The Tortured Relationship Between Politicians & “The Elite.”

I thought you'd never ask...

Who owns who?

Not too long ago, someone posted a question one of the forums I frequent. To me, it felt a little sophomoric but given the political climate today, it also begged an answer. Not simply for the interlocutor, but for all of us. After working up my own answer, it occurred  to me it might be worth sharing here, on my website. For the consideration of anyone who might be interested.

The question was:

“Can you still say the Republican party is for the wealthy elite, or has the Democratic party equalized or surpassed them?”

My response as I posted it on that forum follows, with a few more points I’ve stirred in for my readers here on this website.

My Take...

My response as I posted it on that forum follows, with a few more points I’ve stirred in for my readers here on this website.

My response was:

Okay, I’m going to try to answer this question without getting pissed. I should warn the overly sensitive this might be a good time to stop reading. I may not be able to pull it off.

Let me start by wondering outloud if I’m the only one who thinks your question misses the salient truth. To that end, I’d like to start with a blinding flash of the obvious.

We’re a nation of 330 million (+/-). We are ethnically, religiously/spiritually, economically & socially diverse. Whether we’re comfortable with that or not is tangential. Personally, I love it, which tips off pretty much everyone with respect to my philosophical leanings, and I’m perfectly comfortable with that. I love that we are diverse and becoming more so every day. That’s a feature rather than a bug, IMO, to being the world’s melting pot.

With that in mind, the notion that any single political party is exactly & only for or about one thing is not simply naïve, it’s guilty of letting all the usual suspects off the hook.

The Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was pretty much a giveaway to wealthy, according to the reasonably unbiased news outlets. I’ve chosen NPR to reference here, but there are other centrist publications that agree.

With that said, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 isn’t devoid of giveaways to corporate America, either. There’s no question the act has good temporary relief for consumers and those disproportionately affected by SARS CoV-2, including small businesses. But do you think Pfizer, Moderna & J&J aren’t smiling all the way to the bank? And surely you’ve noticed that AmazonGoogle & Facebook to name a few, have been making a killing during the pandemic and through both Republican & Democratic administrations have been allowed to function as (highly profitable) de facto monopolies?

We all know they are. Amazon’s net profit is creeping up on $400 Billion, (Forbes) while Google’s quarterly revenue is up to almost $57 billion (Statistica) in the 4th quarter of 2020. And Facebook’s net income is up 57% in 2020. (Investor News)

Nevertheless, there is a difference

Meanwhile, SARS CoV-2 isn’t done with us & is slowly strangling a lot of small businesses while every Republican house and senate voted against the American Rescue Plan. In the wake of these verifiable truths, the Republican Party and it’s crony “news” outlets continue to obsess over theories relating to exhaustively debunked election fraud, cancel culture and the hypothetical stolen gender of Mr. Potato Head.

Seriously? To the extent these issues dominate our public discourse, aren’t we guilty of chasing butterflies while letting the elephants get away? I’ve just finished taking Republicans to task because it’s so obvious and easy, but boes anyone really think that Democrats aren’t hostage to monied interests? Arguably, Republicans are more flagrant about it. But whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, if you’re politically active your preferred party cannot get through a day without soliciting $$.

Collectively, we have strayed so far from our best aspirations as a nation that we (all of us) should be ashamed of ourselves. Whether we’re active subscribers to loaded rhetoric & skewed arguments or passive apathists who just let it go out of disgust, we’re to blame. Political parties exist as long as someone supports them, and (obviously) both parties enjoy support in their own constituencies. But in common with most organizations, leadership of political parties co-opt what was once a thoughtful agenda, replacing or adapting it to suit their own ends.

And what have both parties done with their support? We have a bloated (and misdirected) defense budget, legions of lobbyists and a political system awash in so much money, can anyone seriously entertain the notion that either party is on the side of citizens? So as long as we’re partisan Democrats or Republicans, we’re part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Kind of like this question that originally spawned this rant. It is profoundly devoid of either balance or nuance, not unlike a lot of what passes for political thought, these days.

If we could get back to having substantive policy debates grounded in the verifiable merits (or lack thereof), we’d all have a lot more respect for government and the process we call governance. But that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?

 

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine officer, former corporate trainer, training manager and district manager turned  author of four novels with two more on the way. Dirk’s stories are always believable and often evocative. You can be among the first to know when his newest work is due for release by subscribing to Smoke Signals at the top right of this post.

Healing the Partisan Divide

One question that begs another...

On a forum I frequent, this question was posted. Initially, I was inclined to pass on even attempting to answer it. While there are a number of thoughtful commenters on the forum in question, it felt to me like a this was one that might interest some of my readers who share my wholistic view of society. The question was…

Is there any issue that could actually bring Democrats and Republicans together or is the ideological rift so great that that is no longer a possibility?

 I usually start most of my gratuitous opinions with , “nobody asked me but…”  But in this case, someone did ask, so instead I’m going to observe that this question (in my opinion) completely whiffs on what seems to me the more productive question, IF we want to get to the underlying contributing causes of the ideological rifts to which the question alludes.

Let’s start with the obvious. Representative democracies (or republics?) rely on a profound sense of citizenship, a measure of mutually acknowledged kinship with our fellow citizens, and with civic attention to the issues of the day. Attention, let me hasten to add that is characterized by  evidence-based critical thinking that informs our opinions on those issues. What the question above as phrased postulates is that American politics will necessarily bifurcated by opposing parties with opposing philosophies.

