To Be or To Become: That is the Real Question

Mark Twain once defined a classic as “something that everybody wants to have read, but nobody wants to read.”

This can be applied to so much in life.  Everyone wants to be great at something, but few want to go through the process.  I heard a story on the radio the other day.  An amateur musician went up to a famous professional and said, “If I could play as well as you, I would play all the time.” The professional replied, “That’s how I learned to play well.”

We want to “BE” something special, but don’t want to put in the effort to “BECOME” something special.  We focus on the results rather than the process.  Admittedly, this focus on results rather than process has been a huge issue for me throughout my life.  I did not even realize it until I became a teacher and gained a new perspective on development, especially in the education realm.

Over the past few years, as I have moved into more management and leadership roles, I have focused a lot on self-improvement, and the concept of process over results has come up again and again.  Anyone who has tried dieting has probably heard that the focus should be on healthier eating and exercise habits rather than a goal of losing a specific amount of weight.

Part of this also means accepting criticism and growing.  The greatest in any endeavor (music, athletics, art, business) did not just begin as the greatest.  They accepted criticism and used it to improve.  They did not only listen to the flatterers that told them they were already great.  That is what those full of wasted talent do.  Greatness involves taking a hard look at oneself and always searching for areas for improvement.

This focus should also be how we approach politics.

Too often, our desire when discussing politics is to “BE” right.  We want to prove that our viewpoint is the correct one.  Instead, what if we went into these debates wanting to “BECOME” right.  To learn from one another and arrive at the best possible way forward.

Similarly, we want to prove that our party is better than the other party.  We tear down those with differing viewpoints and hold ourselves up in self-righteousness.  Instead, why not focus on “BECOMING” the best political party we can be?  We can work on staying true to our principles and values and finding ways to improve.

Even if you do think the other side is hypocritical or misinformed or weak or corrupt or whatever, so be it.  Your focus should be on holding yourself and your party up to higher standards, not just excusing your own bad behavior by saying “what about them.” We should not want to just BE slightly better than the other side.  We should want to BECOME the best version of ourselves.

This should also be our approach as a nation.  The Constitution begins with “We the people, in order to form a MORE perfect union…”  The reverse of the Great Seal of the United States is an UNFINISHED pyramid.  The founders never claimed to have created an Eden.  They knew that the role of future generations, and their challenge to us, was to build upon their work and continually improve the nation and BECOME as great as possible.

We owe it to those past generations to not look backwards and rest on our laurels, but to pick up their endeavor, and we owe it to future generations to look forward, hand an ever-improving nation on to them, and challenge them to do the same, always striving towards an UNFINISHED, yet continually MORE perfect union.

Challenge Your Assumptions

Tonight begins the final phase of the campaign.  I am sure the vast majority of you already have your minds firmly set, and I’ll be honest, mine is too.

But I have a request for those of you that are leaning towards Trump.  I’m going to ask you to grant the same courtesy that I did towards Trump supporters a couple years ago.  I ask you to take a step back, assume good intentions, and ask yourself why people on the other side think the way they do.  I won’t bore you right now with my reasons for opposing Trump, but I will say it’s not because he’s mean, or politically incorrect, or an outsider, or has moral failings in his personal life.

In doing so, I ask you to let go of your assumptions about people you disagree with.  When I was looking into why people support Trump, I was able to understand many of their reasons.  The problem is that I have found many of those reasons are based on bad underlying assumptions.  These are based on general beliefs and principles, not so much specific policy ideas.

Some of them are in fact true and I’ll grant you these:

  • The coastal “elites” have looked down on and dismissed middle, rural, small-town America for years. (I spent over a decade dealing with this attitude in LA.)
  • Both sides have catered to special interests; and an outside independent force could shake things up
  • Globalism of the past 25 years has been focused on corporate interests rather than workers, similar to above.

However, there are other, more critical underlying beliefs that seem to be common among many Trump supporters that I cannot accept.  If any of these resonate with you, I only ask that you step away for couple of weeks and consider the possibility that these assumptions might not be true.

  • “The mainstream media constantly lies and makes things up.” (While they may have a liberal bias, which I’ll discuss in a later post, and they are fallible humans that will make mistakes, journalists have a code of ethics and try their best to be accurate.)
  • “Democrats and liberals are stupid and/or evil and will destroy America.” (I know too many good and intelligent liberals to even consider this possibility.  While I don’t think their ideas are the best path for the country, they won’t “destroy” America.)
  • “White, Christian, straight, males are now an oppressed group and under attack. “ (Trust me, I have never once in my life felt oppressed. On the flip side, I have never felt “guilty” about that identity either.  I simply want all other groups to have the same rights, privileges, and opportunities I’ve enjoyed. And on a side note, I do agree that Christianity is under attack… but not from outside atheist forces. Rather, from internal modern pharisees that are more focused on earthly power and judgement than on following the teachings of Jesus)
  • “Bureaucrats and scientists are biased and you can’t trust them. They might even be conspiring against Trump and his supporters” (I’m not sure where to even begin with this. But I’ll just make two points… (1) lifetime civil servants and scientists go into their professions out of a love for what they do, not because of power and money… politicians, pundits, and business people are more likely to have those motivations.  And (2) the larger the conspiracy, the more difficult it is to keep it secret. So if you are relying on conjecture rather than a large amount of hard evidence and numerous whistle-blowers, there is probably a reason.

This is already too long.  My main request is that you please take a step back for the next few weeks and consider the possibility that your underlying assumptions might be wrong.  And try to view Trump and his actions with fresh eyes.  It might surprise you.

The Better Angels of Our Nature

Last week, I participated in a workshop held by Braver Angels, a group committed to working against the ever-increasing polarization in America.  They were originally called Better Angels, from the closing words of Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

(NOTE: The group recently changed their name to Braver Angels, “officially” because of the courage it takes to challenge polarization, but more likely due to another organization having a very similar name.)

I have often written about the need for bipartisanship, and this was one more episode for me to try and learn more.  What I have learned is that even I can still have stereotypes of some people that disagree with me, as much as I try to hold myself accountable to pushing for respectful dialogue across divides.

It is amazing how polarization can so distort our reality and critical thinking.  There was a study of psychology about how partisans that would be able of correctly using math to evaluate a medication, would make mistakes in inference when it is related to a hot button issue, in the study it was gun control.

What was more surprising was that the effect becomes even more evident in people with strong math skills.

It is worth noting that the lead researcher is willing to admit that he himself suffers from these biases.

I have had conversations with people that are absolutely convinced they do not have bias and they only seek out the real truth.  And, therefore, whatever they come up with must be the absolute truth.  This is one of the many dangerous ways of thinking that has hurt our society so much.

(NOTE: the lead researcher of the first study, Dan Kahan, did a later study that showed a way to fight this “politically motivated reasoning” – curiosity!)

