essays on suffering and awakening

An (off-brand) State of the Union

For many of us, it has been a painful last two years. But there is also a lot to feel good about where we are. The ugly behavior of the Trump administration has sparked something in our country and shaken many of us from our communal slumber.

Today, as much as at any point in our history, I believe we see the suffering in our country clearly. For many years, we’ve treated immigrants badly, ignored the changing climate and strained planetary ecosystems, been silent in the face of mass incarceration and police brutality, and watched as our society shared ever less of our wealth equitably among us. The roots of now run deep.

But the Trump administration has taken such extreme action in so many areas that we can’t help but pay attention. The political consensus is changing. Democrats are making real noise about income inequality, climate change and the injustice of our justice system. Broad bipartisan support among voters for proposals floated by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren to significantly increase upper-income taxes indicate that more of us want a decent standard of living for all of us than we might think. Younger Republicans, too, are also opening up to the reality of a warming planet: a bipartisan Green New Deal may be more possible than it might seem. If the die has been cast, who says we can’t cast it again?

President Trump continues to reveal himself as the emperor with no clothes. An impressive group of Democrats is lining up to challenge him in 2020. That doesn’t mean we don’t have more rough days ahead of us, but this too shall pass. Change seems impossible and then one day everything is different.

We’ve got room here to make a step forward. My hope is that seeing our collective suffering so plainly, we take that step and continue to care.

We know what it looks like when our government targets the most vulnerable among us. But can we learn to do things differently, before cruelty again dons the mask of sober policy and our apathy returns? We’ve witnessed the madness that comes from bringing fear and rage into the voting booth. But can we remember that means that we can’t just write each other off? We’ve laid bare the grinding wheels of the machine. But can we start to understand that even the mightiest system of injustice starts with a single nagging thought: that some of us are separate from the rest of us?

To tear down the engines of oppression, we need to face the delusions that have sustained them throughout the long course of human history. Can we be brave enough to turn towards our own ugliness, our own ignorance and our own sense of separation? Can we use what we find to fuel our capacity for forgiveness and compassion, extend that love to our communities and elect leaders who do the same? Can we listen to each other when we ask for help?

If we look, we can see that what happens in Los Angeles matters in Cincinnati and that the suffering of folks in Selma touches the lives of not just those in Honolulu but Lagos, Beijing, and Stockholm. We’re all in this together. Can we feel that?

The time and place to do it is now. The seeds are planted and the rain has been falling. Can we continue to nurture them to life?

Ian Cooper