Most days, I don’t feel very powerful. I don’t relate to people who hold power and wealth. I spent a small portion of my life trying to succeed like I saw people my age trying to succeed. I liked the idea of climbing a corporate ladder, finding myself managing a team of technology, marketing or salespeople at a well-known company. I liked the idea of having the next big thing–creating my own startup to become another Facebook or Twitter, or even a non-profit big thing like Wikipedia or Craigslist. Mostly, I wanted people to look up to me as being especially important and smart, and touched with some kind of cosmic greatness–but not too touched, because obviously, I wanted to be known for having accomplished much of it on my own by using my own gumption and bootstraps. I liked watching CNBC, and wanted to know more about playing the markets so that I could be like the guy who took $10K of his bar mitzvah money and turned it into $2 mil playing penny stocks every day.
I didn’t really pay much attention to my whiteness or maleness or middle-class upbringing during those years, because I worked in a lot of environments that were mostly managed by women, and I never felt as if my own individual voice was the most powerful voice in the room. I was raised by a mother who had a strong personality, and was very much against the concept of self esteem, preferring to believe that God gave you all of your gifts and strength.
I would rather not have my voice even in the room, if my voice is simply heard as another voice of privilege speaking. I’ve always wanted to talk about my own self from the perspective of being a spiritual being trying to discover what it means to be a human being. I don’t suppose that I worked nearly hard enough to listen to what other people have to say, and come to a new understanding about what it means to be human when you are not white and male.
I could blame my lack of attention to the other on my culture–I was raised in the eighties and nineties to believe that the world would more or less always run like the universe of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton–the action heroes would look like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and families would be either like the families of Growing Pains and Family Ties or they would be like the Cosbys or The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Perhaps, some of the more redneck and working class families would look like the Simpsons, but for the most part, everyone would agree that this particular America was the best America we could ever have.
I probably complained more than a little in my teens and twenties about the world not being fair and perfect, but I mostly saw the unfairness of things through the lens of someone who was just a little too bookish and shy to fit in properly, rather than opting to open my eyes and see why other people from very diverse backgrounds might see things as being not quite right.
I for one have never really seen Mexican immigrants or Muslim immigrants as being threats to my jobs and way of life. I have never felt like any particular job I was seeking was denied me due to an undocumented worker stealing it away from me. This, too, could be due to my privilege. My education has enabled me to gain access to white collar jobs during almost any kind of economy. I may not have gotten the kind of degree where I can pack up and take a six figure salary, but I have enough skills and education to be gainfully employed when I need to be.
I don’t think that the American way of life is threatened so much is that it will inevitably shift into being something else, something other than what it looked like during the Reagan and Clinton years. My gut says that Trump will ultimately do more to harm the American way of life than help it, but I hope that he proves me wrong. I am not someone who hopes that Trump wrecks the country, because it would be very bad for me and my family if he did.
The reason that I write so much has less to do with being ever hopeful that my voice will one day be heard by many, and more to do with this sense of it being an inevitable and necessary thing to do. A psychologist might argue that I am writing purely for comfort–that I feel a warm and cozy feeling when I see my thoughts appear as words on a screen, and I feel some kind of validation when I re-read something I wrote and believe that it is of some quality. There is probably some truth to this, but I think there is also the sense of needing to do something, rather than nothing. Just sitting around the house picking at books and articles and contemplating my existence or trying to meditatively purge those character flaws that are still within me is not enough. I want someone out there, either now or in the distant future, to know that when I lived on this earth, I did something.
I do feel like I am mostly powerless against the forces of change that are taking place in the world right now. I don’t feel like my voice is really welcome in the liberal circles I mostly associate myself with, and I look back on my attempts to do something socially active for change during the Bush years, and see just how little of a difference any of my political activity really made. Yes I was hyperinformed, and I wrote letters and I volunteered with political campaigns and parties, but the charisma of Obama is what swept in the change that was needed. It was rather daunting to see all of the faces that turned up for Obama rallies who were mostly absent from the political arena during most of the Bush years. Who are these people, who get excited for someone like Ralph Nader, Howard Dean, Obama or Bernie, but then go back home when they realize their candidate can’t possibly win, and do nothing to change anything until the next magnificent would-be savior comes along? I should know, I was one of them, back when I knew nothing at all about politics and thought that Ralph Nader and Howard Dean were pretty great.
