Politics and Religion

In the 10 days since the inauguration, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a Christian here and now. Although Trump received strong support from evangelical Christians, and some of his edicts actively favor Christians or traditional Christan causes, I’m one of those believers who cannot support this administration or its policies. This stems from my fundamental understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

The simplest version of Christian religion is “believe in Jesus and you won’t burn in hell forever.” On par with this shallow brief system is its collary, “believe in Jesus and he will give you good things/protect you from bad things.” Both of these are the “Jesus as lucky rabbit’s foot” philosophy. This tends to spawn the kind of religion that demands lots of works to earn the desired reward, while practicioners tend to have no tolerance for different views. They know the right way, and they are going to force the rest of us into their way.

That’s the kind of religion that supports Trump.

My understanding of what it means to follow Christ is radically different from that. My faith looks like this:

  • I know that I’m broken in many ways, and that I cannot fix myself. Therefore, I’m in no position to judge other people’s choices. Jesus said to clean up my own heart before telling others what to do.
  • Christ is the only perfect person who ever lived, and he voluntarily sacrificed Himself to fix my brokenness before God.
  • Jesus called his followers to care for the most marginalized people in society, and to not count the cost of helping. He said to care for widows and orphans. He said that if someone asked for your shirt, to give him your coat, too; if they demanded you go a mile with them, you go two voluntarily; if someone hits you once, don’t fight back of he goes to hit you again. 
  • By being in relationship with Christ, I slowly become more like Him — never perfect, but less broken, with my heart and priorities more aligned with His. I slowly start to see myself and my own well-being as less important than caring for others, which is ultimately what Jesus did.

This is fundamentally opposite of everything Trump is doing so far. 

Trump espouses looking out for ourselves first, to the likely detriment of ourselves and the world; the Jesus I know put the needy first, even when it hurt.

 Trump espouses proactively judging and condemning people without evidence to protect ourselves; Jesus gave the worst, most loathed people in society a chance. 

Trump espouses sacrificing the open, accepting, melting pot society we cherish for a regime that favors a select few; Jesus brought together Jews and Gentiles, sinners and religious leaders into one society where “everyone had everything in common” and called for this message to go out to everyone everywhere.

Trump espouses stripping the natural world for resources without regard to the harm it may do; Jesus called us to be faithful stewards of a world that isn’t ultimately ours.

I could go on. But the point I’m trying to make is that, almost at every turn, Trump is doing the opposite of what the Jesus I know would do. I’m not sure yet what my response will be, beyond praying fervently; but I know that Jesus would not have passively stood by and let helpless, innocent people come to harm. If I really am to be a “little Christ,” then neither can I.

Christmas Giving — to Charity

The holidays are fast approaching, a time when people start freaking out about what gifts to give hard-to-buy-for family members. Money flows. For many retailers, it’s a time to make or break; for many individuals, it’s a stressful and anxious time.

I wanted to share how my family has been fighting this trend, and what we’re thinking about doing differently this year.

Many years ago, my parents started doing a Christmas donation give-away. They would allocate a certain dollar amount to each family member, and give us Monopoly money to represent it. Then we would all go through the charity giving catalogs and decide where we wanted to put our giving dollars. Sometimes we teamed up to do something like help pay for a well (which are often expensive), or sometimes just spend it on something like vaccines for kids or bicycles for girls.

Similarly, in years past, Ian and I have given donations in the name of family or friends, and then provided them a handmade card to let them know what we did in their name. But usually, in both cases, the donation has supplemented gift-giving, or accompanied an actual physical gift.

This year, I think we’re going to do it differently. With the election, and with the precedent set by the officials so far appointed in the new administration, it’s going to be extra-important to support causes and people that will be hurt in the future. That’s why, this year, we’re starting to talk about doubling down on this commitment to donations at Christmas. We’re talking about going all in and, with the exception of gifts for Benji, forgoing gifts entirely. Instead, our entire gift budget will go to charity.

Gifts are supposed to remind us of the gift God gave to us at Christmastime: Jesus, and, through him, grace and redemption from our sins. Getting even a very appropriate gift that I like and appreciate is nice, but I believe that giving to nonprofits and charities that do Jesus’ work* is even more in keeping with the intention of Christmas giving. I’m going to be asking my friends what charities they would like us to support in their name (feel free to let me know in the comments or by email as you read this, if you want!), and I’m going to be researching organizations that I want to give to this year. It’s going to be more than just sending Bibles to Africa, believe me.

