Monday, December 3, 2018
All my colleagues know too well that I have been grieving with most of them in the election of Donald Trump as an instance of a worldwide turn to the populist autocratic right. I needed to grapple with what I considered a setback for the human advance beyond tribalism, an exaltation of wealth over commonweal, and a threat to our public faith.
I read many books by experts analyzing the subordination of democracy to the economy and in particular the global capitalistic order. These books described how the banks and large international corporations were once tamed by social democratic policies, were gradually unchained and were able to sell a system of fast-growing inequality. They also described the transition from the industrial to the information economy and from manufacturing to a service dominated economy. “It’s the economy, stupid.”
I listened to many persons who have given up on American political institutions because it left them poorer in income and the ability to consume, because it benefited many other people whom they do not consider true citizens because they are immigrants, are racially inferior or reject the religious and moral practices that they were taught to uphold. They saw themselves labeled losers and wanted to show the so-called winners in education, wealth, and preference that they counted. They once had religious, labor, ethnic, and veterans’ organizations through which they could achieve the power to deal with the elites who were running things. Now they felt they had nothing.
Psychologists demonstrated that when the fear, flight, and fight instincts prevail, boundaries are drawn, walls are built, and military might dominate. And people no longer savor life which recent statistics in America concerning life expectancy, drug addiction, and suicide seem to confirm.
But I decided that though many experts hark back to the Great Recession, when banks survived but mortgages and family savings did not, this was not primarily an economic depression. And though many persons individually felt the loneliness and disrespect that undermined their purpose to live, this was not primarily a psychological depression. I decided that what we were experiencing was a political depression.
The crisis of faith we experience may reach over to our personal, household, or private realm; but it is in the public realm we must look for a cure.
The expressions of public faith and specifically the public faith of Americans can be found developing through the history of the United States, sometimes in its adherence and sometimes in its breach. The founding documents of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the farewell and inaugural addresses of Presidents, up through the Pledge of Allegiance, and major speeches of persons deemed to articulate that faith often etched into monuments that ring the National Mall.
The key belief of a democratic Republic is the dignity and equality of all human beings. This is the foundation of a structure of human rights that contains spaces for voluntary civic associations, all ordered through a government chosen and run by representatives elected by popular vote. The main principle of unity for a democratic Republic is not a cultural identity—not background, religion, beliefs, or ethnicity. It is choice starting with the fundamental choice to be a citizen of a Republic that recognizes that all persons, no matter how different otherwise, are equal and have rights to life, liberty, and happiness.
The standard of religious liberty was one of Jefferson’s crowning achievements that flows from the founding principle of a democratic Republic. This is both the freedom to practice whatever religion one chooses and freedom from religion so that no person has to adhere to any established religion or any religion at all. The principle of universal human dignity and equality surpasses and indeed overcomes cultural sameness. A democratic Republic is inclusive of cultural, ethnic, sexual, religious identities. It is a unity in diversity, pluralism not assimilation—e pluribus unum.
However, there is a standard for membership in the Republic. In the Declaration, it is the belief that “all persons are created equal and endowed with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In the Pledge it is “liberty and justice for all.”
We have a faith in our public domain that is influenced by but also transcends, all of our personal and private persuasions. That faith is based on democratic republican principles found in our very nature of human being. Its expressions and institutions change with the development of our language and our world. I know you have personal private opinions that work for you in your household and private life. I respect your religious persuasions and ask you to respect mine. I ask you to work with me to transcend, without losing, our private traditions so that we may renew our democratic republic.
I am not an “originalist.” I think originalism in respect to the Constitution or any other Sacred Scripture is based on a fallacious understanding of human thought and language. However, I am willing to discuss with you what I mean by human equality, liberty, justice and the principles of a democratic Republic and listen to what you mean. In our context, in our world, in our living together.
In this dialogue, which joins all of our unique stories, our consensus will be achieved. In our action together to shape our community institutions we realize our public faith. Even though we might have different ways of expressing it.
A good friend of mine with whom I worked in community building in Toronto and in Honolulu raised the following concern after one of my fervorinos to keep organizing at the local level.
The challenge is still to get grass-roots organizing happening. Read this quote from Naomi Klein's 'No is not enough' (Halina Bortnowska, a Polish writer) - "You start witnessing these semi-psychotic reactions. You can no longer expect people to act in their own best interests when they're so disoriented, they don't know - or no longer care - what those interests are" That pretty much sums it up for me ... what do old buggers like us do now?
My response is far from grandiose.
What can we old folks do? Not much alone.
We need to foster community wherever we can--in our neighborhoods, housing complexes, churches, and other associations. We need to affirm our friends and colleagues who demonstrate the democratic republic principles of pluralism, inclusion, and participation. We need to read and discuss in our book clubs and conversations thoughtful opinions based on serious study and evidence.
We need to critically think after listening to those whose opinions and behaviors are often opposed to their interests. We need to appreciate and join their pain with our own because it's only there that we find the basis for solidarity.
I think we are in a state of social entropy that can only be reversed by the human connection that transcends "sides," "parties," and "tribal thinking." We are at a critical point in the process of humanity. Anything we do that connects us to our immediate neighbor, small that it might be, makes the difference. I think the civility that launches us beyond tribalism starts by saying hello to the passing stranger and recognizing him or her as yourself.
I have lowered my expectations of being a great thinker and actor. But my ideals are still intact. And so are yours. Only a miracle from a higher power can save humanity now. But it's right here in all of us joined together. Starting one on one. Soul to soul.