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The Road to Resilience

Both the Republicans and the Democrats have been challenged this election year by a populist insurrection.  Many of us bristle as the pundits throw Trump and Sanders supporters into the same bag.   After all, the motives and intentions of the two factions seem to be as different as night and day.  Yet, some of those Trump and Sanders supporters claim that they would vote for the other populist candidate if the one they are backing is not in the running.  (Technically, Bernie is still a choice.)  That being said, it seems to me that we need to understand what Trump and Sanders supporters have in common and what they don’t if we are to understand and make decisions about what we need to do going forward.

In the most general sense, both sides reject the political and economic status quo, systems which they feel are rigged against them.  For Sanders supporters, the “them” under consideration is more universal:  all Americans at least, all humans for most, and all living things for many more.  For Trump supporters, and I know this doesn’t characterize all, “them” is more personal:  my family and my friends at least, people that are like me for most, and all Americans for many more.  For both groups, the point at issue is that the status quo is unfair, although it seems that they differ in their concept of fairness.

Most Sanders supporters, again, see fairness in a more universal context:  equality of opportunity and equal access to needed goods and services for all people.  They also see that a rough equality in status and standard of living among all people is a desirable goal, not only for charitable reasons but for the very practical reason that it promotes a peaceful and harmonious world.  Trump supporters also value equality of opportunity but seem to be less inclined to feel that there is any ethical or practical reason to be their brother’s keeper.   Rather, they seem to think that every individual should have the opportunity to prevail through merit.  A corollary to that position is a high priority given to security.  

My theory is that security is mostly required to protect those that have from those that don’t.  Certainly, there is a need to protect the weak from the strong, but a goal of rough equality in a fair system mitigates against the need for security.  Just as people are generally okay with the fact that different people have different qualities and gifts, I think people don’t mind others having a reasonable amount more than they do, as long as it is fairly gotten.  The important factor is that the system is fair.  In the same sense, I don’t think people mind carrying a heavy burden if they feel that it is commonly shared by all.  This might be one of the few ways we can elicit the more generous and charitable nature in people.  

Inequality, and the unfairness it creates, elicits the worst in human nature.  Everything from incivility to terrorism can be attributed ultimately to a lack of fairness.  Groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS don’t have such success attracting recruits because people “hate our freedom.”  They hate us because we have so much more power and wealth that we feel entitled to intervene in anybody’s internal affairs whenever it appears to be in our “national interest,” that is, whenever we feel like it.  Treat people poorly and you have to expect the same in return.  The rise of Hitler had much to do with our retribution on Germany after WWI.  After WWII, an unusually lucid time for us, we chose to follow the magnanimous Marshall Plan instead and got the Europe we have today. When we are nurturing rather than bullying the world, we may not have to live in fear of imminent attack.   

I draw two conclusions from these considerations.  One is that it is generally believed that our current political and economic status quo is unfair and that perception is driving the rejection of that status quo.  The second is that what replaces that status quo will either be informed by fear or by love.  The more insecurity we feel, the greater the likelihood that fear will be the prime motivator.  Fear calls for the strong man to lead us, and that is fascism.  We likely will not elect Trump this time around; we will probably elect Clinton, presently a status quo candidate.  To the extent that she resists change, the fear could be harder to defeat next time.  That is why we need to change the status quo as soon as possible.  Our way forward, with or without Sanders as president, is to start building confidence in equality, fairness, and inclusion as guiding principles rather than trying to rule the world by whatever means, thereby enhancing the fear that might succeed in installing a fascist regime next time.  A President Clinton, if she prevails, is politically astute enough to see that campaigning to create a government that works for the people and not just the 1% will get her elected.

Comments? (please!)