Category Trail

American Flag Lit

MANY AMERICANS FEEL THREATENED

For the most part, I'm an apolitical person.

I actively avoid talking politics, even though I've already written two books on how to reform our government.  I view elections as straw man sideshows, where the choice of politician is pretty much irrelevant and has as much consequence as which sports team is on top.  Why?  Because all politicians are under the same pressures to serve their campaign donors, political parties, and special interests, so they are effectively interchangeable.  But this last election something amazing happened: America has elected a non-politician as their President.

On the one hand, this is a powerful indicator that the American People are fed up with the political status quo and want real change to happen.  That's an exciting possibility that a relative outsider might be able to clean up some of the corruption in government.  On the other hand, it's also an indicator of how powerless the average person feels to affect their own environment.  That's a very sobering prospect, because Donald Trump won the election by pandering to our baser fears.  Very real changes are going to happen... some possibly good, and some possibly bad.

I've spent the last couple weeks trying to moderate my friend's reactions to Trump being elected.  Trust me, if you've been feeling emotional over the election results, you are not alone.  Reactions ranged the gamut from uncertainty, fear, anger, and ranting.  The common thread throughout all of it is a feeling of threat.  For some, it is a feeling of imminent doom because Trump made some campaign promises that involve them directly.  For others, it is a feeling that our way of life is under attack.  We've been told all our lives that tolerance and equality are American ideals, and yet now a seeming intolerant supremacist will be our president.  And still others have concerns about long term consequences, and what impact the Trump presidency will have on our cherished institutions.

But it isn't just people who are upset over the election who feel threatened.  Many people fear the actions of our corrupt government turned against them, either openly or in conspiracy.  People are afraid of ISIS and what terrorists might do to our nation.  We fear big brother, large corporations, and economic ruin.  And that's on top of the "regular" fears we carry around: about providing for our loved ones, keeping them healthy and safe, and disease and mortality.  And snakes.  (Why did it have to be snakes?)

Anyhoo, I wrote this essay to try to address those feelings.  In particular, to remind people that we are far from powerless, and that every day our actions contribute to the republic, whether we realize it or not.

OUR CIVIC DUTY IS TO PROTECT OUR IDEALS

Back in the neolithic days when I was a student, we had these civics classes that were filled with hokey aphorisms about the duties and responsibilities of a good citizen.  They had historic examples about civil disobedience and what it means to be patriotic.  One of the points hammered home repeatedly was that rights and freedoms were privileges we earned, not inherent entitlements.  We have rights and freedoms in America because we vigilantly defend them through word and deed.  American ideals are not carved on stone tablets; they are, in fact, quite fragile and require constant care to preserve and maintain.

There's very little on the topic of patriotism that I can say that someone else hasn't said better.  In particular, Captain America!  The following page is from a What If? comic.  In this story, Captain America was replaced with an impostor at the end of World War II who created a supremacist police state that persecuted minorities.  When the real Cap is revived, he joins some revolutionaries, defeats the false Cap, and delivers a speech to some onlookers.

CapWhatIfSpeech01

Freedoms aren't free.  Ideals aren't idyllic.  They are a never-ending struggle to show our better selves against circumstances that are usually against us.  The natural state of the real world is dog eat dog where the strong take from the weak.  That's not right, just, or fair, and we can do a heck of a lot better.  It is our duty as citizens to protect our ideals, whether that requires polite reminders in casual conversation or spilling our blood in defense of our nation. Furthermore, we must speak up and be counted. People lying in their deathbeds rarely regret the things they did, they regret what they _didn't_ do, especially when it was important.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Martin Luther King

EVERY CITIZEN CONTRIBUTES TO OUR REPUBLIC

Here's one of my favorite speeches by Captain America.  It is given to Spider-Man after he changes sides in the (comics) Civil War debate about the registration of super-heroes.  Most people earnestly believe registration is necessary, but Captain America disagrees.  Spider-Man is feeling uncertain; he doesn't know what to do.

