New Frames for Progressive Discourse
February 3, 2011
“The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience,” said a wise man in 1961. “The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. “
The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual? Why would this secular elder warn about pressures on our spiritual life? Remember, this was fifteen years gone, down the agonizing post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki road. We had obliterated our enemy. We had turned two cities of people, buildings, hopes, dreams, foibles and families to dust. We had ended a war; we had harnessed raw power and won the arms race.
But this was surely a victory tainted with guilt. Would someone now drop the big one on us? We built fallout shelters. And we read Niebuhr and Bonheoffer and Teilhard and tried to make sense of it.
THE COST OF LIBERTY
When I think of Dwight David Eisenhower, I always think of this farewell speech. Like some brave, latent whistle blower, he told we-the-people what was looming on the Washington horizon. Sure, we need to have a strong military. But not at the cost of “our toil, resources and livelihood;” he explained. “They are all involved, and so is the very structure of our society.
“In the councils of government,” he continued, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial-congressionalcomplex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Do you think Grover Norquist cares about unwarranted influence? Or Karl Rove? Or Dick Cheney? Or the CEO of Halliburton? Or Blackwater Worldwide (now called Xe Services, LLC)? I wouldn’t be surprised if their mission statements included the precept to “exert unwarranted influence on the spending of the American treasure in blood and capital.” I believe that is what they are about. The disastrous rise of misplaced power indeed.
"Ike” Eisenhower, brilliant WWII general and two term Republican president, pressed a warning into the national psyche during his exit speech fifty years ago. Now there’s a Republican I could vote for. At least before he let the door hit him on the way out, and while he had no election to lose, he spoke his truth as a principled man who had seen it from the inside. You got to like Ike.
PEACEFUL METHODS AND GOALS
Ike’s words indicate that aggressive global policing-for-profit was not the only role of government in the 1950s; Communism was on the rise, the Iron Curtain had fallen, Africa was throwing off colonialism, revolution was rocking Central and South America; things were not without portent and consequence.
But Ike knew part of his job as an elected leader was to keep fear at bay, to remind us that along with strength, along with the military-industrial-congressional complex, we needed to protect our liberty, our peaceful methods and goals, even our spiritual health. Do we still treasure these peaceful methods and goals? Do we have any connection now to spirit and meaning that we need to protect?
And can expressing these deep yearnings in a political context help win hearts and minds in the vast, unaffiliated mosaic of America’s independent voters?
A SIGNAL MOMENT
Here, now, in 2011, plenty of things carry portent and consequence. As I wrote in Lingua Progressiva I, the people and things of the world are known by most of us to be interconnected in very new ways. Between the subatomic and galactic connectors of scientific discovery, the influence of one environment flowing seamlessly into its neighbor, the ways people of all cultures and modes of thought are instantly interrelated on the internet—this is cellular and subatomic relatedness of a profound degree.
Accompanying this exciting new awareness of connectedness, we are presented daily with a world that appears to be falling apart.
We each see every day that the world is broken, and parts of the planet are imperiled. While we act The Bickermans and spend our energy locked in a repeating a spy vs. spy caper—our seemingly endless right vs. left, conservative vs. progressive shouting match—the brokenness inside the world’s people and natural systems presents itself 24/7, in us, our families, and our communities.
By some counts, three thousand species a week are becoming extinct. And even though the number has been coming down slowly by the decade, over 20,000 children die every day here on our planet. These things are happening in large part because of how we choose to live. Are we pretending this is not killing part of our soul? Americans of every stripe and from all faith and agnostic communities intuit that we owe an intrinsic debt to creation, and the weight of culpability cannot be thrown off forever.
BROKENNESS OF SELF & FAMILY
We have personal brokenness driving us to loneliness and depression, to acts of violence and desperation.
We find as women we are isolated. We want to fix, repair, make whole, but we think it must be done individually. We take it all on ourselves. Alone we struggle forward.
We find as men we are severed from our feelings, our tears and our complete nature. We also want to repair, make whole, sometimes through force or coercion. Alone we struggle forward.
We are families and generations plagued with separateness: parents against children, children against children, grown children against elder parents, couples against each other. We struggle with entitlement. We curse with righteous indignation. We respond with cynicism. And ultimately we take the brokenness of our family out into the world.
We struggle with the brokenness of aging. As we help parents or sibs, or should we find ourselves with older, slower bodies, we ought with some grace admit that aging has downsides. We’ve lost the wisdom keepers in our families, and for that we might re-member eventually to tell our stories to the children and our children’s children. We don’t know how to address people with differing abilities, or those who have been abused as children.
BIGGER AND BROKEN
We have cultural brokenness. We can see how 500 years of western European determinism has buried, destroyed and tried to erase all other traditions and cultures in paroxysms of patriarchy, colonialism and greed.
We see our schools fail to achieve excellence. Although conservatives frame this as “school failure,” progressives could frame this as “our collective failure,” or the failure of citizens to do what is needed to give our future leaders an excellent education. A culture of learning would enrich the planet and the nation many fold.
We find our nation’s welcoming light dimming in the face of fearful immigration policy, where “illegal immigrant” has become the disparaging norm, the frame of choice.
We see promised pensions and retirements drying up for public servants and union workers, while middle class pensions and retirement guarantees have become a guarantee of nothing.
We see our addiction to burning oil and coal sending toxins into our food and water, stressing our fragile planetary protective atmosphere, and we cannot agree on the solutions.
And where there is brokenness, is there still the hope of healing? Our healing, our family’s, our neighborhoods’, our nations’ healing begins with an awareness of the brokenness – an awareness that life is a gift shrouded in pain. Sunshine and storms. No free lunches. No free rides. No skipping the hard parts. There are costs. We know there are costs. Which costs are we willing to pay?
HEALING THROUGH PUBLIC DISCLOSURE
We can’t get there without encountering the brokenness head on.
Our neighbors in South Africa have given us a good model for healing brokenness – disclosing the truth in full community, or “Truth and Reconciliation.” Giving voice to the atrocities, bringing the dark deeds to light in a company of listeners, this process has been shown to foster real healing, moving a nation strangled by apartheid to a nation coming into a new day. It is likely that this process is a good replacement for “Truth and Punishment,” as we see for example in America’s prison system, or as we practiced in Nuremberg. Punishment can inhibit, yes. But force and retribution cannot transform the way reconciliation can.
Reconciliation can transform hearts and minds. Bill Clinton spoke recently about finding “The Better Paradigm.” Not less government vs. bad government. Not progressive vs. conservative. Perhaps he is looking for a paradigm rooted in the strength of community, using connection to work for the improvement of another, practicing reconciliation in a company of listeners.
In the emerging democratic and economic powerhouse that is modern India, I understand one hears the word “Namaste” before and after every public announcement. Namaste: The sacred in me bows to the sacred in you. In Calcutta International Airport you may hear, “Namaste. The El Al flight to Nigeria is still delayed. Please go to gate 411 for information. Namaste.” The holy in me honors the holy in you..
Yes, we are broken pilgrims here, all the while each holding grains of the sacred.
Next post: Solutions, support systems and global frames for national policies.
1Although it is quibbled over by historians, some advisors contend that in the original draft of Eisenhower’s speech, the observation was written to include the word “congressional.” In his final draft, he omitted “congressional” from his powerful complex of forces.
2Celtic scholar, poet and progressive Presbyterian theologian, John Philip Newell is a global speaker with a passion for peace in the world. His books put forth a fresh vision for harmony between the great spiritual traditions of humanity. Some of the overarching ideas about brokenness and healing from the person to the globe, stem from attending his Denver seminar on January 20, 2011.