Our nation’s political crisis: How we got into it—and how to get out

Thoughtful people know that the US is facing one of the most serious political crises in our nation’s history. A narcissistic, grossly ignorant, and psychologically unstable huckster has gained enormous political power. Worldwide, people are worrying about how to get out of this mess. By February 20, 2017 the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation will post a much more thorough version of this article to the Nonviolence page at www.olympiafor.org. That article will answer three questions:

(1) How did we get into this mess?

(2) What’s going on?

(3) How do we get out?

This article briefly summarizes some answers to questions (1) and (3). The longer version of this article will develop those topics more thoroughly. Answer (1) of that longer article will provide more information and examples. Answer (3) will offer many additional insights to help us strategize and organize savvy, nonviolent remedies to help us get out of our current political crisis.

 (1) Underlying problems and a confluence of trends led to this crisis

Trump himself is not the problem; he is a symptom of underlying problems and systems that have been getting worse for a long time. For decades the U.S. has suffered from racism, sexism, anti-gay bias, anti-immigrant bias, ignorance of foreign policy, American exceptionalism, big business’ greed and corruption, economic inequality, and the mainstream media’s simplistic reporting.

In order to stop the Trumpism that has captured the US government, we must recognize the underlying systemic problems that have resulted in this blatant symptom. We must identify, resist and roll back those systemic problems which have led to this crisis. Demonizing one person distracts us from addressing these serious underlying problems and symptoms which have allowed Trumpism to dominate the federal government.

The longer article that will be posted to the Nonviolence page of www.olympiafor.org, will provide information and insights about these topics:

Economics

Loss, fear, and anger

American insecurity despite military might

Corporate-owned news media and the dumbing-down of America

Two big, corrupt, dysfunctional political parties

The end of U.S. imperialism and selfishness hastened by Trumpism: “Pride goes before destruction.” (Proverbs 16:18)

(2) Acknowledge that the US nation and empire we have known were not sustainable

For decades, the U.S. Empire has been overreaching and has not been sustainable. We must help the American people understand this and change toward more humane ways of interacting with the world.

Despite US violence against other nations, we can no longer compel obedience. The last war we won, more than 70 years ago, was World War II. The Korean war ended in a stalemate truce but there was no legal end to the war. We lost the Vietnam War, and we have been losing other wars since then. The era of colonialism is long past. Since the Cold War other nations have stopped tolerating the only remaining superpower.

Trump’s America First rhetoric reflects his own narcissism and panders to US narcissism and American Exceptionalism A psychologically healthy and mature person–or nation–works to get along cooperatively and harmoniously with other people–or nations–and does not demand to be first. For example, I should not demand a Glen Anderson First policy that lets me cut to the front of the checkout line at the grocery store. An America First policy is not fair, sustainable, or realistic in a world with nearly 200 other nations. Narcissism is bad public policy.

Climate deniers reject both science and reality; they refuse to acknowledge the hard truth that we and our giant corporations are using natural resources at an unsustainable pace. When people deny hard realities, they are preventing themselves from planning how to solve problems, and they are setting themselves up for catastrophic failures. This refusal to accept reality means that the US is refusing to solve real problems.

The rest of the world does appreciate science, but regarding the climate, the US has become a nation of deniers. Denying climate science–just like denying human rights for women, Muslims, and LGBT people–is preventing our nation from moving ahead to a better future. Rather than making America great again, this anti-science bias will do the opposite. It will make us a backward nation that will allow problems to get worse and will let other nations  move ahead of us thus making America weak not great.

The “Loss, Fear and Anger” section listed in Part (1) above pertains to our nation’s declining standard of living along with other trends. Based on the list of quality of life indicators (life expectancy, access to affordable health care, etc.) we are already losing ground. Michael Moore’s clever film Where to Invade Next makes some interesting points and comparisons.

Perhaps Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ insights into the 5 stages of dying could help our nation cope with the loss of US Imperialism and nationalistic egocentrism.

Someone new to Alcoholics Anonymous is told that the first step toward recovery is to acknowledge the hard reality that they are addicted to alcohol. Likewise, the first step for Americans to start healing our nation is to acknowledge that the US’ economic system, imperialism, and militarism are not sustainable. They never were sustainable. No amount of bullying and lying can change this hard reality.

Trump’s extremism will hasten the end of the US Empire. America’s smug nationalism is doomed. Americans need to acknowledge and internalize the truth of Proverbs 16:18 which says, “Pride goes before destruction–and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

We need a fresh consciousness and modesty to actually let go of our overuse of natural resources, our abuse of the climate, our worldwide militarism, etc. We must internalize that reality intellectually and emotionally and reflect it in new public policy. Only then will we be truly free to explore fresh visions for the future instead of trying to hold on to the unsustainable past.

(3) Values and strategies can help us organize resistance and remedies

A confluence of trends led us to this current crisis. Better values and smarter strategies can get us out of it. There are things ordinary Americans can do to help our nation get through these hard times.