I personally believe, perhaps somewhat arrogantly, that I am one of the most rationale people I know when it comes to politics and seeing both sides of an issue.  However, I am also well-aware that I have extreme biases and even have bouts of cognitive dissonance and borderline hypocrisy that I need to address.

In this manner, I feel akin to the story of Socrates I mentioned in an earlier blog post.  The reason Socrates was so wise was his acceptance of his own ignorance.  I think my unbiased viewpoints are a result of my active criticism of my own biases.  As well as my own uncertainty about issues.

The surest way that I am going to lose respect for someone’s opinion in almost any discussion is when they have absolute certainty on something that such absolute certainty should be almost impossible (politics, philosophy, art, religion, etc.).  Or they arrogantly consider themselves to be free from bias and only listen to the truth.  They believe themselves above the bias that others feel.  This is a classic case of pride going before the fall.  They are unaware of their own biases which allows them to be blindly led astray.

As I mentioned in my last post, this is my paradox of perspective.  I cannot understand such certainty and close-mindedness.

As I said, I am well aware of my own biases, and in the course of the workshop I participated in, I came to realize that while I am a conservative, I am generally reasonable and don’t stereotype liberals.  However, I also realized that I have become close-minded and stereotypical towards Trumpism.  Now part of that is that paradox of perspective, that I find support for Trump to be mostly coming from a rather narrow mindset.  I am not going to go into that here, but I do want to point out that I have spent much of the past four years trying to better understand and empathize with support for Trump.  I have read articles and books and watched videos that are favorable to him because I do recognize my own anti-Trump bias.

The reason I bring this up is that many of my posts over the coming weeks are going to be much more pointed in their criticism, especially of Trump and the current Republican party.  I hope that you would read or watch them with an open mind and knowledge that I am coming from a place where I’ve tried my best to give the benefit of the doubt to opposing viewpoints, since that is how I usually try to conduct myself in political discussions.

There are many different opinions in our country, but I am willing to grant that most people want things to improve.  Our disagreements should be focused on the how to best improve.

To improve, we need to come together across those different opinions.  We may or may not reach agreement, but we need to at least reach a level of mutual respect, so we can at least find agreement in other areas.  And in order to do that, we need to reject the voices that selfishly seek to divide us.

I began with Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, and will close with his second:

With malice toward none, with charity for all; … let us strive to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds… to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.

A Paradox of Perspective

This past weekend was the first time in a few weeks I was able to walk to the local park.  As usual, I went with a book and a journal.  However, I ended up not doing much reading or writing and spent more time just looking around as I sat on a bench near the fountain.  There were a group of Middle Eastern women and their children sitting on some blankets and drinking tea nearby.  Throughout the 30-45 minutes I sat there, a steady mix of whites, blacks, Latinos, old and young people, gay and straight couples, all walked by.  While noticing this mix of people, I also thought of the nearby surrounding area where I grew up: rural, conservative, and mostly white.  As I dwelt on this it reminded me of one of my favorite aspects of living in the Champaign-Urbana area.  Thanks to its size and status as the home of Illinois’ flagship university, it has a diverse population.  Yet it is too small to have the level of segregation that is seen in larger cities.  Meanwhile, just a few miles outside of the city limits are conservative rural communities.  There is so much diversity of race, culture, and political thought all within a 25-mile radius.

To me, this is a wonderful situation.  Almost every interaction here is an opportunity to learn and grow, assuming we are willing to consider different perspectives in good faith.  It does not mean we have to change our mind, or assume superiority or inferiority, or come together and sing kumbaya.  It simply means that after having an interaction with someone with a different perspective, you give them the benefit of the doubt that they are a well-meaning human with their own experiences that has shaped their point of view.  Then you can say, “I can see why you think that.”

This concept of “walking a mile in another man’s shoes” and looking at things from a different perspective is one of the most fundamental skills I’ve tried to develop in myself, and tried to instill when I was teaching government class.

As such, I fell like I have developed this skill of being able to see and give credence to both sides of almost every issue.  While I have my own strongly held beliefs and opinions, I can understand why well-meaning people might think differently.  That is simply part of being unique humans.

But, as much as I pride myself on seeing things from different perspectives, somewhat paradoxically there is one perspective I can never understand… close-mindedness.  By consistently trying to see things from different points of view, I cannot take on the mindset of someone who rejects other viewpoints out of hand.  The paradox could also be considered in this manner: I am close-minded to close-mindedness.  I’m not sure how to work around that.

I don’t understand someone that automatically assumes their way of life and culture is superior to all others, without bothering to fully learn about other cultures.

I don’t understand how someone can stay in their echo chamber and not have any degree of humility that they might be wrong or any curiosity as to why someone else might think differently.

When I hear people dismiss liberals as hating America and wanting free handouts, instead of trying to understand their perspective of wanting government to make amends for social injustices and providing for the most vulnerable; I don’t get that dismissive mindset.

When I hear people dismiss conservatives as backwards and selfish, instead of understanding the background of likely coming from a culture that values tradition and self-reliance; I don’t get that dismissive mindset.

Pretty much every issue you can think of, social spending, abortion, racial justice, law enforcement, taxation, health care, whatever is extremely complicated and has a lot of nuance.  As such, there are multiple perspectives that need to be considered and approached with respect and common purpose of improvement.

We need to get away from the arrogance that our viewpoint is indisputable and anyone that disagrees is either evil or stupid.

If your positions on most issues are beyond reproach and you are absolutely certain of their infallibility, why are you even concerning yourself with our minor political squabbles?  After all, since you are obviously God, shouldn’t you be busy with the whole universe?  At least that would explain my paradox, because I cannot begin to understand the perspective of God.  But that’s just me.

Matt’s Essential Reading List #7

Continuing my short break from political posts… here is my seventh installment of what will eventually be 50 essential books to read.

A reminder of my guiding criteria:

  • Prestige of the author and/or book
  • Readability/Approachability
  • Subject Matter
  • Quality
  • Perspective

Another reminder: a * denotes that the book is also on Amazon’s “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime”


The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Meditations (Penguin Classics) by [Marcus  Aurelius, Diskin  Clay, Martin Hammond Albert Wittstock ]

Self-Improvement/Philosophical

Marcus Aurelius is considered to be one of if not the greatest of the Roman emperors, and is also sometimes considered to be the quintessential “philosopher-king”, a follower of stoicism: a philosophy based on strong and just ethics, focusing on and accepting the present moment, and controlling yourself with logic and reason rather than allowing yourself to be controlled by desire or fear.

He wrote his Meditations for his own reflection, not in order to be published.  Therefore, they give true insight into the thoughts and musings of one of history’s greatest men. The individual meditations are usually rather short and easy to digest, so this book is good for both someone new to philosophy and the lifelong student.

