Anyone Can Be President

We make our own criminals, and their crimes are congruent with the national culture we all share. It has been said a people gets the kind of political leadership they deserve, I think, they also get the kinds of criminals they themselves bring into being.
— Margaret Mead

As a child, and many times throughout my life, my parents and teachers told me, and so many others, that anyone could grow up to be president of the United States of America. I vaguely remember wanting to truly believe this. At the time, I think they were trying to encourage me to dream. My teachers and parents wanted to inspire me to be all that I could be. In fact, or in myth, they wanted me to be more than I could be; or, perhaps, they wanted me to leave them alone. They wanted to distract me, while all that was solid was melting into air. They wanted to distract me so that they could watch television or drink beer or have affairs.

My black friends and my African American friends were much more skeptical than I ever was. That is, until Barack Obama became president of these United States of America. And, once again, we all heard the rallying cry that anyone can become president. We were all inspired again. Anything was possible.

The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little bit more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidates who reminded them most of themselves. I had no interests. I had no interest in anything. I had no idea how I was going to escape. At least the others had some taste for life. They seemed to understand something that I didn't understand. Maybe I was lacking. It was possible. I often felt inferior. I just wanted to get away from them. But there was no place to go.--Charles Bukowski

The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little bit more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidates who reminded them most of themselves. I had no interests. I had no interest in anything. I had no idea how I was going to escape. At least the others had some taste for life. They seemed to understand something that I didn't understand. Maybe I was lacking. It was possible. I often felt inferior. I just wanted to get away from them. But there was no place to go.--Charles Bukowski

But.

Now, when I think back to my mother telling me that if I tried hard enough I could become president, I no longer think she was trying to inspire me. I think she was warning me. I, however, could not hear her warning. I wanted (or needed) her and my teachers to be inspiring me, not warning me.

The problem was that I could not hear my mother italicizing the word “anyone”. Had I heard the word “anyone” in italics, I would have been more prepared for what has been happening. Indeed, it is now very clear: “Anyone can become president of the United States.” Anyone is different from anyone. My mother and teachers did not know how to italicize their words when they spoke. Shame on them.

This City is what it is because our citizens are what they are.
— Plato

Our dreams and our fears are now true, terrifyingly true, and anyone (if we are not careful) will become president. Anyone. And, indeed, anyone will become president if we, all of us, not just the we that lives their lives like me, or that share my values, or my education, or my love for my children, but the larger we, all of us, do not wake up.

And this means more than voting. This means becoming a citizen again, so that when we say to our children: “Believe in your intellect, believe in your heart, believe in your soul, and anyone, you, even you, can become president.” And we can say it to them honestly, with meaning, and we can say it to them without italics.

The strategic adversary is fascism... the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.--Michel Foucault

The strategic adversary is fascism... the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.--Michel Foucault

And we must say this to them to do more than to inspire them to go on their own narcissistic journey. We must say this to them so that they are inspired to participate in creating a world that they want to live in. And we must encourage them to understand that their world will not be realized by them merely voting, and it will not be realized by them merely pursuing their own dreams (if their dreams are simply those of an ego gone mad with wanting power); rather, their world will come into existence by them actively being in the world.

I know there are clichés aplenty about this. But we have to live lives that create a world of light where anyone (without italics) can become president. Because living in the world we have created means that unfortunately anyone can become president, and that should frighten us all.

In America, anyone can become president. That’s the problem.
— George Carlin

I am not in any way trying to tell you who to vote for in the upcoming Presidential election. That is not my point.  After all, as Adlai Stevenson has said: “In America, anyone can become president. That’s one of the risks you take.” And he seemed to be saying this without italics; although, I would argue, his words do express a hint of italic-fear. Given the right circumstances, Stevenson and Carlin know what kind of anyone might become president.

And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?
And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself,
My God! What have I done?
— Talking Heads

We must trust these talking heads over other talking heads. We cannot let the days go by. But perhaps because we have allowed our days to go by, we have the muddled madness that we have been experiencing. We, therefore, have a duty to transform our daily ways of living with each other. 

