How to Cope with Indecency on a National Scale

America is not a decent country. Not today. Sure, there are some decent people living here. Many, actually. But there is an atrocious number of indecent ones, too. Terrible people. If you don’t believe me, just watch the hate rallies our president holds. Just listen to the angry lies that roll off his tongue. The rallies are a spectacle I never dreamed I’d see in America. But I was wrong. About America.

But don’t stop there. Ponder for a second the billionaires and multi-millionaires who hoard their money while kids go hungry. And consider the ways we use our allegiance to capitalism to justify cruelty. Ponder the number of kids who go without a proper education or health care.

Ponder the fact that all the wealth creation over the past several decades has gone to the people at the top of the economic pyramid, while the average Joe hasn’t gotten a real raise (after inflation) in over 40 years.

Drive through the poorest sections of our cities. And through much of rural America that is mired in poverty. Consider how the system enslaves them with debt. Pays them a pittance for their labor. Denies them adequate health care. And forces their kids to mortgage their futures if they want a college education.

Ponder the immoral war we waged on Iraq and its people. Ponder the torture our intelligence and defense personnel perpetrated on our behalf — the war crimes and other atrocities committed under the Stars and Stripes.

Ponder the corrupt political system we tolerate. Indeed, embrace.

Terrible. Decadent. Indecent. It’s who we are. Or at least many of us. Enough to control things, at least.

Perhaps we’ll all terrible, including those of us who feel like we’re better. Maybe we simply can’t see our own indecency. I don’t want to think that. I hope it’s not true. But I know we never see the log in our own eyes. So perhaps it’s true.

Maybe it’s just the way it is, always has been and always will be. Maybe we were never as virtuous and noble as I had been led to believe growing up. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of the scales of naiveté finally dropping from my eyeballs.

Maybe it’s a matter of perspective. After all, there are many good people in our midst. Courageous people who do extraordinary acts of kindness every day. Maybe it’s simply a matter of looking in the wrong direction. And focusing on the wrong things.

But, of course, it can’t be just that. The indecency and despicable words and actions are not figments of anyone’s imagination. Lies and offensive, crude lies emanate from the White House daily in a way they never did before. From Republican Senators and Congressmen, too. And from Hedge Fund titans and bankers who care about nothing other than accumulating more wealth for themselves.

Conduct is accepted today — at least, by many of us — that would have been unthinkable — indeed, unimaginable — in years past. Utterly deplorable things. The conclusion is painful yet inescapable: we are becoming more terrible. More decadent. Far less virtuous.

Perhaps it’s just a phase. Perhaps something will occur to bring us to our senses and reinstall some sense of right and virtue into the fabric of the public commons.

But perhaps not.

Who knows? Surely, not I.

So what is one to do? What can one do?

I suppose one must start by not succumbing. Not allowing decadent, ascendant cultural mores to pull us in.

We must endeavor to be virtuous. Honest. And kind.

I also think it helps to be stoic. To develop the strength within. And maintain perspective. And focus on that which we can control.

And to experience joyful things. To immerse ourselves in situations and with people who make us laugh. With people we love and who love us. After all, love is the best antidote for the hatred and anger that undergirds much of the decadence we see today.

Personally, I find spending time with nature to be helpful. Nature is my church. It pays to attend regularly.

It also pays to serve. To give. To help. To sacrifice. To nurture gratitude.

Will any of this make a difference?

Perhaps not for the country. But most certainly for the individual.

Therein lies my hope: that there are enough kind, caring, and virtuous people left in my country to turn it around. If not in my lifetime, then at least in yours, Vera.

In the meantime, while we work to make things better, we also shall play. And laugh. And allow the gift of life to flourish within our souls.

Why Does Bombing and Killing Make Us Feel So Good?

Once again, our president bombed another country. And once again, so many of my fellow citizens take delight in such actions. I’ll never understand.

Here’s what our president tweeted this morning:

So just what has America accomplished in Syria?

