Being in the Moment, the Seven Generation Principle, and Pocahontas. Really?

imageCan we truly be in the moment and still think generations ahead?

Recently, I was swimming in a lake with my five year old granddaughter. We were laughing, enjoying the warm sun and the moment of playing together in one of nature’s beautiful creations. I was reminded how critical it is to be in the moment and celebrate the richness of such relationships. How do we get to a place where preserving such moments for our children and grandchildren transcends our focus on ourselves and politics?

When I served in the North Dakota Senate (2006-2010) one of my colleagues and friends (who also is a Native American historian) lifted up the importance of the Seven Generation principle in connection with the legislation we were voting on. I don’t remember the exact issue, only that it happened during an important floor debate. This principle, taught by Native Americans, as I understand it, says that for every decision, whether personal, corporate or governmental, we must consider how it will affect our descendants seven generations into the future. The idea being that the beauties of nature and the earth will still be there for the generations that follow. This is a limited explanation of a profound principle.

A generation is often considered to be 25 years, so we’re looking at 125 years or more. My understanding is that this principle was codified in the Iriquois Great Law of Peace, has now been around for over a thousand years, and is embraced by tribes all around the world.

The cool response received from our Republican colleagues in the Senate to such an outlandish proposal at a time when the lure of oil money and wealth loomed large in North Dakota was, in many ways, symptomatic of our country’s immature view of our personal responsibility as stewards of the earth.

As parents and grandparents, many of us are trying to be more thoughtful in considering the world our generation is leaving to all our children and now grandchildren. Look at the folks serving in Congress and the Senate. Most of them are my age or older. That is both the good news and the bad news. Many of them are parents and grandparents and people with rich life experiences that uniquely prepare them to be looking seven generations ahead. Yet, they don’t. Why not? Many are climate change deniers mired in raising money to get reelected, focused too often on staying in power and not on the world they are both creating and leaving for the next generations. Where is the Native American wisdom found in the Seven Generation principle?

While both political parties suffer from this short sighted malady, sometimes I find myself, as both a Christian and a Democrat, wondering how lawmakers who lift up their faith and family values at election time, are thinking one generation ahead, much less seven, when drafting their legislation and voting. I’m guessing not many. Why not? Maybe one major reason is because we as voters are not demanding it. Again, why not?

Yes, the current system is broken, rigged by those in power to benefit those in power. I’m sure you’re shocked. There is currently really no incentive for our elected representatives to do things differently. Too much money. Who has millions of dollars, or can raise millions of dollars, to run for the House or Senate? Too much special interest money. No term limits has served to transform politics into a career, not a call to public service.

We continue to allow our elected leaders to make short sighted decisions about future generations’ future survival and, as our Native friends continue to remind us, we cannot eat or drink our oil or cash. Crippling debt? Not my problem. Unconscionable defense spending? Look, you need to be afraid. But hey, let’s make America great again.

Let me suggest that perhaps that critical life skill of knowing how to truly be in the moment, and understanding and appreciating the miracles we receive every day, is essential to our more fuller understanding of the need to be making decisions looking seven generations ahead, or even one or two generations. It is in experiencing the gifts and miracles of the moment that we come to grips with the fragility and marvels of our existence. Giving someone our full attention is perhaps one of the most generous gifts we can give to anyone. We have, as far as my limited human understanding goes, one chance at this life. We also have one planet and responsibility as human beings and stewards of this world that transcend the smallness of our human politics.

Literally, as I was writing this, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump appeared in North Dakota to speak about oil. But before doing that he had to first chide Senator Elizabeth Warren – and call her “Pocahontas,” again. I can’t make this stuff up! A Native reporter called Trump out on this insulting behavior that is insulting to Native Americans, and to all Americans. Apparently, such Trumpish comments were not insulting to some of the North Dakota Republican Party leaders on stage with Mr. Trump, including a Republican State Senator, who actually laughed when the Pocahontas reference was made.

Seven generations? What do you think?

The Nazis Modeled Their Sterilization Program After America’s Program – Have We Learned Anything From That?

imageI read Adam Cohen’s recent book, “Imbeciles, The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck” with both horror and like a moth to the flame.

“Imbeciles” details the horrific eugenics movement in America that lead to one of the most terrible decisions ever by the Supreme Court and the esteemed Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes where he endorsed the eugenics movement and famously wrote “[t]hree generations of imbeciles is enough.” The Holmes opinion was only five paragraphs. Yet it gave a haunting legal legitimacy to the eugenics laws our country readily embraced and advanced, leading to the eventual sterilization of between 60,000 and 70,000 people.

