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Fear & Loathing ‘16

Posted on March 4, 2016

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God, I miss you, Hunter S.Thompson.

About a year and a half ago, before the 2014 elections, I wrote the post Negative Ads, Government Dysfunction & Neurobiology in an attempt to make sense of all the negative ads I saw as I traveled the country. In that post, I explored how a political system, operating primarily out of its amygdala, cannot effectively govern. Oh, how innocent we all were back then!

My mentor and friend, Dr. Jerry Yager, once told me that it is very healing to, “make the implicit (hidden) explicit (clearly stated).” His words have hung over my experience of the 2016 election like a volcano erupting in slow motion. The dark, soot-filled sky makes it hard to breathe or find any light in a dark situation. The pyroclastic cloud is destroying any possibility of a civil debate over the critical issues facing the country. Most disturbing is the lava that is changing the landscape, not just in the present, but setting new precedent for future political discourse and dysfunction.

I believe in some crazy way this is good. Nothing has really changed in our country, but the implicit now has a voice and a platform. This hurtful, racist, and idiotic energy has lingered long underneath the political surface – it just took a reality star to trigger the eruption.

The Republican Primary has done nothing more than hold a mirror up to America so we could see our true self in a moment in time. In the past, you had to pay close attention and read between the lines to see the xenophobia, bigotry, and racism. While on the surface, we saw mostly white men in nice suits saying the politically correct things, this just covered up the forces governing the actions and policies of these well-groomed mouthpieces.

How else could you explain why only 11% of Black, 26% of Latino, 23% Asian, 18% Native American voters are Republicans leaning (Pew Research)? Black and brown voters don’t have anything against the elephant mascot – it is the policies of those behind the elephant that creates this reality. The huge shift in minority party affiliation, especially with Black voters, was a direct result of Democrats supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Republican defense of segregation and Jim Crow laws. This changed the political landscape based primarily on one party’s support of racist policies, resetting the Party of Lincoln to the Party of Jim Crow.

These battles continue to the present day. Recent attacks on voting rights, the fail War on Drugs, and economic policies negatively impacting the poor continue to have disproportional impacts on minorities. Add to this the fight of Republicans against LGBTQ rights, only 13% of the LGBTQ community registered as Republicans.

It surprises me that this election shocks anyone! Republican talking heads can’t believe the behavior of their own party’s voters when they, more than anyone, should know the history and present policies they are representing. When you are the party that fights against civil rights, voting rights, equal rights for the LGBTQ community, and women’s rights, how is it a surprise that your voters support banning Muslims, see Mexican immigrants as rapists, and that your leading candidate gets public support from white supremacy groups?

Many seem to think the reality in the Republican party is some kind of perfect storm, but you can’t view the election results as anything but our own reflection looking back at us. Every crazy, insensitive, bigoted, and untruthful statement just adds fuel to the eruption. Obviously, not all Republicans believe what their frontrunners represent and I have many family members and maybe a friend or two who are registered Republicans. While I understand their frustration, it is my hope that they look back at the history and recent behavior of their party and see beyond the crazy talk to the real harm conservative policies are having on the poor and minorities in this country.

The good news in all of this is that what was implicit is now on the table for us all to examine. It is ugly, it is hurtful, it has the potential to become destructive. But it is nothing new. This ugliness has been with us since before we were a country. This ugliness is right in our Constitution.

The question is what do we do with it! The beauty of democracy is that the future of “it” is in our hands. We are not victims of anything unless we choose to put ourselves in that role.

I feel likeSam Frodo we are Frodo and Sam laying on the slopes of Mount Doom. The lava is flowing all around us and our world is ready to be consumed by the volcano of the implicit becoming explicit. “I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all thing…” Each look in the mirror provides an opportunity to improve ourselves and the condition of those suffering under this current reality. The comment section is yours, my friends…vent, argue, and connect! I want to leave you with the lyrics to one of my favorite Steve Earle songs. Even though the words are over 20 years old, they mean more now than ever! “Come back Woody Guthrie, Come back to use now…”

It’s Christmastime in Washington
The Democrats rehearsed
Gettin’ into gear for four more years
Things not gettin’ worse
Republicans drink whiskey neat
And thanked their lucky stars
They said, “He cannot seek another term
They’ll be no more FDRs”

I sat home in Tennessee
Just staring at the screen
With an uneasy feeling in my chest
I’m wonderin’ what it means

So come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow
If you run into Jesus
Maybe he can help you out
Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

I followed in your footsteps once
Back in my travelin’ days
Somewhere I failed to find your trail
Now I’m stumblin’ through the haze
But there’s killers on the highway now
And a man can’t get around
So I sold my soul for wheels that roll
Now I’m stuck here in this town

Come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow
If you run into Jesus
Maybe he can help us out
Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

There’s foxes in the hen house
Cows out in the corn
The unions have been busted
Their proud red banners torn
To listen to the radio
You’d think that all was well
But you and me and Cisco know
It’s going straight to hell

So come back, Emma Goldman
Rise up, old Joe Hill
The barracades are goin’ up
They cannot break our will
Come back to us, Malcolm X
And Martin Luther King
We’re marching into Selma
As the bells of freedom ring

So come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow

Listen to Christmas Time in Washington

16 responses to “Fear & Loathing ‘16”

  1. Karen Madrone says:

    Thank you for this, Matt. It’s impressive that you can still remain optimistic in the culture of insanity we are living through right now.

  2. Karen Madrone says:

    Thank you for this, Matt. It’s impressive that you can still remain optimistic in the culture of insanity we are living through right now.

