A Steady Hand and Open Heart – Rebuilding the American Idea in a Post-Trump World

by on February 28th, 2018

In the long shadow of Rattlesnake Ridge where I live in New Hampshire the talk these days at The Common Cafe or Plain Jane’s Diner in Rumney or Dot’s Bread and Butter Bistro in Ashland is often turning to who the next standard bearers in the political parties should be and what their message to the American people ought to be, with plenty of opinions on all sides about our President.

Normally these discussions would not occur for another year and a half but we are living in strange times. For most Americans, watching the President and the government that he is attempting to create is like watching a car crash in slow motion. We know that it’s coming. We just don’t know when the point of impact will be. More important, we don’t know whether it will be a fiery pileup or one car plowing into the Tree of Liberty and Decency; a tree that has been painfully and lovingly nurtured; nourished with the blood, sweat and tears of patriots, as it grew and expanded for more than 200 years.  

The recent elections in Virginia and New Jersey have some Democrats counting their chickens well before they have hatched. As Steve Schmidt, a former consultant to John McCain and an MSNBC Analyst said, the elections in these states represented a rising “Coalition of the Decent” from all political parties, one of the most astute observations in recent memory.

This “coalition of the decent” is not the army of any political party, though polling shows them leaning heavily toward the Democrats at the moment. They want a return to a sense of normalcy and security; but don’t mistake this for the status quo ante. Big changes are coming and the question is whether those changes will be created from the center out or from the excesses of the pendulum’s swing.

There is a common misunderstanding about the political spectrum. Many envision it as a line extending from left to right with the two extremes far apart. However, most political scientists say that it is more accurately described as a circle where the extremes come together at the final point of the circle. In such a diagram, the extremes represent a more authoritarian view of the world from either the traditional “left” or “right”. In other words, everyone at the intersection of the left and the right wants to infringe on our liberties – just for different reasons. At the margins we face a choice between the morality police and the nanny state.

The good news is that the vast majority of Americans are not located on that small junction of the spectrum. They lead nuanced lives focused on family, work and community – in both its most narrow and its broadest sense. . . local community, the American community and the community of the planet. Furthermore, as frustrated as we may be with the actions of the President, positive change continues at the state, local and regional levels.

The bad news is that a growing number of our elected officials of both parties are congregated around that unnuanced point.

For the sake of discussion, let’s leave our current President out of this. He is, we hope, an aberration . . . A symptom of the frustration and marginalization of a significant number of our citizens amid the tumultuous changes taking place in our world. It is likely he will be gone before the next Presidential election, he will certainly be irrelevant to the national dialogue except as an example of what we don’t want. The misanthrope that proves the rule.

If I’m right about this, and I believe I am, the American people will be engaged in one of the most consequential elections in our history.

If the Democrats have taken the Congress and lurched just as far to the other end of the spectrum, they will lose any purchase they have gained during the Trump years. If the Republicans have not regained their center it may not matter in the short-run but in the long-run it will all matter a great deal. We need a strong two party system. . . especially for what lies ahead.

The world is shifting beneath our feet. If the results of the 2016 election have not been a forewarning, then take a look around. The marginal costs of products move ever lower in response to enhanced productivity but who will buy the products when technology has replaced the human hands that once made them? To whom will those products be delivered when the trucks delivering them are driverless or they are flown through the air by drones? Where will we employ the taxi drivers, the line workers, the coal miners?

Don’t panic. There are answers to these questions . . . but they do not lie in the worn out dogmas of the past. The will not be found in the “invisible hand” of the markets. Nor are they the domain of the nanny state where everything is provided to everyone and the incentive for improving one’s lot is lost. These are challenges that call for leadership that is both bold and inclusive. Leadership at every level from our communities right on up to the Oval Office.  Leaders who call all of us to the task of continuing the Great American Journey, not by shrinking from the challenges but by overcoming them.  

It will come as no surprise from someone who proudly declares himself to be a radical centrist, that I am seeking common ground where it is possible and respect and civility where it is not. The problems we face are too great for us to devolve into a nation of whiners, mefers, and thumbsuckers.  

Some will say that we need more government. Some will say we need less government. These dogmas are as outmoded as the great struggle that brought them into focus one hundred years ago.

The days of the simple Command Economy vs. Market Economy are drawing to a close. The left vs. right debate no longer serves us well, if it ever did. We are a nation in search of a new paradigm. A paradigm that remains true to the central ideas and ideals of the American vision of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  A nation with a place for everyone: Where the working class is not marginalized; where the wealthy are not villainized; where the poor have a real pathway out of poverty, where the middle class is expanding, not shrinking; where it matters not what your skin color is or who you choose to love or what you choose to call yourself; where the opportunity for a meaningful life is recast to reflect a new set of realities and participation in the ongoing Great American Journey is an imperative. The leadership we require will challenge the people to help define this new paradigm, crafted by evolution not revolution and built from the center out, not from the margins.

Recall the old saying that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step”. Our next leader will need to be someone who sees the American people in a central role in the journey; redefining and reinventing ourselves and who calls us to that challenge as President Kennedy called us to the challenge of service to country in his inaugural address.

Of course the first task will be to steady the ship of state. To reclaim American leadership in a world that needs our example desperately.

In short what we need to help us begin this journey of a thousand miles is a steady hand and an open heart to lead us.

About Wayne D. King: Wayne King is an author, artist, activist and recovering politician. A three term State Senator, he was the 1994 Democratic nominee for Governor and most recently the CEO of MOP Environmental Solutions Inc., a public company in the environmental cleanup space.  His art is exhibited nationally in galleries and he has published three books of his images. His most recent novel “Sacred Trust”  a vicarious, high voltage adventure to stop a private powerline has been published on Amazon.com as an ebook with the paper edition due soon. He lives in Rumney at the base of Rattlesnake Ridge. His website is: http://bit.ly/WayneDKing

This article first appeared at INDEPTHNH.org and is the basis for a book in progress. To stay up to date on the progress, click here:  http://eepurl.com/bbOh3n

Wayne D. King