It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one's own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one's strength. This fight begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair. This intimation made my heart heavy and, now that my father was irrecoverable, I wished that he had been beside me so that I could have searched his face for the answers which only the future would give me now.--James Baldwin

It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one's own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one's strength. This fight begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair. This intimation made my heart heavy and, now that my father was irrecoverable, I wished that he had been beside me so that I could have searched his face for the answers which only the future would give me now.--James Baldwin

But, we must do more than simply cast a vote and rely on someone else to change our world for us. This is our world. We are responsible. We create our world. We cannot simply cast a vote, and then forget our responsibility to live differently. A vote for change is not change. Change is change.

If we can change, if we can truly look into our souls, beyond capital, beyond memes, beyond t-shirts and posters, beyond clicking “like” here and there, and beyond the desires that distract us from truths that are deeper and that often exist prior to speech, prior to words, then we can create a daily practice of living that will change how we experience the world. Doing so will terrify politicians and panic narcissists, because what they value and what they consider success will no longer matter to us. Their desires for their own interests will be replaced by the desires and dreams of people (Plato would call these people citizens) seeking to create communities.

Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.--David Foster Wallace

Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.--David Foster Wallace

The tiniest revolutions in the practice of living our daily lives will unnerve the prisonhouse of consumption that we have fallen prey to, a prisonhouse that now owns our behavior, because too often we live unconscious lives.  Once we become convinced we are free, not merely free to choose, but truly free to live our own lives, we will no longer need reminders from those who have power over us that we are free. Until then, the very fact of those people (members of the they) telling us we are free will keep us trapped.

Look in the mirror. Go ahead. Narcissus did not have a mirror. He could only see his reflection in water. Stare at that mirror. We are responsible for everyone who ran for president, and for everyone who is still running for president. We are also responsible for all the beautiful people who did not run for president. I can wax nostalgic and ask where have all the flowers gone, I can do that, I truly can. I can ask why the Bobby Kennedys of America have been replaced by what we have created.

But honestly, this is our fault. 

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.--Robert Kennedy

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.--Robert Kennedy

What to do?

1. Stop what you are doing. Just stop.

2. Look into your life. For 21 days, write down everything you do or experience (every action, every feeling, every thought, and so on). Decide which ones to change. Change at least one of them.

3. First thing every morning for the rest of your natural life, write a poem. See how seeing changes.

4. Be like Augie Wren, and at the same time every day do what he does. See how seeing changes.

5. Use your turn signal when you are making a turn. See how your fellow humans see you.

6. Drink coffee at a coffeehouse or diner. Do not take your stupid phone (even if your phone tried to convince you that it is smart; it is not, it is stupid, leave the stupid smartphone at home) or iPad or i-this or i-that or laptop with you. Go alone to a coffeehouse and talk to someone who is different than you, who holds different values, or who is from a different social class. And stop drinking coffee alone in your car.

7. See how many sentences in a row you can begin without using the pronoun “I”.

8. Go on treasure hunts daily.

9. Listen.

Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world's ills, misery, ignorance, and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.--Robert Kennedy

Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world's ills, misery, ignorance, and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.--Robert Kennedy

Let us go then, you and I, while the evening is spread out against the sky and share simple dreams. Let us begin, right this very second, creating a world through our own actions so our daughters and sons can live in a world where anyone, without italics, can become president. In fact, let us now and forever f*ck italics and all they too often stand for and suggest.

And let us hope that anyone does not become president.

So why do I write, torturing myself to put it down? Because in spite of myself I've learned some things. Without the possibility of action, all knowledge comes to one labeled "file and forget," and I can neither file nor forget. Nor will certain ideas forget me; they keep filing away at my lethargy, my complacency. Why should I be the one to dream this nightmare?--Ralph Ellison

So why do I write, torturing myself to put it down? Because in spite of myself I've learned some things. Without the possibility of action, all knowledge comes to one labeled "file and forget," and I can neither file nor forget. Nor will certain ideas forget me; they keep filing away at my lethargy, my complacency. Why should I be the one to dream this nightmare?--Ralph Ellison

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