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Let’s make a deal

Let’s make a deal

I don’t want to write about politics. At least not current-events / specific-case type politics. I want to write fictions, poems, essays that deal with the light sparkling off the water. And most are like me. Few of us want to be consumed by the politics of our day.

In an article for The New York Times (Will DeSantis destroy conservatism as we know it?), the conservative (at least the way the word was used 20 years ago) writer David French discusses differences and similarities between Trump and DeSantis while arguing for a return to a more traditional Republican politician. Trump he described as being all about crushing anyone who goes against Trump; that is to say (our words here): the politics of thuggery. DeSantis he considered more principled: he’s all about owning the libs. In seeking to economically punish Disney for speaking out against his policies, DeSantis is pursuing a politics that is contrary to the freedom of expression required for a functioning democracy. But there are, at least for the moment, some principles to his madness, and we don’t yet have evidence that he wishes to wage a full-out assault on democracy.

Trump was already waging an unprecedented assault on democracy we were compiling his threats to democracy before the 2020 election (Trumps Threats to Democracy). And then, to clarify once and for all that Trump really does prefer a King Trump to a functioning democracy for three hundred million US Americans; after the election he encouraged the assault on the capitol and also tried to convince state election officials to cheat for him. And yet here Trump is, leading in the Republican polls. This clearly demonstrates that the average Republican voter is an evil person. But how can that be? And what can a country do with that information?

There’s a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly (America is headed towards collapse) by Peter Turchin, that argues that the US’s wealth inequality is currently at pre-Civil War and pre-Great Depression levels; and that the only way to save the US and her democracy is to once again (as happened in these eras) drastically redistribute wealth from the top to the middle and bottom.

[This article calls to mind an idea from Tony Judt’s 2010 Ill Fares the Land: the Bolsheviks and others were convinced that there could be no wealth redistribution without violence &emdash; it didn’t occur to them that the Western countries might non-violently vote their way towards major wealth redistribution. Of course, as Turchin’s article points out, FDR’s economic revolution was made possible by extreme conditions (the Great Depression and WWII).]

But if income inequality is the real elephant in the room, why choose Trump, who has shown himself neither interested in nor capable of effecting that kind of wealth redistribution?

So what is the story? Are you republican voters willing to destroy democracy over a culture war that is not even particularly interesting, let alone compelling, to the average US democrat?

And what exactly is it that you need to win here?

Take history textbooks: Is it not possible for US American classrooms to use a curriculum that is straightforwardly true? Something like: The Founders worked through and implemented some great political and cultural ideas that we are still benefiting from; and they also allowed for a system of enslaving people from Africa and forcing them to do manual labor under the tyranny (original sense of the word — as in “unchecked power”) of their owners; and they also encouraged policies that were often disastrous for the remaining native populations? US American children can hold a few ideas together at once: the Founding Fathers were products of their time and place; they gave us a functioning representative democracy with majority rule and protection of individual rights that we still enjoy while we still must work to improve it; and some of what they did we as a nation must now regret — in the same manner and to the same degree that we celebrate the more positive aspects of our political and cultural heritage.

What is the past? It was, but now it isn’t. It leaves traces of itself in our present, but it is not the inevitable ruler of our future. Let us together think gently through our pasts, presents, and possible futures — and where else to start the process but in school? That is to say: is there really a disagreement here? No one can make sense of a pure-triumphalism 1950s-era US American textbook anymore. But most people also don’t want a textbook that does nothing but scold and chide our forefathers, who were, anyway, just people. Insight into how very much one is influenced by one’s time and place is a critical element of wisdom. Why not begin as elementary school students to collectively meditate upon how difficult it is to be wiser than one’s time and place? “To see things as they really are. It can only make you wise.” (Cannons in the Rain by John Stewart, singer-songwriter from California)

Or take trans concerns: What? I don’t think we necessarily have to let biological males into restrooms that say “Women” on them. Nor do I see why we necessarily have to let biological males compete against biological females in high school sports, or in the olympics, or on professional teams. Such topics can be discussed. They are not the main point raised by the reality of transpeople: They’re just people; they should be allowed to be themselves; you shouldn’t pick on them, or act like somehow they are lesser. In a similar vein: No child should ever kill themselves because kids at school pick on them for being a “sissy” or “gay” or whatever it is. Seeking an environment that ushers that kind of foolish cruelty out of our shared spaces is simple decency. But these are cultural issues more than they are political ones.

