Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

My credo

January 18, 2017

 

unknownAs our political transition unfolds, I find myself caught between the Scylla of a Democratic party increasingly romanticizing socialist economics hostile to enterprise and trade, and a Republican Charybdis fallen into a dark hole of nativism romanticizing a past that won’t return and shouldn’t. Today’s real divide is between mindsets of openness and closedness. With irresponsible foolishness of every sort running rampant, trampling sound classically liberal principles, I will not give up on them, but will continue to defend them in the years ahead. Here I recap those core principles.

 

  • Democracy and rule of law, so government is accountable to citizens, its powers over them restricted.

 

  • Freedom of speech, expression, and argument. images-1No idea immune from critical examination – even if that offends or discomfits some. This is not only integral to personal freedom, it is also crucial for society to evaluate ideas and progress thereby.

 

  • Limited government, filling only roles that individuals cannot. People able to choose for themselves how to live and act, with society dictating only when its reasons are compelling; basically, only to protect others from harm.

 

  • Free market economics is the best way to grow the pie so all can prosper. images-2Profit-seeking business is how people’s needs and desires get satisfied. That is best promoted when businesses are forced to compete openly and fairly with each other, none gaining advantage through government intervention. Instead government should function to remove barriers to competition and business enterprise.

 

  • This does not mean businesses unregulated. They too are subject to laws to protect others from harm.

 

  • Inequality is the inevitable result of people striving to better themselves, and is not unjust or an evil. Successful people are not the enemy, nor the cause of want. But a market economy generates enough wealth that we can afford to give everyone a decent living standard, out of simple humanity.

 

  • When another country can sell us something cheaper than we can produce it ourselves, we benefit as well as they. images-3Impeding such trade only impoverishes both nations. The gains from freer global trade, through lower consumer prices, vastly exceed the costs in any jobs lost.

 

  • America prospers best in a world wherein democracy, free trade, and peaceful development prevail among other countries, making them too more prosperous; so promoting those values must be the core of our foreign policy. Forces in the world threatening those values must be actively combated.

 

  • Government spending and taxation must be brought into a sustainable balance. Heedlessly piling up excessive debt will not end well.

 

  • Truth and facts should be sought objectively, and should shape our beliefs, rather than our beliefs shaping what we think are facts. unknown-1Confirmation bias is the enemy of reason. We acquire truth through science, a method of rational inquiry which progresses by self-correction as more facts become known and understood.

 

  • No religion is better or truer than any other. All are equally false; and that false consciousness can only impede people in grappling with challenges all too real.

 

  • Human beings are natural animals, resulting from Darwinian evolution. Ultimately the only thing that matters in the Universe is the well being of creatures capable of feeling. All people have equal dignity and worth (except for those who imagine their kind is superior, thereby proving they are inferior).

 

  • Over the centuries, the increasing application of all these principles has made for enormous global progress, with ever more people able to live ever better lives. unknown-2Abandoning these principles endangers that progress.

Pussy Grabber’s John Lewis tweet

January 15, 2017

“All talk, no action.”

That was Pussy Grabber’s typical tweet, about John Lewis. Then he adds a word like, “Sad.” He thinks he’s being clever, when in fact it’s him and his fetid tweeting that’s sad.

images-1John Lewis is a Georgia congressman. In the early 1960s he participated in the “Freedom Rides” aiming to integrate bus travel. He knew the danger. His bus was attacked and burned by a raging mob; Lewis and other Freedom Riders were dragged off the bus and beaten. Lucky to have survived, he often saw the inside of southern jails. In 1964, he was an organizer of the “Mississippi Freedom Summer,” to restore black voting rights. Some of those workers were murdered. In 1965, Lewis was a leader of the marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Again the danger was clear.  The marchers met with extreme violence. Once again John Lewis was beaten within an inch of his life.

“All talk, no action?”

John Lewis is a hero. We can be proud such a man is in Congress.

You may disagree with John Lewis, even criticize him. But you do not insult him. You do not belittle him.

“All talk, no action?” That’s exactly what Pussy Grabber claimed about his own pussy-grabbing comments caught on tape. (Even after a dozen grabbees came forward to say otherwise.)

unknownJohn Lewis is a hero. Donald Trump is a stinking piece of crap.

