Vote Ideas, Not Candidates

Joe Biden is a walk waiting to fall. But Donald Trump is a worsening fracture on the hip of Democracy. Biden is a danger to himself. Trump is a danger to the republic and the freedom for which it stands. 

Do I think Joe Biden is too old for the presidency? Yes, I do. But that problem will eventually take care of itself, as it does for all of us. 

We must stop thinking about 2024 as a contest between two men, one who has clearly lost a step, the other hell-bent on lying his way back to the presidency.  

The 2024 election is not about Biden or Trump; it’s about good versus bad ideas. It’s about whether we move the country forward or backward. It’s about whether we expand rights or restrict them. It’s about whether we try to bridge our gaps and differences or widen them. In 2024, either we embrace and promote the ideas of western Democracy or we don’t. 

Trumpism – the metastasizing malignancy of malevolence and malfeasance has taken root in the Republican party. Trumpism is less of a political platform and more of a manifesto of intolerance, anger, fear-baiting, and grievance. And that’s today’s GOP.

To move the country forward and to trigger a “re-set” for the Republican party, we need to bury it under an avalanche of votes that screams DEMOCRACY MATTERS! 

Today, banning books, demonizing “the other,” imposing one religion on everyone, and promoting unfettered access to weapons, even in the face of mass shooting after mass shootings, are Republican ideals, but they’re not American ideals. 

While Republicans bitch and moan about pronouns, wokeness, and drag show readings, broken parents relive the scene of janitors mopping up the blood of their children from the hallways and classrooms in schools. Most Americans are tired of nonsense in the face of real-life challenges and hardship.

The 2024 election, more than any other past election, is about ideas. Foundational ideas. The ideas upon which America will stand or crumble. 

Middle-Aged Joe

Today, at 55 years old, Joe realizes the rest of his tomorrows will never be as good as most of his yesterdays. That epiphany catches him off guard. The immediacy of it throws him off kilter. 

It wasn’t long ago that Joe felt relevant, steady, and somewhat optimistic about life, the world, and his place in it. 

Now he flounders. 

He’s a floundering Joe. 

A man-fish swimming against the steady current of uncertainty. 

How did I not see this coming?” he mutters.

Moderately well-off, Joe is considered successful — especially in America, where success is measured by the home you own, the car you drive, and the stuff you have. In America, materialism and success are practically inseparable. 

So, why does middle age feel like an existential threat to Joe? Why (with all his success) is he suddenly riddled with insecurities? 

Joe’s crisis set up shop in his head when he started to understand (subconsciously) that success, as defined by society, is different from success as defined by biology and (more specifically) virility.

Virility’s relationship with success is forged by millions of years of evolution, so that shit is hardwired into the male brain. And at 55, Joe’s virility is in decline. It’s not that Joe feels less virile or even that he sees a noticeable decline. It’s more about an awareness of how others perceive him — or how others barely notice him at all.

Gone are the days of side glances from attractive strangers. Joe feels like he’s disappearing – like he’s being involuntarily airbrushed into the landscape – a crooked aging tree at the base of a mountain – a depressing reminder of his waning biological relevance. 

In the face of this revelation, Joe leans into what he’s been conditioned to believe, that success is the stuff you own, the way you look, and the things you can afford. He knows he can’t un-tic the clock, but Joe has access to cash — lots and lots of cash.

So, Joe heads to the Chevy dealership downtown and purchases a shiny new sportscar. At first, he feels pretty good about himself. But the ego-boost is fleeting. Over time, squeezing in and out of his little red Corvette doesn’t turn back the clock; it just reminds Joe of the uncomfortable logistics of aging. A new car doesn’t equate to a younger you, especially if you audibly struggle when getting in and out of it.  “Umph!”

Joe parks the car in his garage and rarely takes it out.

Maybe it’s my style? Maybe I don’t have any style?” Joe says to himself in the mirror.

Joe treks off to the mall, platinum card in hand, and treats himself to a hip new wardrobe of skinny jeans and UNTUCKit shirts, somehow disregarding the obvious — that clothes always look better on the mannequin and catalog model (because neither have pot bellies or man-boobs).  Joe’s clothes no longer hang on him in a fashionable way. Instead, they bring unwanted attention to what he’s desperately trying to hide. And what makes Joe think he can pull off the skinny jeans thing, like he’s Mick Jagger? 

The audacity!

The one thing that makes Joe feel a little better is hitting the gym and changing his diet. He knows he isn’t turning any heads huffing and puffing on the Stairmaster, but he’s lost a little weight, and his mood is lighter. Even though he considers this a minor victory, he knows there’s no stopping father time from fucking with him.

Life is a conveyor belt.  

As Joe begins to age-out of middle age, he decides that acceptance is the only play when it comes to aging. Acceptance leads to tranquility, which leads to confidence.

And confidence ages well.

