In America today, what might be called the "Spirit of Brokenness" has seized hold of one of our two major political parties, with the result that a battle of more than the usual urgency is being fought over the most fundamental of moral and spiritual issues: constructiveness vs. destructiveness, justice vs. destructiveness, compassion vs. cruelty. And the truth vs. the lie.
We live in one of those times, in other words, in which in our nation something appropriately called "the battle between good and evil" is especially central to the dynamics of the era.
But over the long haul, in human systems, much of the foundational work to advance Wholeness in the world does not partake in any obvious way of the ways of combat. At the same time, when the battle does come - as has now in America - the long, slow, patient work of making the world a better place has a strong bearing upon the battle's outcome.
A quite lovely illustration of both the patient work of goodness, and the eventual relevance of that quiet work for future battles, can be found in the excellent current television series, "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey."
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This series is, of course, a kind of sequel to the famous series, "Cosmos," that was hosted by Carl Sagan more than 30 years ago. It is at the end of the first installment of the series that we learn that the new host, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, is not just the replacement for the late Professor Sagan but that the connection between the two men goes much deeper.
Here's how the story is told on one site:
Obama was elected president of the United States, but suddenly found himself president of only a part of it.
Lincoln had just recently become president when Fort Sumter was fired upon.
Obama had just recently become president when the other major political party "fired" upon him, planting rumors that he was not constitutionally qualified to be president, trying to make him fail regardless of what he proposed.
The two presidents faced analogous challenges. But responded to them differently.
The Russians are already greatly impinging upon Ukraine in the eastern part, albeit in disguise. So it is a serious violation of another nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity, but it is not the invasion of one country by another. Yet.
The Ukrainians have no choice, if they are to defend the integrity of their nation, but to use force to reestablish its control over its own integrity by turning back the covert, partial Russian takeover of the eastern region. If the Ukrainian government in Kiev were to acquiesce, the battle would be forfeited and Russia would take the East as it has already taken Crimea.
On the other hand, there is reason to think that the Russians might not choose to impose their will be force: doing so would impose a cost to the Russians were they to send in an explicitly Russian force in mass. (Such an invasion, I am supposing, is what they would need to do to overcome Ukraine's national forces after those forces had defeated the "insurgents" --including Russian agents and military.)
I myself would not bet on Putin being deterred by that cost in terms of international reputation. He is choosing to be seen as strong and tough. He is greatly pained by the loss of superpower status. Meanwhile, he's willing to cast aside whatever concern he might once have cared about being seen as a decent guy to include in the international system. With this old KGB thug, he'd rather be feared than loved.
So, I'm worried for the Ukrainians in making this bet.
It would be precisely the opposite if somehow, mysteriously, all the Republicans in the United States Congress were to disappear for a day. Just imagine all that could be achieved if they just disappeared.
1) Both Houses of Congress, without the Republicans present to obstruct the process, could pass the cap and trade bill that languished back in 2009. In one day, we could change the posture of America from head-in-the-sand to responsible actor on what is probably the most urgent crisis humankind has ever faced.
2) The long-festering sore of undocumented immigrants could finally get a reasonable cure -- one which even George W. Bush sought to implement when he was president. Instead of having millions of people kept hopelessly hostage in a limbo of second-class status, they and the nation could move forward in a responsible way.
3) At long last, the nation could have a strong jobs program-- solving many problems at once: rescuing many in the young generation from life-long damage to their prospects, funding much-needed repairs on America's crumbling infrastructure, restoring some economic vigor to an economy whose recovery has been stuck on tepid because of inadequate demand.
4) A decent minimum wage could be established nation-wide, bringing the compensation of millions of workers up to the level (in constant dollars) that it was more than forty years ago, lifting people who work hard at full-time jobs out of poverty, and easing to some degree the destructive and unjust widening of the gap between the rich and poor in this country.
Doubtless there are other important accomplishments that would become possible -- if the Republicans in Congress would just disappear for a single day.
Justice should be understood as the antidote to the rule of power. When there is no justice, then we fall into the kind of world described by the ancient Athenians as they sought to compel a weaker people to do their bidding-- or else:
"[Y]ou know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must"
Our founders' great contribution to human history was to devise a government to solve that problem. Saying that "all men are created equal," they established a system to equalize power among the citizens. With each citizen given an equal voice in deciding the nation's destiny through the election process- that equality would eliminate the dichotomy between the strong and the weak.
That's the justice of our democracy.
But here comes John Roberts and his majority - Republican appointees every one of them - telling us with a straight face that there is no problem of corruption (or even its appearance) unless there's outright bribery. That kind of quid pro quo of selling favors is, of course, already against the law. But anyone with half a brain can see that government can be bought without such blatant transactions. And these justices are not stupid.
Can anyone honestly say, when we see presidential hopefuls trooping to Las Vegas to kiss the ring of a billionaire, that there is no appearance of corruption?
Do the Democrats have a bold plan to inspire the American people to turn the House back over to them? Not so far as I've heard.
Is there a solution available? I think there is.
We've got a Supreme Court that just doubled down on its disgraceful 2010 decision in Citizens United, continuing in the new case (McCutcheon vs. FEC) to pretend to believe that opening the floodgates still wider for big money to flow into our elections does not corrupt our political system.
And we've got poll data that indicates that the overwhelming majority of the American people - across the political spectrum - believe there's too much money in our politics, and that the rich are getting too large a voice at the expense of average Americans. The people, it seems, understand that our "democracy" is being put up for auction. And they don't like it.
There's an opportunity there. It's an opportunity that not only could benefit the Democrats, but also would be right and noble to seize. It could help rescue this nation from its present descent into oligarchy, in betrayal of the democracy our founders had in mind.
Imagine that the American people elect as president someone promising to institute an important reform to address an obviously major problem - a problem that every year costs the nation a trillion dollars and tens of thousands of lives.
Imagine further that, once elected, the president tries to fulfill his promise with a moderate solution based on ideas from the other party - more moderate than the policies of all the other major democracies on the same matter.
How do you think our nation's Founders would feel about an opposition party that responds to all this by going all-out to block enactment of these reforms, making the reform worse, trying to overturn the reform even before it's tried and hindering its proper implementation?
I think our Founders would be outraged. They'd say that once the people make a fundamental choice, the question then is, "What is the best way to implement what the people have chosen?"
Our Founders gave us a system combining two important virtues: giving the people ultimate power to make fundamental decisions about what kind of society we'll be and providing for thoughtful deliberation on the best way to realize the people's goals. That's representative democracy.
The health care reform that President Barack Obama promised in the election of 2008 bears on what kind of society we'll be. In electing Obama president, the American people decided we'd stop being a society in which 45,000 of our citizens die every year because they lack the reliable access to health care provided to the citizens in every other advanced democracy.
Several years ago, you did the nation a good service by declaring, "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning." Good for you for helping Americans see through the propaganda that seeks to disable us from protecting our democratic heritage.
I am sure you'll agree, however, that since then things have unfortunately grown worse in terms of the ability of the rich to substitute "one dollar, one vote" for "one person, one vote." Since then, for example, we've had the atrocious Citizens United decision, opening the floodgates wide for plutocracy to subvert our democracy.
And nowhere is this subversion more grotesquely on display than with the Koch Brothers' use of their riches to move our government in ways of their choosing. Using organizations like ALEC and Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Brothers are working systematically to take this country in directions contrary to our basic democratic values and (for example in the case of climate change) contrary to the long-term interests of the American people.
In view of this serious threat to rob the American people of their birthright, as members of a democratic society and inhabitants of a healthy planet, I would like to call upon you to make the following public announcement:
Please listen to me if you want to turn back the force that's taken over the Republican Party.
Please listen to me if you've been frustrated by the failure of the Democrats to call out the Republican Party for what it has become:
A force that's insatiable in its lust for power and wealth.
Even though we have the greatest income inequality that we've had in living memory, this force works continually to widen that gap still further. All their budgetary proposals take from average Americans to give more to those who already have the most. As they protect those who have tripled their share of our national income, they cut food stamps to the most vulnerable Americans at a time when jobs are scarce and even the middle class is struggling.
In the realm of political power, this force has given us a Supreme Court that's handed down that disgraceful decision in Citizens United, making it still easier for the nation's widening inequalities of wealth to be translated into inequalities of political power. With our government put up for auction, "All men are created equal" gets swamped by the Almighty Dollar. The Republicans have been working to turn our government from one "by the people" one by those giant so-called "persons" that make up the corporate world.
A force that makes a fight over everything.
This campaign is not for elective office, but it is at least as ambitious.
It's a campaign to have an impact on our national public discourse. More specifically, it is a campaign to bring to the center of our national conversation what I believe to be the central political reality of our times: the rise on the political right of an unprecedentedly destructive and dishonest force, and the weakness of Liberal America in calling out this force for what it is.
America desperately needs an "Emperor's New Clothes" moment, and I believe this new campaign has a chance of helping to bring it about.
As part of the launching of this campaign, I will be giving a talk at7:30 PM on Monday, March 24 at the Washington Ethical Society, Main Hall, 7750 16th St. NW (just below Kalmia).
Here's a description of what this talk undertakes to do:
A destructive and dishonest force has arisen on the political right, unlike anything ever seen at the center of American politics. The response from liberal America has been woefully inadequate.
This combination of right-wing destructiveness and liberal weakness has caused tremendous damage to our democratic foundations. It's a dynamic that must be changed.
That's the message of Andrew Bard Schmookler, a prize-winning author whose books include The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution.
As the recent Democratic nominee for Virginia's 6th district, Andy demonstrated an ability to use a powerful message to light a fire in Liberal America (as can be plainly seen in this dramatic six-minute video).
Andy will present -- and discuss -- his understanding of the nature and roots of our national crisis. And he will propose a strategy to change our political dynamic and strike a meaningful blow in a battle that must be won -- for the future of America and, indeed, the planet.
If you are within reach of Washington, I hope you will consider attending. And if you have like-minded friends who might be interested, I hope you will spread the word.
I wouldn't be undertaking this effort if I did not believe that it might afford us the best available means to help turn our current dangerous political dynamic around.