This election, and the national mood to go along with it, has really reminded me why we need to live generously. It’s not just people “out there” who need our help; it’s people right here, in our state, county, city, neighborhood. Many people have been hurting for a long time, and they chose Trump because they’re hoping to get some kind of help. Well, I doubt Trump is going to help them, but I’m pretty sure nonprofits will be there.

Probably, we should have been living with this level of generosity all the time. I guess it takes a serious jump to get our engines going, but this is about as big of a jolt as we could hope for. Time to take a leaf out of Jesus’ book. He gave everything, even his life. We can certainly allocate a few more dollars to help others.

*That’s not to say that we’re only going to support Christian charities; I know many excellent organizations that aren’t explicitly Christian do the kind of work Jesus would absolutely support.

Presidential Election Results: Part 2

It’s been five days since the most critical election in generations, one in which the outcome stunned more than half the voters. (Sadly, those more-than-half were in the wrong states, so their votes didn’t count as much as those of voters in other states.) I didn’t sleep Tuesday night, as every time I started drifting off, nightmare scenarios of what might happen now that a bigoted, sexist, xenophobic, lying demagogue has been elected as the leader of our nation.

As time has gone by, I’ve realized there are two disturbing aspects to this election.

  1. Trump is morally revolting. He is a blatant liar, he’s sexually assaulted at least a dozen women, he’s racist, he’s completely selfish, he has no apparent moral compass beyond enriching himself and maintaining his own prestige. He mocks women and disabled people. He stiffs contractors to whom he owes money. He engages in tax gymnastics skirting so close to the edge of legality it’s astonishing he’s not already in jail. He has no moral compunctions about splitting up families to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants who are helping drive our economy. He is willing to trample the Constitution by sorting people by race and religion. He has absolutely zero filter and says every filthy, disgusting, and revolting thing that comes into his head. I’m going to stop now, but that’s a clearly non-comprehensive list. I could go on.

    The bottom line is that Trump wants attention, and will do anything to get it — and, honestly, it’s worked. He’s gotten boatloads more attention than any other political candidate ever.

    Okay, so, moral repugnance. I think many people who voted for Trump did so with their noses held, acknowledging that he’s not the most savory or desirable Republican candidate. I imagine many of them voted Republican because that’s what they do, regardless of the candidate himself. I also imagine that many would have preferred a Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or even Ted Cruz over the choice they got. However, that being the choice, they sucked it up and voted for a guy they are fully aware is weak in the ethics department.

    Why? For reason number two, I’m guessing.

  2. Republicans now have free reign for at least two, and maybe four, years. For Republicans, who have been waiting and stalling and hoping for this day, this is great! At last, they can finally repeal all that onerous weight of cruft Obama has done: Obamacare, protections for illegal immigrants, environmental regulations and protections, taxing the wealthiest to provide social services for the poorest. It’s got to be an amazing feeling of elation to at last have full and total control with the ability to do whatever they think is the right thing.

    That’s the second thing that’s so alarming for those of us on the other side. We believe in the value of all those things: healthcare for millions of more people who haven’t been covered before; allowing hardworking people to participate in our workforce and find a way to legal citizenship; protection and action to combat the existential threat that climate change presents to our nation and world; the federal government’s role in caring for the vulnerable and disenfranchised.

    In these philosophical issues of economics and governance, it really doesn’t matter if it’s Trump or another Republican. Any Republican will do these things–perhaps even more so than Trump, who’s flip-flopped on his political affiliations along with so many other things. But it’s clear that Republicans and their political philosophy will have their day, and we’ll get to see what they reap.

    I sincerely hope that all the liberal doomsayers are wrong, and that if the tide does rise (no guarantees, if trade is stifled as many economists expect) it will lift all boats. In short, I hope we’re all wrong and that the Republicans are right, because otherwise it’s going to be a very painful future for many people.

I think the heartfelt sorrow and mourning felt by so many; the angry, massive, ongoing protests; and so many of the punditry’s analyses focus on the former of these issues: The fact that we elected a man with the moral compass of a slug. We, as a nation, don’t want to be seen as condoning a man who’s the moral equivalent of a pile of horse apples. We, as a nation, want the world to know that we’re not all racist, we don’t all want to ban Muslims on the basis of their religion, we don’t all believe Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers. And we don’t want to be seen as the idiots who elected someone who does believe all those things.

