The democracy project is failing. There is a choice to be made.
Do we trust our shared future to good intentions and luck only – or the purposeful effort of a global coalition?
Recently Joe Biden asked voters in Pittsburg the question “do you really feel safer under Trump?” The far more relevant question to be asked - and answered - by all of us is ‘do you think we can survive another four years of chaos?’ Importantly, the ‘us’ in this context are the silent global majority who are witnessing the self-debasement of the worlds most consequential democracy, with consequences infinitely greater than a thousand 9/11’s.
A willful, purposeful effort is underway in the world to deconstruct and delegitimize constitutional democracy. The actors are comprised of the witting, unwitting and dull witted. They range from Russia’s active measures campaign and Steve Bannon’s ‘The Movement’ to the toxic co-dependence of a hybrid political/media eco-system that patiently laid the foundation of a new movement (Trumplicanism), to an insecure, desperate and desperately angry self-radicalized electorate quickly morphing that movement to a global QAnon-inspired personality cult.
It is the subject of constant speculation as to where the incumbent of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (undeserving of title or recognition) sits on the ‘witting’ spectrum. Whether a compromised agent in place, or a fellow traveller, or a useful idiot, or a malignant narcissist or a malevolently cruel Inspector Clouseau (or as is possible, all of the above), it matters not, for he is the symptom of a malaise – not its cause.
The actors are aligned in the amplification of racial, class and tribal division using cutting edge social media strategies and technology, and the long-game pursuit of the instruments of power – of gaining control over the media (Fox), judiciary (supreme court, federal benches and the DOJ), legislature (the Senate) and the security apparatus (HHS and FBI). Theirs is the very definition of a zero-sum effort. They reject evidence-based science, looking to scripture for epidemiological salvation. They reject the globalist structures that maintained peace for 75 years in favour of stoking the nativist instincts that made them first necessary, and they reject the spirit and substance of democracy, in favour of its chimeric appearance. They only win when everyone else loses.
This is ‘only’ the most pressing issue facing humanity today, for before COVID and before Trumplicanism we had a great many existential issues that were in dire need of attending to simultaneously – the climate catastrophe, historic racial inequity and income inequality, nuclear proliferation and the redefinition of human dignity in an AI disrupted labour market – to name a few. But none can be addressed – not one – in a world shaped and fueled by willful ignorance, where it’s easier to keep moving the goalposts of objective truth than to deal with its inconveniently messy substance.
Of course, I’m not the only one who perceives this visceral danger. I am one of a legion of people around the world (and I a late comer at that) who each in our own way has responded to the need to ‘do something’.
But what does ‘doing something’ look like? Especially now in a pandemic, it may well be to focus on work and the support of your family. It may be to start a new social enterprise or business. It may be to start – or join - an NGO or charity ‘doing good’. It may be to write a book, or to start a podcast. It may be to respond to a text and join a peaceful demonstration or protest against an injustice too long denied. It may even be, at rare times in history appropriate to show up for civil action that has the very real possibility of turning tragically uncivil - in pursuit of a noble cause.
Defenders of democracy are losing. We need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. We need to assume that the marketplace of well-intentioned ideas and effort cannot and will not provide the results needed in the time we have left. To bias our efforts for success, to assure the common future that we seek, a purposeful, co-ordinated, systemic movement is urgently needed – to connect, empower and mobilize a historic coalition of centrist global citizens – to transform the world.
Fortunately, we live in a world where those who are not enthralled by a future defined by their past (populism, Trumplicanism, QAnon et al) still form the majority – both in terms of their aggregate numbers and most importantly, of their aggregate wealth, power and influence. ‘We’ own learning and innovation, the drivers of modern civilization. ‘We’ dominate in academia, in business, in entertainment, in science and technology, and even still in politics and public governance, but ‘we’ have allowed a disease to metastasize that is very, very close to reaching a critical mass – a point of no return.
And please understand this. I am an optimist by nature, one who believes (still) that humanity is as much or more deserving of worship than some made deity. I too have faith that in the fullness of time, with a shared future before us as long as the fractious history that has made us, we will be able to deal with ALL of these challenges. Just as we have always done (if as too often at the cost of millions of lives).
But what if in fact, we are at the end of the end of time? Not the end of our species to be sure, but of the assurance of a vibrant humanity capable of seizing the just and equitable near future that you and I know to be possible? This sounds alarmist even to me. But alarmingly - not unsound. Is there a 2% chance that we won’t figure ‘it’ out, a 5% chance, a 25% chance that the great global competition we find ourselves in will be won by ignorance, fear, denial and darkness?
