What is Victory?


A few weeks ago marked 16 years since the horror of 9/11. I made a point to stop what I was doing to pay respect to the victims and to reflect on that day. I remembered how I had just risen from bed in Los Angeles and turned on The Today Show. At that very moment the first tower collapsed.

What the…?”

Shock turned to confusion, then to fear, then anger, and back to shock. Within a few hours the entire community sought emotional refuge in public spaces like churches and schools. I took my family to a church in Simi Valley and some kids were outside playing on skateboards. One of them asked: “What’s going on?”

I replied: “The world just changed.”

“I don’t know anything about it,” said another young man.

“You will,” I told him.

The impact has been immeasurable. Even my youngest son, who wasn’t even born, knows the terms now coded into our collective psyche: 9/11, Twin Towers, Ground Zero, Al-Qaeda, the War on Terrorism. The world did change. And 16 years later we can take inventory. We have seen victories. And with no intention of minimizing any act of terrorism that has occurred since, there hasn’t been one of the orchestrated magnitude of 9/11. Saddam Hussein is gone in an ancillary cause, and Osama Bin Laden is dead. Much of Al Qaida has disintegrated. ISIS rose from those ashes as the most heinous realization of such insanity, but we are seeing their money run dry and their reach diminished.

Yet no one feels that victory has been accomplished. So we must ask: What will victory look like?

Will “sand glow in the dark” from bombardment as Ted Cruz’ hyperbole suggested? Will we have vanquished the children of our enemies who hate us?

Will we have such awesome might that no one ever dares attack us again? Is that possible when it was only a small band of terrorists who altered our giant nation with box cutters? That isn’t meant as an insult to our strength or fortitude, but it serves as a reminder that a slingshot is more than a metaphor.

And what does victory look like to our enemies?

Perhaps it isn’t a victory in the battlefield, but to diminish our strength in other ways. They have changed the way we think; the way we look at one another; the way we talk to each other. They robbed us of many conveniences by tightening our security and the way we fly. They’ve made us more suspicious, more judgmental, more afraid, and sometimes less compassionate. They’ve fanned embers of racism, and religious intolerance, and made us look askance at our greatest virtue; the promise of freedom for all.

They are not winning, but they are also not defeated. We have seen victories, but we are not yet victorious.

To be truly victorious, we must decide what it will be.

“What so proudly we hail”

flagOur flag has been getting a lot of attention lately. From flag waving to burning to football players refusing to stand for it during the National Anthem.  President Trump entered into the conversation (via Twitter) to say those players should be fired.

Last year, as President-elect, he Tweeted after a burning protest:  “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

His comments gather momentum from Americans who resoundingly agree, but it also ignites another side to a First Amendment debate.

In 1969 the US Supreme Court determined that burning a flag is protected as freedom of speech.  That never set well with a lot of th16zm4dloAmericans and in 2005 an Amendment passed in the House to make flag burning illegal.  It failed in the Senate, however, and even Republican Senator Mitch McConnell argued against it.

“The vast majority of Americans honor the flag, and rightly so. Some would go so far as to amend the Constitution to protect the flag against those who would burn it. While I share and admire their patriotism, altering our First Amendment, even for the worthy purpose of protecting the flag, is not a position I can support.

McConnell continued:  “Weakening our First Amendment could also set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the Bill of Rights. If we successfully carve out an exception to one basic freedom, perhaps those who seek to curtail our Second Amendment rights, —the right to bear arms—, will carve out another. Or the right to own private property, as expressed in the Fifth Amendment, could come under assault.”

How ever we look at the flag, it is a flashpoint for people who feel betrayed by it, people who are inspired by it, people who are afraid of it, and people who stand by it.

flag-burnThe flag was burned three years ago in Ferguson, Missouri by people who felt America does not provide equal protection of freedom and justice and it appears to them as a betrayal of that promise.

A flag was taken down by a university where a student displayed it on his campus porch because to foreign students passing by it represented a form of nationalist patriotism that doesn’t welcome them.  It scared them and the university agreed.

untitledWhen it is either waved or desecrated, people rally to one side or the other to defend what it means, what it doesn’t mean, what it stands for, or what it stood for.  The only common thread of that upon which we do not tread is that “Our flag represents American freedom.”

So the question is:  What is American freedom?

That’s not easy to answer.  American freedom, even as it’s outlined in our Constitution, is a vague construct.  Freedom to do what, exactly?  Live free?  What if my free imposes on your free?

Freedom to worship?  What if your beliefs deny my beliefs?

Freedom of speech?  What if that speech promotes the restriction of freedom for others?

Freedom from government tyranny?  Sure…but, government was also created to keep us free from…government tyranny.

I’m not trying to be pedantic here, but there are conundrums inherent to the very concept of the freedoms we defend.  All we can actually believe in is an idea of freedom, but ideas are not always clearly defined.  What we are believing in is not a concrete set of principles, but the feeling we get when we consider our own personal identification with that idea.  Good or bad.

