Hope in the dark

The election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence is horrifying in so many ways, and it will take days, weeks, years to process and understand the implications for our country, and for my own life and community. I have renewed fear for the health and safety of the many people who Trump has attacked, denigrated and vilified in his life and campaign, especially women. I am deeply concerned about the damage that could be done in the years ahead.

But we also know that this outcome is not an accident. It is the very predictable result of living in a world where consideration of the facts and what is true has become inessential to public life. It is the expected product of a political system that exists to feed the beast of insecurity, consumption, fear and disempowerment. It is what happens when we fight our way through crucial conversations instead of listening to each other, when we focus on what we are against instead of what we are for. It is a natural -- if significant and very unwelcome -- stop-over on a path that we have been on for a very long time.

Where do we go from here? Where do I go from here?

  • Grieve.
  • Locally, work to protect the people and communities who are at risk of further harm from a Trump presidency.
  • Regionally and nationally, work to minimize the damage that can be done.
  • Replace "clicktivism" with real movements and real strategies.
  • Get clear on where our personal tipping points are for taking real action.

As someone who has long held the belief that words of truth have the power to facilitate the changing of minds in significant ways, I personally also need to wrestle more with what this election outcome means for the relevance of language in shaping national events.

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The Trump we asked for

As an Indiana resident and voter, it's tempting to be embarrassed at the headlines of "Trump wins Indiana" blanketing the national news today. Indeed, I find almost everything about his candidacy, personality and public statements to be deeply problematic on numerous levels. But Mr. Trump's success in the primary and his win here in Indiana are just more symptoms of a brokenness in U.S. politics that goes far beyond this state or this election year.

When I was growing up, a career in politics mostly seemed like something boring, unglamorous and yet perhaps ultimately noble that certain kinds of people would necessarily take on in service of their town, state or country. Many kids wanted "to be President some day," but most would redirect their attention to other more practical and personally rewarding pursuits when they realized the amount of mundane policy details they'd have to immerse themselves in, or the long road of statespersonship that only just began with a law degree or military service. In this way the bar was set somewhat high for entering a life in politics, and while somewhat contrary to the promise that anyone with a good idea can make a difference in a government of the people, maybe in some ways it was a good thing.

As the lapel pin-wearing political class has emerged, the idea of just anyone being able to make a difference in politics seems more myth than anything. In a country of hundreds of millions of people, the same small circles of people are held up as the only realistic candidates. If you're not willing to amass gobs of money (or friends with gobs they can share), compromise your values and public persona to fit with the room you're in, make promises you can't keep and bow to the primacy of the so-called military-industrial complex, it's unlikely that you can succeed as a politician. Those of us who have in the past held out hope for a candidateperson who can transcend those constraints to restore a principled, dignified approach to government leadership have now mostly learned to know better.

So if we can't relate to or become a part of the political class, we at least expect them to entertain us. Between the 24-hour cable network rehashing of Every Little Unimportant Detail, tell-all insider memoirs, the salacious political affairs and scandals of the last two decades and the fear-mongering around U.S. national security, our appetite for political theater that distracts us from any substantive discussion of issues or outcomes has grown each year. Congressional gridlock, court decisions around corporations as people and money as free speech, and a media generally unwilling or unable to do anything other than chase the story of the day means the founding structures of U.S. government that once required a boring but otherwise accountable and productive national conversation have been all but undone.

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Mini reviews: Brave, Quiet, Reamde, Freedom and more

Some mini reviews of books (and one movie) I've had a chance to take in lately.  For most items I’ve linked to an online purchase option, but please consider buying from your locally-owned bookseller or visiting your local library first:

Brave (2012), Pixar
I can't say that Brave, Pixar's latest feature film, is anywhere close to my favorite from this studio.  It's not that the animation isn't stunning (it is) or that the watching experience isn't enjoyable (it was), and it's certainly great to see a strong female main character whose departure from limiting traditional roles is largely uncompromised.  But the world wrought by the story feels somehow smaller and more forgettable than other Pixar adventures.  The nuanced and emotionally complex experiences of the characters mostly overcame the awkward dialog and sometimes dragging plot, and in the end it was observing their inner transformations that was most compelling,

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Book reviews: Game Change, Public Speaking, Rework

I'm fortunate to have had time to read some actual books cover-to-cover in the last few weeks.  Other than some novels that made for decent beach reading, a notable theme of business, communication and politics emerged.  A few reviews are below; I've linked to an online purchase option, but please consider buying from your local bookseller or visiting your local library first.

Game Change
by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

Published in 2010, Game Change recounts the stories of the 2008 Presidential election with a behind-the-scenes perspective unlike anything I've seen elsewhere. The book reads like a novel (think Joe Klein's Primary Colors or even a John Grisham work) and is simply fascinating to take in.  Chapter after chapter paint a nuanced picture of what Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, John McCain and other candidates were experiencing from the time they decided to run until the election itself - it's a narrative that the media simply couldn't have assembled along the way.  Knowing of the extensive research and interviewing that the authors did to assemble it together made it all the more impressive.

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Obama, Gates and Restorative Justice

When Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested on July 16th at his house in an apparently over-zealous and possibly racially charged police decision, everyone involved quickly fell into the usual pattern of conflict for these kinds of incidents.  Statements were released, lawyers were hired, accusations and implications were flung, and everyone prepared for to defend themselves in battle.  The media did its usual thing, egging on the conflict and brinksmanship, interpreting every action and word in the worst possible light, and the parties involved in the fight used those channels to communicate their anger with each other indirectly.  When President Obama first got involved, he only escalated the situation by first admitting that he didn't have all the facts, and then proceeding anyway to say that one of the parties involved had acted "stupidly."  Awful and disturbing, but pretty much what everyone expected.

But then something curious and possibly amazing happened.

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My political aspirations

Update March 2011: I'm currently a candidate for election to Richmond's City Council.

At a local business networking event tonight, someone noted that they'd heard a rumor I might be getting involved in politics locally.  We had a good conversation about it, and I thought I'd use it as a jumping off point to share a little more about my own political aspirations.

Sometime during my college experience, I decided that I was going to run for the Presidency of the United States of America.  I was mostly serious. I mean, I announced it on the Internet for crying out loud, so you know I wasn't just messing around.  I figured out that I would be old enough to be elected President in the 2012 elections, and I dreamed my dream from there.

I've since figured out that national politics is probably not for me, at least not anytime soon.

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