The Toxicity of Political Parties

But as thoughtful readers have already noted, none of the attributes of a vibrant representative republic we have enumerated above logically demand political parties. So if you accept my precepts above as necessary enablers of a representative democracy, is it perhaps time to reflect on whether viewing governance (the purpose of government) through a binary political lens? Irrespective of where you stand on the left-right continuum, I think that bifurcation of political alignment obscures rather than highlights truth.

Can we start with a blinding flash of the obvious? We are a nation of 330+ million people. A nation that has long since ceased to be a homogeneous group. Whether you agree with me that our very diversity is a strength is immaterial. The practical reality is that extracting a meaningful consensus from such diversity has proven (and will likely continue to prove) to be problematic at best. But it will be rendered considerably easier if we all framed our opinions (& our representatives their policy proposals) around empirically verifiable evidence. If you’re fond of absolute certainty, that may not appeal.

But it would helpful if all of us recognized that neither absolute certainty nor absolute unanimity of opinion is necessary for effective governance. Good will and a measure of humility, however, is. And if the years since Newt Gingrich has taught us anything, demonizing the other side simply because they’re “the other side,” is a shortcut to polarization. We’ve had more than enough opportunity to test that theory and the verdict is in.

Dem-Republican Vote Dist.
A look at the map above should demonstrate to all but the willfully obtuse that there's no no way to divvy up America amicably, between Republicans and Democrats, even if we wanted to. We are one and best off as one.

Coming to Grips with Uncomfortable Truth

The lived experiences in urban vs. rural America are radically different and (sadly) the resulting philosophical convictions of  have to some extent blinded us to the greater similarities between both populations. Having grown up in Iowa before serving for 22+ years in the Corps & subsequently working in corporate America in a major metropolitan city for almost 2 decades, I know this from personal experience.

And it doesn’t help that the for-profit media exploits those differences for reasons owing less to the truth than what they perceive  they can “sell.”  But this in no way relieves us of our personal responsibility as citizens to sort out truth independent of the motivated cognition and (in some cases) shamelessly deceptive presentation of facts. It should be obvious why. We are the people from whom the authority to govern flows. We are directly and ultimately accountable for the outcome. This accountability includes not only how Congress and the President represent us, but how we influence their performance in our collective names.

 

Excerpted from Statistica.com

The thoughtful have already figured out where I’m going with this. Congressional approval ratings see-sawing between a low of 15% just before the 2020 election and a high of 35+% in February says as much (or more) about us as an electorate as it does about our  representatives. What we permit, we encourage and for too long, we have encouraged behaviors that on balance don’t do credit either to congress or we the people they purport to represent.

And the Solution?

Western democracy in general and American democracy in particular is firmly grounded in capitalism and the primacy of profit in our inalienable right”to “the pursuit of happiness.” It’s a seductive notion…one the Republican party in particular hammers home at every opportunity. The obvious flaw in that concept is that is further grounded in the demonstrably false idea that we can grow indefinitely within a demonstrably finite ecosystem. This isn’t simply an allusion to climate change, though most of us by now recognize that one of the unintended consequences of capitalism and the attendant growth spiral is climate change.

But there is a much more far-reaching side effect of capitalism as currently practiced. A side effect potentially more significant even than climate change, in that it shapes attitudes shaping our behavior.

Corporate America writ large would have you to believe they’re benign and on your side. But the unvarnished truth is they have participated in the systemic depression of wages irrespective of increased productivity and spiraling costs of living. No matter where you live, unless you’re one of the top 20% or so, you’re probably feel very much like somebody must be to blame for it & for-profit media will be happy to find someone for you to make wrong for it. But it’s rarely who needs to be made wrong.

The underpinning truth we must all face before we’re going to have an ice cube’s chance in the hot place of fixing our broken political system is to recognize how deeply embedded business is in the decisions that get made in government about governance. Until we acknowledge that businesses with vested interests in the systemic exploitation of everything from the tax code to their workers are driving a lot of the decisions government makes, we will never fix the problem. That’s because both parties are beholden to business.

Political parties and organizations writ larger are the inevitable (and unfortunately, necessary) part of every problem and every solution.

The Day America Died

January 6th and the End of Innocence

After the assault on the capital, the great American experiment feels almost hopelessly naive. Either we believe in representative democracy or we don’t. In the end, a representative democracy is an all or nothing thing. Not unlike pregnancy, you’re not a little bit democratic.

Courtesy of Wikimedia

Either the peoples’ will enjoys primacy, or the rule of a strongman or gaggle of plutocrats or a collection of self-aggrandizing oligarchs or is/are ascendant. We can’t claim to be a democracy unless we believe in the legitimacy of what makes us a democracy in the first place, to wit, the outcome of elections. And the signs of our dawning awareness that the game has changed are everywhere.

Not that there aren’t people trying with might and main to ignore those signs or the blinding flash of the obvious. Hopeful pundits point to the undeniable successes and the quiet competence Biden’s first hundred days as evidence that democracy and its institutions have held. Meanwhile, weasel-brained Republican politicians across America are already working feverishly to craft voter suppression laws designed to disenfranchise men and women of color, in order to tilt the political playing field so profoundly that pluralistic democracy has no chance.

The Illusion of Election Theft

Meanwhile Republican law makers play footsy with the notions that the election was indeed stolen and opine that those who assaulted the capital on the 6th were (largely) peaceful, misguided or Antifa agitators who somehow persuaded themselves to wear MAGA hats and carry confederate flags. Said the soon to be former president to his followers gathered at the capital?