Meditations is on the reading list for some of history’s most influential people, and therefore should be on yours as well.


Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America by John Avlon 

Wingnuts: Extremism in the Age of Obama by [Perseus]

Academic/Expository/Analysis

This book was written in 2010 by a former speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani, long before the current epidemic of fake news and conspiracy theories.  It is scary to think about how comparitavely enlightened the world was a decade ago when Avlon wrote this book

He goes over the history of eccentric kooks long ago and how they were always there in the background.  But he spells out how talk radio and the internet were able to empower these crazies.  It was scary and frustrating when I read it seven years ago. In today’s world, it’s borderline nihilistic.

The book was updated about halfway through the Obama presidency, hence the different title.


*Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury 

Novel

One of the classics of dystopian literature, it goes beyond the standard topics of totalitarianism and is more of an insight into the masses and the willingness to gladly accept mindless and ignorant entertainment.

In later years, Bradbury stated that the main theme of the book was more about society turning to television and shortened attention spans and rejecting the written word, rather than a political treatise about powerful governments.

The story itself has entertainment value with both subtle domestic drama and more intense scenes of conflict.  It is yet another of those books that make the reader look at the current world of instant gratification with new concern.


All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot 

Memoir/Biography

All Creatures Great and Small by [James Herriot]

Not so much a true autobiography, but more of a collection of “inspired by true events’ stories from the experiences of James Alfred Wight (pen name of James Herriot) as a new country veterinarian in northern England during the 1930s.

As a farm kid who grew up working with cattle, and loves dogs, this is a wonderful “good old days” type of book, that you just read and imagine yourself there alongside the vet on his calls.  The simple pastoral life in Yorkshire farm country is lovingly detailed by Herriot.  The vignettes of his experiences are often humorous, sometimes insightful, and always entertaining.  It is the perfect book to read before bedtime as the chapters are short, self-contained stories that will leave you smiling before going to sleep.


Any Collection of Poetry EXCLUSIVE: The 2019 National Book Awards Finalists | Vanity Fair

Other

I readily admit that I struggle with poetry.  But I still appreciate the artistry of the form.  I wish I were more able to read poetry in the rhythm that it is meant to be.  And on those rare times that I do find myself in that rhythm, I can fully enjoy it.

Just for the sake of challenging oneself to ready something that takes more effort than a standard narrative style, I think it is important to read through different poems.  Occasionally, you may find one that speaks to you.  It isn’t important to analyze the poem in some pretentious manner, just enjoy the written art form.  I couldn’t begin to recommend a good poetry collection, so just find something that appeals to you personally.

 

Planning a Trip Around the World – Part 3 – What to Expect

Taking a break from the political posts that have been my focus the past couple of months, I wanted to finally finish my 3-part series for those interested in a trip around the world, or at least a long-term trip abroad.

To recap the first two installments:

Part 1: The First Steps (Start research; Formulate the big picture of the trip; Look for specific opportunities; Begin making necessary arrangements)

Part 2: What to Bring (including tech items, non-tech items, and clothing)

This installment is focused on what to expect when you actually prepare to leave and then during and after the trip.

Let’s be honest.  The most exciting part of any big vacation or adventure is the anticipation leading up to it. Once you’ve made all the necessary arrangements, and you have all your gear ready, those last few days and weeks, you will likely be a bundle of different emotions, both positive, such as enthusiasm and hope, and negative such as anxiety and nervousness.  Perhaps you might want to schedule some fun events and activities with your friends and families that you won’t be seeing for a long time.

Obviously, the specific mental, physical, and emotional aspects that you will encounter will depend upon the circumstances of your trip.  There will be vast differences between if you are doing this trip alone or with a friend, a significant other, or a group for the majority of the time.  Your goals on the trip will have an impact.  Depending on the places you visit, your language, culture, religion, gender, sexual identity, and race can all have an impact on your mental, physical, and emotional welfare during this adventure.  I will be writing from my perspective of a long term trip as a white, straight, American male going through many different countries and cultures on my own through the majority of the journey.

In those last few weeks and days before you leave, try to get yourself in as good health as possible.  Get plenty of rest and take care of yourself, you don’t want to spend the first couple of weeks struggling with jet lag, exhaustion, and/or an illness.  I actually ended up with bad cold & flu symptoms only a few weeks before my trip, and it caused additional stress while I was trying to take care of those final preparations.

Before and throughout the trip, getting as much rest is going to be critical for a few reasons.  Depending on your travel budget, lodgings, and transportation plans, sleep can be a precious commodity.  The only time in my life I have ever thoroughly fantasized about murder was a snorer with horrible sleep apnea in a hostel dorm room; the thought of smothering him with a pillow was a consistent companion throughout the sleepless night. Taking advantage of overnight busses and trains can be wonderfully efficient, giving you a chance to sleep while you travel to your next destination.  However, be aware that it will not be quality sleep.  So prepare yourself for the fact that you might need to take it easy when you first arrive at that destination, and might need a good night’s rest in a real bed before doing major activities there.

Here is one such example from my trip. I started out leaving the small Moroccan city I was staying at late one night to go to the airport in Agadir, to catch an early morning flight to Munich. I then spent the day walking around Munich.  That evening, I had a short flight to Amsterdam, and then went out on the town that night into the early morning.  Then had another early flight from Amsterdam, through Kiev, to Beijing, arriving at 2 AM local time.  I then went through customs and arrived at my hotel at around 5 AM, and had scheduled a full day tour of Beijing, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall, starting at about 8 AM.  (I was only in Beijing for one day and was going to be heading to Zhengzhou the next day.) When I got back to the hotel that evening, I had every intention of going out somewhere in Beijing that night, but my body had had enough. It had been more than 72 hours since I had slept in a bed, and I was feeling pretty rough.  It wasn’t just tiredness, I was worried I might be getting a little sick.  The comfortable king-sized bed had me in a tight grasp from early evening through the morning.

As part of the packing list in my last post, I mentioned a travel first aid kit.  You should make sure this includes some basic medications for colds, headaches, and stomach bugs.  Given the constantly changing climates you’ll be passing through, sitting in cramped quarters on planes and busses, eating different foods, and possible differences in hygiene where you are, it is almost a certainty that you will get sick in one way or another during your trip.  Consider yourself lucky if it’s only a minor cold or food poisoning that only lasts a few days.  When this happens, just accept it and get as much rest as possible to recover.  Don’t try to force yourself to do something you’re not actually up to doing, just because you want to do as much as possible.  Unless it’s an absolute can’t miss, like your assigned time to go up to Machu Picchu or something like that, you should just skip it and try to do it another day.  There will be other times to check out that market or take that day trip. If you don’t rest, it will take you even longer to recover, ruining even more of your travels and that’s assuming the illness doesn’t turn into something worse.  It’s best just to let it run its course, and then get on with your adventure.

