Thursday, July 14, 2016

Shooting Ourselves in the Foot

I wonder at what point the German people awoke from their Aryan tribal orgy with a pounding hangover and the dawning realization of what they had actually done in placing Hitler in power. By then, of course, it was too late. The frog was already boiled at that point and before it was over most of Europe would be as well.

Leni Riefenstahl, Triumph of the Will (1934)

My guess is that the Brits are about to know that hangover first hand. By the time many voters bothered to briefly interrupt their search for porn and Google what Brexit actually was and what it would mean for Britain, the damage was already done.

I look at the roller coaster poll results in the US after a couple of weeks of a media feeding frenzy hammering at Hillary Clinton over an error in judgment which was serious enough but also common and hardly the stuff of conspiracies spun by infotainment media. I wonder how far removed from the Germans of the 1930s we really are being led around by the nose by sensationalist media. Increasingly, it seems to me that many US voters, like those in Britain, either know better or don’t know much at all but seek ways to rationalize engaging in electoral behaviors driven by spite, much of it inexplicably targeting Hillary Clinton.

We absolutely must beware the halo effect in polling responses this election. Increasingly, voters from California’s Proposition 8 to the Brexit vote last month reveal that they know better than what they’re about to do, giving the socially respectable answer to the pollster, but in the darkness of the voting booth readily engage in their darkest fears and prejudices, to hell with the results.

I get the anger. The completely dysfunctional Congress we have endured for the eight years of TEA Party obstructionism, itself largely a misdirected expression of working class anger manipulated by corporate interests, is maddening. The way that global corporations have run roughshod over all of us but particularly the working class is enraging.

I also understand personally the white hot rage that might promote voting against the establishment. And I understand the absolutely on-target desires to deconstruct our current winner-take-all electoral system with its addiction to money, its ability to effectively shut out whole classes of voters from participation in order to dominate and to seek to replace it with a system that is more than a mere fa├žade of democracy.

What I don’t get is why that anger would take the form of shooting one’s own foot off. Making a statement is perhaps appropriate in evangelical revivals or a town hall meeting. But this election is not about any given individual or group of individuals and the axe they have to grind. It’s about insuring that the possibilities for change will exist – a Congress and SCOTUS not controlled by corporate interests; a US taking responsibilities for its share of climate change which threatens the entire planet; a just economic system in which workers don’t lose their homes or end up slaves to crippling debt simply because they seek to become educated or obtain needed medical treatment.  

That kind of change simply cannot happen under a xenophobic corporate magnate with a lousy record as a businessman and the ethics of a common adder.

Voting one’s angst may be a feel good catharsis. But engaging in behavior that ultimately elects Donald Trump, who is on a good day a “faker,” is little more than cutting one’s nose off to spite one’s face. That kind of self-defeating behavior may be endurable when one is dealing with an actual adolescent child. There is always hope they can grow up. But when that adolescent is the world’s most powerful nation-state, placing a l’enfant terrible at the helm of that power is an incredibly bad idea.

Bernie Sanders, whom I fervently supported in the primaries and continue to admire greatly, was very clear that all revolutions, including his, require long periods of persistent hard work and sacrifice to effectuate the changes they seek. While we well-trained consumers tend to see the world through lenses of instant gratification, changing a 227-year-old system of self-governance simply cannot happen overnight.

We need to be very clear: This election is not the Revolution, capital R. It’s just the first skirmish in a much larger engagement that will take many years and, no doubt, a lot more suffering to play out.

Regrettably, this election simply boils down to damage control and not digging the gaping hole in the US soul any deeper. I wish that were not true. But it simply is the case.

 While my political soul decidedly lies with Jill Stein and the Greens and the big picture suggests that a multi-party system would be a lot healthier than the one we currently endure, I fear that the stakes are simply too high in this turning point election to take a chance on a catastrophic result in order to indulge my individual conscience. 

Those who know me know that I am an idealist to the core and rarely a pragmatist with eyes focused on the ground immediately in front of me. But I have been to enough disaster sites over my life to understand the need for triage. And we should not kid ourselves, America decidedly stands at the brink of a cataclysm in 2016.

There will be days to vent anger and make change but only if we ensure that it will be possible. Those of us who would change what we see as an unacceptable reality in this country that we love must commit ourselves to that process. But the change we would seek will become ever more difficult to effectuate should Americans out of a feel-good expression of anger follow the example of 1930s Germany and elect a loose cannon whose rhetoric echoes of fascism. 

Bear in mind that the Third Reich occurred in a time when the powerful technologies we take for granted today were only in their germinal stages of development. Imagine what the Axis might have done if it had had access to the weaponry and technology the US currently possesses.

My fellow Americans, let’s don’t shoot ourselves in the foot. Let us engage our long term memories long enough to learn from the example of the last unprepared loose cannon we placed in office in 2000. It has taken eight years to repair the enormous damage of that error in judgment. But, have no doubts, making the same error in judgement in this election could well be a lot, lot worse.


Harry Scott Coverston
Orlando, Florida

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. – Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Ages, Commentary on Micah 6:8


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