Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton

President-Shopping: What Do You Value In A Candidate?

“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” –Karl Marx

“A leader is a dealer in hope.” –Napoleon Bonaparte

Hello friend,

Here is a small sampling of the kinds of thoughts dominating my mind in recent weeks: Do we really see eye-to-eye? Does she share my passions? Do I want someone more experienced, or less? Is she in this for me or for herself? Will she go all the way? Sounds exciting, right? Sadly (or not), no, I am NOT back in the dating game or perusing Match.com for options. Instead, I am in a different kind of market, one that, at this critical juncture in American history, may be even more consequential than my love life. I am searching for a President.

I remember the primary season four years ago, watching the earliest Republican debates. Like the current crop of Democratic candidates, it felt like an enormous cast of characters to pare down. I figured that in our back-and-forth country, it was probably the Republicans’ turn to win the Presidency, so it was especially intriguing. Not that I was going to vote for one of them–I don’t belong to a party but am very liberal and thus typically end up choosing among the Democrats in our antiquated, two-party system–but my keen interest in politics and the future of America keeps me fascinated by the happenings and characters in both parties.

In that Republican debate, I remember taking notice of John Kasich for the first time, thinking he might make the best nominee in the end, one that would try to be a President for everyone in our fractured country, even as the leader of one party. He was personable enough and seemed somewhat open-minded, seemingly a decent guy in spite of his politics. I figured he may even try to work with both parties, something I fancied given both that I was expecting a Republican President and that things in Washington had become stubbornly divided and petty. I also remember noting Marco Rubio in that debate, figuring him to be someone to look out for in the future, maybe the next Vice-President and/or a future President. Jeb Bush seemed like the kind of guy that would be nominated. Others seemed out of their depth. Ted Cruz repulsed me in every way. Donald Trump seemed to be every bit the nightmare that he still seems to me now. Well, we know what the Republican voters decided.

The Democratic primary at the time, though technically open, seemed like a done deal with an eventual Hillary Clinton nomination. Though in a much smaller field, it was clear in the first debate that Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee were going nowhere. The then-new-to-me message of Bernie Sanders, though appealing to these ears, just seemed like it wasn’t going to get a fair or full hearing (and maybe I was too quick to pick a candidate because of that). Clinton had policies that I like, she was exceptionally smart and well-qualified, and electing the first female President appealed to me greatly. I thought she would do a good job despite an obviously hostile opposition stemming from the decades-long, Fox News-led assassination of her character. I voted for her in the primary and again in the general election. And again, we all know how that went.

So, here we are again, four years and several debates later, and, for the moment and for the Democrats, at least, there is still a wide variety of characters to choose from. The policy choices range from the center to the far left, and the range of personality styles and types of experience is even broader.

Looming over all of them, too, is the elusive quality called “electability.” Disgust of Trump is so strong that poll after poll shows that voters in the Democratic primaries prefer someone who will beat Trump over someone who shares their values. I have seen interviews with voters who actually preferred a woman or person of color (when there were some) but put that preference aside and chose a white man for fear that sexism and/or racism would cause their preferred candidate to lose in the general election. The problem I see is that I don’t think anyone really knows what electable is. Look at Trump. Like him or not right now, you would have to agree that four years ago, he did not seem electable. Establishment Republicans were in a state of shock and gripped by the fear that someone with such an arrogant and petty personality, prior support of Democrats, and history of racist and misogynistic actions not only wouldn’t win but that he would cause so many others down-ballot to lose as well. The experts agreed. And they were all wrong.

Right now the same hand-wringing is happening in the Democratic Party over the recent emergence of Bernie Sanders as the frontrunner for the nomination. They fear someone with such liberal (“democratic socialist”) views will alienate not only the party’s moderate voters but also the “swing voters,” independents and disaffected Republicans that the Democrats were planning to win over in this election. But who is to say if these fears are well-founded? Doesn’t winning the contests make you electable? In any case, because I don’t think people know what electable looks like until after the votes are tallied, I wish folks in these primary contests would vote for who they think would actually be the best President rather than looking at it like a horse race, trying to predict the winner rather than select one.

But how does each person select one? What factors weigh heaviest when deciding amongst a cast of characters who all belong on the same half of the political spectrum as you do? Because let’s be clear, this is a totally different challenge than just voting in the general election, when you are probably going to be voting for the nominee from your preferred party whether you like that person or not. [Let’s face it: Donald Trump may have a very high approval rate among Republicans now, but when many of those same folks filled in that little oval by his name in November of 2016, they were biting down hard and hoping for the best rather than gleefully squealing, “This is sure to go great!!!”] But when it is basically a choice amongst characters from your own tribe, you get to (have to?) drill down on the different qualities that each one brings to the table and parse out what really matters most to you.

And that can change from one election to the next and one group of candidates to the next. Some eras call for an emphasis on personal character. Other eras–in your mind, at least–call for revolutionary policy ideas. Another calls for a status quo candidate, like an outgoing Vice President, to keep riding the wave you are on. Some years I am looking more for someone who inspires me. Other times intelligence and steadiness seem more important. Maybe it means something more to you to be a part of electing a woman or someone from another historically underrepresented group, but maybe this time you prioritize whoever feels like the safest bet. Experience in government can be looked at either positively or negatively, depending upon how fed-up you are with the system. The entire question and answer is a most volatile and thorny puzzle.

So, what am I looking for in this moment from these candidates? What will sway me most when I step into that voting booth in a few days?

Before the contest began, I would surely have told you I wanted the most humble, pleasant, intelligent, unflappable, inclusive, positive-messaged, male, and white candidate in the field. Essentially, other than the “safety” of the whiteness and the maleness, I wanted everything that Donald Trump is not. I wanted that contrast to be so glaringly obvious to any open-minded voter. That seemed to be the wisest choice to ensure a Trump defeat.

But then, as is often the case in this complex journey called Life, the real, live humans entered into the equation and mucked up my whole plan. Suddenly my natural inclinations to be inspired and to make bigger change in the world took over my better judgment. I saw safe, and it just didn’t feel like enough for me. I moved past just winning the White House and focused on the more sweeping changes that could make life better and more just for more people in the long run. I slipped away from the cold, calculated path to victory and moved toward the candidates that appealed most to me.

I am big on candidates who are serious about the environment and eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels. That one is pretty common to all of the current Democratic candidates–though some seem more passionate than others–as are things like gun law reform, women’s rights, drug law reform, a reduction of the prison-industrial complex, and putting more federal money into our schools, among many other issues. It is why I could imagine voting for any one of them if they were to win the nomination.

But there are a couple of points of separation that help me to narrow my preferences.

I believe health care should be guaranteed to all people–I have written to you before about this–and that personal finances should not keep any American from getting the care they need. I also think our current health care system is predatory, immoral, and way too expensive for what we get out of the deal. Because of these–but mainly because of the first one–I am a huge proponent of a single-payer health care system, now referred to as “Medicare For All” on the campaign trail. This may be my biggest pet issue, and it narrows my candidate choices down to just a few. Thankfully, those candidates happen to also be genuine champions of the working class, minority communities, and others who have not fared as well as people born into advantage. These candidates have plans to raise the minimum wage, to build more affordable housing, to make it easier for black and brown people to get loans for homes and small businesses, to build infrastructure in these communities, and to ensure that the schools in these areas get the funding for teachers and mental health professionals that they need to achieve some measure of equity. This genuine care for people who need and deserve a boost is very important to me in a candidate. I feel that with a couple of them.

When I am left with two whose policies I can really get behind, it is then that I dig into the personality, intelligence, and “electability” aspects of the candidates. I have watched a couple of town halls with one candidate in particular who definitely impresses me with her depth, both of caring and intelligence. The tone just feels right to me; I get that she has listened, been moved, thought it all through, and come up with very specific plans to help. That stuff ticks the boxes for me. I could see her on a debate stage with Donald Trump and coming across as the only adult in the room. But not just as the only adult–that is easy to pull off when Trump is your comparison–but the only one who has done the work to understand the situations of the people in this country and the complexities of the world we live in, and then who actually cares enough to steward both the ship and all of its passengers toward better. And though her policies are bold and to some far-fetched, she both makes them seem more do-able and also seems willing to compromise to at least move in that direction. And I don’t see her as so easily falling prey to being cartooned by Trump and his Fox News propaganda machine, though no doubt that effort will be forcefully made.

This points up the contrast between her and the other candidate whose policies I like: I just think he will too easily fall prey to the cartooning by the other side, both with his ornery, shouting personality and with the bold positions that will no doubt have the other side screaming “COMMUNIST!!!” at every turn. It’s a problem of approachability, to say nothing of the likability factor once you get that close. There is an unbending quality to him as well, which may be great if he is your personal champion but is difficult if you are anyone else. I wish more people wanted to join his movement, but I understand that its popularity at the moment, as with his personal appeal, is limited. I hate the idea of equating him with Trump, but the one similarity I sense and worry about is having a very loyal but somewhat limited following, with little possibility for growth. I would prefer to not end up with two old, stubborn, shouting, white men on the final debate stage, even if one is shouting things I like to hear. It just feels tougher on the country, leaving less room for middle ground.

That is why I prefer my other candidate. She has the policy positions that are my minimum qualification, but she also has the other things–the intelligence, the empathy, the specifics, the experience–to fill in the rest of the picture and appear as a reasonable option to a broader range of people. And frankly, to be a better President, which, if I remember correctly, is what this whole process is all about. So, even though I abandoned my initial, cold, calculated plan to pick the “safest” bet, in the form of a white, male, middle-aged moderate, and instead went where my principles led me–to an older, more liberal female–I am pleased with where I have landed and what the journey taught me. I am ready to fill in the oval!