  3. As always, well said Matt. It is always great to end or start a week by reading your posts. When we hold a hope-filled perspective, knowing that despite surface appearances we are quite miraculously moving toward a better world, it reframes everything. We can’t afford to turn away from this mirror – look hard at what is hard to look at honestly – and engage in meaningful conversation/action. Let’s not fall victim to lament. . .let’s engage our response-ability!

    • Matt Bennett says:

      Love it Nadine! If we fall victim at this point in the process we give up our inherent power in a democracy. And even if the election goes well, we have to keep pushing as the status quo is harming so many.

  4. As always, well said Matt. It is always great to end or start a week by reading your posts. When we hold a hope-filled perspective, knowing that despite surface appearances we are quite miraculously moving toward a better world, it reframes everything. We can’t afford to turn away from this mirror – look hard at what is hard to look at honestly – and engage in meaningful conversation/action. Let’s not fall victim to lament. . .let’s engage our response-ability!

    • Matt Bennett says:

      Love it Nadine! If we fall victim at this point in the process we give up our inherent power in a democracy. And even if the election goes well, we have to keep pushing as the status quo is harming so many.

  5. Mollie says:

    It did seem that racism was driven underground during the 80s and 90s. Whites became complacent, either thinking racism was over or that they could continue to be racist as long as they kept quiet about it. Minorities felt powerless, unable to create momentum for continued change. With Obama’s election, the racists came out of the woodworks and we could no longer pretend that racism was over. At the same time, minorities began to feel empowered again to protest and begin movements such as “black lives matter” to bring racism back into the limelight.
    I agree with you Matt that it could be a good thing for our country to have this eruption so that we can make changes rather than just keep pushing the problems underground. I think this election will show us whether or not we are ready to move forward toward becoming a nation of tolerance and equality or if we are going to stubbornly cling to our past of white male supremacy. I sure hope we are ready to move forward!

    • Matt Bennett says:

      I’ve been thinking a lot about racism and discrimination in my lifetime. I wonder if racism went underground and/or if it become oddly politically correct. Reagan’s welfare queens and total silence around HIV “Gay Cancer” (HIV) and the Clinton administration’s sentences being high for crack cocaine than other forms of the drugs are just a few examples that come to mind of hidden racism and discriminatory practices and language that had long term consequences. It wasn’t Southern Whites beating peaceful protesters but the social and economic impact of racist policy had an incredible impact. The new empowerment and consciousness opens that door of opportunity for real change! Thanks for your thoughtful comments and getting me to think deeper!

      • Mollie says:

        Without a doubt racism/discrimination has been pervasive and persistent throughout this country’s history. I guess when I said that racism went “underground” I meant that for those of us with “white privilege” it became easier to ignore. The victims of racism have unfortunately never been able to escape it. Now it has returned more to the collective conscious where hopefully we can reunite and continue to move that arc toward justice rather than stagnate or move backward.

        Of course, you and your readers are all the type of people who have been aware of the problems all along and have tried to help. So, I hope I have not been offensive with my comments. There are a lot of people, however, who would like to just live their comfortable lives and not face the reality of the suffering of many. I have to admit I have been tempted into tuning out the suffering in favor of my own comfort. But good conversations like these remind me that there is still a lot of work to do and I want to play my part however I can.

        • Anonymous says:

          Far from offensive my friend! I think your point is a good one. The current racism is one that is packaged in a way that the majority can ignore it or even blame the impact of it on the minority communities. I know, though your great work, your impact is felt both above and under ground!!!

  6. Mollie says:

    It did seem that racism was driven underground during the 80s and 90s. Whites became complacent, either thinking racism was over or that they could continue to be racist as long as they kept quiet about it. Minorities felt powerless, unable to create momentum for continued change. With Obama’s election, the racists came out of the woodworks and we could no longer pretend that racism was over. At the same time, minorities began to feel empowered again to protest and begin movements such as “black lives matter” to bring racism back into the limelight.
    I agree with you Matt that it could be a good thing for our country to have this eruption so that we can make changes rather than just keep pushing the problems underground. I think this election will show us whether or not we are ready to move forward toward becoming a nation of tolerance and equality or if we are going to stubbornly cling to our past of white male supremacy. I sure hope we are ready to move forward!

    • Matt Bennett says:

      I’ve been thinking a lot about racism and discrimination in my lifetime. I wonder if racism went underground and/or if it become oddly politically correct. Reagan’s welfare queens and total silence around HIV “Gay Cancer” (HIV) and the Clinton administration’s sentences being high for crack cocaine than other forms of the drugs are just a few examples that come to mind of hidden racism and discriminatory practices and language that had long term consequences. It wasn’t Southern Whites beating peaceful protesters but the social and economic impact of racist policy had an incredible impact. The new empowerment and consciousness opens that door of opportunity for real change! Thanks for your thoughtful comments and getting me to think deeper!

      • Mollie says:

        Without a doubt racism/discrimination has been pervasive and persistent throughout this country’s history. I guess when I said that racism went “underground” I meant that for those of us with “white privilege” it became easier to ignore. The victims of racism have unfortunately never been able to escape it. Now it has returned more to the collective conscious where hopefully we can reunite and continue to move that arc toward justice rather than stagnate or move backward.

        Of course, you and your readers are all the type of people who have been aware of the problems all along and have tried to help. So, I hope I have not been offensive with my comments. There are a lot of people, however, who would like to just live their comfortable lives and not face the reality of the suffering of many. I have to admit I have been tempted into tuning out the suffering in favor of my own comfort. But good conversations like these remind me that there is still a lot of work to do and I want to play my part however I can.

        • Anonymous says:

          Far from offensive my friend! I think your point is a good one. The current racism is one that is packaged in a way that the majority can ignore it or even blame the impact of it on the minority communities. I know, though your great work, your impact is felt both above and under ground!!!

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