Tuesday, 6:45 AM

She’s been staring at him intently for 20 minutes, when finally, he awakes to her panting. He raises his head from the pillow and, with half-opened eyes, pats the bed gently. She thumps the mattress with her tail, yawns, and wriggles up to him.

Good morning, friend. 

They begin their final day together with a loving scratch behind the ear. 

He scoops her into his arms and feels her heart’s clunky and irregular beat against his chest. He lowers her carefully to the floor; her hips wobble, her back legs fold, and she collapses. This has been their morning routine for the last several weeks. She looks at him apologetically. He whispers, “It’s okay, girl” and helps her to her feet.

She walks gingerly to her water bowl, takes a few sips, looks up at him, and wags her tail. For a decade, they’ve inhabited each other’s world. A life wrapped in routine and the warmth of deep companionship.

Age has slowly crept up on her – from the floating blue cataract cloud in her eyes to the rounded and tanned teeth in her mouth. Then, with resignation, the man mutters, “From pearly whites to tiger’s eyethey tell the tale of you and I” and gives her a pat.

He slips a frayed collar decorated with dog bones and frisbees over her head, clips the leash to it, and together they walk out the door. 

Even in her declining state, she relishes the ritual, nose to the ground, intently sniffing clover, dirt, thistle, and weed. A complex puzzle of smells awakens a flood of memories; momentarily, she becomes infused with a youthful spirit. A stiffened gate and spritelier walk return, bringing a slow smile to the man’s face. 

She raises her head towards a gentle gust of wind, wistfully smiling at the gift-bearing breeze. But by the time they return home she’s laboring. He carries her into the house.

He decided last year to take a leave from work when he noticed a change in her health. On a fast track for promotion and highly regarded throughout the company, he sometimes heard whispers in the halls, “For a dog—a DOG?

Their appointment with the veterinarian is an hour away. He sits with her on the kitchen floor and cries. She looks at him forgivingly, then places her head on his lap and closes her eyes. 

MAGA Nation

Banning books and fanning flames

toting guns like Jesse James

thoughts and prayers to stop the bleeding

 screaming at a drag show reading

Stripping healthcare, mining coal

pushing myths about the soul

damning those who don’t obey

denying women of their say

 Casting stones, suppressing votes

grab our country by the throat

trapped inside a MAGA maze

looking back for better days

Drinking Kool-Aid from a cup

yelling up is down and down is up

spinning lies and crafting fables

trying hard to turn the tables

Deny the facts and praise the liar

collectively they all conspire

to set our democracy on fire

Be woke and …..

According to a new poll, America is pulling back from the values that once defined it, such as patriotism, religion, and hard work. One might look at the poll results and think, “Damn, that’s not good,” — but maybe we should look at the results as an awakening.

So, why are Americans pulling back from patriotism, religion, and hard work?

With patriotism and religion specifically, there’s a growing disconnect between the ideals that many Americans traditionally associate with these values and what we see and experience in the actions of our fellow citizens.

We’re woke to that disconnect and pulling back from the values.

Religion and politics are so intertwined in America that separating them is almost impossible. And like amorous pigs in the slop, they sully one another. Christianity has taken a sharp U-turn away from values of love and charity and now travels a political highway of intolerance and bigotry. Religion in America is transparently divisive, judgmental, and hypocritical. Americans, especially the young and educated, see religion as a tool to control people and advance a political ideology. And outside the political spectrum, religion has lost its mojo for many Americans. We live in a society overbrimming with chaos, violence, and anxiety, where God is conspicuously absent.

Concerning patriotism, America is split between the loud crowd of MAGA-hat-wearing Republicans hell-bent on transforming the country into an America-First Christian Nationalist society and progressives who want to expand rights and freedoms to everyone. When a sizable chunk of American society can’t differentiate nationalism from patriotism, the unifying nature of patriotism begins to fracture. For example, millions of Americans think the assault on the capital was patriotic. And yet those people condemn the peaceful protests against systemic racism in our justice system. Until most of us can agree on what is and isn’t patriotic, we’ll continue to waver on patriotism as a value.

And finally, the belief that if you work hard in America, you can achieve anything is contradicted by an economy that sees the gap between the rich and the rest of us widen. So we no longer see generational progress in terms of the American dream; if anything, we’re moving in the opposite direction.

Many Americans are woke to the hypocrisy that is wrecking religion and polluting patriotism in our country. We’re pulling back from these values because they’ve been devalued, bastardized, and hijacked by individuals and entities who use them for political or personal gain.

Many Americans are “woke” to what’s happening to their country in the name of religion and patriotism, and they’re voicing their displeasure. And, of course, the powers-that-be are doing everything they can to cast wokeness in a negative light, because wokeness poses a threat to the status quo.

This is America

A child weeps while on the bus leaving The Covenant School following a mass shooting at the school in Nashville, Tenn., Monday, March 27, 2023. (Nicole Hester/The Tennessean via AP)

This is the America Republican politicians say we can’t do anything about.