Which brings us back to the flag…

A national flag is a symbol of that nation.  It is visual statement to identify the temperament, history, ideology and people comprising that nation.  The US flag signifies, as stars, the 50 united-states, and has 13 stripes representing the original colonies that revolted against Britain.  The history of that revolution, democratic representation, our sovereignty, along with the constitution binding those states with unalienable rights is woven into that fabric.

But, therein lies the problem.  A symbol is as perfect as it is benign; its realization is not.

In the 1960’s a phrase entered our lexicon in answer to the protests against the$(KGrHqZHJEEFDN6t2SSZBQ6TmcfJZw~~60_3 Vietnam War:  “America, Love It Or Leave It.”  It was conservative-ideology shorthand to define American patriotism and it meant that if you don’t like the way America handles its business, you should go (or stay) elsewhere.  It was draped around our symbol; the flag.

There was a double-standard as easily revealed as its patriotic intention as those saying it usually hated any government representation that wasn’t from their own party. But it was nevertheless embraced by many because it made them feel good about their personal connection with America.

And they proudly waved their flag.

During that time, however, conservatism was in the shadow of an emerging liberalism that began after World War II and reached its zenith during the Machiavellian, ethics-defying presidency of Richard Nixon.  In the 60’s and 70’s it became more culturally relevant to be liberal.

“America, Love It Or Leave It” endured, but it was a bumper sticker confined to the more extreme right wing.  That is until a new revolution came along; an ideological revolution from 30 years of pent up conservative nationalism:  The Reagan Revolution.

President Reagan, more than any other president (or at least as much as any) galvanized a decaying nationalist spirit and he turned a disenfranchised form of patriotism into something positive.  He made a lot of Americans feel good again about being an American.

reagan2_largeEven though many of us did not believe in Reagan’s jingoistic interpretation of American exceptionalism and we bristled at the wealth-pandering, class-separation he helped create, it was undeniable that a new conservative-patriotism was sweeping America.

Being a “liberal” was now being labeled less patriotic.

The neo-cons cornered the market on such brilliant, shorthand messaging to diminish liberalism and to rally the spirit of their base.  During the George W Bush administration they found a new cry, again in support of a war, and this one no one could take exception to:  “We Support Our Troops.”

What it meant, initially, was that they supported the military action in Iraq taken by that President,support_our_troops1 but it soon transcended that limitation as it was folded into the centerpiece of the sentiment; the bravery of the men and women in uniform.  The flag was part and parcel again with every representation of that statement.

But, again, we have to ask, “What does that mean?”

It doesn’t necessarily mean support of the government (of which our military is part).  Or support of their Commander in Chief.

It doesn’t mean support of the foreign policy directives those troops have been called to establish or defend.

It doesn’t even mean domestic support of our troops with better health, job or education benefits.

It succeeds as socio-political panacea because there is no greater rapture of true patriotism than from the acknowledgment of those who are willing to stand in harm’s way to protect us, and that cannot be argued.

Which, again, brings us back to the flag…

a2929d6d1742f22c640f6a70670009a2Anyone standing next to me at a football game will know that I sing our National Anthem (loudly), and will see that my hat is in my left hand and my right hand is on my heart.  They will also see me making sure that my sons do the same.  I do this to show respect, humility and sincere love for our nation.

I do this to support our troops, and our citizens, in our joined fight for freedom.  I look at our flag as I sing “The Star Spangled Banner” (with its traditional patriotic understanding).  When I sing “The land of the free and the home of the brave” it is with the sincere belief that we really can stand as a nation in support of that ideal.

And I also realize that to some people that ideal has been lost or has never been realized.  They are saying that we cannot be the “land of the free and the home of the brave” if only for some.  They remind us that a flag is only cloth flapping in the wind unless the nation that flies it is true to its purpose.

We can argue either way, but the bottom line is that our flag symbolizes the idealism of a Republic and the spirit of freedom that carried our nation to sovereignty, but it can also contain the divisiveness, separation and fear that can result from exclusionary nationalism.

And so…what is that freedom it represents?

It is all of the above.  It has contradictions, vagueries, truths, triumphs, defeats, promises, shortcomings, and inspirations.  The sum of all of these gradations is the freedom to protest, even to burn a flag, and the freedom to be repulsed by that action.

Our flag is powerful because we have the freedom to interpret its symbolism in whatever way our experience compels us.  The flag belongs to all of us to wave proudly or to protest.

And that makes some people really angry.  One way or another.139405111314023385798284

Democrats….We Try Harder (we have to)

Have you noticed how Republicans rarely, if ever, ask “What went wrong?” Even when things go wrong, they say “Stick to the plan, find the real Republicans and keep moving ahead.”

23 years ago Newt Gingrich laid the foundation for winning with the “Contract with America.” There were 8 government and operational reforms listed that no one actually remembers, but the message was that government would be reduced and austerity would cut wasteful spending. There was no resolute policy, but that didn’t matter. It said to Americans: “We understand that government works for YOU, and this is our pledge to fight for YOUR values.” It was dovetailed to the Reagan dictum: Government isn’t the solution, government is the problem.