 

The Russian virus

January 12, 2017

images-1During the Cold War it was perfectly clear the Russians were the bad guys. Only twisted-brain lefties like Noam Chomsky thought we were. When the USSR fell in 1991, there was a window when it looked like Russia would come in from the cold. But then ex-KGB agent Putin took over.

He has mounted a gigantic propaganda offensive. Unlike Soviet Communists, Putin has no pretensions of leading a worldwide ideological movement. Instead, it’s all about strengthening and expanding his raw power. Thus the cynical effort to delegitimize democracy and liberal Western culture as decadent and corrupt in contrast to a Russia that’s strong and moral. Putin knows the USSR fell partly because its inhabitants realized its system stank compared to ours. That’s what he’s trying to combat.

unknownAnd not only are Russians falling for it – many in the West also buy the notion that there’s something more admirable in Putinism than in our own societies. Trump compares the Russian tyrant favorably against Obama. Reportedly, 37% of Republicans now admire Putin. They see him as a “strong leader.” America’s alt-right in particular embraces Putin as a kind of cult hero, the antithesis of our own culture going squishy soft.

This is deeply sick. Putin is a thug who rules by theft, lies, repression, silencing and jailing critics, and, in a lot of cases, murdering them. Russia is not admirable or moral. Putin runs it like Al Capone ran Chicago.

unknown-1His invasion of Ukraine and Crimea – propelled by a huge propaganda blitz of disinformation and lies – was aimed mainly at stoking Russian nationalism, to distract his people from his regime’s criminality and the economic dysfunction resulting therefrom. (Aggravated by Western sanctions.) Putin gambled that guns would trump butter in Russians’ eyes, and seems to be right. But he’d like impunity for his military aggressions, and to that end has been meddling in European and U.S. politics.

Trump has made noises about removing sanctions, and getting along better with Russia, which really means going along with Russia. And more broadly, the Kremlin would prefer a blundering ignoramus leading its chief adversary nation. Plenty of reasons why Putin sought a Trump victory.

Now we see yet another one. While the Kremlin tried to smear Hillary Clinton, it was never credible to imagine they had no dirt on Trump who is, after all, orders of magnitude filthier. That they were holding it back makes perfect sense – not only because they wanted him to win, but also to blackmail him afterwards. Trump’s denials are about as credible as his denial that he was ever a pussy grabber. His bashing intelligence agencies for leaking this new information is also phony, because in fact it was leaked by private organizations, not any intelligence services. Meanwhile, some authoritative analysts are saying the details are totally consistent with the way the Russians operate.

images-2Putin’s meddling to help Trump may actually have been the most successful such covert scheme in history. For all his ludicrous talk of an “historic landslide,” Trump won only thanks to razor-thin margins in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It’s hardly far-fetched to think the Russians harmed Clinton’s campaign at least enough to flip those three. The most serious attack upon our democracy ever.

The Russians have used disinformation for a long time. Our healthy body politic had an immune system that resisted the virus. images-4This time that immune system didn’t kick in – our immune system against not only Kremlin foul play but against every other bad thing Pussy Grabber embodies. That we elected such a vile creep, exactly as Russia wanted – and most Americans just shrug their shoulders – shows that America today is one sick puppy.

The tide of history

December 30, 2016

               “There is a tide in the affairs of men . . . “  – William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar)

unknownThe Enlightenment began in the early 1700s, aiming to free us from shackles both mental and political. In 1776, Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations, and America, the Declaration of Independence. Both were seminal Enlightenment manifestos. The latter lit a slow-burning fuse that finally set off a worldwide democratic explosion in the late Twentieth Century.

That century first passed through a Götterdämmerung as powerful totalitarian and militaristic forces rose up and were, amid vast slaughter, beaten down. unknown-1Not until the late ‘80s did Communism succumb. In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and, viewing the New Year’s Eve fireworks, I saluted aloud that “blessed, golden year.” Then the Soviet Union itself fell, and soon after I was thrilled to visit a Russia that was now a free country.