“Imbeciles” details the shocking story of a young woman, Carrie Buck, at the wrong place at the right time. She was born in Virginia into a poor family and taken in by a foster family that pulled her out of school after the sixth grade and used her – to do their housework and the housework of others. When she was raped by one of the foster family’s relatives, she was committed by her foster family (in a misguided effort to save face) to the Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded. The family blamed Carrie Buck for her promiscuity. But she was not feeble minded, or promiscuous. She was a victim.

Ms. Buck finished sixth grade and all indications were that she was “normal.”Unfortunately, that did not matter. She became a pawn for leading eugenics and scientific proponents who were waiting for a test case to get the Virginia eugenics law before the Supreme Court, so they could get it finally sanctioned.

And that they did, but at a cost to our country’s humanity and sense of justice.

Ms. Buck’s lawyer was negligent, essentially working with those who wanted her sterilized. He put on no defense to show she was not a moron or imbecile. Ms. Buck had no idea what was happening to her or that she would be sterilized if she lost. Really. This was also the fate of thousands sterilized in our country after the Buck v. Bell decision was issued by the Supreme Court in 1927. After Ms. Buck was sterilized, her letters “revealed her to be precisely what she was: an undereducated woman of perfectly normal intelligence.”

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was 86 years old when he wrote the Buck decision (that has never been overturned) in 1927. Holmes was born “into the highest stratum of Boston society.”Holmes maintained that heir of superiority throughout his life. As a jurist, Holmes has historically been revered as a thoughtful jurist who protected civil liberties and individual freedoms. “Imbeciles” has changed that. The mythical Holmes would have understood the overwhelming injustice of permitting the state to take away a young woman’s right to have children to serve the misguided eugenics movement.

Many folks who were sterilized across America thought they were having an appendectomy and continued to try and have children. Among those was Carrie Buck’s half sister, Doris. She and her husband wanted desperately to have children and when the doctor at the Colony told her she was old enough to collect Social Security and the date she was sterilized, he looked up and saw she and her husband were both crying. Doris told the doctor she had been trying to get pregnant for years and never realized it was impossible. She told the doctor that when she had been operated on at the Colony years before she was told she was getting an appendectomy. As you might imagine, those sterilized were mostly poor and uneducated.

Did you know that Hitler and the Nazis used the American eugenics laws as a model? According to Cohen, that’s exactly what they did. Cohen writes “Otto Wagener, a high ranking economic adviser to Hitler, quoted Hitler as saying ‘I have studied with great interest the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock.'” The German sterilization program eclipsed the American model on many levels, authorizing sterilization for feeble mindedness, alcoholism, epilepsy, and for being a Jew.

Harry Laughlin, who spearheaded the eugenics movement in America, headed up the Eugenics Record Office, served as a congressional Eugenics Agent, and was actively involved in the Buck case. Laughlin was invited to Germany in 1936 to receive an honorary doctorate of medicine from the University of Heidelberg for his work on the “science of racial cleansing.” While Laughlin did not travel to Germany, he did enthusiastically accept the award and praised Nazi leaders for their eugenics program that was already in high gear. Perhaps even more disturbing is that, at the Nuremberg trials after WWII, Nazis charged as war criminals raised the Buck Supreme Court decision – in their defense.

“Imbeciles” demonstrates what can happen when we begrudgingly pick the scabs off our preferred, less offensive and safer versions of American history. Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest citizen.” The Buck case and the history that lead to it do not speak well of America’s true greatness.

As we look back on Carrie Buck and how she was mistreated and a victim of our American legislative and judicial systems, will we learn from such systemic failings? And what is it we will learn? Will we summon the moral courage needed as a country to pick the scabs off our inaccurate renditions of the history of Native Americans and black Americans in meaningful ways? Will we move beyond the symbolism of getting rid of Columbus Day as a national holiday and casually wondering, as white people of privilege, where Black Lives Matter is really headed with all “their” protests?

Such change would mean a wholesale reevaluation of the current systemic discrimination built into our institutions. It would entail rewriting the false narratives we have necessarily manufactured as our history in ways designed to make those who enjoy privilege and are in charge, primarily older white males, feel good about how they came to their positions.

It might also mean standing up to, and calling out, not just a 2016 racist presidential candidate who wants America to build walls to keep Mexicans out of “our” country and ban all Muslims from entering “our” country, but those who think that just supporting him gives them a pass. It does not. Party unity is not an acceptable reason. Is this the type of person we want in the most powerful position in America. . .and the world?