Democracy’s last challenge with fascism was a very, very, very near thing, but for a single Britisher who ignored the obvious reality of defeat, a Soviet who was prepared to spend the lives of millions of his subjects to atone for his part in the catastrophe and an American who brought the unmatchable steel and blood of his nation to bear to utterly defeat the Nazis.
And what was the ‘lesson’ of the conflict in which 60,000 people per day died between September 1, 1939 and September 2nd, 1945? It was not that the German or Japanese people were evil, but rather that all of us were capable of the most heinous acts – as individuals and societies - without the unrelenting incubation and nurturing of democracy and the institutions that comprise the scaffolding on which it grows and evolves. Hitler would have been a footnote in German history were it not for the ‘good’ Germans who accepted the permission he offered to look inward to their darker self and bit by bit join that self to a national zeitgeist that came to define evil. Look no further that the QAnon quoting German Trumplicans who stormed the Bundestag last week or the gun toting couple in St. Louis for examples of today’s ‘good’ German.
Malignant Trumplicanism will not fade away. In the best-case scenario, a Democratic trifecta (winning the Presidency, Senate and House), will allow for the triage of American society and the long process of unbreaking all that has been broken AND the delivery of a historically ambitious platform addressing historical wrongs AND attending to all of the noted existential issues facing humanity. But there is no way to ignore the almost certain prospect of a highly energized, mobilized Trumplican resistance whose fervour will be cultivated and inflamed by all the noted bad actors (and more) at levels that even today are probably not comprehensible. It is worth remembering that 3% of Americans describe themselves as 'very conservative'.
Not unimportantly and certainly not coincidently, the Guardian newspaper has reported that just 3% of gun owners in the United States own 133 million of America's 265 million weapons (50%). What are the odds that there is a near perfect overlap of those two 3%'s?
I am humbled, inspired and immensely thankful for the millions of citizens around the world ‘doing something’. But all of the evidence suggests that we have very, very little time to deal with many existential issues that are each of gordion complexity. Do we have five years, ten years, fifteen years to get humanity’s collective shit together? Surely we do not have more. And given that our challenges are systemic and global, so too must be the solutions that address them. Do you believe that those millions of great good people ‘doing something’ are in the aggregate capable of transforming the world in five, then or even fifteen years?
I don’t. Or rather I’m not willing to bet our collective future on any faith I have that they/we will do so.
I submit the time demands the formation of a purposeful global coalition of ‘good’ actors that unapologetically devise, nurture, cultivate and promote a globalist agenda and the renewal of the democratic project so that it works to the advantage and benefit of all humanity. In a digitally connected age of 195 countries, the truth is that those who share a broadly moderate/centrist, humanist, global perspective and believe in evidence-based science are the majority. I submit that it’s an imperative that that global population be connected, empowered and mobilized to commence the transformation of their communities, their countries and the sectors within which they work.
Is this a fanciful, absurd idea? Perhaps. But we find ourselves at an absurd – and absurdly dangerous - pivot point in our human experience. Continuing to do what we are doing faster and with greater desperation very likely won’t work, certainly not in the years we have left. It’s time for an effort that should look to the Human Genome Project, the first, literal moonshot, or (perhaps best) the Grand Alliance that defeated the Axis in WWII as metaphors for this coalition. But this coalition has no real equal in human history - it must connect, empower and mobilize those politicians, scientists, activists, teachers, doctors, nurses, police officers, students, serving military, bankers, business persons (etc.) and most importantly citizenry who innately share a common set of core tenets. It is these tenets that will then inform the organic, self-driven effort necessary where this great diversity of peoples will be justifiably able to claim ownership and authorship of the transformation that results.
Clearly this is only feasible if properly funded and resourced – sufficiently so as to be able to hold itself accountable for driving an unprecedented systemic, global transformation in just a few years.
Is this a fanciful, absurd idea? No, it isn’t. For over four years nearly 1,000 people from 35+ nations invested over 15,000 hours and US$400,000 devising and prototyping the backbone/infrastructure for such a coalition – quite critically including a set of Tenets (attached). I believe that that pilot exercise – Leaders Expedition – proved the viability and scalability of such an undertaking.
Is this a fanciful, absurd idea? The real question is ‘What choice do we have’? We can keep doing what we are doing and hope it works, or we can try and bias for success the efforts of a global coalition that surely exists in spirit but is not yet connected.
If this essay – and the Tenets - resonate, I’d love to hear from you.
I am prepared to leverage the learnings of LEx, and/or the legal structure that still exists - at no cost - with any party willing and able to catalyze the vision of LEx. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With too few years left, I submit that it’s time to start the process of starting. Failure is not an option.