The flight and fight response alerts us of danger but was never intended to be a 24/7 state-of-existence. The last four years worrying about our country’s direction topped with a pandemic has taken a toll. Talking with friends face-to-face without a mask or attending a concert feels like a step too far. How do we cross the bridge back to normal life, going from an insurrection to a river cruise?
We are at an inflection point, and the decisions we now make will be “Watershed” moments in our lives, in our country, and the world. No more seeing both sides, but aligning our actions with our values. How do we, as individuals and society, advance an agenda of opportunity, fairness, racial justice, and equality for all people? I’m not going to say: the American people can overcome anything. We don’t know that.
For the first time in United States’ history, we have an autocratic movement in our country. Seventy-five million people have some soul searching to do and take responsibility. Before we “come together,” the wound created between us needs to be cleaned out before it can heal.
The causes and cures are complex, but in difficulties and great challenges, much can be learned. The election of Donald J. Trump and the subsequent pandemic was an organic and homegrown education opportunity. Some of what we learned:
- Ignore bad behavior; it grows into a monster we can’t control.
- Millions of Americans are susceptible to conspiracy theories.
- Lies are not differences of opinion.
- White people saw the America black people know.
- Reducing or eliminating civics and history classes was a bad idea.
- “Whataboutism” is about sowing confusion.
On January 6, 2021, watching in disbelief, we faced the possibility that the great experiment could fail. There is nothing inevitable about democracy. Liberal democracies promising liberty and equality are not self-evident. We’ve enjoyed its benefits over the past two hundred forty-five years. It’s hard to imagine any other system. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best system for most people ever created.
Democracies are mere blips in history. The bigger dots belong to monarchies and authoritarian rulers. The world is experiencing increasing tribalism and leaders’ penchants for autocracy. We must keep an eye on our democracy as we would a toddler’s every step wobbling towards the top of the basement stairs. It takes a village to raise a child and a country to protect our way of life. Hence we must take action over anxiety.
Fear happens when we live in the past. Possibilities live in the future. Our brain believes what we think. Affirmations can change our brain to believe what we keep telling it, such as my ability to conquer my challenges is limitless. The universe will deliver what we ask. Like the little red train that keeps repeating, “I think I can. I think I can.” Instead of allowing thoughts of fear to proliferate, we immerse ourselves with positivity and possibilities.
Upheavals don’t happen in isolation. Like cause and effect, growth in technology and political shifts go hand in hand. Without Facebook and Twitter, the technology that allows us to communicate instantly, the landscape would be less shaky, less volatile. The good news is that shaky grounds are fertile grounds for growth. The technology that brought us together is also dividing us. Whether we embrace or abhor how we are turning into people dependent on our smartphones every waking minute, technology will continue to change humanity’s moral fabric. Its adverse effect, spelled out in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (the temperature that books burn), is one possible outcome. Another result is that we the people take the technology that divides and use it to unite us. It’s already happening.
In a matter of days, corporations and people are speaking up against the lies. The PGA of America cut ties with Trump and his autocratic aspirations. Banks are refusing to support any GOP PACs. Technology giants are carving out and shutting down the voices of conspiracists. Marriott International, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Dow Chemical, and others started suspending donations to Republicans involved in the Biden certification challenge. Stripe, the vendor for Trump’s online credit card payments, will no longer handle his account. Bill Belichick, a well-known football coach, declined the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Trump. The wave of GOP defections is turning into a tsunami, resulting in the Lincoln Party, a robust Twitter presence. Now it’s our turn to continue or start looking out for our country, to walk our values.
My pie graph of how I’d spend my retirement turned out to be more wishful than actual. Golf and brewery’s wedges shrunk, and political activism and shopping on Amazon grew. In between my expectations and the Now (present moment), I forged new routines.
Judy Morrow lives in my community. With the 2020 election behind her, she explored ways to keep her district informed and aware of the issues. Retired, with time on her hands, she said, “It’s a contribution I can make.” Using available platforms, she’d provide SJC (St. Johns County, Florida) elected officials’ contact information along with a list of their contributors (available from a gov website), the committees they sit on, voting, and attendance records. It’s akin to a school report card that offers a valuable insight into how seriously our kids take their education.
The size of our country, like a class of 39 energetic sixth graders, is near unmanageable. Instead, we concentrate on our town, city, and state. While I do not want to fly to Washington D.C. to protest women’s rights, I can drive to Tallahassee.
Judy’s idea makes sense, working from the inside (local) out to build awareness. Informed voters are the heart of democracy. Think if every town in America’s heartland did something like this, replacing local newspapers with an accessible and free platform. We can come together on the issues we hold dear, housing for the homeless or protecting turtle eggs. Think local is growing. Creativity is an American trait —time to put on our thinking caps.
The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Blacks, Latinos, and Indigenous communities is a symptom of a long history of discrimination we must acknowledge. It’s time to take down barriers to solidarity and genuine progress. Amid anger, pain, and chaos, we can make American more just for all.