It resonated by saying (and repeating over and over) that government is too big, too invasive, is taking your liberties and your money, and not enhancing your values. Values are never defined either, but patriotism was enveloped by Christianity, imperialist doctrine, a destiny of unbridled wealth, and it was cloaked in a spirit that embraced Americans’ cherished belief that we are the Shining City on the Hill. It inspired, and inspiration doesn’t need definition or even justification; it only needs to run through our veins. Democrats have forgotten that.

When Democrats lose, we get together to figure out what went wrong, and then issue a proclamation to say that “We’re going to learn how to listen so that we can serve you better.” That might even be the most genuinely intelligent way to get better and to do better things, but it doesn’t inspire, and that’s where we fail.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look critically at ourselves, and build new alliances, use polling and collect data (and everything liberals tend to do by nature) but we cannot keep missing the bigger picture- What do we offer to voters that says “We are holding America together with the values that can make your dreams possible”?

That is not specific and detailed policy and it isn’t the result of polling to tell us what Americans want the most so we can decide where to focus. We cannot avoid policy, because that is part and parcel with what makes us Democrats- but policies are the apples on the tree, not the root system that makes them come to fruition.

Easier said than done to grow stronger roots, but we can take a page out of the history of rental cars. No, seriously.

Avis could not overcome the size of Hertz and they developed one of the most enduring tag lines in history. Avis lost millions every year until they came up with “We’re Number Two; We Try Harder.” The industry said “That will fail! You can’t advertise that you’re not number one!!” But, lo and behold! It spoke to the public and they started making money for the first time in decades. It inspired people to believe that Avis was truthful and was, in fact, going to try harder.

That’s what people want. Not necessarily the policy-equation that shows them the math and science behind why one idea is better than another or where they have been failing, but the feeling that they can believe in something, or someone, who will try harder, so that their own hard work will pay off.

The take away here should not be that Democrats have to admit defeat or be self-deprecating; the take away is that we have to show what motivates us so that we can motivate voters.

We are motivated by making America stronger, more productive, safer, and more successful across the board so that everyone feels that they have a chance again.

Here’s my volley into the slogan arena: The Democratic Party: Building a stronger, healthier America.

Then, how do we turn that into a “contract”? That is what we should be exploring. We are Democrats in the 21st century; the progeny of the Age of Enlightenment to challenge the status quo and break the molds that confine us to our lesser selves. Our order is to expand society to a greater consciousness. Good stuff. But it doesn’t serve us well on a bumper sticker.

Republican/Conservatives have so engrained patriotism into their brand that to tell a Republican that they are voting against their own interests is like trying to convince a devout Christian that Christ wasn’t the Messiah. Or to a devout Muslim that he was. It is simply their identification to their core belief. As Democrats we have a long history of believing that we can use logic and facts to make our case; to show that person at the door that we are the better fit to match their goals and that they have, in fact, been voting against their interests. It isn’t convincing.

So, is there room for us at the door if “God and Country” have already been taken?

Yes.

No party has ever actually cornered the American Dream. All we have is a vague, abstract, amorphous thought that contains feelings of security, experiencing happiness and freedom. Maybe it buys a house, puts the kids through college, takes a vacation every year; who knows what the American Dream really looks like?

Telling Americans that they are not serving their own interests is not how we can communicate our values. It will be found when our message marries better health with their dream; higher wages with that dream; safer communities with that dream; expanding opportunities for our kids and grandkids with that dream.

We must marry our policies to America’s preeminent value. The dream that gives a productive life to our elderly, the infirmed, children, our businesses, our military men and women, our working families, and those who have fallen into, or were born into, a legacy of poverty. And the continued prosperity of the wealthy and fortunate, as well. Every one of us falls, at one time or another, into one of those categories. The dream respects the health of every American. Our strength as a nation together, will always surpass the strength of the few who are at the top. That is a message for the real America.

Once again….The Democratic Party – Building a Stronger, Healthier America.

It ain’t the heat, it’s the Hume-idity

I just can’t get this series of statements from Brit Hume out of my head: http://politicer.com/brit-hume-giving-health-insurance-to-sick-people-defeats-the-core-ethic-values-of-this-country/

Hume’s comment: “Obamacare was designed to help the poorest and sickest citizens out there. However, as noble as that sounds, the consequence of such logic is the fact that it neglects the core ethic values that were embedded in our constitution.”

He goes on to define that core value as the responsibility of every American to take care of themselves without burdening others. He says: “If you’re at a point where you’re both poor and you get sick, it’s your own fault.”

As I try to wrap my mind around that arrogant and ignorant analysis, there is something being said here that illuminates a question dividing the left and the right in America: What are our American values?

The Hume/Trump/half of America-side defines our preeminent value as hard work, not burdening others, and thereby reaping the reward of the American Dream; which is ostensibly unlimited success.