And we don’t want to live in a nation where these people groups get trampled, where all the gains of the last 50 years are rolled back in favor of wealthy white straight men. Ethically, we don’t want to go back to the dark ages of the 1950s and before. But we can replace those reforms. We can help people, through nonprofit organizations and other channels, even if the federal government chooses to turn a blind eye to the suffering it will inflict on millions of people. We can use law suits and protests to slow these processes. We can continue to fight for social change and equality. Indeed, this may be the kick in the pants many social justice causes have needed for a long time.

But what about the second aspect? This is where I think the worst damage will occur. Overturning trade deals, ignoring international agreements, shrugging off hard-wrought environmental concessions: These things will ultimately hurt the nation and the world on an inconceivable scale. The global climate change devastation that’s likely to occur will echo down generations long after we’re dead. The economic impacts of the kind of regressive, isolationist trade philosophy (if you can call it that) espoused on the campaign trail would likely plunge us into a global economic disaster the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations. The harm to hardworking low-income families who lose healthcare and governmental social services; the damage to businesses who lose international trades; the crushing burden of debt likely to be incurred in the next four years — these big, sweeping nightmare scenarios are what frightens me the most.

In many ways, I’m utterly powerless to influence any of these issues. I cast my vote, for what it was worth; I’ll abide by the election results, even if I don’t like them, although I understand and empathize with the thousands (millions?) of people out protesting. What I can do, though, is support organizations that work to support those most likely to be harmed in the coming years. I can, and will, increase my contributions to organizations that fight for our rights and protect the vulnerable. I’m not sure which those organizations will be, but we as a family are going to figure out our priorities and put our money where our values are.

If our taxes are cut and we get money back, we’re giving it away. If the federal government won’t use that money to help people, we will choose to do so ourselves as individuals. We can’t directly stop climate change, we can’t stop a global recession, we can’t stop deportation of immigrants or racial profiling or hate crimes or any of that wrongs that are likely to occur, but we can and will give our money and our time to causes that fight against those wrongs.

Jesus called us to help those most vulnerable, who were exploited and trampled by the system. He reached out to those most despised and scorned the approval of society. The church is here continue that work, protecting those who need it most. It’s time for us to double down on that promise, to stop thinking about ourselves, and instead focus on being light and salt in an increasingly dark and dire world.

More on this another time. But those are my thoughts as this painful reality is slowly sinking in.

Presidential Election Results

Well, … Okay.

Here we are.

Most of America made choices that I think are beyond foolish, possibly into dangerous territory. The government for the next four years will be able to do pretty much whatever it wants, without any checks or balances, and the put a megalomaniacal, sexual-assaulting, blowhard liar at the helm whose only true interest is in. Way. To. Go.

Last night, every time I closed my eyes, I kept having visions of what happens now, and it was nightmarish. I can’t say I slept much. By any measure, it’s going to be an alarming, unpredictable, and potentially horrifying four years. I just hope it won’t be worse than that.

But as I was laying there awake, heart racing and stomach sunken to the floor, I thought to myself: This doesn’t change who I am. It doesn’t change who we, Americans, can be as a people. Yes, we may have put ourselves back who knows how many decades, because people can and do make very stupid choices at times.

But this is an opportunity to rise above the stupidity, to show that even if our government is making harmful and idiotic policies, we as individuals are not harmful or idiotic. This is a chance to show what it means to be a German hiding Jews in Nazi Germany. We can reach out to our neighbors who are vulnerable, and more likely to be impacted by all these crazy policies than those of us who are well off. Jesus called us to take care of the widows and orphans; well, if we’re too stupid to elect a government to do it, we can still act as individuals to help.

I don’t think I’m articulating this well. W what I’m trying to say is that one response is horror, shock, heartbreak, stunned astonishment, all leading to anger and disconnection. Another response is horror, shock, heartbreak, stunned astonishment, leading to compassionate caring for people most impacted by this disaster. I think that as Christians, Christ would call us to the latter.