As I said, for the vast majority of my trip I was on my own.  I am sure there are going to be some different stressors if you are traveling with one or more other people.  Personality quirks, different ideas for plans and activities, and general disagreements always come up in personal relationships.  In a travelling situation, with additional influences and being less likely to have a comfortable area to retreat to and calm down, these can become more intense.  Therefore, it is important to make sure you and your travelling companion(s) have already done some fairly long trips together and have good conflict-resolution skills.

One situation to be aware of that is probably more applicable to solo travelers, but can still affect someone with travelling companion(s), is a lot of short-term intense-feeling friendships.  Perhaps when you stay in a place for an extended time or go on a multi-day activity with a group of new people, at times you will make strong connections with some people.  This is similar to when you were a kid and would go to a sleepaway camp or something similar for a few days or maybe longer.  Often, you would connect with one or more of the other children and form a fast friendship.  Then at the end of your time together, it would feel like you have known each other for a long time and spent so much time together, but it also went by way too fast, and now you have to say goodbye.  Throughout a long journey like this, it is likely you find yourself in those positions fairly regularly.  The intensity of those emotions can take a toll, and there were definitely a few times during my travels where I would become melancholy for a couple of days after having to say farewell to a kindred spirit that shared part of this journey with me.

Relatedly, for solo travelers, loneliness can be an issue.  If you are considering doing this trip solo, you better have already done some solo travel of shorter duration.  For many years, I have often gone out camping by myself.  I remember once telling someone about doing so, and she replied that she felt she would go crazy if she had to be almost completely alone like that for an extended period of time.  Therefore, if you would like to do such a journey solo, work yourself up to it with short excursions of a few days completely by yourself.  Just like so much else, mental preparation will be key.

Throughout the trip, there will be numerous setbacks and things that don’t go according to plan.  It is critical that you learn to roll with it, even if you need a few minutes, hours, or a day to have a slight melt-down first.  One of the critical steps to helping with this is having a backup plan in mind. This includes, having critical spare items, as I mentioned in an earlier post.  That way if your phone or wallet is lost or stolen (or an ATM eats your debit card) while you are in transit, you won’t be completely in a lurch, and can still function with your spares while taking care of getting replacements.  Bad things are going to happen, accept that and prepare yourself.  That way, when they do happen, they are easier to bounce back from.  And remember, many of those setbacks and inconveniences, end up becoming fun travel stories eventually, like not being able to board a plane because you misread the visa requirements and need to spend 18 hours in the airport for the next flight or losing a sandal in Antarctica while doing a polar plunge or having to rearrange your travel to stay in Kenya for two additional weeks while getting a new passport.

As I mentioned earlier, the most exciting and happiest part of a trip is before you even leave.  And this will be true for each new destination along your continuing journey.  Each new city or country will have it’s own pleasures that you can’t wait to discover.

However, reality rarely measures up to what we’ve built up in our hands.  Sometimes it does, and sometimes the experience even surpasses the expectations.  But in all honesty, we usually don’t even realize that until after the fact.  It is easy to be a little disappointed and become bogged down in the frustration of mundane struggles, losing sight of the adventure you are having.  There isn’t much you can do to prevent this, it is just part of human nature.  The best you can do is be aware of it and try to enjoy the moment as best you can.

Ideally, as you go through an experience like this, it will broaden your experiences and perspectives.  Engage with locals and try to learn from them.  Accept the fact that you might discover some uncomfortable truths about yourself or your prior worldview.  It is all part of growth.  These different perspectives, along with the flexibility and problem-solving skills you will need to utilize through the struggles of travelling, will serve you well in future endeavors.  So try to view all positive and negative interactions and all successes and setbacks as unique learning experiences that you can benefit from for the rest of your life.

I was fortunate in that due to my reading up on long-term travel before my trip, I was already somewhat prepared for this next part.

At the end of the trip, whether it be as it is nearing the end or after it is complete and you are back home, it is very common to experience some emotional turmoil. It might be a bit of depression or just a wistful melancholy.  This can happen for a few different reasons.  It is likely that throughout the trip, the next step of the trip was your primary focus in life.  Now, suddenly, that’s over and you have to find a new focus.  It could be because you’ve just gone through an intense experience that probably few of your family and friends every have, so you’re trying to process what you did and you’re doing that alone.  It might simply be a matter of all good things come to an end.  My tumult hit me about a week or so after I finished my trip, and it lasted about two or three days where I really didn’t want to get out of bed.  I think my feelings were mostly because of the first reason I mentioned, needing to find a new focus.

This is yet another part of the adventure that you should just accept and be ready to deal with.  It would be good to perhaps identify some kind of a support network, maybe some friends and family have done something similar, and you can talk about the struggle of reacclimating with them.  Or else, since it is common and temporary, just give yourself some time to feel these emotions and let them run their course while you readjust.

At the end of the day, a long-term adventure like this, whether it be around the world, or hiking the Appalachian Trail, or backpacking through Europe, is going to be a life shaping experience.  As such, there are going to be many different impacts on you, physically, emotionally, and mentally.  Know they are coming, and just like the rest of your journey, enjoy the ride!

 

Science is Losing the War on Science

In the midst of the worst pandemic in 100 years, one thing has become absolutely clear, the fact that far too many people do not trust science.  This is not surprising as distrust in science has been growing for years.

This unfortunate turn to the dark ages forced scientists in 2017 to get off the sidelines and into the political arena, famously with the March for Science, and then more directly with groups like 314 Action, which recruits and supports STEM professionals for political campaigns.

While noble in purpose, this has been disastrous in practice.

The reason is because instead of being a nonpartisan movement to promote scientific expertise and inquiry in politics, the movement has made the lazy decision to simply align with the left; the political wing that already was mostly in agreement with the scientific community.

Therefore, it has resulted in no real benefit for science or for society, and at exorbitant cost to both.

Let’s focus on the single biggest scientific issue prior to the pandemic (and what will again become the biggest issue after): climate change.

The Democratic party already has accepted the realities of climate change and promotes policies to address it.  On the other hand, the Republican party has moved away from the science of climate change towards denialism.  In 1997, about equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats thought climate change had begun.  Over the next decade, the percentage of Republicans believing in climate change began to decrease while among the Democrats, it increased. 

If you were a scientist who wanted to build a consensus to address climate change, you should work on changing the minds of those Republican voters.

But instead, the science activists have decided to focus on running STEM professionals in races as Democrats. This serves no purpose.  They are preaching to the choir.  It doesn’t even really help if you are a liberal, because while STEM professionals would be good voices on science debates like climate change, you are taking out other candidates that already agree with you on science, and might actually be of more use for you for other liberal causes.  I don’t get it, but if liberals want to cut themselves at the knees, so be it; that’s on them.