The rest of us live in reality. The enduring myth that hard work and rugged individualism will result in prosperity is part of our national fabric, and does, in fact, inspire us, but it is only a chapter in our story. A chapter that is supported by rags to riches evidence, but that evidence is from a narrative written exclusively by those who won. It ignores a larger reality. The reality that contains stories of misfortune with myriad consequences that betray Hume’s “responsibility of every American to take care of themselves.”

No one asks for mental illness, a lost parent from a car accident, cancer, disabilities, or even whooping cough. No one asks to be part of corporate downsizing or to have stagnant wages. No one asked to be born into poverty or for poverty to befall them and the hurdles and challenges of environment, hunger, and limited access to education and healthcare that result.

The reality of oppression from a King, and from amongst ourselves, is what actually created the Constitution and it is embedded in our true American value; to sustain a country of, for and by the people. That is a plural concept, not a singular proposition. The “general welfare” in the Preamble was born from the understood value of the “common good.” Our government was created to support that society, from which individualism and hard work have a clearer path to success, but one cannot divorce themselves from the foundation of the community, large and small, in order to fulfill that dream.

“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are America’s core values as eloquently expressed in our Declaration of Independence. Not margins, profit and diversified portfolios. To many Americans, today, affluence is the most important measure of success, but the spirit of rebellion that caused colonists to defy a King at the risk of treason, was born from a bigger dream than material wealth; it was the inalienable right to freedom predicated on equal justice.

Or is that just another “spiritual” pleasantry to Mr. Hume and not a real American value?

The End Of The World As We Know It!

zombie-apocalypse-from-overclockersYou know those apocalyptic movies where the world is near extinction because we are being overrun by Zombies?  They became Zombi-fied from a virus that is circumnavigating the world at an exponential rate.

The movie will go back in time, briefly, to show us the unnoticed, seemingly insignificant, event that first sent monkeybrainthe virus airborne into a lethal chain reaction.  It’s usually something as benign as a pet chimp sneezing into their new owner’s cereal bowl.  The intent is to suggest that it’s something so unforeseeable that it could be happening as we sit in this very theater.

What if we are at the beginning of one of those sequences of events right now?  Could we implode from a cacophony of conflicting nuances, divergent political agendas, contradictory rules, extended punishments, threats, insults, and misunderstandings?

I’m not an alarmist, by nature, but my interest in politics compels me to look for patterns in current events.  As a writer, I translate those observations into common analogies to grasp what is going on.  Make sense?  No?

Well…. in America, our solutions to problems, historically, are comparable to an antiquated idea Punished Boy --- Image by © Roy Morsch/CORBISof child rearing.  If there is a behavior that alarms us, punish the culprit and the problem will go away because no one likes to be punished.

So we castigate, eliminate, or incarcerate everything and everyone that had anything to do with anything or anyone who might have said, done, or listened to anything or anyone that might have misconstrued, misjudged, misappropriated or misbehaved.

What happens in reality, however, is the behavior is simply displaced and moves somewhere else or is transposed into a different, but equally poor, behavior.

We have come to a very precarious place where many people think that banishment, chastisement, punishment, censorship and walls can replace education, understanding, compassion, diplomacy and bridges; silence the protest and we eliminate the problem.  Censor the protester, politician, pundit, satirist, musician, writer, parent, teacher, or student…and the conflict is corrected.

In reality, however, we create a more frightened and more fragile society.  And I’m concerned.  We cannot silence of voices who hold our leaders accountable because they are the narrators of our story.  They are the ones who can illuminate that sequence of events before it’s too late.

Can you excuse me for a moment?  My chimpanzee has a cold.

Sullied by every breath


When I was 10 years old my family took a vacation to the east coast to visit Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello, Mount Vernon, and our nation’s capital. Like so many others of my generation, my consciousness was awakened 5 years earlier by the assassination of President John F Kennedy and I became obsessed with everything that had anything to do with Presidents, American government, our founding, the colonies, and Congress. I was fascinated by figures in powdered wigs, with ruffled shirts, who wrote eloquent tomes with giant quills.

I bought into the American myth, hook, line and sinker. And I still do. While the flaws in our history that have belied our promise, like slavery and the denial of women’s suffrage must be viewed askance, I forgive our forebears within the context of their time, not to lessen the atrocities of prejudice, but to believe in the higher purpose of representative democracy to be the agent of justice and change.

In 1968 when we walked up the steps to the Capitol the marble and sandstone glistened with what I perceived at the time to be the collective wisdom of all of the great men and women who passed before. I still remember the echo of hushed voices in the Rotunda as others toured with the same reverence for the history of our government.

When we drove past the White House I imagined President Johnson inside signing some document or another. We drove past the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials and my impression was that they were as huge as they should be to commemorate the great men inside.

We walked the cobblestone streets of Colonial Williamsburg and I decided that I might be a reincarnation of an 18th century blacksmith; I felt so completely at home.

