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  • Writer's pictureCedar Koons

The Dharma and the Election


Friends, we are sleepwalking toward an election that could bring an end to our republic of laws and replace it with a government of men. Very dangerous men.  In this crisis, I want us to consider some of the lessons from a movement called “engaged Buddhism.”


While some think of Buddhism solely as a focus on attaining individual enlightenment. Engaged Buddhism encourages us to consider how environmental degradation, anarchy, civil war, poverty, and injustice lead to a world characterized by chaos and collapse. This focus serves the Buddhist principle of seeing reality as it is. Because few can readily achieve equanimity in a chaotic, collapsing world, engaged Buddhism urges us to be involved in efforts to increase environmental and social justice.


To understand the nature of reality we must engage with it, not avoid or hide, however painful reality is to see. We must find facts in thickets of lies, distortions, and conspiracy theories.  Reality is complex and imperfect. We need to carefully assess our reactions and avoid making decisions primarily based on emotions, or on propaganda and partisan screeds. We cannot allow attachments to idealism to keep us from making sound decisions grounded in the real world.


For my first case in point, I would like us to consider the easy topic of climate change. This is the existential threat of our time.  Donald Trump and the Republican Party would have us believe that climate change either does not exist or isn’t really important.  In 2017 when he was president, Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accords. Recently he met with oil executives and offered to roll back environmental regulations in exchange for a one-billion-dollar donation to his campaign. Biden, in contrast, passed the so-called “Inflation Reduction Act” which in fact is the largest legislative effort in history to address climate change.


For another case, let’s look at the much more fraught and complicated war in Gaza.  Many Americans have been anguished since the October 7th terrorist attack on Israel and the disproportionate killing of innocent civilians in Gaza. Biden ran to embrace our ally Israel after the horrific tragedy of the Hamas attacks. Then, as Netanyahu ramped up his invasion, Biden and the Democrats sent aid with the wholehearted support of Republicans in Congress. In November, Biden was instrumental in arranging a pause in the fighting to have Hamas release 105 civilian hostages. Since November, the Biden Administration has advocated for hostage releases, sent humanitarian aid, and tried to negotiate a cease-fire, often blocked in both efforts by both Israel and Hamas. Republicans in Congress have not concerned themselves with civilian casualties in Gaza.  They have embraced Netanyahu and Israel unequivocally.  In April Trump told Netanyahu to “get it [the war] over with” because of worries about the “optics” of the war in Gaza.  In May he blamed Biden for “abandoning an ally” when he refused to send 2000-pound bombs for the invasion of Rafah, a city densely packed with civilians.


What happens when we mindfully consider these contrasts? When we look at climate change the message is easy to grasp.  Climate change is coming and if we don’t act it will only get worse, and fast.  The most vulnerable of us are already experiencing heat domes, raging fires, hurricanes, droughts and increased migrations as well as existential angst regarding the future.  If Trump and the Republicans are elected our options to change will diminish.  Time will pass with nothing being done.  None of this promotes equanimity or the dharma. It is time to face reality, but we are often distracted.


Looking at the conflict in Gaza reveals a complex situation involving both geopolitical and moral considerations. Since we have no control over how Israel interacts with long-standing adversaries, we cannot prevent severe repercussions for civilians on both sides, regardless of the election outcome. Netanyahu and Hamas have been complicit in this conflict for many years, neither showing genuine willingness to engage in constructive negotiations. The current situation is on the brink of deteriorating further, with Israel facing a potential full-scale war with Hezbollah on its northern border. Both Trump and Biden would back Israel, albeit with differing approaches—Biden conditionally and Trump more transactionally. Should the situation in Gaza influence your decision to vote for Biden to support Gaza? I suggest this stance is not seeing reality as it is.


Perhaps we think the moral choice is to either refuse to vote or to vote for a third-party candidate who seems to have cleaner hands.  Not voting is non action.  From my perspective, it is not moral to refuse to act when the consequences of non action are so immense. Voting for a third party candidate is a bit different. It could be seen as either ignorance of the US two party system, or "virtue signaling." Unfortunately, virtue signaling is different than actual virtue in that it is fundamentally unreal. Real virtue isn't afraid of imperfection. Real virtue takes place in a context of clarity and wisdom. A vote for a third party candidate is equivalent to throwing away your vote and saying "what me worry?" about the possibility that it will result in a Trump victory and all that entails. It is a willful refusal to see reality as it is.


I call on all my readers to consider mindfully what is at stake in this election.  I am offering the following 15 points which are more about policies.  Thank you for reading this post and I hope you will pass it on.  


15 Reasons to Vote Blue in 2024



1.     To protect our democracy from a dictator promising revenge.

2.     To protect abortion rights from a nationwide ban.  To protect access to birth control and other reproductive rights.

3.     To preserve the right to marry the person you love and to express your gender identity as you choose.

4.     To prevent the establishment of a religion of fundamentalist Christian nationalism.

5.     To prevent the profit-seeking destruction of our air, water, forests, and public lands fueled by Republican rollback of safety standards and regulations.

6.     To preserve our civil service system from corrupt political appointees who would dismantle it to serve their ends.

7.     To appoint diverse, sane, competent judges and justices to the federal bench.

8.     To preserve Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, and a basic safety net.

9.     To prevent massive tax cuts that enrich the wealthy at the expense of everyone else, balloon the deficit, and weaken our ability to fight climate change.

10.  To promote innovative and humane immigration and housing policies.

11.  To reign in the autocracies of Russia, China, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia and preserve NATO as a defensive alliance.  To encourage our longtime ally, Israel, to move away from its current right-wing, reckless path.

12.  To improve public health funding and reduce the risks of epidemics and pandemics.

13.   To increase green energy initiatives and strengthen our power grid.

14.  To maintain momentum on efforts to reduce climate change.

15.   To restore civil discourse and the rule of law and reject mob rule by threats and violence.





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