You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
“Revolution” – The Beatles
There’s a lot of talk about revolution these days.
The political winds in the USA are turbulent. The desires of the American people are being shouted at high decibels, and the masses are being whipped into a frenzy by luminaries who spew forth big ideas. There is much hope, in some regards, and there is much fear as well. Change is exciting, but it is also messy, and it is scary.
We can look at history to recall successful revolutions, but recent history (Arab Spring, for example) reveals that revolutions without a well thought out plan for a subsequent evolution can have enormous unintended consequences. Furthermore, we do not need to go too far back in history for examples of charismatic leaders leading people over cliffs with their disingenuos promises of a grand vision.
We do need change in our world – and in our country. Big change. We need a revolution, and we need evolution, and we need both to rise up and meet the energy that demands it.
We need more than big ideas, though.
Donald Trump tells us that he wants to “make America great again”. All he has offered as a means for achieving this big idea, however, is childish insults and bullying, racist taunts, misogyny, a plan to build an impossible wall between our country and our neighbor Mexico, and vague claims that he would hire a team of business professionals (who we do not know) for leading the country.
Like unwitting sheep, large groups of people follow him and buy into his message of intolerance and hate. Some have gone as far as perpetrating violence against his detractors, following his thinly veiled suggestions from his podium pulpit.
Trump is exploiting his followers’ desire for change for his own insatiable need for adulation, and he is leading his flock down a dangerous path. That is not a revolution. That is demagoguery of the worst kind.
Trump’s “revolution” has been discounted by numerous journalists and authorities on all sides of the political spectrum. According to numerous scholars and experts, his revolution presents far too many risks to civil society to be given consideration for legitimacy. Trump’s revolution may be considered innovative by some who fancy his “outsider” status in the political landscape, but I fail to see it as anything but destructive.
The revolution led by Bernie Sanders, however, deserves more exploration.
Sanders takes a more genteel path than does Trump. There is no churlish bullying, race-baiting or misogyny in his “revolution”. His approach is more inspirational and less manipulative with the fears and prejudices of his followers. There are big ideas, however, and his big ideas are intoxicating.
A liberal soul’s dream, Sanders speaks power to progressive ideas that have captured idealists’ imaginations for decades. His ideas are not that new, but his audacious belief that our political system can be transformed so radically is unique to our present time.
The risks in Sanders’ revolution are less obvious, but they are there.
The problem with Sanders’ revolution is that he SPEAKS power, but he offers no clear path of ACTION. He excites us with his intoxicating ideas, but he does not illuminate a path for accomplishing them in any concrete way. As the New York Times Editorial Board points out, Sanders has been espousing his big ideas for 35 years in Congress, but he has not gotten any big things done. Why should we believe that he will be able to get big things done in 4 years as president, when he has little to show for his 35 years in Congress?
Sanders reminds me of artists I have known who talk at length about the masterpieces they have envisioned in their minds, but have never managed to articulate on canvas.
You must have a plan for implementation if you are imploring people to follow you in a path of radical change. Artists are required to provide plans for commissioned work, even if the work is experimental. Political revolutionaries should do the same for their constituents, as we are essentially “commissioning” them to perform creative works for us.
The owner of a building is not likely to allow an artist to paint a mural on the side of his structure unless the artist: 1) provides a sketch illustrating how the mural will look on the building; 2) provides a plan for managing obstacles and complicating factors in the environment; 3) demonstrates a history of accomplishment and mastery, and 4) provides a realistic budget and plan of action.
Why should we not expect a similar plan from creative thinkers who wish to radically change our world?
Unlike Trump, I believe that Sanders’ revolution has legitimacy, but it lacks structure, and it lacks depth. Regardless of whether you agree with his ideas (I acknowledge that I do have a liberal bias and find his ideas in line with my own), he has not clearly sketched out how his ideas would “look” in our present day world. He has not provided a plan for moving our current congress past its obstructionist ways, and he has been vague on how he would manage the polarization that exists in our current legislature. His 35 years of no big actions in Congress does not lend credence to a belief that he can overcome complicating factors in the political environment that inevitably will stymie his revolution. He has provided a “broad stroke” budget, but it has been seriously called into question by leading economists.
Illuminating his vision by taking these things into consideration, would give more strength to Sanders’ revolution. Without it, he is likely leading his flock into disappointment and disillusion. It is not quite as dangerous as leading them off a cliff, but dangerous all the same.
Sanders would also be wise to reconsider whether the presidency is the best place from which to lead his flock. His campaign has given him a megaphone to spread his ideas, but governing requires more than oratory. Actual governing is vastly different from campaigning.
We have this fantasy that the presidency is a place of purity and ideal reach. It is not. It is a place where competing agendas and poor choices on all sides present themselves daily. Compromise and consensus building are essential to moving forward in the presidency, and sticking to lofty ideas gets lost in the shuffle. Martin Luther King, artists and other influential leaders have led from places where their ideals can grow creatively and can last beyond the daily slog of presidential minutia. Perhaps Sanders’ revolution would gain better traction from a place were it can rise above the fray of governance.
Changing the world requires creative thinking and innovative approaches to the problems facing people in modern society. It requires aspiration and a willingness to dream beyond our present circumstances. It requires vision and motivation. Beyond the creative “dreamy” stuff, though, it also requires practical solutions and well considered plans of implementation. If you move people to change, you need to paint a picture that illuminates the outcomes you seek while articulating the steps it will take to get there.
Yes, there will be unforeseen challenges that you can’t articulate in the beginning. Yes, the plans will change. No, you do not have to have every step detailed definitively. If you are going to shoot into space though, you better know how to bring your rocket ship back to earth.
Revolutionaries such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have great power to move people towards change in our world. How they use that power will determine whether the change they effect moves us forward or backwards. It takes creativity to move and motivate, but it also takes creativity to bring forth change that makes us a better society.
We need big ideas, but we also need big plans.
It is my hope that the present winds of change do, indeed, move us forward so that future dreamers can take us to places beyond our present day’s wildest imaginations.