Upon our return to Iowa I immersed myself in American history and the workings of government. I ran for Student Council, took humanities classes, and devoured social studies. I admired the people who ran for office, and for our elected officials, even when they failed. Richard Nixon became president soon after our Washington adventure, but I never hated him. I drowned myself in Watergate news, and concluded that President Nixon was not an honest man, but— I never disliked him. I believed, and still do, that Richard Nixon was awed by the office he held.

President Reagan was, too. So were Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama and every President who came before. I think that American history, with all of its flaws, conquests, challenges and promises granted or missed, has worn the coat of greatness, and it has been our participation in that noble myth that has held our nation together.

Which brings this long windup to its conclusion: President Trump has no such allegiance to the divine grace of democracy; to the sanctity of social justice; or to the awe inspiring mechanism of American government. Never in my life, or in my perception of life before me, has the power of the office of President of the United States been so sullied. But, today, as I read Mean Tweets from the man who carries the torch of our highest office, and watch his insincere directives that separate, subjugate, and suppress, I feel exactly that way.

Sullied.

The Emperor Has Designer Clothes

Disclaimer: Anything in this article pertaining to President Donald Trump has been written by someone who does not admire the aforementioned president. The views contained here are of a person pre-disposed to believing that the character of Donald Trump is based in a malignant narcissism and devoid of empathy, and therefore Donald Trump’s motives are not in the best interests of America. Offer expires 1/21/21. See dealer for details.

Yesterday, President Donald Trump gave a speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, not far from where I live. I did not attend the rally, and instead went to see Ann Wilson (of Heart) perform. When presented with the choice for the evening I opted for the entertainer who sang “Crazy On You” instead of the one who IS crazy on you (please refer back to disclaimer). Besides, I knew that I would get an earful from people who attended the Trump Rally and from numerous reports from the Fake Media.

Okay…I got that out of my system.

I am riding the fence here because I am very vocal about making the plea to all of us to become more civil and to reduce the hostile rhetoric that fans the ire of those among us with weaker ethical constitutions. Even for those who delineate between right and wrong, the conversations often become arguments and create lines that separate us from our better selves. But, my “plea” did not mean (nor should it) that we lay down our ideological arms and acquiesce to impertinence.

Donald Trump is, to me, the embodiment of the problem created by a narrow view of America’s promise of freedom and justice. In my view this is the most dangerous presidency in the history of the United States because it is a culmination of controlled information, lack of access to the free press, and plutocratic leadership. We have been inching toward an oligarchy for 40 years, but now we are fast-tracked by an authoritarian who is seduced by theocracy.

Hyperbole? To some (perhaps, to many) that is how my thoughts here will be judged. Yet, I am not prone to hyperbole in such matters and so I am going to give myself the benefit of reasonable doubt; I sincerely fear for the health of the nation I love. I honestly believe that if we allow Donald Trump’s fascist tendencies to become the New Normal, the country my children and grandchildren will inherit will be at risk of collapse. Not just another deep recession, or even a catastrophic depression, but actual collapse.

John Adams wrote in 1814: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy.”

Adams WAS prone to hyperbole, but nevertheless, his caution led to safeguards within our Constitution to protect us from a tyrannical majority. We can see the wisdom from his prognostication in the creation of the Bill of Rights and it may be the only thing that gives us a fighting chance.

I watched video of the President’s speech in Cedar Rapids. I heard the cheers when he made his case for “loving America” and for caring about “all Americans.” He recited a new phrase, “We’ll have to see,” as a pardon for controversial policies, in order to proclaim that his aim is true. It was received by the sizable crowd with thunderous applause. I know people who were there, who previously did not trust Trump, but became new believers after an hour of this well-crafted speech, designed to assuage that very mistrust.

“I don’t want poor people in top economic positions,” said President Trump. He went on to defend his appointments of billionaires to his cabinet: “Because that’s the kind of thinking we want…because they’re representing the country. They don’t want the money.”

That will make sense to a lot of people. It seems logical. But it is the very core of what is wrong with this Trump presidency. It is exactly how a plutocracy is sold to the general population; a false proposition that claims that the wealthy will hold, at heart, the interests of the less well-to-do in their policies, rather than pander to increasing their holdings.

No load of BS was ever put forth that was closer to actual bull s#!t.

Yet, people buy into it with the same optimism they feel when they buy a lottery ticket, and also with the same chance of winning. It is the same Supply Side economic sale that has been winning the hearts amd minds of hard working Americans for decades: Give the wealthy more of the money that was created by their investments (which did not actually create a product, but was money spawned by money) and they will invest more in the expansion of businesses to create more jobs….more jobs, more income, more spending, more economic growth and prosperity.

It is a perfectly logical paradigm. Except that it doesn’t work. It never has and it never will. It never will because of the very flaw espoused by Trump’s reasoning that wealthy people will be less motivated to create more personal wealth and will, in fact, be more inclined to increase opportunity for the rest of us. What happens, in reality, time and time again, when supply-side (Trickle Down) principles are implemented, is that the wealthy become wealthier, the divide between the haves and the have-nots widens, wages remain flat, and expansion doesn’t occur because the truer economic principle is DEMAND.

