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The Most Important Societal Values For Americans: Responsible Freedom, Shared Power, & Honesty About How We Elect Our Most Powerful Leader

"I think there's been a glitch..." - Taylor Swift

I’ve wrestled with understanding how and why America is floundering downward with political polarization and entrenchment.

Why are we morphing into the tyrannical anti-vision that our founders sought to protect us against? And, what can we do about it?

I’ve also struggled to gain clarity amidst the rampant confusion and practically infinite ways people sort out what’s most important in evaluating the current societal situation and political leadership.

Through these struggles, I’ve grown and gained a deeper understanding of what’s most important. Here, I’m sharing some vision of what I’ve discovered as a way to help us move towards what matters most.

So, as an American, what is ACTUALLY most important for our society to flourish?

What’s so important that the consequences of not having it would undermine all other priorities?

What are the cornerstone values that undergird and make the other values possible?

Before we answer these foundational questions, let me clarify why our understanding of priority matters.

ai generated medical emergency room, triage

Triage: Prioritizing What Matters Most

It can always get worse, a lot worse.

But, it can also get better, a lot better.

Because of the scale, speed, and levels of complexity in our society and world, it can be overwhelming to know where to focus our attention and understand what matters most.

This can have a paralyzing effect where we avoid, run away, or attack what’s coming at us. But with the right filters — to help us understand what's important and what's not — we can more effectively manage this dynamic.

The filters we’ll explore in this essay are helping me navigate the current political environment in our country. A powerful way to think of these filters is to consider medical triage in emergency rooms.

In an insightful Ted Talk, Darria Long powerfully illustrates this idea of organizing and prioritizing by talking about the stress level caused by not having a way to filter these dynamics.

“Work by Dr. Robert Sapolsky shows that individuals who cannot differentiate threat from non-threat and react to everything with the same response have double the level of stress hormones.”

Farris continues, describing the triage process.

“By relentlessly triaging, you prioritize what is important and what is less important.  

In the ER, “Red = immediately life threatening. Yellow = serious but not immediately life-threatening. Green = minor.”

In crazy busy mode, everything is red and that hinders one from addressing the true “red” tasks.

In my life, the reds are different than in the ER but they signify what is most important and needs immediate attention.

If all tasks and challenges are red, it is easy to get distracted from the true priorities. There’s an old adage that says, “when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”’

- Darria Long

Figuring out how to prioritize what’s most important and focusing on the core priority is vital to making a difference in moving towards the vision, stiff-arming all the distractions, and preventing the overwhelm that comes from making everything an urgent and top priority.

There’s also another benefit of this foundational approach. In his book, the Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg discusses the idea of a keystone habit. These core habits have a positive catalyzing effect across all other habits and parts of life. Doing keystone habits leads to doing all other habits. This domino effect facilitates positive progress elsewhere by getting clear on what’s most important and living it out.

So, simply put, filters are critical.

And, these filters shape how we see the world.

Filters help us quickly know what is important, and what is not.

Using tribal morality, and focusing on the things to tear another group down, it's easy to make an argument in such a large and complex society of those we don't like. We’ve got more than enough material to work with.

If I want to make a case for why the Democrats are super bad, I know how to do it.

If I want to make the case Republicans are super bad, I know how to do it.

Our keystone filters dictate how we see and evaluate. This is often formed and communicated in narratives (which imply certain things we value).

So the way forward is to figure out what is most important, not just what I want to focus on, but what is central and fundamental.

It’s the failure to recognize this centrality that has our country spiraling downward. We’ve lost sight of what matters most. And, in response we’ve embraced vices that are antithetical to those values. A cut on my little toe is different than a knife in the heart. It’s destructive to treat them the same.

Whether you agree with it, after reading this essay, you'll understand how I, as an American citizen see the 2024 election and the societal situation.

For those that want to contend with me, they simply need to make the argument about what is more central and important than what I've identified; and provide an even better alternative.

Now that we’ve explored why priority is important, let’s shift to the threat we’re facing based on these fundamental filters I’ve activated and will expand on throughout the article: responsible freedom, distributed power, and the importance of telling the truth about our election outcomes.

trump associates criminal convictions

The Root Extremist Threat: From Rule of Law To Lawlessness

“I have become the object of scorn for some on the right who think we are in a post-constitutional order in need of a dictatorship to bend the nation in our direction.“ - Erick Erickson (Atlanta-based conservative talk radio host)

The types of things many Republicans I talk with are worried about Democrats doing (like Supreme Court packing, and undoing the electoral college, as two of many examples) are changing the rule of law using our rules for changing the rules. To add more Supreme Court justices would require a bill to be passed. That bill could only happen if it was bipartisan or if one party had enough seats in the Senate, and House while also holding the presidency. But if a party had all three, they’d still be changing things using the rule of law.

The same applies to other laws and policies. While certain policies or changes may be done that I don’t agree with, it’s at least done by following the rules of how we change things within the larger constitutional system.

This is the core dynamic of accountability on which I'm focused. It’s the ire of many extremists against these checks and balances in government process and power that concerns me most.

"I've been talking about our crisis of accountability — the lack of it — for years. Without it, extremists will get more and more extreme. And thus they have. There's nothing to hold them back. They're not accountable for what they do." - Joanne Freeman

The things I’m most worried about — in our country and globally — are those operating (or trying to operate) outside the rule of law, outright rejecting the system, and doing whatever the power player(s) wants. For some it’s control. For others, it’s to burn it all down. But regardless of the reasons, the cost is the rule of law and the systems and institutions that make that possible.

Normalizing criminality, as Republicans have done, is a dangerous road for us to continue going down.

When the South seceded from the United States, they didn’t pass a bill in Congress to leave. They didn’t pack the Supreme Court to give them a judgment that would let them leave. They didn’t overturn the Electoral College. They just left.

Outright rejection of authority and the rule of law, especially when it's based on lies and wrongdoing, is what scares me most.

The enforcement mechanism for this act of secession by the South was for the northern states and federal government to, through their actions, say this was unacceptable. America’s civil war ensued because of the intractable conflict.

In many ways, the societal rule of law is voluntary. 

A lack of faith in the system leads to a corrosion of it. If enough of society defies the rule of law, particularly corrupt people in positions of authority, there can come a tipping point where lawlessness rules dominantly. This is the essence of tyranny. This is why nefarious actors want to undermine trust in the system; they benefit most from the upending of the rule of law.

Many Americans are operating under an assumption, for the respect of the rule of law and constitutional limitations. But these laws are not magically enforced. They must be embodied by the people and those in authority. If corrupt people surround corrupt leaders, it’s more likely they’ll succeed in defying our constitutional order.

America has no enforcement mechanism if a state or a president wants to defy a Supreme Court ruling. They can simply ignore it and do their own thing. At the end of the day, America requires a level of buy-in and participation in the fundamental story and structure for it to work.

The land of normal politics, which my generation and previous ones have become accustomed to, is where we share the core story and structure and debate through the system to change things.

But things have shifted.

