Zeitgeist

I met Secretary Clinton once. My job was to keep our three grade school kids in line — polite and unruffled — as my wife introduced us one by one to her boss. My wife had decided to accept a big job at a social media company, and Secretary Clinton wanted to say goodbye to her and her family before she left.

Years later, while giving a talk at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, the organizers asked Secretary Clinton to answer a randomly selected question from the audience. The question related to concern about the environment — my passion. The questioner was my 10-year old daughter. Secretary Clinton answered the question respectfully, encouraging all young children to raise awareness of climate change to the adults in their lives. After answering the question, to my daughter’s astonishment, Secretary Clinton honored her by asking that she come up on stage. It was a life changing experience for my daughter and one which endeared me to Secretary Clinton forever.

But I gave money to the Sanders campaign. His was the only progressive voice that cut through the double speak, spin, and negative rhetoric under which we all are just now beginning to emerge. Why did I do that? I did it for similar reasons, I believe, that one half of voters voted for Donald Trump — because the political status quo was driving us all mad.

Except for many of those Trump voters, the madness was almost existential. Despite a hard earned economic recovery orchestrated by the Obama Administration, economic conditions for this broad demographic had not improved at all. For millions of American voters, the Great Recession continues to the current day.

My Facebook feed is inflamed by friends, friends of friends, and news reports of progressives mobilizing to fight the New World Order. Demonstrations and violence erupt continually. Yet, I am struck by the notion that people are reacting without much inward contemplation; without trying to understand that, despite the objectively ugly misogynistic and xenophobic commentary from Trump, over 40% of female voters and 20% of latinos voted for vision.

Then there was the Palestinian American small business owner from Dearborn sitting next to me at the San Francisco hotel bar watching the Cubs battle the Indians:

“Oh my god, you’re voting for Trump, aren’t you?”, I chided him, only half-jokingly.

“I know, I know, but Clinton’s tax policies will cost me over $200,000 if she’s elected. That scares the shit out of me”, he explained.

And there you have it. Fear. Fear that is all around us. Feverish flames of fear that are stoked ever higher by traditional and online media. Today, a quarter of Americans are increasingly fearful; a quarter is no longer as fearful but hopeful; and the remaining half either can’t vote or is so indifferent as to forfeit their right to.

As fear engulfs us, it hinders our decision making; it drives us to hate; it closes our hearts to understanding the Other; and it corrodes our own capacity for happiness.

Certain elements of our society are more gripped by fear than others. They engage in violent, obscene, and militant acts; making others feel unwelcome in their own land; and spreading their affliction to countless others. The way to counteract this fear is not by stoking still more of it, but instead to disarm it; to choose to try not to react to it; and to open one’s mind to try to understand what’s really driving it.

Whether you feel compelled to protest, gloat, organize, or celebrate, do it only after contemplating what one might be giving up; and the struggles, anxiety, and fear in others that one might be blind to.

Our collective peace and happiness depend on it.