Power Up: Reclaiming the Heart of Our Democracy

Dear Reader,

The following is a continuation of my blog series based on my book The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America’s Pivotal Moment. If you are just now picking up on the series, you might start with the Introduction: Welcome to the Challenges of Change.

I hope that it will help you, as writing it has helped me, to find a candle to contribute to your light.

Whether you agree with me or not, I hope my work helps you clarify your own position, both within and to the chaotic times surrounding us. Above all, I hope it helps you create a new vision of the future and a new hope that draws you to commit to it.

Bud Harris
Asheville, North Carolina

The Statue of Liberty, by ParentRap on Pixabay

The Midnight Hour:
A Jungian Perspective on America’s Pivotal Moment

Chapter 12: Power Up: Reclaiming the Heart of Our Democracy

The future is worth fighting for. The dreams of our forebears are worth defending. The aspirations of our children are worth protecting. And the American Dream itself is worth reinventing—and rebuilding. We have a duty to stand up to the dream-killers in our country. —Van Jones That deep muse within me that expresses my heart has driven me to write this book. The truth is that she connects me to my heart. She wants me to see through my heart’s eyes, to hear through my heart’s ears, and to live with my heart as my guide. She confronts me with the questions of why I don’t want to open my eyes and ears, of why I don’t want to open my heart. She knows that if I do, my heart will want to cut through our cultural chaos and rely on common sense. She knows that as I open, as I have been writing, my heart will scream with anger at the realities I see and feel chagrin at my previous indifference and blindness. She also knows I will face a moral challenge, which is to speak out honestly, as I am trying my best to do in these reflections. To have gotten this far in my writing is to have accepted her challenge.

When I wrote about being in the sixth grade in an area of rural poverty, I mentioned the bullies, the predators in the school. Around bullies, we learn how to keep to ourselves, be quiet, and try to avoid being noticed so we won’t be threatened or hurt. The paradox is that our passivity enables the bullies. The same is true in our adult world and the world of social institutions that have become bullies in many situations. Bullies can be found in the top one percent of wealthy families, in major corporations, and in our governing bodies. These predators are running our lives. The heart of power today is hard. The predators have controlled our elections on many levels. A wealthy enough family (or corporation) can buy a congressperson or a majority in a state legislature.

Giant corporations can spend enough money to create or sway legislators or to prevent legislation that is in the country’s best interests. They can marshal the media power to sell us lies such as that the Affordable Care Act will create “death panels,” or we will lose the freedom to choose our doctor or, worst of all, to label it “Obamacare” in order to denigrate and associate it with racial prejudice. Deep in my heart I am so angry! But, that’s not even close to all of the story. The big health insurance bullies use the hard-earned money we pay in premiums not on our health-care costs but by the millions, maybe billions, to flood us with propaganda and our legislatures with lobbying efforts that are against our best interests. Then, if our eyes are open, we see the predators are rearranging the laws and government regulations meant to “protect” us to their advantage. For the predators, might makes right, and they want the law of the jungle to become the law of the land.

As these predators become more institutionalized, they seem to become more accepted, even expected. In the 2016 election, we even seemed to appreciate some of them as they pushed and supported candidates. As furious as I am with the predators, I know their existence reflects a deeper crisis we need to face that is more than just an economic or political problem. We are losing the heart and soul of our tradition, of the American spirit, and of our democracy. An attitude of narrow self-interest, hard-hearted practicality, and short-term vision is wreaking havoc across our land. It shows little concern for people’s actual well-being, it diminishes imagination and thoughtfulness, and it brands a passion for truth and knowledge as irrelevant. In the world I was born into, which was by no means a perfect world, more of our citizens cared about each other. More of them cared about our government being an instrument of that care, protecting and empowering us all through public provisions. Good God! Just remembering that no other advanced political society has the amount of poverty we have drives me nuts!

We have become so driven, busy, and scared that we have let the values of the heart in our society, for ourselves and everyone else, fade into the background of our lives. When our values of the heart fade, they leave an empty space inside us that feeds on feelings of fear and scarcity and evolves into a quest for possessions, money, and security or power. Then we become the victims of these needs and the forces they arouse.

In writing this most difficult book I found it was a challenge to open my eyes to look in the mirror and see how much I feared giving up my denial and indifferences and how much it might cost me. Well, destiny fixed that problem by turning my world upside down with our political chaos. It knocked the props out from under me and made me able to see with more clarity and honesty the reality I’m living in and that I must help change.

Our Democracy Is Weak

I have spent four decades thinking of myself as a pretty good citizen. I am law-abiding. I vote, pay my taxes, look after my family, contribute to charities, and care about my community. Now my new awakening is forcing me to ask myself, “How could I have been sleepwalking through the last four decades, minimizing my awareness of the predators and the sliding of my government and my fate into their hands?” I don’t believe I expected myself—or we expected each other—to aspire to the core principles of citizenship, of taking self-responsibility and collective responsibility, of cultivating the inner capacity to know what rings true. In fact, down deep, I knew a lot of the rhetoric and political posturing didn’t ring true. But I tended to brush it off rather than try to step beyond the lies, express my outrage, and take action.