“Based on the lessons I learned from studying history about how things typically transpire under similar circumstances, I believe that what we are now seeing is the parties increasingly moving to greater extremism and a fight-to-win at all-cost mode. This is threatening the rule of law as we know it and is bringing us closer to some form of civil war. (This is not necessarily a violent conflict, though that is possible).” - Ray Dalio, Investor & Author, Pick A Side And Fight For It, Keep Your Head Down, Or Flee

If a lawless leader does not respect our rule of law, and there is no healthy pressure (or there is pressure towards lawlessness), corrupt leaders can leverage power, terror, and violence to defy and operate outside the constitution and law. 

warhammer figure in the grass

The Land of Politics: Normal (Merit-Based) and Authoritarian (Cult-Like)

“Dwelling in denial is the default mode for millions who have taken our freedoms for granted and don’t want to think about how their lives would be altered by the advent of authoritarian governance in America.“ - Ruth Ben-Ghait, Denial About Trump is Deeper Than Ever: Authoritarians have often told us what they are going to do, but people have rarely believed them.

We’re now in this type of power struggle known as the land of authoritarian politicsvoters repeatedly cling to a single charismatic individual even if they lose (Brian Klaas). This land is dominated by personality cults and tribal morality.

In the land of normal politics, losing presidential elections, attempting power grabs, inciting insurrections, and being convicted of felonies would cause a political leader to lose all support. In the land of authoritarian politics, it does the opposite; it reinforces loyalty.

"You set up a worldview in which the sort of true believers are pitted against the [wishy-washy] fans. The way you sort them out is by increasingly extreme lies. And the lies you buy into have some social costs outside of the movement." - Brian Klaas, The Land of Authoritarian Politics

It’s in this land of authoritarian politics, where we end up in a constitutional crisis (or several) that has the potential to shatter our union irreversibly.

This is made worse when a large portion of citizens in the land of authoritarian politics operate as if we’re in the land of normal politics, dismissing and engaging with high conflict in ways that unknowingly, amplify this dynamic.

Different contexts require different responses.

cancer in cells

Cancer in Our Political Parties: Which is in a Worse State?

I’m for the rule of law and against lawlessness.

This choice is independent of the two parties. Lawlessness is something I oppose in both parties. Most partisans are against it when it’s the other party, but not when it’s in their party because what they want is to shed accountability, not foster it.

So, how do we assess this?

The worst-case scenario I see for America is having both Republicans and Democrats fully radicalized. This would be the scenario where things could rapidly escalate into violent territory, especially when one or both sides no longer believe the legal or political system is a viable option for change. 

Ray Dalio makes an argument that the extremism has escalated on both sides and that while it’s more obvious with Republicans right now, it may escalate dramatically this year with Democrats as well. I’d consider that a possibility, but I think the extremism from the left, is a problem for the next generation of leaders, not the current set. Despite his claim, Ray Dalio even concedes that Biden is a possible choice against extremism, stating the following; “It could be said that the election of Joe Biden reflects a desire for less extremism and more moderation, though time will tell.”

A lot can happen in 2024 to change this, but as I see it now, I consider Democrats at stage 3 of cancer and Republicans at stage 5. 

This difference in how I see things is based on how I distinguish the difference in the threat severity that the Republican Party poses.

For Republicans, the lawlessness is embraced and embodied by Donald Trump, the leader of the party, and the party has been reshaped in his image. This lawlessness is also embraced by Republican leaders in positions of authority and influence. And lastly, the lawlessness is embodied in the exile, alienation, and calls for the persecution of Republican leaders (Liz Cheney, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Adam Kinzinger, etc…) who advocate for responsibility and accountability.

In this sense, political extremism has overtaken the Republican Party and it’s manifested in the areas that are most dangerous for the structural continuance (separations of powers and election integrity) of America. If Trump loses in 2024, I expect it’ll make things worse, because I expect Republicans will make it worse, as we saw with Trump’s attempt to consolidate power in 2020 and the January 6th insurrection after Trump legitimately lost the election. This is most clearly seen in the lead-up to Jan 6, what happened on that day, and what's happened since.

Political commentator, Matthew Yglesias makes this observation as a strong contrast between the two parties.

‘“Bob Menendez doing crimes just makes me like him better” is something no flavor of Democrat has ever said.” - Matthew Yglesias

Democrats have their own extremism wings, but they’ve not manifested at the top or in areas that are dangerous to the structural continuance of the country — usually falling in the cultural Issue bucket and across the educational spectrum. For example, Rashida Tlaib was censured for her extremism, so there are numerous indications that Democrat extremists are being disciplined while Republican extremists are defended and valorized when they run wild.

For example, Biden, Hillary Clinton, and John Fetterman, Chuck Schumer, among other leaders, have been vocal against the Hamas sympathizing extremists in their own party. They have NOT lost their positions of authority or influence for doing so. And, despite the recent campus protests, most young people are not extremist Hamas sympathizers.

If the extremists on the left wielded power at the top levels while rejecting accountability (like Republicans), I’d put the stage of cancer higher. But now, the Democratic leadership holds the extremists at bay (unlike Trump and Republicans who encourage radicalism).

“Dems tame their extremes. The Republicans surrender to them.“ - Adam Kinzinger

Biden is also a moderate within his party. Wherever the different sides are on an issue, he advocates for what’s in the middle. Where I do have concerns with the Democratic Party, it’s the same as Republicans; appeasing and accommodating the dangerous extremists. Both parties appease, but Republicans are way further down the road of appeasement and unrestrained extremism; they've fully abdicated.

Participating and enabling extremism on both sides have had and will continue to have consequences for us all. Moderates have a small window of time before we get squeezed out and the show becomes a fight between the two radical sides. This is encapsulated by a quote from Ray Dalio’s essay quoted above.

“Civil wars are incredibly brutal because they are fights to the death. Everyone is an extremist because everyone is forced to pick a side and fight—also moderates lose out in knife fights.”

binoculars sitting on the edge of the railing, outdoors

My Quest: From Antagonism to Discovering A Positive American Vision

"Politics now is powered more by negation than it used to be. For a lot of voters, the power of negative partisanship has made it easier for people to explain what it is they're against than it is to explain what they are for." - Derek Thompson, Everything's A Cult Now

My quest has been to find a positive argument and a vision to move towards in and for our country. It’s also a framework for how to vote for political candidates, as a way to help us stop our downward spiral into supporting worse and worse options. When we vote primarily for what we’re against, we risk slowly becoming more like Al Capone and less like Mister Rogers.

One major problem with the argument of the lesser of two evils is that it tells nefarious actors how they can manipulate and control us. Eventually, they'll figure it out, as they have. They watch and learn what we want to hear, and say those things, and we lend them our support as we get what we want.

We like it when people tell us what we want to hear. And because we think our political enemies are getting more terrible and evil by the day, we'll always have moral cover to support our preferred morally corrupt in-group leaders.

But the good news is that when we’re against something, it’s a clue that we’re close to understanding what we want (value) and what we fear (don’t want).

So, I'm here to provide a better way forward; with a positive story and vision. It's this groundwork that I believe can help us spiral back upwards from our descent into hell; towards the character of Mister Rogers and away from Al Capone.

I want to cast a positive vision we can inspirationally move towards. We can’t just focus on trying to stop a negative vision from taking over.

Conservatives, by nature, tend to conserve that which already exists. What they struggle to do, is cast a positive vision and move towards it. I’m here to lend a hand.

roy lyons fargo season 5

Discarding What Matters Most: The Flipside of Our Paradigm

Lorraine Lyon: You want freedom with no responsibility? Son, there is only one person on earth who gets that deal.

