Losing Heart

Your elderly parents trust Tucker Carlson and refuse to wear a mask no matter how much you beg them. Uncle Gene is getting secret messages from Q about the Conspiracy and is convinced that Trump won the election and that mass arrests of Congress are coming soon. Your college friends have moved to Portland to join the Resistance, and your ex just dropped out of Harvard Law to become a cop. Meanwhile, the president you worked hard to help elect has backtracked on his campaign promises so far that not only is he not legalizing marijuana and mass-pardoning prisoners, instead he’s banning menthol cigarettes.

It’s easy to lose hope in times like these.

And yet, the truth is still what it was yesterday, and ten years ago. The lies change, but the answer to bad information is and always has been good information. Where once we had alchemy and the five elements, now we have chemistry and at least a hundred eighteen; we’ve replaced eugenics with genetics and developed a vaccine for malaria, the deadliest virus known to man. There is no reason to suppose things will proceed any differently with regard to our political system.

Yes, Wall Street owns many of our politicians; others are from the far fringes and not susceptible to reason, and still more are beholden to their party machines. If there’s one thing the surprising success of the insurgent candidacy of Bernie Sanders should have taught us, it’s the power of the grass roots. Before him, Obama succeeded against the Establishment candidate; after him, so did Trump. Don’t mistake me: I’m not saying that these were wonderful victories for humanity — but they were all, and undeniably, top-level races where the Powers That Be were routed in disarray. Rather than despair, knowledge of these should give us hope and faith in our political system.

Admittedly, we might do better to choose better targets for our political loyalty going forward. But that’s not the fault of a broken system; it’s an underinformed electorate. That, we can do something about.

Consider this: Nearly a quarter of a millennium ago, our founding fathers took the works of Locke, Rousseau, and Montesquieu and used them as the foundation of a new form of government. Borrowing heavily from the theory and symbolism of the Roman magistracy, they created a system with a powerful executive, an independent judiciary, and a legislature that held the purse-strings. Using the embedded system of amendments, their creation has changed gradually to become the modern federal government.

It is obvious to all but the dullest among us that the present establishment has its flaws; the other side of that coin is that any human system will inevitably echo and even magnify the errors of its creators. It would be a mistake to surrender to the inevitability of error in the system; rather, we should take inspiration from the demonstrable improvements made to it thus far, and proceed along that same path to continue improving our form of government. Where mistakes were made in the past — slavery, prohibition, and so on — we should take note that they were addressed by amendment, and our system was changed.

Today, corporate money has too much voice in our political campaigns; this needs to change — so let’s change it. We are encumbered by the results of a decades-failed War On Drugs and a militarized police; it’s time and past time to end it — what we’ve been doing evidently doesn’t work, so let’s do something else. And so on and so forth. All this is plain to even the meanest intellect that fairly addresses the facts.

Those powers which are continually enriched and further entrenched by the present system will resist change; this is entirely predictable. Presently we’re faced by an anti-intellectual campaign that persuades people to avoid facts, or even to choose their own. The rise of Qanon is evidence of their success, as if we needed more than the mere existence of MSNBC or Fox News, the propaganda organs of the extreme branches of two factions of our political establishment.

This is no new thing; the tactic is ancient, well-tried, even reliable. Against it all we have to offer is the truth — as always, the same as it ever was.

There are those among us who will see the rise of a block of the populace which refuses to engage in honest discussion and debate as an impossible foe; they will argue that the only way forward is to ignore them. But to take this view is to fall into two errors: First, we will naturally abhor any truth that happens to be embraced by the conspiracy, even accidentally; second, we will equally naturally assume that we ourselves are free from the influence of the forces of entrenched resistance to change.

Instead, we must do as those who came before us did with such great success: We must continually purify ourselves, improving our own thought as we move forward. And we must work indefatigably to create that change which our society demands for its own improvement.

And yes, we might well fail. The history of our nation is littered with the remains of failed crusades, of groups who were defeated regardless of the truth they championed or the righteousness of their cause. There has always been opposition; it has always been mighty. And it has always been defeated — eventually, through the combined efforts of those devoted to improving society.

I know which side I want to be on. Do you?


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