Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

A Principle Centered Democracy?

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“We need a principle centered democracy.”

“Are you kidding me?” said my friend Helmut.

“There is no such thing. Politics is a blood sport. The nature of politics is warfare. Whoever is standing at the end is the winner.”

“So you’re telling me that there’s no such thing? You’re telling me that an idea like Stephen Covey’s principle centered leadership or mama’s ideas of “treat everybody right,” can’t be put in everyday practice for everybody in this country?

“What is the constitution if not a principle centered document upon which the foundations of this republic stand. What then is democracy if not to help as many people as it can at all the times it can as long as ever it can?”

I went on. “Is the mission to cheat, kill, steal and destroy? Is the mission to deceive, disrupt, oppress, and corrupt? Is the purpose to deny, demean and belittle the people? Could not principle centered leadership replace party driven leadership in this nation?

“Stephen Covey? Stephen Covey? I love Covey-Good to Great and all that- but don’t be stupid Stewart. It will never come to that,” he said. “Never in a million years.”

Why not?

“What about the principles of justice, fairness, equity and equality, truth, honesty, compassion and charity? Are not these the elements which build individual character as well as the collective character of a nation? Can’t we do this one person at a time?”

“You forget one thing, Mr. Doctor, Reverend,” he said, rising from his chair pointing his finger in my face. “You can’t build the collective character of a nation filled with curmudgeons, diehards and bigots, man, particularly when too many good people sit silent and allow them to run amok.

Look what’s happened since Trump was elected. No, better yet look at American history. Do you know how long it would take to undo or redo the bad thinking and bad feelings that so many people have toward each other in this country?

These people have been taught, fed and bred this hatred from before they were born. It’s in their background and history; maybe in their cellular, chromosomal, molecular makeup. I am not crazy and don’t believe all that genetic deficiency junk but this stuff runs real, real deep. I know about it. I have seen and experienced it first hand.

Do you know how many centuries it would take to get that kind of ill will out of the hearts and minds and souls of too many people in this country? It would take forever and it’s not going to happen because too many people’s identity and faith and future and fortune are wrapped up in this hatred.

Too many people of every passion and persuasion, from every corner and neck of this planet would die a thousand deaths before they turned it all loose or changed for the better because some of us could never change.

No matter how bad we wanted it there is just something in us that could never abide that or do that; something in us that just prevents us from letting go from what has taken hold of us for centuries Stewart, which is the issue of survival!

So despite what type of Utopian society you build; however fair-share it is supposed to be for everybody, there will always be some people that will resent you having such fairness and equity especially when they are not the primary ones getting even a minimal amount of their fair share.

Something on the inside will not allow them to support or endorse anybody else getting their fair share but them. And the people who got more than their share don’t help matters none because they are the people who have helped create the mess we are now in.

They are running things and they don’t care so long as they getting what they want which is more and more and more and more of what you have because in their minds you are not supposed to have anything.

Usually when people are running things and not serving people it means they are running things into the ground.

It’s hard enough building character in one person. How you going to build the character of a whole country and talk about principles? What principles? For some people the only principle is for them to get theirs and they don’t give a damn about other people not getting theirs. So there you have it.

No matter how many sermons you preach, how many meetings you meet, how many marches you march or torches you light for freedom and justice and equality- principles which build character- as you say, it ain’t a never going to be that way because there will always be people who resent not just you but anybody having what they cannot get because part of the problem is how they feel about themselves.

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.

Many of them don’t feel good about themselves. They say this is my country, but they don’t feel it’s their country anymore. They don’t feel that the promises of America have been kept for them. They feel like failures to themselves and their families. They have taken a lot for granted. They have worked hard but never really felt they had to worry about much because their own people would take good care of them because white people were in charge of everything.

On one hand there is the myth or belief, if you will, that they are supposed to have everything because of their white skin. On the other hand, many are now blamed for not having more than they have because they should have more because they are white and it’s their entire fault for being in such a low position.

So they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. So many of them are looking around and saying “What the hell happened?” I thought this was my country first. Many of them fought for the slave owners during the Civil War and did not even know the owners they were fighting for. Those everyday folks didn’t even own land.

