There’s one question that people are asking everywhere I go. It goes something like this: What the hell do we do now?
Many of us were unprepared for the question. We thought our democracy was better than this.
Surprise! It’s not. We need to get over our illusions. Fast.
At every step of the way, President-elect Donald Trump has shown us who he is. An authoritarian kleptocrat who holds no regard for truth or national interest.
The disastrous clown car that is the Trump Cabinet tells us that the existential threat to democratic principles is as real as a heart attack.
His choice for housing doesn’t believe in public housing. His head of labor is anti-worker. His pick for environment is a climate change denier. His choice for DEA head is a drug warrior, and so forth.
This is not just another Republican presidency for liberals to endure. This is war.
War on immigrants. War on communities of color. War on the environment. War on organized labor. War on women’s rights. War on LGBTQ people and their right to live and love freely. War on the poor.
War on rationality itself and the whole idea of an inclusive common good.
The contempt of our president-elect for public protest, freedom of the press and our democratic institutions is plainly visible. As is his willingness to resort to racism and threats of violence to “win.”
An immediate and overwhelming assault on the common good will begin in earnest on Jan. 20. We need to be prepared for that.
Real Change’s work in this environment is clear.
The mass homelessness that we have now is the collective result of decades of social neglect.
It is the result of a system that devalues working people, women and people of color. That holds the right to profit as our highest value.
It is the result of a drug war that continues the legacy of slavery that is now mass incarceration and all the reduced life prospects and community devastation that has brought.
It is the result of the structural racism that promotes White supremacy as the order of the day and constricts opportunity for those whose skin is black or brown.
Our fight against homelessness is grounded in the struggles of everyone who seeks full recognition of their own humanity.
And our work, in this terrible moment of human history, is to ally with those who fight for the common good. Who believe we are better than this.
After the carnage of World War II — and the horrible realization that bureaucracy and technology had combined to produce unspeakable new possibilities — many thinkers struggled with the tendency of democracies to turn fascist.
Among these was Reinhold Niebuhr, a towering moral voice and intellectual mentor to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Niebuhr published “Children of Light and the Children of Darkness” in 1944. The book grappled with the contradiction of democratic optimism and our own flawed humanity.
The Children of Darkness, he says, are those who “know no law beyond their will and interest.” The Children of Light are those who believe “self-interest should be brought under the discipline of a higher law.”
“Evil is always the assertion of some self-interest without regard to the whole. … Good is always the harmony of the whole on various levels.”
But here’s the rub: Our democracy, he says, is fatally optimistic. Liberalism underestimates those who, based upon conscribed notions of community, will always seek advantage.
We fail to see how our own self-interest limits our own extension of community to the whole.
We are all, to some extent, also the Children of Darkness. Our tendency to underestimate evil or to see our own moral failures aids and abets those who are guided by a less adulterated will to power.
So, in this time of trouble, we must look to each other for support. We must take a clear-eyed look at our own limitations, and become better in our fight to extend the common good.
Real Change is a community that believes in the inherent value of every human being, and your support makes our work possible. Please make your gift to our winter fund drive today. We need each other now more than ever.