It goes too far to call someone “bad” because they believe boys should remain boys and they should pursue girls; and girls should remain girls and they should pursue (or sit about waiting to be pursued by) boys. It also goes too far to call someone “bad” because they don’t believe that. But where’s the issue here? Why do we need to call anyone “bad”? You have you ideas; I have mine; we both agree that anger and meanness and vanity are never any good for anyone. So where’s the problem? The problem comes in with anger, meanness, vanity. Minus that you just have people who disagree and need to continue to work to find common ground, but who can do that because they still have a shared and functioning democracy.

In time I suppose the side that believes boys must remain boys and chase girls will fade more and more. But that’s just because gender norms are spiritually irrelevant. When we die, we are not men or women, straight or gay, rich or poor, white or black; when we die we are only the Love we lived — everything else is burned away in the fire raging between this world and the next. The more we live Love here and now, the more we don’t even feel the fire, a la Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego. Gender, race, nationality, political party, religious affiliation, and so on: these things are not real enough to get worked up about.

What’s real enough to get worked up about is whether or not we put Love first. And in this department, my responsibility is not to tell you about the shape of your own soul, but to constantly search myself, trying over and over again to stand up more straight within myself, organize myself better and better around the Love shining through everything, including each conscious moment.

In conclusion: let’s redistribute more wealth from the top down; let’s create a New Green Deal that includes everyone this time (the New Deal did not include people of all races equally and so did not lift all boats as well as it could’ve); let’s admit we all already agree on the essentials and can and should share government and together gently nudge us all and our shared government towards the more aware, clear, accurate, honest, competent, kind, compassionate, and joyfully sharing/collaborating/exploring/growing (the values without which none of our worldviews make sense to any of us).

And let’s let Bartleby Willard, Amble Whistletown, and everybody here at Skullvalley After Whistletown Booksellers relax and mosey on back to dreamtime fictions and other ancient lays.

But what about how evil republican voters have proven themselves to be by supporting Donald Trump for presidency now, even after his cards are on the table? This we can’t fathom. Where is the point where willful incompetence becomes evil? And does it not require willful incompetence to continue to believe that Donald Trump has the desire, training, and aptitude to work with us and our other elected officials to guide our nation towards what is best for all? And if that is not what you are seeking in a politician, are you not choosing evil over good leadership? And is that not another case of willful incompetence?

Don’t you Trump-supporters feel yourselves desperately flinching away from aware, clear, accurate, competent, kind, joyfully-sharing feeling/thinking/acting? Don’t you feel a mistake in your very souls? Anger buys what it wants at the price of soul. Us-vs-them chips away at soul. Needing to be right erodes soul. What is going on? What demon possesses you?

What is going on here? What are humans? And how are they to relate to one another? What is good? If God is all that truly exists, and God is only good; does that mean that evil is 100% illusion? Yes, but how to make things better when anger and pride and self-satisfaction so often accompany criticisms of others? Sometimes others are choosing poorly and these choices are damaging everyone. So then shouldn’t you say something? But how to criticize in a way that actually helps others? And how to criticize in a way that doesn’t clench up your own heart/mind/soul?

Oh America, what can we do so that we are like the 90 year old lady who has shrunk down to 4’2″ and who has dentures for her front teeth and whose bottom teeth are worn into inclines, and who looks up with bright eyes and says that she’s spent the day praying for everyone: “Someone has to do it!” And who then adds that the most important thing is your mood, that’s the whole thing, it can even make bad things good, and then, hugging herself, says, “that’s why I cling so hard to it! I don’t want to lose it!” America, we ask us: Where’s our mood? Where’s our joy at life?

Update 6/12/2023: Ron DeSantis thinks Trump didn’t go far enough / DeSantis finds a new set of laws to ignore / DeSantis privately elevates election deniers while publicly staying mum on 2020 / DeSantis would kill Democracy Slowly and Methodically

Oh, hmmm. What has happened? Republican voters seem leaning towards a clearly established would-be tyrant; but their number two guy is arguably also a serious threat to our democracy. He has bent Florida and its legislature to his will, punished politicians and organizations that disagree with him, flouted campaign laws, exerted pressure on the legislature to pass a partisan gerrymander of his own making, and “Two months before he was Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pick to oversee Florida voting, Cord Byrd was a featured speaker at a seminar for people who falsely believe the 2020 election was stolen and wanted training to stop it from happening again.” [that quote is from “DeSantis privately elevates election deniers while publicly staying mum on 2020” linked to above.]

What is going on? Republicans favor an open opponent to the rule of anything but his own whims, and the only other candidate they seem to consider worth considering seems like a more competent authoritarian. And both men run on outrage and anger.

