The other day I was having coffee with two friends at my favorite central Tokyo coffee shops. Being somewhat on opposite ends of the political spectrum. we had long ago agreed not to talk politics. Sometimes politics creeps in by accident. I take the blame on this occasion because of one utterance, “America is finally being made good again.” As soon as these words left mouth a hush descended on our table. One of my friends began stirring his coffee nervously. Looking over at the coffee stirrer I noticed him glancing at his MAGA political gendarme in arms.
All of us having lived in Japan for more than double digit years, I only assumed that while our politics were different, the real MAGA phrase was silly. Not from the commiserating looks they gave one another.
As a former New Yorker I am not afraid to speak my mind when called upon to do so. This was one of those callings. Breaking the silence I said, “Come on, really, you both think that America needs to be great again. Was it ever really great?” Not able to stop myself, it morphed into a rant, “What was it that made America great? What about other countries? Don’t you think that all countries have their own sort of greatness? ” In rehearsed-like head nods they both disagreed.
They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. They also say, wisdom is knowing when to keep your mouth shut. I said nothing further changing the subject to what Minnesotans knows best, the weather.
After our coffee talk while on the train ride home I started thinking about the MAGA statement in the context of my two friends. Despite the fact that they have been living in Japan for a combined total of thirty plus years, they still think America was great and has the potential to be great again. This begs the question, “Why are they living in Japan if America could be great again?” I don’t know their answers, nor do I want to jump into their headspace and speculate. I would think that if one wanted to “MAGA” then living in the country to help make it “MAGA” would be the best course of action.
This leads me to the title of this blog – Careful What You Pray For (Or MAGA in the making) Let’s say for the sake of argument that Trump is a god-fearing man and everyday since the beginning of the MAGA craze that got him elected, before the start of each day and after his McDonald’s breakfast he has been hitting his knees at the White House church praying to the almighty. Because of his consistent earnestness his MAGA prayer is now being answered, but not in the way he expected. It never is.
From my experience, anytime I prayed for something it came in ways that I was not expecting. During my punk rock days in my 20s when the world was always coming to an end, thanks to corporations, I used to be a smoker. Being an athlete and a smoker was not a good combination. I remember willfully trying to quit smoking on my own over and over and over again. Then one day after many willful attempts at trying to stop I gave up and began praying daily.
With smoking there is a physical addiction and I had to go through that difficult and painful period of withdrawal for real change to take place. Before prayer, which is simply a surrendering, using brute force, my willpower, whenever I got to that place of withdrawal I would give up because it was too difficult. Prayer, surrendering, allowed space for me to go through that painful withdrawal period. By surrendering I made room for change to happen. I eventually quit and never smoked again.
With MAGA, first let’s substitute the word “Good” instead of great. It’s easier to achieve. The reality is that this idea of greatness is nothing more than a narrative used to bind a swath of the population into thinking that America is no longer great because the other has made it bad. (Immigrants, other countries, etc.)
Okay, back to the new phrase MAGA – Make America Good Again, and Trump’s prayer. Trump has a direct line to GOD, and he has prayed for this to happen. GOD says yes, I will grant you this prayer and Make America Good Again. Now his prayer is being answered in an unexpected way which happens to come in the form of this virus plaguing America and the world. There is an opportunity for America to be good again if society makes room for change to take place. Like the smoker in me, willpower will not cut it. Surrendering is what makes room for change.
There will be a window of opportunity for societal change to take place. To care for one another. To be equal . To be less independent. To be less judgmental. And to know that America can be good again with help outside the borders. Maybe this feels too optimistic. I am a pessimistic guy by nature, but having lived through many disasters firsthand including 9/11, Fukushima and now the “C,” I have seen the spectrum of responses.
It remains to be seen how this all plays out of course. Maybe, just maybe it will be a very different world than what it was on the other side. One in which humans trump profit and sustainability is more important than the short-term.