How about you? What qualities do you value most in choosing your President? Open up your journal and explore the appeal of the candidates that you have voted for in the past and others that you have passed on. Whether it was in the last primary if you lean toward Republicans or this primary if you tend to prefer the Democrats, which aspects of their candidacies tend to hold the most sway with you? In a setting like a large debate stage, do you tend to feel for personalities and energy first and then, after you have found some that you are drawn to, listen more closely for the policy specifics? Or, do you tend to ignore the personality part and go straight to policy positions? Somewhere in between? How much does gender factor into your equation? Race? Religion? Sexuality? How much does a candidate’s intelligence impress you? How much do you weigh a person’s political experience? Is it better if they have been in Washington for a long time? Is it more appealing to you if they have succeeded in other fields, like the current billionaire candidates? How much does the person’s past matter to you, whether it is a voting record in Congress or something they have said (Trump’s “Grab ‘em by the pussy” comes to mind) or written or been charged with? How do you weigh that against what they say they stand for now? Can you put all of these other personality, history, and demographic questions aside as long as the person shares your policy positions? What is the most important issue that you want your candidate to share your vision on? How much more important is that issue than the others? What are the rest of your pet topics, in order of importance? Have you ever been fully satisfied with a politician’s positions? How much do you tend to factor in “electability” when narrowing your candidates? Do you feel like you have a good sense of what electable is? How would you draw up the “safest” candidate in your party? Is there someone you have in mind as a model? Do you pay close attention to the candidates and issues central to the party that you don’t generally vote for? Considering that one of them might become your next President, what kinds of qualities do you look for in those opposition candidates that make you think, “Well, I suppose I could live with that one for four years,” or “That one does not make me totally sick to my stomach, anyway,” or the like? Is it all about whoever is the most moderate of the bunch, or is it more about which one has a decent personality? How do the qualities you look at for the opponents differ from the ones you prioritize for your own party? Have you ever watched a debate or town hall performance by someone from the opposition party and thought to yourself, “I would actually vote for this person?” On the whole, would you say the qualities you value in a candidate change from election to election depending upon the group and the circumstances, or do you prioritize the same thing every time? What is the best predictor of your vote? Leave me a reply and let me know: What qualities matter most to you in choosing a Presidential candidate?

Think big,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you, please pass it on. Let’s all engage this special process!

P.P.S. If this way of questioning yourself to uncover your values and idiosyncrasies is appealing to you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers. Namaste.

Misguided Saints or Friendly Villains? Assessing Loved Ones In The Age Of Trump

“The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.” –George Carlin

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” –Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

“That’s what people do who love you. They put their arms around you and love you when you’re not so lovable.” –Deb Caletti

Hello friend,

If you and I meet up any time in the next year–or maybe forever–and I don’t seem to remember how to act, it’s because I don’t. Truly, I don’t. I’ve forgotten. I may be dying to interrogate you, rip into you, gloss over you, or lavish you with empathy and good will–or all of the above simultaneously. What you get? I don’t know! Never in my life have I felt so torn about how to interact with people in general, but especially the people I have always known and loved. Ninety percent of my interactions are a form of torture. And I blame it all on Donald Trump!

Just kidding. Not about the torture, but about the Trump. (I am not here to litigate the President, really. We all know where we stand on him already, and I don’t expect to change that. My question today, as always, is ultimately about YOU.) I know he is only a symptom of a deeper disease–and I generally don’t even mention his name–but he makes the arguments stand out in bold, cartoon-like form, making it easier to highlight our differences of morality. So let’s go with it for the moment.

I suppose I have been tortured by a version of this syndrome all my life–a liberal, “bleeding heart” kind of soul born into a family, community, and region of the country that oozes conservatism–though most of my years were spent in happy denial of it. At some level, I could always say that I felt “different,” as though I didn’t quite belong, but I didn’t ever really do the work to crystallize what it was. I was blissfully unaware of politics and the ramifications of political beliefs on the lives of the people around us and the people of the world. I casually accepted the idea that all of those politicians in Washington were pretty much the same: White men who agreed on the problems but just had slightly different views on the solutions. I suppose I figured the rest of us were pretty much the same: it wasn’t our politics that separated us or showed some to be “good” and others “bad,” but rather our day-to-day actions and our morals. Politics seemed to be a separate thing and far less important.

And then I opened my eyes and started paying attention. It all changed pretty fast from there. Me, I mean. I changed. Not me, as in, who I was. But me in how I understood the world and its workings. The curtain got pulled back for me, and I couldn’t un-see what I had seen, though it would have saved me a lot of torment in the ensuing years.

Politics is morals put into policy form.

The policies–and, by extension, the politicians that espouse them–that you support tell so much about your character and your moral compass. At bottom, your politics reveal exactly what (and whom) you value. Simultaneously, they tell about what you are willing to swallow in order to make your values win. It is a crystallization of your priorities.

So, why do so many of the people from my past–people I have liked or loved, people I played with or share blood with, people who raised me–support a brand of morals that makes my skin crawl? How could we come from the same home and seemingly be moral opposites? And should that make us, if not enemies, then at least cordially not-friends? Are we deluding ourselves by thinking that the bonds of old friendship or family should endure even though we realize we are thoroughly incompatible morally? Should I be cutting ties, or do I have to just shine it on at reunions for the rest of my life, keeping my conversations agonizingly superficial in the service of tolerating each other? Or is there something more, some level of wisdom or grace that I can reach that allows me to fully embrace them again, the way it was before I could see these things clearly?

I want to know how to interact! Maybe more so, I want to be able to think better of the people I have been feeling hurt by and angry with, people who have been a big disappointment to me since I opened my eyes to the stark differences in our beliefs. I want that, but at the moment, I admit that it’s hard to see a path to the bridge.

This may seem random, but I think we need to talk about Jesus. As I have shared with you before, I am not a Christian but am a huge fan of the man. His example and his teachings are wonderful. In this era, though, I feel as though I have to defend Jesus from his followers. It truly makes my blood boil to listen to certain high-profile religious leaders as they not only cover for the despicable acts and policies of our current President but celebrate him and lean on their congregations to do the same.

But, as I said, I do not want to make this seem like it’s about Donald Trump. As easy of a target as he is in any discussion of morals, I would rather pull it back to a party level, but still stick with my guy Jesus. My pet theory–perhaps incorrect, but still mine and sure to offend even more people, but hey, I’m already in the deep end on this one–is that the “Christian coalition” (or “Evangelicals” or once upon a time the “Moral Majority” or however you would like to name the right-wing Christian movement) was willing to hitch their wagon to whichever political party was going to side with them on the issue of abortion. The Republicans signed on and have happily won a ton of easy elections out of the deal (hence the “Bible Belt” also being called the “Solid South” to signify that it votes solidly Republican).

But what policies did the Christians–and just so we are clear, I am not suggesting this applies to every Christian but rather to the movement and leaders (e.g. Franklin Graham) that try to speak for the religion–wed themselves to for the sake of abortion? How do they look after this deal? And, more importantly, how do you imagine Jesus would see it?

I have studied this guy Jesus fairly seriously, both as a kid and as an adult, and these are some of the traits and principles that stand out to me about him: generous, nonviolent, empathetic, welcoming, charitable, open-hearted, peaceful, forgiving, an ally to the outcast, opposition to greed, caring for the poor and the sick. When I look at the issues of the modern world that our political parties disagree on, I always shudder to think how he would feel about the side taken by the leaders and followers of the religion that bares his name.

Tax breaks for the wealthiest, leading to greater income inequality and a greater number of people suffering and impoverished. LGBTQ discrimination. Separating immigrant families who are fleeing war or cruelty at home–hey, like Jesus!–and caging children at the border. Gun laws. Expansion of the prison-industrial complex and military-industrial complex. Civil rights and righting past wrongs to African-Americans and other minority communities. Guaranteeing health care for all. Protecting the environment. From what I can tell about Jesus, he would land on the exact opposite end of the political (i.e. moral) spectrum than the people who are supposedly carrying his banner.

Whenever one of these issues comes up and I ask myself that famous question, “What would Jesus do?” the answer inevitably turns out to be so different than the Republican/”Christian” response. That is deeply disturbing to me. I wish it were to them, but judging by the election results at all levels, it plainly is not.

Just look at the President. We will pull him into the discussion for a moment. I have no need to write the laundry list of his moral failings, but suffice it to say that in both his policies and his social (e.g. Twitter) messages to the world, he would seem to me to be a glaring embarrassment to not just his country, religion or political party, but to humanity. Horrifying things are said and done, and yet who in his party–whether a politician or an ordinary citizen–ever says, “Yikes! This time he crossed the line. That is unacceptable.”? As my wife is fond of exclaiming when at her wits’ end about these silent enablers, “How do they look themselves in the mirror? How can they live with themselves?” I would like to know.

Because I have Republican family members who practically spat in disgust when Donald Trump was a candidate for President. Until he became their nominee, that is. Ever since, I don’t hear a single negative thing about him from them, no matter how egregious the latest lie or slander or tantrum. All is well in their world. I would like an explanation for that.

But what I also want from them–and I know this sounds extreme and self-absorbed at first blush, but it is my truth–is an apology. I have been highly sensitive to racism my whole life, even growing up White in a thoroughly White community. And now I have a Black wife and two biracial children, as well as dear friends of color. Any neutral account of this President’s history before and in office show him to be plainly racist. You, as a supporter, can say all day long, “I am not a racist. I am not a racist. I am not a racist.” But if you pledge your support to a racist, what does that make you?