And now (6/13/2023), with Trump’s Federal indictment, high-ranking Republicans are tweeting that Biden is weaponizing the justice department. How? Did they read the indictment? Bill Barr did: “I do think we have to wait and see what the defense says and what proves to be true. But I do think … if even half of it is true, then he’s toast … It’s a very detailed indictment and it’s very damning,” said Barr. []

How is it that Republican voters are so ready to destroy representative democracy?

Republican voters have decided that their country has been stolen from them; ergo the democracy must already be over; ergo they are right to impose a tyrant of their own? They don’t know what they are doing, and yet they are being evil. Because willful incompetence is bad, and if you take it far enough, it becomes evil, and undermining US American democracy amounts to sowing salt in the hearts and minds not just of three hundred million citizens, but of the world. Because we’ve never been perfect, and often have overplayed our hand and overpraised our prances; but at least we have fair elections and freedom of speech and thought, and with these goods we have the ability to collectively evolve and the space to find our own paths to the Truth as individuals. Now what?

The Republican voters hate us so much that they would burn down the world just to hurt us. Why? And who are we? And how are we so different from them that this is their resolve?

What has happened? The Republican Party has been corrupted, which is to say it is a place where worse ideas and behaviors are chosen over better ones — where it is easier to succeed with harmful actions than with helpful ones.

What would you have me do, God? I don’t want to talk to them anymore, since now they have decided that they’d rather put me in prison for back-talking than carry on a conversation out in the grassy free spaces where we used to have picnics along rivers and otherwise enjoy nature and her smiles. What would you have me do? They’re being bad has not made good. Their foolishness does not make me wise. I don’t mind if people want to debate about how big or small the federal government should be, or how much various groups should pay in taxes, or what textbooks should say about history, or what limits should be put in place to prevent underaged people from undergoing a trans operation that they might later regret, or any of that. All I ask is that they agree to protect our collective right to a functioning representative democracy, with individual protections, majority rule, and clarity honesty accuracy competency and good-will in conversation and policy. But they are agitating to dissolve those goods in the name of — what? Wounded pride?

But then again, if we really have reached the point where the wealth gap is once again unsustainable and the only way forward as a nation is to drastically raise taxes on the few people and organizations who possess the vast majority of the money; then we are in a desperate straight: Add this fundamental econcomic/power quandary to our current habit of escaping into media landscapes and social networks (virtual and physical) of our own self-enforcing choosing, and it is perhaps not shocking to see people flinching into evil.

But what should we do? How can we actually improve things? How can we go back to speaking to one another? You might say to start with I should stop calling them “evil”, but what are they then? “Misguided” is not sufficient; because they could stop and think a moment; stop for a moment and consider what reality is more plausible; but they do no such thing. So then they must be “willfully misguided”, which is to say “evil”. They choose mighty, dramatic feelings (teeth-clenching/shoulder-shaking alternated with heart-swelling/pride-exploding) over gentle kind resolve. Everyone does that some, but they take it so far as to make a Reality out of what is not even a reality. Isn’t that what’s going on?

So is the average Republican voter an evil person?

Or what?

This situation is more difficult to address than we had thought.

Dear God,
What are we to do?
What is good and what is evil?
What are the paths that goodness takes and those that evil takes?
How can we tell the one path from the other before it is too late, and evil has silenced all dissent?
What are we to do here and now?
What should we do to regain the center?
What is the center, and why is it to be chosen?

If the average Republican voter is an evil person, then we are all evil people. The only difference is setting. Or at least almost all of us are evil people, and the only difference is setting. For example, a few brave souls resisted NAZI Germany.

I think the safer bet is that we are all both good and evil, but we can behave evilly with a setting that favors evil behavior and personal imperfections. So for some people, it is more difficult to go along with good than it is to go along with evil; and some people are the other way; and many are in the middle-ish. And of course we are all always changing.

The reason that representative democracy is a spiritual good is that the people serve as a final check on madness and corruption in government AND in their own collective thinking/feeling/acting. How to help us all find the way forward?

That was what the wisdom meme was for.

I guess this is the best wisdom meme we’ve come up with so far: To the Rescue.

Trump helped inspire another one years ago that we’ve always thought pretty good: A Fun New War.

I don’t know. How to nudge us all towards the better? “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still!” No forced belief is real wisdom. We must seek wisdom for ourselves and our collective search for wisdom must also be open and not coerced. We must relax and enjoy one another, otherwise we’ll destroy one another and our shared resources — as dysfunctional families, given enough time, will.

But how? You are supporting Trump and DeSantis; instead of someone willing to say the 2020 election was not stolen, political power shouldn’t be used to punish people who publicly disagree with you, and that the point of politics is to work together to find what is best for everyone — not bend the country to your will, even if the tactics you employ for that bending help slide the nation towards the vanishing of a government “Of the People, For the People, By the People”.

