Between Naiveté and Cynicism

The recent election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the executive office has certainly shifted the political vibe among the people. It could be said that it is, in many ways, a complete 180 from the previous administrations constant focus on itself and its would-be dictator Donald Trump. Of course not everyone is pleased with the change but, as they say, elections have results. This year, as a result, we not only gained a new administration but we had a little insurrection, just too top things off. Trump, even after his miserable performance, which seemed to take its cues from a combination of some of history’s worst players, Mussolini and Nero come to mind, still managed to gather up some 74 million voters in an election that was much too close for the comfort of the rest of the country.

As amazing as it might be that 74 million would vote for a criminal con-man who could only find time for insurrectionist plots and a few rounds of golf while the nation burned, boiled and died in a covid pandemic and climate catastrophe, the truth lies behind us, they did. Many analysists will devote their time trying to understanding how this whole episode in U.S. history came about but in the end I think, that they will find that a large segment of American voters are living in a world that fluctuates between naiveté and cynicism and that this group of voters is woefully incapable of electing representatives as they should be elected, by the merits of their actions and leadership skills. With a huge population of citizens that remain either uneducated or just misinformed it’s not unexpected that a group of somewhat more savvy political power seekers might take advantage of and then exploit the common ignorance.

There is an appearance of political knowledge in the country. The general population in fact seems to be obsessed with politics. But that obsession is not based on a close study of either political or social history; it’s based on the sensational but shallow info-bites of corporate media, conspiracy theorists and the opinions of friends on Facebook. While this kind of information may be enjoyed by the masses of people who swallow it and then debate it to the point of armed insurrection, it hardly takes the place of well informed and critical thinking. The problem is not restricted to a left or right position, the problem of under-nourished political intelligence falls hard on both sides of the isle and has corrupted almost the entire spectrum of politically engaged citizens. Sadly, the group who has perhaps best escaped the manufactured ignorance and confusion of our times are those souls who have simply walked away from having any interest at all in politics except for when it directly affects them, as in when they are arrested for marijuana possession or the economy crashes around them, events of that nature.

With wildfires and pandemics raging all around and economies collapsing before our eyes, it’s hard to not be at least somewhat interested and even concerned with today’s politics, but how can we best position ourselves so that we might avoid the incapacitation produced by naiveté and its angry cousin, cynicism? The medicine that might bring on the much vaunted healing of the nation is right before us. The cure is found of course in hard truth, legitimate and factual information, vigorous and deep education of the people and a sincere desire on the part of the people themselves for good government. This is not the natural habitat of most of our career politicians or of most citizens either, but it must be the place from which the public itself rises to meet the challenge of good or at least functional government.

As in a slow-motion game of ping-pong, our attentions are contained in cycles of watching one side or the other as the ball lands for a time on this or that side of the table. The right swings, the ball is lobed over and the left swings, back and forth while our over-all political situation deteriorates from a lack of serious care and much needed development. Our constitution, our systems and our goals all need an overhaul but our collective political attention is placed on the game, the ball and the players while the table that supports the game is rickety and possibly about to collapse under pressure. The outing of Donald Trump sends the ball back over to what is now Joe Biden’s side of the table and our eyes and thoughts follow and what was once the world of Trump now becomes the world of Biden. This world of ever changing conquering presidents is not enough to save us, the competing interests in their over-zealous passion for victory at all costs are actually part of what brings us down by driving us apart, wasting our energy on questionable arguments and our money on media advertising.

As is usually the case in this country’s overly-hyped, overly-staged, cinema-graphic world, the election of Biden, even without the benefit of much in the way of a live audience, was complimented by star-studded celebrities, with women from the political world showing off their good fashion sense in somewhat matching rainbow colored pantsuits and jackets. We had popular entertainers, who as one commentator put it, look like they just stepped out of the Hunger Games and a brilliant young woman whose poetry up-lifted and inspired millions but failed to produce anything in the way of sound policy. With over 400,000 dead due to the pandemic, with both economic and climate catastrophes hanging over our heads, with an empire engaged in several hot wars and at least two cold wars and a nation deeply divided in what has become in its own right, another war of sorts. With a capitol city in lockdown, it might have been more appropriate to have gathered in sackcloth and ashes. But this is America where overly-sensationalized circuses, glitz, glamour and denialism rule as the true kings and queens of the party. Biden, pretending an image of youth and vigor rather than posturing as a wise and careful statesman came jogging out into the field and the fans who occupy the left side of the table cheered approvingly from the seclusion and safety of their homes.