CapSpideySpeech02

CapSpideySpeech03

CapSpideySpeech04

Every single one of us is an integral part to our society, and each of us decides individually what is just and what isn't.  While we can seek trusted guidance, ultimately each of us must make our own decision.  No one else can do this for us, not the president nor priests, judges nor juries. 

In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.

Thomas Jefferson

If you have decided in the silence of your soul that tolerance is an important human virtue, then you must promote and defend it against all comers.  Tolerance isn't a nebulous thing that "just happens".  It is created and re-created every day by people just like us in prosaic situations.  And it can be compromised by friends just as easily as foes.

OUR REACTIONS MUST BE CONSIDERED AND CONSIDERATE

When you judge someone before they've done anything without valid evidence that's called prejudice: pre-judging.  Most "isms" like racism begin as a prejudice, cement into intolerance, and then infect by persecution.  We have to stop the spread of persecution the same way we'd stop the spread of a disease, otherwise it runs rampant.  Just like a disease, if it isn't treated promptly it can change average people and disfigure them, making them unrecognizable.

Several of my friends have criticized Trump quite harshly about being prejudiced, saying that you can't condemn all immigrants and minorities just because some of them might be dangerous.  And when we disagree with a _policy_, then not only should we speak our minds but also it is our obligation to defend what we believe is just.  Unfortunately, many of these criticisms have devolved into an attack on _Trump as a person_.  They've judged him... before he's actually done anything... without valid evidence.  That's prejudice slipping into persecution.

The demonization of the Other is dangerous first and foremost for us.

Ksenia Svetlova

One of the flaws of modern elections is that they are too big and we no longer have a relationship with our representatives.  Democracy works great on the small scale where we make choices between people similar to us who we personally know and can hold accountable for their actions.  But it malfunctions on the large scale because we are no longer choosing between real people, we are making decisions on the basis of heavily doctored media images.  Anyone can have their image spin doctored, good or bad.

I don't know Donald Trump.  And unless you are an actual friend or relative, the likelihood is that _you_ don't really know him, either.  All we know is what we've been told by dozens of biased media outlets, each with its own agenda.  What we've seen isn't encouraging.  Trump is a self-confirmed nationalist and misogynist, and by all accounts he's probably a racist and several other "-ists", too.  But despite being an unsavory character, his actions should be assessed on the basis of what he actually does as president, not our worst fears of "who he is".  Actions speak louder than words.  Both Trump's... and our own.

Vigorously oppose positions you feel are wrong.  Attack the system if you feel it is unjust.  But cut the person some slack.  Trump is just doing the same thing we are doing: what he feels is right.  And he's doing it against a lot more obstacles and under way more pressure than we are.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.

Dalai Lama XIV

OUR COMMON ENEMY IS FEAR

There's a fantastic book called Dealing With People You Can't Stand: How to Bring out the Best in People at their Worst.  It breaks down the common archetypes of personalities that are difficult to deal with (specifically in a workplace setting), and then gives sound advice on how to productively interact with them.  The book is a rare gem because it reveals the inner psychology of the _difficult person_ and why they behave the way they do.  It's simultaneously one of the most eye-opening and practically useful books I've ever read.  I discovered that lots of people I previously wrote off as a**holes are actually driven by very relatable and reasonable emotions.  (Btw, that and other experiences have convinced me: there aren't many genuine a**holes in the world, just people we don't understand yet.)