I see this as evil behavior on your part. Since what you are asking for would harm everyone by making the nation more corrupt, and thus a place where it is easier for bad impulses to succeed and more difficult for good ones to succeed. What you are asking for is a place where evil has the upper hand. This is evil. What is your problem? Why are you doing this? I see future blood all over your hands. Like you are clamoring to harm other people and ultimately yourselves. What do you see when you look at your hands?

[Update October 2023: By late-summer 2023, DeSantis was trying a new tact and said, “No, of course he lost. Joe Biden’s the President” But also saying things like, “I think what people in the media and elsewhere, they want to act like somehow this was just like the perfect election. … I don’t think it was a good-run election,” DeSantis said. “But I also think Republicans didn’t fight back. You’ve got to fight back when that is happening.” De Santis – Of Course Trump Lost 2020 Election. Which is still saying that Biden didn’t really win; the Republicans just didn’t fight back about the right things quickly enough to keep Trump in office. In this, he still gives ample room for conspiracy theories about how the election was stolen from Trump. In this, he encourages what? What fantasy about a perfectly run election? And if you can argue that there’s imperfections here and there, the losing side has a right to call the whole thing a cheat? That’s not how you find the way forward for everyone. You find the way forward for everyone by admitting that there is no perfection in human affairs, but that this election was fair and the winner is clear and it is over. But no, he can’t bring himself to do that much for our shared democracy. Instead he kicks up nonsense:

“Still, DeSantis made sure to point out in Sunday’s interview that he saw a number of problems with the 2020 election, including Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s grants for election administration, the widespread availability of mail-in ballots, state laws that allow third parties to collect and return voters’ ballots, and how social media outlets de-emphasized a story about the laptop of President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden.”

And this all adds up to what, Ron DeSantis? Election results that should’ve been fought right then real quick and overturned? What does all this really add up to? Not corruption, but laws and circumstances that you think favor democratic voters. So what, until we figure out a way to get all circumstances, and all state, local, and federal laws to favor republican voters (I think some already do, thought they somehow didn’t make your list of 2020 election outrages), then we have to fight against all election results in real time until they’re overturned? That’s your vision for a healthy democracy?

Everyone slides everything to their advantage. But you take this human weakness too far, although not as far as Trump is taking it. I guess that’s why he’s the front-runner? Because the republican voter has fully embraced the nihilism of momentary victories at all costs, and for Trump and his voters lying is just another weapon? Is this where we’re at? DeSantis is evil, but not evil enough?

What is going on?

How can we deal with this broken half of our political system? How to help when we are probably right to feel existentially threatened: this behavior of the Republican Party is putting our democratic republic in existential danger. And yet what allows them to behave this way? Is it not the clearly mistaken notion that the democrats are putting the nation in existential danger? And so we begin the death spiral. It is true that the republicans are further from reality, but that is not enough to save us as a nation, and it will be cold comfort when we and if we fully self-destruct, and then, if the evil really wins, that truth will anyway be erased from what we can say.

How to deal? When are we in an emergency? And then how to move out of the emergency and into a more sustainable trajectory. I feel sick to my stomach every time I think about politics in the United States of America. I pine for my youth, when it seemed plausible that the US would always be a nice, safe, healthy place, with a functioning democracy and reasonable exchange of ideas.

Oh, wait: Did he mean that republicans just need to get all the circumstances and rules to favor republican candidates before the elections end? And that that would be a “fair election”? That’s not so evil as my initial interpretation, although what he’s talking about mostly means enfranchising less people, so it works against the good government practice of enfranchising as many people as possible. For example, election days should be federal holidays, and everyone should be legally obligated to vote, and voting should be super easy; and important primary votes should get the same treatment, with the additional detail that in primaries we do ranked voting, so as to pare down the radical edges.

Here’s a real worry about our presidential elections from the point of view of good government: not many people bother to vote in primaries, which selects for the more extreme candidates; and you can win the presidential election with a minority of the popular vote. States have rights, but we’re kidding ourselves to act like they are individual nations and should have those kinds of rights. States rights should not be allowed to interfere with the proper functioning of the federal government, particularly not federal elections. Our constitution is not perfect and not perfectly clear; when interpreting it, we should lean towards laws that help the cause of good government, democracy, the will of the many, and the rights of all. In that way we are true to the spirit of the constitution without being untrue to the oft-vague-ish letter of the constitution.]

Authors: Committee for Committed Something Deeperism
Editors: B Willard and A Whistletown
Copyright: AM Watson