On the surface it looks pretty good. Reversing Trumps attempt at reversing Obamas efforts though is a no-brainer and an easy fix with the signing of executive orders. This bring us back to the Paris Climate agreements, re-joining the WHO, ending the Muslim ban, stopping construction of the border wall, putting the brakes on the Keystone pipeline and more. Taking the country back to the Obama era however, as has been noted by others, is not nearly enough. The Occupy movement understood that administrations faults well enough and brought Obamas failures into mainstream thought giving birth to the Sanders movement. Sanders “revolution” though not fought in the true spirit of winning did arouse some passion in the public sphere and helped to educate many on the deep problem of corporate corruption and interference while leaving U.S. militarism mostly untouched. These issues which were two issues that were at the forefront of the Occupy movement remain as thorns in the side of all Americans. Having a last little laugh, Sanders arrived at the ceremony reminiscent of Ben Franklin who showed himself in Paris with his simple coat and beaver skin hat. Sanders stole the show wearing his simple everyday coat and hand-made mittens. But U.S. militarism cannot be ignored or overlooked as it is one of this country’s primary faults which will, if left unchecked, lead to the eventual disintegration of the country, both morally and in practical economic terms as well. The U.S. cannot sustain its military budget and world empire while functioning as a somewhat stable and influential nation much longer. Empires by their nature cannot be too concerned with social justice while simultaneously forcing their authority on the world through violence.

Our other national disgrace, apart from our dreams of empire, and another great challenge for todays generation is our tendency towards fantasies of white-supremacy, actual racism and our left over puritanical ideas of morality that do not hold-up in today’s less judgmental and uptight world. Although Biden is being celebrated for his diversity in hiring of cabinet members and other associates, his own personal history in these regards has not been great. Biden’s support of Clinton’s and then Obamas social and economic policies was, as is now generally understood, devastating to communities of color and those others in economic straits, led to the world’s largest prison system and one of the greatest transfer of wealth ever in this world. Placing women and people of color in positions of some power is not the same as changing systems. Betsy DeVos and Ben Carson and others may have broken some ceilings but that did not help to change our failed systems. If anything they both helped to co-opt both the women’s and the civil rights movements by showing us that anyone, regardless of sex or race can openly betray their country.

The movement towards what should have always been, which is an open acceptance of people no matter their gender identification or their race, has been in place from a time long before Joe Biden and the movement will continue as long as closed minded and deliberately hateful people exist. Credit to Biden for recognizing this now, but can Biden also recognize and address those other major factors that are disrupting and discouraging not only various minorities and oppressed people but even our very life on Earth, economic disparity and militarism? The shift in social perceptions was not Biden’s doing and will continue no matter whether he stays or goes and will continue no matter which party takes power, for justice cries out in every circumstance, under every oppressor, throughout time, whether it is temporarily muzzled or not. That Biden would openly embrace the justice movement viscerally is to be celebrated, it is long overdue and will ultimately bring about change, but we must remember, it’s not enough to have good feelings when trying to tackle discrimination. Without systemic change, our feelings aren’t worth much of anything.

So there’s the thing, while our social attitudes move towards a greater acceptance of humans as they are, can Biden address and correct the economic disparity and the militarism which helps to support that disparity while also producing the insane outcomes of millions of dead people and a horribly destructive paranoia that hovers over the governments and people of the world? Is Biden on-board for a transformation of this nature? Biden and his administration must be ready to move on the problems of economic disparity and militarism if he wishes any real success as our president because it is in this healing that we can escape the dysfunctionality of both naive and cynical outlooks.

We have seen through history, both here and abroad, the great amount of damage and injustice that can be instigated and brought to fruition by the power of one misguided or evil man, but healing and the manifestation of true justice, that requires a multitude. Here in the multitude we find that we have a bit of leverage and a bit of hope. Here in the promise of democracy we find that we have a multitude as we have a democracy, a sort-of democracy that is, if we can keep it.

Here we come to perhaps the greatest challenge facing these United States, that we live according to those ideals we once proclaimed in our nations declarations but which have never been fully activated or realized in our republic, true democracy and equality under the law. It’s naïve to think that the election of any one man could bring about the changes we must be moving into at this or any other time. It’s cynical to think that together, as a country united in democratic principles that we cannot somehow move forward towards actualizing the ideal. From a philosophical but also from a pragmatic point of view, if we can imagine an ideal, we can move to produce the reality of that ideal even if only in bits and pieces for a time. This is not to promote the idea and a love for incremental change. Change in its nature is incremental, but it is no ideal. A commitment to peace and justice is not negotiable as those who rely on slow changes might have us believe. Peace and justice are not of themselves negotiable in increments. We have peace and justice or we do not have peace and justice, there is no middle ground, no substitute and no satisfaction in waiting for them. When incrementalism becomes an ideal, which it sometimes has become in today’s debates and negotiations, then we are falling away from truth and most certainly away from actual peace and justice.

If the American people wish success for Joe Biden, or more importantly, for our nation, we must forget about Joe Biden and the other personalities within his administration and focus our attention instead on establishing the ideals of liberty and justice. This moment in the history of our nation is not, as our media might portray it, another episode of American Idol. This moment in our history and how we respond to it could very well mark either the end of our nations aspirations towards greatness or the beginning of the fulfillment of those things we hoped to become. Collectively we will either pay the price of our failures or reap the rewards of our success. It is in the collective that we then ought to move. In this we do not need to each be some political genius. We do not to be geniuses to understand peace, justice, kindness or prosperity and we do not need genius to understand that what is good for us is good for others. It is in that understanding of the common good that democracy flourishes but it is not the thing that motivates unfeeling dictators or corporations that are not human beings but machines.