Where it does bother me though is that it injects partisanship into science.  The right wing misinformation ecosystem sees the scientific community in league with the Democratic party and it makes it easier for them to dismiss science as having a political agenda.  People rarely vote based on scientific issues anyway, so it is not like right-leaning voters are going to change their support because of a group of scientists are running on the left.  Consequently, most people who normally vote Republican will still vote Republican anyway, but now they will be even more suspicious of scientists and their “liberal agenda.”

When Joshua Morrow, the Executive Director of 314 Action, was asked if the group would support a physicist running as a Republican, his response was: “Find that person, and we’ll have that discussion. Find that unicorn.”

That condescending attitude has been on display for decades by the academic left, and it has pushed right-leaning voters into the arms of charlatans that bring snowballs onto the floor of the Senate as “evidence” against climate change or that claim certain physical ailments are caused by dream sex with demons.

If Joshua Morrow and the 314 Action group really want to change the direction of this country regarding science, instead of virtue signaling and pushing a liberal agenda, they should be scouring the land for those “unicorns.”  Because that’s how things will change.

They need to find any right-leaning scientists they can and help them run in Republican primaries.  Even if those primary candidacies are Quixotic endeavors, they will at least add a scientific voice to those primary debates and hopefully begin to gradually enlighten some voters on the right.

They should be partnering with groups like RepublicEN and the American Conservative Coalition.  These are right-leaning groups that accept the realities of climate change and are trying to pull conservatives in that direction.

Because if and when these groups and actions can convince more and more Republican voters of these realities, then we can begin to have actual reasoned debates on how to address climate change (left-leaning government interventions vs. right-leaning market-based solutions) rather than the surreal and farcical debate on whether or not man-made climate change is even real.

For being supposed scientists, these activists don’t seem to understand basic psychology.  People are hesitant to believe outsiders over their in-group.  If you want to convince them, you need to ally with and become part of their in-group.

I readily (and with shame) admit that the Republican party is the anti-intellectual and anti-science party, and will be resistant to pro-science voices for a while. This will not be easy.  But simply allowing science to ally with the left, while seemingly easier, will not work and will only hurt in the long run.

We need to do the hard work of partnering activist science groups with willing Republican groups and candidates, not opposing them just because they are Republicans.   As those voices become more established in the Republican party, then they can hopefully counteract the voices of ignorance on the right and start pulling the party and its voters back towards science and reason.

Because if science chooses sides in politics, it’s going to lose.  And if science loses, we all lose.

 

Republicans Need to LISTEN to the Black Community

Imagine you go to the doctor and tell him or her about a pain or ailment that you have.  The doctor does a cursory check, doesn’t notice anything, and says it is probably just in your head.  That doesn’t help much, and the problem doesn’t go away.  So you go to a New Age healer to get some kind of relief.  Later, you come across your doctor and mention that you’re seeing a New Age healer.  Likely, the doctor would tell you about how New Age healers are just a gimmick and don’t help anyone.  But at this point, would you really care what the doctor said?  They dismissed your pain and didn’t bother to address it.

This is how we as Republicans seem to treat the black community, especially during the current moment in time. Republicans will often claim that the Democratic policies don’t really help the black community.  But why would the black community believe us?  Whenever they raise legitimate concerns about the issues they face, by and large Republicans just dismiss the concerns, and say they don’t actually exist.  Of course 90% of the black community is going to support the Democrats, because the Democrats are at least listening to them.

There are plenty of ways in which the traditional Republican agenda can greatly help the black community, but we have absolutely no credibility.  Things like working on programs to develop and encourage strong families, opportunity zones, supporting faith-based initiatives like the incredible social work done by traditionally black churches, making sure welfare programs are a “hand-up” instead of a “hand-out”, better accountability for failing schools.  These are standard Republican ideals that should help the black community.

In regards to the current issue of police brutality, I have a major problem with the Republican party being willing to abandon their convictions on public employee unions when it comes to police unions in order to claim the “law and order” mantle.  I just read this article from a conservative think tank that has great information about the issue and sums it up perfectly: “[Police unions] are teachers’ unions, but with tanks and endless get-out-of-jail-free cards.” I highly recommend that all Republican and right-leaning people read this data-driven, conservative-leaning article before making their minds up about the current protests.

But we as Republicans need to LISTEN to the black community instead of just telling them that our policies are better for them.  And we need to adjust our policies as necessary based on their input.  That doesn’t mean abandoning conservative principles, it means bringing it all together to find comprehensive solutions.

Instead, the voices on the right attack and dismiss those raising discontent about the struggles facing the black community.  People on the right will call “Black Lives Matter” a terrorist organization.  Regardless of someone’s feelings about the official platform and agenda of the BLM national organization, the vast majority of people protesting are simply using “Black Lives Matter” as a slogan to call for racial justice, not absolute allegiance to the BLM organization.  The “terrorist” slander is simply a way to dismiss and reject the call.  They bring up George Floyd’s past is a way to avoid facing the real problem of police brutality, which disproportionately affects young men of color.  “If they just listen to the police and don’t break the law….” which dismisses all the cases of innocent victims, as well as the fact that even criminals have a right to due process.

However, the most common, and dangerous, refrain on the right that systemic racism is a myth.

Here is the major problem with saying that systemic racism is a myth.  If you look at economic and criminal justice data (not anecdotes), it is obvious that there are major racial disparities:

All statistics from here.

  • The rate of imprisonment is five times higher for blacks than whites.
  • The median wealth of white families is ten times higher than the median wealth for black families.
  • 79% of black high school students graduate compared to 89% of white students
  • Black women are 3 times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women
  • 41% of black families own their home compared to 72% of white families

If a child is consistently acting out or falling behind in the classroom, there are only two possible general explanations.  Either something is wrong with the child or something is wrong with the child’s environment.

Similarly, when we have this much racial disparity in our society, there are only two possible explanations: either something is fundamentally wrong with black people or there is something fundamentally wrong with our society regarding race.

If you try the claim that there is no systemic problems and that every individual is responsible for his or her own situation, while that might work anecdotally when you cherry-pick success stores, when the general population and racial disparity data is looked at as a whole, then you are saying that in general most black people are lazy, criminal, not that intelligent, whatever.  Otherwise, if it were truly up to the individual and if all races were truly equal, then there would be pretty much no racial disparities in the data.

But since there are disparities, that either means (1) it is not truly up to the individual or (2) the races are not truly equal.

If you believe the races are not equal and black people are inferior, I can at least respect your consistency with the data even if I don’t respect your opinion.

On the other hand, if, like me, you are willing to recognize that we do have fundamental issues on race that we need to address, then we can have conversations about how to fix those issues, and we can bring a conservative perspective voice to the table… but only AFTER we listen.