I vote as I think Jesus would have, in favor of the marginalized and those unable to care for themselves. That’s why I so often vote for tax increases that impact us but benefit other people… oh, people who need mental health help, or low income housing, or whatever. But if the vote doesn’t go that way, my responsibility to help those less fortunate than myself isn’t abrogated. Instead, if anything, my responsibility is increased.

This is our chance to step up and show that we are bigger and better than this election. Even if things go totally sideways and we end up in decades-long collapse, we as individuals can continue making choices to support, love, and care for those who need it. No election changes who we are, and no election can that take away.

News Fast

A while ago, I was thinking to myself, “What did we do for news before this election?” It feels like the election has been going on so incredibly long, news organizations and news consumers alike have forgotten what else to talk about. Maybe I just tend to get sucked into politics more lately, but my perception is that coverage has skewed to covering the juicy, disgusting rotting carcass that is our current election cycle even more heavily than in normal election years.

I keep hearing about the divisions in our country — between Trump supporters and everyone else, between Republicans, between whites or police and blacks or police, between rich and poor, between country and city, between immigrants and citizens by birth, between Muslim and non-Muslim… It goes on. It’s disheartening.

But I also wonder how much of it is just news, in the sense that we keep hearing about things because they make such great stories, not because they’re really as bad as portrayed. Surely there are an endless number of instances of people helping others different from themselves; crossing divides; accepting differences. After all, at heart we’re all people, trying to make the best way we can. This is America, the great melting pot. Nearly all of us have family who were immigrants at some point; it’s not like any of us white people can claim to have 500 years of family history in a place here like some can in Europe.

Anyway, I’m not going anywhere specific with this, except to say that it feels like the news coverage shows us the worst without showing the best, giving an incredibly skewed view of the state of things. Thus, I’ve been taking a break from the news ever since I mailed my ballot earlier in the week, including no Facebook at all and no reading political-related articles online.

And you know what? It’s refreshing.

Maybe I’m just burying my head in the sand, but overall it’s sure nice not to spend my time head-shaking at how impossible Those Other People are, or feeling outraged at the latest political scandal (of which it seems like this campaign has at least a few per day). I finished reading a book. I’m listening to music. It’s nice.

Might be good for all of us just to step back, take a breather. Sure, things are bad. But they’re always bad. And let’s not forget that lots of things are good, too.

In view of this, here are a few good things that happened in my life lately.

1. I have the privilege of voting. Which took a long time, with all the stuff on the ballot. The privilege of spending time learning about each issue and candidate, and using the reasoning ability God gave me to try to make a wise choice.

2. Dad and I got to go for a really nice bike ride together yesterday while the weather wasn’t just OK, it was gorgeous. Plus I got to ride my favorite beautiful pink bike, which is a little slower but way more comfortable and all round wonderful.

3. Benji is four, and Four is Fun. I told Benji this joke: “I tried to catch fog yesterday. You know how it went? Mist.” And he got it, and thought it was hilarious and bad, which is awesome! So puns are in our future, which anyone who knows us already could’ve anticipated. Also, we’re able to go do interesting things, like go to the https://www.lego.com/en-us/stores/events/americana-roadshow display at Alderwood Mall.
Lego Washington Monument

Lego White House

We were inspired after this insane display of Lego prowess, and had a fun time building at the free play area.
Lego Free Play Bins

Racing Lego Car

A Society of Grace

I’ve been thinking about social safety nets–in case you’re new to this terminology, that means government programs like food stamps, Obamacare/ACA, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security–and the idea of personal responsibility–making choices that let you live in health and comfort. In political discourse, those two are often presented as opposites: Either you have a system of government that encourages personal responsibility, or your government provides social safety nets.

But, as I said, I’ve been thinking about this. Black-and-white views that say either them or us simplifies issues that simply aren’t simple. So to speak. Here are some things I’ve thought about this, in no specific order.

Many people who extol personal responsibility and hard work tend to despise social safety nets. They see these programs as encouraging lazy, shiftless bums to mooch off the system–and who pays for them to sit on their couches and watch TV all day? All of US hardworking folks, that’s who! Now, if this was a book or if I was a journalist, I’d have done research on the actual demographics of people relying on these different services, and I’d have some nice hard data to make some good firm statements.

I’m not, and I haven’t, so I’m not even going to get into whether that stereotype is accurate or not. Instead, I’ve been wondering is: What kind of nation do we want to be? Because how we answer that question fundamentally addresses what kind of society we choose to build.