This is the America where we raise our children.

This is the America that our children wake up to every day, sitting nervously at the kitchen table and wondering if today will be the day they die in a school shooting.

This is the America where parents send their kids to school and wonder, as their child enters the building, if they will come out alive.

This is the America where children practice active shooter drills and are coached on fighting off a deranged person with an AR-15 intent on slaughtering them and their classmates.

This is the America where that deranged person can easily obtain a weapon of war designed to afflict devastating injuries and mass casualties.

This is America, where even though most of the citizens support regulations that would make it more challenging to obtain these weapons, politicians refuse to enact legislation to make that so.

An Untapped Opportunity?

When it comes to AI, It’s not a matter of if but when.

When AI becomes smarter and when companies begin replacing employees with AI tools and applications.

Corporations are throwing money (see Microsoft’s multi-billion-dollar investment in OpenAI) and resources at AI technologies that can lower costs and improve outcomes for them and their customers. 

AI will be a disruptor and a differentiator for businesses across all sectors, from retail and manufacturing to research and transportation, to software and content development.

The latest AI technologies will touch everything and everyone. They’ll affect the world’s economic food chain in ways we’ve never experienced. And while companies scramble to beat their competitors to the punch when applying AI to their processes and applications, our society fidgets and nervously awaits the next brave new world.

Creating corporate-sponsored programs and government policies to train workers in AI might work in the short term. Still, the more advanced AI becomes, the less reliant on humans it will be. Of course, small numbers of people with specialized and advanced AI skills will find complementary roles in this new work paradigm, but many others will not. For the worker, jobs will disappear, and wages will drop. For corporations, profits will soar. 

We (especially Americans) measure personal success in terms of our work and compensation because most of what we value — the house we own, the car we drive, the family vacations we take, and the sense of safety and security we provide our children is inherently tied to our work and compensation. And thus, our definition of success and how we value ourselves are all balled up in what we do for a living, what we can afford, and how well we can provide. 

When automation began replacing workers in manufacturing, those workers lost more than their jobs. People (who just a few years before had a valued and specialized skillset) became obsolete. Unable to pay their mortgages, afford their car, take a family vacation, or provide security for their children, they lost their sense of self-worth. And because the skills they brought to their workplace could now be replicated by a machine, they also lost hope. To survive and be successful again, they’d need to start over – learn new skills, and claw their way back to relevance. For many, that challenge was too great, and they gave up on life. Research shows a causal link between investment in automation and rising mortality levels, “with this rise largely due to so-called deaths of despair, such as drug overdoses and suicides. This was especially so for men and women aged between 45 and 54.

So, how do we avoid future deaths of despair when the new AI takes hold across industries? 

What will our societal response be to millions of jobs disappearing in the wake of AI-driven software and automation? 

What happens when the magnitude of job replacement from AI exceeds what we experienced when automation in manufacturing became the norm?

AI is not inherently bad. Its impact on society will largely depend on our reaction to it. We need outside-the-box thinkers in economics, business, the social sciences, and government to begin planning for the consequences of success when it comes to AI, because the effect on humans will be broad, deep, and potentially devastating. 

If AI and automation become the benchmark for productivity and success within a corporation, then perhaps AI presents us with an opportunity to reshape what it means to be a productive and successful human.

What if AI allows people to focus on a higher purpose?  If AI kills more jobs than it creates (and I think it will), we might consider implementing universal basic income (UBI) to help people find purpose in this brave new world, without fear of losing the roof over their heads.

With the right social and economic safety nets in place, AI can give people the space and the time to become better humans, where instead of defining success by work and compensation, we define it by how we treat others, by volunteerism, and through our capacity to love and care for one another — you know, the things that machines and AI can’t do.

Dark Day Afternoon

Doomsday just inched a bit closer

So says the clock on the wall

Amused, nihilistic humans   

just waiting for mankind to fall!

We know the problem’s we’re facing

We know what needs to be done

We know that the weapon is loaded

but we like the taste of the gun

We’re ninety seconds from doomsday

So says that guy on the news

“It’s the end of the world as we know it”

A theme song to give us the blues

Doomsday just inched a bit closer

it nuzzles up to the fear in our head

The tick of the clock getting louder

It thickens our fear into dread

Religious to the point of destruction

Tribal to our own self-defeat

Chained to a blood-violent nature

Man and doomsday were destined to meet

When Sorrow Clings to Angel Wings

She made it through the Spanish flu
a million others died
but slipped and fell with scissors held
Oh, how her parents cried

Rorschach’s plume, still in bloom
soaks through her dressing gown
she raps on heaven’s pearly gate
but no one is around

When sorrow clings to angel wings
They might-as-well be clipped
So back to earth
To haunt the house
Where she tripped and slipped

Immortal klutz with lots of cuts
dark shadows on the wall
she roams the house without a spouse
wrapped loosely in her shawl