Roy Tillman: The president?

Lorraine Lyon: A baby. You're fighting for your right to be a baby.

Fargo, Season 5, Episode 5: The Tiger

Imagine a country where consequence-free autonomy reigned from the top down. The powerful dominated the powerless. Blame was more important than taking responsibility. Lies were better than honesty.

Perhaps you think that’s an accurate description of our current society now! If so, I’d encourage you to study history and compare what we have now to it. It's wildly different and can get dramatically worse.

To illustrate just how different these paradigms can be, here’s an example of this during the reign of Nazi Germany.

"And just as the law in civilized countries assumes that the voice of conscience tells everybody "Thou shalt not kill," even though man's natural desires and inclinations may at times be murderous, so the law of Hitler's land demanded that the of conscience tell everybody: "Thou shalt kill," although the organizers of the massacres knew full well that murder is against the normal desires and inclinations of most people.

Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it — the quality of temptation.

Many Germans and many Nazis, probably an overwhelming majority of them, must have been tempted not to murder, not to rob, not to let their neighbors go off to their doom (for that the Jews were trans- ported to their doom they knew, of course, even though many of them may not have known the gruesome details), and not to become accomplices in all these crimes by benefiting from them.

But, God knows, they had learned how to resist temptation. "

- Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem

That is what it looks like when darkness reigns and evil dominates. While extreme, this is fundamentally a paradigm of lawlessness in power. And, while we certainly have our layers of hypocrisy in America and the Western world, it’s a strong contrast to how bad it can truly get when the paradigm is truly flipped.

In his essay on the topic of whether America is now like the Soviet Union, Jonah Goldberg quotes William F Buckley.

“To say that we and the Soviet Union are to be compared is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes the old lady into the way of an oncoming bus, and the man who pushes the old lady out of the way of an oncoming bus, are both people who push old ladies around.”

This highlights the fundamental difference between the rule of law and lawlessness, but often we take this paradigm for granted, which can lead to our participation in ushering in the terrible alternative.

Americans are now at a point to decide if we have had enough of this darkness or if we want to usher in more of it.

What type of lady-pushing people are we gonna be?

The way we’re spiraling downward is to embrace an anti-American vision and detrimental way of life down to the day-to-day and local community level.

Entertainment Weekly: Seeing red: Inside The Acolyte's shocking bloodbath and big villain reveal

Anti-Vision: A Tyrannical Form of Freedom

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

— Ronald Reagan

When we’ve forgotten the lessons we’ve learned in the past, we become vulnerable to the tyranny that waits in the wings.

We’re often ushering in an anti-vision of tyranny because the other side acts a certain way. Fight fire with fire, they say. But that only enlarges the flames for us all.

And, this cycle of retaliation approach also takes for granted the most important priorities as we toss away our core values for more control.

Fish: what is water?

We're now in an era, where these core and often invisible priorities are not default in our politics but rather something a large portion of our country is advocating against, including my political party; the Republicans.

Independent journalist and historian, Gwynne Dyer, articulates the core motivation perfectly.

“The nationalists and the populists hate the very idea of a ‘rules-based order’, because it limits their ability to act any way they wish.” - Gwynne Dyer, Hypocrisy and the ‘Rules-Based Order’

Many Americans want consequence-free autonomy. And it’s not just a move inside America, but one that’s happening globally as lawless leaders mobilize their countries against the rule of law and Western order.

This brings us to our first idea.

Freedom versus tyranny.

There are two primary types of freedom people speak about.

A trending type of freedom many people are advocating for is a selfish type of freedom; the autonomy to do whatever they want without responsibility for the choices we make and the consequences we put on others. They want to do what they want and don’t want anyone telling them what to do (or what not to do). This is embodied in a line by the Star Wars villain in the show, the Acolyte.

Master Sol: What do you want?

Qimir: Freedom. The freedom to wield my power the way I like without having to answer to Jedi like you.

Star Wars: The Acolyte

So while many people speak of freedom, many are speaking of this form of autonomy instead. Another word for this is SELFISHNESS, which is a stark contrast to the selfless nature of good leadership. This toxic freedom is antithetical to the dependent rational animals we are.

What those advocating for selfishness and lawlessness may not realize is how much they’re opening the door for nefarious actors to fill the void and exploit them. Those in the swamp, swim together.

Some do terrible things and some people enable them, all getting what they want, and all breaking down the systems of rules. The enablers are beneficiaries of the lawlessness, disconnected from what’s going on, are in denial, or are cowardly.

I often see people point out the hypocrisy of their rivals and enemies, but they’re NOT pointing it out so that both their guy and their rival can be held accountable, but rather as a way to advocate that their guys are NOT held accountable. They want freedom from the consequences (because they see others getting away with it) as opposed to freedom based on taking responsibility, even when others don’t embrace accountability.  

The morally healthy way to address hypocrisy is not lawlessness for all, but accountability for everyone, including ourselves!

Historian and authoritarianism expert, Ruth Ben-Ghait highlights this idea in one of her interviews about the nature of fascism and authoritarianism.

“One thing that is absolutely integral to fascism is the leader cult. The leader cult unifies all of these tools of rule. He is the man that can get away with what other men cannot. He's lawless and part of the appeal of authoritarianism is that you get away with it.”  Ruth Ben-Ghait, Strongmen - How They Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall

It’s the despotic leader that ushers in the lawlessness and chaos.

In the following quote, Ruth expands on this idea and how it relates to my political party.

"The essence of authoritarianism is the executive of the leader arranges government in domesticating the judiciary so that he can make all his former legal problems go away forever and he will be able to commit crimes in the future and not pay any consequence.

So in a recent hearing when Trump's lawyer said that even assassinating a political opponent would not be something that would remove his immunity, and that lawyer referred to assassinating a political opponent as quote "a controversial decision".

The fact that that's how these people talk shows you the total absence of moral code or ethics on their part and how they connect to authoritarians.

That's what authoritarians do, they assassinate political opponents and nothing happens to them. In fact, the assassins are rewarded...

Authoritarianism is about also broadening the horizons of possibility, getting people to to think that what was previously unthinkable is now normalized. Normalization is a decriminalization of things that were illegal and now become normal in society."

This is the type of tyranny America rejected in its founding. And here we are a few hundred years later seriously courting it instead of assertively rejecting it.

In a great interview with Andrew Sullivan, author and political commentator, he highlights what is at stake as it relates to this dynamic for the 2024 election. He captures the dynamic of choosing freedom versus tyranny.

"In 2024, the very fact that Trump is now a symbol of lawlessness, voting for him is essentially a vote to abolish the rule of law in your chief executive, which is in fact, the abolition of the United States. It was the entire point of the founding of the United States.

We now have someone who's claiming that he is the sole executive, that he should be placed with total immunity above the law in the United States and he's asking people to vote for him on that basis. How is that not an assault on the heart of the Republic?" 

It’s ironic that a country founded against tyranny is seriously flirting with it now.

While we don’t like hypocrisy and should discourage it, the alternative is even worse, as Dyer reveals further in his essay.

“…even hypocrisy is better than brazen rejoicing in lawlessness and evil.”- Gwynne Dyer

This is the end game for many, while others are unaware.

When most of America wants this lawlessness or acts in ways to support it, those of us who don’t will be in big trouble. I don’t yet believe this is the case across our country, even if it is the case for much of the Republican Party. The 2024 election will be a great test of this matter.