Now some on the right might want to throw out names like Candace Owens, or the Hodge twins, or Diamond and Silk, or Larry Elder, or other black conservative pundits that dismiss many of the standard racial justice talking points.  First of all, Larry Elder’s opinion is the only one in that group that I have any respect for.  In my opinion, the others seem preoccupied with making claims and statements that entertain, gain followers, and maintain their niche appeal in the alt-right community. I might go into details about that in a later post.  Second of all, this gets back to my “anecdotal vs statistical” evidence perspective.  Just because you can throw out a handful of black pundits and celebrities that support this right wing dismissal of racial injustice, when more than 2/3 of blacks believe being black hurts their ability to get ahead, we should probably listen to that vast majority, and that includes other black conservatives like Tara Setmayer or Tim Scott.   And finally, just to point out that parading token support from a community does not always give full credence to your position…  Hard as it may be to believe, there were Jewish groups in early 1930s that supported Hitler, even while he was spewing his anti-Semitic rhetoric. 

However, even those pundits, like Larry Elder, make the case for conservative policies that can benefit the black community.  As Republicans, we need to continue to support and push for those policies.  But first and foremost, we need to build partnerships with the black community.  And even if it means hearing things we might not like, building partnerships starts with LISTENING.

 

Independence Day Post: On Tyranny

In honor of Independence Day, I want to do this post about the concept of tyranny, specifically authoritarian and totalitarian governments.  Given the current circumstances, these terms are getting thrown around quite a bit.

First of all, let’s discuss some background regarding the nature of humans and the role of government.  In Federalist 51, James Madison wrote the famous quote: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Basically, since we as people can’t be depending upon to do the right thing because of our self-interested nature, sometimes we need to be coerced, hence the need for government.  However, since government is made up of those same self-interested people, if left on its own, government would become tyrannical.  This is a major foundation of our government.

Conservatives recognize this (or at least they should).  Where, hyperbolically speaking, liberals might think that if we all just hold hands and sing “All You Need is Love” than the world will improve itself, or that on the other hand, if we just give the government more power, they can fix everything.  Conservatives (should) view both of these scenarios with extreme skepticism.  Unfortunately, many conservatives now seem to only focus on the second part, the limiting the government part.  Many seem to forget that ALL people operate in self-interest, and that’s why we need a government, and some rules and regulations, in the first place.  It’s the flip side of the same coin.

Now to move into the discussion of authoritarian and totalitarian governments.  We need to establish the difference between the two. Authoritarian governments control all aspects of civic operations without accountability, yet common people’s day to day lives can go on relatively normally.  Totalitarian governments attempt to control all aspects of everyday life for the citizenry, generally speaking.

History and common-sense show that for a totalitarian regime takes hold, it must first start as an authoritarian government.  (This is for governing one’s own country.  Invading and occupying forces are different.)  If a government comes to power and immediately tries to implement totalitarianism there will be too much resistance from the citizenry, unless civic operations are already under control.  For this reason, dictators and authoritarians almost always start out as populists.  They want to gain the support of the common people, so they don’t try to control them as first.  In the Roman Empire, this was known as “Bread and Circuses.”  The aim was to keep the general population fed and distracted, so they wouldn’t care about the accumulation of power within the upper echelons of government.  Machavelli adviced as much in The Prince, stating that it was better to keep the common folk happy than the nobles, because the nobles may want power and the common people can be turned against them.

This is why it would make no sense for a wannabe authoritarian to immediately enforce arbitrary and unpopular controls on the people.  It would erode their support and lose power before they ever solidified it.

A common discussion point is that the current crisis and the responses amount to tyranny of an authoritarian government.  So next, I want to look back at some history of how actual authoritarian/totalitarian governments responded to crises.

First of all, let’s look at a relatively minor or fake crisis being used to gain power.  The most obvious example is the Reichstag Fire in 1933, soon after Hitler became Chancellor.  He then blamed the Communists for the fire and used emergency powers to arrest Communist Party Members.  He also used his powers to switch out and install Nazi party loyalists at varying levels of government.  The Nazis did NOT use this to implement totalitarian measures on common citizens.  That did not happen until a few years later.  The goal was to solidify control of governmental institutions.  Another example was the Egyptian State of Emergency that lasted for over 30 years after the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Again, this was used to solidify political control, not control standard routines of life like shopping and non-political business.  Instead, it was used to target political enemies.

On the other hand is how authoritarian/totalitarian governments respond to actual crises where the citizenry are in danger.  A great example is the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Soviet Union. In this case, the Soviet Union did everything possible to deny that a problem was happening, and when that story couldn’t be maintained, that they had everything under control.  The idea was to maintain calm so as not to lose support of the people and cause panic. They did not use the crisis as an excuse to crack down on common people.  Similarly, in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, the local Chinese authorities went to the doctor that was trying to sound the alarm.  They reprimanded him and forced him to sign a statement that his earlier claims were false.  Again, they initially tried to deny that anything was wrong.  They didn’t implement draconian measures until it became obvious that they could deny it no longer.

China has learned from history and has realized that totalitarianism is a losing proposition.  They saw how badly it went for the Soviet Union and continues to go in North Korea.  After the Tianenmen Square protests and crackdown in 1989, they went for the “bread and circuses” approach.  The Chinese Communist Party has basically allowed the citizens to partake in capitalist consumerism and enjoy those fruits, so long as the people do not question how the government operates.  Thus maintaining power and control for the party.

As I’ve stated in an earlier post, it is extremely difficult (although not impossible) for a fractured federal system like ours to fall under authoritarian rule.  And trying to do so by forcing unpopular restrictions on the populace would almost certainly be doomed to fail.

This isn’t to say that the process has been perfect and that some officials may have exceeded their authority.  And those instances should be addressed and rectified.  However, in the middle of an unprecedented crisis, we need to come together and not get spun around the axle about process.  And we can’t rely on individuals to do the right thing, because as Madison knew, and as conservatives know, men are not angels.

To bring this together with Independence Day, it is important to remember the need to come together as a community.  One of the things we weren’t taught in school is how much the colonies/states-  argued amongst each other and were looking out for each individual self-interest.  In fact, the Continental Army was on the verge of desertion and disbanding because soldiers weren’t getting paid because the individual states were not doing their part to help the cause.  Washington was barely able to keep the army together to keep fighting through his personal connection with the men.  If it hadn’t been for that, the colonies self-interest and unwillingness to sacrifice for the common good may have led to us losing the war and us not celebrating our independence this weekend.  As Ben Franklin supposedly said when signing the Declaration of Independence:

“We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Republicans, It’s Up to Us

I’ve been a Republican ever since high school.  I’ve only volunteered on and donated to Republican campaigns.  I am pro-life, support the 2nd Amendment, believe in American exceptionalism, support free markets and capitalism, and generally am in alignment with standard Republican positions, albeit with more nuance that I’ve developed over life experience.

