Peter Coyote on the Election

Last November Peter Coyote posted on Daily Kos “Democrats Need To Clean Up their Own House.” That essay included points new to me and echoed others I’ve made in my own posts.

Of particular interest was his analysis of the impact of Federal Reserve policies on rural areas.

Coyote argued:

…In July of 1980, [Federal Reserve Chairman] Volker orchestrated a series of interest rate increases that took the federal funds target from around 10% to near 20%… [One result] was the extinction of 22 million family farmers who had faithfully followed the advice of the official institutions mandated to help them [who] had assured farmers that rising land values and additional income from increased crop yields would insulate them from debt so that it would be prudent to mortgage their land, buy expensive equipment and plant and harvest fencerow to fencerow— and they did.

[Latyr] Volker (under a Democratic President) raised interest rates by five points in a single day.  The farmers could no longer meet their new debt obligations and were scrubbed off their land as efficiently as if a glacier had scoured it down to bedrock.

After the first glacier, came others, perhaps not as large but equally destructive. For every five farms that disappeared under the auctioneer’s hammer, a local business closed.  Farming towns lost their hardware and feed stores, their FFA and scout leaders, coaches, school principals, and auto-parts stores. Deep depression and shame metastized in the farming belt growing into a deadly scourge wherein the leading cause of death on the family farm soon became suicide.

Powerful anti-government resentments began to blossom in that blighted soil…. Another crop of future Trump supporters was nurtured when Bill Clinton’s Welfare Reform legislation imposed an absolute lifetime limit of five years on government assistance to needy families…..  

The Democrats, rather than assessing the mote in their own eyes and doing a serious review of how this situation came to pass are content to criticize the easy target of Mr, Trump….Fears about Trump, while understandable, can become self-defeating and counterproductive….

Those qualities [in ourselves we prefer not to examine, our personal selfishness, greediness, anger, deluded ideas, and unethical behaviors, we project onto others, creating perfect enemies. They are perfect enemies because they are undefeatable—only phantoms existing in imagination. We are all human and not one of us is purely good or evil. Missing this point leaves us vulnerable to very destructive ignorance and relieves us of the responsibility for self-examination….

… Democrats appear to be insulated from useful truths by their bullet-proof faith in their own righteousness. If I am correct, it means that they will not take fearless inventories of the callous disregard they have inflicted on the very constituencies which denied them the office and Congressional majority they so dearly sought…. Sizeable numbers of their voters have seen through their message, directly into the Party’s true core values which have morphed since the 1940s into the pursuit, generation, facilitation and protection of wealth. …

To pursue the same habitual attempts to discredit or obliterate one’s enemies (foreign or domestic) …  is to court repeated failure…. Another path is available….

The simplest way to frame the common lessons about success that I garnered from both spiritual and secular realms is that I am my opponent. I am the one I think of as the other. I have to admit that I possess the same capacity for self-righteousness, hasty judgments, greed, ambition, envy, and delusion as those I consider my opponents. Likewise, they possess the same qualities of intelligence, ethics, probity, selflessness and empathy that I would prefer to reserve exclusively as my own. Our behaviors may differ extremely, but that is a result of worldview, beliefs, and past experience not some innate quality of goodness or evil….  All humans are like radios tuned to receive the entire spectrum of humanity.

…Not knowing our full capacity as humans makes us dangerous because our reflexive assumption of our own goodness allows us to ignore our shadows—the facets and qualities in humanity of which we prefer to remain ignorant…. If, in a dispute, I assume that all goodness, kindness, and wisdom, rest on my side of the tablet, my opponent will read those assumptions and judgments as clearly as if  I had tattooed them on my forehead.  They will judge me in the same way and defend their platitudes and the holes in their arguments as vigorously as I do mine. This is how our political system has devolved….

The most useful qualities we can contribute to public life are kindness, empathy, and the willingness to listen…. One party’s victory never insures victory for the nation unless we integrate the losers back into the population. This does not necessarily mean that either side is always correct or always wrong, but that in order to communicate we must first deeply understand what our opponents mean…..   

When we observe that self and other are simply different states of the same human entity— like water and steam–we discover that our opposing views may not be as irreconcilable as we had thought. No one in the world is pure, and there is no place to stand outside the messy everyday world to judge others reliably. Knowing that should afford us all some common ground, a place to talk and listen. We are all joined by pulse and breath. We rely on the same oxygen, sunlight, water, pollinating insects, and microbes in the soil— the identical web of life.  We all inhabit the same tiny blue pearl glowing in the vastness of space and, if we’re not careful, our shadow may ruin it for human habitation.  We have evolved technically to a level capable of destroying the planet and the world we have created.  Surely our evolution should include the ability to deepen our understanding of what it means to be human.


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