This abdication of responsibility and sense of entitlement for the benefits that naturally come when we take responsibility is a core rot in America right now.

Ultimately, this tyranny resides in all of us to some degree. It’s in our political parties, and it’s in our rival’s political parties. The idea is not that they suffer from it and we don’t but rather we all do, and so we must ask an important question. What can we each do to work out this tyranny from the inside out?

I’ll leave you with this example of Tyranny in action and then we’ll dive deeper into the sustainable understanding of freedom.

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”  ― The Great Gatsby (1925)

scar, lion king

1. American Freedom (Based on Responsibility) Versus Tyranny (Selfish Freedom)

"With great power comes great responsibility." - Uncle Ben, Spider-Man

America was born in response to tyranny — freedom without responsibility. Tyranny is doing whatever someone wants without accountability or consequence (complete autonomy). Entitlement is expecting this autonomy, as if the benefits and advantages are owed for one reason or another, perhaps out of resentment or contempt.

In the movie Lion King, Scar kills his brother Mufasa, and Simba, Mufasa’s son, runs away. Scar takes over the kingdom and exploits all the benefits of Mufasa’s prior leadership but does so in an unsustainable way. The Pride Land was bountiful but under Scar’s tyrannical leadership, they got the benefits without the responsibility. Eventually, because it was not sustainable, Scar’s exploitation is revealed for what it is and the avoided consequences pervade everywhere. It isn’t until Simba embraced responsibility, at the prodding of his friend Nala, that the tyranny of Scar was overthrown and flourishing was restored.


America is about freedom from a foundation of taking responsibility for our choices and actions.

This is our country’s core story.

This is what it means to be an American.

We want this freedom, grounded in responsibility, for Trump, for Republicans, and Americans.

Giving power to tyrants doesn’t free them, it further enslaves them. And it is possibly a way we’re exploiting others for what we want.

“People often seek power in an attempt to overcome deficiencies, but power only aggravates the nature of sin and does not palliate it. In other words, whatever sin tendencies or weakness we have, a position of power will make it worse, not better, as we seem to suppose.” - Diane Langberg, Suffering and The Heart of God

For our story of America to continue and move towards more prosperity for all, we must each take responsibility for our part of the problems we’re facing.

We must reject tyranny and embrace responsibility, regardless of party.

ant and the grasshopper

Let’s Make America Responsible Again.

“If you've been breaking car windows and stealing what's inside and get caught, accept the punishment. Do the time, pay the fine, and work on yourself. Don't hire a lawyer and blame your actions on your upbringing. Reach out to every victim and offer to pay for what you did.“ - Financial Samurai, Personal Responsibility Is Important: How Did We Get So Entitled?

To take responsibility is not to say we’re the ones at fault. In The Lion King, Simba was simply a survivor of what happened to him, it wasn’t until he took responsibility for what happened that it could be changed.

The more mature among us must embrace responsibility, even when those to blame are unlikely to accept responsibility or accountability.

Fyodor Dostoevsky captures this idea of collective responsibility that we must embrace.

“There is only one way to salvation, and that is to make yourself responsible for all men's sins. As soon as you make yourself responsible in all sincerity for everything and for everyone, you will see at once that this is really so, and that you are in fact to blame for everyone and for all things.”

― Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

For America to transform, requires we take responsibility for the things we’ve done even if we’ve not been directly responsible for them.

This is most powerfully embodied by Jesus, who takes the sins of the whole world upon himself in his Passion experience. Our salvation from his selfless act inspires and empowers us to do the same. Deny thyself, pick up thy cross, and follow Jesus. No matter how dicey things get, my hope is always grounded in this bedrock truth.

What activates me these days?

When my group, in this case, the Republican party, abdicates responsibility and embraces tyranny. I’m compelled to step into the gap and intervene. When no one does what’s right, someone must.

But, for responsibility and accountability to make a difference, it often must ultimately come from within the individual, and from within their group. Out-groups and external pressure will always be limited and cannot do what must come from within. This is especially true if the in-group dismisses the accountability of its leadership when it’s brought upon them by an out-group. This is one reason why dissenters in the Republican Party have been villainized. I hope for a time when Republicans will once again accept and embrace accountability for themselves and their leaders.

It is only through transformation work on the cross by Jesus that this act is fundamentally even possible. We’re reliant on a power outside ourselves.

For those of us not in positions of power, we can share the message, but we can't force change to happen. We trust God is in control, and we can trust that he'll ultimately bring about justice and rectification.

We can be sure, that when we don’t take responsibility, the cancer of abdication spreads. Things get worse. And they can get much worse, quite rapidly.

“… in one form or another men must assume responsibility for all crimes committed by men, and that eventually all nations will be forced to answer for the evil committed by all others… Tribalism and racism are the very realistic, if very destructive, ways of escaping this predicament of common responsibility." - Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Those who don’t take responsibility and avoid accountability often repeat and may scale up their actions. There are countless ways to avoid responsibility and usher in lawlessness while having justification for doing so.

As we near the upcoming election, here’s an insight from a persuadable voter about their perception of Trump's lawlessness.

“For many of these people, Trump had already crossed a red line. His conviction is just more evidence of his deficient character and his unfitness for high office.”

And his lack of remorse was another log on the fire. There’s no ownership whatsoever. It’s always someone else’s fault,” - Eileen from Illinois said. - The Two-Time Trump Voters Who Have Had Enough

storming of the jan 6 capitol

Taking Responsibility for the Jan 6 Insurrection (And All That Preceded It)

"I feel confident saying that Donald Trump is solely responsible for the events of January 6 because as those rioters were beating us, they told us the reason they were there is because of Donald Trump." - Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, also present during Republican's storming of the capitol

One great place for Trump and Republicans to start taking responsibility is January 6th and all that led up to it.

"The former president convinced a significant amount of the American people that the system was rigged that he won and what did we see as a result of that we saw a mob launched by the former president on the capital of the United States...

We were there when a mob of angry people who believed the former president that their voice wasn't heard made a decision to attack the capital.

Now it would be one thing if after that,  the Republican party and the former president would have taken accountability for what happened, if he'd have said this got out of control, this never should have been... but what do we have instead from the Republicans? We have denial, we have conspiracies, we have lies and we have scoffing."

- Adam Kinzinger, June 26th 2024 Press Conference Where Republcians Kinzinger and Geoff Duncan Endorse Joe Biden

Trump and Republicans had (and still have) the opportunity, but have chosen not only to reject responsibility, they’ve decided to go all in on justifying their wrongdoing and enabling the Jan 6th storming of the capitol. This is a form of tyranny that also communicates that they are content with it happening again.

"Your attitude towards a specific event in the past reveals your specific intent towards the future… When you deny a specific crime that people with whom you identify carried out in the past, you're affirming that crime." - Timothy Snyder

While most Republicans have embraced irresponsibility, a few of us remnant Republicans are taking responsibility. Taking responsibility for Jan 6 is a powerful way to rectify what’s gone so wrong in our country. The alternative is to reject responsibility and continue spiraling.

This is something I’ve done as I’ve identified ways I dropped the ball and contributed to the broader issues that led to January 6th. I also identified some specific ways I was indirectly connected. Much of my writing since the fall of 2023 has been motivated by embracing responsibility for that event, particularly because my party has chosen abdication instead.