And I get it, there are more things about a politician than whether they are racist or not . So maybe you love your politician’s foreign relations philosophy or immigration policy or health care plan so much that you are willing to overlook their racist statements and actions, but does that mean you should not even acknowledge that aspect of it to someone who is hurt by your vote? Especially if you love them? Something along the lines of, “You know how I voted, and I know that must feel like a punch in the gut to your family because his racism is truly ugly and harmful. But the other issues are ones I couldn’t compromise on, so I felt compelled to vote for him despite serious misgivings about his character. I really do apologize for the damage his racism causes; I can only hope I am right about the rest and that our relationship survives it.” From my own experience, I will say that the votes of my family and friends for Trump have deeply hurt my feelings on this issue of racism. The possibility that they are blind to their hurtfulness doesn’t do much to salve the wound. It mostly makes me feel the moral divide between us is that much greater.

That divide tends to feel like a gulf, because, as I said, this is not just about Donald Trump, and I am sure it won’t disappear when he leaves office. This is about political issues that are shows of our moral character and thus our priorities. After all, conservative media spent decades portraying Hillary Clinton as, alternately, morally weak for sticking with a cheating husband, then frigid, calculating, ruthless, and finally, as corrupt and untruthful as Trump himself. But in the end, whether any of those cartoon-villain descriptions were accurate or not, she still stood for policies that revealed a morality far, far different than the policies of her opponent, never mind his well-chronicled character flaws.

So let’s be clear, I don’t think anyone in Washington is a saint. They play in an ugly game, and to rise to the top, they have probably done things that they don’t want to tell their mothers about. But you and I aren’t playing an ugly game. We are living this one life, and I, perhaps naïvely, presume that means we are trying to be good people and leave the world better than we found it. In this one life, we get to choose how we come down on every issue, and we get to step privately into that voting booth in every election and vote with our moral compass as guide.

But that’s the problem I am having and why old relationships have become so awkward and challenging. I get to see the election results and know the values and priorities of the people in my community. In the case of family members and some friends, I already know the way they vote, so there becomes no way for me to deny their moral positions. When I do the old, “What would Jesus do?” test and their votes come out on the opposite side of me and Jesus, it creates a crisis of conscience for me. Not because I doubt my political positions, but because I doubt my relationships.

I begin to wonder whether, in staying loyal to the person, I am betraying myself. Am I taking the high road with them but low-balling myself? Their presence in my life–at least on some level–feels like a violation of my principles.

But then they go and muck up my righteous indignation by doing what they have been doing all my life: being kind to me and my family or doing other good works for their neighbors or the world. They tell me funny jokes. They enjoy a walk on the beach or in the woods with me. We play sports together. Our kids are best friends. We take each other’s suggestions on great books and movies. We have an intellectually stimulating conversation or commiserate about our children, all of whom we love and want the best for. They act like friends and family are supposed to act. In effect, they make it complicated.

Humans are so darn messy! The so-called Good and the so-called Bad. It turns out neither is exactly what we call them. None of us are. We are all grey, all wearing one angel’s wing and one devil’s horn, showing them off alternately depending upon which angle someone is looking from. You are this to me, but you are also that. I can therefore not put you in a box. Knowing you requires nuance and perhaps a sacrifice, some boundaries, or even some cleverly placed blinders. That is frustrating because it is a lot more work. It’s so darn much work!

But what is the alternative? Solitude? That is tempting to me on many days, believe me, but I have mostly made peace with my decision to be a (somewhat) social animal. I know that I will have people in my life, and that means I must accept some degree of compromise of my many principles (I do like to have things my way!). It doesn’t mean I will accept just anyone into my life or that my current relationships have not changed from my end. As I said at the top, now that my eyes have been opened to the ramifications of political positions, everything has changed, but most especially my boundaries. But it is a murky task. I thought maybe in the course of this letter, I would come to a hard and fast conclusion on this. Like, “I can no longer commune with these people, even in our superficial way! The moral gulf between us is too wide.” But my heart does not seem ready for that extreme lockdown, even if it has narrowed the pathway in. I guess I have to learn to be okay with a little more messiness, a little more grey than I would like. I have to learn Grace. Grace is hard. But I suppose that is Life, isn’t it? It is not easy, and it isn’t clean. It resists boxes and absolutes.

The entrance of politics into my life has done so much more to muddy the waters. It is no wonder that new studies show that the more people pay attention to politics, the more stressed they are. But I cannot go back to denial. The cat is out of the bag. I have allowed the complexity into my life, and I want to be responsible with its ramifications. So, if you see me on the street and I seem a little wary, forgive me. In all of my balancing between assessment, acceptance, rejection, and practice of Grace, I no longer seem to know how to behave in public. It turns out I am a work in progress.

How about you? How well do you balance your natural feelings for the people in your life with the new information you gather about their character as time goes by? Open up your journal and take a deep dive on this enormous and so-very-pregnant topic. How open and honest are your communications with family and friends on sensitive topics such as politics and religion? Are you able to really say how you feel and challenge them on their beliefs and your differences, or do you remain silent on these topics and pretend your differences don’t exist in order to keep the peace? Whether or not you talk about them, are you aware of the political differences you have with your loved ones? Do you know where they stand on the various issues and how they vote in elections? How much do you think about that? In what ways does it shape your relationship with them? Do your differences, even if unspoken, cause you to keep them at more of a distance than you might otherwise? Do your political similarities bind you together more tightly? Perhaps the dictating factor in all of this discussion regards how much weight these issues–and politics in general–carry in your life? Are you like me and feel very passionately about things like health care, the environment, or gun control, or do you not think much about any of these issues and not care to allow them to shape your relationships one way or another? If you are in the latter camp of not caring, does this idea of politics making or breaking relationships seem silly? Do you believe that politics are really just our moral values put into policy form? If not, then how do you see politics? But if so, why aren’t more people more invested in them? Whatever your level of investment, how do you deal with people you care about who have very different politics/morals than you do? Do you try to change their mind? Does it affect the quality of your time together, or the amount of it? Have you cut anyone out of your life for their political/moral beliefs? If these moral issues are as important as I think they are, shouldn’t they cause more relationships to break up? Do you feel weak or somehow in betrayal of your principles when you allow people with starkly different beliefs into your life and/or the lives of your children, especially if you take their positions to be detestable and their influence a negative one? How do you deal with a racist in your family? What other moral/political characteristics are hot triggers for you and cause you much tension at family reunions or other gatherings? Does a lot of this depend on how long someone has been in your life and how late in the game you learned of their moral shortcomings? For example, if your father is severely racist or your sister nasty to the poor, but you didn’t fully grasp this and gain footing in your own convictions until more recently, do you feel as though it is impossible to change your relationship dynamic with them because they have been with you–and good to you–for so long? Are you able to merge the new information you have with the old and manage the good and the bad, or do you tend to keep focused on only the good or only the bad? How about with new people in your life, like a co-worker whom you have become “work friends” with but then, upon getting closer, learned you were politically opposite? Now put specific political parties or politicians to all of those questions. How do you react to someone when you learn how they voted in the last presidential election? What if you were planning to meet a friend or family member somewhere socially and they showed up wearing a red “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” hat (or an Obama T-shirt)? Would your blood curdle? Would you say something? Would it instantly change your relationship? Think of the loved one who is farthest from you politically but that you still allow close to your heart. How do you pull that off? How much of it is denial? How much is it that you have witnessed them doing so many other good things interpersonally–being kind, generous, or compassionate–that you let the bad stuff slide? How much is that you are wise enough to see everyone as complicated and messy and that you have learned to just see through to the good and be more accepting of everyone? How do you think this whole issue varies between liberals and conservatives? I once wrote you a letter about my theory that conservatives tend to see liberals more as foolish and overly idealistic–but not morally lacking–whereas liberals tend to see conservatives as morally corrupt. What do you think? Are liberal-minded people more likely to keep the conservative at arms’ length and/or break off the relationship entirely because of perceived moral failings, or the other way around? Or equally likely? Is your tendency to see your politically opposite loved ones as good people who are just misguided, or do you tend toward seeing them as bad people who have done good things for you? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do your relationships change when politics are revealed?

Do your best,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you today, please share it with your community. Let us try to better understand ourselves and each other so we can beautify the world!

P.P.S. If this way of questioning yourself is appealing to you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers. Namaste.

A Peaceful Transfer of Power: Ruminations on the New Presidency

“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” –Mark Twain

Hello friend,

It is Inauguration Weekend in Washington, DC. Amidst a wide array of celebrations and demonstrations, only one thing is certain: we have a new President. What comes next is anybody’s guess….

I think that the range of internal reactions to this event and this unique period in American history runs the gamut among our fellow citizens. We are emerging from the most unusual political campaign imaginable, but in some ways, we haven’t emerged much at all. Drama has continued unabated, on every conceivable topic. As with any drama, there are a million different ways to react to our current events, depending upon your personal history and the interests you have vested in the players on the stage.

I have seen jubilation, and I have seen devastation. I have seen relief, and I have seen dread. I have seen hope, and I have seen fear. I have seen smugness, and I have seen humility. I have seen eagerness, and I have seen panic. I have seen joy, and I have seen profound sadness. I have seen triumph, and I have seen abject loss.

Through all of those reactions I have witnessed while out in the world or inside my home–seeing them through the news or social media—I have sensed a unique undercurrent. It is almost indescribable. Maybe the best word I can come up with is UNCERTAINTY. It is not exactly in people’s words—and I mean people on all sides of the emotional and political spectrum–but in how they deliver them and how they are received. It is in people’s body language, in the structure of conversations and news reports.

There is a sense of wildness out there. The Wild, Wild West. There is the feeling that, even though it is not written anywhere, the old rules don’t seem to apply anymore. The term “post-truth world” has become popular in the press, and I think that is this feeling in the air. Like, “I think I will just say or do something untrue or illegal or outrageous, because something tells me I will get away with it now, though I never could before.” It just feels willy-nilly in the atmosphere to me, like we are at some strange portal in the Universe, and none of us knows if, when we take that next step, the regular laws of gravity and thermodynamics and such will still apply. It is as though a huge experiment is beginning, and some are starting with the attitude of “Let me see what I can get away with,” while others just want the rules to be posted, and still others are scared to death.