In 1992 Francis Fukuyama captured the zeitgeist with The End of History, proclaiming the global triumph of humanistic values centered upon peaceful democratic politics and open economies – ascendant because this gives human beings the opportunities for self-realization they most deeply crave.

unknown-2All that, in hindsight now, was a high-water mark. There is a tide in the affairs of men. And future historians will deem 2016 another seminal year – when the tide of history turned.

It was America that had shouldered the lead, in defeating the militarist totalitarians, and then through the Cold War, continuing its leadership and rallying the forces of light against darkness. Great steadfast America (most of the time) standing up for the best human values. But now America has tired of it; or perhaps has simply lost the thread, ceasing to understand what it’s about.

The Fukuyama paradigm was already wobbling, as Russia resumed being bad old Russia, China’s repression intensified, the “Arab Spring” largely backfired, horrors went largely unpunished, the European Union began to unravel, and democracy was in retreat in Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Thailand, Malaysia, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Nicaragua . . . .

And then America elected Trump.

unknown-3It’s what this represents that makes 2016 a hinge of history. It’s America throwing its moral leadership down the toilet. Trump, unique among modern U.S. presidents, shows no interest whatsoever in that mission. To the contrary, he sucks up to Putin, and seems to actually align us on the dark side. And electing a man of his flagrantly obvious vile character signals a collapse of our civic culture. This, combined with the triumph of his appeal to his voters’ worst instincts, shows that America has indeed turned its back on the high ideals that made it great in the first place. (True, those voters were a minority. But 63 million of them have given him the presidency.)

This is not something we’ll recover from in four years, or eight. Our body politic used to punish lies and gaffes. Now it rewards them. Jeb Bush was proven wrong in telling Trump, “You can’t insult your way to the presidency.” Now our politics is deeply polluted with vulgarity, lies, bogus news, and conspiracy theories; while partisan divisions harden, the two sides inhabiting separate universes and hating each other ever more passionately. We’ll be lucky if it doesn’t end in literal civil war. But we sure won’t be coming together to tackle the challenging issues that cloud America’s future.

Some are already speculating about when his followers will turn on Trump. Of course he won’t fulfill his impossible promises. But this assumes Trump support is rational (despite his promises having been absurd). images-1Nobody wants to admit they made a mistake, and that will likely apply to most Trump voters. Their refusal so far to see the truth about him is like a religious faith. And if they do find their faith betrayed, will they then return to sanity, decency and civic responsibility, to a conventional mainstream politician and platform? I don’t think so. If anger and resentments drove many voters in 2016, a perceived Trump betrayal will enflame them even more. And with the door opened to monsters, the next could well be even worse.

America’s decline might not be the end of the world – if the rest could go merrily along building the Fukuyama Jerusalem without us. But that’s not what’s happening. As explained, America has been the “indispensable nation,” the linchpin, the keystone. images-3Subtract U.S. moral leadership, and what happens to a humanistic global order, of openness and democracy, already under assault by hordes of howling demons?

This is why 2016 is such a tragedy.

 

Lies and voters

December 21, 2016
Erdogan

Erdogan

After Turkey’s attempted coup last summer, Turks marched en masse to support their democracy – and their President Erdogan – who is a bigger threat to that democracy than the coup was. Soon they’ll be asked to vote to effectively give Erdogan total power. Seems they’ll say yes.

Why? Isn’t it national suicide?

Erdogan has pretty much crushed independent media; Turkish public information sources now spew his propaganda. Similarly in Russia, state controlled media feed the people a diet of distorted and false “information” to manipulate them into thinking what Putin wants them to. And so they do think it. If you call that “thinking.”*

If I lived in such a country, I would, on principle, believe (and vote) the opposite of what the regime wants. Yet few people follow such logic.

images-2Fortunately we don’t live in that kind of country. Yet, perversely, many Americans view our own media with exactly that sort of distrust. In the last campaign, we had the “lugenpresse” trope – an unashamed borrowing from Nazi propaganda – retaining the original German no less! “Lugenpresse” meant “lying press” – a line Hitler used until he solved the “problem” by (like Erdogan and Putin) suppressing independent media.