And, while I do think the summer riots of 2020 played a role in setting the stage for January 6th, there is a distinct difference between the two. It has to do with the reason it happened (based on a lie), and what it was aimed towards (stealing an election).

There’s an incredible scene in the movie John Wick. If you’ve not seen the movie, the main villain’s son harms John Wick, steals his car, and then kills his dog. The following scene ensues.

Viggo Tarasov: It's not what you did, son, that angers me so... It's who you did it to.

Viggo Tarasov: It's not what you did, son, that angers me so... It's who you did it to.

Iosef Tarasov: Who?... That f***ing nobody?

Viggo Tarasov: That "f***in' nobody" is John Wick.

John Wick was a prestigious assassin and now he was coming for revenge. The theft and violence could have been overlooked, but killing the dog, a gift from his terminally ill wife crossed the line. Like his father said, it wasn’t what Iosef did but who he did it against.

The same goes for January 6th. It wasn’t primarily about the riot or the violence but rather when and who it was done against, as well as the aim of it. It was the end of a long string of events where Trump attempted to consolidate state and federal power into the presidency so he could overturn the election results.

Stabbing someone in the heart is much different than cutting their finger. Jan 6 was a knife to the heart. It was a riot based on a lie to intimidate the vice president and Congress to overturn the democratic election results so the loser would win. And it was also an attempt to override the state's power of choosing the president (using fake electors).

While salient, the violence is secondary to the primary issue. 

“January 6 wasn’t just a riot, let alone the spray-painting of a few statues. It was the last chapter in a coup plot backed by various influential figures in one of the two major parties. Of course the Justice Department was going to regard a violent attempt to overthrow the incoming president more seriously than it would an urban riot.

The insurrection also nearly led to the vice president and members of Congress being murdered. You can lament if you like that the law takes threats to public officials more seriously than it does threats to statues or businesses, but there’s logic to doing so. Morally, Mike Pence’s life isn’t worth more than a park ranger’s, but in terms of its importance to the country, it’s night and day. “ Nick Cattogio , Two Visions of Lafayette Square: Impunity for me but not for thee.

Tyranny reigns in us all and in both of the parties.

But where tyranny goes from the jugular, it’s a critical threat that must be dealt with first.

The Good Samaritan, 1890 by Vincent van Gogh
The Good Samaritan, 1890 by Vincent van Gogh

Taking Responsibility For Our Enemies

What happens when we take responsibility for our enemies, reach across the aisle, and help?

That's the story of the Good Samaritan.

Accepting responsibility is the foundation where we discover true freedom.

One powerful example of this is found in Tim Alberta’s book, The Kingdom, The Power, and The Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism. He describes a situation where progressives financially help conservatives from a motivation of taking responsibility for the problem.

"The one thing that unambiguous, where we can take direct instruction from Jesus, is on the how of politics — when it comes to loving your enemy, having humility, showing mercy, and pursuing truth..."

Alberta talks about a Christian leader named Curtis Chang, who wanted to launch a program on how Christians could operate in politics in a Christ-like way.

"In my mind, this is an evangelical problem. We allowed this to happen and so I felt like it was important that Christian funders take the lead," Chang told me.

"But what I discovered very quickly was that the same paralysis-the same fear of stepping into the fray that has gripped evangelical pastors-has also gripped evangelical funders. Just like the pastor fears the blowback if they speak out, the Christian funders and foundations do as well. Because they're dealing with the same dynamics on their boards and with their constituencies.

So even though I had relationships with these people, I had worked with them before, I kept coming up empty."

Chang sought funding from Christians and Christian organizations, but they were too afraid to wade into the tension because of the backlash for doing so. So, they said no. After all his failures, he considered getting funding from non-Christians. And the secular sources said yes!

"That's what all of them said - yes. In retrospect, Chang told me, it shouldn't have been a surprise. The people he approached, while predominantly progressive in their personal views, were invested in issues of democracy, pluralism, national cohesiveness.

In one particularly impactful meeting, after Chang began with a mea culpa-explaining that this was a problem of evangelicals' own making, and a problem they were responsible for solving-the man across the table, a non-Christian, abruptly cut him off.

"No, no, no. This isn't just your problem. This is everyone's problem," the man told him. "The truth is, some of us have marginalized evangelicals, We have given them reason to be suspicious of us. This is our problem, too."

Politically progressive non-Christians footed the bill to teach Christians how to operate in a Christ-like way in politics. Wow. 

Republican’s enemies took extreme ownership of the problem. They took responsibility and, in response, action to fix it. The author leaves us with the following idea.

"Maybe if we use the resources of the secular world to heal the evangelical Church, then we can also use the spirit of the evangelical Church to heal the secular world."

nightmare hell

Hell No: Two Critical Applications of Freedom versus Tyranny

I share the following quote about Hell, from CS Lewis, not to focus on the afterlife, but to see the spirit of hell and how we humans bring it upon ourselves in this life.

Hell is embodied by the selfish type of freedom I mentioned earlier, that we get everything we want, fueled by our pride.

"CS Lewis depicts Hell in “The Great Divorce” as the Grey City, a place where Pride is given enough rope and spends eternity hanging itself.

The damned get everything they want by just imagining it, which seems like “heaven,” which is why they don't desire to leave.

The souls in the infernal city are living the dream which is really a nightmare.

They have lived the lie for so long that they are enslaved to it.

They have become addicted to their own selfishness and, as with all addictions, the addict becomes a slave to its drug of choice.

They can’t escape because escape requires facing a reality that conflicts with their corroded desires.

The bottom line is that escape requires the self-sacrifice that Pride refuses.

Since Pride is the freedom to choose to refuse to sacrifice ourselves for others, it always results in choosing to sacrifice other to ourselves.

This is why the infernal city is devoid of the love of neighbor which is essential to all community; this is why the souls in the infernal city, loathing their neighbor, live further apart from each other in self-imposed and miserable isolation.

They have made their lives a living hell and wouldn’t have it any other way." - Joseph Pearce, Going to Hell and Purgatory With C.S. Lewis

As we've seen across history, we humans easily bring hell upon ourselves in this life.

There are parts of us, our community, and our political party that want to do anything without consequence (tyranny).

Those of us who want to depart the train to hell, want to transform these tyrannical parts of us towards a freedom based on responsibility.

The hell inside us is what brings about hell upon us. We must get the hell out of us!

As a society, where do we focus? Where is this tyranny most detrimental to the continuance of our country? We need to narrow this idea of tyranny and freedom down to the most important tangible applications.

I've identified two areas.

The first is America's structural distribution of power and the second is honesty about how we select the most powerful person in our country.

These are two fundamental ways that America, as a society, can go monumentally wrong.

Choosing the wrong person is how we usher in the hell described above.

Let's dive into the power dynamic and why it monumentally matters.

crisis definition

2. A Constitutional Crisis in a Unique America: Structural Distribution of Power (Versus Power Consolidated)

"The other fear is that' [Trump has] learned his lesson that he now has lots of professionals behind him attempting to craft the arguments that will allow him to behave and act outside the law and outside the constitution... There is a worry that all the things he learned in his first term, about how to get out of difficulties as president will be cemented in the second term and we will have a truly lawless individual in the White House." - Andrew Sullivan, What I Got Wrong About Trump, Unherd

Power plus lawlessness.

