So long ago, there was Vietnam and Watergate. Experiences that profoundly altered the trajectory of my life. With innocence lost and illusions shattered, I couldn’t just go to college to find that day job to backstop my goal of being a writer. Instead, I embarked on a quest to reclaim my ideals and find a way to make the world a better place.
I despised Nixon as I never had any man before (well, perhaps not including the M. Sgt who was the bane of my Vietnam tour existence). Not only that, I felt cheated of my future. In the end, it all worked out for the best. The 20th century Candide found the faith and practice that has ensured his happiness and his fortune (not just financial–but health as well). You can read all about that in Waiting for Westmoreland, my memoir.
Nixon’s malevolence pales in comparison to Trump’s. Now I have another disruption to my existence. I am sorely tempted to spend days and nights railing about Trump’s cruelty, his narcissism, his misplaced belief in his own competence, his pride in his own ignorance, his assaults on the rule of law, his racism, his rapturous adulation of despots and disdain for democracy. I could go on and on. Instead, I’ll offer just one token image of contempt. This post is not simply another polemic about politics generally and Trump specifically. Read on after this faux Vogue cover.
Those of faiths other than my own Buddhism, might say “this too shall pass.” For me, as with Vietnam and Nixon, it will do much more than that. I won’t be diverted from my writing of fiction. I won’t be diverted from enjoying the fruits of my labors enjoying travel and other retirement pastimes. I’ve cited these words of Nichiren here on Views before, in relation to optimism:
After Vietnam and Watergate, the American people accomplished great things. Laws were enacted to prevent the worst excesses of Richard Nixon. Decades later, there are those who forgot them. George W. Bush talked of “compassionate conservatism.” It turned out to be just as much of an oxymoron as could be expected. Now America has the party of Trump–a cult of personality that formerly was called the GOP. What will result after Trump? What great good will follow?
After the great evil–the lies and deceit, the children sent to concentration camps, the corruption of “all the best (sleaziest, stupidest, most incompetent, most criminal) people hired to staff the Trump administration–here is some of what will happen:
People will go to jail (many people–you’ve seen the list before)
People (Trump, et al) will wind up with much less wealth than they claim to have)–it’s possible the Trump Organization will be dissolved (one could hope;karma is a serious thing)
Laws will be passed to rein in an imperial presidency–excessive executive powers will be curtailed
The justice system will be restored
The GOP and its foolish followers will find a new path or splinter into new parties that won’t be of consequence for years to come
America’s diminished role in world affairs and the world economy will eventually improve–but never to the point that it occupied prior to Trump
Identity politics will be recognized for the positive and pragmatic response to the policies of elitism, racism, neofacism, White nationalism and the many other failures of both Trump and the GOP as it now exists
And then we’ll do it all over again. As someone has said, history doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes. We must relearn and overcome again the mistakes made before. It’s all part of the human existence. But from 2025 to 2060 or so, America and the world will be a better place–in my opinion. What will you do to make a difference? Don’t stand idly by or be too disturbed by the ugliness of today in Trumpistan. Engage with others with compassion and concern. Have hope. Don’t let this simply pass–make something good of it!
As often told here and elsewhere I acquired the dream of being a writer at an early age. Scifi became an early objective. By the time I had experienced Vietnam and read much of Kurt Vonnegut’s work, dark humor had become a more likely focus. Watergate made that notion all the more likely. Still, I began a quest for a means to make the world a better place than those innocence destroyers, those illusion dispellers left me with as a cynical idealist. Easier said than done. I found no answer to regain a positive perspective or hopeful outlook. At least not until I encountered the philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism. That’s all detailed in Waiting for Westmoreland, a memoir published several years ago now. But this post isn’t about my faith, it’s about an article I read on Brain Pickings by Maria Popova, from which I cadged and modified the title of my own post:
“To live with sincerity in our culture of cynicism is a difficult dance — one that comes easily only to the very young and the very old. The rest of us are left to tussle with two polarizing forces ripping the psyche asunder by beckoning to it from opposite directions — critical thinking and hope.
Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.
Finding fault and feeling hopeless about improving the situation produces resignation — cynicism is both resignation’s symptom and a futile self-protection mechanism against it. Blindly believing that everything will work out just fine also produces resignation, for we have no motive to apply ourselves toward making things better. But in order to survive — both as individuals and as a civilization — and especially in order to thrive, we need the right balance of critical thinking and hope.”
Popova goes on to establish the task of storytellers, a group among which I count myself at least at times, to make things better.
What storytellers do — and this includes journalists and TED and everyone in between who has a point of view and an audience, whatever its size — is help shape our stories of how the world works; at their very best, they can empower our moral imagination to envision how the world could work better. In other words, they help us mediate between the ideal and the real by cultivating the right balance of critical thinking and hope.
I want to see myself, this site and my writing generally–as much as I can, to be congruent with this quote Popova cites from E.B. White,
“[W]riters do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life”; that the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down.”
Read the article. It will make you think–think better thoughts.
Hope is a town in Arkansas, birthplace of Bill, that American president of a few terms ago. “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow,” the Clinton theme song, expressed how he turned his birthplace into a virtual motto—a cris de couer for all that needed doing, that needed fixing. Bill had hope. He passed it on. Many people had it when Barack Obama took office. Not so many among the GOP, of course. Fewer now than in 2008, even among some fellow Democrats. But that is the way of politics and of people. Many prefer to look to others for hope and inspiration. To look to others for the solution to all that ails them, spiritually, economically and otherwise. A foolish thing to do, that, expecting others to be one’s salvation. More often than not, such misplaced reliance leads to disappointment. Better to find hope within. Better to have faith that through one’s own thoughts and one’s own efforts whatever obstacles one may encounter can be overcome and one’s goals accomplished. Scary though it may be, having such self-reliance, it is and always will be not simply the best way but the only way likely to succeed.
“Age is not an excuse for giving up. Allowing yourself to grow passive and draw back is a sign of personal defeat. There may be a retirement age at work, but there is no retirement age in life.” Daisaku Ikeda
Sometimes referred to as the “Third Age,” retirement is when we get to do those other things we didn’t get to do while we were working. It is not the time to sit on the porch in a rocking chair. That is the way to an early death. Sure, for those who have spent decades at a physically–or even mentally, demanding job there may be a reason to seek some rest and relaxation. Still, the mind and body must remain active. For me it is in writing–expressing my thoughts and experiences in the hope that they will encourage, inform or entertain others.
“Great events never have minor omens. When great evil occurs, great good follows.” So says Nichiren, founder of the largest sect of Buddhism practiced in the United States. While it would be an overstatement to characterize the entirety of the Bush administration years as great evil, there certainly has been plenty of it. Greed, lies, torture, imperialism, etc. At the same time, can there be any doubt that but for those evils (and the collapse of the economy, attributable in part to administration laissez faire policies), Barack Obama would not have been elected this year. Not sure about the “great good”? Consider the response to his election from ordinary citizens here and abroad. Consider the response from leaders around the world. Look at the faces among the thousands of supporters at rallies and celebrations. White, black, brown, yellow. Young, old, rich, poor, gay, straight. Compare those faces to the tiny crowds present at the McCain rallies. A diverse, large tent versus a tiny, exclusive tent. Which is the “real” America–the small-town, small-minded, “your bedroom is my business” members of the GOP (Grumbling Obnoxious Partisans?) or the hope-filled Democrats and Independents that are tolerant of differences, are tired of ideological polemic and are a mix of ethnicities?
Seeing things as they really are, without the illusions or delusions
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