Saturday, June 24, 2017

President Trump and the Tragedy of American Ingratitude

by Nomad

Gratitude-The Parent of all Virtues

I've been doing some thinking on the subject of gratitude. How grateful am I? How much do I take for granted and do I count my lucky stars enough? Do any of us?
As the Roman Cicero said:
Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others."
As a concept, it often seems like it has gone the way of solitude and horse and buggy. Meaning, when you do find it, it's an exceptional and underrated thing.

Gratitude is defined as a feeling of appreciation or thanks. Unique among the nations of the world, the US is the one country that actually has a holiday (supposedly) dedicated to giving thanks. There was a time when saying blessings at dinner was fairly common. You'd think, therefore, giving thanks would still be an unshakeable American principle.

For some time, studies have suggested there are underlying connections between how grateful we are and how happy we are. But the connections are not as straightforward as you might think.
For example, a recent Harvard University study linked the feeling of gratitude with an overall increase in happiness. It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It's being grateful that makes us happy.

There were other findings too. People tended to express gratitude in three ways.  
The first is by referring to the past to reflect on positive memories. The second, to be in the present, without taking anything for granted. The third is to maintain a positive outlook about the future.
Furthermore, the researchers also found that being grateful is a habit that can be cultivated and strengthened over time. It is much less related to personality types and general disposition, and more to attitudes. Being grateful is a choice and, if it means also being more content, why wouldn't anybody at least give it a try, right?

So how can we choose to be more grateful?
Robert Emmons,  professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, has investigated this subject and some of his theories are interesting. He argues that gratitude has two key components.
First, there is what he called "an affirmation of goodness" meaning we acknowledge that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits that we have been fortunate to receive.
The second part of gratitude, he explains, is a recognition that the sources of this goodness are are outside of ourselves.
"We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”
Clearly, for some people that means having a belief in God. But that's not the only path to gratitude/happiness, says Emmons. We simply must appreciate that our lives are part of something larger in the world. The key is to understand that we owe a debt to others for these good things.  

Here's an excerpt from one of his lectures. 

Ingratitude on a Larger Scale 

But could this apply not just to individuals but to nations? Have we become an ungrateful nation? It seems so sometimes. And this could be one reason why there are also so many unhappy voters.

If you listened to Fox News for the past 8 years, it was hard to recall that Americans are probably the luckiest people in the world. Americans have every reason to be grateful. 

The majority of them have had the privilege of enjoying a high standard of living in a nation that for the most part- respects civil rights. If they could afford it, they had access to probably the best health care in the world. They had a government that cared about progress in science. 

More than that, America is- or least, was, a respected nation which is a key aspect of international leadership. We were, for example, a country that was respected for its position on climate change. Even when we fell short, we were a nation that was respected for its leadership in human rights. In that regard, America wasn't perfect by any stretch but it outranked China or Russia and many other nations. 

We had so much to be grateful for. Americans operated under a constitution that protected their right to protest without fear of being murdered, or arrested or gassed or hosed down with water cannons.

Unlike many other countries, the US valued a free press. Journalists had no fear of being murdered in the streets for the things they published, They didn't have to worry about being thrown in jail because they argued with the ruling party. Gay Americans do not - normally- have to fear that they will be blackmailed by the morality police, or thrown in jail for their sexual orientation.

Even on a basic level, we have always had so much to be grateful for. Clean water, clean air, and a safe working environment.   There were regulations and laws that protected the little guy. These protections, once welcomed at the end of the Gilded Age, became was so natural that it shouldn't be a surprise that people take them for granted. 

It was not perfect but on the scales of good and bad, Americans really didn't have much to complain about. Or better put, we have a lot to be grateful for.

And yet, a study in the British Journal of Social Psychology noted that “20% of American adults rated gratitude as a constructive and useful emotion, compared to 50% of Germans. Ten percent of Americans responded that they ‘regularly and often’ experience the emotion of gratitude, as compared to 30% of Germans.”

It seems like the moment we became ungrateful as a nation, we became a country of unhappy voters. And that's become our tragic cycle of discontent.

Polar Opposite

In January of this year, Dick Meyer, a Washington correspondent and author wrote an op-ed piece entitled "Thanks again, Mr. President, on behalf of an ungrateful nation."