Do we want to be the kind of society where we let people make mistakes and give them second, third, fourth, or even more chances, acknowledging that people can fail and often need help? (And I don’t want to suggest that all people relying on social safety nets have made mistakes or are weak failures. Many will be there through no fault of their own. Or maybe that’s just my liberal bias speaking, eh?)

Or will we instead insist that people who make mistakes, or who need help, must help themselves or die trying? If you have the misfortune to be born in the wrong place, to the wrong parents, do you deserve to suffer? If you are lucky in birth but unlucky in life, is there no grace?

Because okay, let’s say some people are gaming the system. Does that mean we shouldn’t help the other people who really need it? Jesus didn’t demand that we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps; the whole concept of grace tells us that we can never be good enough, and that’s why Jesus came in the first place. Because people are people, and can’t be perfect. He came to pick up the slack. To hold us up when we stumble. To be there time and again, after every failure.

As Christians, we believe that Jesus preached the importance of caring for the “widows and orphans” — those worse-off than ourselves. I’ve heard it said that we should therefore support private enterprises engaged in this work. I don’t disagree; my family gives money to some such. But there are so many people who need so much help that no private organization, or even plethora of organizations across the country or the world, could reach everyone.

The government’s job is to keep track of people and take care of them. They can reach people who need help, and they have the resources to make a difference. You may not like the government; maybe you think it’s too big and needs to be smaller. Pass some of that responsibility on to local governments or NGOs. Streamline that bloated monster, get rid of all the waste. Okay to that, too. But we have to live with the system in place right now, and our system is one where the government is responsible for helping people.

Again, I come back to the idea of second chances, grace, and helping those less fortunate.

It’s easy to insist on people taking care of themselves, right up until something happens to you. Then you’re glad that net is down there after all.

When you’re 85 years old and have minimal retirement savings, what would you do without Social Security? When you’ve made bad life choices, are unemployed, and need a liver transplant, where will you find insurance coverage but through the ACA? When you’re a hardworking farmer who’s struggling to make ends meet competing against ginormous agri-business and you get some bad weather, those farm subsidies are lifesavers. When you’re a single mom working two jobs trying to support your three elementary-aged kids, where will you turn? What NGO can ensure you’re fed, clothed, housed and taken care of while you try to make ends meet?

Financial disasters happen, health disasters happen, and while I certainly advocate people preparing (I do work for a financial advisor; our business is planning for this kind of stuff), we need to acknowledge that sometimes things happen far beyond an individual’s ability to prepare.

Sure, it’s easy to insist on personal responsibility, but when crap happens that is beyond our ability to plan and control, then what?

As a people, I think it’s up to those of us who have some to assist those who have none. No, we don’t have an ideal system. But the one we have helps millions of people in need. We need to stop thinking about the programs and how much they hurt us, and start thinking about the people, and how much they are hurting.

A Moment of Opportunity

I think I mentioned that on Thursday, I’m doing this 160-mile (give or take) bike ride, Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day (RAMROD). That’s why my family took off for the beach this week: Because on Wednesday I’ll be getting ready for this ride, and then on Thursday Dad and I will get up about 3:00 am (!) to drive down to Enumclaw to start riding at 5:30 am.

In preparation for this insanity, I’ve started getting up slightly earlier every morning. Yesterday it was 5:00 am; this morning, 4:30; tomorrow, 4:00 am (!!!!!! I try not to think about it too much). The theory is that I’ll be able to go to bed earlier each night, and that maybe it’ll make 3:00 am feel a little less like the middle of the night. A month ago, it actually wouldn’t have been so middle-of-the-night-ish, because the sun started rising about 4:00 am. But alas, we’re down from 16 to a measly 15 or so hours of daylight, and it’s definitely quite dark even at 4:30 am.

Anyway, getting up this early gives me some time, and I’ve spent a bit of it reading meta-analyses and discussions about the current global political situation. Many people I know have noticed it’s depressing, alarming, intolerable… but these couple articles I’ve been reading go farther than that, into interesting (and, yes, alarming) 10,000-foot views.