This is the first application of tyranny that is critical. Power without accountability & responsibility is tyranny. Giving power to the corrupt only further corrupts them.

America is fundamentally oriented toward protecting itself from the dangers of tyrannical power, but it is not immune to being overtaken. What makes America unique and strong is its structural distribution of power across the president, Supreme Court, Congress, and the states (federalism).

And it's not just about our country's constitution, but rather about the real structural distribution of power.

The former Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the following about this essentialness of the actual distribution of power.

"But it is a mistake to think that the Bill of Rights is the defining, or even the most important, feature of American democracy. Virtually all the countries of the world today have bills of rights. You would not feel your freedom secure in most of them..."

Liz Cheney summarizes Scalia on this idea from his lectures in her book, Oath and Honor.

“…what truly protects American freedom: the structural provisions of our Constitution, principally the separation of powers and federalism." bill of rights, standing alone, is sufficient to ensure liberty:"

Scalia expands on this idea in his talk with Congress.

“They are what the Framers of our Constitution called "parchment guarantees," because the real constitutions of those countries—the provisions that establish the institutions of government — do not prevent the centralization of power in one man or one party, thus enabling the guarantees to be ignored. Structure is everything…

Those who seek to protect individual liberty ignore threats to this constitutional structure at their peril.”

American freedom is freedom from the foundation of power distributed based on embracing responsibility. Power is shared among many, because of our susceptibility to corruption, and so we can properly steward that power for positive aims. 

Countries that lack this distribution of power structure are the most vulnerable to abuse and consolidation. We've seen this with Russia and China over the last several decades.

Trump despises this idea and attempted to consolidate power in 2020. After that, he publicly called for the end of the constitution based on a lie, which made possible the distribution of power.

“A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution…” - Donald Trump, December 3, 2022

And if there was not a distribution of power, it's possible consolidation of power by Trump would have happened in America.

Trump and his cronies certainly tried and wanted to go further by unconstitutionally seizing power. 

" must be ready Mr President to immediately declare a limited form of Martial Law, and temporarily suspend the Constitution and civilian control of these federal elections, for the sole purpose of having the military oversee a national re-vote... Only then can the winning candidate be accepted as legitimate by a true majority of We the People who must give our consent to be justly governed!" - Mike Flynn, former national security advisor to Trump , Calls for Trump to suspend the constitution and declare martial law to re-run election

So, while America may be more resistant to tyranny than other countries because we distribute power, we’re not immune from tyranny taking over and consolidating power anyway.

"Our systems seem strong, because no one has ever really tested them." - David Frum, Complete Chaos: The Bulwark Podcast, 

Our systems and institutions may seem strong, but they are not immune. We don’t know how far they can bend before they break.

This is a central layer of the 2020 election and now the 2024 election that lies ahead of us, particularly as the Supreme Court has empowered the presidency with legal immunity from official acts, which can be completely morally impoverished.

A former Trump voter, who will be voting for Biden in the fall of 2024, illuminates our vulnerability on this issue as follows.

“I voted for Trump in 2016 because I believed there was nothing he could do that our institutions and our congress couldn’t fix. Boy was I wrong...I never considered that GOP party leaders would fold like a cheap lawn chair…That’s what Trump does to people.” - Farmer Chris from Ohio

Liz Cheney has pointed out, on multiple occasions, that the institutions only hold when there are people who will do what’s true, good, and right in the face of deception and corruption. Last time, that was Mike Pence, along with many others. Here’s what he said about Trump, and why he won’t be supporting or voting for Trump in 2024.

“President Trump asked me to put him over the Constitution… I really do believe that…Anyone who asks someone else to put themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the US again." - Mike Pence, August 2023

Next time, it will likely be someone who is willing to go along with unconstitutional acts. Project 2025 is intended to fire everyone and replace them with people who will do whatever Trump directs them to do.

This dynamic was not something I took into account during the 2020 election when I thought the problem was primarily Trump, and I failed to see how corrupt the Republican party leadership had become.

It wasn’t until I researched, that I discovered how deeply corrupted Republicans became, and how much they went along with the lies and Trump's unconstitutional power grab. I realized America was more vulnerable than I assumed at the time.

The consolidation of power in the most powerful position inside the most powerful country in the world is a recipe for tragedy. Thankfully, enough good people did the right thing in 2020.

Unfortunately, those good people are the very people who have been villainized and alienated from the Republican Party. They're being purged from the party. They're now being threatened with military tribunals should Trump win.

What would come in the next Trump presidency is an unhinged version of what we had before, with a bit of revenge mixed in. And that’s not something I want to entertain; regardless of the policy or economic benefits.

In regards to the immunity granted to the president by the Supreme Court in the January 1st, 2024 bombshell ruling, an American Attorney and political commentator said this about the ruling, because of how much power and protection it gives our president.

"The point is: Don't elect would-be tyrants or criminals!" - Sarah Isgur

Trump and Republicans continually speak of retribution and violence. Trump and his team are advocating for the idea that he should be able to assassinate his political rivals without consequence.

With Trump convicted of 34 felonies, we're seeing the groundwork laid for more violence in 2024, like we saw ahead of January 6th.

An immediate threat I see is the escalation of terror and violence in our country. The danger point for these happening is when Trump loses. It could be losing a trial, losing a verdict, getting sentenced, appearing to lose the election, and losing the election. These are the inflection points where I'll be bracing myself.

The worst case scenario for America is a consolidated power into a person who wants to punish his opposition and who can do no wrong in losing support and is now legally justified in doing so.

If Trump were to win, and I were in Trump’s shoes, I would do whatever it took to prevent criminal consequences and prison time. I'd embrace tyranny to get rid of the consequences of my actions. I'd leverage presidential power to get myself out of trouble. This would involve pardoning myself and dismantling the justice system.

Since this may be hard to do in four years, I'd also be working all channels to stay in power beyond the four years. Who wants to go to prison after leaving the presidency? Thus, the biggest long-term threat Donald Trump has posed to America is the disassembling of our institutions and rule-of-law systems and plunging us into one or more constitutional crises.

In light of the Supreme Court's decision to grant various forms of immunity to the president, David French elaborated on a potential scenario that could be horrific for a tyrant in office.

"a president has the extraordinary authority to order troops into American streets under the Insurrection Act. Then, once deployed, those troops would be under the command of a person who would almost certainly enjoy absolute immunity for the orders he gives them...” - David French

The rules only matter if they are followed and enforced.

If the enforcer (president) doesn't follow them, who will hold him accountable? Will America? This is the situation before us.

entertainment weekly acolyte
Manny Jacinto on 'The Acolyte'. LUCASFILM LTD via Entertainment Weekly

Qimir: [Sigh] Rules, Rules, Rules. If you never follow them, you never have to break them.

Star Wars: The Acolyte

If Trump decides to do whatever he wants, who is going to stop him if he defies the Supreme Court or Congress?

This is why we must first and foremost, vote for someone who will submit themselves to our rules and has demonstrated that they will, especially as Trump surrounds himself with only people that will do his bidding.

"[I]f Americans believe that their constitution alone can safeguard the republic from a Caesar on the Potomac, then they are too sanguine. Preserving democracy depends today, as it always has, on the courage and convictions of countless people all across America—especially those charged with writing and upholding its laws." - Why America is vulnerable to a despot Its democratic system is not as robust as it seems

Andrew Hamilton has a relevant quote about the impending chaos that would be ahead for us, when we embrace the type of man he describes as our leader.