Meyers pointed out that "roughly 40 percent of the country's voters feel the opposite of gratitude for the president. They hate him without qualification."
He also added with some degree of assurance that this is will change over time. He has his reasons for being so sure.
I have no doubt that history will rank Barack Obama as a great president at a troubled, confusing time. I suspect a more respectful and appreciative view of his legacy and presidency will emerge sooner rather than later. This will be due to the character and values of the man who will succeed Obama at high noon on Inauguration Day, Donald Trump.
Meyer's pre-inauguration prediction has been more than fulfilled. Even to those who couldn't stand Obama, it is harder to make a good case for Trump's presidential excellence. Polls show a deeply unpopular president who has staggered from one fiasco to another.

And ungrateful and unhappy America elected a man who is the represents the polar opposite of Obama, who Meyers called "a man  of discipline, dignity, and intellect."
History also will remember the grace he and his entire family showed in the face unparalleled poisonous partisan attack, racism and danger. Indeed, part of Obama's legacy, of what he has come to symbolize, is the character of how he has held power and governed — his calm braininess, his discipline, his class, honesty, and realism. Think about how Obama responded in the summer of 2016 to the church mass murder in Charleston and the police shootings in St. Paul and Baton Rouge — and think about Trump's tweets.
Unhappy America's politically catastrophic volte-face can be attributed to a widespread lack of appreciation among the electorate.

"You Didn’t Get There On Your Own"

I recently read a quote by English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead which states:
No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.
It's a simple idea that most people never thought too much about. But remember the unholy outrage in conservative circles back in 2012 when President Obama attempted to remind an ungrateful class what they had to be grateful for.
"There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
Because we, as a nation, dismissed what Obama was trying to say- in the same way, Jimmy Carter's message about materialism was missing back in 1979- we are now faced with, Donald Trump a president who genuinely thinks he is the smartest and most hardworking person in America. Without any doubt, he is a poster child for materialism and greed. In the whole nation, he could just be the most ungrateful citizen. 

Despite his numerous bankrupts, Trump knows that he is the best businessman God ever created. He doesn't understand the idea of "indebtedness" in any respect.
Despite his "small" million dollar loan from his father, he claims to be a self-man man. This is a man who takes a great deal of pride in outfoxing the tax man even though, he is more than willing to exploit the multitude of benefits of being an American. Knowing all this, voters still chose this man to the nation's leader.

And so we elected a man who clearly believes he doesn't need to thank anybody for anything, especially for his success. The walking talking epitome of ingratitude.   
President Trump may be the most ungrateful president in US political history. (And, not too coincidentally, he is probably the most unhappy president.)

Appreciation and E Pluribus Unum

Yet, let's go back to Obama's speech and we can see how this ties into basic gratitude. 
"The point is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together...

"So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the G.I. Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President -- because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together."
How could anybody find a way to twist this very American idea? But that's exactly what happened. It all can be traced back to arrogance and ingratitude.

The whole idea that we are in this together used to be the core reason for the existence of government. Somehow, through decades of right-wing brainwashing, government is no longer the manifestation of the people's will or an expression of people working together.
The US government, as depicted by the right-wing media, is big and greedy. It is evil, not something we control. It is a powerful lumbering beast that must be slayed.
If you listen to the propaganda, our government is public enemy number one. There are still plenty of Trump voters hold that position.
Government is something that must be destroyed. And, as soon as Trump sworn on the Bible to protect and defend the Constitution, that's exactly what we have been witnessing.

Ingratitude Turns to Tragedy

A slim majority of Americans were too ungrateful to appreciate- even begrudgingly- Obama's efforts. For that reason, the entire nation is currently suffering from the excesses and the short-comings of Trump- "a man of impulse, vulgarity, and demagoguery."

It is, Meyers says, a tragedy. It is, moreover, a tragedy that could easily have been avoided. Had there been even the slightest bit of gratitude, things in Washington would be very different right now. It is indeed a national tragedy and one which will bring a great deal of misery on the most defenseless citizens, the young, the old and the sick.
When the motion to replace affordable health with what was inferior, the incompetence of the president and his party resulted in a political disaster for the Republicans yet avoiding a catastrophe for the entire nation.

If Trumpcare becomes the law of the land, millions of Americans would be stripped of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. And that number includes people who voted for Trump.

It is extremely hard to have much sympathy for such people. If their empathy was lacking, you would think that, at the very least, their self-interest would kick in.
Sadly, if given the same choice between Hillary Clinton and an incompetent or deranged con-artist, the ever-ungrateful majority of these would make the voting mistakes all over again.

They are too unhappy to be grateful and too ungrateful to be happy.