Well, we (or our surrogates) killed a lot of people. And destroyed a lot of homes and property.

We’ve caused untold suffering. And helped create millions of refugees.

In short, we’ve been an agent of death and destruction.

Mission accomplished, America. To some we “could not have had a better result.”

To others, we lack the good sense to feel shame.

Why Is America So Glum?

Ponder this:

You might want to read this WaPo (WonkBlog) story for possible answers: The unhappy states of America: Despite an improving economy, Americans are glum.

Or perhaps you have your own theories.

Life is such that there’s always some reason to be glum I suppose. But there’s also always some reason to be grateful, too.

Politically, the U.S. is in a very bad place presently. Economically, things are not as good as some people think nor as bad as some people fear. Financially, things are great for some people, O.K. for quite a few other people, and downright awful and bleak for many people.

Overall, things have been worse and they’ve been better.

You can make the case that our prospects are bleak or that they’re bright. The reality is, no one knows what the future holds.

While you’re pondering all of this, don’t forget to live. Time is running out. For each of us. Being glum is no way to spend it.

Find a path to something that can bring joy into your life. Kick some a** if necessary (not literally). Hug someone who’s lonely and forgotten. Find someone who wants to hug you. Extend a helping hand. Change jobs. Work harder. Stop whining and complaining. Act. Confront a politician. Demand solutions. Move. Meditate. Think. Reject the false stories and promises of ideologues and charlatans and others intent on deceit. Stop watching TV. Read. Get off social media. Spend less time online. Cut up the credit cards. Stop spending. Take a hike. Get in shape. Pursue freedom. Be grateful. Embrace simplicity. Make room for hope in your life.

But whatever you do, don’t succumb to the power of glumness. Time is simply too precious.

Celebrating a Declaration of War

Two hundred forty-one years ago the elite of the American colonies met in Philadelphia. They agreed on, and then signed, a declaration of war against England. For obvious reasons, the declaration was called something different: a Declaration of Independence.

It took a while longer, but eventually their act led to the creation of these United States of America (which later became known as the United States of America).

A lot has happened since 1776. Some good. Some bad. Some, who knows?

One thing is indisputable, however: people immigrated to this land from around the globe. Obviously, they thought life could be better here. And for many, it was.

People still want to come. Yet we’re no longer sure we want to welcome them.

Your ancestors on your father’s side came from Europe, Vera. Your ancestors on your mother’s side came from Mexico (although some of them probably hail from Europe and Asia if you go back far enough).

I don’t much care. It’s you who matters. Where your ancestors were born and raised is of no consequence. People are people. The idea that worth is somehow tied to skin color or ancestry is absurd and ridiculous. It’s nothing more than a lie some people tell to feel better about themselves.

But I’m not completely stupid either. I realize tribalism is real. It has been since humans started keeping a record of their affairs. And it probably was even prior to that.

We all belong to at least one tribe. That’s fine. But it’s hard for me to think it’s fine when we start believing our tribe is inherently more worthy than another tribe. Such thoughts always turn ugly. Sometimes they turn violent.

These words are written in that document signed in Philadelphia nearly two and a half centuries ago:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Since then, we’ve revised the principle to include women. And people of color. And people of non-Christian faiths.

We didn’t live up to our principles in 1776. But we’ve been working at it. And we’ve made progress.

My hope today is that we don’t decide to forfeit the progress we’ve made. And that we’ll continue to pursue the ideal that has helped make this tribe of ours so appealing to so many.

It was a declaration of war. But it wasn’t one primarily directed at England. It was war against something far more insidious and destructive. It was a war on the principle that all men and women are not created equal.

There Is Something Wrong with This Country. Gravely Wrong.

From my perch, all seems right with the world. We live in a nice house in a nice community — indeed, a community replete with new things and amenities. I want for nothing. We’re near you Vera. You stayed with us twice this past weekend. Being near you and your parents is a blessing unmatched by material things. It makes this place special. Very special.