"When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.” - Alexander Hamilton

There is a difference between someone who challenges another person for destructive purposes and someone who provides challenge to make someone better. There is a difference between someone who wants to destroy a system versus someone who wants to build it up. There is a difference between someone who wants to cause division and someone who wants to foster unity and reconciliation. One is driven by selfishness and hate and the other by love. One is aspiring towards something greater and the other is driving to make something worse. 

But this fate is not inevitable. We can choose to go a different story than tyranny. We can choose freedom instead.

The opposite of consolidating power is willingly giving it up. America had a great example in George Washington, someone who could have responded to the calls of his supporters to stay the president and become king. Instead, Washington chose a different and inspirational path of giving up power for the sake of a greater vision and set of values. And a free America was born.

Like George Washington did before us, we all have the choice to let go of power or to seize and consolidate it. Tyrants are successful because of the people who help and enable their success.

And that is not just for our political leaders. How we foster polarization in our own communities contributes to the erosion of America's checks and balances on power.

I'll leave you with this quote from a friend.

"I remember desperately wanting a dictator to come in and clean everything up. I was so stupid."

lincoln memorial
Honest Abe

3. Presidency: Honesty About Electing The Most Powerful Position

“We take great pains to avoid painful truth and when we have no other choice but to stare it in the face, we still deny it, rationalize it, or contend against it.” - Paul Zahl, Who Will Deliver Us

The truth matters because that dictates almost everything we believe and how we act.

America still values honesty, and we don't like being lied to.

“Don‘t Matter who did what to whom at this point. Fact is, we went to war, and now ther ain’t no going back… once you in it, you in it. If it’s a lie, then we fight on that lie. But we gotta fight.” - Slim Charles, the Wire TV Show

Unfortunately, Trump and Republicans have embraced the big lie about the 2020 election. The truth doesn't matter, only the fight.

The person we want in power is not someone who will lie about anything and anyone to gain power, but instead, someone who will tell the truth even when it’s to his own detriment.

Even those who think they’ll do the right thing when it matters are vulnerable to corruption.

Chuck Colson is one prominent example.

"A group of the most powerful men in the world can drift into this grey area…

I never thought I'd get compromised. And that's when you're most vulnerable. Pride creates self-righteousness. Human beings have the infinite capacity for self-rationalization. The only way to avoid this is accountability with other people.” - Chuck Colson, President Richard Nixon’s “Hatchet Man”

And as it applies to tyranny and its application, this is most important when it comes to our election for president.

Because of the stakes involved, it is the truth about the election outcome that is of utmost importance to the continuance of our society.

Unfortunately, one of the two candidates has embraced the lie and is already setting the stage that the 2024 election will be stolen from him. It's nothing new for Trump.

"Trump has never accepted the result of an election he didn't like whether it was his own or anybody else's. You can go through the record. He just doesn't believe that he needs to play by the rules. He believes that if he loses, it's because its rigged.

When a president stands up and says the entire system is rigged, you shouldn't trust it, you should only trust me... are you really saying its a responsible thing to support that person? Especially when he's already shown that he is indifferent to a peaceful transfer of power." - Andrew Sullivan, What I Got Wrong About Trump, Unherd

In many ways, everything hangs on what is true or not. If we don't believe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election, we're going to act from that belief. This is why the truth is so important and consequential.

And that means we need to place our trust in those who will tell the truth about the most important and also most difficult things.

For those who can't tell the truth, it's also a sign of despair, which is a pathway to destruction.

“What happens when you have hope is that you can learn to tell the truth.” - Kavin Rowe

The way forward is to focus truth on the places of the most power. An elementary school student doing naughty things is categorically different than the leader of a country rejecting responsibility and leveraging power for selfish pursuits.

If someone lies about the outcome of the presidential election, they are unfit for office because if they are willing to lie about something as consequential and public as the presidential election, they not only lose their credibility, but they put the entire system at risk. And that's the furthest thing we want for our president and our country.

“The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.

And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself.

The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than any one. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offense, isn't it?

A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill-he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offense, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness.“ - Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

So, if we have to choose between two people it's the one who tells the truth about the election results that compels our vote. They are for something that is so fundamentally important, that if the opponent rejects it, we should advocate for the fundamentals, even when we disagree on policy.

The acceptance of this truth and concession to the legitimate winner is vital for a would-be officeholder. Trump has already told us where he stands through his history and through what he says about what's coming.

"Trump has told us, in advance, he won't recognize the results of the coming election. If he loses, we're headed for a constitutional crisis and if he doesn't win outright and clearly." - Andrew Sullivan, What I Got Wrong About Trump, Unherd

Even with the separation of powers, America’s president is the most powerful single position of all three branches and the states, which have more power distribution.

Only the very best of Americans should be president but we’ve gotten to the point where we have and want the very worst person.

Trump’s former chief of staff, John Kelly, on his former boss: “The depth of his dishonesty is just astounding to me. …He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life.”

We need a standard and a starting point to make things right.

“One man who stopped lying could bring down a tyranny.“ - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Truth is one thing more powerful than the president.

"Deception becomes systemic when we use our collective power to protect what we desire to be true rather than face the destruction and the pain that accompanies the actual truth. Deception functions as a narcotic in protecting us from seeing or feeling that which is painful to us." - Diane Langberg

Don’t be a deception enabler.

Support those who tell the truth about the 2020 and 2024 election outcomes.

Roger Parloff, from Lawfare, says the following in his reflections on the New York case, which summarizes this point well.

“Some have closed their eyes to the evidence presented at the New York trial. The defendant has done so literally, and his political supporters have done so metaphorically. But for those of us who have kept our eyes open, the evidence has been appalling… The evidence has shown that this defendant and his subordinates propagated blizzards of lies to facilitate the defendant’s disgusting and criminal ends.”

The good news for 2024, is that lying in 2020 had consequences.

So, it'll be harder this time.

“Since 2021, defamation lawsuits — like those we’ve filed as part of our Law for Truth project — have been racking up victories against spreaders of false claims about the 2020 election. Those wins are sending a clear message: those who deliberately spread lies in an attempt to undermine U.S. elections will be held accountable.” - Jane Bentrott & Aaron Baird

That is one bit of good news for America.

Lying without consequence is still a bad thing in our society.

Let's work to keep it that way by voting for those who tell the truth about presidential election outcomes.

Measuring Tape

A Detailed Standard Our Political Candidates Must Meet

If we vote for anyone our party nominates, what leverage do we have to make the party better?

If we’re willing to vote for anyone, no matter how bad they are, what’s to stop the worst of the worst from taking over once they slip in?

In his recent blog post, which I discussed with him on the Share Life podcast, David Koyzis talks about the requirements for a political leader.

While the core requirements I've listed above — responsible freedom over tyranny, power distribution, and honesty about presidential elections — are the foundation, we want to move towards a more comprehensive ideal.

David does a great job of describing the type of leader we'll need to build on the foundation and move towards a vision of thriving for all Americans.