During this difficult time, I’ve been wondering the best way to make a positive difference. I realized that perhaps the most effective action I can take is to reach out directly to a select group of people: my fellow center-right Republicans, moderates, and right-leaning independents,

So, my fellow members of the center-right, this is for you.  Because the future of this country rests entirely on our shoulders.  I am hoping you’ll at least read the following with an open-mind and truly reflect upon it, even if you don’t end up agreeing with my assessment and suggestion.

As you read, I also ask you to ask yourself why someone like me, a lifelong Republican, would feel the way I do.  And not only me, but numerous conservative and Republican public servants.  Servants that are no longer running for office or working in government, and therefore, likely feel as though they do not need to hold back.  Especially statements this week from respected patriots like Retired General James Mattis.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is a rather long post.  If you already are in agreement that the Republican Party and the country need to go in new direction, and don’t need or want to read through my long rationale, feel free to jump down to “What’s Next” to read about my approach moving forward and learn about some organizations and activists that are working to reclaim the Republican Party.  Back to the post…

Center-right parties in the western world, especially through the past century and a half, have served as a “hinge of history,” helping determine the path forward for their countries.  At critical moments, the center-right determines if the nation will move along the path of a stable democracy (UK’s Tories & US Republicans during the last half of the 20th century), turn towards authoritarianism (center-right parties aligning with Fascists in Italy and the Nazis in Germany), or make a revolution almost inevitable (the conservative-minded leaders right before the Russian and Cuban Communist Revolutions.)

This is because the center-right serves as a type of safety-valve on progressive movements, the idea of “standing athwart history”.  The center-right can help make adjustments in a controlled manner to assist the change agents but doing so in a slow and methodical pace.  An example of this would be the environmental movement of the early 1970s.  Or it can completely shut the valve, forcing either (1) the change movement to completely die under absolute and tyrannical control or (2) the pressure to build up until it eventually explodes in revolution.

We are currently at one of those critical moments in our nation, and how we in the center-right decide to act will determine the future of the American experiment, more so than any time in more than 50 years.  The current protests for racial justice in response to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are only the latest incident in an ongoing existential crisis of the United States, and specifically for the Republican Party.

I am asking my fellow center-right Republicans to think deeply about what we are going to do next.  Are we going to help the country move forward while staying true to our founding ideals and traditions? Or are we going to allow ominous and self-interested forces pull us back and repeat shameful aspects of our complicated history?

We need to come to grips with the unfortunate fact that the Republican party has allowed three major failings to take root: (1) a focus on divisive tribalism; (2) anti-intellectualism and a denial of objective reality; and (3) the rejection of democratic norms and an embrace of authoritarian tendencies.

Trumpism has been the culmination of these failings.  I will gladly admit that I have always been a Never-Trump Republican. Ever since his unfounded promotion of the birther conspiracy, along with his general history of self-aggrandizing and unethical behavior, I knew I could never support him for anything.  That being said, I did try to respect and understand why people supported him.  I’ve read multiple articles and books written in support of Trump.  However, I find that all continued support is based upon premises that are rooted in the three failures I mentioned.  And they all have connections to the racial issues we are currently struggling with.

Before I go further, I should address something.  Some Republicans might want to say “What about when the Democrats…”  First of all, I’m not a Democrat.  That is their business.  I want to focus on myself and my party, not others.  Secondly, I don’t even accept your premise.  While both parties have had failings throughout the years, in recent years the failings I mentioned have been perpetrated by Republicans far more often than Democrats.  And finally, even if I did accept the premise, what does it matter?  We should always want our party to be a model of integrity regardless of what the other side is doing.  Isn’t one of the fundamental beliefs of Republicans to reject moral relativism?

Now to go into specifics…

Divisive Tribalism

To an extent, the Democrats have utilized identity politics to build and maintain a coalition, women’s issues, black issues, Latino issues, etc.  To counteract this, the Republicans, especially over the past fifteen years, have leaned into traditionalism and nationalism. It was no longer enough to say that Democrats were wrong…. they were un-American.  Even after the narrow election of 2000 and resulting court battle, the parties generally played nice together, passing tax cuts and the No Child Left Behind Act in a bipartisan fashion.  The unity strengthened even more after 9/11.

However, this changed due to the Iraq War and the ongoing War on Terror.  These were understandably divisive issues that were going to stress our unity no matter what.  The left accused the right of being warmongers and the right accused the left of a lack of patriotism.  And it got worse from there.

However, the right has definitely leaned into the us vs them rhetoric much more over time.  While in general, the left has really only demonized the wealthy, the right has demonized immigrants (both legal and illegal), Muslims, gays, black activists, feminists, atheists, and on and on.  It is a way of rallying people to the “traditional American culture”.  As part of that is the common rallying cry that “Liberals want to destroy America.”   If you have that perspective/fear, then support for Trump makes more sense.  But I reject that notion outright.  I have many liberal friends.  They just have different views on how to do things, they don’t hate America.

A part of this tribalism and traditionalism has been the unfortunate support of the Republican party by white nationalists.  And more disturbing is the growing acceptance of that support.  The “Southern Strategy” and the ensuing decades have left an indelible stain on our party.  And, as a Republican from Illinois, I find it mind-boggling and embarrassing that the party of Lincoln is now the party that defends the confederate flag and confederate statues.

Here is a great article, by a couple of black Republicans, that explains this situation better than I ever could.

Anti-Intellectualism and Denialism

Twenty-five years ago, 54% of college graduates considered themselves Republicans.  Now that is exactly the opposite.  Over the past two decades, the Republican party has railed against the academic elites and fully embraced anti-intellectualism.  Remember, Donald Trump said that he “love(s) the poorly educated”.

This has led to a general rejection and distrust of science.  Climate change has been the biggest and most obvious example of this in recent years.  But it has become more acute under the COVID-19 pandemic, where more Republicans trust Trump’s information than trust the CDC or Dr. Anthony Fauci.   

This rejection of the scientific method allows conspiracy theories, false history, and anecdotal stories to carry more weight than proven scientific and academic analysis.  This confusion then allows unscrupulous actors to distract and add noise to the narrative.

This is directly related to the current issue of racial justice.  Many on the far-right want to push the idea of that systemic racism does not exist.  They like to point out anecdotal stories and hold up people like Ben Carson and Herman Cain to demonstrate that everyone is responsible for themself and there are no systemic barriers.  While yes, it is possible for an individual to rise and overcome, and people like Carson and Cain should be applauded for doing so, that doesn’t address the issue of aggregate disparities.  For example, the average black household headed by a college graduate has 1/3 less wealth than the average white household headed by a high school dropout.  Or the fact that black men are almost 3 times more likely to be killed by police than white men.  And of those victims, black men are more likely to be unarmed.  Or the fact that black women are more than 3 times more likely to die in childbirth or from pregnancy complications than white women.  These are systemic issues that need to be addressed.