So they have been promised from the beginning that they would have it all. Their skin color gave them a sense of privilege so they never had to worry about much because this country was founded by white men and that is that. But now they are the objects of scorn and contempt because they should be much further ahead economically but they are way behind. They are suffering, in pain and disillusioned and feel trapped.

So now after all these years when jobs are shipped overseas, which ain’t never coming back, and robots are replacing people in the factories that have stayed here in America, and water is contaminated, and the air is polluted and the towns they live in are breathing their last gasps on life support because the factories have closed down or moved away, it seems they are barely standing; it seems that they are having more than their fair share of pain, poverty, and injustice. It seems other people are doing better than they are and it’s not supposed to be that way, especially for some white people.

They see the images of successful black folks in the media and they ask either consciously or subconsciously how did those Negroes get all that after all they’ve been through or all that’s been done to them? How do they keep coming back and succeeding after slavery and Jim Crow and other forms of oppression and push-back?

Read Dr. Carol Anderson’s book, White Rage which explains how black advancement and achievement from Reconstruction to Affirmative Action have been resented and decimated by white people and you will know what I am talking about.

So many of them feel that they have been swindled and bamboozled out of a livable future, but the problem is that because of deep seated racism they have been taught to believe that black people were the problem when all along you all have been the solution to America’s problems since the beginning of America.

Black people were brought here to solve the problem of labor in an agricultural economy. You all have always been solving the problems facing America by fighting in her wars and doing everything and making every sacrifice America has asked of you to make America greater but many white people refuse to see it that way.

On the other hand, many white people do see it that way and have no problem with the truth. When they get involved with justice and freedom like what’s happening now in America everything changes for better for real.

Let’s be honest. The same thing happened with Civil Rights and all other major movements.  The moment white people got involved it gave those movements more credibility, more momentum and more power to effect the positive change in the eyes of many Americans.

So this hatred and resentment has been ingrained in many of them feeling that blacks and browns and others are the culprits; that they are responsible for all their problems which is nothing but a lie and a massive hoax that has been forced on them since the beginning of America. This lie goes on because some people are profiting from the conflict and the division between races, and with emotions running so high all time over this issue, we can’t seem to hurdle the barriers and walls that keep us divided.

So many white people have been tricked by their own people; the land grabbers, the carpetbaggers, the money grubbers and the media tricksters, have fleeced them and made your people the enemy and now many of them feel angrier than ever as their eyes have been opened for real.

Many of them have begun to see that black and brown people are not the real problem. The real problem is how they have been scammed and manipulated and played into thinking that they had to fear you because black folks were going to take everything away from them that was precious such as their women, their land, their guns and their jobs!

But when the truth is told black people did not send their jobs overseas. Black people did not close their factories. Black folks have not taken their land. Black people did not try to rob them of their health care. In fact a black man named Barack Obama gave them that health care because he was the President for everybody and not just a select few, although the select few got their share too.

Many of them had problems with President Obama because he achieved something that no black man was supposed to ever accomplish. He did not fit their stereotypes of a black man who was to be feared but as it turns out he was much admired by the people and many people really miss him now even though he is still blamed by his successor.

Some considered him a uppity nigger and they just could not come to grips with this reality. So racial violence increased. Outbreaks of violence against Latinos and LGBT’s and others have escalated. In his hometown of Chicago, gun violence and death rocketed off the charts with black youths killing each other at record rates.

Your people have been scapegoated as the problem because of the resentment and insecurities that have been taught to my people which have built up over the centuries and no principle centered democracy is going to change that because if we can’t have freedom, equality and justice in a country whose very identity is built upon those principles then what hope do we have?

A lot of this has to do with a lack of self-esteem from certain segments of the white population. This stuff about white supremacy is not supremacy at all but a form of whites feeling less than a person, overlooked, undervalued and unappreciated. These feelings must be compensated, so rage and anger and killing become the answer which never brings the kind of peace that promotes compassion and understanding.

Now President Trump comes along with his false promises, spewing the deeper resentments toward others that many whites have felt for a long time. They thought he was their man. They thought he would keep his promises but soon found out that he was not for them either. He talked a good game and really looks like one of them, excuse me, one of us, but time will tell if he will make good. It’s hard to see that when most of his cabinet appointees are millionaires and billionaires. Will they do right by everyday people?