Like anything in our history we can choose to learn from “Imbeciles,” if we thoughtfully listen to its messages, spoken and unspoken. In 2016, the Carrie Bucks of America deserve nothing less. Maybe making America great again. . . means listening to Gandhi.

Authoritarianism, Trump, Fear, and the Prospect of More of the Same

imageA March 1, 2016, article by Amanda Taub in Vox titled “The rise of American authoritarianism” provides a sobering look at why Donald Trump has been so unbelievably successful in the Republican primaries and, with the last two rivals dropping out of the race, is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. The article initially details the work of UMass Amherst PhD student Matthew MacWilliams.

MacWilliams studies authoritarianism, a psychological profile of individual voters that is characterized by a desire for order and a fear of outsiders. Taub writes that “[p]eople who score high in authoritarianism, when they feel threatened, look for strong leaders who promise to take whatever action is necessary to protect them from outsiders and prevent the changes they fear.” MacWilliams wondered if there might be a correlation between authoritarianism and support for Donald Trump. Not only did MacWilliams find a correlation, but he found that it seemed to predict support for Trump more than any other indicator.

The article references another academic, Vanderbilt University Professor Marc Heatherington, who was having a similar realization and wrote a book with a University of North Carolina political scientist, Jonathan Weiler, revealing that the polarizing of American politics was being fueled by a largely unnoticed electoral group, authoritarians. Their book concluded the Republican Party, by “positioning itself as the party of traditional values and law and order, had unknowingly attracted what would turn out to be a vast and previously bipartisan population of Americans with authoritarianism tendencies.”

The article details the acceleration of this trend by demographic and economic changes, including immigration. It notes that Trump embodies “the classic authoritarianism leadership style: simple, powerful and punitive.”

What was disturbing, on a larger scale, was the conclusion that Donald Trump may be just the beginning of this continuing authoritarianism in American politics. This authoritarianism constituency exists in its own right and will be around – even after Trump. Meaning, there may well be more Trumps to come. The research presented was startling on the numbers of white Americans scoring as high or very high authoritarians, skewing heavily Republican.

Taub writes of authoritarianism leading to an even harder line Republican party over time. She concludes, writing “[f]or decades, the Republican Party has been winning over authoritarians by implicitly promising to stand firm against the tide of social change, and to be the party of force and power rather than the party of negotiation and compromise. But now it may be discovering that its strategy has been working too well – and threatens to tear the party apart.”

The data revealed in Taub’s lengthy article makes it clear that there is likely more going on then people being “angry” to help explain the movement by so many “toward extreme political responses.” Yet, the establishment Republican Party (whatever that now means), has been at a loss as to how to respond to Trump’s rise. This authoritarianism saga in the Republican Party’s presidential race, and the reluctance and refusal by prominent Republican leaders to endorse Donald Trump, continues to unfold. Some Republican leaders have resorted to playground tactics by saying they will endorse the party nominee, intentionally not naming Donald Trump. Kind of silly. Kind of desperate.

This tension and political schizophrenia suggests to me that many current Republican Party leaders and politicians think it is more important to be party loyalists than do what they know in their hearts is best for America. Others are still trying to make up their minds. That’s where the years of obstructionism and making President Obama’s failure your top priority have helped foster this perfect storm of authoritarianism that now threatens to strangle the party and, maybe, America.

While this article has definite limitations, if these researchers are right to a significant degree, the reality show campaign of a racist, narcissistic, crude, violence encouraging, carnival barker may be just the beginning of what’s to come, not the end.

When Trump was asked by the Washington Post Editorial Board about the use of nuclear weapons on ISIS, he pivots to some lame diatribe about him being a counter puncher and Jeb Bush being low energy, then adeptly asks the “good looking” people at the table to identify themselves so he knows who he is talking to. When they obediently do that, the Editorial Board forgets to come back to the pending substantive ISIS question. Trump did not have an answer, so he changed the subject.

The President needs to have answers to hard questions and make hard decisions. They need to be knowledgeable about the changing world, and curious. Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State and understands the nuance of the world stage. Trump does not. But do authoritarians really care?

It seems to me, at this critical time, we are in need of true statesmen and stateswomen, American leaders, particularly Republican Party leaders, to come forward and say unequivocally that the emperor is wearing no clothes, precisely because the emperor is the presumptive Republican Party presidential candidate. Will Americans, who happen to be Republicans, have the capacity to put their country ahead of the party and demand as much?