I know I am not explaining myself well here, but suffice it to say that I sense a really awkward vibe in the air. Uncertainty. As I said at the beginning, what comes next is anyone’s guess.

I, of course, have gone through my own process with the whole campaign, election, and the transition period, a process that is still evolving now as I write to you. 

I followed the Presidential campaigns with great interest from the very start (crazy that that was nearly two years ago!). I am very liberal but am fascinated by both major parties as well as a few minor ones, though I don’t belong to one. I assumed from the start that whomever the Republicans selected would win, especially as it seemed clear that an unpopular Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic contender. But when the Republicans made their selection, I thought the Democrats were back in it with a decent shot.

The end of the campaign and the election itself left me gutted. I am an optimist, and I have a perhaps-naïve faith in the goodness of people. Recent years have brought what seemed like so much social progress. After all of the ignorance, hate, and general smallness on display daily through the campaign, I did not want to believe that the millions of independent voters in this country could, in good conscience, step into the voting booth and, in effect, give an okay to those ideas and undo the momentum we had built toward open-mindedness and equal treatment. Of course, I was wrong, and painfully so.

I felt like I woke up to a different country after the election. It had nothing to do with which party won—I admittedly preferred the Democrat and Green Party candidates—but rather what the result said about what was inside so many more hearts than I wanted to believe.

After seeing the reactions on Facebook for a day or two and feeling worse, I stopped going on there for almost two months. It was too tempting to go down the road of defeatism and bitterness. I didn’t want to be swallowed up by that, because my world is too important to me, and I respect the gift of my own voice. I did not want to sully my spirit and be false to who I really am.

So, I laid low, retreated from the fray, and concentrated on other things. I peaked in on the news, of course, and followed things like Cabinet appointments and intelligence reports so that my head was not buried in the sand, but I allowed my heart some space to heal and prepare for this transfer of power and the uncertain years to come.

Where am I today? While I won’t pretend that I don’t still cringe at the Tweets, Cabinet hearings, and press conferences I see on my regular check of the news, and I won’t pretend I am not anxious about my loved ones’ sense of safety and belonging in my beloved country, I am doing my best to not let my energies be leached away from me in those directions.

Instead, I am focusing on how I can be a light and make a positive impact on my own little sphere of influence. I am not going to pretend I can just keep my eyes down and hope these four years pass as quickly as possible. I am not going to sit around and blame the President or the Congress for my lot in life and the way my community is (dis)connected. I am taking ownership for my share in it. I will speak up when I need to (which may be often). I will lend a hand when I can. I will be an example to those around me of the types of qualities I expect from them: compassion, decency, courage, kindness, open-mindedness, inclusivity, and hope.

That last one—hope—is so important to me now. As I said before, I am an optimist in my core. I believe in the goodness of people and the greatness of our future together. And I cannot help but look to the arc of human history and American history to bolster my belief. The greater story being told is one of progress. No, that progress is not always direct and steady—there is often a step back after a few hard-won steps forward—but the arc is no less clear. I have faith that, however this step we are now taking becomes defined by the history books, it will not stop the greater march of Progress. I am not willing to surrender that optimism simply because we have a new temp in the Oval Office. Onward and upward!

How about you? How are your heart and mind as we transition from one President to the next? Open up your journal and give yourself a little check-up. How has this election and transition treated you? How closely did you follow the seemingly endless campaign season? Did your favorite candidate become a nominee? Did your favorite nominee win? By the end of the campaign—not the election–how disgusted were you? What bothered you most? Was there anything you particularly liked about the campaign process? How about the election? What was your reaction to the results? How has that changed during the transition period leading up to Inauguration Day? Where are you with it now? Start with your heart. What are your emotions as the new administration gets under way? Now to your head. How are you expecting things to go in the next four years? How do you think this leadership will change your life, if at all? How have you decided to think and act in the process? Do you plan to get more involved in your community? Do you plan to speak up more about your beliefs or about injustice? Are you preparing to lead with Love? What can you do to best bring about the world that you wish to live in? Leave me a reply and let me know, “How are you processing our country’s changes?”

Choose Love,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated or helped you along, please share it. Let’s own who we are and rise from there. Blessings!

Who Do You Wish To Be?

DSC_0042“To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to.” –Kahlil Gibran, The Madman

Hello friend,

Thanks mostly to the upcoming election, we find ourselves today in a uniquely character-driven moment in social discourse. Not character like, “Oh that Trump, he is quite a character.” But rather, character in terms of “Who are these people at their core?” Oh sure, character comes up at some point in lots of major elections. When attacks on an opponent’s policy positions or voting record don’t move the needle, a candidate takes a swipe at the other one’s character, trolling into their past to find some event that might portray them as unpatriotic, corrupt, or cold-hearted. But this election is unique, I think, in that it seems like almost all of the ads and the rhetoric are about character. The candidates are, in lots of creative ways, branded as lying, bigoted, demagogic, ruthless, misogynistic, cold, arrogant, cowardly, greedy, buffoonish, self-serving, hateful, criminal, and so much more. Each side seems to want only to disqualify the other by virtue of all of these terrible characteristics rather than declaring their own case based on their own virtues and positions. Even though I am very tuned in, I must say the approach from both sides has me very turned off.

What I have realized this week is that two of the big reasons I am troubled by this campaign are coming together in a perfect storm that is raging against my natural wiring and leaving me wanting to address my own core qualities.

First, I am heavily inclined toward associating myself with positive, aspirational type of people. I don’t like to give my time and energy to thoughts of all of those negative qualities I mentioned above, and I am not drawn to people who possess them. Well, it’s more than not being drawn to them, though; it is more of an inborn repulsion that I feel. Negativity and shiftiness repel me; I feel a natural disgust in my bones in their presence. I do my best to be tapped into my intuitions and natural inclinations as I go through the world, and I try to honor them by following their lead. It is the best way I know to remain authentic and at peace.

With the characters we have trying to become President this year, I can tell that I am at war with myself over character issues that seem to plague both sides. I am not saying that I think it’s a toss-up as to which candidate feels more despicable to me—because I don’t—just that it is not a straightforward “Good vs. Evil” question when it comes to personal character. I like my elections—especially the ones for the highest offices in the land—to be between two (though more would be nice!) candidates who seem like good, solid people who just happen to hold different beliefs about what will make our country work best. Then it’s easy: just vote for the one whose vision is most similar to mine.

But it’s nice when the “Who This Person Is” part is not something that is troubling me, is not part of the equation when I step into the ballot box.

The second part of the storm that rubs against my personal grain is the “Focus on what’s so bad about the other/Show them who I’m not” tactic that has characterized the advertising and stump speeches of this campaign. Other than the fact that we have already had the scandals, slurs, and shortcomings rammed down our throats for months and months on end–and I am tired of that–my nature is to want the other side of the coin. I want to know about you, the candidate. I want to know what you are about, what you aspire to, how your life and your record reflect that, and how you think we can best move forward. That is the kind of political ad or speech that draws me in. (I have been proven wrong in my thinking that that is what they would want to tell us, too.)

Not coincidentally, that is the kind of stuff I like to wonder about the people I meet in my day-to-day life, too. I don’t enjoy small-talk, and I don’t enjoy complaints about how bad other people and things are in your world. I want to know what matters to you, what lights you up, who you want to be, and what you are doing to become that.

Actually, that’s exactly what I want to know about myself, too. It is the kind of stuff that makes good fodder for the pages of my personal journal. I might not address it head-on in every one of my daily entries—I am currently filling my 53rd volume–but it is part of the core of what my routine as a journal writer is about.

So, it is time to put my money where my mouth (or rather, pen) is! I told you that I am averse to hearing about how awful these people are from each other and how each will destroy us all. I told you how my gut draws me to aspirational people who are about telling their own truth. I told you how I long to hear about who a person is striving to be, what compels them. So, to Donald and Hillary, and especially to you, this is who I wish to be:

I wish to be a person who inspires others. I wish to be an example of how sincere self-reflection and an open mind can allow you to know who you are and what your purpose is. I want to be an example of how that self-knowledge, far from being something to fear and find shame in, is something that can grant you the deepest peace and gratitude, basking in the beauty that is your Truth. I wish to share the stories of people who are doing the daily work of lifting others up, providing the rest of us with living examples of empathy, courage, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and social justice. I wish to be a person who brings people together to learn from each other, help each other, and enjoy each other. I wish to expose injustices where I find them, to give a voice to the voiceless. I wish to enlighten the most powerful among us in hopes that they will use their power for good. I wish to be an example of loving kindness for everyone I meet. I wish to be an example for my children of integrity and authenticity. I wish show my loved ones how valuable they are to me. I wish to embody Gratitude every day. I wish to be relentless in the pursuit of my dreams. I wish to be unapologetically me, all the time. I wish to be Peace. I wish to always be mindful of the Divine in me, and the unity of us All.  

That’s who I wish to be. Boy, do I have a LONG way to go! Oh well, at least I have a destination in mind.

How about you? Who do you wish to be? Open up your journal and your imagination. What do you see when you imagine the best version of you? In most of our minds, the quickest leap is probably to what describe what we are doing in that vision, but if you can, try to focus today on how you are being in the vision. What sort of character traits would you display while being the person you wish to be? What qualities would you embody? In general terms, in what areas do you see yourself being that ideal vision? In what positive ways would you like to affect people’s lives? How would you think differently about yourself? How would you treat your loved ones? How big do you envision your sphere of influence? Just how great is the best you? Does this aspirational thinking come natural to you? Are you generally more inclined to spend your energy kicking yourself for your character flaws and failings, accepting where you are now (the good and the bad), or envisioning your best self for the future? Write it out. Then leave me a response and let me know: Who do you wish to be? 

