Despondency Doesn't Save Democracy

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair.  Be hopeful, be optimistic.  Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.  Never ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” – Representative John Lewis

Things are getting more intense, here in the U.S. of A.  We’re in a near-constant ramping up of, well, a whole heck of a lot.

This weekend, a protest is scheduled nationwide to raise a ruckus about the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) separating both asylum-seekers and immigrants from their kids.  Last night, a judge halted the practice, in theory, and requested that the kids be reunited with their parents.  This morning, Supreme Court Justice Kennedy announced his retirement, opening a second opportunity for this administration to appoint a Justice.  Monday the Supreme Court upheld the administration’s “Muslim Ban.”  The president is at war with a motorcycle manufacturing company that is moving some operations to Europe due to his tariffs.  North Korea is in fact still working on its nuclear capabilities after meeting with the POTUS, to almost no one’s surprise.  The National Security Advisor met today with the Russian president to finalize details for a meeting with our president.  The investigation of how far and wide Russia’s interference goes with our election and government is ongoing, and there are already guilty pleas and jail time.

I could go on.

Let me tell you something:  my Facebook feed is completely awash in despondence.  Despair.  Resignation.  Loss.  A sense of terrible tragedy.  Hopelessness.  Dejection.


It isn’t new today.  It’s been this way since the election.  The fracture.

It doesn’t freaking stop.  It’s just on on and on and on and on.  Some samples:  “That’s it.  The country’s done.”  “I can’t handle any more.”  “It’s a dire day.  The darkest yet.”  It’s gotten to where the despondence is absolutely exasperating.

Here’s the thing:  despondence is not helping us move forward.  It’s not helping us navigate the disruption.

At this point, what might have popped into your head - as it did mine - is that this is yet another post saying to “suck it up, Buttercup.”  Which now is a phrase I won’t be able to get out of my head (you’re welcome).

That’s not the point here.  One of the things about being human is that we do need to have emotion, and allow ourselves to feel it when it happens.  Burying it is not helpful.  Embracing the emotions we have is part of embracing our own humanity.  Grief and sadness are emotions that help us process, and we need to give them space.

Merriam-Webster defines “despondent” as “feeling or showing extreme discouragement, dejection, or depression.”

So okay.

Here’s the thing.  We’re in a disaster.  This right here is an emergency situation for the United States – and I don’t just mean any particular news today.  I mean the whole big picture.  I reckon if you’ve read this far, you know what I am talking about.  The democracy is at risk.  A foreign power has interfered with the republic itself, its democratic processes, and possibly its administration.  We have a chief executive who does not feel inclined to follow the law – across so many areas.  We have a Congress not holding the chief executive accountable.  The chief executive is currently this week openly advocating for ignoring the constitution in providing due process, and picking a fight with a motorcycle manufacturing company.

There is much absurdity.  Plenty of material for despondency.

But it’s a DISASTER.  And it’s ongoing, and could severely escalate.


Did I mention that there will be more damage?  There will be.  Lots more.  This is going to be long-term, and it’s probably going to be pretty rough.  I think there is much yet to come.

One thing I learned working in the disaster business is that you can’t carry all the parts of every disaster.  You can’t carry all of the details.  You can’t often fix it while it’s in process – while the damage is spreading.  There is a balance, there, in order to get the work done that needs to be done.  You carry enough of it to motivate you to do the work, and to fix the things that need fixing.  You sort of detach from quite a bit of it.  You have to, or you won’t get anything done.  And sometimes you really, really need to be getting stuff done.  For days – or for weeks – at a time.  Possibly months.  In a long-term disaster, of which this is my first – years.

In this case, we’re in a long fight.  Representative John Lewis tweeted this this morning - it's also the quote at the top of the page:

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair.  Be hopeful, be optimistic.  Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.  Never ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” – Representative John Lewis

I’ve been studying the rise of authoritarianism since the spectre of the current president first appeared as a real possibility to me – in late 2015.

Assess The Situation

First, let me say this.  All hope is not lost.  Here's the situation...

Despite much crowing and lamenting, the US is not a third-world country.  There is not a full-on despot in power.  We have infrastructure.  We have largely functioning institutions – especially at the state and local level.  Much of the federal government is – despite great challenge – still functioning.  Yes, it is – whether we like how it is functioning or not.  With notable exception, there are major issues at the EPA, the Department of State, DHS, and several smaller components that have been un-funded or ended.  However, the US government is HUGE, and mostly still quite functional.  Almost all law enforcement is operating as it did prior to the election, and this is a key (again, DHS excepted).  We don’t have a bunch of new wars.  Our military appears to be functioning generally as it should.  We have a functioning economy.  Advertisers are advertising.  Sportsy things are sportsing.