What is it about us humans that makes us feel like we need some kind of messiah or savior or single man or woman to come along and be our advocate, our voice? For a society that has mostly become non-religious, we certainly do like to hold up individual humans as being demigods–we like to assign so much more power and authority to single individuals than they really deserve. Another characteristic of humans may help explain this. We weep openly when we see an individual child or mother suffering in a commercial for a non-profit, but we just sigh and shake our heads in disbelief when we read about the genocide of hundreds of thousands of people. The same sort of thing must be at play when we seek out agents of change and those who we would give our assent to rule over us–it is much easier to think of a single, wise and noble king ruling over us and being our advocate than a large group of people. So many movements end up going nowhere without a person like MLK, Obama or even Donald Trump taking it upon themselves to be the spokesperson for and embodiment of the movement. If all of the women who had marched recently had connected themselves in a similar concrete fashion with Hillary, and Hillary had taken it upon herself to embody the movement rather than simply be a “her” we could opt in to be with, we might very well have seen Hillary elected, or at least have seen her win a few more states. Hillary Clinton may have been too utterly incapable of seizing this charismatic mantle, though–as much as people accuse her of lying and being duplicitous, I think she may have just been an average, boring politician and not enough people could get excited about that.
I still don’t think I am even close to understanding what it is about the charismatic individual that can connect with a particular movement and get people deliriously excited and willing to do more than they thought humanly capable to support that person. Is it really the case that we are endowed with a “god sense” inside of us, a need to worship a deity-as-human? Or, is it simply that evolution has seen us benefit time and again from having a strong tribal leader become the face and voice of all of the dreams and hopes of the collective group?
I can’t say as I was ever completely swayed in the sense of becoming a true believer about Ralph Nader, Howard Dean or Barack Obama. I could see the effect their words and actions were having upon the crowds who listened to them speak, and then went home and took up volunteer positions of blockwalking and phonebanking for these people. By the time 2016 arrived, I was pretty immune and indifferent to such charismatic characteristics, and I could only sort of understand why Bernie and Trump became so popular and Hillary didn’t. I know that it is a well-known truism in sales that people buy emotionally and justify rationally, but I guess I am just too far removed from my youthful emotions to have the kind of radar I would have needed to understand just why Trump was going to win the general election and Hillary wasn’t.
I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about what the world could look like for me and my child(ren?) in ten to fifty years. I have tried to envision all kinds of scenarios for the United States–where we end up like Great Britain during the post WWII years, or Germany between the two World Wars, or Russia from 1900 to the end of the Stalin era, or perhaps Japan of the past ten to twenty years, or maybe even a flat out apocalyptic scenario for when a bunch of countries, including the U.S., start lobbing nukes at each other. In some scenarios, it makes perfect sense to flee to Canada or New Zealand, in others it doesn’t. If things get really bad, they will follow us to those countries, if things are moderately bad, I probably won’t notice them much, being a person who has never known especially great wealth. There is a kind of sweet spot for how bad things could be which dictates leaving the country. Obviously, I don’t want to be tattooed or microchipped to participate in the economy, or renounce my faith, if it were to come down to that. I would rather see myself and my family die as wretched martyrs for Christ, than to curse Christ for the sake of a few years of earthly comfort. I don’t know if my wife feels exactly the same way or not–but I argue that there is no point in having Christian faith if you are unwilling to express it in an extreme circumstance. Why not just be an atheist, agnostic or Buddhist if you are unwilling to die for Christ?
Who knows what Trump will do? Perhaps he doesn’t know himself. Perhaps a bright and shining light will emerge forth from the ranks of the Democratic Party, and this individual will be super-charismatic and smooth talking, making Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan look like stuttering yokels. Such a person would most certainly be adored by many, but I would probably trust him or her very little. People really need to have their innate need for a king or demigod to be met and dealt with and annihilated, in my opinion, and I think both liberals and conservatives still hold too many individuals in their corners who crave a savior.
I would almost argue that the myth-making around the creation of the United States has saved the world and prolonged it from seeing an anti-Christ spring forth. But, too many of us have not bothered to pay attention in our history classes and learn about how this country was founded on principles of not having a king rule us. Historically, it seems like every republic or democracy inevitably succumbs to the people’s desire for a king. It is deeply ingrained in our nature. Maybe we are just lazy and don’t want to take on any civic responsibility, or maybe we our simply too fearful of the Other who would come to invade our pristine civilizations. The threat of the Other, coupled with people’s complacency, seems to always be the winning combination for the crowning of kings, ceasars, czars, etc. Yessir, please come and rule over us, because we are too lazy and fearful to face each other head on and work out our disagreements as civilized adults. Also, we are too lazy and fearful to muster up a response to the invasion of the Other–whether the Other comes to us in peace or not, we are frightened by how the Other will take away our cherished customs.
It is antithetical and completely against what it means to be an American to ask for a king, but each presidential election in my lifetime seems to have seen its winner be the one who would most closely be like a king for us, who would prefer to feel safe and comforted knowing such a person is ruling over us, representing us, and fighting our battles for us so that we can go about our business without worry of any sort of Other invading it.
And, it seems like we never run out of an Other to blame for all of our problems. Some Others may be legitimate threats, but most are not. I think that when we die and go to heaven we will be shocked at the variety of people who join us there. Those of us who are white may very well be among the minority of faces we encounter up in heaven, if God even bothers to clothe our spiritual selves in recognizable human forms.