Category Archives: Politics

The Evolving American Experiment

I love America. I admire America. As Bonasera says at the beginning of The Godfather, “I believe in America”.

Biographically, there is an obvious explanation. My father had a heart attack in India a few months before we moved here. A month after we immigrated, he had bypass surgery. To our great surprise and relief, New York State picked up the tab. I assume it was some version of Medicaid, and it was a heck of a welcome by the country. My father lived for another thirty years, twenty of them working in the Social Services department in Westchester County in the suburbs of New York City. Without America, I might not have had a father past my early teens.

But there is more to it than biography. When in college I read Enlightenment philosophers like Locke, Rousseau and Kant, my admiration of America increased. The American Constitution of 1789 was a bold experiment in liberal democracy, a living example of Enlightenment values. The more it sank in that America was the first modern nation to try this experiment, the more I was grateful to be here. The American dream for me wasn’t mainly economical. It was intellectual and cultural: to contribute to the experiment started by the Founding Fathers.

However, there is a major difference between the America of the Founding Fathers and the America I immigrated to in 1988 at age 11. Since its beginning, America was ethnically diverse, with Europeans, Africans, Native Americans, and later in the 19th century, Hispanics, Asians, and many others. But the governance and cultural self-representation of the country did not reflect this diversity. The liberal democracy experiment was limited to whites.

Naturally racism played a big part in this. But it’s worth noting how fantastical democracy seemed to even many whites at the time. Most Europeans then thought the colonists were crazy to try a government without a king. Many of the farmers who fought in the revolution might have been fine if George Washington became their king. But Washington wasn’t fine with it and that is his greatness. So democracy being limited to whites was like the training wheels used to achieve the balance of a representative government.

American history for the next two hundred years was the struggle to take the training wheels off. This culminated in the 1960s when, with the end of segregation, America became an explicitly multicultural liberal democracy.

This was the America I immigrated to. With the naiveté of a child I had first imagined that America was a completed project, one which I could simply benefit from. But far from being complete, America is continually evolving. The Founding Fathers did the hard work of establishing a democracy. Lincoln’s generation maintained that democracy. Martin Luther King’s generation transitioned America into a multicultural democracy. The current generation, like Lincoln’s, faces the task of maintaining and unifying the democracy we inherited.

Continue reading

Post-Election Mindfulness

Like all life, yesterday’s elections, first and foremost, just are. Each individual race happened as it did. This person won, that person lost. And the broad scale results are what they are.

I am with the results as one is with the rain and the sunshine, with babies being born and loved ones dying. As something much bigger than me, much bigger than any politician, much bigger than any one group.

As a Democratic voter, I am happy about some things, unhappy about others. As a friend and family member of Republican voters, I am happy for them for some things, unhappy for them about others. As an American, I am happy about some results, unhappy about other results. As a person, I have this and that emotion, this joy and that anxiety.

Being mindful doesn’t mean I am any less a Democrat than one who is excited or unhappy. Or any less committed to liberal causes. It just means I am mindful. I am aware of my emotions. I am aware of others’ emotions. I try to see both with a caring and yet dispassionate glance.

Being overcome by emotion suggests one’s life is determined by those outside events. One feels empowered because that happened over there. One feels disempowered because this happened over there. In both, over there sets the tone. And the voice within says: “Of course, over there sets the tone. You are only a very small part, with very little power on your own. Unlike those big, powerful people who have power, who are on TV winning or losing, and with whom you have to align yourself.”

Mindfulness suggests something else. Yes, I am less famous than those on TV winning and losing. Yes, I have less power in many ways. But no, they don’t matter more than me. Not in the big picture.  If I can step out of my monkey mind and am just aware of it, I am doing the most work I can do right now, right here. And it is the most work any person can do, no matter how famous, rich, smart, good looking or powerful. If they do what they do without mindfulness, it is one big step forward, two big steps back. But if I do even a little bit with mindfulness, it is only one very little step forward, but without going backward.

Politics is a part of human life. An important part. But not the main part or the most essential. Life is for growing as a human being. I focus on that and fit politics into that, and not the other way around. It is the best way to help others in the long run. To help without selfishly taking in the process.

Mindfulness. Prayer. Contemplation. When these are the center of one’s life, they center all else one does. And gives those actions a glow of inner strength which radiates outward.

Act with a glow. Without fear or seeking spikes of pleasure. Act with awareness. Be awareness. It is the best you can be and the most good you can do. Let the glow reflect through your politics, rather than letting the politics limit your glow.

Be big. Very big. Be the biggest big awareness you can be.