Regarding Trump’s campaign, the press’s alleged “lying” consisted chiefly of reporting what he said. As though he meant what he said. When honest reporters would have realized he didn’t. Or something.

images-4The other great irony here is that while the mainstream media, truthfully exposing all Trump’s moral degeneracies, was distrusted and ignored as the “lugenpresse,” what his followers did trust instead was a farrago of fly-by-night fake news venues. They reported such obvious howlers as the Pope endorsing Trump, President Obama (that Kenya-born Muslim) encouraging illegal immigrants to vote, and Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a Pizza parlor basement. (Incoming whacko National Security Advisor Michael Flynn  seems to have embraced the latter story.)

images-3And when Trump said Hillary wouldn’t be prosecuted, demonstrators outside his New York palace marched with signs saying “Hillary’s Lies Matter.” The Biggest Liar Ever had lied to them about prosecuting her, yet it was still her supposed lies that matter! Trump also says he’d won “the single greatest victory in the history of politics.” Does that mean capturing the presidency despite losing the popular vote by millions? Of course he says he didn’t truly lose it. And denies the obvious fact that his Russian pals actively worked to elect him. Sheesh!

The left is not immune from the syndrome; they too live in their own separate reality of so-called “information.” The problem actually isn’t that mainstream media have somehow failed in their mission of giving us objective, unbiased information. images-5It’s that people hate information that contradicts their beliefs. And in today’s world of totally free media, there is an incentive for providers of biased information (and outright fake news) that caters to a particular mindset. They can profit and gain power and influence by coddling their followers’ prejudices (as Steve Bannon of the racist Breitbart News has done). Why listen to mainstream media when you can go elsewhere for “information” that better flatters your prejudices?

unknownAnd so we have countries like Russia and Turkey without free media where people lap up the propaganda fed them by cynical state-controlled sources; while in America with free media people choose to lap up the propaganda fed them by cynical biased sources.

* There are limits. Venezuelan President Maduro’s effort to blame economic implosion on conspiracies is getting short shrift when his own folly is so obviously at fault.

Russia’s newest satellite nation: America

December 12, 2016

images-1America’s Central Intelligence Agency, after careful analysis of the factual evidence, has reached a firm conclusion that Russia’s regime not only interfered with our presidential election, but did so specifically to help Trump. We can be sure that such an explosive charge would not have been made unless the CIA felt confident of the evidence. In fact, Russia’s game was obvious; they hacked both parties, but only material damaging to Democrats was leaked (not that anything really damaging emerged; but the consequent foofaw hurt Clinton nevertheless).

And moreover, it was also obvious why the Kremlin preferred Trump. He was dissing NATO and our treaty commitments, lauding Putin, excusing Russia’s aggressions, and suggesting sanctions against Russia should end. unknown-1And of course it would delight the Kremlin for America to be weakened and to look bad, due to a presidential bull in a china shop.

A foreign government interfering in an American election – successfully! – is a matter of the highest seriousness. It cannot be tolerated, and calls for a robust response, doing everything possible to deter this kind of thing happening again.

Trump has responded instead by attacking not Russia but America’s own intelligence services, as “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” What others see as obvious truth he dismisses as “ridiculous.” He also brayed that the election “ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history.” A “massive landslide,” he called it; the Democrats “suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics.”

unknown-2Fact check: we have had 58 presidential elections. In 45, the winning electoral vote margin, percentagewise, was greater than Trump’s. And he lost the popular vote by a decisive 2-1/2 million. We are suffering one of the greatest liars in the history of politics. Exactly the jackass Russia wanted to saddle us with.

Further still, in the wake of the CIA’s explosive revelation, and Trump’s moronic response, we also learn that the top choice for Secretary of State is now Rex Tillerson.*

Tillerson with the new top dog

Tillerson with America’s new top dog

He’s the head of Exxon Mobil, where he’s spent his entire career. Not a jot of governmental, diplomatic, or public policy experience. But that’s not the worst of it. If we wanted the most pro-Russian Putin-loving guy possible – short of naming Sergei Lavrov himself – it would be Rex Tillerson.

images-3Make America great again? We’d better start learning Russian.