Shoot for the moon,

William

P.S. If this pushed you to think bigger about who you could become, please share it. Let’s challenge ourselves and encourage each other to rise to the occasion called Life!

Olympic Fever: What makes The Games so addictive?

IMG_2888“We are all a part of God’s great big family. And the truth, you know, love is all we need. We are the world….” —Michael Jackson/Lionel Richie, “We Are The World”

Hello friend,

Last Friday evening, I had to pull the Dad Card on my six-year-old son, forcing him to watch the Opening Ceremonies of The Olympics in favor of the usual Disney Junior or Mario Kart. I put on my serious voice and explained to him how special The Games are and how much I loved watching them with my family when I was a kid. He wasn’t totally buying it, but he reluctantly agreed to give it a shot.

By noon the next day, that same kid was screaming at the television, “GO PO-LAND! GO PO-LAND!” as the Bicycle Road Race came to its dramatic conclusion (the Polish guy ended up with the bronze). And by six o’clock Sunday morning, as I was getting ready to sneak out to the gym so I could be back before the house woke up, he—who usually sleeps the latest of all of us—came bounding down the stairs and announced, “I want to watch The Olympics!”

What can I say? The kid has inherited the gene! He has a certified case of Olympic Fever!

It’s not just he and I, though. My wife has it. My daughter, too. It is rampant throughout the house. And, from what I hear, the rest of my extended family and friends have contracted it as well. It seems quite clear that Olympic Fever has hit epidemic proportions.

I watched a video on the Internet this week from the President and First Lady to the American Olympians. In it, they were talking about how Olympic-crazy their families were when they were growing up, how everything in the neighborhood would stop for those two weeks while everyone hunkered down in front of their televisions to be a part of the magic that is The Games.

But why? What is the magic? What is it about The Olympic Games that transforms the vast majority of us—sports fans and non-sports fans alike—into wild patriots who stay up way past our bedtimes every single night until they are finished? (Seriously, you know how, nine months after huge blizzards, lots of babies are born? Well, there has to be a two-week period of time nine months after each Olympics when absolutely zero babies are born!) What is the drug that is so addictive? What is the charm?

On first blush, the easy answer seems to be patriotism. After all, it is so much fun to chant “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” as the last seconds of a close win tick down. And who doesn’t take special pride in our amazing swimming and women’s gymnastics teams and those piles of gold medals they racked up? It just seems more fun when the national anthem being played is our own.

Another thing that draws us all in are the heart-touching personal stories of the athletes. These are people who have sacrificed so much for this one moment in time, some of them against all odds. The stories of their families—who have often given up more than the athlete herself—are spellbinding. Sometimes, I think I would rather watch the profile stories than the actual competitions.

But the competitions, too, expose part of the answer to our addiction to The Olympics, too. Quite simply, we appreciate excellence and achievement at the highest levels. Watching a Simone Biles Floor Exercise routine is about as jaw-dropping as a human physical feat gets. But really, awesomeness is everywhere you turn in Rio these days.

The competition itself, too, is a big appeal, especially for folks like me who like to watch a sporting battle any time of the year. A soccer game decided by penalty kicks, or the third game in a beach volleyball match, these are completely engrossing. With the big personalities in some of the sports, too, the individual showdowns are must-see events: Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte, stone-faced Michael Phelps vs. shadow-boxing Chad LeClos, Michael Phelps’ s iron will vs. Michael Phelps’s aging body. It is edge-of-your-seat stuff. Very compelling, very addicting.

All of these elements—patriotism, dramatic personal stories, physical excellence, and nail-biting competition—combine to make The Olympics required viewing in most homes across the land. You can decide for yourself which of them compels you the most.

However, after living in the middle of this Olympic vortex all week—and through every Olympiad for the last forty-plus years–and wondering about this magical, drug-like addiction that it engenders, I have come to believe that the true magic of The Games might not be any of those things at all. I think the root of Olympic Fever lies beneath all of that. It is about a feeling.

Think about that feeling you get in your heart during the Opening Ceremonies, specifically during the Parade of Nations. All of these human souls coming together under one roof with smiles on their faces. The audience erupts in generous applause for all of the athletes, all of the countries. The athletes come in a spirit of fairness and to give their very best effort to the cause. They stand together in the middle of the stadium, all dancing to the same music and being cheered, both in the stadium and in front of televisions all over the world simultaneously. There is a magnificent unity and generosity about the entire experience. Good will flows like a river. The world feels together and at peace for a beautiful, isolated moment. It is downright utopian.

This beautiful spirit continues through the Closing Ceremonies, which is typically an even bigger global party than the Opening Ceremonies. The athletes flow freely across country lines and revel with their competitors in a spirit of fellowship and a celebration of the wonder which they all just created together on fields and courts and hearts.

The entire Olympic experience is oozing with ideals that we all quietly long for. It is a kind of goodness. Unity. Positivity. Winning with excellence rather than by belittling the opponents. Fair play. Sportsmanship. Good will toward all humankind.

I think we cling to these ideals so desperately during these two weeks because, consciously or not, they are what we are always supposed to exemplify. It is how we are meant to live as humans. Our hearts and souls know it, even when our heads do not. The feeling in our hearts during those ceremonies and over the course of The Games is our still, small voice telling us, “This is how Life is supposed to be.”

You know that feeling you have inside when you are doing something you absolutely love to do? You are buzzing. Your heart is dancing. Your mind is calm and focused. You feel energetic, alive. Happy. Everything just feels right. That is how you know you are doing what you are supposed to be doing! I think that, collectively, we feel a lot like that during The Olympics. Maybe we should take notice of that. Maybe our hearts are telling us something very, very important.

Think about what a welcome escape the Olympics are from the negative news of the day in our country. Instead of violence in the streets, strained race relations, and acrimonious politics, we get uplifting stories of courage, teamwork, perseverance, love, and triumph. It is a blessed coincidence that the Summer Olympics happen to fall on an election year every single time. Seriously, how great is it hear the names Michael Phelps and Simone Biles instead of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for a change? Phelps, Biles, and all of their teammates represent something in our hearts and minds that can’t be touched by the politicians. No wonder we don’t want to watch anything else for two weeks!

It is up to us to bring the spirit of The Games back into “real life” rather than let that old negativity and animosity creep back in and become the norm a few weeks from now. Maybe we should make that the new Olympic Oath? That is one vow I am ready to take!

How about you? Are you willing to keep the best of the Olympic spirit in your heart and in your actions even when The Games are complete? Open up your journal and explore what The Olympics mean to you and why. Do you have Olympic Fever? What are your favorite events to watch? How much does patriotism play a part for you in your investment in The Games? Do you only cheer for your country’s athletes? Do you get wrapped up in the athlete profile stories? Who’s story is particularly compelling for you? How much of why you watch is simply to see great performances from the best of the best? How much of it is the competition itself and the rivalries? What do you think is the factor that takes The Olympics from being something that is fun to casually follow, to something that so many people are completely addicted to? Is there something to my idea that there is a spirit that permeates The Games that is completely unique and compelling? Is there something in some other aspect of our society that approximates the global good will generated by The Olympics? Does my thought that Olympic Fever is our soul calling us to keep that sense of unity and peace in our lives resonate with you, or does it seem like a load of New Age nonsense? Are you better for your Olympic experience? What is the best lesson from The Olympics, the part of it that you can take with you into the world and the years before the next Olympiad comes around? Will you do that? Leave me a reply and let me know: How will you carry your Olympic flame?

Find reasons to be bigger,

William

P.S. If you have Olympic Fever, or if you know someone who might benefit from reading this, please pass it on. Our best qualities ought to be celebrated.

Third Party, Anyone? The Case for a Libertarian President

DSC_0061 2“Sometimes there won’t be a right choice, just the best of several bad options.” –Sarah J. Maas, Queen of Shadows

Hello friend,

I was tooling around on Facebook recently and came across a friend’s post sharing his results from one of those quizzes. You know the ones I mean: Which career are you best suited for? What is your personality type? Which celebrity might be your soul mate? Which TV show is most like your life? There are a million of them. In just a few minutes of multiple-choice questions, you can have the answers to all of life’s deepest questions. Then you can share your results with the Facebook world so that they can take the test, too.

This particular friend’s shared quiz led with his results: “I side 97% with Bernie Sanders.” Being slightly addicted to presidential politics, I couldn’t resist taking the quiz myself. It asked questions on several different issues—the economy, immigration, social, healthcare, crime, education, foreign policy, etc.—and then spat out the percentages with which you agree with each candidate. There were options to make more nuanced responses to each and to rate how important each issue is to you, too, but I basically took the fast track.

I think I was so curious to get my results for two reasons, roughly equal in importance. First, I wanted to see if my responses would suggest I align more with Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. Second, seeking a little amusement, I wanted to see how close to zero was my alignment with Donald Trump.

So, when the scores popped up, I was not at all surprised to see how the top and bottom of my list shook out:

  • Hillary Clinton—99%
  • Bernie Sanders—99%
  • Donald Trump—9%

While I was shrugging my shoulders at those numbers, though, I was suddenly captivated by the two names that appeared between them.

  • Jill Stein—97%
  • Gary Johnson—59%

Hmmm…. I love a new wrinkle to consider!

Like many of the rest of you, I have spent the better part of the last two weeks following the dramatics of the Republican and Democratic national conventions. The tone of the two conventions was so starkly contrasting, making it seem that your choice for President (and probably the other public offices) could not be more easy to decide. You were either obviously voting for Trump or obviously voting for Clinton. The difference in message and tone made it seem quite clear that there is no likelihood of waffling between the two. Your choice is clear, right?

Or is it?