“States want to revote. The states got defrauded. They were given false information. They voted on it. Now they want to recertify. They want it back. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.” (Donald Trump at the Jan. 6, 2021 rally before the assualt.)

Never mind the fact that states did indeed certify the election in all states, after more than fifty (count them) filed in virtually every battleground state where Trump and his surrogates thought they might have a chance in front of the bench as the did not at the ballot box. In response to one appeal in the 3rd circuit, one judge noted:

“…calling an election unfair does not make it so.” (3d Circuit Judge)

As pretty much anyone armed with three braincells to rub together and ever having served on jury duty knows, the bench tenders a lot more credence to appeals referencing empirically verifiable facts.

And as the Brennan Center for Justice pointed out in response to Trump’s claim that the 2016 election (which he won) was rigged, the incidence of voter fraud while not non-existent, has never risen to the level necessary to “rig” an election. And it still hasn’t. Mr. Trump lost. Period, full stop.

But is Trump the Problem?

In my opinion, no. Far more troubling than an intellectually deficient defeated president plaintively bleating about having lost is the large number of elected officials inclined to ignore the absence of evidence of “the steal” and go along with the narrative. Equally problematic is the large number of misguided citizens willing to take Trump’s words at face value sans evidence.

It’s hard to watch the January 6th assault on the capital and subsequent reverberations and not feel that we’re in the midst of a shift…and not a good one. Long time readers of my work know I’m fascinated by paradigm shifts. This particular (apparent) paradigm shift in the Republican Party and the more conservative elements of our society is fascinating, but not in a good way.

We collectively have become the problem. Between “wokeness” on one end of the political spectrum and dead enders on the other, we’ve lost sight of purpose of governance. It’s to deliver quietly competent government that balances the popular with the necessary. The previous adminstration failed miserably at that and despite it’s doing so, a large number of folks believed he should be re-elected.

Fortunately for America, seven million more thought otherwise. It won a reprieve, but none of us should labor under the misapprehension this is over. It isn’t. It isn’t not just because Trump is defeated but still alive. It’s because the real problem isn’t Trump. It’s us. Bank that one. If that bothers you, get informed and involved. It’s no longer okay to see how things go.  

Diversity…?

Nobody asked me, but...

Actually, in this case someone did…ask me, I mean.

Recently, someone posted a question on a forum I follow that struck me as being tragic while also being painfully emblematic of our time. I’m going to share it here along with an extended version of my response on that forum. The question was:

Is it true the US cannot escape from a violent racial clash as white-non-white power balance is changing?

On the surface of things, the answer to the question seemed almost laughably obvious. But after a moment of thought, I got our interlocutor’s point. I’m still disturbed that it’s something we need ask in the second decade of the 21st Century, but if we’re honest, the news in 2020 doesn’t favor a more optimistic view. That we have not yet embraced the essential kinship of us all is not simply a stain on our soul, it is a missed opportunity, even while it’s understandable, in light of human nature. 

I think it was my sophomore year in high school when one of my history teachers (who remains in my personal pantheon of heroes/heroines, btw) made an incredibly insightful observation that has stuck with me my entire life. She said,

“Nothing is but thinking makes it so.”

It was, she confessed, an adaptation of a line from Shakespear. Hamlet. (Act II, Scene 2.) At the time, I’d had my first rudimentary lessons in epistemology, so my first reaction was, “wait a minute, facts exist independent of our opinions. I was about to raise my hand and object when she spared me the embarrassment of outing myself as having taken her literally. 

“Often,” she went on to say “we construct an alternate reality that has consequences the echo in history, sometimes for centuries.”

Her observation wasn’t about race or racism, it was about the break-up of the feudal system in Europe during the 19th Century, post-Napoleon. Many of the nation-states emerging during that period did so, she pointed out, because of their shared perception that they were one people. They “perceived” themselves as having “kinship.” It was that belief, she said, as much as anything else, that shaped post Napoleonic Europe. And my subsequent experiences have led me to believe she was right.

My thoughtful history teacher’s point was that for those formative nations, the indispensable accomplice of their unity was their belief in it. In the United States, we are an incredibly (& in my opinion, beautifully diverse) collection of people unified by a commitment to the best version of ourselves.

It is a vision we often fail to realize, but at it’s best, it is underpinned by law and a delicate balance of citizenship & stewardship. It’s intellectual bedrock is the notion that all men and women are created equal, however poorly our stated philosophy manifests itself action. There’s a temptation if you’re aligned with this vision and its undeniable promise, to conclude it’s universally shared. Most of us know, better, unfortunately, especially men and women of color. Or any difference, for that matter.

Nothing is but thinking makes it so.

Recall my observation earlier, that my history teacher made my sophomore year in high school. We are what we think. If the photos following bother you, is it time to ask why? 

Love is not blind to difference...
It celebrates it...
with joy & conscious gratitude!

What does your visceral reaction to them say to you and (if you’re honest with yourself) about you? My own reaction to the question with which I began this post and my online answer to it was mixed, as I have already noted. Let me cop here and now to my own prejudices conscious and unconscious.

All of us have them to some degree, I suspect. If you’re like me, (read that white, middle class…ish but the first to go to actually graduate from college)  you grew up in a home that gave lip service to tolerance and respect. But (perhaps) also grew up with an unconscious, sense of entitlement. An “I’m white, so I must be right…” sense of certainty about things, though if asked, you might (as I would have) denied it with an indignance that proved the point.

It’s possible to overcome that…to abandon unconscious self-deception, but most of us need to have it brought to our attention, first. For me, I had to go halfway around the world to overcome it. It wasn’t a conscious pilgrimage. It came to me courtesy of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children (USMC). 