When the working class does not have any disposable income (or, in fact, sinks from mounting bills) to stimulate the economy, the bottom falls out and we have what we saw (as a result of Trickle Down) in 2008: a bottomless recession.

What does happen, however, is the creation of plutocratic government where wealth determines the rules by which we are all governed.

“Trump truly loves America and cares for all of us” was the takeaway from one rally attendee on Facebook. But in the very same speech, Trump derides those silly (stupid) Democrats for being so foolish as to put a 30 year old who “doesn’t even live in the district” on the ticket in Georgia. A head scratcher, for sure, on the part of Democrats, but is this how Trump expresses his deep, abiding faith in all of us? Aren’t Democrats Americans? I’m not feeling the love.

Or is this a Christian-influenced principle where we accept that God loves us and only asks for our love in return? If so…well…something just made a lot more sense with regard to how Trump views himself.

Trump had LGBT support removed from the White House website. Is that because he loves them? Are his proposed policies that lend themselves entirely to the theocratic ideal of the Christian-right, his way of showing his love and support for the gay community?

Is this what we parents call “tough love”?

Public school teachers are Americans, too. Is marginalizing their impact on our children, reducing their budgets, and eliminating their bargaining rights his way of showing love?

I am receptive to Trump’s position against NAFTA and TPP, but is that his love of workers or his love of populist politics? Perhaps, I am being too cynical here, but if Trump truly loved American workers how come his policies don’t support unions and collective bargaining, and instead push to privatize as much as possible? Is it in the interests of the working American to put their health care, pensions, and working conditions into the hands of shareholders whose preeminent interest is in profit?

Don’t people who need health care qualify as “Americans”? Why then has ACA been demonized when it was exactly what Republicans proposed 28 years ago? It needed work and changes, but to eliminate the availability of insurance to over 20 million people, to reduce Medicaid, and threaten Social Security, is that an expression of how much he cares about the 98% of us who need such things?

Children born in America to illegal immigrants are Americans (read the 14th Amendment). Where is the compassionate concern within his immigration mandates that will deport their parents? Go ahead and buy the false argument that purports that these illegal immigration “criminals” are raising our taxes by suckling off our welfare, that they are taking our jobs and committing a high percentage of crime (all untrue), and that still doesn’t spell “compassion” for the children.

And speaking of children…does Trump love the children, outside of the womb, who have seen the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program reduced; reduced because their parents are perceived as freeloaders?

I suppose one can argue that green lighting oil pipelines will reduce energy dependence and create a lot of temporary jobs, but is that a genuine expression of caring for our country? To bleed carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, ignoring the warnings from the scientific community, and to reduce the funding (that creates jobs) to create a greener and more sustainable environment?

This is a strange kind of love in my book. It is a strange kind of love for America when I see the free press restricted, when information is guarded, when transparency in government becomes opaque, and when wealth populates the administration of “the people.”

I have no wish to create hostility with this article. None at all. But dissent; a redress of grievances; the expression of free speech (and entirely civil) is the function and responsibility of this great nation. It is not only necessary, but if the First Amendment goes on life support (and I believe it is dangerously close), there will be no more America to love.

Christians, Deists, and Atheists, Oh My!

200 years is a long time to keep anything going. Consider the world 200 years ago and you won’t find much that resembles the world today; not in the United States, anyway.

200 years ago the War of 1812 rocked our newly won sovereignty to its core as residual resentments between our Union and Britain remained, and a bloody, 32 month conflict was ended only after Washington was burned to the ground.

State of the art transportation was a horse drawn buggy, candles and oil lamps lit rooms and hallways, armies fought with muskets, slaves comprised the manual labor of agrarian states, and agreements were honored with just a handshake to bind them.

A Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, drafted from a Revolution, were still relatively new, and America, although growing more powerful from that promise of freedom, was still considered an experiment in Democracy; no one was absolutely certain that it would work.

Central to the theme of this great republican trial was religious freedom, arguably the cornerstone of all the freedoms our founding fathers envisioned and designed in their documents to uphold a constitutional government.

It was nearly 200 years before the revolution when immigrants from England made the treacherous journey across the Atlantic to escape the Church of England seeking freedom from persecution. Over time they, themselves, exercised their own forms of persecution between settlers of other denominations, but central to the cause of the immigration to America was a concept of freedom.

It was amorphous and roughly drawn from their sense of dignity coupled with desperation, but it was nevertheless the motivation for their adventure to an unknown land and was the premise by which they would form new laws, and begin to resist a King.

By the mid-18th century colonial farmers and tradesmen still carried the torch of the original pilgrims adventure, but now these Americans were turning their collective spirit toward the tyranny of a British Monarchy that demanded from them what their innate sense of justice told them was unfair.

10 years after the implementation of The Stamp Act in 1765, the colonists declared war against Britain on the grounds of unfair taxation, and from the historic winds of change rose a rag tag collection of Christians, Deists, and Unitarians who transcribed the calling of human beings toward freedom and justice into words of action.

Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” published in January of 1776, is regarded as the original primer that put this aggregate spirit of freedom into the context of a new government and to fan the populist flame of revolution. Only 6 months later Americans read the Declaration of Independence for the first time and now a document existed to eloquently express a noble purpose.

(Note: While I forgive our revolutionary forebears for the context and complexities of their time, I cannot overlook that human bondage was a legal practice that took another hundred years to abolish).

The Declaration makes it clear that governments created by humanity derive their powers from the consent of the governed, and it served as the adumbration for the Constitution which followed. It is not a legal document, but a statement of purpose to define and to defend the Inalienable Rights of Men (human beings) in the pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness.

When the Revolution was won and a Constitution was drafted, the framers very carefully constructed its First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

There is no mistaking what these words mean. They are the very definition of our hard won Republic and they frame the security upon which it rests.

“No law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” specifically and clearly outlines that we cannot fall under the auspices of a national religion, and that any religion can be freely followed or expressed.  If there is any leeway for interpretation it would only regard the freedom from religious practice, as well, but no free nation, founded on inalienable rights, can exclude non practicing agnostics and atheists.

Freedom of speech is a broad concept in terms of what it entails, but it is specific at the same time as it means that government cannot legislate to curtail the free expression of ideas.

This would again, logically, include the expression of religious beliefs, but as we have the right to express them, they cannot become the law of the land.

This Grand Experiment in Democracy is now a third of a century past 200 years, and while we can rest assured that we are stronger today from the fruits harvested from freedom, the conviction of some of our constitutional principles are fading or forgotten.

The modern interpretation of the original rebellion that calls itself “The Tea Party” has carried into its vague (yet dogmatic) agenda, theocratic ideas that are contrary to our founding purpose.

tea-party-300x182They, and many others with an extreme conservative philosophy, believe that we should be a Christian nation; that the Founding Fathers constructed and fought for a nation with exclusively Christian principles; that the “natural God” and the “Creator” referred to in the Declaration of Independence was specifically the Christian God.

It is almost on a daily basis that I will read or hear someone state the belief that our Founder’s design for America was born exclusively from Christianity.  But, when we look critically at the story of our nation it is clear that such an exclusionary religious concept is contrary to all of our freedoms and would be, in fact, un-constitutional.

It is irrefutable that Christianity was a primary influence on the creation of our nation and that Christianity embraces many of the moral directives that define our ideal Republic, but it is also irrefutable that one doctrine cannot be the sole proprietor of such virtues.

And to secure our freedom for the next 200 years we must be vigilant toward understanding that distinction.

“And freedom tastes of reality”

Do you know that I can find out what you’re driving, what you pay every month, and when your lease expires?  Do you own your car?  I knew that already and I know what your trade-in totaled and what bank you got a loan from and at what interest rate.

IBig-Data know your house payment and if you like red shoes.  I can have a banner appear when you go online that promotes your favorite brand of coffee and I know the name of your first pet.  And I’m just in marketing.

Imagine what the government can know.

The 4th Amendment is under fire and so is the 5th and the 1st and they have been for a long time.  But, here’s the really troubling part:  We’ve been all too happy to let them know whatever they want to know.  In fact, we expect government to know as much as possible about everyone– just so long as it isn’t us.

The NSA eavesdrops on our conversations when their software reveals that we have been using suspicious language or communicating with nefarious people, and our texts, emails, Tweets and phones can be targeted for investigation.

So what are we going to do about it?  Most likely….very little.

557184_f260Perhaps, Col. Jessep sums up our self-imposed ignorance best in “A Few Good Men”:  You have the luxury of not knowing what I  know… And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives…You don’t want the truth.  Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall.  You need me on that wall!

Because, we are afraid, and because we want to be protected from terrorism and from every unknown threat.  Because 9/11 scared the living crap out of us and weve allowed, if not downright begged, the government to analyze all the information that is available regarding terror networks and suspect operatives, whether they are known Al Qaeda or as pedestrian as the guys in the apartment next door, because, who knows….?

And when government law enforcement misses; when a bomb goes off because not enough secretive information was processed – we tear them down for not protecting us.

If every other nation, every terrorist cell, every business, marketer, and hacker has access to Big Data, with information about our individual habits and preferences that creates a 3 dimensional, real time, map ofDundas_Data_Visualization_Sales_And_Marketing_Digital_Dashboard society and every imaginable microcosm therein, how can we limit our own government from processing the same information in the interest of our protection?  That is, after all, a primary function of governance.

Can we really expect our government to stand down when Proctor and Gamble has all of the same information?

I posted some thoughts a little while back that I called “The Price of Freedom” where I posited that freedom isn’t free and it isn’t necessarily safe.   We can choose freedom or we can choose security, but we cannot necessarily have both.  The laws which protect our freedoms can also leave us vulnerable to what the government doesn’t know.

The 4th Amendment provides us with freedom from illegal searches and seizures by law enforcement officers:  “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”  That can logically be extended to technology that didn’t exist at the time; cell phones and computers.