Trump is a classic Tank archetype.  He's loud, in your face, aggressive, confrontational, controversial, and doesn't give a rats ass about your boo-hoo feelings.  He's also a classic Type A.  He sets his sights on a goal, and he wins.  At the end of the day, what he cares about is results.  It's easy to vilify Trump, because he is by and large a pretty unlikeable person.  But what we want to be doing is humanize him.  C'mon, do we _really_ think he's spinning his moustache in his evil lair dreaming up ways to dismantle civil liberties?  His interior monologue is probably going something like: "People are afraid.  I want to make them feel safe.  Let me do the most direct, visible thing possible to protect them", like say, building a wall around America, deporting suspect foreigners, and attacking terrorists.  Reread that first part in quotes and forget the latter part.  People _are_ afraid, and acting to safeguard and protect them is a noble goal.  Trump has reasonable motivations and some unreasonable solutions.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

When I look around I see a lot of people rallying to oppose Trump and his administration.  I personally feel that's a waste of time on many levels.  Arguing with a Tank is counterproductive, as is trying to compete with a Type A; the most likely outcome is that they roll over you without even noticing.  The best way to deal with a Tank is to point them in the right direction; for Type As, it's giving them a new goal.  That way we harness their natural energy toward the most productive end, instead of trying to fight it.  If we conscientiously believe that Trump's stated policies need to be changed, then we have to provide better solutions than the ones he's offering.  Critique with good suggestions is an avenue for improvement; complaint without solutions is just a recipe for discontent.

Moreover, our next commander-in-chief is facing one of the most difficult presidencies in our lifetime.  Our nation is genuinely divided on several very important issues.  That means that, no matter what his stance is on any issue, there will be vocal opposition armed with legitimate viewpoints.  Jesus H Christ himself could enter office with a pro-life platform and face flak over abortion!  These difficulties have nothing to do with Trump: it's just the crappy situation he's inherited. 

As distasteful as he might be, Trump isn't the problem.  Fear is the problem; Trump and his extreme solutions are just a symptom of how bad our fears have become.  Our time is better spent trying to find sensible and honorable ways to address the situations causing our fear than in creating dissention.  Not only is indiscriminate dissention generally counter-productive, it's perhaps not the best choice to foment more fear in a climate of uncertainty.  The common thread uniting all Americans right now is our fear for the future, for ourselves and our families.  This is not the time to be persecuting and undermining our president, dividing our country into "Trump supporters" and "Trump detractors".  Seriously, if building a border wall is the pinnacle of his imagination, Trump needs all the help he can get.  Our help.

Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.

Walter Anderson

HEROISM IS OFTEN ORDINARY AND PERSISTENT

In ancient times there was widespread belief in a premise called "truth by adversity".  The idea is that anyone can behave well when things are going well, but authentic character is revealed under duress.  The phrases "trial by fire", "trial by ordeal", etc. come from this notion.  Trial by fire was literally testing a person's truthfulness by subjecting them to flames.

These are the times that try men's souls.

Thomas Paine

It's easy to be our best selves when we are all fat and happy and life goes our way.  It's much harder when we face adversity that threatens what we hold dear.  Remember, each difficult challenge is also an opportunity, in this case to become living examples of our cherished ideals.  Every single one of us is a vital part of ensuring the American dream stays alive.

[Rosa Parks]' greatest contribution is that she told us a regular person can make a difference.

Marc Morial

There's another notion we've inherited from antiquity: a "blaze of glory".  The idea is that heroic acts are flashy and involve grand sacrifices.  That makes for a wonderful spectacle on the big screen but a very poor model for actual heroism.  Real heroism isn't a "blaze of glory", it's a "burn of steady".  It's slowly but surely lighting the way, being there when it counts, and remaining steadfast especially when things go awry.

True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.

Arthur Ashe

The heroic preservation of America's principles isn't found in flashy flamboyance.  It's in quiet moments where you are honest with your children.  It's in sober conversations with trusted friends.  It's in the community we build together.  Do not underestimate the impact your calm and sincere belief has, nor its worth to those close to you who stand unsteady and uncertain.  Each one of us has the choice to bury our head in the sand or to become ordinary heroes, living up to the ideals that we hold so dear.  Flee our fears, or face up to them?  As always... the choice is up to us.

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.

John F Kennedy

Log in to comment