"A would-be office-holder
  1. must respect the rule of law above his or her own ambitions;
  2. must be loyal to the country's constitution and abide by its provisions, even to his or her own disadvantage;
  3. must not abuse the office to advance personal financial or other interests;
  4. must honourably concede to his or her successor when defeated in an election;
  5. must refrain from divisive rhetoric and undertake, where possible, to unite the nation around a common task of doing public justice;
  6. must unwaveringly adhere to the truth and refrain from self-justification to cover missteps;
  7. must be generous and charitable to opponents and supporters alike."
  8. You can watch or listen to my interview with David on the Share Life podcast, where we discuss these ideas in depth.

smashing the amercan beach house

Smashing The Foundational Support Beams of America

"The entire constitution of the United States is based upon the rule of law. The rule of law has to be applied, or seem to be applied as much as possible, equally. Trump has openly stated that the president should be above and outside the law.

If he is convicted of crimes, some of which are quite serious in respect to his political position, he doesn't care. He will seek to be re-elected to overturn the rule of law, with respect to himself. And that's what we can see coming.

In other words, we will have an election in which [Trump] will say, it's me or the rule of law." - Andrew Sullivan, What I Got Wrong About Trump, Unherd

The image above is a visual of the foundational attacks we have on our country's foundations. The quote highlights the main threat to these foundations.

Making clear what these foundational values are in this post will hopefully help us steer away from our own participation in foundational destruction and encourage our pushback against those who are participating.

It’s not partisan for me, just core. 

I'm in support of people who care for the structure beams that hold up the house we call America. I'm against those that want and try to tear them down. And, discussing the window-breaking behavior is a distraction when the demolition of the beams is going on.

Some will say that Biden and Democrats may be upstairs breaking windows and ripping up the couch, and I’ve got my issues with that, but it's categorically different. Those who differ can bring forth their own argument as to what is more foundational than what I've presented here.

Those who share this value of maintaining and protecting these beams I've articulated are people I will work with, across party lines. And as a Republican, that includes working and supporting Democrats.

I’m part of a movement that is in favor of those beams holding up the house. And, you're welcome to join.

When almost all the Republican presidential candidates said they’d support a convicted criminal for president in the first debate, I realized how far gone the Republican Party was and that doing nothing was not going to rectify things.

My blind spot was that the cancer in the Republican party would just magically go away over time. This clarity, that it would not go away without treatment, along with the Jan 6 insurrection, activated me to step into the gap.

I’m a Republican speaking out about my group. If in the future, when the Democrats become a fundamental threat at the same level as Republicans are now, you’ll see me activate similarly.

Ultimately, I want to cast a vision for a way forward that transcends the two parties. It’s a vision that embraces taking responsibility and inviting accountability, starting with the beams of that house. Later, we’ll work our way up to the windows and couches.

And, we can move towards the ideal, or away from it. We can start today or tomorrow.

So, do we want someone more like Mister Rogers or more like Al Capone to lead our country? We Americans have the freedom to decide the answer to this question.

The economy, policy issues, and other things we want may come from the candidate more like Al Capone. Are we willing to say no to him, when it means it could cost us something more important?

This essay is one of my arguments about how I will decide and also what you should seriously consider as you make your own decision.

"There are all sorts of policies I disagree with Biden intensely on. But Biden has not said, the president can rule alone. Biden has not said I believe in war crimes. Biden has not said that if I lose an election I will never concede it. The current president has not attempted to stop the peaceful transfer of power. These are acts so outside the norms of constitutional behavior that I think they represent an extreme danger to the basic procedures, norms and laws of a self governing Republic which is why I find it still unconscionable that one should vote for Trump." - Andrew Sullivan, What I Got Wrong About Trump, Unherd

One more visual for you. The prior clip, from the ending of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, came to mind when I thought about visualizing how things are unfolding with Trump and Republicans smashing the support beams of America.

make responsibility great again graphic

Conclusion: Responsible Freedom, Shared Power & Honesty About Presidential Election Outcomes

“Populism simply doesn’t do introspection. It’s forever in search of enemy tribes on which to blame its failures; the closest it comes to self-reflection is concluding that it wasn’t nasty enough in pursuing its agenda.

The reason Trump’s 2020 campaign ended with “rigged election” propaganda instead of recriminations is because that’s all a movement like his can muster to explain its defeats, particularly when it’s led by a creature like him.

It won’t be any different in 2024. Or in 2028, perhaps.”

- Nick Cattogio, Blame Game: If Democrats lose, they’ll eat their own. If Republicans lose, it’ll be business as usual.

I want a Republican party that will once again believe in individual responsibility for everyone, including Donald Trump. I don’t want a president who advocates that he should have the power to assassinate his rivals without consequence. 

I want a president who values shared power and protects America’s structural separation of powers. I don’t want a president who will use unconstitutional means to consolidate power and stay in office when he’s lost.

I want a president who will be honest about presidential elections and tell the truth even when it means he’s lost. I don’t want a president who will lie and deceive people to stay in power or cause damage on his way out.

Growing up, my father taught me, through a church leadership program, the following four values.

  • Reject passivity.
  • Take responsibility.
  • Lead Courageously.
  • Expect God's Greater Rewards.

I also recently read Andy Stanley's parenting book and one of his two rules is that there is nothing worse than telling a lie.

The things many of us have been taught growing up, are the values Republicans have forgotten. I'm working to bring them back and to make taking responsibility great again while a large portion of the church ignores them when it's politically expedient.

I'm reminded of this quote from Oswald Chambers, about the predicament we're inside.

"The average man in Job's condition is apt to break away from all authority. A lesser man than Job would have become a philosopher and said that every man is a law unto himself, i.e., his own inner consciousness is sufficient law... To be without any authority is to be lawless, but to have only an internal authority is as bad as having a blind external authority; the two must meet together somehow." - Oswald Chambers, Our Ultimate Refuge: Job and the Problem of Suffering

We Americans have got authority issues. We have to decide the foundation we want to stand on. More consequential truth and less lies? Shared or consolidated power? Meaningful elections or sham ones?

When it comes to the integrity of our house, someone can come in and steal things, break windows, and punch holes in the wall. But if someone dismantles the house foundation, that house is going to collapse and lead to the worst form of tragedy for everyone inside. This is why my focus is on the foundations and less on the policy part. We're at a moment to decide who we want to be as a country, going forward. What's the story we want to tell?

For our society to continue and get better, this foundation is required; freedom over tyranny and freedom based on responsibility. Shared power over the consolidation of power. And, truthful outcomes and messages when it comes to how we select the most powerful person in our country.

If we embrace tyranny, and dismantle American power structures using unconstitutional means, while deceptively tearing down trust in our presidential elections, all other issues and policies won't matter anymore. This cornerstone holds up the rest of the Constitution and policies. 

It's this societal cliff we hang over. Should we go further over the edge or pull back from it?

David French leaves us with the following quote, in response to the Supreme Court's decision about presidential immunity.

The bottom line is clear: Trump’s fate (and potentially even the rule of law) is entirely in the hands of the American people. They alone will decide if he can be held accountable. - David French, The Supreme Court Helps Trump — and Future Presidents — Dodge Accountability

Additional Resources

2020 Riots & January 6th Insurrection

Movements Embracing Responsible Freedom, Shared Power & Honesty

For the politically homeless I wanted to share a few groups I've discovered over recent years that I believe are embracing these values I've indicated above. Check them out and let me know what you think.

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