So they feel betrayed by the politicians who say they represent them who come begging for their votes at election time. They use race baiting code words and buzz words to make them feel afraid that the darkies are coming; that the darkies and gays and others are really coming to take over America.

These politicians have promised the people the whole hog but now the people realize they can’t even get a crumb from a pork rind in paper bag. They thought the politicians were looking out for them but now they realize that they too have been tricked and sold out to the larger corporations and big money fellas.

Moreover, as a white person, I must renounce any beliefs that tie my people’s elevation to your people’s annihilation. It’s how we all think and what we have been taught to believe which makes the difference.”

I was mesmerized by his words. He was speaking the truth of whites who felt left out.

“But that’s my point Helmut. We need guiding principles to turn this around; principles that we can espouse and practice so that everybody gets treated right; not just people on the basis of race, not just on the basis of money and power and other things.

We need a country that is guided by higher principles where everybody is a person-no exceptions, no caveats, no policies of exclusion- because there is no political upside. We need guiding principles because it is the right thing to do. It leads to a good end. It makes us all better.

I feel your pain about your people and everything that you say is right, except the part that all is hopeless, that people cannot change for the good. I understand what you mean and I hear you. There are people who profit from this conflict and division; they laugh all the way to the bank; many of these problems should have long since been solved by now.

But the problem is blame-gaming. As long as we keep blaming people who don’t deserve to be blamed, we will never solve the problems of America. We can’t solve them all but we can try solving some. And even where there are people who must shoulder the blame for the mess that we are in, we need to focus on solving the problem and one way of doing it is by moving beyond blaming to reconciliation and understanding. This takes guts, more courage, a willingness to confess and move on from our sins and failings.

This means acknowledging our own pain and the pain of others. It means finding the strength to listen to and feel the humanity of persons who have hurt us and the reverse.

By confessing and moving on we can fall forward in the words of John Maxwell.

It’s we the people, we the people, we the people. In a principle centered democracy, a hand up is not hand out. It’s what we give to our country and to each other- our best- that makes a difference.

Like the World War I soldier who reminded a Senator visiting him in the hospital one day after the Senator lamented out loud that the soldier had lost his arm for his country. “Sir,” said the soldier. “I didn’t lose my arm for my country, I gave it.”

Principle Centered Democracy says that we don’t lose by giving the best of ourselves. We all win. We must see our giving not as something that is being taken away from us but something that makes us all better and stronger as we have our lives in this nation. We must state what we are for and not always what we are against. Don’t let the “against” determine the nature and trajectory of the “for.”

Like me and you. You are a southern white man with a German first name who grew up in rural Alabama and I am a northern black man who grew up in the big city of Detroit, Michigan.

Here we are as friends having a conversation about what matters to us. The point is we are here listening to each other. Listening to understand each other and that’s where it all begins: listening to realize that we are both human beings with thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams. We both have our stories of pain and suffering. Our people have been warring enemies but many of us have become friends. We don’t have to give into our fears but we must keep working at this vision and never ever, ever give up.

When we change our thinking we can change our actions. When we change our actions we can change our future.

Too much is at stake in our country now. It is the higher, nobler principles which guide  and strengthen and help us save us and bring us together. The moral arch of the universe bends toward truth, justice and freedom.

We must take the walls and make them into bridges so that positive change can happen, so that principle centered democracy can come to pass. People can change. Some will never change and we understand that too, but in order for us to live together as people and not perish as fools we must seek the higher values and principles that build us all up and make us stronger not as mortal enemies but as compassionate allies and friends who hear one another and work together for a common ground for the greater good of us all.

Brother Helmut you have spoken the truth but I believe that a principle centered democracy is possible and I believe that you believe it too. Otherwise we would not be here having this conversation. You overcame the constraints of your upbringing and I did too.” That’s why we are here. We must begin somewhere. It’s the principle of the thing. That’s what matters.

“I know you say Stewart that we must treat everybody right. God bless everyone. No exceptions, and I appreciate it very much and try to put myself in other people’s shoes other than my own, so I can feel what people are going through.” Helmut said.

“A principle centered democracy is possible if we believe. Hey let’s continue this conversation over lunch,” I said.

Your treat? He said.

“I got it last two times so this time let’s split the tab.”



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