A confession and a Disclaimer
I guess I should start with a confession. Growing up in Iowa, it was statistically likely that I would start out as a Republican. I graduated from college, went straight into the Corps, and my service in uniform spans the tail-end of Vietnam on the front end & the Somalia gig, on the back end. In between I served in Asia, the Pacific, the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East…you get the idea. After I retired, took a sabbatical to get a Masters’ degree and went on to be a district manager and corporate trainer.
So, what’s my point? Glad you asked. My answer is a disclaimer and an observation. First, my disclaimer. I’m neither a wide-eyed liberal, nor a fall in line Republican. Now for my observation. I am disappointed in ALL of us collectively—though not equally. This is not the America I donned camouflage utilities and a brain bucket to protect.
Make America Great Again?
Depending on whom you believe, Mr. Trump’s slogan is either a spin-off of American Exceptionalism, or plagiarized from the campaigns of Ronald Reagan in 1980 or Jeff Barth’s for Congress in 2012. Honestly, I don’t care. Whatever its origins, I’ve come to see the slogan as nothing more than camouflage for campaign bereft of substance. To the extent it is still being used, it has come to stand for an ethically and intellectually moribund administration. And it is to our everlasting shame that as a nation we were taken in by it.
Forget, for now, the mounting evidence suggesting Mr. Trump, or his minions may have colluded with a hostile foreign power in the election. It isn’t relevant. My opinions of Mr. Trump and his administration will be unaffected if the Mueller investigation finds nothing. Guilty of collusion with the Russians or not, Mr. Trump is, in this retired Marine’s opinion, manifestly unsuited for his responsibilities. My take on where we find ourselves today follows.
A Marine Officer’s Take on Greatness
I’ve had the honor of serving with some of the finest men and women ever to go in harm’s way. Some whose names you would recognize, if I listed them here. I have also had the honor of serving with obscure, heroes who will sneak through history without so much as a ripple. But they are no less great than those whose names you know. And what they all have in common is service of a higher cause, a point worth remembering, in the wake of the 2016 elections.
Individual greatness is manifested in what we do—not what we say. Great men and women rarely lay claim to greatness. They don’t need to, because their greatness is reflected in the men and women who emulate them. You’ll never catch these folks babbling about unfair media treatment or inflating their own importance by belittling others, publicly or privately. Unlike our current president, these great women and men know that greatness simply is, without bluster…and that greatness uplifts the best in us, rather seeking to elevate at the expense of others.
Truly great individuals (especially leaders at the national level) know they ride to victory on the shoulders of their followers. Followers who in many cases, are great people and leaders in their own right. At all levels, great men and women undertake arduous, onerous, often dangerous tasks because those tasks are inherently right and honorable. Their dedication and work ethic combine with dignity to accomplish great things without trumpeting them to the world, because, they know leadership speaks most eloquently in example.
We should not be surprised to discover these examples seem lost on Mr. Trump. His life-long record suggests he has never served anything larger than his own interests. But the shame here is less Mr. Trump’s than ours, in that too many of us failed to see (or care?) about his superficial grasp of policy and process. Too many of us overlooked his troubled relationship with the truth and his painfully sophomoric speaking style, apparently not recognizing he would prove to be both a domestic and international embarrassment to the nation. All of us…even those of us who voted for his opponents have been irretrievably shamed by his presence in the White House. There is, however, an explanation that, if not an excuse, at least provides a frame for where we are now.
Everything Happens in a Context
Back in 1970, Alvin and Heidi Toffler published Future Shock, a thoughtful and exhaustively researched peek into the future. The Tofflers made a lot of predictions some of which haven’t materialized, but the pivotal theme has proven eerily accurate. As early as the late 1960s, the Tofflers recognized the potential for disruptive change in the intersection of instantaneous communications with information technologies. They called the resulting phenomenon Future Shock, defined as: “the personal perception of too much change in too short a period of time.” The book sold over 6 million copies in the United States alone…and still counting, because it’s relevance remains.
A lot of ink has been spilled, trying to account for the apparently binary America we have, today. The grotesquely oversimplified American social model divvies the US between conservatives in (“flyover country,” the south and the “rust belt”) and the liberals clustered in cities and in the coastal zones. (AKA La-la land) Having grown up in the conservative heartland and lived on the liberal coasts, my gut and my reasoning tell me it’s time for a new paradigm respecting both worlds.
But a new consensus in the United States is possible only in an environment honoring facts for their own sake. Until we recognize facts must inform our opinions, rather than our opinions leading us to accept “alternative facts.” The latter is an oxymoron whose acceptance will serve only to perpetuate a binary (and embarrassing) America. We are better than this…or at least we used to be. In my next post, we’ll consider how the uneven distribution of change and knowledge is skewing our perceptions of reality.