* I always thought Trump was deliberately jerking Romney around, as payback for Romney’s words about him. Creeps will be creeps.

The sickness of Trump voters

December 3, 2016

images-1The Economist magazine did a statistical analysis of the presidential vote, by county, to find what demographic factor best predicted the swing to Trump (from Romney’s 2012 vote). The percentage of non-college whites was an obvious factor – they went two-to-one for Trump. But The Economist found another factor that correlated even better with Trump’s gains over Romney: health.

They analyzed data for life expectancy, obesity, diabetes, heavy drinking, and exercise (or lack thereof). The worse a county did on these measures, the better Trump fared relative to Romney. Those poor health factors did also correlate with high percentages of non-college whites; but among non-college white populations some did less poorly on health; and there, Trump did less well.

images-2Why? The Economist suggests “that the ill may have been particularly susceptible to Mr. Trump’s message.” They note too a rising death rate among middle-aged less educated white males (bucking the bigger global trend toward longer lives). Drinking, opioid abuse, and suicide are cited as factors; which in turn are linked to deindustrialization and poor job prospects. The Economist deems it unsurprising that people in such circumstances pinned their hopes on Trump (foolish though it may be).

imagesBased on its analysis, the magazine calculates that if diabetes were 7% lower in Michigan, 8% more Pennsylvanians exercised regularly, and heavy drinking in Wisconsin were 5% lower, Clinton would have won.

This might suggest a winning strategy for Democrats would be to focus on public health. But meantime many of them are saying that if only Bernie had been nominated, he’d have won. They still feel he was somehow cheated out of the nomination – even though Clinton got several million more primary votes. Anyhow, the idea that the nation that elected Trump would really have preferred a cheerless 74-year-old socialist Brooklyn Jew is laughable. America is basically a center-right country, not center-left, and certainly not far left. By travelling that route, Democrats will achieve ideological self-satisfaction and electoral irrelevance.

One commenter diagnosed the Democrats’ problem thusly: Kennedy put a man on the Moon. Obama put a man in the women’s room. (At least that’s how some see it.)

I don’t expect another election will somehow snap America back to political sanity. It will most likely be a contest between the White People’s Party of Lies and Nonsense and the Democrats’ Socialist Party of Economic Nonsense.images-1 Can’t we get a third option, a Party of Truth and Reason? Actually, it may not be hopeless. David Brooks writes in a recent column of efforts toward organizing a sensible center alliance in American politics. And as I’ve noted previously, Ross Perot in 1992, running as a third party candidate, albeit very flawed, got 19% of the vote. That’s halfway to winning a three-sided race. If Trump could win the presidency with 46% of Americans voting idiotically, maybe, just maybe, someone could win with 40% voting sensibly.

Trump: Making China great again

November 27, 2016

unknownThanks to president-elect Trump’s opposition, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal is dead. And considering all his China-bashing in the campaign, it’s a supreme irony that they’re high-fiving each other in Beijing – because Trump has handed China one gigantic geopolitical triumph.

This is America forfeiting – to China – Pacific region trade leadership. The TPP, painstakingly negotiated over many years, was our way to unite the other regional nations with us to resist Chinese bullying. unknown-2With America pulling back, now they’re left to fend for themselves, which will mean accommodating to China as the region’s big Kahuna.

But the words “trade deal” have become so politically toxic here. Shame on Democrats for their cowardly unwillingness to defend one of President Obama’s key initiatives. He himself was forced to give up on it. Not to mention Republicans, who until recently knew better on this issue too.

America’s share of global manufacturing has not been falling. Manufacturing jobs have been disappearing — but due more to technological advancement than trade. And trade-related job losses are overwhelmed by the benefits to U.S. consumers when prices we pay are lower. That savings translates into more consumer spending, which creates jobs, making up for any lost. Furthermore, if trade makes countries like China and Mexico richer, that’s good for us — they can buy more from us. And anyhow, the TPP would not actually have given other countries much added ability to sell us stuff – our tariffs were already quite low. unknown-1But it would have required those other nations to reduce their trade barriers, enabling U.S. businesses to sell more to them. For us, it was a no-brainer. But I guess we have no brains now.

