As featured on Linked In | December 13, 2017
Those words, tweeted by Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, perfectly describe Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama. The ballot issue was decency: would the brand of Trump-Bannon-Moore indecency triumph over the common interests of Alabamians and Americans. A coalition of mainly urban, campus, and African-American voters registered a historic No! They turned out to vote in large numbers and that made the margin of victory, electing the first Democratic Party Senator in Alabama in a generation.
There are two modes of politics, the appeal to hate and division and the appeal to the common interest. Trump and Bannon represent the former. There is no doubt of its power in the short term to create an atmosphere of fear, loathing, and division that triggers an almost blind obedience to authority among roughly a quarter of the population, Trump’s so-called base. In the long, the politics of hate brings tragedy.
The venom that Trump and Bannon have unleashed is terrifying, especially with a President who is psychologically impaired and perhaps in early stages of dementia. According to many psychologists, he likely suffers from anti-social personality disorder, including sociopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. The greatest risk is a nuclear war with North Korea unleashed by Trump’s arrogance, ignorance, and diminished capacity.
While Trump’s approval ranking hovers around 35 percent, far below a majority, and is in a gradual, long-term decline, his ability to do profound damage follows from two truths. The Republican Party majority in Congress is prepared to push through votes for powerful lobbies (the ultra-rich, Big Oil, Wall Street, the Military-Industrial Complex) despite strong public opposition; and even more frighteningly, Trump has enormous individual authority to unleash war, only very weakly constrained by Congress, the rule of law, and procedural constraints.
Can decency hold? Not only in Alabama yesterday but in Virginia last month and in many other local and state elections, the answer seems to be Yes, if the bully pulpit can be wrestled away from the bully for long enough for common sense and the common interest to prevail. Most Americans want peace, not war, and are against the bullying, misogyny, handouts to the rich, environmental destruction, and other political pathologies of this moment.
Opinion surveys show time and again that Americans are dividing roughly two-thirds for the common interest versus one-third for some narrow lobbying interest. Americans want to turn away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. Americans want higher taxes on the rich and the corporations. American want active and responsible participation in the UN and other global institutions. Indeed, according to a recent Pew Survey, less than 10 percent of Americans fall into the nationalist, America First camp of Trump and Bannon.
My colleagues and I have proposed a set of seven goals for our nation for the year 2030 to help build a clear national movement for the common good. America’s Goals transcend partisan politics; they call for unity rather than division; and they can be a rallying point for elections and for public policy. Other nations are similarly adopting Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 as a shared framework for the common good.
America’s Goals were given a first try in the elections for the Virginia House of Delegates in November. The political movement Future Now supported ten candidates to the House of Delegates who adopted America’s Goals as their firm pledge for the future. All ten of these candidates running on the platform of America’s Goals won their elections, bring new consensus-based, forward-looking candidates into key elected positions. Politicians and first-time candidates around the United States are now endorsing America’s goals as a framework for the common good.
Decency won in Alabama and can win across America. We Americans share a common interest, expressed by America’s Goals. When we are active in politics and turn out to vote in large numbers, decency beats hate, consensus beats division, and America can find the path to a smart, fair, and sustainable future.