  • Recognize that we indeed can must and address the problems effectively
  • Understand how nonviolent, grassroots movements are powerful ways to achieve social and political progress
  • Work strategically and nonviolently with other people to accomplish our goals.

Instead of being merely reactive, let’s ground ourselves–and help to ground others–in our best values so we can move forward. Also, instead of getting trapped in partisanship and elections, let’s organize around the real issues.

The longer article will flesh out the following ideas.

Instead of piling on more ain’t-it-awful laments, let’s understand and organize. Clearly, the 2016 election results portend extremely serious dangers for human rights, social and economic justice, the climate, escalating militarism, and government corruption. We are in for hard times. When disaster strikes, a normal human reaction is to lament the horrible event. Since the 2016 election, people have been piling on a lot of ain’t-it-awful lamenting and reinforcing each other’s worst fears about what awaits us. That reaction is understandable, but it can crush our spirits. Instead of letting dread overwhelm and immobilize us, we need to think clearly and devise smart strategies for solving problems.

Some of Trump’s likely actions were already happening under Obama. Therefore, we must change the entrenched bi-partisan systems that caused these problems. Our society is trapped in a status quo of polarized partisanship that interferes with understanding and solving our problem. Both of the big political parties are corrupt and dysfunctional. Such bipolar partisanship is part of the problem. Democrats who criticize republican presidents give a free pass to democratic presidents when they do the same things. As president, Obama appointed many corporate big-shots to major executive branch positions, and he deported more immigrants than any other president in US history. For more examples see this article’s longer version. To move forward we must stop letting big business and the military-industrial complex dominate public policy altogether–not just when Republicans do it. Indeed, we must stop letting partisanship distract us from the real issues. The problems are not partisan, they are systemic with top-down wealth and power preventing bottom-up democracy!

Focus on systems not just individual politicians or political parties. The big problems we face are not just individual politicians or individual political parties. They are in big systems and institutions that are beholden to money and abuses of power. These big systems and institutions are long-standing and entrenched. So if we want to solve the underlying problems, we need to examine those systems and institutions and devise nonviolent strategies to fix or replace them. It is possible to start making progress at local levels, share news of our local successes, and then use this growing momentum to leverage progress at larger levels until we win significant goals nationwide and worldwide.

Progress comes only from grassroots movements not as gifts from the top down. All the political and social progress the US and other nations have achieved has come from movements organized at the grassroots level. The changes have not been gifts from the top down. The grassroots-based Civil Rights Movement became a very significant part of US history and culture. The movement’s grassroots efforts convinced Congress to pass major civil rights laws in 1964 and 1965. It also provided strong ripple effects for other emerging movements. It provided significant inspiration, insight, empowerment, skills, and volunteers for other strong grassroots movements such as the peace movement, the women’s rights movement, and the environmental movement. Movements build and learn from each other. This process is explained very clearly in the 2016 book This Is an Uprising by Mark Engler and Paul Engler. For more from them see their website: www.thisisanuprising.org.

Democracy is 5% voting and 95% grassroots organizing. Although people assume that voting is the heart of democracy, voting is only actually about five percent of democracy while the other ninety-five percent is community organizing and getting together to build grassroots movements. We must awaken the general public and educate them about the issues. We must inform people and devise ways to empower them to take nonviolent action. We must persuade the power-holders to do what we want. All of this requires us to be nonviolent and credible and to create safe opportunities for people to join with us. Nonviolent, grassroots organizing is a different way to build power. It is more powerful and effective than the heavy-handed kinds of power we commonly see. Indeed, nonviolence is a radical, creative alternative to the merely fight-or-flight strategies which we have been taught are our only two options. Nonviolence gives us a better–and more powerful–alternative!

Withdraw consent from illegitimate and abusive authorities. Thomas Jefferson recognized that we the people create the government and we the people can change or even replace it. Likewise, Gene Sharp’s research shows that oppressors lose power when people withdraw their consent and refuse to obey. Therefore, an important part of Gene Sharp’s advice is that we must figure out how to withdraw consent, nonviolently resist, and build alternative movements to supplant oppressive systems. The American people already worry about increasing oppression, social and economic injustice, environmental abuse, and political corruption. To protect ourselves from these problems and to weaken the power oppressors wield, let’s look for ways to withdraw our consent from oppressors in government, in the economic sector, and in other parts of our society. We can use Gene Sharp’s ideas to delegitimize and weaken all of the oppressive systems. See resources at www.aeinstein .org

Why and how our organizing must take the moral high ground and be scrupulously nonviolent. The right-wing forces of repression won votes by making people feel afraid. If protesters against Trump use violence–or even tactics that can be misunderstood or misrepresented as violent–they feed into that very same fear. These tactics will frighten the public into wanting to militarize the police, increase surveillance of dissidents, and violate our first amendment rights to speech and assembly. They will contribute to further polarization and repression. Oppressors send agent provocateurs to infiltrate movements and provoke violence because oppressors know that violence turns the general public against progressive movements. In order to protect our progressive movements, we must make sure we are scrupulously nonviolent.

