Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A step back, a deep breath, and a reassessment: Reality

I was stunned by the results of the recent presidential election.  I had a hard time believing that the electorate would reject a continuation of the social programs that have been so important to our nation:  Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and various protections of social and economic groups on the margin.  My deep roots in the Democrat party and organized labor as well as my study of Catholic Social Teaching led me to assume our national commitment to the common good was strong and vigorous and outweighed our understandable commitment to individual welfare.  It is fair to say that I am one of those "liberal elites" who lost touch with the reality of the working middle class.  It is also fair to say that the commitment to the common good may still be strong but there are differences in how to protect and strengthen it.  Where you sit in the economy and society will have a lot to do with how you see this.  Perspective is unarguably important.

As upsetting as the results are to me, they provide an opportunity for me to take a step back and try to understand what happened and what it might portend for me.  Walter Breuggeman in his Reality, Grief and Hope:  Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks urges us to engage in this process in times of unsettling change:  Understand what has happened without resorting to ideology; grieve the loss rather deny it; and construct hope anew from basic values rather than the previous understandings and processes.

While the popular vote went one way, the electoral vote--the only one that determines the outcome--clearly indicated that people wanted a change that would "make America great again."  Exactly what that meant was never clear but it spoke to those who could look back and think that things used to be a lot better for them and the country.  Further the campaign was at pains to blame elite liberals for policies and decisions which had caused this decline and loss of "greatness."  The very principles of my own social philosophy were rejected by the majority of the electoral voters and the policies and decisions from came from those principles needed to be reversed, overturned, and negated.

All the early signs indicated that the incoming administration along with the Republican majorities in the House and the Senate intends to dismantle those policies and programs or, at least, revise them to conform to a different ideology.  Privatizing Social Security is an example of this.  While there will be opposition to these and many other changes, there will be changes in both domestic and foreign policy because the election results require such changes.

It does me no good to pretend this didn't happen or that it won't last very long.  It is tempting to think that the whole thing was a con, actually the continuation of a con, which keeps working over and over again even to the detriment of those keep buying into the con.  Unfortunately that kind of thinking is more ideological than realistic.

As unpleasant as it may be and without giving up my ideals and the need to work in opposition to these changes, I need to face the reality that my ideals and values have been repudiated by the only electorate that counts.  My next blog will extend my thinking into the other two tasks.

Monday, December 26, 2016

1913 all over again?

Earlier this month, I attended a panel discussion at the World War I National Memorial and Museum in Kansas City.  Dr. Matthew Naylor, President of the Museum, made some observations that frightened me.  "There has never been a time since 1913 that is more like 1913 than today."  In 1913 the world and especially the major powers in Europe were "sleepwalking" their way toward and then into the Great War, a war none of the powers wanted or particularly intended to create.  But it did happen and eventually led to World War II with its horrendous toll in human life with a total of 78 million deaths in both.

Based on Naylor's comments and my own reflection, there are three ways in which 1913 and today are similar.  First, the rise of nationalism, nativism, and tribalism.  A commitment to the global common good has been and is being undercut by a rising concern with national self interest.  There appears to be a growing movement to move away from commitments of all sorts to make things better for everyone in favor of making things better for us.  This is especially troubling in the developed nations who consume vastly more resources that their share of world population.  Developing nations increasingly see no reason why they should be penalized by restrictions on their development after developed nations have enjoyed more or less unfettered growth for a century.

Second, international alliances are shifting in hard to comprehend ways.  After decades of stable alliances and treaties, nations are beginning to back away from them and seem to want to make their own deals in a way that sees the impact on other countries as often irrelevant.  One can easily suspect that some of the newly emerging alliances are not clearly in the public arena so that implications of world events is becoming more difficult to predict.

Finally, there are regional and local conflicts which are being pursued by actors who have little regard for the global implications of their actions.  Further these local actors are tied into both formal and informal alliances with major world powers.  The conflict in Syria has already brought US and Russian military into close contact and near conflict.

What is different now and immensely more dangerous is that the major world powers and some of the regional actors have nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.  For forty years I have never thought about nuclear war as anything remotely possible.  Now I have experienced again some of the anxieties that were widespread in 1950's.  Nuclear conflict in the world no longer seems impossible.  God help us.