It was in Asia that I got to know you, first brothers and sisters of color and it was from you that I got my first lessons in an alternate view of “American Exceptionalism.” It took a little longer to appreciate the nuanced messages I was sending without meaning to. (I’m still struggling to learn, btw).

In the end, what we see or what happens to us is not what makes us who we are. It is what allow ourselves to think that determines our attitudes. It is the conscious choice to be better.

For me, the partial, imperfect solution to racial, ethnic or religious prejudice has not been tolerance. It has and remains a conscious effort to see the beauty in all of us. And the more I look the more beauty and merit I see.  

Someone about now is thinking, it’s going to take more than that. Yes, it is. It will take engagement, honesty and continual honest, self-examination. It will take conscious engagement, patience and a measure of painful honesty both with ourselves and about ourselves. It will require humility and vision and above all a reverence for the vision that was the basis for our nation.

Yes, that’s asking a lot, especially if you’re not already convinced of the necessity. But there is no alternative if we are to survive and thrive. We are one. Not some of us. Not the privileged few. We are all one. And in the final analysis, isn’t that a good thing. Isn’t it?

Polarization and Healing America

Remember America before COVID-19?

A couple months ago, before the COVID-19 was a thing here in the United States, a friend asked me what I thought might help us in dealing effectively with the hyper-partisanship we see in American politics. I almost fell prey to the knee-jerk reaction most of us have (not excluding myself) to think of politics in terms of the current dialog from our own perspective. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something anodyne, like “listen to understand, rather than to argue,” and that we “should try to put ourselves in our fellow citizens’ place.”

The blinding flash of the obvious implicit  in the foregoing observation is that while my perspective matters, isn’t the only one that matters. Most of us understand that intuitively, while ignoring even the most glaring implications.

So my prescriptions fore healing America’s hyper-partisan politics are fine as far as they goes, but it ignore the underpinning causative factors contributing to that hyper-partisan polarization.

In a hypothetically pluralistic democracy of 330 million (about), extracting a meaningful consensus on any specific issue is borderline impossible. Irrespective of where we fall on the political spectrum, do we not have to start with the notion that we’re at our best when we recognize that it’s okay to agree to disagree? Disagreements are inevitable in a nation of this size. To me, that’s the first step. But it’s only a first step. We need to recognize that there are legitimate reasons for those differences of opinion.

At the Intersection of Geography and Demographics

If you’re a farmer, you’re wondering how you’re going to compete with corporate farms, falling prices & climate change some factions in our government insist is a hoax. You know better, of course. If you’re a farmer, you live by the weather and this isn’t normal. But you’re busy trying to make ends meet & you don’t have time to sort through all the science. The latest technology doesn’t exactly pass you by, but it’s not in your face, further compressing your daily timeline the way it does someone who lives in New York , Los Angeles of Seattle.

If you’re a wage earner almost anywhere, you’re painfully aware of how many jobs have moved overseas. And if you’re absolutely honest with yourself, you know most of them aren’t coming back. All this even before COVID-19 shuttered the economy and torpedoed almost 40 million jobs, over the last three months.

But who’s doing anything about it? Corporate America isn’t. They’re automating. Portions of the government are doing what they can, but if you’ve been paying attention (you have, haven’t you?) then you that one party is all-in for corporate America while the other is more or less on our side but are the majority in only one branch of government.

We have the government we’ve enabled. We have allowed the rot of dysfunctional government to set in. We allowed money to stand in for civic engagement while we all got on with our lives, leaving politics to the politicians and high finance to the robber barons who’ve forgotten more about turning a buck than most of us will ever know. 

America the Muddled...

The beginning of a solution lies not simply in recognizing we’ve been collectively had, but also in the inescapable conclusion that we are both the problem and the answer. The answer will not be some savior in the form of another politician, or self-proclaimed “non-politician.” Nor is a savior to be found in the form of a wide-eyed, well-meaning liberal barking about the emerging social imperatives of a corporate bashing counter-revolution.

We are the answer. A solution grounded in the almost laughably simple notion that there is more that unites us than separates us. It means shutting down the barrage of noise and self-serving motivated cognition from both extremes of the political spectrum and focusing on what we  can honestly claim we know.

The Way Home...

Having grown up in the Heartland, lived on both coasts and the south, I’ve come to think of most of America writ large as home, not a single region. As a Marine officer, with an advanced degree in Organizational Development and a second career in corporate America, I’ve seen the world from the hyper-conservative perspective common in the Corps. I’ve also seen it from the more liberal perspective of a surfer, snow skier and environmentalist.

What these experiences here and overseas have taught me, is that we are all capable of understanding and empathizing with each other. IF we want to.  But the necessary and indispensable accomplice empathy is a willing mind, untrammeled by the loud mouths with agendas, explicit or hidden.

In the age of for-profit media and 24/7/365 news, there has never been more access to information and disinformation. Unfortunately, we can no longer tune in to the 6:00 PM news and get the story from one source. If you’re getting all your information from Fox News or from the Sinclair Broadcasting Networks, I guarantee you that you don’t know what you think you know. If you’re getting your news exclusively from MSNBC, you’re getting better information but you’re still getting a lot of commentary, however well informed along with the news.

Like it or not, we have to take everything from every source as subject to multiple source verification, not  to mention fact-checking. If you don’t have them bookmarked yet, bookmark OpenSecrets.Org, FactCheck.org & and Annenberg  Public Policy Center and make use of them. You’ll be a infinitely harder to deceive if you know where to go for a little more balance.