Strategically smart, nonviolent grassroots organizing is very powerful! Nonviolence is not weakness, It is a different kind of strength. Decades ago the very savvy activist David Dellinger wrote a book about nonviolence called More Power Than We Know. Gene Sharp, the world’s best researcher on the power of nonviolence and how to use nonviolence to remove dictators from power, said, “Dictators are never as strong as they tell you they are. People are never as weak as they think they are.” See resources and information at his non-profit organization www.aeinstein.org.

The American people are not stupid; they are simply denied the information and empowerment they need. Ordinary people do have good values, but they don’t know how to act on them. During the Olympia FOR’s twice-weekly peace vigils, many people respond warmly and enthusiastically to our signs which convey positive, progressive values saying things like “All people are one human family,” “Human rights are for everyone,” and “We all share one earth.” See www.olympiafor.org/vigils.htm.

Instead of cynical politics-as-usual, let’s try assuming that all people are basically good, and that all people are seeking what they see as best. If we assume that each stranger we meet is a person of good will, space for better interactions will open up, and people will respond to our positive vibe. We might bring more people into our progressive movements and make more progress toward building an effective majority to solve our nation’s problems.

Resources: Amazing numbers of high quality practical resources are available! Listed below are just a few of the many resources that can help us move forward. I invite you to use these resources and share them with the other people and non-profit organizations.

  • Understanding (and not getting stuck simply fearing and blaming) is a first step toward dealing with our new crisis. The Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation’s December 2016 TV program Healing from Political Blame, Shame, and Trauma, offers help in understanding and healing from the traumatic 2016 election season so we can move ahead humanely and effectively. You can find links to the show and a thorough summary in Word format on the TV Programs page of www.olympiafor.org
  • To get informed, inspired, and started toward nonviolent, grassroots organizing, I highly recommend Olympia FOR’s January 2017 TV program, Nonviolent Grassroots Remedies for Our Current Crisis. It follows up from our December program with where-do-we-go-from-here insights and strategies. You can find links to the show and a thorough summary in Word format on the TV Programs page of www.olympiafor.org
  • Many resources posted on the Nonviolence page of www.olympiafor.org can help you understand nonviolence and use it effectively. I especially recommend those under the subheadings What Is Nonviolence?, Understanding and Using Nonviolence, and Using Nonviolence in the Real World.

Many non-profit organizations and their websites offer excellent information, insights, and resources. I especially recommend these:

For decades I have been recommending the amazingly smart resources by Gene Sharp and others at The Albert Einstein Institution. Their website is located at www.aeinstein.org.

Lutheran Peace Fellowship: Visit www.lutheranpeace.org.  Click the Resources link, then click the Nonviolence link.

Nonviolence International: www.nonviolenceinternational.net

International Center on Nonviolent Conflict: www.nonviolent-conflict.org

Campaign Nonviolence: www.paceebene.org/programs/campaign-nonviolence

There are many, many excellent books and resources on this topic. Here are just a few:

Why Civil Resistance Works by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan (2011)

This is an Uprising by Mark Engler and Paul Engler (2016) (Also see www.thisisanuprising.org)

Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements by Bill Moyer, JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley, and Steven Soifer

A Force More Powerful by Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall along with  the DVD/VHS series

Books by and about Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Books and articles written by Michael Nagler and George Lakey

Closing encouragement

In November of 2016 US voters vigorously rejected the status quo. But that does not mean that voters really wanted the cruelty, repression, corruption, and environmental damage that are being imposed upon us.

Instead, I believe that deep down most Americans actually have better values and that they can be helped to understand and support better values and better public policy.

The problems and solutions are more profound than any major political party or candidate recognizes. I believe that most Americans want a future that is radically better than either of the big political parties has been offering.

So instead of letting dread overwhelm and immobilize us, we need to think clearly and devise smart, nonviolent strategies for solving problems and achieving humane and sustainable goals such as peace, human rights for everyone, an economy that is honest and fair for everyone, an environment that is healthy and sustainable, and a society that practices nonviolence and compassion.

To build this bold new future, we must organize strategically savvy, nonviolent, grassroots movements. Nonviolence is bigger and bolder in vision and in methodology than anything politics-as-usual can offer.

Now is the time for us to:

Ground ourselves in our best values.

Study the theory and practice of nonviolence.

Study how to build powerful, nonviolent, grassroots movements for social and political change.

Inform and empower large numbers of ordinary people to come together into grassroots movements that will use strategic nonviolence to solve local and national problems.

Each person can do something!

Together we can accomplish much!

Glen Anderson is a longtime peace/social justice activist in the Olympia area and a founding member of the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation.