In just a few more days Donald Trump will become President of the most powerful nation on Earth. Along with Trump a whole host of appointees will be ushered into office whose credentials for public service seem to be their public record of wishing to dismantle or maim the very agencies they will now govern.
That it is going to be tough times for progressives is indisputable, but recently I’ve been realizing how profoundly true are the words sung by Joni Mitchell “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” More and more I see signs of people waking up and saying, “I want my democracy back!” My nation is not made great by trashing the place for the sake of the inability to even ask how we can have a nation of democratic governance where justice, compassion, mutual respect, sustainability, social equity and the love of peace are our governing principles. I think it is an infectious message that has people around the world asking fundamental questions about how we continue to get these public leaders whose only interest in the democratic states they are elected to is the burning desire to dismantle and maim them.
While I hear a great deal of talk about protests over the implications and actions of the Trump presidency, I am not convinced that, in this instance, protests are going to alter the outcomes. So far there seems little or no evidence that Trump is even slightly interested in what people say or do about his ridiculous governance by bigoted tweets. However events like Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech might well change things in a powerful way not just because it was a celebrity speaking but because of what she said and how she said it. She clearly knew how to get beyond patronizing you should (even we should) language and speak clearly to the deepest values. It was personal and engaging in a way that makes the universal truth apparent in the particulars of personal engagement.
Suzannah Baum, in a fascinating Huffington Post article, lays out what makes Streep’s speech so powerful, and in doing so also outlines the basis of private and public discourse that can also make a difference/bring people together around reawakening core democratic values where shouting at each other only deepens the divide. The core of Baum’s description of the powerful elements in Streep’s speech is:
- 1. It’s all about connecting. It begins with reaching out and drawing a circle of inclusion.
- 2. The power of story. Streep makes her remarks powerful through the power of story. A story makes universal, the lives individuals live.
- 3. Describes the problem . “Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence.” Who could disagree with that?
- 4. Powerful metaphorical language “It sank its hooks into my heart,” instinct to humiliate.”
- 5. Drawing all into a call-to-(immediate and available)action. It is time to support real journalism and its holding power to account.
- 6. Inspiring close. It is time to act together. “take your broken heart, and make it into art.”—Princess Leia
According to activist and co-founder of Earth Quaker Action Group, George Lakey, Republicans are now in a position to dismantle most of what we once thought of as core democratic values not because they are better at protests but because they have learned to use business selling and marketing skills to sell the shell of democracy minus the content. They have become intensely knowledgeable in how unconscious thought can be manipulated to sell products; products that, in reality, are of little use to the consumer or even harmful.
In the last US presidential election Hillary Clinton went around making promises about future actions and denying (trumped up) accusations hurled at her while Trump went around speaking to more vague but powerful heart held values like “great again” and relying on the repetition of innuendo to make irrational claims convincing. The Democratic Party seemed to have no understanding that the time to establish progressive values is before the election begins. Waiting to respond to accusations—no matter how absurd—until the opposition has made them too big to ignore is to give the opposition the opportunity to define what the election is about (for instance the last BC provincial election).
There is so much room, so much urgent need of real leaders (persons and parties) to speak up for our democracy as a governing system in which citizens care about their fellow citizens and work together to ensure a just, sustaining and sustainable society. I think the Democratic Party in the United States lost the election because they didn’t have anything meaningful to say to the American people. They saw themselves as having to somehow get through this awful democratic election thing so they could go on looting the country in favour of the wealthy few and dismantling the public good to make room for ever more corporate gluttony at the public trough.
I would say that the most powerful influence on the election was Barack Obama’s “Yes, We Can!” that became such a clear “No, we didn’t!” I find it just so depressing thinking of how once in office Obama just gave up on the idea of real or effective leadership and settled for “We’ll get by with a few minor tweaks to the system but we, most certainly, will not do anything that in anyway challenges the power of the ruling elite.” Remember Adrian Dix and his ‘Vote for me; I’ll do a little better.” Then there was the Canadian federal election where the NDP leader was so afraid of offending the establishment that he dismissed any candidates who even mentioned human rights in Palestine and peed all over his credentials as a spokes person for any kind of meaningful change by promising to put an immediate balanced budget above all other social values. Everyone knew Trudeau would “campaign on the left and govern on the right”—it’s the hallmark of the Liberal Party in Canada, but Trudeau got a whopping majority government by pretending to have social and environmental values.
Isn’t it interesting that Hillary got so far out on the corporate interests are all there is branch that she was never able to get back to the trunk of the issue in the presidential election?—what is the core values behind/served by our democratic institutions?
The thing about Trump, Clinton, Obama and Trudeau and, and, and…is they seem to have forgotten that democracy is about the public good. They have come to see democracy as simply the veneer that is used to hide from public view the fact that corporate greed has basically milked consumerism for about all it can get. The final frontier for the corporate greed is the ability to milk all our public services, our public resources the quality of our community life for an ever expanding slice of an economy that was, once, supposed to serve the public good. Well, I misspoke, Trump hasn’t forgotten about the place of the public good in our democracy. He, very apparently, does not believe there is any need for even a veneer over the looting of all things public in the interests of the wealthy few. And, perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing. Perhaps, if you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, then—just perhaps—Trump is just what we need to reawaken our democratic ideas and desire for governance in the public interest. After all, the bottom line is we all depend on what is called social capital to keep the whole system working and we all depend on public resources like roads, sewers, clean water supply, a functioning banking system (how much did Obama’s bailout of America’s irresponsible bankers cost?), education, public electrical grid, the internet, health care, parks, protection of our environment, courts and…
Will the Trump administration drive the Democratic Party to begin to speak up about the value of our public good or will their failure to do so awaken a new voice? The fact that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have done as well as they have from within the Democratic Party leaves room for hope. The dominance of the party by insiders who have unethically and illegally suppressed candidates that speak up for candidates not towing the corporate line leaves room for a big dollop of consternation.
I don’t think we can possibly hope for meaningful change from any party that does not have the gumption to stand up and state the obvious: Corporations govern our lives in many, many ways for their benefit, not ours. Any kind of meaningful change will have to start with a reinvigorization of the public good. It will have to start from a clear understanding that corporations are not people. They are, by definition and near universal practice, simply a big pile of money desperate to become a bigger pile of money by consuming everything it can consume and owning everything else. Oil companies – our wealthiest corporations – are destroying the planet for their short-term profit. Corporations are not people and if we want our democracy to recover we have to abandon this absurd notion that such piles of money are persons nor should they have the rights of persons. If Donald Trump can reawaken that understanding then he will, indeed, have done humanity a great service.
Personally, I think we have come to the end of the capitalist road. I don’t think we can just go back the way we came. Donald Trump and the politics of greed have burned that bridge. If we are to get out of this mess, we will have to envision a new and different future. Next week let’s look at what that new and different future might look like. I would be delighted to hear from you on what you see as the path to a just, sustaining and sustainable world. Write me at ngreynoldsng(at)gmail.com.