During those four decades, far too many of us deluded ourselves into thinking we were living in a sincere and active democracy ruled by freedom of thought and opinion. But as I have been pursuing these reflections, I have come to know that in my heart I didn’t really believe these assumptions were true and rage was accumulating.

In my own shadow, I was aware that our democracy was weak and becoming weaker. Plus, our democracy was idle because we were idle. Other politically advanced nations have had a much higher percentage of voter turn-out than we have had for most of these forty years. As our democracy has weakened, we have become increasingly ruled by predators and fear. We are afraid of taking risks, of speaking out, of being criticized, of not being politically correct, of being confronted, of offending family, friends, neighbors, and of losing business. Have we become afraid of being free? Freedom requires taking risks, taking stands, and having courage. It requires calling a lie a lie when it is necessary. It requires standing up to people who have become so afraid that they have become despotic in their political positions and are forgetting that the lives of every one of our citizens is sacred. The predators and people who promote the despotic political positions are ignoring the body politic and are attacking the soul of our democracy.

I think that it is clear we are by far the most militarily powerful country on the earth. I don’t fear anything outside of this country, not terrorism, or wild dictators, or floods of immigrants. What I fear most of all is the number of our citizens that are becoming dehumanized and alienated, the weakening of our democracy. I am afraid that if we are not careful, we are condemning ourselves to a civil death while we are distracting ourselves with a fear of outside forces.

I am also afraid of the attack on truth in our media and in politics. I have to state this trend because it scares me so much, and others are writing books about this problem. I am also ashamed that we think we are the land of opportunity. We are not what we think we are. Barbara Ehrenreich points out in Bright-Sided that, “in reality, Americans are less likely to move upward from their class of origin than are Germans, Canadians, Finns, French people, Swedes, Norwegians, or Danes.” This myth of endless opportunity is just about as valid as the one I believed about my home value being resistant to the force of economic gravity. We don’t need to speak truth to power. We need to speak it to ourselves.

* * * *

With a shiver of aversion, I turn off the egotists that dominate so much of our political discourse on the internet, television, and talk radio. They can’t seem to participate in a search for truth or even have a civil discussion that would help inform us on pressing vital topics. They are masters at creating doubt about what is really happening, and which path is actually best for us. But these characters and our responses to their performances illustrate how much we have allowed television, talk radio, and the internet to be our experience of the world. Plus, we relegate too much of our personal responsibility to be informed to these sources, and then make value judgments based on them. On the one hand, they stimulate addictions to fear, fight and flight reactions. On the other hand, they invite us to sublimate our anger and our intellects into the weeknight and weekend diversions of late-night comedy shows and independent movies.

These venues turn news into entertainment and make it humorous and fun to satirize our mindless and benighted neighbors and our self-aggrandizing politicians. Both approaches help cause a decline in our ability to thoughtfully take the action our anger and frustration should be leading us toward. The result too often is that our hearts atrophy and are shut away from any great enthusiasms except for private ambition, are shut away from any vision based on the faith that we as a people are more than the sum of our material desires. We should ask ourselves, “How will we be remembered? How will history judge us?” It is so easy to look the other way, to look at our busyness or victimhood. It is tempting, even seductive, to look away from the challenges we are facing.

The propaganda from the predators and self-serving politicians also teaches us that it is easier to see our taxes as a burden rather than an investment in the human and material infrastructure that will benefit us all. It is easier to turn a blind eye to the fact the top one percent of households have more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined, and it is important and infuriating that one political party seems dedicated to reducing taxes for the wealthy. It is pretty obvious that tax relief for the wealthy never trickles down. It goes into high-yield investments. To increase taxes on the rich is simply common sense—it won’t affect their standard of living at all, while increases on the bottom 80 percent significantly affect theirs.

I shudder when I think about asking myself if I am better off than I was thirty years ago. But my anger and disgust have distracted me as I have been writing what is bubbling up. All of the rich, as I have carefully pointed out, aren’t predators. However, I want to return to another danger I see in the media: it can make us feel victorious when in fact the battle has only begun. For example, the women’s “Me Too” movement is powerful and long overdue. Me Too is terribly important and is having a significant impact. There must never be a time when we fail to have needed protests in our democracy, but we have to be careful not to congratulate ourselves too quickly because of dramatic media attention. In a December 31, 2017, New York Times article, the well-known writer Susan Faludi points out that with all the Me Too publicity going on, the patriarchy hasn’t gone anywhere. In fact, in the midst of this publicity, Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which in Ms. Faludi’s words “throws a bombshell on women,” young, poor, working class, and older. Passing this law proves further that our democracy is weak. We must all turn our anger into sustained action.

