In his classic, The True Believer, Eric Hoffer examined the psychology of mass movements and described how in times of great turbulence, what many seek is not freedom but “freedom from freedom.” They want someone else to be responsible, both in the sense of “at fault” and in the sense of “accountable.” They become entranced by strongmen who will wield power in our name. Hoffer wrote in the wake of Nazism and fascism and in the midst of the Cold War. But he describes a strong current of our own times and the culture of Trumpism. Our choice is not about the presidency or any election. It is about whether we as free people respond to a sense of powerlessness by claiming our full actual power—or by surrendering it altogether. “Strong people don’t need strong leaders,” the civil rights activist Ella Baker once said. Are we strong people? We in the United States have an opportunity now to create the planet’s first mass multicultural democratic republic. Ancient Athens was a democracy but not mass, multicultural, or a republic. Rome’s republic was multicultural and democratic but not mass. The Soviet Union was mass, multicultural, and a republic but not democratic. No nation has ever hit all four marks. Including the United States. And it is unclear whether the United States will. What is certain is that we are at the birthing of a new America: the beautiful, painful, bloody arrival of a new majority that does not call itself white. This new America is arriving at precisely the same time when our national government is locked in sclerosis, our economy is warped to send prosperity to the already prosperous, and our sense of shared memory and common culture is dissipating. That all these circumstances are converging now guarantees nothing except contest and conflict. So then: Do you dare integrate character and power? Do you dare work to ensure that more people can participate in power? Do you dare define self-interest as mutual interest?
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