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Earlier this week, I wrote that, to win the 2018 election, Democrats had to “show those who voted for Trump that they are fighting for them more than opposing Trump.”

Compassion Conscience Change

One of my idealistic critics pointed out that “showing” was not enough. To end Trump’s reign, Democrats (and for that matter Republicans who deplore Trump’s seizure of their party) need to “be” different, not just “show” differences. This is a subtle but important distinction.

I became aware of this while reading some words of the poet/essayist Mark Nepo, who recently published a book on community entitled More Together Than Alone . In it, he notes two deep needs of humans: the need for solitude and the need for community. The first is exemplified by those who, when encountering someone different, say: “You are different. Go away.” The second is marked by those who, in the same situation, respond: “You are different. Come teach me something new.”

Both are legitimate human responses, but can we agree that we could use more of the second response in our divided world today? And Nepo goes further, claiming that “trust, courage and the ability to listen are the agencies of heart” that allow us to join others in building community.

On the other hand, “fear, pain and worry make us retreat, while great love and great suffering break down those barriers,” according to Nepo.

Those of us who were shocked by Trump’s election in 2016 certainly feel that we and our nation are suffering from the damage he is doing to our democratic system. We must ask, however, how much Trump’s base feels betrayed by the man who promised to restore them and their country to prosperity.

Judging from the steady numbers of those who support him, we can assume that they do not feel “buyer’s remorse,” something Democrats were hoping for after Trump took office.

The path on which we now find ourselves was paved by thirty years of growing income inequality, greed on the part of the very rich, and a serious mistake by Democratic leaders in the 1990s who embraced Wall Street and turned their back on the “least among us.”

This state of affairs leaves those of us who do see real danger in Trump’s presidency to gird our loins for a more sustained, thoughtful contest. Trump didn’t get power by accident, or by an “unlucky bounce” in the electoral college—a phrase used by David Frum, one of Trump’s Republican enemies.

The path on which we now find ourselves was paved by thirty years of growing income inequality, greed on the part of the very rich, and a serious mistake by Democratic leaders in the 1990s who embraced Wall Street and turned their back on the “least among us.”

We can only change direction by acknowledging that we all (not just Republicans) have allowed the creation of a system of unregulated capitalism that is well on the way to destroying both our democratic system of government, and changing our planetary climate in devastating ways.

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It will take courage to admit this. It will certainly take more than a change of the governing political party in Washington. However, we can make a start toward becoming a different people, a nation with a renewed sense of what it means to be a citizen—a category of attachment to the whole that must become greater than the many pieces into which we have sliced our demographic and emotional pies.

We must stop seeing ourselves as competing camps. Blacks, LGBTQ folks, Spanish speakers, Muslims, refugees fleeing near certain death in their home countries, members of all religious and social groups, all who want to be Americans—all must be welcomed into our national community.

This is not just a feel-good statement by another “bleeding heart” liberal, even though it does demand heartfelt seriousness. Parker Palmer, sociologist and educational reformer, published a book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (2011). He wrote that “the impulses that make democracy possible—and those that threaten it—originate in the heart, with its complex mix of heedless self-interest and yearning for community.”

Parker also believes that our very brokenness can be “a source of power as well as compassion.” We are today, as individuals and as a country, in a state of brokenness. Just recall how often the television commentators refer to Washington (or Congress) as broken. Just think about how you feel about our government today; picture those on the other side feeling the same way, for different reasons.

A threefold embrace can put us on the path to a new wholeness. We must embrace the three C’s of compassion, conscience, and change. We must dredge up whatever amount of compassion we can for those who feel so left out of our political system that they felt compelled to give Trump a chance. It is well that so many women are currently running for elective office, as women are better at compassion.

Second, we must restore a sense of conscience (call it ethics or morality) to our public sphere. Constant lying and misrepresentation by public figures is like a corrosive acid thrown in the face of democracy. It disfigures, and can destroy our political system if it is “normalized.”

Finally, we must all accept the reality that “the only thing that is constant is change.” We should not try to “restore” the past, whether that includes fossil fuels or an isolationist foreign policy. But we should be open to healthy change, new ideas, new technology. Such a mind-set could, when combined with compassion and conscience, lead us to a world that “works for all of us.”

I recently told a friend that Democrats need to find a new political leader, one with the moral character of Jimmy Carter, the charisma of Robert Kennedy, and the political skills of a Lyndon Johnson (excluding his Vietnam obsession, of course). But this too would be living in the past.

Will the 2018 election turn up a new leader with these qualities? As a Democrat, I hope that my party produces and supports such a person.


And it would be even better if one of my decent Republican friends would embrace the three Cs.

Ken Wolf