Judging from what I see at these conventions and from the multitudes of posts on social media, it seems clear that large numbers of ordinary citizens are having a difficult time with this one.

On the Republican side, the absence of so many party luminaries—H.W. Bush, W. Bush, Romney, etc.—from the convention, as well as the non-endorsement speech from Ted Cruz, made it quite clear that not everyone was on board the Trump bandwagon. Similarly, I have seen more than a few social media posts and comments to the tune of, “As a Christian and a Republican, I am really having a hard time with this election…..” (It is true that the usual conclusion is, “But we can’t let evil Hillary get in!”)

On the Democratic side, as much as Bernie Sanders is trying to get onboard the Clinton bandwagon and rally his army of loyal supporters to do the same, it is clear that many of them are experiencing more than a little hesitancy in jumping on. Will they decide to stay home in November, or will they swallow a bitter pill and check the Clinton box, thinking the same way their opponents are: “Because we can’t let evil Trump get in!”?

Both sides, despite their candidates’ obvious differences in philosophy, experience, and temperament, are not exactly embracing their choice. I sense a lot of “I’ll just take the lesser of two evils.”

But what if that is a false dichotomy? What if there were really more than two real choices?

Guess what? There are!!!

Remember those two other names in the middle of my list: Jill Stein and Gary Johnson? They are real candidates from real parties. Stein is from the Green Party (remember Ralph Nader?). Johnson is from the Libertarian Party. And while Stein is polling only in the low single digits currently and is not likely to make much of a dent this year, Johnson and the Libertarians could actually sneak into this thing.

In order to qualify for the three national debates with Trump and Clinton, you have to average 15% in the leading polls. Johnson has been quietly creeping up and is now in double digits. Translation: He has a real chance to be heard. If you hear him, you just might like what he has to say. You may even decide he could do better than the lesser of two evils. Imagine that!

So, what in the world is a Libertarian? And who is this Gary Johnson guy?

Almost completely ignorant on the topic, I hunted down my one Facebook friend who I know to be a Libertarian. He told me that the motto is “More conservative than a Republican, more liberal than a Democrat.” So, of course, I was totally intrigued. This is what I learned:

While the actual party formed in 1971, the Libertarian movement began more as a philosophy of very limited government and maximal personal freedom, basically a “hands-off” approach. The federal government exists to enforce the Bill of Rights and not much more. To quote from their website LP.org, “Each individual has the right to control his or her own body, action, speech, and property. Government’s only role is to help individuals defend themselves from force and fraud.” 

This is where that motto begins to make sense. It definitely fits with the Republican idea of smaller federal government. Economically, they favor decreasing taxes, cutting government regulation of business, and no government welfare (preferring charitable welfare instead). They plan to be debt-free, figuring that, when capitalism is left alone, it will balance itself out naturally.

And the personal freedom angle has fascinating liberal ramifications in social issues. With its “live and let live” core principle, the Libertarian party does not seek to legislate what goes on in your bedroom, who you marry, what you put into your body, or how you worship.

“In a nutshell, we are advocates for a smaller government, lower taxes and more freedom.” 

And what about this Gary Johnson guy? After building a multi-million dollar construction company from scratch, Johnson went on to be elected—as a Republican—governor of New Mexico for two terms. As governor, he used his veto power at record rates, reduced the size of the government, and left the state with a budget surplus. He is also a triathlete and has climbed Mt. Everest. (And he gets a free point because he was born in my hometown!)

Sounds like he would be an interesting dinner guest, anyway. And with that many distinct policy positions, I think he would find ways to poke both Trump and Clinton on the debate stage. I am all for stirring that pot!

Listen, I am not writing to you today to say that this guy should absolutely be your next President. Frankly, some of the ramifications of the “hands-off” policies he endorses really don’t sit right with me. For example, I would like the government to lead on environmental issues rather than just letting it sort itself out. I would like the government to help out the people who, whether from centuries of systematic oppression or simply bad luck, regularly get left out of the benefits of the American ideals. I would like our senior citizens and veterans taken care of. I would like the government to enact some sensible gun laws. I would like to ensure some standards in education. So, it is no surprise that my quiz results showed me with only 59% agreement with him, compared to high 90s for Clinton and Stein. I am more comfortable with their positions.

But even with all of those misgivings, I think there are Libertarian principles that both Republicans and Democrats would find very appealing. And as far as I can tell in my brief research, Gary Johnson seems like a pretty solid guy character-wise. If character is your real beef with the other candidates—it seems to be for many—then I truly believe the Libertarians are worth a second look for you.

Honestly, in this election, I would not be at all shocked if something swung the voting wildly. The two primary candidates just aren’t that well-liked. So, perhaps one of them is going to do something to make himself or herself look even worse, or another candidate could step in and totally shake things up. The only viable option for that is Gary Johnson. He is going to be on the ballot in all 50 states, so that groundwork has been laid. Now he just needs to get that 15% in the polls to get on the debate stage so that everyone gets to know him and the Libertarian platform.  He may not get my vote, but I want to see him have a shot at everyone else’s. I think his presence on the big stage would be a good thing for America, both in the short-term (for this election) and the long-term (for a potential break-up of the two-party system that I think is long-overdue). I am all for a chance to hear another voice.

How about you? Are you open to considering a third party candidate? Open up your journal and explore your ties to the two big parties and what might sway you to jump ship. How tied are you to your current party of choice? Does your party’s candidate inspire confidence in you with their leadership style, character, and positions on the issues? If you had to stick with just the two major party candidates this year, do you feel like you are mostly voting for your person or mostly voting against the other? If you feel like you are in the “lesser of two evils” boat, which characteristics are making the one less evil than the other? If you are in that boat, how open are you to a third candidate? Before today, did you know anything about the Libertarian Party or Gary Johnson? What do you think of the Libertarian philosophy? Which side of their platform do you prefer: the fiscally conservative side or the socially liberal side? Is one side of their philosophy so extreme that, even if you love the other side, it is more than you can stomach? How much would it improve the Presidential debates—and the overall conversation around the election–to have a third candidate involved? Even if you weren’t sure you would vote for him just yet, would you be willing to tell a pollster you favored Johnson in order to increase the likelihood that he makes it into the debates? Even if you truly favored him over Trump and Clinton, would you only vote for him in the election if it looked like he had a real chance to win? Does voting for someone who is not likely to win effectively “waste” your vote, or should you vote your conscience regardless of the situation? Will we ever get to the point where we have a handful of legitimate political parties contending, where compromise will be a necessary and normal part of our political interactions? Are you ready for that now? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you open to another party joining this race?

Be a light unto us all,

William

P.S. If today’s letter taught you something or made you look in a new way, please pass it on. Let’s search for a better way forward together!

A Whole New Politics: What Better Time To Blow It Up & Start Fresh?

DSC_0406“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” –Mark Twain

Hello friend,

On Monday night, I turned on the television to take my little peek at CNN. I wanted to see what the hot election topic of the day was. Of course, it was another Donald Trump night, this time centered on his refusal to disavow the Ku Klux Klan in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper the previous day. It created an absolute firestorm in the political world, most interestingly in the Republican party, which Trump is leading for the nomination to be our next President. With everyone intensely aware of the sensitivity around race relations in this country and not wanting to be dubbed a racist, it seemed that every politician in the party was—if they had not already, that is—blasting Trump and distancing themselves from him as much as possible. The chorus of Republican leaders chanted, “He is not one of us! We don’t support him!”

Watching that night, I had a glimmer of an idea.

The next night was Super Tuesday, when so many Presidential delegates get divvied up by the multiple primaries across our great land. When I returned from voting, I popped on CNN to see how it was all going, with one big question on my mind: Would any of Trump’s comments and the passionate condemnation of him by his Republican leaders have any effect on the actual voting? After all, so far in this campaign, the voters have shown a remarkable unwillingness to listen to the party leaders and pundits. If all had gone according to plan, it would be decided by now that Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were the nominees for our two parties. Obviously, reality lies elsewhere.

The fact that the voters supported Trump by a wide margin on Tuesday only seemed to infuriate the Republican leaders more, forcing them to face the reality of their Doomsday Scenario. I pictured them wringing their hands and wondering: What are our options if HE is now the face of our beloved party? He’s not even a real Republican! And even though Clinton won a majority of states on Tuesday and is holding the lead for the Democrats, I have no doubt that their party brass has, along the way, had a few tense (though certainly not as horrified) moments of wondering: Is Bernie Sanders really the face of our beloved party? He’s not even a real Democrat! 

The manic few days since Tuesday in the Republican party have reinforced what has become clear over the entire course of this campaign cycle: We have two very fractured political parties on our hands. And here is where my glimmer of an idea turned into a most amusing thought experiment!

Imagine, if you will, five politicians who, deep down inside, hold these views:

  • Politician A: Stereotypical ultra-conservative on all fronts. Think Tea Party.
  • Politician B: Stereotypical ultra-liberal on all fronts. Socialism plus.
  • Politician C: Sees herself as literally “pro-Life” in broad terms. Against legalized abortion. Against capital punishment. Favors strong gun control measures. Favors publicly-funded, universal health care. Strong on environmental protection. Against massive military spending. Against major Wall Street reform. Against same-sex marriage. Against campaign finance reform. Tough on immigration/does not favor a path to citizenship for people already here illegally.
  • Politician D: Against strong gun control laws. In favor of legal abortion. In favor or capital punishment. No strong feelings on the environment. Against publicly-funded, universal health care. In favor of massive military spending. Against (or indifferent to) major Wall Street reform. In favor of same-sex marriage. In favor of campaign finance reform. Moderate on immigration and open to the possibility of a path to citizenship.
  • Politician E: Favors strong gun control measures. Against legalized abortion. In favor of capital punishment. In favor of strong environmental measures. In favor of publicly-funded, universal health care. In favor of massive military spending. In favor of major Wall Street reform. In favor of same-sex marriage. In favor of campaign finance reform. Tough on immigration/does not favor a path to citizenship for people here illegally.