Yet there is something very wrong, too. Yesterday, the president of the United States tweeted a video in which we takes down CNN. It was a doctored version of an old pro-wresting video when he supposedly body slammed someone to the floor. “The president of the United States of America tweeted this,” I thought. “How did we get to this place?”

This isn’t the first time Mr. Trump has encouraged violence or done something cringeworthy that made himself (and us) look foolish. And utterly out to lunch. And it probably won’t be the last. Nonetheless, it was another stark reminder that something is wrong with this country of ours. Very wrong.

How could anyone think this man is fit for the presidency?

The Republicans had countless options. The number of candidates numbered in the teens. Perhaps none was great, but none was as bad as the one they chose (with the possible exception of one).

I’ve read all the explanations. I get it why people are angry. And cynical. Feeling disenfranchised. And fed up with the status quo. What I don’t get, however, and probably never will, is why anyone thought that putting this man in this office was a prudent and responsible thing to do. Or in our country’s best interest.

My hope is that we’ll get through this presidency without an unmitigated disaster, which basically means a war and people dying (that is, more people than Mr. Trump has already killed in Syria and the Middle East). I have no hope that we’ll get out of it without severe damage to our country.

We’ve already been damaged, and the fallout from that damage will last a generation or more. We deserve it, of course. Decisions have consequences.

I realize it could get worse before it gets better (in the long run, it will get better!). Indeed, I realize that, if we don’t address some of the problems that gave rise to such a man taking power, the next guy (or woman) could be even worse. Much worse: he or she could actually be competent.

Yet I have no reason to believe we’re prepared to address those problems. To the contrary, if Mr. Trump’s policies are enacted fully, those problems will get worse.

Meanwhile, I’m back in my own little utopia. And wondering what, if anything, I can do to make a positive difference in our country. And trying to discern how best to protect myself and my family from the fallout of the next financial crisis.

The chair of the Federal Reserve assured everyone that there wouldn’t be another such crisis in our lifetimes. For some reason, I take no solace in such assurances.

A relative of mine thinks I’m angry about all of this. I don’t feel angry; however, if that’s how it appears, then perhaps I am.

What I feel is sadness, shame, deep disappointment and hope. I see how politicians (Mr. Trump wasn’t the first) successfully employ fear-mongering to advance their personal fortunes and political agendas, and it makes me sad to witness the effectiveness of their ploys. I wonder why people can’t see through it all.

I’m ashamed we as a country have unleashed a man such as Mr. Trump on the world community. They didn’t deserve it.

I’m disappointed that we don’t address some of the issues that have brought us to this place — things like antidemocractic gerrymandering, a political system that is for sale and, indeed, is sold to the highest bidder (campaign finance reform), the out-of-whack distribution of income and wealth brought about by the age of digital technology and global over-supply of labor, and the massive build-up of debt (sovereign and private) throughout the world.

Can this country survive much less thrive without fixing the things that brought us to this precarious ledge? I’m not so sure.

Meanwhile, I’m back in my own little utopia, realizing that our country will never be the same again. The despicable has become the acceptable. The abnormal, normal.

Apparently, anything goes if it’s in furtherance of our quest for “success” and “greatness.” I despair at how those principles have changed since our country was born. I am saddened by our country’s rejection of the teachings of the Nazarene.

I hope things will get better. I hope the world my generation leaves behind for yours, Vera, will be even better than the world we inherited from our parents. I hope you will be free and safe and will be supported by a community and nation that fosters the best within you. I hope you will read a history book and look back to this strange period when American elected a self-absorbed, immature fool to the presidency and yet somehow, in spite of it all, managed not only to survive but also to thrive in the long run.

And, if not — if America’s best days are behind it — then I hope, at the very least, I can help carve out a bit of utopia for you.

Making America Great

There’s been a lot of talk the past year about making America great again, Vera. It was the campaign slogan for Donald Trump, who, later this week, will be sworn in as our next president. Mr. Trump isn’t a great man by any stretch of the imagination (at least not mine). But let me tell you about an American who was. Continue reading