How Our Election Was Hacked

Wires cannot reach into hearts

The mind is first to give up,” said Michael Plank, CrossFit Box owner and coach. I met Michael only a couple of weeks ago, but his words should have been ringing in my ears throughout this presidential election cycle. I share them with you now as a mantra to repeat or a simple spell to cast for courage — for heart — to demand more of ourselves, and by extension our leaders, as members of a self-governing country.

I need to hear Michael’s words because I am fed up with our collective inability to strive for more than what is placed in front of us.

The latest news points our national finger at Russia for meddling in our elections. What did the Russians do to disrupt our country’s 240 year old tradition of free and fair elections? They hacked emails and disseminated them. They may have also spread fake news in a propaganda campaign.

That’s it.

Based on these stories, and barring any compromised voting machines or material electoral processes, we have a much deeper challenge than confronting a foreign power if our national spirit can be bowled over by emails and fake news. We have a more personal struggle if a fictitious story, with no claim to truth, can motivate a father from North Carolina to bring a gun to a pizza parlor to investigate the ghosts of his deadened conscience.

Man Fires Rifle Inside D.C. Pizzeria, Cites Fictitious Conspiracy Theories

I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that my patriotic ego stings a bit at the thought of Russia, or any other foreign power, interfering with our election by disseminating or magnifying this kind of information. That said, I’m more upset that my country’s levels of education and civic trust have fallen to the dismal lows allowing for this kind of intellectual and emotional hijacking.

Our politicians are not exercising the caliber of leadership we need at this time if their calls for intelligence reviews and probes center around the nefarious actions of another country. We need reviews and probes into our shared educational and civic infrastructure. Where were our leaders when the minds of their fellow citizens began to give up?

Senate and House Leaders Call for Inquiry of Russian Hacking in Election

I get it. It’s easy to point fingers. After all, wrongs were committed. Let’s right what is easily righted. Let’s answer the “yes” or “no” questions. Did a foreign power seek to influence our elections? Was that foreign power Russia? Did Russia want to tilt the electorate toward President Elect Trump?

We are already wounded in so many ways. Why make our self-inflicted cuts deeper than they already have become? Why not make our wounds another country’s responsibility?

Whatever the outcome of our congressional investigations, we should fess up to the corrosion of our civic integrity. No committee hearings are needed. The evidence is right in front of us. It makes up a deep common ground. We have been acting like immature siblings, facing our unique pains alone, commiserating with those who live like us, think like us, look like us, feel like us, and dismissing heart-exposing conflict as beneath us, unsophisticated as an outcome, and undesirable in its painful sensations. We have pursued a solitary enlightenment as if it was a medical procedure. Our living rooms became our waiting rooms. Our celebrities became our doctors. When we made it to church, or another civic or social space, we shielded ourselves from meaningfully witnessed transformation with easy to swallow prescriptions:

It’s none of my business.

Don’t shit where you eat.

Live and let live.

We have allowed these nuggets of colloquial wisdom to be served across our country as civic fast-food. They’re good, and even rewarding in moderation, but they’ll make you sick if you eat them all the time.

It’s not enough to be aware that our worldview can be tossed and turned by the misdirection of our news and its sources by an outside adversary. It’s time that we take ownership over a deeper awareness that we failed to steel ourselves against such manipulation and act on it. The hard work isn’t learning who threw the match into our civic forest of rotting and dried-out trees. The hard work is coming to terms with how our civic landscape became dotted with such degradation in the first place.

Before Russian hacking, or irresponsible boneheaded tweeting, there were groups courageously organizing to draw attention to the civic rot that surrounds us. For the most part, they have also been vocal during the 240 years that this country has been in existence and in some cases even preceded it.

The Sioux Tribe and First Nation Peoples have been raising their hands since this country’s founding and asking how we could grip our Constitution and Bill of Rights with one hand and take away their land and way of life with the other. Black activists from Sojourner Truth to the members of Black Lives Matter have been raising their hands asking how we can celebrate the rule of law and turn a blind eye to its unfair, and at times, purposefully harmful application. If we can live with these ugly, absolutist contradictions of conscience, should we be surprised that our civic body would be susceptible to a foreign agent’s well-timed and simply deployed influence?

A few days before I met Michael Plank, I was taken aback by a question spoken by Rev. Erik Martinez Resly. Rev, as his community calls him, asked: is our goal to develop tools to endure or to transform? It’s a straight forward inquiry that sums up many of the questions that have been on the human heart since we first started reflecting on our own condition. It’s also a summary of what’s before us, at this moment, when we have a choice to confront the demons in the wires of our civic infrastructure or the demons within our own hearts and minds that have opened the doors to them. Our first duty as a free and self-governing people is to educate ourselves using questions to illuminate truth, empathy, and love. If we profess to celebrate our diverse freedoms and how they lead to multiple versions of the good life, we must start by celebrating a diversity of approaches to love and justice, and hearing each other out when differences of action mask similarities of heart.

How do you define love and how do you receive it?

What do you fear and how do you protect yourself?

What does hospitality mean to you and how do you exercise it?

Without these questions, we will become unmoored from each other and reach out for whatever bit of security can hold us still when a storm comes. Without these questions we will misunderstand and fail to acknowledge the different civic roles we are called to play in moments of upheaval and discord. As my friend Kaz Brecher has written, we must be curious about the world and curious about each other. It’s not enough to ask why. We must ask why again and again.

An Age of Ignorance and the Vital Case for Curiosity

Toward the end of his life, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began to ask Rev’s question — to endure or to transform? Dr. King started to say more often “if you can respect my dollar, you can respect my person.” He began to speak about universal basic income in his speeches. He did so in strategic terms, not only as a way to lift people from poverty, but also as a way to give people a voice that could engage with what Dr. King identified as our country’s true arbiter of power — our economic system. He stated.

We must create full employment, or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position, we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available.

Dr. King said this in August 1967 after remarking that such thoughts would have been unheard of before his time.

Now, early in the century this proposal would have been greeted with ridicule and denunciation as destructive of initiative and responsibility. At that time economic status was considered the measure of the individual’s abilities and talents. And in the thinking of that day, the absence of worldly goods indicated a want of industrious habits and moral fiber. We’ve come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market operation of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. The poor are less often dismissed, I hope, from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent. We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands, it does not eliminate all poverty.

Dr. King said this in 1967. I’ve repeated the year for emphasis.

What would he and others like him be saying today? Would it come as a surprise that we allowed one of our own to discount our democracy to achieve power on the cheap? Would it come as a surprise that foreign agents took advantage of our own self-cultivated, tribal arrogances to influence our voting decisions with hacked emails and fake news?

“The moral arc of the universe is long and it bends towards justice,” so said Theodore Parker, the 19th century transcendentalist. It is a quote most often associated with and attributed to Dr. King. I find this heartening for it speaks to Mr. Parker’s transcendentalist worldview. If as Mr. Parker said, the moral arc bends toward justice, it will do so because we took hold of its otherwise neutral shape together, across histories, spiritual traditions, and physical borders, with the full weight of our obligations and duties to each other in our hearts and on our backs. I fear if we stand alone in the present, with emptiness in our hearts, and congressional committee papers on our backs we will not weigh enough.

Remember, the mind is first to give up. It is up to us to strive for more than what is placed in front of us.