Last but not least, recognize that we’re all humans with hopes and dreams, loves and passions, most of which we share in common. It doesn’t matter what color you are, who/what/if you worship or who you love, we all have pretty much the same itches. And they’re a lot of things we can do to help each other, if we want to, but we all need to step outside ourselves just a little and recognize that if we let it all go bad, we all bleed red.

D.B. Sayers is the author of  four books, including West of Tomorrow, Best-Case Scenario, Through the Windshield and his latest, Tier Zero, Vol. I of The Knolan Cycle, the first in his series chronicling first contact between the Knolan Concordant and Earth.

What do veterans think of Donald Trump?

What do veterans think of Donald Trump?

I don’t spend a lot of time knocking around in online forums, but I do spend some time on them, just to see what my fellow citizens are thinking. And I pass on most questions, statistically, either because more than adequate answers have already been posted or because (honestly) I don’t have strong feelings about the question one way or the other. This one, however, begged an answer. 

                      The question was: “What do veterans think of Donald Trump?”

Doesn't that depend on the veteran?

The first thought to cross my mind was, why would anyone think that military veterans are necessarily anywhere even close to unanimous either in their support or distaste for the 45th President of the United States? Fun fact. There are somewhere north of 18 million veterans alive and kicking, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs, which begs a rhetorical question, to wit: in what segment of the U.S. population distributed across all 50 states can you find 18 plus million men and women who agree on anything? Just wondering out loud…

For the same reason it’s misleading to think that all African-Americans, white middle class voters or Latinos living in Southern California think alike, it’s incredibly naive to think that U.S. veterans think alike.

In a recent poll conducted in December of 2019, Mr. Trump’s approval rating had dipped to 42%, with active duty personnel, the lowest since taking office. It would be fair to point out that

Among veterans, Trump enjoys higher approval ratings, with a 57% to 41+% split, favorable to unfavorable.

The inference I draw from the foregoing polls is in line with my own thinking in this matter, to wit, opinion over Mr. Trump (and almost everything else of importance) is that we’re pretty evenly divided, irrespective of the population you consult. I suspect if you subdivided the military population to account for skew relative to geographic origin, education & rank, you would find it dovetails very closely with non-veteran, non-military opinions.

So my short answer to the question is that anyone who thinks they’re speaking for the military (or veterans) writ large is probably smoking something that would get them locked up in Mississippi.

A lot ink has been spilled in the Mainstream Media about Mr. Trump’s deferments during the SE Asia experience. Personally, as a former platoon leader, I’m positively delighted that he sand-bagged his duty to country on that occasion with trumped-up (pun intentional) deferments. I suspect having the Donald in my platoon would have been a lot like having two good people on R&R in Bangkok.

Relying only on my personal observations of the man in public, I can’t imagine him exposing himself to risk for his brothers and sisters in arms. Now for the record, I don’t personally believe everyone must/should serve in the military, or that declining to do so necessarily calls into question one’s patriotism or loyalty. There are (many) other ways to serve and some men and women are just not constitutionally suited for war. I’m certain Mr. Trump was one of those and likely so remains. Given his profound ignorance of even the rudiments of national strategic components, technological evolution and improvements in weaponry, Mr. Trump may be the singularly least qualified human to have a say in setting our national strategy.

There are many forms of service...

That is not function of his lack of military service, by the way. We have had effective presidents who never served. But until Mr. Trump, these men had the self-awareness, humility and good sense to recognize that what they didn’t know and listen to those who did. Personally, as long as they’re willing to listen to thoughtful military thinkers, I’m untroubled by their lack of personal experience. Presidential leadership is (in the end) not about physical courage.

 

It is about moral courage, probity & character. With that in mind, I can’t imagine a thoughtful veteran, mindful of his/her own sacrifices who can find much to admire in Mr. Trump. I struggle to imagine anyone who remembers fallen comrades watching this man’s antics without profound repugnance.

The Essence of Leadership...

The essence of leadership is self-control as anyone who’s ever led knows. It is virtually impossible to control others if you can’t control yourself. From what I have been able to observe, Mr. Trump is a graduate-level study in the absolute antithesis of self-control. He is incurious, under-educated, inarticulate & self-involved. I have seen nothing I can imagine a thoughtful veteran would admire if he/she was paying attention.

 

As stewards of the public trust, we have a right to expect better of our leaders than we are getting from DJT. But that reasonable expectation demands that we as citizens step up to our co-equal responsibility to be paying attention to what our leaders are doing in our name and holding them accountable when they do things that erode the public trust. If we’re paying attention, I can’t imagine that anyone would be in doubt of the need to render Mr. Trump a one-term president.

 

Still, it is precisely that lack of attention that has placed this man in the White House in the first place. A significant number of people (veterans and non-veterans) weren’t and still aren’t paying attention, or if they are, they apparently lack the civic curiosity to exhume the truth. That needs to change. The truth’s out there, hiding plain sight. Surprising things are written and in the public domain, but we have to want to know and take the time to learn. Read & vote! There’s a lot riding on the 2020 elections!

ALERT! America wants a divorce…

I'm leaving you, Donald!

Sexy Lady Liberty

AMERICA:     “I’ve had it, Donald…pack your trash! You were charming, at first, but you’ve gotten complacent and really gross.

DONALD:      “Do you mean gross-icky or gross like fat?”

AMERICA:     “Both, you ignorant blimp! You looked like a slob at the Queen’s state dinner. Even when we dress you up, you look like a slob! And what’s with you and Vlad?”