In the first one, titled “History tells us what may happen next with Brexit and Trump,” the author argues that people periodically inflict chaos upon themselves, but because we–all people–are short-term thinkers, we don’t remember that we’ve done this before. The academics who do notice are dismissed by the masses as “academic elites” who know nothing about the real world. The author suggests that

based on history we are due another period of destruction, and based on history all the indicators are that we are entering one. …It will come in ways we can’t see coming, and will spin out of control so fast people won’t be able to stop it.

He argues that things are likely to get really bad, possibly for many people, and cites a number of historical examples (think: Communist uprisings; World War I) where really horrendous numbers of people died from self-inflicted choices. Of course, nobody saw it coming, because we don’t look back at the past. But it’s there.

…it’s all inevitable. I don’t know what it will be, but we are entering a bad phase. It will be unpleasant for those living through it, maybe even will unravel into being hellish and beyond imagination. Humans will come out the other side, recover, and move on. The human race will be fine, changed, maybe better. But for those at the sharp end?… this will be their Somme.

I find this conclusion particularly interesting. He begins his article arguing that the Black Death may have actually strengthened and improved humans in the long run (see article for full argument), and perhaps this will be our Black Death/Communist revolution/Archduke Ferdinand moment. But taking this period in the broader view of history as one of many similar events, which will eventually be overcome and perhaps even strengthen us–this is not an easy view to take, because today, right now, we have to face the reality of the possible misery we’re inflicting on ourselves. But maybe it’s a little bit hopeful for the long-term.

Also, it would sure be great if we didn’t inflict this on ourselves. If we could learn from those past mistakes. History didn’t have the kind of global communication network we enjoy today; it’s easier than ever to communicate with thousands, millions, perhaps even billions of people around the world. Unfortunately, it’s also easier than ever to live in an echo chamber, continually hearing our own views and thinking they’re the only truth. This is how people come to believe that everything is worse than ever before, and the world is falling apart: Now we can instantly receive news of every bad event happening around the world, and then our chosen voices reinforce the fearful belief of spiraling insanity. Even though we can communicate more easily than ever before, this may not actually be good for us.

In the second article, written at the beginning of May before Trump sealed the nomination, is titled “Democracies end when they are too democratic.” In it, the author compares Plato’s “Republic” to today. Now, I can’t claim to have read it (my classical education was woefully neglected; my parents have so much to answer for!), but fortunately the author assumes we’ve all missed our classical educations, and he summarizes for us:

And it is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment.

[Plato describes the tyrant this way:] He is usually of the elite but has a nature in tune with the time — given over to random pleasures and whims, feasting on plenty of food and sex, and reveling in the nonjudgment that is democracy’s civil religion. He makes his move by “taking over a particularly obedient mob” and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class — and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities. He rides a backlash to excess—“too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery” — and offers himself as the personified answer to the internal conflicts of the democratic mess. He pledges, above all, to take on the increasingly despised elites. And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself.

The article goes on to discuss the fragility of democracy against tyrants, how our amazing freedom literally allows us to choose our own downfall:

I think we must confront this dread and be clear about what this election has already revealed about the fragility of our way of life and the threat late-stage democracy is beginning to pose to itself. …[American democracy] is not immortal, nor should we assume it is immune to the forces that have endangered democracy so many times in human history. …It is precisely because of the great accomplishments of our democracy that we should be vigilant about its specific, unique vulnerability: its susceptibility, in stressful times, to the appeal of a shameless demagogue.

This goes back to the previous article I mentioned, how people forget the bad choices of the past and will repeatedly pick options not in their best interest. With democracy as democratic as we have it — and the article argues that it’s more democratic than ever before — people literally do have the power to choose harmful leaders, with increasingly weak checks that can no longer serve to protect people from their own bad decisions.

It also goes into how the rise of the Internet media and the decline of, well, mediated media has exacerbated the situation, as I noted above in my own thoughts:

The web’s algorithms all but removed any editorial judgment, and the effect soon had cable news abandoning even the pretense of asking “Is this relevant?” or “Do we really need to cover this live?” in the rush toward ratings bonanzas. In the end, all these categories were reduced to one thing: traffic, measured far more accurately than any other medium had ever done before. …And what mainly fuels this is precisely what the Founders feared about democratic culture: feeling, emotion, and narcissism, rather than reason, empiricism, and public-spiritedness. Online debates become personal, emotional, and irresolvable almost as soon as they begin. Godwin’s Law — it’s only a matter of time before a comments section brings up Hitler — is a reflection of the collapse of the reasoned deliberation the Founders saw as indispensable to a functioning republic.