President Trump, of the Nation Formerly Known as America

November 16, 2016

Give him a chance. He can’t be so bad. He’s our president now. Let’s hope he succeeds. You’re just a bunch of political sore losers, get over it. This is what we’re hearing.

unknownThere’s an idea that his critics have been refuted, that being elected somehow laundered him – proving all the negative stuff about him during the campaign was untrue or irrelevant. That the media misrepresented him. Sorry, not so. Things said don’t become unsaid; facts don’t become non-facts. He’s still Donald “Grab them by the pussy” Trump.

But America does love redemption stories, and it’s hoped the presidency’s awesomeness will reform him. He did seem subdued in his post-election appearances. However, so many times I’ve seen some foreign leader elected, thinking what a great opportunity he has to prove the doubters wrong. They never do. Look at South Africa’s Zuma. A creep before. A bigger creep after.

Power does corrupt. It doesn’t make bad men better, it makes them worse. As a student of history and world affairs, I know this story doesn’t have a happy ending.

Steve Bannon, Senior Counselor to the President

Steve Bannon, Senior Counselor to the President

It’s also hoped that a “successful businessman” will naturally surround himself with the best people. What a joke. He was a failure at actually building businesses, making his fortune by looting them and leaving others holding the bag; then marketing his celebrity name. And the best people? Steve Bannon? Reince Priebus? Rudy Giuliani? Newt Gingrich?

Send in the clowns.

In hindsight, Trump won the election on his campaign’s first day, with two words: “They’re rapists.” Not that it was believed literally, but it set the tone. Enough voters instantly latched onto him as their personal avatar, and nothing could budge them. “He tells it like it is.” Another sick joke – the biggest liar in our political history.

His voters feel America has been going downhill, and Trump will turn it around. They’re right about the former, in some ways, but not the latter. unknown-2Our politics has certainly been going downhill, with divisions hardening, and truth, reason and decency among the casualties. Trump is the culmination; not a national renewal, but a national degradation; the bottom falling out.

This is not being a sore loser about an election, it’s the loss of our country. Not about politics or ideology, but culture and values. I keep hearing, “This is not who we are.” And I say to myself: “Well, it is now.”

Of course this is all hyperbole. Life will go on much as before; America is still a great place to live. Unlike in many others, I can still freely write this blog. For now; Donald Trump truly does not like that, nor do a lot of his followers. That’s just one way they trash the principles that actually made America great. unknown-3When will we see the Trump neighborhood brigades to “defend the revolution,” like in Cuba and Venezuela? (And in Sinclair Lewis’s now uncanny 1935 book, It Can’t Happen Here.)

This American travesty reflects an unfortunate worldwide trend of short-sighted voters brainlessly demolishing what was so painstakingly built. Like in the Brexit vote. The democratic, genuinely liberal and humanistic lights are also going out in Turkey (a huge tragedy), the Philippines, Hungary, Poland, Thailand; France and Italy could well be next. The EU’s continuation is doubtful. While Russia and China get more repressive and emboldened; look for a Baltic invasion, putting NATO to the test. And America’s steady leadership is a bygone. A tough time for optimists.

I am politically homeless today. The name “Republican” is ashes in my mouth. I find myself in some sympathy with “progressive” Trump opponents; however, they’re wrong on so many issues, and often just as bad on the fundamental ideal of freedom of thought and expression. The alternative in the next election will likely be far left.

unknown-4But no matter how lonely, I will continue speaking out for the humanistic values I hold dear, and that have given us so much progress. I will continue — until that brigade comes for me.

Rational optimist – or pessimist?

November 12, 2016

On Wednesday morning I changed this blog’s title from “The Rational Optimist” to “The Rational Pessimist.”

unknown-1Psychology research shows that optimism-versus-pessimism, happiness-versus-unhappiness, is largely inborn, and largely impervious to life’s vicissitudes. That we have a set-point of temperament, to which one’s mood reverts, after the immediate impact of some positive or negative event dissipates. I have been blessed with a setting at the far end of the range. It was no coincidence that I literally wrote the book on optimism.