Rage and Creativity

Oh yes, it has been a rule in my life for a long time that rage is bad. I was taught from the beginning of my life that rage is destructive. For my first ten years or so that teaching was crudely enforced by my father’s outbursts of rage, which terrified me even though he was never physically abusive to any of us or even threatened to be. But I sure learned I didn’t want to be like him, and I didn’t want to scare my children that way. I still have what almost seems like a natural inclination to want to smother my rage even though I now know better.

What does it mean now to know better? It means I have learned that for any real creation, there must be a rage. It takes rage to break through the chrysalis of fear, pride, conventional thinking, our need for approval, or whatever is encapsulating us. Creativity requires the concentration of all our passion, our love, our anger, our rage, and our hatred—the concentration of all of these combined with our sensitivity and our thoughtfulness. This reality is true whether we are creating art, a new business, or a new life.

If we simply act out our rage, we are wasting it in a destructive manner. Looking back, I want to weep for my father. He expressed his rage over and over. He was wasting it and using it to avoid the real issues. If he had forged it with his other feelings, he could have become passionate enough to break out of the life that encapsulated him and break through the inner barriers of fear that blocked his ability to find his creativity and through it a life with a more satisfying purpose.

We must not waste our rage. And we must remember there are some things we should hate furiously. Acting out rage and hate may bring temporary relief and may make us feel powerful for a moment, but this path is never satisfying in the long run. It can also become a perpetual path of denying the real issues we need to confront. It is much better if we learn how to confront and accept ourselves and forge our rage into the kind of passion and fierce love that fuels creative action.

* * * *

Maya Angelou, the great poet, writer, and educator who inspires me with everything she has said or written, once roared, “Be angry! It is right to be angry. It is healthy!” Well, it is getting very healthy for me. But, I’m not so sure it will be for those who love the status quo, who love peace of mind, who want to avoid life as a creative struggle, and who are afraid of having to confront themselves, their shadows, and the shadows in our government and society.

At this point, my rage is becoming fierce love and tough. It eliminates easy answers, compromises, and considering whether we should follow the politics of the practical. Our country was not founded on this kind of weak thinking. It was founded by people, big and small, who were willing to risk everything. Bobby Kennedy once reminded me of our heritage, saying in his wonderful accent, “Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not.” These are the words that reflect my belief in the American spirit.

The only way we are going to reclaim the heart of our democracy is to have legislators that are dedicated to the job of governing—not fundraising, personal power, party power, and re-election. The way to have this kind of legislature is clear. First, we have to vote in every election, big and small. We need to have the highest voter turnout of any democratic country. Let’s be number one where it counts the most! If you don’t like or can’t support any of the candidates, write someone else in. Make your protest visible and explicit. Don’t sit it out and give an implicit vote to the wrong person. Second, vote for someone totally committed to campaign finance reform. Don’t compromise. We must cut the tie between government and personal and corporate wealth or our democracy will fail. Remember, our candidates must deserve us! It must be a privilege for them to serve. Senators and representatives cannot govern when they have to start fundraising and running for re-election as soon as they take office. For God’s sake, this is not rocket science, it is simply common sense. Every other politically advanced nation limits campaigns to a few weeks or months and stops them a few days before elections so people have time to collect their thoughts before voting. Elections are not entertainment. They are deadly serious and need to be treated that way.

There are two other hard facts we need to consider. The first one is that we have the right to reform our government every two years in elections. This reforming need not be based on the power politics between the two major parties or the president. It needs to be based on the principles of getting out and voting for campaign finance reform and shortened campaign periods. The second hard fact we have to face is that if we fail to cut the ties between wealth and government, all our concerns about social justice, fairness, women’s rights, discrimination, and other problems I have been writing about are causes that will never really get on the table. They will never become more than political tools and lip-service government concerns. We must own our democracy as citizens in order to come together and thrash and hammer these issues into a moral vision that assumes we have a spirit and values higher than our material appetites and economic cravings. We can do this!

Guess what? This 2016 election proved we do have power. The president who was elected, the most unlikely candidate I’ve ever seen, swept all the well-moneyed traditional candidates in the Republican party right off the board. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic candidate in his seventies, stirred the hearts of the young and young-at-heart who are not trapped in the love of comfort, and almost upset the most well-financed and -engineered campaign I’ve ever seen in a primary. His message was direct, for the people, and in actuality his agenda was common-sense. Without grand financing or strategies or propaganda, he gathered huge support. This election proves we can do it if we really try with candidates who deserve us.

Next chapter…

The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America's Current Pivotal Moment The above is Chapter 12 of my book The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America’s Current Pivotal Moment.

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