In our current, two-party system, in order to rise to some level of real power, each of these five politicians has to choose to be either a Republican or a Democrat. Unfortunately, the way things are working—or, more accurately, not working—in Washington these days, whichever party the individuals go with, they would have to swallow the blue pill or the red pill and toe the party line. For Politician A and Politician B, choosing the appropriate party might be relatively easy, even if they didn’t believe the party was leaning far enough in their direction.

But what about the other three? Each holds some views that would plant them firmly on the Republican side and other views that are firmly on the Democrat side. In today’s political game, though—you know, the one we are all so disgusted by—these folks would have to choose one side and swallow all of their other beliefs that don’t go along with the party rule. If they don’t, they would be ostracized and told they weren’t a real Republican (or a real Conservative) or a real Democrat (or failed the “Progressive test”) by their party members and shut out of the system.

In our two-party system and with the current toxic climate in Washington–in which politicians are demonized by their own party if they make any sort of compromise with members of the other party—there is no room for a complex set of beliefs. To make it there, and especially to stay there (that is, to get re-elected), you have to act exactly like a Republican or exactly like a Democrat. You reject whatever the other party proposes on principle, whether it has value or not. You support whatever your party proposes on principle, whether it has value or not. The principle being: We are right; they are wrong. No exceptions.

But imagine again, if you will, that there was a separate party for each of the five politicians above, and a party for others with different combinations of positions on the important issues. In my thought experiment, I was picturing four to six parties (at least two that would form out of each of our current parties, and then another one or two with relevant distinctions from them) roughly equal in size. Aspiring politicians could be open and honest about where they stand on the various issues with no worries that they would not find a group of relatively like-minded folks to band together with.

In the ideal world of my mind, this new system would create and encourage a whole new attitude in Washington and thereby a whole new attitude of us citizens toward our leaders. You see, if our Congresspersons knew that the five parties were proportioned almost evenly, they could be certain that in order to get anything accomplished, they would have to work together with members of the other parties and compromise. There would be no more shame in that. No one group could stonewall the others with any effectiveness. And since there would be enough options so that everyone could be honest about their positions, and enough cooperative work to ensure exposure to multiple points-of-view, it wouldn’t be such a scandalous thing to change parties at some point in your lifetime. You could actually be authentic, because becoming a member of one party wouldn’t make you much more powerful than being a member of another party.

Imagine how much more you could trust the folks in Washington if you thought they were being completely honest, were genuinely trying to do what they pledged to you, and were voting on principles that you could support rather than strictly along party lines. With multiple parties, your representatives could actually be complex individuals and good public servants simultaneously. How cool would that be! And even better, it might make the idea of running for public office more appealing to more and better people, giving us a much more attractive pool of candidates than the rag-tag bunch we have up there right now.

Obviously, this is merely a thought experiment, and I understand that blowing up our entrenched, two-party system would be unfathomably difficult and messy. But what if we could? This moment, with both parties as splintered as they seem to be, seems like that one fateful moment in time when there is a window of opportunity for a revolution to occur. Do we dare blast that window open and start anew? I, for one, think it would be pretty cool if my kids grew up having reasons to trust our elected leaders, or, better yet, aspiring to become the leaders of their generation. I would blow it up for their sake.

How about you? What ideas do you have for improving our political system and restoring the public’s faith in Washington? Open up your journal and your imagination. Of course you know that your ideas are highly unlikely to be implemented in the near future, and hopefully that frees you up to consider your most idealistic fantasies. If you could give a letter grade to how you think the current system is working, what would it be? (I am waffling between a “D” and an “F”.) Does it seem like the animosity grows more and more every year and the parties cooperate less and less? What do you think it says about the public’s faith in our government and politicians that the “outsiders” Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have far surpassed everyone’s expectations in this Presidential campaign? What do you think their success says about the health of our two political parties? If we could put this situation in a vacuum and ask the members both parties simultaneously, “Would you agree to split your party in half if they agreed to split their party in half, creating four parties in similar size?” do you think they would go for it? Which party do you think would be more eager to start dividing? In your opinion, what effect would it have on our politicians if we had several different options for them, seemingly all with an equal chance of allowing them to reach their goals? Would they, as I suggested, become more honest with their positions and more willing to work with all of the others? What effect would it have on you as a voter and citizen? Would you have more faith in your elected officials? Finally, what effect would it have on the next generation who would grow up in the new political climate? Would it be worth the pains of transition? Could it be any worse than our current mess of mistrust and obstruction? Would you be open to trying? If you had to join a party with one of the five politicians mentioned above, which one would you choose? Write down where your heart stands on each of the issues I listed—free yourself and listen to your heart, not your current political party—and see if you are the leader of your own political party. What would you call it? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to hit “RESET” on the political system in America?

Value your voice and your choice,

William

P.S. If this thought experiment made you wonder, share it. We all need to re-imagine our world anew sometimes. Have a blessed week!

My Next President

DSC_0181“In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.” –Napoléon Bonaparte

Hello friend,

“IS THIS THE BEST WE CAN DO???” That is what I keep asking myself as I watch the 2016 Presidential candidates begin to emerge and strut their stuff for the voters. One day it is Donald Trump spouting racist comments that cause the PGA tour to cut ties with him. The next day I see Hillary Clinton’s extremely low poll numbers when it comes to honesty and trustworthiness. Then there is the prospect of Scott Walker, and I think of how many people from Wisconsin I have met who are totally mortified that he is their governor. And, oh my goodness, might Joe Biden, the butt of so many jokes, really run for President? Who will the Republicans and Democrats trot out next: Jeffrey Dahmer or your crazy Aunt Cleo? I am again left scratching my head and wondering, “Is this the best that we can do?”

I know, I know, we are not supposed to talk about religion and politics in polite company, and I am certainly going to offend most people with this post today. But we aren’t talking here. We are just here to get you to think about what makes you tick. When you write about this in your journal, you are writing to yourself, for yourself. Of course you can talk about it with others, but you do that at your own risk. When you journal, you risk nothing. You only gain. You gain clarity and perspective, and you get to hash out potentially unpopular ideas without the prospect of losing friends as a result. It is your Truth, not someone else’s. So yes, go ahead and talk politics. I dare you! But first, hear me out. Maybe I can ruffle your feathers enough to stir up a passionate journal entry or two.

These candidates are killing me! They really are. As a guy who almost never follows current events but has an odd fascination with Presidential politics, I have found myself wondering if I could be more unimpressed by this group. But, you know, it is not really the fault of the candidates themselves. After all, they are just folks who are ambitious enough to want to be President of the United States. That is pretty darn admirable of them, actually. I guess it is the political parties and us—yes, you and I—who are to blame. How did we allow it to get to this point where it is so extremely difficult to uncover a couple of wonderful candidates for the highest office in the land? We should have made it clear to most of these folks long ago that they just weren’t what we are looking for when it comes to our global ambassador. We failed, and now here they are, lined up at our door (or at least our TV sets).

I guess there are some basic things I am looking for out of my next President—some minimum qualifications—regardless of political affiliation. These are the things I want the candidates of the major parties to have so that we can have a fair fight. Let’s start with charisma. We are talking about the leader of the free world here, so this person needs to have that certain something that draws people in. Captivate me! I also want to think my President is both intelligent and wise. I want the person to be able to not only understand the daily security briefing but also be able to make good decisions based on it. I want my President to be likable. Easily likable, so I don’t have to scour through the crabby surface or used-car-salesman surface or arrogant surface or patronizing surface to find some semblance of likable. I also want the main candidates to be on the younger end, frankly. Preferably 40s or 50s, not so much 70s. I know that sounds horribly ageist—and it is—but I am actually not saying it for me. I am really talking about what I think the two big parties would ideally put out there to appeal to the greatest number of voters. Personally, I don’t mind if the President is 65, but I think the candidates have more mass appeal when they enter around the age of the most recent Presidents (Clinton, W Bush, and Obama) rather than the Reagan/HW Bush ages. In this age of celebrity and social media, I really believe that we will see more candidacies that emerge as a wildfire-style movement—I think Obama’s first election will, in the long run, be seen as the first version of this—which is why youth, charisma, and even celebrity may play an increasingly large role in Presidential politics going forward (you think George Clooney couldn’t win an election right now?).   I also think you cannot be seen as an extremist (though both sides like to paint each other as extremist, hopefully you and I can see the truth).

These basic standards of appeal seem so simple, obvious, and easy-to-meet, but look at the candidates emerging. Who meets them? You can answer for yourself. Does Hillary Clinton have likability or age on her side? Does Donald Trump have anything but celebrity—and perhaps charisma—on his? Vice President Biden is in his 70s, which is tough. Bernie Sanders seems too extreme to the left to attract enough people, and I think anyone Tea Party-related has the same problem but from the right. Who remains? The Democrats seem to be out of appealing options, unless Elizabeth Warren could be convinced to join the race. As for the Republicans, maybe the likes of Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, or Jeb Bush fit the basic standards. I suppose even that answer somewhat depends upon your political leanings.

I definitely have my biases, too. I have told you in previous letters that I am very liberal. I have zero inclination to attach myself to any party, but I admit that the Republican candidates—especially the Tea Party folks—frighten me more than the Democratic candidates. I actually think that Clinton would do a fine job as President, but I also think that the likability factor doesn’t make her a good candidate when we go back to our basic list.