DONALD:      “Well, I can’t help—”

AMERICA:     (Solicitiously) “I know, Donald. I really do.” (Frowns) “Funny you should mention that…”

DONALD:      “Mention what?”

AMERICA:     (Pats him on the shoulder) “That you can’t help yourself. We’ve all noticed.”

DONALD:      “Nobody else can help themselves! Have you seen my rally crowds?”

AMERICA:     (With a sigh of resignation, realizing he doesn’t get it.) “Like the circus, you mean? What was it PT Barnum used to say? ‘There’s a sucker born every minute?’”

DONALD:      “You know you love it!”

AMERICA:     “Not really. You’re week-old nachos and guacamole, left in the refrigerator.”

DONALD:      (Whining) “But you like nachos and guacamole—”

AMERICA:     (Sighs) Yes, Donald. It’s not bad at all fresh, but it doesn’t age well.”

DONALD:      “But I’ve made you great, again!”

AMERICA:     “No, Donald. I was always hot. You, on the other hand?” (Walks away, shaking her head).

A retired Marine officer & corporate trainer, Dirk is on his third career as an author. His books include: West of Tomorrow, a tale of corporate intrigue, betrayal and renewal, Best-Case Scenario, first volume in a coming of age series & Through the Windshield, a collection of short fiction. Due out in fall of 2019 is Tier Zero, Volume I of the Knolan Cycle, a tale of first contact between Earth and the Knolan Concordant.

Chasing Butterflies and Letting the Elephants Get Away

Personal Identity

Growing up in a Midwest college town in the ’60s was probably the best of all worlds. While we were aware of the jarring changes happening elsewhere, we were largely unaffected by it. In Iowa, it was easy to buy the comforting notion that the New Deal and WW II had won the battle for a kinder, gentler America and set the stage for the eventual defeat of poverty, hunger and totalitarianism.

I was not simply the heir to those successes. I was part of the generation that would perfect (or at least improve) on them. All we needed do was stay the course. At the time, I saw little contradiction in accepting a commission as a Marine officer, even knowing what I knew about what was happening in Vietnam. Did I have reservations about the war in SE Asia? Yes.

It was hard not be aware (painfully aware) of the disconnect between our stated values and our foreign policy, or our treatment of our brothers and sisters of color. It was even more painfully obvious when I got overseas and stepped in front of my first platoon and saw how many of my platoon were “minorities.” By this time, if you didn’t want to serve, you could (and many did) dodge it.

Citizenship, Service and Stewardship

I didn’t dodge it, because I believed that direct, personal service in some form was the first duty of citizens. As a Marine officer, I also recognized I was a steward of the lives and well-being of the Marines with whom I served. I owed it to their mothers and fathers  to discharge that stewardship to the best of my ability. In service to something greater than myself, I found deeper meaning and a kinship transcending not only self but my immediate family, embracing all of my brothers and sisters who called the United States home.

When it came time to decide to leave the service or to continue, it was not a difficult choice. I continued and my active service spanned the era bounded by the end of Vietnam and the retrograde from Somalia. That and six bucks gets me a cup of coffee almost everywhere and a “thank you for your service.” You’re welcome, by the way. I’d do it again. But no, in case you’re wondering, I don’t believe the military isn’t the only or even most important way to serve. But honest servants are what’s needed, today.

The bedrock genius of the American ideal is citizens fully vested in America’s promise and the personal commitment to all of it. American is white, but it’s also black, brown and red. It’s both left and right coasts, the Heartland and the south the Islands, (including Puerto Rico) and Alaska. All of it, uniquely beautiful and inexpressibly precious. And when we have occasion to think about it, being American feels good. But being American isn’t about feeling good, it’s about being good. Not perfect, but certainly well-intentions. That is not simply a willingness but a profound desire, to serve. Not self but the nation.

 

It's Not About "Isms..."

A lot of ink, electronic and actual, is being expended these days over “socialism.” Opponents of progressive candidates of all flavors are attempting to hang the (at best) loosely defined term around their necks as a means of heading off change they find threatening. Socialism, it is said, is too expensive and kills both initiative and stagnates growth.

On the other side of the political spectrum, we have more radical progressives demonizing capitalism as the fundamental culprit behind the predicament in which we find ourselves today. Capitalism, some argue, is fundamentally antithetical to life. Capitalism, some say, is the metaphorical millstone grinding up the world, for pocket change.

So who is right? Is capitalism genuinely responsible for climate change, species extinction, undrinkable water and non-biodegradable waste? As currrently practiced, yes. Does socialism stifle growth and degrade  initiative and motivation? Depending on how it’s practiced it might.

Chasing Butterflies and Letting the Elephants Get Away

But what is really at the root of these problems? Is it the system(s) or is it the people responsible for how they are practiced and how success is rewarded? Would we even have capitalism, socialism, democracy or autocracy without humans? Can we agree that the answer is no? We dreamed up the systems, institutions and practices associated with each in order to solve a problem or to exploit potential.

There’s nothing fatally wrong with that. Humans are perfectly imperfect, often sloppy innovators who discover system bugs by implementing them and fixing what’s broken until we “get it right.” We try stuff until we come up with something that works, often with scant regard for the long-term consequences. As an entrepreneurial model, it has worked well and much of our tribal knowledge continues to extoll that thought process as a way to avoid studying problems to death.

But for most of our history, we could afford to make lots of mistakes on our way to “something that works” because there weren’t 7 + billion of us swarming the Earth. Is it possible that innovation in the 21st Century may come with a potential price tag that ought to enter into our innovation calculus?

