A Very Disturbing, and Dangerous, Situation—Political Polarization and Populism Run Amok

I was awoken in the middle of the night this week with a disturbing recognition. We are seeing the rise of a  regressive left-wing populism that is not that different from the right-wing populism that put Donald Trump in power. It is a reality that troubles me in terms of humanity’s general well-being. None of the really important questions of our time can be addressed from the positions of either extreme. And certainly the last thing we need is more polarized drama and distraction in times that are demanding enough. 

This reality also troubles me in a more personal sense. My life’s work has involved training leaders in the more mature and systemic kind of thinking needed to address most any of the most important questions ahead for the species. In the present context, when it might seem that my contribution could not be more important, and find myself at an impasse. I can’t come close to saying what ultimately needs to be said about most any issue today without violating political correctnesses of either the Right or the Left, and commonly both at once. And these are not quibbles about details. In making the most obvious elephant-in-the-room assertions, I am challenging beliefs that each side regards not just as true, absolutely, but sacred. 

In waking I found myself asking a question that I never thought I would consider, and that would not occur to me in a waking state. In Seattle where I live there is a person on the city council who identifies as a socialist and consistently says things that are are ludicrous, beyond comprehension, and as inflammatory as anything Trump would say. I consider Trump not just the worst U.S. President in history, but someone who presents particular dangers for our time. I found myself asking if our city council person were to run against Trump, who would I vote for. In fact that situation would never present itself and I wouldn’t vote for either if it did. But it leaves the question of who would be the most dangerous. Trump’s dangers have less to do with ideology than his basic mental health. The council woman is an absolutist, unswerving, simple-answer ideologue. 

To be clear, I am not just complaining about extremism, which has always been a problem. Middle of the road thinking gets us no closer. As a start, I’m talking about leaders claiming to present “big” ideas when in fact they are failing to ask the hard questions. And of particular concern, I’m talking about how large a percentage of people on both the Right and Left are today finding comfort in becoming hoards of the like-minded—all too ready to collude in ignoring the complexities of what our times ask of us. And also of great concern, I don’t see the media (either the media of the Right or the media of the Left) at all ready to challenge this shared simplemindedness. Too often, the media considers the soap opera that results when Right and Left clash almost the definition of news. Such drama reliable attract ears and eyeballs, but in fact it only distracts from the questions that today desperately need our attention (and that if given needed attention, would actually be news). 

I’ve written extensively about how our future well-being will require a sophistication of understanding that before now would not have been an option. Instead we are seeing regressive thinking across the board. Given the magnitude of the challenges we face, if we are not willing to open our eyes, we could find ourselves in increasing in peril.

There is a good reason why I might wake up feeling disturbed. Sometimes issues that come with middle-of-the-night awakenings temper considerably with the light of day. I am now awake, and I feel even more concerned.