Taking a Moment to Reflect

While almost everyone I know is gnashing their teeth, looking for something to break, or searching for something constructive to do, the Trump victory has left me strangely contemplative, almost calm.

Like so many others, I have terrible forebodings about the upcoming presidency.  It requires little to imagine the start of mass immigrant deportations and gross violations of civil rights for Muslims, journalists, and all of us who object to Trump’s ascendance.  He will further empower and enrich the crassest of the wealthy class and, simultaneously, he will profoundly disappoint those who put their faith in him.  He will accelerate the degradation of our planet and the degradation of our culture, legitimizing bigotry of all kinds.  He is already installing neo-fascists, like Stephen Bannon, within the heart of our government.  And the Bannon appointment probably foreshadows alliances with right wing governments in Austria, Hungary, Russia, France, and many other nations.  Is this the time when democracy is dumped into the trash heap of history?  The possibility is all too real, all too immediate.

Maybe, as thoughtful policy analysts like Steven Kinzer suggest, Trump will also have some positive effects, chief among them diminishing the chances of nuclear confrontation with Russia and backing off of the idea that we are responsible for world economic, social, and political order.  Hillary Clinton, after all, is but a warmed over cold warrior, and it’s time that we rid ourselves of bankrupt foreign policies, based on American exceptionalism.  It may be that Trump’s victory awakens our youth.  The world, with its massive demographic, political, and climate shifts demands a response of comparable dimensions.

There are lots of fine people telling us to resist and organize now.  Take this moment as a blessing in disguise.  Carpe diem.  It is only when the world is disrupted, in disequilibrium, that you can change it.  Isn’t that the message of all modern change theorists, from Prigogine in physics to Stephen Jay Gould in evolutionary biology to Eleanor Duckworth in education.  How else can we respond the vast demographic shifts brought on by migrations, droughts, genocides—and the shadow of the twentieth century when Hitler and Stalin, alone, murdered tens of millions of people.  We are a world that’s ready for a change—but change for the good is only one possibility.

All of this volcanic activity seems, in the short run, to have had a paradoxical effect on me.  It seems to have released me from the external chaos and turned me deep into myself.  The campaign’s outcomes are too raw, too painful to contemplate head on.  If I read the news at all, it’s to hurry through, to almost turn my head so I don’t see.  Having withdrawn from the news and from the anxious build-up to the November vote, I find myself calm, even relaxed. I am pretty sure that this is momentary but that does not make it less true.

It’s like entering a personal monastery, taking vows to remain until I find a new place for myself, a new way to see the world and my relation to it.  Even though part of me thinks this is bad, amoral at least, I am going to remain in my monastery until I’m ready to emerge.

To the extent that I am paying attention to world events, it is as an almost disinterested observer.  It doesn’t feel like we know enough to spring into action.  Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing about the marches, the calls to resist and organize.  They have fed me all my life.  But I need to see what the Trump people are doing.  I need to get oriented. There will be time and reason and urgency enough to organize over the next several months, years, and decades.  The rush to action may be soothing—do something, anything to avoid feeling like a passive victim—but I don’t think it will have much of an impact right now.

It would not surprise me, for example, if Donald Trump is impeached within the next few years.  He criminal activities are unbounded.  His impulsiveness is likely to frighten even the most rabid Republicans.  We could be at war within a year.  If he is impeached, then Pence will be president, the type of outcome the Republican Right has wanted all along.  Short of impeachment, he may simply find himself in power struggles within his supposed party—he’s not a Republican, after all—struggles that will try his patience, leading him back to the businesses that he’s not supposed to attend to during the presidency.  Or, in the face of political and journalistic opposition, he may fully show his fascist colors, trying to dismantle democratic institutions and traditions.

In the meantime, I am more aware than ever that the upcoming fight is not primarily my fight.  It is not the fight for my generation.  It is the younger generations that will have to step forward.  They will have to lead.  This moment signals the passing of the guard.  We can—we must—support their leadership but support will be our primary role.  We will have to adjust to our loss of position, our loss of face, our many failures.

But I digress.  All along I have intended to say that I have retreated in order to gather myself.  And I wonder what the retreat will mean.  I wonder if it is time to pay more attention to questions of the soul.  These last few days, my pace has slowed.  I pay attention to the people who are close, to the food that I eat and the air that I breath. I have substituted philosophical texts for the political columns that kept my heart rate up.