Maybe it is just not possible in this age to find a person that seems at least generally appealing to most people (political views aside). After all, I tend to think President Obama is charismatic, likable, and young enough to appeal to a broad audience. If you look at the levels of hate and vitriol sent in his direction, though, he is clearly not a universal favorite. Maybe W Bush was that way, too. By his second term, the very sound of his voice made my skin crawl—I was very against the wars—but maybe even his most level-headed supporters wondered by everyone didn’t think he was the coolest guy ever. It is quite possible that the low level of respect that we grant even our highest officers today—maybe I was shielded from it growing up in a Republican household in the Reagan/Bush years, but it felt like no one dared to disrespect the President in those days—makes it impossible for us to find some consensus on who would be a generally good leader (political views aside). Nothing is sacred in 2015, and no one is safe from the haters.

Still, I hold out hope that the 2016 election will offer us some candidates from both parties who meet the basic standards. I would love to arrive at Election Day and be excited about the final contenders. I have lived through the elections where neither player excited me—see Bush vs. Gore—or when I was petrified at what might happen if the President died while in office (“Hello, President Palin!”). I think I want what each party wants: to deliver a candidate and running mate who are charismatic, likable, smart, wise, and appealing to a wide range of people. And I really want to spend the months leading up to the election without shouting at CNN, “Is this the best we can do???”

How about you? What is your take on the possibilities for your next President? Open up your journal—the only safe place to talk politics—and make a Wish List. What are the minimum standards on your list? Are they similar to mine, or quite different? How well has your preferred party done at producing candidates that meet those minimum standards? How well do you think the other party has done? Are you ever embarrassed for either party? Do you like it when the other party nominates an obvious dud? Given that no matter who each party nominates, the election is bound to be a close one and could go either way: even though I feel like my side gains a slight edge if the other side’s candidate seems awful, it still always freaks me out that the awful candidate might very well win and I will be stuck with this person as my leader (a recurrence of my Sarah Palin nightmares). Do you think that is the case in this election, with Hillary Clinton as the presumptive nominee for the Democrats despite having some serious popularity and trust issues? Should the average Republican voter be loving this or terrified that, despite these issues, she might be the next President? How open-minded are you about which candidate you will ultimately vote for? Have you picked a favorite yet? Are you open to the idea of a female or Latino or Indian-American President? How much does gender, race, or religion play into your candidate preferences? How much difference do you think is really made by choosing a Republican rather than a Democrat for President, or vice versa? Do you always vote by party, or can a personal quality or an issue sway you? Do you know someone personally—maybe even you—who you think would be a good President? What is it about that person that makes you feel this way? Would you want the job? Why or why not? If you answered “NO” to the job, do you think this is why we have such a shortage of good candidates on both sides? What can we do about that? Leave me a reply and let me know, “Is this the best that we can do?” 

Demand the best,

William

When I Am Proud of America

DSC_0061 2“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” –Mark Twain

Hello friend,

Every time I popped onto Facebook last weekend, I was more and more encouraged and uplifted. I had heard the news on Friday of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all fifty states. It took the whole course of that day for the reality of that decision to sink in. It felt like just last year when I was amazed and heartened by my own state, Minnesota, voting for marriage equality, and I never dreamed that something like Friday’s decision would happen any time soon. I figured it would take a couple more generations of bigoted folks to die off before there was a chance at getting nationwide marriage equality laws in place. After all, through all of the centuries of this country’s existence—and even through the Civil Rights Era and beyond—the gay community had seemingly made very few strides in terms of gaining mainstream acceptance and justice. But then Friday came, and BAM!!!! Just like that, this movement that felt like it had only just begun creeping its way forward suddenly took a quantum leap toward equality. As the ramifications of the Supreme Court decision gradually sunk in that day, I became increasingly grateful and emotional about it. It just felt so good that so many people who had been so long denied this institution that I, and so many others like me, take for granted in our heterosexual privilege, would finally be granted access to the club (or rather, that the “club” no longer existed). I was suddenly a big fan of the Supreme Court. And then the Facebook profile pictures started changing to include the rainbow overlay in support of the gay community. When I saw the first one, I was like, “Oh, that’s a cool image! I never knew YOU were an ally and a supporter of marriage equality. I like you better now!” And then they just kept on coming, one rainbow flag after another, from all corners of my Facebook community. Each one lifted my spirits a little more. Pretty soon, I was like, “Go, America!!!” It was one of those rare and awesome moments when I have been both proud of my country (for the decision) and proud of my countrymen and women (for the support of equality). We got it right!

I have always felt very proud to be an American. Growing up in the Cold War Era, patriotism and hatred of the “Evil (Soviet) Empire” went hand-in-hand. I grew up believing that we were definitely on the right side of that battle. My family was also crazy about the Olympic Games, so when the undermanned USA hockey team beat the mighty Soviets and won the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, it was a defining moment in my childhood and probably the first clear memory I have of being proud of America. I guess that at that age, I likened the hockey team’s victory to a giant knockdown punch of Good over Evil. America, my country, was something to brag about in that moment.

I also believed the history books I learned from in elementary school. I blindly accepted the idea that we were the undisputed King of the World in all matters of commerce, ideas, and diplomacy. So I was a regular patriot, proud to live in the best country in the world. That wasn’t one event, though, but just a general pride. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the cold truth about the way we built this reputation and ascended to such heights (by taking the lands of indigenous people, killing those people, and building our industry on the backs of enslaved peoples, with little regard for the way we treated other countries and lands along the way). My childhood pride was of America the Concept.

So, what were the events that made me feel proud of America the Country? My country. Not just the concept of America—we all love the idea of Freedom and Opportunity and the like—or what an American person or persons (like a hockey team or a scientist) did, but what the country did. Or, more specifically, what the American government did.

When I look back to my childhood, beyond the Olympic Games of every four years, I remember being proud of my country for the space program and, particularly, the space shuttle missions. Remember how big of a deal those were when the shuttle was new? Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch the launch on television. I was in awe of what they were doing, and the whole aura about it was cloaked in patriotism. America was, in my childish point-of-view, the only country in the world who did amazing things like this for the betterment of all humankind. We were the shepherd, and I loved being a part of that.

After childhood, I hate to admit that the moments of being proud of my government’s actions kind of dried up. With more of the veil lifted to my adult eyes regarding the reasons we really do what we do in the world—usually MONEY leading the way—it became more difficult to cheer for the good old USA in areas of diplomacy. No matter how hard the politicians tried to sell the many wars and “conflicts” we entered, I was disappointed in us for entering them. And I watched how we—as a people and in the three branches of government–were treating each other at home in terms of advancing our pillars of Liberty and Equality, and I was like the kid who grows up to see his hero wasn’t so heroic after all. I still loved and rooted for America the Concept, but the “We The People” America was seriously letting me down. As a sensitive idealist and optimist, I must admit that my feelings were being hurt the country that I loved so much.

I am happy to report, though, that the old Red, White, and Blue has begun to turn things around in my eyes in recent years. A story of redemption has begun to emerge out of all of the chapters of disappointment. It started with Presidential politics in recent elections. Yes, amidst that arena that is still basically a Gong Show to me and everyone else, my spirit has been lifted by the American people’s relative openness to candidates beyond just old, White guys. Whether or not I am a fan of theirs, I have been delighted to see the popularity of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton and their legitimate candidacies for our highest offices. The worm is turning, and I love that my six-year-old daughter has examples to look to in the biggest arenas of politics. I now believe that there will be legitimate female candidates on the ballot when it comes time for her to vote. Go, America!

The bigger source of pride for me in that arena, though, has been our—We the People’s—election of a Black man to the highest office in the land. Given where we have been in this country—and where we still are in a lot of ways—it was absolutely astonishing to me that we made that bold move as a country in 2008. Sure, I know that only half the country votes for the winner in these elections and that the other half often fiercely opposes, but the fact that we had a Black man right there in the arena (and that he actually won a majority of votes) speaks volumes about a collective shift that has begun to occur in the mind of America. Whether you agreed with his politics or not, I felt like America deserved a giant pat on the back on that election night in the name of racial progress. It was a big, big deal.

Then came last week and two Supreme Court decisions that really brought back some of that national pride from my youth. The first one confirmed the legality of the Affordable Care Act, which is our imperfect beginning to the journey toward assuring that all of our residents have access to health care. I know this issue is a polarizing one in our country—and, interestingly, also not on the radar at all for many people—but for me, it is an important one when it comes to national pride. With the rest of the world, at least conceptually, treating health care as the basic right that I think it should be, I have always been quite embarrassed that in America, health care was only for those who could pay for it. As someone who could not always do so, I remember the helplessness and desperation I felt when I was uninsured and mangled my thumb and wrecked my back. Though I know we are only at the beginning of this process, I am heartened by these first steps toward this basic decency. We can do it!

The other Supreme Court case, of course, was the same-sex marriage decision. In all ways, that just made me feel very good. Let LOVE rule, America!!! It struck me as a happy coincidence that it was the lead-in to Pride Weekend, an annual celebration of the LGBTQ community. My wife was marching in the Pride Parade through downtown, and my heart felt so full (and relieved) for the entire community and its allies. My country had finally done right by them. I was marching in my own Pride Parade. Pride in America. We the People.

How about you? What makes you feel proud of your country? Open up your journal and examine your relationship with your government and your people. Are you typically more proud of them or more disappointed? Think back to your childhood. When did you feel that national pride? Compare that to your adulthood. Did you become jaded like me and aware of our collective shortcomings? What moments or movements have made you feel proud to be one of us? Inevitably, discussions such as this one end up being politically driven. As the hyper-liberal that I am, I can think the legalization of same-sex marriage is one of our most proud moments, and the ultra-conservative next to me can write her article about this being one of our most shameful moments. Where do you fall on this topic? What about the others I mentioned: issues around gender, race, and economics/health care? What other issues move your needle in terms of national pride or disappointment? Are they mostly political issues, or are there others, like my Olympic fever or space shuttle awe? Leave me a reply and let me know: When are you proud of America?

Celebrate LIFE,

William