Tuesday night was the worst thing ever in my life. Worse than 9/11. Worse even than when my longtime girlfriend left me. Someone has said that “Never Trump” Republicans (like me) are now the loneliest people in the world. I have agonized about changing my enrollment; but the Democrats will likely continue their leftward march. images-1I’m the man without a party; I feel like the man without a country.

On Wednesday evening, I attended a local gathering (celebrating an election upset 50 years earlier). I wore black. However, as I ran toward the entrance, in the rain, I realized I was already actually feeling cheerful – confirming all that set-point psychology research! (A nod here to my wife and marriage, which have been my rock.)

But my book and blog referenced rational optimism – not a Pollyanna attitude with rose-colored glasses. Another strong personality trait of mine is realism. I see no benefit in deluding myself about things I wish were true. Thus I’ve also written of my “ideology of reality.”

One of the realities I accept is that the cosmos is purposeless, undirected, and our existence is an evolutionary accident. But that means it’s entirely up to us to make the best of our situation; and, unlike every other creature that ever existed, we have great tools for it. Mainly, our incredibly powerful brains. And, using those tools, we have actually done fantastically at making for ourselves lives worth living. unknown-2Especially in modern times, since the Enlightenment, humanity has achieved incredible progress. (Once again I reference Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature.) This is the heart of my rational optimism.

In that march of progress, building the means for people to live good lives, one of our greatest creations has been the United States of America.

But the realist in me knows that we are not perfect beings, and for all the reasoning power of our brains, we are subject to rampaging emotions and irrationality. What people build people can also destroy – sometimes intentionally, sometimes unwittingly. America is not immune. No God protects her from human folly.

unknownAn enterprise like America can only be sustained if the people in it actually understand what it’s all about. Tuesday showed that America – well, half at least – has lost the thread. It’s freedom and democracy, yes, but also rule of law; pluralism; human dignity; tolerance; openness; generosity; fair play; civility; responsibility; community spirit; and, not least, devotion to truth and reason. What Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature” (inspiring Pinker’s title).

Those establishment “elites” whom Trump voters so resent have upheld those values quite well, indeed kept up the momentum of progress (for example with gay marriage). But meantime, lamentably, the rest of America has undergone a long process of civic decline – decline in genuine devotion to its ideals and values, because too few people are educated and acculturated nowadays in what those precepts mean. Too many have reduced Americanism to flag waving and snarling empty slogans.

There are a lot of reasons, a lot of culprits, it’s not a simple story, and a lot of it is actually fallout from some aspects of our progress (like greater racial equality) – but the bottom line is that too few Americans still understand what actually made America great. unknown-4This is why the “Make America Great Again” slogan was so painfully ironic. I wish we could make America great again – like it was before Tuesday.

We heard much talk of voters expressing their pain. I won’t belittle what anyone feels; but surely conditions of life in today’s America are not historically bad. Things in the Depression, for example, were much, much worse. However, voters in the Depression did not fall for such a blatant, un-American demagogue. Nor would have tolerated a candidate with such grotesque defects of character.* That all this was accepted in 2016 bespeaks a sad corrosion of America’s character.

This is why I am so heartbroken. Hearing the national anthem has always teared me up. Now it will be for what’s been lost.

And yet there may be hope, because perhaps strangely, it is older people who most embody the decline, while younger people – more shaped by the trends of modernity I mentioned – seem to better embrace those Enlightenment civic values their elders have forgotten. unknown-5It’s true too of the new arrivals – that’s why I so welcome immigration – people come here because they do crave America’s true meaning, and their coming is a national renewal.

Well, our new first lady is an immigrant.** That’s one thing at least to celebrate.

Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” images-2Seeing that great trend of history made me an optimist. But it’s never a smooth curve, and America has just bent sharply the other way. But I’m not ready to believe humanity’s whole arc has changed. Nor am I ready to give up on what America used to stand for. I have tried to promote those values on this blog. Now, I will have to work harder at it.

I have restored this blog’s title.

* Please, stuff the spluttering about Clinton. There’s no comparison. Indeed, the very fact that so many failed to see this shows how messed up the country has become.

** Though not the first; that was Louisa Adams. However, also ironically, the first family will include its first Jew.