Additionally, many on the far-right share completely fake history myths like the Lost Cause Narrative or the Irish Slavery Myth to downplay the evil of slavery and its legacy and impact on modern America.

The more dangerous false theory in the current climate is the “bad apples” belief. The idea that there is no systemic racism, but only a few bad apples, occasional racists that should be punished as individuals.  This belief ignores that data that I mentioned above.  Not only that, but even if it were only a few “bad apples” that is still unacceptable.  As Chris Rock points out: what if airlines continuously had a few “bad apples” as pilots?

We need to reject this denialism and the desire to be “color-blind”, and instead we must accept the brutal and uncomfortable reality of system racism.  The first step to solving a problem is acknowledging it.

Rejection of Democratic Norms and Embrace of Authoritarianism

This is the newest, and I believe, most dangerous failing of the current Republican party.  Both parties have engaged in political maneuvering and gamesmanship throughout history.  However, Republicans have taken it to a new level, ever since the very first day of the Obama administration.

Previously in modern history, there has always been a “honeymoon” period with a newly elected (or re-elected) president.  I mentioned earlier that even after the bitter 2000 election, the Democrats still worked with George W. Bush.  However, on the night of Obama’s inauguration, Republican leadership worked out a plan of complete obstructionism.  They realized that if good things happened in a bipartisan way, Obama would get the credit, and it would be difficult for Republicans to win again.  But if they paralyzed Washington and things were bad, Obama would get the blame, and the Republicans would win elections.  This epitomized the new focus of the Republican party:

Power was no longer a means to an end. Power itself became the end.

To be honest, this focus had already begun in the party even at the grassroots level.  Not long after I moved to LA, I wanted to get involved with a local Republican group.  While doing an online search for a possible group to join, one local group stood out… in a disappointing way.  On their website, it said “We have only one goal… to win elections.”  I could not believe it.  Nothing about promoting conservative values, or defending American liberty from government overreach, or anything like that.  It was a blunt and unapologetic admission that power was their only desire.  I obviously chose to join another Republican group that was a little more in line with my naïve belief in principles and integrity.

During the Obama administration, nobody better exemplified this relentless pursuit of power than Mitch McConnell.  After all, he explicitly said that his top priority was to make Obama a one-term president.

Then Trump came along, expressed admiration for dictators, and has tried to run his administration in a similar manner.  He has consistently operated as if he is above the law and can do anything he wants.  He has fired multiple inspectors general that are supposed to serve as a check on his administration’s activities.  During his nomination speech, he made the authoritarian claim that he alone can fix the nation’s problems.  And Republicans have refused to stand up to him during the past three years.  This should worry anyone who wants to protect our constitutional republic.

The authoritarian tendencies became even more evident this week in an absolutely chilling display as he spoke of dominating the streets and using the military on Americans exercising their first amendment rights; then, going to do a photo op by walking down a street that had just been forcefully cleared of peaceful protesters.  One thing you might not know, is that those protesters were in front of St. John’s at the invitation of the church.  The protesters had been invited to the church, Trump had not.

His calls for “law and order” against “thugs” are both a demonstration of authoritarian desire and a long-established racist dog-whistle going back to the civil rights era if not before.

His actions this past week were a manifestation of exactly what many Never-Trumpers like me have feared from the beginning.  And they were the last straw for Trump’s own former Secretary of Defense, Ret. Gen. Mattis.

What Next

Thank you for reading this much.  Now I have more to ask of you.  The most important thing is to reflect and weigh on your political priorities, and their relationship with American ideals and racial justice.

Republicans have made a Faustian bargain for short-term victories and policies.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve come to the following conclusion.  If my choice were (1) having every one of my political policy ideas and beliefs put into place but at the cost of having continued racial injustice and a gradual erosion of our constitutional principles while living under a benevolent Republican dictator or (2) achieving racial justice, maintaining basic American principles, and having Democrats consistently winning fair elections and implementing their policies for the foreseeable future; I will choose the second option every time.

Unfortunately, David Frum, a member of the George W. Bush administration, pointed out that under the Trumpism philosophy: “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.”

As such, my personal plan of action is to maintain my Republican identification and continue to vote in the Republican primary elections for candidates that reject Trumpism and the failings I mentioned above; ones that are willing to put country ahead of party and principles ahead of power.  However, during the general election, if the Republican nominee is someone that adheres to Trumpism and its failings, I will refuse to support and vote for any such candidate.

Even if you don’t agree with this plan on principle, you should think about it in terms of long-term politics.  The current path of the Republican party under Trump is continuing to make us older, whiter, more male, and less educated.   Millennials and Gen Z are far more diverse, far more educated, and far more liberal than previous generations were at their age.  The majority of them are turned off by the current Republican party.  And even the Republicans of those generations are more liberal on things like climate change and racial issues.

Therefore, every Republican electoral victory under the current approach is a Pyrrhic victory.  It gains us a short-term win, but pushes younger generations further away, causing us to lose in the long-term.  This is why I wrote in a blog post last year that if Republicans don’t change, I believe we will be a socialist country by 2050.

Learn More

If you are willing to look more into the Republican movement to reject Trumpism and put the party, and our country, back on a path towards its founding ideals, here are some resources and organizations that I’ve been signing up for and supporting.

The Lincoln Project

Stand Up Republic

Republicans for the Rule of Law

Additionally, look up and read from some of these conservative writers and activists that are willing to stand up against the party’s cult of Trump. You can check a lot of them out at the Dispatch and the Bulwark.

David French

Jonah Goldberg

Jennifer Rubin

Bill Kristol

Tara Setmayer

David Frum

Regarding the current issue of racial inequality, this week I dialed into a great virtual townhall on the subject with a panel of incredible black conservatives, Joe Pinion, Shermichael Singleton, and Tera Setmayer who I found to be particularly amazing.   It’s important to note how these life-long black Republicans talk about how they constantly question their membership in the party during the era of Trump.

Additionally, I highly recommend the book How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.  It does a great job of looking at the rise of authoritarian regimes in modern history, how we got here in the US, and what the future may hold.

Final Thoughts

Thanks again for reading this extremely long post.  I know it gets said every election, but in this case, especially given everything we are going through, I truly believe that this is the most critical decision point for our country in generations.

I hope you are willing to learn more and join the movement to reject Trumpism, authoritarianism, white nationalism, and system racism.  Let’s change our nation’s vision from a dark bunker behind a wall, back to the shining city on a hill.