The Constitutional Framer’s intent was to secure individual rights and freedoms from government overreach, even in the pursuit of security.

I bristle at anything that offends the 4th amendment or suspends habeas corpus, because I believe that the Cause of Protection and Security will lead to Abuse of Power and ultimately to Tyranny, whether government, corporate, or both.  I believe that we must take the risks that come with an adherence to the Bill of Rights and from “not knowing everything” so that we can protect the only thing that truly keeps us free:  the Freedom of Thought.

50 years before the Revolution began Benjamin Franklin proffered:  Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such thing as Wisdom; and no such thing as public Liberty, without Freedom of Speech.

But, I am a minority.  Many people, on the left and on the right side of the aisle, are appalled by the invasion of privacy and that infringement upon our personal liberty, whether it was by the administrations of President Trump, Obama or Bush…or Clinton or Reagan….or Nixon or Johnson…or Lincoln; but, nearly everyone still chooses to be safe rather than sorry.  It’s a cliche that resonates to our core.

Living without freedom, or freedom without living?  Tough call.

ben-franklin-liberty-security-lose-both-poster

Though Love and Life make tearful intercession…

dc82853e7904b0731f4e903e56980211Theologian, A H Strong, defined the human will as “the soul’s power to choose between motives and to direct its subsequent activity according to the motive thus chosen.”

No more apt description of the duty of a politician has ever been written. Such reflection strengthens our moral purpose; the convergence of ideas and motives should reveal to voters what kind of a public servant they will be.

Strong continues his description of will as “The soul’s power to choose both an end and the means to attain it.”  Within our soul is our moral purpose.

The journey I am on has led me to biographies of political leaders to learn more about their motives and recently I have been drawn to biographies about Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and James Garfield.

universe-wallpaper-20It would be easy to develop a fatalistic point of view, considering that each of these men were assassinated, but my belief is that life is a series of capricious events orchestrated by our capacity for reason; we attach meaning to stories drawn from the collision of our will and forces outside of our control.

My point of view does not deny the existence of God, it only admits that I cannot define God any more clearly than I can define love for my children; the concept transcends the confinement of words.

Lincoln, Kennedy, and Garfield each seemed destined, yet their demise was the result of careless mistakes; a lack of attention when they should have been more aware of their vulnerability.  As purpose and fate comingled in my mind, I began to think about my own mortality.  Not in a morose “Oh-my-God-I’m-past-the-halfway-point-and-the-last-half-includes-incontinence!” way, but in a reflective “What-is-the-sum-of-this-journey-so far?” kind of way.

Life will always reveal a lesson when our awareness is heightened.  I was on a flight from Chicago to Cedar Rapids in pitch-black darkness, zero-visibility cloud cover, andplane-lightning-100610-02 buffeting crosswinds from a huge storm system passing through.  I fly a lot, but this was one of those flights where the wings tilt dramatically side to side and simultaneously hit air pockets where the plane drops several feet, and I’ll admit that I said a prayer.

It wasn’t a fear of dying at that moment, but I thought to myself, “What if I did?  What was the sum of my life?  What would people say?  Would I be remembered as a good man?  Did I remember to pay the cable bill?”

I try to tame the tendencies of self-indulgence by mediating such thoughts, but I think it’s a primordial human desire to want to be worth something to others.

Suddenly a moment with my father entered my thoughts.

The memory was from an evening only two months before he passed away and he asked me if I was happy.  Not willing to accept that my father wouldn’t be here for years to come, I replied, “Yes…why are you asking me?”

GE DIGITAL CAMERA“Because I’m not going to be around forever and I want to know my family is happy. I can believe I had something to do with that.”

I asked him if he was scared and he said, “No.  I raised good sons and that’s how I want to be remembered.  And maybe you’ll tell your children that there was once this man named Glenn Kroeger…”

I found solace in his words because I already knew that my memories of my father would always construct a story about a good man, who was kind, wise, intelligent, and who loved his family. It would be the story of a man who achieved great success by giving his children the safety, comfort and dreams his own childhood was denied. His flaws would be as forgiven in death as they were in life; they were not the measure of the man.

On this flight I asked myself, “Will my children feel the same way about me?”

There was an unsettling vibration under the fuselage as the plane banked against the wind to land.  But as we touched down softly and safely, it occurred to me that the answer lies in the question itself.  In these moments of perceived peril that turn into the fortune of living, our vanity is arrested by reality.

The present is a moving target that passes seamlessly into the future and instantaneously becomes the past; and it was within that infinitesimal space where my lesson found words:  To live the best of my life from each moment on.  Value is not measured by quantity, but quality. The number of years, the amount of wealth, or the accumulation of things, have no bearing on the value of a life.

As I serve the purpose of being a father by sharing with my children the best that I have to give, I hope that we can all choose to serve our communities, large and small, with the same resolve.

As my father could have proffered:  “We are immortal when our sincerest motives live in the memories of those we’ve loved. And served.”