Yesterday, 1/20/1917, Donald John Trump succeeded Barack Hussein Obama in a patriotic ceremony the tone of which struck me as diametrically opposed to the one of 8 years ago. The Capitol was wrapped in huge flags, Lee Greenwood brought the house down, and tears to the eyes of many; the inaugural speech was unabashedly jingoistic. In 2009 it was more of a celebration: history was being made, opening the doors for a new era of hope, tolerance and conviviality. The reality on the ground now is obviously not what was anticipated then. Something went wrong. Polls show that we have never been more divided, the vast majority of us thinking that the country is going in the wrong direction.

Mistrust and intolerance have shockingly multiplied. I do not recall rioting in the streets of Washington on inauguration day, ever. Hillary Clinton diagnosed the problem as being due to large swaths of irredeemable deplorables lurking in dark corners of civil society. These mostly uneducated white men, she said, were vehicles of hate and bigotry that need to be eliminated through better controls and regulation. There would be a federal solution for that! Trump effectively railed about stupid, self-serving, corrupt politicians and the crooked news media.

Reality does not comport with these hyper-simplistic formulations:

  1. Some/many of us tend to think that we have a complete understanding of culture and that everyone could do this. Wrong! All human beings have a very restricted and unique perspective that is determined largely by their personal, family and social history. Culture also has very many diverse critical components that most of us do not know about, much less understand: education, society, money, economics, health, science, work, law, art, religion etc., etc.
  2. Very important, many aspects of culture itself are riddled with unrecognized confusions and misconceptions.
  3. We tend to think that we understand our own minds. We assume that we are clear, in our own minds, about our understandings,  personal needs, desires and intentions. We think we know what we like and dislike, or the limits of what we will do or not. No doubt some of us are more in touch with ourselves than others, but none of us understand much about the emotions and prejudices that drive us from moment to moment. Almost daily, new scientific information is reported that indicates that consciousness is produced by exquisite systems that monitor events throughout the body, events that we are completely unaware of. There is also wide variation in the structure of our bodies, so I am really a black box unto myself.
  4. We also assume that we have a good understanding of what goes on in the minds of others – “most people are generally like me”. Wrong! The behavior of large swaths of irredeemable deplorables should permanently put this self delusion to rest. Our understandings, values, attitudes and assumptions vary greatly. There is, in fact, a dynamic interplay between our bodies, culture and mind, rendering who we are as individuals completely unpredictable.
  5. The sources of public information appear to be unable to provide impartial, accurate and comprehensive reports. There is much personal bias injected and the various power centers appear to resort to censorship and propaganda. Leakers, whistleblowers, Russian hackers and others have exposed deficiencies and vulnerabilities.

We live in the oldest democracy and many would argue that we have been the most successful. But the world is changing rapidly and we must adapt. As society becomes more complex, the interdependence of individuals is heightened. Our success or failure would depend on the efforts of each individual, trying to be the best that they can be, no matter what the area of their engagement. [Of course, how such a more perfect union would be structured is the million dollar question.]

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