As for now we can only hope that the government of 2021 is a government that we can truly be proud of. This government will not be found in the naiveté of rah, rah, party politics or in the cynicism of perpetual anti-government disapproval but in finding the voice and power of the citizen who loves peace and justice. The power of today’s government, whether in the hands of Donald Trump or Joe Biden, rests in its authority to commit violence against its citizens or in its ability to appeal to the public’s good sense. The power of the citizens rests in the authority given to the public in our Declaration of Independence and subsequent Constitution, even with its flaws which need to be remedied and overhauled. Constitutions, being the product of people influenced and flawed by the premise of their own generation must be corrected to the advantage of each generation.

Appearances would suggest that Joe Biden has started his term off with a solid stride forward and in some ways he has. Bringing a woman in as his V.P. is of course huge in that it’s finally breaking a tradition that has persisted far beyond the awareness of the problem of its prejudice. The idea of a female V.P. or president for that matter is not new but kudos to Biden for doing the inevitable. The administration’s response to the pandemic looks promising on most every front especially considering the lack of a response, denial even, that came from Trumps administration. Whether this administrations response to the pandemic will be adequate remains to be seen and will rest of course not only on the government’s efforts but on our efforts and ability to intelligently cooperate to the benefit of our own health.

The economic crisis is another beast entirely and will not be alleviated by emergency measures and quick hand-outs. Without intense and overall corrections to not just an unregulated and unfair capitalistic system but to the actual philosophy’s we hold of economics, justice, sustainability and our purpose we will remain deeply divided and in dangerous, even world-destroying territory. Governmental regulation may play the major role in balancing our economics but public consciousness in this matter cannot be under-estimated. Notions of political/economic “isms” must be discarded for a broader understanding of the basic practical realities of a shared existence on planet Earth.

Empire and the wars that are empires trademark, spawning the ultimate destructive force of that thing which devours itself is the big elephant in the room. If the Biden administration does not address the disease of empire then we can, even as soon as today, declare it a failure. Supporting the Guido coup in Venezuela for instance, is an ultimate act of hypocrisy and empire over-reach but the Biden administration, almost unbelievably considering the public reaction to the events of January 6th. The disease of empire is not only in its very real use of war and crippling sanctions as tools for maintaining authority but also in the very real use of fear and the monstrous and altogether gross lie of separateness and never-ending competition that is promoted world-wide, always pitting one against another, human against human, nation against nation, party against party. This administrations call for unity must not if it is to have any meaning at all, if it is to have any positive effect, cannot stop at our border or with any particular man-made club, religion, organization or class. Unity, above all else, requires justice and justice, to be justice in truth, must be universal.

It is easy to appreciate the magic of new beginnings, it is easy to get caught-up in the euphoria of a fresh start or also in the winning of a hard fought and suspense-filled election but moving past that initial burst of “feeling good” and on to the better reward of sustainable change, the success of moving the pendulum in the direction of justice and peace and in the direction of solid government that serves the needs of all people, that will take much more of us than the mere election of one man or one woman and we should not become complacent believing that removing Trump and his cronies will suffice. Likewise, we cannot think that the work of the people is finished by casting votes and then surrendering responsibility to elected officials. We find that if Biden or Trump or any other elected official is given any other status than that of a representative of the people, serving by their blessing, then we have failed our democracy and deserve nothing better than some form of tyranny and oppression.

After the fireworks and the settling of the smoke, it’s easy to want a break from the last four years and its edge-of-the-seat politics. Tired as we the public may or may not be, one thing is certain, there’s more ahead. As we may have a tiny moment of quiet contemplation before us, it might be good to consider the risk of simply handing Biden and Harris, considering the well documented past that they each carry with them into their new elevated roles, some kind of easy pass and to think that all is now well would be extremely naïve and probably dangerous. On the other hand, to believe that people and the circumstances that can dictate change in them and in us are not in play would be cynical and dangerous too in the immobilization that depression, born of cynicism can produce. Somewhere between naiveté and cynicism we may find the balance that we need as we approach that thing that every day brings, a chance for a fresh start and a new beginning. Democracy and our country are not a static creatures, they are in constant flux, they live a little and they die a little, here a bit and there a little bit more. The job of our representatives is to represent, it is not to lord over the people. The job of the people in a democratic society is not to worship idols but to see that their democracy is alive and well.

It would be naïve to think that this latest election has brought us to a new and better day; it would be cynical to insist that it has not. Somewhere between naiveté and cynicism is the on-going truth of our existence, life is a struggle, change is a constant and our collective well-being rests in the knowledge that we must at all times and in all things, take the good along with the bad while still remaining vigilant, supporting the good while confronting the bad.