Settling for Different

In a little less than six weeks this past winter, the Republic of Korea, South Korea as we say it here in the States, impeached their president and arrested the CEO of Samsung, the country’s largest corporation because of an influence peddling and bribery scandal that involved both.  It was the South Korean equivalent of impeaching Donald Trump and arresting Apple’s Tim Cook. It was kind of a big deal.

One might think that the sacking of arguably the nation’s two most important people would signal deep societal problems in South Korea. Nothing could further from the truth though. What South Korea just signaled to the world, in addition to their strong market driven economy and highly inclusive democracy, is that they are a government of laws, for the people. And that no one is bigger than the cause. And no one is safe from the consequences of upsetting it.

As recently as 1974, in America, many of us felt the same way. While Watergate was a personal failure for Richard Nixon and a handful of others close to the scandal, the accountability exacted on the nation’s highest office was one of our our great triumphs of democracy. The most powerful man in the world lost his power because he covered up the fact that a few men broke into a rival campaign office during an election that he won by one of the largest landslide margins in American history. The crime, literally, was an inconsequential action that had no tangible impact on a single outcome. But the intent threatened democracy. And in America, that meant you had to go. We were after all, a government of  laws, for the people.

We’ve been at that promise for 240 years. And though we think of ourselves as a “new people” relative to Europe and Asia, our government is old. As standing democracies go, no one is older. We Americans have had a long time to game the system. And though it’s still pretty good at enabling life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for many Americans, our government gets used to do quite a bit more than that these days. Corporations use it to seek rent. The media uses it to sell advertising. Individuals use it to grab or broker power. And as those groups get better and better at those things over time, the promise of why we started, begins to weaken. Until it weakens to the point where we’re no longer confident it will do what we’ve sacrificed so much to insist that it does.

When you invest the level of resources in and grant the broad powers to an entity like the United States Federal Government, a loss of confidence isn’t a small problem. It’s a dire one. Which is where this really starts to get a little fuzzy right now. Because I just said that the system is rigged. And that it needs a shock to it to change. And my argument is going to get confusing for many of you when I say the next thing. Donald Trump cannot continue to lead our government behaving the way that he is now.

One of the great risks of upsetting the status quo in government is that you replace it with something worse. My great critique of the candidacy of Donald Trump and then his presidency is that one does not generally learn how to serve others after they sit down at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. And what little trust we have left in our government is that even if the people we trust it to can’t do enough good, we, the people still hold enough power to keep them from doing too much bad.

When you fire the Director of the FBI while his organization is actively investigating your campaign for collusion with a foreign power, the optic alone, is enough to break that trust. When the Attorney General recuses himself from the investigation because he’s a part of it, then actively interviews candidates to lead the organization that conducts it, that doesn’t help either. It’s starting to feel less and less like the executive branch of our government believes that it answers to the people.  Or at a minimum, they don’t care if it appears that way. Both are unacceptable.

Different isn’t the same as better. The American standard, is better. Settling for different means that you’re comfortable with worse. And I’m not. The world is watching. And they’ve been waiting a long time for the American people to feel this bad about their government.


Once, We Were Many

The progress of humanity has taken many forms. From society to faith and religion to exploration and technology, we are beings in movement. We are defined by our movement. And though there are many streams of progress, the general path of man has been a slow, methodical march towards one world. Where we were once millions of families, we were then thousands of tribes, then hundreds of nations, then dozens of empires. And eventually we became a new world and an old. And now, connected by information technology and decades into our first truly global trade market, east and west, are collapsing into one. The journey, millennia in the making, is nearer to that end-one world- then perhaps many of us are willing to admit. That is the natural progress of man. And denying it doesn’t change it any more than drawing the blinds to block out the sun makes it night.

The natural progress of a person, one individual, is different though. By ourselves, we are inherently distrustful of outsiders and susceptible to having our passions raised by those who point blame towards the few among us that don’t fit in. And when our passions are high enough and we hurl that basic human instinct to turn inwards in the face of adversity against the natural progression towards one global society, we create friction. And sometimes if the friction is great enough, we stand still. But the halt is only temporary. Eventually, the tectonic plates of progress move forward, fueled by the man made powers of free markets, trade, technology and innovation. The longer we hold them in place, the more severe and unnatural the opposition, the more violent the eventual movement becomes. History teaches us this.

When economic and racial friction impeded the progress of abolition and the anachronism of slavery existed in post industrial revolution America, the snap back was violent. It cost us over a half a million lives and destroyed the economy of the south for a century. When ultra nationalist fascism existed in the culturally integrated melting pot of Europe, the friction it caused was the most devastating global war in the history of our species. The world lost 28 thousand people a day for six years to that violent end. This is the cost of resistance to the path of humanity. And as constant as the force of progress has been, the friction of that resistance has also been constant. The only variable is how long we allow the friction to halt it. And then, how violent the return to progress is.

ISIS, for the people of Iraq and Syria, is the violent end to a halt of progress hundreds of years in the making. BREXIT is the beginning of another one. And the 2016 U.S. election is another. Yes, the 2016 U.S. elections and ISIS and BREXIT are different flavors of a similarly structured message-trouble is coming, turn inward. And though they may feel like a failure of the liberal or progressive movements to continue the unfettered march towards social progress , they’re not. They are a failure of adherence to conservative principles.

Conservative government principles are about people limiting government through liberties. Not government limiting people through fear. And conservative ideology is not most effective when it halts progress. It’s most effective when it insists that progress is thoughtful and focused. We’ve forgotten those principles. Because we’ve lost our nerve.  And when conservatives lose their nerve,  fundamentalism, that troubled offspring of conservative thought that fills the vacuum created by the absence of courage, seizes us. The return to fundamentalism, is what precedes the pauses to progress that history teaches us, never end well.

I’ve heard, more times than I can count, that the result of the last election was was caused by the Democratic party losing touch with middle America. Well, it’s been a long time since the Democratic party was in touch with middle America. A more likely cause was that it was time for a return to conservative leadership after eight years of progressive executive movement. It’s damn hard to hold the White House for twelve years. And when the opportunity for change revealed itself, it found a people wandering lost among the prairies following voices on microphones over the airwaves and talking heads on their television instead of strong, conservative leaders of character. Absent were the men and women willing to take conservative approaches to solving the world’s problems instead of tucking their heads into the sand and walling off America from the outside world. Courage lives in the future. Fear and weakness live in a desire to return to the safer days of old.

We elected an American fundamentalist message masquerading as a message of strength. And so we shouldn’t be surprised when the team formed to deliver on the promise of that message is laden with American fundamentalists. Perhaps you’d hoped for different. Perhaps you should spend a moment to ask yourself why. Why did you think it would be different than what it’s turning out to be? You might find that perhaps your willingness to accept was less about optimism and principles and more about fear.

If you’re relying on the opposition to keep the surge of American fundamentalism at bay with sensational headlines of “white supremacy” and “misogyny” remember how well that worked in the general election. It’s easy to ignore the opposition. So that’s what America will do. As only a failure of American conservative leadership gives birth to American fundamentalism, so too is it true that only strong American conservative leadership can be its end.

Senate confirmations are coming for the newly selected cabinet of the president elect. The election is won. Silence is consent. And you don’t have any excuses any more to sit idly by and watch the conservative light fade into the distant memory of the American mind.

Be wary of who we trust our society to. Ideas like liberty and equality are exactly that. They are ideas. They are abstracts that have bound our people together. And they are powerful. But they’re not invincible. And they’re only permanent, if we believe them.

The world is watching.