works.  One generation ago our public education was the envy of the world, we were #1 because we made it a national priority.  Today depending on you who you ask, we are #17.  Is that okay for a nation that by decree gives all power to the people?

Education is not a luxury item, it is not an option, it comes with the territory of democracy.  Without education, we will destroy the environment, the whole landscape be it cash green or forest green, literally and spiritually, and there won’t be a subsequent generation with the resources to fix it.

If we can afford doctors and lawyers and bankers and movie stars, we can afford teachers and schools and educational tools provided in a setting of peace and safety.  If we don’t think that’s important and want to leave anecdotes about ignorance to the late night comedians and midday pundits, we get what we get.  I just can’t believe on a scale of goals and priorities that an uneducated populous is what any already educated individual would find acceptable and sustainable.