Musings About Politics and Life

Prescient Wisdom from Bertrand Russell

“The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. Even those of the intelligent who believe they have a nostrum are too individualistic to combine with other intelligent people from whom they differ on minor points.”

Bertrand Russell wrote those words in a 1933 essay (“The Rise of Stupidity”) in which he lamented the growth of Nazism in Germany.

But heard in today’s political context they ring as true in 2020 as they did 87 years ago, both in terms of the international movement toward “my county first” nationalism, and in the right-left divides between and within the American political parties.

Seeking unity and common ground requires the courage to compromise, to bring together the best thoughts of people with various views on contentious issues. Jean Vanier eloquently expresses that below.

Thoughts on leadership, conflict and unity from Jean Vanier

“The leader is the guardian of unity. He or she must thirst for unity and work for it day and night. For this the leader must not fear conflict, but rather accept it and strive to be an instrument of reconciliation. The leader must be in contact with all the different elements in the community, and particularly with those who are in pain or who are angry with the community.”

Journey to the Common Good by Walter Brueggemann

“Mature people, at best, are people who are committed to the common good that reaches beyond private interest, transcends sectarian commitments, and offers human solidarity.”

The U.S Constitution was infused with a power and relevancy that has lasted over decades of changing times. That longevity was not a happenstance but flowed from a shared vision among the founders and their willingness to engage one another in a mutual search for the common  good. Today, however, the vision has fractured.

Our practice of politics has become a constant battle of ideological agendas. We have lost the art of working together, of seeking a common vision that upholds the founding principles of freedom and equality for all. Partisan victory has trumped collaboration.

A Call to Action by Greta Thunberg

“Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. Instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then, hope will come.” The 17-year old Thunberg’s call to action came in her speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The young climate activist was addressing a collection of the world’s billionaires, imploring them to put climate change at the top of their agenda. Rather than engage her in a constructive conversation, Steven Mnuchin, the US Secretary of the Treasury, dismissed her with a juvenile retort: “After she goes to college and studies economics she can come back and talk to us.”  To paraphrase Carl Sandburg, “If you don’t have the facts, attack the messenger.”

A Dangerous Mix of Ignorance and Arrogance

In reporting on presidential candidate Donald Trump’s 2016 speech on international relations, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias wrote that the talk was a “remarkable mishmash of incoherence” and “the bulk of it was dedicated to demagoguery and bizarre lies…” The headline of Yglesias’ piece was “Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Speech Revealed a Dangerous Mix of Ignorance and Arrogance.”

That dangerous mishmash of incoherence, demagoguery, and bizarre lies has been at the center of Trump’s communications for the last three plus years. Mixing ignorance with arrogance is toxic in any forum but can be fatal to a nation when it becomes the standard for setting national policies.

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