It has been said that experience is the best teacher. If our experiences over the last twenty to thirty years have taught us anything, it is that unbridled greed does not make for a just, happy or even prosperous society. What it does is concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few who then proceed to leverage that power and wealth the gain yet more, ever more at the expense of the less fortunate.

It has become increasingly obvious that the unregulated growth implicit in laissez-faire economics is unsustainable. The question that begs both for humans as a specie and for the world as an ecosystem is what reward system should replace that of unrepentant greed?

Do we have the intellectual creativity to craft a reward system that is sustainable or will we pretend not to notice the consequences of or actions as we whistle past the graveyard? What might a better model look like and what would be the philosophical underpinnings of a more thoughtful society? These are but two of the themes of my new science fiction series collectively known as The Knolan Cycle. Tier Zero, Vol. I of The Knolan Cycle will be released in Nov, 2019.

Dirk is the author of West of Tomorrow , Best Case Scenario and Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives. All are available in Kindle and paperback formats on Amazon. 

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Finding Your Voice in the Digital Age

What the hell is "Voice," anyway?

So who asked me? Sometimes I just can’t help myself, but in this case, I actually waited for someone more “qualified” to answer, but no one did.

It was on a forum I follow there are several threads deal with the arts and one deals specifically with literary art. Out of the blue, the following question popped up: “How do you find your voice as a writer in the digital age?”

I had my own opinions, but kept my mouth shut for quite a while, knowing there were a number of narrow gauge authors on this forum better qualified to answer the question than I, but after a couple days of the sound of crickets, I eventually popped off, unable to contain myself any longer.

Yeah, I know…Say it isn’t so…Dirk has an opinion? He does, and that opinion follows.

When you use the term voice, may I assume that you mean what you’ll often hear critics & acquisitions agents refer to when they use the term? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess your answer is yes, and respond accordingly, with the following caveat emptor. What follows is my opinion, as an independently published author of modest success with several books currently in print.

Let me lead with my answer, & follow up with an explanation. You “find” your voice by writing. I think that has always been true and don’t see the digital age as changing that. The times in which we live surely color that experience, but they don’t change the process.

You will often read or hear literary and acquisitions agents refer to finding someone with a “unique” voice. When you break that down, what they really seem to mean is someone with a marketable difference from what is currently available in (you fill in the blank) genre. I don’t say this to be cynical. There are both artistic and practical reasons for their emphasis. There really is such a thing, and it does matter, but at its best, it seems to me that it’s so elusive, so almost indefinable that focusing on it almost defeats the purpose.

Finding your "Voice..."

Here’s the good news. If we’re writers, we all have a “voice.” It’s not now and never has been lost, so we don’t need to find it. What we need to do is develop it and refine it. Voice is a little like sedimentary rock. It’s built up, layer by layer. An incomplete list of things that go into voice are:

  1. How what we read influences the way we write. What we read informs not only our attitudes, but how we are inclined to express ourselves. This is true even when we’re making no conscious effort to develop our own writing style. Without conscious effort, we pick up turns of phrase and literary artistry that we encounter as we read and adapt them to our own writing.
  2. How our world view influences our choice of themes. In the same way that what we read influences our attitudes, those attitudes then emerge in the form of themes that are woven into the stories we write. If we are growing as authors, both our writing and the themes implicit in them become more nuanced over time as we what we’ve learned from others influences our own thinking.
  3. How your point of view character(s) reveals the author’s views. The characters in our writing often act as mouthpieces or guides in the stories we write. As a consequence, who we choose as characters, how they speak, act and what they value emerges and evolves as we grow artistically and (hopefully) intellectually.
  4. What you choose to write. All of the foregoing then gets folded into the stories we tell if we’re writing fiction, or if non-fiction, the topics we choose to address head-on.
  5. The technical elements of your writing. (word choice, cadence, description, etc). Every author experiences this. The more we write, the better we become at it. Our word choice becomes more precise and over time, our language often becomes more economical as the natural outgrowth of that precision. Sentence structure becomes more varied and our use of cadence and pace becomes consistently more suited to expressing the mood of whatever passage we’re writing.

 

So how do you find your "Voice?"

You get out in the world and watch people, experience things and are shaped by those experiences. You do things that fire your soul, learn things that absorb your full attention and you ask yourself why, and why not and then when you stir all of that together in a story reflecting that passion.

You populate that story with nuanced, flawed characters in interesting situations. Characters who grow or shrink before the readers’ eyes and (hopefully) teach readers some fundamental truth(s) that leave them breathless or reflecting thoughtfully for days, or minimally, entertain them.

Then you promote and market the hell out of your first book while you write the next story and the next and the one after that. You learn just how hard it is to do both and not burn out. And each time, your voice refines itself through the painful effort of opening your veins and bleeding truth as you see it, agonizing over each turn of phrase, each image, and each scene.

At some point, you will recognize you will never find your voice, because it’s like the rabbit at the greyhound track. It will always be faster than you are. The good news is, it will develop without you making a conscious project of it. Do your best work and your voice will evolve as you do.

Dirk Sayers is a retired Marine officer, retired corporate trainer/executive and the author of West of Tomorrow, Best Case Scenario and Through the Windshield, all currently available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. Tier Zero, the pilot volume of his upcoming science fiction series of first contact will be out toward the end of 2019

Time and Tides

Change and Conflict...

Is there anything quite as disorienting as change we can neither predict nor fully understand? Maybe…perhaps even probably. But for most of us, it’s right up there. In West of Tomorrow, change, both personal and professional is a pervasive theme for the principal characters in the story.

There are several themes at work in West of Tomorrow, but ultimately, all of them either have their origins in change or are in the need for profound change to “fix” what’s wrong. When we catch up with Clay Conover, the first character we meet in the novel, we learn he’s a Vietnam era re-careered Marine officer turned corporate trainer.

With a distinguished record as an officer and self-evident competence in his new career, everything seems to be on track for Clay. He has his ghosts, personal and professional, but who doesn’t? And on balance, he’s got it all handled and hardly anyone he meets sees him anything but balanced, thoughtful and pretty together.

His successful navigation, from senior leadership in the military to responsible mentor in the private sector demonstrate both his adaptability and and admirable innate competence. But in common with many of us, Clay has unfinished business lurking beneath the surface.

What happens when several unsettling events come together all at once to cast a shadow on Clay’s prospects for tomorrow? Will the awakened ghosts from his past short circuit his future? The triggers of memory, we are reminded, have the power to inflict pain or bestow peace…and paradoxically, sometimes both at once.

The Last High Tide

In a chapter entitled The Last High Tide, we find Clay in the throes of an intensely personal transition, forced to confront not simply his own fallibility, but issues he’s spent his life avoiding. Tectonic changes , personal and professional have left him with little to hang onto. How does he reinvent himself at this late stage of his life? Exhausted from thinking about it, Clay awakens from a dream he doesn’t want to have. A raging thirst drives him to his refrigerator for a bottle of water, when he notices the shadows of leaves, dancing across his balcony, in the moonlight.

Walking out on his balcony, Clay hears the distant thunder of surf, even above the offshore winds through the trees and a snippet of a poem he wrote years ago wafts into his mind.

                                  And I thought I heard the sea, as I used to, 

                                 Each time as the first time, far-off, new…

There’s nothing to stop him now. He has nowhere he must be, today. And sometimes, he tells himself, when the going gets tough, the tough go surfing. Deep down, the reader suspects Clay is unconsciously avoiding or at least postponing the work he dreads doing. But is this something he needs to do, or is this a character flaw springing up?

After all, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that Clay will get through this. Neither his successes in combat, nor his subsequent accomplishments in peace are at best imperfect predictors of his ultimate fate. Not unlike the turning of the tide, Clay is painfully aware of all of this. While he’s out there surfing, it’s clear that it claims his full attention.

Clay Conover Exits the Zen Zone (Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Bishop & Unsplash).

But like all postponements, it’s only temporary. On the beach, Clay pauses after a nostalgic session in the waves to reflect on an activity that has been part of his life, identity and sanity—and senses it may be over.

Clay time-warped thirty years. The waves felt the same, and the men sharing them could have been the guys he’d surfed with in the seventies. Even the longer hair was back. He thought of his trips to Mexico, of the trips he and Natalie had taken to the Islands and the kinetic oneness with self and life that seemed to animate every surfer he’d ever known.

It had been Clay’s one bastion of rebellion—his defiance of a “system” his service helped support, while he tried not to see it’s dark side. Surfing had helped keep him young, he guessed—a partial antidote for the gnawing misgivings about the life he’d chosen. But in the end, it had called attention to the contradiction between what he did and who he was. Clay’s laughed, inwardly. Really? he thought. And who the hell are you? That most personal of all Koans, again—never quite solved. Is self-awareness a curse or a blessing?

Back at his car, Clay shrugged out of his wet suit and pulled on his sweat pants and t-shirt. After locking his board in the car, he walked back to the beach to watch.

They’re better than I was at their age, he thought. While he watched, the offshores subsided, reversed, and conditions deteriorated quickly.

Thirty years ago, he’d spent many weekends here—first alone, later with his wife, and later still with his daughter. Jayna had learned to surf half a mile down the beach at Old Man’s and Dog Patch. As he watched, the outrunning tide exposed more of the red algae-coated rocks.

What twists the gut like endings? (Photo courtesy of Jamie Davies & Unsplash).

Clay lingered, reluctant to leave—sensing that when he left this time, he might never return. The incoming afternoon tide would erase his footprints and all memory of him. He’d become just one more of countless others who surfed here, once. What does it matter? he wondered. He had no answer—but it did matter.

On the horizon, a hazy bank of silver-gray clouds heralded an impending change in the weather. It would rain tomorrow, or the next day, as the low that had spawned the waves moved in.

The sea breeze stirred up an eddy of sand around his feet as he turned, heading for his car, his silent home and whatever might be left of his life.

In this moment, Clay senses he’s at a crossroads. Whether he will ever return to the ocean as a surfer and commune with it, Clay’s life has been changed in ways that will be profound and permanent. Change in itself isn’t bad and most of us recognize this. But when it’s laced with uncertainty and the fears that often go along with it, the uncertainties can be unnerving or even paralyzing and we are defined by our responses both to those fears and the paralysis that may accompany it.

Intuitively, Clay recognizes this, and nothing drives this lesson home like the memories prowling his condo, reminding him of his past. Confronted with what’s left of what was once a life of promise, he finds no escape from the necessary steps of self-examination, acknowledgement of his human failures.Will he grow and overcome them, or be overwhelmed by them?

Readers who have confronted the sneaky realities of fallibility, mortality and bittersweet angst of aging can relate, especially in our age of runaway change and shifting paradigms. Where exactly are we, when we’re half an hour West of Tomorrow? A tentative answer lies on the pages of this evocative tale of corporate intrigue, betrayal, misplaced love and the phoenix living all of us.

West of Tomorrow is available from Amazon, in paperback and Kindle formats.