The large majority – although not all – of Americans are still operating day-to-day in the say that they did before the election.  There is access to food and water and fast-food and shopping and television and internet and barbecues and family and friends.  Wait – did I mention that we have functioning infrastructure?

Perspective.  This stuff matters, and we would do well to keep it in mind.  It fits with what’s next.

Where We’re At

Authoritarians come into power and stay in large part due to the abyss of despondence and despair.  They wear out the public as norms and institutions are eroded.

There are proven and effective methods to counter the rise of an authoritarian.

It is critical to protect institutions.  Institutions are in government – not just at the federal level, but also within states, counties, and cities.  Keeping them functional, non-corrupt, well-funded, and supported by the citizens is key.  There is a battle in some states for the control of law enforcement already, as states and cities work to counter or support federal law enforcement actions specific to immigration.

Institutions are also non-profits, hospitals, schools, foundations, churches, and the media.  Yes, some of the media has gone hyper-partisan.  But the mainstream media remains intact, and continues to generally follow journalistic standards – as much as they always have.  That is important.  We need it to continue.  We can support them.  We can also provide stories for them to cover.

In the US, the Constitution gives us another tool for countering tyranny, and that’s Federalism.  What that means is that the local city, county, or state maintains legal jurisdiction over their actual jurisdiction.  For example, when a disaster hits a city, it is up to the mayor to request assistance.  The federal government can’t come in and take over.  Some states, depending on their constitutions, have taken some of the power from local government and put it at the state level, but in most cases jurisdiction and government activity is based fundamentally at the local level.

That’s important, again, because we can work to keep the institutions at the state and local level strong, functioning, and serving their people.

The last major tool to counter an authoritarian is if 3.5 % of the country’s population vocally and non-violently continue to oppose it.  The non-violent part is key.  The vocal part is key.  How that comes out is for us to determine.  There are many ways to show it.  But it has to persist – throughout many trials and challenges.  It has to persist.  It needs media coverage.

A Washington, DC “insider” told me once that the only way to make change in Washington is to make things so ugly and messy that they can’t be ignored.  It has to stick, he said.  It has to be something that will not go away; that none of the politicians can ignore.

It’s good advice.  As much as it makes me cringe to pass it along, I think it’s where we’re at.

Git ‘Er Done

Anchor and flank.  Get grounded, find actions that resonate, and dig in.  There is so freaking much to do.  So much.  Find sources of light.  Find a Team – people to work with.  Get some visionAmplify the heck out of it.  Raise a ruckus.  Champion ways forward.

Build resilience. You're going to need it for the long haul.  Your family, business, community, and country need it too.  We'll be better off when/if things get rough if we have a depth of resilience.


Feel the emotion.  Process it.  But in the name of all that is good and holy, try to stay away from despondence.

We won’t save the democracy if we’re wallowing in despair. We can save it when we work together and do the things that need doing.

I do think it’s well worth saving.

Your thoughts?


Looking for help finding a way forward?  Check out private coaching at inclusive pricing ratesThere are ways to navigate this, to stay sane, and to do some good while we're at it.

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Despondency Doesn't Save Democracy
Theresa on June 28, 2018 at 1:20 pm said:
This is good. Great even. But as people’s rights are stripped away so is their power and voice...decreased access to healthcare, for example, disables a person, a community, a state... A country can only be as strong as the people who reside in it...I suspect that is part of why healthcare has been such a target. Keep people quiet by keeping them weak and ill. This also goes for mental health and access to care. So while the infrastructure is still there and people are going to work, here in Iowa our most vulnerable population lost their healthcare and the collateral damage is endless. It doesn’t just take that population down but others work even harder to help them and then they go down.

I appreciate your inspiring and realistically frightening post. If something had been done about the Russians meddling in our election process, I’d have a little more faith about making noise and pleas to representatives and how that might create change. I do not trust our election process any longer. Nevertheless, I will continue to fight and vote.
Despondency Doesn't Save Democracy
Dani Hoefer on June 28, 2018 at 6:50 am said:
Vanessa, this is si inspiring and grounding. Thank you. Dani

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