• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Thanksgiving, 2016

Someone just dropped a cognitive dissonance cluster bomb on the public. Heads exploded. Cognitive dissonance set in. Weird theories came out. This is the cleanest and clearest example of cognitive dissonance you will ever see. … Scott Adams

I wrote the first of these essays 15 years ago on the Thanksgiving following 911. In that essay I expressed thanks for a ‘civil body politic,’ a concept bequeathed to us by the Pilgrims in the Mayflower Compact nearly 400 years ago.

Fifteen years later I find myself writing after the most uncivil Presidential election of my life. We the people have just been through an election campaign that was bitter, divisive, angry, hostile … It is as if a giant quake has fractured the political landscape into two camps, each seeming to be completely distrustful of – and contemptuous of – the other.


I’m writing from the nation’s Capital, a few blocks from where Lincoln and Roosevelt lived during earlier tumultuous times in America’s history, not far from the slave plantations of Mt. Vernon and Monticello, each a reflection of America’s original sin.

The few days since our arrival have been an ongoing deconstruction of the election with my millennial niece and nephew, her parents and my wife, Rita; a conversation fed continually – as it has been since November 8th – by the media.

To say people are frightened would be a gross understatement. Concerns on the left – the bubble I mostly live in – run deep. ¹

As one example, my nephew, Noah, and I have been discussing the introduction of hate language into the public square. There’s a recognition that the holocaust began with the introduction of hate language into the public square in Germany in the 1930s and a fear that, left unchecked, such language will once again lead to human tragedy.


One of the truths that emerged in this campaign is that there is no longer even an agreed upon truth. In an article titled Your Facts or Mine, Emma Roller writes:

The strongest bias in American politics is not a liberal bias or a conservative bias; it is a confirmation bias, or the urge to believe only things that confirm what you already believe to be true. Not only do we tend to seek out and remember information that reaffirms what we already believe, but there is also a “backfire effect,” which sees people doubling down on their beliefs after being presented with evidence that contradicts them.

When coupled with the ability of confirming falsehoods to go viral on Facebook, Instagram and other social media, reinforcing and amplifying the falsehoods they seemingly confirm, the reality has become that we no longer listen to each other, we listen past each other. Reality itself seems to have split asunder.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there … Rumi.

Psychologists tell us that cognitive dissonance – the cracks between our beliefs and our reality – yield opportunities for change; the greater the dissonance, the greater the opportunity.

If you’ve been reading my essays you know I’m an optimist – as Churchill said, it’s not much use being anything else. To me, this means that we have in this election not only great danger but also great opportunity. Our challenge is to have the courage to find it, and in finding it, to embrace it.

In a brilliant posting entitled The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story, Charles Eisenstein wrote this about the Trump voter:

Racism and misogyny are devastatingly real in this country, but to blame bigotry and sexism for voters’ repudiation of the Establishment is to deny the validity of their deep sense of betrayal and alienation. The vast majority of Trump voters were expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the system in the way most readily available to them. (See here, here, here, here) Millions of Obama voters voted for Trump (six states who went for Obama twice switched to Trump). Did they suddenly become racists in the last four years? The blame-the-racists (the fools, the yokels…) narrative generates a clear demarcation between good (us) and evil (them), but it does violence to the truth.

David Brooks, in a New York Times article entitled Fellow Trump Critics, Maybe Try a Little Listening said it this way:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the best imaginable Trump voter. This is the Trump supporter who wasn’t motivated by racism or bigotry. This is the one who cringed every time Donald Trump did something cruel, vulgar or misogynistic.

But this voter needed somebody to change the systems that are failing her. She needed somebody to change the public school system that serves the suburban children of professors, journalists and lawyers but has left her kids under-skilled and underpaid. She needed some way to protect herself from the tech executives who give exciting speeches about disruption but don’t know anything about the people actually being disrupted.

Or, as a Trump voter was quoted in The Washington Post: “My vote was my only way to say: I am here and I count.”

If America is to be – as Lincoln said – government of the people, by the people and for the people, then we have to make government work for all the people.

An example of what I mean:

While #BlackLivesMatters to us on the left, #WhiteLivesMatter to our brothers and sisters on the right. The truth, as seen from inside our bubble, is to emphasize #BlackLivesMatters because of the historical – and still too present – reality that for too many whites, Black lives didn’t – and still don’t – matter.

But then isn’t it also true – inside their bubble – that too many white lives in Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania and throughout America haven’t mattered to the liberal politicians who supported the transfer of their jobs overseas while seeming to support every ethnic, religious and sexual group except theirs? From their perspective, from inside their bubble, the liberal left cares about everyone except them. ²

Throughout my explorations during these 15 years of essay writing, one guiding principle has emerged clear and bright: the words in the Declaration that we are all created with the same equal rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s why I publish these essays under the title The Agnostic Patriot. No Right. No Left. One Axiom: Equality.

The words of the Declaration represent to me a political form of the Golden Rule that, in our politics, we treat each other as we would want to be treated. An ideal? Yes! Emphatically!! But an ideal worth striving for. Now more than ever.

There is little question that in the chaos of this election, we are writing a new chapter in the story of America. What would it take for this new chapter to embody the empathy and compassion – and true love of neighbor – implicit in the Golden Rule? What would it take for this new American chapter to harken back to our self-evident founding principle, that ours is a Nation conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal.

With our bubbles broken, we have the unique opportunity to see each other as we really are; to see each other as the messengers, not the message. What magic might happen if we engaged in honest open dialogue with each other? “What is it like to be you? What are your hopes and dreams? What are your fears? Come, let us work together to build an America that works for all of us.”

Conversation – dialogue – from which – as we get to know each other – will emerge a new awakening of the spirit of liberty. ³

Is there any other way to Make America Great Again? ³  Is there any limit to how great America might become with a New Awakening? 4

I’m thankful on this Thanksgiving that – so soon after the election – we are already seeing signs of this New Awakening. The New York Times, for example, has started a new podcast series with Trump and Clinton supporters talking with each other. The Run-Up: Dialogues.

For my own part, I have created a Twitter feed @AgnosticPatriot where I have begun to post relevant pieces that cross my attention. I will soon be starting a Facebook Page where I look forward to engaging with all those seeking to understand the perspectives of others so – by our actions – we might co-create this New Awakening of the Spirit of Liberty.

Let freedom ring.

¹ If, like me, you are concerned about what will happen to the weakest among us, please read Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times article A 12-Step Program for Responding to President-Elect Trump with its suggestions of organizations who will need our support in the days and years ahead.

² And no use trying to convince them that – from inside the left’s bubble – much of the responsibility for their reality lies with their own Republican politicians who have sold them a lie since Richard Nixon. That’s our bubble, not theirs.

³ See Thanksgiving, 2011 for Judge Learned Hand’s Spirit of Liberty speech, given during a swearing-in ceremony for new American citizens on July 4, 1942.

And it may be the only long-term solution to the challenge of hate language.

Copyright © 2016. Stan Stahl, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay provided the essay is reproduced unedited and in its entirety, its source is identified as The Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright NOTICE is included.

Get these essays sent to you by email:

Speak Your Mind