The good or ill of a man lies within his own will. – Epictetus
As I write this today, they declared Joe Biden the winner in the 2020 Presidential election. While I am thankful that the 4 year reign of chaos of Donald Trump is ending, I cannot understand how almost half the American voters still thought enough of him to vote him another 4 years of office. One would think separating children from their parents would outrage people against Trump. Obviously not. Supporting white supremacy the alt-Right groups? No. Lying at a rate that would make a used-car salesman blush? Nope. Callous treatment of women, corruption, rampant cronyism, a quarter-million of dead Americans from a virus he ignored, the list goes on and on; none of these things mattered to his supporters.
Even as the Biden team prepares to take over power in a couple of months, I am concerned about effects of this type of blind obedience will do to make-up of our democracy. When we have seen rabid zealousness take root in our country in the past, it has been divisive and destructive, leading to armed conflicts and the death of innocents. When nationalism trumps common decency, our citizens have defended human slavery, killed native Americans by the thousands, interned Japanese-Americans and lynched black men for decades.
I don’t believe in religion, but I strongly support the concept of morality. In the place of religion, I root my belief system in the fertile ground of stoic philosophy (hence the Epictetus quote at the top of this post). One of the foundational pillars of stoicism is the around virtue. While in today’s world virtue is defined mostly by abstinence, by definition it relates to high moral standards of all types. Stoicism divides virtue into four main types: wisdom, justice, courage and moderation. I’m not trying to espouse my beliefs to anyone, I’m merely trying to define that a moral society has nothing to do with anyone’s religion. Wisdom, justice, courage and moderation are universal and common-sense concepts. They are hallmarks of our country, embedded in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. Yet for the last 4 years Trump, empowered by most in the Republican Party, has ignored virtue (in all its forms) to pack the Supreme Court with like-minded justices, cutting taxes for the wealthy, and suppressing the constitutional right to vote for our most disenfranchised countrymen.
I’m not picking on the Republicans, the Democrats have done a lot of dirt in their day. But at its core, this election has shown us that while good can triumph, evil is always lurking in the shadows, and it is often stronger than we think. I do not use the terms of good or evil lightly. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that the future of our country (and perhaps the world) is riding in the balance on what happens in the next decade. But the underlying question is, what can we do to control the direction of our country’s direction positively? If we follow the simple advice given to us by Epictetus at the beginning, we should be fine. Individually, we have to find the will to follow the tenets laid down by our Founding Fathers in our governing documents, tenets which mimic the stoic principles. We need to seek and wisdom, ensure justice not only for ourselves but for others, and be brave in the face of those who seek to circumvent our country’s morals for their own ends. All the hard work it took to get Joe Biden and Kamala Harris elected, needs to be refocused and engaged again to fight for this country’s heart and soul.
We dodged a bullet this time. Trump was an incompetent autocrat who conned his way to the Presidency. I doubt we will be as lucky in the future. The next autocrat is going to be smarter and chip away at the moral standards of our country. Are we going to be prepared if that happens?