Then, of course, the stage is set for Trump:

  • We’ve got people who don’t know history and aren’t aware of the many precedents of masses choosing catastrophic options;
  • We’ve got the loudest voice being heard the most, and traditional media tossing out editorial quality in favor of pursuing higher ratings and more traffic;
  • We’ve allowed the power to transfer to all of us, giving great power to ignorance and foolishness, with no balance or check to prevent the most compelling foolish choices (the article says, “The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force”);
  • We love to be entertained! Let the most entertaining person win.

I’ll let you all read the whole article, which then proceeds to evaluate why Trump is, in fact, winning–and why he may actually win it big. The long and short of it is that people, collectively, aren’t able to look beyond their own little moments to see a bigger picture.

This is why the Republicans couldn’t unite to defeat Trump in the primaries, and I greatly fear that “never Hillary” holdouts may win their battle but loose us all the war: Individuals aren’t willing to hold their noses and vote against something terrible (Trump) when it means voting for something less ideal (Hillary). Perhaps this time, Democrats can at least learn from the recent history of the Republicans’ failure to stop Trump, and die-hard Bernie supporters can vote for Hillary even though they don’t love her. Surely, if you’re starving, you might prefer cake, but you’d still eat Brussels sprouts over a pile of poop.

The appeal of Trump is compelling and understandable: A promise to instantly “win” for people who suddenly, unexpectedly started losing after a lifetime of winning themselves. The global picture of terror at every turn, combined with the uneven economic recovery that has left many folks in a tough spot, makes for potent motivation to seek out the loudest, strongest voice. He’s the choice that absolves you from ever having to make another choice again. Overwhelmed and terrified with how things seem to be going? Of course you’ll seek the blustering strongman who promises protection and stability, even while engendering destruction and danger.

To call this fascism doesn’t do justice to fascism. Fascism had, in some measure, an ideology and occasional coherence that Trump utterly lacks. But his movement is clearly fascistic in its demonization of foreigners, its hyping of a threat by a domestic minority (Muslims and Mexicans are the new Jews), its focus on a single supreme leader of what can only be called a cult, and its deep belief in violence and coercion in a democracy that has heretofore relied on debate and persuasion. …our paralyzed, emotional hyperdemocracy leads the stumbling, frustrated, angry voter toward the chimerical panacea of Trump.

We probably don’t need to be told this, but the article finishes by reminding us the danger of picking the bully to protect us.

Like all tyrants, he is utterly lacking in self-control. Sleeping a handful of hours a night, impulsively tweeting in the early hours, improvising madly on subjects he knows nothing about, Trump rants and raves as he surfs an entirely reactive media landscape. Once again, Plato had his temperament down: A tyrant is a man “not having control of himself [who] attempts to rule others”; a man flooded with fear and love and passion, while having little or no ability to restrain or moderate them; a “real slave to the greatest fawning,” a man who “throughout his entire life … is full of fear, overflowing with convulsions and pains.”

When we choose the biggest, loudest, meanest guy to protect us–a person totally unable to govern his own words, let alone an entire country–we will certainly suffer consequences. At best, that might mean four years of chaos and disrupted international relations, but at worst…I don’t know. The article closes rather alarmingly:

In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.

But going back again to that first discussion, when you take the broader view, what do you see? Maybe this is the first drop in a thunderstorm of global chaos, or maybe it’s just some bird poop from a random passing crow. Even if it’s the former, what will happen in the very long-term? No system of government lasts forever. Either we take this as a warning shot across the bow and deliberately choose to reevaluate our way of governing to better fit with today’s culture, technology, and needs… or the same thing will happen, but after a lot more misery, loss, and bloodshed.

People, as people, will continue. Hopefully we will learn from this (although history suggests we won’t), build on the good and leave behind the bad from this time. It’s not all as dark as these articles paint it, because with every risk comes a reward. With people shaken out of their complacency, this is an opportunity to redeem and renew our system of government. It’s an opportunity to rise above the petty, selfish, hateful rhetoric and show what democracy is really good for–bringing our best and brightest to the top to lead us all. Maybe we don’t need the elites to be our checks and balances anymore; maybe we can use our technology to come together to make better choices than ever before.