Is this a failure of nerve?  A cop out?  Will I abandon my monastery before I am clear what to do?  Maybe.  But it feels good.  The rest has helped.   And, in the meantime, what can I do to stop the tide of history.  Why shouldn’t I take comfort in the next generations taking their rightful place in the defense of civilization.

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10 thoughts on “Taking a Moment to Reflect”

  1. Ahhhhh. Sounds like you are starting to retire. I’m glad. You deserve it. You taught your children and grandchildren well. They’ll take up the battle.

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  2. I’m trying to live with the discomfort and sense of foreboding that this election brought. Three things (two rational, one I hope is irrational) are on my mind a lot.

    1. The election of this man is a rebuff to the progress I had (truly, deeply) believed we made toward a more open and inclusive liberal democracy. I’ve had to console myself that at least my progressive “bubble” has a larger number of Americans in it than the group who won the most votes in the archaic Electoral College.

    2. As bad as I feel, let’s be honest– I’m a white male CEO. On the face of it, I’m not exactly first on the target list for the alt-right Bannonite neofascists. Yet I know that there are scores of millions of Americans who have good reason to feel much worse than I do–who are now more likely to be to be deported, harassed, profiled, or have their reproductive rights limited by a cadre of (mostly) white men. I need to keep my sense of dismay in solidarity with so many of my neighbors and friends.

    3. My fear is that nuclear weapons will be deployed by this man who doesn’t appear to have thought about the consequences of so much of what he says. I hope this is irrational–I think its a result of growing up in the 60s with then”doomsday clock” and the nuclear brinksmanship of that Doctor Strangelove era. Barry–feel free to reassure me!

    Peace

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      1. My point (which I didn’t make clear) wasn’t to discount my reaction–rather that I feel an obligation not to “get over it” and convince myself that it’s gonna be ok. Because even though it may be ok for me, personally, it’s pretty likely that a number of my fellow Americans are at grave risk, and may lose basic rights. See: womens health and reproductive rights.

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      2. Naturally, I agree with you about the vulnerability of so many of our fellow citizens (and non-citizens)–and our own privilege. There are too many people, though, who are apologetic about their privilege. I’d say: Use it. As you do. I’d say: use it proudly. As you do. We need our strength for the battle ahead.

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      1. Who knows what I was thinking seven years ago when I chose that name. The picture is of the current mrs newt Gingrich, for some reason.

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  3. Hi Barry

    I have not felt as much at peace as you over the past 2 weeks. The election combined with nothing but bad news on the news make a positive orientation difficult. I am relieved that I have a job in which I can make a positive difference in the lives of others. At least I can do that even though it will never make the news.

    On the generational issue – I totally agree and discussed this with my 32 yr old daughter who is committed to becoming more politically active. I unfortunately have a 36 yr old son who was totally pro-Trump and am avoiding political discussions.

    I am hoping that the millennials who probably did not see Hillary as worth their vote, will become like the baby boomers in the 60’s who took to the streets to protest the Viet Nam war. They are far more tolerant of ethnic differences, sensitive to environmental concerns and worried about their future opportunities. We need them to make a stand if the Trump Presidency goes in a direction that many of us fear.

    There is a great Ted Talk How can the US recover after the negative, partisan presidential election of 2016? Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt studies the morals that form the basis of our political choices. In conversation with TED curator Chris Anderson, he describes the patterns of thinking that have led to such sharp divisions in America and in countries around the world — and provides a vision for how to move forward.

    Take Care

    Bob

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    1. Hi Bob,
      Thanks for the very thoughtful and personal response. Good for your daughter. I know that I feel proud about my children and their engagement. Do you have a good idea about how your son moved into the Trump camp. That would be very interesting to understand.
      I both agree and disagree with you about the millennials. I wish they had voted for Hillary Clinton but only to defeat Trump. But I do believe that HC is too much of an old thing begun during her husband’s presidency: moving the party right; getting too much into bed with Wall Street. And I believe that she is too bellicose on foreign affairs, too much a continuation of Cold War politics and the perpetuation of American exceptionalism. However much I love Obama for his dignity and general values, I also think that he followed HC in domestic politics and failed to develop a coherent foreign policy. His seems half way between the Cold War and… I don’t know exactly.

      Barry

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